It’s Been a While

It’s been a while since I posted anything about any reading I have been doing.  I have been reading, and more than just my text book, I just haven’t talked about it much here. 

I came to a realization a while ago.  I am not a book critic.  I HATE doing reviews.  It’s not because I dislike saying something bad, or I feel obligated to say something good.  Stating my opinion of a book isn’t a problem.  I don’t even mind analyzing further into why I like or dislike a book.  I do that anyway because it helps my writing. 

Doing a book review feels like homework.  It’s like being in fourth grade again and having to read the stupid book off of the stupid list when you would rather be reading ANYTHING else, and then writing one stupid page on the stupid book you never wanted to read in the first place.  (I may have been a little bitter about book reports as a child.)  When I was trying to review books, as brief as that time period was, I had good intentions.  I wanted to bring attention to beginning writers and show that everyone starts somewhere, and even the beginning can be pretty awesome.  It just didn’t take long until it felt as though I HAD to read another book, and write up a review. 

So, I decided to stop.  Reading is something I do because I love it, and I am too old to have to write book reports, even if I am assigning them to myself. 

It is not to say I will not longer talk about books, or share good books I have read.  I’ve just decided to go in a new direction with the book side of blogging.  I’d like to give myself new challenges, and branch out to new places.  Hopefully you will come back next week, and so I can share a little more with you on my new reading challenge.

Playing Dress Up

I have an interview to do today.  Sadly not something fun, but something practical.  I have no idea how it will go, and I am trying to remain hopeful and optimistic before hand.  There is not much that will make you tank on something more than walking in believing it will go badly. 

So I put on a costume. 

I paint my nails a calm, conservative color, getting rid of the bright pink they used to be.  I pull my hair out of my face, making it neat and concealing how long it is.  I choose elegant earrings, and leave a couple of holes empty.  I put on my makeup, but not too much.  I dress in solid colors, nothing too bright or too dark.  I wear the skirt that makes my bum look good, not because I expect the interviewer to be looking, but because it is the only thing that feels even slightly like me.

It’s a part I know how to play.  Look attractive, but not overwhelming.  Make an impression, but don’t make waves.  Smile brightly, but don’t let them see the real you, the person who wants nothing more than to kick off her shoes and sprint out into the sunshine.  Be the person they want to see.

It’s all a lie.  I create the persona, I say the right answers, and I don’t believe a word I say.

I’m not sure things will go well.  I’m not even sure how I want things to end.  But I know the role I am in today; responsible adult, who knows what they want from life and will get it. 

Deep breath, and start the scene.

What’s in a Name?

I have been preparing to start a new story, and have been caught for almost a week on one important detail.  I couldn’t name my main characters. 

I know there are people who will begin writing, using a placeholder of some sort and work out the name later.  I am not one of those people.  I can see why people might name their characters this way.  This allows for the character to develop a little, and then allows the author to name them something that seems to fit them. 

That’s not how real life normally works.  Most of us have names given to us when we are born.  It shapes us as much as anything else in our life.  We learn to identify with our name in some way, working to live up to it, fighting against it, or never really thinking about it.  A person named Sunny might choose to try to be as cheerful as their name suggests, or might rebel against it becoming a dark person. 

I didn’t like my name too much growing up.  It’s not like there is anything technically wrong with the name Shannon, but there were things that made it rough.  In first grade, there was a boy in my school who shared my name, prompting the other children to tease me that I had a boys name.  Of course now I understand the concept of a unisex name, but at the time it was devastating.  A little later, the show Beverly Hills 90210 came out, the original one with Shannen Doherty.  Having a famous person share my name might have helped to restore the femininity, however she was reported to be, well not a nice person.  It didn’t really matter if she was actually quite lovely, my name was now synonymous with a difficult actress.  Later in life, I learned that Shannon may have actually been the name of a former girlfriend of my father.  This Shannon may or may not have been around when my parents were married.

To me, a name can be important.  Maybe I would have felt more confident as a child if I had had a different name.  I know I considered my experience when naming my daughters.  Having a not-so-feminine name, I gave my daughters more traditionally girly names.  Joanna Rose, and Lilyen Faith.  Both names are soft, and clearly female names.  My daughters are both strong and tough, and not necessarily as delicate as their names might indicate.  Knowing them as I do, and knowing their names, I cannot think of them as anyone else.  However, if I knew who they were going to be, would I have named them something different?  It’s hard to say. 

When we name a character, we are naming a person who is at least partially developed as a person.  They are not a small lump of wrinkly baby, swaddled in a blanket and thinking of nothing more than their next meal. We name an infant based on their potential, and who we might want them to turn into; a character is named based on who they are, and what they are going to do in the story.  I know I am not the only person who looked for a name that has a special meaning, even if not everyone knows it.  I have seen message boards filled with people wanting names that mean ‘destiny’, ‘fate’, ‘strength’, or even ‘hero.’  They want a name that somehow tells everyone their character is extraordinary from the beginning.  They want us to think that a higher source had a hand in bringing this person to their fate.

There is a bit of a trend for strange character names in modern books.  Many of these strange names make a certain kind of sense.  A dystopian novel takes place in a different time, and the names are meant to reflect that.  Language evolves, names go through trends; it would be strange to read a novel that is supposed to take place several hundred years in the future and have all of the names be in the most popular names of 2014. 

More than just fitting a time, we want our character name to be distinctive.  If I bring up Katniss, everyone knows who I am talking about, including many people who have never read the books.  There is no question that I am talking about the character from The Hunger Games; the name and the book go together.  If anyone else tried to use that name in their story now, there would be a bit of a question.  It’s like naming a wizard Harry, or a vampire Dracula; some names are, simply put, taken.

So how can you name a character perfectly, distinctively, and with meaning without going overboard?  There are three things I consider when naming a character. 

First, time period.  Going to the past, the present, or the future, the name needs to fit.  Some names didn’t really exist in the past, or were not used the same as we use them now; Sandra Dee would not be an appropriate name for a person of the Victorian era.  A modern day teenager would not have been named yesterday, they would have been named at least 13 years ago.  The names of the future depend on the type of future you are presenting.  A steampunk, old fashioned but with technology, type future may have many old fashioned names, whereas a space oriented alien world may have names that seem to come from outer space.

The Second thing I consider is the story.  In a video somewhere in the vlogbrothers  John Green answered a question about why the character in The Fault in Our Stars was named Hazel.  He answered hazel is an in between color, in between green and brown, and Hazel was an in between character, living in between life and death due to her illness.  (I don’ think that was a spoiler of any sort, but if someone cared about this book and movie and does not know she is sick by now, I am sorry.)  In truth, while reading that book that thought did not occur to me once.  I liked the name because it is not entirely common now, and reminded me of a friend of my Grandmother’s who I loved when I was a child and who died when I was 8 years old.  Hearing the meaning behind the name, I loved it even more.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t get it when reading, it was still there, giving meaning and influencing others.

The final thing I consider when naming a character is their parents.  My character might be a very flighty, hippy like, character, but if their parents have always been conservative, her given name is not likely to be Rainbow.  It can be a nickname, but her real name is probably something simply like Sarah or Molly.  The same can be done the other way.  The serious young man with the free love hippy parents is not likely to be named John, he is more likely to be Rain or Forest.  No matter what the character is like, you are not the only one who would need to give them their name; they had parents at one point in their lives, parents who would need to have chosen the same name as you did.  Even if the parents are never in the story, their role in the characters life is shown in the name they picked for their child. 

So how do I name my characters?  I pour over books, and look through name databases online.  I know many people visit cemeteries, but that is not a common practice for me.  I look through genealogical records, anything that might give me ideas.  In the end, it all depends on how I feel about the name.  When I find the right one, I just know it.  Just as when I named my daughters, there is a brief moment when it feels right.  I look at the character, with it’s shiny new name, and think, that’s you. 

 

Circling

When I was younger, I would run all over the neighborhood without shoes on.  I rolled down hills, laid on the grass, and generally ran wild outside in nature. 

One day, when I was around 22, I rolled down a hill with my daughter, trying to show her the fun we could have.  When I reached the bottom I looked over and saw a bug crawling on a blade of grass.  It suddenly occurred to me what I had been rolling in my entire life.  It wasn’t just the bugs; it was the animal urine, and…. other animal leavings. 

That was the moment that I realized that nature can be a truly disgusting place.

I’m sure you are slightly curious as to what my point is.  As disgusting as the great outdoors can be, it is also the best place to photograph certain sizes of blankets.  I have lots of space in my backyard, and when the sun shines, I have excellent lighting.  There was however, no way I was going to lay out the blanket I had just made for my bed on the questionable surface that is my lawn.  I might be crazy, but it’s a kind I’m alright with.

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Instead of a photo of this quilt outside in the sunny well lit yard, you get a photo of my new quilt in my dark and cramped room with a wild animal to give the illusion of nature.  You don’t need to worry about Sam the Moose though. He’s clean.

I found this quilt on pintrest, and decided to make one of my own.  We needed something light weight for the summer, and I haven’t yet found the right fabric to make my dream quilt.  I’m not sure what the fabric is yet, but I will know it when I see it. 

Each of the circles is made from uneven numbers of scraps of fabric in various shades of blue, teal or black, with a gray background.  I didn’t do things quite the same as they instructed in the tutorial, and it might have been easier if I had.  The back of my quilt is also not as pretty as theirs.  When I was growing up, my mother always had a special way of doing quilt backs, and I have kept up her tradition.  She would buy us a sheet set, put the curvy sheet on the bed and use the flat sheet as the back of the quilt.  It left us with a matching set, gave the back of the quilt a soft feel, and meant we never had to mess around with making a bed with flat sheets as well as blankets.   It was win-win my book, and tends to save me money as well, because I don’t have to pay fabric store prices for quilt back size fabrics.  Of course, it means the back isn’t really pretty. It’s a trade off.

I know my photograph excuse is horrible, and maybe for my next project I will do the fantastic well lit photo.  Just not for something I am going to sleep with.  (insert shudder here)

Something Stupid

I did something stupid recently. 

As I mentioned, last week I was in Edinburgh.  My family has a bit of an unofficial policy for our vacations.  We walk everywhere, and only take taxis if we are going to or from the airport.  It doesn’t mean we won’t take public transportation.  We took the tube in London, and the Metro in Paris.  It can be a little intimidating at first, but we learned how to figure out where we are going, and we do all right.  Generally speaking however, we walk everywhere.  We walk to the underground, and then from the stop, walk to wherever we want to go.  It’s not that we have a technical problem with renting a car or taking taxis occasionally.  It is more of a reluctance to spend any extra money on transportation when we could be using that for something else.

So, we were in Edinburgh, walking around fairly early in the day, trying to find the Waters of Leith.  It had already been a little bit of searching, since we had missed a turn and walked a little off course.  We were heading down a bit of a hill, after finally figuring out how to get where we wanted to be.  I took a step, and hit an uneven point in the sidewalk.  I came down pretty hard on the side of my foot and ankle.  It was quite painful to be honest.

Can you guess the stupid thing I did?  Yup, I limped off and kept walking.  Not only for the rest of the long day, but all of the next day as well.

I suppose I could have said, ‘hey, that really hurt, I shouldn’t keep walking’, but I couldn’t do that.  If I had refused to keep walking around, it would have changed not only my vacation, but my families vacation as well.  So I kept going. 

After a few blocks the pain seemed to fade, leaving not much more than the ache I had been beginning to feel from walking up and down hills anyway.  I figured it was just one of those things.  It hurt in the moment, but I was able to walk it off, so everything was going to be fine.

Now, a week later, the side of my foot is in fairly bad pain.  It hurts to walk or stand for prolonged period of time.  It even hurt laying down last night when the side of my foot was laying against the mattress.  It feels like an injury I had about four years ago where I ran a 10k on the side of my foot due to poor form.  The doctor at the time said I had bruised the muscle underneath the skin, which was why you couldn’t see anything on the outside.  I hadn’t had any idea anything like that was possible, and I’m still not sure how it worked.  All I knew for certain was I was informed I would be doing no running for six weeks. 

I am continuing to do something stupid at this point, and I haven’t seen a doctor for my foot yet.  I know, I know, I know.  Not smart.  I’m still just kind of in denial at the possibility of a REAL injury.  So far I am choosing to rest and soak my foot for a few more days before I call a doctor, hoping I will feel better with a little time. 

I know, this might be the reason I have recurring foot pain.  If I see a doctor, they might be able to help me and get me back on my feet.  But, if I don’t see the doctor, they can’t tell me I am not allowed to run.  Denial gives me hope that I might one day get back to who I was, once upon a time.  So, I give myself a few more days of hope before I give in and ask for help.  It might be something stupid, but sometimes the hope is what I need.  

So there is my something stupid for the week.  What stupid thing do you do, even when you know better?

 

My Favorite Writing Tool

Everyone has something that makes their writing easier, and possibly better.  It is the chair that is perfectly aligned to be comfortable, or the pen that writes so smoothly.  It is the music that inspires, or the water bottle that means you are not getting up for a refill every two minutes.  It is the tool that lets you do whatever you need to do to get your story out.

For me, I would be unable to write without my trusty pad of Post-it notes. 

There are many sizes of Post-it notes, and many colors.  The possibilities are endless for their uses, because they have an almost unlimited options to choose from.  I have used the large, lined, note size, and the standard size.  I’d have to say my absolute favorite is the 2×2 inch squares, which barely have enough space to write a sentence.  I can’t say why.  I’m not writing detailed messages, just a quick note, and maybe that is the point.  It is a quick reminder I can look at later, and then I am back to business.

I do most of my writing sitting in front of my computer, so it would seem as though the Post-it’s don’t make a lot of sense, but I use them everyday in my writing.  I use a Post-it to mark down the daily word count, allowing me to keep track of my daily words written.   When I have a stray thought about my story, something I want to add in earlier in the story, or change, I can make a small note for later and not have to go back and rewrite everything that moment.  Some of my story ideas started out as a small scribble on a Post-it.  One I am preparing to begin, was once three words on a Post-it in the back of my calendar, and it is now preparing to be the first in a series of mid-grade books. 

It’s hard to say why I love them so much.  I can go months without using a Post-it, but when I need one, there is nothing more convenient and wonderful in my life.  Somehow, Post-it notes are what makes my writing easier.

Now, I know some people may assume I am being paid by Post-it to write this, but I am not.  I’m pretty sure they don’t have a clue that I am talking about them, and they don’t really need me to get sales.  Post-it’s are simply the strange but essential writing tool for my work.

What do you absolutely need when you are writing?  Do you use it everyday, or is it something you simply like to have nearby just in case?

Practical or Purchased

I’ve been working on novel writing for a while now.  I know I am far from the only person out there who has a story to tell, and we all think there is something about our story that makes it different.  It doesn’t matter if technically I know there is likely something else out there that would be considered similar, I know mine if special.

The best part of my writing life currently is the more I write, the more I find I have new ideas to write.  The truth is, I seem to be on a creative high right now.  Not necessarily completing everything I have in concept, but the ideas are flowing.  I’ve worked on documenting these ideas, and writing them all out in some sort of outline for later. 

The trouble I have, is choosing what projects to pursue.  Statistically, I know there will be a certain percentage that are just bad ideas.  The idea might make a good sound bite, but that’s all it is.  Other ideas turn out to just not have legs.  I get started, and nothing seems to work, and the stupid story just sits there irritating me and wasting my time.  

My favorite portion of these ideas might turn out to be REALLY good, but they would be a hard sell for one reason or another.  These are the passion projects, ones I feel strongly about, ones that come from deep in my heart.  Finding someone else to match that passion would be difficult to say the least.

Then of course, there is the last bit of projects.  These are the ideas I like well enough, and I honestly think have commercial potential.  They might actually fall into one of the earlier categories, and turn out to be horrible, but in concept, I can see the audience.  I can imagine who would read them, and possibly even who would sign onto the idea. 

Naturally, there is a part of me who instantly feels I should pursue the stories that might sell.  After all, selling books is what will allow me the freedom to keep writing.  If I have a little commercial success, even very minor success, there goes the need for a day job.

After that thought, I instantly feel bad.  I don’t want to write just for money.  I want to have the creative freedom to pursue the projects that I want.  Writing isn’t and shouldn’t be all about the money, there should be a large element of creation simply for the sake of creation.  If I am fueled by nothing more than money, my work will suffer. 

Of course, one can’t live off of passion and creativity alone.  There are bills to pay and mouths to feed.  If writing doesn’t make me money, I won’t have the time to work on the passion projects. 

But if I am not working on something I am passionate about it will show in my work.  Agents and publishers need to believe in the strength of the story.  If I don’t, they won’t. 

You can see how I go back and forth, right?

So how do you choose?  If you choose to work on something that will have commercial potential, knowing it will be easier to sell, are you selling out or being practical?  If I turn away from the projects I am passionate about, even for a while, am I making a wise career decision, by writing something others will buy, or am I putting myself on the shelf for purchase?

Can you be practical, and still passionate about what you do, or is all money related considerations a betrayal of the creativity that drives me to write to begin with?

Five Things About My Trip to Edinburgh

Well, I’m back everyone!  It  was a busy week, full of lots of fun, but of course as always, I am happy to be home.  Traveling is wonderful.  I love to see new places, experience new things, and learn something I didn’t know before.  But at the end of the day, I just want to sleep in my own bed, with my own oversized blanket and many extra pillows.  It is one of the many reasons I wish the Doctor would just pick me up for my vacations already; I can go anywhere I like, bring all of my clothing, sleep in my own bed, and never worry about having room in my suitcase to bring home souvenirs.

Today, I will keep it simple, and just share with you a few things from my trip.

 

1) I love Touristy Crap.

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I know, you are supposed to pretend you don’t want to see the ‘fake’ tourist stops, or buy anything from the shops aimed at the tourists with dirt cheap prices.  Screw that.  I love the touristy things.  Not only is it awesome to step into a shop that jokes about the cultural stereotypes, but you cannot beat the ‘everything is on sale’ prices.  I love when a culture is willing to make fun of themselves a little.  Scotland knows everyone thinks of kilts and Nessie, so they sell Nessie in a kilt.  It’s just knowing what people want and giving it to them.  The shops win in the end as they laughingly walk away with our money, finding our lack of exchange rate knowledge hilarious.

Its not just the shops I love.  I genuinely enjoy the tourist trap destinations.  I’m in Edinburgh for only a few days.  I can’t get to know the entire history, or the real everyday culture in a short time.  I know most people from the city most likely avoid the Royal Mile unless they work there.  I’m not trying to be a local, I am trying to see a place I never have before.  Tourist traps are designed to take your money, yes.  But they are also there to give you a small glimpse into a place, something that will make you want to come back another time.

2) I ate haggis and didn’t die.

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Technically I am Scottish, somewhere back in the line. Now enough time has passed that, up until this trip, we held a perfect balance of Scottish and American culture in my family.  My brothers occasionally will wear kilts (some of them anyway) but no one ever ate haggis.   Well, I decided I was going to do it.  I was Scottish, in Scotland, it was required.  I have no idea exactly what is in that picture (the menu said Haggis, Natties, and Mash with a Whiskey sauce), but I ate it all.  The orange stuff tasted kind of like cauliflower, the white was obviously potato, and the haggis itself wasn’t bad.  The flavor certainly didn’t tell the truth of what kind of meat goes in there, but the texture was not pleasant to me.  It seemed as if someone had cooked ground meat on the stove, like you would for tacos, and then stuck the cooked meat together in an attempt at meatloaf.  I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t think I ever will again.

Haggis definitely did not win my vote for best food I ate in Scotland.  I expected it to be fish and chips, something I shouldn’t eat, but love enough I eat like crazy when I travel, but it wasn’t even close.  Don’t get me wrong, there was good fish to be had, but my favorite meal was a quick snack we had at the Elephant House.  We stopped in for my Harry Potter obsessed Big One, and went to have a cup of tea.  We ended up there three times, and if we hadn’t needed to pack on our last day we might have ended up there again.  On the third trip, we were killing time before a tour, and getting a drink and snack.  A person behind me in line was eyeing the pastry case, which with my gluten problems I had mostly ignored.  She mentioned a blueberry coconut sponge cake and I may have involuntarily moaned that it sounded delicious.  When the kind staff informed me this it also happened to be gluten free, I instantly ordered a piece.  I might be willing to live in the Elephant House and eat that cake exclusively for a while.  It was quite possibly the most amazing thing I have ever eaten.  I’m pretty sure I will dream about that cake for years to come.

3) The entire city is uphill.

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Do you see that gorgeous view?  Yeah, I worked for that view, harder than I have ever worked before.  There were points walking around the city when I wasn’t sure I would ever recover.  By the end of the trip, I was absolutely certain my ancestors left Scotland because we were not built to travel on hills.   Or maybe that is just the lazy, out of shape, could live off of blueberry coconut sponge cake, modern American I am. As much as I loved the city, I may need to replace my feet now.

4) I took the tours.

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We took three walking tours while we were there, and honestly, I kind of wish we had taken more.  The first was a the guided tour of Edinburgh castle.  We didn’t want the audio tour, since there is something taken away from a family vacation when you are all listening to different parts of a tour with headphones in.  We happened to walk up just as a tour was leaving from the front, so we hopped along to hear a little about the castle as we went.  Let me tell, you it was awesome.  Not only was the guide funny, but I was enthralled with the history he shared.  Hearing a story about how 31 Scotsmen took back the castle in the dead of night, against a large English army was inspiring.  It was also cool to actually see the Stone of Destiny, and hear it’s history from someone who seemed to feel the connection personally. 

The second tour we took was the Potter Trail, a free tour put on by University students.  I didn’t expect to like the tour much.  I am a fan of Harry Potter, but not an obsessive fan the way Big One is.  We mostly took the tour because it was important to her, and in the end I loved it.  It was more than just the little stuff listed on the website.  Gemma was a charming guide, who laughed and joked as she shared stories, and was completely willing to geek out with all of us. 

Our final tour was a paid tour, again one I did because my husband thought the walking tour would be fun.  We were supposed to learn secrets of the Royal Mile, and it was amazing.  We had been walking around for two days already and didn’t realize how much we walked right past without ever knowing it was there.  She took us down the little alleyways, showed us the oldest walls in the city, walls that once surrounded the city.  There is a heart, made of bricks outside a cathedral, I had stepped on many times, never realizing it marked the site of an old prison.  The architecture I had looked at many times and simply thought to be pretty took on new meaning when she gave us the historical context.

In the end, the tours gave me a little taste of what the city used to be, and it is now.  I was left with a desire to learn more, and really, what else could they ask.

5) I want more.

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I watched the sunshine on the waters of Leith.  I walked along roads that had been soaked in history.  I drank my tea in the same room where much of Harry Potter was written.  I left Edinburgh feeling relaxed and inspired.  I’ve often told my husband I would like to retire to Scotland someday.  With every trip we take, I wish for that more and more. 

Clearing My Mind

Every now and then my Little One will announce that she needs to meditate for a while.  Most often it comes before a meal, or after she gets home from school.  Sometimes it is out in the middle of shopping (such as this time the day after she broke her arm for the second time this year).  When and where vary, but one thing is consistent; Little One has had something happen to overwhelm her and chooses to sit, calm herself, and re-center her mind.

I’m not sure exactly where this habit of hers came from.  I did yoga for years, but mostly before she was born.  I studied Buddhism, but we don’t teach our daughters much about religion or spirituality.  Somehow, Little One came to the practice on her own, and decided it was something that helped her.

Last week I finished a manuscript.  Well, mostly.  I’m saving my celebration until I tweak the ending into something better.  I made a goal to get it done before today, and luckily I came through.  I plan to start the first round of revisions, fixing the notes I made while writing in one week from today. 

Before I start the editing process, I need to take a moment away.  I need to clear my mind, center, and come to it with refreshed eyes.  Instead of sitting on a bench outside a store in the Netherlands as my daughter chose to do, I am taking a family trip to Edinburgh.  We are going to see the castle, eat haggis, and visit every Harry Potter related thing we can find (my Big One is just a wee bit obsessed).  I’m hoping the inspiration found in the Elephant House might rub off on me a little, or at least that they have good coffee. 

How do you clear your mind and center before you start something large?