Friday, August 19, 2011

Musing on Scary Movies

Somebody asked yesterday, "What is a really scary movie I can watch?" The first answer that came to mind was The Shining because of Jack Nicholson's memorable creepy compelling performance of a loving father and husband going progressively insane while seeking shelter in a place that should have been avoided at all costs and the sense of tension and apprehension set up for the viewer as the film progresses.

Next up was an indie film I saw last year called Frozen that has put me off downhill skiing and ski lifts for life. Maybe several lifetimes. In this film three young twenty something friends are trapped fifty feet in the air in a lift gondola with no food, no extra clothing or survival gear, no cell phones, and no way to get down. They never should have gotten on the gondola "for one more run" just before closing at all. Worse is the fact that the ski resort is closed until the next week end...five days away. And, none of the three has told anybody where they were going. Talk about tension and the sense of impending doom as the three discuss what to do as they become increasingly desperate, then when they do take action, each logical solution turns into worse disaster. You feel their hunger and physical misery, their despair and sense of helplessness. And its, cold, so cold!

Well, thinking about these two films really got me going. I remember being totally freaked out by Jaws the first time I saw it and the first Aliens film. Then, there was Pitch Black. I'm shivering already. In these films the unexpected and the unknown beast, whether alien or mammalian, is the horror. I mean who isn't afraid of being dragged under dark murky water and eaten by a great white shark? Please, please get a bigger boat! Or just stay out of freakin' water more than ankle deep. And uh maybe when you crash land on a planet that used to have a colony that nobody's heard from in a long while, maybe you should concentrate on fixing the craft and getting out of there pronto. But then, you can't, can you? You need parts and supplies, and then there's the dramatic element of human intrigue with the mystery of the missing colonists that leads to...disaster...and death... and hopeful escape. Pity the guys in the red shirts, Captain Kirk, and beam me up Scotty! My recommendation here is if you find yourself in this sort of situation stay very very close to Ripley and Riddick!

Next up, the really terrifying Poltergeist. In that film, every single childhood fear was explored and exorcized in full living color with sound and state of the art special effects and by Industrial Light and magic and the creativity of the masterful Spielberg at his masterful best. My personal favorite moment was the scary clown doll under the bed. I mean who isn't really afraid of looking under the bed, especially in the dark? Who if we are honest isn't secretly afraid of clowns? Might something reach out and grab your ankles if you don't jump into bed quick? And, watch out for closets. Every kid knows they may be dark tunnels leading to alternate worlds full of monsters! And parents, like the parents in the film, are very very slow to figure it out.

Another film that scared the absolute bejesus out of me was the film Omega Man that starred Charleton Heston (which was remade as I Am legend with Will Smith). I had nightmares about that one. In Omega Man, a biological weapon developed by the US military has apparently killed all the humans. All except for Heston who is somehow immune. The dude is lonely and bored and he thinks it is safe to go out during the day 'cause there might be things that go bump in the night but can't deal with daylight. So he drives (a convertible for Christ sakes) into the deserted city where the camera shows you shadowy things scuttling around the deserted buildings and rubble. Why doesn't he drive a tank?! He eaves the car top down outside in the sun and goes in a movie theatre and screens Woodstock for himself, sitting in the dark. You just know this is not a good idea. If his wife wasn't dead she'd be scolding, "What are you thinking of?! Get home right this minute and lock the doors!" Well, Chuck gets absorbed by the movie, stays too long, comes out and its dusk. He looks around and says something like 'oops, better get home, cause THEY'LL be out soon!' OMG. Then they do come out. Color me screaming yellow.

Turns out the things in monk like robes with hoods hiding their deformed faces are former humans turned Zombies all of whom live only to kill poor Chuck. I had nightmares for a long time after that one. Actually slept with a nightlight.

Then, there was The Birds. Hitchcock turned those cute little winged critters into monsters of mass destruction in California town while for a part of the film the hapless citizens forget to look up as disaster builds. And I don't mean bird poop falling from the sky. Yes, Virginia. Sparrows and sea gulls and crows can be scary. And they'll do worse than mess up your hairdo. Hitchcock wasn't dubbed the master of suspense for nothing.

In Jurassic Park, the viewer knows that they should have listened to Jeff Goldblum when he said it wasn't a good idea to recreate living dinosaurs on an island and build a theme part around it. You wouldn't think even the red dogs and blue dogs in Washington DC would be dumb enough to recreate living T-Rexes and Raptors as a money making project. Or would they?

So what do these movies have in common, aside from being well written, well directed, well acted, and well produced? Well, most were based on books to begin with. Omega Man (Based on I Am Legend by Richard Matheson )and Jurassic Park ( Michael Crichton) was as was The Shining (Stephen King). Jaws by Peter Benchley was based on a true incident that occurred in New Jersey and Maryland in 1916.

They depend on characters that may be stock literary characters but who are dimensional and not cardboard. People who could be our neighbors or family who find themselves in scary situations without the training to face the danger or the full knowledge of exactly what it is until it's chasing them. They could be you or me. As a viewer you both identify with the characters and care about their survival, even if they do some pretty dumb things. There is a gradual build up of suspense and impending danger, and excitement. And, it's always dark at some point. Humans are instinctively afraid of the dark and what it may hide. After all, we began if Darwin was right, as little bitty critters hiding in caves or tall grass from bigger predators bent on eating us for supper. Our only defense was seeing them in time and being fast enough to RUN AWAY.

There are lots of other good scary movies. The Track OF The Vampire, Nosferatu, (The first) Halloween, Silence Of The Lambs, Seven, Misery, Carrie, The 13th Warrior, Psycho, The Exorcist come to mind. Some folks are scared by True Blood and Dexter on TV, two really well written and acted series. Some people are freaked by Dracula and Freddy and King Kong and Cujo or the Cloverfield monster, but those sort of things don't frighten me. Ghosts and vampires and were-wolves and big stomping Godzilla things are more interesting than scary.

I once lived in a haunted house and I can tell you that most ghosts are really more annoying than scary. All that moaning and crying and floating about, making crashing noises to get your attention and stuff. Gets old fast. "I mean, get a life! Oh, wait, you can't! You are dead! Well, scat! I'm busy here." Did I just make that up? Well, that's for me to know and you to wonder. I am a writer of fantasy after all...When I was very little, I really was afraid of The Wizard of Oz's witch with her green face and cackling and the talking door knob in Alice In Wonderland, mostly because talking door knobs seemed WRONG somehow. But that's fodder for another blog.

What are your favorite scary movies and why? What makes you eat your popcorn faster and you want to yell out, "No, no, don't open that door! Don't go down there?! Don't listen to him (her)? Danger, danger, Will Robinson! I have a bad feeling about this!"

Live long and prosper. Now, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Road Trip Dreamin' When the Best Laid Plans Go Awry.

Photo: better days with the Badger on the beach
Well boys and girls if I am going to be honest and I am going to be, I have to say that we were pretty bummed out that we couldn't take our summer vacation trip to Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Yes, sigh, we had to cancel when we discovered on my birthday week end that our RV was not in a drivable state. No RV, no road trip. No trekking around Gettysburg, no Hershey Park, no Chocolate Town, no Almost Heaven, West Virginia. No mountains, no lightning bugs, no cooler elevations. Nada, zip. Not even a weekend trip to the beach. Now, I don 't really expect anyone to actually feel sorry for me. Its not a third world problem. Definitely first world. So, I don't get to take another road trip to discovery in a thirty two foot motor home. So what? I'm not living in a box in the woods. The roof only leaks a little over the kitchen sink and there's food in the fridge. A/C to help cope with the mid nineties temps. A pool to cope with the excessive Florida summer humidity. Could be a hurricane coming, but heck we've felt with those before.

None the less I was bummed out. I wanted to go back to Beckley and the wonderful Tamarack Craft Center, visit a coal camp and go down the mine for 'Charlie's Dog' research. Danny and I wanted to stop at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulpher Springs and tour the secret underground cold war government refuge. I wanted to smell chocolate in the air in Hershey, get Civil War memorabilia and see The Eisenhower farm. Oh well, maybe next year.

It was, in a way, a good thing we couldn't go. The temps up Nawth are as high as in Orlando. No relief from the heat practically anywhere. Might as well stay home, hole up in a movie theatre and get sick on popcorn, which is what we did. Still its always nice to have a change of scenery and a break from the normal stresses of everyday life that everyone has.

The RV is in the shop over in Tampa. No telling how long its going to be out of commission at this point. Right now, we're hoping for a leaf turning trip to NC in the fall.

We're working on the book production in bits and pieces at night and lunch and in between sweat in' buckets on the weekends. That's all for this update.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's my birthday and I'll say what I want to...celebrating myself!

Tomorrow is my birthday. That statement always causes me to have a moment of reflection. Several actually. Sometimes I groan. Sometimes I get grumpy. Then, I eat cake. The number of years I have to admit to is always a shock though, because one thing remains true from year to year and decade to decade. No matter how I look in the mirror's reflection or to people around me, no matter that I am actually somebody's GRANDMOTHER, no matter what changes occur in the 364 days that pass from birthday to birthday to the body I wear, the essential being that I am inside remains pretty much the same. Seriously.

What I mean by this is that, although I learn new things with my brain and have new experiences all the time with the body--some positive and some negative on both counts-WHO I am inside and my way of processing things is pretty much the same as when it stopped changing around the age of ten. So, I am essentially the kid I always was and WHOOPPEE.... I always will be.

That is probably why I always get along with children and dogs and why I can write so easily for children. Because I haven forgotten for a second, not for a second, what it's like to be a kid and see like a kid behind my lined adult face.

I confess that Christmas and Halloween are still my favorite holidays. I eagerly read every Harry Potter book and I love Butterbeer. I wear a Hogwarts tShirt on the Forbidden Journey and The Cat and The Hat rides at Universal. I still suspect there may just be fairies and things that go bump in the night. I always 'hear the bells' and if the Polar Express should happen to stop at my door I will hop aboard. And not just for the hot chocolate. I love Wonka bars and I would love to see Oopma Loompas and a bitchy girl turn into a giant blueberry! I'd be game to ride a giant war bear to find the Golden Compass and Harry's cloak of invisibility would suit me up just fine. I actually think I may just have seen Tinker Belle flashing on an off last year in the North Carolina mountains, too. And I know that Wonderland lies on the other side of the rabbit hole in the woods. The door knob told me that a long long time ago, way back in the twentieth century. So there.

I know about it, because I've seen Wonderland, even if only in dreams, and I hope somehow that you have too. If my house blows away during a tornado and lands somewhere else on a pair of legs in striped stockings and ruby slippers I'll have one up on Dorothy though, because I wear an adult body that has had much experience thanks to Madame Time. It knows the striped stockings would be hot and the pointed toed glittery red slippers would hurt my bunions, so I'll pass and keep on wearing my adventure sandals. Oh, and I do I know where the yellow brick road leads to anyway, which is to a city that is painted green but isn't eco friendly. I know that the Munchkins have been huffing something illegal---lollypop league or not. The wizard is just a con man from the midwest who's going to run for national office next year. But I'm gonna sign on with the Tinman and the Scarecrow and the lion and ride in Glinda's bubble anyway if the opportunity arises, 'cause I still know how to have fun! So what if I'm not in Kansas anymore. It's mostly flat anyway.

But, I won't eat green eggs and ham, because my body has learned the consequences of eating food with green stuff on it. That's okay-- I knew better than that at ten!

So, its my birthday. Drink up me hearties and show me the horizon! Here's a toast to the undead monkey and a raspberry to the krakken. Who cares what the mirror and my birth certificate say. Here's to being ten again for another year!

By Nancy Wayman Deutsch

I was ten once long ago.
Ten on the outside I mean.
Inside I'm still ten,
sometimes, ten and a half
which is six moons past July,
or I'm ten minus a half
which I guess, would be five
depending on whether I'm right side up or upside down.
I still see things like a girl of ten, or five:
the way dogs smile, and a caterpillar dancing on a twig,
the way lizards are really dinosaurs, shrunken down to manageable size.

I'm Alice fallen down a rabbit's hole,
or I'm a princess in a castle built of books
dancing in crystal shoes past twelve on nimble feet,
feet that never hurt at all.
I know spiders hold all the evil in the world in their fat, squishy bellies
and fireflies are really golden fairies.
I know I'll live forever, somewhere
maybe on the other side of the universe from here
because I'm ten and I'll never be eleven,
not even when they think I'm eight times ten
in the grown up world other people live in.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book production and the 'indie' author

Well, I guess I owe you an apology of sorts, dear readers. I rarely if ever check the blog archives and when I do I realize I repeat myself in small ways at times. I don't post that often and when I do, I tend to forget what I've posted before. So, if you'd read any previous entries you already knew prior to my last post that in the case of my 'dragon book' I wasn't using the illustrations from the artist who, like Harry's 'he who must not be named', shall not be named here. Not because she's an evil wizard of course, I just don't want to give her any publicity. I will repeat myself on purpose this time by reiterating that from lemons come lemonade and as a result of my sour experience with the aforementioned artist I am having a very sweet experience with designing my book.

Thanks to the fact of having to pay way too much for her unusable stuff and being loath to fork out any more $$ for further layout, design services etc we (spouse and I) are boldly going way beyond anything we've done before. Its so exciting to literally be designing the pages of my written work from A to Z and know that what we learn now will be usable in all future projects.

We are the designers, producers, and publishers. We rock!

We know how it works in traditional publishing. You (the hopeful author) write the book proposal and/or the book, shop for an agent, maybe land an agent who in a small number of cases actually sells your book to a publishing house. You have a contract and may or may not have control of the rights to the material but you lose control of the cover design and some of the content which will be reedited. They may give you, as the author, an advance payment prior to publication and you get some royalties from the book sales post publication. Your agent takes a significant cut. The process from beginning to that point can take a decade before you get to see your book in a bookstore for the several months it has to hit it big before it is shelved and discounted. Maybe you get a deal for another book. Maybe you can quit your day job. Maybe.

But that's not where I choose to go. I am happy to be one of those folks who elicit a contemptuous sneer from some editors and agents and well established writers from the old school years: an 'indie' author. The purpose of this post is not to tell you why I choose this route. The purpose is to tell you what goes into producing and independent book.

So, what actually goes into book designing an 'indie' book like mine? I hope you are wondering that by now as you read this.

Here's a few important things for the inside of the book itself. Every word, every line, every paragraph, page and picture has to be correctly formatted. I don't mean put into a Microsoft word file on your computer, spell checked, paginated, and paragraphed with page breaks inserted with Author's biography, book synopsis, and key words list. That's what I always did before and sent to the book designers. And yeah I had to do that with my current book. But since this time, I am also helping to design the book I had to go further.

The person doing layout and formatting (which in this instance is primarily my spouse with me assisting where I am able) has to remove the layers of 'stuff' or code that lie underneath all those things you see on the page on your computer. The corrections, p symbol for paragraphing, line and page breaks and tabs all have underlaying well, I'll call them symbols and marks, in the text and they have to vanish before the finished product goes to the printer. Just because you don't see them in your manuscript doesn't mean they are not there. They are still there, sort of literary dust mites that must be swept away for good.

The book designer has to remove these cussed things and do many other tasks such as: convert the eight and a half by eleven computer screen page to the size template of the actual book ( in our case the popular trade paperback size of 6X9. The actual size is 6.25 by 9.25 or something very close to that.) The book designer has to check each line of the entire text, look for spaces between words that shouldn't be there, properly format the scene and point of view breaks within each chapter, set the margins so that when the print book is bound each verso page has plenty of left margin for line readability, deal with those single lines at the bottom of the verso page and the top of the recto page that are called 'widows and orphans', make sure the text is justified on every page and each line has the proper number of words for readability, set the space between each line of the text (generally 1.5 rather than single or double space), paginate the text but not the title page, table of contents, copyright page, dedication and any blank pages. Whew, is your head spinning yet?

The designer also needs to make sure the title page appears as a recto (right) page with the copyright page on the back of it. He has to label the verso (left) pages at the top of the text with the book title and the recto pages with the chapter headings, decide what font to use on the text for readability (Garramond recomended by most folks), whether each chapter will be a recto chapter with blank verso page opposite or randomly follow the text, the use of chapter headings and negative space in beginning each chapter, set controls so that the table of contents appears correctly referring to each chapter and page number. Pictures and titles must be embedded in the text at the proper places and sized and formatted to match the text.

There are lots of other tasks to add to the list but it is long enough already to give you an idea of just how much work is involved. And that's just the inside of the book. The book designer also has the cover to do. He has to know about 'full bleed' so that the color on the cover goes all the way to the end of the front and back without a telltale white line on the edges. He has to select a different font that that used in the text. He has to know how to physically put the various elements to be used on the cover together. Cover art is a subject in and of itself. Adobe Creative Suite Design Standard and Photoshop are essentials to have as software on your computer. (cost approximately $1200.)

The designer and author need to select images and color, how the title and author's name should read and where both should appear. What goes on the back: plot synopsis, testimonials, author information, etc. Generally in fiction, if the author is famous her or his name are in bigger font than the title. Unknown authors names are less boldly displayed than the title. The title and authors name need to be viewable on the spine when the book is shelved. Since people do indeed judge a book by its cover the cover should catch the eye with the colors used which should also give a clue to its genre and mood. Covers should not be too busy or too simple. Go to a bookstore and look at the covers and you will see definite trends in each genre.

Because many books are now sold through Amazon online and in Kindle format, a cover designer need to consider how the book will appear online to the browsing consumer. Amazon uses a white screen so the book cover should not be predominately white, for example. The image will be small so it need to be eye catching with a clear subject.

The author and the designer must decide what sort of copyright the book will have and secure it, decide and insert other attributions that will appear with the copyright, and the author as publisher must buy the ISBN number. They need to list the book with the 'books in print' folks and make sure it can be sold on Amazon and through major booksellers such as Borders and Barnes and Noble. They need to determine the length of the book, what the printing costs will be, and what the author will charge per copy for the printed book.

There are many other things that have to be done post publication which fall under marketing and will not be addressed here. But I think you get the idea of what we are doing. I used to think book designers read a few instructions, hit a few keys and voila, eet wuz done! Color me clueless before. Now, I know why it took so long. And that's when you don't have to do it in snips and snatches after work. After many hours of tutorials, Adobe training programs, weblogs, and Joel Friedlander's online advice for self publishers I am beginning to understand the process.

If you are an author and don't want to do any of this of course, you can pay a book designer and subsidy publisher to do it for you. You will pay a minimum of seven hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars for the service depending on what you choose. If you choose to publish in hard cover with color illustrations and dust jacket it will cost much more and if you self publish in volume rather than using the POD (print on demand) method it can run you an easy ten thousand dollars and you need a climate controlled warehouse for your unsold books. If you want to make any significant money at this you must promote your book shamelessly and constantly and you must get it on Amazon. But, your books will cost you about four fifty to ten dollars a paper back trade copy to print depending on pages if you use a service like LULU or Create Space and you can sell the book for sixteen to twenty dollars per copy. The printer gets a small cut and you keep the rest. So you get a bigger payoff per book than you would from a traditional publisher. The downside is you have to find ways to sell your book without the big publisher corporations' networks helping.

Your book is not printed until it is pre sold if it is POD, so you have no inventory to store. Some people really do make a lot of money this way.

And the 'indie' stigma is fading with the recent successes of some indie authors who sell large quantities through Amazon and the Kindle delivery format. Print bookstores are going into bankruptcy and so are big name publishers. If the content of your book is good and people know about it and it is priced right it can sell. You don't always need agents and traditional publishers any more. The times, they are a changing. Your options and opportunities are broadening.

So, that was a quick general overview of what I did on my summer vacation. Or part of it, anyway.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dorothy, put down them ruby slippers and fetch me a glass of lemonade

(Photo: Judy Garland as Dorothy in 1939 film, The Wizard OF Oz)

Hello ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages. Step right up for some important enlightenment. Pay no attention to the man behind the screen. Today's topic under the Emerald City Blogodome comes straight from that wizardess of words herself, Wayworm, the Wicked Wit of The East. Yessir, folks, that's me and my post is about making literary lemonade from lemons.

I suppose I might subtitle it, "Surviving a ill thought out commission to an illustrator and moving onto loftier heights." If that sounds sort of high-toned or Victorian, excuse me please, for I have just read the fifth gaslight murder mystery of the week. But, I digress. We wicked wit's do that occasionally.

What I really want to address today once the Munchkins calm down, are two topics: (1) what not to do when working with an artist on a book project (that's the lemon) and what happened afterwards (the lemonade).

First, a little backstory. Back in 2008 or 2009 I decided to take a project I'd been working on sporadically since 2000, then called The Dragon Chronicles, and turn it into a children's book in verse with pictures. I hired an artist with a background in animated design who was recommended by a friend to create some character drawings for this book. I didn't check her references or set a time limit for obtaining her designs. Are you already feeling chills up your back? I should have. Maybe I was distracted by the shine of the ruby slippers. In any case, wicked wits aren't always wise.

Now, I knew even back then that if I were to take this book to an agent and was able to get one of the big publishing houses to buy it (highly unlikely, folks) the publisher would toss the pictures I provided and hire an artist from their own stable to do the drawings. But, I wasn't planning to go that route. I was writing the dragon book to read out loud to Toto and as a legacy for my eventual grandchildren.

The artist gave me to understand I could pay for the character designs and stop the project at any time. I should have but I didn't. Flash forward to spring of 2010. By this time we're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. By this time, the picture book in verse had morphed into a full fledged fantasy novel for YA and adults. It didn't really need pictures anymore. I hadn't heard from the artist for the better part of a year. All I had was a rendering of the dragon, which I liked. I had already paid her a considerable sum, more than I should have, and I emailed her that I was finished with my book, it was in final edit and I either wanted the rest of the characters or the project cancelled.

She made all sorts of excuses and strung me along the Yellow Brick Road, but she did finally come up with the rest of the the spring of 2011! Why did I wait? I suppose because I had already been involved with this project so long and in my mind had paid for the designs so I thought I ought to get them. When the artist finally delivered the designs, she did so in the unexpected form of a computer disc that couldn't even be used without the purchase of a $1200.00 software program and she hit me with a huge and very much unexpected bill as well. Color me shocked and black and blue. Oz could have blown me over with a feather.

When I was finally able to view the illustrations in final form in the black and white format they would be in in the text, they were completely wrong for the book. Still wanting to like the art, I showed the small paintings of the characters she'd done and delivered with the disc to a survey group to a resounding reaction of dead air. Gulp. No cheers from the Quadlings or the Munchkins either. The scarecrow shrugged. The lion didn't even roar once.

I dug out the agreement we'd signed several years before and discovered it promised things that hadn't been done and said absolutely nothing about the stuff on the unusable disc. I asked the artist for a discount prior to final payment, which she refused. She got a lawyer to write me one of those nasty lawyer letters. She eventually offered a discount, although a smaller one that I asked for. Her lawyer informed me she'd copyrighted the designs, which she'd conveniently neglected to inform me. She has promised to transfer the copyright. Lets just say I am not holding my breath on that one but I do have a bucket of water handy.

So, what if I had decided to use her pictures in my published book, assuming that since I'd paid for them they were mine as she had verbally told me? I shudder to imagine what might have come of that.

If you are wondering about the art, I stuck it in one of those empty gift boxes that you always mean to reuse and never remember where you stashed it in time for Glinda's birthday. Then, I shoved the box on a crowded top shelf in a little used tower guest room closet where it will probably remain until a child or grandchild comes across it one future day and tosses it into a garage sale bin.

If you are still with me here is my advice on the lemon:
1. Do not hire an artist to work on your book is you plan to publish traditionally.
2. If you do hire an artist, shop around, check references and qualifications, have a real contract that someone with legal qualifications signs off on before you do.
3. Be very very specific what you want and don't think you have to be overly polite about substandard results so as not to hurt a creative person's tender feelings. Encourage them to move on with the project but be direct. This is business and you should get what you asked for and what you paid for.
4. Have a set time for product delivery detailed in the contract and list the penalties for failing to adhere to that schedule.
5. Have a set payment schedule in writing for each part of the project and make sure all parties adhere to that schedule.
6. No verbal agreements.
7. Don't worry about lawyers saying nasty things about you in their letters. They are hired by their client to say nasty things in an effort to intimidate you. Lawyers say awful things as a part of their daily job (think Jose Baez here). They don't have to be true. Its just part of the law game. After they spew hateful words at witnesses and fellow lawyers they get on the elevator, slap each other on the back and invite each other for golf or drinks. I have personally witnessed this.
8. You have recourse to Small Claims Court for claims of $5000.00 or less. The case will be heard by an impartial judge and not someone hired by your opponent.

As for me, I am like Aunt Em's cat who once sat on a hot stove burner. Not only will I not hop on a red burner, I won't ever sit on a stove again.

Okay, now for the lemonade. It occurs to me that this getting a bit too long, so if I may, I will expound on the lemonade in the next post. But here's a teaser. Having spent money on useless art and sucking up the sour aftertaste, I was reluctant to hire a book designer or book producer, or sign with a subsidy publisher for my indie book. But guess what? That expensive software we bought (which we got cheap through the university thanks to my spouse's staff discount) has everything on it to enable us to become book designers, book producers, and yes, our own publishers. All we have to do is learn how. I thought this would be easy. It is not, although probably easier for my spouse who has a degree in CIT than myself. It is very complicated and involves study and research and practice. But, it is fun as well and once we get the hang of it it will potentially make future book productions as slick as the Tin Man's oilcan and as easy to swallow as Ozma's Emerald City Smoothies.

We've been working with Adobe Creative Suite Design Standard and Photoshop for a month after work and on weekends, have read countless tutorials on the 'how tos'. Joel Friedlander's book, A Self Publisher's Companion and his blog, The Book Designer are GREAT references. So, we're doing this exciting new thing all by our selves. We will produce a well written and well produced book to put in your hands with no middlemen involved. I'll tell you how next time.

Until then dear friends, live long and prosper. And, uh, don't go flying around in one of those hot air balloons without a certified pilot. Watch out for those flying monkeys and the guy or gal behind the screen, too.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Literary changes

Well, after waiting nearly a whole year to get the pictures for my dragon fantasy book, I have decided not to use them, with the probable exception of the dragon character. I really wanted to like these pictures, I really did. I tried to tell myself that they were adequate if not entirely what I had envisioned to depict my characters as I wrote them. But a little voice inside my head (was it my muse's cousin?) kept whispering that while they might be okay in a young children's version of Tim's story or in a cartoon setting they were not at all right for the YA novel that evolved. SO, here I go pulling the virtual plug. I think this was the right decision for now. When I showed the pictures to the first preview sampling, lets say the reaction was politely lukewarm. Thus, Tim's book will arrive in print with a color cover sans interior illustrations. I wonder how many other authors have been through this scenerio?

At least I do have creative control. Many authors don't and have to endure a cover they hate with characters that don't even vaguely resemble their words. How many times have you picked up a book and read it wondering how the cover artist could depict the hero as a blonde muscle man when the writer clearly says he is of medium build with chocolate hair? Or the dog in the story is a German Shepherd inside and a Labrador on the cover? The lead character is forty but looks twenty on the cover? ARTISTS don't read copy. Mine obviously didn't. I suspect that for her it is all about the money. And lets just say I and my preview audience agree that she has a somewhat inflated idea of what her skill is worth. There's a learning experience here, too. Sometimes, boys and girls, credibility in critical thinking stretches so thin that you can look through it like a window. 'Nuff said.

For now the illustrations you might have seen here on the blog rest on a top shelf of my closet in a box. If they ever do see the light of day from the pages of a book it will be a children's picture book. But don't count on that. They'll have to take a number. I and the muse have a lot of projects lined up already.

I have been working on the YA novel, Charlie's Dog again. Tim's book is in production in the print version. I am as pleased with my words there as ever and prepared to forget the mistake I almost made with the visual images. I am glad to return to the last century, New Bethel WV, a coal camp girl and her cur dog.

Live long and prosper.

Live and learn. No more artist collaboration on my books.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

wayworm's photostream



Hello bloggers,
As you can see from the photos, my Tim book illustrations have been coming in since I last posted four months ago. I apologize to any of you who might have actually missed my voice in 'blog world'. I can only say that I have been busy with real life as well as writing 156 pages of one novel (Charlie's Dog) as well as finishing up my part of the work on Tim's book (The Adventures Of Mungo Tim). Tim is now in the beginning stages of publication, hopefully being in print and in my hands and ready to fly into yours sometime in the fall. I will also have a Kindle version for those of you who, like me, do most of your pleasure reading on mobile devices. There will be an aiudio version as well.

I have been practicing reading the book from a teleprompter (which is both fun and challenging) while Danny records it outside of the closet that we are turning into a sound booth.

While I have a theatre background in my increasingly distant past, reading and recording an audio (or podio) book by myself is very different from anything I have done before. An actor in a scene on stage or in a radio play takes on the persona or role of one character and responds to the dialogue of the other actors. Reading the dialogue of several characters in one scene who have different accents and vocal inflections is really a challenge. I slip from one character to another almost before I realize it and unfortunately I have a tendency to, uh, employ a few four letter words when it occurs. Cut! Take fourteen. My bloopers are many and I can see that it is going to take a whole lot of practice. But, gosh, it is FUN! There will be a podio/audio version one day, really. I am determined to learn this new skill.

I have been able to do a little traveling during my down time and will post on Nannan and Dandan soon. We have also started a podcast about overnight RV parking. Whew. Not so interesting perhaps is the hours and hours I put into a garage sale. And decluttering my house. I am also on a recessionary 'cut your expenses' track. I now clean my own house. And walk three dogs three tines a day. All fodder for posts in future.

Today, my eyes must recover from the dilation at the eye doc's office. So, I'll sign off. I really do hope you've missed me. Like Arnold, I will be back.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Belated Groundhog Day


By Nancy Wayman Deutsch

Consider groundhog, woodchuck, marmot
Not most people's favorite varmit
Yet famed throughout the Keystone State
For weather change prognosticate

The groundhog's dressed in frosted fur
It's hard to tell if he's a her
Like rodents, please do not forget
With aggressive manner not a pet

Some call the critter whistle pig
As ground squirrels go he's sort of big
An herbivore, he dines on grubs
Grasses, snails, and sometimes bugs

The groundhog smiles a toothy grin
As he digs a den and burrows in
Like bears, this marmot hibernates
When shadow's seen and Spring comes late.

TTFN my little Bloggers!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Old Grey Mare She Ain't What She Used To Be, But So What?

A few minutes ago I had one of those epiphany moments. I stopped in the parking lot of my local Publix market and marvelled that something so simple had never occurred to me before. Here's my tale of the day, boys and girls:

Lately, well for several years now actually, I've been feeling intermittently sort of sorry for myself for my ever increasing age and outward sags and wrinkles. Realizing that my future decades are numbered now in a probable finite several is admittedly sobering. I've been seeing the sand in the proverbial hour glass emptying out way too fast. That's the back story and maybe the subject of another blog.

Today, being (finally) mostly recovered from an unexpected and nasty twelve day cold, I ventured out in my little red Volvo to rejoin the rest of humanity. While the weather in the rest of the country seems to be viciously cold and icy and snowy, here in Florida it is in the mid seventies and cloudy with a chance of meatballs. I offer no complaints when I don't have to wear a jacket in February. Who would! So, needing some food, off I went to the grocery.

I loaded up my cart till it was overflowing with stuff and sedately moseyed over to the nearest check out line, after spending an inordinate time selecting just the right ice cream and breakfast foods. As the cashier was ringing up my purchases a frowning woman maybe two or even three decades my junior zoomed up behind me with three pieces of fruit. She moved her now empty cart at me like a bulldozer aiming at a sand hill. I had nowhere to move to so I stood fast. The cart stopped. Now, this big imposing sort of woman I will call Pauline, stepped in front of her cart and pushed her body as far over as she could towards the card scanner without actually physically shoving me out of her way as the bag lady loaded up my six cloth bags with various goodies. As I waited for the bagger to fill the last two bags, I moved as far into the aisle as I could get without actually abandoning my things. Still frowning, Pauline leaned closer to me me and twisted her big body into pretzel shape to scan her debit card. This broad was determined to get the hell out of the store asap!

Alas, for the impatient panting woman: It was crowded in the store and poor Pushy Pauline ended up trapped behind me rolling her cart (for three pieces of fruit?) out of the door. I could feel waves of hostility behind my back boiling from her. I could feel the heat of her glare. She was in a hurry, no time to loiter, no time to stroll, no time to smile. She was late, late for a very important...something. Since she was so aggressive, I mulishly refused to move faster or jump out of her way while pretending not to notice her. (I admit to feeling just a moment of irritation at her rudeness.) The microsecond she could get around me she raced to her car, jumped in, left the cart in the lot, and roared away, still frowning.

I shrugged. It was too nice a day to dwell on rudeness.Then, while loading my things in the back of my car, something else struck me. I was in a good mood again because I had no reason to hurry. Pauline did, or at any rate she thought so. Frowning the whole time she was in the store and while driving to her next task, no doubt buzzing like a hornet about to sting something unwary, she was blitzing through life without noticing much outside herself. and her own anxieties.

What was so important to this harried woman I wondered? A job? Two jobs? Cranky kids to pick up at daycare before racing home to mountains of dirty laundry and to make...fruit...for dinner? Maybe she was in grad school with an impossible assignment to complete. Maybe a mean boss or harried spouse just yelled at her. Maybe she was out of work? In any case, this woman in a tearing hurry was obviously not happy. Not speaking to the clerk or the bagger or me or anyone else, she was in a FRENZY. Yes, whatever the cause, this much younger woman was definitely not happy.

And I suddenly realized how lucky I was not to be in a hurry anymore. Not to have to rush anywhere...ever again. Not to have to be accountable to anyone else but me unless I chose to be. I looked around the lot as I took my cart to the cart corral at several older people loading groceries into their cars. They weren't in a hurry either. They looked over and smiled. I remembered what it was to be young and how I was almost always too busy and concerned about responsibility to remember to have much fun. Always looking ahead to the next task or the next problem and the next 'have to'. I probably didn't smile much, either. I don't remember.

"Well," I said aloud as soon as I was in my car and backing out, "I'd like to have my young face back and be able to jump up from a kneeling position as fast as I could at twenty, but there are compensations to age after all." I smiled at my wrinkles in the car's mirror. I winked and if the crows feet stayed in place. I thought, " So what."

Then, I went home and did whatever the hell I pleased, which happened to be having a mid afternoon snack of an English muffin with high sugar English marmalade and blogging. Next I am going to read a little more of the novel I am reading on Kindle and then maybe work a little bit on a new poem before thinking about supper. Or maybe not. There's no deadline after all remember? (Danny doesn't care what I make for supper as long as there is supper and if it should be late it wouldn't bother him much. He'd just take a nap.) This not being young thing is getting better and better.

Yes, I am one lucky person, wrinkles and all.

Here's the rest of my message. Stop, relax those facial muscles, all you 'Paulines' out there. Practice saying, "I am not in your hurry." Laundry can wait. Most other things can, too, for a few minutes, an hour, or a day. A crowded schedule can be simplified. So be good to yourself. Remake that appointment that's stressing you. Tell your boss you'll get it done and do it, but take a break and listen to your favorite music or do some yoga. Hug your cat, your dog, your spouse, your kid. Take a twenty minute walk, listen to the birdsong, feel the sun or the sea breeze on your face. Slow the speed on the treadmill of your life enough to look around. Have some fun along with the work and the 'have to' realities. And buy something more interesting than fruit for Chrissakes. Life is shorter than you think.

Oh, and growing older isn't so bad after all. Trust me, I know.

Happy Groundhog Day.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Brief Excerpt from The Adventures of Mungo Tim...

"It's a dragon! A real dragon. There are dragons left in the world!" the rider exclaimed.

A gust of wind knocked the hood of the dark wool cloak back from the rider's head and coppery hair cascaded to slender shoulders. Emerald green eyes met cinnabar red ones above.

"Why, its just a human girl," boomed Tim in a kettle drum voice. "On a horse too scrawny to eat."

"How amazing," said Miranda. "It talks."

"Of course it talks," agreed Tim, coasting to a graceful landing on the road. "It flies and breathes fire and does many more amazing things than just talk."

"It certainly boasts," Miranda declared, steadying her mount as it tried to dance backwards.

"With reason," countered Tim.

The girl laughed. "It is beautiful."

"As is the girl," Tim replied. "With hair like firelight and eyes like spring."

"It is perhaps not a dragon at all but a silver-tongued prince under an enchantment?" asked Miranda, hopefully.

The ground rumbled as the dragon laughed. "No, just a dragon. Aren't you afraid of me, little human girl?"

Miranda shook her head. "No. I admit I was at first but I'm not afraid anymore. Although I probably should be. But you see, encountering a talking beast is...well, the wonder of it seems to have drained the fear out of me. And, in any case, if you are going to kill me there is nothing much I can do about it now. So, I might as well have an interesting conversation first."

Tim nodded. "Indeed. I like your reasoning. And, just between you and me, I have never killed a girl who reasons."

"Have you killed any that don't?"

"I have not. In fact, although I am loath to admit it since it doesn't seem very dragony, I haven't as yet killed any humans. Not on purpose anyway. Furthermore, you are the first human girl I've had a conversation with at all. The others just screamed and ran away."

Miranda giggled. "Well, I can understand that. You are a dragon, after all....."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Musing on memoirs

I had an interesting discussion with some other writers on, believe it or not, Facebook today. I started a tempest in commenting on aspiring writers who write only in the memoir genre and who join writing workshops, groups, and classes not to learn the craft of writing but to "express their feelings" (generally painful ones involving the negative) . It has been my observation in numerous workshops that these folks seem to be under several illusions: 1. That their individual misery is extremely interesting to other people 2. That their words are pure perfection requiring no editing or learning of story crafting whatsoever.

They have never heard the maxim "show, don't tell". They can't write dialogue and generally say they hate to read dialogue. Their character (s) are usually extremely one dimensional and rarely does anything actually happen in their memoirs before several hundred pages of narrative pass SLOWLY by. In real life, people don't take five pages to walk across the room to answer the phone, folks. Hear me snore, here.

I made the comment that these folks don't seem to want to develop a writer's toolbox and might better be served by getting some counseling than wasting other peoples time in a writing workshop. Yeah, strong stuff. I admit that. I insulted, without intending to, a nationally successful writer who has written and taught memoir writing. Now of course, this writer can write very well and her books don't resemble anything listed above. But, even if she chose not to say so, I'll bet she has had plenty of those not really serious about writing 'memorists' in her classes over the years.

I personally don't care to read memoirs. I don't read non fiction much either, for the most part. I like fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, etc and for me, the story is the thing. Good story can trump bad writing. Words without something happening cause me to close the book. I don't like whiny characters either. I like to read about protagonists with gumption. Since that's what I like to read, that's also what I like to write. So, I am admittedly biased.

I probably couldn't write a memoir myself. Not if I had to stick strictly to the facts. Maybe I could write creative nonfiction like Midnight In The Garden of Good And Evil. Many times I have written fictional stories based on fact with imagined dialogue and additional plot twists. I think all writers of fiction do this. I can't speak for memoir writers, but since the mind has a way of playing with time I suspect there is some fact stretching even in memoirs now and again.

In any genre, the write what you know maxim does hold true. If you write about universal human emotions and experiences it will work whether Luke Skywalker is a farm boy on Tatooine wanting to join the Rebel alliance or a Kentucky farm boy during the Civil War or a twenty first century Iowa kid on his way to Iraq. But, remember something has to happen to Luke for the reader to care. And, Luke has to do something about it.

A good writer is a good writer, whatever genre he or she chooses to work in. Writing is a craft, though, as well as a passion. As well as an art. Like any craft, it has to be learned. And must be practiced. That means doing something over and over until you get it write. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. Good writers must read a lot, too. Talent counts sure, but hard work is essential. That goes for memoir writers as much as anyone else.

I know a man who works only in the memoir genre whose writing is enthralling even if he is just describing his character walking through a bazaar. His well crafted words make you imagine yourself in his shoes and evoke all the senses. His story reeks of the truth of the human experience in a good way. He is a born storyteller who happens to want to tell his own story. And his story is one that I do want to hear since he's an interesting person. So, really, I don't hate memoirs or hold those who write them in contempt. Even though the writer whose post I commented on probably won't believe it.

At the risk of sounding mean again, I think some aspiring writers just get stuck somewhere between a negative emotion and a bad experience and they just can't stop milking it to boredom. They don't have anything to really show us because they haven't made sense of their experience and taken a longer view. They haven't learned and grown and they just want our sympathy for the therapy they think they will get from writing a memoir. Everybody probably does have a story maybe, but maybe not everybody can (or should) tell it. Memoirs are stories after all (or should be) even if of a different sort. Remember the story arc? Beginning, middle, end? How about who wants what? How are they going to get it? Who wants to stop them?

If your true life experience isn't very interesting to anybody but you maybe you should just journal instead. I am ducking and covering here. But, please, aspiring writer, don't take ten pages to describe yourself as "Sally" taking five minutes to look through her pantry and sip tepid tea and look out the window at the snowdrifts in the yard and ignore the ringing phone in her inertia. I don't care how pretty your words are. That scenerio is boring. I don't care if it really happened that way and you/Sally were sad because your boyfriend or husband beat you every winter a decade ago and forbade you to drink tea and you get mopey every time it snows. Give me instead a neighbor desperately trying to warn Sally that a psychotic serial killer has broken out of prison and disappeared into the blizzard the night before, headed right for Sally's farm. Let me know he's just broken into the cellar. Give me a reason to read on. Make one up if nothing more exciting really happened than electricity going off for two hours from ice snapping the power lines. Most people's daily life just isn't interesting enough to record it. Not for a couple hundred years after they've died, maybe. Then after everything has changed mundane life in the past is interesting. Ouch, maybe, but there you have it. My thoughts, take them or leave them.

I'm off now to take the dog for a massage. There's actually a story there, but I am not going to tell it. So you can breath easy. Live long and prosper.

Friday, January 14, 2011

preview of some characters from my book in living color

Pictures: Professor Timothy McDuff, Hulda Mitten, Miranda and Will, Tim the dragon

Hey there bloggers,
Here's your first look at some of the characters from the upcoming book, The Adventures Of Mungo Tim by yours truly (that's me). I am waiting for several others to be finished and then Danny is going to format the cover and the text and we're ready to fly away. Soon, I will be turning the story into a Podio book. This project as been going on for so long and I am very excited to be nearing completion.

For those who don't know, the novel is geared towards the YA market as well as adults and is also suitable for the 'Harry Potter' age group. It is a fantasy featuring a dragon, Salamagundus Tim Tim ( aka Tim) who would rather be human and definitely does not want to be a hero, a runaway girl (Miranda O'Mara) who does NOT want to be a princess, a direction challenged deposed prince (Will Von Leonhardt) who has to earn his keep by winning tournaments, an ogre (Hulda Mitten) with an incredible singing voice and a talent for making cupcakes as well as royal policy, and a tricky Pooka (Sean McGarrity) who can shape shift from horse to man. Other characters include a nefarious pair of dragon hunters/robbers, a loathsome Troll warrior with a propensity for stewed cats and destroying kingdoms, a warrior dwarf, a were bear, wizards, spies, elves and fairies, gypsies, pirates, and a mostly misunderstood misanthropic King. Lots of humor, action, battles, time and temporal travel and yes, some romance.

This is how my mind works, folks. I met someone at an art reception not long ago and she asked me if I was and artist. I said, "No, I am a writer." She asked what sort of things I write. When I answered, "Mostly science fiction, ghost tales, and fantasy," there was a pregnant pause. The woman gulped and said, "Oh, and you look so normal, too, my dear."

Ha, fooled her. This is the person, boys and girls, who talked to door knobs as a kid and always kept hoping to meet fairies in the woods. I once lived in a haunted house, too. Really.

At present I am working on a short story about a robot toy in a post apocalyptic world but my next novel will concern a girl and her dog in a 1950s West Virginia coal town.

To answer your unasked question, do I write hoping for fame and fortune? Not really. Reality is a part of my mind set. I know what the odds are. After all, I've already written a short story collection and a poetry collection and remain obscure. I write because I can't not. So there. In upcoming weeks I'll post some excerpts and you can decide if you like my stories and will want to read about Tim. I'm betting you will.

Live long and prosper.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Apologia for my prolonged absence, sort of

Photo: The undead writer on her RV not working.

Sorry bloggers. I know I've been gone a long time. Any reports of my death are, at least as far as today at four o'clock, premature. I've just been busy editing my book, formatting my book, doing the holidays, traveling, and just frittering away my time. That's all. It is now twelve days into the New year and funnily enough my resolutions are the same as last year's: to clean out my storage room, de clutter my house, exercise more, and get my novel into print. So, far, nada. But friends, the year and the decade are still young. Today for example, I walked the dogs, blogged, accidentally stabbed my hand while chopping vegetables, and made homemade chicken soup after getting the blood stopped. I may get the bed made...or not. Its frakkin' cold here in Florida, but having said that the weather is better (here) than practically anywhere else so I'm not really complaining. And, we've got sunshine.

My biggest rant lately has been over some misguided (at best) or idiot (in probable actuality) professor type deciding to edit the "N" word out of Mark Twain's great masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn. Of all the crack brained and misguided attempts at political correctness I've heard of in this mixed up world we live in, this is one of the dumbest. And condescending. And shortsighted.

Some fool who thinks, just cause he probably graduated college, that he is qualified to judge a genius's work dares to have the arrogance and audacity to tamper with literary perfection. Insert loud raspberry noise here. Whoever this Joe is, I'll bet a catfish to a catamaran that he can't write a lick compared to our Sam. I'll be he isn't nearly as smart or as interesting to talk to, either. After all, like Oscar Wilde, there's almost nothing that Mark Twain ever said that wasn't a quotable statement. I dunno if the man who dares to tamper with Huck is black or white and frankly my dears, I don't give a ...dang.

He claims that black children will be so put off by the use of the "N" word that they will not read the book, so the word must be deleted. Never mind that the offending word was routinely in use during the time of history that the book was written and that part of Twain's point was to show the wrongness of Jim being enslaved at all never mind considered as and treated as 'lesser than' white people by the other characters. If Twain was alive, the tamperer with his work would be sued and Twain would win. The professor would lose his job and credibility. Twain would issue a brilliant quotable quote that would turn the hapless hacker into the humbug I suspect he might be. But, its easy to pick on a dead man. So the professor pushes the delete button on the "N" word and substitutes whatever he likes.

It probably doesn't occur to him either that he is insulting the intelligence and capability of all children, black white or otherwise, by assuming that they can't understand and appreciate Twain's writing after seeing one potentially offensive term. Too many adults underestimate children and that offends ME.

Its too easy to rewrite history. Literary or otherwise. (Dangerous in so many ways to rewrite history, but that's another story) I can just hear Professor Humbug now: "Let's forget, why don't we, that anyone was ever treated badly or called names that offend. It will make it all so much more comfortably readable."

What's next, Prof? Outlaw the word 'Nazi' in literature? Just say why don't you that Hitler and his goons were rude people? Maybe forget the Holocaust ever happened? There are some offensive words in the Bible, no doubt. In Shakespeare too, mayhap. Why don't we just remove any words that anybody anywhere doesn't feel comfortable with? Make it a real pretty world? Like a fairy tale. Without witches, of course.

But wait, somebody tell Professor Humbug that rap artists routinely use the "N" word in their music. That seems to be okay with the professor. He's seemingly not worried about children being put off by that. Is it okay because that is black people insulting other black people? Or is it 'cause the rap artists aren't dead and will sue his, uh butt?

Whatever. See me shrug. I'm just going to give the word changing professor my 'Pampas Ass of the week' award. And speaking as a writer who's not dead yet: don't presume to know my intentions or correct my words. If you don't like them, don't read my books. Now or in future. Like Twain, I don't suffer fools. Edit that: foolishness in the name of fun, yes. But self important serious fools, no.