Monday, February 27, 2012

That was quick.

Happy Monday!  Just thought I'd let y'all know that I've got a new short story up at Amazon, which you can find here.  Hope you enjoy it.  (And if you do, for the love of the gods, please go back and post a review.  Thanks!)

Back to radio silence on the blog 'til next weekend....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What I learned in grad school: part 1.

First, I may have a little publishing news for you in a day or so.  Stay tuned...

Second, the post below first appeared last month, in a slightly different form, on The Indie Exchange blog.  It goes nicely with another guest blog post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I would run them both here as well.  If you've already read them, sorry about that....

Almost twenty years ago, I decided to try to become a published fiction author.  I had been working as a journalist for about fifteen years, and had been writing fiction off and on for an additional couple of decades.  I fancied myself a pretty good writer already, but one with a credibility problem:  just because I had a track record as a journalist didn’t mean a publisher would buy my fiction.  I figured the way to fix it would be to get a master's degree.  All it would take, I reasoned, was to spend a couple of years hobnobbing with professors and others of the literary ilk, and then presto!  I’d have a publishing contract in no time.

Yeah.  Well.  It didn’t work out that way.

Oh, I got into a program, all right -- the part-time M.A. program in fiction writing offered by Johns Hopkins University at their Washington, DC, campus.  Hopkins’ full-time writing program at the Baltimore campus was then second in reputation only to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  That boded well for my goal.  But what I didn’t understand about M.A./M.F.A. programs in writing was that they’re not necessarily geared toward publishing.  Everybody in them wants to be published, certainly.  But most never are.

To make things worse, as loyal readers of this blog will know (all hail the Loyal Readers of This Blog!), I write fantasy, which is considered genre fiction.  I tried, for the sake of my grades, to write realistic fiction in workshop, but it always felt strained to me.  And yet my professors were telling me that literary fiction was highly preferable to genre, because it was, well, literary.

I did come out of the program with an M.A. and a novel manuscript.  It was a dystopian novel, dystopian fiction being somewhat more acceptable in literary circles than fantasy.  My adviser really liked it.  The agent who came to talk to us at one of our last classes asked me to send it to her.  Things were looking good!

Then, many weeks later, the agent sent my manuscript back unread.  She included a nice, apologetic note about how she was too swamped to read it.

Disheartened, I tried to sell some of my short stories -- no takers.  Discouraged, I shelved my dream of a fiction writing career for several years. In the meantime, I co-authored Live Simply in the City, from which I made exactly zero dollars.

Then, in 2005, some folks I’d met at decided to try to pull together an anthology of our own fiction.  I wrote a story for that anthology -- the first fantasy story I’d written in years -- and the anthology committee accepted it.  Suddenly, I was published, sorta kinda.  The Kevinswatch crew produced two more anthologies over the next two years; I wrote a story for each, and each was accepted.  Then our editor, Joy Calderwood, started her own e-publishing house, and asked me whether she could republish two of the stories I’d written for the Kevinswatch anthologies.  I shrugged.  Sure, why not?

Then some people actually paid money for them.  I took it as a sign.  When I finished The Maidens’ War, I sent it to Joy, and she published it.  Now I really was a published author -- no M.F.A. required.

To be fair, I did learn a few things in grad school.  As a broadcast journalist, I was really, really good at writing first drafts, because that’s all I had time for.  I had to learn how to revise my work -- and how to tell what needs revising.  Grad school taught me that.  In addition, I received a lovely, engraved piece of paper that allowed me, later on, to teach at the university level.  But sadly, and more importantly, grad school turned me away from writing what I’m best at, and it took me years to get back onto the proper path.

So if you’re wondering whether to go for an M.F.A., I’d recommend that you examine your motives.  If you want to teach, go for it.  But if you think it will fast-track you into the World of Publishing, be aware that it's not very likely.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A very dry post, or: I used to like washing dishes by hand.

Most of the time, I like living in this apartment building.  My unit is spacious, my commute is decent, and the eighth-floor view is pretty spectacular.  I've only discovered two drawbacks:  Bubba, the Apartment Building A/C Unit, is below my windows, and it sounds like a 767 gearing up for takeoff when it cycles on; and when the Universe deals us an "act of God"-type setback, it seems to turn into a multi-day ordeal.

Twisted tree, August 2010. (Thanks, Amy!)
In August 2010, a microburst hit our neighborhood.  The storm only lasted a few minutes, but the damage was incredible: trees had been yanked from the ground, or viciously twisted so their trunks cracked, or both.  And a transformer down the street blew out, leaving us in the dark for 36 hours.  At first, it was kind of like camping.  We have a gas stove, so we could still cook (although the Microwave Queen here had to reacquaint herself with the joys of stovetop cooking) and heat water for washing dishes.  I bought ice and used the freezer compartment of the fridge as a cooler.  And we had plenty of candles.  But I've gotta tell you, 36 hours without power is pushing it.  The elevators were out, which was a problem.  The A/C was also out, which was a bigger problem.  I've never been so grateful to hear Bubba come on as when our service was restored.

Fast-forward now to our latest trauma.  I got up yesterday morning and turned on the bathroom faucet.  Nothing happened.  Hunh, I said to myself, and tried the kitchen faucet.  Same result.  Then I looked out the window.  There, on the other side of Bubba, stood a couple of our maintenance guys, staring at the hillside where our property slopes down to the adjoining apartment complex.  The area behind them looked for all the world like a river delta.  Ah, I deduced, we've had a water pipe break.

Little backhoe. Big mess. Bubba in the foreground. (Thanks, Amy!)
Since then, a little backhoe has been energetically making large piles of dirt, and workers have been going up and down ladders into the resulting hole.  Night and day, rain or shine, these guys have been at it, displaying dogged persistence.  I have every confidence that we will eventually have water again.  But right now, we're past the 36-hour mark, and it's getting kind of old.

In addition, Kitty and Suzu stayed the night last night after attending Katsucon (a local anime convention) with Amy.  Four women in an apartment with just one bathroom is already pushing it, but having no running water made things...interesting.  (Actually, it might have helped; we didn't need to negotiate who got the shower first.)

Today, I emptied the dishwasher and did all the dishes by hand.  I used to like doing dishes by hand.  No, really.  There's something calming about the warm water, the repetitive motion, the chance to let your mind wander.  Today, however, I had to heat the water, rig up a rinse basin, keep an eye on how much clean water I had left, and so on.  I never got to the Zen state.  I was disappointed.  Although there was something satisfying about having all the dishes clean, dry, and put away at the end of it.

This is supposed to be a writing blog, of course, and not a "Lynne is a whinypants" blog, so I'm trying to figure out a writing connection.  Hmm.  How about this:  The process of writing is kind of like washing dishes by hand.  Some days, you can easily find the Zen state, where the ideas are clicking and the words just flow.  Other days, you have to spend too much time on the mechanics to be able to relax.  But with dogged persistence, eventually you'll reach your goal.  (I grant you, it's lame, but it's the best I can do without a shower.)

One last thing:  my post on "love of language" is up today at the "For the Love of Love" event on Terri Giuliano Long's blog.  Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Love of languages, or: how many ways can you say, "Huh?"

In our news segment, an update and a couple of new things.
  1. The date for my guest post on Ritesh's blog has changed.  He's going to post it today (so, maybe tomorrow -- he's in India.)  The address, in case you've forgotten, is  
  2. Word is getting out about SwanSong!  It's now listed with other works by indie authors at
  3. The thing I cryptically referred to last week is a go.  I'm participating in an event called "For the Love of Love" at Terri Giuliano Long's blog.  My piece will be posted on Feb. 20, although the event starts on Valentine's Day.
That brings us to this week's post, which started with my ruminating on what to write about for "For the Love of Love".  My first thought was that it was a good thing the organizer didn't ask me to talk about relationship-type love, since I suck pretty badly at that.  Instead, she asked me to write about the love of language; now that, I thought happily, I can do.

I mentioned the topic to my daughter Amy, and she reminded me that our family has a love of language -- or perhaps more precisely, a love of languages.  And she's right.  We have the ability to annoy each other in at least seven languages, although we tend to stick to three or four.

I studied Spanish, off and on, starting in the third grade, and minored in it in college.  I wouldn't say I'm fluent, but I was able to get by during a week-long solo trip to Spain in 2008.  In addition, a few years ago I started learning Czech, mainly because my maternal grandparents emigrated from Czechoslovakia, but also in preparation for a trip to the Czech Republic that I have yet to take.  (One of these days, I swears it.) 

Amy took Spanish in high school and college.  She also took a semester of Japanese in college.  And she knows a little bit of Italian, thanks to a college choir trip to Venice a couple of years ago, and a smattering of French that she picked up from high school and college friends who were studying it.

Amy's older sister Kitty took a couple of years of Latin in high school and about two and a half semesters of college Japanese.  She also took a semester of German in college.  She went on the same college choir trip to Venice that Amy did, so she knows a few phrases of Italian as well.  And she has picked up more Spanish than she ever wanted to know from Amy and me.  Besides that, she collects foreign language dictionaries; besides the dictionaries she's had to buy for various classes, I know for sure she has a Gaelic/English dictionary that she bought in Ireland on a different college choir trip.  (Ireland is another country I'm going to visit someday, I swears it.)

(To add to the fun, Kitty's girlfriend Suzu spent a year studying in Japan while she was in college.  And she took French in high school.)

So a typical conversation at our house might go like this:

"Kitty?" I say.
"Nani?" she asks (which means "What?" in Japanese).
"No comprendo (I don't understand)," I say.
"Baka (stupid)!" she cries.
"¿Cómo?" I ask.  ("How?" in Spanish.)
"¿Qué?" Amy asks.  ("What?" in Spanish.)
"Co?" I ask.  ("What?" in Czech.)
"¿En inglés?" Kitty says, eyebrows waggling threateningly.  (Which means: "Tell me, in English, what you just said, or I'm going to kill you.")

Isn't is great how we all understand one another?  

P.S.  Happy Valentine's Day, girls!  Love, Mom

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Forgiveness or gratitude: which is better?

First, the commercials:  In case you missed it, I was interviewed yesterday on The Indie Exchange.  If you haven't seen it yet, feel free to stop by.  I don't think I said anything too stupid.

Also, I've written a guest blog post for Ritesh Kala's blog.  If all goes well, my post should go up on Thursday.  But feel free to check out his blog sooner; he's got some great material there.

In addition to all that, I've got another guest blogging spot in the works, but it's not nailed down yet.  I'll let you know details when it's finalized.

Now then.

I finally got around to watching "That Thing You Do!" this weekend.  (Ah, Netflix, you bring me so many movies I missed back in the day....)  If you haven't seen it, I recommend it, especially if you have any memory at all of mid-1960s rock and roll.  Tom Everett Scott plays a drummer who's recruited into a hometown band when the band's original drummer breaks his arm right before a big talent show.  The beat the new guy lays down catapults the band to stardom, and as you might expect, it's not all moonlight and roses for our naive quartet.  But toward the end of the movie, the lead singer's girlfriend (played by Liv Tyler) turns to the drummer and says, "You know, none of this would have happened if you hadn't joined the band.  And I mean that in a good way."  After everything that's happened to them, she's grateful to him.

We hear a lot about how forgiveness is critical to our development as fully integrated human beings.  We're told we should forgive those who have wronged us -- not because it will help them, but because it will help us.  Carrying a grudge allows the wound to fester instead of heal.  Pretty soon we find that we've handed over so much space in our heads to the person who wronged us that anger has become our daily companion.  It poisons our interactions with others and causes us extra stress, thereby shortening our lifespans.

But we're also told that forgiving doesn't mean forgetting, and it doesn't mean that we need to let the person continue to wrong us.  You don't have to forgive the person's actions, we're told; but you can forgive him or her for being a fallible human being who makes mistakes, who couldn't help him/herself when he/she wronged you, or who thought he/she was truly doing what he/she thought was best at the time.  Forgiveness, in this sense, lets you protect yourself against similar violations in the future while allowing you to let go of the anger that's poisoning you.

I've never been sold on this. Oh, I believe that carrying a grudge is bad for you, and that it's a mistake to let someone you're angry at take up permanent residence in your head (which doesn't mean I haven't done it...).  But it seems to me that focusing on forgiveness encourages a bitter denouement:  "I forgive you for being such a JERK."  Or, "I forgive you, but I will never forget" -- delivered with teary defiance.

The whole concept just seems needlessly complex.  What if, instead, we operated from the assumption that everything that happens to us is necessary for our growth as human beings?  Then the person who wronged us simply becomes the vehicle for delivering a lesson we have yet to master.  There is no reason to be angry -- he or she is just doing what he/she is supposed to do.  We might be angry in the moment, of course, and we might be bitter about having to learn the lesson.  But our anger is directed at the situation instead of at the person, who very likely was simply doing what he/she thought was best at the time.  And it's much harder to nurse a grudge against a situation, so the anger is likely to pass more quickly.

In SwanSong, Neeve eventually realizes that if Eva hadn't tried to turn her brothers and her into swans, their lives would have turned out very differently -- and they may not have been as satisfying.  She finds, at last, that she's grateful to Eva, and that gratitude allows her to find peace.

What do you think?  Feel free to post a comment below -- or, if you can't get the comment box to work, then let me know on Facebook.

In any case, I hope you can approach your life's challenges this week with gratitude.  And I mean that in a good way.