Saturday, July 31, 2010

If you have to share your birthday with someone, why not someone who ROCKS at Quidditch?

No, it's not my birthday--rather, it is the anniversary of the first time I gave birth which, in my opinion, not only qualifies me for as much cake as I want, but some sort of medal.

But today is a different sort of birthday for me. Today, officially, I have become the mother of a teenager.
A teenager! Aww.... when did I get so old? Was it the other night when my husband and I were watching Modern Family and we realized we identified with sitcom parents now better than those ridiculously attired sitcom kids? I dunno... maybe. But it seems just moments ago Dr. Haas proclaimed "It's a girl!" and, with the good doctor's proclamation I suddenly remembered that which I'd been striving to achieve over the preceding 24-1/2 hours. (For those of you who have gone through long and difficult labors, you know that there comes a point when your consciousness becomes removed from reality; a moment when you cease to give cognitive credence to the fact that there is a reason for this excruciating exhaustion and that, contrary to all reason, you yourself were partially responsible for bringing such agony upon yourself. But then it's over and--oh, BLISS!--"It's a girl!")

Miss Delaney Olivia came into the world at 4:37 a.m. , July 31, 1997 and my heart was lost--forever doomed to travel the world outside my body, as the saying goes. And what a trip it's been so far! Delaney has grown from a cartoon-voiced Olsen Twins look-alike (think Full House Mary-Kate & Ashley , not rehab Mary-Kate & Ashley) to a funny and intelligent burgeoning beauty; a lovely young woman-child whose sly wit and love of/obsession with books (don't know where she gets that!) makes me smile and challenges me to grow.

And today, she's a teenager. Oy.

With only 365 days in a year, we all share our birthdays with a multitude of Someones. (Among the faceless horde I share mine with actor Don Johnson, which was really cool when I was in 7th grade, but... not so much now.) My Delaney is no exception. First of all, she was born on her Grandmother's birthday, which is about the coolest birthday present you could EVER give your mom (Dave's mom, actually.) But we have since learned that Miss Delaney shares her illustrious date of birth with two wonderful and terribly famous individuals; two people (though one is the fictional creation of the other) who have played a huge role in Delaney's development as a reader and a thinker.

In 1997, Delaney was born. And so, for all intents and purposes, was Harry Potter. Though his year of "birth" is generally thought to be 1980, no one but his creator got to hold that lightning-bolt scarred baby until the first installment of J.K. Rowling's epic series was published in (wait for iiitttt...) 1997. Yep. 1997. How cool is that? And the coolness of my girl's special day just keeps getting better. Ms. Rowling herself shares Delaney's birthday. And when did Harry receive that first, life-changing summons to Hogwarts?

On July 31st.

His eleventh birthday.

I'd say my daughter is in pretty good company. Grandma V, Jo, Harry, and Delaney.

July 31st.

And here you thought it was just another Saturday.

Though I was already a devoted fan of the talented Ms. Rowling, Delaney first read Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone at the age of 10, in fourth grade. From that point on there was no turning back. For a girl who had yet to become addicted to the power of the written word, J.K. Rowling's series not only lit a love for literature within my girl, it sent it straight to Super Nova.

Now about to start 8th grade, Delaney's love for these treasured tomes has not decreased. She has read the entire series forward and backward more times than I can count. (okay, forward a bit more. Backward only once to my knowledge. really. she did. Delaney read the books in backward order: 7,6,5,4,3,2,1 one time so she could 'catch more clues' that way.) My little firstborn has become one of the foremost experts on all things Potter.

I am so proud!

So as we're eating our treacle tarts and drinking our butter beer and pumpkin juice (or birthday cake and ice cream as the case may be) this evening I'll be sending warm happy birthday thoughts across the ocean to Jo in Scotland and to Harry... on my bookshelf.

Happy July 31st, everyone!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oh, Joy!

Between dust evacuations (we're having some drywall work done--it's very hard on electronic equipment and the central nervous system, hence the evacuation!) I am performing reconstructive surgery on The Ryn.

Meanwhile, I am today's featured author on Joy Tamsin David's "Work In Progress Wednesday" feature on her Edgy Inspirational blog today. Drop by Joy's place and say hello!
Coming soon...
My review of Ellen C. Maze's intriguing (Christian) Urban Fantasy novel, Rabbit: Chasing Beth Rider.

Monday, July 26, 2010

And the award for MOST (mildly) PROFANE goes to...

I happened to be exiting my kitchen following an extremely unsuccessful forage and caught a glimpse of the program to which my daughters were riveted.

(I'm really trying to get a handle on this "don't end a sentence with a preposition" stuff and deep into a MAJOR REWRITE. Can you tell?)

Anyway... It's the Disney Channel. Always, the Disney Channel. And, of course, the show taking up all 47 inches of my LCD screen is the one which makes me most want to gouge out my own eyeballs: The Suite Life On Deck.

I'm feeling a little seasick just thinking about it.

Now granted--I don't watch a lot of television. I'm more of a "go read a book or something" kind of a girl. True, I love a good movie--especially an action flick--and thanks to DVR technology I will watch the occasional recorded program (5-7 taps of the arrow and I'm no longer craving snack foods and back in the Story!) But when it comes to Tween Programming, I must admit that, aside from an occasional episode of Phineus and Ferb (love those little guys), I am not a fan.

So here I am, without Dr. Pepper, without even a snack-sized Kit-Kat to ease the path back to my Writing Cave, and I have to see three annoying teen actresses scarfing ice cream out of the containers alongside a--please tell me it's not--! A hairless cat.

That is N-O-T RIGHT. My apologies to God--I'm sure he had a plan for this... thing--but... really? A hairless cat?

I'm an animal lover, curse my allergies. My long-haired cat died last winter and Rex (I believe that's the technical name for a hairless cat) might be an ideal pet for me except for one thing. How, in the name of all that's furry, do you snuggle a hairless cat? It's, like, naked and stuff. There's something about a hairless cat that is just...well... mildly profane.

So it made me think. There's been a lot of blog posting in ECF world the last few weeks about what's profane, what is the definition of profanity, and what we should/shouldn't, can/can't be allowed to put in a novel (as a Christian author) without crossing the line.

Now I finally know the answer.

Words, schmerds, people. Sex and violence? Bring it on. But whatever you do in your quest to be a relevant and edgy author, DO NOT--I said DO NOT allow a hairless cat to appear in your novel.

It could be made into a movie one day.

And that, my friends, would simply be profane.

Don't do it.

Unless, of course, it serves your story.

And another thing: you might just want to think twice about naming your characters Zach or Cody, because.... well.... watch the show. You'll see. If you don't gouge out your own eyeballs, that is.

Now, enough with all this profanity. Go read a book or something.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When opening the manuscript is like opening a vein... and other writing neuroses.

I remember sitting in Mrs. Delzell's class my senior year of high school and, in the middle of a class discussion, (no, I don't remember the topic) one of my classmates turned to me, made a disgusted face, and said, "Geez, Shawna, do you have to analyze everything???"

Nineteen year later I have realized that, yes--I do have to analyze everything. I am a freak. I'll admit it. I not only analyze everything, I over-analyze everything. I'd like to think of my need to examine issues from various angles as a strength--that I am "analytical"--cuz that sounds like a smart-person thing. And I love, love, love to sound like a smart person. It just feels nice. But "analytical" also sounds sort of like a suit-wearing, math-person thing, and I am SO not that. I'm an artsy-fartsy creative type; I'm mostly ruled by my emotions. I'm an over-thinker. Just not usually about the sorts of things that could do anyone any good.

Although I apply this strange sickness to all areas of my life and relationships, my writing is the most frequent victim of this analytical, second-guessing neurosis. For example: Something I thought beautiful and moving yesterday... well, today I may edit the heart right out of it. On the other hand, something which is truly crap might have bathed in the lying light of "Oh, my genius muse!" the day before. It kinda sucks.

I am my worst critic. Wait--am I? Maybe I should think about it from another angle....

I've had countless days where I make the mistake of reading something in a bad mood and decide I should consider applying for a job at McDonald's instead of inflicting one more word upon my poor readers. Are all writers this insecure, or just us artsy-fartsy types? Yet I have two completed novels just waiting for an editor's summons within my hard drive.

Since writing those first two books my craft has improved--a lot. I've added more tools to my chest, more cookies to my jar, more... well, you get the idea. I've also added to my file a whole pile of rejection letters. These letters, and the fact that my road to publication has detoured waayyy off course leads me to believe that, while the McDonald's thing might have some merit, I am better than I was when I wrote the first book. So maybe, instead of me saying "I have two completed novels" I need to admit that, until it sells, it's still just a DRAFT of a novel. Forget that the one on the hard drive is draft number seven-hundred-and-forty-six. There is, obviously, more work to do. And I know--I know I am a better writer now than I was when I printed that "final" draft. I've worked hard to become so.

So where does that leave me? And where does that leave my manuscripts? Well, it looks like, and by the way I spent my day today, feels like I've headed straight back into the blood-letting realms of The Massive Re-Write.

You think I'm being dramatic? Well, I'm not. I mean, really. Would you pull out your child's eyelashes one by one so her vision was less impaired? Could you cut off one of your child's fingers to make her grip tighter? Well, that's how it feels sometimes when I am forced to revisit these books I've birthed with THE DRIPPING RED SCALPEL OF NOW-IT'S-WRITTEN, GET-IT-RIGHT.

Over-dramatic? Me?


Okay, sometimes.
But I'll tell you one thing...

I'm going to analyze the snot out of these pages. I might even get snot on these pages, cuz it hurts to cut so deeply. But it will make them stronger. Better. Cleaner.

Yep, I'm going to analyze EVERYTHING. I'm going to force myself to remember back to where it began and where it took me. I'm going to pray that the heart and soul of this novel--and the passion and purpose it drew out of me when it first revealed its divine spark--survives the amputations and the series of reconstructive surgeries it needs in order to come out of the anesthesia of the slush pile and awaken into a tighter, cleaner realm of truth and beauty and, maybe even, publication.

After all, isn't that what the hard times are for? The crucible for silver, the furnace for gold, and there will be beauty for ashes in THE END.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Fodder of the Fiction Writer: It's all how you look at it.

Reading about crime fiction has put me in a reflective mood this morning. As I'm about to dive in to removing more paneling off the walls of our "new" house (circa 1978--and all original) in preparation for the dry-wall guys to come, I'm thinking about the "temporary" residence we occupied for eight months of the last year.

In July of last year my husband took a new job and our house sold within thirty-six hours of putting the sign in the yard. Awesome. We were exultant! When we'd moved into that house six years earlier (with the assumption that our former home would sell quickly) we'd ended up paying two mortgages for twelve months. Not awesome. So, understandably, we were ecstatic to accept the offer! As quickly as we could, we moved our stuff into family barns, basements, and a large mini-storage unit--and moved our family of four into a teeny--and I mean teeny-tiny-- two-bedroom apartment "just for a couple of months" until we could find a house to buy.

But temporary turned out to be a bit longer than we had anticipated. We did not find a house to purchase until March. Believe me: it was a long winter.

When we moved in to the apartment, we re-discovered coin laundry, life without a dishwasher, and the speed at which mold can grow up a wall. The most exotic discovery of our sojourn, however, was the apartment's aroma. The apartment, especially one certain closet, emitted a smell which could only be described as "the belch of rotting death."

When you live in a rural community for most of your life you get pretty used to certain smells. I grew up on an Iowa farm surrounded by woods, so finding a dead possum, raccoon, or even a deer in some state of decomposition was not an uncommon event. I learned early on to identify putrescence from pretty far off. When the scent-in-question was located, the smell could either be ignored, (trusting that creepy crawlies and things that go "oww-ooo!" in the night would take care of it) or, if the carcass was in a particularly annoying place, and the farmer-in-charge ordained it, you could take an old shovel out, scoop it up, and throw it in "the pond."

The pond at our family farm is not a picturesque fishing hole. Nor has it held water in it, to my knowledge, outside of a flood year. Rather, "the pond" is a glorified trash heap; the final resting place of cleared limbs and brush, farm detritus, and various smelly stuff (such as wild animal carcasses) which have no where else to go. It's out of smelling distance of the house. I assume, because of its name, that "the pond" was, at one time, a small body of water; but family lore is unreliable in this area. It's a head scratcher, to be sure. But there it is. And you, my friend, have just been my unwitting companion on a world-class tangent. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

There was something dead in that apartment building. We figured it was probably in the crawlspace--and probably rather large. The scent was way too potent to be something as simple as a mouse in the wall. (Farm girl, remember? I know that smell all-too-well.) Then, one day, I came "home" and the smell was GONE.

And I was not alone.

The apartment was filled with hundreds of fat, lazy, flies. You could run your hand by these pudgy ne'er-do-wells and they wouldn't even flinch. Using a fly-swatter to kill them wasn't even a challenge. These were not the fast, annoying flies who buzz around your hair and and bump into the windows. These guys were...

Completely sated AND WITHOUT A CARE IN THE WORLD. These flies were chillin', dude. If flies smoked pot, these guys would have fit right in to that culture, their size explained by empty boxes of Twinkies and various other dime-store munchies. But there were no open boxes; no discarded plastic wrappers; no crumbs. All I had to explain the presence of these sluggish squatters was the sudden and questionable dissipation of a certain smell. These flies, my flies, were as happy and sleepy as if they'd just turned on the football game after a big Thanksgiving dinner.

And the smell was... gone.

Can you see why this would freak me out a little bit?

I called my witty sister-in-law and explained the situation. After a moment's pause, Heather said, "Don't you watch TV, Shawna?! That's how they find the body!" We discussed my various options. Call the landlord, call the sheriff's department, call the mental health facility to see if they had any rooms available...

But, in the end, I didn't call anyone. I just swatted and swept and swatted and swept some more. Eventually, I got them all. It was rather pathetic, actually. The fat flies didn't even put up a fight. At least they died happy. And, the smell was gone, so we decided to be thankful that, although the dank odor of multiplying mold spores was more noticeable now, Death Himself, was no longer passing gas in the closet.

Besides, the Direct TV guy never said he found a skeleton under the building when he visited the crawl space, so....

It remains a mystery. Was there a crime? Or just a rotting possum carcass? Or... something else? Something supernatural?

I doubt it. But it made you think, didn't it?

Or not.

In any case, I'm in a nice, big, brick house now. There are no funky smells (except on Burrito night, of course) and the flies that do come in are the boring, small-but-annoying type that bump into my windows and buzz around my head.

The good news? Every gross experience, every creeps-me-out encounter, is fodder for my writing life.

Because Fiction Mirrors Truth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"For crying out loud, there's a killer to catch!" Nike Chillemi writes about Edgy Christian Crime Fiction

On a morning where my head is pounding, my mood is as sour as yesterday's cold coffee, and have to walk to work since the brakes went out on my van, I was awfully happy to drop by the latest stop on the Edgy Christian Fiction Summer Blog Tour so I could check out Nike Chillemi's post on Edgy Christian Crime Fiction.

Now, we all know that in most Christian circles very few crimes escape the BIG BROOM OF CHRISTENDOM when it's time for a whole-house sanitization. The ones left lying about are usually swept under the rug of "justifiable subcultural detritus" and often appear as little more than the blatant crimes against fashion taking up space in the pews. (Can I get a boo-yah on my denim jumper and knee socks, y'all???) Sure, there are the "tactful" grasps at sounding righteous while fishing for gossip ("Just give me all the juicy details so I can pray for her more effectively.") and other various societal sins which provide the "outside world" with fresh comic fodder from within our squeaky-clean, steam-sanitized ranks. But Nike isn't talking about those sorts of crimes. Nike is talking about POLICE PROCEDURALS, and BLOOD and GORE. She's talking about UNSANITIZED CRIME SCENES and MULTIDIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS who, as she puts it, aren't just bridge club members in cop uniforms looking for a novel to inhabit.

I could tell you more, but I'd rather have you drop by Nike's place today and let her know what you think. Check out Nike's blog by clicking on the direct link below. Then, if the mood strikes, go read a book or something. (She's given some great suggestions!)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Propaganda and the Edgy Author

Today's stop on the ECFL Summer blog tour finds us knee-deep in 'edgy' at Dan Calabrese's blog. I've stopped by and added my two cents--why don't you head on over there and leave your own! Click on the beachy button to the right, go to the second line down for Wednesday, July 14th: Dan Calabrese.

I'm taking up time on a hotel computer since I'm out of town on business, so I'm not going to create a link right now, but the above instructions are easy enough! It's how I dropped by Dan's place this morning, so I have faith that you can do it to!

Finally, I caught Joyce Meyer on TV this morning in between using the painfully inefficient hotel hairdryer and eating my bagel and schlemiel. My favorite Joyce line today? "You don't have to be a fruitloop to be a Christian."

After you've visited Dan Calabrese, you can download a podcast of Joyce's message from today on "BALANCE" --- or---check out last week's great series on becoming a person of excellence and integrity.

Perhaps, instead, you could go read a book or something while I go off to stare at a computer screen while the trainer leads us through all kinds of fun, new knowledge.

Have a great Wednesday!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The ECFL Summer Blog Tour Begins!!!!

Joy Tamsin David has a great post about Edgy Christian Romance--what it is, important elements it should include, etc.--on her blog. She also has some recommended books for Inspirational Romance readers. Please drop by Joy's place and leave a comment as to how you take your tea. (Read the post, you'll understand.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Interesting discussion with Nike Chillemi ~ Crime Fictionista: The F-Bomb and Two Camps In Christian Fiction Writing

Funny thing--right after I read Nike's post, my husband came into my office to share with me the exciting items he saw sell at a local farm auction this afternoon. First he told me about an old grain truck which sold for $21,000 ("It was cute, cute, kee-ute!") Then he told me about a tractor. About the time my eyes were glazing over, my hubby-dear mentioned the hydraulic apparatus on the front of the tractor, comparing it to the bucket on his tractor, "Scoopy." (Remember, this is Iowa, folks. Where name our tractors and eat our hand-raised cows.) What brought me back to a state of full consciousness, however, was when, in his auction-frenzied state, Dave accidentally mispronounced the word "bucket" -- replacing the "b" with an "f".

I laughed, and laughed.

Oh, come on! It was funny.

And because he was in a teasing mood and, apparently trying to get me to pee my pants, my sweet husband kept going on and on about the awesomeness of said (bucket with an "f") and how well it would perform in the field.

Oh, man. I laughed a lot. And I was extra-especially glad the kids were at the pool and no one else could hear our banter. But... there it is.

So the question is upon us: was it profane of me to laugh? for him to tease? or was it good, clean fun?

It's a point I've argued before concerning profanity in fiction (and in life): what is the author's (or speaker's) motive behind using a particular word, phrase, or action which may be considered, by some audiences, to be profane? Has the author looked at other options? Is the use of the item justifiable or gratuitous? Does it fit the character, the context of the work/conversation? Would the Voice of this author be able to portray the usage of this item in a believable fashion?

Nike's post and the attached comments concern the "F-Bomb". In my opinion however, any word or phrase, spoken in violence, can become profane. Even the words I LOVE YOU can be profane when used falsely or used to manipulate another person. To me, such blasphemy aimed toward something which is true--is way more profane than the casual (or not-so-casual) dropping of an occasional F-Bomb.

But it's important to note that, while I may laugh at its utterance when made in a comical error of pronunciation, I still hate hearing the F-Bomb dropping like penny candy on the Wal-Mart floor.

And I don't like to see it abused upon the page, either.

As writers and readers we should look at profanity from a certain distance while keeping our suspension of disbelief firmly in... limbo. (Yes, I know. But can you truly keep a "suspension" firmly in place? I didn't think so.) A writer's authentic voice must remain true as she brings her characters and scenes to life.

Before those critical cards and letters start pouring in, before someone thinks us "edgy" authors are too flip and free with our use of things they may consider profane (a certain scene from Braveheart just popped into my mind. I'll let you wonder which one. Hint: The moon was full that day.), I will let you know that we do not (usually) write with the intent to offend.

But, I digress.

After the writer has ascertained her own motives and has weighed usage against context, character, and voice, she may choose a different way to express a certain emotion or action in order to stay true to the story and its intended audience... and to make the vocabulary and description of action appropriate to both. That's how fiction mirrors truth. And it ain't an easy wire to balance upon when the red pen hits the page.

So, if you haven't had enough of this subject after reading my two cents, visit Nike Chillemi's blog by clicking on the link in the next sentence. You'll find a fresh "Bucket" list of comments, spoken in the words of Nike Chillemi ~ Crime Fictionista: The F-Bomb and Two Camps In Christian Fiction Writing and other brave souls. As always, I welcome your comments. And I'm sure Nike will, as well.

What a fun ECFL Summer Blog Tour Eve. I hope I don't forget to set out the milk and cookies for Joy Tamsin David!

Make sure to check out Joy's blog tomorrow--the first stop on the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers Summer Blog Tour. Joy will be blogging about Edgy Christian Romance. Date and Link below!
Sun, July 11: Joy Tamsin David, Edgy Christian Romance

Monday, July 5, 2010

Film Trailer for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader!

Y'all are going to think I've given up this writing thing with all these video links I keep posting. But this one, my dearies, I just could not keep to myself.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favorite chronicle of Narnia. And, if you haven't seen this yet, and are a fan, follow the link below to reach Narnia... at least for a moment or two. The film doesn't release until December, but... it's coming!

Further up, and further in, I say!