Just heard from an acquaintance who is a voodoo priest living in the French Quarter of NOLA. He rode out the storm in his Civil War-era house with his animals. He said he didn’t leave because the gov’t botched the order to evacuate and the roads were jammed, meaning many people turned back. But he says the Quarter is dry–there’s only a few puddles. Major problem is the looting. They broke the windows in the A&P, the deli, and other shops and houses. They even broke into WallyWorld. He lost the railing off his balcony and a few shingles, but otherwise, his house was sturdy, which is heartening. Anyhow, he said he was thinking of joining forces with his neighbor across the street and loading up all their animals and heading out to Red Stick, I mean Baton Rouge. He said the Quarter is still there, but nothing will ever be the same because people will be afraid. (sigh)

Okay, he’s not an acquaintance of mine. I heard all this on MSNBC. But anyhow, I thought it was a trip to hear all of that. It’s the only upbeat-ish thing I have seen or heard all day. Saw all those people being rescued off rooftops and worried about the ones who didn’t get saved today and whether they’d die overnight of dehydration, exposure, etc. One lady has a three-day-old baby with her and not even a diaper change. She had to leave the hospital when they closed it down for the evac, and she has no place to go. Oh, the humanity. No houses, no jobs. NO wonder I can’t think about it right now. La la la, I cannot HEAR yoooooo. . . .

Let’s talk about happy, mindless subjects. I have partials out to several agents. I only hope my chick lit wins a prize (it’s “magical chick lit” or “smart chick lit,” not all about shopping–my friend said, “Your book is not about a ditzy, party-loving, nearly always drunk girl (as the stereotypical chick lit character is).” _Little Rituals_ is about an introspective loner who mostly just wants to find fulfillment. It’s more of a literary novel and a “book” book in chick lit clothing.

I am of the old school and I like a “book” book that can’t be categorized. Nowadays, since everything has to have a brand name, you don’t see that many of these, but I still like them. Here’s a secret–I haven’t read much chick lit at all, just a couple of them that I could not really get into, but found silly and unfulfilling. However, the *voice* and the digressive nature of the plots seemed to fit me. The “voice” of my chick lit novel is more that of an online diary or journal or blog–it has that postmodern ironic tone and is funny. I decided that if I wanted to sell, I should try to sell as chick lit and then have all those unsuspecting readers picking it up and being amazed at the way they could enjoy a more literary novel, not even about shopping. (grin)

One of the agents is someone who read another book of mine before and ALMOST didn’t pass on it. (grin) Another agent is one who seems very interested in a second book of mine that she has had for a while.

I also have a partial out to an editor at Kensington. I won the privilege to send it for comment by bidding on a charity auction on eBay. The money went to help a writer whose house burned down. Don’t know when the editor will reply, but I’m hoping the book is of interest. I can’t afford to buy my way into publishing, or I’d have done it YEARS ago, were it possible . . . so this has to work. *grin*

What else? I found a sucker, I mean a friendly published mystery author, who’s willing to read through the mystery novel that I want to send to the St. Martin’s contest this year. I only hope she can tell me what to do so that the book wins. It’s a matter of pride at this point. Seriously, the book would be a hit. If only I could get to editor Ruth Cavin . . . I know it’s her kind of book! She liked last year’s winner by David Skibbins, so she’d like mine. I got my judge assigned, and it’s not one of the people I’ve had in the past (I have entered various books twice in past years), so that’s a good sign. Maybe it’ll be somebody with sensibilities like mine who’ll like my kind of book.

Man, it cost a ton to send that manuscript snailmail! (It went UPS Ground, but still.)
* * *
A novel is a sudden window opened to let us watch an arc of action from its initial to its closing phase. John Gardner writes that it is “a vivid, continuous dream.” Bill Johnson says a story is a promise. Dwight Swain says that a story is a succession of motivations and reactions, rather than being “about” anything. It always concerns, instead, someone’s reaction to what happens. In other words, we read to live vicariously through the characters, as my junior high school English teacher suggested. Robert McKee says that story is a force of nature.
# # #
Commercials are wrong again dept.:

How about that crazy car commercial where they’ve licensed “Dust in the Wind” as a background song? They didn’t understand the song, now, did they? I realize Kerry Livgren needs to make his car payment too (or whoever owns the rights to Kansas’ songs now), but really, this is embarrassing for the ones who made the commercial. THEIR car is going to turn to dust, ALSO. It’s not because of their car that the other ones turn to dust. It’s the way of the world.
It’s the whole Ozymandias thing. Sic transit gloria mundi.
(You know, the Shelley poem. In the desert, the collapsed monument that reads, “Look on my works ye mighty and despair”–surely everyone remembers.)

And the AK spot that uses “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by the Monkees is a fun commercial, but they say “Summer of 1965” when that album wasn’t released until 1967. The Monkees show went from 1966-1968. The Beatles had just hit around 1964 and the Monkees show doesn’t start until 1966. We can forgive, but them’s the facts, man. The Monkees were way ahead of their time, by the way. The precursor to MTV. And of course the wacky format comes out of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

[“The Monkees” (1966) aired from 12 September 1966 to 9 September 1968 on NBC for 58 episodes. It ruled its NBC primetime slot (Mondays 7:30) for the entire duration of its run. CBS carried repeats of the series on its Saturday morning schedule between 13 September 1969 and 2 September 1972, after which it was seen for a season on the ABC Saturday Morning schedule from 9 September 1972 to 1 September 1973. So there.]

Micky ruled back then. Mike was okay, too (being from Texas added some punches to his column.) The other two were cute, but not geniuses. (grin)

Writers’ Toolkit: Setting

Let’s think about something other than the weather for a while–but we can think about weather in the abstract, as part of the SETTING for your story.

Setting as character. Ah, the brooding swamp of Yoknapatawpha County. The dark forests of Mordor (or the Three-and-a-Half Kingdoms.) The parking lot of a Wal-Mart recently closed in Kentucky.

What’s that I hear? Is it the cooling jets of the spacemobiles as they land outside the porthole window, or the rattle of carriage wheels over cobblestones?

The overall setting is the locale in which the majority of the book’s action occurs; this can be a real place about which readers may have preconceived notions or particular expectations, such as Dallas, Texas (ahem), or it can be an imaginary locale like Ladenia or Renner, Texas. Specific settings are where individual scenes take place. Specific settings can be quite different in character from overall setting: an air-conditioned courtroom or a tavern with lazily turning ceiling fans made of tropical leaves, for example, for a lawyer and a cop, repectively. Use “filtering” in a close-in, intimate POV. Let readers crawl inside the POV character’s body and experience the scene from her/his perspective by using the five senses: what do your characters see, hear, touch, taste and smell? (Don’t overwhelm the reader with florid sensory experiences, though, because then she’ll feel as if the sensory deprivation chamber cracked and she fell out onto the Vegas strip. Maybe use all the senses over the course of a couple of pages, then give it a rest until the scene changes or the character’s mood changes [without falling into the pathetic fallacy, where it’s raining to indicate she’s crying. Well, at least don’t do that in EVERY book.])

Setting can “set up” the fish-out-of-water thing. A heroine who is a high-powered New York lawyer could easily find herself at odds with a frustratingly slow-witted cop (or so it seems at first–he’s doing the “I’m just a simple country boy” routine while the gears whir in back.) Let’s say she has to cope with a seemingly dull but hunky New Orleans cop. Down in the Crescent City in that elbow-y bend of the mighty Mis-si-sip, nights are so humidly hot she wakes up sweaty and has to take *another* shower. Everybody is everybody else’s third cousin and nobody, especially the cop, ever seems to hurry. She can have lots of conflict as she tries to rush people or push them to go faster, and they can actually decide to sabotage the “crazy pushy Yankee.” She’s missing what they have to offer.

Setting can be a source of conflict. If your character needs to flee or hide, provide a setting (such as a national forest, a swampy bayou, outer space, or an alternate universe) where he/she can do so. Keep in mind the availability of help: if your heroine can call the police from her cell phone or run into the nearest convenience store when the killer is chasing her, it detracts from the credibility of your plot if she doesn’t do so. You have to set up things like low battery, bad antenna, connection lost, and so forth. Setting solves that problem if you put her somewhere she can’t easily get help. It’s better to set up that stuff early and then have readers go, “I KNEW IT! I knew that would be a problem later.”

The setting must be strong and suitable for your story. But don’t let it overwhelm the story. Sprinkle in descriptions a line or two at a time as you go. You can get away with a paragraph now and then, especially if you use the character’s senses to smell the salty sea, feel the warm Delta breeze, taste a shrimp off the barbie, etc. But don’t write a travelogue. If you did a lot of research, as hard as it might be, don’t use it all in the book. Use the stuff that fits in, and readers will be happy to have learned something.

Setting also covers more than geography. When in time is the novel set? What’s the weather like? What special problems, if any, does the setting cause the hero? Is the setting important to the novel? If not, why are you using that setting?
Use the five senses to convey setting. Don’t forget smell, taste, and touch.

Prayers still going out for the Gulf coast. And it sure looks to me as if the all-night prayers worked.

Auntie Shalanna tries her hand at advice

I just got finished giving a bit of advice to an online acquaintance, and it strikes me that possibly this advice would be of interest to writers and others who might be going through similar problems in their Day Jobs. Or it might give you an idea how a character of yours can cope. One of my characters copes the way I do, and I only hope it isn’t seen as psycho. (grin) I could stick this behind a cut, but what the heck.

At 09:57 AM 8/25/2005, my friend wrote:
>My buddy who got me my job warned me tonight that if I don’t
>curb my tendency to complain and whine at work, I will have to
>find another job.

Ack! That’s difficult, because sometimes things that we think nothing of doing, or saying, are making a huge impression on other people who are taking notes and reacting to that tossed-off stuff. I personally am especially guilty of saying something that I think is funny (and even laughing) and then finding out later that somebody grabbed on to it, took offense, and built an entire case for me having a certain belief system *based on* this offhand remark that was a pun, or something silly, or wordplay, or what-have-you. Our group used to complain cutely about a certain meeting, and then we found out that the guy who required the meeting was doing the “slowly I turned” deal over it. Our boss had to handle that with kid gloves.

>Pray that I will be able to quiet the nervous chatter and keep my job.

I’ll be praying.

Nervous chatter is what happens to many shy people when they end up trying too hard and overcompensating. You are reacting to the stress of the job and being around people you don’t know well, wanting so much to make a good impression. Many people who are not as sensitive to other people see it as “whining and complaining” and react in a very negative way.

Conversely, you don’t want to overcompensate in the opposite direction by clamming up and freaking out. That will just make it worse and make you miserable.

Breathe. Do relaxation exercises. Avoid caffeine.

Also, what Laurie* said below not only rhymes, but is a profound truth that I had never seen put exactly in this way or thought of like this! Listen to this advice:

You can’t push negative thoughts out of your head; what works is thinking positive thoughts instead.

I even wrote in one of my novels that my character “found she couldn’t push the thought out of her mind as so many fictional characters claim to be able to do” because I got so frustrated with reading that in sooo many novels. And THIS is actually more how it works. It’s like you can’t get rid of “Time For Me to Fly” by REO Speedwagon cycling in your head until you substitute a Mozart earworm, and the Mozart is too complex for the brain to get hung up on, and it finally banishes the other before you have to go live in a treehouse and eat gummi worms.

Make a game of replacing each negative thought. What is it you usually complain about? How can you turn that around?

This is SUCH a great idea. (Laurie is a genius. Of course we already knew that.) I don’t even realize sometimes that what I say is coming across as bitchin’ and moanin’, so it’s twice as difficult. You have to have a process running in the background that listens to yourself talk, then instantly recognizes that it’s going to sound like whining, and make it into something else. (I use a computer software metaphor here because it seems to work best.)

Oh, and you were not a burden on your family. Your family was dysfunctional like everybody else’s, I gather. They did the best they could. I have to remind myself of that every day.

Does anybody else have troubles telling what behaviors are reactions to experience and which are personality?

Everyone is born with inclinations to being an introvert or an extrovert (I have seen babies who shriek and smile when tickled by unfamiliar hands, and who love being the center of attention, and then others whose looks of terror when I loom over them as a stranger are quite scary. These are little bitty babies, so I think we’re inclined from birth to be gregarious or standoffish, to some degree.)

We can’t change our major preference for that function, but we have to learn to use the “shadow side.” As an introvert, I had to force myself to learn to use my shadow side as I started into adolescence, because Mama thought that introverts were “sick” and needed counseling to turn them into non-shy extroverts like herself–shy children could be cute, but shy puberty-bound people had to be Fixed–so I quickly figured out to use my acting talent and do “The Melanie Routine” in which I imitated a popular neighbor of ours who was actually a nice person and not a snob like most other popular people (she was the one I could bear to Be.) I played Melanie and whipped out the routine when called upon to socialize heavily. It really took it out of me at first, but now I can do it for extended periods, so well that when my group at work at DSC took a Myers-Briggs course at my suggestion (to learn to work with others better), my friends said confidently that they knew which one *I* was, the extreme extrovert! Of course I’m a moderate to extreme introvert with an unending inner monologue or dialogue (!) that never never stops going. I still need solitude to recharge my batteries, especially after a long session dealing with others (hubby and dog, my mom, or one or two close friends can be nearby, if not making demands, during recharge time.) On the other hand, some people have no sense of boundaries and seem to not have an internal editor that keeps them from saying everything that they think the moment they are thinking it, without even a 5-second delay like the radio talk shows have to prevent bad words from getting on the air live. “Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear” is their bumper sticker/T shirt. They have to learn not to touch others or stand too close, to leave a comfort zone. It’s not intuitive to them. Or they’re Italian (GRIN).

All this B. S. is to say that if you need to learn to use the shadow side, here is where to start. Figure out which one of your mind functions it is that is doing the complaining or making people THINK that you are complaining. If you are too introverted, then you may have to develop that friendly, working-the-room, Amway salesman/Preacher side. Everyone has it. Not all of us use it, but it’s there. If you are instead a person with problems determining boundaries (as in Asperger’s and some other forms of perception disorders–not that YOU have any of these, but they were the extreme examples that came to mind), begin by asking yourself, “Is this thought I’m about to speak something that other people really need to hear? Right now? In this venue?” You’d be surprised how sometimes it’s much better to just sort of stop a second, flash them a smile as if you are agreeing or even as if you are absorbed in your own thoughts a million miles away, and then half-nod and turn back to what you’re doing. Often that will convince people who are trying to bait you that it isn’t worth messing with right then. Or it will confuse some people enough to get rid of them. Problem averted.

You’ll have to do a bit of analysis to figure out just how to handle each situation. I agree that it is exhausting at first dealing with other people, but maybe you can develop your “Kevin Smith routine” or something that will be a good persona to have on while at work. You’d be pretending to be a jolly, outgoing guy who just lets all the insults roll off his back, and just gets along with everybody. Soon they’d start to believe that’s the real you, and your troubles would be over, I think.

I know it’s tough. It seems impossible at first. But it gets easier as you DO it. Start by playing the game of Laurie’s to catch a negative thought and plug a positive one into its place, and figuring out who you would be if you were a popular movie star and extrovert so you can play that person effectively. (Not right down to the voice and hairstyle, but in a gestalt sense, I mean, the way I did. Perky, smiling, walking up to people to actually pat them on the back and say hi–the opposite of my real personality of brooding artiste!)

If you believe you can, then you can, even if it’s difficult.

Right! “I think I can . . . I think I can . . . I thought I could! I thought I could!” My mother used to use that Little Engine Who Could with me all the time when I was little. Constantly. It does work with things that are within our power. Not to make an editor buy our manuscripts or make the lottery win come, but in ways that we are capable of changing, such as chugging up the hill and finding a way to cope with a cranky co-worker for the time being.

Good luck!

* Laurie is another long-time friend from the Fido WRITING echo who was also advising this mutual friend. I hope we didn’t screw him up even worse. We’re going to pray, anyway.

Skip a rope, figure out rules of comedy, hit a marble

“What are the rules of horror? What do people get in comedy? Eventually I decided that in comedy, people get what they need. And in horror, people get what they deserve.”–Neil Gaiman

Isn’t that cool? Neil also says, in this interview, that “you should never really write a funny book because funny books do not get awards. Comic novels will not get awards. Great, big, serious novels always get awards. If it’s a battle between a great, big, serious novel and a funny novel, the funny novel is doomed. But the nice thing now is, I’ve got them all.” (The awards, that is, so he felt free just to write a funny, Thorne Smith/P. G. Wodehouse novel.) Now, that bit could come off wrong (about the awards), but it’s true, so let’s give him a pass on it.

And he mentions the Locus interview with Lois McMaster Bujold in which she quotes Teresa Nielsen Hayden as telling her that the big problem with authors is you can’t train most of them. Hee! I don’t want to just do the same thing over and over again. Once I’ve mastered a trick, I perform it now and then, but I’m generally ready to build on it and go on to bigger and better. Is that what she means? That’s how I interpret it. If I did get a contract or some legitimate interest, though, I could crank clone books out like sausages, or so I claim.

I don’t expect to win awards. Sure, when I was a little kid, I thought surely I’d grow up to win awards and so forth; my teachers were of the Old School, brought up in the 1940s and 1950s for the most part, and they approved of the way I could turn a phrase. They felt sure that beautiful writing and interesting ideas and a great voice would be the key to building a readership. But they didn’t foresee what would happen when they turned the reins over to the hippies and their kids the slackers. School changed, and instead of writing analytical papers, students wrote a “response paper” and wrote in their journals what they felt about what they’d learned or seen. The emphasis went away from structure and “a classically correct answer” and toward “how YOU feel and react is the important thing” and “there are no absolutes.” When these students grew up and took over, the world’s vibe changed. And that’s OK, because it always does every few generations. It’s so different now because people who run the world now were brought up with television, MTV, sound bites, flashy videos, and the like, not with narrative and text and outlines and structured analysis. All it means is that readers expect a more informal approach and lots of quick-start action (flashing lights and a driving beat) in fiction. It’s just different, not better or worse than before. My natural rhythm is slower and deeper than the expected pace, so it’s more difficult for me to click, but I will. Maybe fairly soon.

But I still don’t expect to win awards. Those go to the more serious stuff or the more outlandish stuff or even to the more populist stuff. Occasionally something I like will win an award, but I suspect my preference for the offbeat goes into this. Usually, whatever I like gets rediscovered ten to twenty years later and heralded as the work of genius. But for that first ten years, nobody else knows what I’m talking about.

Ahem. I’ve never seen a household use up more toilet paper and paper towels than we do. We seem to rip through paper products (including, this past week, printer paper–I’ve gone through several 500-sheet reams just printing stuff to send out!) I don’t want to be like my stingy uncle who told my cousin she could use only three sheets of TP per visit, but hey, we have bags and bags of trash from the junk mail and paper products. And we don’t even have young children, which would account for a lot of stuff if we had them. It gets to be fairly expensive. What are they using all these paper towels for??

Writer’s Toolkit: Characterization (Using Learning Styles)

My mom has the most irritating, grating habit ever. She doesn’t just *say* something. She prefaces all her major pronouncements with, “Listen. LISTEN to me. Listen to me what I’m saying to you.” It’s always redundant like that. “Hear me out. Are you listening to ME?”

Years ago in high school English when I was learning how to write papers (along with a bit about how to write fiction), I discovered that you don’t need to tell readers/listeners that you’re about to tell them something. Well, sometimes teachers and preachers DO it, but I’m not sure it’s effective. If you need all that just to get their attention, you’re not really going to *get* their attention, ’cause they aren’t interested. Better to be like my husband, who says something once in a normal voice, and then if you say “Huh?” he may or may not deign to repeat it. Sometimes he just says, ‘You heard me,” and walks off. Now, he has a bit of hearing loss himself from having been in marching band and having flown in airplanes with stopped-up ears (according to our otolaryngologist), but he’s no fool. He knows that one quiet thing that is missed will become much more significant than something blatted constantly at a person, than nagging, than something in huge block letters on every wall that people start TRYING to ignore and forget. Next time he speaks or says somebody’s name (which is all he does to get their attention: “Larry.” Or “By the way” for a crowd), they’ll fall silent and listen. He learned that from HIS daddy.

ANYhow. The point I’m making here is that this is a character quirk. Readers can only take SO MUCH of it before going postal, so use sparingly, only the first time that a character is introduced and infrequently after that, not every time they talk.

Furthermore, it indicates Mama is a Listener, an Auditory type. Her learning style is probably auditory. She is affected by music, sounds, conversations overheard, and the like.

I am more of a visual type, despite my musicianship and musical inclinations, because I tend to use expressions such as “See?” And “I see what you mean,” “Look at it this way,” and “What does it LOOK like?”

Once when I had access to an expert in the field during a seminar at work, I asked what this meant: When I’m at a lecture in school or at a conference, I start taking copious notes. I write down just about everything the speaker says. I know that you’re supposed to just put down the major points or just a word here or there, but heck, I learned better than that back in school, when everybody would ignore the teacher all day and then make a grab for my school notebook to “copy your notes,” keeping me from studying them myself. I got into the habit of making my notes very crabbed, cramped, verbose, with all sorts of asides and private thoughts crammed in, including diagrams, doodles, and dirtywords, just so that my fellow students would take one look, goggle, and throw it back at me with a “Never mind!” That way, I had the notes to myself should I wish to reread them, find something for the homework out of the lecture, or just type them up or whatever.

But, but, and again BUT! (As Ian Fleming writes in _Chitty Chitty Bang Bang._ Another book that means a whole lot to me: first semester of second grade. Film in second semester of fourth grade, when I was caught in the middle of a family blow-up that had nothing to do with me or my behavior, but just happened. Anyhow, that book got re-read a lot.)

Once I have written the notes, I seldom go back to re-read them. The act of writing the stuff down enables my mind to go through and build a structure using the major points and some of the telling details. I can remember the stuff because I wrote it down once. So, I asked the expert, which learning style is THAT? (My first guess was “kinesthetic.”)

Visual, she said. Because I was taking a picture of it as I wrote it. “How do I know what I think until I write it down?” as famous author Pamela Dean says, and as another famous author also said (“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”–E. M. Forster.) That makes sense to me.

So . . . here’s how I applied these interesting discoveries to my fiction writing. Jacquidon Carroll, the sleuth in my first mystery series (which is third-person, as opposed to my Ariadne series, which is first-person), is visual. She uses “see here” and visual metaphors. To differentiate her from her snoop sister, Chantal Marie Carroll, I made Chantal auditory. “Hear me out! Listen to this!” Chantal does it with the listening and is also the musician and the one who can take Morse code at 8 wpm. This kind of thing clues in the reader, perhaps subconsciously, as to who’s talking and helps show the characters as distinct personalities.

If you aren’t familiar with learning styles, do an Internet search. There are several worthwhile sites. The basic styles are auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and ignoring you. (*grin*)

Find the ironic distance from A to B using the Ecstatic Formula

I had all sorts of deep philosophical thoughts and advanced concepts that I wanted to discuss here, but then I thought, “Who the frell wants to read that?” So, instead, I gacked a happy little book meme. From . At the end of hers, she said anyone who hadn’t done it yet could be tagged. So I self-tag. I tag myself. I am large–I contain multitudes.

1. Total number of books I’ve owned:
Good grief, impossible to say. As a child, I had collected the entire set of Bobbsey Twins (from the 1960s), all the children’s classics, the Little Golden Encyclopedia, all the Nancy Drew, all the Dana Sisters, all the fairy tales books you could imagine–Blue Fairy, etc.–and a load of the Whitman books such as the Donna Parker, Tarzan, and Lassie series (remember “Mystery of the Bristlecone Pine,” which gave me a Jeopardy! answer the other night.) When I got to be fourteen or so, I came home from school to find that my mother had cleaned all that out. “Cleaned out” being a relative term. “Of course you didn’t want to reread that baby stuff,” she said. In her “defense.” (ha) “I wanted to keep it for my kids,” I wailed, knowing that I did want to keep that baby stuff. Several of the books were written in by those who had given them to me, and I knew that some of those people would soon be lost to me. She doesn’t believe in that hogwash, so she wouldn’t have listened to that. What she did say: “You’re not going to have any kids.” That prediction came true, but not for the reason she always cited (“No man will have you, you dirty-roomed, loudmouthed, strong-willed, FAT self-indulgent shrew!”) I turned out to be infertile because of the pituitary problem that led to the polycystic ovarian syndrome and all that. But anyhow, I’m too old and tired to keep up with small children now. (And although I paid the fees to be considered by two adoption agencies, it turned out that hubby wasn’t serious about wanting to adopt, so we wasted the fees.) However, I do think often of those books, and of my daddy’s Encyclopedia Brittanica 1963, which he bought from a door-to-door salesman when we lived in Houston and he worked for NASA as a contractor (yes, he really WAS a rocket scientist–worked on fuel formulas and watched films of liftoffs of the large rockets to see what went wrong). He got them so *I* could have them, ostensibly, but he read every one of them sitting in his Daddy Chair after dinner at night or on weekends, and he wrote his name (Dal C. Gerneth) in every last one of them, in his tiny crabbed handwriting in the upper corner of the front cover. Blast it all that she got away with “throwing those out because they’re out of date” when I was in college. History doesn’t go out of date! They were still eminently useful! And, worse, she also threw away all his bow ties after he died the year I turned fifteen, and now I don’t have a thing that was his except a couple of pocket handkerchiefs. But to spare my blood pressure, we shall go back to the original question.

(Yes, I can write like David Foster Wallace, but is that really a Good Thing?)

Let’s guess we have a thousand books in the house now. Several walls are walls of bookcases. I have a bunch of them boxed up in the storage building. I’m afraid they’ll get musty, but there’s no room now that we have Mama’s things in the room that I used to use as a study, which is fine, just means we have more stuff to deal with. I should go through and “weed out” books. Yeah, right, sure!

2. Last book I bought (not counted in the above total):
_Bras and Broomsticks_ by Sarah Mlynowski or however it’s spelled, *because* we are studying it in my online “How to Write YA Chick Lit” class. It’s kind of good, but I think the concept has been done quite often. Still, I write books with witches and fairies in them, so I like that. Torn so far. (Not the pages, the reader.)

3. Last book I read:
Like , I usually have several going at once. I just re-read an Anne George mystery to see if my mystery snoop sisters are really as appealing as hers, and I decided mine were even more fun. (grin) They’re not as snarky to one another as hers are. Browsed _The Know-It-All_ by A. J. Jacobs, which made me want those encyclopediae back. Found a good old-fashioned BOOK book titled _How I Paid For College_, which was full of sexual situations and dirty words but yet wasn’t really ABOUT them, and was ABOUT some deeper issues, and read that. Reread _The Secret History_ the other day just to hear the cadences of the prose. Read some poems out of an anthology this morning.

4. 5 books that mean a lot to me: (not necessarily the only ones)
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (big surprise)
A Separate Peace, John Knowles (yep, it’s been a while since I read it)
Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut (I am a closet Bokononist)
The Boyfriend School, Sarah Bird (love the movie, too–saw it recently)
The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder (childhood favorite)

5. Five people to take up the meme and answer in their own lj:
Whoever reads this, hasn’t done it yet, and wants to!

Ice cubes rattled in the empty glass–it’s a rhythm track!

(NOTE: The “Ignorant” icon is not meant for my readers, but for the journalists who grabbed this “news” story and ran without thinking.)

Did anyone else see the story about the “song heard ’round the world”? It was a human interest bit on Friday run on MSNBC and CNN about some woman who has written a twelve-bar “song” and is giving it away free, yadda yadda, and how it soothes people. It’s supposed to be all royalty-free and intended to make people feel better or what-have-you (although the lyric is laughably formulaic and cliched, but that’s what people like, I guess.) Well . . . the *idea* is wonderful. All well and good.

But has anyone LISTENED to this song? It’s the guitar introduction to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” as arranged for the Peter, Paul, and Mary album “In the Wind.” That’s one of my lifelong favorite albums/songs. I mean, I stood there thinking, “Just how close does she think she can GET to that intro without people saying it’s Dylan?” Well, pretty dang close, IMHO. I sat there singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” to the tune over the audio of the news story. I was wondering, “Is NO ONE going to mention the similarity? Bueller? Anyone?”

Maybe it’s just that I’m a musician/composer. Or that I play by ear. Or that I just know that track off the album/CD so well that I can’t miss it when I hear it. Someone sued George Harrison for a few bars in “My Sweet Lord” that supposedly were the same as a Beach Boys tune (correct me here, because I know I’m not remembering the details correctly), and that wasn’t even a clone like this is.

But then I threw a mad fit about the “hit” chosen off Boston’s third album because the tune was ripped off from Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (another of my favorite ‘heritage’ songs.) I thought that Boston should have been above copycatting. If you were like me and had eagerly awaited Boston’s “Third Stage” and then were devastated by the similarity of that tune to Elton’s, you know what I mean. For some reason, nobody else noticed. When I pointed it out to people, even tone-deaf people, though, they agreed that “Amanda” in part is that same melody from the middle of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” But they didn’t care. It’s just me. I think I’ll steal a theme from Mozart and have a hit song. Oh, wait–that’s been done!

So . . . really, the news crews just don’t know anything about folk music. It’s the same kind of finger-picked guitar intro, too. Not even cloaked by being tinkled out on the piano, either. (I play a pretty interesting arrangement of the same song on the piano, by ear, and people recognize it, so the tune isn’t out of the public’s heads.) Or you don’t feel that it IS the same. Similar tunes are OK because there are only so many arrangments of notes. Is that it?

Nobody cares. Whatever. I’m just cranky. And I just got back from taking the potato salad to the Mensa picnic, too.