Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Apples and oranges and kumquats, oh my!

I’ve been struck several times this week by the propensity to draw invalid comparisons, everything from Cars2 versus Hangover II – really, do these movies have anything in common other than being sequels? – to an incident closer to home, Myrtle Beach versus Yellow Springs.

Perennial mapmaker Rand McNally is running a Best of the Road contest with categories ranging from Most Beautiful to Friendliest to Most Patriotic. Initial public votes narrowed the community nominations to six in each category before teams of travelers were sent out to visit the sites and report back.

Lovely Yellow Springs, our new home, is a finalist in the Most Fun category. We’re up against Glenwood Springs, Colorado; Park City, Utah; Vacaville, California; Santa Clause, Indiana; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’m not familiar with many of those places, but putting tiny quaint Yellow Springs up against touristy Myrtle Beach does a disservice to both locations. Fun, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Myrtle Beach offers golf, beaches, water parks, malls, golf, outlet shopping, golf, and did I mention beaches? Such frenetic activity draws a certain kind of visitor and I’m sure it’s a wonderful spot for the sports-minded.

Ah, but Yellow Springs is for downtime, for free-trade coffee at Dino’s or tea and vegan Twinkies at Brother Bears. Lively street conversations with thoughtful people who care about important, and not so important, matters. Wine tasting and live music at the Emporium. Dining al fresco at Peaches or Ye Olde Trail Tavern. Dancing in the streets when you least expect it. Art galleries and artisan shops from pottery to jewelry to fabric design. Buskers of all sorts. Friendly folks. Leisurely hiking at Glen Helen Nature Preserve, biking the Little Miami Trail, or just strolling the beautiful tree-lined streets, enjoying the fabulous gardens and homesteads which dot the town.

How can our intrepid judges, TravelingJules and TravelingJoan, be expected to compare two such diverse locations?

And as always, my thoughts return to writing. As a writers friend pointed out in her blog bemoaning the comments she received on a 250-word contest entry, “…many of those responding neither read nor write in the genre of my story… Some things are genre specific, what might work in one genre, may very well be the undoing in another.” How can readers objectively compare chick lit and sci-fi? Fantasy and cozy mysteries?

The simple answer is, they can’t, any more than Yellow Springs can stand up against Myrtle Beach. A story can be judged on its tone, character development, continuity, narratives, and mechanics. But comparisons? “To compare is not to prove,” says an old proverb. Often based on a false dichotomy, comparisons divide, set friend against friend, brother against brother, and writer against writer.

I need to remember that the next time I read of an author simultaneously churning out titles in three different series while I struggle with juggling a novel, an essay, and a short story or two.

I hope TravelingJules and TravelingJoan remember that as well, and enjoy Yellow Springs to its fullest without the added burden of unequal comparisons.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flash: Silence...

Honored to have my flash fiction "Silence" up at a great site, The Alchemy of Writing, today. Thanks, Bryan!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Something’s burning…

And no, it’s not me torching my manuscript in frustration. Not that I would do such a thing. Lately.

I’m in the honeymoon stage with my WIP, in no small part because of my new Twitter best friend, #wordmongering. I admit I’m still struggling with the overall worth of the Twitter world – many of the posts are too inane to believe – but I probably felt that way when I first started on Facebook and now I’m addicted.

But #wordmongering, now there’s a gem. The group was started by a blogger named Monica-Marie as a way for writers to support and motivate each other. The plan is to set a timer, write for thirty minutes (or an hour) no matter what, then break for thirty minutes. We all have excuses perfectly good reasons why we don’t have time to write. With one tweet, #wordmongering erases them all. We can always find thirty minutes – lunch time, while the kids are napping, waiting for the laundry to finish or the water to boil.

Which is where I got into trouble. I put a pot of black beans on to simmer in preparation for our favorite soup and cornbread dinner and started a #wordmongering session. It stretched into two, maybe a smidge more, before I smelled something odd. What can I say? I was in the zone. At least it wasn’t bad enough to set off the smoke alarm and scare the dogs.

The beans were scorched, but salvageable. Smoky flavor works in soup, right? The pan was pretty awful, but I managed to scrub it back to its original shine. I noticed a few days ago the stove needed cleaning, but I figured it could wait at least a week or so, until the next time we had guests. Instead, it got the next thirty-minute time chunk. #wordmongering had to wait.

Charred beans and messy stove aside, #wordmongering has been worth it. Just the kick I need to keep writing. I’ve added more to my WIP in the past two days than I have in six weeks. (yes, I keep track, I’m OC like that) The ideas keep coming, the plot is moving a-pace, and I’m stoked. My new #wordmongering tweeps are funny and kind and supportive.

I’ll let you know how the soup turned out. Right now, it’s time to reset the clock. Thirty minutes #wordmongering…and go!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can’t see the forest for the trees…

Nice to know my revelations are shared. Earlier this week, fellow blogger Natalie Whipple related her grandfather’s apple trees to writing in “Editing is much like thinning a crop.” When I read these words, I had just spent an evening watching hubby tend to his bonsai forest, reacting with much the same apprehension as Natalie as he cut back, trimmed and pruned.

One beautiful little guy took what appeared to be a particularly hard beating. Hubby assured me it would be fine, he left just enough greenery on the stem for growth to continue. I try not to interfere with his projects. He’s certainly a better gardener than I am, but I couldn’t help asking, “Why such a drastic chop job?” Thankfully, he’s a patient man. He’s been trying to teach me this lesson since the early days of our dating life, when he dead-headed petunias at the local Putt-Putt Miniature Golf Course where he worked. Cut back the early, careless growth and the plant will thrive.

He has an impressive assortment of bonsai in varying stages of development, from beautiful, mature plants, to the wild child beginners, to the trimmed-back students. Last year, he bought a ragged, nearly-dead Japanese maple for next to nothing from Home Depot before they sent it back to the nursery, removed 75% of it and now has an elegant, orderly tree. Oftentimes, the branches he removes are repotted to sprout new bonsai. I’m always amazed at his results.

And yes, like Natalie, it all brings me back to writing. The beginners are like my first drafts, exuberant, a bit scattered, and definitely unruly. Some need careful editing, pruning back the erratic growth and trimming the excess. Others require harsher tactics, complete rewrites, maybe keeping only the kernel of the story, a character or two, and possibly the general plot while tossing the remains into me discard file. The WIP is freed from the burden of overgrowth with fresh potential to become the literary gem I want it to be, and with a little luck, some of those remnants will sprout new stories in the future.

I may need to add water (dramatic tension), maybe some organic fertilizer (setting, narrative description), and of course lots of sunlight (fleshed-out, driven characters), but at least now the story has a chance to thrive.

Kind of like hubby’s amazing bonsai.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I thought I was wrong once,but I was's been lots more than once!

I admit it; I was wrong. My stubborn refusal to embrace social media and self-marketing in support of my writing efforts has been shot down yet again, maybe for good this time. While I strongly share Natalie Whipple’s admonition that “Writing and crafting the book should always be the main priority. The other stuff is just frosting, but what good is frosting on a cardboard cake?” I realize my dream of writing in solitude and sending my treasures off to the more business-minded professionals to handle practical details is just that, a dream.

Kristen Lamb’s insightful article, “Training to be a Career Author,” spells out in agonizing (to me) detail the new reality. I’ve been coming to that awareness slowly, painfully so, over the past two years, but recent posts such as Lamb’s, and the growing tide of colleagues who preach the wonders of networking with the fervency of the recently-converted, pushed me past the latest roadblock.

I joined Twitter.

I’m still not sure I understand why, and the intricacies of tweets, retweets, hashtags, and favorites elude me, but I’m learning. At least I hope I am. One thing I don’t want to do is annoy friends or potential followers with inane or redundant entries. I’ve noticed that trend in others, and that confuses me as well. Why post the same brief entry on Facebook, on Twitter, in a blog and then in an email newsletter, all of which encourage readers to follow along on each of those platforms? I don’t need to read the same information from the same ‘friend’ four different times.

Is there a way to avoid that? Am I missing something?

On the flip-side, with all those platforms to maintain, how much creativity can be left for real writing? How much does my WIP, be it a novel, short story, or essay, suffer because I’ve spent precious time and energy crafting a witty comment narrowed down to 140 characters for Twitter, expanded to 420 for Facebook, and enlarged yet again for my blog? I don’t want to become one of those Twits (?) who do nothing but retweet or share posts from other blogs.

I’m trying to be a good convert, really I am, but I remain unconvinced. I have noted, however, that while my nearly six-year-old blog has only fifteen followers, in barely two weeks and with just three dozen tweets (probably half of which are retweets), I’ve gained twelve on Twitter. How does that happen? And why?

Please, oh social networking tribe, enlighten me!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Let nature take its course…

Trust the process – much easier said than done, whether it’s writing, finding (or keeping) employment, or life in general. But I was reminded again this week how the universe has a way of repeating the lesson until it takes root. Instruction came in a most unexpected form, as it usually does, and I’m still processing the outcome.

This weekend, our backyard menagerie expanded and the dogs are not happy. Chi and Barkley have pretty much adapted to the three bullfrogs, five turtles and dozen or so goldfish in the pond, and stopped chasing the garter snakes (for the most part). The squirrels are still fair game, but since there’s little chance Barkley will ever actually catch one, I’m not too worried. Chi just ignores them. Barkley chased off the rabbits and the skunks, and I think he’s finally realized the birds are unreachable, although I’m sure the bird dog in him will never give up trying.

But ever since our new visitors appeared Saturday evening, Barkley and Chi have been on alert, constantly vigilant, and making life…interesting. While we were enjoying a quiet moment around the fire pit with our daughter and her young man, an odd chittering noise started just past the edge of darkness, near the fence separating our yard from the neighbor’s. It almost sounded like a small child or two giggling. And it moved closer, and grew louder. Hubby found a flashlight to confirm his suspicions – raccoons. Four of them, juveniles, slipped through the wire fence into the yard, probably intent on the pond as the nearest water source. They ignored the fire, and us. The dogs did not ignore them, and we had to move inside to avoid a battle.

We spent the rest of the evening debating how best to handle the critters, and went to bed hoping Mama would corral them and return home before morning. No such luck. The little guys have taken up residence in the woodpile in our carport, and the dogs are livid. From just inside the gate at the edge of the backyard, Chi stands guard, barely able to see the stack, but she knows the kits are there. Barkley paces from the front door to Chi’s side, frustrated by his inability to reach the invaders. And it’s worse when the little guys go exploring.

A call to Animal Control was less than helpful. “Let nature take its course,” he said. If we want to catch them, they’ll loan us a live-catch trap, and come pick them up once the critters are contained, but that’s the best they can offer. Wonderful. Hubby and I considered scooping them into a bin and relocating the whole litter to Glen Helen, but that raises all new issues, not the least of which is getting close enough to snag them (by the scruff of the neck, we’re told).

After three days, the raccoons show no signs of moving on. They spend most of the day curled up together in the woodpile, barely visible. Nights, however, are problematic. No longer can we simply release Chi and Barkley into the backyard for a potty break without scouting the yard for our visitors. I have nightmares of one or both of the dogs tangling with four pairs of sharp claws and teeth, and while Barkley defeated the skunk that dared invade his realm, I’m not so sure he’d come of a raccoon encounter unscathed. Being nature lovers, we don’t want the raccoons harmed, either. It’s not their fault Mama vanished, leaving them to learn how to fend for themselves.

Funny, when we considered the perils of home ownership, wildlife never came up. Now we’re putting out 911 calls to family, friends, Facebook, and Twitter, asking for advice on dealing with the little guys. And while I’m thankful no one suggested violence, the answers we did receive are conflicting. Relocate them promptly. But they’re too young to survive in the wild on their own. Don’t touch them; Mama will return, maybe in a week. But what happens if she was hit by a car or something? Do we move them, feed them, ignore them…?

And then this morning, four days after the raccoons appeared, they are gone. Poof. We may never know what happened. Maybe Mama did come back; maybe they wandered off in search of food, or a home without barking dogs and nosy humans.

My four days of fretting were in vain, as is usually the case with worry. Do no harm, but don’t jump in to interfere when it’s probably not necessary. The universe, and nature, can take care of itself, if I just get out of the way.

Trust the process. Let go. Just be. Now to take that lesson to my writing, and to my life, before the universe decides I need further instruction.