Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This is not the dog you are looking for...

About a month ago, we got a dog. This is very significant. Which is not to say that it shouldn't be significant, but it is especially significant for us, because being able to get a dog factored heavily into the reason that we moved. We had dogs way back before my younger two kids are really able to remember them, but we weren't able to bring them to live with us when we had to move to the apartment. My daughter was only about six months old at the time, and my younger son was almost two. He has one memory of our old black lab that he clings to. A memory of the dog in the backyard going to the bathroom. I suppose that's what a not-yet-two-year-old would focus on. heh

The apartment didn't allow dogs. Of any kind. Not that that stopped people. It was very frustrating. Especially to my younger son. "Why can't we have a dog?" "They're not allowed." "But so-and-so has a dog." "Well, they're still not allowed. Just because they're breaking the rules doesn't make it okay."

The thing that made it really frustrating was that the apartment administration would never do anything about these other dogs. Not unless they actually caught the perp with the dog in the apartment. Of course, they couldn't just walk in unannounced. I imagine dog reports went something like this:
1st report:
>phone rings<
"We've had reports that you have a dog."
"No, we don't have a dog"
"Okay, well, make sure you don't. They're against the rules."

2nd report:
>phone rings<
"We've had another report that you have a dog."
"No, no dog here."
"Do you mind if we come check?"
"No, no problem. You can come check."
"Okay, we'll send someone down."
"Oh, you can't come check, right now. Come check tomorrow."
"Oh, okay. Someone will be by between 9am and 10am, then."
The next day. >knock on the door<
"We're here to check on the dog."
"There's no dog here."
"Can we look around?"
>admin looks around<
"Okay, I don't see a dog. There is a bowl of water on the floor, though. What's that for?"
"Oh, my kid likes to pretend he's a dog. He was drinking out of that before school this morning."
"Okay, then. Just make sure you don't get a dog. They're against the rules."

In our eight years of living at the apartment, I only know of one dog owner who actually got caught with a dog in their apartment. I only know of this, because it was the people that lived above us. They were stupid. No, really, they were. It was a group of female college students. Which meant their boyfriends, too. They would sit around on their balcony smoking pot, and the smoke would waft in through our patio door. It was upsetting to my kids. They were more than a little upset when I told them if they didn't stop doing it, I would call the police. Personally, I didn't care if they smoked, but they needed to do it somewhere where it didn't impact my kids.
Anyway... at some point, they got a dog. And not a small dog like most of the people in the complex would get. See, cats were allowed but not dogs (I say it's discrimination). Generally speaking, the people that would get dogs would get something the size of a cat. I suppose they felt like the dog was kind of disguised that way: "No, really, see how small it is? It's a cat." "But it barks." "Oh, it's a really smart cat. We taught it that." These girls, though, got a big dog. Some kind of lab mix. And he trampled all over our ceiling all the time.

But I'm not really a snitch, so I didn't report them.

But there came a time when one of the girls overflowed their toilet. I know she did, because it came through our ceiling. Disgusting, right? So I went up to find out what was going on, because you don't really want water coming through your ceiling, especially when it's someone else's toilet water. The girl was freaking out and had no idea what to do. This is part of my support for the stupid comment. How can you be in college and not know what to do about a clogged toilet. One clue: continuing to flush it isn't going to help. She called maintenance. This is also part of  my support for the stupid comment. The dog was in the apartment. Her boyfriend happened to arrive as I was talking to her, and she told him that she'd called maintenance. He wasn't so dumb. He freaked out and made a mad dash to get the dog out of the apartment. He was too late. Maintenance arrived just as he was trying to get the dog out the door. The dog did go out the door, and it never came back.

This post isn't really about any of that, but I find it amusing, so I thought I'd share.

The short of it is that my younger son, especially, desperately wanted a dog. It made us sad that he couldn't have one, and it made us more sad that he would get so upset about the other dogs around the complex that shouldn't have been there. It was a huge motivator for us to find a place where we could have a dog.
Ironically, when we put in our 30-day notice at the complex, they told me that they had finally caved about the dogs and would be allowing dogs under a certain weight limit (which I forget, but it seems was like 40lbs, which is pretty big) starting one week after we put our notice in.

We moved.

Our search for a dog began.

Actually, our talk about getting a dog began. There was a lot of discussion about what kind of dog would be appropriate for the family. My wife didn't want another big dog. Our black lab had been great (really, he was great. He was one of the sweetest dogs I've ever known (and I've know a lot), and incredibly smart. Plus, he had a huge amount of tolerance for the abuse our oldest son heaped on him when the oldest son was young, so that went a long way), but she wanted a dog that would fit in her lap if she felt like she wanted a dog in her lap. I wanted something with short hair, because Corby (the lab) made enough hair to make brand new dogs out of on a regular basis. We also needed something playful but not hyper. We settled on a corgi.

I love corgis. They're about the happiest looking dogs I know of, are good with kids, and are just cute. So we started looking for one.
The humane society's website said they had a corgi available, so we planned to go take a look at it. You have to plan when you get a shelter dog, though, so this was to be strictly a "looking" trip. It was our first outing, after all, and I made it plain to the kids that we were not planning on coming home with a dog unless the corgi was just perfect or magic happened. We needed to spend some time looking around in order to make sure we got just the right dog.

I had one other stipulation: no chihuahuas. I can't stand the things. The bug eyes. The way they shiver and shake all the time. Nude rats. And one of my good friends from college and I had a working hypothesis for why they have bug eyes and are scared of everything. His dad was a doctor in Houston and was involved in a situation with a chihuahua removal in the emergency room once, and I'll just leave it at that. That's the origin of the hypothesis, though.

We got down to the shelter to discover that the "corgi" was actually a corgi/chihuahua mix, but I was willing to look at it, because it was half corgi (the website didn't list that it was half chihuahua (bait and switch, anyone?). And let me just say that about 85% of the dogs there were chihuahuas or chihuahua mixes, so things weren't looking good. We finally got to the room with the "corgi" to find that it was being held. This doesn't mean the dog was actually taken, but that someone was interested and in the middle of making a decision about the dog. It also means that no one else can look at that particular dog. >sigh<

I was ready to leave.

However, next to the "corgi" was an exceptionally cute little chihuahua mix. My kids adored her. I made them look at all the other dogs first, anyway. Remember, I wasn't getting a chihuahua. And there was the cutest little boxer puppy. 10 weeks old, floppy ears, sad eyes. Adorable! But he was a boxer, which was much bigger than we wanted. Not that I didn't spend a lot of time pining over him.

Everything kept coming back to the little dog next to the "corgi."
[At this point, I would like to make it point to say that this little dog was a chihuahua mixed with a German Shepherd. Yes, we all pray that the mother was the Shepherd. The alternative is too painful to think about.]
My kids, all of my kids, had settled around her. It's pretty extraordinary when all of my kids agree on something, so I caved, and I let them take her out for an introduction. Just to look! I reminded them that we were NOT getting a chihuahua.

But she didn't look like a chihuahua. She looked like a tiny German Shepherd. But with floppy ears. Even I couldn't deny that she was cute. Really cute. I caved more because the dog was so cute rather than because of the whining of my kids.

The dog did the rest.

Dogs have a way of knowing who the alpha is. Or, at least, who is the person that will be making the decision. She put on quite an act and centered on me. The kids loved her. The trainer couldn't rein her back in, but she'd come to me. I was still trying to protest "no chihuahuas!" My wife said two things to me. Okay, well, she said more than two, but she said two things that really mattered: "Look at her," and "Remember, it doesn't have to be the "perfect" dog, just the dog that's perfect for us."

I caved.

We came home with a dog. And that dog was a chihuahua. Well, half chihuahua. Since then, I've decided that chihuahuas are the universal solvent of the dog world. Want a German Shepherd, but they're too big? Mix it with a chihuahua. Seriously. Go online and look at mixed chihuahua breeds. It's amazing.

And, because I know you want to know, here's Tessa:
She's an incredible dog. Everything we hoped for and more. Incredibly smart to boot. She knew nothing when we brought her home except, kind of, that she needed to go "out" to go potty. Which was nice, because I hate potty training. She's learned more in a month than any dog I've had before ever learned. Well, that's not precisely true, but it is pretty close. She knew her name by the second day, and I'm pretty sure that one of the dogs I've had over the years never learned her name. Needless to say, we're very happy.

Especially my son. It's like a dream come true for him. I caught him on the couch cuddling with her a few days after we got her saying, "I can't believe we have a dog," over and over to himself.

But, now, to the point, because, yes, there has to be a point.

I don't believe in "settling." And I didn't "settle" for this dog. There can be a fine line, though, between settling and being open to things you weren't looking for. I went into the whole dog thing with a particular idea in my head about what we were going to come out with on the other side. We had familial agreement on that idea (even if it was only grudging on the part of my daughter (she likes chihuahuas (for reasons I cannot fathom)). However, some of the specific parts of that plan were not as important as others. I tend to lock myself into ideas. Things need to be this way or that way, or they just don't work. My wife reminded me of what was important, "Look at her." So I opened my eyes and looked at the dog, and I looked at my kids, and I knew Tessa was the right dog for us. I knew it, and I was right.

She may not be the "perfect" dog. She's certainly not a corgi. But she's perfect for us. We couldn't have gotten a better dog.

Anyway, we all need people in our lives that help us to open our eyes and look. People who will help us to not stay trapped in our little boxes of ideas about how things "ought to be" or "should be." People who help us to look at the possibilities where we're not ready to see them. Even in our writing. Maybe, especially in our writing. I mean, my story was about a corgi, but I could have missed the even better one about this feisty little German Shepherd if I didn't have that voice to tell me "look at her."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Blog of Thanks

Before I get into the turkey of this post, I want to point out that I have a new link on The House on the Corner sidebar blurb. Of course, that link just goes to my The House on the Corner tab, but that's okay. Once you're on that page, there is the ability to directly purchase a signed copy of The House on the Corner. At least, I'm assuming that ability is there. I haven't actually tested it, but PayPal says it should work, and I'm sort of trusting them on that. Since, you know, those things working are the way they make money. The Christmas shopping season "officially" begins this week, so if you have young readers you need a gift for, and you want to give them something somewhat unique, and you don't want it to be some cheap, disposable toy, there's still time to order a signed copy of The House on the Corner. Actually, if you have some not so young readers that need a somewhat unique gift, it still works.

Anyway... enough with the marketing. At least, I'm not trying to make you all come to work in my big, box retail store on Thursday evening, right?

Those of you in the US may have noticed that Thanksgiving is this week. Some of you may be doing that pre-starvation thing so that you can deal with the calorie overload heading your way. The average Thanksgiving dinner is over 3000 calories, after all, and most of us don't need more than about 1600-1800 calories a day, so it is a rather huge influx of energy that will probably just end up getting stored in human battery deposits.
Darn those things.

But I'm not here to talk about the food. After all, we have a substantially lower calorie dinner than most people since we leave the sugar out of nearly everything. Except the pecan pie. That's my one exception, and I love Thanksgiving for giving me a reason for that exception.

I am here to talk about thanks. Being thankful is probably something all of us could be more or do more. Yes, I'm thankful for all of the normal things: my family, the fact that my wife lets me write, getting to interact with the kids at my kids' school about my book, all of that stuff. My family is most thankful, this year, for the addition of our little doggie.
You'll hear more about her soon.

All of that aside, since this is my blog, I want to be thankful for some of my bloggy people. In general, I want to give out a thanks for my followers and, more specifically, my actual readers. You guys that stop in here a couple or few times a week and read what I have to say. Above and beyond that, I want to thank you guys that leave comments and interact with me. As I've said before, blogging is somewhat like being deep down in a cave talking to yourself. You hope people can hear you, but, often, it's kind of hard to tell. You guys that leave comments are the people that are yelling back at me letting me know that there really are people out there. It's a really nice thing to know.

Above and beyond that, I have a few fellow bloggers in specific I'd like to thank (in no particular order (okay, that's not true -- I'm going down the list (because it's easier :P ))):

A Beer for the Shower: for having an always entertaining, if irreverent, blog that makes me laugh. And for perspective talks with the Bryan half of that team and his upcoming appearance here at StrangePegs.

Alex J Cavanaugh: for being a secret ninja and the Pay It Forward blogfest. Also for coming up with the idea for the Insecure Writer's Support Group even if I haven't joined it. A bunch of other stuff, too, but I'd run out of room for anyone else if I kept going.

Amanda Leigh Cowley: for her Magic Eyes.

J @ Concrete Pieces of Soul: for having interesting things to say for writing my favorite flash fiction piece (you know, other than mine) during the platform building campaign.

Elizabeth Varadan: for sending me a copy of her book (which I will be reading soon -- it just came yesterday).

Rogue Mutt/Grumpy Bulldog @ Grumpy Bulldog's Blog: for being cranky so that I don't have to be. Really. He rants so I don't have to.

Bess @ It's the world, dear...: for sharing New York with us (and affirming my desire not to live there but making me want to visit) and being a great writer (if her blog is any indication).

Steph @ maybe genius: for words of advice that got me started on all of this blogging nonsense to begin with. Wait! Is that actually something I should be thanking her for? :P

Michael Offutt: for being himself. And for reviewing lots of books. I'm not sure if there's a better thing he could be doing to help out "indie" authors.

M. J. @ My Pet Blog: for having a generally entertaining blog. I read even if I can't comment there.

bru @ Pitch Slapped: for having courage...

Rachael Harrie @ Rach Writes...: for the whole Platform-building Campaign

Jennifer @ Serendipity's Library: for having a fun and quirky blog, for buying my book and sharing it with her son, and, then, reviewing it! For posting creepy stories about the creepy doll in her house. >shiver<

Alyssia @ Small World, Big Dreams: for always having something interesting to say and saying it well.

Sarah @ The Aspiring Sub-creator: for sharing her explorations of fantasy.

Rusty Webb @ The Blutonian Death Egg: for more than I can really list off, right now, but, most of all, for awesome cover art! My awesome cover art! (click my house tab and take a look) And for having the greatest blog name ever.

Michelle @ The Innocent Flower: for being gracious in disagreements.

Shannon @ The Warrior Muse: for doing the very first interview with me. And for reading my book before it was "ready" and giving valuable feedback. And for reviewing it on Amazon.

Cally Jackson: for having me in her Hot Seat

I hope I didn't miss anyone... I mean, like I said, I thank all of you that stop by and read and, especially, those of that comment, but I hope I didn't miss anyone that needs specific thanks about something. I can't think of anything else, but, then, I've been fighting off kids (out of school) and a dog all day (and yesterday), so it's no wonder I can't think of anything else. I can barely think of my name, at this point.

You guys, or, as we say in the south (where I'm not but used to be), "y'all," have a great Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Unexpected Applause: Monarch

Let me just start out by saying that I love Michelle Davidson Argyle's blog: The Innocent Flower. I love her writing there, and I love what she has to say about her experiences in publishing. She's honest and open about what she goes through and how things affect her, and it's a nice change of pace from the front that many authors put up about their experiences with their publishing houses. Not that Michelle has anything bad to say about Rhemalda, her publisher, but it's not the white wash, everything is hunky dory you see most places. The all is great and wonderful in the land of traditional publishing that traditionally published authors tend to regurgitate constantly. Michelle has both self-published, Cinders (which I still need to read), and been published traditionally, albeit by a small publisher, Monarch, so she often approaches things with a view from both worlds. If you don't already follow her blog, you should go do that.

Having said all of that, this is a difficult review for me to write. I've been planning on doing Monarch as the first book of my review challenge since well before I had the name "Unexpected Applause" for that challenge.

[As an aside: this is a review CHALLENGE. As in, I also challenge all of you out there reading this to pick up at least one independently published book a month and, at least, read it, but, preferably, review it. People out there self-publishing and going through small publishers need the exposure.]

Michael Offutt reviewed it, loved it, gave it 5 stars, so I was really looking forward to the read when I finally got my copy.
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the book as much as Michael did. In fact, it was rather difficult for me to get through.
Before I go on, though, let me say a couple of things:

1. The book is a thriller/romance, and neither of those are my genres. The last thrillers I read were near to 20 years ago when I had a brief fling with Tom Clancy. Clancy is probably  the best there is at thrillers, and he only held my attention for a handful of books, even if I did love the ones I read. It just wasn't meant to last. As for romances... I read one once. School assignment.
2. I had issues with the editing. But more on that in a moment.

What I'm getting at here is that the main issues I have with the book are not necessarily the fault of the author. Monarch is not a book I would pick up while browsing through the book store; I wouldn't even be in the right section to find it. As such, I just couldn't drum up the appropriate amount of interest in the story. And, then, there was the editing.

I've never had the editing in a book stand in the way of my enjoyment of the book before. Not that I haven't found the occasional error, but, really, those have never been anything more to me than "oh, one got through." Monarch, though, was different. The issues were so prevalent that I couldn't stay engaged with the story. Maybe, this is just my own personal issue. I haven't seen anyone else mention this stuff, after all, but it was an issue for me.

I actually had a discussion with the author about this stuff, and, although she didn't agree with all of the editing choices, she was willing to sacrifice the grammar to the fact that she didn't lose editorial control over the story. And I can understand that. At the same time, my reaction for myself is "I would never have agreed to that." But Michelle's view was that most of these issues were trivial, and, in the end, she was happy with the product. Which is all that really matters.

So, maybe, it is just me. Maybe the "mistakes" shouldn't have bothered me so much, but they did. Here are the main ones, just so you know what I had issues with. Maybe if I'd known about these things going in and the author's view on them, they wouldn't have caused me so many problems, but the teacher in me kept urging me to get out my little red pen.
1. the word "OK" -- The editor made the choice to use "OK" rather than "okay" in the text. In all places. I can't get behind this. I know people use "OK" all the time, but I don't think that makes it okay to use in a professional paper. Of any kind. You can't use "OK" in Scrabble, so it shouldn't be used in a book. And it was a fairly commonly used word throughout the book, and, because it was "OK," it just glared off the page at me.
2. the word "alright" -- "Alright" has become common in popular usage, but this isn't really a word. Not yet. The correct form is "all right." I know that language changes and evolves, but "alright" is still considered an abbreviated form of "all right," and, like with "OK," abbreviations shouldn't be used in the narrative text of a book. Besides, the correct form of "alright" shouldn't even be "alright;" it should be "al'right."

[Yes, I expect that some of you will disagree with me about one or both of these, and that's okay. My wife disagrees with me about "alright" and says I'm being too much of a stickler, but that's how I feel about it, and it was an issue for me in the book.]

3. There were comma issues throughout the book. Yes, I know that comma usage can be subjective, but there are some actual hard rules, and I tend to believe that hard rules should be followed. Unless you are making a stylistic choice for some reason, in which case the usage should be consistent. The comma usage in Monarch seemed much more haphazard to me. Now, to be fair, most of the "mistakes" are not things the average reader will notice, so, in the grand scheme, they may not really matter, but, for me, they were a huge issue. I'll give you a sample, so you'll understand what I'm talking about:

--p. 1: "A muffled pop from the silencer and it was over."
should be: "A muffled pop from the silencer, and it was over."

--p. 1: "Blood meant death and death reminded him of Annabelle."
should be: "Blood meant death, and death reminded him of Annabelle."

--p. 3: "Footsteps followed him down the hallway and he broke into a run out the back door."
should be: "Footsteps followed him down the hallway, and he broke into a run..."

--p. 3: "He hadn't lived here for two years, but even before then he was hardly home."
should be: "He hadn't lived here for two years, but, even before then, he was hardly home."

--p. 3: "Except now he had been betrayed."
should be: "Except now, he had been betrayed." or "Except, now, he had been betrayed."

That's the first three pages, and those are just examples of the "hard" rules for comma usage. There are two more places where I would have used commas differently, but those are "soft" rule spots. Still, the ones that bothered me the most were the ones like this:
--p. 15: "He could handle the pain, but was glad he'd found the fedora in  the car he'd stolen."
should be: "He could handle the pain but was glad..."
I can't understand the inclusion of the comma in this sentence when they were left out of actual compound sentences.
And there are some places where the comma is inserted after the conjunction, so it looks like this: "blah blah blah but, was blah blahing." (These happen frequently, but I couldn't find a specific example upon a casual perusal.)

As I said, these are probably not an issue for the average reader, but I couldn't get past them. Maybe that's completely my issue. I don't really know. I also don't know how much I may have enjoyed the book if I hadn't been constantly tripped up by the commas.

What I can say is this:
If you like romance, this could be a book for you. There's not one, but two, love triangles, so there's plenty of romantic tension.
If you like thrillers, this could be a book for you. There's plenty of action and squished termites to keep you going. And blood.
Oh, and there are the butterflies.

Michelle has written a book that a publisher thought highly enough to back, and that's a great thing. She's proud of her work, and that's also a great thing.
Monarch isn't quite my thing, but it might be yours. If this feels like it could be your genre, you should check it out. Especially if the grammar isn't an issue for you.

As I said in my first Unexpected Applause post, books are a matter of taste. I didn't prefer this one, but I'm  not saying it's a bad book; it's just one I didn't like. Michelle deserves a big round of applause for not just writing a book, but writing a book a publisher is standing behind. And her writing is compelling enough that I want to read Cinders even though I didn't care for Monarch. And her next book has dragons, so I'm really looking forward to that one.

I hope I've given a round enough view of Michelle and her work that those of you that do like the whole thriller/romance thing will be willing to give Monarch a chance. Despite any issues I had with the editing. I do have to say that I can completely respect Michelle's view that the comma issues aren't that important. I wish I could see it that way, too. Maybe I do just need to loosen up.

As a final note, I want to reiterate this whole thing about getting reviews. I want my book, The House on the Corner, to be read and get reviews. As such, I have to be willing to get reviews that... aren't always so good. To support the idea that reviews are important and that "young" authors need the support of reviews, even reviews that aren't always glowing 5 star reviews, I feel it's important for me to do reviews. If I'm going to do reviews, I have to be willing to give reviews that aren't always great. My reviews won't mean anything if I just say every book I read is great. Like I said before, the fact that I don't like a particular book may clue someone else in to the fact that s/he might like it. But I don't want to hurt anyone's career, either, so, mostly, the reviews are just for my blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Mocha Life

Okay, not really, but it's probably the title I should have gone with. Oh, let me explain:

Today is the day I update the next Tib story, which I have done. Go read it! Here's a link just in case you can't manage to get your mouse up to the tabby thing: The Kitchen Table.

Quite a while ago, I wrote the second chapter of Tib from a different perspective. It was a writing exercise for a writing group and went along with some theme or other (although, I can't remember what that theme was), and I had "The Tunnel" written already, so I thought I would just continue that story by jumping to Tib's mom. As I was writing it, I figured out that I didn't want any of the story from Tib's mom's perspective. I'd stick to either Tib or the man with no eyes. However, I finished the story anyway. So, as an extra special treat for one day only (okay, that's not precisely the truth), you get to see both versions of the second chapter of Tib. Tib's version (the real version) is up in the Tib tab. His mother's version is below. Read them both, and let me know what you think!

Life Is a Mocha

She sat at the table cradling the less than warm coffee mug in her hands wondering what had happened to her life. Where had it gone? She decided it was the like the mocha she was holding, the mocha that, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get to compare in the least to the ones the café in town made, slowly losing its heat. From moment to moment, you couldn’t tell the difference, but, if you weren’t paying attention, you’d suddenly find it was cold. You could reheat it, but, really, it would never be the same. Like fried foods. That was her life. Lukewarm going to cold. And she had never noticed it happening.

She remembered being beautiful. She remembered when men would fight over her. Literally. She hadn’t appreciated that, at the time. Had hardly noticed it. Had not realized what her life was then. And she remembered when it had changed. Michael. Devilishly handsome and not far removed from the devil himself, though she hadn’t known that at the time. Not that he was bad, that wasn’t it. But, if the devil had started as an angel, Michael was… Well, he wasn’t far removed.

He had taken her old life and given her something else in return. Neither of them had known it, at the time. If only…

She sighed heavily. If only she had left well enough alone and not insisted on the truth. She had come to the conclusion, since then, that truth was overrated. But, really, how was she to know? It’s not like there was some kind of handbook with a warning, “Hey, your lover is more than human; leave well enough alone. Don’t ask questions.” But she had asked questions. Over and over and over again until he had finally told her. And it had cost her her life.

And given her a new one. Two new ones, in fact, although neither of them had known that, at the time. At the time… But, really, would she have done anything different even if she had known she was pregnant? She had spent the last decade trying to tell herself that that was so, but she knew it wasn’t. She knew then just like she still knew, now, that she could not have gone on with Michael not knowing anything about him. She would have lost him with or without the truth from him. Still… Why had he told her? He could have just disappeared and left her wondering what had happened to him. It would have hurt her, yes, but, at least, that was something she could have recovered from. She had never recovered from the knowledge he had given her.

And here she was contemplating how in the world she was going to pass that knowledge on to her son. She didn’t want to do it, which was why he was about to turn 11 and knew nothing of his father. But he was about to turn 11, and he had to know. Had to be prepared. 11... She still didn’t understand why 11 was so important, but she knew there was truth in it. Could feel it.

As if thoughts of him had summoned him, the screen door squeaked open and slammed followed by the house rattling slam of the front door. That, of course, was followed by the crash of his backpack as he tossed it into the chair in the hallway, and the chair slammed into the table next to it. No matter how many times she told him not to throw his backpack. Sigh.

“Tib? Tib is that you?” She wondered for a moment why she asked that question everyday when he came in. It’s not like it was going to be anyone else, and there was the backpack. Really. If it was someone else, would there really be the backpack? But she compulsively asked. Everyday. She wondered, not for the first time, if that was because Michael had broken some ability in her to trust reality.

“Yes, Mom! It’s me! Who else would it be?” Just like everyday. Well, except those days when he said, “No, Mom! I’m someone else!” But today wasn’t one of those days. He sounded as if he had had a bad time coming through the tunnel, today. Not that he didn’t always have a bad time, but some days were worse than others. She didn’t understand that; it was just a tunnel!

She heard him start up the stairs, “Tib, come here, please!”

“Aw, Mom! What? I don’t want to do my homework, right now!”

“You know the rules; homework, first! But this isn’t about homework. Just come here!”

“I didn’t do anything!”

He still wasn’t coming back down the stairs… She sighed and shook her head, rolling her eyes at the repetitiveness of this scenario, “I didn’t say you did anything! Just come here!”

His footsteps fell more heavily on the stairs than they really needed to as he came stomping his way back down. Any chance to actively demonstrate his disapproval, after all.

“What, Mom?” as he came into the kitchen. Her mocha was completely cold, now, but she didn’t notice as she took a small sip.

“Sit down. We need to talk.”

“Mom…! I have things to do!”

She snorted without meaning to, “Video games are hardly something you need to do.”

Tiberius just glowered at her the way he did when he had no response to her. Generally, because it was hard to argue against the truth. Even when you didn’t like it. Something she knew well.

She stared back at him, finally saying, “I said ‘sit down.’”

Tib dropped into a chair as if he was a marionette that had just had his strings cut. She sighed again. Every time he did that, she had visions of the chair collapsing under him, impaling him on the wooden pin cushion it became in her mind as it broke apart. She shook her head and sighed, again, but held back her normal response. She had other things to talk about.

She looked down into her coffee mug, only just now realizing that her mocha had lost all of its heat. Not even half gone. She frowned at it, got up, and dumped it in the sink. From behind her, Tib said, “Well?”

She turned around and looked at him, leaning against the edge of the counter, “You turn 11, next week.”

He shrugged, “Yeah, so… It’s just another birthday. It’s not like I get to have a party or anything.” He said that with such bitterness, and she wept on the inside. Sometimes… sometimes keeping him safe just cost too much.

“I know… I’m sorry…” She stopped short of trying to explain it all to him, again, since there had never really been any explanation to go with that. She sighed. Again. She looked Tib in the eyes, “It’s time you knew about your father.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unexpected Applause

One of my daughter's best friends had a birthday over the weekend. The family in question tends to throw large parties, so our whole family was invited, but we ended up not being able to go. As a family, I mean. My daughter and younger son still went. I hate the whole birthday machine, and I tend to not be in favor of giving presents to other peoples' kids. Yes, I have reasons:
1. We don't have a lot of money for frivolous expenditures. If I'm going to buy a kid a toy, I want it to be one of my kids, and that doesn't happen often enough to make me (and, especially, them) happy. Seriously, the times they get something that's not with money they've earned somehow (other than their birthdays and Christmas) are rare indeed.
2. I don't like buying cheap crap for people even kids. Birthday presents for other kids (because it really upsets my daughter to not take something) tend to be budgeted at about $10, and you can't get anything worthwhile for $10. I don't appreciate the cheap crap my kids get for their birthdays (although, they do, which is, I suppose, what matters) and how it clutters up the house and is never touched again after the first day, and I can't imagine other parents appreciate it any more than I do. (Although, honestly, we've done a pretty good job of being clear as to what our kids want (will actually use) the last few years (Lego's for the younger son and clothes for the daughter (the older son is not actually an issue with this stuff at this point, because presents for him are not obligatory anymore.))
3. I'd rather give books or something else that is actually beneficial, but I hated getting books for my birthday/Christmas when I was a kid, because it was never anything I ever wanted to read. Basically, book buying for kids you don't know is like trying to thread a needle with your eyes closed.

Having my own book, now, has changed the whole gift-giving landscape. The kids at my younger kids' school are pretty much constantly telling me how much they want a copy of my book. These don't often turn into sales, though. I'm sure there are a multitude of reasons for this (good reasons, even), but it doesn't change the fact that I could have sold 100 copies of my book last month if the kids at the school had the money to buy it themselves. At any rate, giving copies of The House on the Corner has become a great gift-giving solution (at least for this year -- next year will be a completely different story). It's a unique gift since you can't pick it up in stores. The kids have already expressed their interest in owning it. It's a book! It falls within the gift budget. It's not a piece of crap toy that will end up on the floor the day after. Heck, even one of the kids at school (my biggest non-relation fan) bought one for a friend that doesn't go to the school as a birthday present and had me sign it to the boy. That was pretty cool.

The girl in question had told me at least 3 times that she "wished she had a copy," and her mother had told me they wanted to buy a copy as soon as they had the money for it. I figured making it a gift for her birthday was a good plan.

I happened to walk in to pick my kids up from the party during the gift opening period. And I happened to walk in just as she was opening the gift from my daughter. I heard from the back of the house, "[my daughter]'s dad wrote it," as I was making my way through the front room. As I entered the doorway to the gathering, a parent turned to me and said, "You wrote that?" [Now, honestly, it still surprises me that not everyone at the school already knows this, not that they should, but, often, it feels like everyone does, but, really, it's just the people I actually know that know (and although I've seen this particular mom on campus, I have no idea what child she belongs to).] I nodded just about the time that everyone in the room looked over at me, and the birthday girl's mom announced, "Oh, there he is. He wrote that book." There was a burst of unexpected applause to which I tried not to blush, but I couldn't keep the cheesy grin off of my face. Then the follow up question, "Did you sign it?" Affirmative from me and another burst of applause. And, then, the best part, the girl shouted in glee, "Mom! It has my name in it!" And that was awesome.

Needless to say, it was a very gratifying experience. Unexpected but gratifying.

Which brings me to my point:
I think everyone should have moments of unexpected applause in their lives. It's good to know that people appreciate the effort you've put into something.

For a while now, I've been planning on doing this review challenge thing. It's not a blog hop or a blogfest, just a challenge. See, here's the thing, authors need reviews. I think, even, bad reviews. Which is not to say that good reviews aren't better, but people need to see that the work in question is being read even if it's not receiving stellar reviews. I mean, when I look at a book by an author I've never read, what I want to know is "is it any good?" More specifically, "have you tried it?" It's like the food at a potluck, you're giving some of that stuff uneasy glances and trying to find someone else that's already tried it before you put some on your plate. And just because someone else didn't like it doesn't mean I won't try it. I make that judgement based on  the other foods they like and don't like. Did they hate something else I thought was awesome? If so, I may try the other questionable food they didn't like.

What I'm saying is if there's some food sitting there that no one is trying (for whatever reason) it becomes more and more unlikely that anyone will try it. My goal here is to start trying some of the books that people haven't much gotten around to, yet, and, whether I liked it or not, give you some data so that you can decide if you should try it.

And I'm going to call this whole idea "Unexpected Applause." Because, like I said, everyone should have that some time or other.

This doesn't mean I'm going to be showering praises on every book I read. That's not the applause part. The applause part is that I picked it up and read it and am taking the time to let other people know what I thought about it so they will have better information at hand to decide whether they should take a bite, too. I hope to get in at least one of these a month. The first one will be coming up later this week. I intend to be as objective as possible about a very subjective subject. Not just did I like it but why I did or did not like it. Maybe it had too much salt for me (I'm  not big on lots of salt). Maybe it wasn't spicy enough (I like spicy). Maybe it was too much like half a dozen other dishes out there (I mean, come on, I don't care what you put in it, jello salad is still jello).

Of course, I'd love for some other people to review my book, too, but that's not a prerequisite for me to read yours. I'm looking at books that have been independently published or that have come from a small publisher. That's the only criteria I'm using. If you decide to review my book, that's great! But I won't hold it against you if you don't. Just sayin'.

That being said, I'm going to be adding some links and stuff to reviews of The House on the Corner on the House tab up top. After all, you should know what other people have thought about my book in order to make a more informed decision.

On a completely different note, I mentioned that I will be doing weekly updates on my Tiberius tab. The first update will happen on Thursday. Since I posted that last Thursday, the tab has had only one view (and it didn't have that many to begin with), so this is just a warning that "The Tunnel" will be replaced in two days with "The Kitchen Table," so, if you want to read it, now's the time to do that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Playing with "You"

I mentioned in passing recently that I'm teaching a creative class at my kids' school. It's just once a week, and today is the second class. Last week, we started by talking about perspective (or POV (point of view) as it is more commonly referred to as these days). I figure you can sit down and start writing without a plot or a story or, really, any ideas at all, but you have to start with a character and a perspective or you can't write. Not that that comes first, necessarily, but you can have the greatest plot in the world and not be able to do anything with it without your perspective.

Mostly, we talked about 1st person and 3rd person, which is natural. But we did mention 2nd person. Writing in the 2nd person is something I find intriguing. Really, the only place you find it in fiction is in Choose Your Own Adventure books. But I don't think it has to be that way. No, I don't think a whole novel could be sustained in 2nd person, but there is certainly more room in short stories for 2nd person than what we see, which is basically nothing.

Anyway... all of that to say that a while back there was a... discussion... about writing in 2nd person in this (unfortunately short-lived) writing group I was participating in, and, just to challenge myself, I wrote this little 2nd person story. I think it worked well, and I'd love to hear what you guys think, so I'm going to tag that on at the end of this post.

One other note, first, though. I'm participating in the assignments I give the kids each week. Sort of. What that really means is that I will be work on Tib stories as we go along. Okay, Tib chapters, but I'm going to try to keep at least the first few individual enough that they could be picked up and read independently of each other. What this means for you is that I'm going to be updating my Tiberius tab with new stories as they're ready. The Tiberius tab hasn't received a whole lot of love, so I encourage you all to check it out, as I will be replacing the stories rather than just adding them on. I'm going to leave "The Tunnel" (the 1st Tib story) up for another week to give you guys a chance to check  it out, but the second story, "The Kitchen Table," is ready to go, so I'll be swapping those out next week. I'd love any feedback you have on those, too. And remember, the man with no eyes will be showing up in the Tiberius stories in a few weeks, and I'm sure none of you want to miss that!

As an aside to the previous paragraph, I'm also working on the prelude story for Tib. It's called "The Evil That Men Do," and I'll be making it available on the Kindle and the Nook as soon as it's finished. I'm not quite through with the writing, and the cover art isn't quite ready, but, hopefully, that will be soon. Although the Tib stories are kid accessible, the prelude is not. In my opinion. Basically, you should read it and decide whether you think it's too mature for your children. I'm not going to be letting my kids read it, though. Well, maybe the 15-year-old.

Here's the 2nd person story. Let me know what you think!

Locked In

You wake up slowly. But not gradually. Not smoothly. You wake up in fits and starts realizing that hunger gnaws at you. It is with annoyance that you realize that you’ve slept longer than you had intended. A lot longer if the hunger pangs are any indication. Your previous exertions must have taken more out of you than you had thought.

You climb out of what passes for your bed, grimacing at the stiffness in your limbs. Yes, you have, indeed, slept longer than you had intended, and your body cries out for sustenance. Idly, you wonder what the date is. Not that it really matters. Dates don’t mean anything to you.

You climb the stairs leading up from the cellar into the darkened interior of the house you make your dwelling place. How lucky you were to have found it flits into your head, but you correct yourself. Fortunate, not lucky. You don’t believe in luck. And you did pay the agent handsomely to find a house that suited your needs. Yes, you were fortunate to have found such a perfect house. The sheet-draped furniture looks ghostly in the darkness, vaguely reflecting the dim light sifting in from outside. The twinge of a smile hints about your lips, but it is not related to the décor. Tonight, you have no time for ambiance. Tonight, you feel the need only for the hunt.

You feel the setting of the sun, and you step outside, pulling the door closed behind you. You don’t bother to lock it. Few are foolhardy enough that they would try to enter your sanctum, and you would welcome them if they did. Welcome them in the way that a spider welcomes a fly that enters its web. There are children still at play outside. They freeze at the sight of you, sensing your presence in the same way a hare senses the hawk above as its shadow passes overhead. Although they are wise to fear you, they have no reason for that fear. You know better than to hunt where you live. Not that they aren’t… tempting.

As you move slowly down the steps of the house that everyone tries to avoid looking at, the children relocate to the front porch of a house at the other end of the street. You move in that direction for no other reason than that it brings you pleasure to see them squirm. Squirm like vermin in the dirt when a stone is moved or like termites when a rotting log is suddenly split open. This time, the smile is not fleeting.

It’s been too long since you’ve had a young one, but the desire is alive in you, tonight, thanks to those children. If the humans didn’t get so worked up over their missing young, you’d partake more often, but you have to be more than careful to not be discovered when you go after the young. Still, every so often, you can get away with it, and tonight will be one of those nights.

You move through the city, all of your senses alert in a way that no human’s ever can be. You are as much a part of the night as the darkness and the wind. And, like the wind, you flow from place to place being felt but not seen, leaving a quiet shudder in those you pass by, the angel of death, and they never know of their good fortune on this night. How magnanimous you feel, allowing them to go their way, keep their petty, fleeting lives.

Finally, you find what you are looking for, a gathering of young ones. And in a church, which makes it so much better. They will probably think that their faith, that the church itself, will protect them, and, once, long ago, it would have, but so very, very few people have faith anymore. It’s the ones that think they do that you enjoy the most. It makes it so much more… fun.

There are a couple of dozen people inside the little church. A matronly woman and a few of the teenagers in a small kitchen. A young man hardly older than a child himself in an office with another of them. The rest are in the chapel watching a movie. Two of them, thinking themselves clever, have sequestered themselves back in the pews to make out. Young lovers in a church locked up tighter than a drum. You wonder if it could possibly get any better. Of course, you will kill them all.

The locked building is of no hindrance to you, and, reveling in your power, you decide to play the part of the cat and toy with your food, first, before you feast. After all, you have no idea how long it will be before another opportunity like this one will present itself, so you should make the absolute most of it.

You creep along the ceiling allowing a hint of your presence to wash over the pitiful humans below. You smile as they grow restless and uneasy for no reason that they can understand. When their fear reaches ripeness, you drop down amongst them bestowing panic upon them like a benediction. You exalt in the chaos and screams and reach for one of them, the one with long, flowing blond hair.

You bare your fangs at her, preparing to sink them into her smooth, warm flesh that pulses with life, but she passes out in your hands. With a growl, you fling her aside. There is no pleasure without the struggle; you’ll come back for her when you have finished with the others. You reach for another, but you are suddenly and unexpectedly pierced with pain.

You can’t figure out what is happening. The pain is incomprehensible, piercing through your back into your heart. Slowly, and with full awareness, you fall to the floor, sprawled out on your face. You hear one of them, “Is it dead?” And another, “Why doesn’t it turn to dust?” And, “This isn’t Buffy, stupid.”

“Go get my copy of Dracula from my office, Tom.”

You feel confident that is the young man. You can now feel his faith, true faith, washing over you in revolting waves, sickening you. But you can’t move. You lie frozen on the floor, helpless, and you find yourself wishing that you had some deity to pray to. You begin to hope fervently that they believe the stake has finished you off. You have a chance if they just toss you out like this.

It grows quiet. The silence is a torment. The silence of the true grave. Faintly, you hear the turning of pages. There is mumbled talk of beheading and burning, and you wish you could scream. How pitiful… taken by your own prey. They lift your body and begin to drag you to the small graveyard behind the church, and you know that you go to your final resting place.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Defending the Creator

Somewhat recently, CNN ran an article about Steven Spielberg and his part in the most recent Indiana Jones film. I could link it for you, but I feel the article was fairly worthless. It began something like this, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was not a very good movie." I disagree with this approach (even if I sometimes make similar statements about various... things). I especially disagree with it from a source like CNN which should confine itself to objectivity (except in editorial sections). And especially since the article was not actually about the movie but about Spielberg's role in one particular scene.

My kids are... difficult... when it comes to food. Well, the oldest isn't quite as difficult as he used to be. Now that he's entered his I'm-a-teenage-boy-and-I-will-eat-anything stage, he does, pretty much, eat anything that's put in front of him. It's a nice change from when he was younger and ketchup was too "spicy" for him (anything with any flavor was too "spicy" for him). My younger boy loves spicy food as long as it's meat. Trying to get plant life into him is like trying to put a cat into a toilet (no, I've never actually done that, but I know someone who did). And my daughter... well, my daughter is a carb hound. Trying to get protein into her is almost as difficult as trying to get plants into my son (except that she'll eat almost anything if there's a "treat" on the other side of eating it). We've spent a lot of time teaching them the proper way of saying they don't like particular foods. Especially when they are guests in other people's homes.

Here's a hint: the proper way is not to say, "This food isn't very good food."

The proper way is to say something like, "I don't care for this." Let me change the emphasis a little: "I don't care for this."

I'm not here to defend Indy 4. People didn't like it. However, if people could be objective about it, I think they would realize that, pretty much, Indy 4 is just like the other 3 Indiana Jones films. I rank it #3 out of the 4, and I can even get more behind the nuked fridge than I could Indy stopping the mining cart with his feet and then evaporating the water in the puddle because they were so hot. That always struck me as cartoonish, and Temple of Doom has always been the least of Indiana Jones to me.

What I will say is this, people don't like Indy 4 because they don't understand the history behind the movie. Lucas actually captures a fairly perfect snapshot of the personality of the 50s in Kingdom. It's great. You have the "Red Threat." You have experiments into telepathy and other mind control programs that both  the US and the USSR were heavily into during the 50s. You have aliens. Aliens were huge in the 50s and were a cultural metaphor for the coming communist invasion (like zombies are today for the loss of humanity to technology (which I've already done a post about)). It's really everything you could hope for in an Indiana Jones movie set in the 50s. If you know and understand the history.

As a complete aside, the article was about the fridge nuking scene which Lucas gets blamed for, because Lucas gets blamed for everything. The interviewer was really trying to get Spielberg to jump onto the Lucas-hating bandwagon. There was an exchange something along the lines of, "With all of the really great movies you've made, how could you be involved in a piece of crap like Indy 4?" To which Spielberg replied with something like, "I'd be involved in any piece of crap from Lucas because Lucas is my friend, and I believe in him." And, then, Spielberg revealed that the fridge nuking scene was his creation and that he's proud to have added the phrase "nuking the fridge" to pop culture. Yea, Spielberg!

Okay, so... now to the point:

People give Lucas a lot of crap these days over, well, everything he does. They don't like that he's made alterations to the original trilogy of Star Wars films. They don't like the prequels. They don't like The Clone Wars because it's a cartoon. blah blah blah
My response is pretty much "tough." Oh, and "shut up." I'm freaking tired of all the whining people do about Star Wars. And Indiana Jones.

Here's the thing: Lucas created Star Wars; he can do with it what he wants. It's like a house. Lucas' house. And he's invited us all inside for a visit. An extended visit. We got all comfortable in there, and we like it a particular way. But it's still Lucas' house. If he wants to add some new decorations to it, guess what, he gets to do that! If he wants to rip out some walls and rebuild parts of it, guess what, he gets to do that! If he wants to add new wings onto the house, guess what, he gets to do that, too! It's HIS house. We don't really get to complain about it, because he's sharing. Wait, let me say that again. He's sharing something that belongs to him, something that he made, with us. And he doesn't have to do it. And we don't have to participate. That's the key that people miss. If you don't like it, stop trying to keep living in Lucas' house! Go and create your own stuff!

Oh, wait... heh

I suppose this is a subject that's really close to my heart. I really believe in the right of the creator to create the way he wants to create. It's up to the audience if they want to participate, and it's up to the creator to decide how much he wants to... bend his creation to appeal to a wider audience. But, in the end, it belongs to the creator, not the audience, and the audience doesn't have the right to complain about changes the creator wants to make.

There's a difference between "I like the old version better," and "These changes you make suck." One is stating a preference, one is coming from a place of entitlement. The audience, the guests, have no entitlement. At any point, Lucas could say, "You know what? I'm tired of all of you people hanging out in my house and bitching and moaning all the time. Leave." So far, he's been a pretty nice guy, and he hasn't done that.

I hear some of you out there thinking about the fact that we have to pay to get into Lucas' house, and he's using that money to change things around on us. Still, you don't have to pay. That's your choice. Seriously. That's your choice. If you don't like the changes, quit paying the money and quit participating in the event. Just go home. Go home and create your own world/universe/whatever.

Oh, wait... heh

Part of all of this relates to how to be a good critique partner, too. See, there's a proper way: "I don't understand this part, right here." "This part doesn't do anything for me." "I don't feel an emotional connection to this character."
And there's a wrong way, "This part sucks." "You should re-write this part to be more like this." "You need to get rid of this character, because I don't like him."

As I said, it's up to the creator to decide how much he wants to bend his creation to appeal to an audience whether it's an audience of 1 or 1,000,000. The audience doesn't get to demand changes. As much as I dislike the whole Twilight thing and how silly I think sparkly vampires are, I don't get to tell Ms. Meyer how to write her books. I get to choose not read them and not to watch the movies. She didn't write "bad" books; she wrote books I don't like. And I'm not eating them. Um, reading them. Evidently, a lot of other people do like them, though, and that's okay. I don't like avocados, either, but a lot of people do.

In the end, it's about being civil. It's about making "I" statements (yea, popular psychology, too) and not trashing someone else's work. My wife and I spend a lot of time with our kids with this kind of thing, but, I think, it's not just kids that need to learn this stuff. And I'm not excluding myself here, because I love to rant about how stupid I think some things are (but I'm having to watch that, because I think my daughter might want to read Twilight, and, you know, if she wants to read it, I'm not going to tell her "no" (and it would just be rude of me to trash it if she decides she likes it (if she decides to read it at some point))). We can all learn to guard our words and make them safe for other people to hear.

Just a note:
No one has done this to me (recently), so this isn't me getting my dander up because of some bad critique I got. This all related to this CNN article and the cavalier way the writer of the article went about tearing into Lucas and his creation. This isn't about defending Lucas, either. He has more wealth than I can ever imagine (and I can imagine quite a bit), so he doesn't need me to defend him. This completely about the rights of the creator to play with their creation without other people getting pissy about it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Creative Answers and Creative Writing

First off, I got tagged by Michael Offutt for this new meme that's running around. These things seem to be really contagious with an almost 100% infection rate. I'm wearing protective gear as I write this, so, hopefully, not too many of you will catch it. Unless, you know, you want to. But I'll get to that in a bit. It's a fairly simple meme other than the fact that it involves time travel, and my flux capacitor is on the fritz. So is my police box. And that's unfortunate, because I was trying to use it for extra storage space, and it suddenly spit everything out as it returned to its normal interior dimensions. I was sad. So here are the questions and the answers:
1. If you could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be?
Um... I don't really understand this question. At least, not in respect to the next question. I just get to go back and relive it? Which implies I must have lived it once already, so I can't just go back and experience some moment in time, but it has to be one of my own moments. And I'm just reliving it, but I can do that by remembering it, so what's the point? Maybe to approach the experience with a different sense of appreciation, in which case I would pick the first time I saw Star Wars. I had no idea of what I was walking into, and it might be interesting to be able to go into that theater all those years ago with an appreciation of the impact it was going to have on my life.
However, reflecting on Michael's answer, I might go back to this trip to Washington D.C. when my friends and I stopped in some hole-in-the-wall diner for burgers. Best burger ever. Seriously. Even if they didn't want to serve us and we feared for our lives. The burgers made it worth it.

2. If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?
See, I don't know if this question is related to the previous one or not. Change one thing in my life or change anything? How do I know what the consequences would be? Although there are things in my life that I would do differently, I wouldn't do them differently if they wouldn't get me to where I am now. I have a great family. Wonderful wife. Awesome kids. I wouldn't do anything to risk that, so mucking about in time is not something I'm very inclined to do.
However, if I could be assured that my family would stay intact, I might go back to the Roman Empire and support their steam engine technology (Did you know the Romans invented the steam engine? Well, they did.) just to see where we would be, today, if the steam engine had gone into use, basically, 2000 years earlier.

3. What movie/TV character do you most resemble in personality?
This question doesn't work all that well for me, because I don't really watch a lot of television. And how does this question relate at all to the previous two? Should I pick a time travelling character? But, no, that doesn't really work.
If I have to pick someone, my wife would probably say Bob the Tomato. If you don't know who that is... well, I don't know what to say about that. Runners up would be Monk and Sheldon Cooper.

4. If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would you choose?
Just one? I don't know how I could possibly choose. I mean, there's no one I actually hate enough to want to kill, and there are too many people that deserve it to pick just one. And are we talking about one person alive today or just anyone from history? The whole scenario is just too... ambiguous.

5. Name one habit you want to change in yourself.
Hmm... farmville? The farther through these questions I get, the more I wonder about the purpose behind them? Wait, wait! I have it! I would change my habit of not travelling in time. Yes, that's the one.

6. Why do you blog?
So I can discover the ability to travel in time? That seems to go along with the rest of these questions, and I can't think of a better reason. Of course, there's also the whole thing of giving people the opportunity to discover whom I am so that they'll want to buy my book(s). But time travel is a much cooler answer.

7. Name at least three people to send this to:
Since I'm trying to limit my contagiousness, I'm going to let you guys answer if you want to. Expose yourself to whatever kind of computer virus this is at your own discretion. But, um, yeah... three of you should definitely choose to answer these questions. At least three. You can let me know in the comments if you're gonna pass this on.

So that's it for the creative answers part of this post. Now, we move on to the creative writing part.

Starting today, I'll be teaching a creative writing class at my kids' school one day a week (in the middle school). Unfortunately, it's not a paid thing. But it is pretty cool. Going to a charter school, all the parents have to have some level of involvement at the school. Most often, this is just helping out in the class room or, maybe, grading papers. What I'm saying is that parents don't generally get to be involved in the academic side of things. That's probably as much the parents' decisions as the school's, though. There are a number of parents who contribute to the P.E. side of things and the drama group is parent lead, but that's about the extent of it that I've seen. At any rate, I'm excited to be doing this, even if it is a free gig. It should be fun.

My son (the younger one) had to have his classes switched around so that he could get to be in my class, and he's all excited, too. He was sort of grilling me this morning about what sort of things we're going to be doing, and I harassed him by telling him I was going to get to be harder on him than on everyone else in the class. I don't think he appreciated that very much. I am glad he's getting to be in it, though; he started writing his own novel at the beginning of the summer but quickly found out that it was harder than he thought. He hasn't gotten very far with it. Hopefully, having regular creative writing assignments will help get him in the habit of writing creatively.

In other, unrelated news:

I think I'm disliking November and this whole NaNo thing. Yeah, I know, blasphemy. But I think of Mork every time I see NaNo anywhere at this point. "NaNo, NaNo!" Just, you know, please don't start sitting on your heads. I suppose I'll see how the rest of the month goes before I make a final decision about this weird ritual.

We got a dog. It's about time. More on that to come, I'm sure. Maybe pictures if I ever get the camera set back up since the move.

Online sales in October for The House on the Corner were completely flat. That's less than heartening, but, overall, I suppose I've been doing okay. I wouldn't really know in all actuality, though. Maybe everyone is just waiting to hear what Michael has to say about it. It seems the trend that anyone he reviews gets a spike in sales afterward.

Well, it's time to go get ready for class...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Reading Dilemma

I had my first book presentation at a public school, last week. Well, a public school that's not the one my kids go to. That one doesn't count. Anyway...
So I get this call to come in and do a presentation at this middle school in the area. They're all very excited and so am I. Not that I wanted to let on that I was excited, but it's hard not to be. I get there just a little early, because I don't really know what they're expecting of me or where I'm going to be or, even, whom I'm presenting to other than that it has to do with the English department. Which is, you know, appropriate. It would have been kind of weird if I'd been called in by the math department. They take me over to the library, which is where I'm going to be (which was also good because I had a copy of The House on the Corner to donate to the library), and there are actually a few kids on their lunch break waiting to meet me. That's not something that I was expecting. Of course, the librarian totally embarrassed one of the kids by telling me how eager to meet me he was. He blushed and tried to play it off as no big deal, but it was fairly obvious he'd been waiting for me to come in. After shaking off his red face, he drifted over to me just about the time his bell rang, and he had to leave. But he was back for one of the presentations, so he did get to ask me a couple of questions.

The first class came in, I introduced myself, and I took a couple of questions. After that, I read the first chapter and, then, jumped ahead to read this bit that happens on Halloween night. I felt it was seasonally appropriate. After I read, I took questions for about 20 minutes or so. There was, of course, the expected, "What inspired you to write this book?" question.

And that's a very good question. Because I wasn't struck by inspiration for The House on the Corner so much as I went out and found it. I'd love to tell the story of that, but that's not what this post is about, so that will have to wait. At any rate, Tolkien and The Hobbit are involved in that story, so I asked the question, "Who's heard of J. R. R. Tolkien?" Blank stares. Seriously. I was met with a room full of blank stares. Not having hands might be expected, because, sometimes, kids don't want to raise their hands in that kind of situation, but you can generally tell who actually knows and is just trying not to raise their hand. But I was met with blank stares. Finally, after several moments, one of the teachers raised her hand and said he wrote The Lord of the Rings. Ah, some recognition and some mumbles about having seen the movies. I went on to explain that The Hobbit is one of the two books I think everyone should read.

When the class was leaving, the English teacher (not the one that had answered the question) came up to me and told me that I had inspired her to go read The Hobbit, because she had never read it. That's a good thing. Of course, I wish I could have inspired her to read my book, but, truthfully, my book is not one of the two books I think everyone should read. The Hobbit is a good start.

So I was distressed by the whole interaction about reading, and I realized that I'd forgotten to open with the question I meant to open with which was "Have any of you ever thought about being a writer when you grow up?" That question followed by an encouraging word about reading and writing like I talk about in this post. I did ask the second group that question and was met with identical blank stares as when I asked about Tolkien.

Before that, though, between groups, I asked the librarian what kind of reading participation they have at the school. Oh, my... I'm still having problems comprehending this. She said they had instituted a program a few years ago where the students earn points for doing reading and can exchange those points for... well, I don't know what, but they can exchange them for some kind of rewards. That sounded like a good idea until she said it had had basically no impact on the students. Then she showed me some of the reading statistics from the school.

They have one class of advanced readers. These are the best readers in the school. A middle school. Hundreds of kids. Out of hundreds of kids, they have two (in the whole school) that read at a high school level. They have two more that read at a middle school level. About half of the class of advanced readers read at a 5th grade level. The rest of the advanced readers are below that. This is the advanced class. The advanced class is full of kids reading below the level of my 8-year-old daughter. I had, and still don't, no idea of how to respond to that. I can't even begin to comprehend the kids in the rest of the school. The ones that aren't advanced. Is it a middle school full of kids who actually just can't read? I do know that California, as a state, had some of the poorest STAR test results in reading ever, last year.

The librarian went on to say that they really don't know what to do about it. They don't know if it's a problem with the school or the parents or both. They do know that none of the tactics they've tried so far have made any significant difference. I would say, though, that from the little I saw, the teachers don't set a good example for reading. Of course, I think the biggest influence for that is going to come from the home, but I'm not sure I would listen to a teacher telling me about how I should read more if the teacher wasn't a reader. And the librarian seemed to be not much of a reader considering how unfamiliar she was with the actual contents of the books in the library. But that's just a guess. Maybe she reads entirely different material. She was lacking in student book recommendations, though.

As a writer, the lack of reading distresses me. And it's not a distress that's about not being able to sell books to people that don't read. I just can't comprehend the lack of reading. Is it because Hollywood is so quick to make movies out of anything that looks remotely profitable? I do have kids asking me on a fairly regular basis about when I'm going to make my book into a movie. Because they don't understand that I can't just decide to do that. After all, I decided to write a book, so I must just be able to decide to make a movie, too. But this whole thing makes me question that. I don't really have a good answer.

Is reading a skill, like riding a horse, that's passing out of common usage? Are we going beyond needing it? To a place where visual media is replacing reading like automobiles replaced the horse? Like calculators (which I was never allowed to use when I was in school) have replaced the need to learn basic mathematics (because they actually have classes in how to use calculators and, not only are they allowed in classes, now, they're often required). Honestly, the whole thing scares me. The idea of a world without reading scares me. But, I'm sure, the idea of a world without horses used to scare some people, too.

The one solace I  have in all of this is that the public school system clings to tradition like no other institution in the United States. Despite all the data supporting changing the way some things are done, the school system clings to its traditions and its "we've always done it this way" mentality. As long as that is maintained, I'm sure reading will stay in the schools even if 50% of people never touch another book after they graduate.