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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Did I Forget Anything?

Day after tomorrow we leave for England and Scotland. Most of my packing is done. My Kindle is  charged. My lists are mostly checked off items. The bank actually had British pounds for us. Of course the dogs have no idea their little lives are about to  be turned upside down. I've tried to tell them,  but all they do is lick my face.

One of my friends emailed me that northern England is flooding, so I tossed in a better pair of rain pants. Bottom line is I enjoy being outside. Maybe because of all the mountaineering I've done, I have a pretty fair tolerance for being wet or cold. What I really dislike is being hot. I can alter my clothing if I'm cold. Not much I can do about the opposite. Even if I take everything off, I'm still uncomfortable. And I risk getting a bad sunburn. Heh! Learned that the hard way when I backpacked in a sports bra on an ungodly hot day in the Sierras. I slathered on sunscreen, but guess the pack straps rubbed it off in key places.

I have a nifty item called a Black Widow. It's a camera holster that rides on my hip. I like it because it keeps my digital SLR handy, suspended from a widget that screws into the tripod fitting. Unfortunately, the camera will need to be in my pack if it gets too wet, making it far less convenient to access. I'm hoping for some great photos, though. Great Britain has lots of clouds. And as anyone who's ever dragged a camera anywhere knows, clouds make for great pictures.

I'm also looking at this as an "idea" trip. All five of my novels (well, seven if you count the first two) have had a strong Celtic focus. I'm heading right into the heart of Celtic-land. It will either make me cringe that I got so many things wrong, or give me inspiration. Obviously, I'm hoping for the latter.

When we planned this trip, we started like we always do assuming we'd figure it out on our own. I tried contacting a couple of places in the UK that arrange B&Bs in the little villages along Wainwright's route across Northern England. Even though I made quite the pest out of myself, they never emailed me back. That's how we ended up signing on with National Geographic. I've never traveled that way before: with a group and a guide. I'll be interested to see how I feel about it after this trip is over.

One of the caveats of backcountry travel, at least with people who spend a lot of time back there, is everyone travels at a pace that's comfortable for them. There are pre-arranged meeting spots, usually at the end of the day. And no one really worries about anyone else until you show up at the designated stopping point, it gets dark and they haven't shown up yet. I'm wondering just how this guided journey across the UK will go. I truly hope they won't insist we all travel in a little troupe. I enjoy my solitude on the trail.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to an adventure. I've never been to Ben Nevis or the Lake District or anywhere in Northern England. And I'll be within a stone's throw of Carlisle, where Trevor, a major character in my Transformation Series, hails from.

So, no blog posts until I get back. I just realized I could have written a few and had Blogger post them. Next trip I'll take advantage of that.

What are some of your favorite places? If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why? 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Writing Life

Isn't anything like I thought it would be. I suppose I had this romanticized picture in my mind of curling up in front of my computer and turning out, well, stuff. That part has come true. I do write stories--and novels, too. And I truly love that part. There's nothing better than being lost in the creative process where characters are alive in my head and the other world--the real one--fades into insignificance.

There are all those other parts, though. The ones I really didn't know all that much about. I've taught myself to be a better self-editor. And I've gotten better at researching markets for my short stories. Not much point in sending a sci fi short to a market that publishes predominantly horror. Also not much point sending high fantasy to a market that wants an urban slant.
The short story markets are interesting. In many ways it's like trying to hit a moving target with no feedback. If you send them something that looks a lot like what they publish, they often figure there's too much sameness in their stories. "Yes, we want swords and sorcery, but we've had too many stories with ______________ (fill in the blank). We want something else now. Surprise us." Sometimes I'm amazed I've had as many shorts published as I have. The next one will be lucky number thirteen. I'm really interested to see which story ends up in that dubious position.
Probably a low point was one of my stories that made it to the finals for a particular publication. I did get feedback on that one: a very nice note from the editor telling me it was a good story. That there was "nothing wrong with it". But he wasn't going to use it because it was too long. Even though the publication had a published 10K word limit, they apparently prefer stories half that length. Now some magazines will tell you that up front. I'm nothing if not an inveterate direction follower, so I went back to that magazine's website and searched for clues as to preferred length. Didn't find a thing outside the "send us your stories up to ten thousand words". And so it goes.
Whether I'm writing, editing or researching markets, I'm pretty happy all in all. The part of things I am far less fond of is marketing. For one thing I don't feel I understand it very well. That's not surprising since practically anything I pick up to read to educate myself says something different. Some books say to develop a social media presence. Others say it doesn't matter. And that's true for any marketing strategy including advertising. So, I do FB and Twitter. A friend taught me how to link Twitter to Linked-In. And I'm trying to remember Google+ when I post things.
From what I've seen, it seems to me that the publishing industry is like any other. It's not what you know, or even how well you write. It's who you know. If you know the right people, doors open. From that perspective, it seems to me the best strategy is to just keep on writing. The larger body of work I have available, the better the chance one of those "right" people will see something of mine. Maybe that's a pipe dream, but it's a nice one and I'm hanging onto it. At least for now.
I've said this before here. With the advent of self publishing, there are over 900 new books released each day. The challenge is how to make yours stand out and get noticed.

If any of you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Right? Wrong? Who Knows . . .

It's winding down to the last few months before November and the national election. On the presidential front, everyone is waving their "I'm right" banners. On the state front (where we're supposed to be going broke) the Governor is making gloom and doom predictions if his tax hike (that would give CA almost the highest--if not actually the highest--taxes of any state) doesn't pass. Apparently he's alerted school superintendents that he plans to cut another 15 days out of the school year if the tax initiative fails.

Why is it always schools and libraries and social service programs that get axed? That was a rhetorical question. I know why. It's because kids and the poor and the elderly and the disabled are disenfranchised populations. They tend not to have a voice, so they become low hanging fruit.

 If we don't prioritize education for our youth, we will continue to fall behind the rest of the industrialized world. We're already sitting way back there with our "no kids fail at anything" approach to education. Nope, we just dumb things down so our kids can feel good about themselves. Who cares if they can't add or string four sentences together to make a coherent paragraph. Never mind knowing anything about history or science. I don't fault the teachers. It must be pretty hard to teach a class wherer a bunch of the kids don't speak English and another bunch doesn't have to behave at home, so they're hooligans at school, too. I certainly don't have any answers, but I recognize our public education system is in trouble. It's not going to get better by making the school year shorter.

Backtracking, the whole "I'm right" (which means you must be wrong) ideology is tearing this country apart. We're a nation built on diversity and we've always had disagreements, but the level of acrimony in today's politics is shocking. Before I was a writer, I was a psychotherapist. In fact, I still am. We have lots of experience helping people find common ground and celebrating points of concordance. Looking at the glass as half full and all that. Figuring out how to get along. Strategizing how to work together to make things happen. Our political leaders could use a strong dose of "let's work together for the common good". It would play better than the current, "my way or the highway" approach.

I read a long article about the ramifications if the Supreme Court begins dismantling Obamacare. The closing paragraph mentioned that Congress would have to deal with the fallout if the Court can't. Then it went on to mention that Congress has been getting along so poorly, nothing would happen until next session, if then. Where exactly does that leave "we, the people" in the meantime? In limbo, that's where. And at the mercy of insurance companies who simply love to dump you if you happen to get sick. Happened to us. Kaiser axed my husband about fifteen years ago when he sought care in a different state for an aggravated case of the flu. Axed him and didn't bother to tell us. We found out when we called to see where the premium notice was.

When I look at political rhetoric where elected officials and wannabes are trying to tell me what to think and how I should feel, I woonder what happened to trusting people's innate ability to figure things out for themselves. I don't need someone sitting in Washington D.C. or Sacramento to interpret reality for me. I'm perfectly capable of drawing my own conclusions.

How about some of the rest of you out there? Any feelings about the political landscape you'd like to share?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Travelin’—in this Dimension and Others

As I’m working on getting together what I’ll need for an upcoming trip to the United Kingdom, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about air travel. Mostly because I’ve avoided it like the plague, except for things like my mother’s funeral where I had to get to where I was going faster than I could drive. Not that automobile exhaust is any better for the atmosphere than jet fuel exhaust,  but I think it would take hundreds—if not thousands—of cars to equal the damage one jet aircraft does to the atmosphere every time it leaves the ground.

You see, I really do believe we’ve done a stellar job of squandering Earth’s resources. The fallout is creating an environment that, sooner rather than later, will no longer support the seven billion people populating the planet. That’s another problem—how many of us there are. But that’s not the topic of today’s blog.

So, I’ve tried to do my part. You know, walk rather than drive. Have all my vacations be backpacking trips where I leave from trailheads I can walk to. Turn down the thermostat. Try to recycle, schlepp reusable bags to the supermarket and be a responsible consumer. Of course, balanced against the millions in China and India who are first time car owners, my paltry efforts probably don’t count for much.  Then there are all those new coal-powered plants scattered around the globe. Coal is about the dirtiest energy source imaginable.

And that’s just it. Everyone seems far more focused on now, than on the future. On What's In It For Me. Friends have scoffed at me for not traveling. “Everyone does it,” they tell me.
My response has always been, “Yes, and that’s the problem. We make everything someone else’s problem rather than taking responsibility for what we can do to improve things.”

I’m not sure exactly what my internal process was, but I caved. And it bothers me. Last October, we bought a motorhome. A small one, but it still only gets twelve miles to the gallon on a good day—much less if it’s climbing uphill. It’s better than flying, but even I recognize that reasoning as bald-faced rationalization. Then there’s this upcoming trip across the Atlantic. There are other trips I’d like to take, too. It remains to be seen whether my guilty conscience will manage the transition from responsible human being to a profligate using more than my share of Earth’s limited resources. “Just this once won’t hurt,” is an excuse used by every dieter, drug addict and law breaker since the dawn of time. Unfortunately, I know different. Every time hurts. And every time is cumulative.
Is this something any of the rest of you think about? Since hardly anyone lives in a cave, making certain they are zero carbon footprint producers, how do you square what you do with your conscience?