Friday, February 28, 2014

A Quote

From Bill Watterson, the man behind Calvin and Hobbes, which may be the greatest comic strip ever:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them.

To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble.

Have a pleasant weekend, all.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Musical Monday: Lake Street Dive

Howdy, all. Well, after an encouraging weekend with temperatures well above freezing, it looks like we're in for another nasty shot of winter, with the mercury plummeting to near zero again by Thursday or Friday night. This is the tough time of year in climates like this one, where you can see the end of winter in so many little ways--the color of willow branches, maple tubing going up on the trees, noticeably longer days, mud--yet winter is still here, and it doesn't really want to let go. Nothing to do but hang on and know spring is coming.

I got a second set of revisions back from Carrie this weekend and spent much of yesterday pounding away at them. My aim is to have them back to her this week, and hopefully, she'll not have anything else substantial to say. By the way, remember my gray/grey problem? I was sure I changed them all the last set of revisions. Early in the manuscript, I found the word 'grey'--"Hmm," I thought. "I was sure I changed them all to 'gray'." I did a 'Find All' and came up with close to 20 'greys.' Just for fun, I searched for 'gray' and found another 10. *headdesk* I think I need an intervention.

Anyway, I've got at least three, maybe four posts partly written--and incomplete. So here's some music instead, Bad Self Portraits from Lake Street Dive. I can't remember where I first heard this fine band--I remember seeing a video of them singing on a street corner in Boston, and was quite impressed. I heard about this latest song through an album review on NPR. Enjoy, I'll be back on Friday. How's life treating all of you?

Friday, February 21, 2014

No Regrets

NOTE: This post is actually not about EBP's upcoming anthology, Winter Regrets, which is due out on 2/28, details forthcoming.

I don't follow everyone who follows me, nor do I automatically track commenters back to their own blogs to comment on their posts. "Follow me, I'll follow you" is a song title (bastardized, I'll admit), not a practice. If that makes me a bad person, so be it. The simple truth is, there are too many blogs, too many people, and not enough hours in the day for all of it.

I do, however, explore the blog's follower list from time-to-time. I check out profiles and blogs. Sometimes I'll follow those blogs, sometimes I pop in on a regular basis without following, sometimes I comment, sometimes I don't.

On Monday, having the day off, I had some extra time and poked around the list, where I found what was then a roughly week-old post from B.A. Wilson, the most recent follower of this blog (except maybe for that anonymous guy, you know who you are). This particular post really resonated with me. It mirrored in many ways my own journey. B.A. writes, 

This is where writing begins, which leaves me wondering about the twenty-seven year gap that grew between my initial desire to write and tell stories and the time at which I let myself write. Yes, I said let myself write, because I wanted to write a novel for many, many years before I actually sat down and typed my first words.

A long time ago, I wrote about the first time I knew I wanted to write. I was on fire the rest of that year and part of the next, and was even partnering up with a friend of mine. We were going to write books for the ages! We had notebooks! And sort of faded away, lost, I guess, in whatever kids get lost in in middle school.
Later, B.A. adds, 

"I've floated through degrees and career paths. Every single step of the way, I always asked myself: What's next? What do you really want to do with your life? Every single time, I answered, "I want to write." Then I quickly shoved that idea down as being ridiculous and irrational, and I dug around for something that might work out as second best."

And again, I found myself nodding along. While I haven't exactly floated through many career paths, several times I found myself unhappy with where I was and facing a decision—stay with this job, or look for a new one? And asking myself if I was happy. Writing was the thing that nibbled away at my brain. Writing was one of those things I always enjoyed, whether it was press releases, curriculum guides, brochure copy. Like B.A., however, I never really gave in to those urges.

But something else she said struck me: "I wish I could rewind now and start sooner. I can only imagine what I would have learned, in the last ten years alone, that would have helped me be a much stronger writer today."

Regret is a powerful, and destructive emotion (is it really an emotion, by the way? I'm not sure). If we give in to regret, it can be as paralyzing as the fears that often keep us from acting in the first place. There is no room for regret. On occasion, I think this way, too. "What if I had started writing in college? What if I had started sooner? What if I had spent those hours on the train writing instead of reading or sleeping? What if I hadn't played so much Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft, or spent less time at the bar, or, or, or…?"

But it's too late for any of that. I'm here, now, with stories in my head and some degree of writing ability. This is what I have. And I also believe that the years spent not writing is just as valuable as anything. During the *cough*thirty-odd*cough* years between that first explosion of "I want to write!" and when I sat down and started seriously writing, I've had experiences. These experiences have shaped who I am and how I think.  

There is no room for regret--I've got another book to write.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Automated Poet

One week ago today, I heard a story on the news as I was driving into work that almost made me drive off the road into the lake (I exaggerate, just a wee bit). A student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a computer program that analyzed the works of Shakespeare, then helped the program's creator write sonnets. The program would suggest words authentic to the Bard, using only words that Shakespeare himself used. The ultimate choice rested with the poet, student and program creator Nathan Mathias. According to the story, it's "the same predictive software we see when our devices try to finish our sentences and suggest the next word."

The story suggested that the next logical step is software that can create the entire poem, from stem to stern. Mathias believes we will see the creation of a fully-automated poet in his lifetime. And I have to ask the question:


Friday, February 14, 2014

Snowy Friday

Well, here I sit on a Friday morning, waiting for word from the school about whether they'll be open today or not. The Catbird was sent home early yesterday; the school was already set for a half day today (teacher training day), but I'm sure they're loath to give up a day to snow if they don't have to. The new superintendent here (and he's at least four years on the job now, so he's not really new, but you know how these things go) is from the North Country, so he's used to this stuff. It all depends on the roads.

I don't especially mind the snow--most often, the air around here is cold and dry enough that it's fairly easy to shovel--and in truth, I think our friends along the seaboard have had more snow than we have, which is unusual. This winter has felt especially arduous and endless, however, and I think it's largely because it's been so damn cold. We've had more single-digit and sub-zero days this winter than we've seen in probably6 or 8 years; it can really wear you down. As I sit here typing this right now, the thermometer reads a positively balmy 15 degrees, and we're supposed to push 30 today. Heatwave!

Speaking of winter, Matt Sinclair, the big brain behind Elephant's Bookshelf Press, sent out the cover for the Winter Anthology:

I really like the look of this cover--it really catches the mood, don't you think? The anthology is slated for a February 28 release date, a little delayed, much like this winter has been. Matt has been quite busy, as EBP has this and another anthology slated for spring, plus a novel due out in March, and more. That's a lot on his plate.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing this on, and  to reading the great stories others have submitted. Meanwhile, on another book note, I've seen my pages for the works submitted for our writers' circle book--nice! The laid out versions match the final version I submitted. This is the part where we see how many errors actually creep into during the publication process. The most glaring I've found so far are an annoying lack of paragraph breaks in one of my pieces.

Well, hey, look at that, I've just gotten word that our school is closed. I can see the steam coming out of our superintendent's ears from here--maybe it's enough to melt all that snow. On that note, I'll sign off here and hope you have a happy weekend. Be well.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Musing

Assorted, random bits from my brain:

-Well, it happened. The Magpie turned 20 this weekend, so now I can no longer say, "I have two teenage girls." Welcome to Wistful, enjoy your stay.

- All day Friday, the National Weather Service repeated the following: "Overnight lows of five above zero." I woke up Saturday morning to find it was eighteen below. I suppose knowing it in advance wouldn't really matter, but still. I know the worst part is likely over for the year, but I am ready for some warm(er) weather.

- Remember this post? Buried deep within the BARTON'S WOMEN manuscript was a comment bubble attached to the word 'gray': "Be consistent" it said. I noticed it when I did a first 'breeze through'. Upon tucking in for some serious revisions, I found that I'd spelled it 'grey' for the first 2/3 of the manuscript, and 'gray' for the final third. I know I had gone through and changed it all to 'gray' before querying. Yes, that definitely qualifies for:

(Oh, and I have again changed them all back to 'grey')

-I killed a major darling this week. Now, I'm pretty sure I've run around the blogosphere and the forum-sphere, telling people something along the lines of, "Yeah, I've killed darlings--it's not so bad."

Apparently, I never killed the right darlings before, because this one hurt. I'm reminded of something Peggy Eddelman said by way of Joss Whedon, by way of his mentor:

If a particular scene (or your book in general) isn't working,

I think the reason I was able to blithely kill off darlings in the past is because they weren't, in the end, that important to me. This was a favorite part. And it did hurt. The good news? I think the story is better without it....It even hurt to say that. Sorry, darling.

- I did find something that made me feel better. Since it's Monday, a day so many of us dread, here's something cheerful. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Baby Elephant in the Ocean":

-And that's about it for me. How's everyone out there?

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Thought for Friday

The Catbird and her school watched Hotel Rwanda in school today. Hotel Rwanda is the story of Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan hotel manager who saved some 1,200 people from the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.

She was understandably upset about what she saw during the film, and about the fact that things like that are still happening today, as they happened in the former Yugoslavia, and in Europe in World War II, and on and on, back seemingly forever.

It's terrible to think that human beings have an almost-infinite capacity for brutality, that there are people who will order the deaths and torture of others simply because they don't look the same, or don't share the same race, religion, color, you name it. Yet, at the same time, it's uplifting to think that there are always people like Paul Rusesabagina—men and women who will stand up for the victims, who will put their lives on the line to protect others, who will risk everything to stop the brutality. That's the message I told the Catbird to focus on.

I hope there will always be people like Rusesabagina, even as I hope that someday, we won't need them.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Upset in the Potterverse

What was the biggest story of the weekend? Was it the decision by the grandmasters in Punxsutawney, PA, that Phil would see his shadow? Nah. Six more weeks of winter was an easy call this year. Maybe it was the laugher of a Super Bowl? Uh, no. How about the revelation from J.K. Rowling about Harry Potter? Ding!

IN case you missed it, Ms. Rowling admitted that she thought that she got at least one thing wrong in her epic series about the wizarding world. Harry, she thought, should have ended up with Hermione. According to the interview, Rowling declared it was "a form of wish fulfillment." Never mind the Potterverse; the sound you just heard was the collective gasp of the world's authors.

Did Ms. Rowling mean to say that she wrote Hermione as a stand-in for herself? That her heart's desire was a man like Ron? Was Hermione a stand-in for herself all along? I don't know. I've always viewed Hermione as a great character; I don't care if Rowling wrote her as a stand-in or not. She was an integral part of the team, and her tempestuous relationship with Ron actually felt pretty authentic to me.

Author wish fulfillment is generally considered A Very Bad Thing. I believe, however, that Ms. Rowling was not talking about it in the way we think. Consider this quote as well: "That's how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron."

That changes some things, at least from the dreaded 'wish fulfillment' side of things. Now, as for whether she got the final relationship right or wrong, I'll leave that for others to decide.

That's it for me today, how are you all?