Monday, June 17, 2013

The Universe Will Blow Your Mind

Hi, folks!  No deep thoughts here today, just a guided tour that I plan to take a few more times today.  Want  a windshield view of deep space?  Here is an amazing one for you.  Make sure to click for the guided tour!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Others

Yep - I've been watching Lost.  I realize that I'm a few years late to the party, but better late than never, right?  Ever since a friend of mine forwarded me the TED Talk video of JJ Abrams and I realized that this was the man to whom I owe the just-plain-freaking-awesome reboot of Star Trek, I've loved him.  Hence the late-night, Hulu-plus foray into Lost.  I'm in the middle of season three, and Dharma has Jack.  There is a lot of confusion about the Hostiles and the Others and Dharma and who they all are, but the crash survivors are pretty sure about one thing: anyone who isn't them is bad.

I have a feeling that JJ Abrams is just messing with me, though.  After seeing all of the back stories so far and how nearly everyone has a complicated, very gray past, I'm pretty sure that even the Others have a reason for what they're doing.  I mean, look at Juliette.  And as much as I dislike Benjamin Linus, I'm suspending judgement.  That seems lately like the best thing for me to do in fiction and in life.

After all, following the loudest voices in my religious circles left me looking at the world full of ordinary people around me as if they were all the Others: crazed wack jobs with no other aim in life than to destroy the country and the family and everything sane and normal and decent as fast as they could.  It took stepping off my particular stretch of beach and meeting them face to face for me to realize that they were just like me and that the crazy ones were the loud, religious voices.

In fact, though I've removed those influences from my life, I had to calm my son down last night after he accidentally watched an ignorant, sensationalist piece of religious propaganda on YouTube.  Seeing his frightened tears and working to undo the damage to his world brought me back to a lot of Sunday and Wednesday night church services dedicated to explaining the end of time.  I wished I could go back and tell the scared little girl I was that things would be okay - that no scary monsters and demons were coming for her.  I wish I could tell her that she would get to live in the world well into adulthood and get married and have kids.  I wish I could tell her that the people she passed in stores and libraries and museums were okay, that they wanted the same things she did, and that she could find friends among them.

My revelation from Lost so far?  Everyone has a back story.  Everyone has both darkness and light in them. And no matter who they follow, where they camp, or what they know, everyone is on the same island.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

White and Black Hats

When I read fiction, I'm comfortable with guys in white and black hats.  I understand clear good and evil.  I even think, or have thought, that that's the way things should be.  The guy on the white horse with the tin badge shoots the leader of the colloquially-named gang that has been terrorizing the village, and order is restored.  There's probably even a smooch in it for him at the end from his lady love.  But there's one problem with the way I like fiction to be.  Life isn't like that.

Years ago, I joined a book club in my neighborhood.  Each lady chose a book for a month and then hosted the discussion of that book in her home.  One lady, I honestly don't remember who, chose Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.  I hated that book with a passion because it blurred lines between good and evil that I didn't think ought to be blurred.  I wanted the villain to be the villain, no matter how sorry I secretly felt for him.

Years passed, and I changed.  Then my beloved Jo came out with a new book, and with fear and trepidation for her, I began to read.  (Don't laugh at me calling her Jo.  In my head, we're on a first-name basis, and she loves Dawn Hyperdrive.)  You know how you watch a scene in a movie you kind of want to see and don't want to have seen?  That's how I read her book.  And the very quality that made me hate Jodi Picoult made me love Jo even more than I already did.  Jo loved everybody, even the people who were supposed to be villains.  She understood them with a perfect and charitable empathy.

What if everyone is like Alice's looking glass?  What if there is an alternate reality inside everyone, one we don't see just by knocking on the front door?  What if we never really understand what makes a saint a saint or a villain a villain until we stand in front of the mirror of his soul and see ourselves?

I think I owe Jodi Picoult an apology.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Us versus Them

When I was growing up in Christian school, I regularly attended chapel assemblies.  Most of the time, our headmaster or one of the school teachers or pastors on staff at the church tied to the school would speak on some spiritual issue or other.  We'd sing a song or two and then sit back and listen.  For a long while, I even took notes; it was a good habit for me that helped me in school.  But occasionally, maybe once every year or so, we'd get a slide show.

The slide show would introduce us to the Evils of Rock Music and Pop Culture in General, and they were usually interesting in the way that live war footage on the news is interesting.  The shock of learning what was really out there terrified me.  Because I accepted the teaching that my teachers and pastors were in a straight down-line from God Almighty and that questioning them was tantamount to questioning the Big Guy Himself, I accepted as true all of the presentations on backward masking (messages from Satan hidden in rock records played backwards), occult symbols on album covers, and ritual abuse and sacrifice done by hard-core Satanist fans.

I lived a lot of my childhood and young adult years believing that the world was bad and that the people in it were all bad, too, except for the people from my denomination and a slim selection of other denominations with acceptable doctrine.  I peered at the world outside from behind a fence of prejudice, determined to be horrified at what I saw.  So I was.  But some stubborn part of me still liked part of what I saw.  I loved U2 and Star Trek and novels by atheists like Steinbeck and Hemingway.  I just thought that liking those things was, if not strictly a sin (listening to U2 definitely was), then a dangerous, slippery path to sin.

As I've grown older, I've stepped outside the bounds of my denomination, which I left.  I thought that I had left those prejudices behind, but every time I think I'm completely free, I realize I have another door in front of me to open.  Recently, a series of books and shows and songs and personal encounters have showed me another locked door that I'm beginning to open.  I'm beginning to realize that the people around me are just like me.  Being a part of my denomination didn't make me safe; it made me scared.  And in truth, the world isn't us versus them.  The world is just us.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Today was a distracted day.  I finished writing through the end of chapter 5 in book two, but it took me literally all day.  I woke up late and made my daughter eggs because she looked cute and asked me with huge puppy dog eyes.

And then I sat down with very good intentions and listened to my husband's phone calls for a couple of hours while I stared at the same paragraph over and over and willed it to make sense in my head.  He has a very loud and penetrating phone voice that I can hear from clear out in the yard, bless his heart.  And then my darling daughter came in and asked for a bath - which means that she wet her pants.  So I gave her a bath.
 Then I realized I was hungry and went to the kitchen for carrots and hummus and tea while Jane bathed.  After my snack, I thought I should start dinner.  So I made a stew and garlic bread.  Then I sat down again and actually wrote a few pages.  Tea is magic juice, folks.  The toddler bathed for a long while, and my husband mowed grass.  A lawnmower is kind of a nice thing to hear in the background while you write.

But if you recognize this rodent, you'll gather how the rest of the day went.  In between dressing my toddler and getting her food and listening to her questions and her reports on what the cat was doing and how her tummy felt and what her poop looked like and listening to my husband's afternoon phone calls (my other kids have "borrowed" and "lost" my earbuds, which means I will not see them again in this world), I managed to obsess over the fate of one character and force an end to the chapter.  I will probably rewrite it later.

And though my very strong natural inclination is to smack my head repeatedly for giving in to the distractions around me and accomplishing much less today than I should have done, I am giving myself a congratulations sticker.  There are eight pages (seven and a half if we're picky) in the world now that did not exist this morning.  And eight pages are a lot more than I write on the days when I throw my hands up and let the distractions win entirely.  One day, I'll look back on my distractions and laugh.

Or write.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dear Jane

Dear Jane,
Last night, I took you to McDonald's.  You are three, and going there is a big deal.  You got a chicken nugget happy meal with fries and an orange drink and sliced apples, which were the only things you didn't touch.  You talked and chair-danced to Motown and laughed and climbed all over the play place.

Right now, you are potty training.  You are really fascinated with the ritual of going and wiping and flushing and washing your hands.  Going at McDonald's is fun, because they have loud hot-air dryers for your hands.  But it is also scary, because they don't have tiny potties, and you are afraid to fall in.  So I kneel in front of you and hold you in a kind of hug while you go so that you are safe.

I am trying not to laugh at the noises you make as you try to poop.  You are really serious about being a good girl and keeping your pants clean.  But all of a sudden, holding you this way with your face resting against my face and your arms around my neck and my hands holding your back prompts a memory of me sitting this way on a hospital toilet while your dad held me with his face against my face and my arms around his neck and his hands holding my back while I felt the worst pain of my life so far.

I remember how necessary being held was right then and how frightened I was that something would go wrong.  I remember wishing for a mother and crying along with the other pains and fears that I didn't have a mother to comfort me.  I remember all of my modesty and careful pretense utterly deserting me as I sobbed and breathed.

And as I held you tonight and heard your almost-baby breathing so close to my ear, I thought: Twenty years, maybe thirty years from now, you will be straining like this with your own child.  And I will be so glad to hold you just like this if you need me.  Whatever happens between us while you are growing up, I will be there to kneel in front of you in that painful and purposeful embrace to soothe you and keep you safe.

Love, Mom

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The many ways I have screwed up

The paperback version of Dawn Hyperdrive and the Galactic Handbag of Death launched yesterday.  And while I'm grateful it's out and excited to reach a whole bunch of people who eschew e-readers on principle, the process of launching it has showed me yet again that the flaws in my psyche which I thought had tucked their tails and run are still with me.  And I'm going to trot them out for you, digital reader, whoever you are, if you exist, primarily because I want to warn myself against them again and send them running for a while if I can.

The biggest one is pride.  When I imagined becoming a published author, I assumed I would have people.  You know what I mean - the people actors in bad eighties movies meant when  they said, "I'll have my people call your people."  Part of me is surprised that I don't have agents and publishers and their minions banging down my door and begging to register my ISBNs, enter orders for my books at the printer, and arrange distribution.  And the more I let that pride spread its tail feathers in my soul, the less I'll be willing to say, "I don't know how this works.  I don't understand this process.  I am willing to learn.  I am willing to do whatever needs to be done."  I need to remember that I'm not a big shot.  I'm my own minion.

I'm also stubborn.  If I get an idea in my head, I don't let it go.  For instance, I got an idea in my head that before I did anything else for the print edition, I needed to see a proof.  I needed to go through a physical book in my hand to find all of the errors.  Only when the physical book in my hand was perfect could I register it, find out how to sell it, link Paypal accounts to widgets, and look at all of the rest of the work that needed to be done.  Because I let my stubbornness bray in the corners of my soul like a mule, I ended up doing things that could have been done months ago all at the last minute.

Boy, turtles are ugly.  Their heads look like snake heads, and they've got gross claws and yucky feet.  But what this guy is doing is totally me.  When I feel pressure, I tuck inside a shell.  I don't talk to anyone, even to people who could help.  I don't want to bother them.  They're busy.  I can do this myself.  I'll think about it later.  This kind of thinking really sets me back.  And I will be much happier when I can lift my head up and talk, when I can say out loud, "I need help.  I want you to help me.  I am really far behind, and I don't know what to do next."

I may not have people, in the sense of soulless ciphers that exist to do my bidding, but I do have friends and partners around me.  Like all human beings, I'm a herd animal.  I can ask for advice.  I can tell the rest of the herd what's happening.  I can let other people check my stubbornness and hubris and blind self-effacement.

Until I get a publishing deal - then I'll have people.

Shut up.
Buy your copy of Dawn Hyperdrive and the Galactic Handbag of Death for print or e-reader at my website now!