Thursday, November 20, 2014

I've been thinking about weebles. . .

1970's commercial for Weebles

I didn't actually play with these as a kid. I was already a bit older than their target market when they came out, but I do remember the commercials and I did plenty of baby sitting in those years, so I know I must have had weebles in my life.

Honestly, I haven't thought about these toys in many decades, but this morning in speaking with my therapist, I had this image of myself as one of the egg shaped people. It didn't come entirely out of left field; just yesterday, I told someone that life balance was like physical balance--it's not an end point, but a process. That balance is really all about being in a state of controlled falling. That we move in and out of balance all the time, every day. That in struggling to cling to balance, we are more likely to fall. (Yes, this comes from my several decades long career as a physical therapist and it is physiologically accurate.)

So as my therapist and I explored this concept, the most absurd image came to mind. I was hovering over the main terminal in Grand Central Station, and all the people below me were weebles. Weebles in suits with briefcases. Weebles wearing skinny jeans, carrying backpacks, Weebles pushing strollers with little weebles inside. And they were all wobbling. Every single one of them.

And what I realized was that from my perspective, above them all, I could see that they weren't going to fall. They would sway, approach the ground, then come back upright again, over and over.

Then I saw myself as a weeble, in the midst of the station. And as I wobbled, I could see the ground getting closer and closer. It felt so much like I was falling. Like I was going to smash so hard into the floor that I'd never get up again.

But in this scenario, I'm a weeble. And as fast as I approach the ground, it's just a wobble, and eventually, I'll be back upright again.

Weebles wobble but they don't fall down.

Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down.

Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down. 

They.  Don't.  Fall.  Down.

So my message for today is: Embrace your inner weeble.

And does anyone know someone who can draw my 'weebles take Manhattan' scene for me??

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Valley of Short Fiction

Please help me give a warm Once in a Blue Muse welcome to my friend, critique partner, and uber-talented writer, KJ Kabza.

I was fortunate enough to be a fellow student with KJ in a local SF&F writing workshop a bunch of years ago. He and I have read one another's work, and I find his voice to be striking, singular, and compelling. Since he is loathe to sing his own praises, I'll tell you his short fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Every Day Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and Spek Lit, among others. 

His work has garnered praise from Locus, Tangent, and SF Revu, and has been reprinted in several "Best of" annual anthologies.

I am an unabashed fan of his writing and am proud to be his friend.

Welcome KJ!
KJ's second short story collection. Go read it. Seriously. Why are you still here?

The Valley of Short Fiction

Guest Post by KJ Kabza

I once asked a friend whether or not I should out myself to the larger writing community. "Will people be weird about it?"

His answer was immediate. "No. People won't care what you do." He drummed his fingers on the table. "They probably won't even notice. You're mostly a short fiction writer, right?"

I nodded.

"Short fiction is the Valley of Nobody Gives A Shit."


Perhaps the idea of nobody giving a shit is disheartening to you, but to me, it's kind of freeing. If nobody gives a shit, you've got enormous artistic freedom to try anything you like and work to please no one but yourself.

This freedom, coupled with a lot of current discourse in fandom about the need for more diversity in stories, has emboldened me to try writing from many points of view. I'm a middle class, pudgy, gay American white guy, but I've had the great pleasure of writing, and selling, stories that have main characters who are:

--Icelandic farmers ("In the Shadow of Dyrhólaey")
--orphans with cerebral palsy ("The Idiot")
--billionaires ("The Ramshead Algorithm")
--Jewish ("The Game Room")
--alcoholic ("Surface Tension")
--Chinese-American ("Nathan and the Amazing TechnoPocket NerdCoat")
--children ("The Soul in the Bell Jar")

In October 2014 I attended the Viable Paradise workshop, where Steve Gould, who had read a few samples of my work, said to me, "Well... you certainly have no trouble following your weird."


Steve's face tried to say something different from his mouth. "I mean... originality counts for a lot. People will always prefer reading a story that tries something new, even if it has noticeable flaws."

Funny. That's the kind of story I prefer writing.

After Viable Paradise, I launched an ebook entitled UNDER STARS, a self-published collection that reprints the stories I listed above (and more). To continue with the theme of me trying new things, I also put in 5 original pieces, which feature:

--poor, mixed-race kids ("...In the Machine")
--a widower ("The Land of Stone and Stars")
--a mixed-race couple ("Copyright 2013")
--working-class black kids ("Like Old People Do")
--and a vampire... in SPACE. (Because you just need to write a dumb vampire story sometimes.)

UNDER STARS is, I feel, a nicely eclectic collection. I'm pleased with the variation in there, and I'm grateful for the opportunity every story has given me: a chance to grow, a chance to learn something, and a chance to become more human. (In a good way, I mean.)


If you want to start exploring the Valley of Short Fiction yourself, I'd recommend Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, and AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review. I've appeared in all of them, and there's some fine stuff there. Riskier and more beautiful than novels.

Or submit a story to them, if you like, and see what variety of your own you can add. Experimentation enriches us all.

And hey--maybe the Valley of Nobody Gives a Shit will someday become the next hipster hot spot.

Thank you for hanging out on my blog today, KJ! 

And for all my readers who have not yet discovered KJ's work, (seriously - what are you waiting for???) you are in for a treat. You can purchase UNDER STARS at all the usual venues: AmazonB&NSmashwords, iBooks, and Kobo.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Our own personal car talk

I promise; this photo will be relevant to the post.

In the past week or so, several of my G+ and FB friends posted a link to research that discusses what makes a solid long term relationship. Having been married to my spouse for 26 years, I was interested in what the article had to say and wondered how relevant it would be to our lives together.

It is a fascinating disucssion, a long article, but one well worth the read. One of the first things the researchers did was measure the autonomic responses of both partners during a conversation in the lab. They discovered some folks were 'masters' - with calm autonomic nervous systems, and some were 'disasters' - with highly labile autonomic nervous systems.

"The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other."

That, alone was really fascinating, but could be explained by pre-existing biological wiring, and not the relationship per-se. The researchers went on to discover that in their day to day communications, partners make 'bids for attention' in talking about something that interests them, hoping to connect with one another. 

"By observing these types of interactions, Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?"

Kindness and generosity are things that can be practiced, things that can be changed. 

My husband is a car guy. He loves the aesthetics of cars. He loves the mechanics of cars. He loves to drive. When he's not working as a physician, he's a high performance driving instructor for the BMW Club of America, so he loves to take his (fully safety-modded) BMW M3 on the track and drive. Fast. Very fast.

I don't care much about cars.

My definition of cars: A construction with four wheels and an engine that gets me from point A to point B.

His truck was in the shop last week, and we needed to pick it up today, so I kept him company while he drove his rental up to the shop/dealership, lured by the promise of brunch.

Below the regular showroom, the dealership had this collection of classic American cars, in pristine condition. I could tell my husband was nearly salivating to spend some time looking at them, so I said I'd be happy to.

I call this one "we were promised jet packs"
It was clear as he went around from car to car, that he was in a sacred space. And while I am so not a car person, I enjoyed looking at the cars through his vision and his love. Alone, I might have glanced through the window and noticed all the old cars, but I certainly wouldn't have taken the time to enjoy them.

I think that is the indication of true love: when you are willing and able to enjoy what your partner enjoys, without resentment, without irony. 

But I still don't want to hang out on the track with him. :)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

A Haven of Writers

Everything I need: my computer and my community

I spent this past week immersed in the amazing community that is Writer Unboxed. If you are a writer and are not familiar with it, then you are missing out on some of the best people on the ‘net. The WU blog is a repository of wisdom on living the (often chaotic, lonely, and difficult) life of the writer. Articles on craft sit side by side with ones on the publishing business and nurturing the creative spirit.

And along with the blog, there is a FB community that supplements and extends the WU world.

This past week, writer-mama extraordinaire, Therese Walsh, spearheaded the first (of what I hope and pray will be more!) Writer Unboxed UnCon, 5 days of boot camp/encounter group/summer camp for writers who have been part of the WU community.

In many cases, being there gave us the chance to meet ‘IRL’ folks we have grown to know and love through the magic of the internet.

Like the blog and FB page, the conference was a safe space. A no-false-drama or inflated ego space, where all of us were there to push ourselves and support one another.

Is this heaven?
No, it’s Iowa the UnCon.

I started out the con determined to take as many pages of notes as I could, but became quickly overwhelmed and inspired, letting myself just listen and absorb all the wisdom around me. What follows is a compendium of what notes I did take, and what I took away from simply being there, participating with my whole self in this magical week.

Meg Rosoff kicked off my UnCon experience with a talk about ‘Through-ness’, a term from dressage riding. She linked it to the connection between the conscious and unconscious minds.

"What’s in your head is the most important thing about you."
"I’m a dark person at heart."

Throughness is a supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state which allows unrestricted energy between the horse and rider. Now swap rider for the consious mind and the horse for the unconscious mind and you have the concept of throughness for writing.

The unconcious is ‘a dangerous and scary place.’ But Meg urged us to "Be open to living at the edges of your experience." And that ‘voice’ comes from the quality and connection through to your unconscious mind. I loved the concept that we should be the leader, not the bully of our unconscious.

And the concept of throughnes is not just for the writer; as writers, we want to have our readers feel that same connected experience.

In a later talk on voice, Meg told us to "Write as fiercely as you can possibly write." And to help us get there, she asked us a series of 40 questions, designed to help us find the connections to our own dark and ‘dense’ places in our unconscious minds. That session was intensely powerful, and I was able to speak about a very personal, very difficult experience – my own turning point, if you will – in the group and felt supported and validated in my vulnerability.

If this sounds more like group therapy than a writing con, well, maybe that’s what it was. But group therapy for creative people to help free their creativity.

The session on ‘Story vs Plot’ with the powerhouse team of Lisa Cron, Donald Maas, and Brunonia Barry kicked off my Wednesday. It was the perfect counterpoint to the intensely personal/internal/character work from Tuesday’s sessions.

What happens in the narrative = plot
How it effects the protagonist in the pursuit of a goal AND how they change as a result = story
Story is nothing but emotion.
Story is about the why.

The events of the plot are the externalization of the internal journal of change.

We must write specifics. No one does anything in general. A story is only universal because of its specifics.

"The past is the decoder ring for what’s happening in our present." Lisa Cron

In crafting story, the writer must balance the inner and outer journeys of the characters. We must uncover the meaning of what happens – the personal meaning of events for each character. And any event you choose can have meaning for the character.

The true beginning of your story is when the character knows something is changing that won’t change back.

In "Wired for Story", Lisa Cron talked about the neuroscience behind the human brain’s affinity/necessity for story.

"We turn to story to navigate reality."
Story silences our analytic brain.
The stories we believe become part of our identity.

Lisa presented her 5 steps/5 layers to writing powerful story. These are 5 elements that we should have explored before we write forward in the story.

  1. What if, the surface area of our story. Story is really about our expectations being broken
  2. Who: explore your characters. Know what they come into the world wanting, and what misbeliefs they cling to.
  3. Why: why does this all matter.
  4. World view (this was the piece Lisa focused on, among the 5 layers). Your character’s world view is very particular, very specific. Before you write, you need to know what’s RELEVANT to the character because we never do anything in general.
  5. When: This is your ticking clock. It is up to the author to force the issue and ‘sink your character’s boat.’

I stopped taking notes by Donald Maas’ talk on micro tension, but the takeaway for me was how every element on every page can ramp up the emotional experience for the reader. These include:

  1. dialogue: microtension comes from the conflict between the characters. In dialogue, bring out the opposing needs and wants of your characters in relation to one another. No bland ‘tea or coffee’ scenes!
  2. action: Remember, tension is inside, not in the external plot events. An explosion is exciting, but isn’t on its own tense.
  3. exposition: present emotions in conflict, ideas at war.
Don recommended that we print out our drafts, throw the loose pages into the air, then gather them in random order and read each page with an eye toward increasing micro tension in every one. (And he said the same thing, albeit in a less messy way, can be achieved using a random number generator and reading your work in that random order.)

The rest of the conference passed through me in a blur of conversations, readings, lectures, workshops, and laughter. I have pages of notes from Donald Mass’ 21st Century Fiction talk (which, unfortunately, I had to leave midway through) and what I appreciated from the workshop was that he posed questions that each of us needed to answer in relation to our own stories in progress. His questions helped me deepen and extend the conflicts and tension that I had sketched out for DERELICT’s sequel in a way that will create a far richer story. I am both exhausted and excited about the prospect!

And those were the formal sessions. A great deal of the UnCon happened in the liminal spaces between and around the sessions. Conversations in the library, over breakfast, dinner, and walks, in the bar. I met such amazing people and reconnected in person with ones I had interacted with virtually. I got to meet one of the women in my virtual critique/support group for the first time! (Hi, Amanda!!!!) Now, I have her voice in my head when I read her posts and messages.

Meeting Therese was a highlight of the UnCon for me. She is a gracious and lovely human being. I can’t imagine the amount of work – hard work – that went into putting this together. I know she had the back up of her ‘mod squad’ and other volunteers, but she set the tone. I have been to many workshops, retreats, and conferences; I’ve never experienced anything like this one.

To all the wonderful writers I met: thank you. We laughed, cried, wrote, and played together for nearly a week. It was woefully short and went by far too quickly. I hope that this is not the end, but the beginning of a grand and singular tradition.