Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Story of Book - Part 4

Greetings everyone and welcome to Week 4 of "The Story of Book," an entertaining project where I carry my favorite book, a 1950s edition of "The Grapes of Wrath," that I . . . um . . . liberated from a library in 1978 with me every place I go and photograph our adventures.

This week's edition is abbreviated. Camera had a diva moment and when I was able to recover the disc, all of the files were unreadable. I think Camera may have been jealous because it was doing all the work and Book was getting all the attention. Regardless, our adventures for this week were lost. 

Also, an old legal matter has bubbled to life and I had to spend most of my free time with my nose buried in a virtual law book researching the effect of res judicata on a trademark licensee and if the privity ruling from Bouchat in 2003 survived the Taylor ruling in 2008 (IMHO, it did). Regardless, Writer's sense of humor was at a low ebb.

However! Sunday dawned sunny and warm and Book convinced me to take a short walk and visit Wise Old Happy Tree who told me that all of this would pass and to enjoy the day for the gift it is. Book says that Wise Tree is wise.


Still, had to do my paperwork and other work. However, in the mid-afternoon, a crisis of epic proportions erupted. Writer was out of tea bags and coffee. A trip to Wal-Mart was immediate and necessary. Book and I stopped by the Wal-Mart book section and were thrilled and overjoyed to see "The Pregnancy Project," a memoir written with the assistance of our wonderful Facebook friend Jenna Glatzer. Yay! Wise Tree was right! This made the afternoon very happy indeed!



And then a stop at the writers' altar, the place all good things spring from, to restock and resupply.


Book and I are VERY sorry for the technical difficulties. We are also sad because we missed a pair of feral fighting sofas in combat formation. Hopefully, they are still there this week . . . 

So, until next week, don't forget to hug your favorite book and give a shout-out to your favorite writer. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Flash Fiction - 100 Words of Fun

This week I managed to check off a bucket list item, I won a flash fiction contest on literary agent Janet Reid's blog. My prize? Two books, including the Edgar nominated "Purgatory Chasm" by Steve Ulfelder. (On a cool note, I talked to the author via Facebook and he's going to autograph them for me.)

She holds these contests from time to time and I highly recommend them. She gives you a list of prompt words, often in honor of one of her clients, and a 100-word limit. The competition is fierce and if you don't bring your best game, well then you get to stay home and watch.

I've written flash fiction for years. I love the spare economy. No words can be lazy or padding or fluffy. Every word has a job to do and had better do it well. However, there is some misconception as to what flash is. It is often written as a vignette or freeform poetry.

Flash is like any other story and has to have the four components of character, setting, conflict and resolution. In 100 words or less . . . Not a problem!

The key is inference. One flash writer said that if readers need description, then all of her characters must be naked, because she never discusses clothing. If she places her characters in church, she trusts the reader to infer they are appropriately dressed.

Forcing extraneous description out of writing is an excellent exercise. I hate reading "It was July 21st at 5 o'clock p.m. and the temperature was 102 degrees." (yes, I have read that in novels) Instead, "It was a hot July evening," tells me all I need to know. In his literary wordfest "Q," Evan Mandery sticks the landing with "It was one of those top ten days of the year . . ." I love that phrase. It is elegant and evocative and allows me to infer my own definition of a perfect day. He goes on with more description, but could have stopped right there.

In this contest, the prompt words were: red, bent, fold, chaos, and chasm. Each word came from a book title on the Edgar list of best first novels.

I keyed on "chaos." I had an old flasher where that was a pivotal word. The story had never seen publication because at 121 words, it was too damn long. I liked the story, but the editing always stumped me.

Here it is in original form:

_____________________________________

The last ambulance left the police station. No need for sirens; the victims were DOA. I settled in to start the reports. Twenty years on the job, and this was a first.

"Damn, I hate murder. Nothing but heartache and paperwork."

I inserted the form into my old typewriter and started on the first section.

The punks had been at the west desk. The old biddy at the east. Both were filing complaints.

She wailed about foiling a car theft.

The hoods bitched about someone pulling a gun and chasing them away from their car.

Hesitation. Double-take. Recognition. Silence. Chaos.


I hit the 'return' key. One section to go.

Conclusions: The old lady was a faster draw and a better shot.

________________________________________

Not bad, but not good enough. Too fat. After I folded in the prompt words, I went to work on the length.

I ferreted out redundant description, such as,"No need for sirens; the victims were DOA." The story is about a murder, the fact that there were dead bodies becomes clear in the next sentence. So, it can be foreshadowed with "No sirens."

You get the point. Once I had a goal, entering it in the contest, and a deadline, Sunday at 6:00 PM, the spare baggage glowed like neon.

The finished product:

_________________________________________

The ambulance left the police station. No sirens. Twenty years on the job and murder is still nothing but heartache and paperwork.

Unfolding a blank report, I bent over my old typewriter.

The punks were at the west desk. The old biddy at the east. Both were filing complaints.

She crowed about foiling a car theft.

Across the chasm, the hoods had red-ass about someone pulling a gun and chasing them away from their car.

Hesitation.

Recognition.

Silence.

Chaos.


I hit the “return” key. One section to go.

Conclusions: The old lady was a faster draw and a better shot.

____________________________________________

100 words exactly according to Word. Spare and clean. A much better story. I don't miss the twenty-one words. By choosing carefully, I took them out and left them in at the same time. The story certainly met and exceeded my expectations and was picked out of a field of 70+ entries. I read a lot of flash fiction and the flashers in Ms. Reid's contests are some of the best I've seen.

Next time she runs a contest, give it a try. Win or lose, you'll have fun, read a bunch of good stories, and you'll come away with a new outlook on the power and economy of words.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Story of Book - Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of "The Story of Book," the tale of a writer and her favorite book who accompanies her (almost) everywhere she goes. To catch up on the first two installments, go to "Story of Book" link under "Rhetoric by Topic."


Monday dawned warm and windy and I took Book out for a promised walk. This is at the north end of Main Street, looking south. Fort Scott was a frontier outpost in the 1840s and a major supply depot during the Civil War.


On the north side of the Fort historical monument is a walking trail through a national park Tallgrass Prairie restoration project. Just a couple of acres, but you get a glimpse of what the prairie looked like before the settlers came. There are several hundred types of plants just in the little patch. I can't wait to bring Book back in the spring when it is all in bloom. Book and I took a pleasant hike and then got back to work.




Tuesday was another gorgeous day, so Book and I headed down to the Fort Scott National Park at the north end of town. By the 1970's the old fort had degenerated into a warehouse and low rent housing area. The park service kicked the squalor to the curb and rebuilt and restored the fort to its historical glory. This is one of the officers' duplexes. If your husband was an officer in the cavalry, this was your backyard and kitchen garden. (Book and I will take you inside on a warmer day. It's gorgeous.)




The parade ground is enclosed by a wonderful walkway about a quarter-mile long. Book and I took advantage of the sunshine for a nice stroll.




Wednesday! And it's time to go to work down in Columbus, Kansas. It's one of those neat little town-that-time-forgot places and is full of great old signs and buildings. Book particularly liked this Reddy Kilowatt sign.




When memes collide. Columbus has a great feral furniture dump (well, the townsfolk may not think it's so great, but I love it.) Book posed with this poor unfortunate sofa carcass that was probably replaced with a cheap naughahyde wannabe.




Okay, this is actually a bit creepy, but Book insisted . . .




Thursday is court day! Book was so excited to go with me. The Cherokee County Courthouse was built in the 1950s and replaced a much larger Victorian structure. Even though the building is a bit . . . um . . . boxy, it has excellent Art Deco details.




This is one of my favorite historical plaques ever. This bell never made it out of the warehouse, but dang it, we're putting it in the courthouse square. Book, with his empathy towards remainders, approves.




Now, a word of warning. Book had the permission of the District Court Judge to take a few photos inside the courthouse. Never take a camera into a courthouse or public building without permission. Unless, of course, you like sitting in little rooms with no windows and answering questions.


The truly beautiful and unique feature of the courthouse is this three-story polished aluminum Art Deco stairway. When the sun is right through the atrium windows, Book and I will get better photos. It is stunning.




Friday rolled around and our car desperately needed an oil change. So, off to Wal-Mart! Last week someone suggested that Book needed a better wardrobe, so we used our free time shopping around. Book confesses to being a bit of a KU fan (shhh . . . our boss went to K-State!)




Something stylish for the rain and snow perhaps?




By January, there wasn't a lot of selection in the fuzzy slipper aisle. Book wanted leopard spots, but there weren't any in his size.




Book confided in me that he believes there is a family of four living in one of these boots. . . . (they were huge!)




Saturday was a quiet work day, but the mailman made it a happy day by delivering a fresh box of Johnny West coloring books! We sent half off to our illustrator Mykol Blackwell who is one of our bestest friends ever. Yay!




Book mentioned going out to lunch, but took one look at the weather . . .




And opted for his Snuggie and the remote.




Sunday came in cloudy and damp, so Book and I hung around the house. However, we wanted to introduce you to Widget! Come summertime, Widget will be our partner in "The Story of Book."




Have a great week everyone! See you next Sunday!

Kitsch Salad Saturday

On Saturdays (or thereabouts), I'm going to indulge in my fondness for kitsch and oddball collectibles. I personally collect 1950s plastic salt and pepper shakers like an OCD squirrel hunts for nuts. You'll see a lot of my collection as well as stuff I just plain love or am hunting for.

It might be stylish like these Gas Genie advertising shakers . . .



It might be historical like this MIB set from the 1939 New York World's Fair . . .



Or it might be so far out in left field that it will take the light from left field 10,000 years to reach it like this particular souvenir S&P set . . .



Regardless, it will be fun. Hope to see you next week!




Saturday, January 21, 2012

Life is Sloppier than Fiction

Sometimes when I write I come up against the wall of, "that's not real life." I have to keep reminding myself that we read books to get away from real life for a while.



See this and other brainy brilliance in its native habitat at xkcd.com

Feral Furniture Friday

Yes, I know, it's not Friday . . .

But this is going to be a Friday feature. I just got sidetracked yesterday.

Inspired by the success of my January column at "An Army of Ermas," I thought I'd continue with weekly installments of "Wild Furniture Kingdom," a show that examines the phenomenon of feral furniture and the consequences of releasing domesticated decor into the wild.



Tonight's sofa is a sad situation. Even though the house has been vacant for over two months, sofa can't understand why no one answers the door and lets him back inside out of the cold and wind. Winter does not bode well for this thinly upholstered victim of furniture abandonment.

See you next week!

Anchorage Alaska #OWS

Another iconic photo showing the #OWS movement isn't going anywhere.



I wish I could send the Occupy team in Anchorage Alaska some cocoa and cookies. I'm with you 110%

Monday, January 16, 2012

Blogging From The Heart - "Me Monday"

I know there are all sorts of rules for good and bad blogging. Do this! Don't do this! Be careful - someone might read it (horrors!). For the most part I'm going to abide by those recommendations. However, I declare "Me Mondays" to be a free zone where I can talk about politics, my dogs, my cooking, NSFW comics, whatever. You know, all that outlaw off-limits stuff.

And while I understand all the advice is for my own good, it's my party and I'll be wry if I want to. This comic really sums it up for me (warning, contains bad words). If you only write and cater to what the standard is, then all blogs become more of the same.



See this comic on its home field at xkcd.com

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Story of Book - Part 2

Good Sunday evening and welcome to the second week of "The Story of Book" project. If you're new to our tale, please give chapter 1 a look.


Monday is always a work day at my mail-order business and I am running behind. When I cancelled our walk, Book decided to be a literary diva and spend the day sulking.




Tuesday. More work! I love my customers and am grateful for the business, but the packing is quite a chore. This time, Book decided to help and even loaded the handtruck for me.




One of the many (many) cool things about living in a small town is I can take my packages straight to the loading dock after hours. Book was quite a hit with the post office folks.




Wednesday dawned bright, sunny, and cold. This is one of my out-of-town work days so Book and I bundled up for the hour drive. I work in a government-owned building, so while Book spent the day on my desk, his friend Camera stayed in the car. When it warms up some, I'll take Book around the neighborhood on my lunchtime walks.




Thursday was problematic. A storm that was supposed to drop an inch of snow and leave, left a half-inch of ice covered in snow. The fifty-mile drive was a two-hour ordeal of slipping and sliding to work. Book was a trooper, but again, Camera, with his dainty electronics, stayed home. However, Camera was so glad to see us that evening that we grabbed Kindle and went out to dinner at our favorite burger joint on the corner.




Friday dawned bright and warmer. As Mother Nature applied a nice load of snow-be-gone over town, Book and I ventured out to run some errands.


Naturally, our first stop is our second home, the Post Office. Book checked out the FBI most wanted while I did our business.




Then to the bank. For some reason, bank people don't mind Book, but have an odd reaction to Camera, so we enjoyed the sunshine instead.




Even though the snow was still hiding in the shadows, Book and I took a nice walk in the gorgeous weather.




Saturday. I know . . . more work. However, I let Book pick our work-time TV and we caught up on season 3 of "Sons of Anarchy."




Finally, the day is done and we settle in for some reading. Turns out I kept Book up until the wee hours of the morning reading "Q" by Evan Mandery.




Sunday was a lazy day with a few chores mixed in with hanging out and relaxing. A few things had to get done. First, the dog bed smelled like a feral hyena had been roosting in it, so off to the washing machine it went!




Much better!






And Mr. Big Fish must have been thirsty, because his tank level was low enough that the sound of the filter was driving us crazy. So, to the buckets!





I hope your week was as mellow. Book and I will see you next Sunday with chapter three of "The Story of Book."

The Power of "Q." My Thoughts on the Evan Mandery Novel



Well, that sounds pretentious. However, these things have to be titled correctly if I'm ever going to find them again.

I sat up until 2:30 this morning finishing this novel that had been haunting me and after a pot of tea, am finally ready to talk about it.

First, the backstory. I'm an avid reader of agent Janet Reid's blog and a fanatic about entering her contests. In November 2011, she dropped this one on her unsuspecting horde. Seemed simple enough, write a 100-word story about the writers in the photos.

Some of the writers I was familiar with, but not Evan Mandery. So, in the name of due diligence, I downloaded a sample of his latest novel, "Q," and then I killed them all with poisoned tuna sushi and sent them to purgatory to clog dance for all eternity (in my story, yeesh, don't be so literal, I don't have that kind of power, it's not like I'm an editor or anything.)

What I hadn't counted on was being stalked by that literary snippet. I thought about it constantly and knew I had to go back and finish the book. Normally, I am a genre fan. I want shit to drive fast. I want shit to blow up. I want the world to hang in the balance. Hey, it's my party and I'll let 'em fry if I want to. Unless Godot is waiting for his contact who has the missile codes, I'm not interested.

However, from time to time, a literary work sneaks through the barricades and grabs me. I read Larry McMurtry's entire 1100-page Texasville story arc before I realized it was about a guy named Duane who was freaking depressed. So, the moral is, catch me with a compelling premise about interesting characters and you can sneak literary fiction into my genre-laden diet.

The nut of the tale is a fairly ordinary guy meets the shining shimmering woman of his dreams. Q, is in all aspects, lovely, inside and out. The romance, played out in New York at its finest, is captivating.

However, as the wedding looms, the groom is visited by an older version of himself who issues a single warning, "you must not marry Q." The reason is less important than the motives. If he marries Q, it will result in a sorrow that breaks her heart forever, and by association, his. He contrives a fight and uses it as an excuse to break off the relationship, leaving Q hurt and questioning.

That potential future self closed off, he is visited by a parade of future selves, each demanding he follow their path like a toddler with a Tiger Mother. This continues until he is old enough to get in the wayback machine himself and set things right.

The language is lyrical, complex, and evocative. This is not a casual beach read. But, then, neither was Texasville. Sometimes a book with big scary words is good for you. I confess, I could have done without the Freudian novel interlude and my Kindle-clicky thumb did get a bit of a workout. However, that's just personal taste.

The themes are what cut me to the bone. Can you avoid future pain, by "pre-feeling" it now? By living through the anguish of the future in the present and purposely inflicting trauma by breaking Q's heart, is he now spared that future pain?

I think we all know the answer to that. Karma, for lack of a better word, is head-bitch-in-charge. By spending all of his time trying to avoid the hurt and decay he sees in his future selves (one is fat, one is poor, one is obnoxious, all are old), he forgets to live in the present, until there is no more present.

Another question Mandery asks is, "If you could go back in time and spare yourself and someone you love great pain, would you do it?"

This is the one that hit me hardest. In November 2009, at 1:20 AM, there was a knock on the door, with the four words that changed everything, "there's been an accident." By six that morning I was in an intensive care ward discussing DNR orders and pain management. The next four months were nothing but choices and assuming the yoke of a caregiver. He survived, but was horribly disabled. Our marriage did not make it out of the cauldron. The yoke I wear now is financial and the pain of seeing him so hurt and broken.

Long before I had ever heard of Evan Mandery or "Q," I asked myself if I had known the future, would I have glided on past him the day we met?

Now, had I done that I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't have my fabulous friends, or my darling Chihuahuas, or the beautiful old leaky pile of bricks that I call home. I wouldn't have my own novel up on blocks in the garage, constantly tinkering under the hood. I wouldn't have all the knowledge and memories of the good years we had together that shone every bit as bright as those in the early pages of "Q." I wouldn't be me and I'm pretty happy with this version of me.

However, the answer, if I could have been assured his accident would have never happened, probably would have been "yes." The temptation would be too great.

As the old country song says:

"Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance . . ."


And that is the enigma of "Q."

Overall, I give it five snaps up and a bag of chips (you'll need a snack, it's a long haul).

'Q" also wins the delightful-surprise award of the week and makes me a fangirl of the writer. In the weeks before I finished the book, I developed a picture in my head of Q. As a sci-fi geek, I called back to another time travel story where the male lead has to make a heart-wrenching decision about his lady love that will change history. The heroine because fixed in my head as my image of Q.



To know why this delights me, you'll have to read the book.