Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Shewolf or When It All Comes Down to Tragedy

It’s interesting how something I read that has little or nothing to do with what I’m living or writing can change how I think. I was reading a book about Queen Isabella of England. She was a medieval British queen who was often called the She-Wolf of France (not in a nice way. People had a thing against strong women). She held power for only a few brief years, after which her lover was murdered. Having been in a loveless marriage for seventeen years and spending more then thirty years in “retirement” afterwards that period of time where she was free must have seemed so brief. In the middle of it did she think it would never end? That she could be free to love who she wanted, rule as she’d hoped, and never fear someone’s power over her? All of those ended abruptly in a coup that wrecked everything. She lost her money, her power, her unborn child and it’s father. The words of the poets have attributed this saying to her: Now, Mortimer, begins our tragedy*.

How many of us will begin our tragedy?  Having survived storms I find myself terrified of enduring another one. I must live my life with the knowledge that every good thing that I receive or build can be lost in an instant. Yet if I keep that awareness of tribulation I risk souring the times when it’s not around. It’s one of the paradox’s of being human, knowledge mixed with action and inaction.

At the same time we struggle with reading about truly tragic characters. Yes they may experience dark times, but the end always needs to be a happily ever after. The problems is that I’m not sure what constitutes a happily ever after, and I’m really not sure that they’re the best thing for all our stories.

It’s a difficult world we live in. No human being makes it through unscathed. How that comes across in the stories we tell shows more about us then our characters.

*from the play Edward the Second by Christopher Marlowe. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kitty Comes Home

Sleeping after her long flight.
 Didn't take her long to find my side of the bed!
A long time ago in a land far far away (seriously, Billings MT is a long way from Philadadelphia) my poor desperate parents couldn’t think of what to get me for my birthday. Seventeen is a rough year for presents, especially since I’d already graduated but couldn’t yet move out. So they decided to get me a cat.

It was an awesome present. I’m a tried and true cat lady and my last cat had died two years earlier. The overcrowded shelter my mom took me to was Nirvana for a cat lover. It took me over three hours to pick Willow. I thought she was a quiet cat who hid from scary strangers. The truth was she was a loud cat hiding from scary bigger cats. We got along famously. She’s still one of the best cats I’ve ever had.

The thing they didn’t think about was what the future held. I moved out less then a year later, leaving these poor people with an animal that they really didn’t know what to do with. I would be in and out of the house over the next four years but for the most part she became my parents to deal with. The  four years after that were even worse. I got married and took off. Willow is a social cat and needs lots of attention. Being a cat in a dog person household meant that she wasn’t happy and neither was anyone else.

That leads me to today. Eight years since she first came home with me she made a trip. She was taken to the vet, bundled in a carrier, and flown 2000 miles to Philadelphia. That was probably the worst day of her life but one of the best of mine. When she showed up stressed and tired it felt like bringing her home the first time, only better. After all, we were already friends.

She loves the tortured noises
my tablet makes when she sits on it.
I’d been wanting to bring her out here for years. My parents had been hinting that they wanted her to come live with me, but distance and finances were always in the way. When Jonathon got a new job and I was at home alone it was time for us to get a pet. And the only one I wanted was the one I already had.

Jonathon was amazing. He and my dad arranged it all without me knowing. I think I squealed and jumped around in a circle a couple dozen times when I found out! Obviously I was super chill about it all. When we brought her home I was terrified that the long trip had permanently traumatized her, but as soon as we got in the house she took it over like the champ she is. Soon enough it was me who was having the trouble adjusting to her being here.

Some people have asked me why I bothered trekking her all the way out here. It would have been easier and cheaper to find a new home for her and get a new cat out here. All I can say is that I love her. To me she’s not just a disposable part. I could get another cat, and love another cat, but it wouldn’t be her. She can’t put her two cents in so it’s up to me to make the decisions. When I brought her home as a teenager I committed to her that I would take care of her. She’s nine years old now and probably has another nine years of life left. I’ll take care of her through all of them, and make sure she has a good home.

As I write this she’s sleeping next to me. She’s snoring loudly in the way only a cat can manage cutely. All I know is that seeing her here with me makes me feel I’ve finally come home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Continuing Education for Writers Part 1

After the first wave of rejection letters started coming in for Novel #1, I knew I needed to find a way to become a better author. In case you’re wondering, my formal education was pretty limited. Traditional school up until 8th grade, then haphazard homeschooling, with a final year and a half of college before it petered out. This isn’t something I’m particularly proud of but I can’t change it. Instead I knew that I needed to get an education in writing and genre in the only way I knew how- by teaching myself.

One of the biggest helps has been following the general advice of reading book in my genre published in the last two years. Me being me I didn’t leave it at that. I started reading publication announcements. Every month I would get sixteen books from the library, eight original novels and eight sequels, that had been published six months previously. What was interesting is that I never read the cover blurb- I went at these books completely cold. Okay, that’s a lie. By the last six months or so I checked Goodreads star ratings and kicked out anything that was shelved under dystopian*. Over the course of three years I read hundreds of books. In the end it was too many books a month and I ended up overloading myself, but it was valuable while it lasted.

I learned way more from doing this then I ever would have thought. First off I was reading widely for the first time. Almost all of these books were speculative YA, but there’s a huge amount of diversity under that banner. Like anyone I have a list of preferences a mile long that I use to choose a book. Without those I was reading vampire books, paranormal romance, adventure books, and others. Books I would normally steer clear of. It gave me an appreciation for these subgenres even if they aren’t my favorite thing.

The most important thing I learned what made all books the same. After reading so many varied stories I started to see the construction underneath. It was like going to the theater and watching a play from behind. I could see the where the set pieces were glued together. I could tell when a performer was early of late. I might not have had a professor to guide me, but I had an army of my peers to show me how writing a book is done.

This has allowed me to experience a significant jump in my writing skills. I can clearly see a difference in the books I wrote before I started my reading program and after. I approach my projects with the ability to think critically about them. That clarity is an excellent tool that I wouldn’t have gotten any other way and I can’t speak highly enough of it.

Well, that’s all for the first part of my whitefly education. Part two is coming soon!

*It’s not that I hate the genre, it was just that some of the tropes are problematic for me.