Monday, October 28, 2013

Musical Monday: Lily Kershaw

Heard this song on the radio (yes, that's right, the radio. Yes, I had to stream it, but there actually are stations out there playing new music!) last week and really liked it. This track is from Ms. Kershaw's debut album. Melancholy mood music for a Monday in late October, it seems. Enjoy.

Lot's of talk out there as October fades away about NaNoWriMo. Once again, I'm in the NaNoNoNo club. The long-awaited read-through of Barton's Women is done and I've started in on actual revision work now. My goal is to have this bad boy out on the query trail by the end of November. It's only a couple months later than my plan, but everything in its own time, right? Anyway, given my schedule right now I don't have a lot of free time, and I need to get BW out the door sooner rather than later. If you're doing NaNo, best of luck and have fun! Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

You may have noticed the fluff-to-content ratio here has been high lately. Part of it is due to the time thing: since I have less writing time now, I'm putting in less time drafting posts in advance. Come Monday and Friday mornings I'm scrambling to complete the the half-formed thoughts I had a few days earlier, or I'm just completely winging it. At the same time I'm also a little burned out on the whole blogger/forum thing. I'm not even reading posts with the same...verve...that I was a couple of months ago. A break may be in the offing, though I'm not quite there yet. Or maybe I am. We'll see.

Had quite a bit of fun at my Writers' Circle yesterday. I blew off the prompt (a bit from an essay by the late Stephen Jay Gould) in favor of responding to a comment one of my fellow writers made, and ended up with something that was fun to write, and fun to read (except for that one spot where I couldn't figure out the word I had written). It actually seemed like it would loan itself to a bit of experimentation in form, using twin storylines written side-by-side, though I didn't have time to quite finish the first half, so I never got to the second half. We'll see where it goes, or if it goes.

That's it for me, how's everything going for you?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stupid Little Truths

Almost two years ago (Really? It was two years ago already? Yes, yes it was) I wrote about truth in fiction. At that time, it was the poignancy and truth I recognized in the source material of the local high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. The point was that there were large truths about relationships between fathers and daughters, between tradition and change. 'Fiddler' works so well because it's a case of fiction revealing the Truth, and it's something the best fiction should aspire to.

There's another kind of truth that can be found in good fiction. It's one I'm a big believer in. Unlike Truth with a capital 'T', I think of these as 'stupid little truths.'

You know you've encountered them--stupid little truths are those small, seemingly inconsequential details in a work of fiction that make you nod along and say, "Yeah, that's it, right there." I love it when I get something back from a beta reader and find a comment that says, "That's so true!" or "You nailed it!" And I love finding them when I'm reading someone else's book.

Red Hot, Godzilla-sized
New writers are constantly warned not to load up on needless detail and unnecessary verbiage. "Use the fewest words possible," we're told. "Keep your word count down. If it doesn't reveal character or advance the plot, dump it." All good advice, yet  stupid little truths fly in the face of this advice. Unlike Chekhov's Gun, stupid little truths may not be especially important to the story, yet like a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, a few drops of Red Hot they add so much to the story.

One of the masters of stupid little truths is Stephen King. King peppers his work with stupid little truths. I always think of a short, simple quote from Needful Things: "But the real reason he'd gone was the one most bad decisions have in common: it had seemed like a good idea at the time." The line feels a bit like a throwaway. It's part of a passage that establishes the character of Alan Pangborn, top lawman in the doomed town of Castle Rock. Is it necessary, that line? No, I don't think it is. But I also remember the first time I read it, and how it made me smile and think, "Yeah, that's it, right there!"

Another great stupid little truth comes in King's massive book, IT. In the opening pages we meet six-year-old Georgie Denbrough, who is tasked with getting something from the basement for his older brother, who is bed-ridden with the flu. Like many six-year-olds, Georgie is petrified of the basement. There's a scene of perhaps 12 paragraphs in which Georgie does his best to get this thing from the shelf four steps down the cellar stairs. He's there, clinging to the door frame, fumbling for the light switch, and while the damp smell of basement rises to meet him, his fear of some horrible creature in the basement rises as well. It's perfect, and it captures neatly an experience common to so many children, though it's not strictly necessary. It's a little over one page out of 1100, a handful of paragraphs out of thousands. The Denbrough basement plays no other role in the book, and while Georgie himself looms large as a motivator for his brother's later actions, he himself will be dead by page 15 (since King tells us this on p. 5, it's not exactly a spoiler). George's fear of the basement is not needed; it's unnecessary verbiage, the sort of detail that we might be tempted to keep out of the book in favor of streamlining and minimal word count, yet it's a stupid little truth that adds so much to the reading experience. 

Would we miss it if it weren't there? Of course not. If his editor had said, "Steve, this whole bit here should go," and King had said, "Yeah, you're right,"we never would have known. But it's there, and it enriches the reading experience.

Granted, Stephen King has a lot more leeway than many of us. Still, there's room for 'stupid little truths', and, I think, need. What do you think?

"Hot Sauce, Big & Small" from Jeffrey Krohn's photostream

Monday, October 21, 2013

Musical Monday: Change In The Weather

This Musical Monday is brought to you by Mother Nature, who has seen fit to flip a seasonal switch in this little corner of the world.

First, a shout-out to the Catbird and her teammates and coaches on the cross country team--they won their conference championship meet on Saturday! 

On Friday at the office I noticed the wind had picked up. On occasion, our door would rattle, and every couple of minutes you could hear wind rushing through the trees. Inside, though we've had to put the heat on a couple of times, it was pleasant enough. Unlike my house, the place I work is pretty tightly put together, so there are no drafts flowing through the space.

I opened the door and stepped out into what looked like a classic fall day: blue sky, a bit blustery, colorful leaves spinning down—but the thought that crossed my mind came straight out of Ned Stark's head: Winter is coming.

We've had cold weather before, this year. Our summer kind of ended in mid-July, temperature-wise. It first dipped into the thirties weeks ago, we had our first hard frost in mid-September, and I woke up to sub-freezing temperatures at the beginning of this month, so it's been coming for some time. Yet there was something different this time. The feeling was different, and the smell—autumn is the smell of woodsmoke and mouldering leaves. It's rich, aromatic, almost spicy. Then there's a winter smell, cold and clean. This was the first time, even with those occasional, very cold nights, that I've gotten that smell, that same feeling. Winter is coming.

Here's John Fogerty, the primary brain behind the classic sixties group, Creedence Clearwater Revival, with his solo song, Change In The Weather. Something I find interesting is the lyrical similarity between this song and something like Bad Moon Rising, though Bad Moon's rather foreboding lyrics are set off by bouncy, peppy music. Enjoy!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Random Thoughts on a Friday

It's not yet 6 AM and I'm still working on coffee number 1. I was out at a board meeting until late last night, the Catbird needs a ride to school around 7, i.e., well before the bus, and I have a charter dinner to attend right after work. So, yeah, we're on a random thoughts Friday thing.

*Heard a song on the radio yesterday where the singer was singing about 'rolling down the windows.' Do any cars come with hand-cranked windows anymore? Yet we still say we're 'rolling down the windows' not 'buttoning down the windows' or 'gliding down the windows.' I wonder what we might call it if the first cars had had power windows....

*After attending a couple of big, invitational-style cross country meets over the last few weeks, I have to ask: In all the history of recorded music, have we really not gotten anything better to play at the finish line than We Will Rock You and the theme from Rocky?

*That scene from Rocky may have been the birth of the 'sports training montage' so perfectly skewered by the guys at South Park.

*Speaking of cross country, I saw some very nice things happening at a couple of those races. Long after the bulk of the runners had crossed the line, I saw two girls out on the course, separated by about 10 feet or so, both obviously struggling, but one in worse shape than the other. The second girl stopped. The lead girl looked over her shoulder, stopped, and started encouraging her. "Come on," she said, waving her forward. "You can do it." And the second girl pushed on. They were from different schools. A few minutes later, another girl came struggling along. She was surrounded by girls--from a different school--who had competed in an earlier race. These girls were cheering and encouraging her to move on. It was so nice to see this sort of behavior in a competitive environment.

*Board meetings are really interesting places for looking at interpersonal dynamics, let me tell you.

*Depending on where you live, you may be seeing a sudden increase in ladybugs. They may be all over your house, or flying around in great numbers. Do not be alarmed! There is a species of ladybug that overwinters en masse, and they're looking for a good place to do it.

*And as a public service announcement, autumn is a big time for deer-car collisions. Be careful out there!

*Congratulations to Carrie Butler, on the release of her second novel, Courage--good luck, Carrie!

Well, it seems the first cup of coffee's done and I need to knock on a door to wake someone up, and since I have to be out of the house in about 45 minutes, it seems like I'd better get on with my day. Feel free to share your random thoughts below, and have a great weekend!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Oh My Gosh, It's a Day to Write!

Well, while Columbus Day doesn't have the cachet it did when I was ten years old, I'll happily take it as a day to write. And after spending the last hour or so struggling with a particularly difficult post on the recent brouhahaha over Lorde and her song, Royals, I've decided to shelve it for another time and spend my writing day either writing (I'm thrilled that the good folks at Elephant's Bookshelf have decided to push the deadline for submissions for the winter anthology back by two weeks) or reading to revise. Oh, and there's a manuscript to continue beta-ing for a friend.

How are you spending your Columbus Day?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Being Heard Over the Band

A week ago tomorrow (no, that's not awkward at all, is it?), we ran an event. Let me first say it went pretty well overall, thank you all for your comments and best wishes. Let me also add that I barely got through this week. Monday afternoon, I felt the scratchy throat coming. On Tuesday, I made it to work but probably should have stayed home. Wednesday and Thursday were better, and today is better still, though colds have a tendency to linger, and I still feel a bit like I'm under water. Anyway...

The event was pitched to me as an 'awareness raiser'. It wasn't a fundraiser, but we didn't want to lose money, either. What we wanted was, to borrow a phrase from the movie, Slap Shot, "Let them know we're here." To that end we had our name on everything that went out--the posters, the press releases, the ads in the paper, the ad on TV. When it came to setting up the event, we had more tables than anyone, and had the primary place in the exhibit tent. You couldn't swing a dead cat around this event without seeing our name somewhere.

This was NOT our polka band
Yet at the end of the day, I don't know that it worked. Oh, we had a couple hundred people come out, and most people--attendees, exhibitors and vendors--seemed to have a good time, but as an awareness raiser? As a generator of new memberships? Not so much. You see, it seems the principal draw on the day was--wait for it-- the polka band.* Yes, that's right, the polka band was the big attraction. They were a rock-n-roll polka band who have been around for years. A lot of people came specifically for them. I talked to people who said things like, "We saw them in Norwich last night," and, "These guys are great; I follow them all over." It was like talking to Deadheads back in the day, except these folks were even older than the band. These people came down, they paid their money, and they spent almost all day in the entertainment tent listening to the band (and there was some dancing, too). The good thing is they left happy; the bad thing is, they probably have no idea who we are as an organization.

And so I find myself thinking of the struggle of writers. Whether we're agented or not, self- or traditionally-published, or not yet published at all we hammer away. We write the best stories we can and we send them out, or we publish them ourselves. And we try to build a name. We blog and we tweet and we Facebook, and we do this even if we're fortunate enough to have a publisher that puts time, effort and cash into promotion and marketing, and we do even more if we don't have that sort of publisher. We even do it when we don't have anything published, because we hope it will pay off some day. All in the name of recognition and sales. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

In looking back at last weekend's event, and thinking over much energy (and money) went into pulling it off, part of me thinks the best approach is to let the organization's works speak for themselves. Rather than creating an event specifically to get our name out there, maybe we should just go on doing what we do, and send out press releases when we do something noteworthy. At this point, I'm no longer sure about the connection of this post to writing, except that the powers that be tell us we need to start building audience, name recognition, and--dare I say it?--platform before we're published. That way, when we have our book launches and cover reveals and all that stuff, people will say, "Oh, I've heard of him! Let me check that out." It's a nice idea. The problem is, until we get to that point, we're just one person of many trying to be heard over the polka band.

Have a great weekend, all!

Image of the Bavarian Sauerkrauts
*I should point out, while it's kind of fun to make fun of polka, the band was actually very good, and the music itself--the traditional and non-traditional polkas both--are quite catchy.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Musical Monday: Neil Young

Wow. I'm much more tired than I thought. I should know by now that it's the day after the day after that leaves you feeling like you got hit by Miley Cyrus and her wrecking ball (not to fear, folks, Cyrus's video is not forthcoming from me; but did you see the words of advice from Sinead O'Connor to Cyrus? Good stuff, and possible fodder for a post--but not today).

No, I'm going in a different direction. It's funny the way our brains make connections, how thought follows thought, often in an orderly, progressive matter, and the links that are sometimes made. Yesterday afternoon I was washing up some dishes, and thinking. Not thinking about the event, for the first time in several days, but thinking about writing. More specifically, Sunday afternoon is my Writers' Circle day and I was in pre-thinking mode, which I sometimes do on Sundays. Sometimes I go in completely devoid of ideas and follow the prompt, or whatever catches my attention, other times I go in with some kind of pre-existing idea. And a phrase came to me. Where it came from, I don't know, but it involved wind and a keyhole (no, I did not have Stephen King on my mind), but that seemed like too much of a cliché, so I kept thinking.

So I stood at the sink with my hands in hot, soapy water, thinking. And by the way, hand washing dishes is great for thinking about writing. It's something to do with your hands that doesn't overtax your brain, allowing for good flow of thoughts--oh, how all of you with the industrial-strength dishwashers that don't even need a cursory scrape of the stuck-on food bits envy me. Anyway, I discarded the wind through the keyhole idea, but kept thinking on wind rattle a door in its frame. And I 'saw' a person, a woman, sitting in a darkened room, watching the door. It's windy, the door is almost breathing in that way flimsy doors sometimes do on a windy day. She's got a shotgun in her lap. As she's watching, light starts playing around the edges of the door, as if someone's approaching with a flashlight. Who? I don't know. Why? Don't know. But I see this woman lift her shotgun, settle the but against her shoulder, and level the barrel at the door, one eye squeezing shut, her finger curling on the trigger, waiting. And then, in a perfectly logical way, a song lyric followed: "Daddy's rifle in my hand felt reassuring", and the spell was kind of broken.

Way back in the day, back when this song was new, back when rock radio wasn't compartmentalized into styles of classic hits (we have two 'classic rock' stations in our area; one tends to favor a slightly harder edge that includes almost constant dosages of Led Zeppelin; the other is a little more mellow, and feeds us a lot more of things like Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young), and the Eagles. Neither station plays this song as far as I can tell), this song was all over the radio. I haven't heard it in years, but it's a great one, in my opinion. One of the remarkable things about it to me is how visual it is--I can see this poor kid standing on the docks, rifle in hand, with this big boat--and his doom--bearing down on him. And it's got character building, too. Think about what you learn about this kid and his family in a few short verses. Young is a brilliant songwriter, and it's amazing to think that he's been at it for somewhere around 50 years now.

Anyway, that's that. I'll add that my event went quite well from my perspective. I have a buttload of stuff to unload from my van today, some post-event wrap up to do, and then I'm probably going to sit at my desk and think, "Now what?" I'll find something. How was your weekend?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pseudo-No Post Friday

There is no post today, and here's why:

At the tail end of July, I was hired by a local organization to fill a position on an interim basis. The previous occupant of said position was not up to the task. I was brought in because I know the boss and the boss knows me, and she was pretty confident that I could step in and hit the ground running. Also, I was available right away, and, finally, I was interested.

Now, the biggest, most pressing 'to do' on the 'To do' list I found when I started was to plan an event. I've been around plenty of events. I've planned parts of many an event, but I've never really run one from stem to stern. Naturally, I said, "Yeah, I can do that" when it came up in discussions about the position. As Dr. House says, "Everybody lies." Not that I was lying, because I did indeed know I could do it. It's not my favorite thing in the world, to be honest, and I take solace in the fact that this event is pretty much a one-time-only thing. I wouldn't want to do it all the time, and if the director of this organization said to me, "Hey, we're going to turn this position into 'Event Planner' and your going to do five, six, seven of these a year, do you want the job?" I'd probably say, "No, thank you" and run screaming from the room.

Well, the event is upon us. It's tomorrow. There's a lot to do today, there's a lot to do tomorrow, but I'm almost to that point where I have to completely let go and let things happen. I have the people in place, the logistics taken care of, publicity has been done. Today is setting up the site, moving things from one place to another, making sure I really have the people in place after all. But I can't control the weather and I can't control the whether: the weather is looking like rain (it's an outdoor event), and the 'whether' is whether anyone is going to show up or not, or whether they're going to be happy with what we're putting on.

Hey, it's a lot like writing, isn't it? You pour yourself into your book or your story, and when you think it's ready, you release it to the world in some form, and it's out of your hands. Of course, by Sunday, my event will be over. There will be some cleanup and a final report or two for the board and the bosses, but unless the event is either a way-beyond-expectations success or a disaster on the scale of Heaven's Gate, I likely won't hear of it again (it was proposed as a one-time-only event). A book that is being queried can keep bringing heartache, hope or joy weeks--even months--after the 'event'.

How about that? I started this with the intention of saying, "Sorry, no post today, kinda busy" and ended up with a post. I hope you all have a great weekend, and I hope to be posting with a little more...cohesion next week. Be well!