Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Talk Thursday: Do-Over

The only thing more boring than writing is writing about writing. That is, to the person outside it. To the person inside it, writing about writing makes perfect sense; after all, it's not like you can talk about writing. Well, I mean, I guess you can, but it doesn't go over very well at parties. Probably because there's not much happening. If y'all could see me now (and one of these days I'll hook up my webcam and blog Live! From Afrah!), all you'd see is a fat chick hunched over a table near the counter, typing like mad on a laptop that's perpetually in danger of having baba ganouj smeared all over it. You'd probably also notice she's one of the few white chicks in the place, and that she's not wearing a hijab, but other than that, unremarkable. Just woman, pita bread, baba ganouj, laptop and much typing. Yeah. That's exciting.

But, anyway, I do like to write about writing. I think the expression we're looking for here is "getting it out of my system." Today in particular I'm practically tearing my hair out because I can't talk about writing. Not to my peeps at work, anyway. I've been working very hard at keeping my working life separate from my personal life, and for the most part I think I've succeeded. I mean, my cow orkers know I have a partner, and that I live in Far East Dallas with some cats and hang with a Buddhist street gang and swim a lot, but that's about it. That I write stuff has not intruded into the office consciousness, at least as far as I know. Course, if it had, I probably wouldn't have noticed; to paraphrase Luke Skywalker, if there's a bright shining center of office gossip, I'm in the cube it's the farthest from.

Which meant there was no one to tell when I got an email from the agent that had requested the first fifty pages of Mindbender. Last week, when I got the first email, I was so busy that all I thought about was where in the world I'd find the time to get together a package to mail and when I'd be able to get myself to the post office. And of course how I'd evict Scaley and Fang, my fraternal twin dinosaurs of anxiety and panic (respectively) from my kitchen so that I could somehow make this happen. But I did evict the dinosaurs and I did get the package together and yes! I even got myself to the post office. And I wasn't expecting to hear anything for a while, but now it's what, about a week later, and here's another email.

It took me a really long time to open this email. I darn near forwarded it to Joan, unopened, and asked her to just read it to me, but that would have been cowardly. I may be crazy, but a coward I ain't. I took a deep breath, stretched my shoulders and my fingers, told myself it was okay no matter what it said, and when I was momentarily convinced, I clicked on the email.

The guy was writing to say he wanted another 150 pages. And I about fell out of my chair.

Uh, what? Another what? He wanted what? I had to do what? How was I supposed to do that? Scaley and Fang immediately materialized in my cube and started making a big mess. Then it occurred to me that this was actually good news and I should be celebrating with the Spirit of Happy, not chasing around the Dinosaurs of Angst. But I couldn't. Celebrate, that is. Because I was at work and no one at work knew anything about this and--then the phone rang. It does that. Often at the most inopportune times.

When I got rid of the annoying insurance adjuster on the phone and the smoke cleared and the dust settled and I'd managed to convince Scaley and Fang they'd be much more comfortable in the conference room, I suddenly realized I was going to have to do it all again. Head back to my kitchen. Get to work. Put another package together. Convince Microsoft Word 2010 to number pages without drawing a cute little border around each one (Whose idea was that? Bill Gates, I hope somebody tattoos a black outline around your face). And do it all in the next couple of days, no later than Monday for certain. Eesh. My first thought was to skip my usual meeting tonight and head home immediately, but Joan (who, seeing as she lives with me, does know about this writing thing) told me no, I'd better go to the meeting. Something about when I get all angsty and start bouncing off the walls, a meeting helps. It's probably safer for any ceramics she might have around, anyway.

So I go forth for a do-over, or a do-it-again, or a same-task-different-pages. Or something like that. Wish me luck. And yes, I know I'm a little manic right now. But be honest; can you think of a better time? And do you think I should take out all that smooching on page 137, or should I just leave it there and let the lips fall where they may? And why am I asking you, anyway? Have a nice evening, y'all.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

URGENT Mini-Post: From His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Matter of His Reincarnation

This was released yesterday. You can read the whole thing here. It is long but quite interesting and sets out the Tibetan Buddhist understanding of reincarnation--sort of a "how to" manual, as it were. The two paragraphs you're probably the most interested in are reproduced below.

As I mentioned earlier, reincarnation is a phenomenon which should take place either through the voluntary choice of the concerned person or at least on the strength of his or her karma, merit and prayers. Therefore, the person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized. It is a reality that no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her. It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate Tulkus, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. Such brazen meddling contradicts their own political ideology and reveals their double standards. Should this situation continue in the future, it will be impossible for Tibetans and those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to acknowledge or accept it.

When I am about ninety I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not. On that basis we will take a decision. If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust. They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath-bound Dharma Protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with past tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.

The Dalai Lama

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Talk Thursday: Harried

I just reread my post about writer's block and thought: Wow, I'm not bipolar or anything, am I?

Anyway. This is a great Talk Thursday topic because it perfectly describes the last month of my life. At work, at least, I've been positively slammed. I've had eight sets of discovery responses due this month. For you non-legal people, sets of discovery means that both parties have asked the other side in the case a set of formal questions, which need to be answered in Proper Legal Language according to a strict set of rules (the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, in case you're curious). Discovery sets usually come in threes, which means three documents to which to respond. Each response can take upward of a couple of hours by the time you sit down with the client, get their answers to the questions, go over the questions themselves, object to anything that might be objectionable, turn the client's answers into Proper Legal Language, and then take the whole deal to the attorney for review. (After which, of course, it comes back with lots of changes, which can then take another x number of hours.) One set of discovery can pretty much knock down your timetable for the week. Two sets of discovery can pretty much become your week. Eight sets of discovery--well, that's two sets a week for four weeks in a row, folks. That's--that's just insane.

Now, here's the rub. While the sets of discovery are getting done, nothing else is. And it's not like everything else understands that there's discovery due and politely waits in the background for its proper turn. Oh no. Life and the law firm moves on. There are still motions to write, chronologies to create, records to order, filings to file, letters to crank out, depositions to schedule. In your copious spare time, of course. Because discovery trumps all. Miss a deadline for a set of discovery and you've "waived all your objections," which means, in short, that you've totally screwed up your case and are probably looking at a malpractice lawsuit. Miss one of those other deadlines, though, and you're at least in big trouble, and maybe fired.

So it's been an interesting month. I've tried to refrain from running around like a headless chicken trying to do everything at once, but hey, I get manic as hell sometimes, so it does happen. And then right in the middle of all this, when I was wrapping up Set of Discovery No. 8, I got The Call.

Okay, it was actually The Email, but The Call sounds ever so much more religious, doesn't it? And this being a religious blog and all, I couldn't help it. The Email was from a literary agent, asking for a partial on Mindbender. And everything came to a screeching halt for about five minutes while I stared at this email and said something that contained numerous swear words. Hard to say what this felt like, but I guess the best analogy is that I went fishing, fell asleep on the dock, and woke up to find that I had a bite on my line, only to discover I had forgotten my net, my cooler and some other vital piece of equipment fishermen need for when they actually catch something (the last time I went fishing, I was fifteen, so please pardon me for not having a clue). In short, I was utterly emotionally unprepared. I was off in discovery-land, remember? I mean, I'm not complaining here, but it was the apotheosis of bad timing. Five minutes after I stepped off an airplane in Thule, Greenland, without my laptop and miles from electricity would have been a better time. For serious. I think they have electricity in Thule, though.

And so a mad scramble ensued. First, I had to evict Scaley, the T-Rex of Anxiety, and his adopted older brother Fang, the Velociraptor of Sudden Panic, from my kitchen so that I could at least try to get some work done. Then I had to tell Joan I loved her every five minutes so that she wouldn't strangle me for muttering ceaselessly about how sucky this narrative was and how a reasonably well-trained chimpanzee could have written it and that obviously it wasn't worth mailing to an illiterate troll living under a bridge in Zaire, never mind a literary agent in New York. Then I had to figure out how to number the pages (curse you, Word 2010) after the first attempt left this fine-line border around each and every page (nice, kind of decorative, even, but, no. Just no.) Then I had to get myself and my pages to Office Depot to pick up a couple of big envelopes, get myself and my envelopes to the Post Office, and get back to the office before my lunch hour expired so I could get back to the discovery before I blew my deadline. And, oh yeah, get something to eat. I think I scored an apple and some string cheese.

Pant. Pant. Gasp. Whew.

So that's how I spent Tuesday and Wednesday. Some fun time, huh? But, pleased to announce, the package got mailed, the world did not crack asunder, Scaley and Fang are afraid of Ativan and today at four P.M., the last of the eight sets of discovery left the building. Which means I can relax and, uh, concentrate on that huge pile of mail that's about to fall on me. You know, from all the other cases.

October will be easier. I keep telling myself that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Talk Thursday: Red, White & You

Yep, two blog posts in one day. For a chick with writers block I sure do write a lot. Oh, hey, I can slap sentences together all day as long as they're not in a fictional context. I can essay my head off. I can also do all the stuff that starts out "COMES NOW Plaintiff, Ernie Dinklefwat, and complains of Defendant, Sam Sinister, as follows..." It's just the, you know, writing stuff that might actually sell and get recognized part that I can't seem to manage. You know, writing actual books and stuff. Like I used to be able to do without half trying. You think it's maybe the Topamax? It could be the Topamax. Course I blame everything on the Topamax. Just today I've blamed my post-nebulizer jitters, my sore left foot and Sarah Palin's lower jaw line on the Topamax. Tomorrow: Sex trafficking, Lady Gaga and the demise of the iPod Shuffle.

Anyway: This thing called patriotism. I think we liberals are way too prone to letting the conservatives tell us we don't have any, without even making them define the term. When it comes to slavish devotion to whoever's in charge, unquestioningly following orders like "Go invade that country, it's pissing me off" and agreeing not to ask the uncomfortable questions, then yeah. They're right. We're a bunch of unpatriotic cowards. But when it comes to honoring the place where you were born, wanting it to succeed against impossible odds, and loving the people and the land that raised you up, then we've got just as much of it as anybody, thankewverymuch.

I kind of found this out the hard way. Not too long ago, there existed for a brief time period the possibility that Joan might get a job in another country. The particular country was Western European, friendly, kind of cold in the winter but otherwise hospitable. Our marriage would have been legal there, which was really cool, and I could have come with as a spouse instead of having to prove my way across the border on my own wildly overeducated two feet. Naturally the subject arose; if this worked out, would we want to remain citizens of the U.S, or become citizens of the new place? For Joan this was a no-brainer; become a citizen of where you are. For me this was also a no-brainer; stay a U.S. citizen and vote absentee. Otherwise there'd be one less vote against Vice-President Palin.

Both perfectly valid points of view, yet it was amazing how much we argued about them. At one point, the question was raised: What's your country done for you, lately, anyway? It's run by idiots, a good number of your fellow citizens want to kill you, another bunch will only tolerate you if you promise not to breathe their air, the smallest corporation in Texas has more human rights than you do and the only reason to even vote in an election is to see what kind of jingoistic bullshit they come up with next. All of which is true, to some extent. Yet, again, to me it's a no-brainer. You just don't bail on your country when it's having a hard time, even if you happen to live on the other side of the world. You sit with it and hold its hand and hope it gets better.

Anyway, Joan didn't get the job, which rendered the argument moot. But I had no idea she felt that way and I don't think she had any idea that I felt the other way. Fifteen years of marriage and we still surprise each other. (And it would have been legal in--oh, never mind.)

Another Whiny Post About Writers Block

This is the time of day when I’m supposed to be writing something.

It doesn’t matter what; poetry about garden gnome babies would do. Unfortunately for me, I don’t write poetry and I can’t stand garden gnomes. In the last five or so years I’ve written five books and I don’t think I have a chance in hell of getting any of them published. Well, except for No Accounting for Reality, which I self-pubbed on Lulu and sold maybe fourteen copies to raise some money for Children’s Hospital. Yay. And that may have killed my chances of getting anything published in the Real World, if I had chances, a point on which I am far from certain.

I wrote this trilogy, see. Mindbender, Spellbinder, Soulmender. Nifty titles, huh? And they’re good. I just don’t know if they’re good enough to be published. The third one probably is, but it doesn’t exactly stand alone; you gotta read the first two or you’ll have no clue what’s going on. And someone I trust told me that Mindbender comes off the rails in the third act, which is basically true. And yes, I’m still sending out query letters, somewhat, but with less and less optimism as the months roll on.

Meanwhile I wrote a little YA novel, Taken by Storm, that was loosely based on the first three. And it did stand alone, and it might be good enough to be published, maybe. (My mother liked it. That’s a great literary hurdle around here.) And yes, I’m querying on that one, too. But again I’m not optimistic. I don’t know if it’s really in the category of Good Enough. In short, after all these years and all this drama I still don’t know if I’ve yet written something good enough to be published. And I may not have anything left in me to write about.

In short, I may have dried up. I heard the song “No New Tale to Tell” on the radio and thought it described me perfectly. Yep, that’s me. If it’s not set in San Sebastian and something vaguely supernatural isn’t happening. I have no new tale to tell. I mean, what do I do now? I’ve sort of got this thing going about a musician who disappears and an old friend who’s trying to find him, but it’s turned out to be more about the old friend than it is about the musician, which is, I guess, okay. And it’s not bad, it just doesn’t have that pop and sizzle that it would if it were set in San Sebastian and things were exploding nearby. Maybe because I set it in Dallas. Things tend not to explode in Dallas.

When you’re down it’s a long way up. When you’re up it’s a long way down.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Talk Thursday: Rewards

As I hump my way through this obstacle course called life, or rather, this one called my life, I frequently call to mind the Big Question. No, not the one about whether or not there's a God (no) or what is our purpose in life (to be servants and built-in heated mattresses to house cats). I'm talking about the other Big Question, the one that occurs to me when I'm about to snarf down a piece of extremely decadent dark chocolate cake (thereby giving my psychiatrist apoplexy; large quantities of sugar and Topamax should never be combined in one's bloodstream) or after I've spent the hour from three a.m. to four a.m. sorting the screws in the junk drawer because the fact that they're all different sizes bothers me. This is the ultimate Big Question, the one I never seem to answer to anyone's satisfaction, least of all mine: Why Am I Doing This, Anyway?

The Big Question arises in all kinds of contexts. At five a.m. when I crawl out of bed to make my way to the Baylor Tom Landry Pool (and I try very hard not to think about it very much, because if I thought about it I'd never do it). At four o'clock on a Friday when I'm sorting all the junk I've been dealing with during the week for the purpose of, eventually, filing it. When I'm churning out query e-mails (queermails?) to agents, a lone snowflake in the blizzard being swept across the Internet in hopes I won't melt before I land in the right agent's snow shovel. Well, there must be a good reason. I must, on some level, expect some kind of reward. The answer, then, is what kind.

At this point I could sniff somewhat self-righteously and announce that virtue is its own reward, but my bullshit detector is way too sensitive to put up with this for even two seconds. In the case of getting up before dawn to get mostly naked and throw myself into cold water, it's pretty much gotten to the point where I can't not do it, at least for very long. Two or three days away from the pool and I start getting all twitchy. I seem to have a minimum chlorine requirement. I suppose there's that whole post-exercise glow and that warm satisfaction of knowing I've done something good for my body, too, but for sheer unadulterated rewards it's hard to beat the jaccuzi and the heated towels afterward.

In the case of filing stuff, I get the reward of a clean desk, at least for a few nanoseconds. We office workers take our moments of clean deskitude where we can get them. Currently I have at least five different piles of papers, in priority order, taking up space on my admittedly huge desk. Just seeing formica once in a while is its own little miracle.

And in the case of the query emails--well, here the analogy just falls apart like a badly strung necklace.

Okay, I admit it: It's been over a month since I sent any out. I don't know why I stopped and I don't know how to get started again. It just started seeming like a complete waste of time all of a sudden. I usually didn't get a response, or if I did it was one of those "Sorry, but buzz off" replies. No "Sure, kid, send me a couple of chapters" or "Hey, can't use it, but nice use of the word 'the' in the second paragraph." In short, no reward. If there's no reward, is there any point in doing it?

Yes, I know; I'm never going to get the silly thing published unless I write a lot more letters. I haven't written nearly enough to give up or even slow down. The Help was rejected by over sixty agents -- over sixty! Be impressed immediately!--before it was accepted and became a runaway best-seller (that I still, for the record, have no desire to read). Wait, hold it, let me channel Linus of Peanuts here: "Just think, Charlie Brown, (Mrs. Tolstoy) wrote ('War and Peace') seven times with a dip pen! And you're telling me you can't read it once?"

Still, same problem. No reward. No pats on the head for getting query letters out. No one says "Good job!" or gives me an extra smooch. I'm just supposed to keep plodding along, churning them out like a highly sophisticated riveting machine on an automobile assembly line someplace. But honestly, most of the time I feel more like Mrs. Tolstoy with a dip pen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Talk Thursday: Drought

Yes, I know we're in a drought. It's about the only thing they talk about on KEOM radio's Texas State Network News, after they get finished talking about Governor Goodhair running for President. (About which I know very little because I refuse to listen. The reporter gets as far as, "Governor Per--." and I've changed the station to the 24-hour classical channel.) I don't exactly need reminding. My entire backyard is dead, even the very stubborn asparagus. I'm doing what I can to keep the trees alive, and the front yard still has a little green here and there, but pretty much this is the year that lawn care became moot. A neighbor of ours is losing his magnolia tree. It's falling down, limb by limb, in a spectacle that's both ghastly and heartbreaking. And us North Texans are really getting off easy compared to the rest of the state. Lots of farmers have lost their entire crop, cattle are dying all over the place and there are wildfires - of course there are wildfires - chomping through all the dead vegetation, taking out homes and businesses and just in general destroying things.

So it seems kind of ridiculous to use up my allotment of cubic Internet inches whining about a drought of the mind, but that's just what I'm gonna do. You see, while y'all weren't looking, I went and wrote another book. Okay, some of you were looking. That's okay, I forgive you. That makes a total of five (count them! Five!) since I started this blog. This last one is called Taken by Storm, and it was all about the daughter of the heroine in one of the earlier books realizing she has some of the same problems Mom has, as well as some new and different crises that Mom never got around to. This one was remarkably short (72k words), definitely YA, and kind of a departure from my usual stuff. What's more, my mother liked it. No, she really did. And I started writing query letters and I started getting the usual rejection slips and then--

Nothing. I dried up. It was like somebody pulled the plug, and all the good words went straight down the drain.

When you're used to writing for about an hour a day, every day, at home or at a Starbucks or at Afrah or maybe the back room of Half Price Books, and you're used to churning out a page or two at least, and you're used to having two or three projects going at once, all in different stages of done-ness, and everything just comes to a screeching halt one day, it tends to throw you off your stride a little bit. The first thing I did, after a few days had gone by and the words still weren't coming, was panic. Oh dear God that I don't even believe in, what if this was forever? What if I'd said everything I had to say, and told the tales I had to tell, and the rest was just silence? What would I do for the rest of my life? Where would I go when my brain needed a vacation? Would I have to start doing drugs? Play video games? Find a real-life version of being wired, like in Strange Days?

Well, that's why I write. I dunno why anybody else does.

As the days trickled by and the words still didn't come back, I got depressed. Easy to do if you're bipolar - in fact it happens on a regular basis, like day follows night - but it's easy to forget that, too, when you're in the middle of it. So I moped around and spent ridiculous amounts of time trolling the CNN chat boards - yes, I know I'm not supposed to do that - and just in general felt sorry for myself. Washed up at the age of 42. Done in by a drought of the mind and left to wander the earth as one of the walking dead. Well, only about 40 more years and I can die for real, I guess. Obviously I'm not gonna have anything to show for having been around, so I might as well just be quiet and not upset anybody. I started to avoid the computer during my regular writing time. I started eating sugar again (yes, I know, don't lecture me -- I'm getting back off it; my psychiatrist was livid) and just in general did everything I wasn't supposed to do. Except swimming. I kept swimming.

Then, a couple of days ago, something happened. I dunno why, but I sat down at the computer and wrote a couple of pages. This morning I did it again, though it was only about half as much. Who knows if this is the rain returning after La Nina or just a rogue low-pressure zone; the result is the same--productivity. And perhaps the first little glimmer of hope that things might possibly get better.

(Attention literary agents: This would be the perfect time to throw me a bone. I'm soft-spoken, housebroken, won't bite and have had all my shots.)

So we'll see what happens. If things keep getting better, great. If they don't--well, let's just not go there. Meantime I hope it keeps raining in North Texas. I hope we have a hurricane, in point of fact, and a wall of water floats away a DART transit bus, just like last time.

Especially if I lay off the sugar.