Monday, April 28, 2008

HTV (Hermit Television)

There’s just no accounting for taste. Or for obsessions. I can’t tell you why I’m obsessed with hermits, but I can tell you today is a banner day if you happen to be interested in hermits too—there are hermit videos on YouTube!

Yes, now if you’ve ever wanted to see the inside of a hermit cave you can click HERE, or if you want to stare into the face of meditating yogis in solitude you can click HERE.

And really, who doesn't?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Being Edited

After college I moved to Seattle, into a two-bedroom apartment with three girls from school (one of whom slept on the couch in nothing but nylons every night, but that’s another story). At first life was bleak, and not just because of the cramped quarters. I didn’t have a car and the only job I could find was as a sales clerk at Victoria’s Secret. Taking the bus to downtown Seattle to spend the day re-folding undies and bras plucked off the dressing room floor was not, I thought, a good use of my shiny new degree in Journalism.

Then one day I got a break. My roommate, an intern in the PR department at Microsoft, landed me an interview with the Copy Chief of Corporate Communications—the head of all the marketing and communications writers. Despite the fact that I took the wrong bus and arrived late and, perhaps worse, wore a really bad hound’s tooth suit, Tony and I clicked. He had done his graduate work at the same School of Journalism and we shared (and loved) the same advisor. Tony made a call to Dr. White; I'll admit I had been a bit of a teacher’s pet so he gave me a stellar recommendation. I got the job in December of 1988 and thus began my lifelong love of being edited.

The department had an equal number of writers and copy editors, and nothing ever went to print without your editor scrutinizing it several times. This was the best education in writing that I ever had. These copy editors were serious. These people earned their money on my crappy copy. But I loved it. When I’d get a piece back that had been routed through editorial I’d grab a fresh cup of coffee, close the door to my office and pore over the red hieroglyphic marks. Then I’d open the document, make the corrections, and print my deliciously flawless pages.

Until then, I’d never had the pleasure of being edited on a regular, daily basis. I miss it terribly. This piece could definitely have used an editor. To me being edited is like scratching a mosquito bite, the way it feels good and bad at the same time. Sure you feel like an ass for being caught making dumb mistakes, but reading that freshly edited page, free of errors…well, I guess you might have to be a writer to appreciate how that feels a lot like getting into clean sheets that someone else has washed and put on the bed.

Every Wednesday night the Lithia Writers critique group gathers. I love Wednesday, love the writing group, but if I’m honest about what I love most it it’s not the discussion about what I’ve brought, the talk about content, momentum, tension, and all that. No, it’s about Thursday morning when I get a fresh cup of coffee, close the door to my office, and pore over the four new sets of marked-up pages. It’s about scratching that mosquito bite.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fetish Garden

Does anyone else do things that feel completely normal to you, but may seem bizarre or superstitious to others?

Amongst the requisite computer-related items on my desk sits a tray with collection of various trinkets, my Fetish Garden. It holds a clan Cameron badge, a jade three-legged toad, an ingot, coins from countries I’ve visited in a small clay bowl that my son made, a prism with the Mayan calendar carved in it, a replica Egyptian monkey inkwell filled with shells that I picked up from Big Sur after I’d won an award at a writing workshop there, and a carved stone my Mom gave me before surgery, among other things.

I realize these items have meaning only because I have ascribed it to them, but I still find it hard to start my day without acknowledging my garden of oddities or end the day without straightening them up.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Improve your writing AND fight hunger!

My friend Kelly over at Blue Like the Sky tipped me off to a new website that immediately eclipsed as my number one time suck. Challenge yourself at where you build your vocabulary and they donate rice to the world’s largest food aid agency! For every definition you guess correctly the World Food Programme gets 20 grains of rice. Sounds meager until you get hooked; I just donated 5680 grains of rice in one sitting. Lucky for me I got a string of weird/icky medical words (my favorite!) like ictus, cnidoblast and sanies, which helped. I was trying to reach level 50 but never made it; stalled out at 49. Let me know if you reach 50!

Oh, and regarding yesterday’s euphoria over—my husband ruined the mystique by explaining how it works. Apparently I’m easily reducible. At the end of the day, I’m just another drone that likes major key tonality, excessive vamping, and acoustic sonority. So much for being complicated…

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Open Pandora's Box!

I was writing a road trip scene today and felt like I needed a little music while I worked. But since I prefer to write in austere conditions with no distractions to the eyes or ears, I don’t even have a way to play music in my office other than my laptop. So I thought I’d check out, which my husband has been raving about since it debuted on the internet. Guess what? I have a new obsession! Pandora knows me better than I know myself! Pandora understands me at the core! Brace yourself for even more exclamation points!

For those of you who haven’t used Pandora, you type in a couple of your favorite random artists and it figures out what you like. How it works is all very mysterious to me, but damn if I didn’t type in Dave Matthews and Jeff Buckley and have Pandora tell me I’d like Ben Harper. I love Ben Harper! And I hadn’t yet said a word about it, Pandora just knew. Then I added Ray LaMontagne and Alison Krauss and Pandora told me I’d like Matt Costa. I’d never heard of him, but now he’s my new favorite!

This kind of unbridled joy at Pandora’s mind reading skills has been going on all day.

On/Off by Snow Patrol just came on! I’d written this song on my hand a few weeks ago, meaning to buy it, but never got around to it. Did Pandora see that? It’s crazy over here, my friends! Run to and feast your ears. She knows what you like!

Wait…are you kidding me? Now it’s Jason Mraz! Am I that transparent? Are my tastes that obvious?

At what point to you wonder if they’ve planted a chip in your head?

Thursday, April 17, 2008


When not writing, I’m busy raising two children. Sometimes they astound melike when seven-year-old Juliet cranks out a Flash animation in less time than it takes me to upgrade my browser. All DNA responsible for this feat comes directly from her father. From me? A love of books and frosting.

Click here for cute flash of Flash.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Must. Go. Make. Stuff. Up.

Today I have to take my own advice and just get my asp in the chair and open my manuscript.

Yesterday I was working on a freelance project that involved far too much of my left brain: reworking citations in an essay bound for an MIT Press anthology. This is dull work, closer to tweaking html code than writing—Chicago Style, MLA Style, Turabian Style, they all have their own weird little rules to follow and translating one to the other is tedious10. For me, this is the soul-sucking part of freelance writing.

Working on non-fiction projects, especially anything academic, always throws off my fiction writing for a while. After double checking each and every word or date to make sure it follows specific citation style rules, it feels a bit weird to sit down and write with no parameters. I can write a sentence without having to hit the “insert endnote” shortcut key? Really? I can just, you know, make stuff up?

The day before last it was over 80 degrees and yesterday five inches of snow fell on the newly mowed lawn. If the weather can move that quickly from one extreme to the other, why can’t I?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stalking Your Agent's Other Clients

If you are lucky enough to secure representation by a big-time Literary Agent, here are three things you should never do:

1) Never put your Literary Agent’s name on Google Alerts so that you can be notified every damn time they make a sale or sign a client.

2) Never collect a list of other writers they represent, either culled by disregarding my #1 piece of advice or by typing the agent’s name into Amazon to see which authors thank her/him in their acknowledgments, or by any other cunning method yet unknown to me.

3) If you’ve already gone as far as #2, for God’s sake do not, for any reason, spend an evening web-hunting the writers who have made it on this list. You must realize that writers will only list successes on their blogs/websites, which, after reading, will lead directly to some serious self loathing.

There’s a reason most agents don't tell their clients the names of their other clients. Because reading the chipper websites and blogs of writers recently signed to your agent, all full of hope and promise and – ugh – good news, can do nothing positive for your writing. If you’re looking to get a bleeding ulcer they’re top notch, other than that there’s no reason to do this kind of stalking research.

Maybe this whole path to publication, which for me has been one gigantic, slowly meted dose of discomiture, is designed to toughen you up for when your manuscript is published and gets reviewed. Maybe it’s like how being unable to sleep well while pregnant prepares you for the next decade of sleep deprivation. Or maybe my manuscript just sucks.

I don’t know much but I do know this: Google Alerts is a gateway drug to full-blown peer stalking and the inevitable ego mangling that it induces. I wish I’d never taken that first hit, because now I can’t stop...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The internet isn’t the only place to publish crap.

I live in a small town called Ashland, known for its mineral springs and theater. I grew up here and couldn’t wait to leave when high school was over, but after 16 years away, I couldn’t wait to move back. It was a bit like spawning.

I delivered my children in the same small hospital where I was born, my daughter is the Bellview Bobcat that I was long ago, and I only live a short walk from the house in which I grew up. Because this is a small town, I know the people who bought that house. Decades later they still live there; he was my old English teacher and she's the children’s librarian at our local branch. I go to the library often and almost every time I see her she mentions the cutting board.

I was tortured by my older sister, positively tortured. Ask anyone, they’ll agree. I couldn’t fight back so I struck with words—including some choice ones hidden under the cutting board. I remember the day I carved the cruel words about her there, thinking no one would ever get under the thing. I had just made a cup of Personal Frosting, you know a little powdered sugar, cocoa, butter, and milk, all stirred together in a mug and eaten with a spoon. (Admit it; the frosting is the destination. Who needs cake?) I sat on the kitchen floor and looked up at the cutting board that was pulled out above my head and though, perfect. I can’t remember what she had done that day to piss me off, but my thoughts about her that day are now recorded forever.

Who knew Mrs. C would keep her cookbooks in the cupboard under the cutting board? Who knew she’d enjoy sitting on the kitchen floor next to her open cupboard browsing those books? Who knew she’d ever pull out the cutting board and look up while down there?

I saw Mrs. C again today at the library and the first thing my kids asked her was, “Do you still live in Mom’s old house?” They love the cutting board story, no matter how many times it’s told…

Words live on; be careful where you publish.

Monday, April 7, 2008

My Escher Moment

In Making a Literary Life, the book I mentioned in my last post, author Carolyn See talks about the power of the Charming Note. She suggests a five-day a week habit of two things: 1) either writing 1000 words or doing two hours of revision and 2) sending out a Charming Note to a writer, editor, or agent you admire (that does not ask a favor).

So after I wrote about Making a Literary Life, I thought I’d send Carolyn See a Charming Note about how much I loved it, and include a link to the post. Guess what? She wrote back! How great is it to get a Charming Note responding to my Charming Note about the Charming Note’s author of a book about Charming Notes?

While I felt like an idiot because I implied it was her book that spooked my long-lost friend, and while being described as "chipper" does nothing for my Street Cred®, Ms. See’s Charming Note was a fantastically charming treat:

Dear Christy!

That's the cutest damn thing I ever saw! (But I can't help but wonder what spooked the other woman so much!)

Thank you, dear. You were just so sweet to write it -- and to send it to me. Might it be possible to connect on to my web site? I don't know how to do that, but if I forward it to my web master, might she glue it on somehow?

I love the rest of your blog too. It's so chipper!

Many, many many thanks...


Carolyn See

Friday, April 4, 2008

It's Just That Good

I’m the kind of person who never misses a meal, even if I have to take beta blockers in order to deal with the social anxiety of sitting with hundreds of strangers. So last year at a writing workshop that I attended without the camaraderie of my writing group, I tried to time it so I’d arrive for dinner right as the dreaded “wine reception” was ending. Unfortunately, when I got there it was in full swing so I had to grab a drink and make a few laps, hoping for someone to grab my arm and say something, anything, to me. While social, even gregarious, in many ways, I am absolutely incapable of walking up to a cluster of strangers and joining in the conversation, especially if the topic is oneself and one’s writing.

Dizzy from my fruitless laps, I took my wine and slipped out of a side door into the wet, black night to wait it out until dinner. I found a fellow writer out there already. She was having a smoke—a very bold choice at a Children’s Writing Workshop. I liked her instantly and we struck up a friendship that lasted through the conference and even beyond; we emailed for awhile and she sent me some new work to edit and I felt like we had a good thing going. Until I sent her a book. It was my absolute favorite book on writing, a gem that I reread at least once a year—Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life. And then I never heard from her again. Not a peep.

I feel weird about it, and I think about her and the book every now and then and get that icky cringe sensation. But I can’t stop giving that book away. If anyone within earshot mentions that they’ve thought about writing, I note their address and send it off. In fact, I sent one off yesterday to a woman I met on my trip to Palenque who is full of stories waiting to be set free. When I was checking out of Amazon I looked through my account history and saw that I had given the book away 16 times—four of those even after it ended a relationship! It’s just that good.

If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to order it in hardcover so you can reread it yearly as I do. Or, if you’re at a Writers Workshop and see a woman walking aimlessly but trying to look as if she has a destination, for the love of God grab her arm and introduce yourself! You might find a box from Amazon on your porch not long after.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Five Writers, Five Days

Today is a very special day. My writer’s critique group has decided to start a blog, and today was the first post. At last night’s meeting we hashed out who would post on what day and I didn’t take into consideration that I’d be following Julie, writer and English teacher extraordinaire. She posted first and set the bar high—including graphics! Now every Friday I’m going to post some lame thing that disappoints everyone who has read her Thursday post.

Anyway, I’m deep into working on an article on the ethics of OB-GYNs pushing Botox® and lipo, so I gotta go. But check out the Lithia Writer’s Collective blog!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The more you think about it, the harder it is.

If I ever had to have a fully rendered image of what I was going to write before I started, I’d never open another document. This took me a long, long time to figure out. Some writers speak so romantically of The Muse, of nighttime dreams that turn into four-pound manuscripts that, in a fluke, are read by important agents, sold for hundreds of thousands, and then become best sellers. Stories like this will make you want to create a seductive environment for The Muse and then wait for her to appear.

For me, The Muse never comes when asked and certainly never drops by; I have to chase Her down with all the intensity of a celebrity stalker. I have to capture The Muse, tie her to a chair, put the chair in a pit, and then, if the bird feeders are full, I can write. Because I’m a writer who doesn’t really know what’s going to happen until it does. Sure, with my current manuscript I have a general idea of plot line, but I also know what I have planned for tomorrow and I’m quite sure that life will interfere and what I imagine will happen will not really be what happens.

Each day I force myself to sit in the chair, force myself to open the document, force myself to hunt and peck my way into a story. And that, my worldwide blog audience of six, is my writing process.

So if you are sitting around waiting for The Muse, I encourage you to just get your butt in the chair. She may not come, but you’ll be there. Put your hands on the keys and begin…

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

It's about the people, people.

You know when you have so much to say about something that you can’t say anything at all? That’s how I feel about the Chiapas trip. It was both magical in unexpected ways and mundane in disappointing ways, but overall it was an amazing experience in an exquisitely beautiful place. Having ten days to think, without the “real world” of kids, TV, phone, email, and writing, was an enormous indulgence.

I have never been on a group tour, and never thought I would. But for some reason this one appealed to me. My general disdain for tours comes from my deep, dark need for complete control, but by giving up the control of planning the travel I freed myself up in ways I hadn't anticipated. I suppose you don’t really know how anxious being in control can make you until you relinquish it.

One unexpected delight of group travel was meeting like-minded people. I was really surprised at the level of education most travelers had; I suppose I thought since this tour was a Nueva Age thing it would attract the flakier types. I must say, I felt like a dolt with my paltry B.A. in Journalism among the many PhDs, MDs, and JDs. Everyone on the tour was simpatico, but there was definitely a front-of-the-bus group and a back-of-the-bus-gang. I loved the delight of making easy friends; in a way the tour was a pre-screening, a net that caught only those who liked to believe in mystery and magic and the possibility that ancient knowledge can have an impact on our modern lives. I hadn’t had that first-week-in-the-dorm feeling for a long time—that sense that I was meeting with people with whom I was making life-long connections. It was refreshing and restorative.

Most surprising, though, was what it did to my writing. I tried to actively not think about the new manuscript, to put the 45 pages already written on simmer in the back brain. Every once in awhile it would bubble over and I’d note a new idea, turn the heat down, and go back to not thinking about it. By the time I was on the plane home I had a fully flushed out plotline. This never happens. Now I’m anxious to get the thing written and have given myself an outrageous deadline of six weeks for the next 200 pages! Once school gets out my time is not my own and I can’t do much writing, only revising, so I’m running scared from June 13th. But I can do it!

Okay, so much for not being able to write anything about the trip.