The Rain Catcher, Snippet Two!

Kind words from my writer friends have inspired me to keep on working on my Young Adult/middle grade novel, The Rain Catcher! I feel really lucky to have such great support! Here is the next snippet…. If you didn’t read the first section, please check it out here.

Snippet Two

We stepped outside the airport, and the wind hit me like a blast of refrigerator air. Aunt Claire dove into her purse and pulled out a packet of cigarettes, which surprised me, since no one in our family back home smokes. Well, Granddad sometimes chews tobacco, but that’s just for show, Dad says. Whenever his “Yankee” neighbors jog past the front porch in their yoga pants, Granddad throws a wad of tobacco into his mouth, gnaws on it for a few seconds, and spits out the juice into an old brass spittoon he got at a yard sale. After the neighbors have passed, he rushes in and brushes his teeth, Dad says.

“Where’s my mom?” When I didn’t see her at Arrivals, I’d thought she must be waiting outside, perhaps circling the airport instead of paying for a parking space, like my Aunt Marsha does up in New York City.

“Em… She has to teach a yoga class.” Aunt Claire tugged my sleeve, leading me toward a yellow sedan with dents in the sides, as though someone had rammed a shopping cart into it many times. She wiggled the key in the lock and banged on the trunk until it creaked open. Then she threw my suitcase in; I was glad the only breakable thing in there was my sunglasses, which I probably wouldn’t need, judging from the blanket of gray clouds above our heads.

“She couldn’t take off a few hours?”

“Well… she’s already missed three!”

“Why did she miss them?”

“Hmmph! She’s a bit of a free spirit, your mum.”

“What does that mean?”

But my aunt didn’t answer, just put both hands on the roof, planted her feet, and began rocking the car back and forth. I stood watching her.

“What on earth are you doing?”

“It helps to get the car started; on the way over here, it conked out. Had to coast into the parking space.”

“But why does rocking it work?”

“No idea. I saw Ewan doing it before, and it seemed to do the trick.”

She got back in, and sure enough, the car started.

“Who’s Ewan?”

Aunt Claire ignored my question.

We drove past fields of brilliant yellow flowers and then cottages with brown roofs and little gravel front yards and tiny cars parked on the street; they looked like Lego houses. Behind them, low green hills lay like piles of cabbage in the distance. One cliff stuck out like a book lying on its side.

“That’s Arthur’s Seat,” Aunt Claire said, seeing me staring.

“Who’s Arthur?”

“No idea.”

Storefronts began popping up as we got closer to the city. A man in a black turban stood in front of a fruit stand, perhaps waiting for someone to buy a bag of oranges or apples. (I think there are maybe three Indian people in the whole of Graham.) Girls in navy school uniforms trotted down the sidewalk. Summer vacation hadn’t started here yet, obviously. My school had finished at the beginning of June, and here it was nearly July. Thank God I didn’t live here!

We drove for what was probably only a couple of miles but got stuck behind the red “double decker” buses, and so we didn’t get to Aunt Claire’s place for another 40 minutes. By that time, I had dozed off and didn’t wake up until Aunt Claire jerked up the handbrake, nearly sending me into the windshield.

“Here we are!” She jumped out of the car and began assaulting the trunk again until it finally opened. Then she pulled out my suitcase and began marching up the street.

“Wait!” I called, struggling to unfasten the seatbelt which suddenly did not want to let me go. I pulled on the strap until I had enough to slide under it, then pushed open the door and dashed after my aunt. We passed a Scot Bets and a bar called The Malevolent Crow (weird name for a bar, surely?) and another fruit stand. The green apples looked kind of bruised, and the oranges looked more green than orange.

“Wait here.” Aunt Claire disappeared into the shop, leaving me standing beside my suitcase, the wind whipping my hair above my head. I stared at my shoes, hoping nobody would notice the strange teenager standing by herself. I wondered if people could tell I was American; I just had on jeans and a green sweatshirt (my usual outfit), but suddenly my sneakers seemed unusually bright in the grimy street.

“Back again!” My aunt stuffed two unopened packs of cigarettes into her purse, and we were off again. Three more blocks (why had we parked so far away?), and we reached a grungy-looking black door. Brown scuff marks spotted the lower half, making me wonder if someone wearing big work boots had tried to kick it open more than once.

We stepped into a stairway as damp and dark as a dungeon, the only light trickling from a skylight high above.

“I’m on the top floor,” Aunt Claire said, lugging my suitcase behind her. Why wasn’t I surprised?

Once inside Aunt Claire’s “flat,” I followed her down a shadowy hallway, the walls lined with hooks of scarves and coats and umbrellas. A holey rug covered the floorboards, which creaked horribly as we walked over them. I felt a breeze from somewhere and shivered. The T.V. or radio chattered from down the hall, and I wondered who was there, waiting for us.

Suddenly, I had a thought. Maybe it was Mom! Maybe she wanted to surprise me; it had been so long, the only contact we’d had was through letters and a yearly phone call (maybe not even that often). I held my breath, a smile creeping across my face, not wanting to give the game away. I’d act surprised, so as not to spoil their game. My heart sped up, like the wheels on the old-fashioned steam trains Granddad had taken me to see at the Transportation Museum in Spencer. It had been Easter — I was six — and we’d ridden a train with the Easter Bunny. Had I remembered to bring the photograph album to show Mom?

Aunt Claire pushed open the door at the end of the hall, and I poked my head in, unable to wait any longer. My eyes stung with anticipation and then, dread, as on the couch sat not my mother but the creepiest man I’d ever seen.

Is it better to be right, or true?

This morning on the news, a cartoon that many people will find disturbing flashed onto my television screen at least two times. Wednesday’s front page of the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo, attacked by terrorists last week, will show the very kind of cartoon that purportedly spurred the attacks.

Many will say the newspaper is irresponsible, adding fuel to the fire and could lead to more attacks. Others will say (as London’s mayor Boris Johnson did) that the only way to demonstrate that open societies will not bow down to terrorism is to print the cartoon. This debate got me thinking about the power of an image.

The controversial cartoon undoubtedly has power. The thought of adding a link to it on this blog fills me with dread, I’m ashamed to admit. But where did that power come from? And can that power be transferred into something that could heal instead of create more hate?

From what I can gather (these are my own views, obviously), the attacks highlight two conflicting beliefs:

  • Religion is the “truth” and must be held sacred above all else. To deny this is to deny existence.
  • Religions are not “truth” but are the creation of different cultures and societies; therefore, they are not sacred but are open to criticism and debate, just like everything else.

The aforementioned cartoon has become the mouthpiece for the second message — there is no one “true” religion. Printing it on the front page of a newspaper and then republishing that image over hundreds of news outlets across the world is basically blasting out that message loud and clear. Should Charlie Hebdo do this? As a newspaper, especially a political and satirical one, it’s obligated to shout out its editorial viewpoint. It has every right to do this.

On a moral level? Personally, I would have preferred to see photographs of the people who lost their lives in the attacks last week. I think making the victims “human,” rather than political mouthpieces would do more to stem violence than continuing the argument about fundamental beliefs. We’re not going to change terrorists’ minds my shouting back, “You’re wrong! And we’re right!” But connecting their actions to real people who have sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, showing how all people are fundamentally the same, THAT might make a few extremists pause for thought.

The power of one cartoon comes from all we attribute to it — freedom of speech, blasphemy, East versus West, right versus wrong, religious society versus sectarian society … Right now, that cartoon is being used to send a message, a message I personally agree with, but not the most important one at the moment. How can the media (and governments!) convey a broader, more crucial ideology — that all lives are valuable? I think that’s what the media should be working on.

George Bush and Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama

George Bush and Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Taken on 23 May 2001. Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/05/images/20010523-3.html

Create space for something else…

Editor’s note: The police officers who were shot trying to protect the public should not be forgotten. I didn’t mean to exclude them by focusing on the journalists who were also murdered.

The attack on the Paris newspaper office Charlie Hebdo this week left me with conflicted feelings. The first, of course, was outrage at the murder of editors and journalists, who’s primary job is to communicate. As a former reporter and current writer, I felt the horrific sting of bullying — “Don’t write what we don’t want you to, or else you’ll die!” Can there be any more extreme form of bullying than threatening someone’s life if he/she doesn’t act the way you want them to?

And murdering journalists, for crying out loud! Yes, they often write what you don’t want to hear, but they don’t use bombs or Kalashnikovs to get their points across. And, yes, words are powerful. Words can hurt deeply, in ways that weapons can’t. But we have a choice in how we respond to those words. We can ignore them, refute them, or even agree with them. Bombs and guns leave no room for argument. That’s why they are the weapon of choice for terrorists, who have no true words to back themselves up.

My second thought was that if people respond to these attacks with more hatred, the attackers will have succeeded. I’ve noticed that when you are up against someone filled with hate and disgust, sometimes the only way to “deflate” them is to do the complete opposite of what they’d expect.

I’m not saying we don’t condemn these horrible attacks or not defend ourselves. I’m saying rather than let terrorists infect us with their abominable ideas, we respond with the antidote. What’s the antidote to hate? Loving each other. What’s the antidote to malicious violence? Defending ourselves wisely and with purpose, rather than responding in fear and vengeance. Opposite of disgust? Pride — at how far we’ve come in spreading rights like freedom of speech and equal rights for all people, regardless of their beliefs and backgrounds.

Maybe we can all do something to counter-attack terrorism. If you’re in a country where you are able to speak freely, spread the word about what you’re grateful for in an open society. If you’re not able to speak freely, perhaps you can share what brings people you know closer together – love? Telling stories? Good food? Nature? Beautiful art?

Instead of newspapers and news websites republishing the controversial cartoons — an understandable reaction to being threatened – I believe they should fill their pages with the opposite of terror. The ideals that the terrorists are fighting against — community, love, and freedom from oppression.

It’s easy to strike back against something hard and sharp. It’s a lot harder to fight something that’s moving and fluid and filled with an energy that can’t be harnessed.

Would you, or wouldn’t you?

Happy New Year! I hope 2015 is off to a good start for you, with lots of creativity flowing in all your ventures!

A writer friend and I were talking this morning about how easy it is to create a pseudonym if you are publishing via Amazon. Anyone who has ever signed up for Amazon to review a product or book can pick a Pen Name, or the name they want the public to see, just by going to his/her public profile page. (Here’s mine as an example.) To add a pen name or alter your public name, just click on  “Edit Activity Settings,” and a box will pop up. Your real name will still be used for anonymous settings like bank accounts and payment information.

I haven’t tried it, personally, with my books because I want my name to be associated with them! But my friend has contemplated using a pen name with a romance novel she’s working on. Having the option of a pseudonym does seem to open up possibilities if you’ve ever felt awkward about working on something “risqué” like a romance or erotic novel. Perhaps you have young children and don’t want them reading it one day because you’d feel embarrassed. Or maybe you’re a public figure in the church or in politics, and it would cause a scandal! Or maybe you’re writing a self-help book about how to deal with the in-laws but don’t want your in-laws associating it with you. Who knows?

There are plenty of self assured writers who use their real names and feel perfectly comfortable writing whatever comes naturally to them. But for those writers who feel the need to be anonymous, a pen name is a great option. Look at George Eliot, who ditched her female name to be taken more seriously as an author. And there are writers who, alternatively, go by just their initials to avoid being assigned a gender (or even ethnicity!). What do you think? Would you ever use a pseudonym?

Getting back to writing…

Sorry I have been gone for so long! Have taken a break from fiction writing for the past few months because I found myself obsessively revising my novel and older short stories. I became stuck in a kind of “judgment whirlpool” in which nothing I had written seemed good enough. I had about 15 versions of just about everything – the literary form of hoarding. Realized that I needed to STOP!

So, I did some painting — am still doing some drawing and painting for fun — and recently started a kind of freewriting-poetry-thing. Basically, I just write down whatever I’m thinking in poetic form, rather than worrying about whole sentences, grammar, etc… I don’t edit. And I don’t censor myself. If I feel like deleting these “poems” at any point, I give myself permission to do that, rather than numbering them and saving 50 different versions on my hard drive.

So far, it’s been fun to see what images pop up from my subconscious, sort of like writing down your dreams! Later, I analyze my poem to see if anything resonates. If not, that’s okay, no pressure. That’s the whole point of this break — to take the pressure off myself to write for a specific genre (mystery? YA? literary?) and to a specific audience (12 year olds? adults? women?). I was so busy focusing on getting published, whether independently or “traditionally,” and trying to “brand” myself and my writing that I lost track of what I wanted to say in the first place!

Have you ever felt like throwing in the towel and quitting writing? It’s a scary prospect, but at the same time kind of freeing. I realized that I don’t have to identify myself solely as a “writer.” I can just be someone who likes to write!

Great Book on Typography and Stenciling!

louisajd:

I have recently (last weekend!) started to learn how to paint. I really enjoy it, but I also wondered if there was a way to incorporate my writing into pictures… Then I saw the review of this book of typography and stencils in the blog Fifty Shades of Wonderful. I’m curious — I love putting together digital book covers and messing around with graphic design (very amateurly!). And I think letter stencils would be a great way to mix the visual and the textual, so to speak. I’ll keep you posted…

Originally posted on Fifty Shades of Wonderful:

I am addicted to all sorts of Fonts and Typography.  I use it on my handmade cards, scrapbook pages and free-form art I create.  When I had the opportunity to receive and review Dina Tanamachi’s newest book; DIY Typography & Stencils I jumped all over it!  This book may not impress everyone, but to artists from amateur to intermediate they will quickly recognize what a fabulous asset this is to their toolbox arsenal for lettering.
You will find this book to be amazingly simple with very little text.  Dina describes her personal experiences in design and provides how she has used lettering in her day to day life as well as taking her ideas to market.  Aside from that small section of the book, the rest is comprised of two sets of lettering stencils which can be removed from the book and used as reusable templates (Lower and Uppercase).  There…

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How to make an easy book trailer!

I’ve been experimenting with Windows Movie Maker again and created a book trailer for my mini-collection of short stories, Rocky Road. It’s not exactly Spielberg, but it gets the message across!

It’s easy to make your own simple book trailer. With Movie Maker, I combined some free clip art (the turtle at the beginning) from Microsoft Office with a movie my daughter made on my phone while we were driving home from the beach! Then I added the picture of my book cover at the end. The background music I got from http://www.freemusicarchive.org

Movie Maker is free, and it’s easy to use. You just click on the icons/buttons to add video or photos, background music, and captions for your “scenes.” Then you can choose different transitions between each scene — for example, my turtle photo fades in gradually, and the cover picture at the end “pans” out slowly. That way, I kept the images moving, rather than having clunky jerks and stops between the still photos and the moving video.

If you’re interested in making your own book trailer, try downloading Movie Maker and experimenting with some videos and photos you already have on your computer. Add some background music, and try out different features to see how it works!