Archive for May, 2011

The Story

I read The Seeds of Story, Part II by Alexander Steele recently from a newsletter I get from Gotham Writers Workshop.  What he wrote is something I’ve always believed in, but never voiced.  Experts say, write what you know.  Alexander Steele maintains that you should write what ignites your interest.  So, if you want to write about, and I’m using his example because I like it, a fashion model who befriends a lame penguin while on a magazine shoot in Antarctica, go for it if it interests you.  Just, please, make sure you do your homework so you don’t have polar bears menacing both the model and the penguins. (The last sentence is my own.)

I have written about a number of topics, few of which I’m experienced in.  My first full manuscript (written in college) is a mystery set in England about an ex-gold medal Olympic ski champion who is also an expert on guns.   I can’t ski well, I know nothing about guns, and I had only been two weeks total in England at the time this was written.   This maybe a bad example because it’s a crummy story, but… BUT… this was the first complete novel I wrote and, at the time, it interested me greatly.  Why, I don’t know, but it did.

It’s because of ‘write what you know’ that I eventually embraced science fiction.  In my stories I can make up anything I want as long as I make it plausible.  If I can’t make it sound like something that can actually, one day, exist or happen, then I won’t use it and I spend a lot of time thinking of how something is made.  I don’t want people rolling their eyes and thinking: ‘yeah, right’.  That’s why I love reading Popular Science.  I can easily run with one of their ideas and incorporate an offshoot of the technology they profile. 

Science Fiction isn’t the only genre I’ve written in.  I went through a western stage and now own a good collection of reference on the American West.  I wrote about firefighters and collected some cool books on that.  When I wrote a story set in a cave, I not only read up on that, but visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.   I may not have known much about anything of the topics or occupations in these stories before hand, but my interest in them propelled me to read more, conduct research on, and write cohesive, intelligent stories.

In a later story, I wrote a mystery set on Hadrian’s Wall.  The idea came from the summer of 2009 when I walked the wall (Wylem to Carlisle) and when trying to think of a YA mystery, the setting came to mind.  That part is the ‘what I know’ part.  The antiquities mentioned and the occupation of the girl’s father, archeologist, is definitely something I don’t know much about.  Being interested in the idea, I didn’t let that stop me.  I just wrote and it came out a pretty good story if I say so myself.


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I have been diligently working on my Morocco Diary.  I know it’s taking much too long to finish, like since 2007 when I went, but, honestly, it’s not all my fault.  I got up to the eighteenth issue of the Pawnee Kitty Report: Morocco Edition, when the person’s computer went kaploo-ey (I had nothing to do with it.)  Windows wouldn’t windows and there was an error message and there were lots of stuff that hadn’t been backed up.  If the person hadn’t known some DOS, lots of stuff would have gone missing in the digital void of crashed computer land.  Fortunately, she managed to get the stuff back, but not the computer.  That died and a new one was bought. 

But, enough about that horrible moment, I am talking about my Morocco Diary.  It is 61 pages right now and that’s without pictures.  I need pictures.  I thought of making a real book, but that might cost too much.  I want it printed in color, but that might cost even more too much.  I might have to pretty kitty the person to get some funds.  I’ll make a case that it’s for her mommy.  I’ll show her copies of other Pawnee Kitty Reports that were printed on her printer and how the pictures don’t come out right in black and white.  Sometimes you can’t even see me and, really, what good is the picture if you can’t see me? 

I’m revamping my style.  Instead of one page (back and forth, each issue with a header), I’m going for the whole enchilada.  Or maybe I’ll still dole out one page at a time.  It depends on what the end product will look like.  I made a binder, but the foam letters on the front broke due to misuse (Again, I had nothing to do with it.)

Noting a major error in formatting in one issue, I went back and put all the text in one document.  Of course that was after I finished transcribing my marvelous adventures to word.  Now I am going through and deleting stuff I’ve repeated plus saying bye to those superfluous words.  This is going to look real professional!  I’m on page twenty-something now so I might lose another page or two, but I want to add more dialog so I might get back that page or two and then I have to add my pictures!  I have wonderful pictures even thought the person’s camera at the time (from 1978, a Canon AE1) was slowly falling apart and doing horrible things.  Thank goodness she has a new one now.

I might post an exciting piece here.  And I must post a picture of me in Morocco.  Pawnee Kitty in the medina!  Pawnee Kitty in the desert!  Pawnee Kitty in Casablanca!  Pawnee Kitty saving the person from desserts!

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As I was sitting on the ground waving a scanner over barcode after barcode, I thought how much easier inventory would be if we only had e-books.  Instead of spending three days crawling around, stretching up to the top shelves (I’m short), squeezing into small spaces (class sets room is cramped), I could push a key on the keyboard and have the computer do the counting.  Or why bother to count at all.  They’re all e-books, all nice and neat tucked away in folders.  The students couldn’t steal them either.  Nothing could go missing and they’d always be available.

But then I started thinking of all the times I’ve wandered over to the shelves and browsed.  How many times have I searched the shelves and had my interest perked by something I wasn’t even looking for?  How many times have I perused the book selection unsure of what I wanted, but drawn in by a title?  The design of the book cover?  The blurb on the back?

Can one do that with e-books?

In a way one can.  When I order books, I read the blurbs in the catalogs and see the cover.  On-line I visit Amazon, type in my subject of interest and scroll down title after title, peeking inside to read a passage or two.   Something will catch my eye and I’ll think, I’d like to read that.

Only it’s still not the same, not for browsers, not for people who like the serendipitous find.  A book store or a library to us is the place to explore.  We walk around and wander hither and yon awaiting for something to steal our attention, something to jiggle our memory and think, oh, yeah, I wanted to read about that.

Would I want e-books in the library?  Sure.  In fact that’s a definite yes.  When students do research, they have a definite subject in mind.   They’d like the ease of checking out an e-book and they’ll really like that they can’t lose it.   But for my browsers, those that stroll along the shelves, I still need bound books.

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I wrote a few weeks back about my dislike for vampire books.  So what do I read?  A book on vampires. And I enjoyed it.  This offered a completely different view of vampires.  These aren’t romantic heroes.  They’re victims. 

After a vampire named Casimir (coincidentally the name of my aunt’s cat) is staked, the support group he belongs to tries to solve the mystery.  It’s more to protect themselves from being staked then out of love for the man.  Most don’t like him.  They’re hindered by the fact that they are completely unconscious (read dead) during the daytime, they’re sick most of the time, and they have absolutely none of the vampire powers legends attribute to them.  Basically, they’re trying to live the best they can, hence the support group, to help them live and to help them not go around turning people into vampires.

It’s a funny book as well as a mystery and adventure read.  Kudos to the author for giving a fresh perspective on an overdone subject.

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Dear Hamish,

Thank you for your last letter.  It was very informative.  I’m sorry to hear about your arm.  I have no idea what possessed the twins to bite you.  They’re old enough to know better and don’t believe their zombie story.  Sheep can’t become zombies and if they did I don’t think one can come back from zombiehood, but I might be wrong.  I know next to nothing about zombies.

I have, as you’ve probably heard, been shorn and ‘tis fine wool this year, very fine.  ‘Tis the best wool I’ve grown ever.  Me grandmum will be pleased.  I mailed the parcel yesterday along with a letter and a few prezzies to weigh it down some.  I’ve sent you something too so to be sure to come by me parent’s croft in the next week or so. 

I will send you a picture of me and me just shorn body.  Nary a nick to be seen.  Pawnee Kitty did a wonderful job and it cost me only two hugs and an agreement not to pester her about hay for a wee while.

I called me grandmum after.  Pawnee Kitty was in the background talking and me grandmum feared for me life.  “Is there a moggie in the hoose?” Luckily Pawnee heard and made squeaky door noises.  I’ll not be making any important calls with her around.  She is too nosy and can hear everything!  Or maybe I’ll be speaking in Gaelic.  That she canna understand.

‘Tis all for now.  The weather is hot and humid.  I wear me beachwear when I go out so not to sunburn.  In June we shall be on holiday in the highlands of South Carolina, a place called Table Rock.  There are bears there, so Pawnee Kitty delights in telling me.  She hopes to meet some.  I think I will be staying close to me the person’s mum and out of any harm’s way. 

Until then,

 Angus. McSheep.

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In fifth grade, this was my all time favorite book.  It remained so for several years and I can’t even begin to say how many times I’ve read it.  Then it disappeared for awhile until I found it a few days ago while cleaning up my shelves.

I bought the book, or rather my mom got it for me, when we went to the NAAFI near Mönchengladbach in Germany.  They had a bookstore and, of course, we had to go visit.  Getting a brand new book was a rare treat so care had to be taken in the selection process.  I think we got several that day and I think I have them all even though it’s been forty years since they’ve been purchased.  While I can’t, off the top of my head, remember them all, I do remember we got a Tarzan book and I can still kick myself for not getting Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins.  That book is impossible to get.  I did see a copy twenty years ago, but couldn’t afford it.

The Tale of Troy is, of course, a retelling of the stories of Helen, Paris, and Achilles and even Odysseus.  There are battles galore and much smiting of enemies.  After I found it, I flipped through to see if it held the same attraction as it did before.  It does.  I don’t know if it is in print anymore, but if it is, I’d recommend this book to anybody interested in Greek mythology.

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1. Query – Yes.

2. Post story for critiquing –   Going forward.  Hooray.  I’ve revised and revised again I story I had begun to post last year before my father got ill and I think I’ve gotten out the kinks of the first part of the story.  I’m using what people told me for the second half.  Whew, that part needs a lot of help, but I’m wrangling it into shape.  Will see what the critiques say.

3. What I’m writing now: (formerly My Monster Manuscript) :  I finished my children’s story, but I’d had more then half written when I re-started it in mid-February.  I started a new story on the 21st of March and that’s going well.  I pretty much didn’t let my pen grow warm.  I started to think what I wanted to write about and I decided to write the third installment of a series I’d started.  I only meant to write one story, but then I wrote another, and toyed with writing 3rd and maybe more.  The storyline isn’t what I envisioned after writing the second one, but then that was a few years ago.  My story follows a girl whose father is from another planet.  Her mother once used to battle aliens on Earth.  MSC, as Val called it.  Mom’s secret club.  Since her father couldn’t be with her, a member from another race has volunteered to watch over her, a member of a race, that, while cute and cuddly looking, is one of the most feared species in a large area of space.  In each book there is a different ‘friend’ for Val.  In the first book it is a dedicated warrior, the second, a young male searching for a career path other than ‘vanquishing evil’, in the third is a older female who studies other species.  Val isn’t exactly quite sure what she’s doing at her house, but, hey, she doesn’t mind.  And she’ll need the help because there’s another evil rearing it’s ugly head.

4. Critique work of others –  Yep.

5. Blog more – Doing well, I’m still posting twice a week although I do tend to miss one a month.  I have created a reserve of posts in case I have writer’s block and can’t think of anything.  Luckily Pawnee Kitty and Angus help out.

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