Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Sunday, December 31, 2006


Okay. I know what you're thinking. What does philosophy have to do with writing? The quick answer is: Everything.

Everything we think and therefore, everything we say or write has some kind of philosophy behind it. (Whether you know anything about philosophy or not.) Chances are, you don't consciously weave philosophy into your writing--few people do--but it's there nonetheless. Ayn Rand did it on purpose, but she's the only one I can think of who did it consciously. Usually philosophy just slides in unnoticed. (And please understand that I am referring to the writing of fiction here. Plenty of non-fiction writers are thinking about the philosophy behind their work.)

For example, if you believe the world is a horrible place and we're powerless to do anything about it, your writing is going to reflect that belief. Or if you believe mankind is heroic, it will show in your work.

Why am I telling you this? It's helpful to know what drives you, so you can write better. If you know where your philosophy lies, you can direct your work. You can write a heroic character and a conversely non-heroic villian. (Or if it's your bag, the other way around.) If you understand the philosophy driving you and therefore your characters, you can create believeable people. You can write a villian who makes your skin crawl, and a hero who makes your pulse race.

It's also helpful to understand that philosophy drives writing, so as a reader you can begin to spot an author's philosophy. Writers like Rand and Dumas wrote heroic pieces. Hemingway had a horrible sense of life, and his work shows it. Joyce... I can't imagine what was going on in his mind, but yuck. And it's not just in the literary genre either. You can actually see a philosophic progression in Michael Crichton's thrillers from one book to the next (and if you'd don't believe me, read his early works and compare them to The State of Fear.)

(More on this later...)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

This and That

For the past few days, I've been recycling things I wrote years ago--because the stories mean something to me, and I don't think I'll ever try to publish them.

I've also been recycling because I'm dry. I haven't seemed to be able to tap into the wellspring of creativity for a couple of weeks now. It happens from time to time, and I try not to let it get me down. (For one thing, if I dwell on it, it starts to feed itself. I think about how I'm having a hard time writing and then I can't write, so I dwell on it... vicious circle, here I come.)

Yesterday I thought I had it licked. I started to write a little ditty for a themed literary magazine. I got it all written out and then... I started to think my writing sucks. It doesn't, of course. I'm just feeling that way. This big amorphous blob of self-doubt has plopped on my parade route. (Hey. That rhymes. Maybe I should be writing poetry.)

I could always blame it on the snow, I guess. It's sapping the life right out of me. Yeah yeah, that's the ticket.

Friday, December 29, 2006


In Honor of Arrow Bohemian Rhapsody (1976-1988)

“Kindergarten is stupid.” She thought. The others kids couldn’t think of things by themselves and they couldn’t read and they couldn’t tie their own shoes. One girl cried in the coatroom every day because she couldn’t put on her own boots. The only great thing about school so far was the bus ride home. She loved her bus driver – Mrs. Bolden. Even her name was cool – Corky.

Corky was friends with her parents and Corky was alive in a way that made her so very interesting to one so young. Not only was Mrs. Bolden a really neat person, but her dog had just had puppies and the little girl had always wanted a puppy of her very own. A boy in her class, Bobby Freedman from down the road, had already gotten one. She was told, though, that the family already had a dog and they weren’t looking to get another one. Her father’s hunting dog, Sailor, was an outside dog that stayed tied to the shed so he wouldn’t run off after rabbits – he was nice, but not so much fun.

She sat lazily thinking about the wonder of puppies when the bus stopped at her house. Deep in thought, she wandered off the bus and was almost halfway up the driveway when she noticed the police cars. When she went inside, her mother and sisters were cleaning little circles of black dust off of everywhere. Their house had been robbed. That night, she overheard her father telling her mother that they needed a dog inside the house, and her mother mentioning Corky’s puppies. They were half purebred golden retriever and half purebred German Shepherd. Those puppies would make good house pets as well as good watchdogs when they grew up.

Within a week, the day of the puppy’s arrival came and she was so excited that she could barely sit still through her half-day of school. He was there when she got home – so small and brown with white paws and a white tummy. His fur was so soft and smelled so wonderful everyone fell in love with that pup almost immediately. There was a great debate on what to name him but the white blaze on the back of his neck was in the perfect shape of an arrow, and thus Arrow was named. Her oldest sister gave him the middle name of Bohemian Rhapsody, which the girl didn’t understand and thought was silly, but the name stuck.

He wasn’t an indoor dog at first because mom didn’t want him to piddle on the carpet, but after weeks of being snuck into the house by her older siblings, Arrow inserted his way into his home. The little girl wanted him to be her puppy, but was told that he was the family dog and belonged to everyone. The dog had different ideas and chose the middle child—a thirteen year old boy--as his owner. They were inseparable for the first five years of Arrow’s life, until the boy, Carl, became a man and joined the Air Force. The dog searched for him every day for weeks, but the boy never came home.

By this time, the girl was 11 and was exploring the countryside on her own. The dog resigned himself to the disappearance of the boy and chose the girl as his new owner. They tracked rabbits together and afterwards she would gently pick the burrs from his tail. They ran after butterflies together, and lay together in the tall grass. While she hunted for fossils in the landfill behind their home, he hunted for mice. They became the best of friends.

Arrow was the king of his kingdom. Other dogs in the area were few but they knew of Arrow and paid rightful homage to his property. As long as they remained on the road, Arrow had no quarrel with any of them, but step one paw off the road and there was hell to pay.

The dog and the girl lived an idyllic existence together in the fields and the woods until the girl became a woman and left for college. Every day he searched for her as he had for the boy, but she never returned and he was too old to change owners again. He contented himself by living in the house of the girl and her brother before her - keeping her parents company as they too grew old. He knew that his bones ached too much and that his hearing wasn’t quite as keen as in his youth. He stayed close to the house and let the rabbits do their running without him.

One night in November 1988 – two weeks before Thanksgiving – Arrow asked to be let out of the house and was granted his wish. He never returned.

The girl found him the following spring. He is buried where he lay near the fields they both loved so much.

Just before the girl left Michigan, she found a nest of baby rabbits and raised them until they could fend for themselves. She took them back to the old homestead and released them into Arrow’s field as homage to her dearest friend. The girl can now content herself with remembering that noble dog. To this day, he’s hunting rabbits in the fields that will always belong to him.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Soldier's End

("The Soldier" below was written in 1st person. Though this story is a continuance of that one, I changed the POV, so it is now in third.)

It was 1980 when things started to change. It was imperceptible to the little girl, but that was by design. There were some things that grown-ups had to deal with that weren’t meant for a little girl to know. Even now, she only vaguely remembers the beginning of it all. She doesn’t remember her dad leaving for a couple of days, only the homecoming. He looked very tired and very pale, but he said that he wouldn’t miss his son’s birthday, no matter what the doctors thought.

She remembers her father sitting on the ratty old green couch with her book on human anatomy and showing her and her siblings what was wrong with him and what the doctors would be doing to him on the day after Carl’s birthday. Double-bypass, she heard. Daddy’s heart was born wrong and it wasn’t working right any more. Part of it was dead, he told them. That didn’t make any sense to the little girl, so she shrugged and went out to play. Later she heard whispered conversations between her parents and whispered conversations between her siblings. Everyone was being so quiet. Daddy was going away for a little while, but that was okay because he went away for days due to his job. It was no big deal. Late that night she heard her father whispering to her mother, when they thought she was in bed and asleep, the story of how his father had died when he was 10 and he was damned if he was going to do that to the little girl.

He survived that operation and was the big strong daddy she always remembered. No more tired and no more pale. He was going to live forever; she never doubted that for an instance. She didn’t understand why daddy had to get a new job. She didn’t understand why her daddy’s boss had come to the hospital and fired her daddy while he lay in his hospital bed. She only understood that for a while they had to live cheaply. It wasn’t a big deal; they had done it before.

Good ol’ Chuck wasn’t down long. He took another job – not as profitable, with less responsibility – and he was working again. One day, though, he decided that he’d had enough of living by the say-so of other men. He started his own business so that no man would ever be able to tell him what to do again. She was 13 now and she understood that they would have to live cheaply again. Rather than live too cheaply, she took jobs of her own.

Her father worked long and hard hours, but the money never came home. Everything he made went back into that company. She damned the company and her father for having to work herself. She heard whispered conversation of a job offer in Wisconsin that would bring in $70,000 a year, but that her father wouldn’t accept. He would never again work for someone else.

She never saw the change happening this time. The days when her father was too tired and too pale to go to work but went anyway. She was away at college. She got a call that he needed surgery again. The warranty ran out on his heart and he needed a quadruple this time. She was told that everything would be fine and there was no need to come home. She took it at face value and stayed at school. The surgery was a success and everything was fine, she was told.

Within 6 months, she received another call. Another surgery for her father – the arteries in his neck were blocked. Another success and everything was fine, she was told.

The next call 6 months later came as a shock. Her father was in the hospital and they didn’t know what was wrong with him, but everything was fine. Her father would be fine. They didn’t tell her the horrors of his illness; they didn’t tell her he was at death’s door. She was told to stay at school – there was nothing she could do and her father would be fine. When Christmas break came, she went home to find a man who was a shell of the big and strong father she always knew. A rare and bizarre disease had eaten him to nearly nothing. His kidneys had failed; his lungs were damn near shot. He no longer walked – he shuffled. The girl was 21.

Dialysis was hard on the old man, but he was told it would be. He was given 6 years to live if he didn’t get a transplant and he was told that they wouldn’t give him a transplant because he wasn’t a good candidate. His brother offered; his children offered. He turned them all down. He knew his chances at success weren’t worth their suffering.

He sat in that dialysis chair three times a week, watching his friends there die one by one. He didn’t want to go that way. He had things to live for. He picked one goal after another to live for – his daughter graduating college, his grandson graduating high school, his new granddaughter. Each goal for someone else became his connection with life.

She was in Florida when the next call came. He was going in for tests – cancer they said. Inoperable, they said, because of his poor health. They gave him 6 months in July of 2001.

It was May of 2002 when the old man chose to end his life. No need for any assistance, really, just a refusal to go to dialysis. He made all his plans in secret and then, just a few days before they were put into action, explained them to his wife. Joan understood. She had watched the pain and the deterioration for years. His children understood. On Friday he went through his last dialysis. On Saturday, his son took him fishing one last time. All of his children called him on that day, and he said goodbye to each of them. He spoke of looking forward to fishing with his father again.

When he entered a hospice the next day, he was told that it could be one week or two before the end would come but that he would never feel it. They made him comfortable and gave him morphine so that he would sleep. It took 36 hours. He was finally ready to go. He made his peace with the world and with himself.

Knowing that it was coming didn’t make it any easier when the phone rang late on the night of Monday, May 6th 2002. Joan was with him when he left, but he never saw her.

Before his passing, the little girl – now a grown woman with a family of her own – wrote him one final letter. It arrived on that last Saturday and Joan read it to him before he passed. He’s with her now and always – in her make-up and in her memories. He’s with his granddaughter through her mother. In this way, he will live forever.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Soldier

My father was born in a house in Melvindale - a suburb of Detroit - after the depression and before the second world war. He was the last of the four children of Bruno (years later found to actually be named Wilhelm) - a German immigrant. Bruno was a hard working fellow - the first police chief of the tiny city of Melvindale (or so the legend goes) who was working in the salt mines when my father was born. My father was born 15 years behind his next oldest sibling, and well past his mother's good birthing years. He was a frail and sickly little babe who was kept in a box by the stove so he would stay warm and live. My father spent the next ten years being told he was sickly and doing his damnest to prove that he wasn't. When his father died (who ever heard of someone dying from an appendicitis?), his days of being coddled were over. His two oldest sisters were long since married and moved away; his brother, who was closest in age, was in the military. At ten years old, Charlie was the man of the house. So, he worked and went a private Lutheran school (though lord knows where they got the money) to help with the bills and keep food on the table.

A junior in high school, with Valparaiso College already begging him to come and promising a scholarship for his beautiful voice, his mother took ill and could no longer help will the bills. Taking up the reins, and letting go of his dream, he quit school to take a full time job and support his mother. Now, this boy was as quick as whip with wit just as biting and the mean streets of Detroit were his home and his battleground. He fought hard but that boy kept on learning - trading book smarts for street smarts. He got in some bad scrapes and when he could see that every day meant that he had to fight in order to live but that fighting could mean dying, he joined the Air Force. And a meaner old son of a gun soldier you never would see in your life.

It happened one day that this soldier was home on leave and some of his old friends took him to the drive-in restaurant down in Wyandotte for a burger. He never knew what hit him when he saw her - a tall and buxom brown-haired beauty. They dated during the time he was on leave - only a couple of weeks really - and then he was headed back to Chanute AFB in Rantoul, IL. It couldn't have been more than a couple of days when who should appear but Joan - that beautiful lady from back home. He was thrilled and depressed all at once. Here she was, this girl from the good side of the tracks - smart and pretty; here he was, the boy from the gutter - battle-torn and a drop-out. He decided at once that it would never work out, so he turned her around and put her right back on a bus bound for home. Now, Chuck - as his friends always called him - was smarter than he thought, and Joan was tougher than he realized. Ten minutes after he put her on that bus, he realized what a stupid thing he had done, and when he caught up with her he found that she knew what he had done was stupid because she was already making plans to turn around again.

Her parents were horrified; his mother was aghast. They were married in a small civil ceremony on the airbase; their wedding party consisted of 20 airmen and my mother's best friend - Ellen. No family was present and none was needed.

Within a year, Billy was born and less than a year after him, Lee Ann. My father was shipped to France and my mother followed - with babes in tow - across the Atlantic. In France, there came Carl and orders to ship back to the states - to Idaho. My father shipped out and my mother followed - with 3 babes in tow and another on the way. In Idaho came Janet and my father's decision that military life was more than their growing family could bear. He left the service and moved home to Michigan. Almost five years later, Chuck came home with an idea in his head and a gleam in his eye. Joan had made it clear that four children were enough for her, but Chuck had different ideas.

Strangely enough, I was the only one my mother ever named.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Being a Toad

I admit it. I've been a toad. I haven't written anything, edited anything or done anything really constructive for about a week. It's gotten to the point where I haven't even written a blog post since Saturday.

I haven't really put my finger on the cause of this whole lack of motivation, but I'm working on it. I mean, it's not like I haven't done anything at all. Just that I haven't done any writing work or housework. Most of last week was spent shoveling snow. (And the little voice at the back of my head says "Excuses, excuses, excuses".)

Part of the problem, and I'd like to think I'm not alone in this, is that I poured myself out into book three--working at a faster pace than usual--and now I've got the rather daunting task of editing ahead of me. (If you've ever tried to edit even a short piece, you get an idea of what I'm talking about. Now take that short piece and think of it in terms of almost 68,000 words.)

Maybe I'm making too much of this. It's not like I haven't edited two books already. Although, for some reason, this one seems harder. Perhaps it's because 'Blink' is a break away from my previous genres. The first two books were 'thrillers'. This one is a 'sci-fi'/literary. (Think Fahrenheit 451 or Anthem.)

I'll get back to it. Come to think of it, I gave myself a much longer simmer period for the first two books before I jumped into editing. Could be a case of pushing myself too hard, too fast.

I'll let you know how it goes from here.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Giftmas Eve Eve

Only two shopping days left until Christmas, or as I think of it, Giftmas. It's the one time of the year we loosen up the purse strings and let loose with presents for each other. It's our yearly reward to ourselves for all of our hard work.

Giftmas is the perfect time of the year to look backwards over your year and celebrate your accomplishments. In the spirit of this, I'd like to remember some of the things we did this year for which we so richly deserve rewards. This year, we:

  • Paid off all our credit cards. (Yay, us!)
  • Began saving for retirement!

This year I:

  • Completed a novel - "Caldera", which was started in 2004.
  • Finished the first draft of my third novel - "Blink".
  • Re-edited my first novel ("Spectacle") and began resubmitting it for representation.
  • Began submitting short stories and poems to lit journals.
  • Homeschooled my daughter to the successful completion of 7th grade, and the first half of 8th grade. (With the CSAP scores to back it up.)
  • Celebrated my 2nd anniversary with the most awesome man in the world.

My husband spent the year busting his butt at work, and bringing home his most excellent paycheck for doing so (although, it can never match what he's worth). I have been spending this month showering him with wonderful yummy treats and little gifts to show how much I appreciate his value to me.

My daughter has also busted her hiney this year, learning lots for school and trying to develop an exercise routine. She's doing very well, and she'll be getting plenty of rewards under the tree this year. Also, she made it to the regional Spelling Bee last spring, and although she went out on an easy word due to nerves, we're very proud of her.

Please, as you read this, take some time to think about the accomplishments, and then treat yourself heartily and without reserve during this holiday season.

Lit Agent X Post

While catching up with my favorite blogs this morning, I ran across an excellent post by agent Rachel Vater (Lit Agent X) that I thought was worth linking to. If you haven't read it yet, here's Consolation and Inspiration for frustrated writers. (Thanks to Ms. Vater for writing it.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Okay. Not much here of interest to the writing world today. We just got what they have coined as "The Blizzard of 2006". (Not original but accurate.) So, after spending nearly the whole day shoveling out from under 2 ft of snow, I am officially too pooped to blog.

In honor of spending some time doing absolutely nothing useful online, I would like to invite you to a little site I came across (from the wonderful people at Bored.com)...

Virtual Relaxation


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Two Down (aka Update)

Last night I received a rejection from Glimmertrain for my piece "The Mirror". This follows a rejection from The Pedestal Magazine on my piece "Haudego". Glimmertrain still has my piece "Fire" and Ploughshares still has my poem "The World is Mine", so there's hope. I'll be spending some time today looking for a new home for the rejected pieces and for another piece I haven't sent out yet. I'm not sweating the rejections. After all, I picked some of the most selective magazines to submit to. (Hey! I believe one should always start at the top and work your way down. You'll never now how high you could have gone if you start too far down the list.)

It all comes down to two things: finding the right places to send a particular piece, and sending it out to as many of them as possible. If you target your markets properly, and write the best work possible, you'll eventually make a sale. And in the meantime, write write write. Polish your stuff; write more stuff; polish that, too; research markets. And submit. (Lather rinse repeat as needed.)

Today looks like a good day for getting some work done, especially as my little corner of the world looks like it's enclosed in a snow-globe. I won't be driving anywhere any time soon. My little car would get stuck in no time. So the schedule for the day is writing and teaching and more writing.

Back later. =oD

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Writing a Synopsis

Let's say you've finished writing your novel. One of the first things you need to do (after you've edited the hell out of it and it shines like the top of the Chrysler Building), is to write a synopsis.

Okay, the general concensus about synopses is they suck. How do you take a 100K word novel and smoosh it down to a page or two (at most)? As horrible as they are, they are quite necessary if your goal is securing representation, or even to go directly to publishers. So the sooner we all master them, the better our lives will be.

After a long and arduous Google search, I found the following which I thought was helpful:

http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/synopsis.html "Mastering the Dread Synopsis"

You can also find help by reading through Miss Snark's Crapometer postings. The current one is about how to write a hook, so you may want to skim through the archives of her past contests.

As I prepare to edit draft 1 of book 3, I'm not really worried about doing a synopsis yet, but I know as soon as I'm through, I'll be working on it.

Good luck and success to you all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Memoir Writing

Over the years I've played with the idea of writing my memoirs. (Gads, that sounds pretentious.) I know memoirs are hard to sell. I know that every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks they have something important to share about their lives, but most of them don't. Still, the idea persists.

As you may have gleaned from "Remembering is the Hardest Part" below, I'm a TBI survivor. (Traumatic Brain Injury for the uninitiated.) While there are a great deal of TBI survivors roaming the world, not many of them have the ability to write their own stories, so I would at least be able to provide some insight. (Of course, a quick search at Amazon brought up a couple TBI memoirs written from the POV of the survivor. Not that I thought I was the only one... Just that it's rare.)

The question in my mind is whether I should put forth the effort to write the whole sordid story down, or whether I should just stick to writing fiction. It's not like a burning need to tell my story; just a wish to help others who have gone through the process. A voice for those who cannot talk, if you will. Somewhere in there, there's also a need to throw a big spotlight on some of the things they are doing wrong with TBI patients, so maybe others won't have to go through some of the crap I had to put up with.

Anyhoo, it's just a thought. I'm between books right now, and trying to determine what the next project is going to be. I have several novel ideas floating around, and this one non-fiction.

My college English professor (may he rest in peace) always warned us not to write a story we were too close to. Too close and you lose your objectivity. I may be too close to this one, even after 12 years, to present the most objective view of the events. Maybe someday.

Writing Related?

It occured to me this morning, after my last post, that it may seem like I'm not strictly sticking to my original mission--to muse about my craft. I wonder the same thing when I wander through the threads at AW. Not everything there seems like it's related to writing, and much of it seems incredibly unnecessary in the scheme of writing.

In my own defense, the non-writing related articles posted here are just me working on some non-fiction--OpEds, essays, personal opinion pieces, etc. (I won't go into my thoughts on the off-topic stuff at AW. To each his own.)

I'll have tidbits about damn near everything on here at one time or another, and if one subject begins to take over the writing related blogging, I'll split the whole topic off into another blog.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy what you read here. I know I enjoy writing it. (and after all, that's really what this whole thing is about.)

Dyslexia (Part 2)

I wish I had the original essay I wrote about this, but the damned computer crashed and I lost not only the essay but all the replies to it.

So, to continue...

Why do I care? Because if just one child can be saved from the difficulties dyslexics face, I'll be a happy woman. Because, believe it or not, I generally care about mankind. And because I rabidly detest what has happened to education over the past 100 years or so.

So, if dyslexia is a man-made disease, brought on by poor teaching methods, what can be done to stop it?

One word: PHONICS

I've had a slew of arguments about this topic. Lots of hand waving about how the English language isn't completely phonetic, and some word just HAVE to be memorized. I'll allow that. (I'd be an idiot not to.) But throwing out teaching phonics because not every word is phonetic is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Most words adhere to some kind of rules. Sure learning the rules isn't always easy, but it's certainly better than trying to guess at the thousands of words you haven't memorized.

It's no wonder some kids' brains get screwy.

Now, there's also research that says dyslexia is biological. Something about brain chemistry in dyslexics being different than in non-dyslexics. To be juvenile, let me say: well, duh. Everything we learn and everything we experience is coded into our brains using... you guessed it... chemicals. So, if things get written in your brain wrong, the chemistry in your brain is going to be different than someone who's had the things written in there correctly. I'd venture the brain chemistry of an adult who's never been taught to read is vastly different from one who has. (I'd say venture, because once again, I am not a scientist. If someone has verifiable proof to the contrary, please let me know.)

And once you reach adulthood, your brain is pretty much set in stone, unless you find a way to damage it somehow. (More about that topic later.) So, once you've got dyslexia, it's yours for life. Kinda makes you want to slap John Dewey upside the head with a two-by-four, don't it?

(Stay tuned for a rant on progressive education.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Happy Hooker

Well, last night was the time to submit for Miss Snark's semi-annual Crapometer contest (this time is aka The Happy Hooker). And after working hard on a hook for my first novel, I completely forgot about submitting it.

I'm not totally bummed though. At least the idea of it helped me write a hook I can proudly send out to potential agents and publishers. Plus, I now have a better idea of what a hook looks like so I can produce hooks for my other books as well.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the buzz-phrases of writing, a hook is like a blurb paragraph used to attract readers. Think of it like the paragraph on the back cover of a novel you would be interested in buying. You pick the book up, read the back cover and based on that one little paragraph, you either buy it or you put it back on the shelf and look for another likely candidate for your purchase. Agents and publishers are no different. You only have about a paragraph to convince them to read more of your work.

To use an analogy, finding an agent/publisher like speed dating. You only have one shot to attract the opposite sex, or they move on to the next candidate. You can either put the best possible you out there, or you can throw on a housecoat and hope they'll see you for the wonder you are (despite the ratty hair and bunny-slippers). If you can get them interested up front, you have a better chance they'll get to know you better.

So anyway... Since I screwed up and forgot, here's the hook I worked so hard on:

"After news breaks of a comet’s collision course with Earth, Dr. Michael Montgomery has proof the comet is harmless, but when his data threatens to interfere with Dr. Kingsley Hall’s plans to manipulate a nation drowning in fear, Michael’s attempts to divulge the truth are blocked. Discredited by his peers and disgraced by the media, his last chance is Alexandra McKenzie, a reporter with the integrity to risk her job and the courage to risk her life. In a fight for the truth, Michael and Alex find themselves battling men who would rather see civilization destroyed than lose their control over it. In a Spectacle of this magnitude, the real danger lies not in a comet’s path but in mankind’s ignorance of the facts."

I've got this out to one agent right now. Let's hope she likes it as much as I do.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dyslexia (Part 1)

Years ago, when I was in college, I dated a guy who had dyslexia. He had a horrible time in college, in every subject except his major: Computer Programming. He was a guru in that area. Where the letters got jumbled up in regular English, they were absolutely clear in any programming language. Rexx, Cobol, etc. flowed easily through his mind, but give him a book, and he was lost.

I thought about this for many years. How could a disorder which jumbles letters up in a person’s head confuse everything but computer language?

A few years back, I worked for a private school system and part of my job was doing research for the president of the company. During some research on progressive education, I took it upon myself to look into the history of dyslexia. I found some very interesting information. For instance, dyslexia was almost unheard of prior to the early 20th century. And it is primarily an American problem (or if not strictly America, then more concentrated in English-speaking nations).

Hmmm. Oddly enough, round about the onset of dyslexia came the push for ‘whole language’ learning in America. (Or look-say reading… Or word-guessing, if you will.)

Now, my college psychology professor was always fond of saying “Correlation is not causation”. While this is 100% true, it doesn’t mean one should never consider correlation when looking for a cause. So I followed the trail. As early as the 1920s word-guessing was being pushed as the best way to teach children to read. Dyslexia cases grew during this time. Then in the ‘50s, word-guessing fell out of favor. New cases of dyslexia fell during this time. Word-guessing came back in the ‘70s and guess what? Dyslexia cases rose along with it.

A big flashing light bulb went off over my head.

That’s one hell of a correlation to be just coincidence. So I scoped the internet to see if anyone else had seen the light bulb, and I found an article by Sam Blumenfeld. Huzzah! (I can’t find the original article any longer, but there’s a reproduction of it here: http://www.home-school.com/Articles/BlumenfeldDyslexia.html ) I don’t agree with everything he says, but he’s so much closer than 99% of the so-called educators out there, I was cheering in my chair.

What did I do with this? I sent a post to a mailing list I used to belong to. I got some excellent feedback, and a few nasty-grams from people who were… you guessed it… Educators. The best thing about it all was: it got picked up by a gentleman in NYC who is now using this knowledge to push for reform in his area.

Why am I posting about it now? As a lesson for all of us, once again, to look for the causes behind what people are saying, to research everything thoroughly, and to stick to your guns even when your theories go against the norm.

(More on this topic later…)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Consider the Source

My friend Teddy posted an excellent entry today on his blog Cobwebs of the Mind that got me to thinking about the myriad of sites and blogs out there offering advice to writers. He takes to task one particularly nasty supposed-agent whose main mission in life seems to be utter crassness. C'est le vie. I stumbled across this spewage a while back, read one post and dismissed the blogger as infantile. With the rise of the blogosphere, everyone and anyone can post whatever they like with no fear of reprisal. Especially when it is anonymous. (And I applaud Teddy for having the courage to shun anonymity.)

So what does a writer do when he's searching the web for useful information and runs up against blogs like the aforementioned? The best advice I can give you is the same advice my father gave me, and although the context is different, the value of the advice is the same...

Consider the source.

When you read anything written by anyone, ask yourself what you can discern about this person and their character. From that you can consider the source of their writings and accept or dismiss them as necessary. I like Teddy because his posts are insightful and intelligent. I like Snark for the same reasons. Although I very frequently disagree with Snark in her personal philosophies, I haven't yet disagreed with her business philosophies. And whether you want to think of writing in those terms or not, it is a business. If the blogger mentioned above behaved IRL the way he behaves online, he wouldn't be doing much business at all.

Since this is a business, is that really the type of person you want to take advice from?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

So, I wrote another book.

Most likely what will happen now is, I'll tell people I wrote another book and they'll ask me why I wrote another one when the first two haven't sold yet. (Unless they got the point after the last time when I tried to explain the process.)

I think people outside the writing life don't fully understand what the whole thing is about. Thus the attitude I mentioned above. To the outside world, you write a book and if it's any good, it gets published. No muss, no fuss... Boom. Publication. They don't understand that it might take years to get the right agent. They don't understand why an agent is necessary at all. They think all you have to do is send it to a publisher, and the publisher prints it. Maybe that's why scam houses like PublishAmerica suck so many hopeful writers in, and scam agencies prey on the uninitiated. I know I assumed the process would be so much easier than it has been. (And yes, I even considered PA for a short time.)

So, if you know a writer, be encouraging. Ask them about their work sincerely, and don't wonder why they are still churning out manuscripts when the first ones haven't sold. That is part of the process, too. Writers write. Sounds obvious, but it bears saying. If each writer waited the interminable amount of time it takes for publication before they began another work, they'd be wasting their abilities.

And if you are a writer, don't let the rejections get you down. They are all part of the business. Everyone gets them. (Okay, almost everyone.) Finish one book and work on the next; improve your craft and develop the thickest skin you can manage. If you work hard, and stay on course, the rejections will someday turn into acceptances.

Good luck and success to us all.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

First Draft of Novel #3 Complete

Well folks. I did it. The first draft of #3 is in the can. Now I can let it simmer a bit, and then forge my way through the editing phase. There's a lot to do in that quarter, let me tell you. I've been busting my hump at a breakneck pace for the past month or so, and it was a matter of 'damn the torpedos'. So, while I am pleased with the final outcome of the novel, I know I have to go back and rewrite the beginning. (Plus fix quite a few passages where I was going so fast, trying to get the ideas out on paper, I may not have placed the best prose out on the page.)

Should be fun.

And once I get the editing underway, I may jump into the idea I have for #4. (I've already started it, but I need to outline it before I get too far.)


Lesson Learned

I learned a lesson years ago, or at least I thought I had--Never offer your writings up to be read until you have let them simmer, re-read them, thought about them carefully, and then edited them thoroughly. I don't know why I thought writings for this blog were somehow outside that lesson. So, I posted what I thought was a cogent and reasonable blog entry yesterday.

And it is why I deleted it this morning.

Part of the reason I go through the whole simmer, stir, taste, revise, etc. thing is so I don't put my foot in my mouth. Another part is so I don't end up looking and feeling like an idiot. But the biggest part of it is so I don't tarnish myself as a writer.

Blogging is no different than writing an essay for publication. If I wouldn't feel comfortable sending something to CapMag (for example) than I shouldn't plop it down here.

To any of you who read yesterday's post: I apologize. It won't happen again.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Remembering is sometimes the hardest part

It was the weirdest dream she’d ever had. She was in a room she’d never seen before, lying in a bed that wasn’t hers – the walls were yellow and she could make out a window on her right. Second later, she was in a different room and a different bed – the walls were green now and the window was on the left. People she knew came in and left; people she didn’t know came in and left, It was like a movie being played on fast forward and reminded her of that time in college when she’d tried pot. The room shifted to blue and the windows switched sides again. The people were moving slower now and she could almost make out the words they were saying.

Then she awoke in a room she didn’t know, in a bed that wasn’t hers. It was like the last part of the dream. Except that when she tried to move there was pain – tremendous pain. She didn’t remember any pain in the dream. She felt around on the side of the bed for the button she knew (but didn’t know how she knew) was there. Minutes later a woman came in. This woman was talking to her as if they knew one another, but she couldn’t remember ever meeting the woman. From the way the woman was dressed, she could only be a nurse and she crossed to a machine beside the bed. She pushed a button on the machine and turned to take the patient’s blood pressure.

“Who are you?” The woman in the bed asked.

The nurse smiled at her in an odd way – it reminded the woman of how people reacted when her cousin Terry – who was a mongoloid – asked questions. “You remember me. My name is Sherri.” As Sherri wrapped the cuff around the patient’s arm, she began asking questions – silly questions.

“What year is this?”


Sherri wrote a note on the chart she held. “Close. It’s 1994. Do you know what day it is?”

“Not really.”

“It’s January 28th.” Sherri said cheerfully. “Do you know who the president is?”

This one she was sure of, “Ronald Reagan,” she replied.

The nurse smiled in a way that the woman now knew she wasn’t right. “OK. Today we’re going to get you out of bed and get you cleaned up. You’re starting therapy today.”

The woman remembered what had happened the last time she had tried to move. “I can’t get out of bed.”

“Sure you can. I’ll help you. Remember how we got out of bed yesterday and went for a walk?”

Walking reminded the woman of something. “I need a cigarette.”

Sherri laughed. “Well, you know it’s been a couple weeks since you had one. You ought to think about quitting.”

While she mulled this new information over in her head, the nurse moved a wheelchair into position next to the bed and helped her into it. It hurt like hell, but she was too busy trying to think of something important to notice much. The nurse rolled her through the room and into the bathroom. Pausing at the sink she pointed to the items around it, “You’re mom brought your things from home. I’ll bet that you’ll be happy to brush your hair and teeth after all this time. I’ll leave you to do that and if you need any help, just press the button on the wall. When you’re finished, we’ll get those hospital clothes off and get you into the shower. You can change into some real clothes when you’re finished. Your mom brought you some clothes, too.”

The woman was trying desperately hard to take all of this in. It didn’t seem real and she wondered if she were still in that horrible and weird dream. As she heard the door close behind her, she glanced up into the mirror above the sink and looked at herself for the first time in weeks. She didn’t look right – too thin and too pale – but it was the red line extending from her eyebrow to her cheekbone that caught her attention the most. She began to cry.

It wasn’t a dream. She was in the hospital. She remembered someone telling her that she had been in a car accident; she remembered that her leg had been broken – and other things.

She looked into the mirror again and saw this pale and pitiful thing looking back at her. She stopped crying and resolved to beat this thing. When the nurse came back, she was brushed and ready to take what she knew must come next. In the shower she saw the rest of the damage, but screwed her courage up determined not to cry. Crying didn’t solve anything and she knew that there were things that needed solving.

The nurse had laid her things out along the bed. Now here were some things she recognized – clothes she had bought for when she was pregnant… “Where is my baby?” she asked.

“She’s with your mother and father. Remember?”

She didn’t remember, but she was satisfied with the answer. They finished getting her dressed and she was rolled along to the elevator and the therapy rooms downstairs. “I need a cigarette.” She explained. She reminded her again that it had been weeks since she’d had a cigarette. “Listen. To me, it’s only been a couple days. Is there a way I can have a cigarette?”

As the elevator doors closed, the nurse told her. “There’s no smoking in the hospital, but after you’re finished with therapy, I’ll take you out back to the employee smoking area. You can have one of mine and maybe when your mom comes later, she can bring you some.”

During therapy, she asked many questions – questions that she had the feeling had been asked and answered many times before. She found out that she had been in a car accident on January 11th. She heard, although she didn’t believe it, that she had run a red light and been broadsided. The speech therapist (Speech therapy? I don’t have a problem speaking.) told her that she had sustained a traumatic brain injury and that speech therapy wasn’t just for speaking problems, but also to assist with memory problems. The last thing she remembered – and even that was fuzzy – was New Years Eve, so that made sense. She’d get that fixed and she’d be fine.

In physical therapy, she learned that she had broken her thigh near her hip joint and the scars were from the surgery to repair her. She also learned that she had broken her pelvis and her collar bone – but neither of those hurt much any longer. In physical therapy, she also discovered her goal. She decided that she would get out of the wheelchair and walk like any normal person, but that was going to take a lot of work.

Later that day, her parents arrived. They looked tired, but they seemed cheerful. With them, they brought a baby. It was kinda cute, but she was never much on babies. Then she remembered that it was her baby. As she held the gurgling bundle on her lap, her mother explained the events of her car accident and that her daughter had already been dropped off at the daycare when the accident happened. For the first time, the woman talked to her mother as if she were sane again and her mother looked relieved. She learned much later that for the past 17 days, although she had seemed conscious, she hadn’t acted like herself.

She set about learning everything there was to know about her injuries and her condition. She asked endless questions of the doctors and the nurses and the therapists, but now when she asked the questions, she remembered the answers.

She was released from the hospital on February 23rd – still in her wheelchair and still in therapy. Most of the people she encountered were kind and she progressed rapidly – all things considered. She knew that the only way to get better was to work hard, so she worked harder than she ever had in her life. She graduated from wheelchair to walker and walker to cane within two months, but she still wasn’t normal. Her short-term memory was good; her middle length memory wasn’t; her long term memory was swiss cheese. She couldn’t reason very well, and she found abstract concepts confusing. Her math skills – never very good – were shot to hell.

A sickly-sweet therapist talked to her like Mr. Rogers would talk to a five-year old. She went to the manager of the therapy branch and promptly fired the old bitty from her case.

A sickly-sweet social worker told her gently that she shouldn’t consider going back to her old job and should consider maybe working as a clerk or a gardener. She fired the social worker and told the manager that if she had to have ‘sessions’ she would work with a real psychologist, thank you very much. They contacted the neuro-psychologist she’d had in the hospital and he came over once a week to talk with her.

She rallied together the people in her group therapy sessions – the ‘higher level’ TBI patients, they were called – and they held their own bull sessions outside in the garden. More psychological therapy occurred out there than had ever occurred in group.

In computer therapy, she taught herself MS Word (for DOS) and designed the new ‘patient guide’ – by patients for patients. In physical therapy, she became a cheerleader for anyone who was having a tougher time than she. Throughout the building she became a mentor for the newer patients, and a confidant for the ones who had been there longer – some of them in therapy for years. She planted marigolds in the garden and sweetpeas in the window boxes.

Every day, her mind and her body healed – albeit slowly.

The memory still fails her now and again. The worst damage was to her childhood, but she learned that the memories were still there, even if the old paths were washed away. If she works hard enough she builds new path to the old memories. She learned tools for improving her memory, for improving her mind, and where a tool didn’t exist, she created one of her own.

The scars are still there – now faded and white – and the weather reminds her every now and again of why they are there. The outward visible signs are few – the limp comes rarely and the scar near her eye is small – in the words of a friend it makes her face look cool.

In the havoc created by a lack of attention on the way to work, she learned what she was made of.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Writing Update #1

Well, I got my first rejection from a literary journal. It wasn't an unexpected thing, so I'm not crushed. I got used to rejections after the first round of submissions for my first novel. Truth be told, it probably wasn't my best piece, and shame on me for submitting less than the best work I can do. But it was one of my first forays into the literary journal world, and thus a learning experience.

To keep any of my faithful blog readers (if I have any) up to date: I currently have 2 stories submitted to Glimmertrain, and a poem submitted to Ploughshares. This on top of the queries out for novel #2 (Caldera), including a partial request I'm waiting to hear back on. And the one outstanding query for novel #1 (Spectacle), based on a referral. (Oh, and I also have a query out to a publisher, but I think that may be lost in the e-query system, so I'm not holding my breath.)

Novel #3, affectionly known only as "Blink" is almost through its first draft stage, which means I'm 65.5K words into it and am wrapping up the plot.

I'm also searching for a home for another short, and as soon as I find the right one, it's out of here. The rejected short probably needs work, so it'll sit on my harddrive until I can figure out where it went wrong. (I'm not saying that after one rejection you should re-write any manuscript. I just know it's missing something important.)

This past week, I've been a slug. I promised myself at least 500 words a day, and up until now I've been right on track. My only excuse is the holidays are distracting me. (And the truth is, I've been watching too damn much TV again.) Now, tonight, I have a x-mas party to attend, and so that pretty much washes out tonight's 500 as well.

Such is the life of a SAHM, writer and wife.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

The Dryness

(Submitted to a writing contest 1/13/05. I'm not dried out anymore, but I know it hits us all at one time or another. If you are stuck in the wastelands... You are not alone.)

I’m dried out. With the first novel finished, the novels that for months were pushing and shoving each other to get out of my head have somehow shriveled up. Where once my head was a veritable flood of writing—each whispering stream of characterization and babbling brook of imagery and roaring river of plot sweeping down the banks of my creativity—now there is only dust. Where once I could close my eyes each night to see towering cities with their gleaming skyscrapers and verdant forests with their sparkling pools, I now see only desolate plains and barren desert. It has all drifted away—crisp images made blurry like a mirage on the dunes.

I’ve edited and re-edited a thousand times—to get the juices flowing—but I’m dry. I’ve read and re-read a thousand articles and stories—to prime the pump—but the well is empty. I’ve begged my muse to quench me, but she only whispers softly in my ear—“I’m thirsty, too.”

On those arid days when she could not make the words flow, my favorite author played solitaire until her head began to fill up with the stories once more. I’ve played solitaire until my hands are numb, to no avail. My mind is still the baked clay of a desiccated riverbed. Other authors loosen up their constipated creativity by walking, but the high desert with its flat scrubby-ness only seems to suck my inspiration drier. Each little step in this Indian dance designed to bring back the fluidity of my craft, instead calls up a sandstorm of distraction.

I miss the flood when the first book rushed out of my hands and over the screen, pouring out each word from an endless pitcher. I miss the purposeful rush of scenes, like the gushing of a hose directed to make things grow. So I sit at my keyboard day after day typing just to hear the drips of my keys clicking—giving myself the illusion of rain while I try to find a crystal clear spring to tap.

I tell myself that this isn’t a drought. A drought is something that is brought on, and therefore ended, by something outside my control. This is only a dam. Somewhere along the streams and rivulets of my work, there is a blockage that I built and therefore have the means to destroy. When the dam finally breaks, there will be a deluge.

In the distance I can almost hear the steady trickle of it now.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

A Curiosity

While shopping at Wally World for all my x-mas presents, I happened upon a curious sight. I was waiting in pet supplies for someone to help me get a new kitty-condo from the top shelf, when a bird flew up and landed on a bag of cat food not ten feet from where I stood. As luck would have it, he was actually in the correct aisle for his shopping needs. (For some bizarre reason, the cat food and the bird food are in the same aisle.) Why a male house sparrow would be in a department store escapes me. Perhaps he was prepping for the holidays himself. After all, he sat there looking at the bags of bird seed, as if he were comparison shopping, while I stood there watching him, wondering if I was the only one to witness this odd thing. And then, before I knew it he was gone.

Happy Holidays, Mr. Sparrow. (And thank you for keeping me company while I was waiting.)

Now, the moral to this story is: With all the racing around most people do, few ever stop long enough to think, let alone witness a curiosity. As you all hustle through the holidays, take a moment to stop and look around. You never can tell what wonders might flitter through your life along the way.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Reflections From One Writer

After weeks, or months or years, sitting at your keyboard trying to get a story out of your head, you type those most wonderful words: The End. You’ve finished your first book! You feel like dancing around the house (and maybe you do, just because you can). You open a bottle of champagne (or a beer, or a bottle of Boones Farm) and bask in the glow of being amongst the few who started writing a book and actually finished it. Feeling pretty proud of yourself, you strut around your house like a god. (And why not? You should be damned proud of yourself because you have accomplished a great feat.)

But eventually, the inevitable question arises: What now?

Maybe you pick up The Writer’s Market and start attaching sticky notes to every agent who looks like they might represent you. You know you aren’t really sure what you’re doing, but you shrug and pick the one absolutely perfect agent who is certain to love your book as much as you do.

You read a little bit about what the agent wants you to send, mainly because you know there’s got to be some kind of procedure for this. Then you think to yourself: What in gods’ name is a query? You shrug and put together a reasonable looking business letter, and mail it off with a return envelope. (Assuming you’ve figured out what SASE stands for, that is.) Time passes and your envelope comes back. Your heart swells with expectation, never thinking its contents could be anything but glowing praise, only to find a nice letter inside telling you while your work isn’t for them, they’re sure you’ll find an agent in no time.

Bruised but not broken, you whip out your big book of agent names, and pick a few more. After all, Perfect Agent was sure one of his brethren would snap you right up. Same letter, different names and off they go into the blue box on the corner. And you wait.

A few more days (weeks, etc.) pass and all your little envelopes find their ways home with more rejections—all pretty much worded the same as the first. More queries go out; more rejections come back. You kick yourself, and cry a little maybe. You throw your big book of agents across the room, and curse the day they were born. You go through all the phases of loss: Anger, Denial, etc. until you get to the inevitable Acceptance.

You suck. Now you're cursing the day you were born.

Weeks go by, and dust covers your keyboard. You thought your words glowed like the sheen of love on a young girl’s face. Now you just think you’re a hack.

Finally, however, your creative juices reach their boiling point. You can’t take it anymore; you can’t NOT write, so you sit back down at your computer. You start writing your next book.

But your confidence is toast. When you started out the last time, you knew without a doubt that you could write. There was nothing to it, and the words flowed out of your fingers like a dam had burst somewhere along the Colorado River. Now, it’s like Death Valley.

Hopefully, a little light bulb goes off over your head. When you first started writing—way back when you were in 2nd grade and your teacher made you write about your summer vacation—you were learning how to put words together to make some kind of cohesive story. It was a learning process then; it is a learning process now.

Hopefully, a little voice in your head tells you to figure out what went wrong with the last book. You do some research. You pick a whole new list of agents who really do represent your genre. You find out what a real query letter looks like. You find out how to write something called a hook. You read everything you can get your grubby little hands on. When you’ve learned everything there is to know about the business, you try again.

In the meantime, maybe you realize your writing, as wonderful as it is, needs some fine tuning and a little more polish. While revising and editing your first book, you keep writing your second book, tweaking and shining until it really does glow. A short story or two come to mind, and you pour those words onto the paper while you mull over your novels.

You never quit. Because NOT writing would be like not breathing.

Maybe you’re still waiting for your acceptance letter to come. Maybe it’s waiting in line behind another slew of rejections. Or perhaps, it’s waiting because you just haven’t queried the right agent yet. But no matter what happens, if you’ve done your work, you have done your best to kick the obstacles out of your way. And you can come to realize no matter what has happened or will happen...

You are a writer.

Thinking Critically About Statistics

Every day we hear the television bark out statistics in order to sell a product, an idea or an ideology. Very rarely do we stop to consider what those statistics actually mean.

Anyone with a point to prove can use, abuse, and misuse statistics in the attempt to prove that point. The trick for us is determining whether the statistics being presented are factual or fictional. Fortunately, there is no trick to it. Evaluating statistics is just a matter of critical thinking: investigating facts and determining whether they support the conclusions being offered.

Take the so-called problem of deforestation. For instance: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in the year 2000, there were only 22,599,300 acres of forest in the U.S.[i] However, statistics from the United States Forest Service for the same year, state that there were 503,664,000 acres of federally-owned forest here.[ii] Furthermore, the U.N. presents their statistics in a manner to make them appear even worse. They list the numbers in hectacres – or hundred acres – making the number appear to be only 225,993.

From here, one might investigate the reason for these differences in data. Perhaps the United Nations and the U.S. Forest Service have different ideas of forestland. The FAO held a summit in 2002 during which they decided that the definition of ‘forest’ would include all natural growths of trees but “excludes stands of trees established primarily for agricultural production, for example fruit tree plantations. It also excludes trees planted in agroforestry systems.”[iii] Under that definition paper forests, citrus groves, orchards and lumbering sites are all excluded. The citrus groves in Florida alone amounted to 832,426 acres of trees[iv] uncounted by the FAO. It is certainly easier to convince the public of deforestation if only naturally occurring forests are counted.

Another instance of statistical skewing occurs when we attempt to investigate the numbers on mortality: According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) - a division of the Department of Health and Human Services: “In 2000 a total of 2,403,351 deaths occurred in the United States.” However, from the same site, if you add up the numbers of people who died in 2000 (according to the NCHS’s list of the Top 20 Leading Causes of Death) 4,143,878 died in 2000. [v] If we look further into the death statistics of the NCHS, we find that 1,435,952 people died of heart disease in 2000[vi]. Furthermore, if we look at American Heart Association (AHA) figures from the same year, only 945,836 people died of CVD (CardioVascular Disease)[vii]. Now one could dig deeper to see if the NCHS thinks heart disease and CVD are different things. Perhaps they have included deaths from other chest-related diseases. Maybe the AHA wants the world to think they’re doing their jobs so well that fewer people are dying. Maybe the NCHS wants the world to think that more people are dying of heart disease so that they can pass a bill outlawing fast food. Upon further investigation, the facts behind mortality statistics aren’t so bleak.

Statistics can be innocuous: 4 out of 5 dentists recommend this brand of gum, or 9 out of 10 doctors prefer that type of hemorrhoid cream; or statistics can be worrying: “Every three minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer”[viii], or “41,821 people were killed in auto accidents in 2000”[ix]. The point here is that in order to understand any statistics, one must research the sources of those statistics, consider the causes behind them, and judge whether the conclusions offered are valid. One must be prepared to investigate statistics and the assertions being made with them rather than just accepting them blindly or dismissing them outright.

Indeed, 10 out of 10 critical thinkers recommend it.

(Please note, this essay was written in 2003, so some of the links below may not be as correct as they were at that time.)
[i] http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/005/Y7581E/y7581e16.htm#TopOfPage
[ii] http://www.ncrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/gtr/gtr_nc219.pdf
[iii] http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/005/Y4171E/Y4171E10.htm#P1208_84442
[iv] Pg 29, http://www.nass.usda.gov/fl/citrus/cs00/cs0001.pdf
[v] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/default.htm
[vi] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/default.htm
[vii] http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=107
[viii] http://www.breastcancer.org/press_cancer_facts.html
[ix] http://www.car-accidents.com/pages/stats.html

Writing and Breathing

Yesterday, I was surfing through the threads at Absolute Write when I came across one about stupid things writers say (apparently a thread created in answer to one about stupid things people say to writers). As I was reading something struck me. One member said something about if she hears one more person say 'writing is like breathing' she's going to scream. The reason this struck me: this is something I have found myself saying--in fact, it's part of 'No More Excuses' below.

This got me to thinking: what about that particular statement anyone could find so irritating. It could be because it is an inaccurate analogy. Obviously, writing isn't exactly like breathing. I don't have to think about breathing; it's an unconscious, automatic act. Breathing requires no thought whatsoever, while writing takes a tremendous amount of thought and effort.

So if it isn't correct, why do I say it?

Because, to me, writing is something I do even when I'm not thinking about it. When my mind isn't occupied with other tasks, I'm thinking about writing. I think about writing as I'm falling to sleep at night. (I may even think about writing while I'm sleeping, but I don't remember my dreams anymore.) I edit scenes while I'm in the shower; I revise passages while I'm mowing the lawn. When I'm outside smoking, I run through dialogue aloud--which is something I'm sure my neighbors find a bit crazed. You don't always have to be sitting at your keyboard or with pen in hand scrawling out your manuscript to be moving your story forward.

So, while it is an inaccurate analogy (and when you think about isn't that phrase redundant?), it suits my purposes. Sorry, if that might be a bit irritating.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Familial Musings

I said I'd take a moment to post about my father. The problem is, in posting about my father, I'm likely to injure the feelings of other members of my family. I wouldn't hurt any of them if I could ever help it. So, the abbreviated version is simply this: I am my father's daughter, and although we rubbed each other the wrong way on many occasions, I suspect that was as much from our similar personalities than anything else. He had his way of thinking about things, and I have mine. In many ways, he taught me more about life than almost anyone else, and in the end, he taught me how to die with grace and dignity.

So, whatever disagreements we had, when it was all said and done, were meaningless.

The older I get the more relaxed I get about my familial relationships. The hurtful things my siblings did when I was young no longer matter in the scheme of my life. The thoughtless remarks my father made when I was growing up are moot now. About the only one I speak with on a regular basis is my mom. She's one hell of a human being, and she's the kind of woman I'd like even if she weren't my mother. I'm a lot like her, too.

It sounds weird to say it that way, but most kids tend to take after one parent more than the other. Lord knows my siblings are split: two are like Dad, two are like Mom. I feel like I'm equal parts of both of them mixed up with the woman I made myself into. (i.e. Recipe for me: 2 parts Dad, 2 parts Mom. Add experience and knowledge. Mix well.)

Anyway... Life's too short. Maybe if I'd learned sooner to stop trying to dance with the pig, I would have been able to spend some happier times with Dad before he left for good.

No More Excuses

When I began writing twenty years ago with the vision of becoming a published author, I really wasn’t sure of what that meant. It was only the vague dream of a teenaged girl. Hunched in the middle of my bedroom floor stabbing the keys of my grandmother’s ghastly green portable typewriter, I spent hours turning reams of notebook paper—scrawled on both sides with chicken-scratch—into something that almost resembled a book.

Somewhere along the paths I took in life I forgot about that almost-book, as I had forgotten my dreams of becoming a writer. Oh, I still typed out little stories for myself now and then, but life always seemed to get in the way of completing anything. Boxes pregnant with story ideas slowly filled my basement and half-written tales rich with inexperience slowly filled my hard drive. Throughout the years I’d tell myself that someday I would have the time to finish those stories—once I was finished paying bills and feeding myself—as I sat down to watch hours of television. I’d tell myself that someday I would have time to write ‘The Great American Novel’—once I was finished raising my daughter and buying a house—as I curled up to read the writing of one actual author after another.

Then as I once again tried to take a stab at another novel, which would most likely end up as a forgotten file in a misplaced folder on my computer, I received a gentle push. One night someone asked me, “What would you do with your life if you could do anything?” After hemming and hawing about my future as a secretary, and skittering around the vague idea of someday breeding horses, the memory of those long-forgotten pages in my basement percolated into mind. The answer was clear. If I could do anything I wanted, I would write. “If you want to write, then write.” It was stated simply, allowing no explanations and giving no sympathy. “Quit making excuses—get it done.” Those simple words were a blinding revelation. Like an invalid, I had leaned upon a myriad of excuses. However, what had prevented me from falling on my face also prevented me from moving forward. Once I eliminated the excuses, no real reason existed to bar me from my dreams.

I have since completed that novel and then another. Whether anyone else thinks of them as accomplishments remains to be seen. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The excuses are gone. Now I only have reasons to write. I write because I need to write almost as much as I need to breathe, because everything that I am—my values, goals, and principles—is mirrored in my work, and because not writing would mean denying a very precious piece of myself. I’ve spent too many years denying myself already. The incomplete teenage masterpiece sitting stifled in my basement is proof enough of that.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Waltzing Pigtilda

A long time ago, someone told me: "Never try to teach a pig to dance. It just frustrates you and irritates the pig."

I take this to mean: Never try to argue with someone you know is never going to see your point. It is just a waste of time--both yours and theirs. I used to spend a lot of hours trying to debate topics, pushing to convince people of my point while they were staunchly trying to convince me of theirs. It was an incredible waste of my life. They weren't going to change their minds, and I certainly wasn't going to change mine. Once you reach the point where you realize this fact, all conversation is moot.

I don't argue much about anything any more. If a person agrees with me, great. If they don't, sometimes we can have a nice discussion. If they absolutely don't, and they're firmly set in their opinions to the point where even dialogue is impossible, then I am happy to end the conversation and let them go on their merry way. Or, if I still value them as a person for other reasons, I can happily skirt the trouble topics and have intelligent discussions about other things.

Don't misunderstand me, though. I still have the urge to Dance with the Pig, especially when the issue is one I feel strongly about, but through a little self-control, I can usually manage to ignore the urge.

PS. Please note: "Pig" is a euphemism, and doesn't mean I think every person who disagrees with me is porcine in nature... just most of them. ;o)


As I sit here waiting for yet another batch of cookies to come out of the oven, my mind jumps from one unrelated topic to another. (My brain tends to do that to me, when I'm not focused on something else.)

For instance, I was outside having a cigarette and I got to thinking about some of the things I learned while I was in college. I learned that you cannot mail TeddyGrahams. I sent one to my mother along with a letter I had written. When it arrived, she asked me why I had sent her dirt. I learned that flies land on the ceiling by hovering, attaching their front two legs and shifting the rest of the body around. I learned that I have no idea how they manage to cut hot dog buns down the center and still have them all stick together. I don't remember much of my education at that fine institution. (Somedays I don't remember much of anything, but that's a subject for another entry.) Not that it wasn't a great school; it was. It's just that some of the most inane things were, for me, the most memorable.

I went to Northern Michigan University (on the sunny shores of Lake Superior) for four years, and still managed to leave without securing a degree. When I first arrived, I was fired up to learn. I spent my whole first year studying my brains out. Then I discovered a social life, and everything went to hell in a handbasket. My awesome first year GPA was the only thing that kept me from being kicked out over the next three years. But then the scholarship ran out. I wasted a rather large sum of money and managed to learn almost nothing. Sometimes the things we do when we are young are the things we kick ourselves in the butt for decades later.

This isn't a morality tale. It's just a fact. If a young mind happens to wander across this and learns from my experiences, great. If not, no biggie. I'm a firm believer that you can lead a man to knowledge but you can't make him think.


Whether one buys older books for their monetary value or for the sheer visceral pleasure of smelling the dust of ages past, an added joy can be found in the artifacts left behind between their covers. The impromptu bookmarks and scrolled inscriptions of the past, even if they lend nothing to the financial worth, can give books a simple and meaningful significance.

Throughout my college years, I uncovered many great treasures from the bargain bin—an undated Dickens, a forgotten Dumas, an ancient Defoe—but none was so precious to me as a copy of The Fountainhead found unwanted and overlooked at the bottom of a pile. Although it was not in the best shape—its cover stained, its title rubbed from the spine, signs of mildew creeping through it like some kind of cruel leprosy—I knew the book was something special. Without hesitation, I slapped down the three and a half dollars to make it mine.

Research told me that I had found a rare Bobbs-Merrill edition, but to my dismay, I also found that a single page had been cut from the middle of the book—the remnants barely apparent along the binding. Monetarily the book was valueless, but in my heart it was still the crown jewel of my collection.

Many years and many books later, it remained on the most honored of my shelves—nestled between a leather-bound volume of Shakespeare and a boxed edition of Cervantes—barely read yet still loved. From time to time I would take it down and simply caress the cover or flip idly through the pages, reveling in the smell of that far-away store. It was during one of these hedonistic pettings that I finally noticed its inscription; although how I missed it during all of those years still escapes me. The words scratched in faded green ink only told of a former owner, a man who had loved this book enough to ensure it would come home if ever lost.

My book, the writing told, had once been owned by a serviceman in the military. His name, rank, serial number and unit carefully written in precise handwriting: Sergeant George H. Normandin of the 351st Bomber Group. Curious, I took the information for my new compatriot, George, and quickly tried to hunt down information on the man and his platoon. I never found George, but from the bits I was able to piece together he and his men flew the South Pacific during World War II. The Fountainhead was first published during the war, and though I have no way to prove it, I can imagine George carrying the novel with him as he went to war.

To me the book’s stains and scars are now easily explained; its rubbed edges and its crumpled boards standing as a testament to spending life on a carrier while its owner was away on a plane. The missing page, which had been so carefully cut from the book, was accounted for as well. That page was taken from Roark’s famous courtroom speech; a speech which speaks of fighting for your values, of standing up for your freedom, of holding your own good as a paramount virtue. I don’t blame George for keeping that page. Of all the things to carry into battle, the weapon he chose would have served him well.

Collecting books for many years now, I have found many artifacts of the previous owners—news clippings and grocery lists left to mark pages where the reader paused, flowers and leaves pressed flat to preserve a memory, notes scribbled to mark important passages. Each piece of ephemera I find adds a definite personal value to a potential monetary one. Still, I doubt that I will ever find another piece for my collection so precious as the one left by George.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Open Letter to the World

Below is something I wrote back in 2000, which I think is still pertinent today:

Open Letter to the World

To Those of You who consider yourselves to be alive:

Know this. You are endowed with certain rights. America's forefathers highlighted them, but they have always been the rights of human beings.

  • Life - You have the right to be alive and no one may take that from you.
  • Liberty - You have the right to be free.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness - Notice that it says pursuit. This doesn't mean that you are able to be happy at the expense of others, and it doesn't mean that you are automatically given happiness just because you think you deserve to be happy. It merely means that no one should be allowed to keep you from trying to be happy on your own.

Let me take these points one step at a time to make certain that everyone has the gist of where I'm going with this.

You do not have the right to live at the expense of others, nor does anyone have the right to live at your expense. You cannot give your life so that someone else can live, and you cannot take life from someone else so that you can live. These are very key points. Think about them. This also means that you can't use people for your own gain, to use their backs for work and then call it your own.

You have the right to be free from unjust incarceration - both physical and mental. Just as no one can live for you, no one can think for you. Very few people realize that thinking for themselves is a privilege and a right and very few people exercise that right, or even want to. Think of the presidential election that everyone is in such an uproar over. Did you vote for the candidate that YOU decided was the best, or did you vote for the one that someone else told you to vote for, or worse yet, did you not vote because you thought that your vote wasn't worth it? You allowed someone else to think for you, and you gave up your right to decide for yourself, to think for yourself. People give up their mental liberties everyday. Why? Because it easier to let someone else do the thinking and the deciding for you. Also, because if the choice was wrong, you can say that it wasn't your fault. If you do not think for yourself, you are giving up your mental liberty, as surely as if you let someone lock you in a dungeon away from your physical liberty.

The pursuit of happiness is the most difficult of all. Today people expect to be happy because they feel it is their right to be happy, because they deserve to be happy, when they don't realize that being happy is not something that someone can give you, and no one deserves to be happy just on the basis that they want to be happy. You must pursue happiness. You must work for happiness. It doesn't just fall into your lap. You cannot derive happiness simply from stating that you deserve to be happy. Joy is man's greatest achievement, and millions never achieve joy because they expect someone or something else to make them joyful. If you are unhappy, it is because you sit back and expect someone or something to bring you happiness without ever having to work toward making yourself happy. Joy comes from within, from a sense of pride and a sense of self-fulfillment. Seek joy and happiness within yourself.

Nowhere in the list of human rights is 1) the right to physically or mentally harm others for your own benefit, 2) the right for someone else to educate, feed, clothe, house and nurse you, 3) the right for you to impose your thoughts, opinions, beliefs and ideas on someone else, 4) the right for you to use someone else's thoughts, ideas, or labor as your own 5) the right to lay back and let someone else think for you.

I write this because it is my goal to help generate a kernel of independent thought within those who read this. It is my sincerest hope that in some small way, I have helped pull a single person along the path of objective thought so that someday they can say "I think for myself!" and actually mean it. This is not altruistic in nature, by any means. It is worth my time if I can generate one more person who will think for themselves, and save people from having to think for them. If I can pull the unthinkers away from people who will gladly think for them. (the ones who will gladly think for you are using you for their own purpose), then my work will have been worth it. I have no use for any of you beyond the things that you will create once you learn to stand on your own two feet.

Just the Beginning

As this is my first foray into the blogging world, I'll start by telling you a little bit about myself. I am a writer who is working on becoming a published novelist. (Not the easiest job in the world, despite what others may assume.) Needless to say, I got a late start on the business of writing, although I have been writing for myself for at least twenty years. And while I completed my first manuscript about two years ago, I haven't seen anything in print.

Additionally, I am a homeschooling parent and a SAHM (Stay-at-home-mother).

So, this blog will be a mixture of the woes and joys of writing, parenting, teaching, and ultimately, life. I hope you enjoy my musings enough to come back and visit from time to time.

(Although, for reasons of my own, I'm going to shy away from anything too deeply personal. You never know what kind of nuts are roaming the world these days, and life's too short to invite them into my home.)


PS. The nickname 'Shrug' is my online moniker and short for I_Shrugged (the user name I keep at Absolute Write).

(ETA: I am in no way affiliated with Absolute Write, its administrators, or its entities. Additionally, I am no longer a member.)