Monday, November 21, 2011

The Shop and the Book

So it's the week before Thanksgiving, and I've heard about a little something called Small Business Saturday. Apparently, it's the day after Black Friday, and I do suppose Etsy shops count. So here's a shameless plug for mine.

The shop recently underwent a name change and a bit of a makeover. So, I present to you a few snapshots from Edna's Discount Space Freight.

This is one of my favorite pairs of earrings that I made. Check out the geek-tastic description underneath.

Another similar pair, but with a bit of a different color scheme.

A knit wire bracelet that I'm working on having some optional charms for, but it's beautiful alone.



This necklace has been in my shop for a while, and I'd like to find someone to enjoy it.


I loved putting these earrings together and watching the way the different pearls play off each other.

And through Sunday, this week only, enter the coupon code SPACEGIVING at checkout to receive 30% off your purchase! And I'd be flattered if you'd follow me on Twitter and like the shop's Facebook page.

Also, I'd like to announce the title of my novel. I don't have a definite release date yet, but I will very soon. It's called Trenavell, and while it is technically a YA novel, I think it will appeal to people outside the range. I hope, anyway. I've joked that it's a mix of Red Dawn and Twilight (without communism and vampires), with a dash of colonial America thrown into a nightmare version of Narnia. So if you liked The Hunger Games, this book may be for you. Keep a lookout, 'cause I plan to have it available on Kindle, in paperback, and in hardcover.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Bout to Get Real Here

Mildly Insightful's post from yesterday was truthful, concise, and intelligent. Just what I like in a blog post. It also concerned the controversial appointment of Chuck Phelps to the board of trustees at Bob Jones University. I went to that college. I invite you to visit Mildly Insightful to read it the post. I am not sure I could summarize it well enough. I can tell you, however, that the university used a chapel service to communicate that they are refusing to back down from their conviction that Mr. Phelps is the right man for the job, apparently.

After reading the post, I linked to it on my Facebook wall, commenting that this action does not surprise me in the least bit. Within a short time, a friend of mine posted a long counter-argument in a comment. People are only trying to criticize conservative Christians, he said, among other things. I've read this same argument in other places, so whatever. But the thing that caught my eye was the very beginning of the comment, where it was said that the university should have stayed away from Chuck Phelps, because they don't need anymore controversy.

Really?

Because this is how I would look at it. Whatever you believe, personally, about Chuck Phelps, Ernie Willis, and Tina Anderson, is irrelevant to others who don't know as much as you about the case. All an unbeliever or a new believer sees is that the university that claims to stand so firmly for the truth has a man, a pastor, on the board who didn't do all that he could when faced with the rape of a child by an adult.

At Bob Jones University, we as students were often reminded that what we do should not cause other believers to stumble in their faith. Far too often, this was applied to music or skirts or something.

If Bob Jones University proclaims that they stand for the truth, without apology, then what will people see when they realize who is now on the board of trustees? Many of the people criticizing the university aren't "liberal" Christians, or folks from seeker-sensitive fluff churches, or anyone else usually derided by the supporters of Phelps. The ones bringing criticism haven't left the faith. At this point I'm wondering if they didn't appoint Phelps to the board on purpose, to invite controversy, so that they can show how they're standing so strong against the attacks of the devil.


So, Bob Jones University. Is it worth it to cause a new believer to wander from the faith just so you can stand without apology for a faith that places the power of God in the hands of men? Is it worth it to drive unbelievers away from Christ so you can prove a point?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fried Slice: Unparalleled Levels of Awkward

My brother mentioned recently that out of all the stories I told about my years at Bob Jones University, not one ever began with "hey, I once knew this one person who was completely normal." I realized that this is completely true. Granted, the average, every day person rarely ever makes a good character in a story, but it's absolutely amazing how many downright awkward people there are at Bob Jones University.

Now, I managed find and befriend some very normal, very awesome people, but for ever one regular individual, there are probably three who instantly make a room feel extremely uncomfortable. That's what this post's about: those wonderful folks who add a little awkward flavor to all of our lives.

The first semester of my senior year, I took a class for my creative writing minor called Writing for Children. The nice thing about a small university is that your classes also tend to be small, so our little band was able to be a little more casual and candid during the hour and fifteen minute sessions. In between workshops, projects, and lectures, we'd sometimes get to peruse and discuss children's literature. One morning, the teacher read Love that Dog by Sharon Creech, and we discussed it.

Now, I am personally convinced that many children's authors actually hate their intended audience, and Love that Dog pretty much confirmed this, because the much beloved dog dies in the book, and dies hard via a car. It made me feel sad for the little boy in the book. That's what good books do, however cruel they are: they make you relate to the character and feel some compassion for their hurts.

But not this one girl.

When the teacher read the part in the book where the dog dies, this one very nice but very awkward girl said, "BAHAHAHAHA!!! OH MY GOODNESS THAT WAS HILARIOUS!!! WASN'T THAT FUNNY GUYS?!"

If not in so many words.

As you can guess, no one else laughed. We sat there, looking around, all...awkward now. I mean, it's pretty well known that Old Yeller's death in his self-titled novel is not exactly a great moment of comedy.

I'm not sure where it comes from, but there is just something about a few of the students at Bob Jones University. Hand them a tragic story, and all of a sudden they turn into Michael Scott making a Chris Rock joke in front of Darryl and Stanley, and all of a sudden they feel it necessary to assure everyone that their friends are, indeed, ethnically diverse.

True story.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review: Shattered, by Sophia Sharp

Say what you will about the Twilight series, but it must always be conceded that the books have been successful in the six years that they've been out. With the rising popularity of self-publishing and the ready availability of resources for such, lots of sad, sad clones of Twilight have appeared on the digital bookshelves of the Kindle store.

Shattered, by Sophia Sharp, popped up as a "YOU MIGHT LIKE THIS" sort of thing in my Amazon account, while I was poking through author pages. It was 99 cents, so I thought "heck, why not" and downloaded it to my Kindle app. (The app was free. Awesome.*)

The book started out okay, but it felt a little first draftish, and the wording tended to be a little juvenile. The male lead (Logan) brooded and mystified the girl (Laura) in an all too familiar way.

And then people begin to disappear.

No, really. Entire sets of characters disappear, including all of Laura's friends. Though the dialogue among them could be stiff and unconvincing most of the time, the characters didn't deserve the horrific fate of being erased from reality altogether. As far as her family, though they are mentioned, you never meet them. Even the dog is a faceless entity that exists, apparently, to underscore the All-American main character.

An unlikely situation involving Laura's soon to be former crush which could totally get the jerk arrested is lifted straight off the pages of Twilight and solved by Logan and mixed martial arts. Very little is described in the book, except for a detailed view of a river-powered mill somewhere in the boonies and Logan's distinctive pale and emo look. The conversations between Laura and Logan aren't badly done, but like the rest of the book, they do need some work.

It's a clone of Twilight, so the SUPRISE I'MA VAMPIRE moment is pretty obvious before it comes, though the "visit the dream world" concept that Sharp includes is interesting and not something I was expecting, though it does make the vampire element seem a little more intrusive and contrived. Logan goes to high school, and Laura first meets him when he transfers to hers. However, he is a 400 year old vampire and travels alone, and there's never given any reason for him to keep up appearances as a high school student. Maybe he fears arrest by a truant officer even though he's totally old enough to drop out and get his GED.

On the bright side, Shattered only cost 99 cents, and the grammar and spelling were clean, something not seen much in a self published novel. It's also refreshingly free of that dreaded pair, Mary Sue and Gary Stu. Sophia Sharp is a 19 year old college student, so writing this novel, however flawed it is, is a commendable effort. I won't be reading the rest of the series, but feel free to check them out yourself in the Amazon Kindle Store.




*Seriously, get it. The app is free for all devices that it's available on. Your iPad could be that much more awesome, my friend.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Edward Cullen, Man-Child

Upon a mental analysis of the Twilight novels, it has become apparent to me that Edward Cullen, one of the male leads, is an 80 year old man-child.*

I have a few facts to back up this observation.

1. Edward has no job, only hobbies. He spends most of his time playing piano and hunting. Now, true, his adopted father is a doctor, which in any family is a well-paying occupation that sometimes does allow one's offspring to live a life of comparable leisure. But, uh, Ed? You still don't have a job 'cause your dad's rich. That's just as bad.

2. If the book and the movie are to be believed, at the time of his marriage to Bella, Edward has lived an honorable life and kept his virtue intact. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make him the 80 year old virgin. Steve Carell will be playing him in the sequel to Breaking Dawn, which I understand has a working title of The Cullens Take Manhattan.

3. Edward stares. And I don't mean that he stares at Bella while's she's sleeping. (The horse is dead. Put the whip down, step away, and go on with your life.) I mean he stares at people in general. Now, he is a vampire, but you sorta get the feeling that he did this as a human. Since he was 17 at the time of his transformation, this plants Edward firmly in the realm of awkward guy. If he had lived to head over to Europe with the rest of the dough-boys (because his "death" was during the first World War, and from Spanish flu), he probably would have been "that guy."

4. He demands to be taken seriously, at all times. No joking. It's mean. Stop it now. (Sorta like how little kids react when you laugh at their indignation.)

One consolation is that, given his love of hunting things that involve blood, he'd probably be fun to play Halo with. Or maybe Left 4 Dead.**




*This is not a Twi-hate post, and if you don't get in touch with the real world and realize that the Twilight series is not going to result in severe damage to the world as we know it, then I'll have to accuse you of being a secret fan.

**Hurr hurr. Get it?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rare Sunday Post!

So yeah, it's Sunday. I don't often have time on the weekends to post, usually because I end up chillin' in our living room, looking in the general direction of the television and snarking about whatever the heck I feel like. But I feel a little inspired. I think.

And really, I'm thinking it to myself "Okay, Amanda, it's Sunday. You're not working today. You've got a novel to finish, maybe some other posts to do ahead of time because of your weird work schedule and superhero-compromised attention span. How about some productive stuff, okay?"

And I'm all "NO I MUST BE AWESOME TODAY."

Really, I don't know where it comes from. My body works backwards or something. Friday night, I got 8 hours of sleep. I usually average about 6-7, and function. Heck, I functioned through most of college on 5 hours of sleep a night. But 8 hours should make me feel like...okay, I'm out of analogies since I don't know many un-stupid female Marvel characters and most DC characters bother me. Bottom line is, I should feel ready to run a freaking marathon, but all I felt Saturday was sorta tired. Like "oh, that 8 hours...that was nice. Let's do that again." If I get a normal amount of sleep, I have this weird hangoverish feeling (and I don't drink, so...yeah) and I just end up sleeping more. So basically I've wired my body to actually run better on less sleep.

Case in point. I had to open last weekend. I work at a museum, and my only full days are Fridays and every other Saturday. I have to leave my house about 8:20 to get downtown. I usually get up at 7:15 to give myself enough time. So last Thursday night, I was winding down, about to prepare for bed, when my brother, innocently enough, said "Let's watch Ironman 2."

I had not seen this movie yet, and I wanted to, but I had to get up early. So my brain took half a second to be all "Eh, I better no-YES WE WILL WATCH IRONMAN 2."

I rolled into bed at 2 AM and got up at 7 ish.

Now most people would feel sorta gross and just not good after 5 hours of sleep. Me? All I could think of was seeing how high in the air I would be if I stood on the lobby desk at work to clean off the mysterious smudge 12 feet up. Actually, the smudge was a bonus, I just wanted to feel really tall. Then the thought entered my brain that "I wonder what would happen if I jumped off the counter onto the floor." This continued for quite some time.*

Last night, I got to bed sometime after three and got up at like 9:35 to get ready for church. I don't want a nap. I want to be awesome. I should be writing away, but I am far too ADD to not want to be doing something like knitting upside down above lava. And this is how I normally am, mentally anyway, because most nights I go on Cracked.com and get into the "open seven tabs at once" trap.

When I'm in a really really really really really really really good mood, and I'm feeling all "OMG I WOULD BE AMAZING CREW MEMBER ON A SPACE FREIGHTER" then I don't get much done. Seriously, when I'm feeling that awesome, I have weird daydreams. The apocalypse version of me is an engineer that fixes stuff UPSIDE DOWN and saves the day.

And then I usually end up tripping up the stairs.




*Pesky customers never let me get time to do it. Dang.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Featured Book: For the Wounded Soul

Hey y'all, I'm back after quite a while (sorry about that...) and today I'm featuring a book by author Cheryline Lawson, and it's just one of a bunch of books she's written. The title is For The Wounded Soul. A couple of links to the book are below, and it's available in Hardcover at Lulu.com and in Paperback at CreateSpace.com.

Here's a picture of the paperback copy for your reference.





And here are the links.

Hardcover: http://www.lulu.com/product/hardcover/for-the-wounded-soul/18311668
Paperback: https://www.createspace.com/3708353


Accompanying text.

The deep wounds described in this book tell the tale of these real, compelling and chilling short stories of individuals who have experienced unusual childhoods, abuse, incest, living with alcoholism, obesity, eating disorders, infidelity, rape, addiction, prison conviction and more. Learn what they went through and in some cases, how they came out of it. If you or anyone you know has experienced anything like this, you know it isn't easy. This book will encourage and motivate you that you are not alone.


This book has just come out this week, so check it out.





All text and images from this book belong to Cheryline Lawson, and I own none of them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tuesday

It's arguably the most mundane day of the week. It started that way, 10 years ago.

English class was drawing to a close. I think we'd gotten our progress reports (sort of a halfway point between report cards) and we were waiting for class to end. I remember looking at the clock at 8:45. For a moment, I felt a chill. It happens sometimes still, and I thought nothing of it then. The bell rang. On to Algebra. I was failing that class.

A guy in my grade mentioned that something had happened. I heard him say "World Trade Center", but the teacher I guess didn't know anything about it. We had class and got those stupid little reports at the end. Mine, miraculously, gave me a passing grade of 83.

I went to P.E. class, but that day my teacher had opted not to have us dress out. The girls in my small high school class spent our time in the art room, and the teacher told us of what had happened. She said something about Israel attacking us. I didn't know much about the world, but that just didn't seem right to me. This wasn't a military attack. This was something else.

It wasn't until 6th period that I fully knew what had happened. We'd been told stuff, but our American Government teacher was an older man who thought to grab a TV and turn on the news.

And over and over again, they showed the plane ramming into the second tower. They showed the devastated buildings, and the ash, and the Pentagon spewing smoke into the air.

September 11, 2001 unfolded before my eyes.

I knew that we were part of history. I never knew that life could not be the same again. I remember as a child being allowed to walk into the airport, be let past security and watch planes take off, because it was cool. I remember not being afraid.

We'd made it through the 20th century, through four wars and a few conflicts, not to mention the Cold War. Not once had one of those air-raid sirens gone off for any reason involving an actual air attack. We'd celebrated the new millenium. All was hopeful, and it was a beautiful day.

A few years later, in 2008, while working in a K-4 classroom, the jarring thought came to me that those kids, all born around 2004, will never know a world before September 11, 2001.

Ten years later, I am 24 and the world seems a much darker place. It's not simple and easy anymore. I came of age while a nation slowly healed from the rawness of it all. War became a reality of life, another thing that was always just happening. We talked about a possible draft when we were 17 and 18, hoping, as the guys filled out stuff for the Selective Service, that it wouldn't be something to worry about again. We wondered what if women were drafted, too. Osama bin Laden is dead, and from that I know that time is now divided. Before the attacks...and after.

So many people were lost. So many kids have grown up missing a parent. Lives were destroyed.

I don't know what we can learn from September 11. I don't have the answers. The attacks have in them no hope and no light, only darkness and chaos and fear and death. If there is anything on that day that we can look to for some courage, some fortification, it is the willingness of innocent people to just keep going, even when it meant that they had to sacrifice everything for the chance that someone else might escape.

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

To all the firefighters, police officers, military personnel, and civilians who perished on September 11, 2001, may you all rest in peace.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Writing Like You Speak...or Not?

"All I'm writing is just what I feel, that's all. I just keep it almost naked. And probably the words are so bland." - Jimi Hendrix

One of the challenges in writing fiction, whether or not you decide to make your setting a MAJOR THING in the story, is making your readers feel at home. I've already gone over your personal writing style and making your readers feel at home. Today, I'll get into something that can be more of a technical aspect. I use that term very loosely, because this part of writing fiction (or even non-fiction) is not much dependent on mechanics. You can't memorize a method for it or figure out how to do it from a textbook. It must simply be mastered. Want to know what this all-important thing is?

Writing like you speak.

Not so hard, right? I mean, it seems pretty easy. Just write stuff like you and everyone you know says stuff. Easy stuff. Slang, here you come. Colloquialisms abound. Awesome.

Or not.

Here's why. Ever read a transcript?

Yeah. Writing a sentence exactly how someone says it, every time, is as bad as trying to make your random hilarious true story into a scene in a novel. No one is going to believe it. Case in point: any time anyone tries to give characters a "Southern accent." I have read the word "gwine" too many times in my life. I still don't know how you're supposed to pronounce it. (Like swine, maybe? I'm really not sure.) I know it means "going" and is supposed to be Southern (or just Old Person Southern), but it gets on my nerves. A lot. It's a really bad way to have a character (old or young) talk because it's a good indicator that a) you don't know what you're doing and b) you've never been out the house or flipped on the TV. Same goes if you insert some New York or Boston or California slang stereotypes and try to phonetically indicate how people in a certain place speak. Unless you are making a movie and are the Coen brothers, it will not work.

So your real challenge is to make your writing, prose or dialogue, seem as though it is actually someone speaking. Nicholas Sparks is pretty good at this. Honestly, though I am from North Carolina, I wouldn't speak like he writes, but somehow the guy manages to convey a conversational tone without it actually being anything from a conversation.

So how can you do the same? Well...practice. Read books that feature that local flavor feel. And practice some more. Bounce your ideas off willing friends. The method and time are different for everyone, and it may take some work before you find that conversational groove for your fiction. But once you do, it will be all worth it.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Look Back: The Vacuum Cleaner That Ended the Cold War

Oh yes.

You've probably never heard of the brand. It used to be called CMS, and it's now called Cleartrak. Yep, a vacuum cleaner.

We've had this vacuum cleaner for at least as long as my existence (24 years). As I am still living at home and both my parents have full-time jobs (something I'm also looking for...), I was called upon to vacuum the living room today. Not a problem. I don't mind, as long as everything's in good working order. It was; I vacuumed; our gray living room carpet is now in a clean condition.

See, this vacuum was purchased during the 1980s, the second best decade ever. (The 90s is first. Always.) Reagan was president, NASA was working again, and my parents purchased this beast of a cleaning machine through Amway.

The CMS Cleartrak Amway vacuum cleaner (complete with globe logo) is incredibly heavy. My dog weighs about 35 pounds, so I'm gonna estimate this bad boy at somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds. It has a clear cylinder and a gray/blue theme and lots of scuff marks from at least 24 years of life and 6 different houses. You turn it on, and it roars.

See, like everything else in the 1980s, this cleaning device is big and over the top. And it still works.* If Reagan had been in possession of one of these babies and flashed it around in Berlin, Mr. Gorbachev would probably have torn down the Wall himself. With his bare hands. Just the black hole-esque startup sound single-handedly inspired the movie Red Dawn. Yes, we still use this shining pinnacle of capitalism to suck all that dirty commie mess off the floor.

It's quite poetic.

I admit, I hated the thing when I was younger. As I grew and my responsibilities for keeping stuff clean added up, I've really started to love the old boy. Let's call him Chester. The loud noises that once bothered me (greatly) are now a welcome sound as Chester gets the living room, the hallway, my room, anything else clean. My dad says it's one of the best cleaners out there, and because it's lasted so long with only a few minor belt issues, I'm inclined to believe him.

Chester is something that's leftover from another time in my life, when I was naive and innocent, and that was okay.

And as much as I hate vacuuming anything, I know I'll have to get my own vacuum cleaner when I get an apartment. I know I'm gonna miss ol' Chester a lot, and not just because he's an awesome vacuum cleaner. What I do know is, I'll probably be borrowing him as an old friend to come and break the champagne bottle and inaugurate the new apartment and do what he does best: vacuum.



*Until a few years ago, my parents still had most of the same appliances that they received as wedding gifts in 1983. And it all still worked awesomely. I still use their hand-mixer, which is still mighty.

Monday, August 29, 2011

So This Whole Hurricane Thing...

All last week, I watched as the news networks and the Weather Channel all about had a collective fit because a hurricane was "headed straight towards New York." They warned the people of the Northeastern United States and feared the absolute worst for poor little old NYC.

Forget the fact that Hurricane Irene was gonna smack directly into a small, nearly unimportant area known as Eastern North Carolina.

And smack it did. I think the New Bern area took the worst of it, but Atlantic Beach, Nags Head, Wrightsville Beach, and a few other places definitely felt Irene.
Link
And still, the entire day on Saturday, they still kept talking about New York. Even as the storm weakened and lost its status as an actual hurricane.

Even though North Carolina absorbed the brunt of it.

But you know, all this took be back a couple of years. Y'all know I went to Bob Jones University if you've read a couple of other posts. Inevitably, at some point during four-and-a-half years of college, it will snow/ice/freeze. Greenville is a close neighbor to Western North Carolina. Asheville North Carolina is an hour up the road. Greenville, however, is not in the mountains. It doesn't snow a whole lot, unless the winter is particularly freakish.

Big shock to y'all up in the Far Reaches, but we don't have a lot of snowplows down here. My town has maybe one or two. They're just not needed very much.Because ice is a smooth surface that greatly reduces friction and is a dangerous (sometimes deadly) surface to drive on, roads aren't exactly navigable. When it ices or snows, school closes for like a day, the town quiets, and people relax. (This rule generally applies throughout the entire Southern region.) Citizens play in the snow, or stay inside and read. They enjoy life. In a few hours, the ice/snow melts and life goes back to normal.

So all that time at college, I heard a lot of something that might have been good-natured ribbing, but sounded a lot like sour-faced griping. "Nobody knows how to drive down here." "I can't believe no one can drive on ice here." "We keep going to school in the snow, I can't believe it here." That's right folks, people actually complained about cancelled classes. (I can only imagine what their parents taught them about Santa Claus....) So, pretty much, for all of college (there's a whole lot of people from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that wind up at Bob Jones University, just saying...)* statements that should be considered merely factual observations often degrade into personal insults. Insinuations that only Neanderthals and similar primitive people not yet exposed to modern technology are unable to somehow overcome the laws of physics and drive with magical friction force-fields upon their tires abound. "Well, where I live, we know how to drive on ice." Good for you, buddy. Dream big.

See, this all came back to me when I observed that the Northeast was being all but coddled because *sniff* a hurricane's coming. I believe the words "disastrous" and "catastrophic" were thrown around some. Now, as I know hurricanes, catastrophic as a description doesn't usually apply unless you aren't prepared.

So let's put this into a fair perspective. If it never ices/snows in an area, there is little chance that one could learn to drive in those conditions. Southern winters are fairly mild, and unless it's a really cold year, we average about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Occasionally it will get down into the 20s.** I can remember one year when it was 9 degrees F the week before Christmas. Even with temperatures that drop below 32 F, you have to have perfect conditions and an already cold ground in order to keep the white stuff sticking around. We're not prepared because we really never have to be, and one snow day for schools won't kill our economy.

I'm not a geography expert, but I do have a good idea of what the East Coast looks like. The most obvious feature?


Hang on, 'cause I'ma blow y'alls minds...


It's coastal.


Yeah, all those panicky areas stick out in the ocean. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Maryland, Jersey, New York, Boston, and Bangor. Hurricanes should not be a surprise. Yeah, they're rare, but y'all have a heck of a higher chance of getting a hurricane than we do a whole winter's worth of snow.



I think yeah, y'all deserve a little bit of ridicule. Good times.





*And I cannot begin to describe to you how much I don't really care about the Ohio vs. Michigan thing. I pull for the University of North Carolina. Your mention of the rivalry is likely to earn you a blank face.

**Yep, and that was the time the theater's heater was broken. It was like 20 degrees F outside with a very lovely wind that just made it so fun and bone-chilling. I wore a coat for the whole movie (New Moon, by the way) and huddled together with my boyfriend for warmth. I was also wearing knee socks under my jeans. It was disappointing mostly because I had on a really cute outfit that my otherwise wonderful pea coat hid.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sentience Part 6

It's been a while since I've been able to come back to this story. It is time consuming, but look forward to an installment of "Sentience" every week until it's finished. For your convenience, I've included links to the first five parts of the story. Enjoy.

Sentience Part 1
Sentience Part 2
Sentience Part 3
Sentience Part 4
Sentience Part 5

***********************

He stared, not seeing the windshield, not daring to glance at the thing-woman-beside him. He caught her movements out of the corner of his eye. One hand moved around the opposite wrist in a slow orbit, wrapping a bandage over the newly sealed wound. She spoke.

"Who are your employers?" she asked.

He swallowed hard and told her the name of the company.

"They said they made you," Macon said. "They said you malfunctioned and posed a threat."
She snorted. "They would." She leaned her head against the back of her seat. "I worked for them. I found some documents that I don't think I was supposed to see."

Macon took a deep breath, feeling sick. "I believed them."

Marie rolled her eyes, then winced. "Ow."

"I'm sorry."

She waved a hand. "Don't worry about it...just a headache."

"They'll be looking for you now," he said. "I was supposed to bring your...remains back."

Marie closed her eyes. "That's what I was afraid of." She looked through the tinted back window. "I need to get out of here."

"The car?"

She shook her head. "Off-world, somewhere. Anywhere. Wherever I can go." She laughed bitterly. "Guess I better pack."

Macon looked down at the steering wheel. All he could do was help. Now he was involved. Responsible. "I'll take you to your apartment. If you need somewhere to stay, I've got a couch."

Marie smirked. "Thanks."

"No problem," he said as he started the car again.

--------------

They stared together at the orange glow that had been Marie's apartment building. The other tenants stood outside, milling about, many of them in pajamas and consoling crying children. The flames danced weirdly in the gray morning, the smoke darkening the sky.

Macon flicked on the radio.

"Officials are unsure how the fire began but the origin has been traced to one apartment and thought to be the result of problematic wiring. Fire crews managed to rescue all of the residents but one, Marie Boyette. Her apartment was the origin of the fire. She did not make it out before flames consumed the building."

She switched off the radio. "So...I'm officially dead now."

Macon frowned. "I guess so."

Marie studied her fingernails. "You mentioned a couch I could crash on?"

"Yeah," he said. "Let's get out of here."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Ghostly Carnival

"Magnificent desolation." The words of Buzz Aldrin as he gazed at the lunar landscape.

Are those words fair? Can I really use them to describe where I live? After all, it isn't truly desolate in Eastern North Carolina. It's not ruined. It's perfectly safe to live here. There's not a whole lot outside of the relatively small hubs that are our cities.

People who came before built houses and barns and lives, then left it all for us to find later. Empty intersections and forgotten homesteads.

In the far reaches of Wilson County, roads are narrow and shoulderless and the night itself is a presence. Take Wiggins Mill Road and just drive, past all the lone houses and single light poles and churches. You'll know when you get there.













These were taken in Wilson County, North Carolina. They are night photos of whirligigs built by Mr. Vollis Simpson. If you want to know more, check out this site.

Enjoy these pictures of the ghostly carnival. Some call it Acid Park, and repeat the very untrue local legend. The whirligigs are beautiful pieces of art in North Carolina. Mr. Simpson took an empty intersection and turned it into colors and light and wonder.

Magnificent desolation, indeed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fried Slice: Do I Really Need to Know?

So wedding stuff makes me grumpy. Just a bit.

Don't get me wrong. My own wedding is something I'm excited for. I'm going to get an awesome dress and a great cake and eat good food and marry the man I love. Sweet.

Hmm. Maybe I'm not talking about wedding stuff. Maybe I'm talking about marriage stuff. It's more important. The heart has to be ready, and that really has nothing at all to do with contracts or gum paste flowers or the lighting effects on the dance floor. That fact is pretty obvious, right? So let me back up and explain myself.

My fiance and I have been together for over five years. A good portion of that has consisted of a long-distance relationship. I live in North Carolina, he lives in Missouri. We have long visits. My dog loves him (and that's amazing.) Together, we've made a relationship that has had a lot of love and a few fights. We know we have quirks, because we've seen them up close. We also know that everything's gonna get really real at about 2:00 A.M. sometime in the future when one of us gets a wake-up call via the "icy foot zap." So yeah, I know relationships take work. Five years, remember?

Obviously, being a (reluctant) Twentysomething, I've had a few friends get engaged and married over the years. Yeah, I've only been engaged since January, but that sorta just made it official. I've always sort of known. My man's still in school and I'm paying for the wedding myself. Yeah, it's gonna be a minute. When I see my all friends getting speedily engaged and hitched like little matrimony moon rockets, I cringe a little.

'Cause I know and fear what's coming next.

The SAGELY SAGE ADVICE.

Okay, to be fair, only one person has actually offered THE ADVICE and that was quite some time ago. This individual had known the intended spouse for a few years, they dated for a short while (like very very very very very short) got engaged in the spring of 2010, and were married by the end of summer 2010. A few months later, after I posted my engagement announcement on Facebook, this person ADVISED me that marriage was hard work, but worth it.

Durr.

For me, that was the equivalent of someone informing me in a condescending tone that the invasion of Normandy occurred on June 6th, 1944. But imagine that the teacher or whoever was sharing this advice because I'd shared with them my intention to write my dissertation in pursuit of a doctorate, the subject of said project being the strategies and movements of the U.S. Airborne units during Operation Neptune and an exploration into the assault on Brecourt Manor. At this point, I think it would be pretty clear that I know what I'm talking about and have known for quite some time. Imagine the person with the condescending attitude having just watched the first scene of Saving Private Ryan like five minutes before and that being the first time they'd ever heard of the invasion of Normandy, let alone Operation Neptune or Operation Overlord.

That's sorta what it felt like.

And while that individual has been the only one to offer SAGELY SAGE ADVICE, I still have this reflex of...something, every time. There is joy for my friends, because finding the one person who is literally your other half is awesome. What I don't welcome is the advice that has the possibility of coming.

If you've just seen a clip of a film that features a few bloody minutes on one beach in Normandy, and that's all you know, as much as it has touched you and changed you, you cannot give me a full-on lecture about leg bags and the problems therewith. You can't tell me merely about the existence of Operation Market-Garden. I already know, and I've known a lot longer than you.

I don't hate advice, and I don't hate learning. Most people are like that. Because of the time I've invested in a long-distance relationship, just as if I'd dedicated my life to studying the details in World War II, I know stuff that others don't yet. I know what it's like to be hurt. I know what it's like to argue. Heck, I know how to fight dirty. But I also know how to love, how to forgive, and how to savor moments, even when the theater's heater is broken and it's 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside and somewhere in the 50-60 range inside.

This doesn't make me any better than the ADVICE offerer I mentioned earlier. But I do have the distinct advantage of time and patience and sadness and fights and near-breakups and forgiveness and love and joy and laughter.

In a word, life.

A better teacher by far than all the ADVICE I could ever get.

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Awkward Than Your 5th Grade Photo

"Not in our arsenal of snappy comebacks." - Walter

So let's say you grew up bookish and introverted. (Like me. Yay! Friends!) You probably read whatever you could get your hands on. I know I did. I vividly remember helping myself to a Reader's Digest my family had lying around. Good stuff. Some of it was a little deep for my age then, but I got the basic idea. Reading "Mike's Flag" and something that was like a Bieber fan's guide to Romeo & Juliet possibly had an interesting effect on my taste now. (This will be important later.)

Naturally, when I discovered that the Wilson County Public Library's Bookmobile* rolled around to my neighborhood every couple of weeks, I thought it was pretty cool. Crammed into a small bus that would probably send my current 5 feet 9 inches self into a claustrophobic panic attack, were, well, books. They had whatever I might be interested in, which at the time included The Babysitters Club, Goosebumps, and American Girl magazine.** Anything else that might be a ghost story was also welcome.

I grew up in the 90s. In that decade and the one previous, there was a wealth of kids' books that were available (but never required for me...ah the miracles of private school.) Now, granted, kids did slack off reading for a while there, but there were more readers than the intellectual elite would like to admit.*** (Why do you think The Babysitters Club was so popular?) This created a generation of kids who are quite intelligent and possibly a tad apathetic about academia (or, if they're like me, inwardly ambitious, painfully procrastinating, and somewhat snarky.)

All this boring intro actually has a point, so stay with me.

Let's say that after a crash course in Narnia, you graduated on to greater and higher works of literature. Great. So you're all up into some Austen and some Stoker and maybe a little Melville, all shunning the television in your quest for academic and philosophical greatness. So after you take a break and pull your pasty head out of the wood-pulp, you find after some assignment or such that you enjoy writing, shoot, that it's downright awesome. Not content to stick with mere poetry with its paltry sound devices and subtle imagery, you try your hand at writing some short fictional stories. Then the biggie. The novel. Yours is a high and lonely destiny, writing such works of intellectual amazement. Triple syllable words and old-fashioned ideals are reanimated, lurching across the page like so many undead.

And your dialogue's probably terrible.

But what? You're well-read! All writers should read widely. You've done it all right. You've read the classics and the manuals and the instructions on plot and characters and setting and structure.

You don't get to know a person based on their surroundings. Nor is any person likely to hand you a paper when you meet them that lists things like "sarcastic" and "nice." Description can only take you so far. I have brown hair (most of the time) and blue eyes (all the time.) No matter how long you dwell on what I look like, you will never know me. When I open my mouth, you'll start to get to know me.

Dialogue will tell you most of what you need to know about a character. Actions are helpful, but if your dialogue is stiff and formal (when it doesn't need to be,) well, that's a turnoff. Your characters aren't natural. But you've read all those books!

Watch tv. Or a movie. Maybe you could listen to how people talk around you.

*GASP*

Yeah. I said it. If you want to know how to write good dialogue, you have to hear it first. A good television show to start with is The Office. No, really. Drama is too much, and comedy not enough, but The Office is just about perfect. Conversations on the show flow at a natural pace, and that's what you're looking for. As far as movies, I'd shy away from the new Star Wars trilogy, but the original three movies are for finding some amazing banter and such. (Han and Leia, obviously.)

So now you've got your characters who talk like normal people. Their words move with a wonderfully accessible rhythm. But please refrain from...

The Campfire Tale.

One of the mechanical faults that I will now criticize the Twilight books for is that some characters start talking.

And don't stop for several pages.

This really isn't seen much until you get to know three of the Cullen "siblings." One's like "Eh, my family put me in an insane asylum and told everyone I was dead. *shrug* How ya been, I'm feelin' Italy, how 'bout it?"

And then you get stories from the blond sister and brother. She is not as long-winded as he is. This guy tells this story about how he was a Confederate soldier (and apparently the actor has amazing accent power in the film) who went to Mexico, and vampireness, and blah blah blah. Ya boy talks for like a whole chapter. There's never any interaction with other characters, except the in-narration dialogue (not realistic, really.) And at the end of it all, the rest of the Cullens are doing other stuff, like cleaning up the kitchen and manicuring their nails out of sheer boredom. Dang, dude, you coulda just said "This Mexican chick turned me. I met my wife in a bar the next century, and then we came here. Nice town."

Do not have your characters go on and on and on with no interruptions or questions. Your work requires dialogue that's smooth and flows. Too much talking from one person, and your novel takes on the tone of a wiki. Not cool.

*I think they don't run the Bookmobile anymore. This is sad, because for me, it was like mini-Christmas every couple of weeks.

**Don't laugh, I watched the end of Red Dawn and followed it up with 27 Dresses. I'm all eclectic like that. Or just, you know, human.

***I did not read a Newberry book until A Wrinkle in Time when I was in high school. Seriously, those award winners aren't popular among the kiddies. They're picked by teachers who probably cry over them and pick them because of that. I don't want to read sad junk now, and I especially didn't when I was nine.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

We're Doin' It Right (or just...you know...funner.)

My senior year of college was one where many a great thing was accomplished, such as my car actually making it to Greenville, South Carolina. And speaking of college.

Bob Jones University is a very interesting school. It's a fundamentalist (for all purposes very conservatively dressed Baptist) university with lots of rules and regulations and the occasional interesting happening, like Artist Series (which isn't the name anymore but whatever. Look it up.) During Artist Series, if the university doesn't put on an opera or a play (I saw a lot of Shakespeare...), they invite performers from outside the university to come and put on a show.
Since this post is partly about my senior year, I'll narrow in and focus on the two outside performers that I happened to see those two semesters: the Dallas Brass and the King's Singers.

I'm not crazy about brass music or choral music, at least not initially. I am not one to just sit and listen to classical music or barbershop quartets. That said, I was most unenthusiastic about seeing these dudes from Dallas who I thought had picked the most uncool instrument group (myself being a violinist). I looked forward to an evening of sheer boredom. But you know what? They came and they put on a show. They weren't just performers; they were showmen. They had fun and played some good stuff. Ever heard of Gabriel's Oboe? Look it up. It's from a movie called The Mission (which I have not seen) and shoot, I'm gonna use it in place of Wagner's Wedding March thing at my wedding. They played that. They brought brass music to life in a way that no one in or outside of Bob Jones University (brass heavy as they are) ever did. I laughed, I enjoyed music and the show that went along with it.

It being Bob Jones University, a true show just isn't enough. It has to be exotic. Which I think might be the reason for everyone at the school getting all excited and junk about The King's Singers, a group of men who, well, sing and were apparently god-like simply because they were British. So I was all "Eh, they might not be so bad, I'll give 'em a chance. Probably will be cool." After all, I am fairly certain that some of my fellow students would have gladly sold their first-born child for lunch and a private performance with these guys. They must be good, right?

Eh.

Yeah, they were good. Heck, they were very good. They had a high level of skill and didn't slip once on the notes or the timing or the pitch...Yeah, that's how exciting it was. They stood on stage and sang American folk songs and old spirituals and one thing I actually liked that was about South Africa and Dutch people. Or something. They stood. And sang.

That's about it.

All this to back up my oh so humble opinion...

Here we go, it'll blow yalls minds...

America is not Britain.

BaGOOSH. Am I right?

This is not an anti-Britain rant. Heck, I love Britain. My favorite show right now is Doctor Who* and could you even imagine an American version of Harry Potter?

Harry Potter and the Jersey Devil?

Naw, I'm good with Britain. I think our version of Top Gear is way better. I've been disagreed with, of course. But the British Top Gear? Yeah, old dudes driving. American? They drive and break stuff. Aw yeah.**

Somehow, somewhere, sometime, there was a mass movement of denying who you are and of graciously (ahem) informing others of how wrong they were. Possibly that's why we have hipsters. Liking tea doesn't make you globally minded or more polite or more intelligent. Please understand me, I like tea. It's great. It's delicious. What I don't like are the pretentious little tea shops here in the States that pretend they can steep low-quality paper-bagged tea better than I can.*** Maybe, instead of bragging of our love of tea and all the bands "no one's ever heard of" (even though they probably have), we could just chill. Like tea and like coffee. But just stop pretending.

Maybe we could finally realize that we gained independence from Britain years ago, like it that way ('cause they probably do too), and realize the potential of learning from something instead of trying to be it.

'Cause writers, if you try to be Jane Austen or Charles Dickens and try to squeeze their genius into your stuff and create a disastrous mash-up of the two with a 21st century half-reasoned message about "society and stuff" that cannot and will never belong in that world, your readers will spot it a mile away. But you go ahead and do what you want and write what you want. So guess what? You're not them, so prepare for your baby to be slid back on the shelf and given a remainder mark sometime in the very near future.

More on that tomorrow.

*Did not River Song's identity raise more questions than it answered? And how 'bout that beginning for a season? American conspiracy theory folklore as a plot? Brilliant. Really. Great stuff. I did not see that coming. The Silence are pretty much They, Them, and the Men in Black. Love it.

**Don't even play; you know it's fun.

***It's true. The lowest quality leaves end up in bags. It is easier, and I found that Lipton Spiced Chai was really good to my sore throat yesterday. It's also great iced.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Cultural Studies: The Beverage Debate (or stuff yall were wrong about...)*

So here's some insight into me. I went to college at Bob Jones University. Despite being located in Greenville, South Carolina, it is a) far from being a Southern college, b) a fascinating cultural study, and c) a help in affirming that I seriously love Eastern North Carolina.

So this topic came up a lot in college, and it comes up a lot elsewhere. I recently watched an episode of How the States Got Their Shapes, and I happened to watch an episode that focused on accents and regional vocabulary. We're all different. No surprise there, as the United States was settled by a very wide range of cultures. Obviously, we're all going to have a different name for carbonated beverages. However, they missed an important detail.

I'll back up. Starting in my teenage years, I first heard of the Great Debate, i.e. soda vs. pop. My youth pastor (who was from Indiana, went to college in Wisconsin, and had an accent straight out of Fargo), insisted that Coca-cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and the like were to be called "pop." For the purposes of fun debate, I (and probably others) insisted that the correct name was "soda," and I proceeded to call it this for quite some time. Naturally, when I got to college, I encountered this friendly conflict among peers. Then a third contender entered the ring. Apparently, across much of the southern United States, all carbonated beverages are referred to as "Coke." Apparently a conversation will go as follows:

"What do you want to drink?"
"I want a Coke."
"Okay, what kinda Coke do you want?"

Or something like that.

Now, an explanation, as I found from the earlier mentioned show, could be that Coca-cola was birthed in Atlanta. Fair enough, but this is just too complex, at least to me. However, it continued to be spread around as a "Southern thing" all the time, and I'm sure that it is true for many people.

I'll throw in some accuracy for you, just to set all of yall straight.

The correct term is "drink."

If you are my cousin's two-and-a-half year old son, it is "dink."

I believe that this term originated with the term "soft drink." Naturally, it was shortened. For my entire life, until high school, I referred to carbonated beverages as merely drink. I have returned home to my original dialect. Life is good.

So, naw, I'm not gonna have any drink, I already brushed my teeth tonight. But cheers everybody.



*This post is meant in humor. If you take it personally, then I am truly sorry for you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Drapes and Other Trials of Patience

So it's officially summer here in the South. Officially. Most days it's been in the 90s anyway, so we're all practiced for summer. Or warmed up, I should say.* To keep the costs of utilities down, I had to put up drapes in my room, because my corner of the house takes the brunt of the sun every day, mostly in the morning between 9 and 11. (You can actually feel the temperature rise. It's a little scary.) We bought them one at a time, just to see if they work before committing. I had help with the first window the evening we bought it. It worked well, so we got another one, and it stayed on the floor until today, when I decided to put it up.

So apparently, the window frame is made of steel-infused oak. I really think it's just a special kind of tree that the builders grow using secret knowledge. After eventually getting the brackets mounted, I put up the drape, and my room is cooler and a little darker. I really think that marriage counseling should include the couple trying to put up a pair of drapes in an un-air-conditioned room, just to see how fun it gets (and mind you, I put this one up myself.)

Moving on to the books. I'm making huge progress through the first book, but sometimes key characters just don't know when to be quiet. Okay, really, it's just me. I think I'm feeling like I need to explain stuff or provide this huge convoluted catalyst for certain actions. Eventually I get frustrated, make it simple, and then have the information dump marked for movement to another place, occurring later in the narrative, where it fits better.

I try my own patience sometimes. But working through it is really the only remedy. Are you having the same problem? Keep writing, and a better option will present itself, I promise.

So starting tomorrow, I'll be posting some snatches from the original copy of what I'm working on. It's delightfully atrocious. Stay tuned!

*I'm terrible, I know, but I really couldn't resist.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Friday Night Death Slot

Once upon a time, there was a hit television show that was moved to Friday night.

The end.

No, really.

The original Star Trek's cancellation had a lot to do with being moved to Friday night. Why is Friday night so fatal for television shows? That one's easy. Most people have a lot more exciting things to do on Friday nights than sit at home and stare at a screen, no matter how good the show is. Today, things like DVR and Tivo are close to making the death slot a non-issue (but not quite.) The concept is still true, though. Watching a good show at home is good; dinner and a movie or a party or whatever is better. Want an alternative to shows? Movies on cable. Aw yeah.

The best way to slip into obscurity is to be just good enough to have readers. Not readers who are particularly interested or pulled in, but readers. They picked up your book because Books-a-Million or Barnes & Noble slapped a label on it claiming that it's "for fans of [insert famous book series with tons of subsidiaries]" and stuck it in a special bay for two weeks. They want their fix of something and their paperback version of whatever has either been lent out to a friend, read too many times, or come apart at its dry, gluey seams. They buy your book, they read it for a taste of their obsession, and possibly never pick it up again. You've given them exactly what they want, and unless you were memorable about it, they're not going to bother when the next installment hits the shelves.

So what got me thinking about this? Well, it was actually Abra Ebner's blog. (You remember I've reviewed three of her books in the past.) On the right side of the landing page of her blog is a little picture that says "Books Like Twilight" and leads to a website that I believe is no longer working. But really, all I needed to see was the name of that link. Apparently, there are people who are looking for some lovely, good enough fiction that will give them their Twilight fix. And there are also authors who will provide that, just to get readers. Just to be good enough, in terms of sheer concept.

So what would you rather be? Good enough? Riding on the coattails of a swiftly passing fad and fading into obscurity before you ever had any notoriety? Having young reviewers on Amazon ranting that your book, your baby, wasn't as good as Twilight/The Hunger Games/Percy Jackson?

Be the best, always.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Still

You know me better than anyone. You know that I often wonder, in the quiet hours, why me. Not because my life is so outwardly terrible, but because of the things I do struggle with. You know I often wish that I had other problems, ones that are more physical or emotional. I often wonder if You can hear me, if You still want me, or even if You ever did.

And then I begin to remember almost everything.

You were there when my tiny body began to consume its own blood supply, even if I didn't know you were there.

You were there on a hot summer's day after a job interview, when I found out the man I love had to have potentially life-changing surgery the next day, that it might be cancer.

You were there beside me, I know it, on a cold January night when I buried a much beloved dog behind my house, and You whispered quietly that it was okay, You had him and he wasn't sick or hurting anymore.

You were there when my family had to endure unimaginable grief and horror after a week of victory. You sent me a dream, and that was what I needed.

Every single time, in every instance, it was Your name on the line. You have the power to heal. I know You still do. The last two moments, it was Your name on the line and you chose the opposite of what we wanted.

And You are still a good God.

There are so many times where Your voice was in the shout of victory or in the tearing of a veil or in the meticulous, wild, amazing, impossible stretching of matter into Creation. But on three different nights, You chose a whisper.

When everything was speaking in volumes and yelling and screaming and demanding our attention, You whispered that even though you created a vast and outrageously complex universe, you cared that a little dog had fallen to the ground, never to get up again. Your whispers told me that my family would be whole again one day.

Keep talking, Lord. I'm listening.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Surprising Fictional Truths

Should you ever find yourself caught in some dire apocalyptic situation and no action-y guys are on speed dial, here are some key things to keep in mind.

Little Gun, Big Contender
In the event that you should have one on hand, always remember that a snub nose revolver will have the aiming capability and range of a sniper rifle. Keep one on you at all times for those instances when your foe is at a long distance from you.

Aliens Deal in Absolutes
Our neighbors in outer space are here for certain reasons: to save the world, mooch off our planet, or both. They never stop by to curiously check things out or buy a condo in, say, Ft. Lauderdale. No, for some reason we're either endearing to the entire universe or we have really ticked someone off.

Nukes Will Fix Anything
A nice little blast from a well aimed nuclear bomb is a great tool for any need you might have. If the sun gets tired, take a shot at it. If the core for some reason stopped spinning, a nuke can get it going again, no trouble at all. If a large space object has somehow completely ignored the laws of physics and is on its way to take us out, just get yourself a nuke and a few rednecks and you're good.

Bach Will Save the World
If the aliens mentioned earlier stop by and they're a little annoyed/care way too much about the frogs and trees, play some Bach. It'll win them over real fast.

So there you go. Just a few tips to remember, good for any situation.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Viewpoint


When I took the picture of this tucked away little piece of Americana pie, I think my brain exploded with the sheer potential. Seriously, I can only think of one other thing to do with this image, and that's classified information.

But here's a little exercise for you. Make a short story or a scene about the Viewpoint restaurant. Even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with your book, write a short piece with a few people.

In reality, the Viewpoint is located up near Fontana Lake and Fontana Dam in Western North Carolina. It's old. It's a little forgotten. Sometime recently, it was still open, because the colors are still incredibly bright. But at some point, a small piece of the world changed and travelers began to turn the other cheek as they passed, hurrying on up the road to a landmark or an attraction or something else much more important, somewhere generic enough to make it on Facebook. The real, raw, forgotten beauty in the world takes its time, always waiting for you to come back to it, infinitely patient until wind and rain and time gently pulls it back into the earth, leaving only an imprint behind to make you wonder what could possibly make you feel so at home when you've never been there before.

When you write a novel, one of the best things to do is latch on to that feeling, however you can. Novels are our own little universes. When you feel at home with your novel, that's when you're on to something. It won't be perfect in the first go, but that's okay. It's still coming from you, and no one else. Without that, it's really completely nothing.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sentience Part 5

Links to the previous installments:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

And here, for your enjoyment, Part 5 of Sentience.

********************************

He kept driving, staring ahead. The passenger stared straight ahead as well.

Frederick failed to see the fist flying at him before his jaw exploded in pain. He pulled the steering wheel back as the car swerved to the left.
The android was staring at him.

"What was that for?" he asked it calmly.

"I was sort of hoping you'd crash."

Expected. "Why?"

"Oh, I don't know, so maybe I could get some help because I've been taken against my will and I probably will have a concussion later because you no doubt watch too many movies."

Frederick rubbed his jaw gingerly, flexing it slowly. "How do I deactivate you?'

"What?"

"I need to deactivate you. It's more humane. That's all I can give you."

"I wasn't aware I could be deactivated." The robot rubbed its face. Frederick felt sad.

"You're one of those, then."

"One of what?"

"Those machines who don't know they're machines."

There was a long silence. It stared at him incredulously, then spoke.

"Yeah, you definitely watch too much media. I think it's addled your brain."

"But you're a machine."

"And where did you hear that rumor?"

Frederick kept driving, deeper into the desert. "My...clients. They created you and hired me to retrieve you and bring you back to them or eliminate you."

"What?"

"I'm sorry."

She--it--fished in the bag on the floorboard feet and pulled a rather large knife from it, setting the blade to its wrist.

"Wait, what are you doing?"

"Showing you that you're a gullible idiot." It pressed down.

"No, don't-" Frederick looked away as a tiny spurt of blood hit the windshield. Marie clapped a hand over the wound.

"Do you have a first aid kit?"

Frederick nodded, fighting back nausea. "In the glove box."

Marie opened the kit and pulled out a miniature fluid analysis machine. A drop and a smear of blood went in, and the machine beeped a few moments later, the results showing in bold, bright letters.

Frederick glanced at the screen.

BLOOD. Type: A+. Glucose Level: 93. More data he couldn't see.

That was his machine. It wasn't tampered with, couldn't be. He pulled over.

***************************************

That's all for today, and thanks for tuning in. Stop by soon for more.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Monsters

The kraken is said to come forth from the sea and destroy those unfortunate ships that happen to be in its path, devouring lives as it goes, a monster. It can disappear quick as it came, only to rise again, leaving devastation before it slips beneath the seas to await another opportunity.

The past 24 hours have been horrific for the Southern United States. The number of deaths is over 200 and rising. There was little warning.

I live in Eastern North Carolina, and we have been unaffected so far by the storms that struck Alabama, Georgia, and several other states. I have been watching the news, though, and an image I saw this morning struck me more than anything.

A huge tornado moved along the ground somewhere in Alabama, classified as an EF-5, the strongest tornadoes, whose winds can reach over 200 miles per hour, some close to 300. This huge beast that raged through Alabama was moving fast along the ground, and every so often there would be thin offshoots from the main body, like tentacles.

A tornado is a kraken of the skies. A tornado is the only storm that can be considered an entity rather than a weather phenomenon. It is a beast that does not grow, or sprout, or appear, but spawns, the only word to describe an animal made of wind and pressure.

On April 16, a series of tornado cells raged through North Carolina. You may have seen the articles and pictures. Homes leveled, a Lowes Store destroyed, 22 deaths in the state alone. A storm took out a dry cleaners and messed up a Walgreen's near me, blew apart some houses down the road from the Walgreen's. I wasn't in my town that day. My family was working at a pet show and visiting friends in New Bern, North Carolina, and were heading back, late afternoon, we dueled a monster head-on.

It had been windy all day, and was looking pretty bad when we left New Bern, but not bad enough there to worry too much. As we drove further west, reports came on the radio of tornadoes striking throughout the state. Dad was on his Ham radio trying to get some information from other operators and trying to get out some information about the storm. The skies grew darker and the wind was picking up. In the distance, a dark blue cloud was moving and changing and pushing down a white funnel. The sky changed over us, not black, but the sick color of mucus, and hail began to pelt the car like bullets. There were no shelters to stop in, and my dad was about to pull over so we could climb into a ditch that was already filled with water. The wind and the hail picked up steadily. Barely, I saw cars pulled over, flashers on, waiting out the storm. My dad chose to keep driving. The van was having problems staying on the road as the wind picked it up and the acceleration of the tires barely kept it on the road.

And then everything turned white, and the roaring began.

And we prayed.

And there was the city of Goldsboro. The sky had cleared. Praise be to God, we made it through. Dad pulled off into the parking lot of an Outback Steakhouse, we emerged from our cocoon, shaking, but exhilarated. Marble-sized hail littered the ground and cooled the air.

That night's dinner was the best meal ever.

Having survived an encounter with a beast of the skies and, I know how blessed I am to even be alive, much less unscathed. You do not forget what it is like to survive a tornado. My heart hurts for the over 200 people who went to bed never expecting that they wouldn't see the sun the next morning.

God be with us as we remember this day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sentience: Part 4

After a long hiatus, here is the fourth part of Sentience. Enjoy.

-------


He had read the documents again, carefully. The address given where the machine resided. It was an apartment, a cheap one, in a care-worn part of the city. Trash here and there, the typical scenery, a contrast to the stark cleanliness, and far from the central city, and quiet.

5:00 A.M. The customer had called two hours ago, demanding the machine, sooner as opposed to the later option that brought more threats.

There was no one to threaten close to him. But the thought of disappearing, with no contact, no message, only a cold and indifferent notice to his faraway family, however estranged they were, got his attention. Marie the robot would have to be destroyed. Escape was the option afterwards. He'd disappear then.

The door to the apartment complex opened, the only movement for three blocks. He watched.

It was her.

Not her...it's not a human.

It would recognize him, and he may not have time to find the switch to turn it off before he did the job. He'd have to move fast. He had locks in the car only he could control.

He stepped out of the car and approached the machine. It was searching in a bag, and glanced up as he reached it. It didn't move.

"Are you stalking me now?" It took one step back. Frederick hit the button on the control in his hand that opened the passenger door of his car and grabbed the machine's arm, gripping it, caught off-guard for a moment. It was soft, without the quiet mechanic buzzing usually present in computers and appliances. The technology was impressive. He forgot this as she began to fight him, kicking at his legs and trying to beat him over the head with her free hand. She wasn't fast at all, or strong. He dragged it back to the car, tuning out the screaming and pushing its head against the door frame. It hadn't been able to fight him off.

"Ow!" He expected the clank of metal, not the convincing thunk of tissue. He shoved the convincing machine into the car and walked around to the driver side. He could hear the thing inside the car, beating on the windows and metal and plastic, and hoped it didn't break something. He got in himself, sighing.

It turned to look at him, its false eyes slightly glazed and its hand rubbing its scalp, a tremor in its motion, probably from some minor scrambling in its head. "What did you do that for?"
"I'm sorry."
"No you aren't. Let me out of here." It was panicking now.
"I'm sorry, but I can't." His needs were important. This thing was good, this machine. It sounded like it was close to tears. Maybe it didn't even know it was a machine, like in some Earth drama from years back.
"Why?"
"...I'll let you know later." He accelerated down the street, going slow. Being pulled over would not help the situation. His heart was racing.

What was he about to do to?

---------------

That's all for today, but we'll be back soon with more, so tune in again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

(Untitled)

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.


"In Christ Alone"
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music




Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Heads Up For This Summer

Southern Fried Fantasy is going on the road!

Sort of.

No, I mean, eventually we are, to Central Florida later in the season. But in the meantime, I thought y'all would like to see some pictures of the places that leave me with a profound sense of inspiration. Seriously, I can't even look at an old house without going "this is an opportunity for...dundundun...a story."

I think I'll start with a bridge.

No really.




Isn't it amazing?

This bad boy is located in Brunswick County, VA, near where my Gramma's home in Lawrenceville, VA (which Forks Washington cannot hold a candle to in terms of smallness and middle-of-nowhere-ness.) I am seriously in love with this bridge, and I plan to use the image for a future project not related to writing at all. This bridge is amazing in any light, but you can see that the day this picture was taken, the weather was cloudy.

What's the point?

I'm not sure, but it is a gorgeous picture, thanks to Kodak and my ability to take pics under pressure while dodging other cars on a two-lane road. I owe more to the location, however, and my upbringing.

I think my life would be a tad boring if I lived in New York City or any major area. I live in a suburban/rural (yes, it can be both) area, and there is a high degree of sheer quirk every day. A lot of my job takes me into the areas outside my town and into the county. Abandoned stores and derelict (don't you love that word?) tobacco barns dot the land. My great grandmother is buried in a tiny, and I mean TINY, family cemetery out in the literal middle of nowhere, near the birthplace of William Pender (who I may or may not be related to). These types of cemeteries are everywhere, including in front of an office building in town and in the parking lot of our outdated and mostly empty shopping mall. Cemeteries, barns, bridges, and abandoned houses date back to a time when the land was not quite tame and shoes were still optional.

You want it newer?

A duct-tape basketball goal near the rough part of town, a building labeled with ancient Egyptian names and acting as a home for abandoned cars, an old vehicle leaving a doughnut in the gravel parking lot of a trailer home...oh yeah. The Kenly skating rink, a popular birthday venue when I was younger, which had cigarette burns clear through the heavy wool inner walls.

Cities are boring. The West is desolate and kinda scares me a little. I'll take the hidden, quiet settledness of the Southeastern United States.

So ask yourself, for fun, what mysteries surround this bridge that I've provided a picture of?

If you want to write for this blog, please feel free to contact me. I'd love to have you as a guest.

Tune in tomorrow for a picture of...The Tramp.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Never Enough

Dang, that's one emo post title...Sorry about that.

Anyway, it has a point, I swear, so just hold on tight and we'll get there.

Some my readers may already know that I am engaged to an amazing, wonderful man. I'm not being sentimental or gushy because we're engaged; I've known him for 4.5 years and we've been a couple for just under that time. He is really a great guy who is both loving and willing to put up with a lot. That and he's been mistaken for Prince William (who is not as good looking as my man. Sorry Kate.)

Okay, so I'm engaged. Ever since a) some good friends of ours got engaged and b) I went to Disney World at Christmas time, I've pretty much been planning my wedding, mostly for fun. I've had a hundred different ideas for food, venues, my dress, my friends' dresses, whether my dog should walk down the aisle with me, and other such things. Now that I'm seriously planning a wedding for approximately a year from now, I'm getting serious about the little details such as food and locations. What I do know: I'm getting married to an amazing man, the cake will be chocolate, and Chick-fil-a food trays are great for any party. I'm happy to get married at my church, or a church in town, and I have picked three options in my hometown for the reception venue. But for a while there I caught it.

Yes, the wedding bug. No, this is no cutesy animal that makes you excited about centerpieces and favors and such. This particular species of wedding bug injects an otherwise safe neurotoxin that leads women to think things such as "I must get married at Cinderella's castle" (that was me y'all...totally was gonna rent the coach and everything) and "$9,000 isn't that outrageous for a gown...." Suddenly, it becomes necessary to have live circus acrobats at the reception (gee thanks, David Tutera) and fine caviar for every guest, just as a wedding favor. The wedding must culminate in an all-night blowout lasting until two in the morning. $70,000 is a potential price, though $100,000 weddings for normal, non-famous people, are not unheard of. Inviting everyone in your zip code, whether you know them or not, or like them or not, is the thing to do.

Suddenly, a simple dress with a simple church wedding, where just your family and friends are there and where you dance and eat delicious cake is not enough. It seems painfully inadequate to have a simple, old-fashioned wedding with good food and great music and just plain fun. Wedding magazines inform you that the sub tray at your reception is cheap instead of nice. You feel shamed into spending far too much to impress people who a) already know you or b) don't really know you well at all.

Yeah, for a while I bought into this. I was going to have a reception at an outrageously expensive location, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh (great place, though. Gorgeous.) The ceremony, in order to cut down on traveling time so that people would come to the reception, would be held at the All Saints Chapel, a block away from the museum. The total would have come to $3,000, only for the venue. Not terrible, but then you have to use the approved caterers, and they're expensive, because they're good. And let's just be honest, photographers charge way too much for a service in which they keep the pictures and all rights to said pictures.

Recently, I've decided that I don't want all that extra stuff. I just want to get married. I want it to be special and elegant, not over the top and stupidly elaborate. Namely, I want to be able to pay cash for it. It's mine and my fiance's wedding, not anyone else's.

You'll run into the exact same thing with your writing, but usually it's not even as intentional as it is with weddings. Most writers inflict that feeling of inadequate awesomeness on themselves.

It starts this way. You pick up a good novel and start reading. Maybe it can even be a guilty pleasure book with good elements (Twilight, for example, has some solid dialogue between various characters. It flows naturally, and I appreciate that in any book. Harry Potter and Elantris both also are forefront in my mind and have examples of natural flowing dialogue.) You're going to see something you like in a book that you feel you lack in your own fiction. Rules of magic, cool dialogue, an air of suspense, or a fantastical setting are only a few examples. So you start tweaking what you don't like, only you tweak it according to someone else's work. This is not plagiarizing by any means. You just tend to lose your unique voice by trying to live up to whatever author you've picked. Eventually, your book becomes unwieldy and brimming with main characters who suddenly develop a natural ability with swords, or the always popular nation of Pseudo-Germa-France. Chosen Ones who aren't chosen by anyone in particular drop in from nowhere, or from a tiny village, or from a sketchy intergalactic neighborhood, and dangit, I've never seen an ugly elf. (Someone please invent one. Please.) Eventually, your book becomes little more than a copy of something else. A real life example? Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. It's been criticized as being very much like Star Wars, and as much as I like the series, I agree. Turn the elf forest from the second book into a swamp, and you've got Dagobah with a taller mentor and metal swords. There were enough differences to keep my attention, and I do enjoy the books. The fourth one, called Inheritance (really? Inheritance: Inheritance?) debuts November 8th. I'll be buying it, because Paolini's writing has matured with him, and that's nice to read. But for anyone who's seen Star Wars, the first book generates a voice in the back of your mind going "THIS IS STAR WARS FOR THE DARK AGES." It means that somewhere, the author's voice was drowned out just a tad. Letting that happen too much will hand you the big fat stamp of "RIPOFF." (I'm not yelling at you, I swear. But can't you just picture that word, stamped in big red letters on a book cover?)

So while I'm seeing that the other girl over there has a full orchestra booked for her ceremony and serves gold-leafed cake on china plates, I have to remind myself that I don't really care. It may be beautiful, and wonderfully done, but it's hers and her fiance's wedding. So-and-so may have an amazingly detailed world where the sky is green and purple and fairies fart magic and it may be awesome...but it's not mine. I'm happy with two teenagers, best friends, discovering something they'd never suspect and dealing with all the changes that come.

I've said it many times before: be you. Find your voice and project it in your own work, and you won't be disappointed.

And if anyone's wondering, my wedding favors will be homemade chocolate chip cookies, because the ones I make are awesome. Just saying.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seriously, It's Just an Armpit

Today's Quote: "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." - C.S. Lewis

I remember when Dove debuted their line of deodorants that contained, like other Dove products, 1/4 moisturizer. With each use, according to the commercials, the deodorants were supposed to nourish and protect that most hidden of skin, that skin of the underarm. After a time using it, reportedly, your armpits would be smoother and more beautiful.

But see, that's what I never quite figured out. Regardless of how much you shave it and moisturize it and nourish it, an armpit is an armpit. It is one of the least attractive (in looks and probably smell) parts of the human body. Everyone has at least one; most people have two. Dark, thick hair starts growing from them at that lovely age at which one reaches puberty. An armpit gets wet with little exertion on the part of the owner; it is simply enough that a human's normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. With the exception of keeping it hair-free (for women) and properly cleaned and deodorized, the armpit is a thing that is usually ignored. It's a little thing, really, existing only because of the presence of the arm and torso. Yet for a little while, when Dove ran the beautiful armpit commercials, people focused on the aesthetic aspect of this body part rather than the arm, torso, or body as a whole, buying an item not because it was effective or smelled good, but because it made them feel better about a largely ignored area that no one would see 24/7. It made them feel, well effective.

I was once someone's armpit as well.

When I started college in the fall of 2005, I left the comfort of gorgeous Eastern North Carolina and enrolled in an upstate South Carolina university. I knew three people in the entire college, only because they had gone to my high school at some point in the past (and I had graduated with one of them). So yeah, I was eager for friends. One of the first friends I made was in the same sorority that I joined. It started out cool. She was nice, also a freshman, and a science major like myself. She had also been to a Christian school and was very welcoming in a figurative sense.

As fun as a new friend was, it became apparent rather quickly that I was a project of sorts.

See, I made other friends too. Good friends, with whom I am still close today, though we all live miles apart. Upon meeting my friends, she decided later that they were all "very negative" to be around, as well as somewhat "odd." Clearly, having two sets of friends would be my practice. Then she critiqued the fraternity that three of my guy friends were in, because it was "nerdy." My accent (Eastern North Carolina) was so often critiqued (usually when I was speaking mid-sentence) that it hardly bears mentioning, but it did happen. When one of my guy friends in the "nerdy" fraternity asked me to a formal event on campus, and I mentioned that he had asked me over instant messaging (since we were good friends) she decided that he had asked me "the wrong way." When I said that he was an Eagle Scout, she scoffed and said that growing up, young people had Awana, not Boy Scouts (and at the time, she didn't have a boyfriend). I was told that my hair should not be preferred frizzy (I can rock the Hermione Granger look, people), that my striped socks were eccentric, and that I was an "odd duck." I remained friends with this person, but drifted towards my other friends, who never judged me, except for the time I conducted a caffeine withdrawal experiment upon myself. With them, I would go on to play many hours of Apples to Apples, spend afternoons in the mall, participate in many happy evenings of text roleplay, discover bubble tea, laugh a lot, get through my nightmarish sophomore year, and eventually be in a wedding. Eventually, I stared dating the Eagle Scout, then going steady. He was in the same wedding. We're now engaged. But, ladies and gentlemen, for a short time in 2005-2006, I was an armpit, slathered with Dove deodorant in an attempt to "fix" things that really didn't matter at all.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Quite a bit. I was so excited to discover that I do in fact like a bit of mystery in stuff I read that I tried to make my novel into a mystery/fantasy story. The whole thing involved the main character's family being mysteriously from *GASP* another NC county and a dry account of them driving to the courthouse in said other county's seat to find out information. Sitting in the laundromat (long story short: broken dryer) and working on the scene really really frustrated me. If I'm bored trying to fix this little tale into something that others would find exciting and, heh, novel, then the readers really will be. I crossed out the whole page. I don't regret it. I was led to change a few things after that. I don't have to make my book into part LOTR, part Lifetime movie by the introduction of a mysterious mystery and long-lost friend who moves into his old house because the family never sold it...oy. Trying to fix a stubborn thing in order to make it more like other big sellers did not work. The little armpit remained pale and clammy, stubbornly refusing to be "nourished" like I wanted it to be. I stepped back, and I'm letting it be what it is. There's still a bit of mystery, but it's so unfussy and simple and I love it.

Moral of the story: armpits are armpits. They are what they are. Clean them up, make them fragrant and polished if you want, but they will always remain the same: a clammy, pasty white reminder that we are all human and that silk shirts are a bad idea in the summer. Armpits have a purpose, if only for making jokes or even the occasional singsong armpit noises. If you're writing something and you just can't get it to work one way, the way you want it to and the way another writer did it, then maybe you're trying too hard. If an idea gives you the warm fuzzies and you like it and it works better, accept it and include it. Unless you do, you'll probably regret it big time, later on down the road, when some review says that your book didn't make much sense when it said that elf-ninjas "just could" change color because all is magic and wonder and idealistic speeches on a horse, and all the while you were thinking "TOLKIEN/JAPANESE SQUEE!!!" and inserting strangeness for the sake of such instead of letting anything make sense.

Now go out there and shave some armpits.

Unless you're a dude.