Standing on the Shoulders of the Little People

The lilacs are just now starting to pop. The air is warm and still. Spring at last!

This morning at the gym, the 7am Zumba class was well under way when we left. Lots of people show up for this class – easily thirty every day. Possibly more. We walk past the windows and they’re in there, dancing and smiling. It’s clearly an exercise people love to do. Always a good thing, I think.

Not everyone does.

I used to teach a Tai Chi class at the Senior Center. People loved that class, too. At least, at first.
They glowed and smiled, learning the movements, practicing the graceful form. Then my teacher, the head of my school, would come visit and tell them Tai Chi wasn’t good for older people. That studies have shown that *anything* that gets a person up and moving around improved their health. Tai Chi Ch’uan didn’t have anything special, he’d tell them, unless they did it right. According to him, they could never do it “right” because it’s a martial form and unless they learned it for combat, it wasn’t real.

If you read martial arts magazines (which I don’t recommend in the least), you’ll see a lot of this kind of attitude.

As you can imagine, many of the seniors would not return after these lectures. My teacher said that was good, weeding out the weak. He took pride in his school, his students and himself by elevating us in comparison to everyone else. Himself most of all.

The last couple of days, people have been abuzz about Jennifer Egan winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Lovely to see a woman writer win such an honor. However, the excitement quickly turned sour following this interview in the Wall Street Journal, where she said:

My focus is less on the need for women to trumpet their own achievements than to shoot high and achieve a lot. What I want to see is young, ambitious writers. And there are tons of them. Look at “The Tiger’s Wife.” There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models?

As one of Egan’s erstwhile fans, Jamie Beckman points out:

When she says “the Harvard student,” she’s referring to Kaavya Viswanathan, a very young novelist whose first young-adult work of fiction, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, plagiarized veteran chick lit authors Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Megan McCafferty. The book was pulled from the shelves by publisher Little Brown and Company, and Viswanathan’s contract for a second book was canceled. It was ugly.

The remarkable part of Egan’s exhortation – the thing that has the literary community beyond dismayed – is that Egan seemed more bothered that the young woman chose “banal and derivative stuff” to plagiarize.

This attitude is far from new. There has always been, and perhaps always will be, a contingent of writers who seek to elevate their work from the banal and derivative stuff – however they might decide what that is. Usually it’s by dismissing entire genres, completely disregarding that there’s good quality and poor quality in everything. Usually the person doing the dismissing has never sullied themselves by reading any of that “stuff.”

I suppose this is part of our society, that we seek to validate our own choices by dissing others. Zumba isn’t *real* exercise. The way I do Tai Chi is better than yours – I don’t care if you enjoy it. My books are far more elevated than yours.

I hope Jennifer Egan enjoys this tremendous honor. She just disappointed an awful lot of readers.

Missing the Moon

I missed the moon this month.

Back in September, I promised to do a post each month on the full moon. I’ve hit them all until this month. I don’t really know what happened. The Planter’s Moon rose on schedule Sunday night. At first I was too early to catch it, then I was too late. I tried to photograph it setting in the morning, but the light was wrong. Here’s one of the landscape shots I took while trying to capture the faint moon at dawn.

Some months it’s just not meant to be.

I can say that it’s been ferociously windy lately and so I haven’t been lingering outside. It’s a good thing we haven’t been planting, because the 40- and 50-mile per hour gusts would have ripped the seeds from our hands. Springtime here is windy. I think of it like lake turnover – all that cold air warming up and rising, a turbulent transition. It will settle soon.

In promise of that, this morning is gorgeous warm and still. Everyone is loving it.

Besides, it’s not like any of you called me on it. The full moon. All the blogging advice says you have to keep these contracts, to satisfy your readers. “They” also say you have to keep the same schedule. Then there are the massive exceptions like Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half. She has only posted three times so far in 2011. Her third post, which went up last night, already has over six hundred comments. The love is not lagging.

Instead of the exception proving the rule (how I hate that line), the exceptions prove there are no rules, I think.

And that, every once in a while, it’s okay to miss the moon.

Unreal Books and Sales Figures

Our spring here is being a lion one minute and a lamb the next. The grape hyacinths bloom in serene splendor even as the wind whips away the patio furniture cushions.

Yesterday I went to this costume shop to get a few things to supplement the RT wardrobe. I went in Saturday and the gal said most of her stuff was at home and she’d bring in possible pieces and meet me with them on Sunday. When I got there yesterday, she had a friend there waiting to meet me. I’d explained I’m a writer, about the RT Booklovers Convention and the costume balls. In the course of introducing me, the shop owner said “And you write real books, too, not those ebooks, right?”

I said I write both. Technically true.

It amuses me, though, that I’ve now sold more copies of my unreal ebook, Petals and Thorns, than were ever printed of my real book, Wyoming Trucks, True Love and the Weather Channel. I know it will still take time for the concept of ebooks to permeate through the population. The shop owner also asked me to bring in photos of the convention and, since she already had my card, I told her that I’ll be posting photos all week, if she wants to look at my blog. She said she’d have to get someone to show her how to do that.

Meanwhile I flipped through my alumni magazines for my sorority and my alma mater last night. I might be a few months behind. Both magazines are glossy, full of rah-rah articles and hopelessly boring. They seemed to focus on things that I simply don’t think about much. Such different worlds we can live in now.

I know that people will adjust their ideas about what a “real” book consists of. They already are. Over and over I see people comment online that they received an ereader for a gift, weren’t sure about it at first and now love it.

I haven’t shared stats on Petals & Thorns in a little while. The numbers keep going up, which continues to astonish me. Each month I open my royalty statement expecting a crash like back in October or January. But no.
As you can see from the percentages, Fictionwise has sold the most copies. It looks like All Romance eBooks and Loose Id are neck and neck, but that’s a bit of artifact – most of those Loose Id sales were back before October. In fact, all sales through October were Loose Id’s. The All Romance sales were after that. It will be interesting to see what happens from here!

Posting will be sporadic this week, but I’ll try to throw up photos, at least, from the convention.

The More We Know

I don’t mind the overnight snow, since we need the moisture. Dust storms have been clouding the valley. Even the daffodils don’t mind. They whispered that they’re built to withstand this kind of thing.

Over at Word Whores – my group blog, if you didn’t know – we’ve been talking this week about drafting styles. Whether you plan it all out ahead of time or discover as you go. Whatever terms you may assign to to those styles, writers seem to fall pretty solidly into one court or another.

On Laura Bickle’s post from yesterday, she talks about her plotting method. The comments conversation has become very interesting, as other writers profess horror or admiration for her detailed outlines.

That she does *before* she writes the book. Ahem.

At any rate, in the comments, the issue of revising came up. It’s long been the lore that the great drawback of not plotting ahead of time is that you spend a lot more time revising. KAK, who is a german dictator under all that red hair and those pretty smiles, declared that every scene must pass the “purpose” test. If it doesn’t serve the overall story, off it goes.

She’s ruthless. Believe me, I know.

I can see her point. And definitely the revising process is more cerebral than drafting for me. The drafting is all about the misting along and letting anyone and everything into the story. Revising brings the critical lens to the entire arc of the story. I’m not sure anyone can revise in a subconscious, misty way.

Except.

Okay, I’m a self-confessed sub-conscious, dreamthink, misty writer. I do believe the stories and characters exist in some reality and reveal themselves to me. I rarely feel like I “think” them up. Sometimes I can’t logically defend why someone or something is there. The critical lens would have me delete that stuff. The purpose test would demand excision. Goal, motivation, conflict? They scoff at these bits.

This is where my gut comes in. Neither the conscious, nor the subconscious, but the deep part that is most me. If I don’t trust that part, then I’m not me, for better or worse. The GMC stuff (see above) arises out of classic storytelling. People like to talk about archetypes of the hero’s journey and so forth. The thing is, archetypes, which Jung originally described as subconsciously shared concepts are something, by definition, already exist inside us. We can critically analyze them, but on some levels, they defy conscious definition.

No, I can’t always defend the purpose of a scene. Sometimes it’s because the scene is junk, or something I needed to write through to get somewhere. But one of the most surprising things I discovered over the ten years I spent writing and publishing essays – the things people keyed in on the most, were those things I had not planned. Scenes or images that just popped up when I was writing. Things that, sometimes, I nearly skipped writing, or thought about deleting later, because they seemed extraneous.

I keep reminding myself of that lesson.

Dreading the Banal Finale

The first blossoms of spring!

So, never mind about devastating earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, let me tell you about my fingernail. Fair warning, this is frivolous and silly.

From the Department of Banal Details About My Life, here is Exhibit A:

Okay, it’s the only exhibit. But see how my social finger has that big white mark? It’s harder to see the bruise around it. Hey – it’s really hard to take a photograph of your own right hand when you’re right-handed. Anyhoo, that white stuff is my fingernail splintering apart due to the damaged nail bed around it.

Back around Christmas I injured that finger. I thought about making up a story here, about how I was snatching an orphan, or perhaps a kitten, from the path of an oncoming train. But I couldn’t tweak the plot enough where I ended up with only a pinched finger instead of a severed limb.

So, okay, maybe I was luxuriating on my mom and Dave’s fab patio in Tucson and reached back to adjust my lounge chair and caught my finger in the mechanism. I didn’t spill my drink, but it *really* hurt.

Look – I told you this wasn’t on the scale of 88,000 people missing in Japan.

The blood blister and bruising at the base of the nail healed in a few days, but I’ve watched this fault in my nail move bit by bit towards the tip of my finger over the last two months. I know when it reaches near where the nail bed ends, my nail will break, probably well below the quick.

I’ve been keeping nail polish on it, to fortify the strength of the nail. Now, I am not the kind of gal who keeps her nails polished. Special occasions, sure. In college, I used to go around saying “Show me a woman with a perfect manicure and I’ll show you a woman with a lot of time on her hands.”

Yeah, I didn’t have a lot of friends.

I put polish on again last night, after I took this pic – which is why I didn’t retake it for better focus. All you’d see is pink. But I can feel the instability on that side of the nail.

It’s like this slow-motion mini-disaster. The tension builds over two months, reaching back to the moment of that initial injury, foreshadowing the ultimate breakdown. Now, finally, after following this story for weeks, I’m reaching the end and I’m dreading the finale. The blood, the shredded nail. How I’ll have to walk around with my social finger sticking out so that it won’t catch on things.

Maybe that part will be kind of fun.

Balls

Signs of spring!

This morning the air even smells of spring.

On a more somber note, I don’t know if any of you have followed the news about CBS reporter Lara Logan who was attacked and repeatedly sexual assaulted by a crowd in Egypt during the protests. Jim C. Hines did a terrific blog post yesterday about the news coverage. In a nutshell, CBS treated the story as one about a horrific attack on one of their own and another media outlet sensationalized the reporter’s good looks and the lurid details.

Jim makes some really excellent points, so I won’t make them again.

What it reminds of though, was when Matthew Shepard was killed in Laramie. You remember – young, gay man, tied to the fence and beaten to death. National media covered it. Much discussion of hate crimes and what it’s like to be a homosexual in a town in Wyoming. There were a lot of layers to being in the center of a media frenzy like that and I won’t go into them all.

What I’m thinking of now is a conversation I had with my boss at the time. I complained about Matt Shepard’s death receiving so much attention when another had not. Recall this is a university town in Wyoming – we didn’t get much violent crime. A year before, however, Daphne Sulk, a pregnant fifteen-year-old girl was murdered and her body tossed in the snow along a hiking trail above town. Her much older lover – and guidance counselor – was convicted and imprisoned for the crime. No one outside of our town paid much attention.

After all, it’s kind of ho-hum, isn’t it.

When I pointed this out to my boss, that not all murders are weighted the same, he replied “Well, she was engaged in dangerous behavior.”

As if going to a bar and picking up two guys coming down from a three-day methamphetamine binge is a great idea. What happened to Matt Shepard was horrific, but I maintain that if he’d been a woman, no one would have given it much more thought than a sad shake of the head.

Dangerous behavior.

I hate to see that charge leveled at Lara Logan. A woman can be a reporter, but she’d better watch herself. In some ways, I see this as most insulting to men. Do we really believe that men simply can’t help themselves? A pretty woman walks by and, golly gee whiz, they’re overcome and have to rape her. If only she hadn’t been there!

It’s a tired argument, I know, but it’s frustrating to see that our fundamental assumptions don’t change. It’s a man’s right to seek sex, but a woman who leaves the safe confines of a protected life is engaged in dangerous behavior and gets what she gets.

What I love most about the story is that Lara was rescued by Egyptian women and about 20 soldiers. I wish I could know about that part of the story, the women who witnessed and stepped in to save a foreigner.

I hope that Lara Logan recovers, heals and finds the balls to continue on.

I’ll be following her career with great interest.