Saturday, January 12, 2019

Building a Social Media Platform

My resolution for the new year was to get with the program, technology-wise, and start acting like a writer of the twenty first century.  Specifically, I resolved to build my social media platform.  That means Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, all that lovely stuff I have already joined but haven't spent a ton of time on, writer-wise.  And frankly, shoring up my wobbly platform is just a bit intimidating.

The fact is, I've neglected my blog, ignored Twitter, and used my Facebook page for strictly personal use.  It's not that I don't have much to say as a writer - sometimes, I've got too MUCH to say.  It's just that in my head, there's this little voice warning me, "Don't say that.  Don't put that down in words.  For God's sake, don't WRITE that where other people can see it!"

You see, every year or so, the teaching staff at my school has to sit through a teeth-grittingly tedious and blood-pressure raisingly irritating staff meeting about the public face of teachers.  Namely, that we are all teachers 24/7, that we are bound to our professional personas with chains of lead, and that anything that we say or do in our personal lives can and will be used against us if we're not careful.  I get it, in a way... teachers who go out partying every weekend and post pictures all over Instagram of themselves getting wasted or teachers who loudly advocate on Facebook for the legalization of recreational marijuana are not really the role models we want teaching our children.  But I get the heeby-jeebies at the thought that people might be watching ME, analyzing anything I post or tweet, just looking for an excuse to complain to my principal or superintendent about my unprofessional behavior.

This leads, of course, to the necessity of cultivating a professional face for the public... and that opens up an entirely new doorway leading down a hall I don't particularly want to walk.  While I don't consider myself half the icon the fictional Atticus Finch was, I've always loved To Kill a Mockingbird and yearned to be, as Miss Maudie says of Atticus, the same person in my house as I am on the public streets.  I don't want to cultivate a public face.  I just want to be myself, and be enough in that self that I don't need to worry about what anyone says or thinks about me.

All of this makes shoring up my social media platform a challenge, to say the least.  I can grit my teeth and post blandly on my Facebook author's page account, looking for inspirational quotes and pictures of kittens to fill that space; I can join Twitter, though I'm not sure I have the time right now to make it a worthwhile effort.  And I can dust off this blog, and try to make an entry a week - or can this blog entirely and start afresh, maybe, since anyone looking at the frequency of my past posts will see that I'm not exactly a regular updater.  But will I be able to be myself, as a writer?  Is that desirable?  Is it wise?

I guess I'll just have to try it and find out.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dreams

I don't generally remember my dreams, but lately I've been having a spate of nocturnal mental movies that stick around well after wakefulness.  Not only am I able to remember the dreams, but I remember - and to an extent, I feel - the emotions I felt in the dreamworld as well.  It's an odd sensation, to say the least... but then, dreams are odd things.  Not much makes sense in them, though in the dreamstate, all seems perfectly normal and rational.

I'd like to think that dreams are something more than just the randomly-firing neurons processing daily events and thoughts, storing them away for later... part of me would love it if dreams were a way of reaching out into some great, collective unconscious, making contact, if fleetingly, with fellow dreamers.  Sharing in their journeys, as it were.  It would be fascinating to discover that all through the night, our dream selves are free to wander in and out of scenarios rising out of shared thoughts, desires, memories.  It would certainly explain some of the more distressing dreams I've had - and part of me would like to think that those upsetting scenes and encounters weren't my doing at all, but were instead the product of someone else's mind.

In the same way, I'd love to believe that the friendships I've made in dreams lingered in more than just my own mind... that somewhere out there, another person is mulling over a particularly pleasant dream he had, and wondering who and where that other player - me - came from, and if I'm just a figment of his own imagination.  I can't really make myself believe this, of course... I am, at my core, too rational for that.  But it would be nice, nevertheless.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring Has Sprung... Sort of.

It's a gray day outside my window, gray and brown just like it's been since the snow started to melt.  "Started" is the operative word here; up on the hilltop where we live, there's still plenty of snow about, particularly in the shaded areas.  And, according to the weatherfolks on TV, there's more to come tomorrow: six to twelve inches of the white stuff.

So why do I feel so light and hopeful, on this vernal equinox?  Is it because I feel somehow balanced, on this day when light and dark are equally shared out between day and night?  That probably has a good bit to do with it, since I'm not great friends with the dark of winter.

But there's more to it than that.  Even without the first peek of crocuses or the new-green of spring buds and shoots, I know that winter is on its last lap.  Snow tomorrow be darned, it is SPRING again - and pretty soon that will mean warmer temperatures to go with the longer days, and afternoon trips to the dog park with Ariel, and walks and bike rides with the family.  The semi-voluntary confinement of winter will let us all loose on probation again, to stretch ourselves out to the sunshine and the smell of fresh grass.

It's funny how an arbitrary label on a date can affect one's mood for the better.  Would most of us really notice the equinox, if it wasn't also called the first day of spring?  The equinox is set; the planet tilts and light pulses from our nearest star, resulting in twelve hours of light and twelve of dark.  We call it the first day of spring, this vernal equinox, though in many locations there won't be much spring weather or flora to be had for some time yet.  But the very word "spring" is a mood enhancer, bringing to mind all manner of good things, from flowers and puffy white clouds to baby animals and digging in the garden.  Most seasons are two-faced, with things to love and hate about them in roughly equal measure, but spring seems to smile and brush off things like mud and lingering freezes and lets us welcome it with open arms.

Welcome, spring!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Being the Human

Sometimes, it really sucks to be the human in a relationship.

My dog is dying.  There's nothing I can do for him except to keep him company and comfortable; the massive tumor on his shoulder could not be removed, and now has begun to go necrotic, rotting from the inside out.  The vet has bandaged it, but he's soaked through two sets of bandages and I feel horribly guilty - guilty that I didn't catch the tumor sooner, guilty that there wasn't anything I could do once the tumor was found and deemed inoperable due to anemia, guilty that I've decided to help him out of his pain on Monday, guilty that I wish I'd done it sooner.

Nevin, my good dog, knows none of this, of course.  He only knows what is now... the ebb and flow of pain, managed by pills that he's obliging enough to eat without being forced.  He doesn't seem to think of the past, of when he was happy and healthy; he doesn't seem to think of the future, or wonder what it will bring.  He just knows Now.

I am the human in this relationship.  The memories of Nevin in happier times belong to me to hold in trust; the knowledge of the future, when I take him for his last visit to the vet, is mine to hold as well, even though I don't want it.  I'm having trouble with the Now, seeing him lying and trembling on his dog bed or hiding under my bed and refusing to come out.  I can't help thinking that I should have insisted that we put him to sleep on Friday, despite my family's objections... my husband and son had a camp out to go to, and my sister-in-law wanted to have her chance to say goodbye, too.  In the Now, I want this to be over for him, without suffering, as much as I don't want him to go - want him to somehow defy the vet's diagnosis and heal.

I wish I wasn't the one in charge here, wish his fate wasn't in my hands.  I wish Nevin could make the decision for me, and pass quietly in my arms like my beloved Riley-dog did, in the sunshine of the back yard, not needing help from the vet.  But I am the human, and I am in charge.

Sometimes, it really sucks to be the human in the relationship.

Nevin, in happier days.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Words, Come Back!

My words have gone away.

Some people would call it writer's block, but that's not really what it is.  My brain is buzzing with story ideas.  I've got old ideas that are begging me to write them down, new ideas waiting to be born, stories that I drafted ages ago hoping that I'll dust them off and breath some new life into them.

But the words aren't there.

I spent an hour in my drafts file, tweaking a phrase here, a sentence there.  Nothing struck me as ready to be sent out into the world, but I couldn't manage to work up any enthusiasm for improving them.

I spent another thirty minutes staring at a blank document, typing out a few lines and then deleting them, starting and aborting new stories before they could ever make it to revision phase.  Nothing I wrote sounded right, felt right.  Nothing was up to what I consider my usual caliber. 

Of course, at this rate, my usual caliber is getting to be... nothing.  I haven't written anything new in ages.  Even this blog is gathering a pathetic layer of cyber-dust.

I don't know where my words go, in these long spaces between productive writing periods.  I don't know how to get them back.  I've read the advice, most of which boils down to "muscle through it."  Write something, even if it's garbage.  Write anything, just to keep the inner gears cranking.  Write from a prompt, keep a journal, compose reams of bad poetry.  Just write. 

There was a time when I was an avid writer of fan fiction, which served nicely to get me over the dry spells. but lately even that has deserted me; my fandoms are dead, and I haven't found the passion for any new ones.

I don't even have a writer's circle to call upon, to help me through these desolation periods.  No other members of the SCBWI live near me, and the one group I tried to join up with met at a most inconvenient time for someone who needs to hold down a day job.  I didn't stay long enough to form any lasting friendships, and so far I haven't mustered the courage to form a group of my own... that would put me in a position of quasi-authority, and I don't want to be the leader.

And so I sit, and I stew, and I send out a plea into the ether... Words, come back!  Come home!  So much of my self-image, my idea of who I am, is tied up in my identity as a writer that I don't really know who I am without my words.

Sigh.

Words, come back!  I miss you!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Rankings

Amazon.com can be addictive for writers.  Not just in the sense that it's a never-ending carousel of wonders for things to read and tools to write with, either.  No, the real addiction is when your book is on their virtual shelves and you discover that thing called Amazon Best Sellers Rank.  (Cue brassy fanfare here.)

With Amazon Best Sellers Rank, you can tell in a glance exactly where your book falls in the lineup of books that sell the most copies.  On the one hand, this is wonderful... your book, just off the presses, is already 134th  in of all  Books > Children's Books > Literature & Fiction > Religious Fiction > Christian > Animals!

On the other hand, you don't know exactly how many books are in that subcategory of fiction... so for all you know, 134 is dead last.  Which still isn't bad, considering that it was just published - after all, even J.K. Rowling had to start from somewhere, right?

By clicking on that last subcategory, you can launch yourself into the list of books that your book is shelved among... who's number one?  Easy enough to check.  (For me, the Berenstain Bears are tops in Holidays and Celebrations, while Pete the Cat rules over children's books featuring cats.)  This is handy for market research, since at a glance you can see what's selling in any particular category.

It can also be profoundly depressing, if you find your precious published baby lagging behind books you personally think aren't as good as yours.

And then there's the fact that the rankings change by the hour.  My husband e-mailed me the other day to cheer that The Stable Cat's Christmas had broken the 50 top books mark... but by the time I got on, it had dropped to 74.  Ah, the fleeting fickleness of popularity!

Still, it's a handy tool for an author to know about, if you don't let the details drive you crazy.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

The True Confessions of a Plus-Sized Super Girl

This is the opening chapter of a project I've been working on... the heroine, Sandy, really spoke to me when she popped into existence.  Unfortunately, she's been a bit more close-mouthed since I got this part written down.  I'm hoping she'll become a bit more talkative if I give her some breathing space.
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The absolute suckiest thing that can happen to a fat girl is to suddenly discover that you can’t fly.

I mean, you know it’s coming.  In our town, everyone stops flying somewhere around ten years old.  That’s when your permanent abilities begin to manifest, and the ones that kept you safe when you were a little kid start to fade out - so most people stop flying (much) on or around their tenth birthday.  Oh, there are the occasional kids who hang on to flight well into their teens, but there aren’t many of them.  And the ones who turn into grown-ups who can fly?  Pff.  Practically none.  So you know it’s coming.  You’d have to be stupid to ignore it, right?

But when you’re a fat girl, flying is pretty much the best thing in your entire world.  

It’s like swimming, which is as close anyone who CAN’T fly can get to really being free from the World of Heavy.  When you jump into a pool or a lake, it’s amazing - that sudden sensation of weighing almost nothing, feeling the gentle hug of the water holding you up and floating you along on all sides, and you can spin and flip and feel graceful, like a dolphin or an otter, instead of big and clunky and all pushed into the ground, like a hippo.  Come to think of it, that’s probably why hippos spend so much time in the water.  

Now imagine that feeling, but only MORE so, because there’s no water pushing back on you, and you’re not wearing some skimpy little swimsuit.  It’s just you, the wind, and the sky.

That’s flying.

But that day, I wasn’t flying.  I was… well, PLUMMETING.  Dropping like the proverbial brick.  No warning, no car-like putta-putta-cough of an engine getting set to die.  Just… uh oh.  Gravity works.  

Wind suddenly rushing the wrong way.  Cars and houses getting bigger. Clouds and birds getting further away instead of closer.  My shadow getting bigger.  Tree branches getting more detailed and looking way sharper than they do from a hundred feet higher up.  

I didn’t scream.  

Honestly, I didn’t.  The sound I made was more like the sound a puppy makes when you step on it by accident, and it got stuck in my throat before it really got out.  Which, to be honest, REALLY sucked, because in our town, screaming can save your life.

So I’m dropping out of the sky, arms and legs windmilling like one of those old cartoon characters flapping to try to regain altitude, and I can’t scream because I can’t breath, and all I can think is, Great.  You can’t even SCREAM right, you idiot.  And now, you’re gonna die.  SPLAT.

Mom is gonna be SO pissed.

That’s when my arm connects with something warm and solid, and Aki goes, “OOF!  Knock it OFF, Sandy!  That hurt!”

And suddenly, I’m not plummeting anymore.  I’m doing a Buzz Lightyear “falling with style”… a long, slow, curving swoop, and I’m so busy trying to drink in all those last sights and sounds and feels of flying that I’m only half listening to the angry voice in my ear.  

The whole way down, Aki is flipping between Japanese and English at the top of his lungs.  I don’t speak much Japanese, but I know that I’m getting told off in both languages, and also that if Aki’s mom was listening in, he’d probably get his mouth washed out with soap.

“... I mean, you’re not a TOTAL FREAKING STUPID IDIOT!” he’s shouting as he dumps me on his roof and drops down beside me.  “You KNOW how it works!  Dammit, Sandy, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?”

I could have come up with a dozen smart remarks.  I’ve known Aki since… well, forever.  I’ve mashed his face into the grass when we wrestled, had him whip me solid in a knock-down no-holds-barred pillow fight, kicked his butt in mancala just to watch him throw a tantrum, and gotten up in the face of the third grade class bully who was teasing him because of how short he is.  Was.  Whatever.  

So I could have just flipped him off and climbed down from the roof, making like it doesn’t matter, no biggie, quit acting all high and mighty… but noooooo, I couldn’t even do THAT right.  

Because right then, staring at Mister I-Can-Still-Fly Aki, I suddenly realized I could feel how hard my feet were pressing into the ground.  Could feel every bit of my body tugging down, down, like gravity was trying to remind me that it was my boss, and would be forever.  My nose got that prickly-warm-pincushion feeling, my eyes flooded over, and I started bawling.  Right out in the open and everything.

Happy stupid twelfth birthday to me.