Monday, January 28, 2013

Editing Myself

The manuscript I've been working on (my own) got really bloated somewhere in the middle of NaNoWriMo. I love NaNo, love the exuberance of cranking out 2000 words a day and not worry a bit about my inner editor. My gosh I wandered all over the place with side stores, character studies, odd endings and stranger beginnings.

Today I cut 20,000 words out. Some of those are really great words and turns-of-phrase. But off they go into my drawer of writing that doesn't fit anywhere. Did I say drawer? I meant drawers. Nay, banker's boxes full of writing that doesn't fit anywhere.

Some of it is so old that I cringe when I re-read it. For instance, the generations-spanning novel I tried to write when I was 23: I hadn't spanned a generation myself and I was arrogant enough to think I could write meaningfully about people growing old. Oh, and not from my 23-year-old perspective -- this is what I think it'll be like. No, I knew what it would be like. (Wow, was I ever wrong.)

But some of it is funny -- when I managed to get over being pretentious and self-consciously writing.

I have an unintentionally a hilarious journal I kept while trying to deliver a five-hundred-pound, eight harness loom for a friend. The trip required dismantling the loom, carrying it down four slights of stairs, and loading it into my nine-passenger station wagon. One flat tire and a ferry trip later we unloaded the loom and carried it piece by piece a quarter mile across a muddy field to its new home.  We ate pizza.

And we decided to drive across Canada. No passports needed in those days, just a driver's licence. I left one passenger in Vancouver, another in Glacier and a third in Toronto. I picked up a couple of passengers from the University of Toronto, dropped them in Ottawa and picked up three more from the University of Ottawa and drove one person all the way to PEI -- Prince Edward Island.

I'd never read Anne of Green Gables -- actually, I still haven't. But part of PEI were like an Anne of Green Gable theme park. (I wrote the theme park bit in my journal.)

Then I drove  back; west to Toronto and south to Chicago. I had a itch to drive Route 66, and in 1976 you could still just about do it. I kept on giving rides to various folks -- about thirty total. I'd left Olympia, Washington with twenty bucks and a gas credit card; I came back three months later with twenty bucks and only fifty dollars charged to the card. My passengers had paid for most of the gas; we were having a gas crisis, gas was sixty cents a gallon.

Wonder if I could do it now?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Peace, Love, and Power*

Occasionally I get email from friends who have passed away -- spam, of course. Today I got an email from a friend who passed a year ago that was a real email. The time stamp was today; the email was written five years ago, before early-onset Alzheimer's took my friend away.

My friend was a programmer; he helped develop a great deal of the infrastructure that supports email and IM. Before my friend's memory was gone, he composed an email to his friends, put it in the equivalent of a "hold" folder with a timer set to release today.

I imagine he could have written something to us and asked a friend to send it a year after his death, but he says in his email -- no -- he couldn't help showing off his programming skills; and also by reading the email that he could guess accurately when he would die. (He was an arrogant that way: he was  really good at anything concerning time.)

He didn't write a treatise on how much he loved us all or how we all should life each day as if it were our last or any such treacle.  He wrote:

I hate you all for living, I hate you all for going on when my mind is going off. I hate your  idiotic cheerful messages and inspirational sayings. I hate the flowers. Send flowers to your aunt, not me. I hate that I'll be wearing adult diapers soon and I'm happy my mind will be gone before that happens.

I'm going to die angry because I am angry. I'm going to be hell to take care of in my final days because all that will be left of me is anger. Don't go off on me about acceptance. I've accepted Alzheimer's, but I AM NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT. There is nothing in the literature that says I have to go all enlightened on you, give you a reason to be comforted because I'm accepting of my fate.

To hell with you: I'm not dying the way you want me to. 

I'm not giving you a chance to weep at my funeral, there won't be a funeral. Dump my ashes anywhere you'd like. I suggest under a tomato plant, I love ketchup. Don't contribute to a charity in my name, and by Jove, you will NOT plant a tree in my honor. The hell with me, I'm dead. I won't be there to give you a pat on the back because you're so damn noble and caring.

Contribute to a charity in your own name, plant a tree in your own honor. Get that? Honor yourself. 

Peace, love, and power my pretties.


*No lectures about the Oxford comma, please...

Monday, January 14, 2013

On Writing - Writing On

I write all the time: at least 750 words a day, usually more. I like the 750words site because I can babble away about what I had for breakfast, who I saw, how the dog skinned his nose and bled all over the house. And trust me, with only thirty people on the island right now, I don't see many people.

After babbling I can get down to the work of the day, which presently is editing four manuscripts and working on my own book. Which, now that I've written it, appears daunting, but isn't. My book is stalled while I mull over a couple of plot points. I just tossed out 6000 words and a character, now the story can move, but I have a pile of dangling ends to discard or re-weave into the story. Hm.

Reading other people's work is great when I'm stalled; usually I sort out what to write next as part of the process of editing another author.

I recently had to buy a new copy of  Strunk and White -- print and Kindle. Accordingly, my Kindle has suggested that I might want to read Stephen King's "On Writing", Anne Lamont's "Bird by Bird", Nathalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones"... even a recommendation for Peter Elbow's "Writing Without Teachers", which we called Writing Without Elbows" back at my alma mater, The Evergreen State College.

However, I don't think I can read another book on how-to-write -- for now. They're like diet books: how do you lose weight? eat less, eat healthy, exercise more. How do you write? Write. And read. And write. Every day.

But another Eats, Shoots and Leaves will come along and I'll order it up. Come to think of it, I loaned my copy of the book out nine years ago and haven't seen it since... time to download another copy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Easy Street Records in Seattle is closing; however it is always the Tower Books building to me. I lived and worked in the neighborhood for twenty years; Tower was one of the bookstores I'd wander through at lunch, after work, when I was bored, when I'd just fallen in or out of love... etc.

I can envision the stores: one side was non-fiction, the other fiction. The magazines and best sellers were in the front. Non-fiction categories were biography, languages, history, religion, science, travel, crafts; fiction was short stories,  mystery, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, western. I know there are many more genres; but when I imagine books, I see them in a room, with title cards above. And even though I've been a book editor for some years, I often forget how many genres and sub-genres there are.

My Kindle -- OK, Amazon -- is always suggesting titles for me to download. Right now it is Best Books of the Year. Last night it was romance novels -- and wow, I'd forgotten how many romance novel sub genres there are. Depending on where you look there are either  nine major sub-genres or forty-plus. I was surprised to find a whole Navy SEAL series listed among the Amazon titles (military sub-genre) and yes, even one I found mildly interesting -- a historical title.

My godmother subscribed to several Harlequin and Silhouette of category romances; I'd visit her and find books stacked everywhere. She read them all and part of my yearly visit was to box up the ones she'd read and take them to senior centers, the hospital gift shop, two dentist's offices... she had a regular route. Every now and then I'd read one of her books -- took all of an hour, she liked fast, light reads. I'd be cringing by page ten, but they were so easy to read.

My students had the option of writing a short western, mystery, fantasy or romance story as their final exam. We studied the formulas behind each genre and so forth. Some of the stories were quite good, but most weren't. Even with a formula it is hard to write a good story; most of my students copied something they liked. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer was big and there were a bunch of Buffy/Angel/Willow-like characters.)

Oh, and I saw a "vampire" section in the paranormal/fantasy aisle of my favorite bookstore...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bricks and Om: A New Year's Eve Story

Years ago, I lived behind a Masonic Hall, though the Masons no longer used the whole building. I took dance classes a big downstairs room, various arts organizations had offices upstairs. The Masons met in rooms on the top – the eighth -- floor. There was a separate elevator and staircase at the back of the main hallway that presumably only went to the eighth floor. 

Heavy wooden double doors hid the elevator doors and I could hear their elevator from my apartment. I spent a fair amount of time, Rear Window style, looking at the top floor and wondering if there was a hidden floor or floors. All I could see was the brickwork was more ornate about the seventh floor. Trompe d’oeil?

I knew next-to-nothing about the Masons. My only knowledge were high school classmates who were Rainbow Girls; they'd get their pictures in the paper wearing a cape. 

When I was a little kid I thought Masons had something to do with canning, the only masons I knew were canning jars. My dad set me straight – a mason was a bricklayer, someone who worked with masonry. A capital M-type Mason was something else; the only comparison dad had was the Elks. Or the Lions or Rotary – a club. Oh, and the Shriners were Masons, white men in Ali Baba costumes. But a neighbor kid had gotten  free care at the Shriners Hospital,  if they wanted to parade in satin pants and a fez, that was fine.

A friend from Japan -- let's call her Kiku -- came to visit. She had been my translator on a recent trip to Buddhist temple sites in Japan.
"Listen," she said on New Year’s Eve. "I hear chanting."

I listened carefully.The chanting seemed to be coming from the top floor, where the Masons met. Except it wasn't quite chanting, it sounded like male voices learning how to do the Ahhhhhhhhooooooooooommmmmmmmmm sound of an Om.

"It's up there. I will join," Kiku said.

"Er, I don't think those are Buddhists," I said.

“I will go,” Kiku said. I followed her up the stairs of the Masonic Temple. We could hear the ersatz om-ing on the floor above us. 

Kiku squinted up. “Secret door?” she asked.

I showed her the double doors that led to the elevator
Kiku looked at them. “This is a good mystery.”

Months later she sent me a page copied from a Japanese book on Freemasonry; with a translation and a note. “I read that Masons do tests, learn different secret things, one of the secret things they learn is Om, but they spell it IAOM. They learn this one letter at a time. This is very funny, I think."

Kiku was studying anthropology and she followed his with several paragraphs about the role of ritual in society, ending with, “…secret societies need bigger and bigger secrets as members go higher in the organization.  I think someone visited Japan, India, China and saw Buddhist monks and added the ‘Om’… very secret eastern philosophy, who would know this in the USA many years ago, yes?

“..there are Masons here in Japan, I wonder what they think of this? Many here are also Christian, so what would secrets be? I think it does not matter, they pay money to achieve rank, rank is what matters.”