Renasence

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–image from Wikimedia Commons

I’d never seen anything like it, that pool of foul black water filling my kitchen sink. A faint watery sound was coming from the cabinet under the sink. I opened the cabinet door and saw a rivulet of filthy water trickling down the side of the garbage disposal unit. This time, the offensive machine was completely borked–all was lost. When I recovered my presence of mind and the use of the speech center of my brain I called the plumber’s emergency number. After stemming the awful rotting tide and replacing the bad pipes, at my insistence he also removed the broken garbage disposal forever from my home. Out, damned thing! It had made my life a misery one time too many. Now I had new pipes and a brand new normal drain, whew! And I was also left with the aftermath of the disaster.

The sink needed to be scrubbed and bleached, and the counter where the plumber had rested his tools and parts of the old pipework. The clean dishes stacked on another counter had to be washed again to make sure there were no stray splatters on them. Whatever was stored under the sink at the time of the disaster was covered in wet awfulness. I went wild with the trash can, tossing in an almost empty can of Raid, two almost empty bottles of Windex, and a full bottle of Goo Gone that I hadn’t used since I bought it five years ago. My favorite old scrub brush was beyond salvation, just like that new scrub brush with the handle that made it too awkward to use. A damp box of old SOS pads disintegrated in my gloved hand. When I was done scrubbing and bleaching and throwing things away, only three items were left out of a cabinetful. I had been forced to make a clean sweep whether I wanted to or not. And I was…glad. Glad that it happened, and glad that I went through it without blowing chunks.

Sometimes the sludgy ugliness of life looms larger than the goodness and sweetness of it all. That taint can creep into the nicest things, and what was once a pure pleasure is a half-pleasure, an unfinished joy. Something must happen–a purge of some kind, a sweeping clean all the nastiness that blots out the sun in your soul. And when that clean sweep takes place, hard as it is, the beauty and happiness of life can enter your soul again and wash that bitterness away.

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A Mazement

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–Longleat Hedge Maze (England), from Wikimedia Commons

I can’t speak for others, but for me the journey of writing is like walking through a maze—specifically a hedge maze, set in a sunny clearing in the middle of a deep, dark wood.

A maze that I must create the map for as I go along, because I have no idea where I am going. A maze that bewilders, scares, and delights me, like a new ride at an amusement park. A maze that is fresh and green, and goes in unexpected twists and turns until I arrive at the center…to find what prize? But that is the question I came here to solve.

Then I have to find my way out the other side, arrive there safe and well, and show others how to navigate the same pathway I did.

And then I have to do it all over again. And again. It’s the anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing where I’m going, the thrill of discovery, the thankfulness once I find the right path, and the relief of closure at the end. Because to me, that’s what writing is all about.

 

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Fire and Ice

opal

                                              — image from Wikimedia Commons

I have always had a passion for learning and the curiosity to match. It’s amazing how little I know about English poetry so this summer I have started on a self-improvement kick, studying one famous poem each month. This month I have chosen “Opal” by poet Amy Lowell:

Opal

You are ice and fire,

The touch of you burns my hands like snow.

You are cold and flame.

You are the crimson of amaryllis,

The silver of moon-touched begonias.

When I am with you,

My heart is a frozen pond

Gleaming with agitated torches.

It’s obvious by the end of this poem that Lowell is talking about more than an opal, she’s writing about love and desire. Her vivid visual images work in opposites–cold and flame, fire and ice, a frozen pond and burning torches. Fire and ice are a simple but powerful contrast and opal, a gemstone with rainbowlike inclusions, fits the poet’s purpose exactly. The frozen pond gleaming with torches evokes the thought of a frozen heart warmed and melted by the lover’s presence and his touch.

A good poem vibrates long after the verses have been read and admired. How much of fire and ice were there in my past relationships? Could there have been more? I wonder what I would want if ever I had another love relationship, and whether my significant other would feel the same.

What poem will I choose next month? I haven’t decided, but you know what? I am really ignorant about famous painters. If I can read a poem a month, surely I could study one painting a month too, or maybe take up a second language, or learn the clarinet…what do you mean it’s time to go to work? I don’t have time to go to work! There’s too much cool stuff waiting for me to learn…

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Perfect Pizza!

PerfectPizza_SM

Available now on Amazon: Perfect Pizza and Other Low Carb Delights

 

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Choices

 

1024px-Toothpaste

— image from Wikimedia Commons

I stood in front of the display, trying to clear my mind. Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening formula? Mouthwash crystals? Baking soda? Tea tree oil?

“May I help you?” said a clerk at my elbow.

“I’m looking for toothpaste.”

“We’ve got it.”

“Yes,” I replied uncertainly. “I see that.”

“What are you looking for? Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening…”

I zoned out and didn’t follow the rest of her spiel. After her mouth stopped moving I grabbed a red and white box, walked up to the counter, and paid. It was fluoride-fortified whitening gel-striped minty cinnamon organic fresh toothpaste but I no longer cared. All I wanted was toothpaste.

I’m not confused by multitudes of choices in general. Just buying toothpaste, and maybe athletic shoes. Something that doesn’t confuse me, has a million choices, and that I can spend hours or days choosing is character names. Choosing character names for a short story or a book sounds like a trivial detail, but the wrong name choice can grate on a reader’s nerves like a faucet dripping in the middle of the quiet night, or that one mosquito in your bedroom that you can never catch.

I can’t just grab any old name and say, that’s the one. It has to have just the right ring to it, and it has to be a good fit. Does the name sound too much like another character’s name? Three main characters named Nathan, Nathaniel, and Nancy sound potentially confusing and repetitive. Do the names reflect the time period the book or story is set in? Dorcas, Tamsin, and Bildad are good names but also instantly recognizable as from Colonial America, just as Flavius and Domitia are from ancient Roman times. Addison and Jaden would set the stage for modern times, but don’t feel right if the author was writing about the 1970s. Do the first names sound good with the surnames? Does the feeling behind the name fit the character? I take my time and mull over these questions until I find the answers. Just toothpaste, but not just any name. It takes time, and care, and love.

Do other writers go through this process in naming their characters? Probably not all, but I’m sure some do. Are their books or stories any better for agonizing over their name choices? Again, probably not. But that’s how I roll.

PS: Let’s bring back Lavinia. I love that name so much.

 

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My first Goodreads giveaway

fireworks

(fireworks image from Desktop Nexus)

My first Goodreads giveaway is in progress starting today. Stop by Goodreads and get a free copy of my novel Unearthly: Goodreads giveaway for Unearthly

Please leave a review, if you would like to, at Goodreads or on Amazon.  This giveaway will continue until June 22.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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I reddit Last Night

robin

— picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After YouTube, reddit has to be the greatest time waster in the world. Whenever I am trying to fix an awkward place in my first draft, reddit comes to my recue. It’s probably the most effective tool in my box of procrastinators. I love it.

Whenever I get on reddit, there is no such thing as “just five minutes.” I will read thread upon thread until five in the morning and never notice the time until the pure liquid chirping from the robin who lives in the bush below my window tells me that dawn is breaking and my alarm will be going off in half an hour.

What’s so special about reddit, you ask. It’s true that most of the posts are about pretty ordinary stuff: “Look at my cute baby/puppy or kitten/what I knitted today/my co-worker’s screwup/the weird insect I found at the park.” Sometimes, though, a post can be deep or profound, revealing some serious personal issue or an observation on people and life. A few areas of reddit I stay away from because they show a dark side of human nature I’d just as soon not know more about. And sometimes a random post will be so abysmally dumb that the scathing replies it generates are really amusing. But the best part of reddit, the place I love to hang out at, is Ask Reddit.

Ask Reddit is the place where people can openly ask, well, literally almost anything, and anybody can post an answer. As with reddit generally, Ask Reddit is a mixed bag. Some questions are ordinary, some are offbeat, sexually oriented or even socially unacceptable, some are fascinating and insightful, and some are just…really, really stupid. All those questions are interesting to read, but what I find the most entertaining is when redditors start riffing off each other’s replies. When posters build upon and add to each others’ posts a thread can soon become hysterically funny, and it just keeps on going.

Here is an example of a profound thread:

What fact did you learn too late in life?

This is an offbeat thread (warning, disgusting content):

What is the worst smell you’ve ever encountered?

Another fascinating thread (warning, graphic content):

What is an animal that is not more afraid of you than you are of it?

And here are two threads that got funny quickly (warming, inappropriate content):

When was a time when you had to hold in laughter, and failed?

Reddit, which word(s) do you always struggle to pronounce correctly?

(Seriously, I live for threads like these!)

I don’t post in reddit myself. I don’t even have an account there, because I couldn’t possibly compete with the quick wit of many of the redditors there. But is reading funny stories about people’s worst bosses worth losing a good night’s sleep over? To me, yes. Yes it is. So I merrily read my threads, muffle my laughter in a pillow so as not to wake anyone else, and slide into bed guiltily as I hit the snooze button on my alarm.

 

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Spring Break

No, not an enthusiastic post about the excitement of spring break in general, but an announcement about a spring break of my own. Due to various writing-related activities I will be taking a short break from posting in here, and will return in May.  For this month’s entry, here is an image I found on Desktop Nexus of a wonderful jumble of spring flowers. Enjoy!

daisies and mums

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Falling to Pieces

Old_book_bindings Wikimedia Commons

–photograph taken from Wikimedia Commons

One recent Saturday afternoon I settled down in an easy chair with a stack of saltine crackers, a glass of orange juice, and an old friend, the friend being one of my favorite novels. When I opened it, however, the binding cracked like stale peanut brittle. Pages sailed out and hit the floor like giant flakes in a literary snowstorm. Horrified, I reached for another novel and found that it, too, was on the verge of giving up the ghost. At that point I put my crackers aside, checked my bookshelves, and found several more favorites that were barely clinging to life. I had literally read these books to pieces.

A (partial) roll call of the dead:

Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody, the true story of a woman and her daughter forced by her then-husband to live in his native Iran, where her rights as a woman became basically non-existent. Her efforts to survive and her dash for freedom with her young daughter make for a very exciting read.

The Wanderer by Fanny Burney, an oldie but goodie, as I dearly love 18th century melodrama. I sympathize with the heroine’s struggles, and I also find it an interesting study of the confining gender roles prevalent in English society at that time.

The Dark Descent edited by David Hartwell, one of the finest horror anthologies I’ve ever read. Many of the greatest names in horror fiction have stories in there including Michael Shea’s “The Autopsy”,  Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks”, and “How Love Came to Professor Guildea” by Robert Hichens, to name just a couple. I am very sorry to lose this book, and this is probably the first book that I will replace when my book-buying budget permits.

Sometimes I go into denial about what I want to preserve. Among the books that have traveled at my side since my girlhood is one box of original Weird Tales magazines. I have read them in the past, but I don’t dare even open that box any more because those ancient and eldritch mags will disintegrate at the first touch of fresh air, so those precious issues remain safely tucked in their box, where they are of no use to anyone at all.

I will buy replacements for my much-loved books. Used copies for sale are often as fragile as my originals, so I will buy modern reprints where I can find them. I know it’s what’s inside that counts the most, but I will miss the old covers anyway. Some people will tell me, why don’t you get the digital editions? I could, but I won’t. I want the smell, the feel, the look of that book when first I discovered it and added it to my collection of old friends.

Remember that old Irish blessing, “May the road rise up to meet you, may wind be always at your back…?” Well, I have come up with a blessing for the book fiends among us: May the bindings on all your books remain intact and flexible, may your pages never splinter and your covers stay strong. May all our favorite books live forever!

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Are You Amazing?

Swiss Army nail clippers THIS ONE JPEG

*Disclaimer: There is no such tool in real life as a Swiss Army nail clippers, but I wish there were.

Can you hush a crying baby instantly? Play a piece of music perfectly after hearing it only once? Know immediately what is making that weird noise under the hood of your car? Throw any old rag on your back and look like a picture-perfect model? Is there some talent or skill you are especially good at that you like to wow people with? Here are a couple of mine:

I can steer a canoe. I mean I don’t just think I can, I can really do it. Once during my dating days I went on a canoe trip with someone who claimed he was an expert steersman. He paddled us in circles and got us stuck on a sandbar in the middle of a highly polluted river. I had to get out and push us off, and I don’t know why that filthy river water didn’t dissolve my feet on contact. After I escaped from both the canoe and the date I vowed that if I ever got into a canoe again, I would be the one doing the steering.

I can do anything with a nail clippers. It functions as my own cheap Swiss Army knife. I can unknot a hopelessly knotted shoelace. I can untangle the worst tangle in the chain of a necklace. I can perform minor surgery on hangnails, skin tags, and hanging scabs. With an ordinary, everyday nail clipper I can leap the tallest building at a single bound. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s me and my nail clippers!

I can type on a keyboard while holding a conversation with the person standing in front of me. Now, I don’t tend to do this every day because it freaks people out, but I can continue to type, accurately, while carrying on a completely rational conversation. When challenged to repeat what that person just said I can give them chapter and verse, and it blows their mind. I do feel smug about this special ability, but like I said, I don’t do it very often, and sometimes I get the feeling that people would feel more comfortable about it if I weren’t able to do it quite so well.

So, I’m asking you, what are your special skills and talents? The world wants to know!

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The Dark Side of Information Addiction

telescope oboe music

I am an information junkie. I have a lust for information so powerful that it would probably qualify as one of the seven deadly sins. No matter how remote the possibility of usefulness, I cannot, simply cannot, pass by an opportunity to make a note of something that may come in handy to me within the next hundred years or so. This addiction to collecting information used to take the form of paper. My black filing cabinet was crammed with spiral notebooks, grocery slips, and random sticky notes scribbled with “irreplaceable” data.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, in recent years my lust for information has gone digital. Gone are the spiral notebooks and the bulging manila folders of sticky notes. In their places I have collected…internet bookmarks. I have an avalanche of bookmarks saving my place on hundreds of web sites that I just might remotely have a use for someday. I have so many bookmarks on my massive (and growing) dropdown menus that I have defeated the very purpose of creating bookmarks, for I can’t find a single thing easily any more. It’s embarrassing when I know I have marked an interesting web site for future reference, but can’t find the site again without Googling.

One day last week I sat down and forced myself to sort through my gigantic menus. Of course, I can’t get rid of the Chambers Book of Days online. Even though I own a print copy that I haven’t looked at since 2010, what if I lose it? Then there are various colleges and universities. I have never gone to those places and don’t have plans to, but what if I should change my mind and want to take a class? Those survival skills web sites, I haven’t read anything on them since I marked them three years ago. But what if there was some kind of natural disaster and I had to learn how to start a campfire with an AA battery and a shoelace? I certainly can’t delete information that could save my life one day. Odds are I will probably never need to know how to lay joists for a log cabin floor, but what if I have the opportunity to do so? I know how to garden, but what if I want to raise a lemon tree indoors? I’ve always wanted to teach myself Icelandic, learn how to pilot a light aircraft, raise milk goats, play the oboe, build a solar-powered bake oven, learn chemistry the easy way, compile a family tree, make my own sky telescope, find the esoteric meaning of rose quartz, create homemade jewelry, dig my own swimming pool, locate the country of Bhutan…

Clearly, I need help. But not today, for I have made some progress. I started with 1000 bookmarks and now I have 998. There’s nothing like a good “housecleaning!”

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Hill Magick released on Kindle and CreateSpace

Hooray! My horror novel Hill Magick (second edition) has been released on Kindle and CreateSpace:

HillMagick_Kindle jpeg

Buy Hill Magick on Amazon:

Hill Magick

View the trailer for Hill Magick on YouTube:

Hill Magick trailer

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