Monthly Archives: May 2011

Writing Sucks

How’s that for a juvenile sounding blog title?

Let me tell you about my weekend. By some weird quirk of fate (either that or a weird husband–you choose), I ended up with Memorial Day weekend all to myself. Yes!! Yes, yes yes!!! On Friday evening, my family hugged and kissed me and exited their boring desert world for a weekend in the Big City. I hunkered down in my desert house for a weekend of writing.

Saturday was great. I had very nearly rewritten the first half of one of my WIPs, so I plunged in and edited the new work, and then finished off the chapter I had previously left undone. I was prepped to breeze through the second half of the book the next day–because the second half of the book was obviously splendid and didn’t need to be rewritten.

Sunday began slowly because I decided to attend church simply so I could partake in the Lord’s Supper. So by the time I arrived home and watered my plants and fixed a pot of coffee, it was already 10 a.m. No biggie, I thought. The second half of the book was going to be a breeze.

As soon as I began editing, I knew I was mistaken. The second half sucked. Really sucked. It was not brilliant. It was not splendid and in need of minor line-editing. Every chapter needed an overhaul. Every last one. Except maybe the epilogue–all two pages of it.

I sucked it up. I took a deep breath and made notes on how I needed to change each chapter. Then the phone rang, and seeing as how it was a writing friend, I allowed him to encourage me with words like these: “Don’t worry, Jill. Even if you never make money off your writing in this lifetime, you have a reward waiting for you in heaven.” Damn good thing I was talking to a phone and not a person because my writing friend might have gotten a smack. No, that’s not true. I don’t smack people. Ever.

I wheedled my way off the phone and started again with gusto. And then the old questions of time travel arose. In the second half of this WIP, my protagonist time travels. In early versions of the book, I debated how far in the past to set the pre-time-travel scenes and had most recently decided she could follow my own age progression, which was a horrendous mistake because that meant the latter half of my book would be set in the year 2022.

I’m not a sci fi writer. I don’t go about predicting near future technology–that’s way more work than I want for my humble story. So I had to go back to the first half and date it in the year 1995 (which was my original date, anyway!!) and change all the technology references. 1995 is perfect (so why did I ever change it?) because the internet was happening; it was just a little different. No Google, for example. And cell phones? Yep, people used them, but they didn’t take pictures with them. But they gabbed on them–oh, yes, I remember it very well from working in customer service in the 90s (“May I help you?” I ask. Woman on phone holds up her finger and whispers, “Just a second,” and continues to talk on phone while long line forms behind her, and I stand at the counter waiting and sighing.)

Now, my protagonist has time-traveled to the year 2014, which is doable for me. I can deal with 2014, unless the apocalypse occurs before then, in which case none of this will matter, anyway.

What’s my conclusion after today? Well, writing sucks. Not to mention, I am a TERRIBLE writer. I’m the worst writer EVER. Can’t you tell by all my fragmented thoughts? Can’t you tell by the way my brain has cracked?

I’m going to make another pass at this. I have this evening and tomorrow left at my disposal. Because writers, especially terrible ones, never know when to quit.


The Case For Robot Mimes

Give welcome to my special guest blogger, Big Ol’ Jer! 

I have been thinking. That’s a problem. Most of the time, thinking gets me into trouble. This time, however, I think I have an idea whose time has come.  Two words: Robot Mimes.  Now, I know this may sound off the wall at first, but let me explain.  I really see a need for robot mimes in society.

First, consider the value of a robot mime.  You would be able to shut it off any time you wanted.  How many times have you heard of mimes annoying people?  You all know the story: someone is walking through a park, or down a street.  Along comes a mime.  The mime starts mimicking the person.  The mime gets in the person’s way.  The person gradually becomes more and more frustrated as he tries to go about his business. This situation quickly deteriorates into frustration on both sides. 

With a robot mime, the person could simply touch a button and shut down the robot at the first sign of frustration.  If you try to turn off a mime under the current system, everyone gets upset.  Even if you’re unsuccessful, the court still calls it attempted murder.  Think of that–avoiding the hassle and anger through a simple button.  This would be a vast improvement.

Another reason to create robot mimes is the good will it would create for the high tech industry.  For years people have complained about having their jobs taken over by machines.  If robots take over the miming industry, everyone will be happy.  Except the mimes, of course.  If that bothers you, ask yourself this: “Do I really care what a mime thinks?  After all, if a man wants to paint his face and pretend he’s in a box, is his opinion really important?”  The public will be overjoyed by mimes they can shut down. It will be amazing.  There is sure to be a 705 % increase in the popularity of the company that begins this campaign.  Citizens would carry on conversations like this:

“Gosh, Tony, I know Swindler Inc dumped reactor cores in Lake Tahoe, but they gave us Robot Mimes we can turn off.”

“You’re right, Sam. I guess the state can dredge the lake.”

A decrease in unemployment figures would also result from a robot mimes industry.  Someone would have to polish and shine them.  Even the most unemployable freak from the insane asylum can shine a robot mime.  Then there would have to be field supervisors to watch the freaks work, to make sure they were doing their jobs.  The supervisors would also make sure they were only doing their jobs and not something illegal.  All the homeless who are now standing on on-ramps begging could shine mimes.  The increase in taxes and revenue from these mimeshiners and mimeshiner bosses would be a boost to the economy. 

I think you can begin to see the advantages of robot mimery. If you have any questions or comments about Robot Mimes, please fill in the box below.    

p.s. Thank you, Big Ol’ Jer, for bringing this important idea to the forefront. I will not be blogging later this week due to scheduling conflicts. If I don’t see you before Wednesday, I’ll see you next week, same time, same place!


The World is Sublime When Humanity Disappears

The mountains are ecstatic…None but…God know how to join so much beauty with so much horror.–Thomas Gray

We’re lost in it. We’re lost in a world of deep canyons, tangled forests, and high, craggy peaks. We’re lost in a maze of civilizations, modern and ancient. Our own edifices tower over us, not to mentions God’s.

Where are we? We’re specks at the base of the peaks. We’re ghostly images at the opening of the tombs. We’re stones gazing at the cosmos, at the pinpricks of light more massive than we are, light years away from us. We’re astronomers examining the images in heaven we can’t begin to comprehend.

We’re lost.  The beauty of the world is horrible. With our senses, we expect to ascertain the world, but we can’t. We’re blind, deaf, dumb, w/o taste, and numb. The enlightenment woke us, then put us to sleep. The age painted our figures in its picturesque, diminished us, rendered us meaningless–as ghosts.

The world is not sublime when humanity disappears. The purpose of speculative fiction is to find humanity. I propose that Christian speculative authors begin to pay attention to their purpose. Stop preaching. Slide the figures into prominence, pull them from their obscure spots, repaint them so we can see, hear, feel them. Don’t give us oblivion. Give us truth.

How do authors write truth? I’ll repeat myself: Stop preaching. Slide the figures into prominence, pull them from their obscure spots, repaint them so we can see, hear, feel them.

Because in the daylight, the tomb is empty, and the ghost has escaped, reentered the world. And where will we find him?

Paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby, taken from Olga’s Gallery 
Quote from Picturesque


Non Violators Need Not Apply

I’ve always wanted to write humor. In fact, I’ve written several partial comic novels and a few completed short comedies. Comedy doesn’t come naturally to me in the least. As a matter of fact, it’s something I analyze a little too much, which probably means I’ll never be a stand-up comedian. But then, it’s unlikely I’d ever be a stand-up anything–except maybe a stand-up citizen (oops, that might be a Malaprop). Because of my natural tendency to analyze humor, I found this article both enlightening and funny: One Professor’s Attempt to Explain Every Joke Ever. According to the article, psychology and marketing professor Peter McGraw has developed a simple theory to explain what makes jokes funny–benign violation. It’s a simplistic way of looking at humor, yet it explains why audiences find pies in the face, slipping on banana peels, and some “acceptable” racist or sexist jokes amusing. Actual violation hasn’t yet occurred; nobody has actually harmed the guy who got a pie in the face; nobody has actually beaten the tar out of a dumb blond or a Polack. What has occurred is a nonviolent violation of the norm, or a departure of what we expect because of our moral and rational views of the world.

I like clean, simple explanations. I long for them because they reduce the complexity of the world into tag lines, very much like jokes do. Clean explanations and punchlines are beautiful ways of looking at the world, and I lack the natural ability to do either. Simple ideas explain so much. For example, I now understand why my comedy critique partner doesn’t laugh at most of what I write. My humor is almost always based off of irony. From my perspective, ironies abound in the world, and I layer them on one by one when I’m attempting to write comedy. I find them funny–why don’t others? Why did my critique partner sit deadpan reading one of my comic novels, until he arrived at a scene in which the male protagonist lures the neighbor’s cat to his house w/ catnip? I didn’t find that scene funny. I used it only to show the lengths this character would go to to get his way. Why did my critique partner nearly fall off his chair? Ah, yes–the simple explanation–benign violation. Being the neighborhood kitty drug-pusher is a moral violation of the benign sort. If my protagonist had lured a little boy to his house w/ a spliff, the violation would no longer have fallen into the benign category.

However, the professor’s explanation doesn’t explain why a benign violation to one person might be a malicious violation to another. As a case in point, I don’t find blond jokes amusing. I find them denigrating, most likely because I’m a blond female who’s always lacked self-confidence. I grew up being called a dumb blond, and a part of me still believes it. You could tell me to lighten up, to laugh at life a little more. But it’s much harder to force laughter when the joke’s on me. In that sense, the theory changes into one of jokes and pranks and slapstick are funny because they’re not violating me. I’m not the one hurting. I’m not the one w/ pie in my face.

Going back to my comedy critique partner (yes, I do have one!), I understand now why he didn’t find my irony amusing. What I don’t understand is why some people laugh at my humor and others don’t. With beta readers, I’ve found it to be a fifty-fifty proposition. About half of my readers/friends/family will laugh, and the other half won’t get it. How does that fit into the benign violation theory? Does irony upset some people’s expected outcomes, while others expect the unexpected?

What do you think of the idea that comedy is funny because it violates social norms in benign ways? What do you find funny? Oh, wait, don’t tell me you laugh at blond jokes! Do you? Hit me with your best shot, then. I dare you.


I’m Going to Write a Post About. . .Beer!

I grew up in Portland, where the smell of hops mingled with the muddy breezes blowing off the Willamette River. The fragrance of hops was the smell of downtown Portland, at least until the late nineties, when the Henry-Weinhard Brewery sold its operations to Miller, who moved the brewery to Washington. To lose a piece of Portland’s history to Miller is a sad affair, indeed. But, don’t despair over the loss of Henry-Weinhard’s, because Oregon is rich with micro breweries that craft some of the tastiest beers around–better than HW’s, I have to add, if only in a whisper.

Why, you ask, am I bringing this up now? Have I finally cracked (well, yes, if you read my previous post you know I have) from living in New Mexico for too many years? New Mexico is known for its wines, not beers. New Mexico is, in fact, the oldest wine-grape-growing region in the country, but that’s the subject for another article. In part, I’m feeling nostalgic for a beverage I no longer enjoy. My gluten intolerance, which has worsened in the past few years, makes beer drinking a dangerous activity. I don’t prefer to spend the night doubled over in cramps, regardless of how little gluten remains in beer after the brewing process. Oh, how I used to love beer, though. I loved all kinds, too, as long as they were high quality–pale ales and porters and stouts and nut-browns.

And for the other part, beer reminds me of literature. Not so long ago, I had noticed a sentiment among writer-bloggers of belittling writers who wanted to be critics of literature, as well. Readers don’t care about the same craft devices that writers do, which renders writers’ critiques useless, not to mention snobbish, to those uneducated masses who simply know how to read and conversely know nothing about craft. Never have these readers had to dissect Shakespeare in English classes, apparently, nor have they sat through lectures on sentence structure, essay/poetry/story structure, theme, or symbolism. Of course, that’s utter nonsense. If they graduated from high school, they sat through these kinds of lectures.

The snobbery of treating readers as if they’re uninformed irritated me. I vented my frustrations to my husband, who happens to be a reader rather than a writer, and I thought he would agree with me and justly be offended by the notion that readers aren’t that smart or observant. Instead, he changed the subject and talked about beer.

The bitter truth of it (thanks Deschutes brewery!) is that the same types exist in the beer-drinking trade as in the reading trade.

The lowest common denominator of beer drinkers will buy cases of Budweiser or Coors or, God forbid, Hamm’s. They love to drink beer, but they don’t know or care about quality or craft. They buy a lot of beer, they like it cold, and they like it in quantity.

Residing on the next step are the beer drinkers who’ve tasted the good stuff, but they prefer to buy the cheaper beer and only occasionally play the snob with a Sam Adams or a Dos Equis. They may or may not know anything about the crafting of beer.

The next group up on the ladder to heavenly brews prefers the best kind of beer and wouldn’t consider lowering themselves and their drinking experience to a Bud Light, even if the Bud was free. Still, though, they know nothing about craft–they just know what tastes good.

The next group are the aficionados, who can talk for hours about crafting techniques, while savoring the good stuff. They study their beers for balance and quality of ingredients. They look for mastery. They long for it!

And then, of course, the brew masters run up and down the ladder–some brew Bud quality and some brew Blue Heron quality. They know their craft, but they also know their audience. Does my audience want a cooler full of beer to drink away the night, or do they want something with a creamy top served by the side of an expensive gourmet hamburger or a pizza baked in a wood-fired oven? Brew masters find themselves soul-searching, looking for their niche. Or maybe they only ruminate this way in my imagination. Who knows?

Needless to say, the vast quantity of beer drinkers reside on the first  three steps of the ladder. But sometimes beer drinkers will surprise  you. Sometimes you’ll find a Bud light drinker who knows all about the crafting of beer and still prefers Bud. Sometimes you’ll find that the world isn’t a black and white place, in which beer drinkers and readers can be easily quantified.

My analogy breaks down at a certain level–and I’ve already hinted at it. All high school graduates in this country have sat through grammar and Shakespeare, and if not Shakespeare, then some other highly esteemed literature. Nobody is forced to sit through lectures on beer crafting, though it should be a mandatory subject, right up there with algebra (oh, come on, why not?). Yet nobody would tell a brew master that he isn’t allowed to critique beers by what he knows of craft, simply because the average beer drinker might not know or care about hops and malt, might not know that it takes more than just a recipe and a group of ingredients to create great brews–that it also takes inspiration and talent and hard work.

But you’d probably be surprised at what the average person knows.

Now for the nitty-gritty. What’s your favorite beer (if you have one)?  And what do you think of writers reviewing literature?