A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tragedy does not define me - how I deal with that tragedy does

I'm not going to go into it, because in spite of what I'm about to post here I DON'T want to have to go into great detail about the situation, but on March 2nd 2010 I was forced to endure the worst tragedy of my life. I've only had one other situation come up that made me feel even close to as helpless as I have been and devastated my life, and that was the death of my mother in 2003.

I realized as I was reviewing blog posts, Facebook status updates, and even some of my early tweets that my long-suffering friends and family have been inundated with a kind of "woe is me" attitude from me.  To all of you who have seen me through this time, I thank you for your patience....and I apologize.

I feel that I've done you and myself a great disservice by focusing as I have on the negative impact in my life.  It was a huge impact, and I'm probably still going to have some times where I'm going to have a "woe is me" attitude.  I can't completely help that.  It's human nature, and it seems like it's always been my nature as well.

BUT...what I can do is change how it impacts me.  I can learn and grow stronger from the experience, perhaps even become a better woman because of it.  I think that's one of the reasons I've started this blog - and why I'm changing my online presence from 1hope1dream to my pen name of Annikka Woods, or something equally as connected to my writing.

The biggest thing that has changed in the last 5 1/2 months is that I no longer have only ONE hope and ONE dream.  I'm beginning to realize I have many hopes and dreams that weren't completely taken away from me in March.  Yes, my biggest and most cherished dream will only come to fruition if certain events outside of my control happen.  But those events are just that - outside of my control.

I've begun to find a different focus, to feel valued in a different light.  This is the first month at work, for example, where I'm even at a stage where I could look at seeing an incentive or bonus pay out because my performance has improved that drastically since I started.  What's more, I'm learning techniques and honing the skills that may keep me at incentive level in my performance and will draw the right attention to me for future promotions.  Which, I'm finding, I wouldn't mind pursuing since I rather enjoy my job and like the company I work for.

I've begun to make real progress on my novel too.  I've been swearing I'm going to get at it for over 10 years and I've never actually done much with it except talk it out with my husband.  Now I'm 58k into the rough draft for the second book in the series, although the first book is pretty much scrapped since I had to do a HUGE plot rewrite to make it work.  But that's part of the writing process so I'm not as stressed as I thought I'd be over that fact.

I've found a subject I'm passionate enough about that I've finally found what I want to pursue a degree in.  I'm going to study Anthropology, with a second Major in either History or Literature.  I'm also going to aim to get my teaching certificate (I know, that's a LOT of stuff to be learning) and become a college professor.

I want to get rid of my debt completely, lose the weight that's been plaguing me since I was in high school (let's not get into how long ago THAT was, please), and I want to be one of those women who grows old with grace and dignity - not vinegar and bile.

My life will always feel a little incomplete because of what happened.  But that doesn't mean my life has to stop.  The grieving process is a long one and I'm still going through with it.  I'll still backslide every now and then.  But I am going to come out of this a better person all around and I'm looking forward now to the journey, instead of dreading it each and every time I get up and out of my bed in the morning.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gender imbalance

Today I read an article that was linked in one of the various Twitter chats I follow frequently.  It was to this post:

Type M for Murder - Gender Balance

I find myself disagreeing with the author of that post.

What brought this to mind is that on the way to Dorothy’s on Friday I listened to a radio interview with the British writer David Mitchell. When Mitchell said, my wife is an early reader of all my work and she helps me with the books, I rolled my eyes. But then he went on. Men, he says, can’t write women well, but women can write men because they grow up paying attention to men’s behaviour, whereas men really don’t notice or care the way woman act or think. 

I’d expand that thought a bit. Women not only grow up having to closely observe the men they encounter in life (primarily a safety issue, but still our model of ‘success’) but women are constantly exposed to men’s world-view in movies, TV, books. Men might pick up a book written by a woman with a female protagonist, but not often. Remember that Harry Potter is a boy so that boys would read the books and Joanne Rowling is J.K. so they don’t know the author is a female. 
 That is a direct quote from the post, for those of you who might not be interested in reading the whole thing.  I didn't grow up having to closely observe the men I encountered.  I ignored them for the most part, actually, unless it was my dad or church authority figures or my teachers at school.  Anyone else tended to be chalked up to being one of the faceless masses.  I was cautious, of course.  I paid attention to my surroundings and if something did seem off I'd focus on that person - but that could have been either a man or a woman...or another teenager.

Yes, I'm exposed to a world where the views of men are given more airtime than the views of women.  But here again, I don't analyze the way these ideas are presented or how they might have been conceived of in the minds of those who thought them.  Instead I look at if I need to incorporate them into my own worldviews or if I can file them away as "interesting but not my cup of tea" moments.

I can't argue the point about books written with female protagonists.  But I'll tell you right now, I know a LOT of guys who own books by female authors.  Fantasy and science fiction readers tend to be an expansive lot.  I don't know if in other genres it's different.  I'll read just about anything that looks interesting and pay attention to the author later.  That's how I've found some of my favorite authors, in fact.

I got into the Harry Potter books well after the 3rd or 4th one came out.  I knew by that time that Rowling was a woman.  I found it interesting to note that most of the boys (and adults) reading the books talked about Ms. Rowling quite cheerfully.  Many of them wanted to meet her - several still do.  I know I owe her a debt of gratitude.  She's the one who convinced my nephew that video games are all well and good, but books are AWESOME.  He's been an avid reader since the day he picked up the first Harry Potter book.

Another point I have is the author of the blog states "...men really don't notice or care the way women act or think."  I'd like her to meet my husband one of these days.  He's got a lot of good insight on the way people - all people - act and think.  Same with several of my male co-workers, a few of my friends, etc.

I dislike generalizations like what came out of that blog post for a reason.  Not everyone fits inside that kind of worldview.  I need my husband's eyes on my early manuscripts because he's the one who tells me if the voices of the characters are off, if I'm too pretentious and verbose, if a guy "just doesn't think like that", etc.  Without him I doubt I'd have gotten very far with any of my projects because I'd have been perpetually confused.

So whether you're someone who relies on critiquing groups for help, your wife, your husband, or your kids...whoever you trust enough to read through your early manuscripts is the right one for you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Introspection can be a scary thing

Why is it every time I sit down to write I have to look out my window to see what the weather is like?  It never fails.  When I sit at the desk, I look to my right.  That's where my window is.  I look out the blinds and see the rosebush.  Some days it's full of little birds and bees.  Other days, like today, it's ragged and tattered because of raging windstorms.  There have even been days - though few and far between - where I can't see out of my window because of rain streaming down it.

Why does it make a difference to me as to what the weather is like here when I'm writing about a land whose weather patterns are different from my home?  I don't know.  It's just part of my ritual - as much as having a glass of something to drink (either Mountain Dew or ice water) on hand, something playing in the background, and making sure my font and page dimensions are what they're supposed to be.

One thing I have noticed is how irritable my characters are when I'm writing these days.  Right now there's a lot going on in my life, and the majority of it isn't very pleasant.  As a result I'm agitated, anxious, and sometimes my depression gets the better of me.  Annikka is moody, Raghnall has become vicious, and Reidar chafes at the bonds the society of his homeland has placed on him more violently than usual.  All three of my characters reflect my moods at the time when I write.  I'm surprised by the nastiness I've been spewing out onto my digital paper lately.

But the truth is that these twists also reflect the varying natures and personalities of the three.  Annikka is a loner who lives in a place where she doesn't fit in, will never fit in, and is looked down on by most of those around her for being a halfbreed.  She's earned some reputation as a healer and something of a decent enough fighter, but because she is small and light boned (believe me, where she is that's a serious handicap) she's considered something of a cripple.  Which just infuriates her all the more because she's not a cripple, and she's not as weak as the others view her.  She's just a little depressing to write some days.

Raghnall's brain broke when a spell went wrong so he is mostly amoralistic.  He's got a small conscience so he's not completely evil (just very random in his niceness), and he relies heavily on the help of a woman who loves him deeply but won't admit it.  (Neither of them will, actually.  She won't admit she's in love.  He won't admit he needs her advice and help.)  He uses people and casts them to the side when he's done.  Sometimes he'll even kill them.  He's very polished, civilized, and holds a very high political place.  But he's a monster.  Making him a sympathetic character is fun.  I know what happens at the end, but still........he's just a pain in the butt to write.

Reidar is a man in a society ruled by women who refuses to take his assigned place - as a decoration and breeding material.  He's gifted with shamanistic powers and knows how to use them.  But being male he's forbidden to use them in the proper place of a shaman.  He's a skilled fighter but his body is failing him because of something that happened when he was a child.  He loves the daughter he fathered on the one woman to catch his attention and hold it but he's forbidden to raise her.  His mother has crippled him by raising him to believe he is capable of becoming something more than breeding stock in a land where tradition is the ruling fact in the culture.  And the traditional place for the men is in the bedroom and in the nursery tending the children.  Sometimes I make myself angry writing about his life.

I've always felt a little out of place, like Annikka.  I'm not a monster like Raghnall, but I've had my moments of cruelty.  I don't like society's traditional views of women and their place in it, so I'm always looking for new ways to step outside of that box like Reidar does.  I came to realize that I write a LOT of who I am, both when I was a child and now in my current life, into my characters.

Which also explains why I'm blogging instead of working on the novel.  It's hard to see aspects of yourself that you either like or dislike being personified in your own creations.  I've also noticed I'm more aware of the negative aspects of my personality and have been looking for ways to change them even as I struggle to reconcile and change things in my novel.

I suppose that, like many authors before me (and who will come after me as well), writing is a form of catharsis for me.  It helps me understand and cope with all of the things going on in my life.  It also helps me organize my thoughts, think outside the realms of what's considered normal, and lets me experiment on solutions where I'd never be able to do some of these things in real life.

But wouldn't it just be more convenient if you could mutter a few words, spin a few magical threads, and suddenly things are all better?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reading, writing, and articles

First, an article I just read made me laugh.

You mean it's strange to be an adult and read teen lit?

I've been reading books that were outside my age group for most of my life.  When I was younger (we're talking elementary school here, folks, so figure almost 25 years) I was reading books that were for kids that were in middle school/junior high.  I got to junior high age and I was reading Anne McCaffrey (Pern, the FT&T telepath books, the Crystal Singer books), Andre Norton, Piers Anthony, Mercedes Lackey, and others like that.  I was reading books that were at a college level by the time I was a freshman in high school.

I still read books like that, but is it so strange that when I'm looking for something to give my mind a rest I turn to YA literature?  The Twilight series, the books by Tamora Pierce (her first 2 series at least), and the Harry Potter books are just a handful of those I've read that are classed as YA.  It's restful and fun, and they're easy reads when I want something light and fluffy (ok, so they're not exactly "light" and "fluffy", but compared to my usual authors of choice they are).

I still prefer Neil Gaiman, Joshua Palmatier, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, et al.  Every now and then, however, I want a break from the books that make me think and want something I can read and not have to worry too much about it.

Barnes & Noble is selling out?

I don't think Barnes & Noble closing a few stores that aren't doing as well and putting a little more focus on the Nook is a bad thing - except for those poor people working for B&N's stores that may be closing.  Their stock has dropped.  So have their sales.  But check out book sales over all.  E-books are rising, regular books are falling.  It sucks but people are after convenience and you can carry dozens if not hundreds of books on your Kindle/Nook/iPad while you should only conceivably carry 2-3 books at a time (unless you're like me with 5+ books lingering in your purse/backpack/duffel bag.)

I've been really against e-books since the beginning.  I'm an old fashioned reader.  I like my paper copy books.  The truth is, though, with our increasingly digitalized society, e-readers are going to continue to drive regular book publications out.  Eventually, and my guess is within the next 5-10 years, we're going to see less of a market for mass market paperbacks or trade paperbacks and more of a market for the e-books. What that's going to mean for people like me - who are struggling to get published - I can't say.  But here are some different things I've read about the whole ebook debate.

Short blog post by Dan London
Good point...what about the libraries?

In regards to my writing...

  • "Jehnna's Tale" is written, and in need of editing.  I've got a 7500 word limit and I'm sitting at over 11,000 words right now.
  • "Project Solange" is in general outline form - as in there's a few short paragraphs about how the story is going to go.  I'm going to start that one relatively soon.
  • "Platinum and Shadows" is also in general outline form.  That's another one I'm starting very soon.
  • "It's Not Easy Being Green" - my submission for a horror contest - is halfway done.  I expect to have it finished by the end of this month and edited by mid September.
  • WIP is...well, a WIP.  I have to rewrite a bunch of Book 1 because I hit a major plot blockage.  When I finally cleared it, I realized it changed way too many things.  *sigh*

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just a short one today

Today someone posted this link on Twitter, and out of curiosity I clicked the link.

The link in question

Antibiotics, I think, will not fall completely by the wayside.  There will be a bigger push to try other remedies - maybe even *gasp* some natural remedies.  I think what the writer of the article, and many doctors and medical professionals, fails to realize is that the truth of the matter is we've overused them.

We don't need to do away with them completely.  We just need to stop handing them out like candy for every little situation.  Offer more homeopathic solutions and utilize the vast pharmacopeia that Nature provides.

Now, I'm not one of those who won't use regular medication.  It's easier for me to get the regular medication than herbal remedies right now as it is.  But I won't go to the doctor if it's not something serious, I won't take medication if it's not necessary, and I'm more likely to try to find another method before I take the meds that I'm prescribed for certain situations.

Short and sweet: antibiotics are still useful but we need to remember that they're NOT the answer/cure all for everything.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Life, Writing, and Miscellany - 1

Today is a typical day for me.  I get up, wash my face, and try to wake up enough to be able to function long before I want to be up.  This is in part due to the fact that regardless of when I go to bed, my first alarm goes off at 6:30 am.  This is for those days where I have things to do in the morning that I need to be up for.  Since that happens far more regularly than I care to admit, I've given up on just doing it then and get up early.

Getting up early does have its advantages.  Anything - such as cleaning out the cat box, doing laundry, cleaning my room - all of these things can be done while it's relatively cool.  Once it starts getting warmer I don't have as much energy to do these things.  By that time, I need to take my shower and get ready for work anyhow, so having all of my housework done before I leave for work is actually rather refreshing.

Right now Reidar is sitting in the window, bending the blinds down a little, as he watches outside.  My cat will spend hours staring out the window if I'd let him do it.  Behind me my husband is snoring away, still dead asleep.  I'll wake him up in a few hours, when it gets closer to the time when I need him to take me to work.  Not having my driver's license is rather a pain for the both of us, but even if I had it today he'd need to drive me anyhow.  He has to go do the testing for a potential job today.

Um...how about NO

My friend posted this in her blog.  This is one of those things that greatly disturbs me.  It's becoming more and more difficult for people to cope with the swiftly changing facets of their lives.  People aren't able to handle stress because our society has given us an unnatural expectation of what we're supposed to be able to handle.  I'll be the first to say that I'm among those who has a hard time with stress - but I also have a LOT of stress in my life right now that I can't do anything about.  I'm not going to run out and get a shot to fix things.  I'm going to start whittling away at what is stressing me out and eventually work it all out.

My friend also pointed out that a lot of old time science fiction has, in fact, become science reality lately.  She's right.  Communicators in Star Trek? Push-to-talk cell phones.  Heck, cell phones in general.  Talking to someone in a distant land/planet/on another ship?  Jump onto Skype, set up your web cam, and chat away with someone in another city, another state, or even another country.  It doesn't matter.  You can have face to face talks without ever being in the same room.

Even our politics have shifted dangerously into the realm of what the heroes of those old sci fi stories were fighting against.  There is so much going on in the world that is fundamentally wrong and it seems that the vast majority of the people in the world don't see it, don't care, or won't lift a finger to stop it.

Now I'm not advocating joining radical groups of protestors.  I'm too old for that kind of crap anyhow.  But it would be nice if people actually paid attention to the world around them and voiced opinions in the right way and to the right people to help things change for the better.  It's not likely to happen because human nature is what it is.

Humans, for all our position at the top of the food chain, are fundamentally weak creatures.  We have to have someone tell us what to do.  We're herd animals masquerading as predators.  Don't get me wrong - we have our predatorial instincts.  It's what leads us to declare war on one another for reasons like "religion", "political differences", and "racial purity".  But who declares these wars?  Not the ordinary, every day people.  The leaders we look to for guidance declare these wars, make the policies that can either open life up or restrict it, and in general have power over everything.

In America, the government controls pretty much everything.  They tell you where you can go to see the doctor and how much they can charge you.  They tell you what drugs are safe and what drugs are not.  They're frequently telling us natural remedies are wrong and only the chemical creations of laboratories are safe for us to take.  They even have a regulatory division to tell parents how to raise their children, and if they step out of what the government considers "normal" those children are consequently taken away and lives are ruined.

I have been told by many I should be proud of being an American.  I'm free here, I'm told.  And compared to what I've heard from friends in other countries, America isn't that bad a place to live.  But I recall a statement that I believe Ben Franklin made: "Those who give up liberty for safety deserve neither liberty or safety."  What have we given up to have the privilege of living in one of the "greatest nations in the world"?