Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Friday, December 30, 2005

This Just Creeps Me Out

Has anyone else had this experience? Because it happened to me today and it creeped me out. Boredom being a prime motivator, I was diddling with the Internet after work and thought I'd look up an old boyfriend and see if anyone (like other old girlfriends) had any blogs where they made snarky comments about him. I love snarky comments about anyone, and snarky comments about him would be primo stuff.

Because this guy was a total psychic drain, I mean, it was like dating someone who was continually pouring Draino into your ear to eat away your brain ("I love you--I can't imagine what life would be like without you..." nice words but since he said the same thing to every girl he met in a bar, it was more-or-less just a few ounces of Draino). He only said this crap so you would do what he wanted, e.g. let him play fast-and-loose with your emotions and suck the life out of you without any nasty complications such as marriage or any kind of a committment that might have at least given you a decent reason for hanging around wasting all your fertile years on a total bozo. I mean, I knew if he wasn't with me, he was with someone else, but because of that darn Draino eating away at my brain, I let him get away with it. And to make matters worse, he had this arrogant, "all the girls I've ever dated have been better for the experience" attitude, which, in retrospect, sort of proves it had to be some kind of Draino he was pouring into my ear, because why else would I have ever dated someone who says crap like that for any length of time? I can't even think about that now without laughing until blood pours out of my eyes.

Enough about that. Back to what creeped me out.
So, because I was missing my husband (who has been away for a week and I really, really miss him) and it's the holiday season and both my parents are dead and I was feeling a little down-in-the-mouth, I said, well, heck, I'll search the Internet for references to this guy, hoping to find some blog with some snarky comments about him. Which would have been just so cool and really make me feel better.

Well, I didn't find any references to him, except his own. How totally typical. He's a geezer now (and from his pictures on the Internet, he looks like a geezer which did make me feel better, although he is also dating this young woman born in 1970, which made me feel worse--for her--because this guy is now pouring Draino into her ear...) and like so many geezers, he's gotten into geneology. So, he's published a bunch of family geneology stuff for his family, along with scads of family pictures.

How nice for them.

Now here's the creepy part.
He mentioned me in his geneology. I was never married to him, and he's got me in his freakin' geneology. As his friend. I about vomited. We were never married. We never procreated. In fact, thanks to him, I completely missed the procreation window of opportunity (okay, not entirely his fault--I have to take some responsibility for not telling him to piss off when I realized what a jerk he was, but you get my drift...).

As far as I know, the rules about geneology are that you only include people you are married to, or procreate with, because it's supposed to be a chart about whose genes got stirred together with whom's (not grammatically correct but you understand) to make other branches (or show biological dead ends--like him) on the family tree.

What makes this situation so revolting is that this is the only reference to me under my maiden name on the entire Internet. I searched and searched for other references to me, but it was all in vain. The fact that people only know me, now, under my married name, didn't bother me until today.

So my only presence as my "natural born self" as far as the electronic world is concerned, is as this guy's G-D friend. Not only is my only claim to fame as my true, unbonded self, a connection which I wish I had never had to this Draino-weilding guy, he also entered my freakin' birth date wrong! He's off by 26 days, so he didn't even get the facts right that he entered into the family history.

I wanted to write this daft sod and tell him to take me out of there, but the problem is, he's creeped me out now and I don't want any contact with him. Grrh.

Why would he do this? Why? I swear I never did anything to deserve being thrown into his family history as "the friend". Oh, I'm not the only one, though. He also threw in this one other babe (the new, young thing born in 1970). I wonder if she knows she is now memoralized for the rest of time as his friend in his family tree? How insulting is that? Is it possible she thinks this is sweet? Perhaps...but only if that Draino ate more of her brain than it ate of mine.

Creepy, creepy, creepy.
I just wish my husband would come home soon.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Argh! I've been tagged!
I don't know what it means, but I've been tagged to write ten reading secrets by a good friend, Edie . It's kind of fun, though, because it gets me to think about something that is so much a part of me, that it's like someone asking you to think about breathing. I'm always shocked when I walk into other people's houses and slowly notice something horribly missing--no reading material! What do these people do? How can they NOT have reading material, even a magazine or two strewn around? It defies imagination. My house is always stuffed full of reading material--in fact that 's one of our biggest problems. We could start a small library. Actually, we have more books than our town's lending library already...

Just to be on the safe side and so I don't forget, I'll be passing on this curse of writing ten reading secrets to Suzanne, Michelle and Mai at:

What are my reading secrets? They're not secrets, really, so much as great memories...

1) My dad taught me to read before I went to school, using a chalk board, flash cards and this wonderful board with small pictures, like a picture of a cat, to help you pick up basic units of sounds. We did the traditional "sounding it out" strategies, and I thought it was a terrific game. Little did I know that my father was using this as preparation for his later experimentation with his children as beta testers for the work he was doing with the Air Force. All these years I thought he just liked to play word and math games with us, when in reality, he was developing psychological tests for his job. It wasn't until I went to college that he admitted he had done this horrible thing to us on the grounds that, "If a kid in elementary school can understand a set of exam questions, then someone who will be flying a fighter plane sure as heck ought to be able to pass the damn thing."

2) Not satisfied with just that, my dad also tortured me by sitting up with me and reading me stories at bedtime, until I entered the first grade. That fall, he started on "The Swiss Family Robinson" and got about half-way through when he stopped.
"What do you mean, you aren't going to read any more to me? The pirates are attacking the family - what happens next? You can't stop now!"
Dad smiled and handed me our regular nighttime snack of a bowl of hominy, and said, "If you want to know what happens, you'll have to read it yourself. Sweet dreams, kiddo, and put the bowl in the kitchen sink when you're done."
"ARGH!" I picked up the book. D^mn your eyes, I will read it!"
And I finished it. And followed it with, "The Ghost of Dibble Hollow" and "The Ghost Rock Mystery". Classics every one.

3) At about that time, my dad and mom may have had other reasons for not reading us bedtime stories anymore and making us more self-reliant in the reading department - they were both working and both going to school at night to earn their doctorates. In child development, no less. Both of them. No wonder I'm so messed up, what with dad doing demented Air Force psychological testing beta exams on me, and my mom practicing Skinner behavior modification techniques, it's a wonder I'm not completely wacko. Or maybe I am, and I'm just clever enough to hide it so I can pass as a normal person in most social situations. Or maybe I just think I'm passing as normal.

In any event, these educational opportunities pursued by my parents brought about a situation where we went to the University library at least once a week, if not more often. We'd all truck in, go through all the aisles and come out with armloads of books. Several times, we were told we could not take so many out at one time. That always really steamed me, although it did serve to delay the inevitable. It wasn't until I reached Junior High School that I foundered in dire straights. I'd read all the books they had in the mystery/fiction section, and a good many of the history, as well. ARGH!

Thankfully, at about that time, I found a used bookstore where I could find gothics (Oh, JOY!), mysteries, and science fiction for 25 cents. I also discovered Harlequin Romances, which I could get for 10 cents. I hadn't even realized there were romances. I liked the happy endings, but I have to confess, I still liked the gothics and mysteries better - with a straight romance, I was always wondering when the story (finding a dead body) was going to start and all the omigod, omigod emoting would end. Hmmm. Maybe all that problem-solving affected me more than I realized.

4) Tom Swift books. When I was in the 8th grade, my dad brought home a carton of the first twelve Tom Swift books published. What a great gift--I still have them. I loved all that weird, improbable science, and all those fascinating gizmos. Clearly, this was the first indication of another irreversible mental aberration, my love of technology. Gadgets. Computers. Smart phones. Wired magazine. If I was rich, my house would be stuffed with gadgets. As it is, we only have 5 computers, four printers, two switches, two routers, a handheld, an Alphasmart, two cell phones and a Blackberry, and there are only two of us living here. But, next year, I'm hoping to get a media center computer and a new television! (Our television is about 15 years old, but we actually don't watch it too much other than the weather and history channels because my husband and I are both readers...)

5) Before my dad died, I found out that he had once wanted to be a writer, too. He gave me several books he had on writing from the early part of the last century. My sister also wanted to be a writer, and has played around with it some, and I'm working hard at getting published, myself. Genetic? Who can say. My dad loved mysteries like Jonathan Gash's wonderful Lovejoy novels, and I love mysteries--particularly Lovejoy. Hmmmm. My mom loved romances (contemporary) and I like romances. Interesting. Children are definitely influenced by their parents, that's for sure.

6) But we aren't entirely just an amalgam of our donated genetic material. I have entire bookcases full of science fiction, and that's one thing neither of them could really "get into" although my dad did find a few fantasies he liked, such as Piers Anthony's wonderful Xanth series, and particularly "Ogre, Ogre". It took me weeks to convince him to try it, but once he did, I was then supplied with free reading material for quite some time, as dad would go out and buy all the books in the series and then hand them over to me when he was done.

7) Weird but true. My sister is a member of the Jane Austen society. I'm writing mysteries set in the Regency period in England, right around the period when Jane Austen was alive and writing! My sister is the one who got me interested in this period, mostly by supplying me with my first Georgette Heyer book, "The Masqueraders". I loved that book! That one, and "Faro's Daughter" are by far my favorites. Oddly enough, the Heyer books I like, however, are not the "straight, Regency romances" so much as the ones with a bit of intrigue and adventure in them, or broad humor such as "Faro's Daughter". I might never had heard of Jane Austen and the Regency period if not for my sister! Or know: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, for the wives of King Henry the Eighth. Another gem of historical information I remember from my sister's interest in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods of British history.

8) Lately, I've gotten sidetracked by a sort of non-fiction book that has been on the bestsellars list. My husband bought it while he was on a trip, and he gave it to me when he was done. It's called "Stiff" by Mary Roach. It's about...well, it's about stiffs. What happens to cadavers after the human in them has departed for parts unknown. It's hilarious in a sick sort of way, and absolutely fascinating. I'm having a hard time putting it down (okay, so part of that is because when I have to put the book down it's because I have to do something disagreeable such as clean the kitty litter box). When I was younger, I never thought about reading non-fiction outside of school. Maybe it's what happens when you get older and your mind (and posterior) broaden, or something like that, but lately, I've really enjoyed non-fiction...

9) "The Discoverers" by Daniel J. Boorstin. Get it. Read it. It's the history of almost everything of interest to humans. I couldn't put it down, even though it was non-fiction. Each page creates a unique "I didn't know that" moment. I didn't like "The Creators" as well as "The Discoverers", but both are exceptional. When I was in college, I became fascinated with art history, not because of the art so much, but because of what it revealed about the ideas influencing the artists. How they viewed society, what new inventions were changing their lives, and how they were adapting to those changes. This is the kind of information in "The Discoverers". I believe this is also a motivating factor in both writing and reading, at least for me. I'm trying to work out how we fit into the world around us, how our environment adapts to us and we adapt to it. How do I fit in? (Assuming I do fit in, which generally, I'm afraid I don't.) Sometimes, I think I'm reading to find the answer on how others find a place in society so I can extrapolate it to my own peculiar circumstances...

10) Oh, thank goodness. The final point. What else can I say about reading? It is so much a part of my life that I can't imagine not reading. Although, as I've gotten older and busier, I no longer feel so compelled to read a book to it's conclusion if I don't like it. Until a year ago, I always finished a book I started, and there wasn't a book in the house that I hadn't read. When I got new books, they would always get devoured within a month or two. Now, I have stacks of books I've gotten as gifts (or whatever) that I haven't even touched yet. I did the unthinkable a week ago, I gave away two books I've never even read. Five years ago, I wouldn't have done that. No way.

I still feel a little guilty about it, but I'm starting to have sympathy for all the strange or gross things my mom used to do. Like reuse a glass you used earlier. Or drinking a glass of milk and then filling the glass with water and drinking that, milky and gross though it may be. Eating leftovers. Not completing a book you've started. Giving away a book you haven't even read yet. But, you know what? When you're busy and maybe a wee bit stressed, you realize that you're the one washing the glasses and they're your own germs, anyway, and maybe you don't have time to worry about mixing a little milk-dregs with your water. And maybe you also don't have time to finish a book if it just doesn't "catch at you" and it's okay to give them away, too. Sanity or insanity, gross or not, it's all a matter of perspective, and my perspective is well over the hill now.

Whew. I've fulfilled my moral obligation. ;-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Good News...
The last few days have been very good. My family now has a small vacation cottage on a bay, and we spent last weekend painting it appropriately pale, seaside colors like sand in the living room and pale blue-green in the kitchen. We never had a place built for us before, and even though this is a smallish place--just being a vacation cottage--it was still interesting. Very interesting. Not something you really want to do again, though. Ever.

Who knew we'd have to learn all about septic systems, wells, and water filtering systems (because we're not fond of the taste of sulfur--maybe subconsciously we fear it may be predictive of our circumstances in the 'hereafter'). Our driveway--well--it doesn't exist yet, and in fact, unless you drive a Hummer, you can't drive up to the cottage. So we've got to get a few loads of sand with a top-coat of gravel so that we can actually get to the cottage except on foot and wearing hip-boots.

Those things can all be resolved with time and it's still pretty exciting. I didn't mind painting, either, which was a surprise. I love the colors and it's fun to go from blinding white everywhere to a more mellow, relaxing environment. Last Christmas, I got one of those little Roomba robot vacumn cleaners, and we're taking it up there so I won't spend my life cleaning two places. The poor little thing is overwhelmed with our regular house because it's just too big with too many animals, but our cottage is smaller with linoleum floors (Yeah! No carpet!) so little Roomba-red ought to be quite happy there. I really like Roomba robot vacumn cleaners. They have a small "container" for dust/dirt, but I can live with that since it's usually big enough to let it clean one room. Then you can dump the dirt and go on to the next room. At our cottage, I have high hopes that I can just let the thing run and it will clean the entire place without me doing more than waiting for it to beep when it's digested too much dirt and needs to be emptied.

Our first morning at the cottage, we woke up and glanced out the window and saw a flock of Ruddy Ducks, so who could ask for more? A pelican also scared the heck out of my husband when he was out walking at night and it waddled up to him in the dark, which I thought was pretty good, cheap entertainment. Who doesn't love the sound of a man shrieking wildly in the dark of night, followed by the mad flapping of huge wings and harsh croaking noises?

On the Writing Front...
Just spoke to another agent today, and I'm hoping to contract with her. As usually happens to me on the phone, my mind went completely blank so I could not speak coherently. I hate talking on the phone anyway, and keep all sorts of essential details, such as my phone number and my name tacked up next to the phone for when people ask me those critical things. It may be pathetic, but you gotta learn to deal with your weaknesses. ;-)

With any luck, I'll soon have a new agent (who has an absolutely beautiful speaking voice) and she will be able to sell my favorite manuscript. Then, I can go back to the business of just writing instead of emoting sloppily to everyone who will listen about lack of validation, my inability to find a publisher, or other equally boring things. I also fully intend to stay utterly oblivious to all reviews if and when I do get published. Reviews are rather like an Iron Maiden clamping around your vulnerable body--you're better off not climbing inside in the first place because sooner or later, one of those iron spikes is going to get jammed right into your eye socket. Oblivion is much better. Quieter. More soothing...

So, we're off to the races again. We'll see if we can bring home the prize this go-round. Stay tuned to the continuing angst-filled drama of 'Validation through Publication: Grumpy Old Woman Goes for It'.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ah, Friday at last...
This week has been difficult from a writing standpoint, but I still keept writing. Will I ever be published? I don't know.

Maybe I'm stupid and masochistic - I actually like getting rejections. They look like I'm trying. And, who knows? Lightning does occassinally strike. Maybe I'll try some more contests.

For those who have never entered writing contests, here are some tips:
1) Decide what you want out of it up front.
Is it to possibly get your work in front of an agent or editor? Or is it to get some helpful comments from readers to find out if you've gone totally insane or if you're on the right track? Your answer will vary depending upon how far along you are in the writing game.
Contests are a great way to find out how others will react to your work. With my writing, people either totally hate it or really like it. I have a hard time with contests because I'll get very low scores from one judge and then perfect scores from others, which means that they average out to something just below the number required to final. Although I have finaled in 4 contests, after I learned the second point, below.

2) If you want to get your work in front of an agent or editor, realize a few hard truths:
a) This won't happen unless you follow every single rule of the game. Pay attention and follow all the contest rules, including all the formatting rules. Make sure your entry is clean and grammatically correct. Don't sit there and quibble about fonts and margins. Use 1" margins on all sides, and either Times New Roman or Courier (Dark Courier is best). The contest will tell you which to use. You've got to make it to the final round to get your work in front of an agent/editor, so your entry has to be flawless. Some judges will nit-pick you to death and mark every single comma or lack of commas.
b) If this is a romance contest, chop up your first few chapters to make sure your hero and heroine meet, because a goodly number of points depend upon these two characters meeting.
Remember: You're entry doesn't have to be exactly what your first three chapters are "in reality", it has to be the the first three chapters edited to get the maximum number of points. Get the score sheets and see what will earn you points. If the hero gets 10 points, make sure he's somewhere in the material submitted. If the hero and heroine's reactions to each other during the first meeting earns 10 points, make sure they meet before the end of your contest submission.
You don't want to earn 0 points on any category - to be honest - only entries with near perfect or perfect scores from at least three judges will make it to the editor. Pay attention to the score sheet and rethink your entry. Edit your entry to make it fit the contest, while still having it make sense, be sparkling, interesting, and a great read. When the editor/agent finally asks for your manuscript, you can THEN send the "real" version where the hero and heroine don't meet until chapter four, or whatever. You may actually find the edited version is tighter and better, anyway.

That's what I mean about deciding what is important to you. If you don't care if you get to the final round, and just want fresh reader comments, then you don't have to edit so hard to make it earn points.

I find the judges comments, hurtful though they are, to be invaluable for a number of reasons. I can't tell you how many times I've written something that I thought could only be read in one way, only to find out when other people read it, that they get an entirely different (if not completely bizarre) interpretation. Apparently, my brain doesn't think along entirely normal lines. So, finding out what others think is actually helpful so I can correct things that are going to be hopelessly misread by the majority of people.

When you get those harsh comments--and you will--don't read them all at once. Take a quick peek at the scores and then go get drunk. Put the contest packet away and don't think about it for at least two weeks. Then pull it out when you're in the frame of mind that says: I'm going to edit my manuscript now and make it better, so I'll just read these comments to see if they spark any ideas about where I may need to do more editing. In other words, read them in a more constructive, positive mood when you're actually planning to take the advice, think about it, and decide if it's something you want to address or if the judge was high on crack-cocaine and you like your manuscript just the way it is.

I rarely take the advice, verbatim, but I do let it trickle through my consciousness where it will get diverted into completely different channels. Suddenly, I see things I missed or things I want to change, that may or may not have anything to do with the judge's comments. However, without the comments, I may not have gotten my new ideas. So, they can be incredibly helpful. A prime example is an old manuscript I had been editing after an agent told me to tweak it and resubmit it. She never said more than just: the story could use a bit more work.

There wasn't enough there to let me know WHAT needed more work! So I went back through all the judges comments for this manuscript. Really didn't find too much there, but the process got me thinking about changes and what changes might be good, and I was able to do a better job editing it. Ultimately, I shelved the manuscript, but I learned through that process that those painful comments can challenge you to perform editing marvels.

That's about all the advice I have on contests. Now, I have to take my own advice, gird my loins, edit the heck out of two or three new manuscripts, and see what the world thinks about them.