An ordinary, extraordinary life

Hi, folks–

Major hat tip to Caitlin Kelly, whose blog, “Broadside,” I follow. She posted about an amazing article from the Toronto Star. Or rather, a wonderful tribute to a woman who loved and lived fiercely, and who touched many lives.

Here’s the direct link to this astonishing piece of writing and journalism, this rumination over a woman’s life through those left behind. A reporter at the Star became interested in Shelagh Gordon through her obituary, and decided to find out more about her. The Star interviewed more than 100 friends and family members, to show how a seemingly ordinary life can have an incredible impact.

I’ve posted the beginning below, but please do click the above link to read the rest of it.

“Shelagh was here–an ordinary, magical life”
by Catherine Gordon

I met Shelagh Gordon at her funeral.

She was soap-and-water beautiful, vital, unassuming and funny without trying to be. I could feel her spirit tripping over a purse in the funeral hall and then laughing from the floor.

She was both alone and crowded by love. In another era, she’d have been considered a spinster — no husband, no kids. But her home teemed with dogs, sisters, nieces, nephews and her “life partner” —a gay man — who would pass summer nights reading books in bed beside her wearing matching reading glasses.

Her relationships were as rich as the chocolate pudding pies she’d whip together.

She raced through ravines, airports and wine glasses (breaking them, that is). She dashed off dozens of text messages and emails and Facebook postings a day, usually mistyping words in her rush to connect.

Then, every afternoon, she’d soak for an hour in the bath while eating cut-up oranges and carrots and flipping the damp pages of a novel.

She called herself a “freak,” at first self-consciously and, later, proudly.

But my sharpest impression of Shelagh that day, as mourners in black pressed around me, was of her breathtaking kindness. Shelagh was freshly-in-love thoughtful.

Godspeed, Ms. Gordon. The world is a richer place for you having been in it. May we all live ordinary, magical lives.

Writing Tips: the importance of craft

Hi, kids–

I have a spiel I use with new-ish authors with regard to the craft of writing. I tell them that there are certain rules that apply to writing. Rules of grammar, rules of spelling, rules of sentence structure, paragraph structure, story structure. Back in the day when public education was actually education all over the country, I learned all of these rules in both elementary school and high school. I diagrammed sentences out the ying-yang, and took courses in high school that delved into the origins and roots of words (in the English language).

These are things everybody should be learning at least in high school English.

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The productive writer…

is the writer who writes. I know, I know. You’re thinking: DUH. But there’s a lot that goes into writing, and putting your butt to the chair and clicking away at your keyboard doesn’t necessarily mean you’re productively writing.

I caught Ann Aguirre’s blog over at Writer Unboxed the other day, and dang, she’s right (or write, as the case may be).

She offered 5 productivity tips. I’ll paraphrase here:

1) Don’t multitask
2) Know your next scene
3) Writer’s block could indicate a problem
4) Set goals, be accountable
5) Turn off the interwebs

What does it all mean? Come with me, Grasshopper…

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Gratitude

Hi, folks–

I know, Thanksgiving has come and gone. But I’m one of those people who doesn’t really think about the historical context of Thanksgiving so much as the spirit of it, and the time to think about the winding down of the year and the things for which I’m grateful.

And that’s why I’m giving you this link to The Rumpus, and the amazing-ness of people offering their thoughts about what’s made them grateful. I guarantee, you will not be unmoved, whether by the stories themselves or the gorgeous prose that some of these people use to tell them.

Go. Read. And find within yourself that which makes you grateful.

Happy Monday, and many thanks to Kelley Eskridge for the link.

Sex, Lies, and the Zombie Apocalypse

Hi, kids–

Haven’t blogged about zombies in a while. I was traveling last weekend and I ended up reading the first 2 of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. I put that off, like, as long as I could so I wouldn’t be all part of the trend or something, but I read ’em and posted my thoughts over on my Goodreads account. So if you’re on Goodreads, you can go check out my thoughts over there. Fave character in that series thus far is, hands down, Lisbeth Salander. A woman I definitely would not want to be friends with, but also one I wouldn’t want to be enemies with and someone I’d hire in a heartbeat to track someone down.

Anyway, let’s chat about things to do and not to do during a zombie apocalypse. First and foremost, people, I think we just really need to get this out on the table: SEX.

Want some of this? Keep reading…

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National Book Award screw-up

Hey, kids–

I caught this story today (I’m a little late to the party) and all I could think was “FUBAR.” For those not in the know about what the means, here.

Anyway, the National Book Award is a pretty prestigious deal. So when the nominees were announced last week, the authors and publishers no doubt got way excited and danced around, threw confetti, did fist pumps, and probably called tons of people with the news. However, one of those nominees wasn’t actually a nominee. Whoever put the short lists together got the wrong book, wrong author.

Yeah. The book award people announced Lauren Myracle’s Shine as a short list nominee instead of Franny Billingsley’s Chime. Both books are geared toward young adults.

Soon after the announcement, the book awards people added Chime to the list, stating that there would be six nominees instead of five in that category this year. Okay, seems fair enough, though it was a pretty big screw-up.

Today, however, Myracle has withdrawn her title from the shortlist, citing pressure from the National Book Foundation, which oversees the award. Myracle said that she was asked to withdraw her book in order to “preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work.” She agreed to do so, and she graciously gave props to the other authors nominated in the category.

Guess it was just too hard to have six books instead of five in contention. Although, if I were a conspiracy-monger (and who isn’t every now and again) or deeply, heinously cynical (and again, who isn’t now and again), I might wonder a little bit about that. Myracle’s book is about discrimination against gay youth in schools. Fortunately, I’m not necessarily a conspiracy-monger, and the National Book Foundation did agree to donate $5,000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organization geared toward helping LGBTQ youth.

Regardless, the Tweet-o-sphere has a “supportShine” hashtag going, and there are lots of people out there who are not happy about this decision. And yes, it was a pretty big screw-up on the part of the NBF. I’m interested to see how it plays out over the next few days.

In the meantime, happy reading, happy writing!

Readin’ Tip (everything old is new again)

Hey, kids–

As some of you know, I read a ton of nonfiction in addition to fiction. I think it’s important to read widely and read often, across genres and across fiction and nonfiction. Not only if you’re a writer. Do it as a reader, as someone willing to expand boundaries.

At any rate, here’s another one of those nonfiction books that I found resonates even today. It’s called (in the spirit of those wonderfully wordy 19th-century titles) The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth, by journalist Matthew Algeo.


source: Powells

Why is this such a groovy read? Click on…

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Cue “Jaws” music…

Hey, kids–

OMG it’s “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel. And good gracious, there are some seriously nasty stories revealed. That is, seriously grim, macabre, and tragic. So I’ve been sort of thinking about sharks, and interestingly, so have other people.

For example, Anderson Cooper went to South Africa to check out this dude who dives with sharks WITHOUT A CAGE. WTF? The dude has decided to “get to know” sharks better, and find out more about them. Well, okay, that sounds like a decent wildlife biologist thing to do (except the dude isn’t a wildlife biologist), but please remember that sharks are PREDATORS. That’s what they do, that’s what they do best. Remember the guy who lived with grizzlies? Yeah, that didn’t turn out so well, either.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire people who go out and try to figure out how the wild things are so we can figure out as another species how to live with them and respect them. I don’t think hanging out in shark-infested waters without a cage and trying to play with sharks is a good idea, just like I thought living in the midst of a bunch of grizzlies wasn’t a good idea, either.

Outside Magazine has a recent article on those sharks off the coast of South Africa, and how shark attacks are up because people are trying to get tourists to go on shark tours. How do they do it? Throwing lots of chum (blood and fish) into the water to lure them. Maybe not the best idea, as this article demonstrates (and perhaps Anderson Cooper should take note).

And in a related vein, how about this Outside Mag piece on an orca attack on its trainer (she died)? Or this piece they did, “Blood in the Water,” about other confined orca attacks?

The point is, predators are predators. Humans are also predators, and many of us remain that way in spite of all the human-made laws and alleged effects of “civilization.” What happens when you mess with non-human predators that don’t have “civilizing” influences? Well…


linkie

Happy (I guess) “Shark Week” and happy Friday!

Writing tips!

Hey, peeperinos–

Here are a couple of good writing tip links. Here’s Jeff Abbott, award-winning international suspense- and thriller-writing guy over at Amazon’s Omnivoracious talking about how to “build a hero” in your mystery/thriller books. Abbott talks about how he comes to embrace a hero in his books, and the characteristics a hero should have.

And here’s Writer’s Digest, with 5 most excellent tips for building a story.

Here’s a flavor (Quote):

1. Orientation:
The beginning of a story must grab the reader’s attention, orient her to the setting, mood and tone of the story, and introduce her to a protagonist she will care about, even worry about, and emotionally invest time and attention into. If readers don’t care about your protagonist, they won’t care about your story, either.

So, what’s the best way to introduce this all-important character? In essence, you want to set reader expectations and reveal a portrait of the main character by giving readers a glimpse of her normal life. If your protagonist is a detective, we want to see him at a crime scene. If you’re writing romance, we want to see normal life for the young woman who’s searching for love. Whatever portrait you draw of your character’s life, keep in mind that it will also serve as a promise to your readers of the transformation that this character will undergo as the story progresses.
source

And there are four more with great explanations. Check ’em out and have fun!

Happy writing, happy reading, Happy freakin’ Thursday!