The Writing Life

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Remembering My Dad

My grandfather was born and raised in Norway. Many years ago, during a 6 month backpacking trip through Europe, I visited the house where he was born and many of my relatives who still live there. My father was quite envious as he had always wanted to visit the homeland.

In October of 1989, he got his wish. He was in Germany for an international food convention (Dad was the president of a vegetable canning company and this was his first trip to Europe) so he arranged a side trip to Norway. The convention over, he fulfilled a lifelong dream. He walked the same paths as his father, slept in the same bedroom, and finally met all of his cousins. A couple of days after returning to Wisconsin, I spoke to him on the phone. It was his birthday, Friday, October 27, 1989. I asked him about his trip and wished him a happy birthday. He was full of excitement, talking about many of the people I'd met on my trip there. It was a great conversation (even though we were both at work when I called, we didn't care. My bosses allowed personal phone calls and since Dad was the president, no one was going to tell him not to talk on the phone to his daughter). It was a beautiful conversation and one I thank God that I had.

The next day, October 29, 1989, the day after his 65th birthday, Dad went outside to mow the lawn on one of his favorite toys -- his big sit-down lawn mower. Mom went to the store to buy the fixings for a big birthday dinner. He was in the backyard when the neighbors heard a strange and ominous sound. The lawnmower was butting up against the side of the house. Two different neighbors converged to find my father lying on the lawn, dead. He'd had a massive heart attack. The doctors told us that he probably lived all of 15 seconds and that even if it'd happened in the hospital, they wouldn't have been able to save him.

I flew to Wisconsin the next day, to begin a surreal week of grief, tears, laughter (our family deals with every circumstance with laughter. Dad would've approved more than anyone of this reaction) and bewilderment. It's so difficult to accept sudden death. There was no warning. He had all the appearance of a healthy man. His parents both lived to age 94. He thought he was going to live forever. Instead, we all attended his funeral on Halloween. I've hated that holiday ever since. I find it difficult to celebrate, have fun, and get into the spirit of things when all I ever think about is my Dad.

And now a tangent that will soon make sense. A little over a week ago, my landlord called me on the phone and told me she was going to evict me so that she can put her handyman into my apartment. I've lived here for 16 years. I love my home. This was a difficult blow for me and I'm still coming to terms with it. But, without any choice in the matter, I immediately began packing all of my belongings.

Tonight, I'm working on some boxes of stuff from the hall closet. Most were filled with laughably unimportant documents that once meant a lot to me. Business items, like old pay stubs, or interoffice memos. Some paid bills, a lot of bank statements, insurance information -- all antiquated and without value 16 years later.

After going through 2 boxes of this stuff I began to think I should just dump everything without looking at it. What could be worth anything in a box I haven't opened for 16 years? I just had one more in my stack, so I dutifully opened it, expecting more of the same old trash. This one was full of manilla envelopes instead of loose papers. One of the envelopes was white and familiar. I picked it up.

It was an envelope from Dad's canning company. Inside were a collection of photocopied obituaries from various newspapers. Dad's longtime associate at the company had given it to me. It also included that friend's reminiscences of my father. They'd known each other since Kindergarten, had gone to school together, were roommates in college, went to war, and then ended up at the same company. Among the papers was a letter. Perhaps the last letter Dad ever wrote. It was addressed to the cousins he visited in Norway, thanking them for the trip. His enthusiasm spilled from the page. That trip had made him so happy and in two single spaced pages, he told them how much it had meant to him. He mentioned me in the letter, telling them about our phone conversation. Dad and I were the only two family members to have ever gone to Norway, so we shared that bond. He was already planning another visit in a couple of years, and including me in those plans. But that was never to be.

I miss my Dad. Last Friday would've been his 82nd birthday. It was also the anniversary of the last time I spoke to him. Saturday was the anniversary of his death. And today, Halloween, was the day we buried him. The timing of finding that packet of information about my Dad, specifically about his death, is unnerving. It's been 17 years but reading it made it seem like yesterday. He is frozen in my mind at age 65, never feeble, never ill, never anything but gregarious, robust, and sporting the bluest most incredible eyes I've ever seen in my life.

Now I must move on. I have to find another home. And in that home, I'll probably have some file boxes with papers that will become meaningless as time passes them by. But not that envelope. That one I'm keeping. It's difficult to look at, even more difficult to read, but the one thing that never becomes meaningless with time is a lost loved one. Watch over me, Dad, and help me find a new home.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Do you want to be a writer? Some things to avoid

There are some true pitfalls in the world of publishing, including agents and publishers whose primary objective is to take you for everything you've got.

Agents

The latest agency to be exposed is Hill and Hill in the UK. Check out the Bewares and Background Checks forum on Absolute write for further information. If you're a client, I feel for you. It's a horrible feeling to have your time, effort and finances wasted by a con man. Just remember that he didn't steal your dreams -- those are yours for life.

More bad agents can be found on Writer Beware. I've copied their list of the top 20 worst agents below, so that you can take a quick look and make sure these agencies are nowhere to be found on your list of possible contacts. They are:

The Abacus Group Literary Agency
Allred and Allred Literary Agents (refers clients to "book doctor" Victor West of Pacific Literary Services)
Barbara Bauer Literary Agency
Benedict Associates (also d/b/a B.A. Literary Agency)
Sherwood Broome, Inc. (also d/b/a Stillwater Literary Agency, LLC)
Capital Literary Agency (formerly American Literary Agents of Washington, Inc.; also d/b/a Washington Agency and Washington Literary Agency)
Desert Rose Literary Agency
Arthur Fleming Associates
Finesse Literary Agency (also d/b/a/ Elite Finesse Literary Agency)
Brock Gannon Literary Agency
Harris Literary Agency
The Literary Agency Group, which includes the following:
-Children's Literary Agency
-Christian Literary Agency
-New York Literary Agency
-Poets Literary Agency
-The Screenplay Agency
-Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency, formerly Sydra-Techniques)
-Writers Literary & Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)
Martin-McLean Literary Associates
Mocknick Productions Literary Agency, Inc.
B.K. Nelson, Inc.
The Robins Agency (Cris Robins)
Michele Rooney Literary Agency (also d/b/a Creative Literary Agency, Simply Nonfiction, and Michele Glance Rooney Literary Agency)
Southeast Literary Agency
Mark Sullivan Associates (also d/b/a New York Editors and Manhattan Literary)
West Coast Literary Associates (also d/b/a California Literary Services)

PublishAmerica

For bad publishers, the worst is PublishAmerica. One could write a book about how bad PA is and they'd probably agree to publish it. You see, they don't read the books they accept. If their daily quota hasn't been filled, they'll accept every manuscript that comes in. Their editing appears to be an automated spellcheck that includes so many misspellings as to make it almost comical. They are print on demand, or POD, and often their books will fall apart in your hands. This is especially egregious since their prices are far above market value -- paperbacks for $30 are common among PA books. They pay their authors $1.00 advance -- why that isn't a huge clue for writers I'll never know. The advance is the only guaranteed money you'll make on your book -- and royalties. Of course, they cheat the royalties, never paying for the true number of books sold.

And who gets those sales? The author. PA's business model isn't about selling books to the public. It's about selling books to its authors. In short, it's a vanity press that claims to be a "traditional publisher". I guess that dollar makes them think they're in that club. Authors are expected to do all of the marketing for their books. The titles are available on online stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but you'll rarely find them on the shelves in bookstores. If you do find one, you can bet that the author personally made that happen, usually at their own expense. PA encourages authors to buy copies of their own books. That's how PA makes its money. They have over 20,000 authors and the average sales per book is about 75. When you realize that 5,000 books sold is barely a success for a small publisher, then you can understand how impossible it is to have any success with a PA book.

When authors wake up and realize what PA is, they'll often try to get their rights back. PA's contract specifies that they own the rights to your book for 7 years. That's a long time to have your baby mistreated. When authors do get their rights back through arbitration or other means, PA keeps selling their books. With absolutely no legal rights to the material, and without paying even the paltry royalties they usually send, PA continues to illegally sell the books they don't own.

There is a lot of information about PA on the two sites I mentioned above. Absolute Write has an entire forum for it in the Bewares and Background Checks area. If you've got a book out with PA and you're waking up to who your "publisher" really is, check out the forum asap.

It breaks my heart to read the stories of what's happened to people who fall for these various scams. Every one of them had the dream to be a published author and that's what these sharks feed on. They know that people will do almost anything to realize that dream.

If you want to break in and are looking for an agent or publisher and something comes along that seems fast and easy, that's a huge red flag. It's not a fast and easy dream. It's not about getting a lot for very little effort. To be a successful writer you have to work hard, pay your dues, learn every day, and maybe, just maybe, the real thing will come along. It's a myth that new writers can't get published. Every writer was new at some point. 20% of books that came out this year were from new writers. It's also a myth that new writers can't get an agent. Of course they can if they have a marketable book. That's the true key to success, you see. You have to write a really good book. And if that one doesn't sell, write a better one. Keep trying, keeep getting better and eventually you'll have a genuine agent and will get published by a real publisher. It's not fast and it's not easy, but it is achievable.

Aren't your dreams worth the effort?

Best of luck to all,
Guanna

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2001 Remembered

I had my usual all night schedule 5 years ago. I was busy doing something on the computer, but at the time, I liked watching old COPS reruns on Fox in the early morning hours from 4:30am-5:30am. What can I say? I enjoy watching stupid people getting arrested. Anyway, I didn't want to interrupt what I was doing so I started recording COPS on my VCR. I didn't think there was a lot of time left on the tape, so I didn't bother timing it. I just pressed record, willing to let the tape run out when it may.

Some time after 6am, a friend of mine called and said, "Are you watching TV?" I said no, and she said, "Turn it on. Any channel." So I turned it on. They said a plane just hit the Pentagon. I was shocked and said, "The Pentagon? Oh my God!" She said, "It's worse than that. Just keep watching," and she hung up.

Sometime during the next 4 sleepless (literally. I did not sleep at all for 4 days. I just kept watching the TV) days, I remembered the recording in the VCR. I had no idea how much after COPS it had recorded, but I knew the local news started at 5:30 am. I found the beginning of the news and watched.

It was unbearable. I watched the little clock news broadcasts usually put in a corner of the screen. I saw the clock turn to 5:46 and knew that was the moment the first plane hit. The weather girl was laughing and talking about her new shoes.

The clock continued to creep forward, and all the while it was business as usual. Lots of laughing and silliness, as that morning show team tended to do, and dozens of stories of little import. They went to the traffic guy as he flew over Los Angeles, talking about sig alerts and traffic flow as the clock slowly ticked forward.

Then, finally, they cut to the anchor and he said there was breaking news out of New York. They cut to the local Fox station in NY for their coverage.

That news team was a little edgy, but it was more about trying to figure out what had happened, than genuine fear. They had callers giving their impressions of what had happened. Some said it had been a bomb. Some said a small plane. One person said it was a huge jetliner. One of the anchors speculated about terrorism and the others hushed her up, saying they had no facts and stop speculating.

Then, with cameras trained on the towers, we all saw the second plane hit. There were gasps and even some stifled screams from the newsroom. Within minutes, everyone was talking about terrorism. No squelching speculation now. They reran the tape and for the first time, they could clearly see that it was a jetliner. Disbelief, anger, fear, horror -- it was in every voice.

The cameras continued to show the flames, the people hanging out of windows, someone jumping and then a quick cutaway to the studio. Then back to the towers with a more distant shot, everyone speculating. I watched the clock tick, knowing that the towers were about to fall and about a minute or two before it happened, the tape ended.

I still have the tape. I can't bear to tape over it or throw it away. I only watched it that once, but I'll probably always hang onto it -- laughing weather girls, traffic jams and tragedy forever captured.

-- Guanna

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

An Angry Voter

I sent a letter to the LA Times today, and in case they don't print it, here's what it said:

I spent most of my life as a Republican. My parents were Republicans and in my mother's family, that tradition went back to Abraham Lincoln. Because of the overwhelming incompetence, avarice, and prevarication of the Bush administration, I'll never be able to vote Republican again.

When George Bush first came on the scene during the 2000 Presidential primaries, I realized that I could never vote for a man who was so obviously lacking in intelligence, leadership qualities, and moral fiber. For a man who ran on a platform of 'morality' I found him to be criminally corrupt. Time has proven me correct.

Year after year, the Bush administration has used the events of 9/11 as a political tool. Our country is far less safe today than it was before Bush was elected. 9/11 happened under his watch, and yet he consistently makes claims to be able to safeguard our country better than the Democrats. The towers didn't fall under the Democrats' watch. Iraq didn't become a hotbed of corruption, greed, and terrorist training, either.

As a Californian, the only people who are making me feel even slightly safe are our two senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Unlike the culture of corruption that the Republicans have brought to this country, the Democrats continue to fight for health care, education, and the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. To my mind, there is no better way to support our troops than to take them out of harm's way and let the Iraqis rule the Iraqis.

In what ways has the Bush administration kept us safe? They've spent our money, killed our children, and lied to the American people in an effort to take over Iraq and get their oil. If that same money had been spent on developing alternative fuels, we wouldn't need the Middle East's oil at all and our soldiers would still be alive. Instead, we have Al Quaeda using Iraq as a training ground for terrorists. Our imperialistic invasion has turned millions of 'hearts and minds' against the U.S. all over the world. We have a gigantic bull's-eye pasted on our country all because of the men who continually claim to be 'making us safe'.

Hurricane Katrina proved that they are incapable of doing anything when disaster strikes. I make no distinction between terrorist actions and nature's fury when looking at the end results. The Bush administration failed and continues to fail the American citizens who were caught in that tragedy. Bush lost the twin towers and an entire American city on his watch. Osama Bin Laden continues to be a free man. How dare he make any claims about keeping us safe?

Finally, one of the most despicable things about this administration is the war of words. How dare Cheney claim that good, solid American voters are enabling Al Quaeda by using the rights given to us by our forefathers to put forth candidates that represent the people instead of special interests? How dare Karl Rove rail against leaks when he was one of the men responsible for outing a CIA agent? How dare Bush talk about a 'culture of life' when he murdered more prisoners in his term as Texas governor than any in past memory and refuses to save the lives of millions of Americans due to his veto of a stem cell research bill that would have used cells that are marked for disposal! What makes a garbage dump more respectful than a scientist's lab? Why are the lives of the living worth so little to this President?

George Bush and his cabal of cronies have made me deeply ashamed of ever having voted Republican. I will never make that mistake again.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

And Science marches on

Just read a story from Yahoo about an invisibility cloak. Scientists now have a working theory on how to make one and have begun creating the man-made materials necessary to put the theory to the test. The material would bend light, making whatever the cloak/shield covered, invisible.

This is darn cool stuff! A friend of mine, Elena, told me that her father (who is a well-known Russian astro-physicist) created a theoretical time machine. According to Elena, the math is correct, but our ability to put the theory into action is not there yet.

Scientific theory is such a fascinating subject. Because the human mind doesn't have the limitations that practical engineering has, scientists have been able to suss out many of the things known only in science fiction. Then again, science fiction is also the product of human minds. Fiction writers are free to dream up realities to their hearts' contents. There are few limitations as long as one follows the rules of 'suspension of disbelief'. It's incredible that what these authors dream up have been known to become reality with the advance of science and engineering. Flying machines were once science fiction and now we barely give a thought to hopping on a jet, other than to hope for an aisle or a window as opposed to that crowded middle seat. Trips to the moon? Been there, done that. And now invisibility, time machines, intersellar space travel -- nothing is really outside of the boundaries, regardless of how 'crazy' it may sound.

Me? I'm still waiting for the Space Plane. I worked on the project in the 80's and back then, they said it should become reality in 2020. That's only 14 years from now. That may be the future, but it's not all that far away. Like all scientific advances, inspiration+time can often lead to reality.

And now, I'll just drape my invisibility cloak over my blog (been using one since I started here, as evidenced by the paucity of comments) and go back to seeing you without you seeing me.

Aravosisblog: the new standard for net parody

My new favorite blog is Johnny A-List's blog. It is a parody of Americablog and is truly brilliant. I don't know who is behind it, but the writer is obviously a skilled comedy writer. Johnny A-List has hit so many things dead center, from personality quirks to 'Friday Orca blogging'; that one leaves the site wishing one had written every last word of it. That's how good it is. If you've ever read Americablog and have a sense of humor, get over to Aravosisblog asap.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Moral High Ground

One of the things I have difficulties with when reading various blogs is that it appears to be okay to make disparaging comments about those on "the other side" that would never be acceptable when describing one's own side.

Some of these insults are in the socially acceptable (read: the group that it disparages has no voice) put-downs, like weight. Calling someone 'fat' appears to be perfectly okay, despite the fact that the majority of the population is now overweight. And often, the person casting that stone could stand to lose a few pounds, but isn't quite as fat as the object of derision, therefore making it 'okay' to be mean-spirited, insulting, and hypocritical.

Both sides of the political spectrum do this, and I don't like it on either side. Each side is vying for the title of "moral high ground", and if that's your aim, perhaps you should start with your own words. The Right claims moral superiority through Biblical teachings, protecting cells (whether in a womb or 'stem'), and proselytizing about the sanctity of marriage (i.e., keeping it only for heterosexuals). The Left claims moral superiority through talk of tolerance (for approved groups, of course), saving the environment, and freedom of choice.

Both have their points, and those with deep hearts, regardless of political conviction, are coming from a place of belief and 'morality'. But there are many who are almost interchangeable with their opposition when it comes to hitting below the belt.

If a pundit is overweight, the insults are fast and voluminous, regardless of the political ideals. An alien, observing our culture, wouldn't be out of line thinking that being overweight was a crime of the highest order. Fat, instead of being equated with physical size, becomes synonymous with low IQ, bad personal hygiene, laziness – the list goes on. Calling someone fat becomes synonymous with so many negative adjectives that no one appears to notice that there are actual fat people who are none of these things. Weight has nothing to do with IQ. Nor does it mean one never bathes. Skinny doesn't mean one has no courage. Short doesn't mean one is forever childlike. And the list goes on.

Making fun of someone's physical appearance, their weight, their height, the shape of their face – anything – is universally accepted as fair game. The Left calls Bush "The Chimp in Chief" because of his physical resemblance to that primate. The Right makes fun of Michael Moore's weight and sometimes scruffy appearance as if these alone explain why one never has to believe anything he ever puts in his films.

Women are often the brunt of jokes, whether it's derisive language about women, or likening men to women (see my posts below about the Americablog fracas where John Aravosis called Sen. Pat Roberts a "Big Girl"). Apparently, the moral high-grounders feel it's okay to call Ann Coulter (on the Right) or Maureen Dowd (on the Left) slang words for female sex organs. Yeah, that's taking the high road, all right.

Seems to me, if you want to take the position of morality, or 'people who are correct in their thinking', then for crying out loud, show us in your language. Attack the ideas, not the person. Insult the policy, not an individual's looks, or gender, or sexual identity. Don't sink to your opponent's level!

Right now, I identify more strongly with the Left than the Right. I believe in things like helping fellow citizens with health care, strong education, environmental protection, the eradication of poverty, alternative fuels, and the equality of races, genders, and sexual identity. I don't believe in attacking countries for oil, tax cuts for the wealthy, denying gays their civil rights, or giving men control over a woman's body.

It's time we all (meaning on both sides of the political fence) stopped the petty, vicious, demeaning attacks on individuals. Disagree with their ideas, their policies, their written and spoken statements, but don't add the obligatory fat or horse-faced or troglodyte or pussy or munchkin or retard. These undermine everything you think you stand for if you are claiming even the tiniest piece of Moral High Ground.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Aravosis and the Big Girls

You know, I should be over this. I should be able to just forget that it happened and move on. But I have found myself clinging to the memory of the weekend and John's meltdown on Americablog. Perhaps it's because his mantra is now "Let it go", as if only he gets to decide what we think and write. I don't appear to be letting it go and I wonder if it's because he's telling me to. I don't like taking orders from people like him, meaning powerful men who call themselves progressive and yet are still weilding a stone age club when it comes to women. We must not be heard. We are good little servants, but nothing of importance.

As many other bloggers have said, his being gay doesn't give him a free pass to be sexist. His calling himself progressive doesn't mean that he gets to act like the worst of the current administration -- silencing voices of dissent, surrounding himself with yes-men by banning anyone who disagrees with him, refusing to admit mistakes, and acting like a dictator. His words are not the last words. His calling the sincere and hurt women who read his blog, "freepers, trolls, and a tiny minority" does not make us so.

He may have deleted my words, but he can't delete my voice. I'm still out here, John. You don't know who I am, but I am not a troll, nor am I a dismissable minority. I am a woman who demands respect. You have not given it to me. You are not who you were pretending to be at all, are you, John? And now that the portrait is out of the attic and in full view, I can no longer generate even a modicum of respect.

A friend of mine has decided the opposite. She wasn't around this past weekend, but I told her about it, and she read some of the opinions. She, too, was hurt by his bigotry. After writing him an angry email, she regretted it. He wrote back, telling her how hurt he'd been by the ruckus, quoting a "feminist" who didn't object to the "Big Girl" comment, as though that made it all okay. My friend forgave him. I understand this. He meant more to her than he did to me. To me, it was just a blog where I could get news. She cared about the man behind the blog.

I'll find other sites for news. I'm happy watching Countdown with Keith Olberman, a man I really can respect. As for Americablog, good-bye. No funds, no comments, no respect whatsoever for the emporer who wears no clothes.