Author Vs. Engineer

Me to Carl: I have about a million different thoughts all tangled together right now, and every time I try to pull one loose it gets all snagged in the others and everything gets knotted up worse. Basically my brain is one big messy ball of yarn.

Carl to me: Huh.

Me to Carl: Yeah, I know. Your brain is like an excel spreadsheet.

Carl to me: Well, pretty much.

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Determination

Last week, Grace fell down partway through her skating lesson (first of the season), and immediately wanted off the ice, out of the rink, home again, no more skating lessons ever. I knelt down beside her, hugged her and comforted her, and looked her right in the eye and said,

“You are not allowed to quit right now.”

*

A few days before Joy’s first ballet lesson, she started panicking, and told me she’d changed her mind, she didn’t want to take dance lessons after all. I told her she had to at least try.

*

On Saturday morning, I drove the girls to Joy’s ballet lesson. It was my first time driving without another licensed adult in the car since my sister’s wedding day, 8 1/2 years ago (on that occasion, I was racing between my sister’s apartment and my parents’ house for her wedding dress, accidentally sent home in Mom’s car the night before instead of my sister’s). I’ve never liked driving, and close to 10 years of living in cities with INSANE drivers didn’t help. I got out of the habit of driving altogether, and have only been slowly working my way back up toward getting behind the wheel again. With Carl out of town over the weekend, I had no choice but to take responsibility and get the driving done. And I did.

*

I know the trend in parenting is veering away from forcing kids to stay the course and stick with something even if they hate it. In some ways, that’s a good thing. And goodness knows I’m no “tiger mom.” But I remember my parents insisting that I keep taking piano lessons until I was at least respectable, if not proficient, even when I begged them to let me quit. I remember them instilling in me a sense of pride in a job well completed, even if not well loved.

Staying the course is an important lesson. If I hadn’t had those traits driven into me as a kid, would I be able to push myself to accomplish something I loathe now?

*

It took persuasion from Daddy as well as Mommy’s insistence to get Grace back on the ice that day. But she finally did, and when the lesson was over, she came off beaming and proud (and, needless to say, to lavish praise for overcoming her fear). Joy was nearly sick with nerves before her first ballet lesson, but was begging to stay and keep dancing by the end of it, and now after two lessons she loves it more than anything she’s ever done before.

Joy's first ballet lesson

Joy’s first ballet lesson

Grace on ice

Grace on ice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I won’t say that “no quitting” will be our hard and fast rule for everything in life. But no way am I ever going to let my kids get away with wimping out of something just because they’re afraid it’s going to be too hard or too scary. Life’s about doing those hard and scary things, and working at them until they aren’t hard or scary anymore.

I doubt I’ll ever really enjoy driving. But I’ll keep doing it, and one day, I hope, I’ll suddenly realize “Hey. This is no big deal.”

And then, I suppose, it will be time to tackle my next fear.

The Rules

I was reading The Secret Adversary for about the millionth time this weekend, and when I got to the part where Tommy acted completely out of character, I had to stop and ponder it for a few moments.

James Warwick as Tommy Beresford

I love that part. It’s one of my favorites. Sober, steady, practical Tommy acts completely impulsively, and it’s way better than if the same action was taken by Tuppence, who is KNOWN for her impulsiveness.

Now, most of the time, when a character does something completely foreign to their personality, it drives me nuts. So why does it work so well for Tommy?

I think it’s because Christie, as the narrator (she’s not quite an omniscient narrator in this one, but it’s definitely not a tight third-person POV) acknowledges that he’s acting OOC, and so does Tommy himself. I also think it’s because it really does happen, in real life, that the predictable steady people DO occasionally get wild impulses, and give into them without understanding the why or the how of it. So even though it’s OOC, it’s still believable, and it makes for a great scene, and builds up to some that are even better.

I like reading authors like Christie, who wrote before the era of “Rules for Writing,” and wouldn’t have cared a fig for them if she did (she scatters adverbs wildly) (haha – get it? Wildly? OK, I’m done). She wrote according to her own internal rules, and she never broke them, and it shows.

I break a lot of the so-called Rules in my own writing. But I have a set of my own rules, and the few times I’ve tried (guiltily) to break them, it makes a mess. And sometimes when I start to fret about The Rules, I remind myself of Christie, and then I feel better. Not that I’m the genius she was! But like her, my rules are more important to follow than The Rules.

As long as you understand what you’re doing and why, and you are doing it deliberately, I think The Rules should go out the window.

Where do you stand on the matter?

Lessons From a Pig

picture from kristiyamaguchi.com

When I first heard that one of my long-time heroes, Kristi Yamaguchi, was writing a picture book, I was both excited and nervous. Excited because for one thing, there aren’t enough books out there for kids that feature figure skating. Ballet, yes. Skating, no. Also excited because it was Kristi! I was nervous, though, because excellence in one area doesn’t always translate to excellence in another. Not all figure skaters make great writers, and as a writer myself, I knew I would be hyper-critical.
I shouldn’t have worried. Dream Big, Little Pig is a fantastic book! Instead of what I would arrogantly call typical inspirational tripe, gallant little Poppy taught an important lesson. You aren’t going to magically be good at something and have everything handed to you on a silver platter just because you dreamed it – but if you love something, you should work hard and pursue it despite what other people say, and in that very pursuit there will be satisfaction. Awesome. My sister bought the book for my Joy when Joy just started skating, and I loved being able to read to her about how Poppy kept getting up every time she fell, and how eventually, she started falling less.
So when we heard that Kristi was writing a sequel titled It’s a Big World, Little Pig, we were thrilled. And rightly so, because the sequel is just as charming as the first book. Aunt Lis and Uncle David bought this one for Joy to help celebrate her completion of her first season of skating lessons, and again, it is a fun story (with great illustrations) with an non-sterotypical message behind it. Poppy gets to go to a big international competition, and she’s nervous, but soon discovers that all the competitors, despite being different animals from different countries, participating in different sports, they “all smile in the same language.” I half-listened as Carl read it to Joy and Grace the first time, and I asked when he finished “But did Poppy win?” All three rolled their eyes at me. “It doesn’t say,” Carl said. “That is not the point.”
Oh. Oops.
Not every athlete or actor can turn to writing stories, especially stories for kids, well, but Kristi certainly does. She inspires me to look at my own stories, and make sure I’m not falling into the trap of writing expected tropes, but instead pursue messages I would want my own girls to believe.
And to be perfectly honest, Poppy is a good inspiration to me, too – to not expect magical success, or to expect success to look like wild popularity or medals, but to work hard at what I love, just because I love it.
My big dreamer at her very first ice show (she’s the one in front)


Disclaimer: I am not being compensated in any way for this review, and the opinions therein are solely my own. And my children’s, so far as they have communicated them to me. :-)

Thrills

I follow USBSF (United States Bobsled & Skeleton Federation) on Twitter. For a few years when I was a teenager, my dad and I spent almost every winter’s weekend volunteering at various sporting events – mostly sliding (bobsled, luge, skeleton) in Lake Placid. I learned to love the sports then, especially skeleton. My favorite event was the one where I had the job of cleaning the sliders’ shoes before they went down the track – any debris attached to their spikes could interfere with their starting run, and slow them down or even throw them off. I was so nervous at first that I wasn’t going to do it properly, but I soon got the hang of it, and LOVED it – being there at the start with them, feeling all professional, like I was really an important part of things!

(Usually I got stuck with parking lot duty. Important, but boring.)

I even got to clean Jimmy Shea’s shoes that competition – now that’s not something everyone can say!

As you know, I’m a figure skater. But there is something thrilling about the sliding sports. One of my dreams is to someday go down a track on a skeleton sled. I’ve seen it with my own eyes – I’ve heard the whoosh of the runners biting into the ice – I’ve felt the excitement build at the start of the track as the sliders prepare themselves and then take off – I’ve been at the bottom when they come in, still buzzed from the adrenaline rush. And yes, I’ve seen enough crashes to know how dangerous it can be. I don’t really care. I still want to try someday, just once.

I remembered that again today when USBSF mentioned about the sleds sounding like bullets going down the track in St Moritz. I replied to them, saying I wanted to experience that someday. They said? Absolutely must try sometime!

I don’t look like your typical thrill-seeker, and there’s a lot of things I won’t try – I’m not even a big fan of roller coasters. But I don’t know, something about skeleton, it just makes me want to throw off my inhibitions and toss caution to the wind.

(I also want to do this someday, but both my father and husband panic every time I mention it –

photo courtesy of callaurbanski.com
so I don’t talk about it much anymore.)
Do you have anything on your bucket list that seems out-of-character to people who know you? What do you think it says about us as people, our desire to seek thrills? If I ever do get that chance to ride a skeleton sled, who’s coming with me? It’ll be AWESOME!

Betraying Your Characters

I don’t usually write book reviews, but occasionally, on Goodreads, I’ll leave a review if I really have something that I think is worth saying. Something positive, that is. A lifetime of having “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” ingrained into me prevents me from leaving negative reviews. If I don’t like a book, I usually just don’t talk about it.

Until the last book I reviewed. I gave it one star, and I left a heartfelt, decidedly un-positive review. Why? What made me feel so strongly about this particular book that I had to say something?

Some people who reviewed it said that the author betrayed her readers, but it wasn’t that that left me with such a sour taste in my mouth.

The author betrayed her characters.

This was the third book in a trilogy. She had spent the first two books building up her characters in a certain way, and then, in this final book, she completely ripped them out of their old selves – the ones she still included. Some characters who had been built up in such a way as to expect them to play a major role in this book just faded from the pages. Certain relationships that had been teased at – well, I was going to say that they fizzled, but in fact, they weren’t even there. And the characters that did carry over?

They were not themselves.

Not the main character, and not the secondary characters.

And the story? It was flat. I can only imagine because the author had to fight with her characters every step of the way, forcing them to conform to her vision instead of letting them be themselves, and their revenge was to make the story boring.

To me, as a writer, this is one of the worst things you can do – force your characters to act, well, out-of-character. It is a betrayal of them, and ends up being a betrayal of yourself as well, because, of course, the characters have sprung from you.

I make no secret of the fact that all of my stories are character-driven rather than plot-driven. To me, it is the characters that make the plot – people interacting with each other and with events. So perhaps I make a bigger deal of this than it really is. An improbable plot? I can shrug off with a laugh. Wrenching your characters out of themselves and turning them into puppets?

Outrage. Outrage to the point where I’m not sure I’ll ever read anything new from this author again, even though I’ve enjoyed almost all of her other books. If her own characters can’t trust her, how can I?

And so I had to vent, even to the point of leaving a negative review (sorry Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and all my aunts and uncles – sometimes you just gotta say something not-nice). (Although you will notice I didn’t link to the review – you can find it if you look, but I’m not going to make it too easy. I still have some principles!)

What are the writing crimes you cannot forgive in yourself or any other author?

Book Snippets

I did not start on my Shakespeare reading this week. I was going to – I had borrowed The Taming of the Shrew from the library, and sat down at the computer to skim over the summary first (my preferred way of reading Shakespeare, since otherwise I lose much appreciation for the language in trying to decipher the plot and keep all the character straight).

And considering that in my reading of the summary I decided that Petruchio was an abusive jerk that Kate should have poisoned at their wedding feast, I figured I wasn’t exactly in the best mindset to read Shakespeare this week. Maybe I should start with Hamlet?

We have been plagued with mice all week long; Carl finally brought home new traps Saturday evening and we caught six – SIX – in a four-hour period. Have not seen any since, though I am planning on using a combination of peppermint oil and mothballs to keep them out until we’ve had a chance to talk to our landlords and find out if they want to bring in a professional to seal every crack and cranny.

So the mice might have soured my appreciation for the Bard. I certainly was not in any mood to read any Redwall books, either.

I did, however, read The Queen of Attolia, which prompted me to re-read my recently purchased copy of The Thief, because it had been a while since I read it and some of the details were a bit fuzzy. In case you are one of the few people on the planet who (like me) hasn’t read this fantastic series by Megan Whalen Turner, go to your library now and start borrowing them. They are incredibly good. So good that, even though I need to be packing today for going up to my parents’ for Thanksgiving, I’m still planning on making a library run to get the next two books in the series. I really, really wish I could read in the car without getting sick!

I also recently finished the Song of the Lioness quartet – I’ve been friends with Kel and Aly for a few years now, and recently with Beka Cooper, but I’d never been able to find all the Alanna books until we’d moved and gone to a new library. I was bitterly disappointed in the ending of the fourth book (villains NEED more motivation than just, hey, let’s destroy the world for kicks, even though it’s going to destroy me too), but at least it gave me enough background to read the Immortals series. Alanna will never replace Kel as my favorite Tamora Pierce heroine, though.

My writing goals are still out of reach. I have two – TWO – chapters left in my 1920s fantasy-adventure, and do you think I’ve been able to write them? No, because I’ve been scrubbing my floors and counters every other day to get rid of mouse droppings! By the time Carl’s home from work and the littles are in bed, I’ve been able to do little more than collapse in bed or on the couch and either read YA fantasy, or watch my newly-purchased first season of Star Trek: Voyager. (Chakotay is STILL my favorite character out of the entire Star Trek canon, although Worf is a close second. Picard is right on Worf’s heels as third. What can I say? I really, really like nobility, goodness, and conflict within oneself in my heroes.)

However, I am tentatively hopeful that maybe this evening, after my packing is finished, or perhaps while we’re at home, in between cooking and cleaning and practicing makeup techniques with my sister, I might be able to squeeze out those 5,000 words.

Because wow, November has flown by. Can you believe it’s almost December? I am starting a new tradition for our family this year – 25 days of Advent activities (or candy, on those days when my inspiration ran out) leading up to Christmas.

Christmas, my friends! It’s just a little over a month away!

Are you a fan of any or all the Star Trek shows? Do you have a favorite character? What good books have you been reading lately? Can anyone tell me if I missed something crucial at the end of Lioness Rampant explaining the villain’s actions and goals a little more clearly? Am I reading too much into The Taming of the Shrew? Do you have exciting plans for Thanksgiving?