untitled (flash fiction from 2006) – second in an unrelated series of fails

I’ve been trying to find all the scattered bits of writing I’ve done (as an adult), and I located this fragment buried in an email exchange.  A friend of mine was bored and asked me to write her a quick story to enliven her afternoon…. I’m not quite sure that I succeeded, but I rather like the result nonetheless.

The girl sat at her desk, her computer up and running, papers and notebooks spread about giving her the appearance of busy-ness.  Actually, the girl really should be called the woman, but she would object to such terminology.  With a customary blend of self-awareness and self-deceit, the girl felt neither old enough nor mature enough to refer to herself in such adult terms.

The girl sat at her desk at work, for reasons she chose not to examine; most likely, she sat at her desk because countless adults from countless sectors of society sat at their desks on weekdays between eight in the morning and five in the afternoon.   Of course, there was more to it than that, than society pressure and conformity, but this particular girl chose not to think about it at all, ignored completely this opportunity for analysis.   She sat, simply, because she did.

Another person walking by the desk, transformed while walking past the desk into an observer of our girl, whether passively or actively, might be struck by a few seemingly incongruous objects present there.  (It is equally possible that this momentary observer would notice nothing at all.)  The observer might notice: the girl was dancing from her neck up to music that blared into her ears from a pair of headphones; despite the head dancing, the girl was reading from a large binder, taking notes with an air of intense concentration; there was a preponderance of shoes in various stages of disrepair strewn under the girl’s desk, in plain view of any observer who happened to fulfill his role.  If inclined, the observer could then glance around the rest of the girl’s work area and notice a few other surprising objects: a mismatched pair of latex gloves pinned to the clothboard, a bookshelf straining under the weight of too many large binders, each labeled according to a uniform system, an unbent paperclip next to a very large manual hole punch.

The entire area seemed full of contrariness—the industrious-looking female dancing while she worked, the uniform binders next to mismatched and unexplained latex gloves, the above-desk reason and order juxtaposed with the tangle of well-worn heels beneath the desk.

Most observers, if they happened to notice all these things, would shake their heads in confusion, perhaps in disapproval, and would move on.   Some observers would ask the reason for the gloves and the shoes and would receive the answers, “Just in case,” and, “I like variety,” respectively.   On this particular occasion, with this particular observer, the response to the desk and its contents was different.

When he was a boy, he was captivated by nature, by the capriciousness of plants and flowers and trees.  He found magic in the sound of wind teasing and tousling leaves and branches, in the sight of luxuriant, wild grasses swaying under the ministrations of that wind.  In short, he was an inquisitive child, easily amused by what he saw around him.

As he grew into manhood, his natural curiosity was dampened by the responsibility of life, by the life he did not choose but continued to pursue, thoughtlessly existing each day, no longer in tune to the magical, the miraculous.

But this day would be different, for, as he walked past the cubicle on his way to the copy machine, he happened to be struck by a feeling he hardly recognized: magic.   It was the pile of shoes he noticed first, his eyes moving from that evidence of carelessness to the currently bare feet, crossed at the ankles, of the girl who sat at her desk, dancing from the neck up.   A smile began to form on his face, tentative at first, then broad, finally showing a glimpse of teeth and lower gums.

He stopped in his tracks, openly staring at the work area and its inhabitant, who, completely unaware of his scrutiny, had begun mouthing the words to some song, intermittently giggling for a reason that was not outwardly apparent.   The gloves elicited from the man a chuckle, almost a giggle, except that men do not, as a rule, giggle.

The girl threw her head to one side and exclaimed, “Word to your mother!” and laughed; it was a deep, throaty laugh, full of secret knowledge and delight.   The girl’s laugh reverberated through the man like something slow and slimy, tickling, working its way across his skin, tantalizing him with its unreserve; it was oddly familiar, this laugh, at once shunning him and welcoming him home.

The man walked away from the girl’s cubicle; he did not continue on to the copy machine as had been his original intent.   Driven by a need he could not explain, he walked outside.

Outside the artificial environment of the office building, the wind blew intermittently, rustling the leaves of the non-native, pruned trees located throughout the parking lot.

The man took a deep breath, held it in his lungs for a few seconds, and exhaled loudly; it was almost a sigh.   As he drew air in through his nose, he allowed himself to focus on the feeling of the air filling and expanding his lungs, energizing his cells.  With that breath he drew into his body the magic in the air, the music of the wind.

With the simplicity of his childhood he reaccepted the miraculous into his life.   He realized he was smiling.  A rumble, low, like distant thunder, began deep in his chest.  It bubbled to the surface in an explosive expression of mirth, joy and delight.   He was made new.

If my sister were writing that story, the man would, immediately after this renaissance, fall into a ditch and die instantly.  I learned how to write from my sister, the same way that someone could learn how to act (or, God help us all, dance) from watching Waiting for Guffman (and I do actually mean that as a compliment).  Her stories are brilliant.  They are always short, usually no longer than one page; feature instant, unexplained connections between people; offer plenty of outrageously unnecessary detail (and very little necessary detail); and spend a huge amount of time building up the story only to close with a phenomenally unsatisfying ending.

Have you ever heard of The Shaggs?  They are either an abomination to the name of music, or the most brilliant music theorists ever to exist.  I think they are brilliant and subversive, and that’s how I feel about my sister’s writing.  It’s what I’m always tempted to emulate in my own writing.  It’s easy to be mediocre, it’s hard to be truly good, but to be powerfully awful is also a bit of a triumph, right?

My big fail (one of an unrelated series of fails)

I don’t write stories very often.  Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I almost never write stories, and I don’t very often engage in creative writing.  Occasionally, I write ridiculous story fragments whose purpose is to confuse and annoy the poor souls who get guilted into reading them.

While cleaning out my junk room on Labor Day (3rd mostly-annual Labor Day of Labor), I found a story fragment that I wrote four years ago as a secret santa gift for a fifteen year old boy whom I did not know.  I usually figure that if you’re going to fail at something (in this case fail at getting a gift the receiver will appreciate and enjoy), you might as well fail big.

I think I nailed it.

The Importance of a Greeting, Or Why French People Hate Americans

Once upon a time, there was a young man named John.  John was a very handsome man, and many of the young ladies of his day were wont to sigh and swoon as he walked past.  Despite such accomplishments, life was not entirely without difficulty for the young man, for he had an unfortunate problem: John was deathly afraid of salutations.

Though John had exhibited the fear since he was a young lad, everyone around him figured he would eventually resolve to put such childish stuff behind him, to enter into conversations with equanimity, but he did not.  Instead, John’s fear grew more pronounced with each passing year.

When John was young, the folk of his town humored him and entered into conversation with him without preamble.  But as John grew older, folk began to expect him to behave normally.  People started to find it more rude than amusing that John never said “hello” or “good day to you.”  Some people went out of their way to salute young John, and this story is chiefly concerned with these exploits, with the day the baker said, “Good morning, and isn’t it a fine day?” to our young hero.

The baker was not a nice man.  There were surely as many reasons for his crotchety behavior as there were people who disapproved of his manner, but whatever the provocation, his antics were such that, after passing several years in the village, the baker ceased to be known by his given name (Charlie) and was known merely by his occupation and any adjectives attendant on his behavior.  If a person held him in neutral regard, he would be Baker, but if a person held him in contempt, he would be “that bastard, the baker,” or “that miserable old buffoon, the baker.”

On a particular morning in May, the sun dawned bright and warm, its rays stretching into the sleepy village, awakening the inhabitants in that natural way to be found only in country villages.  John bathed and readied himself for the day without any of the trepidation that would surely have settled on him had he known what the day had in store; he left the friendly shelter of his family home and struck out on a well-worn path, his errand on this fine morning being to purchase some baked goods for his family.  As he walked to the baker’s shop, John whistled a jaunty tune, and he reached his destination with such alacrity as is found only among the able-bodied.

Having fortified himself with a deep breath, John pushed open the door to the baker’s shop and proceeded, almost immediately, to express his reason for having come.  “Baker,” he began, “my mother needs two loaves of your finest bread.”  But that Mephistophelean miscreant, that nefarious ne’er-do-well, that baneful bully of a baker leveled his leering eye towards our hero and, in a loud voice, exclaimed, “Good morning, John! And isn’t it a fine day?”

Can one find fault with John for the actions which followed this attack?  He gasped, staggering back against the door, clutching his heart and fixing upon the baker a look so full of terror as would have melted the heart of any good man.  After fumbling briefly with the door handle, he flung wide the portal and ran into the streets of the village sobbing insensibly.

The end.

If that bit of nonsense made you laugh, chances are fairly good you’d like me, personally.  If you now want to smash every tooth in my head, it probably wouldn’t work out between us.

Armchair BEA 2012 – Day 4 (catching up) – Beyond the Blog

Yesterday was a bit nuts, but I am determined to catch up today.

Yesterday was day 4 of Book Expo America, in which I am participating virtually via Armchair BEA.  Today’s (yesterday’s) writing topic asks us to look beyond the blog for opportunities or tips to expand one’s writing to other communities online or in print or to expand one’s blog to be a source of income.  “Have you done any freelance writing?  Are you monetizing your blog and how so?  How do you make connections outside the book blog community on the Internet?  If none of these apply, we’d love for you to share a fun aspect about your blog or life that may be completely separate from books!”

I write and edit all day long as part of my job, but I don’t imagine anyone would be all that thrilled to hear about the number of business letters I have occasion to write.  The editing I do is even less sexy than writing business letters.  Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy taking a whole bunch of crazy and transforming it into standard written English, but that’s me.  I’d be happy eating oatmeal every day.  I’m just one of those people.  Given that the non-blog writing that I do is generally uninteresting, that I am not monetizing my blog, and that I have few connections either within or without the book blog community on the Internet, I figured I’d tell a cautionary tale about writing, editing, and managing difficult interpersonal relationships and about how I’ve failed at all three over the years (but in a fun way).

When I was in high school, I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper and the sole contributor to the opinion page.  I wrote some crazy nonsense, and I still can’t believe that the school was willing to publish it every month and distribute it to all the students.  My favorite regular column was the advice column, “Dear Wildcat.”  In the first month, I couldn’t get anyone to submit questions, so, lacking patience, I decided to scrap the idea to answer real questions from students and just made up my own questions to answer.  I was 17 and writing both sides of the conversation… you can probably guess how that went.  All told, it was a great experience, but I learned that I’m best at humor writing, so a career in serious journalism was never in the cards for me.

During my stint as editor-in-chief, I also learned that I am a terrible manager.  I’m pretty much like Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I micromanage and am convinced that I can play all the roles, simultaneously, better than anyone else.  It’s a problem.  When I discovered that the other students had no talent for writing and didn’t understand even basic English grammar, my natural response was to write all of the articles myself and just give writing credit to the other students, because that was easier than trying to manage the process of editing and collecting final drafts (that were often still not quite written in standard American English…).  The students who wrote for the paper were terrible writers, for sure, but I was so much worse as a manager than they ever were as writers, sentences like, “The Akil has improve is by working harder” notwithstanding.

Even when I’m not in any way responsible for the material that gets published, it still drives me absolutely batty to come across published material that could have been written by a monkey.  About a decade ago, a guy who knows my dad purchased a community newspaper and tried his hand at publishing.  He had grand plans to transform the newspaper into a community information hub for the San Gabriel Valley area of LA County, but his newspaper was so terrible!  After the first edition, I wrote a letter to the editor requesting that he hire a copy editor.  He ignored me and proceeded to publish another edition that was full of grammatical crazy.  I wrote another letter to the editor that referenced the number of grammar and spelling (!) errors and begged him to hire a copy editor.  He ignored me and published another edition.  I, full of 22-year-old righteous indignation, took a red pen to his newspaper and mailed it back to him.  He ignored me.  I kept it up for another three months until he called my dad (!!) and asked him to tell me to stop sending him proofread copies of his newspaper.  At that point, after six months, I finally realized that he didn’t care about the quality of what he was publishing, and I was fighting an unwinnable battle.

I’m ten years older now and a lot more mellow.  Even so, it drives me wonky when I read a book, even a free one, and encounter truly stupid errors, but I no longer ride out on my steed of grammatical justice to defend the honor of the English language every time I read a book that was published without the benefit of a competent editor (every other time, maybe).  So, yeah, I’ve mellowed, but I still have a tendency to be very critical of what I read.  I suspect that the hyper-criticism that comes naturally to me could be off-putting to many (particularly authors and publishers).  But I’m not really writing a review blog here, so maybe it’s moot.

The Exclamation Point – a discussion and guide to usage

I’ve always been a bit exuberant.  I just have so much to say, and there never seems to be enough time or space to say it all.  I talk quickly, and I tend to be parenthetical.  I write quickly, and I am tangential.  I have this horror of being misunderstood, and I somehow think that tangents and parenthetical thoughts will help me to communicate exactly what I mean (will provide the context of my thoughts) in the least amount of time (if I’m speaking) or the fewest number of words (if I’m writing).  In my early school years, my teachers always had the same thing to say: “Kelly, you write well and with great enthusiasm, but you must limit the number of parenthetical references you include.”  When writing, I have to constantly battle my impulse to include a parenthetical thought (or two) in every damn sentence.  So if, while you read my blog, you think that there are perhaps a few too many tangents or parenthetical comments, you have no idea what I’m capable of bringing to the party.  This is me being restrained.

One could not be as exuberant as I without occasionally overusing that strange punctuation mark: the exclamation point.  I used to wonder why it even exists if there are such stringent rules limiting its use.  To me, the exclamation point (and all of the rules that attend/restrict it) is rather like a wooden spoon and a giant pot that one would hand to a toddler.  They’re obviously meant to be used as instruments of joy, to be banged upon in an explosion of obnoxious, creative energy, but the adults never like it when the children are so unconstrained, do they?  Instead that pot and spoon just sit there, taunting the child with their unusable potential.  That’s how I feel about exclamation points.  As a serious adult, I’m not supposed to use them, but, oh, how I want to!

Well… I don’t think anyone could confuse me with a serious adult.  I self-identify with toddlers…

Anyway, for all my enthusiasm for the dear exclamation point, I do think it’s possible to use it in ridiculous ways, and it really annoys me when my favorite punctuation mark is so misused.  To be honest, the main reason I haven’t bothered to read the 50 Shades of Grey series is that several book review blogs mentioned the author’s outrageous exclamation point use.  Ana entered the elevator and pushed the button for the fourth floor!   Sebastian was so angry!  (not actual quotes from the book(s).)

So I decided to write a quirky little guide to the exclamation point, and I’d love to hear/read feedback on whether I’m right or cracked in the head (could be both, honestly).

The Exclamation Point – A Guide to Usage

Correct usage:  to punctuate an exclamation, to denote enthusiasm, to provide commentary on questionable behavior, to convey silliness, to creep people out with inappropriate enthusiasm (workplace use).

Incorrect usage: to punctuate statements that are neither enthusiastic, ironic, nor silly.

Examples of Proper Usage

Look out!  There’s a bear coming right for you!
I can’t wait for dinner tonight; I’m going to eat a steak the size of my head!
While I was out on my walk last night, I saw a dude who was out jogging wearing nothing but his running shoes and a sweater (because it’s cold)… !!?!!
And then they fell in a ditch and died!
Thanks for responding so quickly and helping to coordinate this visit!!

Examples of Improper Usage

Jonathan was wearing jeans! (exception: if it’s completely bizarre that Jonathan would wear jeans, that exclamation point could justly indicate the writer’s surprise at encountering denim in connection with Jonathan.)
Betty made a stop on the way home to get some coffee. She added two sugar packets and some cream! Armed with her coffee, she headed home and planned to spend the evening watching Dancing with the Stars.
I went to a funeral yesterday! (This one is just a socially unacceptable usage… we aren’t supposed to be excited about death and its various celebrations.)


An exclamation point is an appropriate terminal mark to any sentence that references bacon (e.g. I ordered a BLT! or That macaroni and cheese has bacon in it!).  Bacon is always a reason to celebrate(!).

Social Lessons – an excerpt

I started writing this story a while ago, and I think it might be time for me to get back to it.  Here is an excerpt from the very beginning of this very unpolished writing fragment.  To explain: I tend to write stories from the middle out.  That habit makes for a terrible editing process, but I generally find it easier to write whatever I feel like writing at a given time.    You may have noticed in reading this blog that I skip around a fair amount and don’t ascribe to any coherent theme.  Anyway, that disorganization is inherent in me and in everything that I do.  So get ready for an extremely abrupt beginning (and the ending is quite abrupt, too, because I didn’t feel like posting the entire thing today).

In fifth grade, I switched from private to public school.  It was September of 1990, and my world completely changed.  At the private school, we had uniforms and there were a lot of rules governing our behavior.  To enforce those rules, our teachers were permitted to use corporal punishment.  I had gotten in trouble a few times and was considered something of a trouble maker—in third grade, a boy who sat next to me got upset and said, “Shit!”  The teacher took him outside to spank him, and those of the class who hadn’t witnessed the drama first-hand surrounded me to find out what was going on.  I said, “Kenny said a bad word,” just as the teacher was coming in.  She hauled me right outside and I got spanked for gossiping.  Also in third grade, I got in trouble (by the same teacher, although this time I deserved it) for starting up a business with my best friend; this business consisted of us purchasing large quantities of pixie stix at a very low price from the drive-through dairy by her house and selling them at a considerable markup to the other students in our class.  At any rate, if it’s true that we learn to view ourselves through the perspective of the adults around us, I really thought I was a hard-core trouble maker… until I went to public school.

At the public school, it was ok to use curse words.  It was ok to talk back to the teachers.  It was ok to terrorize your fellow students.  It was awful.  As an adult, now, I can look back on it with a chuckle and tell myself dispassionately that it really was quite a paradigm shift.  But if I stretch my memory back and try to recall my feelings at the time, I become swamped by the terror that accompanies an individual being thrown into a completely new set of circumstances without the least bit of warning.  Every single rule had changed, and I didn’t know what the new ones were.  At the private school, which was associated with a large church, the coolest kids were the PKs, the ministers’ sons and daughters.  The hierarchy went down from there based on the relative position of one’s parents—my dad was a deacon in the church, so I ranked below the ministers’ kids and above the kids whose dads were merely church members.  At the public school, the hierarchy of relative coolness was based first on the socioeconomic status of one’s parents and second on how adept one was at making other children feel small and worthless.

My parents weren’t poor, but they didn’t think about status or the communication of relative wealth when we did back to school shopping.  I remember that pre-fifth grade shopping trip, because we had never done back-to-school shopping before.  My mother and my aunt talked strategy weeks in advance—jeans and t-shirts were cool as were tennis shoes (never called sneakers).  Then we went to Target or K-Mart and bought a few pairs of jeans, a few pairs of shorts, and a bunch of solid-color t-shirts and got some white tennis shoes from Payless.  To my mind then (and now, frankly) jeans are jeans—if they fit properly and are comfortable, what does it matter what brand they are?—but it did matter whether you wore Jordache or Guess vs. Wrangler, Lee, or Chic (Target’s brand).  Those kids could tell at a glance whether or not your clothes had the right label, and mine did not.  To make matters worse,  I had the habit of wearing the clothes I liked regardless of how many times I had worn any particular item in that week or in that month.  I had this neon-green zip-up sweat shirt with a screen-printed stegosaurus on it that I loved immoderately, and my insistence on wearing it nearly every day did not help my social status.

There were other, behind-the-scenes factors that contributed to my total uncoolness that I didn’t discover until it was far too late to do anything about it.  The public school had a program for its smart kids called Gifted and Talented Education (GATE).  Students had to test to qualify to participate in GATE, and, at the public school, there were budget limits on the number of students from each grade who could participate in the program.  Before I attended my first day of class at the public school, I had already alienated a rather large contingent of kids; my test scores forced out one of the more popular girls from participating in the GATE program.  Being ten years old, she vowed a vendetta against me and all her friends followed her lead.  I started my first day of school with fifteen female enemies I had never met before, and not a one of them would tell me why I was so uniformly hated.  It was very confusing.

I had better luck than I deserved, and I was able to make the acquaintance of three very friendly girls who walked the same route I did to and from school.  They couldn’t make me cool, but at least they helped me to avoid getting beat up every day.

My private school offered a much more advanced education than was available at the public school.  In fifth grade, I didn’t learn new math skills; I didn’t, as a result of the curriculum, increase my reading level (it was already at the high school level anyway).  In fifth grade, I learned the meaning of the words asshole, fuck, and the completely confusing mother-fucker.  I learned that people make assumptions about you based on your appearance, and there is nothing you can do to change their minds.  I learned that friends don’t keep your secrets if your secrets are funny.  I learned that money, the smell of money, the façade of money, is more important to other people than the genuine intentions of your heart.  In short, I learned that you usually can’t trust other people and that most of them aren’t worth knowing.  I am extremely glad that I learned these lessons before I got to junior high, but sometimes I wish I could unlearn them.

This week in reading…

Cover image, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Over the weekend, I read the second installment of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy.  I started the third book last night.  I am not quite sure what to say about this book.  It was thrilling and entertaining and a little bit annoying.  I suppose my real problem with this series is that it’s really just one big story split up into three books.  Catching Fire is a continuation of The Hunger Games.  It pretty much picks up where the first book left off rather precipitously, and it wends its way through the middle portion of the overall story arc until its own untimely end.

As a society, we seem to expect that a story will require several volumes to be told in full.  I wonder how much of this expectation goes back to the decision to publish The Lord of the Rings in three volumes, not because they are three separate books but because there were printing limitations that prohibited the work from being published in one volume.  However strange it is, I think I would like this series more if it were told in one, perhaps long book rather than split into three books.  It’s one story.

Anyway.  When I was twenty, I took a class on Proust at my local community college.  When we got to Within a Budding Grove (the English title from the translation I used, the Modern Library version), the professor gave a lecture on sequels – why do they exist?  When are they tolerable?  He asked us to think of all the terrible sequels we knew, and together we discovered that the fatal flaw that often besets a sequel is that sequels are often just do-overs of their well-received originals.  Saturday Night Fever was AWESOME!  Let’s make Staying Alive!  I bet it will be SUPER awesome!  Oh, wait… no, that was a mistake.  In order for a sequel to be worthwhile, it has to contain a story that needs to be told, one that wasn’t told in the original story.  Something needs to change.  In Within a Budding Grove, it is the narrator who changes, who enters adolescence and now has to explore and discover how those changes within himself affect the relationships that are established in the first volume (Swann’s Way) and affect the ways that he will establish new relationships (all those budding young girls…).  Even though it is the second volume in a single overarching work, Within a Budding Grove contains a story that needs to be told.

Not so, Catching Fire, which merely continues unabated from where The Hunger Games leaves off.  And that’s why it annoyed me… I know I’m expecting way too much from a popular book that is marketed for young adults, but I was irked by the lack of character development in Katniss.  Gale changes, Peeta changes, Haymitch changes, but Katniss is as whiny and irritating as ever, except now she has nightmares.  I enjoyed the book, but I wanted more from it.

Anyone else love Pygmalion stories?  I sure do, and I really enjoyed this one.  To be honest, I don’t know what it says about me that I enjoy stories in which a male character molds and forms a female character into a vision of perfection and eventually (very eventually, as the case may be) grapples with the Mr. Darcy struggle–is she good enough for him?  Can he turn his back on his duties and follow his heart, even though it means betraying his principles?–and realizes that the important point is not what he can stand to give up in order to have her but what he will gain with her.  These stories are almost always about the male character’s internal struggle, because he’s obviously so awesome that the female character falls in love with him in the very beginning, even when he’s being a tard.  To the female character is relegated all the heartache that attends knowing she is not worthy of the affections of the man she loves–why is she not worthy?  Well, because he says so–but she doesn’t generally undergo any change at all.  She is loving and steadfast at the beginning, and she is loving, forgiving, and steadfast at the end.

However incongruous it might seem, A Perfect Bride seemed to me to be very close to an Austen-what-if? story that decided to pair Darcy with Jane in a situation in which Jane was alone in the world and utterly destitute.  I enjoyed the book, but it was a little strange.

Let me complain about covers some more.  This book is great, but you’d never guess from this lame cover.  One of the best things about the book is that neither character is particularly attractive.  In fact, the male character is covered with small pox scars.  Now look at the dude on the cover… is he seriously giant, black haired, and covered with scars?  No.  So why the hell is he on the cover?  And what’s with his collar?  He looks like he’s wearing a dress I used to have when I was a little girl.

I hate (HATE) it when romance authors try to write complicated characters and fail.  One of the easiest ways for an author to fail at a characterization attempt is to write a less than perfectly attractive character and not know how to make that character react to relevant stimuli.  (If you want a great example of truly abysmal characterization, check out The Ugly Duckling Debutante by Rachel Van Dyken.)  The Raven Prince explores the deep insecurities that each character has about his or her appearance but does not make those insecurities the primary focus of character development.  It’s fabulous.  I don’t know anyone who is perfectly happy except for one physical flaw… we are all a mishmash of insecurities relating to a wide variety of causes.  The characters in The Raven Prince reflect that complexity, and that’s what makes the book so good.

Now, I have to say that I don’t mind love scenes in the books that I read, but this book was a bit… over the top.  That said, I’m happy to get through a few jarringly steamy love scenes in order to read a book that is written by an author who so obviously takes her craft seriously.

On writing letters for other people

Some days I spend so much time writing letters and emails on behalf of other people, that I just don’t have anything to say for myself.  For the last few weeks, I have struggled to come up with interesting (or boring) things to say, and I’ve drawn a blank.  When writers give advice to wanna-be writers, the item that often tops the list is: “just do it.  Just write.” The thing is, I write all day, but it’s usually in someone else’s voice.

For example, today I wrote a bevy of letters on behalf of my boss to various young people across the country encouraging them to keep up the good work and continue studying math and science.  Anyone who knows me will find it amusing that I wrote such language as: “I am so excited to hear that you love math and science–I love it too!–and I hope that you will continue to love it as the years roll by.”  I happen to work at a math, science, and engineering college that pays me to be all sorts of enthusiastic for those disciplines, but in reality, I’m a humanities girl at heart.

Is it odd that I find it so much easier to write for other people than to write for myself?  To answer my own question, maybe it isn’t odd at all.  When I write letters for my boss, I’m not really attempting to communicate the entirety of her being but am merely reflecting that portion of her that I understand and can put into words.  When I am writing for myself, I am often stumped by the confusing, jumbled mass of my thoughts.  I ask myself: “Self, what are you thinking about right now?” and the answer is that I’m thinking about what I’m thinking about.  I often have difficulty choosing a subject to write about because the field from which I choose my subjects is incredibly vast.  When I am writing for someone else, I write from a very narrow scope that is determined by my understanding of that person and by my understanding of the purpose of the writing.  It’s a lot more manageable, and it’s easier for me to tell when I’ve nailed it.

Another interesting thought is that the more time I spend writing for other people, with my head all wrapped up in their perspective (as I see it), the harder it is for me to transition back to my own perspective.  I haven’t been terribly active with this blog for the last two weeks because I have been busy and stressed and because I have been having difficulty locating my voice.

I really don’t know writing at all (does anyone?) – shower thoughts

As someone with relatively few talents, I have tended to clutch to my heart the one or two that I possess, quietly and internally considering them an adequate raison d’être while outwardly feeling inadequate on a near constant basis.  It’s a problem.  The thing is, I have a hard time talking to people.  The thing is, if you put me in front of a keyboard, I suddenly feel capable of a greatness that I do not otherwise possess.  The thing is, what is important is not that I actually achieve any sort of greatness on a regular basis but that I am actually occasionally capable of it.  Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.

Oh God, I’m being neurotic again.

Anyway.  A lot of my thoughts come to me in the shower.  I’m not sure what it is about the shower that makes it a great fermentation chamber for thought, but it works for me.  Steam, hot water, nice smelling soaps, time, that pitter-patter sound of water falling against the FRP siding in my ghetto shower all combine together to create a time and space in which thoughts can bounce around and sometimes coalesce in my otherwise scattered mind.  This morning, among various non-thought reflections (ugh, tired…. ugh, back hurts… ugh, morning… etc.), I thought about the process of writing, how I write, how other people write (how would I know?), and whether I can ever know that what I write is actually true.

I edit while I write, a simultaneous process.  I’ll start to write a sentence and then I’ll stop for a while, looking up and to the right, twitching my fingers about, tapping them lightly on the keyboard, perhaps creating a connection between the pitter-patter sound of the keyboard and the sound of water in my shower.  Who knows?  The process happens so quickly, so unconsciously, I suppose.  It’s slippery, like a well-used bar of soap.  Writing, to me, is a process of taking my often nebulous ideas about my self or my life and translating them into English, the only language I know.

It is definitely a matter of translation.  For example: when walking in the rain earlier this afternoon, I reflected on the singular pleasure I experience when rain falls with a light splat on my nose.  The transcript of that thought would read only “Hm! Nice!”  A film of that thought sequence would include a close up on my nose while the rain drop went SPLAT!  Then would follow a montage of other moments from my life when rain has fallen softly on my nose: SPLAT, SPLAT, SPLAT! ending with a lingering shot of me smiling slightly at the fond, wry memory.  The film would be a very accurate depiction of my actual thought patterns–they tend to be more visual than verbal–but I just don’t have a videographer following me around at every moment helping me to make sense of my thoughts.  When I write, I think back on those moments that are true, and I attempt to take them out of the realm of indistinct impressions and into the bright, definite, black and white world of written language.  I hope that these moments remain true throughout the translation process, but how can I know?