Archive for October, 2010

Wild Day

This entire day feels like something is trying to break through. When I took the dogs out before dawn, the wind was blowing so loudly it sounded like we were at sea. Leaves and branches are whipping around the yard in a forced dervish dance. Our trash can–and all the neighbours’–is blown sideways and down.

It’s the kind of day that seems as though it should be frigid, but it’s actually quite hot. That adds to the feeling of a break along the seams, like the world is fevered and trying to shake whatever ails it.

I can’t get much work done; the outside is both captivating and slightly frightening. Which, I suppose when I get right down to it, is the same way I’m feeling about my current writing. Having read these wonderful books of late, my faith in what I’m trying to do as a writer is restored. I’ve bounced around from idea to idea in quest for the most commercial and most easily finished idea. In doing that I’ve abandoned the books that felt closest to me. Especially my pride and joy, my book about Sarah.

Here’s the thing; I had a story that I wanted to read but didn’t seem to have been written yet, so I started to write it. I wanted to write a sort of coming-of-age story (I hate using the world Bildungsroman outside of a literature class…) that dealt with a woman battling for her place in the worlds of science and medicine and religion. But I under no circumstances wanted to to be any type of religious book. I’ve spent years researching the story, and drafts of it litter notebooks and hard drives and stacks of 3×5 cards tucked in various nooks and crannies around my house.

Then I went to Sherlock’s Books one Saturday afternoon to check it out. There just happened to be a book signing there; purely by coincidence, it was featuring an author I had met previously at a writers’ workshop. He writes in the Inspirational/Faith Fiction space and we were discussing that. I happened to mention that my book featured an Amish character. Because it does…my character starts out as Amish.

I had no idea that Amish girls were the Christian version of Vampires and had basically their own section in every Christian bookstore in the world. But I was so discouraged that my idea was not only not new but actually very tired. So I stopped writing. I couldn’t do it anymore. Because I didn’t want people to think I was joining some bandwagon–even though I had no idea such a bandwagon even existed until many years AFTER I started my own book. I think a lot of my antipathy for Faith Fiction stems from that, from the fact that I abandoned a world I was so attached to because FF had already beat it to death.

But then over the weekend something struck me. I’ve been reading Fantasy Authors like crazy lately. I’ve read a lot of okay stuff, a couple awful things and, lucky for me, some of the most wonderful books I’ve read in any genre, any space. All of the books have things in common with other Fantasy stories. But the best ones went ahead and made their own story. Patrick Rothfuss wasn’t deterred by having a dragon in his book. He just made his own dragon. George R.R. Martin didn’t care one bit that other authors had knights errant, dragons, pirates and the like. He just went ahead and told his story.

I think more and more that I am going to do just that. I’m going to quit worrying about “will a publisher buy this”. I’m especially going to quit worrying about people thinking I’ve ripped off Beverly Lewis. Instead, I’m going to write the book I’ve always wanted to write. I feel free, and a bit wild like the wind.

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If you are reading this blog entry that means you are neither reading Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name Of The Wind nor are you reading Peter Brett’s The Warded Man.

Since both of these are two of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time, I am sad for you. You are missing out.

I personally count myself lucky that I’ve got many good friends who were patient enough with my “I don’t read Fantasy” rants and nevertheless compelled me to pick up George R.R. Martin. Because it’s clear, from the rabbit trail I’ve tripped down in the last three months, that Fantasy has undergone a renaissance in the last five years.

When I gave up on Fantasy in the mid 1980s I was turning my back on a dozen cheap knockoffs of Tolkein, released every year with garish covers and that loathsome “Fantasy Font” that makes a book look instantly like it belongs in a garage sale. These books almost always rendered the old adage about judging by covers completely moot. You could look at one of these books and know instantly that, like a McDonald’s hamburger, you would get the same warmed over taste you’d had exactly a thousand times before. While I enjoy both McDonalds and a comforting degree of sameness, it was getting really tiresome. I swore I’d never again read a book with the terms “elfling” or “mage”.

Conveniently that was right around when I was getting ready to go to college, and much of my reading was designed to make me as smart as possible for the upcoming classes. I started devouring a lot of biographies (the aforementioned Mozart, various ex-Beatles, ex-Presidents and founding fathers) and classics. It was right about here that I first read through all of Dickens and polished off Les Miserables. I was also majorly into Gone With the Wind and read that once a year–ah, the days before Harry Potter was my Once A Year book.

When college came I read very college-y things. Siddharta and Camus and various Russians. I swear one of the reasons I left college was the tired stoop in my soul’s posture from all the weight of Serious Literature. Not so much the classics, but the newer things, the modern American stuff and the older Russian stuff that conspires to make you want to slit your wrists.

In the past fifteen years I’ve bounced around genres like a pinball, veering in and out of Mystery, Thriller, Romance and whatever you call people like Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Clive Cussler…all those fellas. I’ve also read countless books on the history of Medicine, comparative religion, British and Celtic history etc. But NEVER would I touch fantasy. Ever. Until now. And now I’m telling you the most exciting writers doing the most exciting things have been apprenticing in Fantasy. And the genre is getting remade into the best possible world of The Story.

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Pocket Frogs

12/30/11–I am no longer trading frogs via this website. I still trade via the forum at TouchArcade.


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Nothing Happens

It seems that what I like in a Fantasy novel differs from what most other people seem to like.

Still chasing that George R.R. Martin dragon, I’ve ventured into four or five other fantasy series. Most of them begin with some sort of dramatic prologue, designed to hook the reader by dropping them into an intense action sequence. That doesn’t work for me. I’ve come to realise over the past couple of months that I’m not an easy date for a Sci-Fi/Fantasy author. You need to take me to dinner and buy me flowers, maybe even have a conversation, before dropping me into cataclysmic battles with Thoragazza: The Lighted Well-Spring Of The Power of The Ancient Ages Of Elder Gods.

After my misadventures with Mozart’s Ladies’ Fellowship sister–which I read to escape from the memory of Jordan’s Wheel of Time–I dipped back into the Fantasy pool and came up with Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name Of The Wind.

Y’all, I am LOVING this book. It starts off like a story should–with some gentle, lulling “Once Upon A Time” that takes you by the hand and walks you into Rothfuss’ world. From there it reminds me a great deal of one of my favourite non-Fantasy works, The Physician by Noah Gordon. We spend time growing in the world alongside Kvothe (pronounced mostly like Quothe, even though I touch my lips a bit around the ‘ou’ for completeness’ sake.)

The funny thing is that when I go to Amazon and Goodreads to suss out the negative reviews, they all seem to have one thing in common.

They complain that “nothing happens.” I’m halfway through the book right now and I’ve lost count of all the things that have happened. But they happen the way things happen in real life. No, black, chittering spiderlike creatures do not attack a poor Carter on his way to the Tavern here in this world. But when most people have a bad thing happen to them, say, a car accident, it’s them and another car or two at a stoplight or in the Kroger parking lot. Not every car accident is an eighty-seven car pileup on the interstate that ends in a fiery ball of death. And that, to me, is what a lot of fantasy authors get wrong. They are so enamoured with having an entire world at their fingertips that they have to get right to the blowing up of stuff. I imagine they’re the ones who destroy their Sim Cities regularly with monsters.

Rothfuss has an excellent feel for story. He has an excellent skill with words. And I believe in his world more than I’ve believed in any Fantastical world since Westeros. Because his world, like Westeros and like ours, works the way a world works. I chuckle at the idea that a Fantasy book has to have giant flaming sorcery battles every thirty pages to be any good. Now, should a giant battle come along at points further in Kvothe’s world, I’ll be up for it. Because i now know that world and the people in it.

And trust me, if Robert Jordan hadn’t passed away, I’d mail him a printout of this blog entry.

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I am in deep trouble. Trouble that is deeper than the rocky floor of the Marianas Trench. I just woke up from a brief nap–can we call it a Katnap? No. We cannot–and the dream in the midst of that nap was perhaps the most perfect skeleton of the most wonderful story I’ve ever had live in my head.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I’ve dreamt a lot of stories over the years. My normal dreams are a bit like a Dali painting with me starring as one of the melting pocketwatches or an episode of The This Is Your Life Boat where I’m trapped in an odd experience with random Very Special Guest Stars from various eras of my life. You know, pushing through a bargain basement sale at Harrod’s with my third grade teacher and Vern Yip. That sort of thing.

But every couple of weeks or so, my normal notnormal dreams are replaced by what I can only describe as a Brainmovie. The dream is me, cast in one or more parts of a very compelling story. They’re great stories, too. More than once I’ve found one of my good dream stories serving as a movie (Ghost) or a great book (the second half of Shining Through). There has been more than one time where I’ve been late for breakfast because I’ve tried to go back to sleep and grab more of the story before facing my day.

And this dream I just dreamed was the best story I’ve ever dreamed. So good that I want to write it up. But I’m in the middle of writing up other things I promised myself I would finish. So I’m torn between starting an 8000th work of fiction, ignoring the new hotness or just going back to sleep.

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There could be a better name for this post, but I didn’t have one. So much for ‘creative writing’.

Let me just say that last night was awesome. Why? Well, because I went to my friend’ book release party. It’s pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime experience to sit on a stone porch in the James Gang’s old Tennessee Hideout Town eating cajun food and listening to homemade ghost stories.

I also got to see people I really love, many of whom I haven’t actually seen in person for more than a year. Or two.

And that’s what is so great about the internet. I read a lot of opinion pieces about how we’ve replaced real connection with others, substituting an ersatz “knowing” via Facebook, Twitter and blogs. After last night I’m more sure than ever that the people who say that haven’t been part of an actual community with an online component. Because there were people I haven’t seen in months, but about whom I know details of life both major and minor. I know whose pets are the cutest (but I’m not telling), how human kids are doing in school. It’s a real community. And it was the hugest treat in the world for me to actually see people once again.

Even huger a treat (is that a clause that has a place in English? Perhaps not.) was getting to meet people I’ve transacted with, argued with, joked with…in person. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I finally got to meet Andy Axel in person! ANDY AXEL. In PERSON!

In one month, from Yom Kippur to last night, I’ve gotten the rare treat of spending time with two groups of friends I love. Between Jill’s wedding and Betsy’s book party I’ve felt so honoured to be invited to share key moments in the lives of people I love. And as corny as it sounds, love is a balm to the common ailments of my life. I’m so lucky to have so many sources of love in my life–it’s an embarrassment of riches, a unique kind of wealth.

I’m babbling right now. I’m tired and sore and my silly dogs are pestering me. But I’m also smiling. Because I’m remembering friends, indulging in doggy kisses and enjoying the great gifts of the love of others.

I really wanted to tie it all together with some reference to last night’s book party* and the gathering place that Stonehenge probably was, tying it together with an image of the modern day equivalent of Stonehenge being the various circles of electronica that join us now. That’s where I was trying to go with it, but I’m too muddled to get there in a poetical sort of way. So let me just say that time changes some things, but it doesn’t change our basic humanity and need for connections.

*when the fog machine kicked on, several of us independently thought of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge, lowered from the ceiling and in danger of being crushed by a dwarf

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I have this new toy burning a hole in my fingers and I want to use it. But I’m fresh out of good books, having decided that Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time just isn’t for me. (If you want people to believe in the largeness of your magical world, you have to write better than he seemed to be able to.) Since one of the myriad reasons for my splurge on the new Kindle was that the old one was brokenish–the UP button on the 5-way doesn’t work anymore–I exercise the UP button on the new one, just to be sure.

All of this conspires to land me with a slim electronic file called Mozart’s Sister by Nancy Moser. The download costs me nothing, and right there I should suspect that this is one of the Free Faith Fiction titles that scurries around Amazon like so many well-meaning cockroaches. Over the years I’ve become more vocal about my distaste for Faith Fiction, getting more vocal in my dismissals as I read fewer and fewer titles under that banner. So out of a twin sense of desperation and inertia I decide to give this book a whirl, even after seeing the Bethany House banner once I open the file.

It starts off passably well for a free book. This is Nannerl, she’s as good as Wolfie, but he’s a brat and she’s a Good Little Girl. They play music to please their father and make money, but soon Wolfie overshadows Nannerl. And that’s when the Shift sets in.

This summer as I argued with CBA authors about why Christian writers should strive to write outside the Christian Booksellers’ market, I couldn’t articulate my arguments beyond “the books need to be relatable to a larger audience.” Other authors counter with “I have drinking and gay people and card games in my books.” It wasn’t until I met Nancy Moser’s version of Nannerl Mozart that I could really authentically say what the root of the problem is.

Much of Christian fiction seeks to remake it’s central characters into someone the readers recognise as themselves. As opposed to regular fiction, which seeks to make central characters that readers recognise. When you pick up To Kill A Mockingbird, you know Mayella Ewell. She’s every dirt poor and ignorant woman oppressed by circumstance. You most likely aren’t Mayella, but you know her. When you read The Winds Of War you know Pug Henry as the kind of man whose dogged determination, cleverness and essential humanity helped us end the Second World War. You are most likely not a Naval Attache to Nazi Germany, nor are you a captain on a battleship. But you know the man Pug Henry is. The qualities you share (or admire) in him, make it enjoyable to join him on his journey. But you know that Pug is not you. And that’s a good thing, because if you wanted to hang out with you, you don’t have to spend $9.99 to do so.

But Nannerl Mozart, as rewoven for the Faith Fiction market is a really weird reading experience. Because about a hundred pages into the story, it’s obvious that Nannerl is just a cypher. Here is an actual human being about whom we know much information, about whom a cursory search revealed no fewer than twenty books. Yet Nancy Moser chooses to make Nannerl speak the dialect of a modern woman who embraces a contemporary (to us) theology. Nannerl is indistinguishable in character from the type of woman who is most likely to buy books from the Christian Bookseller’s Association. In short, Nannerl isn’t Nannerl Mozart. She’s Nannerl McEvangelical Middle Class American Woman.

Out of curiousity I read the reviews for the book on both Amazon and Goodreads–the majority of which are 5 stars–the most you can give. The majority sounded as though they were written by the same person with the same basic education. “I didn’t know Mozart had a sister” and “This is a terrific book” were both in heavy rotation.

Well, I DID know that Mozart had a sister (blame a binge of Mozart biographies when I was 15). And I know that Nannerl Mozart was nothing like Nancy Moser’s version. She was her own real person. And that’s the essence of what troubles me about Faith Fiction. It perpetuates the idea that Christianity is for a small cultural subset who look and act and talk like the middle-aged, middle-class woman who is the target market for the CBA. Outsiders need not apply.

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It’s been an interesting five days.

BEGIN: Self-pity rant; if you’d like to skip to the really interesting stuff, please feel free.

If by “interesting” you mean “I wouldn’t mind if my life ended right here, right now.”

You know, you have to be careful with how you say such things. Because the last thing I want is for someone to think that I’m actually suicidal. I’m not at all. There’s nothing I’d rather do than live a long life here before taking off for the new horizons of the next chapter of my life.

But when pain consumes your bones like acid bubbling through the marrow, when every major muscle is swollen like bad mead and tender with poison, when the pain medicine you have dials you down from 100 to 96 and the pain itself causes you to spike a fever…that’s the time when you think “if another person walked in here and put a gun to my head, I would not argue.”

It was really weird. I think sometimes I should not write anything about it, because the writing is self-indulgent and serves no purpose other than a bit of a whinge after the real need for whinging is passed. But I trust that anyone who reads this can feel free to skip the whingy parts and jump to the goodish stuff.

/End Self Pity

Okay, now on to the interestingishness.

Saturday night I got a belated 40th birthday present combined with an early Christmas present. Yes, that’s right, my friends. The feather-light new Graphite Kindle 3 with the super bright white screen is now mine! Quinndle 2: GobiE-Reader is it’s official name. And that name is fitting. The screen contrast is so much better; I was beginning to really have to strain at reading my older Kindle, with it’s screen contrast not unlike a yellowing paperback stained with old coffee. This one is more like reading freshly-printed crisp paper. The graphite shell is a much more techy color and makes it feel more like a new gadget and less like something moldering in a closet full of computer goods circa 1989. And it’s much lighter, weight-wise.

Why am I telling you this? Surely you don’t care that I spent money on something! I have to admit that I do find such blog entries awkward and a bit braggy. Like “look at me, I have this toy which you do not have! Look on my purchases, ye people and dispair!” I don’t mean it like that. I more mean it as a bit of information. If you were thinking about buying a Kindle 3, I’d hope my details would help you make your decision. Okay, I admit, that’s a flimsy excuse. But really, getting my Kindle 3 was one of the few great things that happened to me over the weekend. (The other great thing is coming up.) In fact, let’s just move to Other Great Thing, shall we?

Great Thing #2: Actually, in order of importance to me, this would be #1. Saturday evening, when I was feeling better–before I began to feel much, much worse–I had the loveliest date out with my wonderful spouse. My mom had seen a local restaurant on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and told us we should go check it out. It’s a middle-eastern place that has a hummus bar and offers many other fresh delights. They make everything themselves, and it sounded delicious.

I tell you now it was a very good thing that I was with someone I loved, because when you have to wait 25 minutes for your appetizer and another 50 minutes for your main course, at a table two and a half feet from the almost-always-open door of the only bathroom in the establishment, you best have someone to talk to. It was excruciating. And then, after waiting forever for our food, the Chicken on the Sajj was too spicy (I had asked for mild) so I asked for more yogurt sauce. They charged me 99 cents for a one ounce portion. You wouldve thought they’d spot me that after making me wait all night for my food. But no. I’m not putting the restaurant name in this blog entry because I don’t want anyone googling to have the wrong impression. But, wait. Maybe do. Now that I think about it, even though I had fun hanging out with Mr. Me and laughing at the life-sized Guy Fieri poster on the wall next to me I wouldn’t have gone if I’d seen a review like this. So anyway, Cafe Rakka is the place. If you wanna go, they make a great cheese plate, but their main dishes are overcooked, overspiced and overdry. The restaurant is overcrowded and understaffed. Which is a shame, because it has a lot of potential. Just make sure you get there right at 5:00 (when they open for dinner). That way your interminable wait will be at your table.

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I know that you’ve had works published “for reals”. But every time I go to your blog I find myself wondering “by whom??” and “why?” and “is it all as bad as this??”

Every time I read something you’ve written in your blog I find myself overcome by the urge to skim…right around sentence number two. The only reason I invariably read your blog is because it was recommended to me by a third party and I need to have something to talk to that person about.

But I’m seriously thinking about just forgetting it and telling Third Party that I can’t stomach your blog anymore. Everything you write–everything–makes me either angry or uncomfortable. I hope you aren’t letting your personality and true voice show in your work because if you are than you are a more bitter and dry person than my 8th grade typing teacher and abusive 2nd/3rd grade teacher combined.

I will say, though, that reading you is good for my own novel. Because when I get it finished and published then you won’t be able to talk down to me anymore from your pedestal of “but I’m a published author, dear.” I’m published, too, actually. But I guess work-for-hire stuff doesn’t count in your mind. Even though my “books”, such as they are, sold 100K copies at Wal-Mart.

(In case anyone is wondering, this person is no one in the Nashville-Mid Tenn Blogosphere. So no, I’m not talking about you. Unless you’re the you I’m talking about, but I seriously doubt it because You don’t even know I have a blog.)

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I’m learning that fall and spring are hard times for the arthritis stuff. All the ups and downs in the barometric pressure wreak havoc on my system. When you get right down to it, this is a really odd way to live a life.

I’ve been having good progress with my fiction writing, though. As I suspected, once I backed off Facebook games I had a bit more creative energy to channel in that direction. It’s weird, though. As much as I want to finish something satisfactorily and have something published, I watch what Aunt B. is going through with her book and it makes me nervous. Now that she’s got something published in book form, she’s having to spend what seems like hundreds of hours promoting it. I wonder how I could ever do such a thing. Of course that’s about 100 steps down the road and worrying about it is like Moses standing in front of the burning bush telling God that he is Slow Of Speech. I’m making excuses for something that really doesn’t need any excuses at all. Yet that’s part of being human, I assume.

Last weekend was the 21st anniversary of my first date with my husband. When I reminded him, he said “I’ve loved you for half my life.” It struck me then–and still does–as one of the most romantic things I’ve ever heard. I remember what it was like when we first fell in love. For me it was like I was, for the first time, my entire self. Until we found each other I went through life with a keen sense of something being most definitely missing.

Having him makes me feel like the big problems of life are mere nuisances. As sappy as it sounds, my life is rich beyond measure.

I should point out that for that first date I asked him out. In the library. Yes, all good things in my life happen around books.

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