Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When notes and critique become a balm for the soul

Cross posted from Blogetary 2.0

The proofreader at work, besides coming in to proof for us a few days a month, used to teach high school English, and now coaches kids on how to prepare for college. She's also a mom and a grandmother, and all round nice person.

When she comes in, we snatch the occasional brief conversation here and again. Since I proofread outside of work and used to write and proofread and such for a research (read term paper mill) company, we meet in a unique place. So, when I published "Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm" last month, I thought she might enjoy reading a copy. The only copy I had I needed to go through for errors, but she said once I had a final copy, she'd love to see it. So, the next day, I brought in one of the faulty copies I had of "Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons?" (I had the whole thing starting on a left hand page instead of the right hand page and had ordered a bunch for realizing it and fixing the error.) I told her it was hers to keep and do with as she would, but I thought she might get a kick out of it. She said she'd share it with someone else who teaches younger kids and let me know what they thought, which is always a good thing to know if you're hitting some kind of mark or not.

She told me about one of her favorite books, "My Grandma Could Do Anything," which she reads to her grandkids. And then we put the paper to bed for the month and she was off again until this month.

Then, last week, her first day of proofreading this month, after she got settled, she came back to my desk with a couple of tiny Post-it Notes with notes from her nine-year-old grandson, who'd been reading through the "Miss Simmons" book. He was only halfway through and really liked it, so she asked if he could keep it another month and I said, "OF COURSE!" And told her he could keep it. And then let me look at the notes on it.

Now, on Lulu, I've set the age at nine years old and up, but that was just a guess; actually hearing from a nine-year-old boy was like striking a vein of gold.

The first comment was, of course, the best. "Really scary, great story. Can I get the book back to finish it?" YES!

He saw that the page numbers were on the inside corners of the pages numbers and explained it was hard to find them when looking up the chapters and could I please remember to keep them on the outside corners. Good eye! Future editor, here! I nodded at that, because that was one of the faults I'd had to correct after that copy.

"I like the prologue."  That's important to note, because you don't need the prologue, and he told his grandma that normally he doesn't like to read prologues, but this one he did. And he also said he wasn't going to read the epilogue. So, cool!

"I like the chapter headings and the cursive writing." They're a Schoolhouse font that I'm in love with for these little things I'm doing. I don't use them in the e-book copies, but they're fun in the print editions.
I knew my drawing wasn't good enough to be pretty, but I'm glad it was good enough to be scary.
I knew my drawing wasn't good enough to be pretty, but I'm kind of glad it was scary.
"I didn't like the pictures." And he thought the pictures of Miss Simmons were too scary. I'm not really an artist, so I knew I couldn't do pretty, but I got a secret thrill hearing they were scary. Though, I understand not liking scary pictures. That's a little bit of a downer. But cool, still.

"It got me interested right away!" Always a good thing note to get back from a reader!

So, I have those notes up on my bulletin board next to other notes I've received from people who read some of my other stories. Notes that encourage me and keep me writing. My "cheerleaders."

On top of THAT, our proofreader also brought in the "Grandma Could Do Anything" book, which I read in little breaks throughout the day. If you're one of my friends who's kids might be having grandkids in the future, then you might end up with it headed your way. It's the cutest kids books ever! Perfect for grammas to read with their young grandkids.

I had also passed onto her a final copy of my own "Gramma" book, and I look forward to hearing notes back on that one as well, if she likes it and passes it onto one of her grandkids.

On the whole, this experience was like a balm for my soul in the middle of all the crap that's been going on lately.
Have a cup of tea with that balm for your soul?
Have a cup of tea with that balm for your soul?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Teddy News: Happy Six Month Teddy-versary!

Cross posted from Blogetary 2.0

The last two weeks have been very busy at work with pre-production and production at the Larchmont Chronicle, as well as being all sorts of busy and emotional personally (including dealing with the shooting in Orlando), but in the back of my mind I knew this was coming up — the six month Teddy – versary of Teddy coming home with me.

I posted a little bit about it on Facebook and Instagram, but I thought I would do a more comprehensive posting here with pictures of Teddy over the past six months.
Teddy and his shaved back when he first came home.
Teddy and his shaved back when he first came home.
Teddy and I have become pretty good friends. He needs to remind me to play with him sometimes. He reminds me to get up and move around and do things. He is a gentleman who gives me the occasional shoulder massage, soothes me when I'm having a bad day, and is a great alarm when I'm not listening to the one by my bed.

Mom and Heather met Teddy when they came to visit in January. Teddy liked Heather, but he fell in love with Mom and didn't want her leave.

In general, he is a very social cat, more like Kiko was in that way, than Pye. In fact, when other people are around, Teddy really likes to be in the center of the action.
Teddy didn't want Mom to leave.
Teddy didn't want Mom to leave.
Teddy likes to be in the middle of the action.
Teddy likes to be in the middle of the action.
Teddy can see everything from his perch.
Teddy can see everything from his perch.
If there's a spare chair, that's where he wants to sit. I ended up getting a cat tree so that he has a place to sit and survey everyone. The "in box" on my desk wasn't close enough to the action for him.
Teddy's favorite place is still an empty box.
Teddy's favorite place is still an empty box.
And while he enjoys the cat tree, his favorite spot is still an empty cardboard box. So, I'll usually keep one around for weeks after it should have been trashed.

But if I'm at my usual spots — that is working at my desk computer proofreading or working on something, or sitting at the kitchen table composing an early draft, he's either sitting under the desk or on it. On a chair at the table, or on the table itself.
In which we celebrate our six-month Teddy-versary by splitting some liverwurst.
In which we celebrate our six-month Teddy-versary by splitting some liverwurst.
So it seemed entirely appropriate for us to celebrate our six-month Teddy-versary by splitting some liverwurst at the kitchen table.

And finally, his bald patch has finally grown back in.
Teddy's shaved patch has finally completely grown back in.
Teddy's shaved patch has finally completely grown back in.
And now you're up to date on the Teddy News.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Time for Praying, and a Time for Doing

To quote the verse from Ecclesiastes 3:1: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens..."

Yesterday was a day of mourning and loss, a time for reflection and connecting with people we love. It was a time to ground ourselves in love and get a handle on our lives; it was a time to somehow create order out of chaos as a way to grasp what really happened in Orlando. That was Sunday, typically a day for reflection for many people.

Today, however, is Monday, the first day of the work week. Now is the time to get down to work. Yesterday you may have asked the world why and proclaimed "Never again!" But today is the day when we all need to begin the slow hard work of backing up that proclamation. Now is the time to dig in, establish and assert who we want to be in the long haul and fight back. Take back this world that we have been working on creating where everyone has a place at the table.

There are several ways you can fight back. One of the first and simplest is to write your representatives — at both the State and Federal levels. You can find your U.S. representatives using this website here: http://whoismyrepresentative.com. Each state usually has it's own government website where you can find your state representatives. California's is here: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov.  But don't forget to write people like President Obama and Vice President Biden, which you can do here: whitehouse.gov.  Write your governor. Write your state's attorney. Write councilmembers, supervisors and aldermen. Have discussions (not fights, but discussions) at neighborhood councils, residence association meetings, condo meetings. Let them know how you feel and that this issue is important to you.

If you're not sure what to say or where to get started, Nicole Silverberg at the Huffington Post came out with this article last year after the Paris and San Bernardino shootings. In it, she not only gives you links that show you how to find your representatives, but she also has a sample letter you can use when writing these people.

Get educated. Invite the police who cover your area to come talk on gun violence. Learn about the laws that exist where you live. Learn about gun safety, and if you're up to it, how a gun works. Maybe go to a shooting range and check it out so you know what this lethal weapon is beyond what you've seen on TV or read about online.

Next, find out about organizations you can get involved in that might help combat this craziness. Women Against Gun Violence is one such organization, but there are others. Look them up.
If you're feeling generous or if you're one of the many people who believe in tithing or giving back to the community somehow, then do that. Give. When there are natural disasters and we feel this need, people often give to the Red Cross/Red Crescent. This is a little different, but there are places where you can donate money. There's a GoFundMe page for the Orlando victims, but there's also The National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Compassion Fund for victims of mass casualty crimes. Or look for other ways to somehow help and give back. If your church or temple or mosque or some other organization is doing something to help victims or help give back after a tragedy, get involved. It will not only help the victims, but it might help you, too.

Whatever you do, don't just set there feeling bad about the world. You've had your mourning time. Now, dry your tears, blow your nose, look around and see what you can do to make it better.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm — Illustrated

Cover of Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm.
Cover of Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm.
Back during the summer of 2011, a short story I had written, "Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm," was published in Sam's Dot Publishing (SDP) magazine "Beyond Centauri." Soon after it came out, my first novella, The G.O.D. Factor, was also published by SDP. As a run up to the publication of the novella, I read a scene from my short story here that you can listen to / watch if you're in the mood.

(Side note: SDP had a long and venerable history in the genre small press world and I was proud to have my story published in various publications there, as well as a couple of novellas. However, "Beyond Centauri"  and "Aoife's Kiss" and other of SDP's books were bought up and then squashed by White Cat Publications. And if you see anything by me on White Cat Publications, I don't have anything to do with that. I've never received any money from any sales of books or stories by me on that site, if any have even sold. SDP no longer exists except as some weird blog site obviously owned by someone who must have bought the domain name. You can try to find some of the original SDP stuff, such as Scifaikuest at Alban Lake Publishing, and they officially carry some of my books and do actually pay me when those books sell. Though if you just want something by me you can also bypass them altogether for some of my stuff and find me at Lulu and Amazon. Okay, side note over. Just remember White Cat bad, Alban Lake good, and when in doubt, just go to Amazon.)

Later I self-published "Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm" in a collection of stories called Uncommon Faire: A Fiction Sideshow (available on Lulu here and on Amazon here). If you just want to read a collection of some of my short stories, then that's a good place to start. It's also available as an e-book to check out for free at Biblioboard, if your library system subscribes and you can find it (I have a hard time finding it and always seem to have to write a librarian for help).

This spring, after a year of change and death, I decided to pull the story out again, update it a little, spruce it up with some of my homemade illustrations and photos, and publish it by itself. I wanted to do something that would get my creative juices flowing again. The ebook is available on both Amazon and Lulu, if you just want to read it on its own. But if you're considering getting it for kids you know, I suggest the paperback, which right now is only on Lulu. The paperback has pages where someone can continue writing more stories about Gramma or draw other squishy, scary bugs to write stories about. It'll be on Amazon eventually, for those of you wanting to save on shipping charges, just keep checking back to my author page. I'm told it should be there in about six weeks.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Workshopping as a Free Radical — And Throwback Thursday

Crossposted from Blogetary 2.0 blog, a little late as it went up there yesterday and I forgot to put it up here until today. Oh well.

Trying to come up with a clever title -- like that one? Well, it's a title. It's not like I'm at work and have to fit it in a two-line one-column head at 16 or 18 pt. And here I'm Queen of my Blogetary Castle, so it can be whatever I want. So there.

So, yesterday was one of the $5 workshops at the writers country club down the street. I thought long and hard about going. I wanted to do something writing associated, but I knew if I went I'd end up feeling frustrated and ridiculous at the end of the evening again. I realized you can look up who else is attending through the Meet Up app, and saw that once again I'd be twice as old as everyone else. I'd probably end up opening my mouth and sounding like a know-it-all, but you can't help it when you happen to have that many more years experience.

So am I supposed to keep my mouth shut? Isn't this supposed to be the 21st century? If I were in my 20s and keeping my mouth shut someone would be railing and ranting against how white male culture was suppressing my expression. But now, the reason I would keep my mouth shut is to keep the peace and allow these younger women to express themselves freely without feeling shot down by the "knowitall" in the corner. *sigh*

Easier not to go at all. Hell, in a few years I can probably find a writers group in a senior center.
Looked up events that are supposed to be happening at the bookstore down the street as a friend suggested. The one last night was a reading/discussion with an author of a political book (not my cup of tea)  and the only event I'm even remotely interested in is a couple weeks from now and is $250. So, that's out.

But you know, one of those books I won as a door prize when I went to the poetry shindig/hootenanny at the writers country club, was a book of writing exercises. I got it for free and here it was sitting on my kitchen table waiting for me to use it. It's called Clear Out The Static In Your Attic. It feels like a clumsy title to me. I would have said, "Clear the Static Outta Your Attic" — but maybe there was already another book by that title or something. Anyway. Thought it was time to be creative and have my own little workshop as a free radical not attached to anything. I used to do that a LOT when I lived in Bellingham — get the Writers Digest out, or some other book, and set myself writing exercises to work on. If it worked then, it can work now. And it's FREE.
I did a couple of exercises out of it last night. The first one I had tried a few nights before, writing a few six word stories (you know that old story about how Hemingway was asked to write a story with six words?) and then linking them together in one story or poem. So, I worked on that again for a while. I think I might get a poem from that, and maybe something else as well from other phrases I worked up.

The second exercise is to take an epitaph quoted by a favorite author, or even something a favorite author wrote and write based on that. And I couldn't decide what to do. I got up and wandered around my apartment looking at books.

And here's where the Throwback Thursday ( #tbt !) comes in: I pulled "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg off my shelf to page through. She's coming to the West Hollywood Library at the end of the month so she's been on my mind a lot lately (so excited!). I thought I had remembered her saying "Be kind, be kind, be kind" somewhere in that book, but I couldn't find it. However, she does repeatedly say throughout her work to be kind, so maybe that's where I got it. It's what sticks in my head.

Going through that book brought back so many memories. I thought I had bought it in college, but it was actually a couple years later. I remember reading it on weekend road trips from Bham to Seattle. All sorts of bits were underlined. The cover is almost falling off. And then something I read there sent me to another old favorite book, "The Miracle of Mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh. Going through that reminded me of San Francisco all over again. I used to practice breathing while I was hanging on tight to a bus or BART rail on my way too and from work in Oakland.

Eventually I settled on no quotes from either book, but instead remembered something my nurse practitioner had told me last time I'd been in. I barked a laugh, wrote it down and got a pretty good flash story from it, I think. We'll see. A good scene, anyway.

The next exercise in the book used an app on the computer and I stare at the screen a lot these days with work at the paper and at home. As I wanted this to be a computer-free evening, I skipped that exercise and came up with my own, which turned out really well for me. So, I'm sharing it here.
Take a deck of cards. It can be any deck. I used a deck of tarot cards because they have good pictures, usually, and they were close at hand. But you could use SkipBo cards or Uno cards or Creative Prosperity Cards would be good, too. (Might even be better.) Shuffle and cut the deck. Draw seven cards. Write a story based on the pictures on the cards.
Write a story or scene or poem based on random cards pulled from a deck.
Write a story or scene or poem based on random cards pulled from a deck.
I got a good three or four handwritten pages out of that one. Could be a good short story in the making.

By then the sun was setting and I was running out of natural light and I figured my free radical workshop could come to a close for the evening.

So, on the whole, it was a really productive writing workshop last night. In fact, it was so good, I think I'll go back again next week! :D

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Workshop notes

Crossposted from my Blogetary blog:

So, today I went to a writers workshop for the first time in a verrrrryyyyyyy long time. It was at the same place that had the poetry reading/slam on Friday night, The Hatchery Press. I was more than a little nervous. And — again — almost didn't go. I worked later than normal at the paper and a last minute rush freelance job came in that needed to be done tonight (still working on it, just taking a break). I hadn't paid any money yet ($5 fee), and I could just de-RSVP.

I thought about it.

But then, I really wanted to go. And you know what made me want to go? I was working on the freelance job. I wanted to get at least a half hour in before taking off for the workshop (and I kind of thought, well maybe I'll shrug the workshop off). I picked a playlist on my iTunes, opened up my workbook, started up my timeclock and started the project. Songs came on, old favorites that I have loved singing to in the past. And guess what? I couldn't sing.


Most of my life I've had an alto voice and not the best, but okay. I've sung in choirs. But tonight I couldn't sing. My vocal cords were all wobbly and tight and I couldn't seem to get the right notes. And I started to cry.

Singing, or music of most kinds, writing, drawing -- these are things that have brought joy to my life. And I couldn't even carry a tune!

Now, last couple of weeks, I did do some drawing, but I think it was like picking at rocks and debris that have fallen across the stream. And it helped clear some stuff away to get the creativity flowing again. But something was still hung up.

And I thought, that's it. I can't be stuck like this. It's like entropy. I'm losing all those creative muscles.
Teddy did not want me to go.

But I showed up. I was nervous as anything, like I said before. So nervous that I remember my pencils but forgot my notebook. Had to borrow paper like a first-day-of-class freshman. But it was okay.

There was a handful of us, all different types of writers. Nice people. There were a couple of related writing exercises that helped me explore a character in one of my stories, and perhaps gave me an idea for rewriting one of her scenes. So, I feel good about that.


Yeah, there's a "but."

Not sure I fit there, or not anymore, though there may have been a time when I did. Not saying I won't go back, but I can't tell if I don't feel like I've fit because I've "grown out" of this type of group or if I'm just not comfortable because I haven't been in a writers group for so long, or maybe I'm just not advanced enough.

It just felt awkward — like when you go to a new school and on paper you're in the same English or Math class as where you transferred from, but in reality what you studied and what the current class is studying is completely different. You could be far ahead. You could be behind. It's uncomfortable.
Part of it was the side remark someone made about, "just none of that YA crap" and another part was (on my bit I had written), "well, I could have done without the claws and monster stuff, but otherwise I was fine with it."

As a friend once said, it's hard to write around Muggles if you're not one. Not that I'm about to go all Death Eater on anyone, but dammit, I write monsters. I write myth. I write science fiction and fantasy and sometimes even horror. With kids and teenagers thrown in for good measure, sometimes. And a stab at diverse casts and "strong female characters" -- though basically to me that just means writing complete characters.

I write the "weird stuff" that my dad disparaged of. That's just who I am.

Yeah. So. Anywho.

Maybe I'll go back. Maybe not. For $5 I can't really shake a stick at it, can it? I mean, it got me a page and a half on something that's been on vacation for a year, so that's gotta be something. Gotta keep the stream of creativity flowing somehow.

There's a poetry class next week. If I still have the $5 left from the $10 I broke to go to this workshop — well, we'll see what happens.