Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow, and I am ready.  This will be my third official NaNoWriMo, but my fourth time to write 50,000 words in only a month. The first year I tried this I was so inspired that I did it again the following February.

This year I'm cheating a little bit. Instead of starting a new novel, I'm using this NaNoWriMo to finish the second draft of my first novel.  I have other ideas that I'm excited to try, but first I need to get this one behind me.

I am excited and a little worried this year.  Just because I've done it before, doesn't mean I can do it again, and the possibility of failure is always hard for me to face.  Still, I have good ideas about this version of the novel and I think I can finally get a rough draft I can be proud of.  Then the rewriting will begin.

If you've ever thought of writing, but don't know if you can do it, try NaNoWriMo.  The energy is contagious and the challenge helps keep you motivated. At least, it did for me. Let's just hope it does it again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Animal Psychology

Long before Eddie Murphy set out to destroy every classic children's film through the power of potty humor, there was a charming movie starring Rex Harrison.  As Doctor Doolittle, he wore a top hat and tails and he could talk to the animals, learn their languages.  I wanted to be just like him, without the top hat and tails.

Like Doctor Doolittle, I never paid much attention to the people around me, but animals fascinated me. At the time, stories like his were rare, although I found a few scattered books with similar characters, and I read them over and over again.  I wanted to be able to talk to the animals. More importantly, I wanted them to talk to me.

The closest I came was in training my dogs. Obedience training was harsh and focused on punishment with little communication in the 80s. You told the dogs what to do and they did it, or else.

In college, I took a class on comparative psychology, but it taught animal behavior as a complex sequence of instinct and mechanical responses to stimuli.  I was told that animals don't have feelings and their thought processes were rudimentary at best. Even the smart animals like dolphins, elephants, and dogs were not really capable of true thought as we understood it.  There were a few scientists who claimed animals were more than just biological machines, but they were in the minority.

In the 90s I started hearing about this new book, Don't Shoot The Dog, by Karen Pryor, but about that time I had lost interest and was too busy with the internet to pay attention.  Over the years I heard about clicker training and have trained my Rat Terriers in classes that used clickers, but I still hadn't done much reading.  However, in the last few weeks I have read Kicked, Bitten and Scratched and What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage, both by Amy Sutherland, and Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor.  I've also reread Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.  I am delighted by the new way of looking at animals and seeing their potential.  Did you know, for instance, that rats laugh?

Maybe Doctor Doolittle is still fantasy, but, with the right training, we now have ways to talk to the animals and they can talk to us.  It is as if I suddenly learned you can sprout wings and fly, if you learn from the right teachers.  If I can swing it, I am going to go to ClickerExpo in March.  The best part? Your dogs are not only allowed, they're encouraged.

Gotta go, the dogs have something to tell me. Chances are it involves food and/or toys, but that's ok. That's what I like to talk about, too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Taking it Easy

One of the downsides to going to the doctor is he gave me a hard time about my blood pressure and said I was overdoing it on the cold medicine.  So, I am trying to do without, and it's hard! I hadn't realized how bad my symptoms were because I've been  masking them with Dayquil and Sudafed during the day and Nyquil and Zyrtec at night.  Without them, I don't think it would have taken me so long to get in to see the doctor.  Now I've cut back to just Nyquil at night and trying to tough it out during the day. Without something at night, I can't use my CPAP and without the CPAP I don't sleep, so that's not really optional.

Unfortunately, I now feel worse than I did before I saw the doctor. I called in sick to work today, and if I didn't have so much work waiting for me, I would probably call in again tomorrow.

I have spent the last two days doing nothing except for watch TV, play computer games and eat comfort food.  It sounds great, except it brings back bad memories of the weeks I spent housebound with a broken leg earlier this year.  I found myself twisting my leg around and back and forth, just to be sure it wasn't still broken.  It's going to be a long time before I will be able to enjoy this kind of laziness again.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sinus Infection

After being sick for more than 4 weeks, I finally went in to see the doctor. I have a sinus infection, which I kind of knew going in.  With antibiotics and steroid nasal sprays I'll be better in no time.

He also gave me a referral to a physical therapist. The muscles along my neck and shoulders are so tight that my left arm goes to sleep if I turn my head a certain way.  If I try to lower my chin to my chest I can feel the pain all the way down to my fingers.  It will be interesting to see how this PT works.

Maybe I can talk to them about my leg while I'm in there.  My limp isn't going away and I still struggle with stairs. The hot orthopedic doctor said it would get better on its own, but he also acted like it was no big deal if it didn't. After all, an old fat chick can't expect to be able to walk without pain, right?  I never got PT when I tore the ligament in that leg 30 years ago and my left foot still turns out to the side when I walk.  I really don't want to add another problem to that same leg if I can help it. 

The good news is that I like this new doctor a lot. He's very Jewish and intuitive. It was almost as if he read my mind.  I asked the clinic to make him my primary doctor since my last one is out on maternity leave.  Besides, I got a weird vibe off of her the last time. Maybe it was pregnancy hormones or maybe she doesn't approve of my weight gain.  Either way, I like the new guy a lot better.  Well, as much as I like any doctor, anyway.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Realistic Expectations

When people at work hear that I've written a book, or that I've got one in the works, they always ask something like, "When are you going to be rich and famous?"  Now, I'll admit, that when I was younger I just assumed that someday I would write books and be a famous author.  Of course, I didn't actually write anything, I just figured I'd start writing when I grew up.

I guess it took me longer than usual to grow up because I didn't start writing until my late 30s and it wasn't until a few years ago that I wrote my first novel.  Once I started writing, I also started to hear from the doom and gloom crew.  Like most beginning writers, I had no idea how tough it is to get published.  It didn't take me long to start hearing horror stories about that. What took me even longer to realize is how rare it is to sell well even if you do manage to get published. For a long time I just assumed that if your book was published, you were successful.  Over the last ten years I have begun to realize that my odds of getting published are about as good as my odds of marrying prince charming and, if I want to be rich and/or famous, I'd be better off buying a lottery ticket.

There was a time when, if you wanted to be a writer, you had to actually write, longhand. Then, about the time  Mark Twain was writing about runaway slaves on the Mississippi, you could pound out your prose on a typewriter, if you could afford one.

Computers, as they tend to do, changed everything about the writing biz.

I was a senior in high school when we got our first computer, it had a word processing program on it.  However, I lost interest in it pretty quickly because we had no printer.  This was in 1979, and even though email had been introduced 8 years before, it would be a couple of decades before I had access to it.  What was the point of writing something you couldn't share, and you didn't have room on the 48kb memory to store it anyway?

Jump ahead thirty years and at least 75% of Americans have access to the internet, and word processing is so much a part of our routine that it's hard to remember a time when it was a novelty.  What does this mean to publishing your novel?

Remember the old saw about monkeys typing and Shakespeare? That's what is going on in basements and back rooms all over the world right now. Any idiot with a computer can imagine herself a writer, and programs like NaNoWriMo feed the flames.  Now, I'm not knocking NaNo, I love it, and I'm participating for the third time this year.

The problem is that more people are writing than ever before in the history of the world. It's remotely possible that there are more aspiring writers in the world at this moment than in the entire combined history of the world combined.  (If you do the math and I'm wrong about this, I'm not surprised.) At the same time, people are reading less, buying fewer books and the pressures on publishers are increasing every year.

What happens when you have more supply and less demand?  I don't remember a lot of my economics classes, but I think it goes something like... the supplier gets screwed.  In this case, it's the writer.  Sure, the J.K. Rowlings, John Grishams and Stephen Kings of the world can still sell books, and every year some lucky schlub breaks out with a debut novel. But that's not the norm, and it's not likely to happen to me.

I'm not a bad writer, but there it is. Even if I were a better fantasy novelist than Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings and Mercedes Lackey combined, my chances of success are slim to none.

So, what do you do?  Do you put your head down, ignore the realities and dream of success?  Do you give up on writing completely? Do you go the self-publishing route and pump yet another unedited mess into an already over-saturated market?  Sure, any of the above and more. You might beat the odds. 

Or, your books... my books... could sit on a hard drive, unread by anyone but my most patient friends and family.  Will the world be richer because you've written your novel even if no one reads it? I think so. If you paint a painting and only the visitors to your home enjoy it, is that a failure? If you fill a scrapbook with beautiful pages using the best techniques of the art and no one looks at it but you and your loved ones, would you consider that a failure?

Writing is an art.  Yes, it would be fun to share my words with millions of people. But, like every other art, the act of creation is just as important as the audience.  If I am the only one to read what I write, it is still worth the effort.

On the other hand... wanna read my book? :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rats

A couple of days after my birthday in September I got a pet rat.  He's white with beige markings and a crescent moon in the middle of his forehead.  Two weeks later I went back and bought his brother, a more typical Halloween rat with a brown gray coat and white markings on his tummy.  The first one is named Zyklus for the rat in my novel-in-progress. Zyklus is German for cycle, which is in turn a name given in honor of my Rat Terrier, Harley.


The second rat is named Viktor, either short for Victory Motorcycles or Viktor Von Frankenstein, depending on my mood.

I was warned against having rats and Rat Terriers in the same household, but it's worked out amazingly well. Scooter is my younger Rat Terrier; her name is also inspired by Harley's. Do you sense a theme?  She treats the rats like her own baby puppies.  Harley, on the other hand, views them somewhere between a baby and a wind up toy.  I trust Scooter with them 100%.  She washes them, cleans up after them and guards them from Harley.  Harley isn't left alone with the, but I don't think he'd do anything to them.  I just don't take any chances.

The funny part for me is the incredulous attitudes I encounter from most people when they hear I have rats.  You would think I was raising pit vipers and disease-ridden roaches.  Ok, that's not fair, there are probably people out there who adore pit vipers and roaches.  The difference is that pet rats are wonderful pets.  They are smart, clean, affectionate animals who bear no resemblance to the horrible creatures you see in movies. I love having them climb on and around me while I'm on the computer. They also love to wander around on the couch while I'm reading or playing Wii.

I swore I would never own another caged animal after the birds and bunny fiascos.I confess that a large part of the attraction was the fact that a rat is my favorite character in my book, but I'm glad I got them. They are entertaining and fun and I just feel sad that so many people won't give them a chance.

All of which brings me to what happened today.

I found a rat at Michaels made out of styrofoam and fake fur.  It is much uglier than the real thing, but still looks pretty realistic.  I bought one and took it to work today.  When my coworker called me to say she was coming over to talk to me about something. I held it like I would my real rat and was petting it as she came around the corner.  (Of course they have heard all about my new pets.)  She screamed and ran back to the desk.  She refused to come back over to see me until I convinced her it wasn't real.  She wouldn't even touch it.  Imagine how grossed out she would be by the real things.

There is no accounting for tastes.  I'll guess I'll keep my rats at home where they are safe from the prejudices and unfair stereotyping in the wider world.  Poor little things.  Now... who else can I spring this fake one on....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gratitude

Sometimes I can be a little negative, but it occurs to me that I have a lot for which I can be grateful, too.  In no particular order, here are a few...

My parents are supportive, funny, loving people who go out of their way to bring joy into my life. Six years ago I moved all the way across country just to be near them, and I've never once had reason to regret it.  We have had more fun together than I had hoped for and I truly can't imagine my life without them in it.

My health, although not perfect, is good.  It would be even better if I ate right and moved more than my fingers on a keyboard, but I am mostly disease-free and have no broken bones at the moment. After going through cancer several years ago and worrying about my sister's current situation, this is not something I take for granted.  Nor do I forget that I spent the first half of this year on crutches and in a cast with a broken leg that would not heal.  Although my limp is not completely gone, I no longer need a cane, let alone a wheelchair.

My home is small by some standards, but watch even a single episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition and you learn to appreciate a home with no major flaws not to mention extra room for the extra stuff you don't need anyway.  I lived for more than 15 years in a rental with structural damage, no landscaping not provided by the dogs and a neighborhood crumbling faster than the house's foundation.  I love my home, and am grateful for it every day.


I will never be a mother, but I have been blessed with a love for animals that compensates in no small way for the children I can't have.  Harley is the smartest dog I've ever known, Scooter the most loving and Maverick the most patient.  Through the years I have had so many beloved dogs, and the current ones may be the best yet.  I can't wait to see who I get to love next.  The rats aren't half bad either.

I have a stable job that I enjoy with people I respect.  I get to play with computers and ideas and sometimes I get to share my small skills where it really matters.  Guide Dogs of America, I'm thinking of you.

I could go on like this all night.  Just listing the forms of entertainment that we have available that weren't even dreamed of by the greatest Kings and Czars of the past would take me all night.  Books by the hundreds, movies, TV, the internet... the list is endless.  I could talk about the good fortune I have to be born into this time, in this place, with the knowledge and light we have in the world.  I could talk about my church, my friends, my music, but I'll leave those for another time.

They say, count your many blessings, but right now I think I will go play a couple of songs on the piano (there's another one) sink into my queen-size waterbed (one of the better ones) and snuggle with my dogs (have I mentioned them) and see what blessings tomorrow brings.  Remind me of this next time I get grumpy, ok? I forget sometimes, just how blessed I am.