Monday, November 30, 2015

Alaska

In October, I traveled to Alaska to stay with some friends. I was a week in Anchorage, a week on Kodiak Island, and made a brief stop in Portland on my way back to my own bit of California.

I'd never been to Alaska before, but had heard enough stories from my friends that I'd formed a pretty solid image of snowy wasteland and turbulent seas populated with almost mythical beasts.

I didn't find a wasteland or mythical beasts. Though I did see a lot of bald eagles and there was a moment when my boyfriend--N--and I were driving through the mountains when he turned on the radio and the only thing playing was static. What I did find was a rich and varied land far more magnificent and strange than I'd anticipated.

One of my favorite parts of the whole trip was the day that we took the approximately five hour drive from Anchorage to Homer. Half the drive was through snowy, rugged mountains that rose abruptly on either side of the road. The other half was through strangely flat swamp populated mostly by what appeared to be very stunted conifers, but might have been some exotic, northern swamp plant I couldn't put a name to.

I almost felt like I'd seen it all before.

Not because of pictures or ordinary deja vu, though, but because I had imagined a similar setting for a story I have yet to finish writing. Similar, I said, but not the same. I could never have imagined mountains that abrupt or the strangeness of the misty, alien swampland. As soon as I saw them, my unwritten story gained a foundation of truth that hadn't been there before.

Fiction and reality are inextricably linked for me. I filter my experience of the real world through the stories I have read, and judge the stories with the practicality of the real world. Despite their close relationship, though, fancy and everyday world are usually no more than distant reflections of one another. Unfortunately for imaginative souls like myself, we can't expect the world to conform to storybook rules.

Yet, now and then, I stumble across a wonderful moment like this where the two seem to converge. Suddenly, the fairy tale is real and the real world is far more beautiful than I usually give it credit for.


snowy mountains and shoreline outside Anchorage, Alaska
Mountains on the way out of Anchorage


Giant red and green cabbages in Homer, Alaska
Giant cabbages in Homer, AK


me taking photographing snowy mountains somewhere between Anchorage and Homer, Alaska
Me, taking a picture of mountains somewhere between Anchorage and Homer
Photo courtesy of N


smoked salmon flavored vodka in Safeway on Kodiak Island, Alaska
Only in Alaska


beautiful sunrise over Kodiak Island, Alaska
Sunrise on Kodiak


fishing boats in the St. Herman Harbor on Kodiak Island, Alaska
A gray day in the harbor


The view from the top of Pillar Mountain on Kodiak Island, Alaska
The view from the top of Pillar Mountain on Kodiak Island


Moss and lichen growing on a tree in a forest on an island near Kodiak, Alaska
Crazy, vibrant moss on a small island near Kodiak


Abandoned outbuildings in the amazing moss forest


Shakmanof Point at sunset from on the water
On N's skiff near Shakmanof Point

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Recent Shakespeare Favo(u)rites

Poetry round-up with Susan returns!  A little different from last time:  I don't have these memorized, and we're exclusively Shakespeare-themed today, but this is some of the poetry I've been loving lately:



Selections from Shakespeare's Richard III 

I follow @IAM_SHAKESPEARE on Twitter, which is probably my favorite bot on the internet.  Are all the bots in your life trying to spam you?  Well, then, it's time to acquaint yourself with the Twitter account that has been programmed to continuously tweet all of Shakespeare's plays (and maybe his sonnets??) at the rate of one line every ten minutes.  Delightful thing, really.  The other day it was catching my eye and I discovered we were in the middle of Richard III's amazing monologue from the eponymous play: 

O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!
The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? myself? there's none else by:
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O, no! alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.

(Act V, Scene 2)

(Bolded emphasis added by me, of course.  That is the part that made me turn my head and say, "That is no mere mortal tweeting!") 

If you haven't acquainted yourself with Shakespeare's deliciously diabolical Richard, you should.  Here, do it now.  You don't even have to move. 


Sonnet 154

More Shakespeare (surprise!):  the last sonnet in his sonnet cycle.  I remember reading this when I was a young teenager and thinking it was pretty but having not the faintest mumbling of a clue what it was about.  Now I have the (over)confidence to say I understand it completely.  These moments of noticing the effects of a liberal education are sweet.

But seriously, this poem is a beautiful, important thing.  

154.
The little Love-god lying once asleep
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vow'd chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warm'd;
And so the general of hot desire was sleeping by a virgin hand disarm'd.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by, [<--notice how the rhythm slows down here! the fire is cooling! *ahem* carry on...]
Which from Love's fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men diseased; but I, my mistress' thrall,
Came there for cure, and this by that I prove,
Love's fire heats water, water cools not love. 


Greetings from Susan and the Bard....


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Celestial Seasonings

Writing is slow and unexciting to the outside world right now.  So let's talk about something else.

An outrage.

An outrage committed in the name of progress-for-the-sake-of-progress--one of my favorite kinds of outrage to be outraged about.


So here it is:  Celestial Seasonings is CHANGING THEIR PACKAGING.


I like a lot of their tea.  They're at their best in the herbals.  I might even continue to consume Bengal Spice after this change.  But the packaging is really what makes this brand fun.  It's what makes trying new flavors fun.  And...  Well just look at this:


Old packaging:  White-tailed deer look on in wonder as preternaturally large peppermint candies come white water rafting down the river that flows from majestic pine-spotted mountains. 


New packaging:  Oh.  Ecchh.  Um.  I'm remembering that I actually like Twinings Peppermint better.  A LOT better. 


Old packaging:   AMERICA AT ITS LEAST UGLY.  HURRAH.  This tea tastes like freedom and nature (and, kind of, if you try really hard, coffee). 


 New packaging:  "Crud.  Just realized our old packaging was all about the landscapes.  But we're supposed to take out the landscapes and superimpose something from the old design on an icky shade of grey-beige, so here goes..." 


A group example:  

Old packaging:  We are in Santa's Workshop.  The tea tastes like peppermint and the kind of magical joy that can only be had when grinning polar bears are drinking from teacups. 


Old packaging:  LOOK LOOK LOOK THERE ARE BUFFALO IN THE CLOUDS LOOK.  This one's honestly just beautiful.  My little brother said he would buy a poster of it, and he hates most decorations.  


New packaging:  "Here is a complimentary mug.  We hope it will make up for the pain this causes your eyes."

Candy Cane Lane:  Why are there grinning polar bears???????!!!!!????  This is scary.  :'(

Morning Thunder:  Oh, look, a boring buffalo.  In front of a few totally fake and boring clouds.  



My personal favorite, also watered down...





And one more...  The cozy lion and his teacup get cut entirely.  </3





The tea is tasty.  My favorite flavors are Bengal Spice, Tension Tamer, their "smooth" greens, and the Sleepytime varieties.  (Thankfully, the new packaging did not obliterate Celestial Seasonings' unfailing and inexplicable association of bedtime with bears.)  

We'll see how much I end up consuming after this change, though.  Right now, I'm predicting Bengal Spice will endure in my cupboard and nothing else.

And now, since everything is a writing analogy if you try hard enough:  As I've been gutting and totally rewriting a novel, I've found myself hoping I don't get rid of good stuff.  The things that were my beta readers' absolute favorites.  The things that made me want to write this story.

My solution to this worry?  I pay attention to these things.  I've thought hard about what made me, and others, love the characters (etc.), and I try to be faithful to that--not for the sake of keeping things the same, but rather for the sake of making them even more lovable and admirable and great to spend time with when this draft is done. 

I also try to have a good handle on what is the central good thing I'm offering.  For Celestial Seasonings, it's the tea, so the packaging is ancillary.  For me, it's a good story, so this or that fun/quirky scene is (sigh) not always essential. 

Looking ahead, it appears that this problem faces a writer every time they write a new book.  Unless you find a way to successfully write the same story over and over again (which happens, but that doesn't sound very fun or worthwhile to me), you're going to have to try new things.  And trying new things means that old things change.

So, this is the risk we take.  For Celestial Seasonings, I may be the customer who got away.  I think the best we can hope, as tea merchants or writers or whatever we may be, is that those who leave are few, and those who like the new look are many. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Link Round-Up

I collect links the way I collect books. That being: a little obsessively. I thought I would share a few of the ones that caught my eye this week.

Medieval Recipes in Translation
Learn how to make "Cripels" in both Middle and Modern English. Look for an upcoming recipe post regarding these lovely-sounding, honey-covered dainties.

Fifteen Ways to Write a Novel
This caught my eye because my first reaction to the title was sort of "Huh, isn't there really only one way to write a novel? Kind of one word after another?" While the article does not answer the eternal question of How You Actually Write a Novel, it does have some good advice on getting work done on any given day.

A Small and Very Polite Rant about the Importance of Writers to the World
Apparently the Australian government is considering (already has?) cut funding that was previously designated for writers' grants. While this is somewhat politically irrelevant to me, I like what the author has to say about the writer's place in society.
  
Six Things Not to Do when Writing about Forests
There is a forest in my novel. I don't spend a whole bunch of time in forests. A reality check was needed. 

And an autumnal picture, just for good measure:

a bottle of apple cider and a bag of sugar donuts
This is just what I'm craving right now.
Do other places besides Michigan do cider and doughnuts for fall?

Happy Friday, blog-friends!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Change of Residence

Hear ye! Hear ye! Great news!

Since you probably haven't noticed, I thought I would just tell you that we are no longer impoverished squatters living in the (very nice and very free) .blogspot.com tent city Google and Blogger kindly set up and invited us to stay in for as long as we liked.

We were quite comfortable there, but I decided it was time for a change and dragged a tired Susan along with me. We have now completed our move up the street to the edge of the city proper and are in possession of a wonderful, very real street address of our very own.

Callers and visitors are welcome at all times (especially if they bring food) and can now find us at:


Don't worry if you type the old address by mistake. The friendly googlebots will redirect you to our new home.




Monday, August 24, 2015

Some Days are Rough

What follows is the transcript of a Facebook conversation Susan and I had sometime last week.
 
&&&&

10:17am

Susan Francino

Damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn. Novel. Dammit.

10:18am

Tyler-Rose Counts

Yeah
I've changed about two words in the last half hour
and it wasn't because the thing is perfect
more like I was petrified by its sudden overwhelming awfulness

10:20am

Susan Francino:

UGH i was hoping you were in the mood to talk me off a ledge.
I guess We'll just stare over it together.

10:20am

Tyler-Rose Counts:

NOPE

10:20am

Susan Francino

DAMMIT
The only comforting thought i have right now is that I REALLY THINK a huge part of my problem at this moment is that my routine has been exploded, repeatedly, for days on end, and THAT HAS TO STOP.

10:22am

Tyler-Rose Counts

EMPHATIC NOPE


10:22am

Susan Francino

bUT I'M GOING TO SEE KATE
AND OF COURSE I WANT TO DO THAT

10:22am

Tyler-Rose Counts

Kate?

10:22am

Susan Francino

BUT IT'S NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NO TNO TNO T NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTTTTTT
KATIE.
SORENSEN. (a.k.a. Katie the Roommate)
IT
S NOT

10:22am

Tyler-Rose Counts

AWWWW
 

10:22am

Susan Francino

a situation where
I need to take a break.
No no no no no no no
I have BEEN BREAKING.
BEEN TAKING A BREAK, THAT IS

10:23am

Tyler-Rose Counts

Sounds like maybe both
ME TOO

10:23am

Susan Francino

AND if I take a break much longer, it will break me.
exactly.

10:23am

Tyler-Rose Counts

*WEEP*

10:23am

Susan Francino

SOBBBBB

10:24am

Tyler-Rose Counts

it's all so BAD

10:24am

Susan Francino

I KNOW
And I know I'm getting better too but it's just SO HARD
AND IT TAKES SO LONG
AND IT'S ALSO IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL

10:24am

Tyler-Rose Counts

SO SO LONG
RIGHT

10:24am

Susan Francino

IF I'VE ACTUALLY GOTTEN THAT MUCH BETTER

10:25am

Tyler-Rose Counts

ONLY FIRM BELIEF IN SELF
WHICH IS NEVER FIRM

10:25am

Susan Francino

BUT I KNOW I HAVE, BUT -- RIGHT
RIGHT

10:25am

Tyler-Rose Counts

YOU HAVE THOUGH

10:25am

Susan Francino

THANKS

10:25am

Tyler-Rose Counts

I KNOW THAT
YOU'RE WELCOME
 

10:25am

Susan Francino

*INTERNAL SOBBING*

10:25am

Tyler-Rose Counts

*EXTERNAL SOBBING*
 

10:25am

Susan Francino

OOOHHHHHHHHH
*TOTALLY INADEQUATE INTERNET HUG*

10:26am

Tyler-Rose Counts

*TIRED HEADDESK*
 

10:26am

Susan Francino

So I'm sitting here with this scene I have LITERALLY WRITTEN -- I DON'T HAVE TIME TO CHECK NOW--BUT I BET IT'S LITERALLY SEVEN TIMES
AND I CAN'T EVEN FIGURE OUT WHAT HAPPENS IN IT.
LIKE, HOW DO CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE?
CAN'T TELL?

10:27am

Tyler-Rose Counts

I think I'm writing a scene I've written five times

10:27am

Susan Francino

DAMN I BET I HAVE TO CUT IT
BUT I CAN'T BUT I CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHY
 

10:27am

Tyler-Rose Counts

DOES IT CONTAIN A MAGICAL COOKIE?

10:28am

Susan Francino

I THOUGHT IT HAD FIVE MILLION IN IT

10:28am

Tyler-Rose Counts

FIND THE COOOOKIES

10:28am

Susan Francino

FIND THE COOKIE.
THAT'S RIGHT.

10:28am

Tyler-Rose Counts

IDENTIFY THE COOKIES

10:28am

Susan Francino

FINDING.
LOOKING.
*SILENT SCREAMING*

10:29am

Tyler-Rose Counts

Can I write a blog post in which I just copy past this conversation?
*copy/paste
 

10:29am

Susan Francino

YES THAT'S FINE I THINK
YES
I AM EXCITED TO LEARN WHAT THAT MEANS
TYLER-ROSE, FINDING THE MAGICAL COOKIES IS HARD BECAUSE I GET AFRAID THAT I DON'T KNOW HOW TO ENJOY THINGS ANYMORE
WHICH IS SO NOT TRUE

10:31am

Tyler-Rose Counts

I THINK IT MIGHT BE FABULOUS
BUT DON"T THINK OF THAT, THINK OF COOKIES

&&&&

Critique partners save lives and manuscripts. Get one now. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

What do you mean, IF I finish my novel???

We here at The Feather and the Rose are by no means qualified to give the full gamut of publishing advice yet. 

But a few weeks ago we discovered that I had some things to say about how to tell people you're an aspiring writer.   

It can be tricky when people are hearing about your writing for the first time.

Has anyone ever said THIS to an aspiring writer?

But what about the opposite?  What about those people for whom asking about your writing, perhaps even in a very polite and non-obtrusive way, is getting repetitive?  What about the people who have watched you be an aspiring writer for YEARS?

I am thankful to report that in my experience, these people (probably because they know you well and hopefully love you at least a little) are rather nice about the whole thing.  You've really got to give them credit for not outright telling you you're crazy.

But they're only human, so they CAN occasionally spring an unpleasant little routine on you.  It goes like this:

"Let me know when you finish your book.  Okay, let's be honest, IF you finish your book."

"Are you EVER going to submit something?"

"You know you actually have to stop being a perfectionist and turn it in eventually, right?"


Because I have a soft spot for glaring quote misattributions...
and this is a misattribution wrapped in a whole other kind of special inattentiveness. 


Now, this is extra bad for me because I'm performing most of my learning curve on one novel.  So, even if I've literally rewritten the thing twice since the last time I saw someone, I still get to tell them I'm working on the same book.  (This method of learning the ropes can be done to great effect:  See various novelists who took a punishingly long time to write their first book, such as Patrick Rothfuss.  Here's hoping I don't take that long.....  Uuuugghhhh....) 

Maybe I should just lie and tell them it's a new project.

NO.  LYING IS BAD.  WE'VE BEEN OVER THIS.


Whether you spend a long time on a single project or not, the process of learning to write publishable and even excellent fiction simply takes a lot longer than most people can fathom.  Especially if they don't get to see evidence of all the progress you're making!

So, some possible ways to react to the "You're never going to finish/make it/etc." routine:

Solution:  Throw your drink in their face.
Drawbacks:  Unless there's a lot going on that I don't know about, this is probably a gross overreaction.  Extremely rude. Waste of said drink.  Also you must have a drink to begin with. 
Benefits:  Nice and dramatic.  Cathartic, probably.  Splashy. 

Solution:  Try to explain to them why it's taking so long/that it often takes about this long for most people who attempt this/that you actually are making progress.
Drawbacks:  They may not care or even have the attention span for this explanation.  They might not believe you. 
Benefits:  This is what you would do if you actually wanted someone to be on the same page as you (no writing pun intended). 

Solution:  Actually show them some of your work, preferably over time so they can see improvement.
Drawbacks:  You have to show them your work.  Not everyone is cut out to be an alpha or beta reader.  Some people should not even be granted gamma status.  Fact of life.  (This is not even about you getting helpful feedback; this is about their relationship with you.) 
Benefits:  This might be the best way to inspire real confidence that you're not just frittering away your life doing nothing and being a deluded perfectionist who agonizes over word choice six hours a day.  (Do people actually do that?  Just wondering.)  I think Tyler-Rose has systematically given writing samples to people in her life and had good results. 


Solution:  Smile, laugh it off, and ignore them.
Drawback:  They might do it again.  Be ready.  Also, you have to really commit to ignoring them.  Like, don't just ignore them in the moment.  Ignore DEEPLY.  Recognize that they don't understand the situation and let it give you exactly zero bothers. 
Benefits:  This is the real-life option, guys.  For the most part, anyway.  They were probably kind of joking, actually.  Chill out.

...or maybe mix a couple of those together.  Like, drink-in-the-face and laugh-it-off.  That would be a winner, right?   


Before I run off to continue working on my novel (THAT SAME NOVEL YES THANK YOU FOR ASKING) ...ahem.... I should say that I am aware that failure to finish projects is, in fact, a real problem.  You have to finish things.  Period.  The End.  (<--Like that!) 

Thinking something needs to be perfect before you submit it is also a problem.  First, because you'll never submit it.  Also, because, judging by the impression I get from people farther along this trail than me, that is not how publishing works.

But since there's no deadline on that first novel, it seems best to do quite a good job of it, even if it means a little extra pressure, frustration, and misunderstanding non-writers.  This is complete speculation from me now, but I suspect that those three things never really go away.