Monday, August 25, 2014

Rude Awakening

You know that Twilight-Zoney feeling between awake and asleep? The one where you're not quite sure which one you are? Whether or not you're still dreaming? That one.

One morning last week I was in that spot. It was about 4:30, and I was enjoying that floaty I-bet-I-can-fall-right-back-to-sleep time before the alarm went off and made me start my day. My eyelids were fluttering open and closed. In one of the barely open moments, it looked like there was a black stripe on the ceiling in the living room. But there couldn't be, and I'm probably dreaming so it's okay. Then I hear fluttering, and my eyes are suddenly wide open and I am sitting up.

There was a bird in my living room! How the hell did a bird get in my living room? There's a screen on the living room window that was the only one open. No way for a bird to get in.

I grabbed an afghan to use in urging the bird outside. But before doing that, I went around the house shutting doors to bedrooms and bathrooms, also checking to make sure there really were no other windows open. All closed up tight, as were the doors to outside. The bird had magically appeared in my living room.

Back upstairs, I opened the sliding door out to the deck as a convenient exit. By this time the bird was making elongated loops from the front window toward the back door and back to the front window. But I noticed something really strange about the bird. It wasn't a bird. It was a bat.

Son of a bitch.

I'm not a huge fan of rodents in any format. But put wings on, just no. So I alternated between flapping the afghan in the direction I want the bugger to go and then throwing it over my head and screaming whenever it flew toward me. It would make six or seven passes like this, then go behind the living room curtain to catch it's breath. Then start again. I swear the thing had a two foot wingspan.

Even a small afghan gets really heavy when you're waving it around. I swapped out for a beach towel. We did this little dance. Bat making NASCAR laps a couple inches below the ceiling. Me flapping my towel and squealing. Then rest.

After half an hour of this, the bat disappeared. I kept waiting for him to reappear, but nothing. I checked the floor under the curtains in case he'd knocked himself out. Nothing. Gingerly pulled the sides of the curtains away from the wall and shone a flashlight around. Nothing. He had vanished as mysteriously as he'd appeared.

I went about the rest of my morning as usual, but with one eye on the curtains and the area around them. Still nothing. Baffled doesn't begin to describe it.

About a half hour before I had to leave for work, I opened the curtains. One corner of the screen was just a bit loose, but no where enough to fit a bat as huge as the one that had visited. I looked for another way it could have gotten in, but there was nothing. Nothing except a teeny little no more than two inch long bat all wrapped up and sleeping, hanging upside down from the window tracks.

I pushed the corner of the screen open a bit more and closed the glass that would bar him from getting back into the house. I noticed that there were 1/4 inch gaps between the two end panes and the big center pane of glass so duck-taped those suckers shut.

He was still there when I got home. The sun was still up. I closed the curtains and hoped for the best. I could hear him stir, but I was not going to open the curtain. After an hour of silence from that direction, I got out the flashlight again. He had found his out.

For the foreseeable future all windows in my house will be closed before the sun goes down., I don't care how teeny he turned out to be.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


At the end of most books I read, I smile. Sometimes the book stays with me, sometimes not. A few tick me off, others barely register.
Yesterday I finished reading Water for Elephants. As I closed the book and looked around, I felt a sense of vertigo. It was as if I were being pulled from one world into another, duller place. While not a perfect book--what is?--it drew me in to a Depression-era circus and kept me there. That's a very rare thing.

It was a more common experience for me when I was a kid. Each book was a new experience, something I'd never read or thought of before. I was also more willing to let myself be drawn in.

There have been several times in my adult reading that I remember the feeling. Both The World According to Garp by John Irving and The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy had such strong pulls that I turned around and reread each one immediately after "The End." The Harry Potter books give that sense of vertigo, too.

So what is it about certain books that make the reader feel as if she has been transported somewhere else? I could answer with the usual: three-dimensional characters, great settings, a strong plot, excellent craftsmanship. But there are books with those things that don't have that same effect. I don't think you can quantify it or point to one thing that creates it.

But wouldn't it be nice if we could?

Any books that caused vertigo for you? Can you figure out what it was that affected you?

Monday, April 25, 2011

And Another Thing

I learned about writing from NaNoWriMo is

5) November is a lousy month to tackle this challenge.

The beginning of the holiday season is not a good time to try to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. Families tend to balk at the idea of you taking your turkey dinner into the writing room so you can get 500 more words. When your company has driven across two states in a snowstorm, they kinda want to see your face.

My suggestion is to move it to April, June or September. Whichever works best for you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Different Kind of Media Bias?

I am a television junkie. It started at a young age, with my mother fueling my habit. We'd roll the television table around the corner and watch while we ate. When she bought a new set, the old one went in my bedroom. I fell asleep most night with it on.

No surprise that I grew up still loving television. And while I'll watch a not-so-great show if it's fun, my tastes have become a bit more discerning. There is a lot of good storytelling on TV these days. Sometimes what I see on the tube is better than what I see at the movies. There's more originality and risk-taking, especially on networks like BBC, HBO and Showtime. AMC and USA also produce a fair share of good programming.

Which leads me to The Killing on AMC. The review I heard on NPR described it as Twin Peaks meets 24 meets Murder One meets The X-Files. Okay, they had my attention.  Here is the blurb from AMC's website:

The Killing ties together three distinct stories around a single murder including the detectives assigned to the case, the victim's grieving family, and the suspects. Set in Seattle, the story also explores local politics as it follows politicians connected to the case. As the series unfolds, it becomes clear that there are no accidents; everyone has a secret, and while the characters think they've moved on, their past isn't done with them. 

 Cool, right?

Well, no.

I've watched four episodes now, and I don't see where all the love is coming from. Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, NPR, etc. all gave glowing reviews of this show. I will admit that the story line with the victim's grieving family is something I haven't seen handled in depth on television before. It's realistic and well-acted.

However, the rest of the show is one big cliche'. Let me list just a few:

-Cop gets handed a big case on her "last day" at work
-Cop also gets saddled with a new partner
-Said partner has just moved to homicide from vice, with all the twitchy suspect behaviors that an undercover vice cop can be expected to display
-Single mother (Cop) is resisting making commitment to "nice guy" 
-Politician can't trust people in his own camp
-Politician is sleeping with an aide

-It is hinted that politician's dead wife was a victim of violent crime
-Politician's campaign is linked to murder victim
-Victim was a good kid from wrong side of tracks
-Victim's ex-boyfriend is a bad kid with lots of money
-Victim's best friend didn't know what she was up to

And so on.

I've heard the lead, Mireille Enos, praised for her acting. Again, sorry, but all she does is chew gum and stare--at people, at evidence, at walls. It would fine if you could see any kind of emotion or even evidence of thinking going on behind those stares, but there isn't.

Why the big disconnect then between what the critics are all saying and what I think?

I could be totally off base. But there have been enough comments from others that I don't think I'm waaaay out there. I think that critics get in ruts just like the rest of us. They love a book from Author Q or a movie from Director J or Actor V. And maybe they like the next effort. And the next. And soon, anything that Author, Director, Actor or TV Network does is A-Okay by them. 

The opposite happens, too. Author P, Director I and Actor U can do nothing right. Maybe some of their efforts haven't produced the best results. But soon it doesn't matter. The best book ever written or the best movie ever made will be roundly trounced by these critics simply because it comes from these people.

Does this just mean that critics are human? Perhaps. But I find it disappointing when those critiques I've trusted steer me in the wrong direction. Does this mean that now I have to distrust everything they say?

Monday, April 18, 2011

What I Learned About Writing From

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

For those of you who may not have heard of NaNoWriMo, it is a writing event that takes place during the month of November. Participants sign up to write a "novel" in one month. The goal is complete 50,000 words in 30 days. Don't worry about doing the math--it comes out 1,666.6666 words a day. Now 50,000 words isn't quite a novel, but it's a great start.

The writer should be starting a new manuscript. Some preliminary work, such as character sketches and plot outlines are allowed. Then on November 1st, the writing begins.

I've participated three times, and learned some great lessons.

1) If at first you don't succeed . . .

My first time attempting NaNoWriMo, I failed. Epic fail. Life reared its head, and I didn't start until 5 days in. Then I froze. My total word count for the month was about 1,500 words.

The following year, I made it to 25,000 words. Better, but not the goal. Still, it was 25,000 more words than I had at the beginning of the month.

On my third try, I made my 50,000 words and a bit more. So satisfying.

Sticking with it paid off.

2) Writing every day is a great habit to have.

Once I got in the groove and writing every day became the norm, it was much easier to maintain. I got to a point of missing it if I skipped a day.

3) It doesn't have to be great writing.

Putting out a predetermined number of words a day means only that you write that number of words, it doesn't mean that the result is brilliant. And that's okay. Especially in a first draft.

Occasionally, though, there are flashes. Because when you're writing every day, in the groove, your brain works on the story even when you're not writing. So you don't have that boot up time. You sit down and start. And sometimes you surprise yourself.

4) They're more like guidelines really.

The rules say that you will start a brand spanking new project. But what if you have a work in progress? Will the NaNo Police come and wipe out your manuscript?

They didn't take mine away.

See, I had a WIP that was halfway there. I didn't want to abandon it to start the next manuscript. So I finished the WIP during the second week then started the next one. The world didn't end. I finished my first manuscript, and got a great start on the second.

It's your project. Make it work for you.

I highly recommend trying NaNoWriMo. If you've tried before, and didn't make it to 50,000, try again. Maybe make your personal goal to get 1,000 more words than you did the first time. I think you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Are You Building?

Former agent, Nathan Bransford, asked the question on his blog yesterday.

I have to admit to hearing crickets chirp for a while. What am I building? There are the stories and the worlds--real and imagined--that I am building. There are quilts and gloves and afghans. But what is there of any real importance that I am building.

Well, I'm building a life. With friendships, ideas, work and fun. I'm building what everybody builds (or, at least, I hope everyone is building a life). I'm probably not going to change the word in any significant way, but I hope I can make at least one person each day smile.

How about you? What are you building?

Monday, April 11, 2011

And Another Thing

I learned about writing from Top Chef is:

5) Use just the right amount of seasoning.

A lot of times the deciding factor in who has to "pack your knives and go" comes down to seasoning. Too much salt? You're out of there unless someone cooked something that was inedible. Produce a dish that's too bland? Another good way to get yourself a ticket home.

How many times have you read a story that has a good plot but leaves you flat? Chances are that the author under-seasoned. He didn't give enough description. Maybe the word choices could have been better. An adjective or two might have given it just a touch more flavor.

I've heard some authors say they want the reader to be able to supply the details so they are more involved.  Sorry, I think that's lazy. It's our world and our people, we need to make them real for the reader. Not the other way around.

Then there is the opposite extreme. Purple prose. The overly flowery, adjective-laden, adverb choked prose of an author who is just trying too hard.

I have a feeling I like description a bit more than most people do. I want to be able to picture where a story is taking place, what the characters look and act like, feel the sun on my face or the wind in my hair. So I have to make sure some of my first readers are those who like spare prose. I need to see if I've overwhelmed them or if they don't notice what I've done. Then my readers who are more like me have to weigh in on whether they felt the story was too bland.

How do you strike a balance when seasoning your writing? Do you prefer blander stories or ones with a little more flavor?