Thursday, June 28, 2007

This is My Brain on Summer

Since it's summer and I'm having a hard time solidifying any one thought...with the exception of "God, I wish I were at the beach right now!" I'm just going to blog about some of the randomized writing stuff I've been up to.

I am not a particularly politically inclined individual. I don't get politics, but I'm trying because things are really starting to frighten me. For instance--what the freak is up with China???? Are they secretly trying to poison all our pets, our kids and all of us who brush our teeth? Or are all these recalls some secret political game our government is playing? Maybe we should start opening our factories back up, making our own products right here where we control the regulations, putting money in our own worker's pockets. Oh...

See what I mean about having a hard time keeping my thoughts from sprouting feet and running off in a different direction. Ahhh, summer. ANYWAY...I'm currently reading John McNally's "America's Report Card." It's basically about how ridiculous standardized government testing is and some about conspiracy theories. A real eye opener. But more than that, it's hilarious! Here's a quote:

"She even sat through interviews conducted by Larry King, a man who reminded her of a corpse that had been exhumed from a long-forgotten cemetery and then brought back to life with a billion watts of electricity."

Besides being funny, that is so true! Or maybe that's why it's funny.

Anyway, great book so far.

I'm also a beta reader for fellow speculative fiction writer & Ayn Rand fan, B.E. I'm enjoying her novel, Blink of an I, very much. But, I can't tell her that yet, because I feel like I should have some critique to go with it. So Beth, if you read this...just ignore that part.

Besides the novel, I'm trying to work on some "100 words or less" short stories to submit to Tuesday Shorts. Do you know how hard it is to whittle a story down to 100 words?! Crazy hard. Well, for me anyway. The closest I've gotten is 259 words. It's fun to try.

Go on, try it!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Real or Imagined?

What makes a memorable story?

They say our brains can't tell the difference between something that has happened to us and something that we only imagine has happened to us. There have been all kinds of experiments about this. The one that comes to mind right now is the one where they took two groups of kids and allowed the first group to practice basketball for hours & told the second group to spend the same amount of time imagining they were practicing basketball. At the end of the experiment, the two groups had improved equally.

Our bodies apparently react to an imagined stressful event in the same way as an experienced stressful event.

I started noticing recently that when I have my toddler twins out in public and I loose sight of one of them (mind you, I only take them to gated in areas when I 'm alone with them, so it's not like they can run off) I have been reacting a lot stronger than I have in the past. By this I mean, I pretty much am over-reacting. I get the whole heart racing, light headed fight or flight thing. When it happened today, I tried to pinpoint the fear and what I came up with was that I was reliving a memory. A memory of losing my child, of wondering where he was at that moment, knowing he was terrified to be without me. Only, I have never lost my child.

The "memory" stems from the story of the four year old little girl who had been kidnapped from her parent's hotel room while they were vacationing not too long ago. I am so empathetic by nature that every time I read something about this story, I couldn't help but put myself in the parents shoes, imagining each detail in technicolor, feeling the horror...the terror and the heartbreak as if it were my child. Of course, I will never know the fullness of their pain but for me, this story has become my own terrible memory.

So, the question of the day is...can we, as fiction writers, affect people like this with our stories? Or is it only "the truth" that can do this. If our brains can't tell the difference between what we are experiencing through our imagination and what we are experiencing in the real world, then it should be possible.

Monday, June 18, 2007

McCarthy Interview

For those of you, like me, who find it impossible to watch tv in the middle of the day and equally impossible to bring yourself to purchase TIVO, good news:

Oprah has the Cormac McCarthy interview video on her website. You have to join the bookclub to see it, but that only takes a second and besides, you could be a lot worse things in life than a member of Oprah's bookclub. Watch it. It's a real treat!


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Personal Essay on Shock Absorbers

Life is simply shocking.

This is my answer to the statement that life is unfair. I didn’t come to this conclusion from experiencing things too harsh to give light to-- divorce, bankruptcy, a two-year war with clinical depression-- all before my thirtieth birthday. Though those things did happen, life is kind enough to numb you during the really big matters. (Have you noticed that when people get their limbs torn off or something equally awful, they always say, ‘I didn’t feel a thing’?) This is the way it is with the big things, you are suddenly suspended, freed from natural laws by some unnatural kind of mercy. Life is what happens in between. A series of brightly lit moments, tiny glimpses of truth strung together like Christmas lights.

My earliest recollection of one of these jolts of truth was before I was eleven. (I only know this because it came before one of the biggest shocks of my life, which left me with a background noise of fear. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Living in a small Pennsylvanian town, lightning bug season was our answer to fireworks. Fireflies. Our faces pressed against the window, our eyes straining to see through the dusk and dirty screen for the first blink of green. Their mating call, our signal to begin the hunt. Mason jars gripped tightly in both hands, we would rush out, squealing, laughing, charging the tiny lights and then try to follow them through the growing darkness until their biological processes betrayed them once again. Once we got bored of gathering them into a living lantern, we would start to make glowing jewelry from their gooey, torn off abdomens. The last season, maybe metaphorically the last season of my innocence, came in the moment I realized the other half of the bug was dead, and I had killed it. It felt foreign, this thought, foreign and then hot and startling like a sudden summer storm. Shock. It was to be the end of lighting bug jewelry for anyone near me.

Living in the woods, there were other moments of death-shock. The baby moles I had tried to save from the cat by putting them up out of reach on top of my sliding board- my aluminum sliding board…on a sweltering summer day. Shock. That same cat’s kittens being mauled by a neighbor’s dog. Shock. But nothing could have prepared me for the realization of my own mortality.

I always ask people now if they remember the exact moment they realized one day they would die. They always say no. Is this normal? My exact moment came as an eleven year old, lying in the grass, staring up at the sky. Something uncomfortable began to grow within me as my fingers absentmindedly stroked the grass, thoughts were reflecting the motion of the clouds, drifting unchecked, uninhibited. Discomfort exploded into a moment of blind truth, a searing white moment of conclusion. The sky was ripped open as the veil of childhood fell from my eyes. One day I would no longer feel the softness of grass between my fingers. One day would be my last. One day, I would no longer exist. This one sent shock waves into my future.

There are two choices a person has when faced with such a truth. One- don’t allow yourself to reach that deeply into thought ever again, or two- begin stacking layers of beliefs, superstitions, religions between you and the truth, a mental padding that you can fall back on, a shock absorber.

Alternating these two things seemed to get me from one day to the next, until the subject of death once again touched my life. I lost my best friend of fourteen years. There were a few hot-truth moments strung out through that experience. Beginning with the fact that death steamrolls right over love, care and devotion; then it rips away the padding you so carefully built up over the years so the things you thought you believed in become a rapidly disappearing mist of illusions. You are naked once again. Shocked.

Months later, bursting from the ashes of mauled-over grief came another jolt of truth. Love had survived. (Me-shocked: what?) Yes, after all, it makes sense. Something as powerful, infinite and incomprehensible as love could not have just burst into being 18 billion years ago along side our infant universe. Love is the key to immortality. So, this is the one illuminated moment I keep on top of the rest, as the tiny points of truth wind their way through my life toward the brightest truth of all.

Love cheats death.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Know Thyself

What kind of writer are you?

A friend sent me this description of an empath, which fits me to a tee. It made me wonder, are all writers/artists like this? Here's the description (see if it fits you):

Empaths are highly sensitive. This is the term commonly used in describing one's abilities (sensitivity) to another's emotions and feelings. Empaths have a deep sense of knowing that accompanies empathy and are often compassionate, considerate, and understanding of others.

Empaths are often poets in motion. They are the born writers, singers, and artists with a high degree of creativity and imagination. They are known for many talents as their interests are varied, broad and continual, loving, loyal and humorous.

Empaths are often very affectionate in personality and expression, great listeners and counselors (and not just in the professional area). They will find themselves helping others and often putting their own needs aside to do so. In the same breath, they can be much the opposite. They may be quiet, withdrawn from the outside world, loners, depressed, neurotic, lifes daydreamers, or even narcissistic.They are most often passionate towards nature and respect its bountiful beauty. One will often find empaths enjoying the outdoors, beaches, walking, etc. Empaths may find themselves continually drawn to nature as a form of release. It is the opportune place to recapture their senses and gain a sense of peace in the hectic lives they may live.

Empaths are sensitive to TV, videos, movies, news and broadcasts. Violence or emotional dramas depicting shocking scenes of physical or emotional pain inflicted on adults, children or animals can bring an empath easily to tears. At times, they may feel physically ill or choke back the tears. Some empaths will struggle to comprehend any such cruelty, and will have grave difficulty in expressing themselves in the face of another's ignorance, closed-mindedness and obvious lack of compassion. They simply cannot justify the suffering they feel and see.

Here are the listeners of life. Empaths are often problem solvers, thinkers, and studiers of many things. As far as empaths are concerned, where a problem is, so too is the answer. They often will search until they find one--if only for peace of mind.

This is probably why I lean towards delving deep into my characters feelings and motivations. Some of the thriller writers that I have come to know, I couldn't really imagine fitting this description. So, I'm thinking to find your own niche as a writer--the one that would be truest to your own nature, make you happiest and have the greatest chance at success--you really need to know yourself!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Miscellaneous Loveliness

What's playing in my head: Poe's Walk the Walk

Ahhh, it's a gorgeous Wednesday here. The sun is shining...I can hear the soft cry of morning gulls just above the lapping waves. I can taste the salt in the air. No...wait...oops, that's all in my head, too. Where am I? Sigh. Back to reality.

So, I received another lovely rejection (see how easy it is to put a positive spin on rejection. Just add adjective and wala!) for a completely different short story. This one is from the Kenyon Review. Here it is: [Personal note: the execution is elegant & sophisticated, but both the set-up and the resolution seem quite tired to us. Sorry we can't keep this one. Best, KG]

I'm getting really good at learning from these things, I think. From this one I interpret that my strength is the actual prose and my weakness is coming up with an original story. Which, by the way, I already know. I blame the whole coloring in the lines thing as a child. Not sure how to fix this. I really think it's just life experience. I'll have to get some more of that.

Meanwhile, I have my first author interview posted here. Warning, I was feeling silly that day...I'm sensing a trend.

I was invited by the lovely (my word of the day) Heidi Ruby Miller. If you're a writer and would like to participate in her Pick Six, then just contact her. She doesn't bite.