Wednesday, March 30, 2011
On April 1, 1997, we had four inches of snow dumped on us here in Pennsylvania. No fooling! It came as a complete surprise, and they even cancelled school. I have every reason to distinctly recall the day. Bob shoveled those four inches off our front stoop and uncovered the car so that he could drive me to the hospital to have a baby.
This was the view from the car. I thought it was funny.
Of course, the joke was on me. Twenty-four hours later, after some false starts and several hours of grueling hard labor that went nowhere, I was rolled into surgery for a C-section. Gabrielle Erin wasn’t born until April 2, around 6am in the morning.
When I recall the story now, Gabbey says: “Heh, heh, heh. April Fool’s, Mom!” Yeah, you got me. Happy upcoming fourteenth birthday, kiddo!
This Friday, April 1, I’ll be posting the first of three First Impressions – short, first page crits volunteered from blog readers. Marcy Hatch over at Mainewords will be joining me in the critique of each one.
We have 1 space open for May. If you’d like to have a critique of your first page, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with First Impressions in the subject line and your first page pasted into the email (not attached). Hoping to hear from you!
Monday, March 28, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
First, I’d like to extend thanks to Jack Dixon for pointing out this anniversary. It’s a sad thing to remember today, but the consequences of forgetting are too terrible to let it pass unmentioned.
On March 25, 1911, 146 workers lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City. Most of them were Italian and Jewish immigrant girls between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three.
The fire may have been started by a cigarette thrown into the trash, or it may have started by the engines running the sewing machines. Whatever the cause, there was insufficient means to alert the workers to the danger. The owners escaped the building, but the workers on the ninth floor were locked in – access to stairwells and exits blocked to prevent employees from stealing from the company. The foreman who held the keys fled the building by another exit, leaving his charges to die.
Some people tried to save the girls. Two elevator operators, Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo, ran the elevators until they ceased functioning. The factory manager, Samuel Bernstein, re-entered the burning building again and again to lead workers out. However, there were too many people trapped, and too few ways to get out. There was only a single fire escape, poorly anchored and not maintained. It collapsed during the disaster, spilling people to the pavement below.
And then, there were the girls who jumped from the ninth floor -- scores of them – while onlookers in the street watched, helpless to save them. “I looked up at the burning building and saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap … This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity.”
Even though none of us were alive to see this happen, we know what it looks like. We saw it on September 11. We know.
WHY am I ruining your Friday with this story? Because, as Jack Dixon pointed out to me earlier this week, it apparently takes America only 100 years to forget.
Those factory workers were unrepresented. They had no one to fight for their rights, to protect their safety in their place of employment. They died because no one cared about them. The owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company were eventually made to pay a $20 fine for allowing the exit doors to be locked.
One hundred years later, in 2011, state legislatures across the country have stripped public workers of their right to collective bargaining. In Maine, a governor has ordered a mural depicting the history of the labor movement removed from a public building, because it is “offensive to business owners.” Somehow, America – the land of the free and the brave – has become a country where the memory of those who fought for the rights of workers is “offensive.” How did that happen?
I am truly sorry to sadden you on a TGIF day.
But for just one moment … can we spare a thought for the girls who died because they didn’t have what we take for granted? The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is one of the reasons we have labor unions today.
Is 100 years all it takes to forget?
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Well, maybe not death. But some kind of transformation. Most everybody carries a telephone on their person these days. But how often do you use it to talk to somebody with your voice?
I picked up a link to this interesting New York Times article (on Facebook, naturally): Don’t Call Me; I Won’t Call You. It suggests that Alex G. Bell’s invention is slowly going the way of the dinosaur as people trend toward text messages and emails as the primary means of communication – in their social and business lives – resorting to the telephone only by appointment or when they have no other choice.
(That’s a picture of Bell above, by the way, using his “hand-held phone” – LOL!)
I was particularly amused by the comments of Miss Manners: "Phone calls are rude. Instrusive. Awkward. Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now. I've been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people."
Honestly, I always thought that! I’ve always been hesitant about making phone calls, afraid to annoy and interrupt people. I try to avoid what I suspect might be their dinner hour – or their lunch time – or before they get up on a Saturday. A scheduled phone call is one thing – confirmed by text or email: I’ll call you tonight around 8pm, okay? But, just out of the blue?
Nowadays, I don’t make many calls. I might have to talk to my daughters’ friends’ mothers, to confirm that the play date they made by text is actually a go. I have to call to make doctor’s appointments (And isn’t that annoying? Why can’t that be arranged by email?) I call my mother (because she won’t email) and my sister (if she won’t answer emails) and my husband (when he can’t be reached by email).
How about you? Do you phone anybody anymore?
Monday, March 21, 2011
Yesterday was the first day of Spring. In Pennsylvania, at least, we had a fairly decent day: sunny, and warm enough for a sweatshirt without a coat, but not short sleeves. This is the state of my back yard.
It brings to mind several thoughts, which I can categorize thusly:
The pool and hot tub are closed, and the waterfall over the gold fish pond is shut down. I really missed the hot tub this weekend, with that gorgeous, over-full moon. However, March is tricky in Pennsylvania. A late snowstorm is not out of the question, along with dipping temperatures that can freeze the pipes. So, I’ll have to look forward to hot-tubbing in April.
Ugh! Clearly I didn’t clean out the dead plants in the fall. Bad Dianne-of-the-Past, leaving all that grotty work for Dianne-of-the-Future! There will be lots of gardening in the upcoming weeks for me – unless I can convince Gina to do it. Hmmm … maybe I should consult Tom Sawyer?
The solar panels on the roof are already in full swing. This is an optimal time of year for them – sunny but not too hot. I look forward to the appearance of all my flowering plants, and being surprised by the things I forgot I planted last year. Soon it will be warm enough to sit under the deck and read or write next to the gold fish pond. And in a few months, I’ll enjoy the pool for exercise and floating – which is my favorite brainstorming activity!
I realized today that I can apply these categories to my writing projects as well:
NOT YET: I have two ideas percolating that are not ready to hit (electronic) paper. I need to let them simmer and not try to rush them (lest the pipes freeze?? I’m not sure that metaphor works!).
TO DO: Make some significant progress on my WIP. Is this thing going to fly or sink? I reached 21,000 words before deciding I needed to make some major changes. So I’m heading back to the beginning – rearranging, reconceiving, rewriting. I’m setting a goal to double this word count in the next couple months or just let the idea go.
LOOKING FORWARD: Bright sunny days are coming; I can feel it. I have several completed projects that I hope will blossom this spring or summer. When school lets out, I’ll have more time for writing, more time to visit other people’s blogs. I’m hoping the soothing sound of the waterfall, the intrigue of mysterious fish that appear in my pond, the colorful backdrop of flowers, and the relaxation of the pool will inspire me for many creative weeks.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Some people ought not be allowed into home improvement stores. Alarms should go off when these people cross the threshold, and security guards should escort them from the premises.
The original owners of our home were Do-It-Yourself-ers. They bought the house partly finished, and completed it themselves, with the help of a lot of friends, cut-rate materials, and (we suspect) a lot of beer.
They built the deck, but didn’t ground the posts in concrete, so eventually they began to rot away. Consequently, we had to have the deck torn down and rebuilt.
We don’t know who they got to pour concrete for the pool deck, but whoever it was didn’t have the formula right. The concrete began to crumble, and we had to pay people to jack hammer it up and replace it. (The jack hammers were overkill. The construction crew kept picking up chunks and crumbling it in their hands, laughing and making comments like: “Look at me! I’m Superman!”)
They finished the kitchen, too – with cheap cabinets, a tile countertop they laid themselves – YIKES – and Pepto-Bismol-pink flowered tile floor that only an old lady could love. They felt that grout could fill in any mistakes they made with the tiling, and they must have bought buckets of it!
Plus, they built their own island. It's heptagonal. How many of you have a 7-sided island in your kitchen? I wonder if they thought it was lucky.
We can’t afford to replace the cabinets, so we’re painting the ones we have. We started a steampunk-sort of theme when we installed counterweight lights, so I’m continuing the idea by putting a different and unusual knob on every single cabinet.
The picture above is a peek at our newly painted, multi-knobbed cabinetry. Here's a few more of the knobs we've purchased! My daughters (unsurprisingly) are fond of the gargoyle.
I’m also considering this clock. (Okay, I already bought it.)
I plan on staying in this house for a good long time, so hopefully nobody can come along behind me and call me a Decorating Vandal.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
I didn’t see it coming.
High school, that is. Of course, I knew my daughter was in eighth grade. It wasn’t like I was unaware, but somehow I didn’t expect high school to appear so suddenly on the horizon.
Granted, I was stunned to see her walk out on stage in the eighth grade play, looking poised and confident and lovely. As a narrator in Aladdin Jr., she not only had solo speaking lines, but several solo singing lines in the number Arabian Nights, as well as its numerous reprises. Yeah, I got a bit teary. That was my kid.
But this past Wednesday evening, I sat beside her in the high school auditorium for orientation, my mouth hanging open. I felt like I’d been slapped back 30 years. How long has it been since the words electives, credits, pre-requisites, tracking, AP exam have been important in my life? She seemed to get more out of the presentation than I did, nodding her head along the way. “Our teachers told us this,” she said. “Yes, that’s what my guidance counselor said. Uh huh, I’ve already got my teacher’s recommendation for Honors Biology.”
High school is the same – and oh, so different. Typing is now Keyboarding. Taking an elective in Microsoft Office is recommended, so you can learn how to make Word insert all your citations and compile your bibliography for you. It can do that?
Gabbey’s priority is to get into the graphic arts elective. I’m not even sure that existed way back-in-the-day – and if it did, it certainly didn’t involve any computers. (I started using computers in college. Think floppy discs and dot matrix printers.) She’s also debating taking Italian (which she really wants) or continuing with Spanish so that she can qualify for the AP Spanish test in her senior year and get college credit. And of course, she bemoans the fact that the creative writing elective isn’t open for freshmen, but she doesn’t plan on letting that hold her back from writing.
I am thrilled to see her so motivated. But I can’t help but wonder: What happened to THIS kid?
Friday, March 11, 2011
… For the Next Three Weeks is this:
- Count test booklets and answer booklets every morning
- Distribute pencils, rulers, scrap paper
- Read tedious instructions
- Walk up and down the aisles for 60-90 minutes
Well, I have two ideas on the boil right now, both of which are nothing more than a list of plot elements on my computer. Obviously I can’t sit down and write, but I can churn ideas, brainstorm, visualize, and dream. Maybe by the end of this year’s state testing, I can have both ideas hammered out into – (well, I’m not really an outliner) – something that is outline-ish.
- Collect the pencils, rulers, scrap paper, and tests
- Re-count the test booklets and answer booklets (yeah, we really have to)
- Give the students a little break time
- Teach a compressed schedule of classes for the rest of the day while the students make big, sad eyes at me and act like I’m Hitler
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Monday, March 7, 2011
Friday, March 4, 2011
Today is the second installment of my new monthly feature – First Impressions. Marcy Hatch of Mainewords and I will be giving feedback on the first page of a YA Paranormal WIP by Carolin Seidenkranz, whom you can find at her blog, A Little Bit of Everything.
Carolin opens with this paragraph:
Dried mud tugged on her skin as she flexed her cold fingers. Brown coated both of her hands, dulling the vibrant purple on her fingernails. As she lifted her head, pain exploded in her temple and all the way into her jaw. She groaned and let her head drop back into the cool earth.
Immediately I get a vivid and compelling picture of someone in great trouble, although I don’t know yet what happened to her. The “vibrant purple on her fingernails” suggests nail polish, and therefore a modern time period. This passage is followed by a description of her surroundings and her growing sense of where she is. I really liked this tantalizing bit of information:
The overwhelming scent of smoke filled her nostrils. It took her a moment to realize that it came from her hair and that little bits of ashes had caught in it.
There’s been some sort of fire, and I get the feeling our character has passed out after escaping it. Just an editing note here: That last sentence uses the word “it” three times, to reference three different things. I’d rephrase a bit.
Next, the girl staggers to her feet with difficulty, and we realize she is still in great danger:
She steadied herself on her feet after the third try.
Shouts rang out from behind her.
“Elle est vivante!”
“Ne la laisse pas sortir!”
“Bring her back.”
Showing that she was alive might not have been one of her best laid plans.
I was immediately intrigued by the use of two languages. Where is she? I wondered. It could be Canada, I suppose – but the mix of languages definitely caught my attention. Who are these people? Why are they chasing/hunting her? Why do they want to kill her – and what was on fire?
I would replace the word “showing” in the last line with something stronger, such as “revealing.” Also, my rudimentary French suggests that the sequence of shouts actually says:
Don’t let her get away.
Bring her back.
When translated, it’s a bit simplistic, and Carolin might want to whet our interest with something more mysterious – something more complex and puzzling. On the other hand, the words are certainly threatening enough, and if these people are running and shouting, they’re not going to waste breath on a lot of words. So, maybe it’s better the way it is.
Overall, the first page grabs my attention. A girl in danger – being chased by bilingual people who want her dead – a fire – These things raise a lot of questions in my mind. Is she a witch? Were they trying to burn her at the stake? In modern day Canada? I know some of my conclusions are probably wrong, but I would definitely want to keep reading to find out more!
Be sure to stop by Mainewords to see Marcy’s first impression of Carolin’s work!
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
I’d like to offer a big thank you to Marisa Hopkins at Living the Creative Life, for being brave enough to share a page of her manuscript for First Impressions feedback! After you’ve read my impressions below, pop over to Mainewords, where Marcy Hatch will also be sharing feedback on Marisa’s page.
The following excerpt is the first 130 words of SLEEP, Marisa’s urban fantasy retelling of Sleeping Beauty:
On the day I was born all the spring flowers blossomed, the crickets played their violin wings and the faeries sang songs of love and joy. That’s what my father used to tell me, anyway, as he tucked me into bed at night. I’d lay there with my baby quilt pulled all the way up to my chin and listen as he told me over and over again, the story of my birth and the bliss he and my mother felt as they gazed upon their newborn Cinnia Rose.
I knew by the time I was three that spring flowers don’t bloom through the autumn frost and crickets die in the cold. Not to mention the only faeries at my birth were my pixies, and of the seven of them, only Skipperling can carry a tune.
Immediately, an image of Pixie Hollow springs to my mind, but then it is bashed down by the first sentence of the second paragraph. This sentence lets me know that everything is not all sweetness and light in Cinnia Rose’s world, and suggests a conflict between the way things should be and the way they are. Her voice hints at disappointment or cynicism here, but as I continue reading to end of the page, I realize the emotion I’m seeing is sadness.
After this opening passage, the narrator shares the rest of her father’s retelling of her birth and reveals that both her parents are dead. The memory of this favorite story is all she has left to comfort her. Marisa ends the excerpt with these sentences:
I’m supposed to feel lucky that I was given seven faery gifts at my birth. But I would give back every single one in a heartbeat just to hear my father tell the story one more time.
I found this intriguing! Here is the conflict in the story: Cinnia Rose is supposed to be gifted. She is supposed to have a life that mirrors her father’s story. But she doesn’t. All is not well in her world.
Whenever I see lines that grab me like this, I usually recommend moving them forward and opening with them. They would reveal Cinnia Rose’s problem and a bit of her personality in the very first paragraph. It occurs to me that the first lines as written reveal her father’s personality, not her own, and he is apparently dead when the story opens. So, perhaps it would be better to begin with the narrator’s wish that she could trade what she has for what she lost. What do you think, Marisa? Those lines could lead into the father’s story about her birth, but the telling of it would be flavored with sadness – because we would already know it’s not true and the man who loved to tell it to her is gone.
Marcy has her own First Impressions of Marisa’s work over at Mainewords. On Friday, First Impressions continues with a look at another writer’s first page.