29 November 2013

The Unreliable Narrator's Uneventful Flight

Most people who know me understand I don't do well flying in airplanes. That's why whenever I'm prescribed Hydrocodone after a dental procedure or any other painful injury, I save those pain killers for days like yesterday, a day that could have been the worst day of my life. That's right, I flew in an airplane...while on dope.

I take a pill just before the security checkpoint where they make you spread your legs and put your hands in the air so all the TSA agents can gawk at you in all their power, glory, and cheesy outfits. After the full body scan is complete, the guard waves me through without a hitch. I giggle slightly because my daughter is pulled aside for further inspection. Apparently, her Miss Me jeans were too blingy.

I have this well planned out, because it's the third time I've traveled in this state of mind. I take a pill about 30 minutes before take off and I'm good to go, usually laying over either in Charlotte or Atlanta. The hour or two delay in either city's airport is not a problem as they have establishments serving up draft beer, which puts a loopy spin on the pain killer.

The second flight boards at 8:15 p.m. and I'm feeling relaxed. Matter of fact, flying is a breeze. Why anyone would have a problem with flying is beyond me. I check out all the nervous passengers and give each a wide smile. Some I wink at, "I got this. Piece of cake." They stare back at me, worry on their faces. I reassure them, everything is going to be fine.

Flight takes off. All is good. My daughter has the seat behind me. The flight will be fifty two minutes according to the flight attendant speaking over the intercom. There must be fifteen babies on this flight, all crying in unison. The more babies on the flight, the less likely the plane will go down. Why? Because God loves babies.

The intercom system activates again and we are promised  refreshments shortly.

Perfect. I order a Miller Lite. The attendant is super nice. Positive vibes rub off.

The lady next to me orders apple juice for her 10 year old son and a Diet Coke for herself. Her son spills both, but I'm cool as a cucumber and drink my beer.

I feel a couple bumps and drops and people around me look at each other and all around. But I'm good. I smile and nod at a few. They turn away, holding the arms of their chairs a little too tightly. The babies even stop crying and it is as if everyone is holding their breaths. Not me. I'm cool as a cucumber.

Then my daughter touches my shoulder from behind, "Mom, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

A few hours later, the alcohol leaves my system and we're in our hotel room. My daughter is bewildered and appears animated while talking about our flight. Apparently, the plane had an unusual amount of turbulence and people on the plane were freaking out. I would have been one of those people had I not saved up my pain killers like a squirrel creating their stash of acorns for the winter.

What on earth does this have to do with making progress? A year ago, we would have wasted 12 hours driving to our destination. I've learned to be more efficient with my time. Though I do not condone the use of prescription medication for purposes which they are not prescribed, on occasion, I put the finger to such policies for the sake of my own comfort. To me, that's progress!

P.S. This is a fictitious character telling the details of our flight to Roanoke. I refuse to incriminate myself. It's fiction with a little bit of truth. Call it the unreliable narrator. ;)

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21 November 2013

Racist Intent or Desensitized?

A fellow blogger at the FWA Conference Blog posted an interesting article and my comment to his article grew into a bit of a rant, so rather than post the entire comment on his blog, I decided to share it here and back link to the article. Here's a glimpse:

An author I follow on Facebook posted the other day that she was talking to a middle school group and brought up that one of her novels involved Mexican drug cartels.  Several of the middle schoolers in attendance immediately and forcefully declared her work to be racist. Based on her Facebook post, she reasonably found the experience to be unsettling. 

For reference:
rac·ist [rey-sist]
a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that a certain human race is superior to any or all others.

of or like racists or racism: racist policies; racist attitudes.

How does writing a novel involving Mexican drug cartels have anything to do with being racist? If her novel is about Mexican dope dealers selling drugs, smuggling prostitutes, and all other kinds of negative things, it's STILL not racist. So why are we teaching this to our children?

The last thing I would ever do is compromise the integrity of my story by tip toeing around social issues. I think I've mentioned that before. It seems to me the mass media has taken to the role of policing creative inspiration by filling our minds with this nonsense of everything being racist if it is the least bit offensive to any group. I see this more often today than I have ever before.

I guess she could have written about a Japanese drug cartel instead. Only that wouldn't make any sense, because the Yakuza are not as famously recognized in the media as are the Mexican drug cartels. The Yakuza would wipe out any Mexican drug cartel because everyone knows, with over 103,000 members, the Japanese house is, by far, the superior criminal organization.

Now, that's racist. 

Personally, I think authors risk more by presenting their characters "out of character" than if they simply tell the story. We've built this wonderful country upon common goals and objectives, yet we came together as people from different cultures and backgrounds, and we're still struggling.

The magic of fiction. I can be whoever I want to be!

Don't you think it's time we embrace Ethnic Literature in the classroom? Let our children read what real authors write about their own culture and people. Let them know it's okay to be different, that our differences are accepted, and it's okay to talk about our differences, our cultures, and our history. The good. The bad. The ugly.

I absolutely loved Ethnic Literature. It was my favorite class in college. I wish I could recall the name of the text book. It was a compilation of short stories by authors of varying cultural backgrounds. I remember stories by Chinese, Italian, African, and Mexican authors, and I was blown away by the unfiltered honesty in the stories they shared about themselves and each other.

I wish people would stop criticizing and start opening their hearts to the dialogue being shared. Get passed the individual shame and embrace humanity as a whole and I believe you will feel less inclined to accuse anyone of being a racist, even if they write fictitious stories about racist characters. At least, that's how I see it. There was a lively discussion about this issue at the end of Stephen King's short story, Herman Wouk Is Still Alive.

I'm not minimizing racism. Racists do exist. Call them out when you see fit, but like the big bad wolf, the boy who cried wolf is out there as well. When he cries wolf too many times, the power of his cry is diminished. People don't hear the cry anymore. It's weakened to the point it's not effective.

Do you think society has been too quick to call things racist or sexist? Is it easier to do that than it is to analyze what's presented before us? As writers, do you find yourselves oppressed and your creative inspirations wilted over the fear of being branded or criticized as was this author?

16 November 2013

A Tale of Cognitive Dissonance

Way back in the day, when I was in college, my psychology instructor introduced a new phrase which, until yesterday evening, I never really understood. This has been a mind blowing revelation, so please follow along.

The phrase I'm sharing today is cognitive dissonance. If you're a smarty pants and already know what this means, great! For the rest of us, it is broken down as such.

cog•ni•tive  [kog-ni-tiv]
Adjective - of or pertaining to the act or process of knowing, perceiving, remembering, etc.; of or relating to cognition

dis•so•nance  [dis-uh-nuhns]
Noun - inharmonious or harsh sound; discord; cacophony

From About.com
The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. 

How does one hold two conflicting beliefs? Well, that depends on your motives at any given moment, right? This is how it came to me. Because up until last night, I don't believe I'd ever had conflicting beliefs. I'm not a republican AND a democrat. I'm not a Christian AND a Buddhist. Get it? That's why this phrase had always been difficult for me to comprehend.

I'll start with the day before. Tim had been working in Miami, so I had some time on my hands and the Yorkie had made a matted mess of her backside. I took this opportunity to comb out her lovely locks. She's a ball of fire, and in order to get her to calm down, I had to hold her steady on the kitchen counter. I know this is not the preferable place to do this, but it was convenient. Was there an epiphany at this moment? No. That came later.

So, I'm combing her hair, pulling out knots, very careful not to trigger any yips from this four pound pooch. All the while, she's excited about this nearby tomato I'd taken a slice off earlier during lunch. I'm a bit embarrassed, but I guess I should have put it away, else she wouldn't be so distracted. If she sniffed it, she would realize it wasn’t some hunk of meat. She'd probably leave it be and I could finish combing out her matts.

Okay, so I let her sniff it. How was I to know she liked tomatoes? I snatched her away, but not before she'd taken several licks from the exposed end. I made a note to throw it out because I'd rather waste nearly an entire tomato than to risk sharing that reeking saliva of hers. It would probably eat its way into the core of the fruit. I'm not being mean. This dog's tongue has been places. I'm embarrassed, again.

All of these things I'm describing to you here are all cognitive. I'm knowing, perceiving, and remembering. I'm very aware of all these things at the moment, but our processing of information changes when we're in a different environment, with different people and different motives. So, enough about the Yorkie for now.

Tim arrived home yesterday and we made a quick trip to the store to stock up on some essentials, namely beer. I decided to accompany him to the store because he'd been gone and I figured we could get caught up on things. And, just for the sake of contrast, Tim's the bargain shopper and I'm the "get in, get it, and get out" type of shopper, and on that evening I had to pee. However, I knew it could wait since we only live 15 minutes away.

So the dissonance part? He starts his bargain shopping for things I felt we could pick up another time, a time when I wasn't consciously aware of my expanding bladder.

"Oh, I know what I needed to get," he says.


I say, "Okay, let's get it and go."

He goes back two more aisles and grabs a few more items. I said he's a bargain shopper, not an efficient one. Meanwhile, my bladder is filling up.

Suddenly, he stops pushing the cart and I slam into his back. "What do you want for breakfast in the morning?" he asks.

"I don't care, BLTs."

"Good, I got bacon the other day and we have lettuce. I just need to get a loaf of bread."

At this point, I'm not even listening anymore because my bladder is so full and I'm agreeing with everything. No more items! Stop adding items to the list and let's get the hell out of here!

"Can we go now?" I plead.

"Yep, let's get out of here."

My hero! Peeing is going to feel soooo good.

We head toward the checkout and Tim says, "We have a tomato at home. I saw it on the counter."

The feeling I had at that moment is called cognitive dissonance.

12 November 2013

When Introducing New Characters

When introducing a new character into my stories, I ask myself 3 questions and if any of these cannot be answered, I make the decision either to omit the character or to provide scenes which have these areas covered. The answers to my questions are fully explained using the addition of Benjamin, the Belgian shepherd in Precinct 9.

 Will the character be instrumental in moving the plot forward?

When adding Benjamin, a.k.a. Benny, to my novel, I didn't have any plot elements set up to justify him, but I really wanted him in it because he's an awesome dog. So I created two plot elements. I had to make sure he will have purpose, he will be responsible for moving the plot along, and his actions will cause a change in my protagonist's journey. They are simple cause and effect elements.

Will the character provide a means to further develop my protagonist?

The relationship a character has with the protagonist is important to me and the more intimate the relationship, the more depth I can bring to both even if the relationship is a negative one. Remember Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs

Benny doesn’t share a negative relationship with Kelly, but I use him to show how much control she has over such a ferocious animal. He's a disciplined police dog and could bring down any 200 pound man who poses a threat. I consider his role to be the sidekick rather than protector. It's one of many roles I considered in the Writer's Dream Kit.

Will the character remain unchanged at the outcome of my story? 

Absolutely not!

Lots of things happen to characters during the course of a story. Even if I don't make a change for the character, the character changes. They have to for me. Why else have this character come along for the ride? It can't be merely as a form of entertainment. 

Things happen. Relationships end. People die. Others fall in love. Something has to happen to every character I introduce or I simply cannot get excited about writing their journey. In my stories, every character has a journey, no matter how minor compared to the protagonist’s.


Why do I do this? 

Because I want my stories to feel as if everything I introduce is fully integrated. I don't want to make that mistake of introducing someone for the sake of having a really cool character in my story. I don't want to create any babies, if you know what I mean.

Do you have a process you use to keep your stories tight from the beginning? Maybe you have guidelines and/or standards you pursue. Care to share them? Comments are welcome, as always!

04 November 2013

My favorite Timisms

When I think of dialogue, I always think about the snippets I post on Facebook where my husband and I exchange quips back and forth, Tim dishing the wittier throw backs, of course. In order for your characters to sound real, make sure that every word counts.

I've gone back through the past year and have compiled some of my favorites, and they're not all between me and Tim. Some involve exchanges with customer service representatives.

If you take a moment and record dialogue that you've had yourselves and re-read them, you can see the characters are there, in all their three dimensional selves.

I can give these snippets to any of my friends, minus the tags, and they can tell which is Tim and which is me just by the things we say and how we say them, what context. This is how dialogue should be in your fiction as well. Your characters should exude who they are through their actions and their dialogue.

These are complete accounts, word for word. I've added some actions to put things in perspective. I'm calling these Timisms.

September 17, 2012

Tim studies the connector and speaks into the phone, "I'm installing a dishwasher you delivered today and I need to purchase an adapter for the connector."

A Lowe's representative says, "Sir, you should hire a plumber to do that."

Tim raises an eyebrow, "Really? Should I also hire an electrician to plug it in?"

October 20, 2012

Diane reflects and says, "I think a lot of my women friends think you're hot."

"Really? Why do you think that is?"

"Because I think they see you as the strong, silent type."

Tim takes two more swallows from his can of Miller Lite, "Because I know to keep my mouth shut around your friends."

November 8, 2012

Tim uses my phone to call Verizon, "I lost my phone."

"Are you calling from that number now, sir?"

After a brief silence and a puzzled glance at my phone, "No, I can't call from it. It's lost."

Tim becomes frustrated and hangs up. He then vigorously searches for his phone and decides he will suspend service after he has one more beer.

Tim finds his phone in the refrigerator on top of the twelve pack of Miller Lite he purchased earlier.

Tim's newly recovered phone rings and he answers it, "Hello?"

It's Verizon wanting him to take a customer satisfaction survey based on his recent call about his missing phone.

March 30, 2013

After two months being on a strict budget, Tim says, "I refuse to live as if we're poor."

Diane gives in, "Okay. So, what would you like to do today?"

Tim, finally having taken the lead, "Let's pack a cooler of beer and go to the flea market."

May 27, 2013

While standing in the center of the vanity, Diane decides not to curl her hair, "Does my hair look okay straight?"

"Looks Great." Tim steps in beside her and looks at himself in the mirror, "Does mine look okay almost gone?"

October 30, 2013

Diane isn't great at doling out compliments, but she finally succeeds, "I love you so much, and I know I wouldn't be the woman I am today if it weren't for you."

Tim continues to hammer nails into the baseboard, "Hey, don't blame that shit on me."

Do you have favorite real life snippets of dialogue to share? Share them in the comments!

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