Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Cat Flew... I Mean Flu

My cat caught my horrible bug from me. Perhaps I do have the swine flu. If it can pass from pig to person, perhaps it can pass from person to pussycat. (Okay, I just had to give into the consonance. Too much of a temptation.)

But I kid you not. Yesterday my poor old cat slept all day, and if you think that's normal for a cat, let me tell you, it isn't. And he didn't meow. And when he walked--briefly--he looked like it was the hardest thing in the world for him to do, like his two back legs were twisted backwards, while his head was almost tucked between his legs. 

But his not meowing was the hardest part. He always meows to me. I ask him a question like, "How are you this morning?"

He answers, "Meow."

I ask, "Would you like to play outside with the kids?"

He answers, "Meow."

I ask, "Would you like colder water in the bathtub?" (He gets running water from the tub--likes it best that way.)

He answers, "Meow."

Only this time, he didn't answer. He didn't want to whine when I asked him how he was this morning, so he said nothing.

He didn't want to play outside with the kids. The sun was too bright, and he had a headache.

And he didn't need colder water in the bathtub. He felt too sick even to climb into the bathtub to get it (I lifted him in a few times so he could drink). I broke down finally and put a bowl of water on the floor with his food, and he broke down and drank from it for the first time in about 10 years.

And he didn't purr. Not all day. Not when I stroked him, not when I scratched right under his chin, not when I held him like a baby. 

I actually wondered whether he'd make it through the night. I'm sure he wondered the same thing (I wondered it about myself on Wednesday).

And then, at five this morning, he came to me, sat next to me, and began to purr. And he meowed, a childish sort of happy meow, like he was excited. He felt better, a lot better, and since he'd been expecting death, feeling better was quite a relief for both of us. 

Now he's acting normal. He's been walking around (when he's not napping--after all, he is a cat) but acting like he's okay, like he's happy.

If only I could recover so quickly.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Lame Spin on Pride and Prejudice

Don't get your hopes up... I'm not quite human yet. My son went through a hard day yesterday, too, where he did little beyond lie on me and drink water (slowly). Scared me a bit, but I still haven't gotten my appetite back, so I figure he's just fighting what's been attacking me for the last week. 

I said I'd blog on Fairest, but I'm not going to, not yet, anyway. I finally watched the film version of Pride and Prejudice--the Hollywood film--and I was so utterly unimpressed with it I'm not sure what to say. Perhaps it points to what I think makes most pseudo-epic Hollywood films fail miserably: cinematography and soundtrack replace a good script.

You might assume I am a purist, and to a degree you might be right, for I love a good script, love a good story, and love dialogue more than most... but I don't need for everything to reflect a book entirely, or the recent miniseries of Lost in Austen would have been unwatchable. But Lost in Austen, for all the liberties it took with Austen's original, used the original in such a fabulous, engaging, and humorous way that it taught viewers about the characters, paid its homage to a wonderful novel, and reflected the truth of the original, linking it to today's world in a refreshing way. (Can you tell I liked it? I almost sent $80 to the local PBS station so I could get the DVD of the 3-hour series). 

But the film with Keira Knightley did little to reveal any of the characters from the book. Honestly, I blame the director. Some of the actors were completely miscast, or were directed to play people who simply did not exist in the book at all. Bingley was an idiot, simpering, stupid, pathetic in his lack of backbone. Mr. Collins bore absolutely no resemblance to the novel's character at all. He was bland, bland, bland, when he should have been pompous, oily, and smarmy. He should have made us squirm. And Mr. Darcy was neither handsome nor regal... and though Colin Firth was brilliant in the role (and most men would fall by comparison), he cannot be the only capable male actor with a decent face out there. 

Most of all, though, I sensed that the director wanted to make Pride and Prejudice better. But Joe Wright didn't get it (and I must say that most men don't). He neither understood Darcy nor Elizabeth, nor any of the rest, and in the end he created a world as stilted as the entire second Star Wars trilogy. Had I not seen other versions recently, I might wonder what I ever saw in that book at all. Really terrible. Almost as bad as the local theatre company's versions of Shakespeare's plays (I need to blog about that soon). 

I think I'll go back over my DVR and watch the Lost in Austen series again, if only to get the yucky taste out of my brain. Were I Jane Austen, I fear I would have rolled over in my grave from Joe Wright's version. One should understand a work thorough before trying to take liberties with it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Taking a Break

I have to apologize for the last posting... I was feeling pretty ill, and yesterday my temperature rose above 100 degrees (which means a lot, since it tends to run about 2 degrees cooler than everyone else). It seems I have more than a cold (my husband, of course, suggested it might be swine flu, the dork). 

Anyway, yesterday I didn't do anything. I finished a book (and thoroughly enjoyed it--Gail Carson Levine's Fairest--and I may post on it tomorrow), watched a very little television (why isn't anything ever on?), and generally lay around all day. No exercise at the Y, no obligations except for a bit of work on the online training. 

I'm feeling slightly better today, after spending the night in a coma, but I intend to do nothing again today. The dishes will go unwashed, the laundry will still be in stacks, not put away, toys will remain on the floor, where my kids abandoned them. I'll likely take another nap, and I'll do everything I can to rest. 

What will the break do? Hopefully, I'll get well, and do so faster than I would have if I'd killed myself cleaning up after everyone and running a ton of errands. Perhaps, too, I'll recharge, so that when it comes time to get something done, I'll be able to do it with energy and panache. Too bad it took illness to make me do this (although so far I've lost five pounds this week, so I'm not going to whine about it too much).

Do you need to recharge? How can you do it now, before the obligations that weigh on you make you sick and whiny, too?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Oh, I hate it when people ask me how my writing is going lately. Frankly, it isn't, and though I'd planned to do nothing today except laundry and writing, I am now sick with a cold, tired out to the extreme, and I know I am unlikely to write today (except for this blog, and I am forcing myself to write it at this point). 

My online training is fascinating, but it still isn't writing, and now I'm using it as an excuse not to write (in lieu of housework)... I suppose my question is, why on earth am I putting off writing? I have always loved writing. It's always been something that motivated me to bounce out of my bed in the morning (even at three in the morning, sometimes), something that I couldn't wait to do, something that urged me to hurry through the clothes folding, the dishes, and even do so with a smile on my face, knowing once the chores are done I get to work on what I really love.

So, why don't I love it right now? What's wrong? Why do I put it off?

What do all of you think? Today would be a great day to write, since I just want to snuggle up in a blanket and work on the computer... what might I do to motivate myself to get going? I've put off writing long enough.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Your Favorite Teacher

The training I'm involved with right now has sparked memories of some of my favorite teachers. I remember one, Ms. Cutuly, who used to stand on her desk, ready to jump off if we couldn't get a grammar question right. I remember a professor in my undergrad program who taught us everything so that we understood it well enough to teach it, since she knew most of us were future teachers. She had no attendance policy, yet no one ever wanted to miss a day, for we covered tremendous amounts of material in a single class period (no fluff movies and wasteful activities for her!). I remember a professor I visited in her office, to get her to sign me out of a course I'd taken at another school. By the end of the conversation, she was willing to sign the form, but I was determined to take the course again, with her. And I don't regret it, for it was one of the most useful classes I have ever taken (both times I took it!).

Honestly, most of the time school has been the place where I could fill my self-esteem and feel somewhat useful. At home I was overlooked and out of place, and I was often told I was unlikely to amount to a whole lot. At school, I had teachers who thought the world of me, who told me I could be anything, and I couldn't wait to get to school every day so that I could live in that world again, one where I was a SOMEBODY.

But I know my experiences are likely different than yours. What engaged you as a student? What teachers did you love, and why? If you've been waiting for a chance to respond that doesn't include poetry, here's your chance. What makes teachers great? What did you most need as a student, and how did they meet your needs, encourage learning, and make you feel respected and valuable? I'd love to know...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Living in Limericks

Okay, so I acted as if I were going to be up to my eyeballs in training, and wouldn't post for weeks at a time. And here I am, posting. I was going to entitle this entry "Living in Limbo," but I've opted instead for "Living in Limerick." And I don't mean the county in Ireland.

You see, I needed a break. I needed to write a limerick:

There once was a girl named Raquel
Who fell face-first into a well
She couldn't get out
So she swam like a trout
And blubbered, "Well, isn't this swell!"

Or maybe this one:

I once knew a lady, Miss Draper
Who found a lad copied his paper.
She failed him at once,
And then called him a dunce,
And burned off his hair with her taper. (Okay, so I couldn't think of anything else to rhyme!)

This is not the time for perfection. Just rhyme, even if it doesn't make any sense. AABBA... 

You can do it. Believe me, you need this break probably as much as I do... these two stupid limericks took me a whole three minutes to write, so don't sweat the time. Just do it. You'll be amazed at how much better you feel once you try it. 

Writing limericks is like coloring with crayons... fun, without the pressure to be brilliant.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sorry if I Disappear a Little

I begin what may turn into a 9-week training session tomorrow, so please bear with me if my blogs become few and far between for about a month while I'm getting my feet wet. 

I am also tackling the beginning of my ghost book research, and if the response is anything like it was for my Kansas book, I'm going to be swamped with ghost stories all summer.  Just know, if you don't hear from me for a while at a time, I'm not dead.

Then again, if I go a week without checking in, would somebody e-mail me? My husband knows how to check my e-mail, so he can let everyone know if I am actually dead.

Sounds grim, doesn't it? I sure hope it doesn't end up that way...

Just write something chilling, imaginative, romantic, or old-fashioned (or all of the above, if the urge strikes you), for me, since I'll be too busy to accomplish anything but the chilling kind. And don't forget to notice when I do pop up, so I remember to come back more often, if only for a break from all of my other obligations... 

I'll miss you... (but hopefully not for long)...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lost in Austen--Living the Fantasy

If you are any kind of Jane Austen fan (and I know some of you are), you must check out the new PBS series Lost in Austen. It takes a woman from the modern world and, through a door linking her modern apartment to a door in the servants' quarters of the Bennett household (from Pride and Prejudice), this woman, Amanda Price, and Elizabeth Bennett switch places. 

Now, if you are an Austen fan, the series will be delightful all on its own, but even if you aren't a fan (and I'm sure some of you aren't), the show sparked an idea for me that I have been mulling over ever since. Is there a place, in a novel or a film, where you've longed to be? For many women, Austen's world was this kind of utopia, and part of the appeal of the series is that the woman thrown suddenly into the world immediately begins to discover the not-so-nice aspects of living during this time.

How would you fair in your ideal world? Let me take one of ideal worlds: the hidden, magic world of Harry Potter. How would I get along in that world? Honestly, though I'd like to think I'd catch on to all of the stuff and be a brilliant Hogwarts student (like Hermione Granger), I'm afraid I'll more than likely resemble Loony Lovegood, or worse, turn out to be a squib like Filch (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you have to read the books!)... 

Or I could be one of those people killed by Voldemort. Or beaten up by Dudley. 

I guess my point is that all of this is fantasy. While the idea of being in one of these worlds sounds great, the reality wouldn't probably be so fabulous. Then again, even this show is fantasy, for it doesn't reveal some of the more sordid differences between Austen's world and ours. I wouldn't last a month there, for within that time I'd be looking for a certain women's product, and when I couldn't find it... well, I don't think I could handle that. 

I don't think I'd deal with the whole chamber pot thing well, either. What about you? What fantasy have you been holding onto? Time to 'fess up!

Friday, May 15, 2009

What the Biggest Loser Taught Me

Yes, I watch The Biggest Loser. I almost quit watching after every episode became two hours long (during the writers' strike), but my husband always tapes it, so I watch along. 

I won't bore you with my qualms at watching people work out for hours a day and lose 15 lbs. in a week. I'll let you make your own judgment calls on that one. But this season's winner has brought something to my attention that I feel I should comment on, if only because it's something that plays out both in my real life and in my writing. 

The winner, a woman named Helen, seems overall to be a nice person. I should be happy she won, happy she gained control over her weight and lost as much as she did. I should be happy she got all that money. 

But I'm not. 

And it isn't because I was particularly rooting for either of the other players. It's because of one event, which occurred somewhere in the middle of the show's running. At one point, Helen, who came to the ranch with her daughter as her partner, convinced her daughter to volunteer to go home instead of her mother so that Helen could stay at the ranch.

In contrast, another parent-child team made it all the way to the finals, yet Ron (aka, "The Godfather") had only one interest: his son. When they both came up for the final vote, and viewers were going to make the decision, he pled only for them to vote for his son Mike. Not a word pleading for himself. As much as I didn't care a whole bunch for his tactics throughout the season, I respected him for that. 

Had I been in Helen's place, and be at the ranch with my daughter, there is no WAY I would ask her to go home. Never. And while Helen kept losing and losing, her daughter didn't, and she still has far to go before she is where she should be. Perhaps Helen will earn back my respect when she turns her attention towards her daughter and returns the favor.

And this all leads me back to writing (although by now you are probably wondering how). A character in the world I've created could be mostly likable, yet one particular trait or action of hers could turn readers against her. It could be infidelity, or even something as simple as a caustic comment at the wrong time. But that little trait or event could haunt my readers, making the end of the novel or play something less than satisfying. 

Readers can be forgiving. Scrooge was a highly unlikable character, yet his reform is so goofy it actually works, and has for well over 100 years. But Scrooge had to face his own shortcomings. Helen didn't face hers. It's the same reason I detest romances where the guy rapes a woman, and then they fall in love. Nope, doesn't work for me. I need to see more than regret with something like this... the bigger the sin, the more extreme the repentance. 

Think about Oedipus Rex. When he discovered he'd slept (for years) with his own mom, and fathered four kids with her, he didn't say, "Oh, well," and remain king. And his sins weren't even intentional. Yet he lost his mind from remorse, and poked his own eyes out so he wouldn't have to look on what he'd done anymore. THAT is what I'm talking about (and it's another reason I love myth... people do take responsibility for what they've done, often in big ways).

Perhaps I'm unforgiving. But if I am, I'm sure some of my readers will be, too. What do you think?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mythic Characters

I am, and have always been, fascinated by myth. When I was a kid, while siblings watched regular movies, I loved The Ten Commandments, Clash of the Titans, and Ben Hur. Now, two of these are particularly Judeo-Christian, but, unlike many people, I consider them to be myth in the same lines with other kinds of myth, including Native American, Greek, Norse, Chinese, etc. The term myth doesn't assume such stories are unreal. If anything, myth suggests the stories are more real than we even know--not literally, but intuitively real. 

You see, rather than telling us literally how the story began, creation myths suggest the meaning of life, its purpose, and our role in our own existence and world. Who ate the apple isn't truly that interesting... it's the why that fascinates me.

Another blog friend, Exchange of Realities, sparked this thought today, and I realized that much of what I wrote was based in myth. My second novel was based on Noah's Ark and Ovid's flood version--Pyrrha and Deucalion--and I am now considering creating a YA version of Job. I'd love to do other spin-offs, too. I'd have to avoid most of the Zeus stories, though... too much rape, and I don't write rape (at least not at this point).

But I'd like to take names. What stories do you find fascinating in myth? Any fairy tales that still interest you? Robin McKinley's made a pretty extensive career out of writing new versions of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Beauty and the Beast" (her book Beauty is still one of my all-time favorites), so why can't I? I'd love to do a cool version of "Thousandfurs."

What would you like to see? What would you like to write?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Meme

Okay, so here's the rest. 

21. A better name for me would be:
Rachel. Love the name. My aunt once told me my real name didn't really suit me, so I spent the summer looking through a huge baby book. I found this one (but she didn't like it much, either). I've toyed with using it as a pen name.

22. I have a hard time understanding:
Hate. Why people choose it over compassion, I have no idea. Why we need to see others as inferior, or as "other"... 

23. If I ever go back to school, I'll:
Teach. Three degrees is PLENTY.

24. You know I like you if:
I actually invite you to my house. If you invite yourself, well, then you'll never know. And believe me, I've had people do that.

25. If I ever won an award, the first person I'd thank would be:

My hubby. And my sister. And the millions of other people who encouraged me or expected me to succeed. 

26. When I compare 80's rock to to 90's rock:
I switch the station to classical music. 

27. Take my advice, never:
Marry if you aren't happy with someone. Better to be single and a little lonely than unhappily married. I was lucky to marry happy, but I've seen too many who didn't, and divorce is, from what I can tell, TORTURE. So is an unhappy marriage.

28. My ideal breakfast is:
Strawberry waffles with ice cream instead of whip cream (OMG, are they delicious--at least, that's how I remember them, since it's been years!)

29. A song I love, but do not own is:
The Highwayman, by the 3 D's. (This was my sister's answer, but I agree. I also like "The Riddle" on the same LP.)

30. If you visit my hometown, I suggest:
Stopping by my place. Yes, that means I'm inviting you! Just give me some warning, so I can sweep the floors.

31. My favorite Beatle is: 
John. He was the genius behind the songs.

32. Why won't people:
Stop being so self-centered? It's always "me, me, me." Everyone can't be the center of the universe, yet so many feel they should be, at the expense of everyone else.

33. If you spend the night at my house:
I hope you're an early riser. We're all pretty much up at 6:30. And my kids are NOT quiet.

34. I'd stop my wedding for:
Dude, I don't know. Weddings themselves aren't that important. It's the marriage that counts, and I try to let as little get in the way of that as possible.

35. The world could do without:
Hate. Covered this one before. And greed, too.

36. I'd rather lick the belly of a cockroach than:
Sell things for a living. I'd be the worst car salesman ever. 

37. My favorite blond(e) is: 
My son. My daughter looks just like my husband (sans the beard, of course), while my son has my hair and eye colors.

38. Paper clips are more useful than:
Doughnuts. Both go right through you, too, but paperclips cause less damage (just ask my son).

39. If I do anything well, it's:
Encourage people. Everybody can do more with a little encouragement. It's far too easy to give up if you think you'll fail.

40. And by the way:
Go write something! Anything. I'm going to do the same.

Now I've done it. Tomorrow, who knows what I'll post. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Meme from Ask Me Anything

My sister urged me to do this one, too, so here goes. Let me know if any of you do the same on your blog, so I can see your answers!

1. My uncle once:
Tried to pressure my daughter to give him a hug. She wasn't impressed (you go, girl!).

2. Never in my life:
Everest. I have no death wish, nor do I wish to lose my fingers, toes, or anything else. And I hate intense cold, especially when accompanied by intense wind and tons and tons of exercise.

3. When I was seventeen:
I was a complete dork. Oh, darn, I still am!!!!

4. High School was:
Lonely. I was too smart for my own good, and had the social skills of a psychopathic killer. Only I wasn't one on the inside (it only seemed like I would be on the outside). 

5. I will never forget:
The moment I held my daughter in my arms. Life changing.

6. I once met:
Ray Bradbury. Didn't give a lick what people thought of him, so he was very open about everything. Loved having lunch with him. (Note, if you do dine with him, he hates broccoli and cauliflower.)

7. There's this girl I know who:
Knits, and knits and knits. She calls herself Knitting Mama, and I know that knitting is her way of keeping her sanity as a SAHM (mine is writing).

8. Once, at a bar:
My husband called me pretending he was in jail. When I found out he was at a bar with his buddies I hung up on him. He never did that again.

9. By noon, I'm usually:
Starving. And I eat breakfast, too. Weird.

10. Last night:
I looked at the new ihome, finished laundry, and discussed a property my hubby and I are thinking of buying.

11. If only I had:
Gone to my big sister's wedding! My one regret in the world!

12. Next time I go to gym/church:
I'll be doing Zumba Thursday. LOVE IT!

13. Susan Boyle:
What about her? I have a good voice, but I'd never make it as a star. So what?

14. What worries me most: 
My kids' dying before I do. They've promised me they won't... I hope they keep that promise.

15. When I turn my head left, I see:
My son and his friend watching Monsters Inc.

16. When I turn my head right, I see:
My deliciously old piano. 

17. You know I'm lying when:
I start giggling. I can't lie in real life. Though I do have a poker face when I know the outcome of a movie/game and I know you don't (I hate it when people give that kind of stuff away.)

18. What I miss most about the eighties:
Can't think of anything. Honest. I don't tend to miss the past, especially if I was living at home at the time (and I was).

19. If I was a character in Shakespeare, I'd be: 
Hamlet. Or Beatrice. Or Shylock. I'm probably most like Isabella in Measure for Measure... but I'd pretty much play anyone, male or female, except for Sir Toby Belch.

20. By this time next year:
I hope to have the research for my ghost book--and the writing--completely finished, and have it all out to the publisher.

Again, let me know if you decide to do the same meme. I'd love to know what your answers are.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thoughts about Ghosts?

I'm writing a press release today for a new book I'm planning to research, one on ghost stories of Western Washington (State)... but several glassy-eyed responses lately have left me wondering: Is there a huge gulf between people who love ghost stories (obsessively watching "Ghost Hunters" or "Haunted History") and people who would rather act as if ghosts couldn't possibly really exist and who believe that all the people who've seen them are really just insane?

One particularly religious friend told me he believed that ghosts were the signs of demonic possession. A person, while alive, became possessed by a demon, and when that person died, the demon remained to haunt the house. So, if your grandpa haunts a house you now live in, that's a sign that your relative was possessed by a demon while he was alive, and his soul was destroyed. And that demon is now sitting around, waiting to possess you too. I can see why he'd think my stories were creepy.

What do you think? Would you read a book about ghosts, or do they give you such a high level of heebie-jeebies that you couldn't stand to hear a ghost story at a campfire before you go to bed? Are they just bunk to you? Stupid? Too frightening? Too sinister? What do you think they are? Would you be tempted to read it? Tempted to burn it? Tempted to read and then burn it?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Not About Writing

I should be presenting a blog about writing. I know I should. But this past week has been one of the weirdest I've ever experienced, and the last few months have not helped me focus on my own writing, let alone assisted me with other issues in my life. 

I am not psychic, nor do I make any claims to have more than average perception. However, I am certain that something is happening right now, something I can neither see nor hear, but something that is just as real as if I could. And it isn't pretty, if my response to it is anything real, either. It's shortening my temper, making me ultrasensitive, causing me to snip (and snip and snip) at my husband. 

What is it? Perhaps I should ask TAROT QUEEN... 

Have a burning question? Maybe you should ask her the question, too. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What's My Motivation?

I could make this about writing (most of my posts end up this way), since I could use the idea of motivation to discuss why characters act as they do. I could show that characters who act only to further plot, but have no reasons behind their actions other than this, usually make for a pretty stale novel (and lame characters)... 

However, the reason this is my topic today is because of my son. He is nearly five (only a few weeks away), and I have been working with him to teach him to read. With the help of an interesting book--100 Easy Lessons to Teach Your Child to Read--I have been slowly developing his letter recognition, phonics knowledge, etc. 

But such a task has been the bane of my existence these many months. The lessons are supposed to be quick, though the later ones, I'm certain, should take at least 1/2 an hour to complete. However, my son manages to drag them out TWO HOURS a DAY!!!! His eyes wander, he huffs, he whines, he claims he can't read "the" (one of the first words he learned, and one he'd already read at least 20 times immediately prior), claims he has to go potty, wants water, feels tired, won't take a nap... and so on, until my eyes are bleeding (I'm sure they are, though I'm afraid to look) and the closest thing to heaven I can imagine is all the books in the world burned to a crisp (and if you know how I feel about books, that's about as extreme as it gets). 

But today, we had a breakthrough. I found his motivation. For the word lists at the beginning of today's lesson, I offered him a peanut half for each word he read. He read them as fast as he ever has. For the story, I offered him half a peanut each time he finished a sentence. 

Yes, he ate quite a few peanuts. But he's nearly five, and he's still the size of a 3-year-old (he barely weighs 40 lbs.), so a bit more food in him won't hurt, at least right now. And they are the "low salt" peanuts, too (still salty, but what am I supposed to do?). 

So, I'm bribing my kid with food. I've found a motivation for him to do what I want, but I'm still offering him food if only he'll do something. And I know that's bad. Is there some other way to motivate him? I've tried about a hundred things so far. This is the first one that worked, so I'm sticking with it.

Knowing my son, though, tomorrow he'll probably decide he hates peanuts. (Drat!)

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Importance of Failure

This kind of comes in response to Rocket Scientist's blog about vulnerabilities in characters. She discusses how characters without flaws are not as compelling--or as interesting--as characters who show weakness of some kind. 

It's also important for characters to lose. I'll use my husband as an example. He becomes a fan of various teams at different times, but, except for his third-generation love of the USC Trojans, he's pretty fair-minded. If a team wins too much, he gets to the point where he wants someone else to win. I can't tell you how many times he's switched sides, rooting for unknowns up against the established power. For example, he loved Tiger Woods when he first came on the scene, but now he tends to watch golf more intently when someone else is really doing well and is likely to beat Tiger Woods. (And, yes, my husband watches golf, and I appreciate your sympathy.)

But my husband is not alone in his desire to see people defeated sometimes. A work of fiction (whether book or film) becomes far less interesting if everyone we like wins every time. That is part of the appeal of the film Star Trek II. Spock died. It was horrible, it was beautiful, it was poignant, it was brilliant. But the impact was lessened when the third movie came out and he came back to life (it also wasn't a great movie). 

Sometimes people we love die. Sometimes great characters don't win, or at least don't win the first time around (or the second, or the third), but this failure makes the final victory all the more meaningful because it was hard-won. 

So, as Rocket Scientist suggests, make your characters vulnerable. And as I suggest, make them fail sometimes. Your readers will love them all the more for such weaknesses. 

Sunday, May 3, 2009


So many of us wander through life envying those around us. Others drive nicer cars, have nicer jobs, look nicer, dress nicer, have nicer kids (okay, so we rarely think that), etc. 

But today is the day I step into others' shoes and decide I don't want to walk in them. So here's my ANTI-Envy list:

1.  My husband. He has a job where most people dislike him, and I don't think I'd handle it all that well. Besides, he has to mow the lawn, and that seems like a pretty craptacular job. He burned his hand on the mower yesterday, too, so he's dealing with some pain right now. 

2.  My sister. It would take people at NASA a whole two hours to figure out my knowledge of science wouldn't fill a teaspoon. And even if they didn't fire me, they wouldn't listen to a word I said because men who were even stupider than I (but who'd been there longer) would disagree with me constantly. 

3.  Construction workers, especially in hot places like the deep South, or Texas. Okay, even here I don't envy them. Nor do I envy others with outside jobs, like trash workers. Can you imagine being a garbage dump attendant? How would I ever wash the stench out of my clothes?

4.  My daughter's 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Westbrook, and every other person in her profession. Having two kids who ask constant questions, who demand constant attention, and who think repeating stupid non-jokes over and over is funny is trying enough for me. Imagine 25 of these, hopped up on chocolate milk and SpongeBob, demanding my attention all at once.  Just thinking about it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

5.  Barack Obama, or pretty much any head honcho of anything. I have enough trouble running my own house--keeping things clean, paying bills, etc.--without having a ton of people watch everything I do on television. If I miss a payment on something, it's no real big deal (just a few more dollars), but if I'm a CEO of something, and we tank, I'm in it deep. And the salary doesn't make up for that, either, especially since now the public will know if I get some bonus I don't deserve.

6.  Anyone homeless. I am so spoiled, for if it rains, or snows, or blows, or gets too hot, I can watch it all from inside my sheltered environment. I only go outside for fun. And my kids are in the same boat. They have all the food they want, we can eat whenever we're hungry (or even if we aren't), invite people to stay with us overnight, etc. We get mail regularly, like our neighbors (for the most part), and enjoy living in a community of other relatively contented, sheltered people.  The homeless have no such protections, either for themselves or their children.

The list could go on and on, but I think I'll stop there for now. Perhaps I'll create more for tomorrow... 

Whom do you Anti-Envy?

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Scent of Lilacs

My lilacs are blooming. I'm sure that's later than it would be for many of you across the country (don't they bloom in February where you are, Stephanie?), but they are calling to me now, wafting through my windows from where I planted them last year in the backyard. So nice of the little plants to grow to twice their size, and then bloom in the most wonderful way. 

Reminds me of a poem, one of my favorites, written by Walt Whitman... "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed." Here's a very short excerpt, from stanza seven:

(Nor for you, for one, alone; 
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring: 
For fresh as the morning—thus would I carol a song for you, O sane and sacred death. 
All over bouquets of roses, 
O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies;  50
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first, 
Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes; 
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you, 
For you, and the coffins all of you, O death.)

The "coffin" being discussed is Lincoln's, yet though the poem deals with the death of a man Whitman revered, it's filled with the lushness of hope despite death, power to be found in the flowers, the beauty of the earth, used to remember the dead. And that is what life is, hope mingled with sadness, or hope despite sadness. The smell of lilac reminds me to notice the beauty in the world. 

Some days I really need that reminder. 

Go out and smell some flowers... and think of your own favorite flower poem (I also love Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"). And if you hate poetry, let me know. I'll try to limit posts on it to one day a week (though that's always hard for me in spring).