Monday, June 29, 2009

Channeling Your Inner Child is Not a Good Thing

I've been hanging out at Authonomy for a couple of months now. At first, I was interested in seeing how far I could take my novel "Let's Do Lunch" and getting some feedback. It got to 14 on the Romance chart in short order.

I was addicted - spent all my time reading and commenting. Which taught me a good lesson about the destructive nature of addiction. Which lead me to back up, start taking better care of the things that are important, like home and family.

Which brings me to the "inner child" part of this essay. I started reading the forums, which proved to be an eye opener. While I was berating myself for letting my home life slide - other people were in much worse shape. A number of them appear to be channeling their "inner child" and pulling all kinds of silly tricks: Alter egos (known as sock-puppets), drunken ramblings, causing chaos while others jump at the opportunity to keep it going.

I got caught in the leading edge with Mary and the Militant Writer. I had a glimpse of madness, enough to keep me at a distance while I watched with dismay. Then I got another tweak a couple of weeks later when I posted a critique instead of a comment.

Now there is a sock-puppet hunt going on. The 'quarry' appears to be enjoying the game a great deal. In fact, the fox is having a great time leading people on a merry chase. Lot's of tweaked noses, pinching, dropped hints and so forth on both sides.

I'm starting to wonder if there are any rational adults on the site. Oh granted it's a free-for-all social networking site, not a focused forum like "Forward Motion" but I rather expected something more professional from the British.

Silly of me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Van Man Go Comes to Visit

I was on the porch kicked back with my eyes closed; it was a lovely warm breezy day, when I felt a chill. I opened my eyes to behold him, one of the characters from "Swallow the Moon" sitting opposite me.

Van Man Go was smoking, as usual, a mixture of tobacco and pot. For once he was dressed in clean clothes, no paint stains on the tee shirt, nor holes in his jeans. His hair had been trimmed; his hands were clean of paint.

"You're all dressed up." I sat up. "What's up, Van?"

"We need to talk."

"Sure, want some coffee or a soda?"

"No, thanks. I'm good." He took another hit, careful not to blow the smoke at me.

I smiled, Van is never, ever good. He is the embodiment of dissipation, a man wrecked by excess. Completely uninterested in redemption, he is the perfect foil for a goody-two-shoes hero or heroine or two.

"This looks serious." I took a sip of cranberry juice. "What do you want to talk about?"

"It is the manuscript. I don't want to end up dead at the end of the book."

Van doesn't beat around the bush. I like that about him.

"Well, the book isn't finished yet. I don't know what is going to happen."

"Sure you do. They end up back at her place, where the kitchen ceiling gets a couple grand in water damage." He flicked the ashes over the side of the porch. "Waste of a good ceiling if you ask me." He flashed me a smile that showed off the fanged caps of his teeth.

"You're guessing."

"I looked."

"Then what's the problem?"

"The final chapters are about five pages each. That's not your style." He pointed a thin finger at me. "I know you. You write ten to fifteen pages a chapter. So half the ending is still up there." He tapped the side of his head. Then he uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. "Spill it. What happens to me?"

"Nothing."

"Bullshit. You’re a romance writer. Happily Ever After is the name of the game. Justice will prevail and the bad guy always gets whacked in the end. You don't fight the tropes, ever. That means I get snuffed in the last chapter."

"That's not true."

"I think we can make a deal." Van leaned back, smiled and took a deep hit. His brown eyes narrowed as he regarded me. Here on my porch in the Kentucky afternoon sunlight he looked less like Gollum and more like a dried up version of some people I knew from the Harbor.

"You're mistaken."

"I think not," Van smiled again. "Kitty, you've got a hole in the plot big enough to ride a herd of horses through." He waved at the three horses cropping grass on the other side of the fence. "Consider all your options."

There are times when I wish all my characters talked to me. Right now I would like Van to shut up and go away. Why couldn't I be having this conversation with Eric? Hmm – yeah a conversation with my hunky hero. Nix that. My husband would have a large farm animal.

"Look, Van, I appreciate your survival instinct." I fidgeted with my pen, tapping it on the table. "You're sneaky, sly and crafty at staying out of situations that can get you whacked."

"I'm flattered." Another smile, as he sat back, crossed his legs and took another hit. "Keep talking." The pose would have done a GQ model proud. Instead he was bald, pale as a ghost and his skin hung on him like an ill-fitting suit.

"I've said all I'm going to say."

"I have terms."

"No terms."

No smile this time, a level stare still holding the GQ pose. He took another hit off the stub of the cigarette; it vanished as if he had inhaled it.

"You're a hard case." His foot tapped air, while his eyes measured me. It was a ploy to see if he could make me nervous. "I'll make it worth your while to keep me around."

"Do that."

"Later." He vanished in a puff of smoke.

I downed the last of my cranberry juice.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trouble - the Pen Eating Jack Russel Terrorist

Three guesses who eats pens and highlighters?

It's getting to the point where I'm going to have to take my pen into the bathroom so the little booger doesn't eat it!

I have no idea why Trouble not only eats pens left within reach, but he also climbs onto chairs and tables to get the one I'm using.

Honestly. I'm on the porch, loving the breeze and sound of the fountain while I write. But, hey, I needed a refill on my juice. Before I went in the house, I made sure the pen and highlighter were up on the table. When I came back out - my favorite blue pen was on the deck - the end chewed shut.

He had to have gotten up on the table.

JR gives me these long suffering looks as I scold Trouble. I think that JR would have me oust the little monster. Mocha watches me, until she knows I'm not mad at her. Trouble gives me his patented puppy look - all bright eyes, as innocent as he can make himself look.

It is a rough life for a dog, all morning out on the porch where they can bark at the neighbors, the horses, the cat, the chickes - you get the idea. But no, Trouble isn't happy unless he's found some way to annoy me.

Is it any wonder why he answers to 'booger,' as in 'what did you do, you little booger?'

Friday, June 19, 2009

Characterization – Avoiding the "Mary Sue" Trap

One thing that Authonomy has exposed me to the work of hundreds of unpublished writers. What dismayed me, time after time, was poor character development leaping off the page. It didn't matter which genre or gender – there were cardboard characters, 'uber-villains' and enough "Mary Sue" types to make me not only cynical but openly critical. I finally posted on my bio that I would not read certain genre – because I couldn't be kind any more.

If anyone wants an eye-opening education, Google "Mary Sue" or go to Wikipedia – I have included this excerpt here for the sake of argument:

I quote: "A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as "Mary Sues" is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the "Mary Sue" character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an "author's pet". " End quote.

Yes, many 'beloved' fictional characters are in this category, Mary Sue, or Harry Stew (ehem) the 'uber-good' are always suspect. One way to avoid this trap is to sit down with a pen and paper (eekk! No not that!) to develop the character.

It isn't that hard.

Start with the basics: Age, hair and eye color (you would be surprised at how many times I've seen mistakes made on these three alone.)

Then give the character some likes, dislikes and character traits: Likes cats, hates large animals; loves sushi, doesn't like red meat; collects photographs and vintage hats. Drinks only red wine, or malt whiskey on the rocks.

Whatever traits are appropriate for the story, make sure there are at least three. I'll start off with my work in progress characters:

Eric Macmillan – Brown hair, green eyes, former National Guard. Loves his motorcycle "Cora"; he's over-confident of his skill on the bike, which may get him killed. He does not like being called a 'biker' even though he dresses like one. He wants a home and family more than anything, so his divorce has devastated him. Has PTSD from 2 years in Afghanistan for which he refuses treatment. Drinks a lot of beer, though he doesn't have blackouts or drink in the morning, yet.

June Van Allen – curly brown hair, blue eyes, slight build. Loves her home and gardens, misses her Aunt Lori. She's afraid of her boss; her job is just a means to an end. She practices Wicca learned from books and on the Internet because she's too shy to join up with a coven. (This gets her into trouble.)

Van Man Go – has multiple piercings, tribal tattoos up each forearm, brown eyes and male pattern balding. Van sold his soul to be the greatest airbrush artist in the U.S.A., for equipment that doesn't break and customers who always pay. He likes to smoke pot and drink Genesee beer. He was chubby once, but he can't eat or drink anything sweet as a reminder of his contract. He is intelligent, sly and can be very smooth and persuasive when it suits him.

I actually have a page or two on each character, including the two ghosts Cora and Jake. This way, if I'm stuck I have something to reference, instead of falling back on stereotypes.

There are some wonderful books on characterization. Some deal with "archetypes," some have charts and forms to make character creation easier. There are many ways to do this – what I've done above is probably the simplest way to start. Be aware of the "Mary Sue" trap, give the character a few traits and if you find all this offensive there is a link below for the "Mary Sue Litmus Test".

It's free, so see if your characters can pass.

http://www.springhole.net/quizzes/marysue.htm

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rainy Day Musings

Today I'm writing about the small things, the homey things that are going on at Jordan's Croft. The last few weeks have been pretty bumpy. I've lost a good friend, my job and a big chunk of self-worth. I keep reminding myself that the most important things: home, friends and family, are secure. So I'm celebrating Jordan's Croft with marvelous trivia.

The daily rain has been a blessing and a pain. My barn is damp, my stalls are damp, the grass, flowers and weeds are growing like crazy. I've spent every day on the lawn tractor – trying to keep the weeds in the pasture down. I've even played chicken with the rain trying to keep ahead of the weeds. I've gotten the pasture done, and half the lawn, but it is threatening rain yet again.

The five black kittens are big bold and sassy little monsters, messing in my tack room, getting under foot and demanding to be fed solid food every couple of hours. Adorable little critters – they are going to the flea market next weekend. Lucky is going to the vet on the first of the month.

The ducks, ducklings, chickens and the eleven surviving pullets are running loose, eating up the scads of bugs that have become a nuisance. I hope that keeping the weeds down and letting the poultry hunt for bugs will keep us from being eaten alive by mosquitoes, so far so good. I suspect that the county has secretly sprayed since there aren't any larva in my rain barrels. However, just to be safe, I made sure the horses were vaccinated against West Nile Virus.

Our only neighbors have finished their house and moved in. The comings and goings are a bit of a disruption, not as bad as the construction. I miss the feeling of solitude, okay I'm mourning a lot of things including the privacy that I had when I could sit on the porch and write in my pjs.

My herbs have gone crazy with all the water – the strawberries were huge and wonderful. I'm harvesting lavender and soon the mint. We have no vegetable garden this year, I need to correct that, but with three or four farmer's markets in 20 minutes drive, why bother?

There is no word back from the publisher on 'Let's Do Lunch.' No news is good news right now. The second book is still stalled as the Croft is taking up all my time.

My mom has purchased an e-reader by Sony (from Target of all places.) It is a marvelous little device; a bit slow to process, a bit heavy, but easy for her to use, and simple for me to update for her. I would love to have one. I suggested the Sony for her as it was available at Target – so we could try it out first. It also supports more document types than the Kindle, so she can access all the free books on Gutenburg.org, there are thousands.

Best of all, its half the price of the Amazon Kindle. Yes, Kindle has more features, and built in wireless, but 70 miles from the nearest city, the wireless access isn't likely to work, so that's half the features are made useless.

I close with this – a paraphrase of a prayer sent to me this morning: "May the Creator manifest in ways you have never experienced. May your joys be fulfilled, your dreams closer, and your prayers answered. I pray for peace, healing, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, true and undying love."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Market Day

Yesterday I took my ducklings to the flea market.

As you can imagine, catching them is the hardest part. Momma duck needs to be removed first. Otherwise she is after my ankles while I'm trying to scoop the babies up in a net. A large goldfish net works best for peepers. It adds a foot to my reach.

We have a heavy duty net that I made up one week for the bigger birds. I used jute strings and knotted them together. It took a week, but it saves me HOURS of chasing and wrangling poultry. Untangling the thrashing bird is a pain, but hey, I don't have to throw myself on them.

It is always interesting to talk to the people I meet there. Always entertaining to watch little kids pet a duck for the first time.

I took twenty-eight ducklings to market and sold sixteen – the dozen I brought home are now in chicken world where they have a swimming pool. The momma ducks fought over the babies – Brownie won yet again. She is now the caretaker of the mixed flock of little ones.

That means that the other two hen ducks will be setting on eggs in a couple of weeks. There will be another batch of babies in August. I can speed up the process if I take them to market while they still need brooding. But why? Three batches of ducklings a year are plenty.

Meanwhile there are strawberries to pick. The mints are ready to harvest. The iris need thinned and the horses need ridden. There are eleven Dominque pullets in chicken world, growing quickly and getting bigger every day. Spring we will be drowning in little brown eggs.

As home-maven and ex-con Martha Stewart says: That's a good thing.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tuesday, It Rained Kittens

Yes, it did.

I had a guest in the barn when we heard mewing from the loft, and a tiny kitten slipped from the loft to the shelf below. I wasn't quick enough to catch it before it tumbled down again.

That was how we discovered where Lucky hid her litter. My friend got into the loft, picking up the other four before they too, tumbled out of the loft.

We have five fat black kittens, with eyes open, teeth and claws, installed in the metal water trough where I raised the chickens. They hiss and spit at my every movement, I may not have gotten to them in time to tame them. We will see.

Lucky, as I have posted before, was a stray I picked up in a parking lot in Louisville. She had some kind of balance issue for the first months we had her. My vet called her a bobble head. Said it could be a birth defect caused by poor nutrition, or a virus caught from her mother.

Lucky is also very much in love with Trouble, rubbing against him and purring. For his part, he treats her like a chew toy.

I could make a sexist remark here, couldn't I? (G)

I've thought of showing the kittens to Trouble, to see if he will adopt them the way that Rowdy used to. Somehow, I don't think so, so we will wait on that.

I've seen dogs like Rowdy adopt cats, and cats nurse puppies, so the instinct is there. It is a matter of making everyone play nice.

I'm sure that Lucky will be glad to have me wean these little guys as soon as possible. I'll start tomorrow.