30 April, 2012

Z is for Zaftig

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Grisel Paula. Yep, she's zaftig.
Zaftig is of Jewish origin and means succulent. It's usually used to describe the shape of women who are roundish, softish, and have curves, like the picture to the left.

A woman of such shape and softness is a historically traditional image of beauty, fertility, femininity, adoration, seduction, and worship. Only recently (within the past 50 years) has a different shape become the feminine goal. 

That's not to say zaftig is gone. Oh no. It's still a live and well in hollywood, fashion and music. I sincerely hope it continues.

28 April, 2012

Y is for Yeast

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Budding yeast.
We've all heard of yeast. Brewer's yeast, bread yeast, yeast infections... Yeast is a microorganism that consumes sugars then makes the bubbles in beer and champagne and in edible foods like bread.

So basically, it eats then it farts.

Think about that next time you're having a beer or a nice slice of bread. You owe it all to yeast farts.

Btw, yeast and I don't get along in the kitchen. Whenever I try to get yeast to fart itself into a nice loaf of bread, it always laughs at me then goes off to watch tv or something. I have had no success at getting home made bread to rise despite trying several techniques and recipes. Surely it's all the yeast's fault! Damn yeast! ;)

27 April, 2012

X is for XXXenophile

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Bill and I used to attend SF/Game conventions. Remember when Collectible Card Games became all the rage, back the early days of games like Magic the Gathering, StarWars the Card Game, etc? Well, at ICON in Iowa City, my friend Michele and I decided to try out a brand new game called XXXenophile.

It was actually a pretty fun game, if rather raunchy. Actually very raunchy. XXXenophile was based upon a very similar comic by Phil Foglio and designed by one of the best modern game designers, James Earnest. It's easy to play, and funny with cards like Daisy Chain, Three-Way Bulb, and Crop Circle Jerks.

I told you it was raunchy, but, truly, it's a fun game to play.

26 April, 2012

W is for Writing.

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

To be honest, I really don't want to write about writing. Yeah, yeah, I know I'm a writer, or at least I wear that hat sometimes, but writing and I have not been easy companions.

A lot of writers write easily, happily, joyfully, gathering massive word counts and lots and lots of finished projects. Me, not so much. When the writing is going well, it truly is awesome, but it rarely goes well.

Anyway, I've talked about writing quite a lot at conferences and writers meetings, and I'd like to link to a post I made here a year and a half ago about one of these talks. I think there's a lot of important information in there. Why do YOU write and what do YOU want? (hint: there are no wrong answers ;) )

25 April, 2012

V is for Valences

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

My favorite class in high school was Chemistry. Really. Was freaking awesome. I loved it so much I started college as a Pre-Vet Med/Chemistry DOUBLE major. Love, love LOVE chemistry. I've probably taken more collegiate Chem classes than most anyone else who ended up with an art degree. Organic, inorganic, biochem, pharmochem, applied chem... Ah, just thinking about it makes me giddy.

My high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Larry Dean, was incredible. He was a tough old bastard, but scary smart, sweet, ornery, and a quirky old coot, all at the same time. When we started Chemistry as high school juniors (I think there were about 25 of us, maybe more) and the first thing he made us do was learn our elements and valences. On the first day of class he gave us a list of about thirty elements with their symbols each with some weird numbers he said were valences. He told us to memorize it, there'd be a test the next day, then he went on to begin explaining the periodic table, which was in our book.

The next day we did have a test. He'd say the name of an element and we had to write its symbol and all of its valences. In the order he spoke them. Any mistakes, and I mean ANY mistakes, it was counted wrong. Forget a plus or minus? The whole entry's wrong. Forget to capitalize the first letter of the symbol? Wrong. Forget a valence number? Wrong. We handed our papers to the kid beside us for grading and we were to tally up the ones they'd missed, and the ones they got right. Then we took the right ones minus the wrong ones, and that was our score for the day's valence test. So, out of 30 items, if you miss 8 you got 22 right, so it's 22-8 which becomes 14 out of a possible 30 points. That's less than 50%!

Right Minus Wrong grading is a bitch kitty to endure. You either learn the stuff fast and KNOW it, or you're going to fail.

Before the first month or so was over (and we'd moved from Valences to doing the same right minus wrong thing with a blank periodic table, filling in symbols, atomic numbers, weights, and ionic numbers), we'd whittled down to eight of us, three girls, five boys. We were together for two years, through basic and advanced chemistry. I can't recall any of us screwing up an experiment because we knew our stuff, by god. It was branded into our brains. Balancing equations became incredibly easy, like breathing. So many on this side equals the same number on that side. Gotta count those electrons, baby!

What a valence shows is how many electrons a given atom has to either give up or gain to combine with another atom (and make a compound or molecule). For example, in one water compound (H2O) there are two Hydrogens (H) and one Oxygen (O) - the teensy 2 says there are 2 Hydrogens and no number beside the Oxygen means there's only one. The H's each have a valence of +1 (it has an extra electron out there all alone it wants to lose), and the Oxygen has a valence of -2 (it has a space for two more electrons to gain). The problem is how to make the plusses and minuses add up to zero.

So, H(+1) plus H(+1) plus O(-2) = Zero. Compounds that add up to zero are stable and tend to occur naturally, and they don't get much simpler than water.

Since many elements (including Hydrogen and Oxygen) don't like to be alone, they tend to pair up with themselves (or have molecules of more than 2 of that element, but Hydrogen and Oxygen make pairs). As they come together to make the compound, it still has to add up to zero, on both sides. And, since there's 2 Hydrogens for every 1 Oxygen, you need twice as much H as O.

So, for water, it's

2H2+O2=2H20

Four Hydrogens plus two Oxygens make two waters.

Mathematically, that's 2(2(+1)) + 2(-2)=2(2(+1)-2) Both sides equal zero, so it's a balanced equation.

Yeah, there's a LOT of math in Chemistry and it's not possible to do the math correctly if you don't know your valences. I first took Chemistry more than thirty years ago and I STILL know them, they were burned so brightly into my brain. :)

Fwiw, Inorganic Chemistry (what lots of kids take in high school) is comparatively simple, it's just straight equation balancing with simple, straightforward bonds. For example, Iron Oxide (common rust) is Fe2O3 and looks like this. Organic Chem is a LOT harder and more complicated, because there are so, so many different kinds of bonds between the atoms and they make very convoluted shapes.  As an example, simple Glucose (table sugar) is C6H12O6 and looks like this. Still pretty simple. Really. How about insulin? Its formula is C256H381N64O79S6 and it looks like this. Imagine balancing those equations!!

All of the chemicals, compounds, molecules and structures in the universe exist because of valences. If atoms weren't wanting to get rid of or add on electrons, nothing would bind together. So we owe those little loose electrons a lot. :)

23 April, 2012

U is for Underwear

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Hmm. A few days ago I'd mentioned that I had posted about religion, politics, and money, but my S wasn't for sex.

Instead, I shall talk about underwear today, mostly because my husband suggested it, and he probably suggested this particular topic because he thought I wouldn't do it.

Ha ha, babe I am! So there! ;)

Don't anyone ever say I don't have guts. Or a sense of humor. ;)

Anyway, as we all know, underwear covers up our, ahem, naughty bits. Gonads. Genitals. Privates. Uglies. Yee-haws. What have you. It was originally created so that we humans could wear our clothing longer since most people didn't have more than one or two sets of clothing and laundry was a PITA. Don't have to wash the trousers so much if they're not getting skid marks, right? While we still wear undies to help protect our clothing, it's also become a whole category of clothing on its own.

Disclaimer: Some of the following links might not be safe for work. Or your computer screen if you're drinking a beverage. Many of the links are ADULTS ONLY.

Underwear can be sexy, comfortable, lacy, shiny, funny, saggy, tight, uplifting, loose, cheap, expensive, absurd, redundant, or totally absent. You can go for the traditional, or something a bit more modern. Total coverage, or minimal, or somewhere between. Sometimes, people even wear underwear on the outside of their clothes and there's a whole series of children's books dedicated to an underwear super hero!

So there you go. Underwear.

Wait. Don't go in your underwear, take them off first. ;)

T is for Truth

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Webster's has several definitions for truth (btw, you have to boggle at the circular logic of the English language and its frequent use of having a given word be part of its own definition) but the one I like the best is 1b: Sincerity in action, character and utterance.

Let's face it, part of a novelists job is telling lies. The characters, their thoughts, their actions, their place of being, their everything is a lie. There aren't real people in novels, they're constructs on a page.  They're imaginary. False. Mere illustrations and whimsey. As are the events that unfold around the characters. While a novel may reflect a specific real person, place, or event, the actuality of fiction is falsehood.

However, another incredibly important part of fiction is telling the truth. In some ways, I think it's more important than the lie of fiction itself, in fact, writers use the lie to show the truth.

A character, regardless of their place in a narrative must ring true or the reader is less likely to follow them through the story. For example, if you're writing a powerful business magnate, he or she is not going to sit at a table with the board of directors and whine about how life is so unfair, everyone hates them, and they really wish someone would ask them to the homecoming dance. A teenager with low self esteem, maybe. A corporate CEO at a board meeting, um, no, not unless they've ingested some pretty extreme pharmaceuticals. But it goes deeper than that. The truth of a character is in the little things. How do they treat others? How do they carry themselves? What's their internal dialog like? What's hidden behind their outer shell?

Let's say a female character spends their spare time - what little they have in the busy fictional life they lead, ha ha -  curled up on the couch with a sappy romance novel. What does that illustrate about her? Pretty standard stuff, right? What if, instead, she sits on that same couch drinking cheap beer while cussing at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show finals on TV? It's a completely different picture and, in some ways, a lot more true. Human beings tend to be complex. Characters should reflect that, they should showcase their own inner truth, their own unique sincerity.

A character might lie, cheat, steal and murder, but in their heart of hearts are they despicable without any redeeming quality at all? Are they struggling? Are they lashing out in pain? Are they hopeful, determined, jaded, or on a noble mission? Or do they find mayhem and sadism a sexual turn on? Find that inner truth, that sincerity of that character's actions, inner motivations and utterances, then show readers that shining core.

I believe that fiction, good fiction at least, should have a truth at its heart while telling its lie of a story. A reader will take that truth and make it their own. Often that truth varies from reader to reader. For example, is Stephen King's THE STAND about humankind's quest to exterminate members of its own species? Is it about listening to your dreams, regardless of how impossible they seem? Is it about snarling at the bad and embracing the good? Is it about the corruption of power? Hope? Death? Armageddon? Balance? Redemption? The contagion of religion? The power of friendship? The cost of delving where we should not have gone? I've heard people insist it's about those things and others because, in the book, there is an essential truth a lot of readers have connected with.

I don't know precisely what Mr. King truly intended to illustrate in the novel (he's mentioned he was intrigued by how we can't close pandora's box once it's been opened) but I am certain that whatever he intended to do didn't hit most of his readers. They found something else there instead. The readers found their own truth.

In my novels, I have consistently had a goal in mind, a topic or concept, a specific truth I want to examine and I tried to show this truth from as many angles as possible. So many angles and so much slamming the internal truth of my vision against the narrative that I thought it was blatantly obvious, that I was beating readers over the head with it.

Nope. Didn't happen. Readers consistently saw something else there. Something I hadn't intended, something they alone could see. But when a book is written with sincerity, when it's approached with the humbling task of showing the truth within the lie, when the writer really isn't talking about a murder or a plague or getting a date to the dance, but about something deeper and more true, a novel and its characters can come alive. There's no better story than one built around a hard core of truth.

21 April, 2012

S is for Silers

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

I've already blogged about my husband's family, now it's time to blog about mine.

I'm a first born, and a first grandchild (in fact the only grandchild until my brother came along), in a family that counts its members in the low 20's. Sure, if you add in the cousins and such out in Oklahoma and California we might hit forty, but it's still a pretty small family, at least compared to the Joneses.

Most of us lived on the same dead end dirt road, and most of us still do (my sister, a couple of cousins, and I are the only ones who don't). We were rural and poor or close to it, for the most part, and we tend to stay put and avoid risks or upheaval. My aunt and uncle raised their kids and still live in a house they bought from my great-great uncle's family. My uncle and his wife and daughter live up the road (he'd purchased the house from a non-family member in the late '80s). We used to live in my cousin's old house (which had been my great grandparent's old house), and my mother lives in the same place I grew up, but in a new house built by my brother for his family.

When Bill and I lived in the neighborhood, my family owned four houses along a 1/8 mile stretch of dirt road. Seriously. There are good points and bad points for living so close to family. One good thing, holidays. My aunt Deanie used to host Christmas and we'd just walk up (after all, I could see her driveway from my back door). When my uncle Oscar took over hosting, we had to walk a little farther.  We had almost endless connected yards. As a kid, I cold walk out of my great grandmother's house, head north, and could cross the yards of four more houses (all on half an acre or more) before hitting a non-family property line. There was a path, from my aunt Charlene at the north end, to my great grandma's back door at the south.

In small families you know everyone. There isn't any 'okay, now whose kid is that again?' like we have in Bill's family. Nope, I can easily identify every single person in my family, well, other than my cousin Tanya's kids who I barely know. She has a Tyler and a Megan, but I'm pretty sure there's a third one. I think.

I know that sounds awful, not knowing if my cousin - who I used to babysit - has a third (or 4th) child, but despite our small size, our family is kind of splintered.

After my great grandmother died, we pretty much stopped having summer cookouts together. Then Thanksgiving faded after my grandmother's death. I tried to resurrect Thanksgiving it after Bill and I married (all 22 of us us at our house), but it never caught on. Before my dad died, Christmas fell away. We all lived there on the same road, within shouting distance if you had decent lungs, and we rarely saw or talked to each other except on holidays, even when I was a kid. Now days, we rarely get together as a group unless there's a wedding or a funeral.

We all love each other, and we're friendly and have a nice time visiting when we do get together, but it's a quiet kind of thing. We're all intensely private, introverted people who are more interested in staying home than going out and partying. We have a definite tendency toward artistic personalities - my family is crammed full of artists, writers, musicians and people active in theater. We tend to have small families, no more than three children, and divorce is uncommon. We used to lean really liberal in politics, but that's changing for some of us to more libertarian views.

There is a lot of substance abuse in my family - I do not drink alcohol, at all, because 1) I really like the taste of whiskey 2) the one time I did get drunk it took me months to get the 'need' taste out of my mouth and 3) alcoholism is a bitch that I've seen it first hand. So no thank you, I'll just have iced tea. Within my family, there's been a good deal of trouble with drugs and almost everyone is (or was) a chain smoker. There's also a lot of depression. Is it the artistic temperaments?  Is it our introversions? Is it because we're clannish and suspicious of outsiders - as my aunt has said, you're blood, or you're an in-law (married in and are accepted), or you're an out-law (married in and you are not)? Hell, I've been a blood member of my family for almost 48 years and I often feel like an out-law. Is it because we all lived so close together and have few secrets? Is it something else that keeps splintering us, some underlying current between us? I don't know. I do know that pretty much everyone who gets out of the neighborhood goes far, far away (often out of state) and rarely comes back. That's really sad because we are good people. We're just kinda quiet.

20 April, 2012

R is for Royalties

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Religion, politics, and money. I really know how to pick my topics. Thank goodness I didn't pick Sex for my S entry. ;)

When I was in the 'aspiring writer' stage of my writing career, I ran into a lot of inaccurate information about royalties and advances. What I've learned these past few years, though, is pretty simple and straight forward. I'm going to use simple numbers (which may or may not reflect actual, realistic sales) but they should give everyone an idea of how this 'getting paid to write fiction' thing works, at least in traditional publication.

Let's start with the advance. When a publisher buys the rights to publish your book, they pay an advance on future sales, also simply known as an advance.

To keep things simple, let's say you get a $10,000 advance (first novels are usually quite a lot less than this, btw, but $10k is a nice round number). Usually, it'll be split into two or three pieces. In my case, it was signing the contract (or on signing), a third when the book and its various rewrites and changes meet publisher expectations and it's accepted to head off to production (on acceptance), and the final third when the finished, printed, published book is released for sale (on publication). So, the publisher would cut three checks of  $3333.33 each.  If you have an agent (and, imho, if you're being traditionally published, you should) your agent gets a piece of the action, usually 15%. The publisher sends every payment to your agent, they remove their portion, then send you a check from their agency for $2,833.33 for each advance payment. An agented writer's total income from the $10k advance is $8500.

Publication contracts usually have a whole section dedicated to time, as in when various things should happen. The writer (you) must deliver a completed manuscript by a particular date, the book should head off to production by a particular date, the book will be published on a particular date, and the publisher will pay you (for the advance and any subsequent royalties) by a particular date. Usually, advances are paid within 30 days of the signing, acceptance, and publication milestones. Royalties are calculated once or twice a year (generally June 30 and/or December 31) and the publisher then has a specific time window (often 90 days) to pay any royalty income (again, to your agent, should you have one). Agencies have a much quicker turn around time - they want to keep their writers happy. I generally get a check from my agency within a week of my publisher's cut off day. The publisher will usually delay payment as long as they can.

So, that $8500 is spread over three payments that might take as long as two years to get fully paid to the writer.

Unlike a lot of rumors I heard when I was working on my first novel, a writer does NOT have to pay back the advance should the book be a sales dud. The publisher uses the advance as an Advance on Future Sales, and they're essentially making a bet that the book will sell enough copies to make that much money back, if not more. If it doesn't, their gamble didn't pay off. You still get to keep the money.

Okay, finally we're to Royalties.

When a writer signs their publication contract, there's a whole section dedicated to the amount of royalties each book will earn. They're sometimes broken down into sets of units sold (so the writer's royalty rate increases as they sell more than 100,000 copies or a million) and there are usually different royalty rates on hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, and ebook versions.

To keep things simple, let's put a 10% royalty rate on a mass market paperback that the publisher has decided to sell for $8.00 cover price (actual royalty rates for mass market are usually around 6-8%, but 10% is an easier number). With every single book that sells, the writer gets 80 cents. So a thousand sold books earns the author $800. However, the writer was already paid an advance on sales, so, at 80¢ per book, it will take 10,625 books sold before the author has paid off their $10,000 advance (this is referred to as 'the book has earned out'). After that, and only after that, does the writer start getting royalty checks.

Does that make sense? Every book counts toward paying off the advance, but once the book's earned out the author will receive a royalty payment for subsequent sales.

Publishers usually calculate royalties once or twice a year, then they have their grace period (usually 90 days) before they have to pay the writer and, sometimes, it's within 60 days of the 90 days or other crazy delaying tactics. Frankly, this is a major reason why writers need agents. They will negotiate much better terms for royalty rates, payment speeds, cover prices, and what other rights the author keeps (like foreign print, audio, film, etc) because without an agent the publisher might keep pretty much everything and only pay out 120 days after the 6 months after the end of year. So it might take 2 years to get paid for book sales. It's crazy.

But, anyway, our writer's book earns out! At the end of year royalty calculation they've sold a thousand copies more than the 10,625 break even point and the publisher sends a payment of $800 to the agent some time the following spring. The agent then sends our writer a royalty check for $680. Yay!

As long as the book is in print and selling copies, whether it's for six weeks or twenty years, it will continue to receive royalties. Publishing contracts stipulate under what conditions the rights revert to the author or their heirs (common ones are stalled sales or a specific time limit). The book can then be re-sold to that same publisher (with a different contract), another publisher, or simply fade from publication.

Most writers never hit the big money of bestseller lists and, frankly, most books don't earn out at all, but  even a small royalty check is nice when it comes. :)

19 April, 2012

Q is for Quilting

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Finally, something fun to blog about!

I began quilting almost 22 years ago. I'd sewn quite a lot of our daughter's baby clothes and had all sorts of scrap hunks, nothing big enough to for more clothing, but too big to throw away (I have issues about wasting things).

Anyway,  I decided that  people used to make quilts out of their scrap hunks so maybe I should, too. I gathered them up, found a pattern for a star I kinda liked, and I even went out and bought a bedsheet to use for the 'white part'.

Then I had to trace and cut what seemed like eight-hundred-gazillion pieces for a bed sized quilt. It was made from the cheapest fabrics at the dime store (all I could afford) and a couple of bedsheets. 

I still have it.

My first quilt ever. It's a hot mess.
I was so, so proud of what I'd made, at least until it started falling apart. I'd made so, so many mistakes out of ignorance, but back in 1990 there weren't a lot of handy resources on quilt making. I went back to sewing baby clothes because they were easier, cheaper, and didn't fall apart.

Iowa State Quilters Challenge, 1995.
Then one day, our local PBS station showed a new program on Saturdays. Strip Quilting with Kay Wood. The woman is a freaking genius and I was almost immediately hooked. With Kaye's guidance (and a cutting mat, cutter, and one ruler), I made a little bargello wallhanging out of my baby-clothes scraps (Laura still has it hanging on her wall, it's so cute). 

Snowmen Door Hangers, 2009
Now that I had a little more confidence, I decided to tackle Kaye Wood's take on a Lone Star Quilt. I don't have it anymore (it was the first quilt I gave away, to my new niece, Jordan) but it turned out pretty darn good (and I think Jordan still has it, too). I had to go out and buy Kaye's special triangle ruler, another first. I started buying greater amounts of fabric when shopping to make baby clothes so I'd have enough for quilting. I started subscribing to Quiltmaker Magazine (I'm still a subscriber). And I taped every episode on Saturday afternoons.

Color Challenge Quilt, 2010
Yep, I was hooked.

Threads of Malice Tour Quilt, 2006

I've since figured out quarter inch seams and never use sheets for anything but, well, sheets. I also no longer buy the cheapest fabric I can find, in fact I don't flinch at $12 a yard - or higher - fabrics. I've done hand and machine applique, and hand and machine quilting (I prefer using my sewing machine for both). I've entered quilts in competitions that I've won, and a lot more that I didn't.

Winners Bouquet, 2012
I do all sorts of techniques and styles, but my fabric choices are almost always scrappy. I wouldn't hesitate to use more than one hundred different fabrics, if I thought the quilt needed them (my most, so far, is more than 400 in one quilt).
Christmas Table Runner, 2010
I've sewn so many quilts that I've burned out the motor on two sewing machines. 

Pieced Dawgies, 2012
And I still give away almost every quilt I make.

Twice As Nice, 2011
Quilting keeps me sane, and helps me remain happy. It's a great hobby to have. 

Henry's Quilt, 2010

17 April, 2012

P is for Politics

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Boy, I musta been over caffeinated when I picked my topics for the month. ;)

Here's hoping I don't piss too many people off.

I was born into a family of liberal democrats, married a man who considers himself extremely conservative, and I fall awkwardly between.

Yes, I am - gasp! - a centrist. A moderate. One of those wishy washy middle people who tries to find a reasonable compromise and thinks the screaming folks at both ends of the spectrum are equally nuts.

Sorry if you're one of them and that bothers you, but this is my blog.

I have a few hot-button issues, but mostly I'm socially moderate with a slight liberal lean, and economically moderate with a slightly conservative lean. In short, I straddle the political fence.

I know that anyone's life can go to hell without warning - sudden job loss, house destroyed by fire, accident, whatever - and there should be programs and safety nets to help. However, I do not believe in a life long (or generations long) free ride. I'm happy to help pick someone back up, dust off their backside, then, once they're moving forward again, let them go on their way, but I don't want them camped out on my couch forever. Also, I tend to learn from my screwups and I get aggravated when someone apparently doesn't get it despite making the same damn mistake over and over and over. Once, okay, here ya go! Twice....  eh, fine. Third time, figure it out for yourself. I'm not your mommy.

I'm apparently a hard ass that way.

I refuse to go to church, but I donate to charity. A LOT. In fact, every penny of my ebook sales is donated to charity, plus I'm a regular contributer to our local animal shelter (I buy bags of cat food and drop it off at their door), our local homeless shelter (I donate groceries), local library (new, current books), hospice (quilts), volunteer fire department (fundraiser supper and raffle tickets) and the battered women's shelter (I've sent books, clothes, toys, money...). I also happily buy whatever crap local kids are selling door to door because if some kid has the guts to go around knocking on doors, the least I can do is buy a candle or package of cookies.

I believe abortions should be safe and legal, but they shouldn't be the 'first choice' option for birth control (there are lots and lots of ways to not get pregnant in the first place so wise up and use something!), nor should late term ones be allowed except under medical necessity (why can't they just c-section deliver the babies and adopt them out??). I couldn't imagine having one myself, but I don't feel it's my place to tell someone else they can't, especially if they've been molested or raped or there's something medically wrong with them or their baby.

I believe in personal responsibility, not government control.

I believe that we need to stop shitting in our own ecological living rooms by polluting our water and land and air, and there should be tight regulations on industry to ensure our environment is kept clean, but I think Carbon Credits are a bunch of hooey. They're just another way for someone in a fancy suit to make money. Also the first step in improving our environment should be to STOP RIPPING UP WILD AREAS. You want a new factory or housing development, put it where urban blight has left vacant buildings to crumble and decay. Clean that up, repair and rebuild what we already have, and leave the remaining wild places alone. Then expand the wild places, not with rows of easy-to-maintain pine trees, and kentucky bluegrass, but with the same kinds of wild plants, trees, streams and whatever else that was here before we came and ripped them out in the first place.

You wanna be green? Don't build a new house, buy an old one and fix it up. Think of it as upcycling. And it's cheaper, too.

I'm a flat taxer. Simplify the damn tax code already and I don't care if you charge every citizen the same $$ amount or the same percentage, just make it simple enough a 4th grader can figure it out. You made this much, you pay that much. End of story. We could do it with postcards, it'd be so easy.

While we're simplifying the tax code, simplify legislation, too. Bills should have one piece of legislation on them, not a pile of expensive riders just so some Senator's brother's company gets a lucrative contract for something that's essentially worthless. One thing. If it's a bill for housing for the poor, then that's all it is. Vote on that, just that. Additional funding for low-rent housing in an economically blighted area? Pick one, yay or nay, and let's move on. Quit padding the popular bills with expensive crap, and passing horrid, freedom-crushing legislation because it has one good rider stuck in there everyone wants. Pass the good stuff, vote down the crap. How can that be so difficult?

Citizens have to live within their means and the government should, too. Suck it up and get it done. If someone's living expenses get too high and they dig a deep debt-hole to pay for it (like our government has done oh so well), private individuals generally have to do two things at the same time: make more money and cut expenses. The government needs to do that, too. Maybe they can hire Congressmen out as babysitters on weekends or make Senators greeters at WalMart or something. Have congressional staffers fry burgers, I dunno. No, wait! How about cut spending and raise taxes?? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Also, you cannot have every freaking program under the sun for free, okay? Social programs cost money and have massive staff and overhead requirements. That money has to come from somewhere, it's not freely floating around the air. It's not. If a program is needed, something else has to be cut. In the opposite hand, you can't keep crushing the working class and expect the economy to grow. There has to be a balance in there, between all the cuddly teddy bears on one side and the corporate interests on the other. We need BOTH, okay? Big business and social programs. We do. Don't expect the ever shrinking working class alone to fund all these programs.

And, goddammit, stop allowing any private company that receives government funds to give big bonuses to its executives when the company LOSES MONEY, especially if they're still in debt to the government. That's freaking insane! Btw, if a large company is losing money, it's not the lowly clerk's fault. The worst they're doing is wasting a few staples and staples are cheap. Don't fire the clerks and janitors to trim payroll and expenses because, frankly, it's stupid. Losses are the big-shot decision maker's fault. Fire them instead because they're the ones going through huge budgets like they're breath mints with expense accounts and thousand dollar suits and trips to Barbados and crazy ass ideas that don't do anything but burn money. Clear out corporate (and governmental) bloat from the top down, not the bottom up, and most everything will run a lot smoother.

Lastly, I think that just about every politician above the local level is a greedy crook and the only real difference between the two parties is the color of the team-stamp on their foreheads.

As an illustration of the above comment, as a centrist I have noticed that the Right is calling Obama almost word-for-word the EXACT SAME THINGS the Left called Bush. Same complaints. Same descriptive put-downs. Same extremist paranoias. Same every freaking thing. Oh, the specific details might vary. A little. Bush had Haliburton, Obama has Solyndra, that kinda thing. But it's the same crap as the last guy and, frankly, I've seen little difference between them. I also don't love or hate either of them. I rate both as 'meh', they're okay, I guess. Just one more rich guy in a suit tying to separate me from my money, and slowly boiling the frog of my personal freedoms. But, then again, so has every other administration and congress I can personally remember. I've lost count how many times one side proposes this idea that the other side DESPISES then, two years later (or four or ten) the second side proposes the same dang thing, only this time it's the FIRST SIDE that despises it. Heck, how many times has a politician ran on tearing down the other guy because he voted for this crap thing, or slept with that prostitute, or took money from that dastardly interest group or whatever, then, once elected, did the exact same thing. It happens so much we barely notice any more.

They're all crooks, and they're all in this together. Their primary goal is more power for them, less for us. As long as we keep taking sides against one another, the red vs the blue, the politicians win and we all lose.

When talking about local people serving in local offices like city councils and county boards and things, some are really great people trying to make a difference, some are wannabe bigshots who'll screw over anyone who isn't greasing their palm. By the time a politician's reached the national level, the genuinely-trying-to-make-a-difference has almost always been beaten (or bought) out of them. As far as I'm concerned, professional politicians suck.  Politics sucks. No matter who wins, we're all screwed.

Deep breath.

Thank goodness tomorrow it's all about Quilting. I'm getting rather tired of these aggravated emotional topics. ;)

16 April, 2012

O is for Oxycontin

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Back with another narcotic.

My dad died several years ago from complications of diabetes. Along the way, he had numerous heart attacks, surgeries, dialysis visits, and an oxycontin addiction.

He called it hillbilly heroin. Never heard of such a thing before my dad's addiction, but it's a common term and a problem all over the country. On the black market, it's expensive stuff. With prescriptions in hand and decent insurance... not so much. Either way, it's potentially deadly.

I can't remember when he first started using Oxycontin, probably after an angioplasty about a decade before he died. It's a pretty powerful opiate based pain killer and I know he was in quite a lot of pain for a long time. I vaguely remember him taking Percocets, some Vicodin, but once he got the Oxycontin, that was it. No other drug would do.

I totally understand the need to stop the pain, I do. Instead of one pill every so many hours, though, he'd take three or four at a time, all day long. I remember him having several huge bottles of the stuff, all prescribed by different doctors, there on his nightstand. He'd wrestle one open, scoop out a few, and chew them all at once. Half an hour, maybe an hour later - or whenever he happened to wake up - he'd do it again.

It bothered me that none of the doctors, especially his primary physician, did anything to limit his access. I suppose it was a case of 'we know he hurts, so let's let him stop hurting'. Frankly, I can accept and appreciate that, but it was obvious to everyone around him that my dad wasn't taking the pills to stop the pain in his feet or belly or whatever, he was taking them to stop the pain of his ever increasing addiction. And he did it for YEARS. An end of life decision to limit pain is one thing, encouraging a long term addiction is something else.

He ultimately lost the ability to think, to reason, to play guitar, to do anything but sprawl twitching and passed out in bed. He'd burn though a month's supply in a day or two. He'd get the shakes if he didn't have pills within reach. It was a horrible thing to see, and I learned that you cannot negotiate or reason with an addict. The screwy thing was he knew he was an addict and, despite a lifetime of badmouthing drunks and druggies, he wasn't at all interested in changing.

My dad's decline from diabetes was inevitable, but becoming a heroin addict along the way was sadly unexpected and added a tragic footnote to an otherwise talented life.

15 April, 2012

N is for Nightmares

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Okay. Nightmares.

I think I'd rather go back to talking about God or Fear, but here goes.

I have had nightmares for as far back as I can remember. For most of my adult life, I lived in a state of non-dreaming, or rarely dreaming, and trained myself to wake up every 20 minutes or so, all night long.

If I didn't wake up soon enough, if I allowed myself to dream, I'd sit up in bed, screaming. This isn't good for anyone - especially not my poor husband trying to sleep beside me. My not-really-sleeping became a state of normal for me (also an N word, ha ha) but it also invited depression, anxiety, and a host of physical complaints.

People need to sleep. Even folks like me.

I learned that sleeping in the daytime, where it's light out and I can see when I open my eyes, helps. That's probably a major reason why I'm a night-owl. The dreams can't get me if I'm awake all night. The real world doesn't embrace that backwards schedule so I have to sleep at night like everyone else. I'm forty seven years old yet I need a fairly bright nightlight, somewhere nearby, so I can see. If I can't see, when the nightmares come, I'll wake up screaming. Since we keep the hallway light on (which indirectly lights our bedroom), it's not so bad. When Bill was working nights I also had the curtains and blinds up so the streetlight down the block and our neighbor's back yard light brightened things up quite a lot.

Imagine waking to this every night
only with a black cavern mouth.
Screaming at you.
And, oh, the teeth. Lots of teeth.
Most of the time - not always, but most - my nightmares consist of something big and heavy falling toward my head to crush me, or a crazy, horrifying woman in garish makeup beside the bed screaming at me. I call her 'that kabuki bitch'. Imagine if you will, waking suddenly, heart pounding, because you'd just woken from the certainty of getting your head crushed under a falling car or boulder or airplane part, and you're laying there, gasping, trying to calm yourself and keep your heart from leaping out of your chest and running away, only to turn your head and some crazy Kabuki bitch is right there, just past your nose, is if she'd been breathing in your ear, and as soon as you see her she lets out an ear splitting scream. Only it's probably you, screaming, because she's actually laughing because she knows you'll do this same damn dance with her in 20 minutes, if you dare to fall asleep.

Yep, super fun times with the kabuki bitch.

She didn't follow me to this house after we moved (thank God), but the falling things... they're still here. As is the less prevalent but still common dark, looming thing in the corner (it left a few months back, thanks to Bill). Other less common nightmares include being chased, stabbed, cut open, beheaded and falling from great heights.

Creepy little bastard.
So, um, yeah. They're a blast. And Kabuki bitch would laugh at me then, too, but she's gone. Yay!!

Now that my eyes are fixed (had them lasered 2 years ago to correct severe nearsightedness) and we have lights on, when I have a nightmare I can open my eyes and see that everything's okay. Before... not so much.

And, oh, yard gnomes creep me out, too. Sometimes, in my dreams, they follow me, no matter how I try to hide. Shudder.

Kabuki bitches and yard gnomes. They're the stuff of nightmares.

14 April, 2012

M is for Manuscript

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

As a writer, I need to utilize and maintain proper manuscript format when working with my agent and publishers. I am, admittedly, old school in this regard, and, so far at least, it's served me well.

Actual page from Stain of Corruption
I use 12 point Courier, double spaced, with one inch margins all around. Always. I underline text that's supposed to be italics. Always. My chapter heads stand out, about 1/3 of the way down the page. I have my first line indent at .5 inches, have one space between the ending punctuation of one sentence and the lead letter of the next, and let MS Word center whatever needs to be centered. Lastly, I never, EVER use tabs.

Why no tabs? Because when the text gets converted and placed into the program (often QuarkXpress) that publishers use to typeset and print books, tabs create a host of problems, including (but not limited to) alignment errors, digital 'gibberish' inserted in random locations, and missing text.

So don't use tabs if you're setting up a manuscript for submission. Please.

Why do I use such old layout options? Why not just type it up in Verdana, email it out, and be done with it? After all, Courier is so freaking UGLY!!
It's easy to pick out all of the letters and punctuation in Courier.
Even when you're tired. Easier reading = fewer mistakes.
Because, when you're working with a printed manuscript (especially all day, every day, like editors and copy editors and typesetters do), double-spaced Courier is easy to read. It's easy on the eyes. It's easy to see punctuation. And it's easy to get an accurate word count.

Yeah, yeah, all word processors give word counts, I know. But, those word counts might not be the word count a publisher needs. They calculate those counts based upon the number of pages in the manuscript, and the number of words that should be on every page.

For example, in my page setup, Courier makes a 66 character line. Yep, 66 characters. The average word in the english language is five letters, plus one space, together they makes six. So, with a five letter word, plus one space per word, out of 66 characters I get ELEVEN words per line. Doesn't matter to the publisher if there are actually three really long words or twenty short ones, it still counts as an eleven word line because it's 66 characters long. Always. In my page layout, a full page has twenty five lines, so my calculated word count, per page, is 275. Multiply that by the number of pages (full or not) in a manuscript, and you get the word count that publishers use.

It's writer math.

For me, a 400 page book makes a 110,000 word story. Some writers tweak their page margins to get 60 characters a line (10 words a line) which then makes 250 words a page. It's a quicker calculation.

I know that ePublishers have different rules, and regulations, and I know that lots and lots of places ask for manuscripts to be set in Times or whatever. I do, so there's no need to tell me. My agent and editors still like Courier (and I know from personal experience it's easy to mark up for edits and revisions) so I'm sticking with it until someone shaking a check at me says otherwise.

13 April, 2012

L is for Laudanum

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Make your troubles float away...
For those of you who are new here, I write forensic fantasy novels, and they tend to pull no punches. As I worked through the events in the books, one of my major characters needed a way to face not only a daily grind of rapes, murders, and worse, but manage and minimize their reactions to the horrible things they've experienced. In short, they needed to cope. Like a lot of real people who self medicate with drugs and alcohol, this particular character turned to a narcotic. Laudanum.

It's an opiate derivative, similar to modern morphine, and it fit in well with my setting's timeline. This stuff used to be widely available in patent medicines and tonics. Makes me wonder how many opium addicts (by today's standards) existed in the 19th century when they could buy Laudanum and other opiates without any sort of restriction or prescription. It was even added to Absinthe to increase the high (oh, the fun of mixing narcotics and hallucinogens) and the side effects... wow.

It's nasty, yet incredibly awesome stuff, at least from a story teller standpoint. ;)  Just think of the fun things I can do to my characters!!

12 April, 2012

K is for Kale

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Last night, my laptop blew its hard drive*. I spent today driving halfway across the state to the Mac Store and back again, and I'm just now getting a chance to post today's entry. So it'll be short and sweet. :)

Bill and I have been trying to improve our diets and part of that includes adding more green, leafy veggies, like kale. I've been putting it in soups and pasta dishes, for example, and we like it okay, but Kale Chips are, by far, everyone's favorite use of this versatile veggie.

Kale Chips are baked, they're crispy, and salty and when I make them they disappear. Our daughter even squees and runs off with the bowl, munching.

Very yummy, incredibly simple, and they're healthy, too!

*The laptop was still under warranty and it's now sporting a shiny new hard drive, the Mac Geniuses even managed to save my working book files. Yay! It just cost me some time. :)

11 April, 2012

J is for Joneses

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

About 24 years ago, I was incredibly blessed to be absorbed into Bill's family. Unlike my family (which I'll talk about on the S entry), the Jones clan encompasses a couple hundred individuals. Yep. In the 'immediate' family.

Seeing as how my whole family lived in a span of a handful of houses on the same block, Bill's family is MASSIVE. And almost all have been to our house. At the same time. With one bathroom. ;)

Ahem.

I was welcomed without question or reservation - at least none that I'd ever heard of - and some members of Bill's family, especially his Aunt Edna (yep, he has one too. Doesn't everyone??) are among my select few 'favorite people on the planet'. I know, with utter certainty, that I can pick up the phone and, with one little phone call, have a houseful of guys to help move something heavy, or build a new roof, or whatever. Need to borrow a car? Easy peasy. Need an emergency babysitter? Gotcha covered. Have any crisis at all, and a horde of Joneses - aunts, uncles, cousins twice removed - will descend like magical, friendly locusts and get it fixed, hauled, cleaned up, or corralled. Shortly after we got married, one of Bill's cousins had to move, and we - along with a lot of others - appeared at the house and got everything out of there and loaded in the truck, EVERYTHING, in less than an hour.

BAM! It's like magic. Joneses do not screw around.

Besides being generous with their time, the Jones family tends to be rowdy. And LOUD, everyone talking over everyone else. There's generally beer somewhere, and quite a few have issues with substance abuse (not that my family is clean in that regard, but the reasons for the abuse tend to be different). It's never quiet at a Jones family gathering and they get together every 4th of July. When we were first married, the annual party/family reunion was held at Bill's parents' house, but after his mom died it moved to ours. One year, when I did the head count, we had 177 people over, including children, and, yes, we had one bathroom. It was a madhouse, but since we had a huge yard, we managed. And it didn't include Uncle Charles' branch, or Aunt Marlene's branch, Duane and Jo's family (who mostly lived out of state), anyone from Sharon's side, or the folks who had to work.

Still, more than 175 people. In the "immediate family".

After several years, we decided that our poor septic system couldn't handle the stress anymore, so the party moved on, to Charles' house, then a park, then back to Bill's dad's, then another park. I'm not sure where it'll be this year, but it promises to have a lot of food, a lot of volleyball, and a whole LOT of kids running around. Every ten years or so they have the BIG family gathering and there were more than 300 people at the last one.

You don't get such a huge family without having a lot of children. We were the oddballs in the group because we only had our one daughter - and one of Bill's brothers has no children at all - but four to seven kids per family seems to be the norm. Cousin Johnny (who'd had a whole string of girls) once joked he was making his own softball team.

I know with a deep and abiding certainty, without a hint of reservation, that if our house were to burn down, or Bill's job evaporate, or a hundred other possible catastrophes were to fall upon us, the Jones family would be there, immediately, to help clean up or offer a place to stay, or money or whatever.

Bam! The helpful horde would descend.

Despite being solidly working class to downright poor, they're just incredibly generous and giving people. I have to admit it took me awhile to get used to the loud, rowdy, rambunctiousness of the family, but I love them all and I'm positive they know that if they need anything - anything - we, too, would be there to help.

Love you guys!!

10 April, 2012

I is for Introvert

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Most everyone has heard of introverts and extroverts. Extroverts are easy to spot. They're the people dancing around at parties and leading meetings and, frankly, kissing babies and shaking hands during political season. They take jobs in marketing and sales and rally others to their causes. They love the limelight, attention, and big events, and usually have lots and lots of friends. They like the new, the bright, the shiny, the trendy, the dangerous. Generally speaking, extroverts take chances and love to party.

Introverts, on the other hand, don't. We tend to stay home, have a few close friends, and avoid loud, boisterous events. Heck, some of us (like me) don't even have cell phones. ;)

It's not that we're shy. Some of us are, yes, but shy is another thing all together. Shyness implies fear of speaking with other people and while some introverts are shy, most of us aren't rendered mute by another's presence or fear speaking with others, or even reaching out to others. No, it's more about the quietness of solitude, and the comfort of familiarity. New things are approached with caution, not gusto, and when we get uncomfortable, we retreat to safer ground. Generally speaking, introverts skip the party and stay home.

I am, most definitely, an introvert.

I suck at personal conflict and confrontation (unless of course I am so angry that it overwhelms my instinctual desire to back off) and I never, ever do anything - or dress in any way - that calls attention to my presence. While I have no trouble actually speaking to groups of people, like when I give readings or talks (because, let's face it, I'm not shy), the mere thought of 'going to a convention' where there will be hundreds of strangers and bright flashy events and zero chance that I'll be able to control what's happening around me, well, I freak the heck out.

It's not the speaking that bothers me, it's being in a strange, overwhelming place. I tell ya, if everyone would just come to my house, that'd be great. lol

A lot of people have heard of the MeyersBriggs personality test. I am clear, waaaaay far off to the very edge of the 'I' on the introvert/extrovert scale. Back when I was in counseling for depression and PTSD, my therapist told me she'd never seen anyone with such a low score, so low in fact, it barely registered on the scale at all.

That explains why I am, apparently, invisible.

In all seriousness, my extreme, almost crippling introversion is one more reason I had such a hard time as a professional writer. I was pretty good at the writing part, the creative part, and I loved being edited, but interviews? Awful. Attention? Really awful. Reviews? Um, let's not even think about that. Marketing? Good God, please no. No, no, no, no, no. The award and all the, um, people staring and clapping and the plaque thing and stage lighting and...

OMG. NO! Get me the hell outta here. I wanna go HOME. NOW.

Home. With the door shut and the shades drawn and me curled up under blankets where it's safe and quiet and no one's looking at me or demanding things from me or - gasp - acting like I'm anything more than a quiet housewife from Iowa.

Anyway, as I struggle to get myself back into the 'published writer arena' - or at least sitting in my lonely car in the far reaches of its parking lot with my hands white-knuckle clamped to the steering wheel - I have to keep my introversion in mind. I have to. Because I remember what happened last time, and it wasn't super-cool-fun-times, at least not for me. I love talking with people about my work and what I do - and I really do enjoy what I do - I'd just rather do it on my terms, my way, with plenty of time and space and the ability to not keep shoving myself out there, kicking and screaming internally, as if I were a show pony strapped into a cage. Because being stared at while strapped in a cage isn't fun for anybody, especially the terrified show pony.

It is a worry. What if M sells? Or Spore? What then? Will I have to do interviews again? Will I have to go to conferences? How much will I have to get out and hustle for sales?

Hmm. I wonder if I could hire an extrovert to do all that stuff for me? ;) I can't pay much, but I'm really easy to work with.

08 April, 2012

H is for Houses

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

Houses! We love old houses. So far, we've extensively remodeled two - as in gutted and re-done from the studs out - and partially remodeled a third, that needed mostly cosmetic work and a new bathroom.

Remodeling is just awesome!

Here's the previous house we lived in, back when I wrote the Dubric books:


This house was a complete and total gut job. We removed everything but the east and north walls, and 3/4 of the foundation. Everything else, wiring, plumbing, roof, windows, everything, we did ourselves. Well, everything but installing the new furnace and running the duct work. That we hired out.

Here's a view from the other side:


Bill built both of the two-story bump-outs himself, and framed the roof (some of the angles were kinda crazy) and it was simply gorgeous!

I don't have digital pics of our first remodeled house (we did it waaaay before the days of digital photography) but here's a picture of our current house, shortly after we bought it:


It's a bit bigger than the yellow house and, frankly, was in better shape. We've replaced the floors in two of the bedrooms, painted it inside and out, did some major landscaping in the back yard, and put in an all new bathroom. That's about it.

The outside currently looks like this:


I love the color! It's perky, quirky, and friendly, all at the same time!

Inside, everything's one of three coordinating nice, creamy tans with white trim:


When it looked like Bill's job would be moving we had it on the market for a while last year and our appraised value was 10% higher than when we bought it. Not a bad return for 4 years investment, especially in this market. :) The yellow house at the beginning appraised at 6 times what we paid for it, but we did do a total gut job, and lived in it for 12 years. Nothing beats sweat equity.

Our current house is done, so we've been talking about moving on to something new, for us at least. There's a big 1890's house in a nearby town that'll be coming up as a foreclosure sale soon, and we're seriously tempted, especially if we can pick it up cheap!  We LOVE remodeling old houses!

07 April, 2012

G is for God

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

I actually thought about changing my topic this morning to avoid the quite-likely flood of arguments and hate mail, but I decided it needed to be said, for my own peace of mind if nothing else.

I believe in God.

I was raised, more or less, a Baptist. Sort of. My mother was (and still is) an Agnostic who liked to see God applied to a few select things, like weddings, and my father, back then, subscribed to the religion of "I'm going out for coffee". My great grandmother, however, was a regular bible reader, she'd read some most every day while sitting in her rocking chair, and I'm pretty sure she was a member of the Marquisville Baptist Church. She refused to ride in cars, though, so she never attended unless someone made her.

The Baptist part of my upbringing actually came from my Aunt Edna who lived next door. She'd load me up most Sundays and take me off to Sunday School at a different Baptist Church than the one my great grandmother got all the mail from.

Edna finally got tired of my questions and chatter, or just the weekly bother of dragging around a kid who wasn't hers, and I went a lot of years without ever setting foot in a church until middle school. I had a friend who my father called a 'Holy Roller' and I'd occasionally go to church with her. Unlike the rather frumpy Baptists, her church had a lot of standing and reaching up and singing loud and kneeling and screaming that we were all gonna burn in hell. Mostly, it struck me as incredibly odd.

I found these two experiences confusing when propped up against one another and I took every opportunity I could to go to church with friends. I learned about streets paved with gold and lakes of fire. I saw immersions. Took communion once - boy, I got a tsk, tsk from an old lady for that! - because it was being passed right by me and seemed impolite not to. I sat through yawn-worthy services, and services that ought to have come with sweat bands, we were so busy getting up and down and shifting around. I attended services full of 'love your neighbors' and services dripping with hatred for all things. Acceptance and judgement. Love and hate. Jesus and Satan.

I was about 15, maybe 16, when I decided that religion was a pile of hokum. That the guy - and it was almost always a guy - standing up front was making it all up. The things he was 'reading' from the book laid out before him didn't match what I read at home. Did match what I got from the book at home.

I let my curiosity move outward and I read about Hinduism and the Torah and Mohammed. I read about Buddhists and Wiccans and anything else I could dig up. It didn't take me long to decide that they're all hokum, every single one. They're a way for one person (or a group or powerful persons) to declare how other, less powerful people should live. And behave. And, most importantly, believe. If someone doesn't follow those particular rules, well, they're to be pitied, scorned, or despised.

I'm pretty much against things like that.

Across all of human history, we have believed in a creator. I fail to see why calling him Zeus or Allah or Jehovah or Krishna makes a bit of difference. I fail to see why one road to seek Him is any better, or more right, than another. I believe there are as many paths to God as people making the trek. All are correct. Each and every one. At least as long as they don't refute the right of a different person to seek a different way.

Anyway, I do believe in God. I just don't believe in religion. It divides us. It conquers us. It breeds hatred and intolerance. I'd much rather believe in a deity that wants us to get along because, like it or not, we're all stuck here together.

06 April, 2012

F is for Fear

You can find a full list of my A to Z challenge posts here. :)

I struggle with fear quite a lot, especially with my writing, and I wrote about it extensively when I was actively promoting the last Dubric novel, back in 2005-2006. This is a modified version of a couple of posts I made in 2006 and 2007, so some of you may have already read all or parts of this.

---

Fear is what keeps many of us succeeding. Not just in writing, but in all sorts of other things too.


And, you know, it's all in our heads.  We have to stop thinking it's real, or at least recognize it for what it is.

I'm going to be pulling some quotes from a particular body of work for this essay - they're far more eloquent and beautiful than what I can create - and I'd like to start with this one.

It is by will alone that I set my mind in motion.

Say it out loud, like you mean it. It's a POWERFUL sentence.

It's spoken by Piter DeVries, in the original David Lynch film. I thought it was Thufir Hawat speaking it in the book, but could I find it?? Noooo....  Still a great line, though.

It is by will alone that I set my mind in motion.

Wow.

Let's bring up another quote, which actually prompted me to start this exercise - 

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Yes, it's from Dune by Frank Herbert, and this particular quote is spoken by Paul Atreides (I think, our copy of the book isn't here in the house so I can't double check to be absolutely certain) and is the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.

Anyway, with these two quotes from Dune in mind, I'd like to look at fear.

Experiencing fear has kept our species alive. I mean, look at the Dodo, which had so little fear that predators, including man, could walk right up to it and kill it to extinction. It's because of fear that we live. We have enough sense to not touch a hot stove, walk out into busy traffic, or step off the edge of a tall building. Fear is instinctual. Fear is a good thing. It gets our heart rate up, nudges adrenaline into gear, and helps us move quickly to get away from that saber toothed tiger, should the need arise.

It also gives us brain lock, which is why I've brought forth these quotes.

Our bodies and minds are programmed to the fight or flight response, along with the ever popular deer-in-headlights phenomena. It's not just on the highway with the semi barreling toward us that we get that lock up, it's when we're faced with a tough choice, or even a simple one. Many, many of us don't like to make decisions. For example - and a lot of you married folks will nod at this - my husband just about flat out refuses to pick a restaurant. "Whatever you want," he tells me, when all I want is not to have to pick this time. Some people freeze up when faced with what tie to wear. What shoes? Which insurance plan? Who to vote for? Often, to avoid making a choice, we make none at all until the decision is made for us, whether by circumstance or by someone else taking the lead. I believe that all comes down to fear - What if I make the wrong choice? What if I look stupid?

What if I fail?

Fear of failure is a huge problem. How many people never take a chance because of fear they might fail? Never approach the girl? Never apply for the better job? Never move out of their parents' home? Never send out their story?

Never even try?

It's that deer in headlights thing.  Brain lock.

Fear is the mind killer.
It is with will alone that I set my mind in motion.

Think about those two statements side by side.

Some days I have to remind myself to say both, back to back. And it helps.

05 April, 2012

E is for Exercise

You can find a list of all of my A to Z posts here.

Today's topic - why, oh why, did I choose this one?? - is exercise.

I hate exercise, I really do. I was one of those tall, awkward kids in school that were picked last - or dang close to it - in gym. I am not coordinated. Nor am I speedy, strong, accurate, have good balance, stamina, or even have decent hand/eye coordination.

Frankly, I suck at sports. Consistently.

It always perplexes me when fitness experts say 'do an activity you love!'

Um. Last I knew, quilting isn't exercise. Fat quarters don't weigh that much and while lugging my sewing machine out of the house and to class takes a bit of huffing and puffing, the act of porting it around doesn't really get anything sewn.

So, frankly, for uncoordinated, never-been-athletic people like me, that 'do an activity you LOVE!' nonsense is utter bullshit.

Still, we all need to exercise. All of us, even clumsy people like me.

I walk around our little town several times a week if the weather's decent. I have a pile of exercise DVDs and actually use some now and again (especially Richard Simmons' Sweatin' to the Oldies). Frankly, nothing's more comforting to people like me than seeing other people like me huff and puff through a work out. Those aerobic and tae-bo workouts with slim, athletic people? Total turn off. They're like the unreachable goal (and they're obviously the same folks that made fun of/thumped on the non-athletic as kids)

Well, maybe not obviously. I'm sure some are very nice people. They just remind me of the asshats of my childhood years, is all.

And, oh, I have a Wii. I actually do like Wii Sports Active, strangely enough, even though it consistently kicks my flabby ass. But my cat ate the sensor cord (seriously, it's in three pieces on my desk right now) so my Wii is defunct until I buy a new sensor.

Anyway, with exercise, I TRY. Honest. It's good for me, and I usually feel perkier afterwards. During, though... not so much. For me, and I'm surely not the only one, exercise is one of those things you have to do, but don't want to do, so you just do it and get it done and go on with the rest of your day.

Once I find 'an activity I love!' I'll let y'all know. Until then, I'll just keep making myself jive with Richard or take a mile-long walk across town.

04 April, 2012

D is for Dubric

Ahh, Dubric. The imaginary guy who both enhanced and complicated my life.


Not exactly sure what I should say about him, facts? Secrets? Where he came from? 


Let's start with a few basics.


For those who don't regularly read this blog, Dubric Byerly is the main character of my series, The Dubric Byerly Mysteries, published by Bantam Books (more information on my Books and Such page). Dubric was born on the 6th day of eleven moon, 2195, and is 68 summers old in all three published novels (they take place in the first half of 2264). Yeah, you read that right, 2264. But it's not earth, okay, it's a completely different place with its own timeline. Contrary to rumor, Dubric's world isn't medieval, it's post apocalyptic. Yup. Post apocalyptic. Only, in his world, the collapse happened near the end of the industrial revolution. The mages seized power and, centuries later, Dubric was among those who fought to restore reason. In his nation of Lagiern, at least.


Sounds rather patriotic, doesn't it? Being a leader in a revolution to assert the dominance of Reason over Magic. So is Dubric a revolutionary? Sort of. Of all of the leaders during the Great War, he was, in a lot of ways, the least reactionary. Yes, he knew they needed to stop the mages and worked quite hard to pursue that goal, but he was much more of a philosopher than a firebrand. His future wife, on the other hand, was quite vocal in her opinions, which made her a target and, ultimately, got her killed.


Only then, after Oriana died, did Dubric become the opinionated fellow my readers know and love.


I have to be honest here, and please forgive me, but I don't like Dubric. I've never liked him - I generally refer to him as 'that ass'. I think he's a great, multi-dimensional character, and he's certainly been strong enough to carry several novels, but he's not someone I'd want to hang out with. He's not a particularly 'nice guy'. Yes, he does 'good' things, like tracking murderers and standing up for the poor, but his core principles are generally self serving, or at least serve his vision of the greater goals and purpose he has set in his mind.


In Valley of the Soul, Sarea tells Lars, "I don't trust Dubric," she hissed. "He's never once, in all these summers, considered how things affect our family, our girls, our life. Nothing is more important than the damned job."


I consider that a true statement. Dubric doesn't care about how his actions impact others; only the end result matters. He claims to care a great deal about how things he disagrees with harm the populace, but it becomes much less of a consideration when his own ideals clash with other's needs.


I'm not saying he's a horrible despot. He's not. He isn't greedy or cruel or prone to subjugating innocents to his wild whims. He would, however, sacrifice one of his men if it would help him achieve his own goals. Others are like pieces on a game board to him. Tools, to be utilized.


Also, in Valley, Lars tells him, "...As long as I've worked for you, whenever you talk about the war you mention the boys that died under your command. Fourteen-, fifteen-summers-old boys. I'm one of them, sir, and it's quite possible that I'll die while serving you. I know that, and I can face that. But what of my life? What life, what joy have I ever had?"


If you haven't read the books, the dialog above is part of a scene where Lars (a teenage boy and member of Dubric's staff) is asking Dubric to honor a promise to give the kid a previously-scheduled day off to attend a faire with his girlfriend, Jess. Dubric is resistant because his own goals of finding a mage conflict with Lars's more personal goal of getting a kiss. Lars ultimately wins the debate and makes Dubric honor his promise, but not without an implied threat that he'd quit the job before missing his date. I believe that Dubric relents, not because of honoring the promise to let the boy have a specific day off, but because, at that time, Lars is a vital piece in the implementing of Dubric's overall plan.


Dubric consistently puts his broad goals ahead of personal issues, even his own, and it's become a long running theme in the story of his life.