Category Archives: random musings

Lightning never strikes in one place twice, right?

Today, I had planned to write a review of yet another book I read, but live proved to be more interesting (and scarier) than fiction. So my house got struck by lightning Friday evening. Never thought I would be able to say something like that… Well, to be precise, it wasn’t a direct hit – the lightning struck the pool in my backyard. That didn’t prevent it from wreaking havoc around the house though.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we? That afternoon, my father-in-law was cleaning the pool and left the pool net (the one on a big metallic pole) propped next to the pool deck. It started raining, so he switched the pool off and went inside. Unfortunately, he didn’t unplug the pump or put the net on the big metallic pole back in the shed.

Two hours later our peaceful evening was interrupted by an ear-shattering crack and the loudest bang I have ever heard. It really sounded like an explosion right in our backyard. My thirty pound dog jumped up my lap so fast, it looked like she teleported. My 85-pound German shepherd tried to dig her way under the sofa, but only succeeded in pushing it all the way towards the wall almost knocking herself out in the process. And my two cats relocated under the bed upstairs, and it took me several hours and a can of tuna to persuade them the sky wasn’t falling on us and we weren’t going to die. That is after I finished having my own heart attack.

When we finally managed to sort all the animals and humans in the house out and crawled outside to see what the heck had happened, we saw scorch marks on the deck right where the pole used to be. The wooden plank on the railing was split in half. We found splinters of it by the fence about ten feet away. The metal pole itself was laying on the ground with what looked like a bullet hole on the top and the netting at the bottom shredded to pieces. Not to self: yup, that’s why they say not to leave metal poles standing around during storms…

Nope, that's not a bullet hole, that's lightning damage.
Nope, that’s not a bullet hole, that’s lightning damage.

The lightning stroke the pole, scorched part of the deck, dug a trench in the yard from the end of the deck towards the power outlet by the pool pump, and fried the whole pool system. I mean the outlet was so scorched we barely managed to pull the plugs out. And the impact was so intense that that dirt from the trench ended up floating in the pool. It’s an above ground pool with 4 feet tall sides.

But the damage didn’t stop there. Through that outlet, the lightning then traveled into the house, melted the circuit breaker that was supposed to shut that circuit off, and did wonders on electric devises.

 

Yup, it's toast.
Yup, it’s toast.

The Direct TV box got so messed up that it literally hang itself and would not reboot. The poor technician spent 5 hours on Saturday trying to make the thing work again. In the end, he had to replace both the receiver and the dish itself. Our TV decided that it had suffered enough abuse and decided to shut down permanently. The sound system still works, but the subwoofer is toast. Several electric outlets around the house quit working. Oh, and the cherry on top – my beautiful, less than a year old desktop might as well be a door stopper now.

Good news is that nobody got hurt and that our homeowners insurance will cover the damage. So we certainly got the fright of our lives, but the consequences could have been more dire.

I also learned a few things from this unfortunate encounter with lightning. First of all, never ever leave a metallic pole outside when it’s raining. That’s just inviting disaster. Secondly, always back up your work. I mean all my writing was on that desktop. So thank God for Google Drive!

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Do you need to be married to your job to be good at it?

This post was born out of a brief exchange I had with a friend on Twitter. She had mentioned that in all the popular TV shows, the cops always hang around the office after hours (and sometimes late into the night), even after the case is done. Why don’t they go home? Don’t they have a life outside their work?

That conversation made me think. I also took a hard look at the shows I like on TV to see if I could confirm or deny that statement. Well, the verdict isn’t pretty – it seems like the TV wants us to think that you cannot be a good specialist (be it a detective, a CSI, an agent, etc.) unless you are literally married to your job.

 NCIS crew courtesy CBS NCIS crew courtesy CBS.

In NCIS, for example, Gibbs has been divorced three times and the relationships he had during the show never lead anywhere. He lives in a house that looks more like a cheap and ran down motel and spends most of his time in the basement working on a boat. Ducky was sharing his home with his mother until she passed away and now lives alone. As far as we know, he has never been married and is not in a relationship. Tony’s romantic life had been a train wreck after train wreck. All of them practically live at work.

CSI, another popular series, also shows us a group of workaholics with almost non-existent social lives or failing relationships. Nick, Greg, Julie and Morgan are all single. Sara’s relationship with Grissom ended a few seasons ago and Brass still has problems with his ex-wife and step-daughter. Heck, even the family man D.B Russell is starting to feel the strain in his personal life.

CSI courtesy CBS.
CSI courtesy CBS.

And there are plenty more shows like that. Heck, the latest example of this was shown in Rizzoli and Isles, when Jane chose her career over marriage to the man she loved, because it meant following him around.

My problem with that portrayal is that it slowly convinces the viewers that if you want to be good at your job, you need to prioritize it above everything else, personal life included. You need to be married to it, even obsessed with it.

Well, I have a beef to pick with that. First of all, obsession is never healthy. Also if you structure all your life around one single thing, once this thing taken from you, your life crumbles. Have you noticed that when those series show us a retired cop, he is usually either a heavy drinker, struggles with depression or bitter at the world? And how many characters took their own lives when they were declared unfit for duty for one reason or another?

I don’t agree that you have to sacrifice everything to be good at your job. I think that in order to be good at something, you need to be a healthy and balanced person. That means having more than one “obsession”, a hobby that you would enjoy doing during your free time, plenty of friends (and not only colleagues), and a good family life / personal relationship. That way, if disaster strikes and you fail at one aspect of your life, you still have all the others to fall back to and help you through. And your work won’t suffer too much, if you leave on time to enjoy a good dinner with your family. On the contrary, you might come to work happier the next day and ready to tackle oncoming challenges.

So that’s the characters whose stories I want to read and watch. I want well-rounded people. I want people who are not defined only by their job, who can balance profession and personal life, and be happy doing both. Those people are not boring. They have their own challenges to overcome. And there is so much more that can be done with characters like that as an author.

So what do you think? Do you think that being married to your job is unhealthy? Do you think that we, as authors need to create more in-depth characters who actually have a life to come home to? I would love to hear from you all.

The more you write, the more ideas you get.

 

pen-and-paper

I remember reading the excellent book On Writing by Stephen King sometimes in 2009, when I had just moved state-side with my husband. And I remember feeling so pumped up and excited to start writing something, because the great Stephen King said that ANYONE could write a story, they only had to start.

So I sat down with my pen and paper, already thinking about printed books and glory and fame… and I hit a wall. I had nothing to write about. My mind was blank. Not a single interesting story idea to be found anywhere. But I wanted to write! So I grabbed the first half-baked story that had the misfortune to wander into the spotlight and tried to run with it. The run quickly became a walk, then a crawl, and finally it died in horrible convulsions. That was my first effort at becoming a writer and, as you can see, it was not a very successful one.

Then in October 2013 a good friend of mine told me, “Why don’t you try doing NaNoWriMo with me?” I looked at the site, I read the rules, and I decided why the heck not? But the last disastrous foray into the land of writing was still fresh in my mind, so I was rather freaked out to just start on November 1 and write 50k in 30 days. And I still had NO IDEA what I would be writing about! Needless to say that the closer that first of November loomed, the more stressed I got.

And then a miracle happened. Around October 15, one a character literally barged into my dream, knocking the door down with his military boots, and said, “Ok, you will write this, and you will write it now.” I woke up with a half-formed idea, three fully-formed characters and an almost feverish need to put pen to paper and get story out, because it was burning me from the inside. I spent the last 15 days before the start of NaNo frantically outlining the story, I hit the month of November running, and I didn’t stop running until I finished the first draft around January 15.

During this exciting journey, I learned a lot about writing in general, as well as what worked and didn’t for me (outlines are a must – I can’t pants it for the life of me). But something even more extraordinary happened in the process as well – all of a sudden, my mind was bombarded with stories clamoring to be told. I was writing one, and at least three more were knocking more or less politely at the door, waiting for their turn. Where I had suffered from lack of things to write about back in 2009, I was overwhelmed with possible ideas now. It was like the trickle had transformed into a downpour!

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

I now have a list of stories I want to write, and it’s getting longer every month. I must admit that it’s exciting. I am in the middle of the first rewrite / edit of my NaNo novel, and I have a finished short story waiting for a second rewrite, but I am also writing a brand new story that might turn out to be a novella. And I have enough plots for at least two more short stories set in the same word as another short story I just started sending out to magazines. Not to mention, another half-written novel I really want to go back to, because I have finally figured out the outline for it.

I guess it is true what everybody says – the more you write, the more you discover stuff to write about. It’s hard to start the ball rolling, but once it’s on the move, it gathers all sorts of interesting things along the way.

A Newbie’s reflections on editing

Editing my short story.
Toss and rewrite.

As far as editing is concerned, I am what the gamer world would call a total “noob”. I have only started seriously applying butt to chair since October 2013, and so far I have a finished first draft of a novel and two short stories to show for that. So I have minimal experience with editing my work (even smaller than my experience in actually writing it).

However, I started this blog not only to share my thoughts and opinions on books and shows I like, but also to track how I progress and evolve as a writer. So based on editing two short stories and finishing the re-read of my first draft, I have made several observations about my writing process.

So far, when I sat down to edit both of short stories, I ended up keeping about 10% of the original text and rewriting everything else. When I noticed that, at first I was depressed, because I felt bad for all that time I wasted writing the first draft only to toss most of it away. But then I started analyzing the differences between the draft and the end product, and the result was not as abysmal as I had thought. Yes, I had tossed 90% of what I had written, but the bones of the story remained the same – the plot stayed in those 10% that were left in its entirety. So I got the structure of the story right the first time around, but it’s the presentation that needed reworking.

Doesn’t that realization make you feel better instantly? I know it did for me. I didn’t waste that time writing the first draft. I put the skeleton of my story together instead. And those scenes that I tossed and rewrote? They served a purpose too. They showed me that first setting / event/ character reaction that came to my mind didn’t work. If I hadn’t put it down on paper and re-read it, I would never have noticed that. Guess what, that made me think of a different way of telling the story. And if the critiques I received on Critters are to be trusted, the story only became better because of that.

And now I am faced with the daunting task of taking the first draft of my novel (which about 95k works longer than my short stories) and trying to make a decent story out of it. I must admit that I am scared: if I have to toss and rewrite 90% of the original, that would be about 90k words. That can potentially take me A LONG time. But I have learned one thing from the short story editing exercise and the read through my draft – the plot is there, the characters are alive and their POVs are visible, so the “bones” of the novel are solid. Now I just need to make sure to flesh it out and dress it in Sunday’s best before I let it fly into the world.

J. K. Rowling or why telling a bestselling writer to stop writing makes no sense.

I know I am jumping on the wagon way too late, since this article had been posted on February 21st, but I have some thoughts on the subject, so I decided to post them anyway. Hey, this is my blog, so I can do whatever I want in it, right? Wait, where are you all going? Come back!!!

Ahem, back to the subject at hand. I think the idea that bestselling authors somehow steal readers (and thus money) from less known writers by publishing new books is absolutely preposterous. More than that, the reasoning is flawed.

Would I buy a new book by J. K. Rowling? I would read the synopsis first, and if the story interests me, then yes of course I will. But I would do that with any other book as well, regardless of the author. Granted, seeing a big name on the cover would incite me to pick up the book and actually look at the synopsis more than a name I don’t know. Does that mean that bestselling authors sell more books? Yes, definitely. Does that mean that by doing so they steal money away from less known authors? Heck no!

No author, no matter now prolific, can publish more than one or two books a year. Even an average reader goes through at least 12-20 books a year. And a book junkie like me usually goes through at least one book a week (because I still have a full time job, a family and my own writing which chip away at my reading time). So after I am done with the latest Rowling, King or Scalzi (those should have kept me occupied for about a month), will I just sit on my hands and die of boredom the rest of the year waiting for their next book? Of course not! I will go on a hunt for more books to read in the genres I like.

This is why I love Amazon with their neat feature called “Customers who bought this item also bought”, or the recommendations page on Goodreads. I discovered many fabulous authors by browsing through those recommendations, opening each book and reading reviews and synopsis until I found a book I wanted to read. And if I happened to like a book by this new author, I would look for more of his or her books to read.

My point is, if this – if this bestselling author hadn’t written a new book that I read and liked, I wouldn’t have gone looking for something similar, and I would never have discovered a lot of new fledgling authors that I love and follow now.

Bestselling authors shine a spotlight on the genre they chose to write in and attract more readers who might have been unfamiliar with that genre before. And this is good news for everyone, readers and authors alike.

Back to our example, J. K. Rowling wrote a crime novel. Even if only one third of her followers bought it and liked it, chances are they will want to see what other crime novels there are out there, and they will not wait for Rowling to publish a new book. Instead they will go and browse the crime section on amazon or their local bookstore / library. Chances are, they will pick up Lynn Shepherd’s novel next, or the first book of another new author, boosting their sales.

So instead of telling those bestselling authors to put their pen down and retire, we should encourage them to explore more genres so that everyone could benefit from the publicity.

Also, a good writer can never retire, because writing is not a job but a way of life. Telling them to stop writing is like telling them to stop breathing – rather impossible to do.

Character-driven narrative

I admit that I am not a seasoned writer. Heck I started writing seriously only since mid-October, and all I have to show is one finished first draft of a novel and one short story. But I have already started planning my next novel, and I have ideas for several other short stories. So I guess the person who encouraged me to start writing was right – the more you write, the more ideas come to you.

But the point of today’s post is not about my writing experience or lack of thereof, well not entirely. I have read somewhere that writing is the never-ending path of self-discovery, and I agree with that statement. Even with my very limited experience, I have already discovered one fundamental thing about my writing – it is character-driven first and foremost.

As far as I can see all my stories, even the gazillion unfinished drafts, started with one or two characters. Usually, I see them in very vivid details, sometimes even with background stories, and then I have to try and build a story around them. One of my good friends once told me, “Think about where you want your characters to get, both physically and emotionally, and then build a story to accomplish that.” That’s the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

For example, Of Broken Things was born when one of the characters literally barged into my sleep, sat down and said “Listen, you are going to write this…” The initial idea was very simple: what would happen, if a super-soldier fell in love? And if the person he cared the most about was taken from him?

So in the beginning I only had one character with his set of problems and priorities. But then I had to think about what kind of woman would a man like that fall for? She would need to be truly exceptional… And that’s how Cassie came into the picture and took the spotlight. Then I started writing my outline, and all of a sudden private investigator Aiden Stappleton came out of nowhere and highjacked the whole of Act 1. But even with all that, ultimately the story was still about the super-soldier and the consequences of his actions.

Working on Of Broken Things showed me that I like writing about characters. I like putting them in difficult situation and watching them change in order to overcome obstacles. Story and setting are important, but only as a catalyst for character change.

This realization made me take a good look at the books, movies and TV shows I like. Just as I thought, they are all character-driven. The author could have created the most beautiful world with the most complex society, thought about how the magic works and what Gods his people worship, but if the characters walking this world fail to interest me, I will probably put the book down before I reach the end. Setting and world building doesn’t interest me if they don’t influence the protagonist and make him or her evolve in some way.

I think discovering this particularity about my writing is a big help against writer’s block, because now when I feel stuck in my writing, I know that it’s probably because I lost sight of my character’s development somewhere along the way and made them do something very out of character.