Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spontaneous summer cranberry sauce for the win...

It's the little things that make your day.

Cleaning out the freezer I discovered a couple packages of cranberries I'd tucked away, and I realized that while I didn't have tangerines or oranges (or pomegranate seeds), I did have lemon simple syrup I had made recently, which is a much more summer appropriate flavor anyway. And I even had some walnuts stashed away somewhere else. So, even though it's not Thanksgiving or Christmas, I made a bright and flavorful cranberry sauce that will taste totally fantastic on toast and all sorts of things, and cheered myself right up!

I used to share cranberry sauce with the Cocktail Fairy, so it's a little sad, but it's also a little happy. And I feel like I was able to make gold out of straw.

One point for the Alchemists!

Summer Cranberry Sauce

Sunday, May 25, 2014

When I Say I Like Tolkien. . . .

Everyone has those authors they adore as well as those they hate. And it's hard to hear the writers you adore dissed. But, chances are you probably hate the authors someone else adores, so it all evens out "in the wash" as my family says (personally, I can't stand Hemingway, and every time I see a Flannery O'Connor quote, or story or anything, I just want to find her ghost and punch it's face–she makes me very cranky).

But, I do get tired of people dissing my favorite authors, so I just wanted to put this here:
Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, Illustrated version of The Hobbit, A Tolkien Miscellany, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Used to have a book comparing Tolkien and Lewis, but I sold it on Amazon over Christmas to make rent, etc.
Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, Illustrated version of The Hobbit, A Tolkien Miscellany, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Used to have a book comparing Tolkien and Lewis, but I sold it on Amazon over Christmas to make rent, etc.
I first read the Tolkien trilogy in about 1976/77; I was 12. I read The Hobbit after I read the trilogy. My friend Peter had me read them (fellow comrade in arms in the imagination department). I can't remember if he lent them to me or I checked them out at the library. But I remember spending all of 8th grade (around 1978) exchanging letters with him written in runes. We'd both practice writing in a calligraphic style on paper that we'd stained with coffee or tea (I got into so much trouble with mom for wasting the coffee that way!). His letters had really cool pictures and decorations. We didn't even say all that much, really, but it was all in rune, or in English dressed up like runes, so it felt cool.
My "runic" writing.
My "runic" writing.
For Christmas 1982, my Aunt Lola gave me a box set that included The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. They were beautiful, yellow, blue, green and red, with gold foil on the box. Of course, I hadn't yet learned that lesson about not loaning out books (even though I'd lent out some of the Narnia books to friends; mom had bought them to read to us and we never to saw them again - my sister is still pissed about that). So years later I picked up another copy of The Hobbit, but it wasn't the same. Still a good story. And I did get the illustrated one. I think it was on sale as a remaindered book, plus I had my employee discount at WaldenBooks.

And although I don't have them pictured here, I've read The Silmarillion, parts of The Children of Hurin and his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (which is in the Miscellany). And The Complete Tolkien Companion is around here somewhere, too, I just couldn't find it to include in the picture above.

When I was nine years old I used to say I was going to "grow up to be a writer like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott" (I added Lucy Montgomery later on). After my introduction to Middle Earth and Narnia it was, "I'm going to take classes from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis." I was distraught to learn they'd already died. So of course I did all I could to read and try to make up stories like the ones they wrote (and then felt like I'd discovered a grand secret when I found out about Charles Williams and read some of his stories).

I love a number of writers, but their worlds all end up getting compared to Tolkien (and by extension Lewis and Williams). From Patricia McKillip's Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books to Brooks' Sword of Shannara and Castle for Sale to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Novels, Anne McCaffrey's Pern series and Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books, and on to Charles DeLint's Newford stories and whatever Neil Gaiman happens to be writing at any time. All of them are held up to Tolkien. Is the world as rich and full of history and possibility? Could I go there and camp out for a week and feel as if I'd really been somewhere else?

As a writer, I pull from a number of places to get inspiration. Mythology, different belief systems, the stories of my favorite writers (see above). And when I think about world, story and character creation, it begins with a foundation layer of Tolkien, and then all the rest get added in "to taste" - like a big smorgasbord of a dish to make my very own version of whatever it is I am creating.

Until the movies came out I would take out the trilogy and reread them all once a year - every year. Last night I realized how long it had been since I'd read my favorite friends of Middle Earth and I pulled a book down off the shelf and fell in.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Finding the right audience for your draft

There have been many discussions on how important it is to “know your audience” when writing your work. These discussions are typically about the final audience, the reader who will (hopefully) spend money on your book so they might have the finished product in their hands. And that is an important topic to go over, but recently I have been thinking how important it is to also know your audience when you share your draft copies of your work with people, be they critique partners, proofreaders, editors, writers groups or beta readers.

I have said before that finding a critique partner is like dating – trying to find the right person who is at a similar level in their writing and who has an understanding of what you want out of a critique. Same with finding a writers group. The same goes when looking for a proofreader/copy editor or editor for your work.

But it doesn’t stop there. I think that, as in any relationship, it’s a mistake to think that once you’ve found your proofreader/editor/critique partner/beta reader/writers group that they are it for life. That’s right. There is no such thing as monogamy amongst people who share critique. I’m saying it loud and saying it proud – critique sharing is an exercise in polygamy.

First, it takes work. You have to keep up your end of the bargain and do the writing, the revisions, the outlining, the plotting. And don’t think riffing off a first draft a half hour before group will get you good feedback. It will get you plenty of feedback, but you’ll be so new to your WIP that you won’t know where to place the feedback in the hierarchy of importance.

I remember reading an interview by an author (and of course I’ve forgotten who it is now) in Poets & Writers who said she never took a draft to her writers group unless it was at least the seventh or eighth revision. And her reason for this was that it took her that many drafts to understand what she was trying to say. If she took her work-in-progress (WIP) to her group too soon then the editorial voices of her critique partners would get stuck in her head and she’d get jammed in between where she thought she was going and where those voices were pulling her. That doesn’t mean she didn’t listen to the critique, just that by the time she shared her work she had a good idea of what she wanted it say and do. So if she got comments that seemed to steer her in another direction she had enough confidence to say, “that’s another idea to explore, but that is not my story. That is your story. I want to go this way with this story at this time.” Or to give them a little more importance and possibly consider them.

Next step. No assumptions. For example, when people ask for my services as a proofreader we go over several things such as formatting, what this piece is being used for and subject matter. Just because I am a proofreader doesn’t mean I’m the proofreader for your work. I have turned down work because I knew I was not a good match for it, either because I knew that I didn’t have the background and knowledge base to do the work well or because my spidey-senses were tingling and I knew communication would be off between me and the client. Sometimes I’ve taken work anyway because I knew enough that I could research further if I needed to to ensure technical and/or academic terms and phrases were being used correctly. Those clients needed to find the right “audience” in me, to make sure they’d found someone who could properly gauge if, for example, the vocabulary was what it should be.

But, if a client wanted to use my services for an historical romance, say Regency, then I may not be the best person for the job, unless I invested time and/or money in learning the speech patterns, grammar and syntax of speakers during the early 19th century. And even then Sure, we “dumb” things down a little bit for the modern ear, but it would still be my job to make sure what was there was correct and that I and the client could have an intelligent conversation about it if we had.
The same holds true for writing groups and critique partners. You don’t necessarily need to write in the exact same genre as people you share critique with, but you better be sure that they appreciate and/or enjoy the genre you write in and vice versa, and that you, or they, can converse intelligently in that genre. For example, splatter horror does nothing for me. And while I would be willing to read (and have read) such a story for someone I share critique with, there would be a resistance inside the entire time I was reading it. A little voice saying, “But I hate these kinds of stories!” would be influencing my critique. And who knows how much unconscious prejudice my writing partner(s) would have to filter through to get to the gist of what they could use of my comments. And I may even try to fight that prejudice, but it’s still going to be there, which means it’s still going to be an uphill slog for both the reader and the writer.

So, does this mean you need to find other proofreaders/critique partners altogether? No. It just means that you need to be aware of what it is you are sharing and who you are sharing it with. This is polygamy, remember? Not monogamy. Just because someone hires me to write a cover letter or personal essay or bio for them, doesn’t mean I am the correct person to handle their tech-heavy resume, for example. And while I could proofread/copy edit a users manual on say a drill, I would probably not be the best person for the job when it came to say specs for a race car engine.
And when it comes to sharing your drafts, this is even more important. You already know that people are going to critique your “baby” and find something wrong with it. You hope they’ll tell you it’s perfect, but you know that will not be the case. So, there will already be that. Ensuring that the person you’re giving your WIP to read already likes the genre is making sure that you’re not going to be fighting an uphill battle. Don’t give your high fantasy piece to a professor who specializes in contemporary American literature. You don’t need to change what you write just to please your reader, but find the right person to read it. Find someone who enjoys high fantasy. Don’t give your WIP romance novel to someone who thinks romance novels suck and are pure drivel. You’ll already be clutching your gut and you haven’t even gotten the notes back. Find someone who likes romance. Send your work to them.

Don’t send a story about zombies to someone who doesn’t appreciate zombies. It’s that simple.

They may not be your regular critique partner or part of your regular writers group (or editor or publication you normally work with, etc.), but that’s okay. This also means that you may not have anything to share with your regular critique partners sometimes either, if what you’re writing doesn’t match up with what they’re reading. But again, that’s okay. It’s not your job to change what you’re writing to suit your critique partner or writers group or even your proofreader. It’s your job to write the story or the dissertation or business brochure or whatever. The people you share that work with are simply giving you notes on ways they see things can be done better. Some of it you will agree with and some of it you won’t. And this process works better if they already like the type of work you are writing.

It’s either that or just always be disappointed. Always thinking you’re doing it wrong when actually, it’s just that what you wrote and what that person reads do not mesh. It’s like that quote by Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Trust yourself. Be the fish. Find the pond. Leave the tree climbing to the monkeys.

Recently I found a note from a friend of mine who passed away. She had written it after reading The Holly and the Ivan. She had read my poetry, Rae’s Bar & Bistro, and had liked it and wanted to support me. The note about The Holly and the Ivan read, “Well, Darling, it certainly isn’t my cup of tea – good writing tho a few redundancies – it’s surely meant for the Twilight crowd or under – But, bravo…” She wanted to like it, but she couldn’t it. It wasn’t her thing. The poetry was her thing.

It reminded me of the saying by Lin Chi: “When you meet a master swordsman, show him your sword. When you meet a man who is not a poet, do not show him your poem.”

Know your audience.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman

Crossposted from Blogetary:

A couple of weeks ago the Kindle version of Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman was on sale for like $2.99 or something like that. It had been years since I had read a Tony Hillerman book, so I was interested to see what his daughter would do with this series.

When I first discovered Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn I lived in the cloudy, rainy north it was a relief to read about the hot, dry landscape, the sun beating down, the drives into the middle of nowhere on dirt roads and washes. Reading about families from a different culture, different climate, different belief systems, was like dipping into a summer lake. It was refreshing, it woke me up, in a sense. The stories were about more than just catching the murderer or finding the smugglers of drugs or tribal artifacts. They were about Joe Leaphorn's relationship with his wife Emma, and later with Louisa. They were about Jim Chee's working with his uncle to learn about becoming a haataali, balancing that with his duties as a police officer and his affections for a thoroughly modern woman, and then realizing that he would need to make some choices on his road. Officer Chee was the full on romantic in the series and it felt right.

I wasn't sure if this new book by Tony Hillerman's daughter would be the same dip into a refreshing lake, but it was darn close. In Spider Woman's Daughter, the story is told mostly from Officer Bernadette Manuelita's (Bernie) point of view. Within the first few pages, she sees Joe Leaphorn shot at point blank range and vows to find the killer. She's taken off the case since she is a witness to it, but still ends up helping her husband Sergeant Chee (yes, that Chee) with it.

I think it was a wise move on the author's part to focus on Bernie's part of the story. She does add in Chee's POV occasionally, but only after grounding the reader fully on Bernie. In telling the story this way it's clear that Hillerman is not trying to retell her father's stories. She's not trying to be the storyteller for Leaphorn and Chee, though she still includes them in the story. It is evident that instead she is carrying the world her father created forward but through a fresh pair of eyes.

In the past, readers saw the agnostic Leaphorn juxtaposed to the Chee's faith and how they were able to do the job best when working together. Now, added to those two, woven through the story in much the same way that Spider Woman's daughter (of the title) taught weaving to the People, is Bernie. From Bernie, the reader gets a more balanced view of someone balancing family demands with work, and her faith is much more lived than Chee's faith.

After reading this all the way through I have to give it a firm thumbs up. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were a couple of missteps in the story: a couple of times a name was misspelled, another time it felt like a couple of elements were dropped and allowed to hang a little too long for my taste. But it was still enjoyable, and like many of the other stories in this series, takes the officers back over a former case that teases at the brain cells.

If you're a fan of the Tony Hillerman series and are missing his world, then I say pick this one up next and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Spider woman