Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We are shaped by summers past

     I believe that who we are is determined by the summer night sounds that sang us to sleep as children and no matter how far or how long we run, our journey's end will almost always be right back where we started...more or less. For me it's in the rush of cars passing by on a distant highway, the urgent howl of midnight freight trains, the persistent cricket song and the rise and fall of the cicadas' high summer drone.
     I may have become accustomed, for a time, to wailing sirens, the beat of salsa music floating on the breeze and the buzz of a million lights, TVs and conversations but home will always be staring at the night-clad world through the metal mesh of a screen window wondering where those people in those cars whooshing by on that distant highway are going. A corn and hay scented breeze wafts through an open window, I turn my face into it and I am seven years old again...wondering. Laying in my bed, I pick up my tin can phone strung between my room and my brother's next door. I ask him where he thinks they're going, those people out there on that highway. We talk for awhile until he tells me it's time to sleep and if I go right away we can meet in our dreams in Candy Land which was to me a world of endless shelves piled high with every color and flavor of candy imaginable and it was all free for those who could dream themselves there.
     My journey took me far away from home, from myself, for many years and I haven't thought about Candy Land since before my brother was lost to me but I never stopped wondering about the people traveling highways late at night and I've come back now to the place I started and it feels right...more or less.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Swagbucks = Free books!

     I'm going to post a short one today since I'm suffering some substantial internet fatigue this week. This may read like a commercial and you may think I'm getting compensated in some way but I'm not. It's just super cool (especially as a way to get free ebooks) and I wish someone had told me about it sooner.
     I'm talking about Swagbucks. You can buy Amazon and Paypal gift cards with Swagbucks, among other things. In less than 3 months I've gotten 2 ebooks, the new Snow Patrol album Fallen Empires (I won 25 Swagbucks just now as I was linking to Amazon!) and the first season of Designing Women all for free. Next on my list are some awesome coffee mugs from Anthropologie.
     Basically, you go to Swagbucks, sign up and start searching using the toolbar. You can easily earn 20 Swagbucks per day and more if you want to work at it a bit more. 450 swagbucks will get you a $5 Amazon giftcard and 700 will get you a $5 Paypal gift card (Anthropologie accepts payments via Paypal). The bucks add up faster than you might think.
     In addition to being awarded bucks for searching you can earn them by using coupons (10 bucks each) printed from (as long as you link there through Swagbucks), doing surveys, catching up on entertainment gossip by watching videos from E! via SBTV, playing games, doing surveys, etc. For those of you with piles of books you need to pass on, they even have a trade-in service that will award swagbucks for books.
     I share this information because I honestly think it's a great program. It's fun and a fab way to keep up with your book addiction and those impulse Kindle/Nook purchases without going broke. So, what are you waiting for?

Friday, January 20, 2012

King of the Jungle

     With incredible sadness, my mom and I had to say goodbye to one of our cats this week. Tiger was one of the smartest, most loving cats I have ever known. He had a way of looking at you and different meows for different things so you always knew just what he wanted. He was very vocal and greeted us with a meow every morning and always responded when addressed.
     We don't know how old he was as he was a stray that my mom adopted. She had him for at least 15 years though and he was fully grown when he joined our family so he had a good, long life. He suffered from FIV and had a skin condition as a result but he never let it slow him down too much. Even suffering the indignity of wearing a rabbit harness to keep him from scratching.

     He'd been losing weight all summer and fall. We almost lost him a little over a week ago but he seemed to rally and we thought he might recover but, finally, this week, he grew too weak to eat despite us doing all the coaxing and babying we could. We feel his absence greatly. His favorite spot was on top of the picnic table in our yard in full sunlight. He would lay there for hours and listen to the birds. I'm thankful for the mild winter we've had so far. It allowed him to have some lovely days outside in the sun in his last two weeks.
     I wrote the following story for him just after he passed. Give your kitties an extra scratch under the chin today and love them.

     The cat surveyed his kingdom from his promontory in the sun. His eyes squinted into the distance. He flicked the end of his tail lazily, up and down, up and down. He felt joy in the comfort of the repetitive, rhythmic motion. He appeared sleepy-eyed and indolent but his keen senses told him the exact location of every creature in his vicinity. A bone-deep satisfaction born of knowing he was a great hunter, his skills unrivaled throughout his demesne, was his. The bird sounds and intense warmth of the afternoon sun lulled him into a near trance. But he could, of course, spring up in the twinkling of an eye to stalk and pounce upon his prey. He pictured the hunt in his mind's eye and flexed his mighty paws, extending his deadly claws reflexively. Just then a loud bang echoed and his ears perked, the only sign that he was on alert. The shot of a hunter? He settled again. What cared he for a puny human?
      His ears perked again at the sound of a voice. “Tiger?” he scoffed to himself. “Stupid human. I am a lion, king of all I survey.”
      “Tiger!” The call was louder this time, insistent and irritated.
      He remained still and watched through half-closed eyes as the human approached his perch. He maintained his negligent sprawl but prepared to spring into action.
      “You can ignore me but I know you hear me.”
      This human was courageous indeed speaking to him as though she were master here, not he. The way she approached him as though he were some domesticated house cat rather than the fearsome beast that he was was extraordinarily foolhardy. It was his kingly whim to see what she would do, to toy with her before asserting his dominance. He watched warily as she reached a hand toward him. How dare she!
      Her hand reached under his chin.
      He would bite it off and devour her wh....puuurrrr, rrrrrrrrrrr.
      Damn. He'd fallen for the old chin scratch once again.
      He gave in to the ecstasy of being scratched in his favorite spot even rolling over and showing his belly in a shameless display. He purred louder and louder as his royal dream faded and he stood to head-butt his human mama's chin to encourage kisses and more petting. He was soon scooped from the picnic table into loving arms.
      “Time to come in for the night buddy. I know you love it out here but it'll be getting dark soon.”
      He was put down then. He walked over to the garden for one last scratch at the wooden rails that marked its boundaries. He sat daintily at the corner and watched his human filling the birdbath. As much as he enjoyed his dreams of grandeur, this was actually his favorite part of each day.
      “Come on Tiger,” his human coaxed halfheartedly, knowing from experience that it was unlikely he would come.
      He looked up innocently, not moving, and meowed sweetly. He loved this game they played.
      His owner sighed in amused exasperation. “I don't know why I even bother calling you. You always have to be carried don't you, ya big baby?”
      Tiger, King of the Jungle, would have growled at being such a demeaning name. This Tiger was content to be picked up and placed over her shoulder like the baby she called him. Paws holding on, he nestled in and watched his picnic table and the yard with all of its birds and rabbits and squirrels fade from view. He knew he'd be back tomorrow. He nestled into her neck and closed his eyes in utter contentment. Besides, she might make popcorn tonight. He loved popcorn.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Is There Enough Pie to Go Around?

     I just finished watching Amanda Hocking on Anderson Cooper's talk show. I felt a rising tide of panic as I listened to the 42 year old stay at home mom who was also on talking about how Amanda inspired her. It's ridiculous, I know. And yet, it will not leave me.
      All the articles I've been reading about the rising tsunami of self-publishing and the surge of ebook purchases since the holidays lead me to the conclusion that the iron is hot and it's time to strike. Sadly, I don't have an iron of my own yet. My iron is at about room temperature and holding. Am I missing out because I don't have a MS to publish? Is there enough of the ebook pie to go around? I can't help but imagine legions of stay at home moms watching Anderson and deciding to become the next Amanda Hocking. My fear is this, once people see the quality of some of these slap-dash, self-published ebooks there will be a backlash against self-published works which will effectively kill the market by the time I'm ready to self-publish my own work (which will, of course, be the best thing since Harry Potter).
     I'm sure I'm being silly but surely people will only buy so many $0.99 ebooks that suck before they stop buying them at all. If I were a betting woman I'd put my money on an end to the self-publishing free for all. I'm not saying the publishing world will revert to traditional publishing again but I can certainly foresee the proliferation of small "publishing houses" specializing in ebooks. If the quality of self-published ebooks doesn't improve, readers will turn to a gatekeeper of some sort to protect them from the shitstorm outside. That's my two cents anyway. I may well be missing the perfect time to self-publish before people outside the writing community get wise to the lack of quality control in self-published books.
     What are your thoughts? Am I crazy?(None of this is a reflection upon Ms. Hocking's work. I have not read her books. I am referring to other self-published books I stumbled upon unwittingly long before I knew anything about self-publishing ebooks.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Lyricist Inspired Me To Be a Novelist

                                                                    Photo taken by me. Please do not use without permission.

He got caught up in the passion of the music. He grabbed the note and stretched it out in a wail like the mournful whistle of a distant train. What he did on stage when  the spirit took hold of him was not in any way intellectual. It was pure stream of consciousness and he was tapped into the same source as the angels. We stood in awe hoping that a mere touch of his garment hem would plug us in too.

     I wrote that some time ago on a scrap of paper torn from an envelope. I must have been listening to U2 at the time which isn't surprising since I listen to them a lot of the time. When I found it recently it reminded me of how much U2 inspires me to write, more specifically, of how Bono's lyrics inspire me. Of course the music itself is inspiring. There are multiple books out there already about the inspirational power of U2's music. But what first inspired me to try to be a writer is the poetry that Bono writes that are the lyrics to U2's music. 
     I remember a friend asking me years ago why I loved U2 so much. This same friend had also always encouraged me to write. I showed him some of my favorite lyrics and I told him that to me those lyrics were so beautifully perfect that if I couldn't write like that I didn't want to write at all. Well, that was a stupid way to think of course. How many people will ever achieve that? I'm happy to say it didn't take me long to see the flaw in my logic. So instead of not writing because I can't possible be as good as Bono, I write the best I can. Bono is the standard that I always strive toward. I like to fantasize myself in the middle of a book signing someday. As I'm busily signing away with my head down a book is slid in front of me. I look up with a smile to ask to whom I should sign it and it's the man himself. To write a book that Bono would want to read...I can't imagine a more satisfying achievement. 
     Who inspires you to write? Whose lyrics do you love?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Turning the dreaded Facebook photo tag into something useful

     I have a growing collection of scenes without books to call home. I wrote one last night. See, what I do is when something happens to me or I observe something that strikes me as a good scene for a story instead of journaling about it, I go ahead and write a scene around it. Often it's just a kernel of an idea and writing a scene about it creates something noteworthy out of a moment that usually wouldn't be significant enough to remember for a journal entry at the end of the day. Sometimes these scenes give me ideas to build an entire book around and sometimes they just sit waiting to be fit into some WIP in the future. This is what works for me because journaling bores me and, later down the road, embarrasses me. Nothing makes me cringe more than going back and reading old journals. I want to die of shame just thinking about my angst-filled journals from the teenage years. Which are, by the way, missing since I moved. Oh yeah...THE HORROR. I live in fear of someday stumbling upon a recently-gone-viral website made up of my journal entries from ages thirteen to seventeen.
     Anyway, this is part of my writing process and below is an example which I wrote last night. Enjoy, judge, your own mind or behind my back please. Feel free to comment.

         Man! She felt good this morning. Energized. Ready to meet the day head on. She felt optimistic she'd just had the wind knocked out of her. There alongside her coffee and chocolate croissant, smack dab in the middle of her morning internet routine of Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, seemingly larger than life was an old picture posted by an older friend. In it she stood in a group, smiling, her ex standing next to her. Not just any ex...THE Ex. You know the one. That one Ex that everyone has that they never fully recover from, the "what might have been" Ex. What stopped her in her tracks and held her spellbound was how she was transported back to that exact moment. She remembered everything about it, the crunch of the white rock under her shoes, the laughing voices of the others in the picture, the quip of one friend as they shuffled into position. She squinted at her computer screen as she remembered the sun that day and how she tried not to blink as they waited for the photo to be taken. The content cheerfulness she'd felt that morning passed through her again like fingertips lightly brushing the rungs of a banister as their owner passes by. Then she recalled the joke she'd made to Him just before they took their places, that quip that would haunt her for years wondering if it was the trigger that began their long, slow demise as a couple. How odd it was to remember the exact moment captured in the image. How often does that happen? She couldn't think of a single instance before now. Her "can do" spirit of the morning was shattered and gone as she stared into the distance at nothing. Her memories swept her into familiar reminiscences and the same old questions and yearning she'd convinced herself years ago she was no longer holding onto. The bittersweet ache that filled her was actually a relief. It was so much more comfortable and familiar than the sunny optimism of moments before and the past five years.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Forget "Ah Hah" Moments. I give you "Duh" Thoughts

     I'm in a weird mood today. That's vague I know but if I knew more specifically what the mood was I would surely use the corresponding adjective. Perhaps some background would be useful.  I've been caring for a very sick kitty all week. He's my mom's cat, and mine too for the past 16 months. Tiger is one of the smartest, funniest cats I've even been around and that's saying something because I long ago beatified my mother as Saint Wilma, Patron Saint of Stray Animals. To say I've known a lot of cats is to use sparse prose indeed. Back to Tiger...we have struggled more than once this week with whether or not it was time to let him go. Deciding whether or not to have an animal put to sleep is such a gut-wrenching process as I'm sure many of you know. They put such trust in us to care for them and their unconditional love such an undeserved gift. To have to make the decision to snuff out the flame of life within their little bodies is a terrible, nearly incomprehensible thing.
     The good news is that round the clock babying and daily visits to the vet for sub-cutaneous fluids appear to be working. He's doing better and seems to be more at the entrance to death's vestibule rather than right at the door. (Sorry, I use humor as a defense mechanism and, apparently, bad humor at that.) He's soaking up the sun lying in the window next to me as I write this. Anyway, with hourly bouts of cajoling him to eat something, anything and bi-hourly walks outside (this consists more of me carrying him around the yard in my arms rather than him walking much) where he loves to hear and see the birds and staying near him because he's never liked being alone, I haven't felt much like writing. But this morning I feel a little optimistic and a lot scared that such optimism will jinx Tiger's improvement. So, yeah. I feel weird today.
     As I was looking down into my coffee cup a little while ago and observing that my coffee was actually boiling, I realized I had microwaved it for four minutes instead of the usual two. I thought to myself, "Well, that's what happens when you microwave coffee too long. It boils. It is too hot to drink." Duh, right? Not exactly a world-changing observation. But don't we all have these "Duh" thoughts from time to time? Thoughts that make us look around sheepishly praying we didn't accidentally say out loud the incredibly air-headed thought that just passed through our minds? Don't you have those moments when your thoughts are as dull as a bread knife and you're glad no one else knows how utterly banal your inner monologue really is sometimes? Well, I thought it might be amusing to start putting these thoughts out there on Twitter for the world to see because goodness knows there isn't enough utterly unedifying garbage on Twitter already. My idea though is to take these "Hey, I'm a rocket surgeon (see what I did there?) thoughts and turn them into flowery prose and then tweet them with the hashtag #NoShitLit (As in, "No shit, Sherlock." Which reminds me, I need to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie.). Then it's kinda fun. Well, I think it is but I'm weird today (just today?) so what do I know?
     My first #NoShitLit tweet went live not long ago. "She peered down at the rolling boil in surprise. This tempest in a coffee cup made her think she'd overheated her drink"
     So, anyone care to join me? Just try it once. It'll be fun. Anyway, this is the best I could do today. I am mentally fried after this past week. Prayers and positive thoughts for Tiger are appreciated even if you think I'm ridiculous ;-)