26 September 2010

Guess who's coming to dinner

A few weeks ago, I took a survey among some of my Facebook friends about who they'd invite to share a meal if the pesky rules of space, time and reality were suspended for the day.

The question is far from new. It's a common icebreaker to make strangers more comfortable around each other, and it's a game I played in college when my study group needed a break.

Over the years, I've found people answer in one of two ways: They choose people they admire or people they miss. The eight friends who answered the question mostly picked people they admired, although two wanted to see their grandfathers again. One wanted to meet her maternal grandmother and a fourth wanted to visit her father.

These numbers are too low to be statistically relevant and you shouldn't make decisions based on these conclusions (yes, that's my legal disclaimer) but I always find lists like this interesting. So without further ado, the choices included:

  • Three writers: Nelly Bly, Dean Koontz and Mark Twain
  • Two fictional characters: Trixie Belden and Belle Watling 
  • Jesus (chosen twice)
  • Jefferson (chosen twice, but only one person picked Jesus and Jefferson. Mmmm...)
  • Two revolutionaries: Nelson Mandela and Paul Revere (no one picked Gandhi)
  • Archimedes
  • Anthony Bourdain (guess someone must cook)
  • George Carlin (I'm going to this party)
  • Rounding out the guest list: Martha Washington, Mary Boleyn and Elizabeth Taylor

As for me, it varies by mood. Sometimes it would be a family reunion with my maternal grandmother (who I didn't meet) along with a favorite great aunt and great uncle. But on the days I'm feeling particularly snarky, I'd invite Churchill, Machiavelli, and Eleanor of Aquitaine to the table.

How about you? Who would you invite?

21 September 2010

Packing for Mars

I picked up a new book over the weekend that has totally charmed me. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, written by Mary Roach (author of Stiff), explores all the weird and mundane stuff that gets left out of the press releases.

Like most authors, Roach begins with a series of questions, then answers them in a wry, but still slightly awed style.

She lets us know that barf bags don't work in zero-gravity conditions (0Gs) and explores at length how the human psyche deals with living for months on end in cramped spaces with people who will eventually irritate you to the point of murder. For the most part, space agencies don't talk about interpersonal relations in space. The official reports omit the fist fights (probably a laugh to watch in 0Gs) and the sex (also probably a riot in 0Gs, but let's not watch).

She also delves into the challenge of actually sending a team of astronauts to Mars. Given that it would be a five-year journey (if not longer) we'd have to assume conflict and coupling. The criteria for facilitating the latter became so complex that one astronaut suggested eunuchs. A joke, I hope.

These travelers must be able to function equally well in times of tedious boredom and imminent catastrophe. They also will become the ultimate authorities on how to reuse, reduce, recycle (filtered urine as drinking water?).

And despite the predicted isolation and stomach-turning beverages, her book stirs the ancient desire in me to travel. Very far.

As a child in the mid-70s, I read everything I could find on Mars, studied the planet, and even wrote NASA to find out what kind of qualifications I'd need to become an astronaut.

NASA wrote back, saying to study math, science, engineering, and then pointed out that only men are astronauts. I was furious. Going to Mars was an item on my bucket list before I knew what a bucket list was. 

Why my fascination with Mars? I don't know. Who can explain why something captures our imagination and becomes a lifelong interest? What causes some people to follow sports with such a fervor they can recites stats for any team in any league while others build model train sets that include entire cities, even the bordello on the wrong side of the tracks?

I suspect these interests have roots in our earliest dreams, relics from the time when all things were possible and imagination and reality hadn't yet become separate in our minds.

It's still good to dream, and though I won't be crossing Go to Mars off my list, Roach's book is providing me with an interesting peak into the world of those who just might make the journey.

18 September 2010

Offended by Rank Objectification of Writers

Disclaimer: This is not mine. I found it by following a link from a friend and it made me laugh, then wince, then look for the hidden camera in my office. 

There is this thing currently going around tumblr about why dating a writer is good. I think it’s nice that this thing is going around, because I like writers, and lots of us could use more dates. As a writer who has dated people, though — including other writers — I would like to offer some correctives to this list.
The items in bold are the alleged reasons to date a writer. I have replaced the original commentary with my bleak corrective, in lightface.
  1. Writers will romance you with words. We probably won’t. We write for ourselves or for money and by the time we’re done we’re sick of it. If we have to write you something there’s a good chance it’ll take us two days and we’ll be really snippy and grumpy about the process.
  2. Writers will write about you. You don’t want this. Trust me.
  3. Writers will take you to interesting events. No. We will not. We are busy writing. Leave us alone about these “interesting events.” I know one person who dates a terrific writer. He goes out alone. She is busy writing.
  4. Writers will remind you that money doesn’t matter so much. Yes. We will do this by borrowing money from you. Constantly.
  5. Writers will acknowledge you and dedicate things to you. A better way to ensure this would be to become an agent. That way you’d actually make money off of talking people through their neuroses.
  6. Writers will offer you an interesting perspective on things. Yes. Constantly. While you’re trying to watch TV or take a shower. You will have to listen to observations all day long, in addition to being asked to read the observations we wrote about when you were at work and unavailable for bothering. It will be almost as annoying as dating a stand-up comedian, except if you don’t find these observations scintillating we will think you’re dumb, instead of uptight.
  7. Writers are smart. The moment you realize this is not true, your relationship with a writer will develop a significant problem.
  8. Writers are really passionate. About writing. Not necessarily about you. Are you writing?
  9. Writers can think through their feelings. So don’t start an argument unless you’re ready for a very, very lengthy explication of our position, our feelings about your position, and what scenes from our recent fiction the whole thing is reminding us of.
  10. Writers enjoy their solitude. So get lost, will you?
  11. Writers are creative. This is why we have such good reasons why you should lend us $300 and/or leave us alone, we’re writing.
  12. Writers wear their hearts on their sleeves. Serious advice: if you meet a writer who’s actually demonstrative, be careful.
  13. Writers will teach you cool new words. This is possibly true! We may also expect you to remember them, correct your grammar, and look pained after reading mundane notes you’ve left for us.
  14. Writers may be able to adjust their schedules for you. Writers may be able to adjust their schedules for writing. Are you writing? Get in line, then.
  15. Writers can find 1000 ways to tell you why they like you. By the 108th you’ll be pretty sure we’re just making them up for fun.
  16. Writers communicate in a bunch of different ways. But mostly writing. Hope you don’t like talking on the phone — that shit is rough.
  17. Writers can work from anywhere. So you might want to pass on that tandem bike rental when you’re on vacation.
  18. Writers are surrounded by interesting people. Every last one of whom is imaginary.
  19. Writers are easy to buy gifts for. This is true. Keep it in mind when your birthday rolls around, okay?
  20. Writers are sexy. No argument. Some people think this about heroin addicts, too.
    (Source: 52hearts)
    Cite Arrow reblogged from douglasmartini

    16 September 2010

    Three things every writer should know

    If you write Romance inevitably you hear: “Why do you write that? You could do better.”

    The implication being that either you’re talentless or happy endings are so unrealistic that no real author would want to write them.

    Personally, I always laugh it off and say, “Well, I started out writing a murder mystery, but then my hero met the heroine.”

    Despite my reply, the implication that writing happy endings somehow requires less talent or effort grates on me like stop-and-go traffic. However, it’s one I’ve had to answer—and will have to answer—throughout my career. As part of my media-training workshop “Meet the Press on Common Ground” I work with authors to help them give the best interviews they can. I also advise participants to be ready to address three key topics:

    1. What do you write?
    2. Why do you write it?
    3. What is your current book about?

    Developing key messages that cover these three areas help you answer the questions smoothly, succinctly and consistently.

    Key topic 1: The first is the theme of your writing. Theme explores timeless ideas, is usually implied rather than stated and should be summed up in a few words, i.e. “duty vs. honor” or “being true to yourself.” Some famous themes:
    • Cinderella: perseverance leads to triumph
    • Beauty and the Beast: things aren’t always what they seem (or don’t judge a book by its cover)
    • Snow White: love triumphs overall
    My theme, which runs through all my works whether contemporary or historical, is free will vs. fate. Does what we are determine what we will become? This plays out in choice and consequences. My characters make all the wrong choices and find themselves on the divide between gain and loss, happiness and heartbreak, with no easy way out.

    Key topic 2:  Although you should never have to defend our genre, you will. I write romance because I like crafting stories that put characters on the divide between happiness and heartache, gain and loss. And it’s this divide—the knowledge that the story could go either way—that makes writing romance so challenging and satisfying.

    Key topic 3: This is the hook for your current story. Hooks should be pithy, memorable and focus on conflict. For example, my current book ENTHRALLED is about a man in love with the most dangerous woman at court—the king’s mistress.

    Whether these questions come from friends or an agent, knowing what you’re going to say beforehand will help you get your points across without losing your poise.

    X-posted at  http://www.caseycrow.com/general/three-things-e…-should-know-2/

    15 September 2010

    Please welcome my guest, Lynda K. Scott

    Hi, everyone. Please join me in welcoming my friend and fellow author Lynda K. Scott.

    My hubby likes to wait until the Very Last Minute to go shopping for birthday or Christmas gifts…which explains why I got a shower head for Christmas one year. Or why I got a can opener for a birthday present some time later. It’s taken him a long time to finally learn that those are not the sorts of gifts one gives to the woman he loves and cherishes, not if he wants to live, at any rate.

    It’s not that I’m all bling-bling (though I do like my sparklies) or high maintenance. I just think a gift should show you know what the recipient likes or would like. It should reflect his or her personality, desires or interests. Which is why I was delighted when hubby gave me The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks for my birthday.

    I can see you scratching your head but stay with me.

    I write science fantasy romance with a few forays into science fiction or fantasy romance or urban fantasy. So The Zombie Survival Guide is, for me, a reference book. There’s lots of good information in there, especially if you encounter, well, zombies. Don’t laugh–I believe I worked with one for several years before the economy went south and we all needed other employment. My daughter claims her first grade teacher was a zombie. I met the woman once. My daughter may have been right.

    Back to the book, it teaches you a lot of fairly good, logical things to do to survive a zombie attack. And it tells you how to avoid becoming a zombie victim (basically, don’t stand and scream like a Hollywood starlet). It shows how to create a bug-out bag (a backpack easily carried that holds items essential for survival. It also explains the necessity of head shots when whacking zombies and why to avoid closed, cramped quarters like sewer lines when trying to evade zombies (a piece of advice I didn’t need).

    The book is actually quite amusing in a grim sort of way.

    That’s the key point for all fiction…to amuse the reader, to entertain and maybe to teach a little something.

    HEARTSTONE, my novel, was written to entertain the reader. That was my goal–to write a love story full of adventure, wondrous places and filtered through human emotion. While there are some science principles in it, I didn’t write it as a science ed book. If it teaches anything, it teaches that Love Is Strong and True.

    And no matter how amusing The Zombie Survival Guide is, it just can’t compete with a good love story.

    Eric d'Ebrur is out of time. He must find the legendary Heartstone and fulfill the ancient Gar'Ja bond he shares with the Stonebearer. But when he finds her, he discovers that love can be more dangerous than the Gawan threat. Eric can defeat the mind-controlling Gawan but will it cost him the woman he loves?

    After terrifying episodes of hypersensitivity, Keriam Norton thinks she's losing her mind. When handsome shapeshifter Eric d'Ebrur saves her from the monstrous Gawan, she's sure of it. But insane or not, she'll find the
    Heartstone and, if she's lucky, a love to last a lifetime.

    HEARTSTONE is available in both print and ebook format. To buy:
    Mundania: http://www.mundania.com/book.php?title=Heartstone (Great News! If you buy Heartstone through the Mundania site, you can use the code LSCOTT10 at checkout and receive a 10% discount on your total
    Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Heartstone-Lynda-K-Scott/dp/1606592335/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1281979082&sr=1-1

    To get or stay in touch with me:

    I’d love you to go to my website and check out the prologue for Heartstone. My editor and I decided that the novel was just fine without it but I thought readers might like to see the scene that originally started the story.

    13 September 2010

    A messy desk is a sign of genius, right?

    Have you ever put something right there and then had it move on you?
    That happened to me this morning--or sometime in the last month. I spent the morning sifting through the wreckage that is my office looking for something. And while I've found a coin purse that I've been seeking, a purple pen that I thought my nephew lost and a now-expired coupon that I needed two weeks ago, I still didn't find the receipt for my allergy medicine so I can get it refilled.
    It moved on me.
    I don't know where it went, but I suspect Florida.
    Of course, I've always heard that a messy desk is a sign of genius. If so, I'm a rocket scientist by the look of my office.
    Typically, I'm a fairly neat housekeeper. I dust and vacuum regularly, don't like clean or dirty clothes piled in the bedroom, and I never use my treadmill as a coat rack. But this cleanliness (obsession, some have called it) doesn't extend to my office. Never has. Probably never will, if I'm honest.
    My filing system is a series of piles--this one for receipts, that one for unread magazines, and this really sloppy one for notes and ideas for books. Books spill off the shelves and pile up on the floor. Pens litter the available surfaces like ants at a picnic and new/half-used notebooks are everywhere else.
    In fact, the recipe for cold fusion could be in this room and corporate spies would never be able to find it. I suppose that is the upside of this mess. I'd know immediately if anyone rifled through my stuff because not even James Bond could go through my desk and put everything back where it goes.
    That's a good thing, isn't it?

    11 September 2010

    A true medieval woman?

    After my disastrous, first five-minute viewing of Pillars of the Earth, I wasn’t sure if I would attempt a second viewing or not. But I did. I’m drawn to the Middle Ages like a passerby to a “do not touch” sign. 

    After fast-forwarding through the burning of the White Ship to placate the history geek in me, I settled onto the couch with a bowl of chocolate-covered blueberries. For those of you without the Starz channel, Pillars of the Earth is an original miniseries based on Ken Follett’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of Prior Phillip fighting seemingly insurmountable odds to build a cathedral while England falls into anarchy around him.

    I haven’t read Follett’s book, so I have no idea how the Starz mini-series compares to it.

    I’ve heard from others that he writes strong women well, and I think that’s apt praise.

    Ellen, the mother of Jack, is not only a strong woman, but also one of the most realistic medieval characters I’ve seen in historical fiction. As fearlessly played by Natalie W├Ârner, Ellen embodied the “flesh” side of the era—as opposed to Prior Phillip who stands in for the “spiritual” side of the era. When she urinates in front of Bishop Waleran to let him know exactly what she thinks of him and his judgments, she came alive to me as a medieval woman.

    A modern woman wouldn't do that.

    Many people forget, or just don’t know, the role urine played in the medieval era. From medicine to making wall plaster to removing lanolin from fleece, urine was a useful part of daily life. So the insult wouldn’t have had the same ew factor for our medieval bishops as it likely did for viewers.

    In my upcoming book, ENTHRALLED, my heroine weaves and she also dyes her own thread. That bit of personal history isn’t relevant to the story, so I didn’t go into the fact that she would’ve used urine not only to clean the wool but also to make the dyes.

    During the era (and prior), urine also was used as a bleaching and tanning agent, as part of medical treatment, including this interesting way to diagnose infertility from The Trotula.

    “If the woman remains barren by fault of the man or herself, it will be perceived in this manner. Take two pots and in each one place wheat bran and put some of the man’s urine in one of them with the bran, and in the other (put) some urine of the woman … and let the pots sit for nine or ten days. If the infertility is the fault of the woman, you will find many worms in her pot and the bran will stink. (You will find the same) in the other (pot) if it is the man’s fault. And if you find this in neither, then in neither is there any defect and they are able to be aided by the benefit of medicine so they might conceive.”

    Even today, some people promote a urine treatment for everything from athletes’ foot to aging facial skin. The idea is interesting but I’ll stick with my creams, thank you.

    03 September 2010

    A bit of bragging...everyone join in.

    For the past couple of weeks, my writing life has felt like I'm slogging uphill, weights tied to my ankles while a hurricane rages and mud splatters up to my knees. I don't feel like I'm writing enough, what I do write feels like dreck and my characters are beginning to sound like two-year-olds: whine, whine, whine.

    But while working on edits yesterday, I tripped over a couple of sentences that reminded me that, yes, I an do this. So I thought I'd share. The set-up: My hero is trying to find his runaway sister, Charlotte, who refuses to come live with him after their parents are killed in a car accident.
    Tipping his head to one side, Nick rolled it slightly, feeling the slight pop of cartilage and bone in his neck. He rolled his head to the other side, then froze, trapped in a memory of his father doing the same. Grief rolled through him, a wave of want and anger that he had no idea how to manage. Bereavement was like Charlotte. He couldn't reason with it, anticipate it, or walk away from it.
    All he could do was not let it rule him. 

    I don't remember writing it, but I'll keep it.

    Because these up and downs are simply part of a writer's life, I'm throwing this blog open to you. Please share a snippet that reminds you that you're a writer. I think we all need to brag a bit every now and then.

    01 September 2010

    Of dormice and dull wars

    Ever have one of those moments when the name of something familiar and common seems just out of reach--and as you flit through your memory banks in hopes of finding it, you pull up every strange fact you ever learned instead?

    Welcome to my world. My brain seems to be stuck on "strange and odd" storage mode. Meanwhile, everyday details elude me.

    This morning, I woke at the unholy hour of 6 a.m. with a burning need to know the name of a movie/restaurant plaza that I've been to a thousand times.




    None of those were right, yet I knew they were close. As I lay there wondering why the name of this place was so important, I ticked through every C word I could think of.




    I do this a lot, mind you. Forget the normal stuff but remember the oddities. Don't chalk this up to my age. It's always been like this. Even as a child, I was a font of obscure information but would have trouble remembering how to spell "have."

    What this means is if you want me to remember your birthday, post it on Facebook or send me a meeting notice. I do good to remember my own most years. But if you want to know how many fountains Kansas City has or what a Seldon Crisis is, just ask.

    After a fruitless, 20-minute search of my brain this morning, I got up and looked online because I really, really, really wanted to go back to sleep. I typed in the name of the movie theatre--and there it was.


    Still with no idea why I needed to know that, I went back to bed...and lay there wondering how it is that I can remember the Roman method for preparing dormice or the outcome of the Toledo War, yet the name of an amped-up strip mall eludes me.

    I never did go back to sleep.