Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Getting Here

Celilo Fall flooded by the Dalles Dam -- March 10, 1957

I can mark my first visit to Decatur Island by the completion of the Dalles Dam. My dad took me to Wyam (Celilo Falls) at least a year before the dam was completed and we went back the summer after they'd flooded the falls. Later the same summer I traveled with dad by boat, looking at shell middens in the San Juan islands. I remember the first part of the trip very well: a trip from home (Aberdeen) up Highway 101 to Port Angeles and then a trip on the Black Ball ferry to Victoria. There was a de rigeur trip  to Butchart Gardens, and thence to Vancouver and Chinatown.

I think we went to Bellingham and got on the boat there. My godmother and mother dropped us off and I realize now, drove to Seattle and waited for us, we ultimately ended the trip in Ballard, at Fisherman's Terminal. I remember the boat was a bit of a sensation wherever we went, a big fishing boat, freshly painted -- it seemed to me we dwarfed most other boats around the islands except ferries and other commercial vessels. I'd guess the "Baby"* was about the size of the Alaska fishing boats that still visit Mori Jones.

Crew: several Lummi men, I only remember one called "Lunchbox" who was dad's friend, a professor (and maybe a couple of students) from the UW or WWU, my dad, me. I think we were looking a shell middens and perhaps mapping the traditional fishing and clamming beaches for the Lummi and (maybe) the Coast Salish. Two of the older Lummi men spoke Lummi and joked that only Lummi could talk to Lummi -- and insisted on teaching me Chinook words, mostly place names.

As we chugged along, dad told me a story about how "elder uncle" had traveled around the islands doing odd jobs, he'd dug a ditch on Brown's Island, and did yard work on Henry's Island. A tidbit here -- apparently my elder uncles were inclined to call the islands by the names of the people they knew there, not the actual name of the island. (More on this in Part 2.)

In my memory are long sunny days, calm water -- must have been August! The captain let me "drive" the boat. I played jacks on the aft deck. A salmon was caught slightly bigger than me and thrown back because it was too small. I had some trouble learning how to use the head.

Places and people are mashed together in my memories: Roche Harbor, Deer Harbor (Orcas) and Fisherman's Bay (Lopez) became one place. The other confabulation was McKaye Harbor (Lopez), Reeds Bay (Decatur), and Blakely Island. I didn't sort out those last two until we moved here. In fact, I didn't figure out I'd been on Decatur Island at all until I stood on Karen Lamb's rickety old dock (were were anchored out front) and looked at where there used to be a road along the shore of Reed's Bay. I clearly remember bouncing along that road in a truck driven by a very nice man who gave me a caramel. He apologized that there were no kids around for me to play with, they were in town getting school shoes. (I'm sure he said "school shoes" because I remember telling him I had to wear special shoes.) Who was the man? I couldn't say -- someone who had kids around my age.

We walked where we live now and looked at shell middens, and here my dad said another interesting thing -- "elder uncle" had worked here, as here was the only shipyard in the San Juans. (More in Part 2.)

*I'm sure this was not her registered name; it's what the crew called her, but that wasn't the name on her bow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gimme a beat!

 I don't go all fangirl over actors, it's good writing that does it for me. Good scripts, good storytelling. Yes, I think about all writing as a script; even technical non-fiction. We all use the same beat sheet for writing, over the years our audiences have come to expect certain actions at certain times in a script. We play with that, of course, but I am always excited to find the beats pulsing under a particularly good bit of writing.

Iambic pentameter counts!

I've been reviewing Dr. Who episodes in preparation for editing a manuscript. My Whovian friends have recommended must-see clips and episodes, it's been a fun. I admit to not seeing an entire episode since at least 1986; and blushingly also admit to knitting a very long scarf like the fourth doctor's for a boy. :)

As much as the time lord idea intrigued me, I'm more of a Red Dwarf girl, but I digress.

A long, long list of writers from fifty years of Dr. Who; but I can pick out Douglas Adams' writing, even as "David Agnew"; and in the recent programs, can easily see Moffat & Gatiss's style. Though I can't quite tell one from the other, their cadence is unique. And switching over to the BBC's Sherlock, also written by Moffat & Gatiss, I'm intrigued that Stephen Thompson wrote the most- and least-popular episodes, gives hope to writers.

 I stopped watching Sherlock after that least-liked program, "The Blind Banker". It was saturated with racial stereotypes, made me cringe. I expected Charlie Chan to appear at any moment.

And shortly thereafter digital TV came in, that was the end of watching the tube for me. Wasn't until our DSL was stable out her until I could stream video effectively. Apparently I didn't miss much in the TV world. Realisty TV? Talk about not needing writers. Or paying union scale... oh, don't get me started...

All that being said, It'd be pretty spiffy to work with Moffat and Gatiss. Wonder what they would think about having a non-white, female writer on the team? Do I have a pitch? You bet, if anyone is listening.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Don't Give it ALL Away

Fan-generated fiction -- fanfic -- has existed for as long as there has been theater, myths, stories around the campfire. Each person in the audience interprets the stories -- filters the stories -- through their own experiences and the story is a little different for each person. And if the story doesn't turn out how the listener - viewer - reader wants it to, they invent alternate endings.

I didn't like how George Lucas ended the original -- now the middle -- three stories of the Star Wars series. After the promise of The Empire Strikes Back of something that probed deeper into myth, there was to me a silly fairy tale ending. I wrote my own ending centered on the relationship between Luke and Anakin, how they resolve their relationship.Han Solo dies. Luke and Leia are left to sort out how to rebuild. In my mind, the next episodes of the series would deal with the rebuilding of the Jedi, with a notion that things go awry because there are always those who will abuse power. I think I had Chewbacaa moving into a sort of leadership position.

Which is to say, I'm not immune to writing my own fanfic. And now anyone with moderate skills and a laptop can also hack and paste video together from various sources; some video fanfic is quite good. There is, of course, a lot of fanfic porn, because it seems that everything on the 'net ends up porn.

Aside from porn, there are a few basic themes in fanfic, readers and views seem to want: love, redemption, happy endings, answers, and most of all, if the character's motives are obscure, they want to "normalize" their behavior. That is, normalize their behaviors to match theirs, which is more revealing about the people posting than they might realize.

The seeming zillions of words posted about "how did he do it"  re: Sherlock's fall from St. Barts (BBC Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall)  astounded me. There were more theories than I could track. But as a writer, I noticed that most people posting kept coming back to the **obvious** clues and seldom mentioning the other little tidbits the writers had dropped in.

As per the best "how he did it" theory, a professional stuntman gave the best answer for me. He said that the producers -- as the producers said themselves --there are only so many safe ways to stage a realistic fall. The crew would use whatever equipment they used to stage the real fall, film it from a revealing angle and cut the footage to suit the storyline.

Simple enough, yes? And yet most of the people posting did not pick up this thread, preferring to spin tales of body doubles and latex masks.

The theories raged on for two years. And when the "solution" aired two years later (BBC Sherlock: The Empty Hearse), the comments continued. People were very angry that they still didn't find out the "how". One person kept posting over and over that their solution was the real and actual one and why didn't other readers acknowledge this?

The writers (Steven Moffat and Mark Gatniss) admitted they knew exactly the "how" but the hype was so intense that they -- and as a writer, I LOVE this -- they presented all the clues and  let the viewer figure it out. The writers even have Sherlock deliver Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's line, "You know my methods."  That is: ‘"All the facts are there, work out the answer yourself."

Because the point of the story was **not** how he did it.

A big lesson to all writers -- we do not have to tell every little bit of the story. I've reviewed far too many manuscripts that start out with long, elaborate descriptions of the really cool world we're entering -- chapter after chapter of backstory before the real story begins.

Sure, we often create backstories so we know why our characters are doing what they're doing. But our readers and viewers should be able to figure it out without us offering elaborate explanations.

For a recap of the episode, photos, and list of just about every "how did he do it" theory". http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2532304/Sherlock-Twitter-fans-react-rooftop-plunge-mystery-finally-solved.html

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I admit it, I'm a geek. A math geek, a language geek... especially a language geek. Words are my first love (with typesetting and printing a very close second).

I read my encyclopedia, I read my dictionaries and I have been known (as I posted to a friend today) to quote from the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. I was delighted to find this -- while looking for something else entirely -- the origin of the word "dude" in Slate.com. (November 2013) "Dude" is a variant of Yankee Doodle: "...to call foppish young men of New York City 'doods' with the alternate spelling 'dudes' soon becoming the norm."

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cringe-Worthy Writing

Life on an island, yes indeed. One storm after another this week, I believe we are on storm five of five. The last one brought gusts of seventy-five miles an hour, we look out hourly to make sure the boats are still on their moorings.

I pulled a long list of posts down because -- ta-da! -- they were part of my own manuscript, which is now with an editor. Now it looks like I haven't written a thing since last May. (sigh)


Several years ago a teacher friend sent me a stack student stories for review, the top contenders for entry in a high school student writing contest. Two stories were excellent, stories in a young person's "voice": an interesting perspective on a divorce (not the writer's parents, who had already divorced and remarried); a comedy about going on vacation with an extended family. Others were pretty good, needed editing, were too long or strayed into cliche, pretty common stuff for writers.

One of those stories recently came back around: in the first iteration, the author was clearly a young person trying to write like they were much older, perhaps a rite of passage for all writers. Every writer I've met will admit that when they were sixteen or twenty-three that they tried to write a decades-sweeping epic of love against a backdrop of war, or three generations of women held together by a protagonist with a will of iron... I have one of those manuscripts buried in a drawer and pull it out every so often and cringe. I knew nothing at all about being alive, but I sure thought I did.

This young author hadn't lived long enough to write realistically about a battle-hardened soldier in a combat zone who contemplates his life, tries to commit suicide and is brought back to reality by his best friend. The writing was pretty good, but full of gratuitous gunfire, cliches, stilted dialogue.

Recently I reviewed a video of a workshop for a film in progress that seemed quite familiar. I took a look at the filmmaker's name -- it was the same young person, now in college. The story had become screenplay and the workshop presentation featured actors too young and inexperienced to pull off the script. I suggested he find experienced actors to run his lines.

And lo! He did, I got video of the most recent workshop with a mix of actors, old and young. The protagonist had changed from a man to a woman. She was contemplating suicide was because of -- it was suggested but not stated outright -- sexual harassment and rape.

Holy Guacamole, now there was a script! I sent back comments and said get the film into production. I also asked if he had a female collaborator. He said yes, a woman in his film class had made a suggestion and he asked her to re-write parts of the script. He was starting a Kickstarter campaign...

... but I haven't heard anything else, hoping to see more...