The Perfect Game

I’ve never been a sports fan–I guess I like my comfort too much to waste time freezing at a football game sitting on uncomfortable bleachers. Or maybe I just figured it was a waste of my time to watch people shove and elbow each other until they were black and blue just to drop a ball in a basket at the opposite ends of the court.  Granted, while I’m at one of those games, I will cheer and holler for my team like everyone else, but if I have a choice of whether or not to attend, I’ll opt for not attending every time.

However, there is one game you can always take me to: baseball. Maybe it’s because I understand the rules; maybe it’s because baseball is a game anyone can play regardless of ability or aptitude; maybe it’s just because baseball is a leisurely game with no time limits.

Ah, there’s the rub. Some smart aleck in sports has decided to change the fundamental principles of baseball by insisting on time limits for pitchers and batters. Really? Are you insane? What practical purpose could time limits serve to improve the game?

Baseball isn’t about time limits. It’s about long summer days, eating hot dogs or nachos and chatting with your friends. It’s about strategy, stepping off the mound or out of the batter’s box at the precise moment to throw off the pitcher or batter. It’s about keeping the first and second base runners honest, so they don’t get too big a lead. It’s about having plenty of time to enjoy America’s favorite sport.

There’s a reason baseball is a favorite, not just in America, but around the world, and it comes back to the leisurely nature of spending time with family and friends. Unlike football and basketball, where one has to be constantly watching, baseball is more laid back. You can take your eyes off the “action” for a moment to gaze at your sweetheart or exchange a bit of conversation with your best friend.  There’s no hurry, no rush, and in today’s frenetic paced society an opportunity to slow down is welcome.

Maybe that’s why even in science fiction, baseball is still around long after all the other sports have faded into obscurity (Deep Space 9). It’s as necessary as the air we breathe. There are a lot of things MLB’s head honchos have done I’m not happy with, but this one takes the cake. To take away even a part of what makes baseball unique for the sake of a few dollars isn’t just a crime, it’s reprehensible.

Don’t mess with perfection.

 

 

 

 

courtesy StarTrek.com

Everything I Need to Know about Writing I Learned from Korean Dramas

Well, maybe not everything, since I didn’t discover Korean dramas until my children were grown.  However, Korean dramas have heavily influenced both my writing and style.

* If you want to learn how to write fast-paced, exiting plots: watch Korean dramas.

* If you want to learn about incorporating plot twists, watch Korean dramas.

* If you want to learn how to “grow” or change a “static” character into a “dynamic character, watch Korean dramas.

* If you want to learn how to wring the most emotion out of a scene, watch Korean dramas.

Today’s blog, however, isn’t about how to write; it’s about the gatekeepers that hinder or block writing.  If you watch any K-drama long enough, you come to recognize that gatekeepers are part and parcel of all good plot twists. Just when you think the hero/heroine is going to succeed, up pops another gatekeeper to sabotage everything.  Sometimes the gatekeeper can be a rival, a parent, an old enemy, someone in authority who is crooked or has a lot of power, even tradition.

Writing has the same kinds of gatekeepers. Sometimes a parent or teacher discourages us from following our gifts. “Very few people make a living writing books.”  “The industry is highly competitive.”  Maybe so, but that’s no reason not to write.

Sometimes the gatekeeper is our own lack of knowledge or skill; however, that particular gatekeeper can be easily overcome. A much harder gatekeeper is the “location” where we find ourselves.  Writing science fiction in the middle of rural America isn’t going to be easy, nor is writing rural westerns in a metroplex. Often times we find ourselves surrounded by cultures or people who just “don’t get it,” and thus finding our market or niche becomes something that seems insurmountable.

Time and reality are also gatekeepers. In 30 years I have written 8 novels. That may not seem like much; however, I’ve been a wife, raised four children, been a missionary, newspaper editor, and school teacher. Working full time leaves little room for anything else, especially if one is going to have time for family and self. I “make” time to write, yet the demands of reality often get in the way. Still, eight novels are eight more than most people have written.

The last, most powerful gatekeeper is the publishing industry itself.  In the first 20 years of my writing “career” I ran across the reality that just because a book is good doesn’t mean it’s marketable. (not my idea, I borrowed it from another indie writer). This truism means that publishers don’t always publish good books; they publish what will make them money.  I know that hundreds of excellent books languish in reject bins due to this mentality.

Yet thanks to Createspace and the self-publishing industry, this monster gatekeeper is slowly being overcome. Indie authors still have to battle “published” authors and their attitude that somehow self-publishing makes us “not good enough.” It reminds me of Tomorrow’s Cantabile, a school filled with prestigious musicians who looked down on the “leftovers” as not being as good enough to make the A team. Until one courageous conductor transformed those opinions into a remarkable orchestra where every “voice” blended into perfect harmony to create a unique cantabile.

Writers are unique. Our voice, our message doesn’t have to garner the spotlight to be meaningful—or respected.  A library is filled with a plethora of books, old, new, innovative, traditional, factual, fantastical, opinionated, educating. Some have worn, dull covers hiding exquisite stories. Others are all flash and bling and not much substance, but popular with readers. Some are priceless tomes that cannot be removed from the library, while others spin through the paperback exchange like a revolving door.

Everyone has a story. Some writers may not be as skilled as others in telling their stories, yet they deserve a chance to sing and a even minor chord can touch a heart.

 

True Love

Valentine’s Day isn’t just about flowers and chocolates.  It’s about the giver understanding the receiver’s heart and the receiver understanding the giver’s heart.  What may appear to be an “unromantic” gift to an outside observer could, in fact, be a sincere expression of the deepest love.

For those of you who gave or received Valentine’s gifts, don’t worry; I’m not going all Scrooge on Valentine’s Day. I’ve had some very romantic ones. But there is more to love than just meeting society’s expectations one day out of the year.

My husband didn’t get me flowers or chocolates for Valentine’s Day this year; he got me an ankle brace. He didn’t get flowers because, even though I adore flowers, my allergies were acting up and the flowers would have exacerbated my already compromised immune system.  He didn’t get me chocolate because he knew I was trying to lose weight for health reasons and chocolate would sabotage my struggling efforts. His love found expression in the ankle brace.  Lightweight, discrete and comfortable. Two weeks ago I severely sprained my ankle for the second time in as many months. My dear husband knew that hobbling around in an air cast not only drew unwanted attention, but wreaked havoc with my high-strung ADD personality. His unusual gift gave me freedom and comfort.

But you could have gotten that yourself, some may say. The point is I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to get out in the cold and wet and struggle through Walmart in an air cast. I merely shed my limitations and gained my mobility again to race at breakneck speed through my already busy day, thanks to the thoughtful and timely intervention of my  husband.

Plus, when I got home the kitchen was clean and the laundry folded and put away. If cooking is the way to a man’s heart, a clean house is the way to a woman’s. Coming home to a clean house is better than a pedicure!

i-love-us

Tainted Writing

I must admit I was a bit disappointed with the way the second season of The Flash ending. One of the reasons I have kept up with this show while letting so many of the other “superhero” shows go was its focus on light rather than dark.

However, the millennial way of doing things seems to be get a viewer invested in a “good guy” then show he’s been bad all along.

Sorry, good writing doesn’t work that way.

It is easy for a good man to pretend to be bad, but it is impossible for a bad man to pretend to be good. (see Mirror, Mirror, STOS)  Even his efforts at “good” are tainted by darkness, and one instinctively doesn’t completely trust him even at his most charming.

This tendency to trick the viewer or reader into believing someone is good, knowing deep down he is bad is just poor writing. To be truly effective, one must show the villain in all his evilness, while presenting a “charming” appearance to the hero; leaving the audience breathlessly moaning, ‘no, no, no, don’t trust him!.” An excellent example is David Copperfield’s Uriah Heep, a mousy little man with sufficient power to wreak havoc in the lives of the main characters all the while pretending to be humble servant. The reader suffers intensely wondering when, or if, David and the others will ever figure out this desperately wicked person and be free of his machinations.

Understandably, it is harder to portray that in film, but the best cinematographers excel at it. Maybe through a glance, a gesture, an aside, or just the attitude of the hero. Take Frank Capra’s portrayal of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. We see the evil things he does, but when he is his most charming, offering George a great job, it is George’s reaction to the handshake that reveals the depth of Potter’s treachery. A certain look in his eyes, then rubbing his hand against his trousers. Iconic.

I’ll keep watching Flash, but it’s lost a bit of the wonder for me. Plot twists simply for the sake of “rebooting” are simply childish.

Object Lesson One: Just a Box of Junk

It looked like nothing more than a box of junk, the kind of thing a kid might keep under the bed, filled with odds and ends, bits of paper and plastic, string and beads.

Instead, the owner transformed this simple junk into magical objects filled with wisdom and fun. The owner was a young church leader in charge of the jovenes (teenagers and unmarrieds) and his particular skill set was using everyday objects, a little sleight of hand, and a dash of science to teach simple object lessons about faith in Jesus. I sat spell bound, even though I’d seen better “magic” acts. What made this spectacular was the enthusiasm and the wisdom with which this young man performed the simple tricks and the humble way he used them to draw interest into his message – faith in Christ.

Watching him demonstrate his routine for the youth group, I realized how often I dismiss people or ideas as “valueless” or “timewasters” or “unimportant” just because they don’t fit my preconceived ideas. I wonder how many of my students I have overlooked because they didn’t fit in, didn’t “sit up straight and pay attention,” insisted on doing it their own way, or just because they “looked” like they couldn’t do the assignment? How many adults have I ignored simply because I didn’t have time for their “nonsense”, “whining”, or “babbling?” How many times have I felt the sting when someone felt the same about me, dismissing my ideas, my interests, my skills as “pointless”?

There is a lesson in this humble box of junk for all of us. Life means variety. Life thrives on difference and individuality. Trying to force everyone into a single mode, a single mindset is anti-life. “Isn’t that exactly what religion does? Force everyone into a single mindset?” some will argue. And they are right. Religion, philosophy, government – all these do try to force people into a single mindset because people are easier to control that way. However, faith in Christ is not religion. People have taken various aspects of it and turned it into a religion, not faith in Christ. “Oh, you’re just splitting hairs,” some will accuse.

No, I’m  not. Religion follows a set of specific rules which burden its followers. But faith in Christ follows two principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And love your enemies/neighbors as Christ has loved you.

And that, my friends, leaves us wide open to all the billions of ways to express that kind of love because we are all individuals. Love isn’t a burden. True love sets us free to be enthusiastic, creative, joyful, different.

America: Welcome to the Third World

We left America at the end of the Reagan years to work in Ecuador. When we came back to the States in 2000, we were shocked at how different everything was. Nothing, however, prepared us for the continual decline we’ve experienced in the last 16 years as “the land of the free” has grown more and more like a third world country.

What do I mean America is like a third world country? Yes, we still have numerous “freedoms” sadly lacking in most Third World nations; however, there are several eerie similarities that clearly shows the changing nature of our country:

  • Darker city streets and highways
  • Lack of variety in stores
  • Empty store shelves
  • “political correctness” eroding freedom of speech
  • loss of jobs for talking against the government or government edicts
  • government insurance and taxes taking half of one’s salary
  • health care that requires longer wait time for less services
  • too many rules and regulations hindering the ability to start up a new business or keeping an existing one going
  • no middle class

The list goes on. The point is we have nearly reached critical mass, where the consumers have outnumbered the producers and the producers bear the brunt of keeping things going. There are several reasons for this downward decline, but one glaring reason is the number of politicians running our country. The founding fathers never meant for politicians to rule. They meant for people to rule. Folks who understood the pinch of making ends meet, of eating beans and rice for dinner, of dreaming of a better future for their children.

Tuesday is election day. A chance for change. So instead of voting for a party, or voting for a politician, or the lesser of two evils, vote your conscience. You aren’t “losing your vote.” If you vote for the same old same old or to keep the other guy out, you’ve already lost your vote and a chance at turning things around.

This country was built on risk takers.

Be a risk taker. Vote your conscience.

 

The Golden Age of Science Fiction

Back when I was growing up in rural America, I didn’t realize what a remarkable time period I lived in. My dreams always leapt to the future in far flung galaxies or excavated in the past amid ancient or fantastical civilizations.  I practically lived in the library where I had free access to these worlds through the pages of books.  Yet I always longed for the days when I could afford to buy my own copies, when books would be as free and plentiful and accessible as the air I breathed.

Fast forward to the 21st century when all my dreams seemed to come true: books are plentiful and accessible thanks to e-readers and publishing platforms like Createspace; however, the writers have changed.  Back in the Golden Age of science fiction, writers wrote series of books, not books of series. They created marvelous worlds and characters and spun countless episodes of adventures like an ongoing television series.

Today, however, writers take one story, pump it up with useless backstory, bland dialogue and wasted pages of description in order to stretch the one story over a dozen books. And I am left back in the exact same desert as before—unable to satisfy my thirst for imaginary worlds and larger than life characters.

But back to the Golden Age of Science Fiction.  In the decades leading up to the 1970s, science fiction had a positive outlook—even the most thought-provoking stories left the reader with a gleam of hope at the end, a chance that humanity could learn from their mistakes and move forward into a glorious age of space exploration.  Even the cautionary tales, the woeful predictions of gloom and doom were offset with stories detailing the best humanity had to offer. There was also a slew of juvie lit (not necessarily about high school kids), but written for high schoolers that showed we could overcome our base nature and rise to join the vast and glorious civilizations that spanned the galaxies.  It was a time for encouragement and enthusiasm to explore the cosmos and every kid wanted to be a huge part of it.

At least, those of us who read science fiction.

I miss those stories. Even going to the library today finds precious little on the shelves worth my time and investment. Oh, I know Tom Corbett, Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury, and the Heinlein juvie novels were formulaic – that’s what made them so great! In spite of the peril and danger we knew our heroes would succeed. In a world fraught with real dangers and problems, losing myself in an uplifting story was a sorely needed form of escapism.

I think we’ve lost something vital with today’s version of science fiction. We are breeding a generation that has no imagination, that expects aliens to plot the destruction of humanity (and thus expects humanity to plot its own demise), that hasn’t the gumption to reach outward to the stars because of all the obstacles that must first be overcome. Today’s science fiction does far more to defeat the exploration of space than to entice young people to boldly go where no one has gone before.

With our passion for “realistic” stories we have lost not only a piece of our history, but a piece of ourselves. And a society that lacks imagination, can never prepare for the future.

The magic art of ….getting your life back

Whether it’s the in-laws coming or a special occasion or meeting the future son-in-law, cleaning house for company is guaranteed to send modern 21st century women into a tailspin of anxiety and depression.

It reminds me of those Internet memes….This is what I think I do, this is what  my friends think I do, this is what… You get the picture.  Maintaining a clean or even an orderly house with technology or help is definitely a challenge in the 21st century. And thanks to the feminist movement and its “enforcers” most women are left without help amidst the guilt of trying to be both homemaker and career woman.

So what’s a girl to do?

Several months back while search the Kindle book store I ran across a little book by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

It definitely is life changing. I’ve spent my entire life (half a century) under the burden and guilt of trying to maintain an orderly house when I’m NOT an orderly or organized person. Let’s face it…housework is mind-numbingly boring, not to mention backbreaking hard. It’s also mundane and repetitive, NOT the way I want to spend my days or weekends.

So imagine the sheer delight of finding a way to have my cake and eat it, too. This little book changes the way women think about cleaning and organizing, dismissing all the so-called “rules” as unworkable myths and moving on to give an easy, workable solution to the age old problem of juggling life and housework.

What ‘s also remarkable is the “extra” time I’ve found as I work through the process which has become noticeable to all my friends. Not how clean my house is, but how free the rest of my life is.  Now they’re reading the book. My daughters-in-law and I enjoy (yes, I said enjoy) sharing with each other what we’ve done. Imagine showing off closets and drawers that have stayed neat for months with little or no effort!

I know…I would have laughed in your face if you’d told me this time last year I would be an “organized homemaker and proud of it.”  But I am and if I can do it, so can you.

The best thing about this life style change? It’s super easy. Let me give you a small example.

We had company coming – the kind where you wish you could afford to hire a maid because you really want everything sparking—and I was in a panic trying to get everything cleaned while still teaching school during Homecoming week. Then I remembered: what is the purpose of my home? To be squeaky clean? No! The purpose of my home is a refuge, a place where people could relax and escape the pressures of the world.

Instantly, all the things I felt “needed” to be cleaned melted away, along with the stress and guilt. I focused on making the place a refuge, finished cleaning without becoming exhausted, and we had a wonderful weekend and no one noticed the baseboards or cobwebs. (smirk)

 

Nerd Confessions

The problem with being a niche writer is that often niche writers are niche people. We don’t fit into any preconceived or “normal” category. We are neither fish nor good red herring and that in itself presents a problem.  How do we find a comfortable place in both the world and our writing?

For instance, growing up I was neither city nor rural, although I lived in a small town.  I disliked the limited scope of small town life; however,  I desired the quieter pace.  I disliked the noise and confusion and hurry of the big city, but I craved the accessibility of culture and variety. I was also neither city girl nor country girl. I loved being in the country, but lacked the skills necessary for country living. Even though I considered myself country, five minutes in the presence of a country girl made it crystal clear that wasn’t me. The same applied to the city—the social life and status necessary to thrive didn’t interest or appeal to me.

My true habitat was the library. I spent a lot of time growing up at the library, browsing shelves, picking out a book, and reading it at one of the tables. I loved the smell of ink and paper, the quiet that permeated the place, the solitude of being surrounded by worlds that accepted me for who I was.  In college, I would often escape to the stacks of government documents just to find a quiet place to study or read without interruption.

Sports was another arena I just didn’t fit in. Oh, I could go to the game and scream with the rest for a touchdown, but I just didn’t get the intense need. I could take it or leave it, and most of the time I left it.

Maybe it had to do with growing up poor. We never missed a meal, but we didn’t have the “extra” life took to fit in. Events like Homecoming where the girls wore mums that dragged the ground and cost a week’s salary starkly pointed out I didn’t fit in.

In a way, I’ve never overcome that sensation of not fitting in. I teach, but I’m not “a teacher.” In my mind there is a difference and I am acutely aware of it every time I step into a classroom.  I am a Christian, but I don’t fit in with most Christians’ ideas of what constitutes a “good Christian” – in other words, I’m not caught up in the rituals and traditions. The “doing” isn’t as important as the “being.”

When it comes to writing, I wince every time someone asks me to categorize my novels. Science fiction is a broad term and trying to pin it down to subcategory isn’t easy. Is it a western on Mars? A space opera? Space fantasy? A slice of life set in a futuristic setting?  Not a fan of romance novels, I shuddered when I realized my stories sell better under the romance category than sci fi.

Then there’s the whole “what age group is it written for?” I don’t write age groups. I write stories. If a story is good, all ages will like it. I still read the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. I still read Rick Brant and Tom Corbett. I also like The Ranger’s Apprentice series. It doesn’t mean my tastes are juvenile (although a case could be made that I prefer juvie lit over adult lit); I enjoy a well-written story. I read classic literature like the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Prisoner of Zenda, but can’t stand the “classics” required in English lit classes.  (Is it just me or is the educational definition of “classical” limited to dark, occult, and perverse?)

My niche may be defined by books and quiet places, but it’s my niche and I’m comfortable with it. Just don’t ask me to define it or limit it…it’s as vast and diverse as the universe.

 

A Bit of Fluff

The human brain is a remarkable instrument. When faced with things we don’t understand or can’t explain, the brain fills in the missing bits from the billions of informational bytes it has stored

Case in point: our cat came Friday morning as I was leaving for school. Unfortunately, Ralph passed away earlier this year. He was a very large presence in our household for 16 years and has been sorely missed, so it’s not surprising we see him everywhere and even hear him ticking the screen to be let in

I don’t believe in apparitions or ghosts, but I do believe that influence lives on. Ralph had that kind of influence on our lives. For such a small being (he weighed in around 15-25 pounds), he ruled the house. He took up massive amounts of space. Once stretched out, he seemed to dominate our six-foot couch and king-size bed. He seldom spoke, yet always made his presence known. Even when he deigned to grace us with an utterance, it was short, to the point and soft…a far cry from his kitten days when he wouldn’t shut up and his Siamese heritage was very much in evidence. And until Ralph came into our lives, I had no idea cats had a liquid state.

Since his death, we have stumbled over him, been surprised to see him under the futon in the back room, watched him slither between the flower pot and front door as he darted inside and heard him at the window or door asking to be let in. On occasion we’ve spotted him stretched out lion-like on the couch or sprawled on the carpet runner.

Even though we know he’s not there, our brains – long accustomed to having him constantly underfoot – will insist he is still (and ever will be).

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