Thursday, December 16, 2004

how do they bruise me? let me count

Kung fu last night. Good class, but it made marks on me in more ways than one.

This morning I have John's fingerprints in brown and yellow on my wrist. And I have a bruise on my lower back, just above the waist, where I landed on the floor.

None of this happened, mind you, during the class itself. This happened after Sit said, "Okay, we're done, you guys practice," and went upstairs.

So John and I had been horsing around. He teaches akido when not in Sit's class, and he shows me little things, tricks and tips. He's quick, soft, patient, and knows how to gradually increase his force as my technique improves. He's in his late forties, a bit taller than me, medium built. Not a large man. Nevertheless, he is a man, and a good deal stronger than I am.

It's strange for me, working with these guys, learning the theory of fighting, while in practice realizing just how much stronger men are than women. Sit and Matt frequently remark on how strong I am, for a woman, but I can't bench more than 70 pounds. My strength is in good structure and confidence, but almost every class I strain something because I'm trying to use too much muscle against those guys. Sit says, "If you don't believe it, it won't work," but I am desperately aware of how much I still have to learn.

Anyway, we had been practicing these arm-locks, foot-traps, pull and pin and control, which I would be absolutely foolish to use on a full-grown man. Nevertheless, I learn the technique, because the principles are the same in all the applications. We were all horsing around near the end of class, improvising, throwing in extra punches and mixing things up.

I don't know if John wanted to test me, or what. I don't exactly remember what happened, but I suddenly found myself being thrown toward the wall, with his hand in the middle of my back like he wanted to pin me. He didn't shove me hard, so I decided (decided? that may be giving myself too much credit--I reacted) that I didn't want to go against that wall--this wasn't in the program. So I somehow slipped sideways and down, out from under his arm, twisted and punched at his solar plexus. Just touched--didn't hit, but of course he countered and after that my memory gets a little murky. Somehow I ended up on the floor. Not surprising--he's quite good at sweeping. Hence the bruise on my back. I curled and landed without getting hurt, rolled up and tackled his leg, tried to push him over.

Up until this point it was pretty much fun and games. Then he crouched over me and pinned my shoulders to the floor and I kind of panicked. Friend or no, there is just something really scary about having a man kneel over you and hold you down, and I'll say right now, I've been fortunate enough to never find myself in that position before.

On the other hand, I used to wrestle with my dad, and I curled up and over somehow, kicked at him, rolled over my shoulder or spun or something--I don't remember what happened. He stopped, though. I have the feeling he let me up. I simply don't remember. Maybe he saw I was getting too wild, maybe he was just done playing. I came to my senses in a crouch, and he was kneeling next to me--I was panting. I don't know if I was scared or mad or just hyped. I still don't. I kind of slumped over with a gasp of exhaustion. My vision had tunneled. My hair had fallen down because my barrette broke when I rolled back over my head. John picked it up and then picked me up. "Good twisting," he said. I have no idea what he was talking about. I don't remember what I did. It's weird; I've written about battle-fog a few times, but that may have been the first time I felt it.

I thought I looked and acted cool, but then we went upstairs and Mary looked at me and her eyes kind of widened and she said, "Wow, you look really. . ."

"Flushed?" I said, and my voice sounded kind of strangled.

"No, like you were really getting a workout." I think that's what she said. I'm pretty sure it's not what she started to say.

I still feel vaguely like I was assaulted, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. We don't do any real sparring in that class, and all of our grappling is in slow-motion, so nobody gets hurt. If I ever want to be able to use this stuff for self-defense, I need to practice it in real-time, and get over my fear of getting hit.

By the time I got home I was so drained I could barely get ready for bed, but this morning I feel quite good, so I suspect it was adrenaline-drain. I'm more than a little alarmed that I would have such a violent reaction to a little horseplay in class. I've never been beaten or assaulted nor even in a fight since I was a child, so it wasn't a reaction to any post-traumatic memories.

Being able to hold one's own in a fight is greatly dependent upon one's ability to stay calm and think clearly. I don't like that I can't remember what I did.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

those who do, get criticized

I

There are people who cannot factor in or even acknowledge evidence outside of their personal experiences. They tend to learn facts once--often in their youth--and those facts are immutable regardless of later evidence to the contrary. (This can get embarrassing, given the rate of knowledge acquisition and technological advancement in this age.) This personality type tends to take things overly literally, and often behave as if they are experts in their chosen field of interest. The scifi genre is particularly full of people like this.

One such person in my writer's group got huffy because a hired thug (in a story) pointed a shotgun at the hero's stomach, when "a professional should know that a head or chest wound would be more likely to kill." It wasn't even my story, but I felt obligated to point out that:
  1. a blast to the abdomen or even the leg is still going to be horribly incapacitating, even if not immediately fatal
  2. it's a freaking shotgun; accuracy is not of the utmost importance, and
  3. aiming at the torso gives the thug the largest available target, if the hero decides to run.
More recently, this same person made skeptical remarks about certain combat moves I had Quinn use in a story, i.e. smashing a thug's sternum. S/he said, "No way a woman could do that, unless she's Superwoman."

Er, yeah. In the first place, breaking bones and/or joints is not that difficult; it's a significant component of many martial arts. Admittedly, the sternum is a tough one, but if you can break a cinderblock with the heel of your hand, you can probably crack somebody's sternum, and if This Person were really so knowledgable about assassins and fighting, s/he would know that.

But all of that aside, Quinn IS a superhuman. That's kind of a major plot point, no? This Person has read at least two of the Quinn Taylor stories, including the first novel, yet s/he never caught on that QT is a genetically enhanced super-soldier? I really have to wonder about This Person's reading comprehension abilities.

II


I got some feedback from a fan who took offense at the use of colorful metaphors in the "Insomnia" story (check the July archives).

My mother used to ink out the swear words in her books. Sometimes she marked them out in my manuscripts, too, although I never had a character say anything stronger than "bullshit" in those days (I haven't let her read any of my work from the last four years). Mom said, "You shouldn't have your heroine using language like that. Some young reader will idolize her and want to be like her and you don't want them using that bad language."

Mercy, no. I want all those impressionable young readers to have clean mouths, clean underwear and clean fingernails when they embark on their careers as professional killers.

Asimov claimed his characters didn't use profanity because they were intelligent, articulate people. Most of my characters are intelligent, and several of them are articulate, but they are also violent people, raised and groomed in rough environments, and submitted to horrific circumstances. I'm thinking they're going to say something stronger than "gosh" or "darn" when the fit hits the shan. If they don't, it just sounds silly. Stephen King has something to say about this in On Writing.

Personally, I usually go for a PG-13 rating in my work. Profanity, sex and violence don't generally bother me, but I find they become wearying after a while. There was a period of five or six years after Pulp Fiction when every third movie was competing to pack the maximum number of F-bombs into the dialogue. It had the same cumulative result as CGI effects in sci-fi movies: sameness and mediocrity. Using profanity to indicate "grittiness" is just as cheap as putting a token alien in the background of a Star Trek set and calling that scenery.

Heinlein used to write around the bad words by having his narrator say something like "I advised him to perform an impossible act of masturbation." When done well, and sparingly, it can be quite droll, but over the course of a 500-page novel it starts to take up a lot of space. I tried this technique, back when I was younger and verbose, but as my style got more spare and noir-ish it didn't work anymore. When Quinn's got a gun to her head and Seth's about to kick though the doors and unlease holy hell on the bad guys, it reads a lot faster if she just tells Ozee to go blow himself.

Feel free to generalize.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

chili de pollo con queso y frijoles

That's cheesy chicken chili with beans. It's goooood.
  • 3 or 4 chicken breasts, or other parts
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can enchilada sauce (may be mild, medium or hot, to taste)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 block Velveeta cheese
  • 2-3 cups water
  • chicken buillion powder or cubes
  • 1/3-1/2 cup corn flour (masa harina)
  • cumin
  • oregano
  • cilantro
  • Lowrey's seasoning salt
  • Lowrey's seasoned pepper
  • Penzey's SW seasoning blend (optional)
  • 1/2 small sweet onion
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • butter

    Boil chicken in water with buillion powder. Mince peppers, onion and garlic; saute in butter until onions are clear. Remove chicken from broth, let cool. Debone if needed and dice small. Add peppers & onions to stock. Mix corn flour with water or stock to make thin gruel; add to stock. Return chicken to pot. Add enchilada sauce, beans and corn. Add Velveeta in chunks and allow to melt, until it's a nice semi-thick consistency. You don't want it like glue. If it's too thin, add more corn flour. Simmer and stir occasionally. Add spices as needed. May be served with sour cream, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, or crumbled tortilla chips on top. My husband eats it cold, with chips, like a dip.

    Warning: the heat level of the echilada sauce you use will largely determine the overall hotness of the soup. It gets hotter as it ages!

brain buzz

Last night was my first "master class" in Sit's basement. It was just me and Matt, since everybody else was occupied.

Oh God, was it good. We didn't really do anything I hadn't done before--one semi-new move that was actually a variation on a theme. Lots of elbows. Lots of target practice with the hand-bags. Lots of application practice and lightning-quick instruction. Constant correction and repetition. Got to work with Matt a bit, too, which I haven't often. He said, "It's nice to work with somebody who doesn't outweigh me by forty pounds," as Tony and Mike do (amen to that). He also recommended I read about stoic philosophy.

My head was so packed full and buzzing I couldn't sleep last night. I did sleep, but it was in that shallow, always-dreaming state where it feels like you're still awake. I was dreaming about what we'd done, I think, rehearsing it. This morning it seems much clearer. I can see myself potentially making improvement by leaps and bounds. It just all makes so much sense. Sit is a good teacher, but he also teaches the way I like to learn, and both of them were so encouraging--telling me when I did it right, fixing it when I did it wrong. My feet are all wrong. My shoulders are still not consistently down, but I know what to work for now. My aim is all over the place. I have a total lack of focus and am very sloppy. Precision, focus and relaxation are my goals for my third year of kung fu.

I love this stuff. I loooove it.

Monday, November 22, 2004

glad tidings

I am officially approved to start attending kung-fu classes on Wednesdays, or as my husband refers to them: "Sit's Secret Skulls Meeting." Sit actually looked quite pleased when I asked him about it. I also did some rather impressive defensive escapes on Sunday. I am still trying to keep my shoulders consistently rounded and relaxed. My balance is much better, and I almost have that wing-block built into muscle memory. It's weird, since I've started working at it and paying attention, I'm remembering just how much I love kung fu.

I have three stories ready for submission, now. I polished up Bridgeport and reworked Insomnia this weekend. Insomnia was particularly difficult, because I had never had any sense of how effective that story was. I felt it was disjointed and surreal and too long. It is surreal, but in a good way; it's an impressionist painting of a story. It seems like unrelated parts at first, but viewed as a whole it makes sense. I fixed the confusion issue with Seth/Ladron being the same person, and by referring to Seth by his first name throughout, created more intimacy with the character. I also elaborated on the science, the neuro-tapping procedure and the radiation therapy. Fortunately for me, Dr. Flenning likes the sound of his own voice.

So I have three stories in good shape for submission, now. It feels very strange. I shall fix up "Donor," next, and go to work on Trace. My main fear with Trace is that the stories I have in mind are too big, too epic, and I won't be able to force them into a short story. Must practice economy. Always less. Always less.

Happily, I have to work only Monday and Tuesday this week; the office closes early on Wednesday. I'll have a solid four and a half days off. Bliss.

Now if I could just ditch my family. . .

Monday, November 15, 2004

drop the elbow

Something weird happened to me this weekend.

Long story short: both my kung fu and my writing ability took a leap up the ladder in the last few weeks, and I'm exhilarated and frustrated with both because I've not yet processed the progress to the point where I feel I understand it, ergo, I'm afraid I won't be able to duplicate it.

I wrote three short stories this summer/fall, and all three of them have met with rave reviews. People used to say about my short fiction, "This is intriguing, where's the rest of it?" Now they're saying, "This works." I have finally figured out how to close the circle, come to the point, give the plot relevance.

Sit really hammered us in kung fu this week. He had me, Tony, and Matt concentrating on dropping and rounding the shoulders--nice work if you can do it--with a lot of application, constant battering of forearms against each other. My shoulders have been gradually and conscienciously relaxing over the summer. I find I can do some of the softer applications now, and did in fact put my husband down on one knee when he asked me to demonstrate. I'm learning to pull those guys around, despite their height and weight advantages--but I'm always terrified that they're being too easy on me. Sit says, "if you don't believe it will work, it won't," and admonishing me for using too much strength, being too rigid. I do. I am. I am finally learning to yield, to be round, to focus my energy instead of forcing it.

I don't doubt for a minute that my sudden renewed interest in the Quinn stories, particularly the focus on Quinn's martial arts training and the lessons learned therein, was my subconcious attempting to process this new understanding. Now that my consciousness is aware of it, it occurs to me that I have been diffusing my energy all over the place. Costuming. Modeling. Cooking. Okay, I was working two jobs there for a while, but that's over now.

Costuming is fun but ultimately more money and time than I want to give to it. I never feel as satisfied with the sewing as I do with my stories. Fandom is definitely a distraction. I didn't intend to go at all last year, except I had committed to doing the Dru/Darla thing, and after Quizgate I'm pretty sure any further contact with those people would be a waste of my time. They're like that pride of lions in the volcanic crater, inbreeding themselves to death.

Anyway.

I spoke to Mary Ann on Sunday about joining Sit's Wednesday class, at their home. She thought it was a good idea. I think the twice-weekly focus and exercise would be good for me. I am also gearing myself up to compete next spring--the idea is both stimulating and terrifying, very similiar in sensation to the thought of sending out story submissions. The act of submitting, of holding my work out for rejection, scares me so much the only way I can deal with it is to simply sidestep it--not think about it at all. Write the address, lick the stamp, throw the envelope in the box. Go around the obstacle. Focus past the resistance. Keep the elbow down, and for God's sake, relax.

Monday, November 08, 2004

PBS costume spots

So I watched part one of Regency House Party last week. I didn't pay too much attention to the dresses, other than to reaffirm my thorough distaste for the Empire waistline. From a distance, as the ladies were strolling on the grounds, they looked pretty and feminine. At the dinner table, all that decolletage made for lovely scenery. In the drawing room, however, or just sitting around day to day, the lack of waist definition and the acres of gathered skirts made even the skinny girls look frumpy.

The gentlemen, on the other hand, looked luscious. All those tight buff pants and fitted waistcoats. Long wavy crops and sideburns, and clean-shaven chins. And the booze made their eyes look bright, of course.

Mostly I was disgusted by how some of the contestants refused to play along. One young woman did nothing but whine about the restraints and mouth off to the hostess. Admittedly, the woman playing the hostess was a vindictive bitch, but she was certainly playing her role to the hilt and I couldn't blame her for wanting to slap the little whining debutante.

Then one of the men, I think he was a hairstylist in real life, took offense to the life of leisure and the lordly way they were all living. He said he took pride in his roots as a commoner, developed a real chip on his shoulder, and left the house party early.

What I can't figure out is, why did those two sign up for the show in the first place? What did they imagine it would be like? I know people have romantic notions about the good old days, but how ignorant can you be?

Anyway, the Brits know how to put together a reality show, I can say that. My one complaint is that it all seemed very brief and rushed, for nine weeks of filming. Either the footage was heavily condensed for export overseas, or it really was so boring that eight hours of show was all they could squeeze out of it.

=====

Oh yeah, I also taped Henry VIII last night. Only watched about 10 minutes of it, but Helena Bonham Carter was being so shrill and was so unflattered by the costumes I don't know if I'll be able to watch it all.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

chicken cordon bleu, two versions

A few years ago I made up a chicken cordon bleu recipe, because it was one of those things that everyone seemed to like but you couldn't get anywhere, except maybe frozen, and then it tasted...frozen.

As is my usual way, I found several different recipes for chicken stuffed with ham and cheese, took what I liked from each, and combined them. There's not as much variation in this as there are in other classic recipes--chicken pot pie, for example.

Anyway, the recipe I came up with is very good, very messy, and very time consuming. Also, success depends greatly upon being able to get premium chicken breasts--not always an easy feat in our world of pre-packaged, "flavor-enhancing solution"-injected poultry.

So, the other night I had some ham I wanted to use up, and some raw leftover chicken breasts in the fridge, and decided that laziness was the ugly stepmother of invention.

The improvised dish used one pan, took thirty minutes prep to plate, and was quite tasty. The recipe is here, together with the original labor-intensive version. My husband says the new one isn't up to my usual standards, but I disagree. There's much to be said for brevity.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

hacking it out

Some of you may have heard of NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month. It's a sort of internet community, or writing workshop, or collective madness, in which participants commit to writing 50,000 words in the month of November. It's an art-for-art's sake exercise. There are no requirements with regard to quality or subject matter; the only goal is to put a lot of words on paper in a very short time.

I'm considering writing Trace a/k/a the cowboy/vampire novel in NaNoWriMo. My husband has been nagging me about it for a couple of months, now. I've been dragging my feet, what with kimonos and Halloween and stuff. But I want to do it, and more than that, I want to be done with it. NaNoWriMo may be the kick in the pants I need.

I have enough generic knowledge about the Old West and the 1880's in general, I could probably skate through on clichés, then fix the details in December. More to the point, I could take it to my writer's group in December and let them fix the details. They live to nitpick. Still more to the point, that would give me yet another completed work in my coffer. I need some of those.

Fifty thousand words in thirty days is 1667 words per day; 1700 to be safe. That's about three and a half pages per day, in my habitual font/page layout. That's not a lot, for me. When I'm actually working on a story, I often write five or six pages a day. I can turn out a 10,000 word story in a weekend. The problem is I'm a primadonna and I typically go for weeks without writing anything at all. I've been worse since I got married.

Fifty thousand words of Trace, assuming seven to ten thousand words per story (I plan for this to be a series of episodes or chapters, as in a comic book, rather than a straight novel), gives me five to seven stories. I'd be content with that.

There are three days until November 1. I must think about plots. And make eggrolls.

Monday, October 25, 2004

inkblot crits

I saw my real-life writer's group Saturday. They read "Galatea" and they all loved it. Alison said, "This was obviously written by an adult. That older stuff you have about Quinn was obviously written by an adolescent." A few years ago that remark would have angered me. Now I can only nod in agreement and resignation. I know that "Ariston" needs to be rewritten...again. I know Rowling rewrote the first Harry Potter book again...and again...and again. When you have an idea, and you believe in it, you keep fixing it until it works. The problem is, I've been looking at Ariston for so long, I can't see the story for the words. I feel like Michaelangelo, chiseling away everything that isn't a statue.

"Insomnia" is up on critters this week. Predictably, it hasn't gotten a lot of crits, because of the length. I know this because I've had five crits on it, and all of them start with, "I don't normally like to crit pieces this long, but WOW this is a good story!"

Most everyone agrees the story works. No real complaints about the present tense, or the shifts in POV, or digression of the plot. Most people want it to be longer, not shorter.

It's always funny, to me, how crits are an inkblot of the people writing them. One woman wrote a very insightful, complimentary and helpful crit, but spent almost a third of it complaining about the Churchill character, and how he reminded her of certain evangelical Christian types, which offended her, and he was both over-the-top and a cliche, and unnecessary because the story already resonated with themes of man-playing-God, and besides which, the spirituality implicit in the story was more humanist than reliant on a deity.

O...K. While her analysis would certainly deserve an "A" in any English lit class, I think it was reading a bit too much into a character who only has five lines in the entire story. Excuse me, miss, but your prejudices are showing.

Which is not to say that there's anything wrong with saying "this offends me," in a crit. It can be helpful in fact, because a writer should be aware of anything that may alienate her audience. But for pity's sake, just say you're offended by it and move on.

I myself have not critted anything this week. I haven't had time, with the kimono and all, and it's a pity because there's some good stuff up this week. I still have three days; maybe I'll get something in. Then again, I've got two other stories on the back burner, plus Ariston and Natoshi to rewrite. Ugh. Do I really want to go over that ground again?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

chicken yumbalaya

This is a cheater's one-pot version of chicken jambalaya; heavy on the meat, light on the rice. Slightly spicy and nicely filling.

In a stock pot or very large, deep skillet, boil 2-3 chicken breasts in about an inch of water, with some chicken-flavor buillion. Cover and cook until meat is done. Better flavor if you use chicken with bones-in.

While that's going on, chop up 2 stalks celery, about a quarter of a sweet yellow onion, and half a green bell pepper. Add more, or hotter, peppers if you like.

When the chicken is done, remove to a plate to cool. Dump the vegetables in the hot chicken broth, along with a couple tablespoons of butter. Add enough water to make about 2 cups. Add one large can (I think the one I used was about 25-30 oz) diced canned tomatoes. Add lots of black and/or seasoned pepper, some thyme, garlic, and basil. Turn down to simmer.

When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove any bones and cut meat into small bites. Return meat to pot.

Cut up a package of smoked dinner sausage or andouille (Cajun) sausage into small circles and throw them in. There should be enough liquid that it looks like chunky soup. Everything should be able to float around easily. Add a couple dashes of hot pepper sauce, or Cajun seasoning, or both, according to how hot you want it.

Add about 3/4 to 1 cup quality long-grain rice, or a combination of white and wild rice. DO NOT use instant rice for this. If you use the combination of wild rice, add the wild along with the tomatoes, about 10 minutes sooner than the white rice, because it will take longer to cook.

Once the rice is in there, reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Do not disturb for at least 20 minutes. At the end of 20 minutes, stir the hash and check to make sure you aren't running out of liquid. The rice will soak up the liquid and make the whole thing into a sort of meaty-savory hash you can eat with a fork. Add water in quarter-cup increments if needed (experienced cooks can sort of gauge how much liquid is needed for how much rice; consult the instructions on the rice package for guidance).

At 30 or 35 minutes, stir again and test rice for doneness.

Enjoy! You could also do this sort of thing with a firm white fish, and shrimp, if that's what you're into.

Monday, October 04, 2004

best chocolate frosting ever

Take 1 stick butter and 1/2 brick cream cheese (about 4 ounces). Blend.

Blend in 1/4 tsp vanilla, and 1/2 tsp (or more!) lemon oil, NOT lemon extract. Pinch salt.

Blend in 1/3 cup cocoa powder.

Add, alternating, approx. 1/2 cup milk and 5-6 cups powdered sugar, until thick and spreadable.

Spread between, around and over a dark chocolate cake. The result is something like those orange-cream centre candies in the Russell Stover box.

This makes a big batch of frosting, enough to frost and fill a three- or four-layer cake. For less, add less milk and sugar. Frost only after cake is completely cooled, and store in the refrigerator.

Cake recipe later, if you're good.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Van Helsing meets Scully & Mulder in the Old West

just a taste....


The werewolf roared, raising on its haunches, semi-human claws scrabbling at its side, and Trace let swing with the staff of firewood in both hands, a solid clout across the thing’s head. Its howl ended in a yelp and the beast fell like a toppled tree.

“Sum. . . sumbitch,” Boz gasped, half-winded by the crush. He sat up, and Trace took him under the arms and pulled him from under the thing. The beast rolled away limp, its muzzle open and lolling in the gravel. It was breathing fast, with a raspy, growling sound. “Bastard’s snoring,” Boz said in amazement.

“Yeah,” Trace said, and laughed. “You okay?”

“Just a scratch, here.” Boz’s shirt sleeve was dark with blood where the thing had clawed him.

“Better sear that with whiskey,” Trace said.

“Inside and out,” Boz agreed. He went to fetch the bottle from the saddlepack while Trace wound rope around the werewolf’s ankles. Boz helped him with the hog-tying, and they both had a drink, in celebration.

“That ought to make the witch happy,” Trace said.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

congrats, Joy

Hey, notice in the last post how I mentioned Joy Remy, a writing colleague from Critters, and said she was going places? Turns out Joy won a 2nd place showing in Writers of the Future (you know, the Hubbard machine). Here's part of the email she sent me.


Here's a link to the award page for Writers of the Future Volume XX [...] If you follow the 2004 link "Click Here to See the Event" you'll get a tour of the Writer's of the Future Workshop and Award Presentation Ceremony Thing.

In the ninth frame (the lineup of 8 dressed-in-black-tie winners) I'm second to the right.


Volume XX of Writers of the Future will be out in a few weeks, or you can order it from Amazon. Joy's story is titled, "Sleep Sweetly, Junie Carter."

I'm horribly jealous, of course. :-P

put some chili on it

Couple weeks ago, on Critters, I read a story by this chick named Joy Remy. I'm naming her here because you will probably see her name again, elsewhere. This babe can write.

Anyway, her lastest oeuvre to pass through Critters was a sort of cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic Little Red Riding Hood. Think of Little Red making her way through the Thunderdome, sans Mel Gibson, and you've got the idea. I thought it was a decent premise, but she'd left out too much exposition and it wasn't clear what she was getting at. I told her so. She thanked me.

Couple days ago I was still thinking about the story and wrote to ask her what she was doing with it. She said she'd sent it off to some zine and sent me the revised copy. It was much improved. Still not her best, in my opinion, but a big leap forward.

And I got to thinking. Two things.

First, Joy whipped that story out, hung it out for a temperature reading, sliced out the dry bits, rubbed in some spices, and slung it out to the lions, all in less than two weeks. That's impressive, to me, that sort of approach to a story as a commodity to be completed and marketed, with no whining about inspiration and perfection. I guess I still have some Mark Walters residue clogging up my works.

Second, and related, not long ago my husband told me, "You don't want to please people enough. You'd rather have the story perfect, and tell it your way, than entertain your readers."

He's right, there. I have an inability to compromise (consider the Quinn-is-a-killer-get-over-it beef), and I beat myself up too much. Scott says, "There's no reason you can't make it good, and fulfill your vision, you just need to throw in some tasty stuff to keep your audience amused. It's like the Sonic drive-in commercial: it may be a very important piece, but you won't make the sale unless you put some chili on it."

Should it bother me that that makes so much sense?

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

this is what happens

when I don't take care of myself. I haven't been eating well, I haven't been exercising or taking my vitamins. I had terrible cramps yesterday. (Thanks for sharing, Holly.)

Yesterday, since I was home and largely immobile, I picked up Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, a book that I pounced upon when it came out, then let sit in my bookcase, unread, for three years.

Margaret's a great writer. She packs her sentences so full of imagery, and her metaphors are dead-on. I generally prefer her short work to her novels, but I guess this book was a stiff dose of what I needed. It was a relief to be reading again. I guess I haven't totally lost the ability, after all. It seems more likely that I have simply been bored with what I was trying to make myself read. Still, it's a very lit'ry novel (take that, PNH) and I find myself skimming at times, wanting to get on with the story, already.

Also yesterday, I wrote a 4400 word crit on a 10 thousand word story. I was both general and specific, critical and constructive. Joy wrote me back a nice, polite thank you note. I can't imagine that she loved and agreed with every line of my crit, but I know it's nice to have someone lavish that much attention on your work. She's got a decent concept, I think: a cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic Little Red Riding Hood.

I keep getting crits on Galatea, too. I think I'm up to ten, now, which is respectable, considering how long that story is. So far, I have been told:

  • Master Tan's broken English is great, very authentic/is stereotypical and inconsistent
  • The conflict between Justin and Quinn is great, well done/there is no discernible conflict in the story
  • The development of Quinn's character is moving and believable/she's a horrible, unsympathetic person
  • She's a rip-off of Supergirl/Dark Angel/Kill Bill/Le Femme Nikita
  • It's a strong, character-driven story/nobody's motivations make any sense.
I had to check to make sure I wasn't reading the Buffy message boards by mistake. The only thing they all agree on is that the writing is great. (Aside, I always worry about people who say that they don't understand the characters' motivations--I imagine such people as social cripples, unable to form stable relationships because they can't read other people. They certainly have no business writing fiction. The guy who complained the loudest is, according to his bio, a writer of computer programming manuals.) I sometimes get the feeling that these people get in there and try to tear down my characters or punctuation(?!?) because they're jealous of my style, which is certainly very strong. More often, I can tell that a critter has missed something (they often will admit that they're new and don't know what they're doing), and my instinct is to help, to instruct, but I can't exactly tell somebody they've missed something in my story without sounding defensive. At least five of my critters have raved about the story and want to know if there's more. Most of them are also catching on to the fact that this is a piece out of a larger story, but so far everyone seems to agree that it is complete, whether they like the ending or not. It is a difficult ending; essentially, Quinn gains self-confidence and inner strength by realizing she is good at killing people--and she likes it. No moral ambiguity there.

But I sha'n't worry myself about whether people like Quinn or not. Love her or hate her, but you can't ignore her.

Monday, August 09, 2004

the stomach is weak

I can't do it. I just can't. I've been trying to write ten crits this week, to get "Galatea" bumped to the top of the critters' list.

I've done seven. Out of thirty stories, only seven of them are bearable enough to read top to bottom. What is it with people--gamers, at a guess--who insist on writing these muscle-by-muscle "adventure" stories in which some thief or elf or warlock or whatever is standing, or sitting, or creeping, or lying in bed with insomnia, contemplating the last twelve years of campaigning and never doing anything or talking to anybody?

It's unbearable. Simply unbearable. Some of these people are such tyros that the most helpful crits I could give would consist of a series of links to articles about how to write. Character, dialogue, mood, theme, plot, scene--how can you put so many words on a page and not manage to get any of them in the right place?

One of my favorite books is by a guy named Christopher Derrick, and he lists five qualities that a person must have in order to be a novelist. The last one is, "You must be interesting." Tough to take, but true. There are a LOT of boring people out there, and for some reason they all want to write.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

plot

I have come to the conclusion that while I may be a good writer--which is to say I have an enjoyable, mature style--I am not necessarily a good plotter.

I could blame it on MW, or the fact that I have watched/read too much stuff with no plot in the last few years.

But I think it's just laziness on my part, because I claim to like to write organically, but my best pieces have been thought-out beforehand. Leviatech had forethought. Mobius had forethought. Both of those were outlined, loosely overall, and the outline was revised as I went.

I'm thinking I'll go back to work on some of my short fiction, see if I can salvage it--"Donor," in particular. It'll be a good exercise. I must stop being so lazy. If a dress doesn't fit, I rip it apart and fix it. There's no excuse for not doing the same with a story.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

lasagne for Mom

My mother's been waiting for me to send her this recipe for ages. Figured if I was going to type it up, I might as well share.

Note: This is a BIG recipe and very filling. I make it on Friday nights sometimes and me and my husband have it for lunch until Wednesday. It will probably serve eight, at least.

Prep time, about 30 minutes. Bake time, 1h 30 min.

Start with: 1-1/2 to 2 pounds Italian sausage. I like Mendolia's, which I believe is local to Kansas City. If you buy links, remove the casings and chop up the insides. Cook the meat in a medium-hot skillet with a little water and olive oil. Don't let it get brown. Break it up into smallish bits. Throw in some minced sweet onion.

Add a 12 oz jar of tomato sauce, any brand or flavor that you like. Also add an 8-oz can of diced tomatoes, with or without seasoning. Add more Italian Seasoning if needed. Simmer this for a few minutes.

Combine a 16-oz carton of full-fat ricotta cheese with:
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmesan,
2 cups shredded mozzarella,
and some parsley. A little extra basil is nice, too.

In a 9x12 baking dish or sheet cake pan, put down a layer of reduced-carb lasagne noodles. (Dry noodles, you may notice, do not fit well into a pan. I lay three long ones side-by-side and then break off a forth to lay across one end.)

On top of the noodles, ladle in half of the meat-tomato mixture. Drop spoonfulls of the ricotta mixture on top; smooth out a little. Repeat layering with noodles, sausage, and the second half of the ricotta. Top with extra mozzerella. Sprinkle with parsley.

Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. (Place a drip pan underneath because it tends to overflow.) Remove foil and bake for 15 min. more. Remove from oven and let sit while you make salad.

Enjoy! Better the next day.


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

resident of the week

As some of you may already know, I've taken a second, weekend job at the rental office of my apartment building. It's been a while since I've been in customer service, and I like to think I've acquired a certain Zenlike detachment from the rest of humanity. Armed with that, I am endlessly amused at the tragedy that is human intelligence.

I think I'm going to start cataloguing the more interesting encounters here.

This week, we have two stories, because I suspect I'll be hearing more about this second guy.

Helpless Resident of the Week: Called to inform us that there was a dead mouse in the middle of her kitchen, and wanted me to sent the maintenance man to remove it. Now, our maintenance guy is on-call for emergencies on Sundays, but I doubted he would be ready, willing, or able to rouse himself for a dead mouse. I implied that Pat was tied up with emergency air conditioner fixings and suggested that she scoop up the corpse with a dustpan or piece of cardboard and throw it in the trash. She wasn't happy about it.

Creepy Resident of the Week:
There's a guy; we'll call him Barry. He's a very low-grade con artist who's been living scot-free in our complex for about two months now. He claims to be a psychic. He claims to be a lot of things. So far he has:

  • Swindled a free apartment out of the leasing manager by promising free advertising for the complex;
  • Told each of the women in the office (other than me) something "shocking" and "private" about themselves which he supposedly divined via his psychic ability;
  • Charged at least two of my new co-workers $100 for a "private reading" session during which he "hypnotized" them and "took them back to a past life."
  • Has failed to follow up on the ad thing (big surprise) and then got defensive and bullying when the manager tried to call him on it.
  • Has solicited my weekend co-worker, Crystal (the name tells you everything you need to know about her--she's a sweet girl but as brittle as spun sugar) about being in a "limosine commercial," and tried to get her to go out with him, despite the 20-year age difference and the fact that he has no money, no car, no job, and is generally pretty creepy.


Now, all of these things except the last happened before I came to work there. This weekend, Barry came in on Sunday afternoon and tried to engage Crystal in conversation about the limo commercial. He pretended to make a couple of phone calls, making loud plans about filming said commercial, asking Crystal what size dress she wore, talking about cameras and locations, etc. Crystal and I both knew he was talking to dead air. The first time he tried to dial, he accidentally dialed into the office main line and it rang the intercom at my desk. Oops, dialed the wrong number, he said. Then he said, "Well, I'm off to detail a Ferrari," and left.

I am just dying for him to tell me some shocking and private thing about myself. I bet Crystal five bucks he wouldn't even come near me. That type never does.

If he comes in and starts tying up the phones and making himself a nuisance like that again, I'm going to throw him out. I've done it a couple of times before, at the title company. Been awhile.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

giving blood

Today I attempted to give blood for the first time in my life. I have tried to participate in the blood drive at work for the past few years, but always I have been ill, or on vacation, or otherwise preoccupied. This year I was sick, too, but the sinus infection cleared up over a week ago, so I went ahead and did it.

There were about about eight nurses in the trailer (they didn't stand still very long so it was hard to count). All but one of them were bustling around very efficiently, cheery and competent. One of them (the sole white woman there, incidentally) was slow-moving and frowning in concentration. Naturally, she was my nurse.

Now, I have very fair skin and very visible veins. I don't know if they vanished under the iodine or what. You wouldn't think that a tube that big would go in with so little effort. I've heard that it takes less than a pound of pressure to cut skin. Obviously the needle was very sharp. It was kind of freaky watching my skin mound up over it. Didn't hurt. Felt weird, but didn't hurt.

What hurt was when she started digging around trying to find the vein. I guess it was rolling away from her. I know she knicked it, because blue started spreading under my skin almost immediately. She poked around some more, and I gritted my teeth and watched my fingers turn blue and cold. The tube filled with blood. The blue lake under my skin continued to spread and swell up. She pressed on the lump of subcutaneous blood with her fingers. I said, "Ow," which was demonstrating remarkable restraint on my part. She said, "I think we better just stop."

Fine. Whatever. I was disappointed. The bag was barely stained red. She clamped off the hose, capped the needle, and gathered up the tubing. She put an ice pack on my arm and wrapped it around with a neon-green elastic bandage. Then she cleaned up the drops of my blood she had spilled on the chair and the floor. That bothered me, seeing that she had spilled my blood, but not in a sickened way. I felt possessive of it. I was offended that she had lost some of it, especially since she hadn't drawn enough for somebody else to use.

And foolish me, I let her stick me in the right arm. So now I have a massive purple/blue/brown lump on the inside of my elbow, which hurts when I bend my arm. Typing and mousing are going to be most uncomfortable for the rest of the day.

One positive note on the experience: my blood pressure was 102/60. Pulse 60. Heh heh.