Thursday, November 26, 2009

Prayers for Caisla

I know all of you are busy prepping for your Thanksgiving feast today, but my best friend Cherilyn's 15-year-old daughter Caisla was in a horrific car accident yesterday, and I wondered if you could help. She has suffered massive head injuries (the car was hit on the side, her side), and she has yet to regain consciousness. The doctors will likely do brain surgery today to alleviate the swelling.

While you are being thankful for your own children and families this morning, could you offer a little prayer for her (or, if you are not inclined to prayer, a bit of well wishes)? Caisla is a wonderful girl, and an only child, so this prayer would help out both her and her mother. 

If nothing else, hold your own children a bit more tightly today, as I will, and be thankful that they are safe and happy. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's a Bird, It's a Plane! No, it's Kind Boy!

Why is it, with all of the academic and other challenges I've surmounted, my children end up being the greatest challenge of them all?

I came home ready to grade last night, ready to tear into around 50 essays. Too bad I checked my voicemail first. 

It was my son's principal, calling FIVE MINUTES AFTER SCHOOL STARTED to let me know that my son, my beautiful, bright 5-year-old son, had just mooned another boy on the bus. As the principal had ever so gently put it, my son dropped trow "down to the skin." Yes, my beloved son had done what no one in my family has ever done: shown his bare naked rump to various grades of complete strangers. 

Why? I wasn't to find that out when he came home, for he pulled the classic Bill Cosby rendition of "I don't know" (Brain Damage!). Of course, by then his teacher had e-mailed me to let me know his whole day had been rough, he'd called people names, said he "hated" some other kid in class, and further slips in his bag confirmed he had even carried his ugliness to the playground. 

I spoke to him, tearing up from embarrassment, telling him I was very disappointed, and he laughed and said I was faking. It was only after I left the room in tears that he began to cry himself. 

My husband called a friend of ours--a cop--and since that was exactly what my son wants to be when he grows up, the officer talked to my little hoodlum seriously, telling him doing stupid things like that would pretty much prevent him from being a cop. My son was respectful enough, the cop said, to prevent him from going to jail this time.

But all the threats, I sensed, were not going to work. I am beginning to realize that my five-year-old son is simply too smart for them, that he sees through B.S. the way I can see through the holes in an old pair of underwear. The key wasn't to scare him, it was to make being good FUN. 

Must think, think, think...

When he woke up this morning, I had a white undershirt waiting for him, to wear under his clothing (so that he could be in disguise). He would be Kind Boy, with a capital K, and his job as a superhero--with no superhero powers, he knowingly told his father--was to be kind to everybody. He would face the ugly remarks of classmates with silence and would resist his desire to say mean things, for, under his mild-mannered alter-ego, he was truly Kind Boy, spreading kindness wherever he went. 

So, what happened? He came home with a stellar report for the day, and he was even recognized with a sticker for his behavior three times

Of course, when he decides to go off the deep end, I'll have to think of something else... but for now, I'm glad to know something I've tried actually works (even if only for a day).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Writing that Novel

Just to let all of my five fans know, I'm very aware of how rarely I've been blogging, and my blogging may become even more sparse over the next month or so. I'm thirty pages from completing my revision of novel #2, and then I'm going to throw myself into writing novel #4... 

Which means I'm going to try to check out all of your blogs as much as I can, but I'm not going to be writing much here, unless it's to give all of you a report of how the writing is going (rather like a NaNoWriMo posting)... I just have to write, and I don't want the blog to get in the way of the novels. Neither will likely make me a cent in the long run, but I get such joy from writing the novels, I need to do so every chance I can.

I may float back to this in a bit, though, so don't take me off your follow list, please! I promise to keep in touch!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ending the World

Natural disasters are pretty frequent--although only a few times are they (supposedly) strong enough to affect the entire world. 2012 is only one of many films covering a supposed disaster on a global scale, and the causes may be both manmade and natural. 

Right now I am revising--and hopefully soon polishing--a book covering a modern-day Noah's ark story, inspired by the midwestern flooding that occurred a few years ago (a town just south of where I lived in Kansas was completely flooded--I know, I saw the aerial photographs). Is it the disaster I have always found most intriguing? Not really, but I find it intriguing at the moment (which is why I am writing about it). Flash Forward deals with an entirely different global event--yet these are only two examples. 

I'd like to turn it over to all of you, though, keeping in mind films and series like these--or books like Z for Zachariah and On the Beach, and my brother-in-law's new book Lightfall, which was just released last Friday (you can find it through Amazon, I think):

What natural and/or man-made disaster do you find most compelling? What event do you believe would most deeply affect you? 

I look forward to your responses... but don't let it all depress you. (And don't answer if it does depress you.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Good and the Bad

Perhaps you are self-aware enough to know your strengths. I would like to think that I am. I know that my first drafts (of anything) tend to stink pretty bad, but I also love revising. That is, perhaps, why I am so happily revising my novel instead of posting here every day. 

Most writers would commend me for my devotion to revision. And it is a strength. However, like all other strengths, it brings some bad effects along with it. I joked with my husband this morning about maybe getting this book published in the next decade. He laughed and said I'd likely be revising it that long. I do have a tendency to revise, revise, and revise, until I either run out of time or can't bear to look at the manuscript anymore. 

Where will that lead? It could lead to some amazing manuscripts. It could also mean I never send a single one out, for they never get to the point where I am willing to quit revising. 

Think about this in other terms. If one has physical strength, that means one might be able to lift a refrigerator all by oneself. However, it might also mean that you can hurt others, break windows, and otherwise destroy the world in ways others could not (and ways you might not intend). 

I know a boss who is great working with emotional people. He doesn't get flustered even when employees are angry and caustic, and that means that these employees can be honest with him and the entire tone of the workplace can improve. However, his patience also allows people with emotional problems the leeway to attack others, sometimes creating a not-so-friendly environment. 

I'm not saying, like Thoreau, that the key is "moderation." What I am saying is that the very strengths you have may also coincide with your weaknesses. My daughter tends to be compliant, but that could lead to less resistance to peer pressure. My son is more independent, but that means he has fewer friends on the playground and keeps getting written up in school. 

What are your biggest strengths? Biggest weaknesses? Don't be surprised if your answer to both is the same.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time Travel Anyone?

The comments from my last post--along with the novel I am working on--have reminded me how common it is for writers to use flashbacks in their work. Flashbacks are a great way to show previous experiences leading up to a present character's development. In a pretty brief episode, readers can see what happened and thus understand a current expression or flaw in a character's thinking, or find justification for a character's emotional reaction to the current circumstances.

However--and this is a big however--far too often flashbacks are completely overused. Some novels, like John Carroll's The Ghost in Love, include around a hundred little flashbacks to let readers in on tiny background details. These details add little to the actual conversation, but merely seem to make the characters sound more quirky, or interrupt the action at hand. 

And then, of course, television offers a bunch of these sorts of things, too. Lost and other shows sometimes spend whole episodes in one character's past, and these episodes risk losing an entire audience who really wanted to keep following the current story.

I tend to dislike rules in general, but I do keep a few things in mind when I use a flashback, even a brief one:

1. The flashback should illustrate the bigger story, not take it over.

2. Clarity is crucial, for confusion can lead readers to stop reading.

3. A character's history is not nearly as important as what he is doing now.

I create tons of history for all of my characters--past experiences, old relationships, etc.--but I tend in my own life to be caught up in the present, so I like my novel reading to be the same. That is why I thought The Ghost in Love was a pretty lame novel (boring and lame). It's also why I don't watch Lost (not since season 2)

Still, flashbacks have a place in writing, even in my own writing. Knowing the past of a character can help readers understand them more in the present. I just use this technique sparingly, to minimize the distraction. 

How do all of you use flashbacks? What purpose do they serve in your own writing? 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Help Me, I'm Stuck!

I've been working on my novel's revision over the last two days, but I can't get any further if I don't clear something up. It's a pretty serious set of circumstances, so if you're squeamish, I wouldn't read any further. 

I have a boy in my novel named Ben, who is fourteen (and, yes, I know that's young), and he's grown up in Oklahoma with three strikes against him: 

1. He's deaf.
2. He's a minority (mixed race).
3. He's a foster kid. 

Now, before you all get mad at me, no, I am not racist--but I lived in Oklahoma long enough to know how minorities were treated there. That's not what is at issue here, even though his minority status has had an effect on his life, adding more to his already pretty tough existence.

The problem I'm dealing with is that this boy's been in some pretty tough foster situations, and his way of coping has been through sex. One foster mom sexually abused him, starting this whole cycle going, and since then the homes he's been in haven't helped. He was in a competitive situation with a couple of foster kids, both girls, and his way of fighting back was to charm them into having a relationship with him. Both ended in pregnancy, and he denied both girls' stories when they told the foster parents, ensuring both girls would be sent away to other homes. His deafness actually worked in his favor, for it made his foster parents each time think such a relationship was impossible.

The first girl got an abortion and was sent off to another family, and only much later was Ben moved (for other reasons). When Ben did the same thing to the second girl, she committed suicide. This event cut him deeply (deservedly so, I think). 

This is all past stuff, though, for now Ben is on this boat with Noah and his daughters--by chance--and the youngest girl is in love with him. (It's a modern-day Noah's Ark story.) And he's scared to death of doing something awful all over again. Even more, he can't forgive himself for what he's already done, and he can't reconcile to himself that he's alive when it seems like the whole rest of the world is dead (they aren't all dead, but nobody knows that yet). He actually tried to throw himself off the boat the first night, once he realized where he was and what had happened, but Noah and several others prevented him from dying that first night. 

I guess I have a few questions, and I hope some of you can help me with them:

1. Is his crime unforgivable (in other words, is it too awful for readers to forgive)? 
2. Is his crime too soft (i.e., is he making too much of it and just sounding whiny)?
3. How can he express what he's done in writing? The daughter's learned some sign language, but not enough for me to just translate it into dialogue like I do the simpler exchanges--he has to write it out. I've written out about 100 versions of this--in one-sentence format--and every one has sounded downright stupid. 

I just need some intelligent opinions about this--even if it's to tell me that none of it makes a bit of sense. 

What do you think?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Doing the Grunt Work

I spent most of the day on Tuesday working on my novel (I didn't have class--election day), but since then all I seem to have done is grade papers and prep for classes. Darn!

I could complain. After all, until this novel is revised, I refuse to work on the next one, and that means, day by day, I am missing out more and more on NaNoWriMo. But that type of outside push can never invigorate me in the way so many other things do. 

Including grading papers.

Okay, for those of you who haven't just given up on my blog entirely, give me a little time to explain. Think of it like a vacation--like Christmas. Once a year, it's festive, you get to listen to some great tunes, wrap all sorts of stuff up in pretty paper with curly bows, light candles, and eat tons of food. What's not to like?

Now imagine that same season all year round. It doesn't take long for that music to turn from lyrical to grating. The presents are just a nuisance, all the Christmas decorations would start feeling cluttered, and the food would go straight to your hips. Not so nice, is it?

That's what grading does for me. It presents a shift for me. It's still all about writing, for my grading consists of reading, responding to, and assessing all sorts of writings. I hone my editing skills, help students improve their writings' clarity and organization, and do so with some of the key writing needs in mind: audience, purpose, focus, description, climax, drama, etc.

Yet I don't get to release all I've collected, not until I take the time to sit down with my own writing and use all I've learned to revise or write for myself. And I am always amazed by how much I've grown in the few days it's taken me to get back to my novel. I needed to do that work to be able to get where I am now. And more work is coming on Monday... 

I wonder what I will gain from that batch of papers. Probably more than I expect.  

What grunt work do you do? What does it do for your writing?