Archive for November, 2010


Many Thanks

on November 29, 2010 in Misc 6 Comments »

As usual, Mark Twain said it best: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

This means I’ve got two good months ahead of me, ‘cause over the Thanksgiving weekend a cyber friend finished reading The Compass Master and not only gave it solid compliments, he reported that he ENJOYED reading it. And that’s what we writers truly want, isn’t it? Oh sure, sometimes we also wish to enlighten or move or outrage or just plain get a rise out of someone. But The Compass Master ain’t that kind of high-minded literary work. It’s a thriller. It supposed to be FUN!

I can’t express enough thanks to Robert Read, whom I met here on my blog when he started – many months ago – leaving insightful comments and lobbing challenging questions my way. Of course I should boast that I happily have INTELLIGENT readers who leave witty comments and several of whom have their own blogs (Hart, Ben and Ketutar, in particular).

Anyway, Robert is himself a writer with a couple of swell works under his belt: a charming, imaginative short story and an ENLIGHTENING YA novella. When he read my own (massively big) manuscript, he did so with care and objectivity, making notes throughout that I now have to address because – this will shock you – he discovered that my manuscript ISN’T PERFECT!

Of course we writers always want our readers or editors to decide that our works are flawless masterpieces of unparalleled literary quality and please don’t change a word. Of course in my dreams I also like to think that Hugh Jackman is in love with me. Anyway, what made Robert’s criticisms and praises so helpful was that he was very specific. He points out, for example, that this description is lame, or that line of dialogue doesn’t work, or maybe this isn’t the type of gun the bad guy should use. About 95% of his criticisms I can correct in one weekend of work, which is a huge relief for me. The remaining 5% I should have done before Christmas.

Therefore in this time of Thanksgiving (okay, I’m a few days late), I wish to give a big honkin’ turkey thanks to Robert both for his generous critiquing of Compass and for sharing his own marvelous works with me. I also want to thank all of you for hanging in there through my literary and Layla ups and downs. And believe me, I LOVE following your blogs and hearing about your own lives and just plain hearing from you.

May the fairy godmother of literary success bless us all.

After all my hard work, you’d think that by now I’d have developed SOME skills that set action heroes (like wannabe me) apart from mere measly mortals.

You know what I mean.  Like how Jennifer Garner in Alias can go undercover in fabulous disguises, climb buildings with her bare fingers, and has a martial arts-honed body.  Ditto for Lara Croft, who also races a motorcycle across China.  And Nikita in the new TV series (which reader Ben and I wisely watch) can do it all PLUS is a hacking and tech whiz.

I, on the other hand, have only one innate action hero skill:

I am superb at the quick comeback.

Yes, you heard me right.  I am one of those rare people who, if someone dares to utter a nasty or vaguely insulting remark to me, can swiftly inflict on said offender a quick-witted, cleverly humorous verbal retort.  I can render my opponent undone with a deft parry-riposte, as we say in fencing.  One that sparkles with a brilliant turn of phrase while leaving the offender momentarily stunned.  One that destroys any chance at a counter-thrust because I skewered him or her with such a perfectly-placed joke or innocent-seeming remark that saying anything in return will only come across as snarky or dumb.

But say that he or she dares, merely DARES to attempt a counter-attack – that’s when I don’t hesitate to go in for the verbal kill.  Usually I rely on my own wit (and I don’t have half of one); still I’ve been known to pull out the big guns by quoting Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, half a dozen comedians, or – at my classiest – Shakespeare.   I also speak my mind with just enough of a smile to make my opponents think they’re in on my joke, when they’re really not, which disarms them yet more.

So there you have it.  I, the action hero of the quick comeback, have seldom thought, “I wish I’d said…(fill in the blank)” after being verbally whacked by someone.  Pretty much 95% of the time, I fill in the blank.  No, I couldn’t computer-hack or karate chop or climb/leap/dive my way out of a dangerous situation.  Afterwards, however, I can give the best possible follow-up line.

X-People

on November 18, 2010 in Misc 6 Comments »

Here’s a thrilling possibility:  X-Men are real.

X-Women are real too, but they get lumped under X-Men in the movies and I guess in the comic books too, which I’ve never read.  (When I googled this I got, “X Woman: not human, not Neanderthal, what is she?”  Apparently she’s a mysterious ancient hominid of the paleontology persuasion.)

The point is some people seem to be born with a genetic mutation that gives them a remarkable ability.  They don’t fly or sprout steel claws through their fists, but they can easily withstand jolts of electricity that would kill anyone else, or mentally solve mathematical problems faster than a calculator, or zip up the side of a building like Spiderman, or run nonstop for 80 miles.

Obviously, I am not one of these people.

In my last blog entry I mentioned that so-called “superhumans” have taught me about my own body’s limitations.  Some of these people are profiled on the History Channel’s show, “Stan Lee’s Superhuman” (he created the X-Men).  Lee and his co-host, a freakishly limber contortionist, investigate so-called superhumans and submit a few of them to scientific tests.  Guess what the scientists often find?  That there’s something weirdly DIFFERENT about a particular organ in a superhuman, or sections of his brain work in an unusual way, or a body’s chemical makeup has an inexplicable anomaly. 

Take the super-runner.  He can be in 50 marathons in 50 days and then run home while chatting about inspiration and discipline (which I find annoying and pompous).  In lab tests scientists discovered how his body, when it runs, does something they’d never seen before: not only does it produce much lower levels of a chemical that causes fatigue in normal people, it DECREASES in his bloodstream. 

I can’t tell you how happy those stumped scientists made me.  “THIS IS WHY I CAN’T RUN DISTANCE!”  I cried at my TV.  “MY BODY PRODUCES THAT CHEMICAL BY THE BUCKET-FULL.”  Granted, I don’t like to run and don’t do it much, but the scientific FACT remains that chemically I will never be a super runner.  Like I care.

But you know, most of us still wish we’d been born with some remarkable ability.  I’ve already written about how I wish I had a great talent for languages.  When it comes to gifts common to action heroes, however, I really have only one.

Tell you about it next time.  Until then, please wait with bated breath.

Out of It

on November 15, 2010 in Misc 10 Comments »

It’s scary how fast I can get out of shape.

It’s not like I turn into a shapeless blob if I don’t exercise for a few days.  What bothers me is that if I don’t get in some serious workouts at least two to three times a week, plus some stretching/yoga-type stuff in between, I feel kinda stiff and my endurance drops through the floor.

Action movies and books never show their heroes having this problem. They can be held prisoner somewhere for months or even years and suffer death-defying injuries.  Yet when the plot calls for them to rally they leap back into the fray, their strength, endurance, and reflexes as perfect as ever.

Oh please.

This fantasy trait of most action heroes is a big reason why I’m SO glad I decided to give Layla serious injuries in The Compass Master.  She gets bashed up bad enough in a fight that for the rest of the plot she CAN’T run more than a few yards and CAN’T climb like a monkey.  Her sudden physical weakness also makes her feel dangerously vulnerable.

I should know, and not just because I suffered the same injuries Layla did.

Take this last weekend.  On Friday I wasn’t feeling so hot at work, so I skipped my usual half hour exercise in my work building’s very small gym.  Then when I went home I fell asleep at seven o’clock.  On Saturday I was still feeling sick so I merely did some stretches.  By Sunday I had recovered so I tried a full, real work-out.

I lasted half an hour.

What makes me feel worse is that I live in the jock state of the nation, Colorado.  I only have to look out my window to see runners pounding the pavement and cyclists dressed like they’re in the Tour de France.  I have co-workers who complain that they’re “only” participating in an upcoming half marathon because they’re not in good enough shape for a full marathon.   They go on grueling bike rides up mountain trails.

Me?  I run a few blocks and decide I’m good.

On the up side, I can certainly do some things with my body (and in public!) that they can’t do.  And only now am I figuring out what my real physical strengths are along with what might be my permanent “disabilities.”  The irony is, it’s so-called real “superhumans” who have helped to teach me the truth about my own body.

I’ll tell ya all about it next time.

Bouldering Away

on November 8, 2010 in Misc 4 Comments »

I thought bouldering was going to be easy.

Obviously, I was delusional.

In case you’ve never heard of the sport, bouldering  means climbing without equipment and using only your hands, feet, and whatever necessary body parts.  It’s the kind of skill any action hero should have.  Layla, of course, can climb like a freaking spider.

Wall-climbing places are set up for both technical climbing and bouldering.  Having already learned how to climb with a harness, ropes, and other handy-dandy hardware, I figured that simply climbing sideways sans any equipment would be a piece of cake.  It would just be a matter of sucking up to your typical bumpy, pockmarked climbing wall and inching sideways.  You’re only two or three feet off the ground, unless you want to try climbing up under the overhanging wall/cliff, but that’s it.  Piece of cake.

Oh God I was so wrong.

Forty-five minutes after walking into the place, my bare hands were raw, I had trouble lifting my exhausted arms, and I still hadn’t managed to climb sideways along the full length of any wall.

Now in my defense I climbed UP a couple walls a few times (and pretty much got over my fear of climbing high without a rope).  Also, I’m convinced that those knobs and edges and rocky pimples are placed in such a way that it’s easier to go up than sideways. 

What also made me feel a better was watching the guys boulder around me.  They were all young, muscular and experienced.  Yet they only got halfway across any wall before dropping off.

You know why I had such high expectations of myself?

Because I saw a young woman bouldering with such ease that I figured (nitwit that I am) OF COURSE I can do that too.  After all, she was kind of short, wasn’t very muscular, and almost average in build.

I now realize she was a human suction cup.

I saw her a few weeks ago when I first learned to climb with ropes in that same place.  She was splayed like a flattened frog up against the wall and moving slowly along like she was trying to unglue herself from it.  I’d never before seen indoor bouldering so my first impression was – oh, that looks fun and easy.

Sure it is.  If you’ve got Spiderman’s super sticky powers.

One reassuring point is that this young WOMAN could climb with a fantastic skill – better, in fact, than any guy I’ve seen in that place. 

So maybe there’s some hope for me.  But it really would help if I developed those super sticky powers first.

Bashed Up Beauty

on November 5, 2010 in Misc 6 Comments »

I have a couple of stitches on the edge of my upper lip.

Just two of ‘em, but they’re black and ugly and one thread in the knot hangs down far enough that can I feel it with my tongue when I’m eating.  Gross.  When people ask me what happened I tell them I cut myself shaving (har har).

If Layla ever has stitches it’s because she gets into a dust-up with some bad guy.  Or maybe she fell while climbing around some place in the dark.  Whatever the reason, it would be glamorous.

Me?  I get sewn up because the dermatologist wanted to cut out some “thickening tissue” and do a biopsy on it.

A few months ago I saw her because a red, flaky patch on the right edge of my upper lip wouldn’t go away.  Turns out it was actinin keratosis, which is pre-cancerous so she advised freezing it off.  Have you ever had a ten-second blast of nitrogen aerosol on the edge of your lip?  HOLY SHIT IT HURTS!  And my lip really didn’t look so good afterwards.  At work I sent an email to co-workers explaining that, contrary to my appearance, I did not have an STD.

When the small red thickening wouldn’t completely vanish, I went back to the doc.  Sure enough, I soon find myself trying not to SCREAM as a nurse injects a numbing drug into my lip edge, after which the doc does her cutting and sewing.  At the worst, she figures I have squamous cell skin cancer, which ain’t nothing to worry about.  But for the next week, I’ve got black stitches on my lip.  Don’t I look lovely.

What is it with my face?  Why does it keep getting bashed up in the most unglamorous ways?

The only other time I’ve had stitches was (of course!) in my face.  I was still flying trapeze at the time and goofing around with fellow flyers on a trampoline when I slammed my knee off my forehead.  Seven stitches above my left eyebrow.  When I was younger I had maxillofacial (jaw) surgery.  For a couple months afterwards I looked like I’d been hit by a truck.  After my cataract surgery I had bruised eyes that made me look like I’d been in a nasty fight.  In high school and college I had surgery on the (non-working) air passages in my nose.  I looked like hell afterwards.

I swear fate just plain picks on my poor face.

Why can’t it be my ass or thighs that get injured?  They’re big and tough.  They can take some punishment.  But no, it’s my face that gets bashed up with sad regularity.

Anyway, thanks for listening to me vent.  From now on, I’m toughening up and so is my face.

Now back to being Action Woman.

I can see the light.

I’m near the end of a long, dark tunnel that seemed to go on forever. I was wandering in the dark.  Slipping on the tracks beneath my feet.  But now a bright, beautiful light glows just ahead of me and it’s not an oncoming train.  In fact, it’s my novel The Compass Master and it’s…  It’s finally, at long last…

EDITED!

So sue me for being a diva drama queen.  Drama is in my DNA.

You writers out there know what I mean.

You work and work on a manuscript until (break out the champagne!) you finish it.  But it’s still pimpled with imperfections so now you have to EDIT the friggin’ thing.  This entails embarking on the tedious process of re-reading every word, every sentence, every page of your LONG novel (mine’s about 165,000 bleedin’ words) so that you can catch all the mistakes, inconsistencies, typos, faulty punctuations, misspellings of foreign words that your spell-checker doesn’t catch, and other literary zits. And this major edit doesn’t include the countless mini-edits you already performed on your manuscript as you wrote it.

Now in all honesty I still have a TEENSY bit more work to do on The Compass Master.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself.  A couple of generous, kind, patient, brilliant people have agreed to read my manuscript to give me their learned opinions.  (Of course I’m sucking up to these readers.  I want good reviews from them).  If they have suggestions I’ll probably incorporate them. 

But the most important early readers were my best pals Ann and Rich who read my novel in chunks as I wrote it and gave me their guidance all the way.  This made a HUGE difference in the quality of my story.  Also, my brother is going to check the technical details of a key clue in the plot.  But that’s really about it.

All of this means that within this month of November (which is appropriate because my story is set in November) I’ll be contacting CreateSpace to begin the publishing process for my book.

Meanwhile, my APOLOGIES to my blog friends for the way I was so out of touch this last week.  I barely had time to stop by your blogs and I only wrote one measly entry for mine.  Mea culpa.  I really do feel like I’ve got a weight off my shoulders and I can go off and do some fun internet visiting with y’all.  I missed you.