Monday, October 29, 2012

Elvis the Therapy Dog

More (imaginary) adventures of Elvis, our mascot...

Is Elvis, our mascot a beagle or a basset hound? My friends who raise basset hounds say he looks more like a basset, but not quite. A basgle? A be-set?

Rain, Rain and Rain 

Elvis decidedly did not like the deluge of rain this week -- not all week thank goodness or we'd be afloat. His human (Wendell -- also known as Dell) said he spent all week barking at the rain through the patio door and grumbling whenever he went outside.

He also keeps alerting to apples and mangoes when Wendell brings them home -- he found a lot of both. stuffed in luggage as contraband in his Beagle Brigade days. Wendell thinks that either he can't shake his training or he wants more dried liver treats. He'd sit by the kitchen counter for hours in alert position if Dell didn't reward him with a dried liver treat, their usual MO when they were a working team at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Dell decided that maybe he was getting bored being retired from the Beagle Brigade. His friend Amy from the coffee shop suggested that they try Pet Partners  to see if Elvis would be a good therapy dog. They just finished training and Elvis went on his first supervised therapy visit with Amy and Ranger, who is a retired drug sniffing dog. Elvis did pretty well, despite alerting to a package of dried mango slices in one patient's room.

That is, he did pretty well until Ranger caused a mild uproar by alerting to an empty hospice room, something he's never done. But after Elvis alerted to the mango slices, Ranger -- maybe showing off a bit -- alerted to a corner of an empty room.

Amy had to find a subtle way to telling the staff the Ranger smelled something. The something turned out to be a half-gram of marijuana that had fallen into the back corner of the bedside stand. It probably wasn't illegal -- many of the hospice patients are in the last stages of terminal cancer and are registered to receive medicinal marijuana. However, when Elvis got a whiff of the grass, he started howling and wouldn't stop. Dell had to drag him out of the hospice, though he found out later that everyone got a good laugh out of Elvis's behavior and they've been invited back.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Elvis Rain and Literary Fiction

OK, so we are Barking Rain Press and right now we don’t offer any books about dogs, rain or barking! We’ll have to see what the next submission period in January brings: one of the fun things about publishing genre fiction is that we publish the best of whatever we receive in a submission period, whether it’s paranormal YA or mystery, or…?
Elvis Rain, the beagle on our logo, is an imaginary guy, though I occasionally give him a fantasy life as complex as Snoopy's. He hates rain. He refuses to wear a raincoat and his people have to hold an umbrella over him if they expect him to go for a walk when it's wet out. However, they have to open the umbrella away from Elvis because he also hates umbrellas.
Rain was not a problem for Elvis in his previous life as part of the Beagle Brigade in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. He sniffed out contraband, mostly apples and mangoes, though once he found a bag of cow brains in a Samsonite suitcase. He's retired now, living in Portland and thinking about writing about his days in the Brigade. Give him a dog biscuit and he'll talk for hours about the work he did with Wendell (his handler) and Troy -- his brother, who was also in the Brigade. Give him a couple more dog treats (he likes freeze-dried liver the best) and he'll talk about his life before the Beagle Brigade, how he and his brother ended up in a shelter and were rescued by Wendell, who trained them... (more adventrues to follow)
I miss working directly with authors and I miss seeing public reaction to a new book. One of my favorite jobs when I worked with the Als was to accompany authors to book signings; they were usually in small independent bookstores that had enthusiastic and well-spoken patrons. We'd do a reading, books were signed; I would return a couple of weeks later to chat with the store owner and see how the book was moving, we'd discuss books -- all very civilized and I got a real sense of what books were selling in what markets.
But now we're in an online world -- being able to talk face-to-face about Barking Rain at Wordstock was fun.
One person stopped by our booth and asked if we published literary fiction -- we could come up with several examples of literary fiction: “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Catcher in the Rye” -- but had to Google the term for a definition.
Wikipedia said that "To be considered literary, a work usually must be "critically acclaimed" and "serious". In practice, works of literary fiction often are "complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas." 

By that definition; the author wouldn't be calling they work literary fiction -- it seems a bit presumptuous. But later in the same Wikipedia article, it's suggested that literary fiction is a genre -- "Neal Stephenson has suggested that while any definition will be simplistic there is a general cultural difference between literary and genre fiction, created by who the author is accountable to. Literary novelists are typically supported by patronage via employment at a university or similar institutions, with the continuation of such positions determined not by book sales but by critical acclaim by other established literary authors and critics. Genre fiction writers seek to support themselves by book sales and write to please a mass audience."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wordstock and Elvis Rain

I spent this weekend in Portland (Oregon) at Wordstock: a whirlwind of vendors, authors, writers, editors; book readings, panels, workshops and presentations. There was a fantastic kid area with activities and presentations from fabulously entertaining children's authors. (Squish the Super Amoeba!) Kids 0-13 could get in free and there were lots of families at the event.

The kids could even read to a dog, thanks to friendly support from therapy dogs from Pet Partners (formerly known as the Delta Society). The dogs were a big hit: one little girl carefully held the "Very Hungry Caterpillar" open so Jack the dog could see the pictures: he looked at them gravely and wagged his tail.

I was holding down a corner of the Barking Rain Press booth; and in the course of a couple of days of chatting with folks who stopped by I realized that we have published no stories about barking, rain or dogs: our beagle mascot, Elvis, has no backstory!

I have decided that Elvis is a retired drug-sniffing beagle: rescued from the pound and very good at  his job. However, he hates the rain: he won't go outside unless his person puts an umbrella up... and now to think of some adventures for Elvis...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Open Source

I am a computer geek who still believes that software should be open-source, even though my clients use software that requires me to buy and use licensed products. I used to tell my students that Mac-vs-PC was not the point: use the machine that suits you best. If you really want power using a computer, learn to write code. When I was first learning computers -- that would be the 1960's -- the only way to use a computer was to learn code, which was the way it was until we moved to the GUI, the graphical interface. But here's the deal -- several decades later I can still see the code under the interface... just like... writers can see the alphabet in their writing.
You knew I'd manage to segue from computer geek to writing and editing, yes?
I learned my A-B-C's; then learned that the letters could be combined to make words, the words to make sentences. How we come to do this is nothing short of miraculous, since our alphabet has become an abstract representation of what were once organic sounds and symbols. I remember the first page of each letter in my World Book Encyclopedia showed how the letter evolved: "A" started out as an ox head and so forth. 
I am also a letterform and typeface geek, worked as a typographer when the world needed such folks -- but that's as far as I'll digress here, except that searching for a good link to the origins of the alphabet led me to a book, which I just ordered -- ah the hypertext world!
In second grade Mrs. Sandstedt asked us to write about what super-power we would want; we wrote for a few minutes, then she invited us one by one to her desk to share our papers with her. I remember what I wrote: I wanted to speak all the languages in the world; I remember her reply -- "that's what artists and writers do."
Hear that? Artists and writers speak all the languages in the world.
I also remember how I had Mrs. Sandstedt's undivided attention for ten minutes: Ever year I taught I tried my best to give a few minutes of my undivided attention as often as I could. No small feat when as a middle and high school teacher I saw 100-120 students a day.
But back around to that open source concept.
In California "...Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a proposal to create a website that will allow students to download digital versions of popular textbooks for free."
Do you remember buying textbooks at the beginning of the semester and returning them at the end? I do – and I remember often reading assignments in the texts in the college bookstore because I couldn't afford the books – and eat too.
Going from $1000 a year or more in textbooks to free is darn cool for the students, but negotiating the digital rights with the publishers will be challenging. there is, of course, a committee overseeing the process, first texts will be available in 2013-2014.

Monday, October 1, 2012

One of Those Weeks

Once of those weeks; dog hurt, husband hurt back trying to help dog, house is completely torn apart in the midst of getting re-organized -- as is an acre of garden.

And yet, one part of the house is tidied; another part shows progress; the third is still a wreck, but you can see that work has been done. Same for the garden.

I've taken to a version ofsquare-meter (square-yard) gardening, subdividing the garden beds into smaller beds that are easily managed. I usually cannot spend hours working on a 10' x 12' garden bed -- or thereabouts, since very little in my garden is square.

However, when that bed is divided into six smaller beds, no problem. On a day where everything is going wacky, I can tend to one small bed and feel virtuous. If I manage a small bed or two a day, over the course of a year most of the garden looks like someone is giving it a go. (And because getting to town is problematic in the winter, I grow food year-round.)

Mel Bartholomew has set himself up as the originator and guru of square-foot gardening--although frankly, I remember my neighbors practicing the method decades before. Like my childhood neighbors, I am blessed with heavy clay soil that grows nothing easily: I’d have to bring in topsoil, not an option out here.

Lolo Houbein's philosophy is closer to mine -- I grow things mixed wildly in my garden squares-- my current favorite has curly kale, chard, broccoli, snapdragons and an errant nasturtium bubbling out of it.
OK, yes, all of the above reminds me of the script I'm working on -- chaos, but this scene works -- and this one almost works -- and the whole thing is rather pleasing to the eye if I skim over the half-written and half edited bits.

Bear with me while I apply my garden metaphor to the writing process, and I'll try not beat you silly with it --

--if you are the sort of gardener who likes straight rows, beautifully tilled soil and timed drip irrigation, then by all means, that's how you should garden;

--if you are rather haphazard like me, be haphazard;

--if you live in an urban area, join a community garden group (here's Seattle's version, the P-Patch) or grow plants in containers;

--if you can't grow a thing, and you want a garden, hire a gardener; or if gardening doesn't interest you, support local farmers -- take in the sights and sounds and smells at a farmer's market, join a CSA.

There is no one right writing process or editing process; do what works for you, keep going, celebrate any success, big or little. (Hooray! I put pen to paper today and wrote a grocery list!)

I can't it better than Ray Bradbury: we're supposed to be having fun.