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Book rec

When I decided to try to level up from writer to author, I went looking for books on how to do that. Do you know how many people are out there writing about writing? And how many people are out there waitiOuliningBookPIcng to take advantage of aspiring authors?

I’ve gotten some really great books in the past few years. And one really great audio lecture. But I think the book I use the most and has given me the most oomph in my writing has been Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland. After reading this book, it isn’t a surprise that Weiland also has a very successful website titled Helping Writers Become Authors.

Now, in the past I’ve been a full-blown pantser, the kind of writer who just starts writing by the seat of her pants and has no plan whatsoever. My only series and my biggest writing endeavor was all done with no real outline. Just an idea. But I was younger then with less cares (cue music and fuzzy memories). Now I have a lot more on my brain plate and have found that waiting about for the muse to strike and the story to form organically as I write isn’t happening. So I’ve started outlining.

There are many, many reasons why outlining is particularly awesome and the book goes into that. But the best thing, I think, that¬† outlining and, in particular, this book does extremely well, is get ideas to flow. Not just simple ideas, but ideas that can turn readers on their heads and they’ll love you for it. Ideas that might not come to you as you are writing because you are in the thick of it and can’t pull away far enough to see all the big picture and to see all the ways your story could go. Maybe you’ll see it in editing, but then you’ll be doing cutting and pasting and tweaking and shoving. You’ll have to do all that anyway, so why make more of the work for yourself, I ask.

Weiland doesn’t just sell a book that tells you how to organize your thoughts, but to really delve into and work out everything your story needs and wants. She teaches ways to jog some great plot points out and how to really flesh out characters and, more importantly, setting. So many authors, particularly in my genre, completely forget setting. Their characters dance about on a blank stage and it’s a truly terrible thing to read. In my big ol’ epic piece , The Concubine Prince, (which I am still writing on) I had my setting all planned out, but this book helped me get more detailed, more into it than just looking at it like a map. And because the setting came to life, more of the story could unfold and breathe, as well.

This book is laid out logically and written in a very engaging way. It’s not at all boring or dry. She uses real-life examples from other authors, as well as examples from the outlines on her own books. There is a workbook that goes along with this one, but I haven’t felt the need for it. Everything you need is right there and ready to be used and applied. A highly recommended book for any writer of fiction.

What about you? Have any excellent writing resources? Please do share!

NaNoWriMo, no?

nanoNovember is but days away. Days! And I still haven’t made up my mind on my project. It’s down to two: The novel I have been working on for years or the rewrites on my anthology-turned-series. I promised to have the series done by December, but I don’t see that happening. Which, admittedly, sucks. I overestimated my abilities. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who can multi-task, competently and enthusiastically. I give my all to one project at a time and downgrade everything else. I am nearly finished with my tax classes, taking the final on the 2nd. I’ll easily catch up on my NaNo word count from that delay.

But because of classes, I wasn’t writing nearly enough to meet my self-imposed deadline. Guilt tells me to use November to work on the series. But passion tells me to work on my beloved novel. I have it 95% plotted. I have a map drawn, notes written, inspirational photos and music. Passion for this project is high.

Guilt, however, has always driven me. On the other hand, I feel long-term guilt on my novel, seeing as how I once posted the first few chapters and never finished. That makes two public WIPS and I swore to never do that.

Well, is anyone else doing NaNoWriMo? What are you going to work on? If you are doing it and you wanna be buddies, I go by the same name over on the NaNo site, as here. Look me up and maybe we can inspire each other. …as soon as I figure out what the hell I’m doing.

Hilda!

HildaThe queen of the ample pin-ups! I adore her. I came across her existence a year or two ago and just found another stash of her prints. Her calendars were as popular as the other pin-ups back in the day, but she became lost to history for some time. I’m so very glad she was rediscovered.

Hilda1

Multi potential

Cruising through Facebook as I am oft wont to do, I bumped into this video.

I just recently celebrated my birthday and I am sliding into my forties. I’ve been going to school for years. I’ve switched my area of studies so many times, they’ve put a turnstile in the counselors’ office just for me. I’ve been feeling worse and worse about my lack of focus and drive, calling myself all sorts of names. I am so very glad I saw this video. Sometimes you just need to step out of yourself and see what you’re actually doing in a different light. This talk did that for me and now that I don’t see myself as a flighty slacker, I won’t present myself as one.

I hope anyone else who also beats themselves up for finding more than one or two things in life worth your attention and energy will gain something from this video, as well.

Would you say you’re a multipotenialite or kind that always knew what they’re calling was?

The Dead Lands

If you haven’t watched “The Dead Lands” you should give it a whirl. It’s set in New Zealand and about a boy who wants to exact revenge for the destruction of his tribe. It’s entirely in the Maori language. It has some violence, but nothing gruesome. Some CGI blood, that just gives you a gasp effect, not even close to vomit-inducing or comical silliness. I loved the ancestors part of it, the setting is obviously beautiful, and the story was incredibly satisfying. And the wicked cool Maori fighting is pretty bad ass. The posturing is incredible and if you’ve ever enjoyed watching the Haka performed before rugby matches, you’ll love this movie. We even have a stunning fight with a female warrior. Seriously, check it out!

And man flesh. Lots of man flesh.

And man flesh. Lots of man flesh.

The town next to mine has way cooler classes and activities, so I jumped city lines and took a pressure canning class.

I’ve danced around pressure canning for a while. I tried water bath canning this Spring and really liked it. But water bath canning is pretty much for fruits. Jams, jellies, chutney, etc. I dig all of them, but what I grow in my garden is veggies. I also wanted to can sauces and soups. And for all of that, you need a pressure canner.

Like right out of a sci-fi or horror set.

Like right out of a sci-fi or horror set.

This thing is not only intimidating-looking, it is also intimidatingly priced. At about $240, this isn’t some random hobby you just pick up to see if it sticks. Which is why I started with water bath canning. I was out only about $50 and I could decided if the whole rigmarole of canning was something I was into.

Having found that, yes, I’m into it. I went to this class yesterday. It was supposedly meant for kids, being put on by the local 4-H. But there was no one under their mid-twenties in that packed kitchen. Somehow I ended up sitting with a table of other vegetarians because when the first project was to can chicken, all of us went, “Pass.” Apparently we picked up each others’ vibage or something. Another very cool thing happened when we were all busy chopping and peeling for the veggie soup. I asked my table, “We’re not just tossing these scraps in the trash, are we?” A few moments later a bag went around for scraps that another student was going to put in her compost. Which is exactly where I wanted them to go. Well, ok. I’d have preferred that they went in my compost pile, but as long as they weren’t going in the landfill, I was good.

The instructor was awesome and patiently answered my many questions. No, the canner will not blow up. No, as long as you process everything long enough, you will not die of botulism. No, really, you won’t blow yourself up. Well, yes, this model of canner was used in a bombing incident, but there was no food involved, so you’ll be ok.

Now that I’ve seen the process from beginning to end, took notes, and have handouts, I think I’m ready to tackle this bad boy. So, I’ll be saving my pennies and hopefully have a pressure canner to (not blow myself up with) can my garden veggies next summer. Then I can make more of these!

My very own jars of green beans and veggie soup that fit perfectly in my car's drink carrier. Who knew?

My very own jars of green beans and veggie soup that fit perfectly in my car’s drink carrier. Who knew?

New semester, new class!

I really enjoy being a student. If I could do it professionally, I would. This semester I went with a class that I didn’t need for my degree but could use since I am also taking an income tax course what will take up a lot of brain power. I took a class called Process of Communication ’cause that sounded damned interesting. And it’ll be useful to learn how communication occurs when I am trying to help people file their taxes. Win-win!

Or so I thought until I was served a big ol’ helping of Nope.

The instructor first warned everybody that if they took this particular comm course to avoid public speaking, they were going to be disappointed since there were a couple of public speaking assignments. Meh, I’m not too bothered by doing speeches or presentations. No big. She went over the assignments and said APA format would be required and I quivered a little at that, but figured I needed to suck it up and finally stop dodging APA. It’d be cool.

But when she said, “The course will mainly be done in small groups,” I nearly stood up and went “Oh, hell no!” and storm out.

I don’t do small groups. I equate small group work to nails on a chalkboard or a chili pepper enema or underwear with worn elastic. No, Just no. God, no.

Therefore, I began to subtly pack up my things and wait for a good time to make a break for the door in case the instructor wanted to start her grouping on the first day. And then something horrible happened. She started telling us all the things we would learn in class, and damn it I want to learn that stuff. It is right up my alley of exploration. I even started thinking of changing my major to communication studies, which I do every semester that has a class I totally dig (I’ve decided to be everything from a biologist to a mathematician to a business manager).

So, I’m stuck. The teacher is awesome, funny and smart, and the material is incredibly intriguing and engaging. But I must traverse my own personal hell to get to it. Save me.

I have always been fascinated with the Eastern religions.

Growing up, I was raised non-religious. My paternal grandmother who was into her church, sent me a children’s bible which I dug. It was illustrated and I remember connecting with the story of King Solomon and the baby-being-cut-in-half story, but don’t remember much else. I once attended bible summer camp with my friend because they were giving out free cookies and juice. We would walk down there every day for a week and do… something. I just remember they had the good sandwich cookies. My mother held Quakers in high regard and Mormons in low regard (this was due to a story of two missionaries, one of which would teach her Mormon things while the other diddled her babysitter). My dad never stated his opinion at all. So I was free to explore and never felt compelled to think one way or another.

I loved researching Taoism but only ever skirted Buddhism, finding it a pretty thing but much too vast to delve into. The Dalai Lama was rad and I dug his words, but I can’t meditate so I couldn’t possibly be a Buddhist. I came to the opinion that only if you lived in a monastery away from the rest of the world could you ever possibly be a Buddhist.

After a couple of jumps into the Wiccan pool and putting a toe in the Druid pond, I looked at Buddhism again. There is a temple about an hour away that we celebrated Obon one year and I kept up with them on Facebook. It piqued my curiosity enough that I decided to really try to learn. After all, the Buddhists who attend that temple all live in Pasadena, which is not exactly a remote location. I read a book by a popular Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, and dug around in several websites. The Pasadena temple also had informational links and one of them was that it was part of the Jodo Shinshu tradition. And I fell in love.

Shin Buddhism is the biggest branch of Buddhism in Japan. Other traditions of Buddhism traveled and colonized, but Shin stayed home. Not until the late 19th century did it decide it wanted to know what the rest of the world had going on and hopped a steamer to the West. Because of that, it is a tradition that is still very Japanese with mostly Japanese sangha or congregations. The temple nearish to me has a Japanese service as well as an English one.

One of the important things to understand about Shin is that for nearly 800 years it has been solely devoted to providing laypeople with a way in which to experience awakening and joy in their own everyday lives.*

See, the guy who is credited with inventing the tradition, and his teacher, got fed up with the elitism of the dominant Buddhism at the time. As I understand it, it felt to him as it had to me, like only for those removed from society, like high class people and monks. So he and his teacher, even after censure from the government, spread this style of Buddhism about. There is a lot more to the story, of course, but at its heart, Jodo Shinshu is about finding awakening in compassion and gratitude and helping others. And I dig that a lot. It fits with what I understand, with my Humanist core.

I’ve always appreciated Buddhism for it being a path, almost a psychology, about living a good life. It doesn’t have to be a Religion, but a way of living that is good and not dragged down by dogma. As the Buddha said himself, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” That is some confidence. The Buddha just mic dropped and walked away with that one. Go with it or not, it’s cool either way. The Buddha isn’t going to chase you down and scare you into following his teachings. He’s chill. He’s cool. He is, like any teacher, only offering something you are free to have.

So I continue my education in Shin Buddhism. I am currently reading a very cool book called Buddhism of the Heart by Jeff Wilson. I was previously reading River of Fire, River of Water by Taitetsu Unno, but it was a little more academic than I was ready for. Wilson’s book is made up of short stories and essays that are meant to give you understanding of Shin in a more natural environment. He did it this way because much of the tradition of Shin is passed down through stories in the community.

These sacred stories are a mixture of actual events and myth. It can be hard to tell these two elements apart– but fortunately telling them apart isn’t the point. Our stories aren’t important because they did or didn’t happen exactly the way we tell them, but because they reveal aspects of how things are and how we can learn to live in accord with the Dharma, the reality that the Buddha uncovered.*

I’ll probably write more of my thoughts here as I continue to explore and learn. I sometimes don’t know what I think until I have written it down. If you are at all interested in the subject, let’s talk. I love discussing religion. It is a fascinating subject for me.

*Both quotes were taken from the book Buddhism of the Heart.

What is wrong with me?

For over a year, I’ve been consciously dealing with a perceived personality flaw. Unconsciously I had been trying to mitigate it for years due to my oldest friend’s behavior around me. A little over a year ago, it was flung into my face by a group of friends who blind-sided me with it. And though it was time for me to move on from that group of friends for other reasons, I still walked away from the ordeal truly examining what was wrong with me. To the point that I became more wary of human interaction and feared ever making new friends.

Then it dawned on me that it was not my flaw, but theirs.

Of course, that is the cry of many people who don’t want to deal with fixing a negative in their personality. But seeing as this flaw attributed to me is seen as a flaw in the public, I can see what has happened.

I am accused of being opinionated. This is thrown in my face by my younger brother. My oldest friend hides things from me, because she doesn’t want to hear my opinion (or already knows it). My old group of friends shoved it in my face, saying that I needed to keep my opinions to myself (even though we had a bi-monthly discussion group).

And here is where everyone has it wrong. Even I had it wrong. Opinionated does not equal judgmental.

I am well-read, enjoy research, and am truly fascinated by my fellow man. I love science. I love music. I love a whole lotta damn things. If I didn’t form opinions on subjects, topics, and thoughts, well then, I’m an idiot. Or possibly a Zen Buddhist. Could you imagine? A college full of brilliant minds and none of them had any of their own thoughts on matters?

Opinionated means I have come to a decision of how I see or feel on certain things. That’s it. If you bring up to me an article on bottle-feeding baby tigers, I will assume we are having a conversation and will therefore bring up my own opinion on it. And then I will pause and wait to hear your opinion on it. If you have a different opinion on the subject, I will think about it, possibly disagree with you, using points and facts I have learned to illustrate why my opinion was formed differently from yours. This is how discussions work. This is how information is passed and how I may learn something new that will change my opinion on the subject.

Now, let me give you an example of how judgement works. My mother was judgmental. She made up her mind on something and only she had the ability to change that opinion. What I or anyone else thought, or any facts we brought forward, were nothing to her. She would denigrate anyone who had a differing opinion than her and would have no qualms about telling them so, or waiting until their back was turned to tell everyone else how stupid she thought them. This behavior is judgmental. This behavior is why I thought “being opinionated” was so bad.¬† But what my mother did is not what I do. I welcome differing opinions. That isn’t to say I am going to agree with you because I do have my own brain. But that doesn’t automatically qualify you as less-than in my book.

We really can agree to disagree. This is totally ok. This is the issue with my oldest friend. She can’t make decisions. Ever. Everyone who knows her knows this. She often uses me for a sounding board to see what I think she should do. So it isn’t fair that she then hides things from me. It’s not the stuff that she hides that bothers me (I really don’t care if her husband smokes. I don’t live with him.) but it’s the fact that she hides anything at all. I feel close friends should be able to say anything to each other, share secrets, fears, and be safe and secure in the friendship. She clearly doesn’t feel that way because she is threatened by my thoughts on things. If she were to tell me years ago that her new husband smokes, she knows I would have said, “uh oh, you said you’d never marry a smoker. You tell him to smoke outside? Man, that sucks. And you being in the health field and everything.” And if she had replied with, “Yeah, well, I didn’t know he was a social smoker until I was already in love with him,” I would have nodded and said, “Ah, that sucks. Well, is he open to quitting if he only does it socially?” But that conversation never got to take place. Instead she slipped up one time about his smoking and then went on the defensive in such a painfully awkward way, I just smiled and nodded and didn’t say a word, hurt that she continued to hide things from me.

So the weakness in character wasn’t in mine, but in others. They do not feel confident enough in themselves to listen to a differing opinion. Perhaps it’s because I really can site my sources, because I really am well-read, and they may not be. I know that if I don’t have enough information on a topic, my own opinion on it is fairly weak. Which is why I would love to sit down and have a discussion on it so I can learn. However, just because you got your opinion on something off the TV or from a chain email doesn’t mean I’m the jerk for bringing up a differing opinion and being able to support it. Which is where I think I get into trouble. Just as I assume grown-ups are going to have the emotional control and maturity of adults, I also assume someone asserting an opinion on something has actually formed that opinion based on facts or experience. So, if anything, I have the personality flaw of assuming too much. (I am working on it.)

But I am hereby taking back the meaning of “opinionated.” It is not a negative or insult. It just translates to “well-read and thoughtful and eager to have discussions.” Your Uncle John who spouts off on everything political but hasn’t actually read anything and doesn’t want to hear your thoughts on it unless you mirror his? Yeah, he’s judgmental (and possibly stupid). Don’t give him or his kind the honor of being called opinionated.

Okay, now you tell me. Am I off base? Should I put this whole idea away and continue to work on being less opinionated? What do you think? Tell me true. I honestly would love the discussion.

Smart idea!

Brain: Hey, Body, I know how bummed you’ve been since we hurt our neck and shoulder and haven’t been able to do a whole lot but whine about the pain.
But I have an idea! Let’s lift weights and work the kinks out. Get some energy. It’ll be great.

Body: Ok!

Next morning, unable to move.

Body: Well, Brain, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.

Brain: …