Archive for September, 2012


First off, I want to give y’all a heads-up about some book-related stuff.

Personally, I never could get through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  I tried.  God knows I tried.  But the first part just drags on and on with characters yammering and philosophizing and not much happening but still the narrators keep talking…

On the other hand, the 1931 movie with Boris Karloff is sheer genius.

Did the movie stick closely to the book?  Hell no.  Instead it’s proof that Hollywood can be the best thing to happen to a bad book.  From the opening scene in a graveyard where Dr. Frankenstein and his helper are digging up a body and cutting down another one hanging from a gibbet, to the mad scientist laboratory in a castle, to lightening galvanizing a monster to life, to peasants with torches chasing the monster, we are talking about original images and dialogue (“It’s alive! It’s alive!”) that became famous archetypes.  Even Karloff’s flat head and bolts in the neck were the result of a make-up artist’s brilliance and not thanks to Shelley.

So you may like to know that the TCM channel is sponsoring one-night double-feature showings in select theaters of the original 1931 Frankenstein and the1935 Bride of Frankenstein.  The date, of course, is close to Halloween: October 24.

And on a similar paranormal / scary note…

The current issue of Smithsonian has an article called The Great New England Vampire Panic.  It seems how even late into the nineteenth century some Yankees became convinced that vampires were draining the life out of love ones, who in reality might be dying of diseases like tuberculosis.  So the living went to graveyards and exhumed certain bodies, and cut out and burned hearts or cut off heads.  One such exhumation of a young woman very likely inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula.

This same issue also has an article on how a young Mark Twain became friends with a larger-than-life fireman named Tom Sawyer.  And yes, the man inspired Twain’s first book.

From Tom Sawyer I can segue naturally into the topic of slingshots.  As in I’ve now added one to my small inventory of weapons.  Okay, so a slingshot isn’t exactly action-hero glamorous.  But I wanted one when I was a ten-year-old tomboy and never got one but now I bought one and it’s really cool and fun to shoot little metal balls and rocks with.  And you never know what villains I might take down with it.

As for my pistol crossbow:  I can confirm that at near distance it does indeed send a dart a full inch into a phone book.  Trouble is, the bow is FREAKING HARD TO COCK! (Yes I know, I just typed hard and cock in the same sentence, but I’m being literal and frustrated.)  I told you it has an eighty-pound pull, but the way it’s designed you’re just supposed to “easily” push the back part down, which pulls the cord back.  No problem, I thought, as I watched this being done on YouTube videos.  But you know what I shoulda noticed?  That they were being cocked by BIG HAIRY MAN HANDS!  When I try to do it… Let’s just say it’s really, really tough for me and I had to use the edge of a table for leverage.  But I’ll get stronger.

Anyway, that’s all for now.  Hope you have a splendid week.

I now have a handy dandy weapon that I can use against marauding zombies and vampires.

In fact, it’s a lot like weapons you see in shows like Grimm or movies likeVan Helsing.

Okay, so that’s a double-decker special pistol crossbow.  It’s used for delivering two different arrows with two different poisons into monsters.  The one I got looks like this…

The reason I bought this before buying a real archery set is simply the price.  This small pistol crossbow was only about $35, and a few dozen arrows for it came to less than $10.  The REAL bow I want will be about $450.   That purchase simply can’t happen for a while, especially with my latest car repair expenses and the physical therapy I have to pay for until my insurance says the deductible has been met.  (I haven’t told you about my jacked left hip, have I?  I’ll leave that story for another posting.)

On the serious side, this pistol crossbow may look like a toy but it really is a weapon.  The bow I’ve used in archery is only a 15 pound pull, and the bow I’d like will be 20 pounds.  Yet this little crossbow has an 80 pound pull!  So I haven’t even been able to fire mine yet because I can’t get the cord into place.  The instructions recommend that two people string the thing:  one person bends the bow part while another person handles the cord.  My friend Rich has agreed to help me do this tomorrow night.  Then maybe I can practice target shooting in his back yard.  Unlike the assembling, firing this thing will be easy:  there’s a cocking mechanism and a safety latch.  But I’ll have to be very careful because the small dart-like arrows can go an inch deep into a telephone book.

Anyway, Layla would know how to use a weapon like this, and in fact she has a slightly larger crossbow with which she can fire anchored climbing ropes into high places.  So pistol crossbows are not just for vampire hunters.

And on the subject of writing…

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m editing the first of two historical novels, Charity MaCacy and the Almighty Dollar.  I’ve discovered that I’m really enjoying this final editing and polishing stage.  In fact, I’m enjoying it so much that I sometimes put it off because I feel guilty.  I mean, if I’m having fun then I can’t really be working.  Writing is tough.  Writing is challenging.  How can you be productive if you’re having a good time?

Okay, that sounds weird.  But in my defense, I think a lot of us have buried deep down inside us a nagging Puritan who tells us to work and sweat and suffer and strain.

But you know what?  It is so nice for a change not to be in pain for “my art.”  Suffering artists are SO overrated.  Besides, maybe if I’m having such a good time editing this novel, readers will have a good time reading it.

And that’s just what I want.

How’s your own writing going?  Very well, I hope.

There’s a traffic light camera I want to take out.  Take out as in smash it to smithereens.

It’s one of those automated cameras set up at busy crossroads that flashes a bright, distracting beam if you run a just-turning-red light.  Or as in my case, when you stop for the red light but not quite perfectly because your front tires are just over the white line.  Which is still considered a traffic violation so you get a $75 fine.

This is what happened to me a few months ago.  Ever since then, when I stop at that intersection I coldly study the two dark, evil-looking camera poles placed on two of the corners.  I assess how easy it would be to reach up to the bottom-most lights on them and with a hammer slam their glasses into tiny fragments.  Or spray-paint them into uselessness.  Or maybe stand across the street and shoot them out with an arrow (when my aim gets better and I can afford a good bow).  Of course I would only be able to do this in the middle of the night.  And I’d have to use gloves so that I don’t leave any fingerprints.

This may sound twisted, but nailing down the details of this fantasy makes me happy.

Remember when I talked in this blog about the noisy-as-hell neighbors across the street, the ones who had LOUD parties at all hours?  In that case too I fantasized about revenge-like vandalism.  Then those neighbors moved away.  Everyone in the neighborhood sang songs of joy.  Yet much as I too was relieved, I was also a little sad. I mean, I had wanted to DO something to those sleep wrecking party people.  Something admittedly childish but also aggressive and like nothing I’ve ever done.  Hell, I WANTED TO BREAK THE LAW!

That’s one of the problems with growing up as a Good Girl.  I did plenty of adventurous stuff, but I was always law-abiding. So what do I do as an adult?  I create characters like Layla Daltry or Charity MacCay, women who can’t be bothered with laws that stand in the way of what they want.

You know what?  I really, truly want to know what that’s like.  I even suspect that these small revenge fantasies I have are, in a way, baby steps I should take in order to move on to something much bigger and bolder.  Of course, if I go ahead and act on any of law-breaking fantasies I won’t be able to write about them here, which is kind of ironic.  But maybe that would be good for me.  No writing, just living.

I suspect a lot of you writers have your own secrets you’d like to live out.  Am I right?

Kick in the Gut

on September 4, 2012 in Misc 8 Comments »

Have you ever had a stranger rip apart one of your manuscripts?

That happened to me this last week and I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I have two manuscripts I’m editing for self-publication: Charity Macay and the Almighty Dollar, and a sequel to it, Charity MacCay and Holy Relations.  They’re funny, rollicking tales set in New York and elsewhere in the late 1860′s.  I’m very proud of them, and after some effort I finally convinced a few friends and a family member to read them.  To be clear, these are people who, if they don’t like something, will absolutely tell me.  They’ll be kind and diplomatic, but they’ll give me their honest reactions and try to be helpful (“Maybe you can fix the story…”).

They all LOVED Charity MacCay.

Loved as in carrying the manuscripts back and forth to work, or staying up into the wee hours to read them, or calling me up or emailing a reaction as soon as he/she finished one.  They also marveled that they had never read anything quite like these two novels.  So I started feeling pretty confident.

But then one of these friends sent a manuscript to a friend back East; seems this woman is a successful freelance magazine editor.

Her reaction?  She delivered a kick right to my solar plexus.

After saying something about how the story kept her going, she proceeded to deliver a hatchet job.  How she just didn’t “get” this character Charity or why did Charity make such bad decisions, and she compared her unfavorably to Scarlet O’Hara, who doesn’t make such mistakes because she is “cold and calculating.”

Well, here’s a newsflash: CHARITY IS NOTHING LIKE SCARLET O’HARA! ON PURPOSE!

Also, I have too many minor characters (something no else thought), too much description (again, no one else had this impression), too much vernacular speech (gee, obviously I hadn’t done my homework after reading about 50+ non-fiction books on the period, including ones from the 1860′s that I could only access on microfilm).  Finally, she recommended that I read Edith Wharton in order to learn how to write description and dialogue.

OMG, I don’t write like Edith Wharton?  I have committed a literary crime!  By the way, Edith Wharton puts me to sleep.

My first reaction upon reading this woman’s email was to feel as if I’d been stabbed and left to bleed to death.  Then I broke down her points. There were, admittedly, a couple good ones about a couple scenes.  But the rest of her opinion was flat out insulting.  I didn’t write another Gone with the Wind?  I didn’t scribble an Edith Wharton tome?  NO SHIT SHERLOCK!

Ultimately, what this “professional’s” opinion did to me was remind me why I’m self-publishing.  Among other reasons, I would have to compare in a query letter my manuscripts to books that are already out there.  I must make sure they fit neatly into a specific genre.  I must have a “product” that a publisher’s marketing department would know how to sell.

But what if I’ve written something that can’t be easily pigeonholed?  What if I’ve created something that’s kind of – oh, I don’t know… original?

Since at this point I’m waxing sarcastic, I figure it’s time to sign off.  I’ll just end by adding that this experience has also made me even more sympathetic with my fellow writers who have had similar experiences at the hands of “professionals.”

I feel for you.