The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Changing My State with Kings

I’m having a serious relationship with Mumford & Sons right now. It’s been going on for a couple of months. I think Chris knows. I keep singing along off key when I think he’s not in the room—only to realize he’s standing right next to me trying to ask me a question. It’s not at all surprising that I like a folksy/alternative group from the UK; try to contain your shock. Still, I find myself saying, “Yes. Exactly!” out loud, repeatedly as I walk around with my iPod plugged in.

Mumford & Sons recently released their second album, and it’s good. I, however, am obsessed with their first album, Sigh No More. Without doing a lot of review reading, I’m guessing most people agree the first and titular song is heavily influenced by Shakespeare—that rat bastard. Using actual lines from Much Ado about Nothing, kind of makes that critique a given. A quick interwebs search—I do like to have my own opinion after all—reveals a generic view about literary works as inspiration for this album. I get that. But I have to tell you: Every time I listen to this album I’m transported back to a college Shakespeare class—like for every single song. In my mind, each song evokes a Shakespeare play or sonnet.

Listen to “Awake My Soul”:

This song makes me think of Shakespeare’s sonnets on friendship. I’m of the opinion that his first 126 sonnets are about friendship—many are on the bandwagon with me, but I know not everyone is. Choose to disagree and we can have awesome Shakespeare rants on my blog! Do it! You know you want to. All the cool kids are having awesome Shakespeare rants. Really! 

Yes, yes. These boys are obviously strong in their religious faith as well; didn’t miss the obvious, promise. But a good song, like a good book and a good painting, has layers of meaning and plenty of room for listeners, readers, viewers to find their own way. It’s also up for a little critical analysis.   

Was that a really long way to go to tell you I’m writing about friends and friendship in this blog post? Listening to that particular song and thinking about Shakespeare’s sonnets led me to thoughts on friendship. That led me to the old adage, and also Harper Lee quotation below, about friendship:

“Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ‘em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
                                                                                                --To Kill a Mockingbird

Combine all of these thoughts and ideas and you get to the crux of my current dilemma. It’s not so much a dilemma as a question:  Can you really choose your friends? 

You think I’m just plain silly now, don’t you?  But, honestly, can you?  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and walking through a list of my friends. Literally, I looked at each of my friends on facebook; and not quite so literal, when I left a school or a job, which friends stayed with me and which friends were probably just acquaintances? It gets tricky pretty quickly when you combine your literal and non-literal lists. Quite a few people show up in both my “just acquaintance” column and my “Facebook friend” column. Another dilemma; does social media clutter our lives with people who don’t need to be there? If you are tweety-twatting, the answer is yes. Of course you are. But then I’m a little biased. Although, truth be told, I’m wearing down on the Twitter-­is-all-bad front. Possibly—if you know how to be non-boring and monotonous—Twitter is a good place for you. Like if you are Steve Martin. I’ve actually almost joined Twitter to get his tweets. There is only one Steve Martin, so I think 90% of you are still just telling me the color of your couch (something I did in a Facebook status update just last week…dammit). Alright, one dilemma at a time, please:  Can you choose your friends anymore than you can choose your family? I just don’t think you can. I know I’m crazy, but I think I might also be right. 

I’m not saying our lives are pre-ordained or anything; but I do think, sometimes, people come into our lives when we need them or they need us. It’s happened too many times in my own life for me to chalk it up to coincidence. And those “just acquaintance” people I mentioned before sometimes turn out to be actual friends you just don’t need to talk to that frequently. You know these people. You run into them randomly after months or years without talking and you pick up like you’ve just had a conversation. It gets really weird when you compare notes and realize you’ve been living somewhat similar lives on opposite ends of the world—or, similar lives almost next door to each other. I tell you: this is why we invented cyber stalking. To keep track of the friends you don’t get to see often, but who’ve somehow managed to have a deep impact on your life. Just to make sure they’re doing OK, they got that career they’ve always wanted, wrote that novel, finally met the one; accomplished those things in life that brought out the true potential you always knew was there.

But did you choose that person to care about? Because that’s what friendship is to me.  That’s what Shakespeare is writing about in those sonnets and Mumford & Sons are singing about in those songs. You support your friends, you care about them, you listen when they talk and you share when they want to listen.

I am lucky enough to have a ridiculous amount of support in most things I attempt, and a fair number of true, devoted friends who listen to me babble (at best, bandy words about willy-nilly, really) without repercussions. There are at least 4 people I can say anything in the world to and they won’t hold it against me. There are a handful of others who support me, but call me on the carpet when I do or say something I shouldn’t. You need both kinds of people to survive. I truly believe this.

Currently, I’m spending most of my spare time trying to get the box store murder mystery manuscript to a completed second draft status so a call-me-on-the-carpet friend of mine can read it while she sits through her chemotherapy. This is proving to be a crazy task, as I keep breaking down whilst writing. It’s too close to home. My friend, in her seventies, has uterine cancer. This same friend was quite helpful when I was having my own uterus trauma and then went and contracted the disease herself. It’s a horrible sort of irony I still can’t quite wrap my head around. And there’s my guilt again, right on schedule. I shouldn’t be. I didn’t give her cancer. Feeling guilty just puts my ego into her disease, and I really have no place there. It is her fight and battle. But really? Seriously? Why do some people have so much on their plate? Why are the good ones not safe from horrible diseases? Why am I asking cliché questions there’s no good answer to?

When I’m overwhelmed with the writing and the tears, I do what anyone else would do, I turn to a friend and vent. I do it like everyday though. I vent to another friend every day. And for some reason, the friend I choose to vent to is the exact opposite of a 70-year-old woman: he’s a twenty something guy I can say anything to. I like the dichotomy; it’s somehow reassuring and sort of balancing. And, you know, good friends listen. Or read, as most of my venting/word vomit comes in the form of Facebook messenger chatter. So, yeah, if I were choosing my friends I’m not so sure I’d be spending most days worried about, caring about, thinking about and talking to an older woman and a younger man.   

In a nutshell: I think both Shakespeare and Mumford & Sons are trying to tell us you can’t actually choose your friends.

Sonnet 29

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
   For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
   That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I may not be able to choose my friends, but I can certainly thank them for their support and general awesomeness. I am one lucky girl who gets more than a little help from her friends.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Blind Faith Fandom Payoff

I’ve finally gotten around to posting this video from YouTube as a follow up to my Learning to Love Disappointment post from February 2011.  The final moments of the US Open Men’s Final – known by me as the day our lad did indeed get there – as seen through the eyes of a pub full of Scots.  Yes, it did make me cry and I did watch it more than once.  Brilliant, amazing and overall one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever seen…I think I mean the match; but I most likely mean this video too.

And in case you want to sing along (Of course I did!):

O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again,
That fought and died for,
Your wee bit Hill and Glen,
And stood against him, (‘gainst who?)
Proud Edward's Army, (bastards)
And sent him homeward,
Tae think again.

Those days are past now,
And in the past
they must remain,
But we can still rise now,
And be the nation again,
That stood against him, (‘gainst who?)
Proud Edward's Army,
And sent him homeward,
Tae think again.

Pure dead brilliant!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Switching Genres: Anticipating The Casual Vacancy

See how there’s more blog time now!  The freelancing-office-fun-time job has ended and I once again have the time to use Barnes & Noble, Caribou or Centennial Lakes as my office space.  Yes, instead of sitting in front of a computer making money, I’m spending money on tea and those yummy lemon-raspberry squares; but $4 dollars a day is cheap rent considering how much time I can spend in these locations.  A horrible, really bad day at the part-time job hobby can be totally eclipsed by walking across the street and pulling out my laptop!

Now down to business.  Geeky book business that is imperative to the world as a whole; I tell you.  Who is going to buy, read, or borrow the new JK Rowling book?  It arrives on September 27th and is apparently already the #1 bestseller at Amazon this year. Thoughts on diversifying your rhetoric as an author – specifically one who writes for a sub-genre (albeit huge…mostly because of her) like fantasy YA?  Goodreads says this book, The Casual Vacancy, is illustrated by Joel Holland.  Who is that?  I think I fell off the information train at some point during the last year.  Who wants to fill me in? Anyone? 

Here’s the goodreads (A site I am addicted to - you know - like tennis and tea) description:
 When Barry Fairweather (hideous name, but also tongue-in-cheek funny) dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey (Was she on the set of HP when they were filming in Lacock?  Because that is an excellent description of both town and abbey and now what I will picture when reading this book.), but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils (At first I thought every Roald Dahl book ever, but then I went to a Hot Fuzz place, and there I’m staying. Simon Pegg and all)…Pragford is not what it first seems (Look, someone more cliché than me!!).

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen.  (There's a lot of war in this book.  I do not think it means what they think it means - or this would be a very dark book indeed.) Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? (OK? I’m a lot afraid, not going to lie.  But, much like sitting through The Hobbit in three movies; who’s not going to read this, really?) 

And here is the Barnes & Noble blurb they sent to my email account. (Owning a nook means I get more email from B&N than any actual person I know and correspond with.):
A councilman’s death is the catalyst for a cascading series of intrigues in “A Casual Vacancy,” the first novel written expressly for adults by JK Rowling (You say novel but then you put the title in quotes…I expect more from you B&N emailer/copy lackey), creator of the Harry Potter series.  Not everything is as it seems in Pagford, the English countryside town where this irresistible novel is set. (At least the cliché is not lacking from you, B&N lakey).

The actual description on the site is the same as the goodreads site, so I’m assuming this has come from the publisher (Also, I’d do that job and probably love it.  Proudly call me a copy lackey then).  B&N has left in this gem that goodreads removed: Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is JK Rowling’s first novel for adults.  (Is ‘thought-provoking’, especially combined with ‘constantly surprising’, the kiss-of-death for book blurbs?  Like ‘have a nice summer’ or ‘stay sweet’ is for yearbook signings?)

The goodreads readers seem to be seriously disappointed in the cover…reminds me of the infamous hanging chad on the 2000 ballot and also old school Agatha Christie covers. I think I'm just fine with it and probably it is showcasing Joel Holland's illustrations.  On a side note, why does a book written "expressly for adults" need an illustrator?  Oh, publishing world and your confounding, fair weather ways.

I want to have a serious opinion about this entire thing, but I find I don’t.  I’m not as excited as I usually am when a favorite author pens a new novel.  And really, besides YA I read a lot of mystery (I really need to own more cats to establish my quirky crazy lady vibe) and I’m fine with the cozy, it’s what I grew up on.  I don’t think they are always well written – although Ms. Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers certainly had it going on in the writing department – but HP is so very epic.  The kind of thing you end your career with; not start it with.  JK is possibly just working in reverse.  For all I know the publisher and press kit have ruined the actually book to get it out there; maybe it’s not at all like I imagine from these quick blurbs?   Possibly it’s not a mystery or a cozy either, but just feels that way from the cover and blurbs I’ve looked at. Maybe I'm putting too many of my own  preconceived notions onto a book that I haven't read and know very little about.  No, that can't be it! Oh, wait...

I’m not entirely sure I have a strong opinion about switching genres either.  I write YA.  I read YA because I write it and also because I like it.  The book that is closest to being ready for a publisher to look at - in other words, the one I use when querying agents - is a mystery YA, so a sub-genre.  My first and probably most epic like novel (see I’ve already contradicted what I wrote up there about JK and HP?!) is strictly not YA according to a YA publisher I’ve chatted up.  He’s not willing to see anything with a protagonist older than 18 – and I think even that might be pushing it.  Proving once again that everything in the writing world is in the eye of the beholder and mostly based on a whim.

Ahem, I feel like this has turned into a rant about the book publishing world.  Sorry, sometimes I get a little carried away.  All the time in my head, but only sometimes in the blog.  Promise.  

Where were we?  Yes, I’ve thought about writing a few other things/genres, even a cookbook or travelogue to break into print.  But once I’m a writer, who doesn’t need a part-time job hobby, (I just snorted into my tea) would I switch genres?  I guess if the muse took me there.  As long as you have something to say and it’s worth putting out there, why not?  

Oh, I can feel the publishing world rant coming back.  Briefly, I think categorizing is one of the biggest issues/problems facing an unpublished author.  We've been told to put ourselves into these boxes and they don't always - might I even dare say, rarely - fit what we're actually writing.  In recent events like the self-publishing/big house publishing crossovers arising (I'm talking about Penguin Group recently acquiring Author Solutions Inc - a self-publishing service provider) I'm not sure it works in the publishing world anymore either.  The hard part is figuring out when to mold and twist to fit into the publishing pocket and when to hold and stand firm with your convictions, your writing and your characters.  I'm really done now.    

Thoughts, ideas, plot points you’re willing to share? About any or all of that?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Screwing my Courage to the Sticking Post

After a year of not blogging I’m going to enter again with a clichéd song quote. But it’s so perfect for the all-too-personal post that follows and it’s helped me through at least half of the past year.

I’m trying to tell you something about my life.
Maybe give me insight between black and white.
And the best thing you’ve ever done for me,
Is to help me take my life less seriously.
It’s only life after all.

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable,
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket.
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it.
I’m crawling on your shores.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains.
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains.
There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive; closer I am to fine.
                                                                              -Indigo Girls, "Close to Fine"

Simply put, a year is a particular amount of time. Some years speed by and some are excruciatingly slow. Like everyone who has to age; years seem to go rapidly the more of them you have under your belt. But this year was really quite different for me. I learned some stuff – I actually thought I might be too old to do that now. As you may recall from previous blog posts, long ago and far away, I’ve been in limbo for quite some time. Not sure of my place in the world, knowing it’s not my current location but struggling through nonetheless. When I think about a sane, steady place in my life; a time and location that made sense with who I am, I repeatedly end up at the office/copywriting gig. Quite honestly, I don’t know why this is. This past year, I discovered I lost myself in that job. I think the office space does something to the time and space continuum; there are big chunks of that time missing, and I don’t know where they went. It’s kind of like never going home again. Copywriting was never going to be my career, but I’m pretty sure it would have been without my even noticing had it not been for the slap in the face that is economic strife and workforce reductions.

But tell me why, over the next few years, I kept applying for office jobs? Apparently the answer is money. Who knew I was that person? Writing rarely pays the bills so I keep searching for something I like just as much, something that will pay the bills while I write. But I don’t like anything as much (If I did, why would I want to write?) and my damn work ethic makes it impossible to take any job half-assed. Dammit. Last September I picked up a freelance office fun-time gig. Which means, over the past year I’ve been working 50 – 60 hours a week between the freelancing and the part-time job hobby, just trying to be an active member of society; to be worth something. I’m not sure when this gigantic chip on my shoulder occurred, but here it sits. And yay, me, I can earn money and still work in an office setting. But there’s no time to write. And then I’m sad and then I don’t want to write when writing makes me happy. Oh, vicious circle of inactivity. Oh, slippery slope of depression and overwhelming anxiety. Dammit, again.

I was patiently trying to work through this *stuff* when I started having health issues. I’ve been anemic off and on since high school. As anemia tends to hit women between 20 & 50 who have heavy menstrual cycles, this isn’t exactly earth shattering news, but my anemia and dysfunctional bleeding landed me in the hospital with units of donor blood fed into my arms through IV’s & emergency surgery. Oh, I’m just fine. Promise. I think I was more unnerved from the hospital experience as I’ve never been a patient in one before. And considering what other people go through on a daily basis, I have no right to even be concerned or worried about my diagnosis. Of course that means I was terrified by my pathology results. Honestly, I think I put on a good face but I probably failed miserably and my friends & loved ones all know just how scared I’ve been for the last 8 months. I have something called Endometrial Intraepithelial Neoplasia or Hyperplasia; dummied down to my lexicon – there are precancerous cells growing in my uterus lining.

On the terrifying side:
-Precancer has the word CANCER in it.
-Most women with this issue have a hysterectomy (but most women are over 65) so the precancerous cells don’t have a chance to mutate into cancerous cells.
-Precancer has the word CANCER in it.
-Repeat 1 and 3, 10 more times!

On the, “I’m fine. Promise.” side:
-I went on a heavy dose of hormones for three months & have now had two biopsies since the diagnosis. So far, I’m good with no more bad cells growing and no evidence of any bad cells at all.
-I will continue to have biopsies every 3 months as long as I want to keep my uterus.
-I will be seeing an Oncologist on a regular basis who knows what to look for.
-Precancer doesn’t mean you’ll ever get the disease; it means everyone keeps checking on things (and insurance suddenly pays for those re-checks) because you are predisposed to cancer.

Ironically, just before I was diagnosed, Chris and I were really starting to talk about the pros and cons of having children; the likelihood of loosing my uterus before menopause sort of pushed the timeline forward. Alas, we’re still not entirely sure we’re the parenting type of people; but, we are willing to be slightly more proactive about figuring that out and attempting the family idea. Not sure what it says about us; to confront the imminent demise of childbearing organs and still not figure out if we do, indeed, want children? I think our fear might be wrapped tightly around us both at this point. Please note: these are topics I don’t discuss with my friends and family even, but I think about them, which means I write about them too.

These are my serious, fear-cocooning issues of the past year – well, some are fundamentally part of me and have been around since I’ve been around. And that’s where the screwing my courage to the sticking post and spanking my inner moppet come into play. I am absolutely trying to stop being so cautious with my life. You know, maybe start living it; which means growing up a little when it comes to house buying (something else we did this year!), baby making, novel publishing, and so forth.

Fear is not supposed to be my safe place. It is no place to live. I’m going to sound super cliché here: Do what you love most in the world; that thing you can’t stop doing no matter how crazy it makes you. I DO have things to say, I want other people to hear my voice and I’m just really sick and tired of being afraid.

That’s me reentrance into the blogosphere – this entirely too personal offering. Now we start rebuilding the fun times, book scrutinizing, and movie analyzing blogs. Can I just add here that I am so glad I did the month of fun days last August because my world kind of imploded directly after that and I’m just now sousing out the aftermath. That month of blogging sustained me through some of the darker moments in October, November, December, January and February. More fun blogs coming up! Why? Because I always feel better when I write and sharing those thoughts, ideas and musings is the good kind of fear I choose to wrap myself up in.