Friday, April 29, 2011

A Day Late and a Dollar Short: The Birds & The Bees & The Books

Don't worry; this is work-safe. It's short and it's a rant, but it's work-safe.

There is a kerfuffle abroad in a small Pennsylvania town, about a local high-school teacher who's been outed as *GASP* a writer of racy romance novels!

This lady has been a teacher in this school district for 25 years. She has never talked about her alter-ego, never mentioned/used her books in class, and in fact seems to have kept her second job on the down-low as much as possible. So how did this come to the attention of local news media?

"Outraged" parents. Who ferreted out Mrs. Buranich's little secret on the Internet and then howled in virtuous outcry. Of course, they know nothing about racy romance novels; they don't read that sort of thing. But they can't have a woman who writes about SEX teaching their children how to write! OMG she must be a child molester! And/or obviously she'll teach them how to write about SEX! And the last thing they want is for their children to know about SEX!

People? Writing erotica =/= instant pedophile. That's not how it works.

Besides, if you have a teenager in an American public school, your kid probably knows more about doin' it at 17 than you do at 47.

And why on earth should an English teacher not have a sex life, or write erotic fantasies? She's not bringing any of that to the classroom. The only thing she's teaching is Shakespeare (which, let's face it, is perverted enough without the addition of drug-store romance passages).

If you're a parent, the first thing you should realize about your kids and sex is that THEY ARE GOING TO FIND OUT. Way, way sooner than you want them to. Wouldn't it be better for you to, y'know, TALK to them about it in a safe and responsible way? That way you can trust them to make responsible decisions, or at least have the satisfaction of knowing that if they do screw up, you did your best?

Pretending sex is an unnatural thing is one reason why so many young people have such messed up body images. And messed up ideas of how relationships are supposed to work.

So in conclusion: grow the hell up, people. Because you know what? The Song of Songs is hotter than any racy romance novel. And that's in the Bible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Jersey Shore" gone Wilde

If you have not yet seen Jersey Shore quotes read in the style of Oscar Wilde, please, do so now. TV14

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writing Religiously: Royalty Checks

I wrote a science fiction book several years ago. Last week I received a royalty check for $5.52. It’s one of the largest checks yet!

A little despondent I showed it to one of my colleagues, who writes non-fiction. He said, “Keep writing, eventually all those little checks add up.”

My colleague only makes one, maybe two thousand dollars a year from his writing. He’s spent decades building his publishing base and he currently works hard in two careers . . . but the money he receives from publishers does help him get along.

Certainly most people do not write merely to make money, but it is nice to be compensated for the labor put into the work.

So, even though I most often write for free, I’m going to keep writing until the little checks start coming in. Then I’m going to write until those little checks start adding up.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Things I Learned from...Life

Back-up. Back-up, back-up, and back it up again.

I kept my computer backed-up in an external hard drive. I also kept a ton of pictures and videos in the same external hard drive. Then, one day, while it was sitting on the floor it tipped over and made a thud. Fourteen hundred dollars later, I have everything back.

Fortunately, Geek Squad City was able to retrieve just about all of my files. The ones that were messed up a little I was able to replace using my back-up files.

The moral is, back-up everything. The cloud is probably the best place to back up, because systems store the information on multiple servers, and they won't be stolen or broken easily. But that makes me paranoid, even if no one cares about my collection of Doctor Who pictures.

My novel I send to my e-mail after every day of writing. This way I will hopefully never have to do a Jo March.

Are you backed up? Which method have you chosen?
Here are some "bad" files that were recovered.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


*Spoiler alert for Suite Life on Deck movie, Page by Tamora Pierce*

The other day I was watching the Suite Life on Deck Movie (I love me some Disney Channel). It was near the end and our brave protagonist twin brothers are on the run from a hoard of mind controlled twins out to get them.

They come across a zip line which they're going to use to escape. Zack fends off the hoard with a metal pipe while his brother Cody sets them up to zip away to safety. As I'm watching I notice helmets as part of the zip line equipment and think "Dude, this is Disney. They're going to take time to put on helmets, aren't they, even thought the mob is nearly on top of them. Who would do that?"

Sure enough, Cody sticks a helmet on Zack's head, who says, "What? Why?"

"Zip line regulation," Cody replies.

And then I believe it.

You see, while most people may not think of safety when being chased by evil bad guys, the real question here is: Would Cody? And the answer is yes. He probably has zip line regulations memorized. This is a guy who irons his underwear, gets a monthly tetanus shot and, speaking of helmets, put one on his pet rat before he would let it run around in its wheel. Most people wouldn't put on that helmet, but Cody Martin would, and that makes the difference.

Also afraid of penguins.

When writing it's important to think carefully about what our characters would and wouldn't do in certain situations. If we contradict ourselves they become unbelievable. But if we pay close attention to who our characters are their actions will not only be believable, but will further the plot.

In Tamora Pierce's Page, for example, set in a magical, feudal world, Page Keladry is about to take the examination to become a Squire when she discovers her maid has been kidnapped and placed on top of a high tower. The smart thing to do might be to go get help, but that isn't fitting with Keladry's character. She likes to solve problems herself, doesn't like to complain, and doesn't want to be seen as weak when she's the only girl page. She also is such a caring person that she won't let her poor maid wait any longer than necessary to be rescued. She knows that she promised to protect her maid and she's going to fulfill that trust by being the one to rescue her, even if she misses the exam and has to repeat four years of page training. Keladry's character makes the entire climax of the book possible.

So as you're writing, take a closer look at your characters. Are their actions consistent? What kind of personality do they have? How can their response to situations make the plot more interesting?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Variations on a Theme...

If you've been to Barnes and Noble lately, you may have noticed that the YA section has an entire subsection devoted to "Teen Paranormal Romance." Not just teen books. Not just romance. Not just paranormal happenings. All three, together.

Of course, we know we have Twilight to thank for this, but I still find it oddly specific. Are there any oddly specific trends you've noticed? Here's another one I've found:

This is a great spring to propose to someone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How I Learned... #8: About Procrastination

You'd think it would be easy to produce a single blog post on a subject vaguely relation to writing once-a-week. You'd think that.

I'm still trying to figure out how to manage it.

I don't suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. I have several friends who do have to live with ADD, and the work they do every day to focus and get important tasks done genuinely humbles me, because they have a much harder time of it than I do.

I suffer from things like a job where I spend most of my day writing and editing bland government copy. At the end of the day, my brain is so fried from all the sugar-coating and propaganda that it's hard to concentrate on the actual subject of writing.

I suffer from a disconnect between original writing and fanfic writing. Original writing, although it offers the most scope for my talents, always exists in that uneasy place between joy and labor. Fanfic is unmitigated love and squee; instead of doing horrid but thematically appropriate things to my long-suffering original characters, I can take someone else's characters and undo all the horrid but thematically-appropriate things that their actual creator did to them. It's therapeutic in the extreme.

I suffer from compulsions to eat and drink while I work. I suffer from an inability to write without background music, and a linked inability to sit still in the presence of music. I suffer from access to Netflix, to the Internet at large, to a DVD player, to the outside world.

In short: I have a lot of trouble ignoring outside stimuli.


I also suffer, I must say, from a compulsion towards honesty. And the truth is, I'm so used to putting off things, even things I enjoy doing, that it's hard to break myself of that habit. And I prefer to take so much time to mentally prepare myself to do something, important or not that by the time I've finally worked myself up to doing it, it's too late.


I'm trying, y'all.

Origin of my profile pic

The first time I met Abby* she was wearing her usual outfit--black pants, black shoes, black vest. A little dark for a junior high student, I thought. As I passed by her desk, in full teacher mode, I noticed her notebook, which was covered in anime pictures and kanji. In high school I was a huge anime fan. (My bedroom wall was literally covered with posters.) So I thought, here's something we have in common that I can use to connect to her.

"Rayearth?" I said, pointing to a pic on her notebook. "That's a good one. What's your favorite anime? I don't think I know these other characters." Abby's eyes lifted up from her work and glared at me. It was the stare of death. My attempt at connection had been officially deemed uncool. I backed away and decided to hold off on any subsequent conversation until I learned how many katanas she owned.

A few days later, however, I was writing on the board before class started when she came up to me and said, "Konichiwa." "Ohayo," I replied. "Though it's not really morning anymore..." "What?" she asked.

"Ohayo means good morning," I said, continuing to write on the board. "Let's see, I also know itadakimasu...arigato of course..."

"You speak Japanese?" she asked slowly. I turned and looked at her. Her eyes were wide and sparkling. I was an angel delivering manna from heaven.

"Well, I just know random words," I backtracked. "From watching anime. And the Internet. My best friend, now, she actually knows Japanese--"

"Can you write down those words you said?" she asked, whipping out a notebook and sticking it in my face. "Umm...sure." "What anime do you watch? Have you seen Death Note? That's my favorite. Those are the characters on my notebook, but I don't think my drawings are really good, I've got to practice more. And what do you think..."

Thus my connection with Abby began. I taught her some more Japanese words I'd picked up and she lent me Death Note and drew pictures for me, including my profile picture. Here's the full version: *Name changed. I picked Abby because she reminds me of Abby from NCIS.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Writing Religiously: Preaching Does Not Belong in a Story (unless it's a plot device . . .)

I'm a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand I fancy myself a speculative fiction writer. On the other, I'm a preacher. I don't know many people who do both effectively.

Stories work well because they implicitly communicate a timeless truth, and by doing so cause an emotional response from the audience.

Sermons work because they call for concrete, behavioral change. If they don't call for a change in behavior, they're not a sermon.*

As I navigate between these worlds I often see these two "laws" being violated on a regular basis. I watch movies that hammer their message so explicitly that I feel like I paid to hear propaganda. I also find myself listening to sermons that are filled with fascinating information, but I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do with that information.

When a story delivers its message explicitly, it loses any possibility of delivering an emotional punch that might effect me after the story ends.

When a sermon delivers its message implicitly, I walk away asking "So what?" and continue living my life unchanged.

There are times where a story can have a line or two that explicitly states the "big idea" behind the movie . . . like in Batman Begins, “It's not who you are on the inside that defines you-- it's what you do." But any more than that cheapens the story.

There are times when a sermon should be implicit, but that concrete behavioral change needs to be delivered and understood by the entire audience.

So what books, or movies or sermons have you experienced lately that violate these "laws"? How do you respond to them? Do you stand up and cheer, or roll your eyes like me, even if you agree with the message?

*Like, "It is a wicked thing to not forgive when you have been forgiven so much," or "You should not find ultimate fulfillment in finances because God and others are more important," etc..

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Day Late and a Dollar Short: When lawyers write copy.

For once, I actually have a decent excuse for not posting on time! The answer, of course, is Minbari fanfic the quarterly report.

Once every three months, it is my esteemed duty to take myriad pieces of badly-expressed statistics and poorly-disguised propaganda and, by means of a Faustian pact with the nefarious regions of the netherworld and my all-mighty English degree, re-form these pitiful excuses for composition into a document glorifying labor and the department wherein I toil.

Then, as per departmental policy, it will be ripped from my hands, dressed in all the verbiage that I had liberated it from, tarted up like a two-penny whore, and sent to the Boss on High.

A civil servant's life is not an 'appy one.

It does, however, afford me an interesting glimpse into the minds of people not accustomed to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard for the purpose of composing the written word. Sometimes, the results are amusing, such as the sentence informing me that such an amount of money was "collected from violating employers." *pauses while you read that*

And sometimes the results are cringe-inducing, such as the passage explaining how domestic workers "appear and congregate" during the summer months.

Yes. "Appear and congregate." Like lemmings, apparently.

Thankfully I am the Wielder of the All-Mighty Red Pen, so that phrase got chucked, but I still have to wonder about people who refer to their customers like that in an official and public document.

And this is why we have a Communications department.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Writing Religiously: Finding the Story

I have always found songs that tell a story to be especially effective. I came across this song recently and fell in love with it. Then I read one of the YouTube comments and the story with in the song became all the more powerful: "The Widow is a true story, but when he says "Dead man" in the CD version, he means his dad was dead to him metaphorically. However, the day of this concert, his dad really did die and that's why he adds the part at the end. And that's why he's so emotional. After he played this song that night, he sat down on stage and just cried for a good 5 to 10 minutes."

Good stories arise from our experiences. If you have a particularly dark or painful area of your life . . . write about it! Just change the names to protect the guilty.

The best stories are the stories born from pain.

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