Friday, February 27, 2009

A Dark and Stormy Night...

I am so ridiculously glad it's Friday. It's been a long and strange week, one that I'm actually glad is going to be over. It started cold with snow and ice covering the ground and has ended almost springlike, warm temperatures taking me by the surprise.

I love the seasons. As I've said before, it's one of the reasons I'm happy to be back in the Midwest. Southern California has its beauty and if you like sunshine, it's a great place to live. Yet, if you're like me and you enjoy changing temperatures, vast differences in weather from day to day, it can get old really fast.

Not that Los Angeles doesn't have some weather. This is the time of year when the rains come and the city is drowning under heavy torrents. The streets flood, the water rushing with a furious current to the storm drains. Days like that remind me of Stephen King's novel/mini-series It ; I always half expected Pennywise the Clown to be peeking back at me from the grates under the street curbs. It's probably better that he doesn't. While I enjoy my active imagination and picturing Mr. Pennywise the Creepy Clown, actually seeing him would either completely terrify me or, instead, confirm that I am actually crazy instead of being a slight suspicion in the back of my mind. As you can imagine, neither alternative would be a good thing.

We had thunderstorms last night with the type of lashing rain that beats against the windows so hard that you feel like they're going to shatter. The wind howled through the tiny cracks between window and frame and the thunder rumbled in the distance. It was the type of night that made me glad to be inside yet a small part of me wondered how it would feel to be out in the night, the wind whipping my hair, the rain pelting me and soaking my face. The best part of being out in it is coming in. I love the feeling of changing out of wet clothes into try ones; clothes never quite feel as good as that moment unless they're coming straight from the clothes dryer. To me, that is a small slice of heaven.

I lay awake for a lot of the night. I had a lot on my mind which is probably why I woke up in the first place. Unfortunately, my upstairs neighbours- they whom have disturbed my peace before- were apparently having quite a raucous videogame party. Right above my room. They like to celebrate when they beat each other at the game up there. Trust me, I heard every word. Because I was in that mental place where I wasn't asleep yet wasn't fully coherant and awake, I didn't really know what to do. Trying to be fair, it's not their fault that the walls and ceilings of our apartment complex are thin. They really weren't being that loud but, because they were right above my head, I could still hear them. Of course, one might wonder why, at 4:30 a.m., they're STILL playing videogames but not everyone works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. like me so maybe they don't get that some people do tend to sleep during the night.

The nice part about the storm was that it was a little noise blocker. The rain fell so heavily and the wind blew so furiously that it drowned them out and, eventually, lulled me back to sleep. I look forward to spring and summer because that's when the truly spectacular storms arrive. The only part that is a little worrying is the fear of tornandos. We have no basement in my building. I'm not quite sure where to go if we do have a tornado. Yet there's no point in worrying about that until it's time.

I'm glad it's the weekend. I'm going to visit my family which is always a good way to relax. I'm hoping to get a little more of my optimism back, to back up a little and not let the jading burn of rejection get to me so much. It should be about the love of writing more than the appreciation of it. I need to remember that because that's why I started writing in the first place. Hopefully next week, my spirits will be renewed and my positivity will return. Thanks, as always for reading.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Drowning in the Undertow of Rejection....

So, last week, I promised that I'd be more more positive this week. Unfortunately, given that my DMV rants aren't exactly a beacon of positive energy, I think I may have been a bit premature in my promise. Especially as today, I have a feeling I might be a little less than positive.

I got a rejection last night. When I saw it in my email box, it didn't phase me because though I knew it was rejection, I'd honestly forgotten I'd even submitted to the publication and thus, clearly didn't hold much stock in it.

Then I opened it. It was for a literary magazine that has a rather nice policy of having several reviewers read submissions, supposedly 'blindly' and then when you get rejected/accepted, you get to see their comments. I've never had this before. I had entered a short story of which I was proud. It was more literary than my usual efforts. Granted, it hadn't taken me too long to write but then, my best stuff never does.

The first comment was overwhelmingly positive. The rest...well, let's just say that by the time I was done reading, I wanted to cry. I know it's all supposed to be constructive criticism but it wasn't constructive at all. It made me feel like a complete amateur, as though I didn't know what I was doing. It picked on my writing, said it was stiff, that my word choices didn't suit the reviewer, that they thought the subject was silly. The piece I was written was supposed to be slightly quirky, slightly poignant, slightly wistful. Apparently, it was none of these things. The things that were criticized were intentional. I was told "It was too ethereal, too dreamy, too much in the character's head". Well, oddly enough, the piece was a story about a man in a coma and the odd places his mind took him, places connected with his life. It was actually based on a friend's memories from a three-week coma in which she had been trapped. By the time I was done reading the comments, I felt as though I'd been beaten, bruised with the might of a thousand critical words.

The problem with getting emails like this is I think about them too much. They force me to take stock of my life and that's not such a pretty thing when I think about my writing. I've written novels. I've written short stories. I haven't had any luck getting anything published. I get rejection after rejection. The people who read my stuff like it but they're usually people I know, people who's opinions I value until I step back and think too hard about it and then I start wondering if they feel obligated to be nice about my writing.

In truth, I'm feeling a little like a failure again. I know it shouldn't matter. I've said before in my blog that I love to write. I do. That counts for something, I know. Yet I have this horrid fear that like one of those kids who audition for American Idol, kids who've been told their whole lives by their loved ones that they should be a professional singer. Yet, when they get their chance, they reveal that they're actually terrible, that they have no talent at all.

It's crushing. I don't have much to show for my writing career except a few finished products, a couple of articles published in an online magazine and a stack of rejection letters. The best use of my writing is for academic papers for friends. They give me an outline, I turn it into a paper. That's the extent of my whole writing existence.

I want it to be so much more. I've always said before that I'll appreciate it more when I do have success but the whole process is so brutal that I'm beginning to wonder if I'll be able to make it to that point. Apparently what I think is good writing isn't, it's merely mediocre. It's times like this when I feel that my grip on my dream of being a published writer is precarious at best. I'm not fond of clich├ęs , but I'm forced to think of the one of the tree falling in the forest and nobody hearing it; does it still make a sound? As a writer, if I write a novel and nobody reads it, am I still a writer or just someone who puts words on a page?

So much for being more positive. I apologize profusely for being a huge downer. Yet part of the reason I started this blog was to deal with the ups and downs of trying to be a writer. Today, it's a down, one that's so low that I'm wondering how I'll get back out of it. I know criticism is supposed to help but it stings. Eventually I'll probably be able to read it and learn from it. For now, I'm not at the point. In all honesty, the process is beating me down and I can't seem to find that passion for writing that usually floods through me. It's drowning in a pool of negativity.

I have to get out of it but I'm not quite sure how. I can't keep asking my friends and family to be my pep squad; I've already had a couple of friends hint that maybe if it's this hard, I should give up which never helps my fragile self-esteem because then I start to believe that they secretely think I'm a bad writer and they've only been supporting me because they feel like they have to. It's a downward spiral. I keep waiting for something to grab onto, something to give me a little hope but everytime I put myself out there, I just end up spiraling even further down. Does there get to a point in which you've hit rock bottom and there's no way up, that I just have to accept that I'm deluding myself?

I don't know. I don't want to think that. I think if I did, I probably wouldn't be trying to rationalize it in a blog, a place where I am, in fact, still writing. I'm going to try to keep going because, in all honesty, I'm not sure what else to do.
Then I remember that I have this quote from a calendar pinned to my message board and I pinned it up for times like these. It goes:

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that say's I'll try again tomorrow." - Mary Anne Radmacher.

When I read this quote, I tell myself that what I'm doing is really courageous, that by constantly trying, I'm still accomplishing something. As long as I remind myself to try again tomorrow, I haven't given up, that tomorrow, I'll find that glow that a good day of writing gives me because I do believe it's still inside me, no matter how many rejections try to kill it.

I will try again tomorrow because that's all I can do.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In Which I Truly Examine the Contents of my Email Inbox...

Today is one of those days where I have nothing in my mind about which to blog. Which means this will be one of my more random posts. My profuse apologies.

I had in mind that I was going to blog about books but, instead, I think that my email inbox might be able to provide a little more entertainment. I do think, based on the emails that arrived in my box overnight, my life could become significantly more interesting.

For example, I have several emails telling me that I can "Legally Erase My Debt!" I think that would be rather spiffy, actually. Like most thirty-somethings, I have some debt. Unfortunately, mine is still from my undergrad college. When I took out my loans, they promised me that I'd be done paying them off in ten years. Unfortunately, more than ten years later and I still have rather a lot to pay off even though I've never missed a payment. Interest is a horrible thing. This, I have learned. However, if I learn to legally erase my debt, perhaps I can pass it along to Obama and he can use it on a grander scale. You never quite know. But then, a little further down in my inbox, I have an email telling me to 'consolidate my debt'. Yes, but I'm going to Legally Erase My Debt! Why would I want to consolidate it? Some of these emails are awfully contradicting.

I also had an email asking if I was "Job Less". Yes, not jobless but Job Less. I'm wondering if they're asking if my job is less than it used to be, perhaps I've been downsized and I'm looking for more responsibility. Personally, I don't think that's going to catch on because most people are always looking for less job responsibility with more money. Fortunately, if I feel like I am Job Less, I can earn $1680 weekly TipingAt Home. I'm thinking they might need new typers actually because the ones they have don't seem to be able to spell typing nor use the space bar.

I think I was most excited when I saw an email from "Mrs. Susan Shabagu". Now, I have no idea who Mrs. Susan Shabagu is but she sounds rather interesting, someone who could become Jack Bauer's nemesis on 24. Because I was so intrigued, I actually opened her email. (Never fear, I'm the queen of virus protection). How intriguing! Mrs. Shabagu is the deputy of safety and security under the auspices of the president of South Africa! She's also a mother of three which she tells me before she tells me her title. What a consciencious mother! She even consulted them before contacting me! Hey, she wants to pay me $6,100,000,000 to look after her money. WOW! MY PROBLEMS ARE SOLVED. I'm going to be rich!

I suppose it is a little suspicious that she has to get the money out of South Africa so quickly. I mean, isn't she the Deputy Minister of Safety and Security? She seems to be afraid that if the money is discovered all of her assets will be seized and her life will be in danger. Seems to me she should have some pull with the government there. Of course, maybe I should just trust her. She gave me her email address and everything. Of course, she didn't say why she picked me to save her money. I mean, I know I should just be thrilled that I'm going to be $6 million richer but I must know, why did she choose me? I couldn't even get any one to pick me for dodgeball teams in high school and now this nice lady, mother of three, wants to give me $6 million?

I think I might have to pass on that one. I'm just a little too....suspicious, I'm afraid. Not that I couldn't use $6 million but...well....not for me.

The contents of my email box are a little alarming. I also have one that says SHAMWOW! I must admit, I'm intrigued at what to what my SHAMWOW is referring but I'm not going to open that one. I think I might start using that as my new catchphrase. "SHAMWOW, will you look at the size of that building!" "SHAMWOW! someone wants to give me six million dollars!".

I could go on all day. I have my junk mail filters set up and this is still what I get on a daily basis. I'm not even including all the miracle weight loss drugs that Oprah apparently is recommending, the free plasma TVs I'm being offered and the sheer volume of gift cards I could be getting just for completing short surveys. What I want to know is does anyone actually respond to these emails? Are people actually getting paid to send them? Aside from entertainment value, I can't imagine anyone wanting to read this junk. It's like getting those credit card offers in the mail. Even though they're meant to be enticing with their "Special offer, just for you!" smarm, I still tear them in half and dump them in the bin.

I do like to occasionally check some of the phishing emails though. I'm always amazed at how clever the phishers can be, particularly the ones asking for my Paypal information. They're always false but I do enjoy seeing how authentic the dummy 'password entry' site can look. These are the emails that are scary because they seem to be from a trustworthy source. There are far less suspicious people out there than me who might think that Paypal really does need to validate their banking source or they need to enter their social security number because 'their credit report had been updated'. Those are the bad spammers, the ones with ill intent. While I resent the male erectile dysfunction drugs taking up my inbox, they are mostly harmless. The Susan Shabagu's of the word are a little more malicious, preying on vulnerable people who really do believe in the kindness of strangers.

Still, on a daily basis, all of these emails pour in, mostly to my junkbox. Yet still they come, soiling the internet like litter that needs to be cleaned up and shouldn't have been there in the first place. No matter how much I ignore them, still they come. It's my fault- for every box in which I enter my email address, there's a little army of spies, watching, stealing the list, using it to try too sell me Acai miracle cures, As Seen on TV Snuggie blankets, ways to lose 10 pounds overnight. I'd love to believe in these things because a world in which it was easy to legally erase debt, lose ten pounds overnight and look ten years younger at the same time would be a fun world indeed. Sometimes, it's tough to be a cynic.

Thanks for reading. Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Author in Search of Six* Characters (*six not required)

I've been blogging a lot lately. Given my tribulations with the DMV, it's probably healthier that I deal with my frustration using my writing rather than use, say, physical violence. That's the nice thing about writing. It's such a great outlet. Of course, it's also nice to unleash a torrent of frustration on a listening ear- I have a few of those and am grateful for all of them- but there's something nice about pouring your heart out about how you really feel. As you've probably noticed from my Stephanie Meyer rants, I tend to be slightly opinionated about...certain topics, particularly books.

I also love to blog because it's like a daily writing exercise. My writing has been at a bit of a standstill lately. I sent out queries to agents and haven't heard a word back, not even a rejection. Since I made a promise to myself that I'd try much harder to actually do something with my novels before I started another one, that promise seems to be buried in my subconcious and putting up a wall whenever I think about starting a new novel. I have a couple of ideas but none which are leaping to the front of the queue. So I've been doing little writing exercises to get myself over the hurdle of not writing.

When I write, music is of the utmost importance. In all honesty, every one of my novels has been inspired by a song that I've heard that's caused my mind to create a story around it. Sometimes the story is influenced by the song. Green Day's American Idiot album inspired a whole novel. I never stole from Green Day but I let their music weave a story in my mind using phrases from the songs to create a framework. I still love that novel because whenever I listen to American Idiot, Jimmy DeLeon, my main character, is suddenly in my mind again.

That's what I've been doing lately. I've been listening to songs and then writing based on that song. Last week, I did a short piece based on The Airborne Toxic Event's "Sometime Around Midnight." It's an awesome song, romantic, yearning, full of heartbreak and sadness and nostalgia. So that's the short story I wrote. I have no idea if it's legal or not to do that. I'm not plagarizing the song, just letting it tell me what to write. Now I'm doing one for Coldplay's "Viva la Vida." That one is harder because there are so many possibilities.

Whether or not it is legal, I don't care. I do care that I'm getting over my mental block. I don't consider it writer's block because I am still writing and I figure if I refuse to believe in writer's block, I won't ever suffer from it. I might have writer's 'obstacles' but not writer's block. It's the same thing as when I am in the middle of a novel and I get stuck. One of my tricks is to 'go out' with a character. I suppose that sounds insane to anyone who doesn't write but it's a really great way to get over being stuck. When I go out with my characters, I usually pick a location that suits the character. For example, in my romantic drama about a skateboarder and his unattainable crush, I was having trouble getting inside the skateboarder's mind. His name is Jamey. So I decided we needed to go to the beach (much easier in California than it would be now in Ohio). I packed up my bag, took my notebook and headed out. It turned out to be a rainy, cloudy day but it also ended up being perfect. What I do is 'interview' the characters, just let them talk to me. Sometimes, I'll ask questions, sometimes I'll just let them tell me their history.

It does sound crazy when I type it out but, I'm telling you, it's never failed to work. It's not like I'm actually talking out loud to them. I only do that in places where I know people won't see me. No, I just let it be a thought process between us. I've learned some fascinating things about my characters that way.

I suppose to a non-writer, that really does sound a little mental. After all, if I create a character, I should know everything about him/her already, right?

Not for me. I think I've explained before that I never really feel like I create the characters. They just sort of find me and they're the ones that guide my story. I tried hard to steer my last novel but my main character just didn't change the way he was supposed to and I ended up with a different version of my novel than the one I'd originally planned. The one that I did finish was better, it was twistier, darker but also ended much differently than the novel I'd set out write. I think that was the moment when I truly did realize that I don't control my novels, the characters do. I like that.

So, the question is, do I still keep up the ever-necessary quest to find an agent, stalling future writing in hopes that my past writing will get notice or do I take a break and write something new, riding out the storm of this nasty economy and hope that publishing takes an upswing and agents are more willing to read unpublished author's work?

I think I'll see what happens. I'll keep my mind open to new characters, new music, new ideas and, when I'm ready, I'll start a new novel. I think that's the best I can do. I'd say I was holding out to win the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award but, as I've said, that's a crapshoot, something for me to do with a finished novel rather than a place to truly pin my hopes and dreams. It's just another unanswered question like those queries I sent to agents; I never thought I'd want to be rejected but better that than no response at all, I suppose. I always was a creature who liked closure.

You know, I am starting to get an idea for a novel about the DMV so maybe I will start something new.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Adventures at the DMV, the Sequel

Yes, there are two blogs today. I've had so many condolences for my thrilling adventure at the DMV on Saturday, I thought it prudent to post an update.

I am now a registered Ohio driver.

Hurrah.

I won't say it was easy. In order to be a registered Ohio Driver, I had to have proof of my Social Security Number (SSN), as I mentioned on Saturday's blog. Due to the fact that my social security card is MIA, I had to thusly go to the Office of Social Security to apply for a replacement card.

Naturally, this was a fun experience. As with all beauracratic agencies, I had to wait. I had to wait a long time. During this time, they had a TV with a show called "The Doctors." Did you know that you can change the shape of your chin in five minutes with a simple injection? Me either! Of course, when the injections were performed and the results demonstrated, the poor girl who wanted a new chin merely look like a thousand bees had stung her and it looked pretty weirdly shaped but she did say she wanted to look different so I suppose she did get her wish.

Obviously, my waiting time was spent wisely. When I finally was called, getting a new Social Security card proved WAY easier than getting past the DMV. Ironic, don't you think?

Finally I emerged with a temporary card. I drove with my usual police-paranoia to the DMV. It was a different portal to hell than the other one I went to on Saturday. You know what?

They didn't ask for my SSN.

This DMV just took my driver's license and proceeded to register my car. Due to my intense irritation with this whole debacle, I finally said to the lady "Don't you want to see my SSN?" She blinked and you could tell it wasn't something she was used to answering. After a long pause she turned to her coworker and said "Do we need to see the SSN?"

Me, being the patient lassie I am, let them have thier little conversation in which both DMV employees looked baffled. So, I interrupted them and said "I was turned away on Saturday for not having a Social Security card so you better ask me for it now." I believe glaring was involved, me being the glarer, of course.

I think I might have frightened the lady a little. She meekly said, "oh, ok," and took a look at my temporary card. I left the DMV with two Ohio plates. Of course, they don't fit in my nice frame anymore 'cause apparently they put the dates on the bottom of the plate which is covered by a frame but I will not complain. Not today. You see, I rule triumphant! I now have legal plates.

Of course, they wouldn't let me switch my license over because I have to drive another 20 miles to the Highway Patrol Station to take a written test but that's another saga to begin some other time. For now, I have a legal California license and I don't have time to go take a test. I tell you, Ohio likes to make things difficult. If they require out-of-staters to switch their license when they move to Ohio, they should make it a little easier to take the test. You know, like at the DMV the way MOST states do.

Still, for now, I finally got what I needed. They say the harder you work for something, the more satisfaction there is. I wish it were the case with the DMV today but, alas, it feels slightly anticlimactic, like Christmas day after the presents are opened. However, at least I can now drive and leave my little town without the worry of red and blue flashing lights in my rearview mirror.

I better not speed, huh?

Unnecessary Remakes...

So, last night it was Oscar Night. I always think I'm not going to watch them and then, somehow, I usually do. This year, I wasn't sure. I'd only seen one of the Best Picture nominees. Living in a small town in Ohio definitely limits my access to the small movies like "Milk," and even "The Reader."

Still, I had seen "Slumdog Millionaire" and really enjoyed it so I did have some interest in the nominees. Also, I decided to invite a friend over so we could have a Snarky Oscar Party which is the absolute best way to watch the Oscars.

The ceremony was its normal long, drawn-out self. I think they tried to condense it this year but it was still a little too long. I mean, really, do we need a recap of all the films that came out this year? Do we really need to remember that "The Love Guru" even existed?

I liked Hugh Jackman as host, mostly because I like Hugh Jackman. I think they took a little too much advantage of the fact that he's a singer/dancer because wow, they made him sing and dance. The opening number was ok but the one in the middle of the show with Beyonce...well, we could have done without that overblown chorus line. I was a little disappointed that Christian Bale wasn't there because that would have been awesome but it wasn't bad anyway.

Anyway, I'm not actually planning to dissect the ceremony. More, to bring up a complaint that has been irking me for some time. At the end of the ceremony, they showed clips from movies that will be released in the coming year. One of those clips was for a movie intitled "State of Play" starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck and a slew of other big names. For those of you who've never heard of it, it's a remake of a fantastic BBC mini-series of the same name. It starred Bill Nighy, James McEvoy, John Simm and some other good British actors.

Here's my problem. The mini-series was fantastic. It's set in the world of journalism and the pace is incredible. The acting is steller. The setting is perfect. So why are they remaking it? I know, they think they can make some money from it, put some big names in it and have a new hit. To me, that's greedy laziness. We already have a great version. Why not spend all the money from production, salaries and advertising on, oh, I don't know...something new?

There's been a rumour for years that Hollywood has run out of original ideas, that's why they keep doing remakes. I don't buy that for a second. I think Hollywood has become lazy. I think they don't want to take a risk on something new because they can remake something that's already been a hit once. Of course, these remakes rarely are the smash hits they're supposed to be. Anyone remember "Psycho"? What a lackluster remake that was. Vince Vaughn, normally a good actor, could not replace Anthony Perkins and it turned out to be a joke.

I even had a problem with the remake of "Pride and Prejudice" starring Kiera Knightly that was so critically acclaimed. It was...ok. I get that it was a nice condensing of the book and that Kiera played a decent Elizabeth Bennett. However, I still say the BBC/A&E mini-series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle wipes the floor with the movie version.

I know, I know, TV mini-series aren't the same as going to the movies to see something on the big screen. I agree. Yet, nowadays, in cities like L.A., it's getting to be about $14 to watch a movie in the evening. Around here, it's up to about $7, I think. Add concessions and drinks and it's easily at least $20 for a night out. When you pay that type of money for entertainment, you want to be entertained. You want to see something amazing. Most of the time, you aren't.

I'm not a fan of remakes. Sometimes a story/movie is re-imagined and though the story remains, the remake is something new, something different. That, I can live with. Yet it's movies like "State of Play" that bother me. It may turn out to be a good film. However, I don't want to see it because I love the BBC version. If that version had been, say, German and they were remaking into an English language version I might be able to deal with it but that's not the case. It's also not the case that the British accents are the thick ones, the ones that are hard to understand for unfamiliar ears. No, it's a perfectly great mini-series that is now, most likely, going to be a mediocre movie. I mean, seriously, Ben Affleck is in it. He has his uses in Hollywood but acting really isn't one of them.

I am being a little too harsh, I know. I think this is because, once again, it all comes down to being a writer. I will say that I'm relieved that so far, publishing houses aren't having novels rewritten because the originals are 'dated' or need to be more sensational for today's audiences. Yet, I also used to aspire to be a screenwriter. In some ways, I think, for a new screenwriter, one who hasn't managed to break into Hollywood, it's even more defeating than being an unpublished novelist. Though the amount of novels being published yearly has dwindled, though it's harder and harder for a new writer to even get his or her manuscript looked at, we still get to be original. We get to see new writers breaking in and that gives us hope.

With Hollywood, that's not the case because the studios want instant success. They want to hire people to rewrite perfectly good scripts that don't need to be remade so that they can remake a film. New screenwriters get to see lackluster remakes being produced, they get to see scripts from big-name writers succeed and they can't even get anyone to read their new work, to take the chance on a new voice that maybe, just maybe, might be the new "Slumdog Millionaire," the next "American Beauty."

They're also remaking "Fame." Sadly, I get that one. When I was a young 'un, I adored the tv show of "Fame." I used to want to go to a school like that one more than anything, even though I couldn't dance, sing or really act. The show is horribly dated now but maybe they think the Jonas Brothers/High School Musical crowd needs that inspiration too. I don't like it but I get it.

I still don't get the "State of Play" remake just as I didn't get the "Pride and Prejudice" one a few years ago. If the original isn't broken, it shouldn't need fixing in a remake. I do think there are exceptions. Take the U.S. version of The Office. I confess, I was horrified when I heard they were remaking the British one. Yet, really, they weren't remaking it. They were re-inventing it, making it work for American audiences by breathing new life into it. The premise is the same but it's different. I don't hold out such hope for "State of Play."

So, that's my rant for today. I'll try to be more positive tomorrow. Unfortunately, I'm about to leave for the DMV again so positivity is a little hard to find at the moment. With all luck, I'll be a registered Ohio driver by tomorrow. If not...well....I'm sure you'll hear about it.

Happy Monday.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The DMV is really the Portal to Hell...

There is a TV show that I used to watch. I'd still be watching it except it's on the CW channel which I don't get and, also, it hasn't been on for a while. The show is Reaper. It was about a young man name Sam whose parents had made a deal with Satan and, on his 21st birthday, Sam's soul suddenly belonged to Satan. It's a funny show. Sam's work for Satan is that he has to capture demons who've escaped from hell. However, the best part of the show is that when he captured the demon, the dropoff point was the DMV because it was the gateway to hell.

I am here to tell you that I firmly belive that, perhaps, the DMV is the portal to hell. Every time I have to go, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, to try to be nice so that they will be nice in return. Unfortunately, trying to be pleasant at the DMV is a virtual impossibility. They might as well leave a sign above the door that says "Abandon all Hope, Ye who Enter Here."

You see, today, I had to go to the DMV. You'll probably remember from my earlier post this week that I've been waiting for my vehicle title to arrive in Ohio so I can register my car here. Well, the good news was my title had arrived from California. So, upon my discovery that the DMV is open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on a Saturday, I was overjoyed to think that perhaps I would no longer have to worry about getting pulled over or even arrested for driving with expired plates.

This was not to be. I got up early, navigated through freezing rain and slick roads to go to the DMV. Last night, I had pulled up the list of what I needed. I made sure I had way more than the required documents, just in case. The primary form of ID that the DMV needs to register you is a driver's license. Then, the secondary form has to be something that verifies your social security number. So, they list things such as: Employer ID, Health Insurance Card, Credit Card and Tax Form. So, I took all of those things along with my green card and my passport.

So, imagine my dismay when the extremely rude lady at the desk tells me that none of those will work because the social security number is NOT printed on any of my ID cards. I pulled out my tax form. "No," she says, "That's not from the government." So I show her the fact that it's a 1040 form, it has my social security number on it, that I actually was smart enough to bring forms from several years and from both Ohio and California. No, still not enough. Apparently, the tax form to which they're referring is that old-fashioned paper booklet that they mail to you with a label on it.

Now, in case you haven't noticed, we're in an economic crisis. We are all encouraged to do our part for the environment thus we're encouraged to do everything online, especially our taxes. I have e-filed for at least the past five years as have the majority of the working world, I would venture to guess. While there are people who still sit down with their cheap-paper booklet and a pencil, gathering their W-2's, I don't think there are too many. I did my taxes with H&R Block, the only form I have is the one I took to the DMV. It's the one that was filed, the one that the government approved to give me my refund so why isn't that good enough?

I argue this with the lady for several minutes. She talks to her co-employees who all adamently say no, that will not work, it MUST be the paper form that I'm mailed. So I show her all of the cards I have. None of them will help because they don't have my SSN on them. So I say, still somewhat politely, that nowadays, identity theft is so rampant that it's not really a good idea to print the SSN on identifying documents. She shrugged. She said I could use a credit card but it had to have my SSN on it. WHO IN THE WORLD HAS A CREDIT CARD WITH A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER ON IT??????

So, then I try another method. I show her the credit application and the subsequent approval that allowed me to buy my car in the first place, it, too, has my SSN on it. Nope, not one of the listed documents.

By this point, I was angry and upset. The website does not say anywhere the the SSN must be displayed, only that I had to bring documents that would show my identity. You may wonder why I didn't just show my Social Security Card. Sadly, I don't have it. I know I need to replace it but I haven't had chance because, you see, my plates have expired on my car and I have seriously been trying for two months to fix that.

So, I ask the lady if there's anything I can do to make it legal to drive my car. I was told I can get a temporary 30-day plate. Nope, for this, I have to have my social security number. By this point, I was livid and trying very hard not to pull a Christian Bale on her. So I said, "so...you're telling me I should drive illegally, even though I'm doing everything I can to be a good citizen." She blinks and said, 'Sorry. You could borrow a car." If I hadn't been so upset and thinking quickly, I should have asked to borrow hers. Of course, that would be illegal since I wouldn't be insured but I get the feeling she wouldn't care.

So, by this time, I was upset and just plain infuriated. I understand that people have to do their job. I understand there are always rules to follow. I understand that there are policies and procedures. Yet, sometimes, people are helpful anyway. Take, for example, the employees of airlines who have to man the desks during bad times at airports. They deal with angry, delayed customers. With these employees, I always remind myself that it's not their fault the planes are delayed or cancelled and though it would be easy to yell at them, there's no point. Being nice to them always works to my benefit because they're just doing their jobs.

The DMV is different. I seriously do think the employees there are trained to be as vague and rude as possible. Even when I pointed out that neither the list I had nor the list on their website said that an out-of-state driver's license was worthless as far as using it for a primary identification purpose. Their list does not state that I had to have a booklet from the government in order to use my taxes as ID, it does not say the credit card has to have an SSN on it. Even when I pointed out that nobody uses them as an ID number anymore, that did nothing. The horrid lady even suggested I bring in medical records. Great idea! Because I want the DMV people to have that kind of information about my life! Also, they all use MEDICAL RECORD NUMBERS now, not SSNs!

Obviously, I am angry. I am also still driving illegally. Apparently, if I get a copy of my school transcripts (official, of course), I can use those. I have them somewhere in a box in my apartment. I've also been told to go get a new Social Security card. Um, yes, I will...once I can drive the distance without being paranoid about getting pulled over. It's a catch-22.

So, after my experiences today, I can safely say that Reaper was onto something. The DMV is, perhaps a portal to hell.

The DMV has wondered why their reputation is so bad. It's because the attitudes and helpfulness of the employees are awful. Seriously, at the moment, you'd think they'd be happy they have a job when so many of the people they deal with aren't that fortunate. But, alas, I don't think this is the case. If I were being my normal, non-angry self, I'd say that maybe the employee helping me was just having a bad day. However, I don't think that was the case. I know they have a job to do, I know they have procedures but when their procedures are so fuzzy anyway and they won't bend an inch.

And so, I will try again on Monday, Official School Transcripts in hand. I know they have my SSN on them because that used to be our student ID numbers. Wish me luck...

Happy Saturday...

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'm an Adult and I Blame the Jonas Brothers

So, last night as I'm watching TV, getting ready for Grey's Anatomy, it occurred to me that I'm getting old. It was one of those horrible, sudden realizations that stops you cold for just a second. Ok, so I am approaching my mid-thirties and it's not that old but you have to understand, until recently, I still sort of counted myself on the side of the young 'uns and not of the grown-ups.

I think it's time to admit I'm a grown-up, an adult. Eek. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I've been living like a kid. My bed is a grown up bed, not some princessy, curtain-draped wonder. I cook. I clean. I even occasionally do my own laundry. I act like an adult, I've just never really felt like one.

You might wonder what spurned this revelation. Well, in all honesty, it was those blasted Jonas Brothers. You have to be somewhat familiar with them. They're the hot teen band; you cannot go into Walmart without seeing their stuff displayed by the Hannah Montana merchandise. I think there are three of them, they're Disneyfied boys, prettied up to get the girls screaming and they play that bubblegum rock that makes your teeth feel like it's going to fall out of your head with the sweet teen-ness of it all.

Last night I saw a preview for their movie or whatever it is they're promoting and I thought to myself, "what funny looking little boys" and then it hit me, I called them little boys. My mind flickered to the audience for whom they exist and I realized that I had no connection to this generation, that it had moved on and so had I.

I think this is the first generation with which this has happened. I try to stay pretty current in my music tastes. I'm a die-hard Green Day fan, I love Linkin Park, I love My Chemical Romance, I like some of the songs they used in the Twilight movie. (I'm sad to admit that Stephanie Meyer and I do have similar taste in music and when she lists the songs that on her writing playlist, they're usually very similar to mine). I'm always worried that I'll seem like an old person trying to be young but, in truth, I really don't care. I've always loved music and that will most likely never change.

I will say that even when I was a teen, it's doubtful I would have liked the Jonas Brothers. With my generation, it was New Kids on the Block or, as they're so fondly known, NKOTB. I despised them in high school. I was annoyed at their popiness, their irritating sickly ballads, their clean-cut looks and their horrible choreographed dancing. I was into the hard rock stuff, Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Def Leppard, Cinderella. Well, that was until I suddenly started listening to showtunes and I became a complete an utter nerd but I've already told you about that.

Yet even though I didn't care for NKOTB, I cared enough to tease my friends who did and, deep down, understood why they liked them...yet it still wasn't for me.

With the Jonas Brothers, I realized I didn't even care enough to mock them. They exist but they have nothing to do with me. I wouldn't know if I heard them on the radio, all I'd know is that I was on the wrong station and scan for another one. Even with the craze before that, High School Musical (HSM), I had seen the first stupid movie. It was when I lived alone in L.A. and I had a free preview weekend of the Disney Channel (I only ever had basic, basic, BASIC cable- local channels only with a few odd extras). I thought it looked interesting when they previewed the first HSM. I still like a good musical and I thought "That looked cute."

Bad idea. I thought it was awful. It was a shiny-happy version of high school and not one that I remembered. I knew it was Disney but wow, was it Disney, the dimples, the shiny hair, the happy ending...give me that in a cartoon form, change the characters into monkeys or something and I might like it but not with those insipid kids with their flat-ironed hair and trained-from-birth singing voices.

Yet, you'll notice, I still cared enough to pick on it, to make fun of it. I would never mock the fans of it unless they were over the age of 16 but you get the point, right?

Those Jonas Brothers are just a sign of the times. They're a safe transition from pre-teen to teenagerness. Yet, to me, they're just there. I don't even groan when I see their posters the way I do with the two leads from Twilight because the kids like The Jonas Brothers and let 'em have their music.

(Of course, the Twilight thing might be because every picture I see of Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart looks like they've been smoking something they shouldn't have. Seriously, want a visual picture of 'stoned', look at the latest cover of Entertainment Weekly.)

I digress. Again. Anyway, back to the Jonas Brothers. They make me feel old. I do still remember the butterflies that a pre-teen crush can bring.*

(*side note: I already confessed I used to love George Michael. Today, a remake of "Careless Whisper" was on the radio and I still know every word without thinking. Bizarre.)

Yet I don't get the fuss about the Jonas Brothers and I don't care. The kids like 'em. That's all that matters. And by saying 'the kids' I'm separating myself off as an adult.

I suppose it had to happen sometime, I had to come out of the closet and admit I was a grown-up, no matter how many times I watch or read Harry Potter but I just didn't expect it to happen so suddenly and without my knowing it was going to happen.

I suppose it had to happen sometime, right?

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

In Defense of Chick Lit...

Today, I was going to write this blog about romantic comedies and the annoying art of the 'chick flick'. I was going to muse aloud at how those movies always have actresses playing 'normal' girls when the actresses never, for one moment, ever look unattractive in the film. Even when they're supposed to look bad, they still end up looking as good as most of us normal folk do on a good day. I was going to also muse about how, in these movies, someone always goes to the grocery store and emerges with one of the brown grocery sacks packed beautifully with the fresh veggies sticking out on the top with a perfectly placed baguette sticking out of the bag. Have you ever tried to get a loaf of bread to really do that? I have. I've tried. It's all about stuffing the bag so much that the baguette can't move and it still wobbles over, catching on things so that you wonder if it's still edible. Yet in these films, the bag only contains a few items and the bread stands perfectly up, all on its own.

I also wondered who really runs around a corner to punch the air in excitement when she's about to have sex with a good looking man. Also, where are these brilliant, beautiful, broody men who seem to be waiting for the right misfit girl to come around the corner and fall in love with them?

Then I realized that I was just musing about romantic comedies, I was also musing about chick lit books. If you haven't read any of them, you may be unfamiliar with the genre. Yet think of books like Bridget Jones' Diary, or Confessions of a Shopaholic, or any book you see in a bookstore with hot pink on the cover or a pair of legs with fabulous shoes on the feet or a pretty girl obscured in some fancy modern art way. They're usually books about single women seeking their prince charming. I confess, I enjoy reading these books sometimes. Some of the authors are actually very good writers: Marian Keyes and Jennifer Weiner come to mind. Both of those authors manage to take what could be a fluffy story but deepen it, make it more real, wound it a little and give it scars.

Yet not all of the books do. Most of them follow a certain formula. Basically an slightly-insecure woman (with or without a few extra pounds) who is struggling to find herself (usually by working in a magazine or a public relations firm)* meets a man, obstacles arise, misunderstandings happen and, yet, always our insecure heroine lands Mr. Perfect and wrestles him from the arms of someone stunningly sexy and beautiful.

*(side note: I have always wondered why these women only ever work for magazines or do P.R. I mean, there are other jobs out there. Then again these are the jobs that require women to dress up, go to fancy functions and be exposed to a glamourous world, I suppose. Still, I'm very bored with those worlds now, thank you).

As I've said, I do enjoy these books. To me, they're like going to the grocery store after a bad day at work. You skip the good, healthy foods and, instead, grab a frozen pizza, ice-cream, wine, salt and vinegar potato chips and a jar of maraschino cherries just because they're good to eat straight from the jar. Then you go home, put in an old-but-cherished movie, and slowly work through your buyings. When you're done, you feel full. You feel guilty because now you're probably going to have to exercise to get rid of the badness you just ingested. Yet while you're eating all of that crap, it tastes perfect. It's not food for your body, it's food to soothe your poor bruised soul that just needs to be loved a little.

Chick lit and chick flicks are just like that pile of badness you buy from the grocery store. You know they're not good literature or cinematic works of art and yet they have their place in the world.

As a writer, you'd think I'd resent these books particularly at the volume they're getting published. Every time I go to Borders, there are more, piled on a table, the bright, vivid perkiness of the fonts on the covers screaming their genre without me really needing to read the back cover. If you go to the library, the spines of the books jump out from the more somber works that surround them, their vivacity calling out to be read, to be that binge you secretly crave.

Yet I don't resent them at all. In fact, I think they're necessary. They're good beach books. They're excellent airplane books. It's hard to read on a plane anyway. There are always babies crying, flight attendants bustling by, rummaging in the overhead. There's always the person in the row behind you who grabs the back of your seat as they stand up to go to the bathroom and you suddenly feel your head being jerked back and forth. Fluffy books are easy to read. If you lose your place, it's easy to find again. Little brain power is necessary to comprehend the words that are written on the page in front of you.

For you, it may not be a chick lit book that serves this purpose. I know that men have thier own brand of 'male lit' (known by the cruder term of 'dick lit'). It's a lot more masculine than a woman seeking her perfect evening gown and usually involves guns and explosions. Then there are the Louis L'Amour westerns, tales of rugged cowboys fighting for their survival, their women, their land on the great American frontier. And yes, actually, I have read some Louis L'Amour, thank you very much. My father is a big fan and it was hard to grow up and not be politely coerced to read some of them.

As a writer, I've thought about writing a chick lit book. I don't think it would be too hard. Yet the market for them is flooded and there's a lot of competition. They're not as easy to write as you'd think, anyway. As I've mentioned before, my attempt at a light romance turned into a dark and twisty tale with elements of abuse and the pain of a broken heart. So I think I'll leave it to the Sophie Kinsella's of the world, the Helen Fieldings, the Jane Green's. They're good at what they do. I may try again someday. I think the problem is that although I'd love my life to be a romantic comedy complete with the perfectly packed bag of groceries, the baguette sticking out on top, I know that life isn't really like that. In real life, the grocery bag would split, the bread tumbling out on the filthy street, no longer edible or, just as bad, the store doesn't carry baguettes, just soft, floppy old loaves of bread that just don't look as glamourous.

I do sometimes wish I did live in a chick lit book. I'd love to meet my Mr. Right, to banter with him wittily instead of blurting out sillyness, bordering on a stutter. I'd love to go to glamourous functions and somehow be able to afford a $500 pair of shoes (although, knowing me, I'd probably go to TJ Maxx for the shoes and use the rest of the money for bills). I'd love to just know he's Mr. Right and not mind that he might be a workaholic and that he has an ex-wife who looks like Cindy Crawford. I'd like to not mind that he has flaws and be able to ignore them because otherwise he's perfect, the way he is in the books.

Unfortunately, life isn't like that. It's probably better that way, it makes it more interesting even if the polished finish isn't so glamourous and shiny. Granted, at heart, I think most women wish that Prince Charming existed but it's probably better that he doesn't. It's better that we can live out our fantasies on paper because in real life, they're never as simple. So I will continue to sporadically escape into the world of Shopaholics, Commitmentphobes, neurotic women who supposedly represent me because somehow, when I start reading about them, they kind of do.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Paranoia in the Rearview Window

It's a cold and wet day outside the window where I sit today. It's the kind of cold that doesn't measure on a thermometer, a damp, chill that sinks into your bones and sits there. Even though it's warmer than it has been, the temperature reading doesn't mean much. It's in the wet rain that mists the air making things wet but falling so finely, it's almost invisible.

I think I've been complaining a lot lately. Whether it's a book that irritated me (yes, I'm talking to you, Story of Edgar Sawtelle), a movie or just the general blahness that hits in the deep winter months, I feel like I've been too negative.

I'm going to try to break out of that pattern. I actually did some writing last night. That was a good feeling. I know, I write on this blog every week day so, technically, I do write almost every day. Yet the type of writing I do in the evenings is different, it's fictional. It's much easier to babble about the world around me than make up something somedays.

It's Wednesday. That means it's closer to Friday and, if everything works out, I will have a three day weekend. Keep your fingers crossed that the title to my car arrives at the DMV this week. I'm starting to feel a little homebound. I drive to work from my home and back. Last weekend, I was daring and went a little further. Yet I keep alert to the possibility that at any moment a police car could pull behind me and see my license plates are technically expired.

So far, I'm doing ok with that. I'm ultra paranoid though. I have this picture in my head of a police car getting behind me and then I panic and suddenly turn off, my tires squealing as I do so. Then I get followed by the police and they pull me over and take my car away. Naturally, I think if I don't do anything ultra-obvious like, say, flee from the police in a dramatic manner, I might be ok. I can actually be quite rational in these situations.

However, if all goes as planned, I won't have to worry as of Friday afternoon. I will actually be able to drive proudly though I will be extremely sad to give up my California license plate. It's my mark of pride at the moment, my excuse for driving like a snail on snow, if snails drove, of course. It's my sign that yes, I'm not from around here, I'm a newcomer, be nice to me. Of course, at the moment, it's an enormous flashing beacon to police. It doesn't help that the expiration date of my plates isn't tiny like on the Ohio plates that I see every day. Instead, the year and month are on two rather large stickers, visible with 20/20 vision from the car behind me. I used to stare at those stickers a lot when I lived in L.A. and got stuck on the 10 freeway or the 101 as was the case when I moved there.

My first few years in L.A. were spent commuting from "The Valley" as it's known. I used to take the 101 and drive by the Hollywood sign daily, the Capital records building, the sights that look so glamourous in photos but border on seedy in real life. Then when I moved, I took the 1o freeway from a different valley. This commute was more boring but I had to pay more attention because the freeway split three times before I made it to my destination. Only a couple of times did I forget to split, finding my way into parts unknown and quickly turning around in case I got more lost.

Nowadays, my commute is easier. I hop in my car, turn left twice, turn right once and then turn into my parking lot. I'm always shocked that not only is it a quick trip but there's always parking spaces and I don't have to pay for them. I used to have to pay monthly in L.A. for the privilege of parking my car to go to work. These are some of the things I do not miss about Los Angeles.

Though there are some things I miss; I miss the heavy rains of February, the streets flooding with swell of the rain. I miss my friends, the quick trips to a movie where we'd make a dinner out of a hot dog and popcorn. I miss the fact that on any day, every movie currently in release is playing in the city somewhere. I miss the ocean and the trips to the English tea room I'd take with a friend after going to the Santa Monica pier.

Yet I'm not unhappy to be here. Now I have the chance of rain every day, not just during the 'rainy season'. I have my snow and the newness of the world it creates. I have my family, just a short trip away (unless the plates on my car are expired like...now) and I have a new life, one that's just begun. The discoveries I make every day are fun, from seeing a deer in the field behind my balcony to exploring a six-acre grocery store that keeps me in British goods without having to fly to the U.K.

I'm happy where I am but I'm happy where I've been. I'm curious where the road ahead lies.

Just as long as when I look in my rearview mirror, there aren't any police.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Life Gets in the Way Sometimes....

Today is one of those days where I have no clue what to blog about. Life has been so stressful lately that it's hard to step back and realize that now that I know I have a job, I can relax. It's never easy to command yourself to relax, though. There's always something to worry you.

For me, it's my writing. I haven't written anything new in a while. I've been editing for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA). That was pretty fun but once I was done, I was done. I've been lurking on the boards and there are some people out there who are nuts about editing. Even after they'd submitted their entry, they were tweaking until the final deadline. Some people even want to know if the contest administrator's can open up the process again once finalists have been selected so they can tweak a little.

Personally, I have a bit of an issue with this. I know the contest is for new writers, unpublished writers, writers who haven't had luck with traditional routes of publishing. I know that the desire to have a perfect novel is driving, it's demanding, it can obsess you. No novel will ever be perfect though some have come close. I know the need to edit can be strong. Yet, at some point, you have to stop. Like any other submission whether it be to agent, publisher or magazine, you're supposed to submit your best effort. You don't submit to a magazine and say, "oh, hey, I rewrote this section of my story, I'd like to submit it again, please", do you? Well, maybe you do but you shouldn't be doing that because chances are the editor will say "why did you bother submitting in the first place if it wasn't your best effort?" and they'll reject you.

I understand that some writers discovered ABNA later and had to quickly submit their manuscripts. That was me last year. I had a week to register, edit and upload. It was a tight deadline but it was the most fun periods of my writing life. Having a deadline is awesome in a way. It makes you feel like a real writer, someone who has to get their work done no matter what and if you don't, you lose out. However, once I was done editing, I was done. My novel probably needed more editing but I had done the best I could. I was proud to submit it. Granted, my experience last year wasn't stellar as I documented here, but I learned and, for a brief time, had some hope.

So I get it. I get why writers can't leave their books alone and can't stop editing but there comes a point when you have to. For me, I've learned that I can't edit when I finish a novel. I have to put it away for a long time, from six months to a year, and then edit. It's easier then. I find the errors, I find the clunky passages, I find the extraneous pop-culture references that would easily date my story and so I take them out. Yet on a cold and heartless note, I can't help but want to say to those constant tweakers and rewriters on the ABNA message boards, if you weren't happy with it, why did you submit it?

Then I have regret at being so mean. After all, not everyone is the same. For me, I can't submit anything I don't fully believe in. I can't submit something that doesn't feel like it's ready. If I did, I'd basically feel like I was throwing my lot in just for the heck of it. You know, there's nothing wrong with that. It's not a bad option. Yet if that was the option I chose, I'd also try to keep the mindset that whatever happens, happens and if I don't get anywhere then maybe I should have spent more time on the manuscript/story before I threw it out there.

The contest is proving to be an interesting experience, even when I'm just lurking on the message boards. Once again, the forums have been hijacked by the same few people. The people are funny and they have a rapport with each other but it does make it a little intimidating to jump in sometimes. Yet it's still fun to learn about the entrants. They range from complete beginners who shyly post questions on the boards to the more professional writers who can share their stories about bad agents and publishing feats. Last year's winner, Bill Loehfelm is even showing up on the board, always dispensing smart, seasoned advice.

It's fun to read what people have to say. I like to read the advice they give, especially from the writers who have had success. This year, I'm bound and determined not to be mean and snarky. Last year, I read some of the pitches and wondered who on earth would read that book. Then I realized after I got booted out that people probably said that about my pitch. This year, I'm taking everything and trying to learn, to see what I could do better and learn from other writers. That's not easy for me. I don't like to play well with others as I've said before. However, those others have had more success than me, thus they have to be doing something right.

Now I'm done editing, it's a waiting game again. I'm waiting to see if I get booted out again or if maybe, just maybe, my pitch is actually strong enough this year.

In the meantime, I want to write yet...I can't. I've sent out queries and am waiting on those. I made a deal to myself that I wouldn't write another novel until I'd tried hard to sell the ones I have. Yet I haven't. I'm getting nothing back from my queries. I don't know why. I feel paralyzed. Part of me wonders what the point of writing another novel or story is and the other part want to get lost in a new work.

Yet I can't. Not at the moment. And I don't know why. I have ideas but nothing seems worth spending the time on. I should just write through it like I have in the past, push through the block. I've never truly believed in writer's block because there are tricks to getting through it. The block I have right now is my own making. I've let the stress of life get in the way and now it's fixed fast in my path. I need to find a way to ignore it and then the block will go away.

It'll pass. Eventually. In the meantime....I'll just keep waiting, trying and hoping. Wish me luck with that.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Long and Tedious Story of Edgar Sawtelle

I won't complain about it being Monday. I think, by now, you've realized that's a given on a Monday morning. Of course, it doesn't help that today is actually a holiday and a lot of people don't have to work. I have to work. Can you feel me trying not to complain?

Still, I did have a rather nice weekend. On Friday, I discovered that I would, indeed, have a job in the future as the buyer of our company wants to keep almost everyone on. I am relieved. I won't lie and say that this is my dream job because my dream job is to write and get paid for it. Yet I like this place. I like my coworkers. My 'new' position is a little different than the one I have now but I think it'll be a good change. After four months of not exactly knowing what my future employment situation will be, it's such a relief that I don't think I've completely absorbed it yet.

Thus, I went into Valentine's Day (or, as some of my slightly more bitter friends call it "Single Awareness Day") with a positive attitude. I had a lovely day, I treated myself to a movie, went grocery shopping and then came home to relax. I chose to watch a perfectly dreadful movie while I was relaxing. Of course, I didn't know it was dreadful though given that it was based on a Nicholas Sparks' novel, i did have my suspicions. It was Nights in Rodanthe. I rented it because I like Richard Gere and usually like Diane Lane. Little did I know that even those two can't save a syrupy plot. Also, if you're familiar with Mr. Sparks' writing, you will know that he likes to make people cry by killing someone. I would like to point out to Mr. Sparks that he's used this technique one too many times by now and I'm onto him. I did not cry, in fact, I was irritated because halfway through the film I thought, "I wonder which one will die." I probably spoiled it for you. I'd say I'm sorry but, honestly, I'm doing you a favour. Really. You want a romantic movie? Watch An Officer and a Gentleman, Love Actually or Casablanca.

I also finished reading a book that I've been trying to finish for three weeks. I usually read books quickly. Not this one. The book is called The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. It was a bestseller, Oprah recommended it and it has a posititively glowing review from Stephen King on the back cover. As you'll probably recall, Mr. King and I have seen eye-to-eye on several books in the past. Unfortunately, not with this one.

Edgar Sawtelle was one of those books I sort of wanted to throw across the room when I was done but, because I was sitting in the bath when I finished it, I didn't bother. Just as a quick plot summary, it's sort of a modern day retelling of Hamlet. Edgar Sawtelle is Hamlet except he was born unable to speak. He communicates with sign language. His family has bred a new species of dog that is super smart and 'chooses' its own path and actions. I think most of the characters from Hamlet are represented by dogs in Edgar Sawtelle. Anyway, basically, Edgar's uncle kills his dad and seduces his mother to take over the family business. Just like in Hamlet.

Edgar runs away but comes back. That's the gist of the plot. If you've read Hamlet, it's not hard to figure out the tragic end of the story.

The problem is with this book it that it doesn't say anywhere that it's based on Hamlet. The only reason I figured it out is because I've read that play and had to analyze it countless times for classes. Thus, it sort of made sense when the story veers briefly into supernatural territory and mystical territory. Yet, it doesn't excuse the ridiculous amount of waffling prose and sheer volume of description. If ever a book was in sore need of an editor, it's this one. I'm not kidding when I say that at least half of the book is lyrical description of Wisconsin in every season or talking about the dogs. Also, it resorts to allowing the dogs' to 'narrate' a part of the story. For me, that's a huge turnoff in a book. Very occasionally, this works. If it's a story solely about a dog, then...maybe. If it's a kid's story then...definitely. But with this one, it was so out of place. But then, since the dogs were Super Intelligent dogs, maybe it made sense.

You may wonder why I kept reading. Mostly because I promised my mother I would. You see, she read it and felt like she 'didn't get it'. She didn't get the Hamlet aspects which is no way her fault. So I said I'd read it. I did. It's just that halfway through, I started feeling like I did when I move apartments. You know the feeling, right? It's like, in the beginning, it seems like a fun idea, you find a new place and you can't wait to move in. Then you realize that you have to pack. In theory, that always seems easy. Then you start doing it. Halfway through the first room, you realize exactly how much work it's going to be and you sort of want to abandon ship and stay where you are but you know it's too late, you've already committed. Yet every box you pack after that realization takes forever and ever and by the time you're done, you're exhausted and you're trying hard not to think about unpacking all those boxes.

Yes, for me, Edgar Sawtelle was like moving house. I thought it'd be a good new book. Then I started reading and the further I got, the harder it seemed to get through but I'd promised to read it and, truth be told, wanted to see what the fuss was about. Now that I'm done, I'm exhausted and feel like it took forever. I will not be rereading it. I think Stephen King said in his glowing review that he was envious of someone who picked this up for the first time because it was such a rewarding read. Also, he would be rereading it. Good for him.

It's books like this that make me wonder if I'm cut out to be an author. These are the books that are getting published, books that are symbolic and full of pages and pages and pages of desciption. I'm not saying Mr. Wroblewski can't write because he can. His descriptions are, at times, beautiful and poignant. Yet there's so much of it that I found my brain wanting to skip huge chunks to get to the story but, honestly, there wasn't much story to get to when you took away the prose. I like to describe things. I know I do that here, in this blog, a little too much probably. It's fun to find new ways to paint the world around us in words. Yet, for me, there has to be a story and it's the story that should fill the pages. The story is the outline and the drawing, the description is the colour. To me, Edgar Sawtelle is more like modern art, big, giant blocks of colour with no distiguishable form. I'm not a fan of modern art. I like my paintings to be of something. To have to try to find the symbolism in splashes of red and black paint is too much work.

I tried to write yesterday and I couldn't. I sat in front of a blank screen and nothing flowed. I'm frightened when that happens because it's so rare. I wonder if maybe I can't write anymore, if it's deserted me. I know part of it is because I'm frustrated about treading water as a writer. I have eight novels and am having no luck with agents. Reading Edgar Sawtelle didn't help because I didn't get it. I can't write like that. If I did, I'd feel like I'd done something empty. I do that a lot with writing. I find myself writing huge pages of description and hating the fact that the story is so weak. Yet if this is the type of book that Stephen King, Oprah Winfrey and countless other critics endorse, maybe I am doing something wrong. After all, it was a best seller.

Yet, then again, so was Breaking Dawn and you know how I feel about that. I suppose I can just hope that I'm ok the way I am and that, one day, I'll have my books out there in the world for some blogger to criticize on the web like I'm doing right now.

I suppose it's all about interpretation and preference. I usually enjoy modern retellings of old stories. I just tend to have them be a little less descriptive I will say, however, that had I stolen the plot of Hamlet like David Wroblewski did in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, you better believe that I'd acknowledge William Shakespeare in my 'thanks' section. Mr. Wroblewski did not.

I know I'm coming across as bitter. I can't lie and say I'm not. Whenever we 'don't get' something, it makes us a little bitter. I think because it also makes us feel a little dumb, that maybe we're not smart enough to understand the full depth of such a deeply moving book. Then I start to get bitter all over again because a book shouldn't be written with such depth that it makes a normal reader feel dumb.

It's a vicious cycle.

Happy Tuesday.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day....

It's been another long week. Yet, being Friday, it's almost over and the weekend, once more, lays before us, untouched in its promise of two days of freedom.

It's also Valentine's Day tomorrow. This means that day will be filled with men scurrying to buy flowers, cards, chocolates and jewelry and the evening will be filled with dates, romantic evenings in which couples celebrate their relationship.

I'd like to say I'm one of those people who sneers at the day and wonders what the point of having one day to declare your love when, technically, you should be doing it year round. And, in a way, I am one of those people. Yet, as always seems to be the case, I don't see it in black and white and so I do understand why February the 14th is special for people.

I have to confess, I think I've had maybe two Valentine's Day's in my life where I've been in a relationship. They were during college and both years, it was the same relationship. Those were good days, days in which I felt spoiled and lucky and appreciated having a boyfriend. Since then, my timing has sucked. I've never actually been in a relationship on Valentine's Day. Seriously. I've either just stopped seeing someone or...there never was a someone.

You'd think this would make me angry and bitter. It used to. In high school, where Valentine's Day seems a much bigger event than in reality, there were always the girls with bouquets. Our school used to sell carnations for a dollar, red for love, pink for 'like' and white for friendship. I think I got a pink one once which was nice. Otherwise, I got white ones from friends. There were always the girls who had an actual bunch of red carnations at the end of the day. I was never one of them. Truth be told, it was never about the flowers. I always wanted the more...Victorian...valentine. I wanted that unsigned card in my locker that gave my life an air of mystery. I wanted to find out I had a secret admirer.

I never did get my card. The pink flower was the closest I came. That was exciting at the time because it was almost the same thing. I had a suspicion I knew who sent it and it turned out to be right. It was someone I'd been in drama with and I ended up dating him for a while. As awful as it sounds, I never really liked him. I did like the fact that he had his own car and he introduced me to such glamourous places as The Olive Garden and Chi Chi's Mexican restaurant. Hey, in high school, those places are glamourous.

Yet to this day, I've never had my mysterious unsigned Valentine's card from an admirer. I've had cards from my dog and my parents yet never from an admirer.

However, these days, I don't look on Valentine's day as a disappointment, a constant reminder that, yet again, I'm single on this day. Instead, I look at the other 'loves' I have in my life. I have great friends and a good family. Normally, I try to be on the ball and send friendship Valentine's cards. If I'd have thought about it, I would have sent some to my nephew's and nieces. Yet, this year, the day slipped up on me and I haven't had a chance to send them. That makes me feel bad but it doesn't mean that tomorrow, I won't be thinking of them all and appreciating them.

I also intend to make the day special for me, to remind myself of all the reasons that I do enjoy being single. I love to go to the movies alone because it's relaxing. I will make something nice for dinner and I will take a nice bath, probably with candles. Just because I don't have anyone to send me flowers, it doesn't mean I should look on a day that is all about love with disdain. I had intended to drive to my parent's this weekend and spend the day with my family but due to, um, a slight problem with expired license plates, I'm a bit afraid of being pulled over. So I'll stay local and try to dodge the police. I've already had one incident with them since I've moved, I don't need another. Next week, I should be able to get new plates because FINALLY the lienholder on my car sent the title to the state of Ohio. I've only been trying to get it for over a month.

But, I digress. Again. Thus, I shall be spending my Valentine's Day alone. I'm actually ok with that. If I can't be with someone I love, being alone is good because Valentine's Day is a good reminder to try to love oneself too even if that self is feeling a little fragile due to potentially losing her job, constantly being rejected by men, agents and publishers and feeling like she's a bit crap at the job she DOES have. Yes, I'm a pathetic creature but for once, I'm not going to mope about it. I'm going to revel in the flowers and the hearts and all of the other Hallmark symbols of Valentines' Day. And to all the other singletons reading this blog, I salute you and remind you that love doesn't have to be romantic, it can just be....love.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Voice of a Possessed GPS...

It's sunny again today. The storm clouds have dissipated and the sky is the clear, cold blue of a chilly winter morning. We had a few storms yesterday including a flash of lightning that seemed to go in one window of our office and out the other. The electrical falsh was so intense that it almost felt tangible. Even when the thunder and lighting and rain left, the winds remained, howling and intense as it rattled at my window.

I walked outside in the wind. I was going for my weekly Lost viewing at my friend's house. She lives in the same apartment complex as me and it takes about five minutes to get there. The wind was so strong I had trouble standing up straight on the way there, it took my breath away literally. It's amazing how spooky a dark and stormy night really is. I tend to have an overactive imagination anyway and in the dark, shadowed, windswept world, there were plenty of scenerios that crossed my mind.

At one point, I passed a motorcycle. It's been covered harmlessly with a tarp everytime I've passed by before. Last night, however, that tarpaulin seemed alived, rattling and billowing and forming shapes that my mind decided should be alarming. At one point, out of the corner of my eye, it looked like a giant dark wolf was watching me.

There was a piece of overhang from the roof of one of the buildings I passed. It tapped at the building in the strong wind, threatening to be torn off and go sailing into the darkness. Because I've seen too many of those teenage horror movies in which someone inevitably gets decapitated by such debris, I was in quite a hurry to move past that, lest it come flying towards me.

After I'd watched Lost and was walking back to my building, the wind blew behind me. I felt as though an enormous hand were shoving me quickly towards my destination, urging me forward to get me out of the night. I wasn't about to argue. It was probably my imagination but I liked the idea of being assisted through the darkness, away from whatever twisted and turned in the wind. That piece of roofing was still tapping but seemed to be looser.


I let that giant hand of bluster push me home quickly. After witnessing my GPS seemingly become possessed by dark forces on Saturday of last week, I wasn't taking any chances.

I didn't tell you about that, did I? Last weekend, on my way to Jungle Jim's, I stopped at a carwash. It was a warm, clear day, the snow had all melted leaving a film of grime and salt on my car. I decided to clean Car off. The carwash was was about a mile from Jungle Jim's. Now, in my car, I have two of those cigarette lighter plug thingies. In one, I have an iPod transponder that allows me to play my iPod through my car stereo. In the other, located in my glove compartment, I have another, into which my GPS was plugged. My GPS has no connection to the outside, no antenna; nothing to get wet.

Everything seemed normal. I love carwashes and this was one of those nifty ones with a track that takes you through without you having to drive. That was fun. When I drove out of the carwash, I turned towards Jungle Jims. And that's when I heard it, the dark voice of a possessed GPS.

You know those reel-to-reel tape things they had back in 'the old days'? And how you could speed them up so that everyone sounded like Alvin and his chipmunks or slow them down so Satan himself seemed to be speaking to you? Yes, the latter is exactly how my GPS sounded. Suddenly, the simple directions of "turn left onto Dixie Highway" sounded significantly less like directions and much more like a threat.

You might think I was alarmed. Well, actually....yes, I was. However, I decided to try to take control of the situation. After all, I was driving a car. Panic would have been bad. Instead, I talked to GPS and said something along the lines of, "um, Satan? Is that you? Would you mind giving me my GPS lady back?" GPS did not obey. The super-slowed, deep and ominous tones of my new GPS guide continued to try to guide me. He's a bit hard to understand, actually. He sounds like he's got an entire set of pool balls in his mouth. I knew where Jungle Jim's was at this point but I wasn't about to have my GPS lady taken down by this odd newcomer.

So I did the only thing I could think of. I unplugged my GPS and turned it on and off. After a few moments, my GPS lady was back. I don't know if I managed to banish the demonic posessor but he seemed to have gone. I won't say that I'm not wary of him coming back but at least I can understand my GPS now and I don't feel...wrong for listening to it giving me directions.

Of course, it did make my drive more interesting, I will say that. I think it might be fun to actually program GPS units to have different voices. I know some of them can do different accents and speak in different languages but it might be fun to have, say, Batman give you directions. Better yet, it'd fun to program personalities into them so that maybe if you went the wrong way, Christian Bale could yell at you and tell you that taking a wrong turn was f***ing distracting. Now THAT would be awesome.

But I digress. What's new? Anyway, back to my original musings. It's still windy this morning but it's just strong gusts, not a howling windstorm. We lost power for about a minute, long enough to make me have to reset my clocks but no long enough to be more than a nuisance. Even with all the rain we had yesterday, my GPS is sounding like her old self which is interesting given that the last time my car was that wet, she, um, went away. She's been back for a while but I tell you, the next time a demon takes over my GPS, I'm recording it somehow, just to prove I'm not crazy.

I always need a little proof of that.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's the Small Things in Life....

The clouds are thick in the sky today. As I drove in, I could see the streaky sunrise frozen in its tracks, the heaviness of the clouds taking over the sky. The wind is howling through any cracks it can find in windows and doors. It's going to be a stormy day.

As I said yesterday, aside from snow, there's nothing I love more about being in the Midwest than those thunderstorms. They build up, slowly and steadily. In the summer, they come after days of opressive heat and humidity that make you feel as though you're being pushed to the ground with the pressure. The clouds roll in, covering the sky with a thick canvas of grey and then, from afar, a rumble interrupts the day. The first few rumbles of thunder are usually so far away that you wonder if you really heard them or if it was something else, an airplane perhaps.

Then the storms gets closer, rain begins to scatter onto the ground, the rumbles get louder and the storm suddenly overhead. The rain begins to pelt down, furiously. The thunder turns to a crash overhead, the lighting so quick and sudden that your eyes take in its bright aftermath rather than the lighting flash itself.

I could see those clouds rolling in this morning. The wind is already blowing fairly hard. The temperature is positively balmy outside. On my drive, I was in the middle of town. There are a set of railway tracks that intersect the road at one point. The car in front of me suddenly slowed for no obvious reason. Then I saw them, five deer, running, one by one across the road. They were being aided by a good citizen, who must have found them in his yard and he managed to get traffic to stop so the deer could tear across the road, unharmed. I think they were following the railroad tracks but I can't be sure. I can only hope they get to their destination safely.

It made me wonder if those deer knew something about the storm. It reminded me of those cartoons in which at the first sound of thunder, the cartoon animals of the woods and forest make for cover to sit out the storm. Maybe those deer know that we're in for a tumultous day.

I like a bit of turmolt in my weather. As I said yesterday, there are some days where you feel like you're running in place and you just want something to happen. It's almost like I want to throw the elements that make up my normal day into the air to have them scatter like those pick-up-sticks that we used to play with as kids. I don't want the elements to change but maybe to rearrange, to make something new out of something old.

I don't suppose I really need a storm for that. I could do that any day, if I wanted. It's just that some days, there's comfort in the ordinary. Other days, the ordinary almost makes you feel imprisoned. I've always been a big supporter if finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. For me, today, it was those deer. I've seen them a few times in the field behind my apartment since the last time I blogged about deer. Yet there's definitely something special when they interrupt such a normal part of my routine. Like the squirrel yesterday, those deer today made me pause for a moment in appreciation. That was a moment that I ordinarily would have been stuck in my normal routine of driving to work, listening to whatever CD I fumbled into the player and already thinking about what to make for dinner.

As goes the saying, "It's the small things in life that make it worthwhile." I agree with that wholeheartedly. On a bad day, it's the friends who take the time out to talk to you that make it a better day. It's the fact that I can call my mother any time and she'll always listen to me complain or feel blue and she never tells me to suck it up and shut up. It's things like the fact that I always have McCain Smiles frozen potatoes in my freezer and they make my day just a little better because they're so goofy (and tasty) or watching a Harry Potter movie can take me away from life for a while. It's seeing a squirrel unswervingly scurry across a telephone wire or deer that cross my path in the morning that make a day something more than ordinary.

It's a thunderstorm crackling overhead that reminds us that afterwards, there'll be calm but, for now, there's the spectacular show of weather to enjoy. The little things add up....we just have to stop to appreciate them.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Simple Lesson from a Squirrel...

It's a gloomy, dark, rainy Tuesday today. The rain started hammering my windows at around 2 a.m. and though it's slowed, I don't think it's really stopped. It's currently drizzling, the clouds deep and heavy. It's also much, much warmer than it has been. It's supposed to be over 60 degrees today. It's very springlike. It's a nice lull from the cold freezing temperatures and blanket of snow and ice.

I don't think this means it's spring though. Not yet. The grass has reappeared now the snow has mostly melted and it's still that dull, tired brown of winter. The newness of spring still waiting to reveal itself. There are also still patches of snow that loom in the shade. They're melting and, as they do so, the cold of the snow collides with the warm of the air and a hazy mist hangs between snow and sky. It looks like something from a fantasy novel, as though you'd step into the snow patch and be taken to an alien place, a world that exists seperate from ours.

Don't you wish, somedays, that you could do that? I have, even since I was a child. I read books about made-up-lands that appeared at the tops of trees, lands that existed on the other side of wardrobes, worlds where vampires existed, brutally and romantically. Even as I'm older, I still like to read books that take me away, books like Harry Potter where magic truly exists. I'm old enough to know it's all fiction but young enough that sometimes I wish it wasn't.

I think the days that it's easiest to wish that are the days where we feel like we're stuck in a rut. For me, it's when my job isn't exciting and I feel that a trained monkey could do it. Sometimes it's a day when I have the hope of romance only to have it dashed by the reality of emotional baggage. It's also days when my email account holds rejections from agents when I was so certain that one of them would at least want to see more of what I can do. It's days when I sit down to write and all that flows is a regurgitated version of someone else's work rather than an original, extraordinary idea of my own.

I'm having one of those days today. As I drove in, I got stuck at a stop light and I watched a squirrel smoothly hope from one side of a telephone wire to the other. It wasn't one of those scary electical wires that threaten to fry the squirrel but one of those bundled packages that hang high above, the casing around the bundle providing a safe passage from squirrels. I admired that squirrel. He had a place to get so he hopped along to it. He didn't falter, he didn't slip, he didn't even seem to be looking where he was going. He just knew. He trusted his feet to get him there and they did. He reached his goal with nary a thought.

Somedays, I wish life was that easy. The path that lays before us never seems quite that easy to find. There's too much in the way, whether it's real obstacles or ones that exist in our mind. So we don't hop forward, boldy, as the squirrel did. We stop and try to keep looking down and though we might see the path, our caution makes it slippery and uncertain. For me, the path is always shrouded in self-doubt: "what if I'm not supposed to do this?" "What if I'm not good enough?" "Why do I always get rejected?" "Why can't it be easy?"

The thing is, I don't think it's supposed to be easy. As I've said in this blog before, it feels more worthwhile when it isn't easy. If I do succeed with writing or life, romance or my job, it'll feel like I earned it. The hardest part is keeping my feet on the path that lays before me, even if I can't see it. I have to just trust that it's there and go with my instincts and, one day, like that squirrel, I'll have achieved my goal, even if it's just staying on a path and getting to the other side because that, in itself, is a prize and accomplishment.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy this rainy Tuesday. We're supposed to have thunderstorms tomorrow. If there's one thing I love almost as much as snow, it's a good, powerful Midwestern storm. There's nothing like it. Considering I used to be terrified of storms, the fact that I revel in them nowadays is an accomplishment. And, the ironic thing is, I never had to think about it. I just let it happen.

Maybe there's a lesson to be learned there.

Happy Tuesday.

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