Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Story and The Mess Underneath

This post was sparked by Erica Orloff's post asking "So Does it Start With a Theme?"

For me, I have to start with the emotional journey of the main character. I have to know she's going from X to Y. And in any journey, we learn something from the journey, and maybe that's the theme.

A few days ago, I talked about Finding the Love, and how I can't really flow until I find that sweet spot. Mostly that's finding what I want to say, what I believe passionately enough in saying that will drive me through the mess of writing a novel and organizing my thoughts.

But I'm not big on symbols and themes as a matter of theory, but in practice, they're there. I just really hate for them to be noticeable. If someone can say about my work, "X is a symbol for Y," then I feel like I've failed a little bit.

For example, I have a two-sentence exchange in my mind, one that will take place at the end. I'm trying to decide whether it hints at the theme, or tells the theme.

Because, see, if you have to use a two-sentence exchange to tell the theme, then the story hasn't told the story. If you've effectively told the story, then two-sentence exchange can bring a feeling of closure, of getting the job done, of tying things together.

So I'm on the fence about those two sentences.

I don't like to be obvious. I fear my intrusion into the story. It's true; I might use symbols (if the following is a symbol), but I'll do everything I can to cover up the fact that it's a symbol. I use theme, sorta, but I'll do more to hide it than tell it, you know?

For example, say I've got a girl picking up a gun at the end of a story. Maybe she's a ... hmmm ... bounty hunter, LOL, and her career has been a rough journey for her, a journey of accepting who she is. Maybe her reluctance to pick up the gun has mirrored her reluctance to accept herself for who she is.

So I might go back through my story and scatter the gun throughout. I'll make sure she doesn't touch it, but I'll also make sure it's there. I'll make sure she goes out of her way to avoid touching it.

But each and every time, I'll make sure the gun has an immediate reason for being there that serves the scene, not just the symbol, you know?

So is the gun a symbol of her self-acceptance? Or some such thing? I don't know. Is the gun a symbol at all? I've never been much for symbols; literature classes drove me crazy. I like to enjoy a story (and a piece of music) as a whole.

The process of deconstructing the thing takes some of the magic away, for me. At the same time, I enjoy learning how a story is put together, and it's an important study. I deconstruct all of the stories I read. But then I have to put them back together and enjoy the whole.

I'm just a mix of contradictions. :-)

I respect the use of symbols and themes. It's just who I am as a writer. I want my readers to be in the story, living it so deeply that they feel like they're in the world I created.

I'm conscious that any "technique" might cause the reader to notice that someone wrote this story, and that it's a story, and not currently what they're living. I dread pulling a reader out of a story.

Those are just my goals, though. I don't know if I pull it off.

That's the most frustrating part of writing for me. I can't live in my readers' minds and know exactly what they're thinking and feeling and experiencing while reading my stuff.

I can't tell you how I yearn for that knowledge.

I don't know. What do you think? Themes? Symbols? Who you are as a writer?

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Series Snark

Okay, here's the thing: I understand series. I understand that you have to have a big hook to keep people anticipating the next book, the next season, heck, even the next week.

But, goshdarnit, these hooks are getting out of control.

I have been waiting for a book for a whole YEAR, waiting with GREAT anticipation, because the darned last page promised something that had me drooling.

I walk into Borders and I pick it up. And the hook? The promise of a story about one guy? That one guy is not in the story. Not at all.

I've been waiting a WHOLE YEAR! It's a good story, and I like it, but I want the one I'd been promised! I want the one I've been anticipating for a whole year!

And that hook was not ambiguous. It was pretty clear. It's not like I misinterpreted it. It was there, it was strong, it was a freaking PROMISE!

While I'm on this snark, let's talk about television.

NCIS. Okay, I understand the need for a big bang of a hook at the end of one season. HOWEVER. Ending the season with the hook that all your favorite characters are disappearing, that everything is going to change, that everything you love about the series is NOT GOING TO BE THERE ANYMORE, is not exactly inspiring me to wait on the edge of my seat.

Why would I come back to see my favorite show destroyed?

It's frustrating. Probably they will spend half a year setting things to rights, but still ...

Same with Numbers. A huge part of the show is the main character solving crimes for the FBI with math. (I love his passion and love for math. It's infectious!)

But at the end of the season, they hook with the math genius suddenly losing his clearance and not being able to work with the FBI or his brother anymore.

Again, the hook that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE just doesn't do it for me.

I mean, come on. Your watcher fell in love with a show for particular reasons. If you suddenly say EVERYTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE, how is that going to make them want to come back?

Then here's a show that reminds me of so much I hear about the writing business: Men in Trees.

I have fallen in love with the characters. I love that show. Those characters are now My Friends.

And what do they do?

Cancel it.

I don't know why, but I suspect it might be viewer numbers.

But whose fault is that?? Let's analyze:

Unless you have a DVR, you most certainly couldn't follow Men In Trees through the season. They must have changed nights three times. They took it off, then on, and you never knew when it was going back on again. Even I, who LOVE this show, missed weeks of it because they kept mixing it up.

It feels like the network set this show up for failure, and then they CANCEL the show for failing! Even though it was their fault!

And, you know, I'm getting real sick of networks yanking shows. Why should I watch any of them, why should I become friends with the characters, when they're just going to freaking yank my show, my friends, away from me?

I'm so tired of it.

Both industries are so focused on the big buck, the big bang, the sudden bestseller, that they don't give us a chance to discover and follow and fall in love with these series.

And they yank them too early, just when we're starting to fall in love, just when we're ready to tell the world about them and get word-of-mouth going.

I wish they would STOP IT!

So, tell me: what series that you loved has been yanked from you? Books or TV shows or movies...

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Feeling the Love

First, two links to pass on: I love this post about baby birds at Paperback Writer, and Mark Terry has a 96 page ebook On Writing for free!

When you first love someone, the passion is strong. It's huge. It's something you think about every day, every hour, every night. But then, as time goes on, the passion recedes into a holding position. It's still there, but you only bring it out now and then, when you're reminded how much you love a person.

Like, when DH leaves, I remember how much I love him. For sure. It's not that I love him more when he leaves, of course, it's just that I remember the passion. I feel the passion.

And so it is with writing. For me, particularly, with pseudonym. Just a few days ago, a friend emailed me, and I was talking about something I didn't like about Ms. P's career. Then, all of a sudden, something she said opened this floodgate of passion for what and why Ms. P writes.

I'd forgotten I loved it. Even though, every day when I sit down, I do love it. It's just so common an occurrence, I pretty much forget it exists.

But Ms. P has nowhere to grow. So I'm still intent on feeling the love somewhere else, too.

Because I realized: I can't really write unless I'm feeling the love. I can't GO with a story until I hit that sweet spot, find that passion, feel that overwhelming love that carries me away into the story.

I can piddle. I can research. I can brainstorm and plot a bit. I get little snatches of scenes. But until I feel the love, it just. ain't happening.

I woke up this morning, and suddenly, I'm feeling the love.

Knock on wood.

What about you? Are you like that? When do you fall in love with your story? First? Halfway? After the first draft is done? Or do you feel the love for your readers? Or whatever drives you?

Actually, what drives you? What fuels your writing? Is it love, passion, or ambition? Is it that inner insistence on finding a creative outlet? Or what? And when does it kick in and make the story flow?

Read more...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nice Smiles

Well, the highlight of my weekend was I got to see my niece, (my best friend's daughter) and she smiled at me, giggled at me, and seemed to be glad to see me. I'm thinking she's about a year past the "it's just gas" excuse, so I'll take it as a good sign that maybe she remembers me some.

She's a charmer.

It was a bittersweet weekend all around, for so many reasons. We went to DC and camped together at Greenbelt National Park. I enjoyed every minute of it, except the part when I dropped him off at Dulles Airport. so he could go work for 4 - 5 months.

I've said previously, to generalize, that DC people are the nicest I've ever met. I am, however, testing the theory that what I really mean is that Maryland people are the nicest I've ever met.

At the beginning of the weekend, I was just stunned at their niceness. We Ohioans, I think, keep to ourselves a little more. In DC and Maryland, most of the people go WAY out of their way. It's astonishing to me.

For example, we were late to the International Spy Museum. The girl didn't gesture to the reception desk and tell us to see the man about rescheduling our tour. Nope.

She actually WALKED us over to the reception desk, STOOD THERE and CHATTED while he looked up the information, and WALKED us back to the waiting area.

Just like, on our last trip, when the CVS did not have the camera mini-CDs, they called another store (Staples) for us, walked us OUT TO THE STREET, pointed, gave us directions multiple times, and all but walked us to the other store.

And this time, a woman got on the Metro, frazzled and confused.

"Is this going the right way?" she asked.

Now, in Ohio, someone would have probably said, "It only goes one way. You're at the end of the line." And that would have been that.

No, in Maryland, a random stranger, not a worker, STANDS UP, walks over to the map, and tells her that it only goes one way. He proceeded to ask her where she was going, and he showed her how to get there on the map. And then, after taking at least five full minutes to help a stranger, he sat back in his seat.

And (last example), in the grocery store, the guy actually put his hand up to shade the credit card swiper terminal thing, because, he said, it has a bit of a glare. And could I see it okay?

My mouth was on the floor.

I really think I'm a generally nice person, except at certain times of the month. But the stuff above just does not happen in Ohio. Maybe rarely.

All I know is that by the end of the trip, I was tipping waitresses a whole lot because I was delighted at how nice everyone was. And I was talking to everyone. It was way cool.

I want to move to Maryland. I know the above is a generalization, but ... in my experience, it's generally true.

Read more...

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Lolita Effect

Hi all! I'm sitting in an internet cafe in DC while DH messes with the airlines and tries to get things worked out and checked in and whatever. Ah well. I'll start the countdown for his return tomorrow.

Anyway, I'll probably be gone most this week, too, but I wanted to pass on this link to Ello's Blog, where she's interviewing Dr. Durham on Wednesday about her book, The Lolita Effect. Here's a summary of the book:

In The Lolita Effect, University of Iowa professor and
journalist M. Gigi Durham offers new insight into media
myths and spectacles of sexuality. Using examples
from popular TV shows, fashion and beauty magazines,
movies, and Web sites, Durham shows for the first time
all the ways in which sexuality is rigidly and restrictively
defined in media—often in ways detrimental to girls’
healthy development. The Lolita Effect offers parents,
teachers, counselors, and other concerned adults
effective and progressive strategies for resisting the
violations and repressions that render girls sexually
subordinate. Durham provides us with the tools to
navigate this media world effectively without censorship
or moralizing, and then to help our girls to do so in strong
and empowering ways. (Overlook Press)

I'm quite passionate on the subject.

And, since I just have to rant every time the book comes up in any way, I'll do it again: I don't care how good or well-written or whatever the book Lolita is, you won't catch me reading it. There are just lines one doesn't cross, and, you know, I don't do that line. I can't do that line. I can't even read fiction about it, even if it's excellent fiction. Yuck.

I'm not sure when I'll be around this week, but I'll check out the archives for sure. I hope you'll pop by her blog on Wednesday! There's a Q&A session, I believe.

I hope you're having a nice, extended weekend!

Read more...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rescuing Your Time

I haven't been around much; I'm sorry. I'm heading out for the weekend -- a much-looked forward to trip to DC!

In the meantime, I've been working hard on the spy thriller and the spy thriller site. I want them both crossed off my list.

I tripped over this awful wonderful tool called Rescue Time that keeps track of how much time you spend on what. The first day I installed it, I found that while writing and working at home, I was at about 10% of productivity.

The second day, I bumped it up to 60% real quick, LOL.

I had no idea I was losing that much time on my computer.

It's a tiny app, easy to use, runs in the background.

If you're finding the computer is a time suck rather than a time saver, Rescue Time has helped me immensely in only three days!

Have a great weekend!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cravings

Have you ever had a taste for something, but you weren't sure what? Like when you keep standing in front of the refrigerator, door open, hoping something will pop out at you? Or you go to the store and wander the aisles, hoping to find that one thing that will "hit the spot."

You start trying to narrow it down: Sweet? Salty? Bitter? Tart? Cold? Hot?

Sometimes, I just can't put my finger on what I want.

That's how I've felt about reading, lately. I'm dying for a thriller, but ... not really any of the thrillers I pick up. I'm reading a few I love; it's not that. It's just ... I've got a taste for something.

I've had this yearning for a book for over six months.

And I can't find it.

I try all sorts of books; I love them, but they're not quite what I want. I get excited about one or the other, but it fades quickly, because the more I read of it, the more I realize it's not exactly what I want.

This sort of sends me into whining mode. All of a sudden I don't want to read anything.

So I started thinking: maybe it's the book I'm writing that I'm yearning to read.

Writing in a new genre makes me want to find some author who's written what I'm trying to write, just so I can see how it's done.

I can't find someone who's written what I want to write, because I can't quite put my finger on what that is!

So I'm sort of stuck in a tunnel, searching, with no light to guide me.

I hope finishing this thing will satisfy this yearning. It's driving me a bit batty.

Ever have these feelings?

Read more...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why I Don't Like Cold Calls

"Hi! This is Natasha Fondren, the piano teacher. You called about your daughter?"

"Yeah." (A guy. This isn't good. Mothers are much more talkative.)

"Great!" (I wait for him to tell me all about his daughter.)

*pause*

*pause*

"So how old is your daughter?"

"Three."

"How old of a three is she?"

"What?"

"How old of a three is she?"

"I don't understand you."

"How. Old. Is. Your. Daughter?"

"Three."

(I sigh without making a sound.)

"Do you teach students that young?" (He asks, in a tone to suggest that if I don't, I shouldn't be calling myself a teacher.)

"I usually start them at four, but if she's an old three, then that's fine."

*pause*

(I try again.) "When is your daughter's birthday?"

"August."

"Well, that's fine then. Do you have a piano?"

"No. We're buying a keyboard."

"I'm sorry, I don't teach students who only have a keyboard."

"Isn't that discrimination?"

"No," (I make myself smile and pretend I'm telling a joke.) "It's a different instrument. If you want to learn violin, you go to a violin teacher. If you want to learn keyboard, you go to a keyboard teacher. If you want to learn piano, you go to a piano teacher."

(I then launch into my spiel about how starting on a keyboard causes bad habits that takes years to undo, about how just because one part of them looks the same, does not mean they are the same.)

(His tone gets snottier, as if I know nothing.) "Well how long have you been teaching?" (As if to suggest I don't know what I'm talking about.)

"Fifteen years." (I breathe, try not to get defensive. I do have a high voice.)

"How old are you?"

*pause* (I breathe. I remind myself I do have a high voice. I breathe again. I tell myself not to be offended by such an impolite question. I consider a joke. I consider asking him how old he is. I consider telling him where I went to school, and invite him to do the math.)

"Thirty-five."  (I'm thirty-four, but I couldn't remember for a second and I subtracted 1973 from 2008 and got 35.)

(At this point, I wish I could just find a way to politely end the call, because no matter what he reads about me, what he learns about me from his friends, or what he learns about my qualifications, he clearly has no respect for me. I'm not taking a student whose parent has no respect for me. It's just not a good match. It won't work out.)

Will someone please tell me why people keep buying KEYBOARDS when they want to learn PIANO? This makes number TEN. TEN straight calls in a row from people who only have keyboards. This has never happened to me. Ever. I don't think, before this year, that I've ever had TWO students with keyboards call me in a row.

And why did he have no respect for me straight off the bat?

*sigh*

Because of my voice.

*double sigh*

I really hate my voice. The sad part is that I have a sore throat which was already making my voice lower than normal, AND I was actually forcing my lower-than-normal voice to go lower than lower-than-normal.

This is why I don't do advertising. Unless they know me by reputation, it just doesn't work. All because of my voice.

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The Good, The Bad, The Snarkiversary

imageFirst, some good news: Tess Gerritsen will be blogging at Murderati every other Tuesday, starting on June 17. HUGE YAY!

Then, the bad news. DH is leaving to work again, day after Memorial Day. I'm telling you now: I'm determined to not mind and be strong. So if I start to whine and feel sorry for myself, I'll feel like an idiot.

And, guess what? Today (May 20th) is the Miss Snark Tribute at Patricia Wood's blog to celebrate the anniversary of her retirement. Head on over and leave a comment.

imageMiss Snark was my first must-read-every-morning blog. I have no idea how I found her, but she got me hooked on reading blogs. For all her snark, she was inspiring, and I'd even describe her as positive, in a snarky kind of way.

The time she took to care, to inform, and to advise was wonderful, above and beyond.

She answered a question of mine, once. I was shocked, touched. And grateful she didn't proclaim me Nitwit of the Day.

And she once popped by my blog. It's the only part of my blog I dust regularly.

I wish she would post once a year. Wouldn't that be nice? Just a treat for those many of us who miss her dearly, who are forever grateful.

Read more...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Fell Flat On My Face

Yep. I did. I tripped on my pant leg. Flat on my face. It wasn't a stumble. I didn't sink to my knees.  It was BAM! in front of one hundred people. One moment I'm upright and the next minute I'm face down.

I'm telling myself I showed the students that even if you fall flat on your face, you put a smile on your face and keep going. (Keep going is one of my big mantras.)

Other than that, the day went pretty well. Utterly exhausting. I was "on," onstage, for nearly four hours straight because there was no break between recitals (the first recital ran over).

I was more myself this recital. I put at the forefront of the recital what I'm about, as a teacher. Well, I featured the students, hopefully, so they were at the forefront, but I showcased them with all I really try to teach them--not just piano.

It worked out so great, I really don't understand why I didn't do that before. I guess because I was so worried about the business and pleasing the parents and trying to minimize the inconvenience to the parents, that I forgot to show them what I'm about.

I haven't written but a little in the past three weeks. I'm not sleeping at all, because my mind is just whirring at night because I didn't spill its contents on my computer. I can't wait to get back to it tomorrow!

When I start writing again this week, I want to apply the same lesson learned. It's one thing to be real (my motto two years ago), and another to figure out what you're about and to be it more.

What story is not just going to be real for me, but is going to put what I'm about in my story in a big way? That's my writing goal this year.

Any thoughts? And ever fall flat on your face in a very public way?

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Finally, A Motto for the Year

My motto for 2006 was "Be real."

I forgot what my motto for 2007 was.

And I hadn't picked a motto for 2008, but as I was researching quotes last night, I stumbled upon one:

"Don't compromise yourself. It's all you've got." ~Janis Joplin

I love that. I've decided to be more of myself this year.

So how are your goals, resolutions, or whatever going this year? And do you have a motto for this year?

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Help! Please ...

Okay. I'm having the worst time coming up with awards for Saturday. If you have any ideas, I'd be SO amazingly grateful. I've been working on this for two days and I'm getting nothing done.

First off is the award for the person who always gets the job done, no matter what. Responsible, diligent, tenacious ... I wanted to call it the Pit Bull Award, but I'm told that has negative connotations.

(Well, DH always tells me I'm like a pit bull with a bone; I don't let go. I take this as a compliment; he means it as a criticism, LOL.)

He suggested The Marine Award. But I thought that wouldn't quite suit 3rd - 5th grade girls.

I then suggested The Dog With the Bone Award.

He didn't think that would suit.

As for other awards, I kinda like these:

The Mount Everest Award (tackling and mastering a huge challenge), The Can Do It Award (attitude of), The Pablo Casals Award (most likely to save the world through music/sensitivity/compassion).

I've got the "Wonderful Work Ethic Award," which is okay, I guess. A little corny, but please tell me the thought counts?

I just feel this pressure to get the exact right wording to make each student feel really special about their achievements. And the following awards sound so boring compared to how proud I am of their work this year:

The Perserverance Award, The Helpfulness Award, The (can't think of a name; Endurance/Athleticism) Award, Expression, Sharing (their music), Cheerfulness (the infectious kind that makes work fun for everyone around them), Compassion, Adventuresome/Picking Challenges, Patience, Determination.

*sigh*

Maybe it's okay to have boring names if I talk it up. Ugh. Off to write the speech to talk it up.

Any suggestions?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Where Does It Come From?

I was trolling the internet, looking for quotes for the recital program and ideas for awards (I googled old-fashioned virtues, LOL. I'm pretty old-fashioned in some respects.), and I came across the mention that George Lucas was completely broke by the time Star Wars hit the theaters, having had to use mostly his money because so many people didn't believe in his vision.

It's not an original story, certainly. (And my source was not much of one, so I may have the details wrong; feel free to correct me.)

But I was wondering: where does that come from? What kept him, and all the others like him, going?

Is it faith and belief that their vision will become profitable?

Is it an attitude of damn the consequences, I just have to do this?

Is it an inner certainty that they are on the right path?

Are they so focused on their target, they don't see the rocks falling around them?

Is it some life mission encoded in their DNA, which allows them to take no other path?

There are some things that not even the most positive human being can manufacture. There have been some things in my life I've had no doubt about. And those beliefs were not manufactured, they weren't pep-talked into existence.

Just a bunch of questions and thoughts. I rarely tell my students "you can do it." I have to SHOW them, PROVE it to them. People just don't believe stuff like that. It has to come from somewhere inside.

I don't know. I'm just thinking. And procrastinating more work. I took a three hour nap this morning, but that's all the sleep I've had in the past two days. I'm not going to get much than that tonight.

Back to it, I guess. I keep fantasizing about spending all day Tuesday in bed. Reading.

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A Show of Hands?

So, last night, I spent SIX HOURS unraveling the mess of backups upon backups upon backups I had strewn across three computers. Sometimes four backups on one computer.

Finding the most up to date version is a MESS.

I am not what you'd call a techie geek. Okay, lately, since I've become addicted to Life Hacker, I've been edging towards that way, for sure.

But techie or not, and especially those not, can you watch this and not absolutely SALIVATE, chomp at the bit, want so bad you CAN'T WAIT for GetDropbox to come out?

*whimper*

Read more...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Watermelon, Grapes, and Hope

Watermelon:

Sorry, long one. Decided to play with headers to break it up. :-)  Forgive me?

Today I went grocery shopping. God bless Trader Joe's. Watermelon was much cheaper there.

Only $6.99.

I heard on the radio that in the regular stores, a watermelon is $12.

Needless to say, the only fruit I eat, nowadays, is the frozen kind. Ick. But it's okay in smoothies.

Every time I go to the grocery store, I feel like crying when I leave. *sigh*

See, this whole Bush stimulus shit annoys the hell out of me. As if inflation isn't choking the hell out of me already, Bush pours more money into the economy which practically guarantees more inflation.

At least as far as I understand it.

I think there's a lot of resentment flowing around, because we're working our asses off and not making enough money to keep up. Everyone's feeling it. And I think people are resenting the hand that feeds them because they're not getting fed enough.

Frankly, I feel its pinch. I relate, definitely. 

The Dark Side:

And this comes at a time when I have to make a choice in my piano business: be a "candy" teacher, or keep striving to give the students a quality musical education that will help ensure the future of classical music.

See, there's a guitar teacher in town who tells his students they don't have to practice at all. He says they're busy enough. He's OVERFLOWING with students. And that's fine. He fulfills a service to those who would only receive music under those conditions. I am glad, truly.

My studio tends to practice more than any others. I have several incentives that get the kids practicing. Other teacher expect the same practicing, but it's not so obvious, and they don't rock the boat when they don't get it.

I'm more inconvenient. Inconvenient is not good for business.

And then there's inflation.

And then there's writing. I love writing, and would do it for fun, but what I choose to write has to be a choice driven by what will most likely help pay for groceries.

Hope:

All the self help mumbo jumbo tells you to do what you love, and the money will follow. Frankly, I don't have much choice. The only things I know how to do are things that I love.

Idealism:

So, for me, no more wishy washy trying to look convenient while providing a quality musical education. I'm going to give each student the best thing for them in the long-term, and not worry about inconveniencing the parents. I'll try my best not to, truly. I'm trying every day to make it easier to squish in knowledge and experience without inconveniencing anyone.

But I'm going to teach like the best piano teachers teach. It's what I have to give the world. It's all I have, aside from writing stories.

I'm more excited about teaching than I have been in years. I had a huge breakthrough this spring. I am SO excited to get started on the new year. Even the kids are catching my enthusiasm. We are totally going to rock next year.

I will trust the universe that there are plenty of parents who want quality over convenience, god bless 'em. I have many of them now, actually. A few more would help with the groceries.

And as for writing, I will write what I'm most passionate about, and trust that the money will follow.

It's all we can do, right?

Give the world our best. Put our best out there. Give it everything we've got without holding back.

If we hold back, if we water down our gifts just to make money, then we disrespect them.

I don't know.

Sour Grapes:

I know Bush isn't all to blame. But he's enough to blame where I feel right about saying that Bush is the worst thing that's ever happened to this country in my adulthood. Until him, I didn't realize how good the presidents before him had been. Or adequate, at least.

But I'm not allowing myself sour grapes for putting the best I can do out in the world.

A lot of people do, and they definitely have the right to. I've done it in the past.

But it just makes me crazy, and it makes things worse. So the only sour grapes I'm allowing myself are for Bush.

I can't wait until we have a new President. And dear God, I pray every day he can lead us out of this mess.

Any thoughts?

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Defensiveness

As I've mentioned before, I'm not the greatest at puzzling out women, sometimes. I know this one person, who, no matter how nicely I say suggest something, no matter how flexible I am at changing and doing favors for this person, no matter how much I do, this person automatically resorts to really snippy defensiveness.

*sigh*

I have no idea why this is. It's really ridiculous. I have to work with this person, pretty much.

And I really genuinely like this person. I wouldn't mind, if she'd get over it the next day. She could be going through the "change," and boy do I empathize with hormonal craziness.

I just keep reminding myself how much stress this person is under, and I can see that she's resenting what she's doing because it's not making her the money she wants yet, but ... she's blaming the wrong people and taking pennies from the only people who DO make her money.

*sigh*

I swear, I re-read my emails a thousand times to make sure they sound nice. I make sure there's not a single "but," since that inflames defensiveness. I almost always agree with her. When I disagree, I do it phrased as a nice a suggestion as I can think of.

And yet she always comes back with a defensive attack.

Sometimes I wonder if she resents the favors I've done for her over the past couple years. I really don't understand it. I really don't. It's completely bizarre.

In my espionage research, I read that, mostly, people are more loyal to those they help, and less loyal to those they are helped by.

Isn't that bizarre?

*sigh*

I don't know. Sometimes, I wish some women would just look at things like a man. To stereotype. They don't take everything as a personal attack, especially when it has nothing to do with them.

Oh, blogosphere, any suggestions?

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Friday, May 09, 2008

So Good You Wanna Cry

Have you noticed how cliched expressions seem to dilute their power? I've heard the expression, "So good you want to cry," probably a million times.

But today, I picked up a book, and it was so good, I got choked up and burst into tears in the middle of Borders. If I hadn't been in the middle of Borders, I'm sure I would have really cried.

I've had a couple students turn a phrase so lovely, that I burst into tears. Certainly a few performers, too.

Being "moved to tears" seems to make more sense in music. "Make your mother cry!" I tell my students.

But you don't really hear people talking about how a thriller made you cry--not because it was moving--just because it was so damn good.

There are some writers who just have a presence on the page. Their skill, their voice, something, is just so powerful it blows you away, pulls you into their world.

Pulls you.

That's power. That's amazing.

So I ducked my head and pretended to have a coughing fit so I had an excuse to wipe the tears from my eyes.

Whenever this happens, I'm usually depressed for a good ten or fifteen minutes. And then I get really excited.

Ever have this sort of experience? Or am I really crazy?

PS: The book is Phantom Prey by John Sandford. Wow. Wow. Just pick it up and read the first page. Wow.

PPS: Thanks to Mark Terry for mentioning it!

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Looking Back - 13 Mistakes I Made

So y'all know my story. Pseudonym was kinda e-published right away. Like, my first finished story ever. Needless to say, my motto became, "Never look back," mostly because it's a tad embarrassing to see all my beginning mistakes out there, floating in the world for everyone to see.

So I never look back.

Until now.

A bunch of my older short stories are being bundled up together in a couple books, and I have the opportunity to get in a quick edit.

It's been educational. I decided to list all my mistakes. I'm not sure why, LOL. It'll make a good Thursday Thirteen!

1.) I was, it seems, obsessed with the word that in the beginning.

What is up with that? I think I erased two thats per paragraph, at least, sometimes one from every sentence!

2.) If you think I use the word but too much now, you should have seen me back then! But, but, but, but, but ... but insanity!

3.) My narrator voice kept creeping into my character's dialogue. Heck, one character's rhythms kept creeping into the other character's rhythms.

4.) In the beginning I didn't understand or feel the rhythm of paragraphs. Like, I didn't know the power of using one-sentence paragraphs. In the middle, I knew that power too well. (Still do.)

5.) Oh, god, my punctuation in my first few stories was horrible. With all the commas my one editor used to put in, I'm surprised that wasn't fixed. I'm hoping some weird thing happened during the re-format.

6.) And there was one story where it was clear I had just learned the fun and glory of the em dash, LOL.

7.) Precisely 19.2% of my short story heroines are named some variant of Jennifer.

*cringe*

I didn't realize.

Dear, God, how could I not realize???

I don't even like the name all that much! For people, great name, fine. For characters ... too ... too ... something.

8.) Sometimes I would switch between deep third to a narrator third, like, "She felt the stress of the day slip away. She breathed out a sigh, took off her shoes, and settled in front of the fireplace. Jennifer was a work-hard, relax-hard sort of girl."

9.) One of the stories was horrid, just purely unfixable, and editing a bit useless.  We're talking numerous soap-operish, "Oh, Jennifer!" and "Oh, Carl!" "But, Jennifer!" "Yes, Carl!" "Jennifer!" "Carl!" "Oh, Jennifer!" "Oh, Carl!" Oh! Oh! Oh!

Oh. My. God.

Hello? There's TWO people in the whole darn story! I think a reader can manage to remember their names. In fact, with two people in the story, a reader doesn't even have to remember their names!

That one was a rough edit. I was cringing the entire time. They must have told each other they loved each other in every other paragraph!

All I could do was delete a lot. If it were mine to throw away, I would!

Hear me, O Universe! I am sorry for writing that piece of crap story!

10.) My paragraphs were too long, often. Later, my paragraphs were too short.

11.) A couple times I asked readers to make too big of a leap, plot-wise.

12.) Oh, the head-hopping. *sigh* (Clearly, my obsession with Oh is not over.)

13.) My biggest mistake was not writing in first person. It is SO clear to me, after re-reading all these stories, that I am a first person writer. My third is so obviously itching to be first.

Despite all the mistakes, I also get this odd fear that I was a better writer then. I pray it can't be true, but it's this weird niggly feeling I get.

There were two surprising things. I noticed my characters are always ... real and fairly vivid.

The other is that I actually write stories. Like, beginning, middle, and end. Even from the beginning. I have no idea how, because I've always felt that was one of my weak points.

It's really a bizarre miracle that occurs each time, pretty much outside myself. I really feel like someone else is writing. Maybe the universal mind or something, who knows.

Getting to the end is still something I find surprising, each and every time. That there's a story between the beginning and end is a bit of a miracle, too.

Mostly, when I get to the end, I think, how the hell did that happen? Who did that?

Ever experience that feeling? Or am I just weird that way?

Gas was $3.759 at the pump today.  Remind me why they just don't round up and say it's $3.76? It's equally awful either way. At this point, a tenth of a cent isn't going to make much difference. When you're paying $67 to fill the tank, are you going to quibble of two pennies?

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It's like, book city!

I haven't been to Borders or writing for about a week, maybe a week and a half. I can't remember, LOL, and that's highly unusual for me. (I usually go everyday.)

So when I went today, I had to go through the store and touch all the new books and see all the new displays. As I was up front checking out the new James Patterson book, (definitely caught my eye, since I've fallen in love with my share of imaginary characters) a little kid came in the front door, seemingly for the first time.

He stopped, his eyes got really big, and he got this huge, silly grin on his face.

"Whoa!" he said. "It's like, book city!"

I had to laugh, because that's the exact same feeling I get every time I walk into a book store.

Definitely a kid after my own heart.

I just love the bookstore. And since I was tagged by Edie and Karen, I'll do that page 123 thing with James Patterson's new book, which asks the question, "What if your imaginary friend from childhood was your one true love?"

Isn't that a cool premise?

Page 123, five sentences in, plus the next three. (Did I get that right? I'm not at home to check.)

" ... Come for a ride. I want to talk to you, Jane. I came all the way up here from the Village."

"I really don't know that we have anything to talk about, Hugh," I said, keeping my voice mild.

If you haven't done this, feel free, and I'll link to you here! I won't tag to anyone specifically, since I forget who's already played!

How's your week going? How was your weekend?

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Learn Your Limitations ...

Ever since I attended (and had a couple of my students participate in) a workshop by one of my favorite piano teachers, I've been jazzed. This isn't great for writing, at the moment, but once I get everyone planned for next year and get through the Spring Recital, life should be back in balance again.

One of the hardest things to do is to see our own limitations.

They're easiest to find when they're hiding behind an "I can't."  They're much more difficult to unearth when they're invisible under any variation of "it's hopeless."

Sometimes, the easiest way out of a rut is just to see what's possible, to see where the next mountain lies. The further past the basics you get, the harder it is to see where you're limiting yourself.

What a great thing when we find them. I step over them, put them behind me, and firmly fix my gaze on what's possible, on what I previously thought was impossible.

More and more, whether it be writing or music, I find the path to improvement is finding and discovering what we can't currently see.

Once you can see something, you can fix it.

Once you step beyond your current limitations, there's a whole toy store of stuff to play with. It's exhilarating, really. All we have to do is see what's possible beyond our limitations.

Limitations are just an entranceway to the fun.

Learn 'em, and then jump to the other side.

Have you ever had that experience of banging your head against a ceiling for ages and ages and ages, and then suddenly you're through, and you're exhilarated for weeks on all the new stuff you get to play with?

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Too Many Words

I don't have this problem with fiction, for some reason, but when it comes to non-fiction?

Oh, Lordy.

I'm revamping my studio website, and goodness. I write content, and then I literally have to delete 90% of it.

Even sadder is that of the10% left, probably about 90% of that should be cut, too.

Or maybe not.

See, online, people tend to skim. So I was wondering: if they only process the main points and skim the rest, then isn't there a point when cutting out everything but the parts they don't skim, would mean they would still skim and miss more main points?

I didn't explain that well.

Take a reader who skims 80% and reads 20%.  If you cut out the 80% they normally skim, would they still read the 20%? Or would they skim 80% of the 20%, and then read only 20% of the 20%?

So, in that case, should we leave in the original 80%, suspecting they'll skim it, so that we know they'll get the 20%?

(Am I making any sense at all?)

*sigh*

See. This is one of the reasons why nonfiction is such a challenge for me.

So what do you think? And how was your weekend? Whatcha up to? How's the writing going?

(Over here, guild is over, I'll be able to write on Monday, finally, and I'm still working on the spy thriller. Except for the last week, but it was a busy one. I'm trying to convince DH to take me to a drive-in movie tonight!)

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Happy Girl

I am such a happy girl. We have a nice guild judge. Piano guild auditions are like a final exam for piano lessons, and it's a judging event that happens nationally (actually internationally, now).

Don't get me wrong. I don't care about how strict they are with their comments or their grading.

No matter how badly (or goodly) they're playing, there's absolutely no reason not to be nice to them during the audition.  If they're screwing everything up, a judge should put them at ease, smile, be nice. Sure, they can grade as tough as they want. That's cool, we can learn from that.

But we can't learn from a judge who stands up at one mistake, towers over a little girl, and points out a wrong fingering. (Which means little girl gets flustered and starts missing EVERY fingering, and then can barely play her pieces because she can't see through the tears.)

So I'm listening to one of my students through the walls, and I'm so very grateful this judge is nice. He's bringing out their best playing.

Last year's judge had all my best students CRYING. For some odd reason, all the girls. She was nice to the boys, but every single girl cried. Weird, that. And my students were pretty well-prepared!

I'm not fond of the crying technique when it comes to teaching. If it worked, cool.

But it doesn't.

Here's a questions: have you ever had a teacher or judge or critiquer make you cry? How did it work? Did it motivate you? Did it stop you?

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Unwinding ... and Winding Up

It's weird. When I have no time, when I'm working all day and night, I still have to take time to unwind.

Even if I've been working for 15 hours and I'm exhausted, I can't just go to bed. I have to relax first. You'd think the sleep would be welcome, and it is, but ... I just can't get myself there until I do the blog routine and the bath routine.

Even though it means two hours less sleep.

Are you like that?

And here's another question: have you ever been too tired to sleep? Have you ever been unable to keep your eyes open, but when you go to bed, you can't fall asleep?

I've been spending lots of time getting my studio website updated, during my free seconds. It's that time of year. After a great conference, I have lots of new ideas to make teaching more fun for me and the students.

I'm not a one-thing person, though. I miss writing. I need to do two things to maintain balance. I do get more done when I focus on one thing, but only because I'll obsessively focus on it for days, and even skip sleep. That's not healthy. I need two things so I don't go nuts.

What about you?

When you don't have time to write, how do you handle it? Do you go inwardly mad? What is it about writing that makes it so addictive like that?

I miss my worlds, too. You know? I miss my characters.

I think I'm up too late.

Have you ever not wanted to go on a vacation because you didn't want to miss a writing day?

Just curious. I can't wait until Monday is here! Must. Write.

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