Thursday, September 27, 2007

Putting Today’s Youth in Context

I stumbled upon this terrific website the other day: It’s dedicated to exposing the rather hysterical stereotypes and doom and gloom predictions today’s “experts” and media propagate about today’s youth.

They take the very statistics used to paint today’s generation of kids as troubled or lacking, and show how they prove just the opposite, especially when compared to their baby boomer parents. For the truth is, today’s kids are much more likely to have a drug using, alcohol abusing, or suicidal adult in their life than they are to commit such acts themselves. And while losing even one kid to those influences is too many, it’s important to see them as they really are, which is living in families and communities where these behaviors are modeled by the adults around them. Still a tragedy, but not one of their making. And if we have any hope of addressing their behavior, we have to truly understand the root causes.

It’s a fascinating read of the statistics and a good tool for setting the record straight on today’s youth. Check it out!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Can Writing Be Taught?

I recently attended a conference where a number of the faculty was wont to proclaim that writing couldn’t be taught.

Which made me want to stop and ask them what then were they doing there, not teaching us?

Frankly, I think that is poppycock. Good craft can absolutely be taught. I know because I’ve had some amazing teachers who’ve managed to drum craft concepts into my rather thick head.

While writing is an art form, it is also a craft. In fact, this is true of most creative endeavors. Most people have to labor lovingly at their craft for years and years before producing art. The key word being “lovingly” because the truth is, when done lovingly, it doesn’t much feel like labor at all.

Once craft has been mastered, it’s a matter of tweaking and experimenting to find which type of stories coaxes your voice to life on the page. Which magical combination of plot and character, setting and theme will make your craft spark and turn into art.

Can someone teach you how to jump start that sparking to life on the page? No. However, they can teach you the differences in point of view, what you gain and lose by choosing each one, what the restrictions and benefits of each choice is. They can show you different ways to plot, from highly structured plots to organic plots and how to build those from the deepest level of your character. You also be taught how to analyze your language use, look for your own rhythm, pace and flow, how to use metaphor and simile to best advantage, techniques for showing rather than telling.

In short all the tools you need to write can be taught. Just as grammar and spelling and punctuation were taught to you in elementary school.

And many, many writers started off with no spark of inherent talent. But by learning and practicing their craft, they planted a little seed, from which their talent later grew.

But as with all truly important things, you are the one that has to do the heavy lifting. Yes, others can teach you the craft and how to discipline yourself and the inner workings of publishing, but you’re the one who has to plant your butt in the chair regularly and practice, take that emotional leap and put yourself, your ideas, your fears, and your hopes for humanity on the page.

So while writing can be taught, the passion and persistence you need to pursue that dream cannot. You have to find that on your own.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Demon Oreo

While Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos is most definitely fiction, her demonized cat is not. No, Isis after her brush with black magic is based on my own cat, Oreo. Now I realize that Oreo doesn’t sound much like a demon name, and frankly, if we’d understood just how ferocious and fickle she could be, we would have named her Lucifer or Mephistopheles or even Destructo Force (hey, don’t laugh, one of our kittens a long while back was named Black Ninja of Death by our then six and nine year old sons.)

She looked innocent enough as a kitten, until she began attacking our second kitten, who was a slightly overbred longhair who was sweeter-than-sweet, but dumb as a box of rocks and had no instincts on how to defend himself.

Luckily, our Jack Russell Terrier had a valiant nature and often stepped in and herded Oreo away from Peabody whenever things seemed too unfair.

Oreo has the softest fur I’ve ever experienced in a cat. It has the silky density of rabbit fur. And she can be very lovey dovey, liking to cuddle as much as any cat.

It’s just that one must always be on guard while cuddling because if she decides you aren’t petting her fast enough or hard enough or perhaps you happened to remove your attention from her for just one second, then Yeow! She shreds you with her claws. So we pet her at our own risk.

In her Devourer guise, she is a mighty huntress, catching rats and gophers and ground squirrels daily, even at eleven years old.

Her favorite indoor prey is cubes of butter. Yes, like you spread on toast. Woe to us if we leave the top off the butter dish, because she will sense it immediately, hop up onto the kitchen counter, and lick the butter to death with her rough little tongue. We have lost many butter cubes this way.

I know many people don’t let their cats outside, and frankly, I’m perplexed as to how they manage that. Demon Oreo insists on it. In fact, if we don’t let her outside fast enough, she’ll punch right through the screen and let herself out.

She’s equally determined when she wants back in, often leaping up on our bedroom screen at 3:00 in the morning and giving us a heart attack. Needless to say, we let her in immediately.

Her favorite torment of our dog is to eat his dogfood, just to make him jealous. It works every time. As soon as he sees her eating out of his bowl, he turns into Starving Dog and acts like he hasn’t eaten in weeks, even though he just walked by the bowl and ignored the kibble in there.

So for those of you who are curious as to where I get my ideas for the things in my books, this is one example of stealing straight from real life.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Going, Going, GONE!

I’ve just finished up Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris (TATSOO) and am hours away from hitting the send button and emailing it to my editor.

I am also mere hours away from driving my youngest son off to college, which I guess means I’ve reached the home stretch on him as well. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than hitting the send button, as there are scads of things to be packed and organized and washed.

One of the most annoying parts of my writing process is how I can adore a mss, love it, think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written right up until the moment I have to hand it over to my agent or editor. In the blink of an eye, it suddenly feels like trite drivel that is an affront to readers everywhere.

Luckily, I don’t feel that way about my sons. All the while I’ve been working on them, I’ve adored them, loved them, and thought they were the best thing I’ve ever done.

I’m pretty sure that at least, won’t evaporate when I send them on their way.