Monday, January 31, 2011

The Moonlighting Effect


I recently read a book on my Kindle that I absolutely LOVED. I thought the romance between the two main characters was charming and deliciously racy (this was not a YA book), and I would have bought the sequels (two of them) immediately – if I hadn’t checked the reviews on Amazon. I read a little … and then I went ahead and read some more ... even the spoilers. Now I’m not sure I want to read these books.

I know there has to be some romantic tension to make a book interesting. But do they have to break up? If I find out that the male love interest is going to be absent from most of a sequel – do I want to read it? These two people had enough strange circumstances in their lives to keep any sequel lively, why did one of them have to turn into a jerk? Is it the Moonlighting Effect?

Some of you may remember Moonlighting. It was an entertaining and highly successful show – as long as Maddie and David were at each other’s throats and never quite getting together. And when they finally hooked up … ugh, the show went downhill fast and was mercifully cancelled.

Come to think of it, House has been pretty awful since House and Cuddy hooked up. I’m not sure why their romance has led to less interesting medical mysteries, but it has.

What is it about our nature that makes a happy couple less interesting? Is the fictional tension all in the chase? Is it just too boring if the two people who found each other in the first book stay together?

Will I read the sequels of this book I loved so much? We’ll see. I think I’ll read something else first, and then if these characters are still on my mind after that, I’ll probably give in …

What do you think? Am I being a big baby? Ha! -- and is it hypocritical of me to complain, considering how We Hear the Dead ends?

(Although that wasn’t my fault. History was history …)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why I Rely on Facebook


Granted, the snowstorm started earlier than expected. We were supposed to get rain on Wednesday, and the snow wasn’t supposed to start until that evening. But when I got up in the morning, it was snowing like the dickens, and I had received no call.

I’m supposed to get a call – two, actually. One call goes out to the parents of the school district, and one goes out to the teachers. (They claim they can’t fix the system so I only get woken up once.)

I did a double-take and looked at all that snow. Then I shook my phone to see if it was working. Then I checked the school website – and there was nothing.

Then I opened Facebook, which I should have done in the first place.

Five minutes before Gabbey was supposed to walk out to the bus stop, I saw a posting on Facebook that Channel 10 reported a delayed opening for our school district. (Thank you, Tracy Litchfield!)

I don’t know what held up the official school announcement on Wednesday, but I didn’t get my notification phone call until long after Gabbey would have tramped out in the snow to stand out by the road. Lately, Facebook has become my best news source for everything I need to know … births, illnesses, engagements, and school closings …

What do YOU use Facebook for?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Icy Inspiration


On Saturday, we went horseback riding in the mountains. It was 10 degrees, and after 30 minutes, I couldn’t feel my face, my fingers, or my toes. But it was worth it – it was such a beautiful ride. I’d share a photo of the stunning view in the woods, but it was too cold to get my camera out. My fingers were so fumbling, I was afraid I’d drop it.

The horse had to punch through the snow with every step, which made a rhythmic crunch, crunch, crunch as we followed the guide down the trail. The trees were snow-covered, and the woods were silent, except for the tramp of our five horses. Scores of slender white birch trees arched over us. They all bent gracefully in the same direction, their backs coated with snow and their smallest branches entirely encased in ice.

Our guide said an ice storm had bent them all like that. It was still odd to see those trees warped in an identical fashion, as if some giant wind were blowing them – or they were reaching towards an invisible and unattainable goal – or trying to get away from something terrible.

Yes, my imagination was not as frozen as the rest of me. My head was very busy, looking at the trees and thinking about my new idea. Not the steampunk one; the other one, the one that just started developing over these two ski weekends. A couple of characters introduced themselves to me on Saturday, and I’ve got to find a place in the story for those trees ...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Musings from the Chair Lift


Okay, I admit it. I went back for more – and spent a second weekend in the Poconos, skiing. It was a lot less crowded this time. Less crowds means more runs and more time riding the chair lift – which is one of my favorite places to think about writing. Honestly, can you think of a prettier place to ponder your work than suspended above a snow-covered mountain, with all the tree branches around you encased in ice and sparkling like tinsel?

As I complete my latest round of revisions on a manuscript I’m almost ready to share with my agent, Sara, I realize I have to face that WIP I laid aside a few weeks ago. You know – the one where the characters failed to come to life.

I’ve come to understand the characters weren’t really the problem. It was the setting. This was supposed to be a steampunk story – centered somewhat around Nikola Tesla’s laboratory and his would-have, could-have, (did-he?) experiments involving electricity, magnetism, anti-gravity, and lasers. Before writing each chapter, I painstakingly researched the technology involved and talked over everything with my in-house engineer, Bob.

And then I carefully regurgitated what I’d learned onto the page.

Urgh. Who wants to read upchuck?

If I want to do this, the technology has to take a backseat to the story. Even in steampunk or science fiction, the setting is just a backdrop.

When I write historical novels set in the 19th century, the characters travel by train and carriage, communicate by letters and telegrams, and tell time with pocket watches. However, I don’t painstakingly describe the operation of these things or explain how they work. They’re just there. The same must hold true in any fantasy or science fiction story: start explaining the setting and you’re strangling the story.

I need to start over, and I think I need to throw away my outline. (I knew I wasn’t an outliner. Pantstering, here I come!)

And while I rethink the entire project, I’m going to play around with three other ideas I have – well, actually one idea, one scene, and one opening paragraph – all totally unrelated. But on the lift this weekend, I had an idea about how to tie them together into a single story …

Love the chair lift.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Totally in Love with Kindle!


A few months back, I blogged about how I was thinking of getting an ebook reader, but I wasn’t sure I’d find it useful – especially considering how many manuscripts I beta-read these days. Although the idea of having books instantly at my fingertips was appealing, I wasn’t sure I’d use the Kindle much after the novelty wore off.

Well, I got a Kindle for Christmas (thanks, Bob!) and while it’s too early to claim the novelty won’t wear off, I am completely in love with it so far!

Do I miss the feel of a book in my hands? Not really. In fact, I like to take the cover off the Kindle when I read, to keep it as light as possible. I can’t rave enough about the screen, which doesn’t in any way resemble a computer screen.

Uploading manuscripts is easy enough, although depending on how the author formatted the document, paragraph indentations might be off and sometimes italics don’t show up properly. However, the Kindle is so pleasurable to read, I’d still rather use it than the computer. I can make brief notes on the Kindle – which I then have to transfer to the computer, so I can send a marked up document back to the other writer. It’s an extra step – but again, I don’t mind it because the actual reading is so much easier on my eyes.

What do I have on my Kindle so far?

Nine books: Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, A Spy in the House and The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee, Huck Finn by Mark Twain, Soulless by Gail Carriger, a Warriors book by Erin Hunter I bought for Gina to read and … ahem … We Hear the Dead. (Well, I had to buy my own, right?)

Five manuscripts: Two of my own, The Caged Graves and Strange Truths (new working title of A Pinpoint of Truth), plus Marcy Hatch’s Grimoire, Lori Walker’s Love Potion, and S. Kyle Davis’s Blackbird.

I brought my Kindle in to school to show my class, but they were less impressed than I thought. Turns out, they’re no strangers to e-readers. I took a quick survey and was surprised to find out that in a class of 24 students:

3 kids had their own ebook reader
7 kids had an ebook reader in the house, even if it wasn’t theirs
3 kids said there was more than one ebook reader in their house
5 kids had Kindle apps on other devices, such as iPads or iPods or phones

I’m kind of thinking ebooks are the future of reading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Surviving a Holiday Weekend on the Slopes


Holiday weekends aren’t our favorite times to go skiing, but sometimes that's just the way it works out – like last weekend. We’ve developed our own strategies for dealing with the crowds and still managing to have a good time.

The first rule is to avoid the ski rental shop at the slopes by renting skis (for our girls – Bob and I have our own) at an off-property shop the night before. The second rule is to get out early (by 8:30 am) and quit early (usually by lunch). The third rule is to avoid the beginner slopes at all costs and stick to the expert trails, where you can expect a lower (but not non-existent) percentage of people who don’t know what they’re doing.

Novice skiers tend to hurtle past you, cut you off, and then execute a faceplant right in your path. Most novices will throw themselves to the ground to avoid actually colliding with you – but beware: teenage girls will not. To a teenage girl skier, you look softer than the ground – and besides, there’s always the chance that you’ll be sturdy enough to catch her and hold her up.

Snowboarders present their own challenges. They tend to line up, three or four abreast, and sit on their behinds at the top of a steep hill – blocking the path for everyone else – while they discuss whether or not to attempt it. Then, when they inevitably decide to go for it, they spend a great deal of time lying flat on the ground, right below the crest of the hill and just out of sight (until it’s too late).

At least snowboarders don’t have poles. A lot of numbskulls like to use their poles as an extension of their arms, to point – “Let’s go that way!” – and to wave – “Yoo hoo! We’re over here!” This becomes a problem in crowded lift lines. Not only have I had to duck a wildly gesticulating pole, I’ve also seen a kid get clobbered by one – resulting in a bloody nose.

Our rule of thumb for knowing when to quit the slopes and head to the hot tub on a crowded weekend is: TWO near misses with somebody else’s ski pole, or ONE instance of Gina being run down by a teenage girl, or AFTER Gabbey skis over a jump and lands on a snowboarder.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Painful Joy of Skiing


Thanks for all the well wishes from everyone who commented on my being sick last week. I am no stranger to sinus infections, but this was a real doozy. I was mostly absent from the blogosphere – I didn’t visit anybody else’s blogs, didn’t respond to most of my comments, canceled my Practice Room Session, and shamelessly used my daughters for blog content all week. I missed two days of school and then – guess what I did? The best thing to do with inflamed sinuses is take them skiing, right?

Okay, the trip was already planned, and I don’t want to be called a spoilsport. But I had my moments of regret on that first downhill fun on Saturday. It was 7 degrees; there was a headwind, and I was flying downhill on my skis. Every inch of my sinuses protested with the most searing brain-freeze-style headache I’ve ever known. But, hey, after the second run I got used to it. (You’re wondering: she got used to the cold or the pain? Don’t ask.)

The whole family can ski all the intermediate and most of the expert slopes at Jack Frost Mountain in Blakeslee, PA. Gina and I mostly prefer the lovely intermediate trails, with names like Easy Rider. Gabbey prefers to drag Bob down double black diamonds with names like Death Drop 4 and It’s Your Funeral. Nothing says family togetherness like meeting up to ride the quad chair lift.



I know those could be any 3 strangers I picked up on the mountain, but they really are Gabbey, Gina, and Bob.

It was dang cold this weekend. My toes and fingertips ached. Let’s not even talk about my sinuses. And yet, it’s worth it! The only thing I don’t love about skiing is … my ski boots. We have a very high strung relationship, those boots and I. Their nickname is The Iron Maidens. Getting into them on the first day is always a monstrous battle. I struggle and squirm and slide to the floor, kicking and cursing. By the time I actually have them all buckled up, I’m lying in a puddle of sweat on the floor, ready to quit before I’ve even started.

The second day is always a little easier. They slip on with deceptive ease, but when I snap the buckles closed – OH THE PAIN! But I get used to it. (You’re wondering: used to the pain or they stop hurting? Keep wondering.)

You might be thinking: Why doesn’t she get new boots?

Sigh. These are my new boots. Only had them 5 years. They were custom made for me. What does that say?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gross!


A sinus infection has knocked me flat this week, so Gina is stepping in with a guest post, reviewing the newest book in her favorite series: The Worst Case Scenario Junior Edition. Read at your own risk!

The WORST-CASE SCENARIO Survival Handbook: GROSS Junior Edition reviewed by Gina Salerni

This book will help you survive gross stuff like the school bathroom, avoiding bird poo, surviving a skunking, and lots more gross stuff! There are 4 different categories starting with The Human Body which includes How to Survive Bad Breath, Spit Talker, and Monster Sneezes.  Another category is Home which includes Gross Food, Hairballs, and Fly Infestations.  Also School is a category which includes tips on how to survive Gum Under Your Desk, the Water Fountain, and Lice.   The last category is The Wild Kingdom (Outdoors) which can help you survive roaches, ticks, and skunks!

Did you know that in every 1 pound of chocolate you eat you could be consuming up to 4 rodent hairs and 240 insect parts!  The government allows that!  If you read this book some secrets will be revealed about what could be in the pasta, peanut butter, potato chips, and pizza sauce you eat every day.

With this book you don't have to worry if you sniff the air and it smells like death farted next to you until you realize it's coming from your shoe when SPLAT! A steaming pile of bird poo falls from the sky on your shoulder.  With this book you don't have to shake your fist at the sky asking why you deserved this!


Well, that's a triple UGH as far as I'm concerned. Thanks, Gina, for brightening our day (?) and helping out your poor, sick mom!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Irony

Is today’s youth capable of recognizing irony in literature? Monday’s discussion of Huck Finn has prompted me to move on to another little soapbox subject of mine: underestimating young readers.

Some people find the language and characters in Huck Finn offensive. (Monday, I pointed out that we’re supposed to be offended: it’s about racism.) Others are afraid that students who read this kind of literature will believe that it portrays truth – that they will consider the language acceptable and the characters realistic. In other words, some people think children are not smart enough to understand irony.

I beg to differ. Like many things, it simply needs to be taught. Students can understand irony, and in fact my daughters picked it up on their own watching an episode of Fox’s animated science fiction satirical show, Futurama. Gina’s teacher was a little startled when she spouted off Bender’s definition of irony in class:

The use of words expressing other than their literal intention.

(She tells me she didn’t sing it to her teacher, but both Dread Daughters sing it in the video below.)

The daughters are also fond of citing this example of ironic language from the same episode:

The Robot Devil critiques Fry’s opera: “Your lyrics lack subtlety! You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”



If my girls can discover (and giggle maniacally over) irony and satire they discover on their own, while watching popular television, then children can be taught to recognize it in literature. If Huck Finn offends, then discuss with the class why it does. If, as some people say, Mark Twain was not able to rise above racial stereotypes even when writing an anti-slavery novel, then that should be discussed too. Was it ingrained prejudice on the part of the author, or was it, too, intentional?

I hate to see today’s youth underestimated. They are smarter than we think and sometimes starved for stimulus.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Huck Finn and the State of Being Uncomfortable


Seeing Huckleberry Finn on the list of banned books is no new thing. It’s been controversial for years and years, thanks to it making us uncomfortable and forcing us to think a little. (Wouldn’t Mark Twain have a laugh about that? I expect he’d write another satire about the whole situation.)

The imminent publication of an “expunged” version that removes the n-word from the text has made me ponder the dilemma of educators who want to teach this book, but can’t. That word is, of course, one of parents’ major objections to the novel – along with the stereotyped portrayal of certain characters. The word and the stereotypes make readers uncomfortable, and for heaven’s sake, we wouldn’t want to be uncomfortable while reading a book about racism, would we?

Mark Twain meant for us to be uncomfortable. He deliberately dug around in the ugliest aspects of his society to stir up trouble, to make his readers questions themselves and their attitudes. Does the story still have value to us today? Some people think not, because slavery is gone and we should put it behind us and forget it ever happened. But expunging history is just another way to deny those deep-rooted prejudices (against race, religion, sexual-orientation, political views) that still afflict our country. If you have any doubt that erasing history promotes specific agendas, check out what the School Board of Texas has done to their history curriculum.

It might be easier to teach Huck Finn without that word, but if you water-down the racist elements of the story, then you’ve trivialized the moment when that 12-year-old boy from the lowest element of society has to decide between helping his friend Jim escape slavery and condemning himself to hell (which is what he’s been taught happens to abolitionists).

I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell!”

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.


It seems to me, that moment was pretty important – and worth preserving.

Friday, January 7, 2011

This is Not Going to Get Me 'Mother of the Year'


Yup, this is one of the things I put on my Christmas wish list, and Santa was obliging: big yellow noise-blocking headphones. I know. Terrible, isn’t it?

“What big headphones you have, Mommy!”
“The better to ignore you with, my dear.”


These headphones are excellent at blocking out:

-Zelda music
-Gabbey talking to the Zelda game
-Gabbey playing Zelda music on her ocarina or viola
-Gabbey whistling and/or humming Zelda music
-Gina practicing the flute
-Gina and Gabbey arguing
-Phineas & Ferb
-Wizards of Waverly Place


Due to the high-pitched, shrill voices of the title characters, the headphones cannot quite block out:

-iCarly
-Sunny with a Chance
-Hannah Montana


They absolutely do not block questions like:

“Mom, can I have candy for dinner?” and …
“Mom, can I have all the money in your wallet?”
so quit trying, Gabbey!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

D.O.A.


Have you ever had any dead characters hanging around your house, stinking up the place? I don't mean characters who were poisoned, shot, or otherwise suffered a tragic but necessary demise for the sake of the plot. I'm talking about characters who never came to life.

My current WIP has come to a grinding halt at Chapter 6. I find myself avoiding the project, and luckily I have revisions on other manuscripts to keep me busy. Still, it’s sad to see a new story belly flop like this. The problem seems to be that my characters just aren’t real enough.

I usually have the opposite problem: my characters are too real. They sit at my dinner table. They bother me at work. I converse with them when I think I’m alone (often getting caught in the act by family members). I’ll take any excuse I can find to talk about them – even when nobody wants to hear about them. They develop their own personalities and take the story in directions I wasn’t expecting. Minor characters go down on the page with full-blown personalities that complement the role they’re going to play – even when I don’t yet know what that role will be!

So, what’s wrong with these characters? And how do I fix them? Do I even want to fix them?

I could ignore them for now and work on my revisions. Or, I could go back to the drawing board, ditch my plot outline, play around with the characters a little more and try to breathe some life into them.

Or, I could scrap the whole idea and explore something else from my idea file.

What do you do when the story doesn’t gel and the characters act like a bunch of stiffs from the morgue? How long do you fool around with a WIP before you say, RIP?

Meanwhile, I am seeking beta readers for the third draft of The Caged Graves. Does anybody have an interest and/or the time to give it a read?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolution 2011


HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!

What’s your New Year’s resolution? I’ve been invited to participate in Resolution 2011 by Jon Arntson and Heather Kelly, and I’d like to invite you to join us, as well.

I’m pledging to write every single day in 2011, and for every day I fail to do so, I’ll be donating $1 to charity.

Now, when I told my husband about this resolution his comment was, “That’s not very generous, hon.” Because Bob figures I really will write every day in 2011. He might even be right. So, I’ll start off the year with a $40 donation, and at the end of the year I’ll donate at least that much again – unless I’ve already topped that amount by taking “days off writing” during the year.

I’ve chosen Joy2theWorld as my charity. As most of my blog followers probably know, this is one of Candyland’s favorite charities. Joy2theWorld funds microloans to women entrepreneurs in Ghana so that they can support their families through the ownership of successful businesses, as well as providing training, education, and access to clean water.

Here’s to a year filled with writing …

I hope that all of my blogging friends enjoyed a holiday season that was peaceful/exciting/restful/joyful/productive/reflective. (Pick the one you were hoping for!) I enjoyed spending the time with family and friends, shopping, reading on my new KINDLE, and writing. It was a rejuvenating break for me, and I am thrilled to be back teaching today.

Okay, that last part is a fib, but at least I’m “okay” with teaching today.