Dita Parker

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hear me now und believe me later*

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards, said Vernon Sanders Law.

I'm big on quotes. I'm big on thinkers and ideas new and old and even more ancient. They go to show that we do have to invent the wheel all over again, generation after generation. No war has ended all wars; history keeps repeating itself; the same questions will always be asked. (They also fill you with the inkling will anyone anywhere ever again have an original thought, idea or insight. Writers are known for giving it a shot.)

We may hear those distant voices and see those horrible examples from way back when, but we won't believe them until later, much later, sometimes too late. We are programmed to learn but to learn for ourselves. To ask the same questions, make the same mistakes, come on top of them or be swamped by them, bang our heads against the Great Wall of Personal Experience and keep pushing through. 

We may be equipped with the tools and instincts to handle all situations, but we need to be tossed into those worst-case scenarios to test and hone our skills; practice taking courage, making choices, standing up for ourselves, and, if we are very brave, others. That is the only way to determine if and what we have learned as and for ourselves.

Just a thought, my two cents, or is it one these days, and is it even an original one? Oh well. EC [Ellora's Cave] spells Edit Cave for me for the next couple of days. Here's hoping it's the last one. Here's hoping the story and I come out intact. I took the test first and I've been taking lessons ever since with the generous help of a patient professional. Thank you! I've learned, I've practiced, and I've put what I've learned into practice. Methinks; mehopes.

What else... If you haven't helped Haiti, please consider doing so. The infrastructure is in shambles but the people are still there, living on not much more than their faith. We can afford to give more than just spiritual sustenance. Unless you've developed teletransportable edible and potable prayers, it's not the thought that counts.

*SNL: Pumping Up with Hans & Franz

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grand theft author*

Of all the excuses made and explanations given for digital piracy, the one I find most baffling is "Any publicity is good publicity."

Bestselling authors and the big houses may sympathize with the wee ones, but perhaps don't feel the pain or the consequences. They don't need the added exposure, if you can even call it that in any positive meaning of the word, or they don't publish eBooks and it's all very interesting on an academic level but doesn't really concern them. I hope the more they invest in the eBook business, the more invested they become in protecting digital copyrights. I could use a big hitter instead of just rolling with the punches here. Yes, down here.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, writers such as myself, the ones only getting started, are keeping the faith, and typing those takedown requests as fast as we can so we could get back to our WIP. For many of us, how our books sell equals what we end up making, and that's all there is to it, to that equation. What I've often wondered is how many end up quitting because they can't get it off the ground financially. Many dream of writing; many hope to write for a living. It's a valid dream eviscerated by sabotage so widespread some are prepared to understand it, even condone it. That's the way the cookie crumbles. But in the name of promotion?

I have no illusions. Not many of those stealing and spreading and reading stolen eBooks would probably buy those books. Would they steal those same books from a bookstore? And explain it away to the nice officer exactly how? Who benefits from this? There are only losers, the biggest ones being the persons who originally came up with an original idea. Some of them are not only losing their income, they are losing heart and motivation leading to fewer books and stories, and less varied voices. Is this on someone's agenda? Does someone actually want this? Is something right only because it's prevalent, or possible? 

As for you book thieves... Unless you're prepared to share the fruits of your labor with me; give me freebies I can flaunt in your name; products of yours I can throw around in the name of spreading the word; let me try out your services for free...please don't do me any favors.

*An individual who uploads and/or downloads the intellectual property of others, including digital copies of works of fiction. Not the asserted author or owner of rights to those works, only a smug jack who hijacks them. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cold song

I'd have no problem camping down at the top of the world if all winters were like this one has been. The snow lights up the scenery and makes you forget about the short days and seemingly endless nights. I look outside and get the impression of living inside a snow globe. It's hard to stay inside. We can't get enough of the outdoors. Short of biathlon and ski jumping, we've soon gone through the Winter Olympics program. The kids are ecstatic. Hubby and I are trying to keep up and loving every minute.

We've had some fifteen inches of snow to play and deal with, and being the able-bodied and efficient beings they are, Scandinavians work wintry wonders on a daily basis. Nothing stops functioning. School's never out. Traffic may be slower or delayed but never clogged. The roads are ploughed at dawn and off we go. After we've ploughed the driveway and taken care of the Mt. Everest the city has mounted on the sidewalk by kindly having the streets ploughed at dawn.

And last night...last night it rained diamonds. I took a late night walk to soak it up in silence. Something prickled my cheeks. It wasn't snow, or rain. Crystallization, right before my eyes. It makes the trees look more like props than nature, frost coating everything to create a marshmallow world. And against the street lamp lights, against the luminous background, it looked as if diamonds danced on air. Nothing fell out of sky. I was walking through crystal walls, crystals hanging in midair. 

I don't know how long I stood there or how much of a village fool I looked staring into seeming nothingness. To be filled with a sense of wonder... I wish you frequent opportunities. May you never lose that gift. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The name game

There are probably as many reasons for choosing to use a pseudonym as there are authors donning one. This is mine.

I have never been and never will be a writer to write one thing only. I wouldn't even want to. I'm too restless for that, too scattered in my interests and too undecided in my tastes. It would never work. I'd go mad and drive others up the wall so I could pace the floor like the caged lion I become when someone flashes too short a leash. If variety is the spice of life, give me a herbarium. I yam what I yam, I second that certain sailorman. I don't deny it, but how to play it smart, now that was the question when I queried Ellora's Cave. 

I started this blog while taking part in The Seventy Days of Writing Challenge under the same pen name (which I didn't know EC might veto, which they didn't). I'd put up an email account for yours truly. I was up and running and chocking on humble pie. I felt I'd made a concession going in with a nom de plume. All because I had written erotica. All because I had been warned I might start receiving unwanted messages and attention. 

I wanted to say I didn't care, that I could distinguish between fact and fiction, between what I write and who I am, and to hell with those who can't and get confused, or those for whom sex is not a dirty word, it's dirty period. The warnings annoyed me. Gigantic period. I got angry thinking I might have to choose between censoring what I wrote and disguising who wrote; caged seeing that leash offered up to me; upset the fantasies and intolerance and misapprehensions of others played a role in what role I assumed or chose not to. 

Imagine your child bringing in the mail and handing you a postcard inviting you to be the guest of honor at a group sex session. Spotting a picture in the trash of a naked man palming his pride and joy, another invitation. Imagine receiving obscene phone calls on end, a package containing someone's sperm donation. These are real-life examples from the lives of young women who write erotica or whose writings include passages with explicit sex. 

As surely as crime writers should all be arrested for murder, science fiction writers...what planet are they from anyway, and fantasy writers have lost contact with reality, erotica authors must be either oversexed or going without and gagging for it. Could we make a deal, right here, right now: If we are, we'll let you know, okay? Send out invitations to our orgies, or post a call for one. Until then, just...don't. 

I can resist being labeled. I can ignore the hang-ups of others. And I will fight for my children's innocence and peace of mind for as long as I possibly can. They don't have to learn to put up with whatever may be slung my way even if I'm prepared to. They can't choose, so I chose for them; what I hope is the lesser evil, the smaller concession, the longest leash. Humble pie. It's an acquired taste. 

Friday, January 8, 2010

If on a winter's night a traveler

One of my favorite short stories is Fitzgerald's The Ice Palace. I first read it in Bangkok one winter's night; winter in the relative sense. It was 25 degrees Celsius, tail end of the rainy season. Back in Scandinavia from where we'd fled it would have been 25 degrees with a minus attached as a prefix. 

I must be a glutton for punishment as I've read it on a winter's night ever since, here where the minus as prefix is attached. Not because it's one of Fitzgerald's finest but because it takes me back. It reminds me of those weeks in the Far East; of warmth and southern breezes; colors and light; scents and sounds foreign and familiar; how opposites attract; how charmed my life has been even while I sit here cursing it. 

Winter here in the cold makes me whiny at times. It makes me homesick and nostalgic. It awakens my wanderlust and sees these roots stuck firmly in the air gasp for oxygen, especially when the knowledge there is no summer swelter in sight hits me. 

[Reader, it is not a pretty sight. The only reason I can recount this is I find it as pitiful a state as you do, but possess a) a recently upgraded shit detector, b) a high pain threshold, c) a low threshold for kicking my own butt.]

I wish I didn't long this much or feel this intensely. The longing makes me feel like crap, like the self-centered, self-serving cry baby catching me off guard when the minus gets attached to the temperature. And it makes for shitty, self-centered, self-serving writing. I'm the first to acknowledge it and the only one who can fix it. Damn.

[Very unattractive, Reader, appalling, truly. The writing, not moi, of course; I only hide lest you become obsessed with my dark golden browns and this fit hourglass. A horrendous tease, yes, I know, my apologies. Very unattractive, this tendency. Appalling, actually.]

So in my mind I travel. I taste and I smell, I touch and I feel. Home, abroad, places I've visited only once, places I keep revisiting, places I've yet to see. In dreams and cinema, in art and in writing. They all help keep these roots ventilated, they fertilize and water them and help me settle down. 

Writing is my most reliable cure. Thank the universe for correcting an innate indifference and giving me an outlet. Thank the heavens, nature or the Easter bunny (what do I know) for giving me the inclination to use it, even when on a day such as today I only use it to rage against said skies, life and poor helpless rabbit.

I will always have that. Come what may, ups, downs, jolts forward or the inevitable downward spirals, I will always have that. Every longing, every face and smile and frown, every sound and scenery. How could they not be my solace? How could they be lost, dead or forgotten when they breathe in every word? 

This is my religion. My sisters of mercy, my brothers in arms. My weapon of choice. 

P.S. Reader, I didn't run from my Harry, I married him. Such is love. Transcendent.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Patience, like grace, probably just lost on the fast and furious

Dear Aspiring Author:

Spell check. If I could offer you one tip for 2010, spell check would be it. Spell check is the foremost piece of advice you will find everywhere you look for guidance, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own slowly gathering experience. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a compulsive wordsmith must be in want of an outlet. But first said wordsmith has to face the fact the book market consists of book markets. You must be able to picture where in a bookstore would you find your book and how will you stand out in a bookshelf, actual or digital. Who writes in you, through you, and what? Meaning:

Read. Reading the market equals knowing the market. Submitting what isn't selling means you would have had to come up with something truly original to receive an offer. Submitting what is selling means  you would have had to come up with something truly original to receive an offer. Don't despair. As long as you are storytelling and not propagating, your tales are as valid as anyone else's. Think about it. As valid as, as long as they ring true. True to life; emotionally true.

It's not a matter of what you write, you can write about anything, but how you do it. So what do you like? What don't you like? Can you spell out why? How would you have done it? You can learn as much reading what you truly love as you can reading something which leaves you unaffected.

Whatever is in you only waiting to be put down in words, let it out. Without self-consciousness or thoughts of someone reading it, without correcting things as you go. Concentrate on the extracurricular while working on your first draft and develop instant writer's block, that mythical monster, the great-grandmother of all scapegoats. Repeat after me: There is no such thing.

There is always something to write about, starting with how it feels to sit there with nothing to write about. What comes out as a result may be writer's crap, but if there's none of that coming out, ever, I suspect there's not much else coming out, either. How to evaluate? Get a second opinion. Find a critique partner. Not a yes-man but a no-ma'am to give you grief. If your time is valuable, your editor's is twice as costly, and every penny you save him/her is a penny earned. You can take that to the bank.

Life may be stranger than fiction, but in fiction there are no lucky coincidences or divine interventions, only solid reasoning. Whether or not you believe it to be true in real life, your writing maxim should be: Everything happens for a reason. Every movie frame counts. Make your every word, character and scene count. Anything else must go. Even if it's the most beautiful piece of prose you've written, if there is no justifiable place or purpose for it, kill it.

Think of your story as a puzzle. You may or may not have a picture of the big picture starting out. You don't always need one. It doesn't even matter whether you start with the frame or some detail. You only need to make the pieces fit seamlessly and make sure you find any missing ones. You can't make up for those. Leave the puzzle undone and those missing pieces will become the center of attention. 

Engage. Life, love and livelihood are contact sports; win some, lose some. Absolutely zilch will sail your way if you stand on the sidelines, doing what? Hoping someone will notice you feel ignored? Stop that. Step up instead. Get in the ring and take the stare downs. Engage, but please do not start dealing knockouts. As today's birthday boy phrased it: Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.

I know it takes courage, determination, patience, and fearless faith to live in doubt and constant expectation, to handle rejection while still believing no good read goes unpublished. I can't give you those, only ask you to hold on. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will.

Don't waste your time writing halfheartedly and break the hearts of readers expecting to feel and taste that heart. If you expect to phone it in, maybe you should be doing something altogether different with that phone. Marketing, perhaps? Selling dreams is a whole lot easier than making them happen. And it is all up to you to make it happen. Your heart, your words. Your hard work, your faith in yourself, your inspiration. No cheat codes, no shortcuts. 

Having said that, don't expect your muse, Dulcinea, or whatever spirit moves you to phone it in either. If your dream is to write for a living, even part-time, writing is what you should be doing, not waiting for a leg up. Writing begets writing, as Dorianne Laux will tell you. Those bouts of writer's crap are only a means to an end, not the Complete Works of. 

But if what comes out after thousands upon thousands of hours of sitting and thinking keeps stinking, if rejections keep coming in by the hundreds, well, there are still a million and a half other things left you might be perfect for. Go all-out Les Mis and wail life killed the dream you dreamed if it helps you get over it, but do move on eventually. 

Who am I again? Do I even know what I'm talking about? I'm aware. I'm aware of my strengths and weaknesses, as should you be. In a world where it may seem you don't need to know who you are, only what you want, may I suggest you don't pass by yourself without taking notice. Inquisitiveness is golden and bewilderment nothing to be afraid of. Some of the most important things in this life only the lost can find. 

Okay, whatever, thanks? Please trust me on the spell check.