Sunday, December 20, 2009

When Good Crafts Go Bad - the Holiday Blog

Note: I wrote this piece last year for the Second Wind Publishing blog on Wordpress, but figured it was worth a re-print. Merry Christmas

My husband has jokingly commented on several occasions that I have been channeling my “inner Martha” ever since I was displaced from my job in September. (In between the activities of my job search I will admit that I have been involved in a number of home improvement/beautification projects, and yes, I will further own up to having experimented with ideas from various issues of Martha’s magazine with varying degrees of success.) All of his jokes evaporated last weekend when he came home from work to find me, both kids, the dining room as well as most of our house coated in a fine glaze of glitter glue.

“What the h--heck are you doing??” he asked as he surveyed the dining room table covered in an old (but clean) shower curtain, about 20 plastic cups sprouting balloons draped with glittering strands of yarn, and the trail of glitter footprints (child sizes 5 and 11) across the floor towards the rest of our house.

Our youngest piped up with, “makin’ ormanents” reaching for one to show his father and knocking a recently finished balloon out of its cup, spilling the still wet yarn coated in glitter glue onto the floor as the balloon bounced about leaving splotches of glitter glue in its wake.

Stunned, he stood there for a few moments until he was handed a handful of the glitter glue yarn. Handing it to me and shaking his head, he left the room muttering something about ordering pizza, then canceling my subscription to Martha Stewart Living, and calling in an exorcist.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If patience is a virtue, I am rarely a virtuous woman

During a recent chat over lunch with my career coach, we got on the topic of what I am learning from my experience searching for my next position. Having a slightly sarcastic side to my personality, I had to exercise a great deal of restraint to keep my response appropriate to the context and company. Later that evening, having been unable to get the conversation out of my head, I realized that there are quite a few “take-aways” from this experience and not all of them negative. Perhaps the biggest for me is learning to have patience.

When it comes to me, personally, I have never been a particularly patient individual. I tend to expect a higher level of performance from myself than I would ever expect of anyone else. This characteristic once prompted a therapist to say to me, “Maggie, perfection is about heaven, and in case you haven’t noticed – you aren’t living there.”

Generally, I do tend to achieve whatever I set out to do. Unfortunately, what this means is that if for some reason my expectations are out of sync with reality, patience is in short supply. There tends to be a lot of introspective analysis of where I got off track and what it will take to refocus my efforts to reaching whatever end-state was so blasted important in the first place. Ironically, this rarely, if ever, spills over onto others and I am incredibly patient with children, even my own. Go figure.

This job quest is teaching me (the hard way) how to be patient with myself in general, but more specifically, when things are beyond my control. It has also taught me that there are a lot of things in this world that are beyond my control. A very sobering realization, I must admit. At the same time, I have discovered that one thing is universally in my control and that is how I respond to the situation.

This isn’t to say that I am serenely going about my day, calm and secure in a place of Zen. I’m not. Not even close. There are days that I am barely keeping it together and there are days that I can actually forget that my situation is so tenuous. And in between those two extremes are a lot more days where my expectations align with reality.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The importance of an open mind.

I recall overhearing my older relatives once talking about how it was possible to be too open in one’s thinking. I think the exact words were something to the effect of not being so open-minded that your brains fall out. Being all of about 12 at the time, the conversation really didn’t make that much sense. Wasn’t being open to possibilities what life was all about?

As I’ve grown up a bit, I understand what my relatives were talking about, but I still have to disagree with them. Even at, er, let’s say…um, thirty-nine and holding, I am still very open to possibilities. This trait of mine is probably the number one reason why I did not sink into abject despair during my bout of unemployment. It may even be why I am not completely freaking out over worry that my contract for hire situation might not become a permanent gig.

Being open to possibilities gives you the freedom to exist in the “now” and perform something of a SWOT analysis on your life. For those without a business degree or familiarity with the jargon, the acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is a process for evaluating what is going on from more than one perspective to arrive at a total snapshot of the situation.

I believe being open to possibilities also works in terms of the creative process.

I have really struggled with one of the stories I am working on because I had this great outline for how the book was going to play out. It was a fairly detailed outline of each chapter and, I thought, it was going to lead to a really good book. At some point during my writing, the main characters took off in a different direction from what I had envisioned. Stymied, I set the story down and focused on other projects. When my “muse” reappeared, I pulled the story out to work on it again and found my characters still uncooperative. This time, I am ignoring the outline I so carefully prepared and am just rolling with what comes out of my head. Reading back over the 150 pages I have written of this new path, I know I have some major editing ahead of me. Some of it is pretty rough and likely to be cut from the final manuscript. I also have some cross referencing to do against my first novel in this series to be sure I haven’t messed up the time-lines between the two books. But, some of what I have written is so much better than the original concept.

A lot of people mistake me for a pessimist because I am pretty quick with the sardonic wit or the sarcastic quip. The truth is, I honestly believe that things will work out the way they are supposed to – one just has to keep from taking a narrow perspective. The problem is that it rarely happens on my preferred time-table. So, be it a new contract position, being picked up as a permanent employee under the current contract, landing a permanent job with some other company, or finishing this book – I am open to the possibilities before me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

And now for some Halloween fun...

My publisher is doing a "Trick or Treat" clue game in honor of Halloween. The clues will be embedded in excerpts from novels by Second Wind Publishing authors. So go to the Second Wind Publishing Blog ( join the fun on October 26th!

Excerpt from my novel, A Love Out of Time. (paranormal romance)

Taly was about to flash out to check on Jack when he felt himself start to dematerialize. This had not happened to him since sometime in the 11th century; the experience was one he had hoped never to undergo again. Flashing through time did not cause him any pain; it was no more of an effort to walk across the room. Being summoned, on the other hand, was like being sucked through a keyhole. He barely had time to grab his latte before he vanished.
He rematerialized with a roar of pain and in his natural form. Moira looked up from her position on the floor by the candles and brazier. Her mouth forming a silent O before delight crossed her face and she leapt up yelling for her brother. Karl came at a run, but stopped short by the sight of his sister leaping about like a child at Christmas in front of a seven-foot demon holding a grande cup of Starbucks.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Am I turning into a “Slacker Mom” or just overwhelmed and tired?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I had such high expectations for how my husband and I would raise our little bundle of joy. That list of “when I’m a parent, I’ll never…” was rather long and fairly detailed. To my credit, my firstborn was actually around 2 before fast food passed his lips. I felt so guilty since he’d had a fairly organic diet up to that point, but I got over it. The second child was chomping on French fries and chicken nuggets as soon as he could chew them without choking.

It is sort of depressing to pull out that list now and see what is still on it. I’ve never really seen myself as someone who is “wishy-washy” in their beliefs. Most people who know me, even slightly, would say that I can be downright stubborn about the things I believe to be important. The fact that there are so many things that I’ve crossed off my list gives me some pause though, especially since it has to do with my children. It raises a fear that perhaps I have become a Slacker Mom, and that my kids will spend a portion of their adult life paying professionals to help them deal with the aftermath of my parenting skills, or lack thereof.

Or is it that I’ve realized that most of what was on my list was at best, silly, and at the worst, unrealistic? So it would stand to reason that the remaining items really are the important tenets of parenting, wouldn’t it?

In talking to other mothers, all of whom refused to be identified in this article, I know I am not alone in wondering. One friend, a busy executive and mother of two, summed it up like this, “we do our best parenting before we have the little monsters. It’s just a theoretical exercise at that point. Once they show up, theory flies out the window and it’s all about raw survival, keeping what’s left of your sanity, and minimizing the collateral damage to your kids.”

As I look at my kids, and our life, I have to admit that there is a lot of truth in that statement. On paper, before I had my kids, I thought I had all the answers. I thought I knew how I would handle things. I was going to do things the “right” way.

In reality, there are times when I honestly don’t know the answer, or how I’ll handle something until the moment is on me. At night, when I am meditating on the day that has passed, I know that I have not always done things the “right” way where my kids are concerned. I yelled rather than spoke. I reacted rather than accurately assessing the situation. I punished one for something the other started, because I didn’t see the first part of the scenario – just the part when one brother hauled off and decked the other one.

It all comes down to this, you do the best you can with the situation you find yourself in.

While I know that on the occasions when I am not home for dinner, my sons are more likely than not to be eating fast food in front of the television set, it is still different when they want me to endorse similar eating habits on the nights their father can’t be home for dinner. To me, an acceptable dinner for my kids has at least one vegetable, preferable a green one, a starch, a protein, and milk. While I was between jobs, it was easy to take this high road. Now that I am back in the work-force and my husband's transfer to a new position means he's usually working nights, it is a whole new scenario.

When I’ve had a rough day at work, sometimes I find myself justifying a pizza: tomato sauce – vegetable, sort of, check; green onions – green vegetable, check; mushrooms and black olives – veggies, sort of, check; cheese – protein, check. Top it off with a big glass of milk…yeah, it fits the parameters for an acceptable dinner, where the heck did I put the number for the pizza place?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The lure of the dark-side – anti-heroes and anti-heroines

I have to admit that I really enjoy a story with a well developed anti-hero. I’m not talking about the basically good guy who has had a string of bad luck or a tough life. I am talking about the true post-modernistic archetype: someone who can not easily be defined as a villain or hero. These are characters whose attraction hooks you and reels you in as strongly as they repulse you on some basic level. There is just something about these characters that fascinates me. Their complexity can lead a carefully crafted storyline down some totally unexpected twists and turns of the mind, but you have to admit – it can be an adventure. It is a character type that is well suited to both paranormal romance and stories dealing with espionage as well as sci-fi/fantasy literature: all genres that appeal to me as both a reader and a writer. In my own writing, I am finding myself including anti-heroes or rather heroines on a fairly regular basis, but something I discovered, which surprised me, was how difficult it is to create an anti-heroine.

These women characters exist. Consider Scarlett O’Hara, any number of roles that Angelina Jolie has played, and – my personal favorites – Nikita from the story La Femme Nikita and Murbella from Frank Herbert’s Dune series. The creation of an anti-heroine seems fraught with many of the same issues that confront women in real life, from business to social settings. A delicate balance must be struck between the characters “good” qualities and those that are less appealing.

So, how does one craft such a creature?

From my research into the female anti-hero, it appears that beauty or physical attractiveness alone is not enough to off-set the brutality, amoral behavior, or ruthlessness needed for a true anti-hero. It seems to take a combination of physical beauty, innate intelligence, and some sort of triggering event – but not the jaded, “world-weary” technique often seen in the male anti-hero – to set the stage for a believable, or rather acceptable, anti-heroine. If the balance isn’t achieved, one is left with a psychotic or clich├ęd character.

Whether or not I can create a true female anti-hero in my own writing remains to be seen, but I am going to have a lot of fun with the process.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Can you judge a book by its cover?

I was in the market for a bit of “mind candy” reading the other day and went to my local bookstore to see what might satisfy my literary sweet tooth. As I wandered through the different genre sections, I began to notice something about the books that actually made it into my small pile of “potential” purchases. Each and every one of them had fantastic cover art or photos. Convinced that I was being led astray by “glitz & glam” rather than a good story, I took a few moments to look beyond the book jacket or back cover teaser and read some pages from the first chapter as well as randomly selected pages from later portions of the books. Out of five possible purchases, only one book was returned to the shelf as a dud. For kicks and grins, since I had nowhere pressing to be, I picked up some books with really awful (as in boring) covers and checked out their teasers as well as random pages within. What I discovered was that book covers can provide some indication of what you can expect between the pages; with the exception of well-known, award-winning authors who can do anything they please in terms of covers and still expect a sale.

My grandmother was fond of the “you can’t judge a book by its cover” philosophy towards life but I think, noble sentiment that it is, it falls flat as a practice for a new author competing with the known for book sales. This is not to say that an intriguing book cover is about spending a huge amount of money on models, photo shoots, or buying art. It is about finding something that connects the reader instantly with the theme, and combined with the teaser draws them into a well written story. The three elements must balance because a slick cover and a “sexy” teaser may get the book to the cashier, but without a story to back it up, you won’t have anyone waiting for your next book.