Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Non-Linear Noveling

Although I've been writing for what seems like my entire life, I didn't attempt my first novel until I was in my late twenties. Since that time, the process has been pretty much the same. Jot down some general notes on plot and theme, create background sketches for the main characters, and jump in on Chapter 1, writing the whole thing in a linear fashion (sorry, I'm not an outliner). Naturally, as most newbie novelists are wont to do, that lead to more than a few wasted hours as I fixated on getting that first scene or chapter perfect instead of just getting it written.

Over the years I've refined the process, adopting the attitude of charging full speed ahead with the first draft, adding notes in places where the scene wasn't fully developed in my head in the interest of keeping the project moving

The problem is, I don't always think linearly, especially when it comes to series novels. Maybe it's because I know the endgame, but I tend to start looking at the whole project at once and certain parts just become more appealing to write. Sort of like having a buffet in front of you and heading for the desserts first.

When I first started doing web design, I would keep a pad by my computer to write down the font names and sizes and the hex codes of colors I used on the site. Unfortunately, you can't actually see a color code. It's just a series of characters. That's when I began creating palette images. At the beginning of every project, I would create an image with actual color swatches labeled with both the hex and RGB codes, as well as font samples and names. It was an invaluable resource, because instead of combing back through the code to find the color I used on this font or that background, all I had to do was open the image.

And that gave me an idea. I've been working on books 2 and 3 of the 'Ru Lexicon series (yes, both of them at once), mostly collecting scenes and putting them in a Scenes folder under the book title. I also keep a copy of Book 1 on my desk for easy historical reference (honestly, I have never been able to figure out how authors of multi-book series keeps everything straight). Normally, I pull the entire book together in a single draft copy, but that gets to be a pain when you're working on a scene halfway through the book and you have to go back and look up a minor character's name or where you first introduced a thread. Plus, because I write a lot of scenes out of sequence and throw them all in a single folder, I have to go back and find the point where I meant to insert it, and after a while it all turns into a big jumbled mess.

Which is how I came up with this new process. I actually got the idea from the way most movies are filmed. The director doesn't shoot the scenes in the order of the script. That comes later when the movie is edited together. So why not write a book that way? Instead of one big file of THE BOOK, have individual files of the chapters in that book, and "shoot" or, in this case, write them as the inspiration strikes. To keep all of this straight, I created a chapter summary document like my old web design palette, listing all the chapters with a summary of each scene in it, as well as the characters that are in that scene and the location of the action, sort of like a director's script.

Since I've started doing this, the book is coming together faster than ever before. I have files for each chapter in the book, and I populate them as I write the scenes, leaving notes in the places where I want to add other scenes. I admit, it's not for everyone, but it's a great tool for beating writer's block, since one of the biggest reasons a writer gets stuck in a book is because they don't know how to write the next scene or even what that scene should be. This way, you can just write other scenes and piece them together then fill out the transitions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Most Profound Document Ever Written

I have waited with anticipation for the airing of the History Channel's three-part mini-series, The Sons of Liberty, because the story of the American Revolution is, to me, the greatest underdog story the world has ever known. Since I was a kid in the third grade and had to read Johnny Tremain, I've loved everything to do with the Revolutionary War. It pains me that schools in the U.S. today don't devote more time to teaching students how their country came to be, because, despite all its problems--and there are many--it is still, in its ideal, the greatest experiment in government the world has ever known.

The History Channel admits The Sons of Liberty is a fictionalized accounting of the events that lead to the Revolutionary War, but even for those who know the facts, it is still an enjoyable six hour reminder of our history. Growing up, we always had a framed copy of two documents on the wall: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. My father read both to us in their entirety several times and made sure we knew how important they were to both our country and the world. As the son of Italian immigrants and a World War II veteran, he was fervent in his love for this country, and he wanted to make sure we appreciated the freedoms those brave men and women fought for in our names.

I have never been able to read the Declaration of Independence without choking up. It is, to me, the most profoundly stirring statement of human rights that has ever been written. When one considers the age of the men who penned it and the state of the world in which they lived, one can't help but be in awe of their vision. While most people are familiar with the introduction and preamble to the Declaration, unless you've read the entire thing, you may not know that it is actually a 27-count indictment of King George III.

Fifty-six men from twelve colonies (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware) signed the document, which was, in effect, a declaration of treason in the eyes of the British Crown. They could have been put to death for that alone. Thomas Jefferson (at age 36) wrote the original draft, with help from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, and the entire assembly then made minor changes and tweaks before it was approved and signed.

In case you've never read the entire document, or you want to refresh your memory, here is the final transcript of the Declaration of Independence with the 27 indictments numbered:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

1. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
2. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
3. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
4. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
5. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
6. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
7. He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
8. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
9. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
10. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
11. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
12. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
13. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
14. For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
15. For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
16. For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
17. For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
18. For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
19. For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
20. For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
21. For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
22. For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
23. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
24. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
25. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
26. He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
27. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.


We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.





Friday, January 2, 2015

My Writing Process

Happy New Year, all. As I look around at what has become unfamiliar surroundings (my last post having been written nearly three and a half months ago), my first instinct is to apologize. But then I ask myself, for what? I never promised to post in any regular manner, and in truth, really had nothing worthwhile to say, so why waste my time or yours?

Over the years, I've read a lot of so-called advice for writers from writers (and others) who consider themselves experts, and I've come to realize something. Just like with everything else in life, all writers work differently. The popular school of thought is that to be a successful writer, you must write every day.

Bullshit.

I tried that. While it probably works for most people, and especially if you're a newb who needs the practice, having a one-size-fits-all policy for success in any creative endeavor is just dumb. We're not all the same, and creativity is not like a tap you can turn on or off at will.

At least, not for me. I live with my characters and books inside me all the time, but sometimes they just don't feel like talking. And why should I force them if they have nothing to say?

I look at it this way: In my real life, I have spent years buying and renovating old houses. I do most of the work myself and use salvaged parts whenever necessary. I never have a huge budget for these adventures, but I do usually have some kind of plan or vision for what I want to accomplish. Often I'm so fixated on that vision that I'd rather do nothing at all than compromise on something less than my vision in the name of getting things done.

For instance, in one house, after tearing out the wall between the kitchen and livingroom, I decided I wanted to put a large, solid wood column between the two rooms. I don't know where the desire came from, but nothing else was going to do. And because I couldn't find that mythical column, I lived with a wall of bare studs for nearly two years because I knew if I did something else just to get the job done, I'd never be satisfied with it.

That's how I see my writing. I've rushed to finish books so I could publish, only to later be disappointed with the resulting story, wishing I could go back and rewrite it the way I originally had intended.

Which brings me to now. As I had mentioned in my September post, for the last year I've been busy between the day job and remodeling my latest house, leaving little creative energy to listen to the stories in my head. That was fine for awhile because, as I said, the characters were quiet. And while they flared up a bit a few months back, they just as quickly fell quiet again. However, lately they've started talking more than they have in years, and believe me, with two series and a couple of standalone books running around up there, it can get quite noisy. I revisited each of my in-progress projects (yes, I always have several going at a time), rereading my notes and what I had written so far, in the hopes of pinpointing the one that was making the most noise.

At first I thought it was Laec of the Erebus Files. I even wrote a couple of chapters on Hazard, then put it aside when nothing rang true. Then I read through last year's NaNoWriMo project, Random Trips to Nowhere, and while I enjoyed reading what I had written so far, I had no inspiration on where to take the tale from there.

And that's when the 'Ru started creeping into my subconscious. You'd never know by reading the first book, but the original concept for the series was born from my love of old gothic romantic horror. Since that style of writing has fallen out of favor the past few years in light of newer, shinier vampires, I allowed myself to be swayed by popular opinion. To be honest, by the time the first book was done, I could hardly tell the characters were vampires.

And that makes me sad, because truth be told, I love a good vampire story. The whole reason why I began to write paranormal fiction was because I couldn't find the kind of vampire story I wanted to read. That perfect balance of sexy power, romance, danger, and a reluctant touch of evil. I confess to being smitten even now with Lestat as the greatest hero of the genre.

So I began to revisit my old library of classic vampire paperbacks--Elaine Bergstrom's Austra series, Tanya Huff's Blood series, Fred Saberhagen's Dracula series, and the queen of them all, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles (books 1 through 3, though the new Prince Lestat awaits on my Kindle). I reread them all, absorbing that familiar, beloved fascination with the vampire legend.

I'm not going to sit here and try to analyze or justify my vampire addiction. It's quite simply, what I like. Frankly I'm worn out by the badass super demon/vampire/werewhatever heroes that populate the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre these days; the sexless, sword-wielding, tattooed women (and men) in tight leather and looser morals. I miss the romance of the forbidden dark world, and quite frankly, nothing embodies that like a good old-fashioned gothic vampire tale.

That's not saying I'm going to go all Victoria Holt in my next book. Books 2 and 3 of the 'Ru Lexicon trilogy have been plotted out for some time, and while I still want to tell the story I had originally envisioned, I'm just going to add a little old-school flavor to their world. Which means Book 2 will offer a nod to true classic vampirism. The characters have begun to speak to me again, interrupting my dreams and intruding on my sleep. Most of the necessary research  is done, and it's time to start bringing their story to life. If I'm absent for long stretches, know that it's because I'm spending my creative energies there.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Writing Progress Report ... Hazard

I've had Laec whispering in my ear for weeks now, and while I've tried to ignore him so I could wrap up work on the house, a rainy Tuesday and a little atmospheric music conspired to lead me back to my keyboard. Reading through the first three chapters of Hazard and my notes/outline for the book, I realized it was Time.

The funny thing is, I haven't even been reading the past few months, which isn't like me since I normally devour a book a night when my insomnia kicks in. I guess I've just been too tired lately, what with all the physical labor going on around here. Head hits pillow, head falls asleep. But I picked up my kindle the other day and discovered I had three new pre-orders from some of my favorite authors waiting for me. I don't know if that was the shove I needed to get back to my own writing, but I opened the file for Hazard, tweaked my outline, and banged out the first chapter in months.

And when I say banged, that pretty much sums it up. The brain is like any muscle in your body--if you don't use it for awhile, it atrophies. Which means writing those first few pages after a long absence is like stepping into the gym after months of sitting on your ass. You have to work the kinks out of your writing muscles, get back into the flow. I remember I stopped writing at a transition point--I had the opening set up, knew where I was ultimately going, but hadn't figured out how to ease into it. Transitions are a pain to get right. Anyone who follows sequential TV series recognizes the Set Up Episode. You watch it and feel like you've just wasted an hour because nothing really happened, but those scenes are critical to the story and one of the hardest things to master. It's a question of balance--you need to impart important information without boring the reader or conking them over the head with the obvious, "HEY, STUFF IS GOING TO START HAPPENING IN A MINUTE AND YOU NEED TO KNOW WHY."

I must have rewritten the first couple of paragraphs ten times before I realized, who cares? Just get it all down now, you can edit it later.

So Laec is off and running again toward his latest misadventure. I'm not making any promises as to when I'll get him there. The daytime writing job that pays the bills has its ebbs and flows, and I'm suddenly in a flow right now, but I've promised myself to pull out the netbook each night and try to get an hour of writing in before I conk out. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Where Oh Where Has My Writer Muse Been?

That title may be misleading. I have no idea if my Muse has forsaken me, been eaten by rabid monkeys, or just taken an extended trip to the Bahamas since I haven't even attempted to rouse her in so long the thought alone is shrouded in cobwebs. The truth is, for the past three-plus months, I've been ass-deep in Renovation Hell. Yes, I finally broke down and took the homeowner plunge. Again. Who knows, maybe the seventh time will be the charm.

Those of you who know me may be aware that I'm something of an old house buff, though truth be told, it's an obsession that began out of necessity rather than any desire to court history. When you raise three kids by yourself on a shoestring budget, you can't afford anything but old fixer-uppers. You also can't afford to have anyone else do the fixing up, so you learn to do it yourself. I was fortunate in that my dad was also a self-taught fixer-upper who knew how to do just about everything and passed his knowledge and expertise on to a very eager-to-learn me.

That being said, after my last foray into home ownership, during which I was foolish enough to try to sell at the height of the housing recession, an act that took three years and cost me $50K in losses, I swore off home ownership for life.

Ha!

Just like my other obsession, antique roses. once you get a taste of it, you can't stay away forever. (I had an old gardener once tell me when a rose tastes your blood, it has you for life. Which, I guess makes them the vampires of the plant world. That's why I stay away from them completely now. That was one hobby that went from two antique roses in an urban front yard to a country acre stuffed with over 600. Believe me, Dracula has nothing on roses.)

So why the change of heart? For one thing, I got tired of staring at white walls and not being able to do whatever I wanted with my surroundings. That just doesn't appeal to the bohemian-gypsy-hoarder in me. And while I love, love, love old bungalows, the starving artist budget wasn't there for one at today's prices. So this time it's a manufactured home, which also has the advantage of being easier to maintain. That's a major plus for me, since these old bones aren't as strong as they used to be--something I've been made painfully aware of during this renovation. An added bonus is the location--it's on a canal that leads to a river that leads to the Gulf of Mexico just a short mile away. I've always wanted to live on the water but being a Floridian, didn't relish the thought of being evacuated every time the sea gods decided to get frisky. That makes this the best of both worlds.

That still didn't stop me from tearing the place down to the studs and moving/removing every wall in the place to remake it in my own image of salvaged, wabi-sabi imperfection. And now after three months of non-stop destruction/construction, I will be moving into my new digs this weekend.

So what does that mean for my writing? Well, for one thing, I can finally get back to it. I've picked out the perfect location for my desk--in front of a window that overlooks the water. How inspirational is that? And hopefully, after I get settled in, I'll be stopping by this blog more often, and--fingers crossed--laying down some serious wordsmithing on the third book of the Erebus Files. Laec and the crew have been pounding around in my head for weeks, telling me my days of denial are coming to an end. No promises here, but I might get something cranked out by the end of the year.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Equality--like racism--is a two-way street

For decades we have strived as a nation to dissolve the racial barriers, so equality exists for all races in this country. We are all aware of instances where overt racism is vilified in the media, and rightly so, especially when that behavior occurs in the public eye. However, it seems more and more that the condemnation of this behavior is a one-way street.

This morning I read about a phenomenon called Black Twitter, a corner of the Twitterverse devoted to the concerns of black people. Okay, fine, I have no problem with that. But I can hear the public outcry already if someone created a White Twitter. It's a double standard that has to change if we are ever to become a society that is truly racially-transparent.

If you want equality, going out of your way to point out how you are different or special or persecuted as a group is not the way to get it. You can't have it both ways. It's an all-in proposition. You don't get to pick and choose which parts you like. You can't say, I want to be equal in this regard but special in that one. You're either part of the whole, or you're separate, and thus open for separate treatment. And you damn sure can't expect to be treated as special because of that difference.

This applies to all aspects of differences--race, gender, religion, etc. I remember the whole Affirmative Action debate back in the day. As a woman, I saw aspects of it firsthand back in the 80s. I saw men who were less qualified than me making more money doing the same job because, as my supervisor told me behind closed doors (where there were no witnesses to his mysogynistic behavior) the men were supporting a family. Well, so was I. Three kids as a single mother, though according to him that meant I should be home with them and a husband. None of which should have had any bearing on our ability to do the job.

In that instance, I did not want special treatment. I wanted equal treatment. I wanted to be paid the same amount to do the same job and be held to the same standards. Not different standards. Not special standards. I didn't want any standards lowered or changed for me. I just wanted to compete on a level playing field.

And that's what equality means in a nutshell. You are treated the same as everyone else and held to the same standards and rules as anyone else. If it's good for one, it's good for all, and vice versa.

But that's not how it is. I don't want to get into a racial debate, but there is a double standard here. When a white person says something offensive or disparaging against black people, it's racism. When a black person does it, it's excused as part of their culture. Comedians get away with this all the time. Black comedians constantly berate or insult white people as a whole and it's humor. If a white comedian stood on stage and insulted black people as a whole, he'd be publicly condemned as a racist.

This isn't about swinging the pendulum back to center. You can't change the events of the past by over-correcting in the present. What's done is done. Everyone knows how black people were treated in this country prior to the Civil Rights movement. It was a crime against humanity, just as the way the Native Americans were driven from their own country and the Jews were rounded up and persecuted in Nazi Germany. Personally, I don't think you can even compare the treatment of slaves with those two examples, especially not the Jews. I visited Dachau as a kid--that's a level of human depravity that most people can't even comprehend.

The point is, what's done is done. We can't change the past, we can only improve the future. As a nation, as a world, it is our duty as human beings to see that all people are treated equally and fairly. Not special. Not held to some double standard. You want equality, then you deal with the good and the bad of it. You can't cry foul when someone else does something that you believe you should be allowed to do. You want to claim discrimination or be offended by something, then hold yourself to the same standard. The problem with this country is, there is too much "Do as I say, not as I do" behavior.

Personally, I blame "political correctness" for a lot of this, which has just become a shield for double standard behavior. Not everything said is meant to be a personal attack on your race, gender, religion, or sensibilities. That being said, I'm a little tired of having to walk on eggshells for fear of offending someone who believes they shouldn't be held to the same standard. If it's good for one, it's good for all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Still Alive

I thought I might drop by here and do some housecleaning. Dust and mop, clear the cobwebs. I know I haven't been around much of late, but I've been busy doing my artsy thing and urban survival training (aka, scrounging up paying work).

Life is tough for us artistic types. Especially those who, like me, don't write mainstream or mass appeal fiction, don't care to walk the corporate line, and like challenges to be more about creativity than money. Yeah, I need the green stuff to live, but sincerely wish life could happen without it. What can I say, I'm a simple gal at heart.

Good intentions aside, I just wanted to give a status report. No, I haven't been writing lately. Not since NaNoWriMo ended, to be honest. Instead I've been channeling my creative energy into my Etsy store, NidoBeato (blissful nest in Italian) Creations, making sparkly little lamps and windchimes. Sorry, but I do this occasionally, going off the writing grid to pursue my artistic fancies. Guess I'm not real ambitious that way, but hey, life is about experiences, not schedules. Besides, whenever I take time off to do other stuff, I come back to my writing more invigorated and energized.

Doesn't relate to anything in this post. I just thought it was pretty and eye-catching (pun intended)


Doesn't mean the stories aren't percolating on the back burner. That never stops. But right now I have some serious life stuff to get through that demands my undivided attention. Artsy stuff allows me to think while providing the creative outlet that is my oxygen. Kind of a zen thing. Some people meditate, some medicate, I do art.

I promise to stop by and water the plants and feed the mind now and then until I flip the switch back to full time writer.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Life in Review - Ten Family Food Memories

I've been thinking all week about doing one of those year in review posts that are so popular, but whether it's a sign of age or just plain boredom, I couldn't recall anything about my life this past year worth reviewing. I mean, sure stuff happened, but none of it was noteworthy.


 During a year bookended by stretches of unemployment, I can sum up the highlights in a single sentence: I quietly published two books (quietly because no one really noticed), finished a single semester of college in my aborted attempt to return to a scholastic life, completed a few web design jobs, redesigned my own websites, sold my beloved bucket list M3, started another new blog and business ( NidoBeato Creations ), and struggled through my first full year without both of my parents. I guess you could say I'm slowing down because I can't remember anything exciting and I don't miss it.

Maybe it's what's sitting on the horizon that has me so pensive. See, this is now a 4 year, which for me is a 0 year, meaning decades. I enter winter this year - 60 - and while at times I've struggled with the reality that the face in the mirror is no longer young, I think I've finally come to terms with the winter stage of life. In fact, I'd say I'm ready to embrace it. The truth is, youth exhausts me now. I no longer identify with it, and having moved past it, see it for the learning experience that it is. Would I go back if given the chance?  Hell no.

But I digress. I was sitting here yesterday, projects lined up on my work table but not really in the mood to tackle them, and instead started couch surfing and ended up on the Cooking Channel watching a marathon of My Grandmother's Ravioli, and it reminded me that some of my best memories revolve around food and family. Our family was small (just myself, my parents, my brother, and my grandmother who lived with us part time), but we were extremely close. Maybe it was all those years in the military, moving from place to place with no one but ourselves to depend on, and maybe it was that Old World, Depression-era mentality of my parents who believed in family above all else, but my youth was a happy, innocent time that revolved around family and friends.

Family dinners
Like scent, food triggers memories. Sunday mornings meant my dad's pancakes, Thanksgiving and Christmas meant waking up to the smell of roasting turkey, Christmas meant my dad would make all those traditional Italian pastries like cannoli and struffoli. Wednesday was spaghetti night, New Year's Day meant S.O.S. for brunch. July 4th meant a picnic with cold homemade fried chicken and deviled eggs. The first cold snap brought on my mother's homemade vegetable soup. And always there was a pot of navy beans or greens simmering on the stove. The mixture of Italian and Old South in my heritage made for an interesting dichotomy of flavors.

We didn't have much money. We weren't poor, but we weren't living it up either. We were just your average family--at least, so we thought. And the foods that were common and special were a whole lot different than they are now.

And so I present my list of Ten Family Food Memories.

1. Soda of any kind was a rarity. As a kid, we lived on Kool-aid, milk, and water. Orange juice (from concentrate) was a weekend breakfast treat. When we were sick, my mom would give us 7-Up with ice that she wrapped in a towel and crushed with a hammer.

2. Going out to eat was also a rarity, even for fast food. There were no MacDonald's when I was a little kid, and later, when there were, getting a restaurant-bought hamburger and fries happened only a few times a year.

3. Miracle Whip. It landed on every bologna or tuna fish sandwich. No mayo in my mom's house.

4. Speaking of tuna fish (a can of tuna--in oil, which for me is still the best way to buy it, two hardboiled eggs, Miracle Whip, and a chopped pickle) on toast was a welcome lunchtime break from bologna or PB&J sandwiches.

5. American Cheese. We didn't have the money for fancy special cheeses. My parents would buy those huge blocks of American cheese at the base commissary, which would then find itself in cheese and crackers (saltines, or if we were really getting fancy, Ritz), cheese eggs, the best grilled cheese sandwiches anywhere, and the ultimate comfort food, my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese.

6. Black Olives. I don't know what it is about black olives, but they carry a special meaning to me. My dad would buy those small jars of green olives to have with his lunchtime sandwich on the weekends, but black olives were only brought out for holidays, special occasions, and parties, which means that, for me, they're still something a little special.

7. Biscuits. The first thing I (or any other self-respecting Southerner) ever learned to cook. Every Saturday morning when my grandmother lived with us, I would drag my stool over to the counter and help her make biscuits. She always gave me the last bit of dough too small for a whole biscuit and I would ball it up and set it on my biscuit like a snowman. Throw some sausage gravy on there and you have a meal. Or, just drizzle them in syrup or honey.

8. S.O.S. Love it or hate it, it was a throwback to the Wars (WWI and WWII) when chow hall cooks had to feed armies with short supplies. The Army used dehydrated chipped beef in theirs, which gave it its name (Shit On a Shingle), but my dad made it with hamburger. It's still the quickest, stick-to-your-ribs meal I know how to make, which meant my kids also grew up with it and still love it as much as I do. Recipe: brown a pound of hamburger (the fattier, the better) in a heavy skillet, toss in a tablespoon or two of flour and mix to make a roux, add a mixture of milk and water, salt and pepper to make a smooth gravy, and serve on toast. Ten minutes tops. Great for New Year's Eve brunch.

9. Honky Soup. I laugh whenever Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory asks for it. Little hot dogs cut up in spaghetti. Like greens, biscuits, and mac 'n cheese, it's a Southern tradition, and another really quick meal for busy moms. Just cook up some elbow macaroni, open a can of tomato sauce, cut up a package of hot dogs (the cheaper, the better), toss it all in a pot and simmer for ten minutes. Trust me, kids love it. We sure did.

10. Toast in the broiler. Yep, just plain old white bread buttered on one side and browned in the broiler. Sounds simple, but in those days of hard stick butter and margarine that never melted on your bread, having the butter melted into your bread was heaven.

There are dozens of others, but these stand out. I'm sure your family had your own food traditions as well. I'd love to hear about them.

Friday, December 6, 2013

More Fun with Government Websites

We've all heard about the incompetence of the new national Healthcare website. What you may not know is, the same idiots must have redesigned EVERY government website because NONE of them work now. And good luck trying to reach anyone by phone to complain about it. If you manage to get a call connected, you're either A) told all lines are busy and to try back later, after which you're hung up on, B) current wait times are (insert number of hours) and leave a call back number (after which they call you back and put you on hold--fun), or C) you're forced to listen to a list of voicemail options that have nothing to do with why you called and when you select none, the robo-voice tells you to have a nice day and hangs up on you.

Now, a suspicious person (who--me?) might believe this is the government's way of keeping the citizens at arm's length. If they can't reach you, they can't bitch, right? And let's face it, who would call THIS government to say anything nice?

I haven't had the pleasure of personally dealing with the healthcare site yet, but I did spend a month TRYING to apply for unemployment on Florida's new CONNECT site, and let me tell you, the term "going postal" didn't come close to describing my frustration. The best part was, after four weeks of fighting to get logged in, they informed me that I couldn't receive benefits until after my waiting week (which would have been three weeks earlier if the fucking site had worked!).

SOMEBODY CALL AL GORE TO COME FIX THIS SHIT. HE CLAIMED TO HAVE INVENTED THE INTERNET, SO I'M BLAMING HIM NOW.

The funny thing is, I'm a web designer, and while I like to pretend to my clients that what I do for them is really hard, it isn't. Brain surgery is hard. Finding parking at the mall this time of year is hard. Web design (once you know the code) is a walk in the park, which should be an indicator of just how stupid this government is.

Still licking my wounds from the CONNECT debacle, I come up against the latest government FUBAR, the Social Security Administration, who by the way, just updated their site. Three guesses who handled that update. This must have been one of those Lockheed-$500-toilet-government-contract fuckups.

This all started when I got this email two weeks ago:

We’d like to remind you to review your Social Security Statement online. The Statement has important Social Security information and, if applicable, estimates of your future benefits.
If you are working, we encourage you to check your Statement yearly to make sure your earnings record is correct. The Statement also will help in planning your financial future.
To view your most recent Statement, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/signin and sign into your account.
Please do not reply to this E-mail, as we are unable to respond to messages sent to this address.


So, like any curious citizen, I clicked on the link and entered the login information I had used to create my account last year when the SSA decided mailing statements to people was too much work and insisted that we all use their (cough cough) wonderful website to view them instead (I'm not even going to think about how much stress this is causing elderly people who can't even figure out how to turn on a computer).

SIDE NOTE: I now know how they're going to solve the social security going broke problem. If no one can log in, no one can apply for benefits.

Anyway, here is the result of that login attempt:



 Now, first of all, this is a WEBSITE. There's no one sitting on the other end answering url requests, so insisting that people attempt to access the site ONLY during regular service hours is RETARDED.

Second, the first time I attempted this was at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, which, unless I'm sitting in China, is within their definition of REGULAR SERVICE HOURS.

Third, I tried this over and over at various times of day over the next two weeks and got the same message every time. So finally, I decided I'd call to see what the hell the problem was (big mistake, but hey, I'm a sucker).

I think I deserve some credit for not smashing my phone because the robo-voice that answered was the most annoying male I have even heard. And the options he gave weren't even close to why I was calling (I guess they don't want to include the option "If our website is fucked up and you can't log in, press 9.")

So I waited until the annoying voice finished it's litany of stupidity, then was informed that if I wanted to wait on the line, my wait time would be four hours.

FOUR MOTHERFUCKING HOURS!!

If your customer service line is backed up for FOUR MOTHERFUCKING HOURS, that should send up a red flag saying, hey, we might have a problem here.

*Smacks head* What am I thinking--it's the GOVERNMENT.

Rather than sit on hold till my phone battery died (and you know, because I have a life to live) I left a callback number. By the time they called I had forgotten all about it, so that was a surprise. Then when I answered I got put on hold for ten minutes, then sent back to the voicemail labyrinth so I'd be good a ready to treat the public servant who finally answered with the proper amount of respect.

And can I just ask this--why would you call me back to put me on hold when the reason you made me give you a callback number in the first place was so I wouldn't have to sit on hold? Every government site does this now.

SIDE NOTE: I used to be an advocate of gun control.

When I finally got connected to a (cough cough) human being, she informed me that they had updated their website and all the old accounts were deleted so I had to create a new one. As a credit to my humanity, I didn't even to waste my breath commenting on that one, though I was thinking some pithy stuff real hard.

So I go back to the website to create a new account, and I put in all my information, and it informs me that there is already an account in that name and to log in using those credentials. Not trusting that, I created a new password (it wouldn't let me create a new username, bastards) then attempted to login .

Guess what happened


At this point, I don't even care anymore. Besides, by the time I qualify for Social Security, the money will be paying for some politician's mistress's boob job. I hope she enjoys it.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's the thought that counts...or at least it was

I remember the exact moment when I realized I wasn't going to participate in the rampant greed that defines the holiday season as we know it today.

I grew up a child of the 50s and 60s, when the holidays were more about gathering with friends and family to reflect upon the year past and look forward with hope to the one ahead. There was magic in the air, and while the anticipation of Santa's return was part of it, it was more than that. You could literally feel the presence of God, which for me, means love.

I'm not a religious person. I don't subscribe to any one faith, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in something. The power of love, of the soul. I believe in morality, in humanity as it pertains to its root--humane. The holiday season was once a celebration of that. Harkening back to its pagan origins, the Solstice was a time of renewal, of the rebirth of the sun as the seasons changed and the days began to lengthen again, leaving the darkness behind.

It was in the early 90s when I finally looked around me and realized I was done with it all. My kids were still young, though past the belief in Santa. I had lost my job that year and we were struggling. I was working odd jobs, whatever I could pick up--cleaning houses, delivering phone books, painting houses. It wasn't much, but it put food on the table and kept a roof over our heads. Some nights I skipped dinner so the kids could eat. They knew things were tough, but they didn't know the real story. They didn't need to. They were kids, and as my father always taught us, kids should remain innocent as long as possible, because they have their whole lives to be adults.

As I said, we didn't have much, and I knew Christmas wasn't going to be the bountiful feast of years past, but while eating dinner one night, the kids brought up an idea. Instead of buying them toys, why didn't we donate whatever we could to a needy family. Considering we were pretty needy ourselves at the time, I felt a lump in my throat that I had raised these kids to think that way.

So that's what we did. I scraped together $150.00 and we signed up to adopt a family. They had two small children--a girl and a boy--and we went shopping and bought a couple of inexpensive toys for each, then a turkey and and all the fixings for a family dinner. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the kids and I drove over to our adopted family's house to deliver our gifts.

At the time we were living in an 80-year-old bungalow with leaky windows, bad plumbing, and no air conditioning or heat. The house I pulled up to was a mansion compared to that. It was in a nice neighborhood, nearly new construction, and a fairly new car sat in the driveway. The woman who answered the door was dressed better than me on my best day. I looked around the room and nearly threw up. These people had more than we had ever had, and yet they had signed up to be an adopted family?

The boys and I presented the woman with our packages. To their credit, they said nothing about our surroundings. The woman immediately unwrapped the toys and looked up at me with a frown.

"This is all you bought them?"

That's when my youngest spoke up. "It was all we could afford. My mom doesn't have a job."

The woman just rolled her eyes and dismissed us. No thank you, no appreciation whatsoever for the generosity of strangers.

When we got back to the car, I sat there for a minute fighting back the tears. I had sacrificed what little I had for my own family to give to someone who not only didn't need it, but didn't even have the courtesy to appreciate the effort. That's when my son patted me on the arm and smiled at me.

"Don't worry, Mom. It's the thought that counts."

Yes, it was, for us at least. But that was the last Christmas I celebrated. I had been watching the erosion of the holiday spirit for years, but that's when it really hit home and I made the decision that I would no longer participate in the charade of "giving" that now characterizes this time of year.

Instead of peace and love, all we have is stress and  greed. Shop, shop, shop. Go in debt to buy the perfect gift for everyone, but make sure they can return it when it isn't perfect and no one appreciates it anyway. Nope. No more. My boys and I decided we would have our own holidays. Birthdays became the holidays in our house. If I couldn't afford gifts, I made sure that day was special in some other way. The boys understood because, just like me, they had seen behind the curtain that day.

I wish you all peace and love for the coming year and hope that sometime during this hectic season, you can find time to stop and reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas--not as it pertains to religion, but to the spirit of all humanity.

Peace.

Friday, November 29, 2013

New look for Nytwriter

Hey, lookee here! New year right around the corner, and though it's been less than that since I overhauled the site and blog, I felt it was time for a change. All I really did is change the styles to a lighter look. Maybe it's my eyes getting older, but I find it easier to read dark text on light background, don't you? And who needs all the fancy stuff. Blogs are about the words.

While I'm here, I'll drop some info. I know I haven't been posting of late; been busy with life stuff and all that. I wrapped up NaNoWriMo, and even though my novel is in ten shades of holy-hell-what-a-messness, I hit the magic 50K and said, we're good for now. I have every intention of fixing that and publishing it, hopefully before the end of the year, but in the meantime this girl has to make some money to pay the bills. Since this isn't the most lucrative time of year for us freelancers, it's back to the craftiness for me, which means hunting for cast-offs and treasures and altering, painting, or otherwise re-purposing them to sell.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Not enough hours in the day

Okay, fellow Darklings, I'll keep this short and sweet because I'm trying to eat lunch, write this blog, and keep the cats out of the paint while my room is drying enough for the second coat.

I was plugging along on my NaNoWriMo novel and wouldn't you know, Mercury decided to shift into Drive and leave me hanging in the lurch. Since I do my best writing when the solar messenger is in retrograde, that left me staring at my screen and doing a lot of "Uhhhh....hmmmm....well...I got nothing.

On the bright side, when one part of my creativity gets plugged, another awakens. That means all these little Round-To-It (as in, "I'll get around to it") projects piling up around the house are finally getting done. I've cleaned up my succulent ghetto on the front porch, finished antiquing a pine cabinet I found at a garage sale months ago, painted and decoupaged an old metal cabinet I found at a garage sale months ago, cleaned out my closets, rearranged the furniture, mosaiced the top of an old iron plant stand, and am in the process of painting my bedroom. Whew.

Oh, and I also had two marathon writing sessions on my NaNoWriMo novel when I woke up in the middle of the night with several scenes running lines through my head, so all is not lost there. Sitting at over 42,000 words now, I'll have no problem polishing that baby off before the end of the month.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Random Trip to Nowhere - Day 8 NaNoWriMo

It's alive! Part 8 of Random Trips to Nowhere featuring alien body snatching, drunk singing dogs, and sinister metallic probes. Egads! Check it out Random Trips to Nowhere Part 8

Today's NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2204
Cumulative Word Count: 20,648

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 7

Okay, come on, people! I've been waiting for input on the absurd scifi journey that is Random Trips to Nowhere. Willing suspension of disbelief is running rampant across the page. Scientific accuracy has been totally annihilated, Einstein is turning over in his grave.

Today's episode is now live on my writing blog.

Today's Word Count: 3199 ( I know, didn't I have one more word in me for an even 3200?)
Cumulative Word Count: 18,444

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 6

Part 6 of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.
Today's Word Count: 2663
Cumulative Word Count: 15,245

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 5

The Day 5 edition of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.

Today's Word Count: 2171
Total Word Count: 12,528

Write To Please Yourself

When I was in college I took a class called Commercial Creative Writing. It was my last semester and I needed one more class in my major and had taken every literature and humanities course that interested me, so I figured, what the hell. In hindsight it was a bad idea on two counts: 1. It ruined my perfect GPA, and 2. It nearly soured me on writing altogether.

The professor was, to put it bluntly, a pompous ass. According to him (and his syllabus), unless your writing appealed to the masses, it was crap. And he proved that by giving me Cs on all my papers.

Now I'm not going to stand here and say I'm a great writer because I know I'm not. However, that isn't because I'm bad at the actual craft of writing. I pride myself on knowing how to write, and have made my living for the past three decades working as a professional technical editor and writer.

I had been writing short stories since I was eight years old, and while none of them were masterpieces, they weren't awful and, most importantly, they pleased me. For my first assignment in this class, we had to write a story about some kind of symbolism (I don't remember the exact guidelines since it was 20 years ago), and I wrote a strange little tale about the Round Toit. You know--"I'll get around to it." It was a kind of mish-mash of Dante's Inferno meets Alice in Wonderland, and when I was done, I thought it was original and quite clever. The professor, however, didn't share my point of view.

"You will never make any money as a writer until you learn to write stories that appeal to the masses."

That's what he wrote on my paper. As I said, according to him, the only story worth telling was one you could sell to the Everyman. I can't tell you how glad I am that writers don't adhere to that ideal. Otherwise, we would be reading the same dull book over and over.

Personally, I write to the beat of my own drum. I'll be the first to admit my stories don't appeal to everyone, and in fact, probably not too many people at all, judging by how many have actually read them. But I'm okay with that because I told the story I wanted to tell in each one of them. It wasn't an editor's story, it wasn't a publisher's story, it wasn't even a writing partner's story. It was mine, birthed and created from my own mind and told exactly how I wanted it to be told. And that is more important to me than all the sales and accolades in the world.

So my advice to any aspiring writer is this: decide what kind of writer you want to be. Do you want to write to be a commercial success, or do you want to craft stories that, while they may never be best sellers, at least please your own sense of accomplishment? Either way, write to please yourself. Tell your story on your terms and if it turns out no one else wants to read it, well, at least you didn't compromise your art for the sake of commercialism.

I like artists who pave their own paths. Who are brave enough to risk ridicule or failure to bring their vision to life. Be true to yourself, and don't stop telling your stories just because someone tells you they don't have mass appeal. There's always someone out there who will love them as you do, and hearing the praise from that one person whose soul you touched can wipe out a hundred bad reviews.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 4 -Random Trips to Nowhere

The Day 4 episode of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.

Today's word count: 3646
Cumulative word count: 10,411

Sunday, November 3, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day Three - Random Trips to Nowhere

Day Three of Random Trips to Nowhere is up on my writing blog.

Day Three word count: 2210
Cumulative word count: 6765

Saturday, November 2, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day Two - Random Trips to Nowhere

Day Two of Random Trips to Nowhere is now up on my writing blog.

Day Two word count: 2502
Cumulative word count: 4557