Friday, July 29, 2005

Stickler I be

It's the little things that kill
Tearin' at my brain again.
--Bush (the band), "Little Things"
As I'm revising my fantasy novel, the first book I've ever written that's not set in a modern time and place, I find myself making an enormous effort to get the little details right.

Case in point: last night I came to a part where one of the characters uses fresh chamomile flowers as a medicinal to help someone sleep. Yet chamomile only blooms in June and July, and the scene takes place in late summer/early fall. Argh! I had to rewrite it so that the character found the dried chamomile in a shed instead of picking it by moonlight, which I thought sounded much cooler.

My feeling is that when an author is expecting readers to believe in a non-ordinary setting, it's all the more important to get the reality-based details correct. Doing so lends the work more credence, and a reader will be more likely to buy the whole "you can do magic" business.

(Oh, great, now I have that America song stuck in my head. Share it with me, won't you*?)

I'm a beast when it comes to ecological or economical accuracies, since those are the two areas of reality I know anything about. I once edited another author's fantasy manuscript in which part of the society formed a cult around an animal that not only didn't inhabit that biome, but didn't even exist in that hemisphere. Many fantasy and science fiction novels make me wonder, where did they get the money to build that castle/warp drive? The tax structure must be brutal.

My husband made the following comment: "It's an alternate world. Why can't things work differently there?"

Maybe he's right. Maybe I shouldn't labor over what forms of liquor could realistically be created in a high mountain forest with no access to agricultural products (something made from fermented berries, perhaps?). Maybe I shouldn't worry about whether people will throw my book against the wall if I have a character harvesting wild carrot seed in the spring.

But I fear that letting the little things go, with the assumption that readers will forgive my lapses because it's "just fantasy," invites a kind of creative anarchy. If we want our genre to gain more respect, we can't fudge facts, not even for the sake of the story, much less for the sake of "it sounds cool."

What do you think? Do you watch Return of the King and wonder where all those people in the city of Minas Tirith get their food? (First person who says "lembas bread" gives me twenty pushups.)

*Together now, sing it:
Doo doo doo do do DOO
Doo doo doo do dooo, DOO!

One more try

On Tuesday I posted a link to a romance novel cover asking if anyone could tell me what was wrong with it. The feedback I got indicated that despite the post title reference to limbs, no one could figure it out.

A hint: count the arms.

Count them again. Two people, five arms.

I admit, I had to read someone's description to figure out where the woman's extra arm was. Though the author was initially aghast at the mistake, now her book is quite the collector's item. And despite the error, it's not too bad as romance covers go. I want that dress the woman is wearing in the worst way.

Without the extra sleeve, of course.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Things I miss from childhood

For you are young and life is long
and there is time to kill today.
--Pink Floyd, "Time"
Andrew from Did I Say That Out Loud? (who also mined Pink Floyd for a suitable quote) tagged me with this meme (I think it's a meme--I'm still getting down with this freaky blog lingo). Anyway, here's a sample. I tried to limit it to things I absolutely can't get anymore, which would eliminate honorable mentions such as Walter Farley books, swimming, Busch Gardens, licking the beaters when my mom made cakes, and somersaults (okay, that last one may be forever behind me, if my chiropractor has his way):

  1. Bedtime: Another way of saying I miss my dad. He'd give the best back scratches*, while telling me a story or making up a song ("Hole in the Bottom of the Sea" was my favorite). He was no Garrison Keiller, mind you--most of his stories went nowhere and the songs were repetitive, to say the least. But they made this little girl giggle.

  2. Recess: Hopscotch, jump rope, monkey bars, and slick, silver-hot sliding boards! Games of tag, hide 'n' seek, Red Rover, Duck Duck Goose! My third-grade teacher would push us on the swings so hard, we thought for sure we'd achieve the ultimate dream of the loop-de-loop. Nowadays, playground swings have seat backs so kids can't fall out, and my teacher would be led away in handcuffs for -gasp!- touching a child's shoulders.

  3. My uncle's house: In Hayes, VA, near Yorktown. It was my dad's childhood home, a five-room house on the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay (although it was only two rooms and an outhouse when he grew up there). I can still smell the salty air and see the fiddler crabs scuttling across the driveway. The people next door had about a dozen coonhounds and a new litter of kittens every summer.

  4. Record players: Stacking several LPs on top of one another, playing records at the wrong speed just for laughs, and most of all: that -thup!...crackle... -sound the needle makes when it hits the vinyl.

  5. The big dirt pile: One summer my family put in a patio and as a result had a huge mound of displaced topsoil in the backyard. It was ten, maybe fifteen feet tall. For weeks my brother and I drove his Matchbox cars over that mountain of mud and played a hundred games of King of the Hill, all of which I lost, being eight years younger (no one imparts the lesson that "life isn't fair" like a big brother). I loved that big pile of dirt. I thought it would always be there for me.
Anyway, I'll tag Mark at The Roost next, because he's so damn due for a post.

*as did my mom

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

All Hail Me

I just reread my previous post and noted how subdued and rational and analytical it sounded. I gave you an evaluation of my first draft that might as well have been a product review of a new brand of paper towels.

What I really wanted to say, my first reaction upon finishing the reread, was:

Wow...I did this...I rock!

But I didn't want to come off as immodest. "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted," right? (Is it possible to be a modern artist and even pretend to have heard some of Jesus' best lines? How to maintain the titanium ego and still practice humility? That's for another discussion.)

Y'know what? For one day, screw modesty. For one day, before I get down to the nitty-gritty of revising, I can bask in the simple fact that I wrote a great story, that I tackled my biggest challenge (writing an entire novel without profanity) and created something big and beautiful. Something big and beautiful that will see publication in a mere 400-something days.

Today I really am that goddess.

Version 2.0 Begins

I read the entire first draft of my Luna book in one day yesterday, which is a good sign--it only dragged at one point, and not at the dreaded 1/3 mark. The prose was less clunky than expected, considering how fast I wrote the draft. Because I worked from an outline (for the first time) and wrote the book from beginning to end (for the first time) rather than skipping around writing scenes here and there, the basic story structure is solid.

I have a lot of work to do, though, much of it involving research on little things (did they have silk back then?) and big things (when the hell is "back then"?).

In several places I found remarks like this: "[finish scene somehow]" Great.

The biggest problem for me was the tone--too sentimental. Luckily, this can be fixed by excising particularly barfy sections like
A look of understanding passed between the two men. Rhia felt a lump in her throat. She loved both of them so much, and the rancor between them had carved a wound within her that now had a chance to heal.
GAG! I'll make a list of these bad lines and look at it whenever I need a laugh or a dose of humility.

Anyway, I'm trying to formulate a revision plan. Usually I take several passes over the same manuscript, looking for different problems each time. I use my entire collection of highlighters to mark things like cliches, adverbs, boring "filler phrases" like
she sighed
he smiled
she looked at him
which are fine in small doses (especially during a fast-paced scene when readers' eyes and minds need to digest the action quickly to move on and find out what happens) but when overused give a sense of flatness to the prose.

Where was I? Oh yeah, a plan. As always, I'll start with a quick refresher of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, which is the single most useful writing book ever. Then I might take a look at Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Then I'll....

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Liftoff!

Beautiful...just beautiful.

T-plus 2:30: Boosters away!

I can't imagine what the people at NASA are feeling right now.

T-plus Four minutes: Negative return call--they're not coming back. Still about four minutes of powered flight, when they could still abort if they lose engines.

T-Plus Five minutes: Okay, now they only need two engines to continue on to orbit. And they're officially in space now--sixty miles up, which means that the two rookies are now astronauts. Cool.

They've got a camera on the side of the external fuel tank to watch for debris hitting the shuttle, and now you can see the earth with the blackness of space behind it.

Another minute until the cutoff of the main engine.

Engine off!

Whoa, money shot...we just saw the shuttle releasing the tank, from the tank's perspective, then saw the shuttle fire its jets and move away.

Orbital maneuvering system not required, they just said, which means the launch was flawless. No little adjustments needed.

Godspeed, Discovery. Come home safe.

T-Minus One

Switching to mission control now....handoff has occurred to the computer on board. Discovery's now controlling the liftoff.

T-Minus Three

The engines are gimbeling! Don't worry--that's a good thing.

T-Minus Fifteen...

...minutes 'til the space shuttle Discovery lifts off, the first shuttle launch since the Columbia tragedy in February 2003.

Right now they're going through the "poll," where each engineer rattles off their own "go for launch" routine.

Final test of the fuel sensor, the one that scrapped the launch two weeks ago--passed!

Eeeeeep! I'm so excited.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Mega-Shuffle, Vol. 2

In honor of finishing the proposal for my rock 'n' roll vampire series, I'll include another edition of Mega-Shuffle, in which we see what tunes RealPlayer yanks to the surface while sifting randomly through my 2,928 tracks.

Rather than discussing the songs, which results in a really long post filled with my worthless opinions on a subject I know nothing about, this time I'll just cite my favorite line(s) from the songs.

1. "Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe" - Live, from their last good CD, Secret Samadhi:
Angel, don't you have some bagels in my oven?
2. "Medicine" - The Sundays, off of Blind:
And don’t go imagining that time is medicine
Mark those days & swallow your pills
3. "Searching for a Heart" - Warren Zevon, from I'll Sleep When I'm Dead:
They say love conquers all
You can't start it like a car
You can't stop it with a gun
4. "I'll Never Tell" - Emma Caulfield and Nicholas Brendon, from "Once More with Feeling," the sublime musical episode from Buffy the Vampire Slayer's sixth season. As Anya and Xander, they express their mixed feelings towards their impending nuptials:
X&A: I lied, I said it's easy
I've tried, but there's these fears I can't quell
X: Is she looking for a pot of gold?
A: Will I look good when I've gotten old?
X: Will our life become too stressful
if I'm never that successful?
A: When I get so old and wrinkly
that I look like David Brinkley
X: Am I crazy?
A: Am I dreamin'?
X: Am I marrying a demon?
X&A: We could really raise the beam in makin' marriage a hell.
But thank God I'll never tell.
5. "Pandora's Aquarium" - Tori Amos, from Choirgirl Hotel. Sigh...if I could meet one celebrity in the world... But then I'd just make an ass of myself, so never mind.
Line me up in single file
With all your grievances
Still but I can taste you're
Still alive below the waste
6. "The Big Issue" - Chumbawumba, from Tubthumper:
On every street in every town
All her days are up and down
At home among the
Lost-and-founds...
Actually, my favorite lines are spoken at the end by a stuffy-sounding bloke:
I only know two songs, 'Silent Night' and 'God Save the Queen,' and I only know which is which because one of them, everybody stands up for.
7. "The End" - The Doors, from their self-titled album:
It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
8. "Papercut" - Linkin Park, from Hybrid Theory:
Everybody has a face that they hold inside
A face that awakes when they close their eyes
A face that watches every time they lie
A face that laughs every time they fall
9. "Have I Told You Lately" - The Chieftains and Van Morrison, off the Chieftains' live album The Long Black Veil, which I discussed in Mega-Shuffle Vol. 1:
Fill my heart with gladness
Take away my sadness
Ease my troubles, that’s what you do
10. "Send the Pain Below" - Chevelle, one of the few exciting new bands of this decade. This was one of the hits off their 2003 album, Wonder What's Next:
You used to run me away,
All while laughing.
Then cry about the fact
'til I returned.
Bonus song, because it feels appropriate for these days:

"Too Much Information" - The Police
Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane
Overkill
Overview
Over my dead body
Over me
Over you
Over everybody
Tomorrow I print out the first draft of my Luna novel and assess the damage. It's been six weeks, what I consider an ideal amount of time to let a manuscript sit after a first draft (and Stephen King agrees with me, according to his book On Writing). I know I may not always have such a luxury. But this time I really needed it, and I'm grateful for being able to honor my usual process.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Spawn of storyline

Something cool just happened: I was trying to tie together two subplots for the first book of my vampire series, when one of them grew an extra head and set of limbs and turned into the second book.

Now to perform the intricate, hours-long, de-conjoining operation. Will each twin survive to thrive on its own? Stay tuned!

Bon Voyage, Spot!

DogFriendly.com just put out their new list of Top Ten Dog-Friendly Cities to Visit in North America. I was stunned to learn that most of these cities allow leashed, well-behaved dogs to ride on public transportation. Our dog is a total motorhead--she'd really dig riding on a bus, I think.

The way I see it, dogs are like children in the way they fit into society. If a culture accepts them and expects them to be a part of public life, then their caretakers/parents ensure that they are well-socialized and know how to behave in such situations.

It's for this reason that both dogs and children in urban areas tend to be more laid-back. In the suburbs, dogs and kids are relegated to the fringes of society--PetsMart for dogs, or in the case of kids, "family-friendly" restaurants where the food sucks and the children, for lack of knowledge of how to behave outside the home, treat the public place as an extension of their own living room, screaming and running around with the desperate pent-up energy of a sailor on leave.

I'm sure there's a comparable list online for children, cities that celebrate kids and expect them to participate in their world like any other citizen, to share a common culture with adults, rather than being ghettoized and isolated into DisneyWorlds and Chuckie Cheese'ses. Chuckie Cheeses. Chuckie Cheeseses. Anyone know the plural of Chuckie Cheese's?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Really Hard Copy

Yesterday I finally took a look at the printed pages of my vampire series proposal--roughly 70 double-spaced pages, four chapters. I hadn't thought it needed many revisions before sending it to my agent.

But holding it in my hand versus gazing at it on the computer screen made a huge difference. I saw so many unnecesary words and places where the characters didn't "sound like themselves."

For a few moments I despaired. This sucks, I thought. What made me think I could write this kind of book? Then I got to work, slashing and cutting like my blue ballpoint was a machete, and I felt much better.

One of my not-so-guilty secrets is that I love revising. It's not as romantic as that hyperventilating rush of the first draft, but it holds more magic for me, figuring out a way to chip out all the parts that aren't the story and build from there. It appeals to my analytic nature, I guess.

Anyway, today's writing tip is: Always edit from a hard copy. And try not to burn it in a fit of self-loathing. It'll get better.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Book journal

Yesterday I realized that my library doesn't keep records of my borrowing history. I was relieved, because that means no fodder for those snoopy FBI agents. On the other hand, I knew it meant I had to start writing down what I've read.

After racking my brain, I came up with 27 books in 2005 so far. To be honest, I only finished 25; one book had to go back to the library before I could get very far into it, and the other one was so godawful it threatened to rip a hole in the space-time continuum.

(I'll never tell what it was; I don't snark on authors unless they're either dead or so famous they wouldn't care. So for the record, I hate Aristophanes. Two millenia later, fart jokes still not funny.)

I felt it was important to include the books I didn't finish, because one purpose of this book journal is to force me to read with a critical eye: what I liked and didn't like about it, what worked and didn't and why.

I have a terrible time enunciating positive responses to books or movies. For instance, I adored The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Why? It was cool and made me laugh. Beyond that, I can't tell you.

However, when a book or movie doesn't work for me, I can usually pinpoint why. When a novel scene is too slow-paced, I know it's because of too much rumination/narration/description between lines of dialogue, or because the scene started too early or ended too late, or because the scene takes place in an otherwise uninteresting situation like the characters eating dinner (again) and simply dicussing the facts they've picked up since their last meeting.

As a writer, I can learn more from other writers' mistakes than from their excellence. When I read a truly phenomenal work, I start to shrivel up inside, thinking, "I'll never imagine a world so original," or "I'll never write a wisecrack that funny," or "I'll never be able to describe a toaster in such an insightful way."

Want to see my list? Not today: need to save my typing fingers for actual writing. But I'll pick out the top five books on it and insist you read them.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle. This book is third in the Time Quartet, which begins with the classic young adult science fiction novel, A Wrinkle in Time. If you've only read Wrinkle, I encourage you to try the other three, because they're even better. I read Planet in one evening, only stopping for bathroom breaks. One of the characters travels through time and space to change history and prevent a nuclear war in the present. Gripping, mind-blowing, and oh so human. I plan to read more L'Engle, but I'm sad that reading the Time Quartet for the first time is already in my past. It should be in your future.

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore. The best vampire novel I've ever read, and one of the funniest novels, period. Check out Moore's blog on my blogroll to the right. He's funnier than Terry Pratchett by several miles, yet he never disrespects any of his characters for the sake of a joke. I'm told this isn't even his best book. He's someone I could OD on and not get sick, which is saying a lot.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dunbar. Back when I wanted to be an economist, this was the kind of life I imagined: using data to answer real questions like, "Why did the crime rate fall in the 90s?" and "What makes a great parent?" and "Why do so many drug dealers live with their mothers?" Unfortunately, the field of economics doesn't encourage actual relevance, so I changed my mind quickly. Steven Levitt showed it can be done. This book is so readable, I picked it up to glance at the table of contents and three hours later it was finished. Witty, incisive and sometimes disturbing, Freakonomics is a great read for anyone who wants to know the "Why?" behind everything.

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison. Harrison creates a fully-fleshed alternate world where humans and paranormal beings share society (rather uneasily) after a virus wipes out half the human population. She doesn't waste time up front explaining it to us but rather lets us discover the details of this world as the action takes us through the story. A writer who respects readers' intelligence--Hallelujah! She put together a fantastic ensemble cast of vampires, pixies, werecreatures, witches, and much, much more. There's a new delight on every page. She's in the same league quality-wise as authors like Jim Butcher and Neil Gaiman, and word is the two followups to Dead Witch Walking are even better, so let's hope she's here to stay.

Loving Soren by Caroline Coleman O'Neill. A novel based on the true story of Regina Olsen's love affair with Christian existentialist (yes, there is such a thing!) philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. It was the most emotionally honest book I've read in a long time. Both Kierkegaard and Olsen's father were depressives (the former was most likely bipolar). Even though the disease was understood as such at the time, Regina still fell into the trap of wanting to be the one person who could make Soren happy. The book didn't delve much into his philosophy, but did show the emotional seeds of it, so whether you've read Kierkegaard or not is irrelevant to the enjoyment of the book. The only criticism I have is that it teetered at the edge of piety towards the end, and I think ultimately fell over that cliff on the last page. At a different time, when religion wasn't being used as a political bludgeon, it might not have bothered me.

Hmm, now I realize that just typing the list of 27 would have been a lot faster. Oh well.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Goddess of what--snack foods?

I am just your ordinary
Average everyday sane/psycho
Super-goddess
--Liz Phair, "Extraordinary"

Which Mythological Form Are You?



You are Form 1, Goddess: The Creator.

"And The Goddess planted the acorn of life.
She cried a single tear and shed a single drop
of blood upon the earth where she buried it.
From her blood and tear, the acorn grew into
the world."


Some examples of the Goddess Form are Gaia (Greek), Jehova (Christian), and Brahma (Indian). The Goddess is associated with the concept of creation, the number 1, and the element of earth. Her sign is the dawn sun.

As a member of Form 1, you are a charismatic individual and people are drawn to you. Although sometimes you may seem emotionally distant, you are deeply in tune with other people's feelings and have tremendous empathy. Sometimes you have a tendency to neglect your own self. Goddesses are the best friends to have because they're always willing to help.

(Brought to you by Quizilla.)


---

All true, except that I'm not the least bit charismatic. My Cult of Personality would consist of my dog, during those rare moments when she's awake.

I did notice something hokey about this quiz, however. Under the description for each Mythological Form, it said, "[x] are the best friends to have because...", which is kind of patronizing. We can't all be the best.

And as for always being willing to help, that doesn't mean "always willing to help you move."

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I don't suck!

In the writing community, we have what is known as "The Snoopy Dance"--a physical expression of unadulterated glee that occurs whenever we receive the oh-so-rare validation from people in the biz--whether they be agents, critics, editors--or, as in my case today, contest judges.

I just received feedback from the Bluecat Screenwriting Competition, one of the few screenplay contests that offers criticism and lets you see your actual scores. What entrants get from the typical screenplay competition usually adheres to the following format:





*crickets*






*spring peepers*







*bullfrogs*





*maybe a cicada or two*






"Here's a list of winners. Thanks for sending us money."





(Yes, I know, crickets sing in late summer, while spring peepers...)

Anyway, I submitted the first draft of my romantic comedy screenplay, Between the Lines, to the Bluecat Screenwriting Competition because the judges give feedback. I figured $35 for some constructive criticism was a bargain, compared to professional script critiques, which run anywhere from $150-$2,000. Since it was the first draft of my first original screenplay, I prepared myself for some deservedly cruel words.

Here's what I got (most lines removed to avoid plot specifics):
What did you like about this script?
The script is a very enjoyable read. It is written well structurally, the characters are fully realized and three dimensional, and the overall rhythm and flow works near flawlessly. The hooks at the very start and within the first few pages are fresh and unexpected...The hook on page 10 is pitch perfect...

When Anthony visits his family...[i]t is comedy at its best. The banter between Anthony and his family, as well as the family members themselves lends a certain gravitas that is sometimes missing in romantic comedies.

Act 2 flows nicely...The Final Act, with things reaching their logical end, resolves nicely.

What do you think needs work?
Within dialogue there shouldn’t be any spaces to indicate new 'paragraphs.' Space them with directional beats instead. [Here the judge makes a comment that a certain character's reaction was less than believable, and also that one minor subplot was left unresolved.] Other than that (and the occasional typo), there are no other major problems with the script.

Rate the following on a scale of 1-6, with 6 being the highest:

STORY 6
CHARACTERIZATION 6
DIALOGUE 5
CLARITY 5
ORIGINALITY 6
PRESENTATION 6

Gulp--two points away from a perfect score, and a higher score than the 2004 winner*. That means I actually learned something from studying the craft. It means I can do this. Dance, Snoopy, Dance!

Not that I'm going to sacrifice novel-writing to pursue a screenwriting career (I can't--I'm under contract). If anything, I plan to use this story to create another novel proposal.

But I'll also make the recommended changes to Between the Lines and keep submitting it as a screenplay. One never knows, do one?

*The judges are the same from year to year, but the number of entrants more than doubled from 2004 to 2005, to over 1,000.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The inside scoop

Here's a blog I'll be reading on a regular basis. It's called Agent 007, authored anonymously by a literary agent who worked many years "on the other side," i.e., as an editor.

In Agent 007's first posts, the blogger describes The Secret Lives of Editors, including a rejection letter "decoder":
The proposal is solid.” = I was completely bored.

“I don’t see this breaking out of the pack.” = The author is a complete unknown, so no matter how great the book is, we can sell more copies of Carrot Top’s next book. [Note to Self: Call Carrot Top’s manager.]

“Not right for my list at this time.” = I don’t have time to read this because a) I am about to go on vacation, b) I just got back from vacation, c) I just acquired three books and can’t take yet another agent yelling at me about a contract and signing payment, d) I had bad sushi for lunch.
and a description of the pain an agent feels after an editor's rejection:
From an editor's or publisher's viewpoint, being a successful agent has little to do with talent, and everything to do with having good taste. To an agent, a rejection is akin to someone saying, “You have no taste.” It’s like showing up for the prom thinking you’ve got the perfect dress only to have everyone cringe and say, “What were you thinking?”
It's a job I could never do, and I am ecstatically grateful to my own agent for fighting the battles I'm far too wimpy to wage.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pop goes the Freudian

For those of you who like popping bubble wrap (and you know who you are), here's a place where you can do it all day long.

I heard once that people who do this compulsively were, uh, frustrated in a certain way (a theory reinforced by the breathless woman saying, "Must have more" when you click the "Fresh Sheet" button). Funny, I haven't felt the need to pop bubble wrap in years...

But you go ahead.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Juxtaposition

It's odd, sitting here in Maryland, with blue skies, chirping birds, and a calm sweet breeze, knowing that Hurricane Dennis is slamming the Florida Panhandle.

We have close friends who live in Panama City, and I'm worried about them. Mark, if you're reading this in a motel somewhere far inland (I hope), leave a comment. You're in our thoughts tonight, and I can't wait for you to move to Jersey where they have non-apocalyptic weather.

Say Anything

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.
--Ernest Hemingway
This week's Newsweek contains an interview with author Don Watson, whose book Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words, and Management Speak are Strangling Public Language became a bestseller in Australia last year and was just released here two months ago.

Corporate boardrooms used to be the only places you'd hear words like "mission statement" and "evaluation of outcomes" and "leveraging the enhancement of dialogues to create impactful resolutions." We used to call it "Corp-Speak." Now it's made its way into our schools, churches, and politics. Watson said that his 12-year-old granddaughter brought home a report card that said she had "developed a variety of products" in history class, and that she has been asked to write her English essays in a PowerPoint presentation.

In answer to the question, "How has business-speak changed society?" Watson replies:
We are all customers. Even the CIA talks about having internal clients. I’m quite sure that in another iteration, the Army will talk about enemy clients. Once they decide we’re all customers then the consequences for basic relationships in civil society are not good.
On his Weasel Words website, he refers to consultants as "Plague Rats of Managerialism." I highly recommend visiting this page and scrolling down to a spoof of a consultant's answer to "Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?" This is just the first paragraph:
Deregulation of the chicken's side of the road was threatening its dominant market position. The chicken was faced with significant challenges to create and develop the competencies required for the newly competitive market. Andersen Consulting, in a partnering relationship with the client, helped the chicken by rethinking its physical distribution strategy and implementation processes.
Yeah. I can see where this is going.

As a writer, I hate to see words abused. I hate to see meaning smothered under superfluous modifiers, verbs that aren't really verbs (i.e., "dialogued"), and mindless repetition of phrases.

But it disturbs me more as a human being. The invasion of corp-speak into everyday life, turning us all into consumers and clients, dilutes and demeans our relationships. When hospitals refer to births as "OB products," how long before we start calling our spouses "connubial clients," with whom we strive to produce an enhanced outcome we once knew as "happiness"?

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Morning After

I don't have much to say today after the London attacks. It seems that the death toll is much higher than originally thought. The thought of my former home, temporary as it was, facing such horror makes me weep. Of all the cities in the world, only Baltimore is dearer to my heart than London (sorry, Philadelphia: I've only lived around you, not in you).

Like everyone else, my anger makes me want to blame someone, preferably someone I already hate. But the rational side of me (it still exists after all this time) thinks it's best not to jump to conclusions concerning either the culprits' identities or motives. More importantly, I believe now is not the time to politicize what happened, either by Fox News types saying, "Woo-hoo! Now we don't have to talk about global warming" (I'm serious. Check it out.), or those on the left saying, "This is what we get for invading Iraq."

The fact is, we don't really know yet who did this. Yes, that "Al Qaeda of Europe" group claimed responsibility on its website, but their claims have yet to be confirmed. Just because something's on the internet doesn't mean it's true, folks. Anyone could have posted that claim.

Have we forgotten about Oklahoma City? In the first few hours after the bombing it was all, "Muslim" this and "jihad" that, even as a good ol' boy from Kansas named Timothy McVeigh was arrested for driving without a license and carrying a concealed weapon in one of those "happy accidents" of law enforcement (one could say it wasn't pure chance, since McVeigh was speeding in an effort to leave the State of his crime).

No evidence yet released indicates that suicide bombers carried out yesterday's attacks. It's been confirmed that one of the bombs was left on the floor of an Underground carriage. Left behind. As in, could have been discovered and defused in time. As in, no eternal glory for giving one's life to kill the infidels.

All I'm saying is, please let's wait for the evidence before we start playing the blame game. Or at least wait until the dead are buried. Have a little respect.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

No

London rocked by terrorist attacks.

Check here for updates from BBC reporters on the scenes. I have to go to work today, so I won't be here to blog.

It looks like it could have been a lot worse, and that the London Emergency Plan is working well.

I feel so sad and angry. And not eloquent, so that's the best I can do for now. Keep London in your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Revenge of the pig-dogs

GUARD: 'Allo, daffy English kaniggets and Monsieur Arthur-King, who is afraid of a duck, you know! So, we French fellows out-wit you a second time!

ARTHUR: How dare you profane this place with your presence!? I command you, in the name of the Knights of Camelot, to open the doors of this sacred castle, to which God himself has guided us!

GUARD: How you English say, I one more time-a unclog my nose in your direction, sons of a window-dresser! So, you think you could out-clever us French folk with your silly knees-bent running about in dancing behavior! I wave my private parts at your aunties, you heaving lot of second hand electric donkey bottom biters.

ARTHUR: In the name of the Lord, we demand entrance to this sacred castle!

GUARD: No chance, English bedwetting types. I burst my pimples at you and call your door opening request a silly thing. You tiny-brained wipers of other people's bottoms!

ARTHUR: If you do not open this door, we shall take this castle by force!
[splat]
In the name of God and the glory of our--
[splat]
Right! That settles it!

GUARD: Yes, this time and cut the approaching any more or we fire arrows at the tops of your heads and make castanets out of your testicles already! Ha ha!

ARTHUR: Walk away. Just ignore them.

GUARD: And now remain gone, illegitimate-faced buggerfolk! And, if you think you got nasty taunting this time, you ain't heard nothing yet! Daffy English kaniggets! Thpppt!
--John Cleese & Graham Chapman, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

London beats Paris for the 2012 Summer Olympic games.

There's a Scientologist born every minute

All this talk about Tom Cruise and his increasingly irritating Scientology evangelism has dredged up a forgotten (suppressed?) memory of my one personal encounter with the L. Ron Hubbard-ites.

London, June 1990: As I was walking to the Tube station after my behavioural ecology class at the Kensington campus of Kings College (U. London), they "marked" me, as scammers say. A nice lady approached me and offered a free personality test. Being even more self-obsessed at age 20 than I am now, I agreed. (Kids: this was before the Internet, when you could spend all day taking free insightful personality tests like What Rejected Crayon are You? and What's Your Alcohoroscope?)

I don't remember what questions were on the test, which was administered in a lovely air-conditioned office, but I think they gave me snacks--always a sure lure for a college student. After a short wait, the nice lady led me into a small conference room and proceeded to inform me, with a look of grave concern, that I had low self-esteem.

My reply was--and I'm paraphrasing here--"Duh!"
  • I was living 5,000 miles from anyone I'd known for more than four months
  • The guy I was dating had just left me for his vapid American ex-girlfriend
  • The guy I dated before that left me for his vapid French ex-girlfriend
  • I had four papers to write in a week-and-a-half
  • My money was long gone
  • The London sky that June looked like clam chowder without the clams for sixteen straight hours every day
  • I lived on the Northern Line
(The last one alone should have been sufficient grounds for depression. They used to call it the Underground's "Misery Line," because people often used its trains to shuffle off their mortal coil, if you know what I mean. We commuters, rather than feeling sorry for these desperate souls, would be annoyed at the delay of removing pieces of mortal coil from the track.)

Actually, the fact that I knew my blues came from temporary circumstances probably indicated that my self-esteem was just fine.

The lady tried to push her Scientology solutions on me, all of which cost money (she kept missing the fact that one reason I was "down" was lack of funds). The cheapest ransom available was a paperback copy of Dianetics. Yeah, I should have been stronger, but I felt three pounds was a small price for instant freedom. At that moment, it felt like bail money.

Once on the Tube, I skimmed the book for about thirty seconds. It was all I could to hold onto it long enough to place it safely in the trash. Leaving it on the train seemed like a randomly hostile act: what if some vulnerable Tube rider picked it up and got sucked into the cult, just because I was too lazy to clean up after myself?

I downed an extra pint of cider 'n' black in the common room that night. Nothing does wonders for your self-esteem like being taken for a sucker. Thanks, L. Ron.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Infatuation

The time between meeting and finally leaving
is sometimes called falling in love.
--Lisa Loeb, "Falling in Love"

Love comes down any way it wants to.
Doesn't ask for your permission.
Open up your arms, or it will break you in two.
--Joan Osbourne, "Dracula Moon"
I wasn't looking for a New Idea. Heck, I was barely awake the day it wormed into my brain.

I was driving down the road flipping the dial, complaining as usual about the musical desert that commercial radio has become and wondering whether my reaction was due to the aging process or because music really had started to suck (research indicates it's the latter*). A certain tune began to play, one I used to enjoy, and my thoughts went something like this:

Me: Hmm, that song would be a good title for a book.

Marketing Me: Hey, there could be a whole series of books with titles that begin with that word. It would totally fit a paranormal/urban fantasy series. Maybe even one about...vampires.

M: No! Everyone's doing vampires.

MM: Exactly. People want to read them, editors want to buy them. It's a crowded but happy bandwagon. And hey, if Octavia Butler is on it, how bad can it be?

M: I don't even like vampires. When Chris and I play the Buffy board game, I always play the Scooby Gang, not the Baddies. During the show, I wanted to stake Angel so bad after he killed Jenny Callender. The bastard.

[I get choked up for a moment here, remembering that episode.]

MM: But you love the dark, brooding types. You wrote a book about Lucifer, for crying out loud.

M: But the vamps in most novels are so tiresome. All that, "look into my eyes, bleah bleah, pain is sexy, bleah bleah, you're under my spell." Bleah!

MM: What about Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends?

M: I adored that. Hilarious, and yet strangely sweet.

MM: And Mary Janice Davidson's Undead series?

M: Also amusing, with a take-no-crap heroine. So I could write a humorous vampire series. Humorous, but emotionally satisfying. I'll let the vamps keep a touch of their natural romance and mystique without letting them get deadly serious. Get it? Deadly serious? HA! I'm down with the funny already.

MM: And I'm ignoring you until it goes away. We need a twist. Everyone's gotta have a twist.

M: If everyone has a twist, isn't the twist a cliche in itself?

MM: Shut up and brainstorm.

Over the next half-hour, the radio helped me hone my premise until I had a basic plot--complete with obligatory twist--and a main character I can't wait to hang out with for years to come. Just for yuks, I tried taking the vampires out of the story and replacing them with humans or another type of paranormal creature, but both the plot and the themes crumbled like, well, like what's left of a vamp after you stake him.

After making a few pages of notes, I shoved this new idea to the back of my brain to percolate while I finished the first draft of Aspect of Crow. I like to take at least a month away from a first draft so that I can edit it with a more objective eye. So now, for four weeks while I pretend that Aspect doesn't exist, I'm developing the vampire idea into a proposal (three chapters and a synopsis of the first book).

Most writers will agree that this is one of the most exciting periods of writing a novel. It's a lot like falling in love. Everything is possible. Each thought is new and exciting, and yet I can look down the road of time and hard work to see how this love will deepen through tribulations and triumphs, through the literary equivalents of candlelight dinners and toilet seats left up.

During this time, I see with my character's eyes and hear with her ears. I wonder what she takes in her coffee and how she would view the latest news story. What does she wear to bed when she sleeps alone? How does she feel about the fact that her parents raised her to be a con artist like them? At first, her reactions are my reactions, but as she grows, she'll differentiate herself from me like a child from its mother, until finally I'll be able to see her as her own person and not just a reflection of my own glory and shame.

The Idea took form because I happened to turn on 100.7 (not even my favorite station) at a certain time on a certain day in late May. I won't inflate my own importance by thinking it was "meant to be;" I'll merely give a nod to the occasional beauty of random chance and feel lucky I was sleepy enough that day to have a wide-open mind.

I can only hope that this googly-eyed summer romance turns into a lasting, meaningful relationship. One that makes me lots of money.

*Thanks to the 1996 Congressional deregulation of the telecommunications industry, radio stations have been consolidated under mega-media conglomerates; this homogenization results in the same imitation-vanilla-flavored music being played and produced across the nation.

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Monday, July 04, 2005

In-blognito

There's only room for you
In your world of two.
--Cake, "World of Two"
You're probably wondering, where the hell'd all Jeri's posts go? They're at Seething in the Wilderness, which used to be the name of this blog, though no one ever called it that. Everyone called it Jeri Smith-Ready, and while name recognition is great for an author, it has its dark side.

Most political bloggers are more or less anonymous. Though they will reveal their real full names from time to time, they don't advertise them at the top of their blogs. They're not necessarily ashamed of their opinions or trying to dissociate themselves from their political stances. More often, they maintain anonymity to protect their jobs.

I find myself in the same situation, not from my employer or even my publisher, but with the true source of my bread and butter--readers. November 2006 will bring the coincidence of two major events in my life: Election Day and the first widespread distribution of my fiction by a major print publisher.

I could choose to clam up about politics to avoid alienating potential readers, but speaking up for what I believe in is how I bring both my patriotism and my humanity to life. In these outrageous times, I can't be a neutral observer and still see myself as a good person. It's not enough simply to entertain (though for a last-born child, entertainment is always the highest value).

Enough of that self-important claptrap. The point is, as of today I'm splitting my blogging between this page, which will focus mostly on the writing life and more personal items; and "Seething in the Wilderness," which will continue to, well, seethe. Gradually I'll copy my old non-political posts over to this blog, though unfortunately without their accompanying comments.

I look forward to posting more writing-related topics here without worrying whether I'm boring those in search of acidic political commentary. And as for the aforementioned commentary--wow, I can't wait to rise to new heights of sardonia--er, sardonicism. Being sardonic. Making fun of Bush.

Ch-ch-ch-Changes

Political rants, old and new, can now be found at Seething in the Wilderness.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Mega-Shuffle! Vol. 1

Okay, now that I've finally got all my music ripped to my computer (7.8 days' worth), I can shuffle among every single song I possess. I'm as happy as a little girl. Following the example of Agitprop, I'll recount the next 10 songs, with whatever commentary/explanation I can provide:

1. "Ferny Hill" - The Chieftains, off their live album, Long Black Veil. I owned this for years before listening to it for the second time just a few months ago. I love the Chieftains but wasn't really motivated to hear them share the stage with Sting, Mick Jagger, Sinead O'Connor, Tom Jones, etc. What a mistake I'd made; the album is fantastic. The title song, sung by Jagger, is one of the saddest and most romantic tunes I've ever heard. "Ferny Hill" is a lovely traditional pipe song.

2. "Mazurka Op. 63, No. 3 in C sharp minor" - Frederic Chopin, one of my top five favorite composers. My sister says his preludes are deceptively difficult to play. Haven't been in a classical frame of mind lately.

3. "(New Wave) Polly" - Nirvana, off their eclectic and sometimes annoying collection of remixes and extras, Incesticide. I prefer the acoustic versions of "Polly," off of Nevermind and live from Unplugged, but the song is sublimely creepy in any form. It gives me this savory, predatory feeling. In an ironic way, of course.

4. "The Fly" - U2, from Achtung Baby. Most people will disagree with me, but I still say this was U2's last good album. I never got into Zooropa or All That You Can't Leave Behind, and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb sounds like they're trying too hard to prove they're not old yet.

5. "Children of the Korn" - Korn, from Follow the Leader. This song features Ice Cube over the distinctive vocals of Jonathan Davis. My favorite "South Park" episode was the Scooby-Doo-esque Halloween one with Korn as a mystery-solving band. I literally fell off the couch laughing when they turned themselves into different forms of corn to perplex the villain.

6. "Forkboy" - Lard, off the Natural Born Killers soundtrack--next to Tank Girl, my favorite soundtrack to a movie I've never seen. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails produced this soundtrack, which includes enough dialogue bits sprinkled within the songs themselves (as opposed to separate tracks, a la Pulp Fiction) to give the general idea of the movie's plot. Lard featured the vocals of ex-Dead Kennedys' frontman Jello Biafra.

7. "Uptown" - Roy Orbison. Yeah, he seems to stick out among the harsher stuff here, but I truly love this guy and his music. This was only his second release, hitting #72 on the US charts in 1960. I started listening to him because I heard he was the favorite singer of both Elvis Presley and Chris Isaak. They're sort of the Holy Trinity of rockabilly heartthrobs. Sigh...

8. "Hitchin' a Ride" - Green Day, off Nimrod. Hmm, even though Green Day is one of my favorite bands, I rarely listen to this album, so I have nothing to say about this song. It sounds pretty cool, though.

9. "1000 Miles" - Robert Mirabal, off his live album Painted Caves, where he performs with Rare Tribal Mob. Mirabal is one of the most prominent contemporary Native American recording artists. He's from the Taos Pueblo tribe in Northern New Mexico and offers a unique blend of rock and traditional music. He plays a flute and he's hot. Married with kid, though.

10. "Sweetest Sound" - CMS Productions. This was a CD of ambient music I got for Christmas called Music for Healing. There are birds chirping, apparently enamored with the synthesizer sitting next to a waterfall.

Well, that's today's edition of Mega-Shuffle. Opinions/observations on any of the above artists welcome.

NEW RELEASE!

This Side of Salvation

This Side of Salvation, Jeri's new contemporary YA novel!

Now available in hardcover and ebook.

“A smart, well-rounded, and unpredictable tale...bringing to light issues of belief versus free will, spirit versus body, and family versus self.” —Booklist, **Starred Review**

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"Shattered," a Shade novella!

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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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