Saturday, December 3, 2011

How to be a Real Native

Smoke Signals, written by Sherman Alexie, brilliantly demonstrates a major challenge for modern Native youth.  Who are they, as a people?  Not even they know.  Things are changing too quickly.

During the Christmas season, many of us remember to think of others.  We often worry about the future of people thousands of miles away, but forget to reach out to our neighbors.

Please pray for the Apsaalooke (Crow.)  This last year has brought them massive flooding and unconscionable acts of violence.   I fervently pray that they, and all Native people, can reach stability and prosperity, and buck both positive and negative stereotypes.  They are people, first and foremost, people that have always treated me generosity and warmth.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Closed to Review Submissions

Greetings, scifi and fantasy nerds.  Due to an overwhelming number of book review requests and the insanity of the Christmas season, I am closed temporarily for new book review submissions.  I'm barely keeping up with the ones I've already agreed to do.

Wishing you Happy Holidays, and don't overdo it on the eggnog. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Puttin' on the Big Girl Panties

So, over the past month and a half I've been dealing with crippling back pain that I couldn't explain.  I have fibromyalgia, so that was on the top of the short list of suspects, but it turned out to be a combination of fibro, pleurisy, and a singing technique I was overusing.  In short, a perfect storm of bad juju that was comparable to off-and-on labor pains, only it was in my upper back.  Over six weeks.  Wasn't fun.

Pain's an old friend, but one that I like to keep in the closet when company's over.  I learned two things very quickly after being diagnosed.  The first rule of fibro is not to talk about fibro.  It's muscle pain that doesn't result from compromised spinal structure, and therefore doesn't behave the same way as more typical back pain.  It's not limited to the back, but that's where it's always been the worst for me.  If I talk about it to the average Joe, Joe/Josephine automatically assumes I'm a lazy ass wipe that doesn't take care of herself.  Ha.  Ha, ha, ha.  After several disastrous conversations, I no longer talk about it to anyone I don't trust implicitly.

The second thing I've learned is that I've developed an arsenal to deal with the pain.  Isolation's at the top of the list, mostly because my husband is one of the only ones who truly understands.  Distraction's the next weapon.  I throw myself into work.  Between the gut-wrenching pain and the effort of trying to keep my students focused and productive, I usually have the brain power of an amoeba at the end of the day, which brings me to my last coping mechanism:  stories.  Not my own.  Someone else's.

Checking my Netflix history is a good indication of how I'm feeling.  The emotional fallout of dealing with pain draws me toward romantic dramas with awesome heroes.  As strains of a Bonnie Tyler song floats through my gray matter, no matter how tempting it is to fantasize about someone who could make all the pain and depression, it's not how the real world works.  No one, not my husband, not anyone else, is going to swoop in and fix all of my problems.  That's probably why I prefer fiction.

For six weeks it's been easy to slough off my writing because of the way I've felt.  I'm still devouring episodes of Bones, Buffy, and enough British period romances to choke a horse.  I tell myself that time has not been wasted, that everything I've been watching and reading has helped me deepen my story.

That's crap.

I'm afraid to get back on my horse, and I'm terrified that Ellie and Stinky will never ride again.  Why not?  Joss Whedon does the whole story-telling thing better.

If we want to get real, it's time to put on the big girl panties.  And perhaps a pair of cowboy boots.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Naughty Minds

No matter how hard I try, I have a filthy mind.  In fact, a group of high school kids figured it out.  They'd tell naughty jokes and speak in double entendres just to see what I'd do.  Usually, I'd choke back a snicker and reply, "That's not school appropriate!"  Chortle, chortle.

My brain works against me, too.  Whenever I misread or misunderstand, my brain automatically slips dirty words into song lyrics and books.  For example:

Oh, it doesn't show signs of stopping,
and I brought some corn for popping...

Turned into:

Oh, it doesn't show signs of stopping,
and I brought some porn for copping.... (A feel?)

I accidentally did that into a microphone at our elementary school's Christmas sing-along.  It was a good thing many of them were dyslexic because no one noticed.

So, yesterday I watched the Conan: The Musical video and got a pretty bad case of the giggles.  Shortly after, my husband and I read bedtime stories to our song.  My little boy chose a Little Einstein book about things Violet sees outside in the snow.

My boy wanted Mommy to read.  Bad choice.  What it was supposed to say was:

What does Violet see?
She sees her boot prints in the snow.  

What Mommy said was:

What does Violet see?
She sees her boob prints in the snow.

I was already a little hysterical from "Da lamentations of da women..."  I burst into a fit of snorting giggles and passed the book to my husband.  "You read, I can't!" I choked out.

He read the next line.

They were deep and hollow.

More snorting, then a cackle.

The next line:

Then Violet took a picture.

That particular mental image sent me careening off my son's bed with gales of laughter.  Thank you, Conan, for ruining any chance I could ever read that book again without sniggering.

UPDATE:  Apparently I'm not the only one.

My second graders were practicing their Lewis and Clark-themed Christmas play last Thursday.  The boy playing York was supposed to say, "Look!  Native people!"

What came out was, "Look!  Naked people!"

You do me proud, kid.

Da Lamentations of Da Women....

I came across this YouTube video.  It elicited the rare chortle/cackle/snort that annoys anyone within a 10-mile radius.

After viewing the video, my husband mentioned that he'd never seen it, though I'd watched it a lot as a kid. We pulled it up on Netflix, and I soon came to two conclusions.

First, I shouldn't have watched it as a kid. I suspect a few of the scenes were censored by my brother.  The servile, naked women made me want to gag, though that hadn't bothered me when I was younger.  Second, I hadn't realized how old school the filmography had been.  It felt more like a movie from the 50's or 60's. I'll be interested to see how the new movie turns out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Write for The Author's Resource Pool

We've all had it happen before.  You're watching a movie, a TV show, or reading a book, and you see something very, very wrong.  A non-flammable chemical explodes.  A doctor uses a goofy term.  Arnold Schwarzenegger fires nineteen rounds from a five-round shotgun without reloading.

Everyone's always telling us to write what we know, but the truth is that writers often have write what they don't know.  Getting the details right creates a sense of realism, but slugging through the mounds of research that doesn't apply can be time consuming.

I'm putting together a section of my blog aimed specifically at helping authors cut to the chase, get the information they need, and get it right.  Maybe you know guns.  Maybe you're a master chef.  Perhaps you tinker with software programming.  Let's pool our resources to make it easier for authors everywhere.

  • Focus on helping others understand the system behind the details.
  • Show ways that writers can apply your information in their writing.
  • Provide links to good places to find the details.
I'll be doing contributions for agriculture and sociology, and I'll include my posts on psychopathy.  Email me at scootercarlyle at gmail dot com.  Tell me what you'd like to include and where you got your expertise.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Authors! Want to Impress Book Bloggers? Don't Do This.

Most self-pubbed authors realize that platform is important and therefore establish a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and their own website.  Though I want to be a published author myself, I'm writing this post from the perspective of a book blogger.  I often visit authors' websites to gather information to include in my reviews, and I'm starting so see problems in their websites that make my job much harder.

  • Have clear contact information on your website.
  • Have a clean, uncluttered appearance.
  • Have good graphics.  Our culture is moving more and more toward the visual sense.  Consequently, my toddler can operate an iPad with a considerable degree of skill.
  • Use professional and ethical language.  It's nearly impossible to rebuild burned bridges.  
  • Include a professional headshot, not a cutsie pose in front of your webcam.
  • Invest in decent cover art.
  • Spend time writing a good pitch line.  You're pitching directly to the public, but the rules are about the same as pitching to agents.  There is a ton of information out there for developing a good pitch.  
  • Make references to how famous you're going to be.
  • Include rave reviews that are really from your mom.
  • Include a "FAQ" section unless you really have been asked the same questions frequently.  Even then, limit it to questions like, "Where are your books available?"  I've seen several authors use the "FAQ" section to massage their egos.  One author included the question, "How do you think you wrote women?"  The author's answer?  "Good question; don't think I've done too badly.  What do you think?"  Truthfully, his portrayal of women ticked me off.
  • Others may disagree with me, but I hate it when authors compare their books to other bestsellers.  One author compared hers to a bestseller I felt was very weak.  Consequently, her book contained the exact same things that bothered me about the bestseller, plus a myriad of other problems.
  • Fluff your site with things that really don't matter.  We can tell if you're trying to make yourself look important.  
  • Never brag about your Amazon rankings.  Victoria Strauss points out that Amazon rankings are not a measure of success.  
I think most of the silly things on author websites stem from insecurities, egos, or both.  If you haven't got any credentials, impress us with your content.  That's the only way to snag and keep readers in a market flooded with half-hearted attempts at fiction.

**I need to note that I've reviewed several self-published books, but I've only posted one.  I sent my comments to the other authors via email because of major quality issues.  I no longer do that.  All reviews are now posted.

Review: "Grace Awakening," by Shawn Bird

Most teens would find Grace's dilemma enviable.  She's got a smokin' band geek and a sexy rebel without a cause hot on her tail.  Too bad she can't enjoy it.  Attempts on her life, random fainting spells, and the furtive skulking of those she trusts have a way of putting a damper on things.

Grace Awakening is Shawn Bird's first book, published by Lintusen Press in July of 2011.  She has scheduled the next book in the series, Awakening Power, for release in November.  Bird's book is the first for the new publisher.  ***

I have to say that Grace Awakening has been the best self-pubbed title I've reviewed.  The others I reviewed were in such poor shape that I returned them to the authors with comments.  Enough of the good showed through the problems to make it a fairly easy read.  Several romantic scenes were compelling.  It was quite refreshing to read something without major sentence structure issues.  The prose was clear, with one or two exceptions, and had very good copy editing.

That praise is loaded with a lot of howevers, though.  Reading the story was like watching a movie without my glasses.  I could tell from the dialogue and the indistinct images approximately what was going on, but it the fuzziness of the picture kept me from being pulled into the story.

Telling, Not Showing

The prose consisted entirely of Grace's thoughts and perceptions, as it should be in first-person perspective, but it relied heavily on Grace asking herself questions to move the plot along.  Having a protagonist ask him or herself a question is OK every once in a while, but Grace is completely loaded with questions like the one above.  We need to see everything through a protagonist's eyes, not hear her every thought.  In addition to the constant questions that interrupted the flow of the text, exposition tended to bury important moments and lessen their impact.

Bird glosses over details that would make her setting and characters come alive, which is what lead to the fuzzy picture I described earlier.  Two areas needed to be much clearer:  the medical situations and the high school setting.  At one point the author has a kid unconscious from cracked ribs.  Cracked ribs are exceedingly painful and can compromise ventilation, but they do not usually cause unconsciousness unless pieces of the ribs puncture the lung or blood vessels.  The lack of detail in the high school is a mystery to me because the author teaches high school English.  

I know the book is YA and is aimed at younger readers, but I don't believe that makes it OK to skip technical details because the author assumes that either the readers won't care or they won't understand.  The ready availability of information, music, and fiction over the Internet has turned my kids into savvy consumers.  They can't always tell you why, but they can spot fiction and music that is lackluster.

Character Delineation

The other factor contributing to the fuzzy picture was the lack of depth in the secondary characters, especially the high school students.

The students spoke with perfect grammar.  There were mentions of different cliques, but no scenes that showed clear conflicts between them.  Everybody just talked about everyone else, and said exactly what was on their minds.  The word "evil" was overused to describe the bitchy antagonists, and the way in which they were portrayed was often melodramatic.  Much of the story revolves around the band room, but readers don't get the feeling of that "bandie" culture that usually springs up in a successful band program.

More importantly, the main protagonist, Grace, had nothing that drew me in.  She wasn't particularly clever, resourceful, or compelling.  That's really, really not good in a story told from a first person perspective.  Only one character had real depth and subtlety, and that was Josh.  His dialogue sounded different from everyone else.  His speech and posture had a rakish tone, and I quite liked him.

Though I don't teach high school anymore, I still have close contact with the older kids.   Our school is tiny and my husband teaches the high school music classes.  (I still think of them as my kids.  I've had them since they were little.)  They slaughter grammar, often with hilarious results.  Even though we're in a very rural school, the kids emulate the slang they hear on T.V.  Modern kids are very passive aggressive, especially the girls, and they tend to fight via text messages, Facebook, and the rumor mill.  The things that drove us all nuts in high school were completely absent.

Plot Problems

Bird interspersed glimpses of the Greek Gods plotting.  That could have been a very good thing, but there wasn't good enough character development to make it fly.  As a result, most of the weight of the plot fell to Grace's shoulders, who also was not a deep enough character to carry it.  The only Grace ever really did was get rescued by a hottie.  I think it was unintentional, but the lack of deep stakes makes the book appear to be about how important it is to have a boyfriend.

To me, great fiction speaks truth, especially truth that isn't readily apparent.  Everything else falls flat, and boy problems really don't do it for me.  Grace Awakening had potential, but doesn't live up to it.

***I had initially thought that Bird created the company to publish her book, but have since been informed that it is a new publisher.  The blog post has been changed to reflect the new information.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Not to Make Internet Comments

Internet Trolls Beware:  If you see yourself in the people in the sketch, perhaps you can see why people hate you. 

Side Note:  This made me laugh.  Hard.

Saturday Night Live - Internet Comments Talk Show - Video -

Sunday, October 2, 2011

More Clarkesworld

My latest review for The Portal is up:  Clarkesworld, July through September.  It includes comments on a great dystopian steampunk story.  Never thought those two words would go together.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unacknowledged Victims of Domestic Violence

Not long ago, someone I dearly love was tormented, degraded, and beaten by a spouse.   Nobody stepped in to stop it.  Including me.  Those of you that know I'm from a small town may chalk it up to a small town mentality, to backward people that haven't caught up to the modern world, people that have no problem leaving a woman in her place.  There's one small problem.

I never said the victim was a woman.

I was one of them that laughed when I heard about what Lorena Bobitt did.  I think a lot of us did.  More recently, co-hosts on CBS's daytime show The Talk ridiculed a man who had been poisoned or drugged and then tied up by his ex-wife, who proceeded to cut off his penis and put it down the garbage disposal.*  I realize this is a departure from my usual content, but this issue has greatly affected both my personal and professional life and the anger I feel, as a woman and a mother, urges me to speak.

Many of you may not know that domestic violence in which the female is the aggressor is a growing problem.  Then again, perhaps it isn't growing.  Maybe the incidence of violence against males isn't so much on the rise, but it is being reported more often.  Either way, over 250 studies** have found that women are equally as aggressive as men, and many myths pervade the public's view of domestic violence.

If the notion of men as victims strikes you as odd, consider the following.  Men have a lot to lose when it comes to being trapped in a violent relationship.  I remember the most common response when the man I knew tried to talk about what was happening.  Folks would scoff and say, "Oh, boo-hoo.  She's half your size."  Catherine Becker and Jenny Kazemi have proven that a size difference matters little.  The man I knew never defended himself because he knew if he laid a hand on her in self-defense the police would never believe he didn't initiate it.

Even if you can't see a man as a victim in any way,  if a woman is willing to slug a guy twice her size, do you honestly think that she treats defenseless kids any better?  I cannot count the times I've seen women use their kids as a weapon against their ex-husbands or boyfriends.***  Even if they don't lay a hand on their kids, the children of such women very rarely have a healthy home environment.

If nothing else, I hope that double-standards bother you as much as they bother me.  If men strike their spouses, they're abusive bastards.  If women strike their husbands, they were driven to it.  The idea of women being driven to violence is so pervasive that it seems to be a standard defense.  I'm not saying that there aren't situations in which women were driven to violence as a last resort.  I am saying that many use that defense when there were non-violent options available.

So, there's double standards.  So, girls hit guys.  Big deal.

It's a very big deal.

  • Women can milk the court system for all its worth, especially in family courts.  I know of a particularly infuriating situation in which children in an abusive situation have nowhere to turn because of the innate bias that rules the family court in their state.  
  • Some courts, like Utah, seem to actively aid and abet paternity fraud and other related matters.  Men have no protection in many respects because they are assumed to be perpetrators.  Thus, courts have built in no checks or balances to ensure that family matters are handled fairly.  
  • Speaking of courts, have you ever noticed that male teachers who sleep with students are treated like scum-bag sex offenders (which they are), but female teachers that do the same thing tend to walk away with a slap on the wrist?  If we decide as a society that sex offenders are one of the worst things walking on Earth, then we need to be consistent and hit the female offenders just as hard, sex offender registration and all.  
  • Some schools make high school girls attend self-defense classes while the boys attend "safe relationship" classes.  (In other words, how not to be an abuser.)  I've personally seen how subtle double standards can lead girls to think they are untouchable by authority, both by how women treated my mom, the bouncer and sheriff's deputy, and by how girls treat boys at school.
  • Additionally, if a man and his children need to flee his wife in the middle of the night, most of them cannot go to a domestic abuse shelter.  Some shelters will take men and children both, but it's very rare, as far as I know.
  • Women are not all helpless victims, and as a woman it pisses me off when it's implied.  The suggestion that women need special protection really puts a burr under my saddle.
Something we have to remember is that sexism, racism, ageism, indeed, all -isms are the same thing:  a bias caused by the fear of the other.  Bias is a human reaction that increases a group's cohesiveness, and I believe historically feminists have vilified men to strengthen their position.  I'm thankful for the changes that have happened for women over the last century, but we have to remember that whenever an inequality is corrected by denigrating the formerly dominant group, one just makes another inequality that bites a person in the ass later down the road.  People all over the world are capable of great good, regardless of origin, sex, or creed, but  I've learned that cruelty and malice know no barrier, either.  In my eyes, we've accidentally created a political situation that allows malicious individuals to legally torment others.

I'm no lawyer.  I don't know how to fix the law to make it fair.  I don't know how to make anyone else see that this is a big, big problem.  Women historically have been the victims in domestic violence.  That is a fact, but times are changing.  Men and women are now victims in equal measure.  I know I'll proably take a lot of heat for what I've said, but we need realize that an injustice against a few is an injustice against us all.

Please feel free to comment.  I'd like to hear your thoughts and feelings on the matter.


*Please realize that I didn't create the video.  All of the clips I found had commentary attached, and this had the tamest user commentary that I could find.  Some were quite toxic, and it's not my goal to engage in inflammatory propaganda.

**Click here for a list of studies.  Please note that this is a reference list that will allow you to find the studies mentioned.

***I wish I could give examples to support my claim, but I'm bound by confidentiality laws and cannot divulge things I've seen while at work.


Violent Relationships: Half are Reciprocally Violent, Females the Aggressors over 70% of the time in Non-Reciprocally Violent Relationships

CAMP-Countering Abuse Misinformation Project

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Quote from a Great Story Keeper

I recently heard one of my heros give a speech.  Chief Joseph Medicine Crow is the story keeper, or storyteller, of his family in the Crow tribe.  He was the first of his people to go to college, and the last war chief, having counted coup on the Germans in WWII.  He's well into his nineties, and I was thrilled to hear him speak again.

A self-deprecating man, he began by saying, "The wind has whistled and stolen my memory, but I have many more stories to tell."

Boy, did he ever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

God Bless Her Pea-Pickin' Heart

My sister had to have a very unexpected gall bladder surgery this week.  Good thing she had it out.  Apparently it had welded to her small intestine, which I thought was pretty gross, yet cool.  My mom has been watching my sister's two girls so she can recover.  I'm going to head down and spell my mom so she can recover from my nieces.

The day of the surgery, the oldest girl had been smarting off pretty much from the moment she got up.  My mom, exasperated, threatened to do something about her smart mouth, to which my niece replied, "Grandma, God made me in his image, and if he didn't want me to have a smart mouth, He wouldn't have given me one."

Somewhere in Glendive, her future kindergarten teacher sleeps soundly, completely unaware of the mayhem in store for the fall of 2012.

UPDATE:  Not long after the little darling popped off to Grandma, she said the following:

My Niece: Mom, I can't stay at home by myself, can I?

Her Mom: No, but when you are twelve you two can probably be on your own with you in charge.

My Niece: In charge? Like God?

Anyone else seeing a pattern here?  :-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review: Midnight at Spanish Gardens, by Alma Alexander

Just before Christmas in 1947, my grandfather boarded a small private plane bound for Seward, Alaska.  He had finished treating the ailments of the Natives on the Aleutian Islands, and he radioed my grandmother to pick him up from the tiny airport.  His plane was last seen banking over Resurrection Bay, but it never landed.  Alone with four children, my grandmother later remarried a rancher in eastern Montana, a brilliant, but troubled man that struggled with severe depression.

What would our lives be like had Daddy B. not disappeared? Grandma would not have needed to come back down to the lower 48, nor would she have needed to marry Art.  My parents wouldn't have met in Glendive, Montana.  I would never have been born, much less raised on my step-grandfather's ranch.  Daddy B. was a warm and gregarious man, Art very stern and critical.  Would my dad and his siblings turned out differently?  Would Grandma have still refused to come down to the big ranch house for Christmas, preferring to be alone with her memories?

I don't think there's a person alive that doesn't wonder about what might have been had ______(fill in the blank) turned out differently.  In Midnight at Spanish Gardens, five old friends meet on the eve of the prophesied end of the world.  They are given the opportunity to go back and change the course of their lives, finding out what would have happened had they made different choices, taken different paths, even if they had born a different gender.  Four choose to stay on the same path.  One does not.

The book, written by Alma Alexander, is available today, August 1st.  Ms. Alexander, originally born in Yugoslavia, has written ten books by my count, most of them published in several different languages.

If you like books that are more about choices and emotions, Midnight at Spanish Gardens is a good choice. There is no question that Ms. Alexander is an incredibly talented writer.  I tend to prefer quirky and endearing characters, as well as characters that have interestingly flawed personalities.  I'm also drawn to things I find profound, and what I find profound is entirely subjective.  I did not connect with the characters in the book, but I feel that is mostly due to personal preference and not poor quality.

I loved the scene with the pasta.  It created a nice little moment, and also served to tie a number of narrative strings, er...noodles together.  Additionally, the musical references were fun for me.  Sections were titled, “Intermezzo,” and, “Coda.”  Though the songs were never specifically named, I was able to identify the Gershwin songs two of the characters enjoyed.  I love it when authors work the arts into their writing.

I found that I liked the latter sections of the book much more than the beginning.  I thought the first character's alternate history was a bit long and sagged.  In the latter portions of the book, the author did a great deal to change up how the alternate histories were constructed, how the characters made their choices, and how they interacted with the guide that took them down the alternate paths.

Sometimes, when a class is overly rowdy, we teachers will flick the lights off to get them to quiet down.  We all know that trick will only work once.  Overusing the trick makes it lose its impact and the kids feel free to hang from the ceiling while the fluorescents are flicked frantically on and off.  Overuse of a few narrative devices lessened my enjoyment of the book.

I’m not certain if it was the publisher’s or the author’s choice, but italics are overused.  Using italics to convey meaning, rather than for grammatical purposes, should be used sparingly.  :-)  I found that rather than making the meaning more clear, it forced meaning down the audience's collective throats.

The author's fondness for adjectives and adverbs occasionally made the prose dance just this side of being overwritten.  The phrase, "Beautifully, headily, cathartically tipsy..." would have worked had it been the only time it occurred, but the adjectives and adverbs were used a little liberally.  This is most apparent in the first fifty pages.  The early pages were a bit info-dumpy, as well.  Not too bad, but just enough to make some of the dialogue feel less than natural.

There were things I really liked, some things I really didn't, and a lot of things that would really depend on the reader.  Though each character had a lot at stake personally, there was very little at stake beyond each character's own life.  I think this is partly why I didn't connect with the characters, but I don't think that would be the case with all readers.  I think there are quite a few women in my book club that would like the book.

It felt a little bit more like literary fiction than fantasy.  Before you scream and label me a cretin, realize that I do like literary fiction.  I'm not just that into books about self-discovery and life journeys.  Though it wasn't my cup of tea, I think there are a number of folks out there that would enjoy Midnight at Spanish Gardens.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tents and Psychopaths

I owe y'all an apology.  As I sit here on a picnic bench, using WiFi outside my tent, which has to be a crime in somewhere, I realize that I have not yet finished my series on psychopaths.

I should explain.  The last segment, one that discusses good and bad fictional psychopaths, requires my reference materials.  After my house flooded in May, all of my books were boxed up and in storage.  I just got them back last week.  I'm right in the middle of preparing two reviews, one I hope to post tomorrow, and another that will go up at The Portal any day now.

I will finish the series as soon as possible, as it is one of my most popular, except for How I Lost a Chunk of Hair to my Grandma's Vibrator.  Copious apologies.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This One Time, When Mom was Bouncing at the Shamrock....

A little while ago, I blogged on the cliches about small towns that writers seem to enjoy.  There's something I couldn't believe I left out of the post.  The other day I noticed that Netflix made the movie Knockaround Guys available for streaming, a movie that takes place in my hometown, though little, if any of it was filmed there.

With a cast that includes names like Vin Diesel, John Malkovich, Seth Green, and Dennis Hopper, it's hard to imagine what could go wrong with it.  Plenty.  The cliches were so thick I needed a shovel.  I actually liked the way the mobsters spoke and behaved.  The portrayal of my hometown is what pissed me off.

Check out this bar scene.

My mom used to bounce in the bar in which this scene takes place.  So did my brother, occasionally, when he wasn't being the D.J.   A kid a little older than my sister and I once came up to her and said, "You know, I've seen a lot of scary stuff in my life, but when I saw your mom coming at me with a pool stick...I nearly shit my pants."

So, yeah, there were enough fights there, but usually only on the Sunday night dances.  The dances were a big draw, and Mom checked ID's from as far away as Fargo, ND, people who told Mom they had driven all that way to party one night.  Don't ask.  I don't really know why, either.  I didn't see the draw of them, and I didn't go to many.  It wasn't like I could sneak in with my Mom at the front door and my brother at the back.

Those of you from bigger towns, does anything strike you as being over the top or cliche about the scene?  From my viewpoint, there's a lot wrong.

  1. I don't know many folks from my hometown that would be ballsy enough to pick a fight with a guy as big as Vin without being near alcohol poisoning.
  2. Nobody in Wibaux talks like that. 
  3. Had a guy from Wibaux slapped a woman like that in public, the locals in the bar, including my mom, would have reached out and touched him back.
  4. There are plenty of people who think they own the town.  They just don't come right out and say it.  The social ties between folks in Wibaux are a lot more subtle, probably bordering on passive-aggressive.
  5. My mom would totally have walked over and given Vin the smackdown.  Don't believe me?  You've never met my mom.
I probably can't spot problems in the New York characters, but the problems with the Montanans throughout the entire movie are glaring.  Is that how the world sees us, or perhaps wants to see us?
I wonder what the movie would have been like had the small-town folks been more realistic and as well-developed.
    Wibaux isn't all sunshine and roses.  Rumors fly about corruption.  There are ignorant yokels.  There are drunken idiots, but there are also the folks that worked my dad's ranch for 8 weeks while he recovered from his heart attack.  There are the folks that pool their money and give anonymous gifts to needy families, no formal charity involved.  There's politics, not just about who has the power locally, but also about how places like Wibaux aren't even considered when Washington decides to pass yet another law that makes no sense for rural areas.

    There's so much more to a small town, if someone bothers to do the digging.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    The Uber-Awesomest Pun I've Ever Heard

    My husband is a pretty punny guy, and even though I'm a writer, puns tend to fly over my oblivious head for a few seconds.  He was rolling them off in the car the other day, and the puns were smacking me on the forehead so hard that I was pretty sure I had a puncussion.  (A-thank you!)

    I wanted to share with you the best pun I've ever heard.  I do not know what twisted mind managed to come up with it, but it was told to me by my good friend, Cathy, who is another punster of the finest order.

    Are you ready?

    Soooo, Ghandi was a spiritual leader that walked a lot, so his feet grew very tough.  He was extremely thin, and his poor diet gave him a pretty rank case of bad breath and a frail body.

    He was a....

    Super callused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

    Do you have a good pun?  Please share!

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Review of "The Secret History of Moscow"

    Picture by Bob Canada
    Sometimes logic isn't about A + B = C.  Sometimes it's * + % = platypus, or in the case of Russian folklore, maiden + drowning = rusalki.  Russian folktales are wonderfully unpredictable to a cowpoke like me, and I love the twisty concepts of justice embedded in tales.  Consequently, The Secret History of Moscow completely rocked my world.  Ekaterina Sedia, born in Russia, weaves Russian folktales together and integrates them with a modern urban fantasy plot.

    The protagonist, Galina, has spent most of her adult life bouncing in and out of asylums, and subsequently does not expect anyone to believe her when her pregnant sister turns into a bird, leaving the baby behind on the bathroom floor.  Driven by love and the guilt that the healthy, whole sister was the one taken, Galina joins a homeless artist and one of Moscow's finest in the search for Masha beneath Moscow's ancient streets.

    Her prose was as smooth as rich as a whiskey on the rocks...actually, a vodka on the rocks, maybe with a little lemon.  One could see that her Russian heritage created a gritty view of Moscow beyond what the tourists see.  In fact, the stereotypical tourists' perception of the city is met with tired derision.  Galina is an incredibly sympathetic character, and the characters found beneath Moscow range from heart-wrenching to downright creepy.

    I don't remember having enjoyed a book quite so much for quite some time.  I'm giddy with joy, thankful she has several other volumes out.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Aaaaand, We're Back!

    Finally, I'm able to reach my computer again.  The flooding in my basement made moving my bedroom into the office a necessity.  My darling husband reorganized everything today and made it possible to get online.

    Yay!  Go husbands!

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Montana's Flooding, By The Way

    Up here, we tend to say "crick" instead of "creek."  Well, there are cricks where there have never been cricks before.

    The school at which I teach is comprised of four different communities.  One of those communities flooded badly on Sunday, and I thought, "Wow.  I guess it doesn't get much worse."  Shut the #)%* up, Scooter.

    Today, the biggest city in Montana was hit with torrential rainfall like nothing ever seen.  The manhole covers were blown clean off of the sewers.  My house on the outskirts of town is flooded with water from my septic field, as is most of my block in one way or another.  We managed to get my son to his grandparents' house out of town just before the irrigation canal burst and flooded everything a block north of us.  Both routes out of my dead-end street are now blocked by high volumes of water.

    I was devastated by the water in my basement at first, but now I'm feeling fortunate after I saw happen to those around me.  We may not have a way out of town, but I have internet service, dammit! I've embedded some video of the damage. We don't have any of the worst of the damage yet, as the heaviest rain just fell a few hours ago.

    Would you mind adding Montana to your prayers alongside the rest of the states dealing with flooding and severe weather?

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Update: Speculative Fiction is Science's Medicine Man

    Two weeks ago I wrote a post regarding the relationship between speculative fiction and science.  In it I used Gene Rodenberry as a prime example of "boldly going where no man has gone before."

    Today I ran into a letter written by Gene Rodenberry regarding the very same subject.  He says, "The links between science fiction and science are well established and I am very pleased to associate myself with the Planetary Society."

    Click on the link and read the letter in its entirety.  Not all of his scientific predictions came true, but he was a visionary, that's for sure.

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    FIRE-Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

    I follow FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, very closely.  FIRE is a private foundation dedicated to ensuring the rights of all higher education students, regardless of a student's ideological mindset.  They tackle colleges and universities that do away with the right to due process or the right of free speech.

    I believe it's important for writers to support such organizations because student writers are often the targets of censorship.  Check out their website and learn about the battles being waged in higher education.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Hey There, Sulu!

    So, I lucked out and got a personal message from George Takei on Twitter.  Wooo hooo!  My inner Trekkie is enormously pleased.

    *Ridiculously Happy Dancing*

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    The Author's Guide to Psychopaths-Behavior

    It's been a while since the last psychopathy post, so let's review some facts.

    Psychopathy is a personality disorder.  It is characterized by very predictable personality traits that can be  measured by a trained professional.  Psychopaths are born, not made, though environmental factors shape how the disorder is expressed.  Psychopaths are perennially popular characters in all sorts of fiction, but authors often incorporate common myths about psychopaths.

    Today, we're looking at psychopathic behavior.  Let me make something very clear.  Finding these characteristics in yourself or others does not a psychopath make, young Padawan.  It is incredibly tempting to want to diagnose those around you as a psychopath, probably because everyone has some of these qualities to some degree.  The psychopath has most or all of these characteristics to such an extent that it has to be seen to be believed.

    Think of it this way.  One of the characteristics of a psychopath is the inability to control impulses.  Before you panic and think, "My son Johnny never thinks before he does something!  MY GOD, HE'S GOING TO KILL US IN OUR BEDS!"  Most kids have impulse control issues, but they do things like texting when the teacher's back is turned.  They like to see what they can get away with, but there are firm limits in a normal kid's mind.  Normal kids know that things like stealing something extremely valuable, destroying property, or stabbing another with a switchblade are never ok, even if an adult isn't looking.  Nothing is off-limits to a psychopath.  They push limits much farther than normal kids would even fathom.

    Remember, psychopaths aren't necessarily violent.  Many are white-collar criminals.  Also, they can be male or female.  For ease of writing, I alternately use the male and female pronouns below.

    Dr. Robert Hare and the PCL-R***

    Dr. Robert Hare is one of the world's leading experts on psychopathy.  He has studied them nearly all of his career as a psychologist.  If the subject interests you, check out his website.  He developed the test to determine if a subject indeed has psychopathy, which is called the PCL-R.  

    Factor 1:  Personality
    • Glib and Superficial Charm:  Psychopaths can charm their way past even the most wary person's defenses, but they can't sustain it for very long.
    • Grandiose Sense of Self-Worth:  They have completely unrealistic notions about their own talents and abilities.  For example, a psychopath could truly believe he has the ability to become a neurosurgeon, even if he can't read and hated science.  Not only can he become a neurosurgeon, but he could be the world's leading neurosurgeon by his second week in practice.
    • Pathological Lying:  They lie even when it wouldn't hurt them to tell the truth.  If you catch them in a lie, they just change their story and go on without even blushing.  They frequently contradict themselves, often within a sentence.
    • Cunning and Manipulative:  They are exceptionally gifted at finding what a prospective victim's buttons are, and then skillfully push those buttons.  A lot.  They can turn others into putty in their hands.
    • Lack of Remorse or Guilt:  If a psychopath's actions destroys or kills another, it doesn't affect them whatsoever.  If you haven't already, watch the video I added to a previous post.  It shows functional MRI's of a psychopath's brain, and shows biologically how they deal with information that should make them feel empathy.
    • Shallow Emotions:  Genuine emotions are egocentric and short-lived.  They become very good at faking emotion.  Some observers of psychopaths still report that they seem off.  They know the words, but not the music.  This is also why treatment makes psychopaths worse.  Traditional psychotherapy teaches them how normal people react, and how to elicit sympathy from others.
    • A Callous Lack of Empathy:  It doesn't matter to them who they hurt.  They could steal their own grandmother's life savings, but it doesn't mean diddly to them.  They abandon, injure, sell, or murder their own children by the dozen.
    • Inability to Accept Responsibility for One's Own Behavior:  When they fail, it is someone else's fault.  We all know people who like to blame others.  Psychopaths take it to a new level.  It pervades every part of their lives.  A psychopath will use the most convoluted, nonsensical logic to justify his or her actions.  If a psychopath kills another, he blames the victim for being in the way while he was angry.

      Factor 2:  Case History
      • Prone to Boredom:  Psychopaths have exceedingly short attention spans and are often misdiagnosed as having ADD/ADHD as children.  (Again, don't panic if your child has one of these disorders.  Psychopathy is very rare.)  This is also why psychopaths usually don't do well in school and frequently never finish college.  Ted Bundy managed to make it all the way through law school, but he was the exception, not the rule.
      • Parasitic Lifestyle:  Psychopaths take mooching and thieving to a whole new level.  Why earn what one can take?
      • Poor Behavior Controls:  I think this is probably the number one trait writers get wrong.  We like to create these nefariously scary psychopathic geniuses, but the truth of the matter is that psychopaths aren't so good at thinking before they do something.  If they have a plan at all, they often don't follow it.  (See Impulsivity.)
      • Lack of Realistic Long-Term Goals:  Not only can he be President by age 24 based on his devilish good looks, but he'll probably be able to make a cool million by age 16.  Long-term goals are ridiculously unrealistic.
      • Impulsivity:  Psychopaths rarely think before they do.  They do what will gain them the most pleasure in the shortest amount of time.
      • Irresponsibility:  Their irresponsibility pervades every area of their lives.  They don't pay bills.  They don't get jobs.  They abandon their children.  
      • Juvenile Delinquency:  Psychopaths are in trouble from the moment they are able to move.  They push boundaries as hard as they can and are in trouble with the law faster than you can say, "Juvenile detention."
      • Early Behavior Problems:  Parents of psychopaths see their behavior problems from a very early age.  They're often misdiagnosed with other behavioral problems.
      • Revocation of Early Release:  Psychopaths can't stay out of trouble for very long, but I should note that psychopathic behaviors fall off sharply after age 40.  There are several theories as to why.  They If they do manage to stay out of trouble, it's probably because they've gotten better at hiding their actions.  Another mode of thought is that they, like everyone else, slow down in their old age.

        Characteristics Not Correlated to Either Factor
        • Promiscuous Sexual Behavior:  Psychopaths will do it however and with whomever they can get it.  Notice that deviant sexual interests, like pedophilia or necrophilia are not part of psychopathy, but a psychopath can certainly have an additional paraphilia disorder.
        • Many Short-Term Marital Relationships:  If a psychopath bothers to marry at all, he or she tends to revolve through the marriage/divorce cycle rather rapidly.
        • Criminal Versatility:  Psychopaths are very creative and versatile in their crimes.  They tend to have very long rap sheets from early ages that involve all sorts of interesting ways to break laws.

          How Do We Apply the Science?

          In the final post for "The Author's Guide to Psychopaths," we'll discuss good and bad examples of fictitious psychopaths.  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

          (***This information can be found here, and the other source I am using is Without Conscience, by Dr. Robert Hare.)

          Sunday, May 1, 2011

          Speculative Fiction Is Science's Medicine Man

          When I was taking my upper level sociology courses, I remember a story my professor told about a Native American divination practice.***  When game was scarce, the medicine man would throw a deer's scapula in the fire until it cracked.  The medicine man would then read the cracks, interpret them, and then tell the hunters where to find game.

          The funny thing about this method of divination is that it actually worked, and not because the medicine man was a charlatan that already knew where the game had gone.  Humans are creatures of habit, mostly due to operant conditioning.  If we find a great little fishing hole and catch a large number of fish, we tend to return to the same area over and over, even if the fishing's never that good again.

          When the medicine man read the cracks and sent the hunters to different areas, it introduced variety into the hunters' search patterns and thus broke the hold operant conditioning had on them.  Did they always find new game?  No, but it did increase their chances by a long shot.

          Before you read on, please realize I'm not running around with a tin foil hat.  I don't think that science should be eliminated.  In face, I think science is pretty cool.  The scientific method has done some pretty kick-ass stuff.  None of my close relatives would be alive without the miracle of modern medicine, but that doesn't mean that science doesn't have some weak points.

          I feel that speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy, serves as a medicine man of sorts for actual science.  I see a pattern when I look back at erroneous scientific conclusions.  Because the scientific method has to be implemented by humans, it is prone to human failings despite preventative measures being built into research.  First, it's easy for humans to believe they know all the variables involved and draw invalid conclusions.  (Think about the constant merry-go-round of diet fads.)

          Probably the biggest failing of science is the method by which scientific funding is distributed.  Funding goes to those with the most sensational conclusions, NOT to those with sound experiments and methodology.  I can't find the article to cite (I read it in October and failed to bookmark it,) but a think tank at a Greek university has found over 60% of published medical research has moderate to major methodological problems that could possibly invalidate results.  That is, of course, after the study's findings have been plastered across every headline available.  (Think about the autism vaccine scare.)  My anthropology professor complained of the same problem in his discipline.

          Finally, scientists, just like tribal hunters, can believe that the answers to humankind's most vexing questions simply cannot be found, and that certain ideas just aren't possible.  That's where I think we speculative fiction writers step in to save the day.

          We stretch the public's and scientists' ideas of what is possible.  Our collective attitude is not, "That's not possible," but is instead, "That's not possible, unless we make a ray gun and bring in a mage from the planet Zardon."

          I'm not the only one who has noticed.  In Discovery Canada's "How William Shatner Changed the World," scientists talk about how technology on the Starship Enterprise inspired them to explore new possibilities, though I think credit to changing the world should be given to Gene Roddenberry.

          Not only are we vastly entertaining to geeks and normals alike, but we make a difference.  I don't know about you, but that makes me feel pretty awesome.

          ***(I have tried to go back and find references to support my story.  Alas, I have found the practice in China, but not North America, so I relate my story as I remember it to keep it in context with my blog post's point.  I think one of two things may have happened.  Either my professor knew of some obscure research to which I have no access, or it was on a large amount of pain killers at the time may have caused him to mix up some details.)

          Thursday, April 28, 2011

          The Versatile Blogger Award

          Tonight, I was completely thrilled to receive the Versatile Blogger award from a blogging buddy, Anassa.  Here are the rules, which I lifted from her post to make sure I did it correctly.

          The rules for this award are:

          • Thank and link to the person who nominated me.  (You rock, Anassa!)
          • Share seven random facts about myself.
          • Pass the award along to 15 new-found blogging buddies.
          • Contact those buddies to congratulate them.
          Okay, so here's the seven random facts:
          • I have a mirror image identical twin.  Our crooked teeth are on opposite sides, as are our cowlicks, she's left-brained, I'm right-brained, and some of her internal organs are actually flip-flopped on the wrong side.
          • I love burned cheese.
          • I'm terrified of the ocean, mascots (also Mickey Mouse), heights, and handsome men.
          • I once shaved a shower curtain.  Don't ask.  It made sense at the time.
          • My great uncle was suspected of being part of the plot to assassinate JFK.  He also was in on the capture of Bonnie and Clyde, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping investigation, trained men for the Bay of Pigs invasion, and coined the family motto:  "We may abuse our women, but we'll never abuse our guns."
          • I'm obsessed with visiting the U.K. someday.
          • Bow ties are cool.  :-)
          I don't have quite 15 bloggers, but I've listed my top ten.
          • The Blood-Red Pencil  This blog has several contributors, and it has fantastic advice.
          • Terrible Minds  Chuck Wendig is a fantastic writer with a warped brain.  Beard the f)#% on!
          • Montana for Real  Kari Lynn Dell writes about what it's really like to live on a ranch in Montana.  She's a great resource for writers who want an authentic ranch feel.
          • How Publishing Really Works  Jane Smith, from the U.K., gives fantastic inside advice to writers.
          • Hyperbole and a Half  Allie, a former Montanan, writes and illustrates the most awesome stories.  Be sure to check out her super best friend fish story.  I laughed until I nearly peed my pants.
          • Corrine Jackson  She gives out all sorts of helpful writing tips, and she put me onto a program that has helped my writing so much.
          • Tahereh Mafi  Another delightfully cracked individual.  
          • Mike Shevdon  If the nuts and bolts of writing trouble you, check out Shevdon's advice.
          • Dawn Alexander  Like me, Dawn is working on the whole getting published thing.
          • Books and Such  Another site with multiple contributors that are exceedingly helpful.
          Thanks for nominating me, Anassa!

          Thursday, April 21, 2011

          Tension: Too High, Too Long

          I spent my evening cursing vociferously after my enthusiastic, but ham-fisted, attempt to finish two choral compositions.  When the tirade faded, I had a thought about plot tension.

          I loved watching Lost.  Between smoke monsters, fantastic characters, and the altered laws of physics, trying to figure out what the hell was going on was half the fun.  Just when one question was answered, three more popped up, making for some serious, drawn-out tension.  Alas, the shrieks of outrage on Twitter after the last episode showed how many people were disappointed by the ending.

          Because I'm cheap as hell and a huge fan of many shows that aren't on cable or network TV, I don't have live TV, just Netflix.  I just got into Bones.  The sexual tension between Booth and Brennan is fantastic.  Two great characters, an interesting premise, and many, many layers of plot make for an engaging, addictive show.  I've been devouring episodes whenever I haven't been writing or wiping my little guy's nose.

          Finally, halfway through Season 4, I couldn't take it anymore.  Do they?  Don't they?  I did a little research.  Though I couldn't bear to find out exactly what happens to their relationship in subsequent episodes, I read just enough to suspect I won't be happy with how things turn out.

          I think there is a definite risk to creating exceedingly long, drawn out tension.  It's fun to be completely enthralled with a story, but if the tension is too drawn out I think that any resolution will disappoint in some manner.  If one has a large audience, I think it's likely that one can disappoint a shitload of people.

          I had been planning on trying to create intense romantic tension in my novel series, but I'm starting to think I should modify the romantic angle somewhat.  What do you think?

          Tuesday, April 19, 2011

          The Flare That Won't Go Away

          I've been diligently working on new blog posts, but my fibromyalgia is flaring and the symptoms are not passing.  I'm having a very hard time working and concentrating, so I apologize for the delay.

          My goal is to have the next installment of the "Author's Guide to Psychopaths" up this week, but if something doesn't change soon, I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again.

          Thank you for understanding.

          Monday, April 18, 2011

          Thank You, Russian and U.K. Readers!

          I keep a close eye on my blog's stats.  I've noticed that I have a large number of readers in Russia, and readers from the U.K. are a very close second.

          Thank you for stopping by.  I do appreciate it!

          Saturday, April 9, 2011

          He Got Pain Right

          As I lay sleepless due to the throbbing in my joints, I had a very long night to reflect.  My screeching nerves decided that Brandon Sanderson got something very right in his novel, Elantris.


          Sanderson's protagonist, Prince Raoden, is stricken by the Shaod, a terrible affliction that renders its victims immortal, freakish, and hungry.  He is thrown into Elantris, a decaying city whose wonder can no longer gleam through the filth.  The Shaod leaves them without a heartbeat.  No injury will heal, and the pain of each injury never fades.  Eventually, the cumulative agony from hundreds of small injuries, coupled with an unrelenting hunger, drives them mad.

          For me, it started with low back pain, then constant headaches.  Soon my hands were always cold.  Then, I broke a bone in my foot from walking crookedly.  Most of the time I could ignore it, or at least put it to the back of my mind, but even if I wasn't consciously thinking about the pain, its weight was always there.  I grew increasingly anxious, depressed, and despondent.

          Doctors told me I had TMJ.  They found spinal deformities and told me that was what caused the back pain.  Somewhere in there was some physical therapy.  More than one doctor thought I was nuts because they couldn't find a diagnosis that explained everything.  I half believed them.  The broken bone in my foot never healed, and I couldn't avoid constant walking in my job.  It was excruciating, day in and day out.

          Three surgeries and thousands in medical bills later, I find out it's fibromyalgia.  I have good days and bad.  Many of my injuries, like the one in my calves from aerobics two years ago, never heal.  Though my heart is still beating, the Shaod is the best analog I've ever found for what it's like to have fibromyalgia.

          It's cumulative.  It builds up.  Eats your rationality.  Finally, something happens, usually something small, that takes you over the edge and makes you scream for anything that will stop the pain.  Sometimes it stops.  More often, it doesn't.  Today is bad.  Yesterday was worse.

          In the book, Prince Raoden makes it his mission to give the residents of Elantris a sense of purpose, a reason for being, and something to do other than go ape-shit crazy.

          Thank God for purpose.

          Sunday, March 27, 2011

          The Idiom Exchange

          I wrote a review last month for the Portal, and one of the stories had slang that really bothered me.  It wasn't because the language was foul.  It bothered me because the author had an American Southerner calling a television a "telly."  Much of the slang and nicknames he used just didn't ring true, and it almost ruined the story for me.

          Most of my stories are through the eyes of a Montana rancher, and all of the slang I use is derived from my family.  I really like dialogue to sound authentic.  Below, I've written examples of idioms and slang that my family uses, especially the older members.  In the comments below, please offer up slang, accents, and idioms from the places you've been, but be sure to tell where you've heard them.

          Grandma's Idioms

          "I feel like I've been rode hard and put up wet."  (People always gave me funny looks when I said this at college, for some reason.)

          "I burnt the hair right off my tongue."  (Coffee was usually the culprit.)

          "Bless her pea-pickin' little heart."  (I usually heard this when I was in trouble, usually for pounding nails into Mom's coffee table.)

          "It's slicker 'n snot on a doorknob."  

          Mom's Idioms

          "Jeez, you woulda thought I said, 'Let's get naked and get out the Crisco.'"  (She said this in church, mind you.)

          Dad's Idioms

          "I gotta go see a man about a horse."  (I didn't realize until it was too late that it meant he had to pee and that I shouldn't follow him.)

          "They'll be all over you like ugly on an ape."

          "Funnier 'n a rubber crutch."


          Pop-soda pop.

          Creek-pronounce it "crick."

          Roof-pronounce it like it rhymes with "slough."

          Hoof-same as roof.

          Polish Accents

          The tiny town I grew up in has tons of people of German and Polish descent.  The older folks tend to end sentences with "there," but it's pronounced "der."  "The" is "da."  "Thinking" is "tinking."

          Example:  Boat choo goin' wid jer Gramma, der?

          Translation:  Both you going with your Gramma, there?

          I should mention that this accent is starting to die out.  I can only think of one man who still sounds like this, and he's in his 80's.  You can still here hints of it, but it's not as thick.

          Do you have slang, accents, or idioms common to your area?

          Lutherans of the Pagan Synod

          This is a local sign that has always made me smile.  Both of my husband's parents are Lutheran Pastors in the ELCA Synod.


          I think this church may be from the Pagan Synod.

          Thursday, March 24, 2011

          Writers and Small Town Cliches

          I grew up in a town so small that traffic lights were, and still are, completely unnecessary.  There were seven bars, but to balance things out, there were also seven churches.  Main street was only a couple of blocks long.  There were only about 80 kids grade 7-12 when I was in school, and that number has since dropped to around forty or so.  I started shooting a rifle when I was four, just like all of the other country kids, and I started driving about the same time.  (No lie.)

          According to the latest census, seventy-nine percent of the U.S. population lives in urban/suburban areas.  I don't know if seventy-nine percent of U.S. authors live in urban areas, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of America's authors do. 

          To me, the disparity shows.  If a small town is used in a setting in a story, it's nearly inevitable that one of the following negative stereotypes will be included.
          1. Nosy gossips.
          2. Ignorant yokels.
          3. Inbred, ignorant yokels.
          4. Homophobic, inbred, and ignorant yokels.
          5. Someone screeching about how "the gubberment" is trying to __________ (fill in the blank.)
          6. Gun-waving paranoid guys that live in trailer houses.
          7. Fundamentalists.
          8. Drunken, bored teenagers.
          9. Bigots.
          10. All of the above or any mixture thereof.
          Can these things be part of being in a small town?  Sure, but intelligent, rational, well-read people are often left out of the story because they are not part of the stereotype.  I asked another Montana blogger, Kari Lynn Dell, if she had had experienced any stereotypes. She said, "There are actually two very divergent stereotypes that I see of small town folks, the one you've mentioned, and the one where we're all one big happy family and everybody looks out for everybody else and it's all sunshine and roses, which is true up to a point but not exclusively. People in small towns are just as self-involved as people everywhere. It's just harder to ignore each other."  I have to agree with her.  For more of Kari's perspectives on small town life, check out her post on what it's like to be related to everyone else.  

          I think authors as a whole tend to focus on stereotypes rather than find the myriad of interesting small-town characters.  Consider this.  My dad gave my twin and I each a pistol and a concealed carry permit as a high school graduation present.  (Keep in mind that we'd both practiced and trained with firearms most of our lives.)  Shortly afterward, we ran into a friend of his, Buck, at the Tastee Hut.  Dad told him what he'd gotten us.  Buck, who is an old-school cowboy, began chatting with Dad about what to do if either of us girls needed to defend our honor.  

          Dad said, "Now, if somebody's comin' atcha, don't pull the gun unless you're willing to use it.  Hold it up and tell them to stop."

          Buck replied quietly, "And don't tell 'em twice."

          When I tell that story to people who aren't from around here, they automatically place Buck into the gun-waving whacko category.  If one scratched beyond Buck's crusty surface, one would find quiet eloquence, a devoted history scholar, and a tender heart despite the fact that he also happens to be the toughest man I've ever seen.  He was shot multiple times in Korea, and survived, alone and wounded, for three days in the Korean winter, all the while dragging himself from place to place and harrying the enemy with grenades as he waited for rescue.

          Folks who meet my dad do the same.  One would never know by looking at him that he, a rancher, has a degree in chemistry, has revolutionized range management, and studies Chaos theory, just for fun.  He has multiple EMT certifications and has been studying orthopedic injuries.  He was raised on the ranch by his stepfather, who read and wrote seven languages and spoke a few more.  His stepfather, whom I never knew, would make my father argue both sides of every issue just to keep him in practice.

          Another friend, who passed away last week, was a rancher named Leroy.  Leroy appeared to be a completely unremarkable rancher, at least until he opened his mouth.  One didn't have to talk to Leroy very long before one could see that his was brilliant.  He had a Ph.D. in math, worked Los Alamos, and created a new theory in physics called Unitivity Theory, or the theory of everything.  He wrote two books on the subject.  If his kids came to him with a problem, he'd smile and say, "Use your physics."

          There is so much more to a small town than small-minded people.  If you are an author that wants to use a small town setting, I beg you, please scratch below the surface, and find the depth hidden below the cliches.

          UPDATE:  Shortly after I wrote this post, I found a story in the local newspaper that I realize does not help my argument.  I guess the only way to experience a rural area is to live there.  No wonder everyone thinks we're nuts.