September 16, 2009 • No Comments
If I’m really writing, I don’t tend to snack. If I’m stuck or procrastinating, I can graze through my fridge like a herd of deer through a prize garden.
It’s all about unloading nervous energy. Crunchy is good. Virtuous is better. Over the years, I’ve learned to stock up on veggie sticks and ban Succulent Evil at the front door, because dietary judgment fails in the face of an artistic crisis. Fortunately, the nearest junk food emporium is a fifteen-minute walk away. Sloth wins out over the appeal of a bag of chips.
I was contemplating this blog and kept bumping up against one very compelling question. It’s one thing to be a human author with a bad case of the munchies, but what about my characters?
Pizza place: So you want the pizza delivered. What toppings would you like?
Vampire: Forget the pizza. Just send the driver.
With vamps, one could go on and on in a similar, uh, vein, and it would lead nowhere good.
I’ve always wondered about the urban werewolf. Real wolves are built for speed – long legged and slim – in order to chase down their dinner. Would it be hard for citified werewolves to maintain that so-svelt physique? Sure, he might have to run a bit to catch his nightly jogger, but there’s prey a-plenty in most city parks. After a few years of easy pickings, would the Wolfman have to spend hours on the treadmill like everyone else? What happens if you’re a roly-poly werewolf? Do the Hellhounds laugh and call you names?
Demons stumped me. What do they look for when they stand with the fridge door open? A box of Soul Snax? A bowl of Hot as Hellfire Fudgy Brimstone Ripple?
Mom demon: Who took the last of the lava and put the empty container back?
Little sister demon: Azazael drank it straight from the carton!
Azazael: Quit tattling, or I’ll take away your Inquisitor Barbie.
Mom demon: Just wait till your sire gets home.
How about the Demon Celebrity Chef cooking show? A bit of flame and sulphur could put a whole new spin on the old “Bam!” routine.
Uh, hold that thought. As I write this, my stomach is telling me it’s lunchtime. Salad with a few Moroccan olives and feta. Nice, simple, and cheerfully dull. Outside of the occasional illicit BLT, I’m vegetarian. Which is why paranormal romance is only in fiction. It’s hard enough agreeing on a restaurant when you’re with another human.
Werewolf: Honey, I’m home, what’s for dinner? Oh, no, mailman again?
September 14, 2009 • No Comments
Nothing says “Get down to work!” like a cup of coffee. It’s the fuel that gets me on the road in the morning. It’s a social communion and a comfort object. When I meet with friends, curl up with a book, or sit down to concentrate on a task, a cup of coffee is usually nearby. After my laptop, caffeine is probably my number one writing tool. I’m not alone. Three-quarters of the adult population in the US drinks coffee. A National Coffee Association survey revealed average consumption among javaheads is around 3.1 cups per person per day, with men slightly ahead of women. No wonder our world is so fast-paced. We’re collectively buzzed. And jangled. As I stared at the bedroom ceiling at four-thirty this morning, pondering deadlines, I began to doubt the wisdom of worshipping the bean. I’d been up late working on my book, but now I was too wired to sleep. The next day’s word count was going to be a slog on four hours of shut-eye. Creativity requires alertness and motivation. Some of that’s got to come from real rest, not just a barista. So where did my coffee intake enter the realm of diminishing returns? When did it just plain start sabotaging my productivity? Some quick surfing (heck, I was awake anyway) produced plenty o’ factoids. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that alters a person’s mood by raising glucose levels to provide a “buzz.” According to one web site it takes 350 mg of caffeine a day to become addicted. A 5 ounce cup of coffee contains between 60 and 150 mg of caffeine, tea 35 to 60 mg, ordinary cola 30-55 mg per 12-oz. can, and the high-test colas about 55-70 mg. In other words, it’s fairly easy to hit junkie levels of caffeine intake during the course of a day. The physical side effects are legion. Besides the jitters and insomnia, excessive caffeine intake results in increased levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of anemia as well as cardiac, gastric, and assorted plumbing problems. While caffeine may improve performance on simple tasks, it nukes short term memory and fine motor coordination. On the flip side, a Harvard web site states that the risk for type 2 diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers. Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, colon cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Coffee improves performance in long-duration physical activities (and if novel-writing isn’t an endurance sport, I don’t know what is). Further surfing produced a range of results, some of them alarmist. The common-sense bottom line: moderation is key. For most people, a cup or two is okay, but more than that can impact health. Caffeine is one of those crutches than can eventually cripple you. I remember reading about hard-drinking, chain-smoking, hard-partying writers who approached their pages under the influence of a chemical stew and still turned out brilliant prose. I’ve always wondered if that was myth, or if I’m just a genetic weenie with a decidedly non-Pulitzer constitution. At any rate, it hardly seems fair to have to surrender yet another vice, but I like my sleep. So now, when I head into the writing zone, I’ll have to convince myself some other hot beverage will do the trick. Somehow, though, writing shoot ‘em up action scenes with a cup of Horlicks just seems wrong.
September 11, 2009 • No Comments
Yes, we here in Beautiful British Columbia are used to strange phenomena, not the least of which is our provincial politics. But there’s more, according to the local Scientific Cryptozoology Club, who are planning to have a look-see in one of our local lakes. See the article here.
Well, there’s still untouched wilderness in parts of BC, so who knows. To my knowledge, all of the lake monsters around here (Cadborosaurus, Ogopogo etc) are of the serpent-ish variety. With 39 critter-haunted lakes, it sounds like a bit more than one or two lone specimens, unless they’ve got air miles and a rigorous travel schedule.
At least, as the article observes, these sightings are worth checking out. They might not be Nessie’s BFF or Sasquatch’s tub toy, but it could be a species not previously recorded in the area. If so, it’s better know if there’s an endangered creature out there in need of protection.
John Kirk, author of In the Domain of the Lake Monsters (and no known relation to James T.) plans an expedition to Cameron Lake to look for our snakey friend on Sept. 19.
September 8, 2009 • No Comments
I always liked learning things as a kid. That did not equate to a love of school. I just couldn’t see the point, and rational argument about future job prospects is a non-starter when you’re six or even thirteen.
What I did like was the autumn—the first, wine-sharp tang of fall has always made me come alive. I treasured the fire of turning leaves, jack frost silvering the chain link fence (yes, your tongue does stick if you lick it) and the acrid smell of bonfires. It was time for the ubiquitous grandma-knitted woollies and lunchtimes of tomato soup.
Of course, back-to-school itself had compensations, like new clothes, fresh school supplies, and the contact high from other people who actually were excited. That was usually good for the first week. Then reality began to set in:
Day 1. New stuff. Goody!
Day 2. Show of end-of-summer despondency in hopes of more new stuff
Day 3. Updating gym avoidance protocol
Day 4. Phoning the drugstore 3,000 times to see if latest teen mag has been delivered because life, the universe, and school cannot progress without authorized fashion instruction
Day 5. Complaining to friend whose mother doesn’t care about said fashion authority, either. This phone call good for two hours.
Day 6. Official boy watch begins. <em>Wow</em>. In post-surveillance free time, begin <em>Lord of the Rings </em>for the third time, dreaming of Aragorn
Day 7. Boy watch continues. Surely The Boy (<em>le sigh</em>) is Aragorn-in-waiting—tall, dark, silent.
Day 8. Scientific field excursion aka welcome back school dance proves all too conclusively The Boy dances like an orc, or at least a troll. Enemy agent in disguise?
Day 9. Boy watch is definitely over. What was I thinking? Crushing on teacher because, y’know, he’s like <em>scholarly</em> and <em>mature</em>.
Day 10. Dress code? Whaddya mean dress code? Public education is a social experiment gone seriously wrong.
Day 11. First math test. Teacher <em>must</em> be Saruman in disguise. I squander my affections on the unworthy.
Day 12. My soul is made of darkness eternal, and yet we must read <em>Rascal</em>. Mock me if you will, my gloom is impenetrable.
Day 13. Gym is cancelled! Yay!
August 30, 2009 • No Comments
As if I don’t get enough flack about my lackadaisical household routines, now my plants can Tweet their complaints. Too much H2O? Too little? Now they can tell you all about it. A new system called Botanicalls, developed by interactive telecommunications researchers, allows your plants send text messages via a soil-moisture sensor device.
This is all well and good, but it brings to mind some books I read years ago. They covered a range of scientific research exploring plant intelligence, including the fact that plants can identify, at least under some circumstances, individual humans. The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird is a truly fascinating read.
Okay, if plants are smart enough to turn wireless technology into more than a “please water me” proposition, things could get interesting.
My Twitter account will start filling up with stuff like:
*Schultz’s plant food AGAIN? C’mon!
*I ain’t bloomin’ for you, sweetheart, till you get me high speed cable.
*This tiny pot is KILLING my roots.
*New window. Now.
*Cat alert! Cat alert!
*Green and leafy looking for pollen fun. Woody stems only need apply.
August 25, 2009 • 1 Comment
In the quest for peace and quiet, I’ve heard stories of authors who wrote in all kinds of places. One apparently hid in the broom closet with a typewriter balanced on their knees. I understand the instinct. I’m not one of those people who can write in coffee shops or even with a radio on. A hedge trimmer three blocks down will drive me crazy, and the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness has come close to taking a one-way trip to the nearest storm drain. I need quiet!
Consequently, I write on a laptop so I can hunt out the “right” spot to commune with the muse. I may roam from spot to spot like a bird looking for the right tree to nest in. Most often I just go for the kitchen table, as it’s the biggest surface around. Since it’s on the second floor, it has a nice view of trees, squirrels, and chickadees. Also handy to the fridge and the coffee pot.
The downside of this system is that I lose things. I don’t have a proper place to do all the admin work that comes with writing. Believe me, there’s a ton—contest prizes to send out, promotion to organize, contracts, letters, schedules, blah, blah, blah. One accumulates stationery at a furious rate—bookmarks, mailing envelopes, author copies, and so on. The writing detritus is advancing like a slow tide across my living room.
Solution? I have a small, bright sewing room that I’m eyeing for an office. Someday I’ll get organized enough to move my piles of paper, printers, fax machine, and stacks o’ stuff around. I’d do it now except I know it’s a job that will take longer than I think, and I have a book due. November is looking good …. I might get my new digs set up in time to decorate for Christmas.
August 24, 2009 • No Comments
Does anyone else get stationery envy? I don’t want to go back to school, but I want all that cool stuff. It hits me like a disease every fall—I’m tantalized by the smell of new pencils, the pristine promise of scribblers, the glory of the clean eraser.
I’m sure some of my nostalgia is remembering the September state of grace. On Day One of a fresh school year, it’s possible to achieve all A grades, with no detentions, and no talking in class. We are all newly remade as the first bell rings. Our good intentions gleam as snowy-white as our new gym shoes.
Or maybe I want to make up for all the nifty junk I never had as a kid. Schoolyard grievances cut deep. I never had a funky lunch box, just a stupid paper bag. I might be looking to my adult self to remedy the situation, knowing I’m more of a push-over than my parents.
I was cleaning out my desk the other day and came across a trove of paper I’d saved from junior high. It was a just a few sheets, lime green with pink lines. Coloured notebook paper had been cooler than cool back then; pink, purple, green, and yellow replaced hum-drum white until the teachers protested the eye strain. My friends and I had traded back and forth to have some of each shade. I’d apparently treasured the rare treat so much I’d kept the last few pieces as a keepsake.
It still tickles my fancy. Is it any wonder that I’m boggled when confronted with an entire big box store stuffed with gel pens, sparkly binders and a veritable rainbow of sticky notes? It’s like grade school nirvana. It’s better than having both the gold and silver crayons. Unfortunately, most of it’s largely useless in an adult world and there’s no excuse to buy it.
Or maybe usefulness isn’t the point. Perhaps it’s indulging that urge for a fresh start—we would be so productive if only we just had that new, unblemished notebook/cell phone/netbook/PDA. We would be so smart. So organized. So on time. I bet my cheque book would balance if I had a pen that writes in turquoise gel.
Perhaps back-to-school is really the time of talismans. Maybe it’s not new stationery I crave, but the charm that will see me through another time of growth and testing.
In that case, I’d better buy a whole box of new pens.
August 20, 2009 • No Comments
Well, I can think of many occasions when I might like the idea of Han Solo sprawled in front of me, but I’m not sure I’d want a frozen version of the dude as my desk.
August 19, 2009 • No Comments
I’m not a true hot weather person. Fortunate, because we get about five minutes of it on Vancouver Island. Away from the ocean it can be hot enough to grow a satisfactory tomato, but where I live the air is one shade off chilly almost all year.
Because of the cool temperature and the lack of rain we’ve had over the past few summers, I’ve given up on growing vegetables and have been stocking my freezer from the farmers’ markets. My summer pleasure? This year it’s been spending Sunday afternoons visiting the organic farms and loading up on produce. As well as freezing berries of all kinds, I made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce from all-organic veggies and froze that, too. I’ve eaten enough blueberries and blackberries that I’ll be turning a light purple soon. I can’t wait for the apple crop to come in.
There are market days in my own neighbourhood, but I prefer the country drive. In half an hour, I can be at the small, family-run farms north of town. The old road winds too much to go really fast, so I can appreciate the view. Cows. Horses. Deer. Sheep. Other people doing hard work when I’m not.
Wandering through the fruit stands gives me the summer fix I need: warm sun, the smell of earth, the buzz of a dragonfly zooming past. I have to slow down and relax to really take in all that sensory input. I have to use something besides the madly whirring left brain. This is where I reconnect with my basic instincts about what is wholesome, good for me, and <em>right</em>. The sheer energy pouring off that much fresh, organic food must be the karmic equivalent of a spa scrub.
The few hours I spend playing with the beans and potatoes, stopping for tea, admiring a craft fair, and then wandering home with my loot is cheap and effective therapy. Better than therapy—I can eat it afterward. As a bonus, I can walk along the ocean after dinner, watching the herons hunt the silver water, otters playing, and the lights of the marina growing brighter as daylight fades.
With long summer days, there’s so much beauty to enjoy. The trick is to remember to take the time to do it. Sure, zooming through a grocery store is fast, but it’s not nearly as fun.
August 18, 2009 • No Comments
Somehow, I’m always swimming upstream. This time, as everyone else is getting ready to go back to school, I’m just entering the book-free zone.
As one of this summer’s big goals, I finished an educational certificate I’ve been working on for a number of years. Reaching the finish line is satisfying, but I’ve gained more than a piece of paper and a pile of very dull textbooks. I’ve learned to value some of the lessons that come with knocking around the business world, because I was able to transfer those skills to school. As they say, old age and trickery will beat youth and speed every time.
<em>Take charge of your own experience.</em> Or, to put it another way, work smarter and don’t be so overwhelmed by authority. When I went from high school to university years ago, I was an obedient lamb who accepted the instructors and materials set before me. This time, I hunted down alternate textbooks, tutors and auxiliary materials almost as soon as I started each course. How much I got out of the class depended in part on seeking out extra resources.
<em>You are the consumer</em>. This meant advocating for myself, being the squeaky wheel, and demanding the quality of instruction I felt I’d paid for. Ultimately, the person you need to be nice to is you. There is nothing to be gained from enduring a bad situation.
<em>Don’t waste my time</em>. If something is going to eat away hours of my life, I want it to count. I don’t have to like it, but it should do something for me.
I could go on, but you get the picture. The university experience has changed a lot. With new technology, distance education, and simply more students per class, I couldn’t afford to be a passive vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge. I had to go after the information I wanted to know.
Why am I talking about all this on a writing blog? Perhaps because there are so many encounters in the publishing industry that remind me I’m still a student here, too. And, what skills I transferred from business to school can be applied equally well to authordom: be prepared to speak up, find the resources required, and make sure every effort counts.
There’s more, too. Pack emergency food. Tests are closer than they appear on the calendar. Know when to celebrate and, um, deadlines don’t go away just ’cause you pretend they aren’t there.
Believe me I tried.