Bouncey bouncey, fun, fun, fun, fun

Okay, I confess I’m starting to lose track.

It’s 11:18 pm here in D.C.. Which is 9:18 pm in Laramie and 5:18 pm in Waikiki. And no, I have no idea which time zone my body is on, much less my brain.

I mentioned this before, the new research on jet lag. See, the way sleep works is, a person spends the first part of the night in Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), which is the deep, healing sleep. Dreaming or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep occurs only in brief periods between the sometimes two-hours-long stretches of SWS. As the night progresses, the proportions shift, with more time spent in REM sleep and less in SWS. This is why you usually wake from a dream in the mornings, and you dream more if you sleep in. It’s also why the afternoon nap can feel so deadly — that deep sleep can be hard to shake off.

So, for those who don’t care to link to the article, the upshot is, even though you may adjust to a new time zone and sleep during the ambient night, the parts of the brain that regulate the sleep cycle may be continuing on their regular schedule. So when I flew to Hawaii, that meant my usual dreaming time of, say, 2am to 6am, was shifted to 10pm to 2 am, skipping SWS altogether if I didn’t go to sleep before 10. Which, erm, I didn’t. Now, if I adjusted to Hawaii time, which, after nine days, I likely did, now my dream time is occurring from 8am to noon.

The interesting thing is, the studies showed that if you don’t get enough REM sleep for a while, you start to get REM intrusion — which means your brain clicks into REM state even when you’re awake.

Yeah.

You know that surreal, dreamlike feeling? There you are.

So it’s hard to say which state I’m in. We’ll choose “deprived” as an umbrella term. Soon I’ll be overstimulated. Which is worse?

You be the judge.

And the German Judge Gives It…

I realize my title is probably dating me.

There’s a whole couple of generations who don’t understand references to German judges. Or who think Mikhail Baryshnikov is just a cute guy on Sex and the City; they’re surprised to hear he’s a dancer and ask what kind. I swear to God I’ve had this actual conversation. I have witnesses. They didn’t understand about Political Asylum either, or why he might have claimed it.

The German judge, for those who didn’t watch the Olympics in the 70s and 80s refers to the international panel of judges scoring the various Olympic events. There was often a perception that the German judge was a) tougher and b) inclined to mark down competitors from the non-communist countries. For accuracy, we should really say the “East German judge,” but idioms aren’t about accuracy.

There’s been an interesting conversation on the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal writers loop the last day or so, about contest judges. I’ve written before about the RWA chapter contests, so I won’t reiterate here. But the way it works is you generally get scores from two or three judges. In many contests, if the point spread exceeds a certain margin, a discrepancy judge is called in and the lowest score is dropped. The idea is to account for reader preferences, which can really affect scores. For example, on a recent contest I entered, one judge gave me a perfect score of 100 (with comments that it was so splendid she couldn’t gush enough) and another judge awarded me a 54 (with a snarky comment that beastiality is not an appropriate subject for a romance.)

One got me; one didn’t.

In the real world, this would translate to a person who would buy my book and one who would burn it. Fair enough. The common wisdom is that these kind of splits result from having a “strong voice” — readers tend to love it or hate it. All of this is lead-up to using one of my favorite examples, from country music. (Yeah, you saw that one coming, right?)

I heard this story on NPR many, many moons ago, but it’s always stuck with me. They were discussing the perception that country music radio stations had become less, well, interesting. It turns out that there had been a huge study where “they” looked at what caused people to change the radio station — anathema for advertising, of course. They found that people changed the station, shockingly enough, when a song they hated came on. So, it seemed simple: don’t play the songs people hate. BUT, what the studies showed is that the songs people rated as most hated were also rated most loved by an equal number of people. Where people converged was on the songs that they neither loved nor hated. More importantly for radio, when a song played that a person neither loved nor hated, they were likely to let the radio station play on.

Thus country music programming went to playing music that the vast majority of people neither loved nor hated, playing innocuously in the background, exciting nothing untoward.

I’ve seen this play out in writing workshops, too. Half the class will love a particular scene and half will insist it ruins the piece and must be removed. The profound emotional reaction means the writer has hit on something, but it takes courage to accept that for every person who loves what you wrote, someone else will hate it.

And it’s tempting, especially in genre, where people hope to actually make money with their books, to write the thing that will sell to the most people, innocuous and exciting no untoward responses.

Then again, it can be a little satisfying, too, to throw a little bestiality in the way of the book-burners.

Do Blond Genre-Writers Have More Fun?

I noticed this at the RWA convention, too: genre writers are way more fun than the literary ones.

As a general rule.

Sure, there’s some competitiveness and there are the divas. There’s a bit of division between the published authors and the “aspiring” ones. (Yes, it says so on our nametags.) But the published writers are so interested to talk to the lowly aspiring ones. I just spend 2.5 hours at the author book fair, talking to everyone on god’s green earth. At least it felt like it. There were purportedly about 300 authors signing, in long rows, each with their displays and stacks of books. And nearly everyone I talked to spotted the “aspiring” on my tag and asked me what I write. In a genuinely interested way; no tail-sniffing involved.

My writer-friend, Chavawn Kelley, invented that term back in 1996 when she and I first started attending readings. We met in a class, Essays on Self and Place, taught by a visiting writer to the University of Wyoming, Don Snow, then editor of Northern Lights Magazine. And we attended a few university-sponsored events. Readings by various writers passing through, that kind of thing. At those, every other person would ask the same pair of questions: are you a writer? what have you published? Chavawn compared it to a pack of dogs, sniffing each others’ tails to determine who was alpha.

Granted the first question was necessary in that setting, since our tags didn’t say. But the second was said as a kind of challenge. A kind of are-you-anyone-I-should-pay-attention-to question.

I’ve since become better able to answer those questions. I’ve been publishing as an essayist for 12 years now. I have a certain amount of cred that keeps me from being at the bottom of the pack, anyway.

But while it’s kind of lowering to be back to “aspiring,” (RWA doesn’t consider you published unless you’re published in the genre, which I find an annoying double-standard) I love that the genre writers manage to ditch the condescension. They are enthusiastic and encouraging.

It makes me wonder about the literary clenched-sphincter.

It makes me think it’s all about money. The old saw that the fights in academia are so fierce because the stakes are so low. In genre, there’s a convivial quality, an idea that the more people who are writing it, the more there is for a growing audience. The market share for romantic fiction is huge. And getting huger.

Or it could all just be that all of these people are pretty much writing about sex all the time. That’s got to make anyone happy.

Multiple Identities

Many writers use pen names in the genre world. Some are just deviations or abbreviations of their day-to-day names like Chuck Box writing as “C.J. Box.” Others use multiple names for the various “types” of stories they write, like Jayne Ann Krentz who uses that name, her married name for contemporary romantic-suspense, her maiden name, Jayne Castle, for paranormal romance and Amanda Quick for her historic romantic-suspense. She gave an interesting talk at the RWA National Convention about how she’d destroyed the “Jayne Castle” voice for a while, because readers wouldn’t buy it. She later resurrected the name with the upsurge in interest in paranormal romance.

So, I can see the point: Chuck picks something that looks good on a cover. Jayne uses several names, to guide readers to the kind of story they like to read.

But it starts to get silly in the world of online writers loops. Maybe it’s complicated by the fear of internet stalkers thing. But often someone will have an email address like bethwrites@whoosies.com and then her IM avatar will be called Stella, Queen of the Night. Then she’ll email you and say her name is really Mary Beth Jones, but that she writes as Angora Conch. It splits my skull, I tell you. Especially if I’ve only met her online and have managed to recognize bethwrites and Stella as the same person, but she wants to hook up at the RT convention, but her name tag will probably say Angora.

I know, I should talk. But I’m only Jennifer for legal stuff. Everything I’ve written is as Jeffe Kennedy. My email address is my name, at my domain name, which is my name. My avatars are all some version of Jeffe. I contemplated seperating my fiction and nonfiction selves with a pen name, but all my stories feel like a part of me. I want them all to belong to the same name.

It’s interesting to me, because the literary types rarely do this. Oh, they’ll do the Chuck Box thing, or like I did. But, as a “serious” writer, your name, your self, is your copywrightable product. Much was made for some time of making sure you got the yourname.com domain, since your name is your product.

Of course, there’s the element of fantasy in the world of romance. Readers escape into it, so it’s natural that the writers do, too. Everybody wants to be the spy or the superhero, with multiple secret identities. But there’s also some obsfucation involved. Anne Rice wrote BDSM stuff as A.N. Roquelaure and another novel that toyed with pedophilia as Anne Rampling. Perhaps it’s a nod to the Puritanical whispers in our culture, the urge to hide behind an alternate identity. Though the trend these days seems to be to proudly acknowledge all pen names, which to me begs the point of having them in the first place.

Of course, the most interesting part of any spy or superhero story is when the secret identity is revealed. Noteworthy that it’s also the crisis point when the hero is brought down. Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night follows day, thou canst not be false to any man.”

I wonder sometimes, if the secret identity makes one more true or more false, inside our skulls.

Genre Schizophrenia

I’m beginning to feel a bit between worlds, as a writer.

Today I head to Evanston, at the behest of Carol Dee at Dee’s Bookstore (& Boutique). I’m meeting with some kind of ladies group at 2 o’clock, to read from and discuss Wyo Trucks. Then there’s a spaghetti dinner at 6, to encourage more folks to come visit with me. You now know pretty much everything I do. The funny thing is, Carol emailed me about this gig a couple of months ago — when I’d initially emailed her back in 2004, when the book came out. I’d contacted most of the Wyoming bookstores and visited many of them for various events. She was going through old emails and found my note. And here we are today.

When the Evanston newspaper called to interview me yesterday, the reporter was surprised that this isn’t a new book. I told her I didn’t know why now. But that the Georgia Review published a review of it in 2006. Things move slowly after publication sometimes, too. I’m expecting Oprah to call in 2012.

It’s funny to me, because I’m doing less and less for Wyo Trucks these days, which is natural, since the book is now five years old. I’ve been doing fiction since, cloistered away writing novels. Then less-cloistered trying to sell at least the first one. Worse, I’m writing genre-fiction — whether you consider it romance or sci-fi/fantasy, so I’m feeling like a bit of a pariah from my erstwhile literary community. I used to be on the university’s Creative Writing MFA email list, but have been dropped. Sometimes I was invited to speak to university classes on writing, but no longer. A lot of this is because people have moved on and times change. But some is also because I’m no longer really investing in the literary nonfiction world. It’s not where the lion’s share of my attention is focused. Instead of hanging with the MFA types, I’ve been going to meetings of the Colorado Romance Writers, the Romance Writers of America national convention, and interacting online with the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal writers.

So, this feels like a distraction, doing this today. And more than a little schizophrenic. Which surprises me, since I made a deliberate decision to publish my speculative fiction under the same name as my essays, believing that all my writing is really of one piece. Clearly I see a split, since my website poses the fundamental dichotomy up front.

Apparently it’s up to me to hold the pieces together.

"Keep your temper," said the Caterpillar

Advice is a funny thing. You have to be careful who you get it from. Or perhaps, it doesn’t really matter who you get it from, as long as you know which advice to pay attention to and which to jettison. Of course, the advice givers all seem to whole-heartedly believe their advice is the best. They’d like you to think so. As I grow more cynical over the years, I’ve come to believe that some people deliberately give bad advice. Maybe it would be kinder to say: advice that they’ve tailored to match what they think you should be doing.

There’s an art to knowing who to listen to. Maybe an art to knowing who to ask and a craft to knowing who to listen to. On a writers loop I receive, one gal asked for advice from pubbed authors on a contest she was considering entering for unpubbed authors. It was clear she’d mistaken the rules and several other unpubbed authors chimed in helpfully, because they also intended to enter the contest and pointed out her misunderstanding. The original questioner came back that she had asked only the pubbed authors and would only listen to their advice.

The best part of this is that “pubbed” in this context refers only to romance novels. RWA recognizes you as a published author only if you’ve published in the genre. So my university press essay collection aside, my years of short stories, essays and articles in magazines, journals and anthologies aside, within the genre halls of RWA I am once again unpubbed. Or, as the more unkind say, a wannabe.

This is ironic to me, because I can only imagine a scene in which a “literary” writer informs a romance author that she’s unpubbed because she has only published genre fiction. While many may believe that, it seems unlikely they’d take a snobbish enough stance to make it a rule. Which makes this a form of reverse-snobbery.

All of this is by-the-by. It is what it is and I really don’t mind. But I do think the newbies (on the kindness scale, this falls somewhere between unpubbed and wannabe — never mind the ghastly euphemism “pre-pubbed”) should take advice with a grain of salt and a hunk of magic mushroom.

Just because someone is willing to give you advice doesn’t mean they want you to succeed.

Now THERE is some good advice for you!