Friday, June 25, 2010

Why Speech-to-text is (select "is"/delete) isn't always your friend

Obviously I don't have enough hands. I have two little kids, chores to take care of, projects I would like to complete...and books to write. Which explains why I spent totally wasted an hour of my life on trying to figure out the speech to text thingummy on my computer. My brother is a computer geek; he once wrote a paper hands-free to prove a point. So, why not try?

Because... It turned the opening lines of my ms (which I was practicing dictating on) from this:

Do you know what holds together the mighty castles and lofty cathedrals?

I do. It is dirt. Between the carefully chiseled stones, around the stained glass windows, at the base of every buttress is the good earth. There is nothing stronger. Without it the buildings would fall and crumble—to dirt.

Do you know what soothes the peasants' feet?

No fine leather and embroidered silk for us, my friend. But the earthen floor beneath our soles softens our steps as we go to our work—tending the earth.

Do you know what makes the wine tingle in the rich lord's mouth?

Yes, it is the dirt. Our golden soil grows strong vines and imbues the grapes with its flavor. That is the secret behind our wines: the soil and clay, the mud and the dust, all toiling in silence to make our work fruitful.
No one notices it. We never thank the grime for what it gives us or tip our hats at daybreak to this hardest worker in the fields. But without it? We could never survive.
To this:
Do you know what holds together the mighty tassels of mufti cathedrals?
I do. It is dirt. Between the carefully chiseled stones, around the stained glass windows, at the base of every buttress is the good earth. There is nothing stronger. Without it the buildings would fall and crumble--two dirt.
Do you know what soothes the peasants' feet?
No fine mother and Jon Voight did so for us, my friend. But the earth and four beneath their souls softens our steps is the growth for work--tending the earth.
Do you know what makes the wine tingle in the rich lord's mouth?
Yes, it is the dirt. Our golden soil from strong blinds and infuse the Grapes with its flavor. But it's secret behind our winds: the soil and clay, the mud in the dust, all 20 and silenced to make our work fruitful.
No one notices it. We'll ever thank the grime from one gives us or two perhaps it deep creek to this hardest worker in the fields. But without it? We could never survive.
I am particularly confused as to how Jon Voight made his way into 14th century France....
I think I'll stick to typing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Another reason I love T. H. White

Here's how I feel today:

“You can't think what agony it is to rewrite a book. The old part rises up like Banquo and stands between you and the page...
...I wish you could see the holocaust of pages already thrown out. I have half a mind to send them to you as ashes, in an urn... I hate writing.”

(T. H. White, in a letter to L. J. Potts)

I've been reading T. H. White's letters on and off to keep me from going crazy. So far, it is working. It reminds me that tomorrow I will probably love writing again. Today I just have to tough it out.

On a rather random note: have you heard about the awesomeness that is WriteOnCon?
What: a free online writers conference.
Why: because we're struggling artists and obviously broke.
Where: in the comfort of your livingroom...or treehouse...or under your covers...
When: August 10-12.
Who: a list of amazing presenters: authors, editors, agents...the works.

Some people are geniuses.

Do go visit their site, and check out the fun!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Keep Moving Forward!"

Did you see the Disney animated film, Meet the Robinsons? I'm not going into it—really cute, though—but I'm going to steal their line: Keep moving forward!

Now that I've finished THE WITHERING VINE, it's time to move onto other things...and for me, that means revisions. I've got a small pile of old manuscripts, written with a newbie's enthusiasm and lack of structure, I'm afraid, that my critique groups have kindly torn to shreds and left for me to glue back together. I love my critique groups so much, in all seriousness. They have the courage to tell me what I need, and they always manage to do it without making me want to hide my head in a hole and give up, which is an achievement in itself.

So, first on the metaphorical chopping block is THE ART OF ELSEWHERE; you may recognize the title from my “about me” because it is the manuscript that won the Tassy Walden Award in 2009. (Though that seems like ages ago now.) I have a lot of excitement and love for this work, which is about...well... As I'm already wearing out the cut/copy/paste keys in all my revisions, why don't I paste a little description here?

The Pieta disappears. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is left white, dry, and peeling. The tomb of Julius II is gone (good thing old Julius wasn’t actually buried there). David is missing, from the curl on his forehead to his perfectly chiseled toe and, well, everything in between.

Every Michelangelo work in the world disappears in a single moment—and there's only one lead. Twelve-year-old Walter D'Angeli doesn't exactly seem like the thieving mastermind type . . . even if he is the son of the late foremost expert on all things Michelangelo . . . even if he happened to be locked in a room with a Michelangelo sketch when the heist occurred. As the worldwide extent of the theft becomes evident, Walter's involvement appears less and less likely—that is, until something happens that leaves the police stuttering with surprise:
Walter vanishes.
He finds himself in Gambee—a world where time-traveling villains are obsessed with stealing Earth's art. And as grateful as he is to be out of Tazer-range, he has absolutely no idea how he got there or what he's supposed to do. Luckily, he's not alone. He soon meets Michelangelo himself, fifteen years old, plucked from history, but alive and kicking…and spitting and swearing and yelling and punching; and Cassandra, the only girl in Gambee with the courage to stand against her corrupt world. When Michelangelo and Walter learn the role they are meant to play in a scheme masterminded by Gambee’s leaders, the three children are determined to stop it by any means necessary, from eavesdropping to espionage to art forgery by a boy who will become one of the world’s greatest artists—if Walter can find a way to get him home.

Ok, so that's actually most of my query—which perhaps you'll find interesting, because the old, pre-revision query will be up on Matt Rush's Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment tomorrow, with my comments. If you happen to read both, I'd love to hear what you think about the changes!

Anyway, that should explain the artsy background change...and I apologize in advance if I start randomly spouting about art, Michelangelo, the Renaissance, etc.

Do you know what the hardest part of revising is for me? The not-writing-my-new-idea part. I have an idea for a story about Antonio Stradivari's daughter, similar in style to THE WITHERING VINE, that's been brewing for months...but I'm holding it over my own head as a reward for getting the revision done. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

NEAT Part 2.2: Mark Twain House

What was it that made Mark Twain stand out as one of the greatest American authors of all time?

Was it his humor? His true-to-life characters? His twists of adventure?
Probably all the above—but there was one element more that became clear to me when I visited his Hartford, CT home last Saturday: a sense of the dramatic.

I wonder if he could even help it: the very year of his birth was etched into the world's calendars as a year when Haley's comet was blazing across out skies. He came in with the comet, and he left with it when it was next visible, 75 years later.

And do you know what happened the next time it came into view? If you said, 'Oh, perhaps the birth of another brilliant writer destined to carry on Twain's great legacy and channel his genius,' then you're probably wrong. But, in fact, it was the year I was born...the first year of several in which I could never go long without being told, “Oh, you're being so melodramatic,” by others or myself several times a week. (It's mostly myself now...) I didn't realize I had an excuse: “But, Mom, it's my DESTINY!” (Why do I think that wouldn't have worked??)

Our trip to Twain's home, on the other hand, began rather less theatrically, with a clump of oily tuna fish plonked into my palm. But wait—I'm the one telling this. Let's start at the beginning and give it some flair...

We left the Noah Webster house in a downpour of rain. I clutched baby Zoe to my chest and sprinted toward the car, Rose and Regina (likewise clutching Lucy) close in my wake. We were all teetering on edge of hilarity by the time we pulled out our “picnic”; there is something about the combination of three sisters, two babies, bucket loads of rain, and all your plans going rather askew that induces hysterical, contagious giggling.

Perhaps it was the giggling that made Regina drop the tuna. Luckily for her, I pulled out my super mommy powers (her words, folks) and caught the greasy blob milliseconds before it splattered on the shifter. The giggling, needless to say, did not subside. We were doubled over; Lucy dropped her apple; Rose reached for it and dumped the entire bowl of tuna all over...herself...the car...everything. And we thanked the Great Plotter for planning the torrential rain into our little story, because it was only jumping out into the showers that kept Rose from reeking the entire afternoon even if she was soaked...

Was that dramatic enough? If I were Sam Clemens I might have thrown in a few jumping frogs for flavor, but I just haven't quite got the hang of amphibians yet.

It was Tom Sawyer day at the Mark Twain Center, so we got to meet Tom and Becky (see pictures)—and Mr. Clemens himself...well, in Lego form. We couldn't stop laughing from the time we left the car until the time we made it to the house, because all the hallways in the Center were engraved with Mark Twain quotes:

“Always obey your parents when they are present.”

“When you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect.”

“Say you were a member of congress. And say you were an idiot...but I repeat myself.”

“When in doubt, tell the truth.”

“Good things arrive to them that wait...and don't die in the meantime.”

“Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

The house itself was...exquisite. It was a three-story Tudor-esque mansion, simply dripping signs of the wealth Clemens enjoyed for his time there (sadly he lost most of his fortune in, well, in the house, along with unlucky business investments and as a result of his own generosity): marble statues; walls stenciled in bronze (to look like gold), designed by none other than a young Louis Tiffany; an ornately carved four-poster bed (mostly antique); a glass conservatory where a jungle of trees and plants circled a central fountain.

But my favorite part? The obvious feeling that the Clemens family had really lived there...not just vacationed, or existed, as you feel visiting other mansions of the era. Suzy and Clara, the Clemens daughters, used to play jungle in the conservatory, crawling about the plants and demanding that their Papa play elephant. They popped the antique rosewood angels off the headboard to play with as dollies during the day, dressing them up as babies and giving them bubble baths in their tub. I felt such a strong sense of love and family and joy in that house—despite the elegance, despite the difficulties and sorrow that in fact surrounded the family.

For Sam Clemens had seen most of his own family die before him, when he was very young. The Clemens' oldest child, a boy, had died as an infant shortly after the family moved to Connecticut. Suzy died in that Hartford home, and the pain of it was the last straw in convincing the bereft (and broke) family to leave America and live, more cheaply, by traveling in Europe. Soon after, Libby, Sam's wife, died...and the baby Jeannie, too, died as a child. Though Sam lived to be 75, he was survived by only Clara of all his family.

It makes you did Sam Clemens, the man surrounded by tragedy, become Mark Twain, one of the greatest humorists of recent times—or ever? Well, he realized that humor and sorrow go hand in hand. That sorrow helps highlight the humor, that humor helps alleviate the sorrow. Though it is sad for me to see the traces of cynicism that crops up from time to time in Twain's writing, it feels impressive after learning about the man that it was only a trace.

Seeing Sam Clemens' home has helped me to reconcile the two sides of the man, because now beside the tragic figure and the witty satirist, I can picture the Papa playing elephant with his girls, the dedicated writer bent over a little desk in the corner of his billiard room, the husband who always slept with the head at the foot of his ornate bed because, as he said, “if you had spent a fortune on a beautiful, antique headboard, wouldn't you want to look at it at night, too?”
(P.S. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of the inside; the rules were understandably rigid, and cameras weren't allowed—just about the only thing we were even allowed to touch was the handrail of the staircase, which, the guide told us, was supposed to make anyone who touched it a better writer. We'll have to wait and see, I guess... ;)
N.B. There is an excellent biography of Sam Clemens, by Sid Flieschman: The Trouble Begins at 8; a Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West. Though it is aimed at older children or young adults, I highly, highly recommend it for anyone who loves Mark Twain even half as much as I do

Sunday, June 13, 2010

NEAT Part 2.1: Noah Webster

(Note: Yesterday was one mad day in which we visited three author homes, those of Noah Webster, Mark Twain, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, respectively. For the sake of your sanity and patience, I'll tackle one at a time! ;)

"America must be as independent in literature as she is in politics, as famous for arts as for arms."
-Noah Webster

The time has come... I have a confession to make: being a writer has not always been my dream job. There was this period of time, when I was 13 or so, when I had glorious daydreams of getting my doctorate in languages and becoming a etymologist. Many people confused this with entomologist, and wondered why I would have to study languages to be a bug scientist. (Which proves why the world needs etymologists, doesn't it?)

And you know how everyone has his or her reading weakness? Some people are murder mystery junkies, some people hide teen vampire novels under their covers...I read dictionaries. I memorize obscure, fairly useless definitions and try to work them into daily conversation. I dream about word histories.

Now that you know that, you won't be surprised to learn that visiting Noah Webster's house was on my top priority list for our New England Author Tour. What did surprise me was what a relative little I knew about the man. Besides being a fellow word nut, he was a politician, an activist, a teacher—one of the behind-the-scenes men in the American Revolution (rather than one of those burning-down-the-houses-of-Tories kind)...and so I still love him even though he thought women should never be allowed to read novels. (He would certainly think me a heathen for writng a few!)

The big thrill for me, of course, was stepping in the footsteps of the man who made spelling part of our national identity. The next best thing, though, was simply stepping back in time, to the 18th century simplicity of Webster's home. (I totally want his fireplace.) I'm getting excited about my upcoming revisions of my Revolutionary War novel...

Another highlight was seeing all the gorgeous illustrations by Monica Vachula, from the picture book by Pegi Deitz Shea: Noah Webster, Weaver of Words. I hope these pictures help you enjoy them a little—but you should probably just go get the book from your library because it is lovely and well worth reading!

In closing, I can only say this:


Pronunciation: \fer-ˈwel\

Function: verb imperative

Date: 14th century

: get along well —used interjectionally to or by one departing

P.S. Get yourself psyched for the upcoming installments about Mark Twain's and Harriet Beecher Stowe's homes in the former artist/writer colony of Nook Farm—that's where the fun really gets started! ;)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thank you, Myrna, for this lovely award, and for giving me the excuse for random ramblings! In order to accept the award, I'm supposed to tell you all ten things about myself that you might not here goes!

1.When I was little (like, five) I wished my first name was Elizabeth because I wanted to have lots of nicknames and I didn't care for “Faithy” at the time. (Incidentally, do you know that the one name that most often reoccurs in the list of Newbery winners and honorees is Elizabeth? Just saying...I may have been on to something.)

2. Mark and I occasionally wrote each other love notes in Tolkien's Dwarvish runes (mostly when we were at parties supposed to be coming up with entries for Balderdash, and runes were just more convenient than coming up with out own secret code), and once I wrote a poem in Elvish. Yes, I believe this does qualify me as a total LitGeek. Will you still be my friend?

3. I love old movies. Movies in general, but especially old ones with borderline cheesy happy endings. It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite movie ever, closely followed by Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, starring Gary Cooper.

4. My not-so-secret unfulfilled desire is to learn to make pottery. I'm not sure why, exactly, but I feel a primal need to create my own cups and bowls.

5. I have lived in 12 different houses, plus two dormitories, one apartment, and a few months in a camper trailer. Do you want to know what motivates me to get my writing published? The hope of buying a house that I never again have to move away from.

6. While I love theater, I have had terrible luck in my roles. My first appearance on stage was as a “mouse” (that was their nice way to say “little rat”) in the Nutcracker. The next two were also ballets: While dancing to Handel's Watermusik, I was a wicked mermaid who pulled in a fisherman, and in Hansel and Gretel I was a moth who frightened the children in the night. I moved on to musical theater and was a goblin in Rumpelstiltskin and a wicked Ninevite in a production about Jonah. I avoided theater for a while—not on purpose, but because of moving around—but then as a teenager I was invited to join some of my friends in their Shakespeare club. They were performing Much Ado About Nothing—I got to play Conrad. Yes, he is one of the bad guys. (On the bright side, I met my husband there. He was the director and played Leonato.) Roles got better from there, excepting the time in college where I acted one scene as an adulterous woman who hates her daughter and is in love with her son. (Christine Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra) Yeah. That one didn't thrill me, either.

Is there something about me that says, “Ooh—she really looks like a villain!”? I just don't get it.

7. When I was 10, I wanted so badly to learn to play piano that I would eavesdrop on my next-door-neighbor's lessons (her mom knew I was hiding behind the couch) and practice later. It worked, for the record—and incidentally, I still play while that neighbor, last I knew, had grown bored with music and given up on it.

8. I have recently become addicted to Stash chocolate mint tea. Mmmmm, it is so good.

9. Something I consider one of my greatest accomplishments is that I can now say, “Whip up” and “apple pie” in the same sentence. While I love cooking, baking wasn't really my forte, so the fact that I can get a pie from bare ingredients to in the oven in less time than it would take me to drive to the store and buy one makes me very happy.

10. I finished my WIP, THE WITHERING VINE!!!!!! I haven't really told anyone that yet, so does that count? I'm so excited. :)
There you go! Now, I'm supposed to pass this award on to five other bloggers... Here are five who I hope to get to even know better, should they choose to accept that mission. :)
Paula (Yes, I know I gave you an award already, but I like the role of cyber-super-hero, and we all love reading what you blog about!)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

N.E.A.T. (New England Author Tour) Part 1: Thornton Wilder

On Thursday afternoon, three brave explorers (and two cute little girlies) piled into the car in search of adventure, inspiration, and an out-of-the-way little home in Hamden, Connecticut.
Perhaps Thornton Wilder's house isn't the most obvious first choice for our author-home-adventure. First of all, it hasn't been made into a museum yet. And he's not exactly our favorite author, though after this trip, I think he's growing on us...
But--we were lucky enough to grow up a few miles away from his house, without even knowing it was right at hand...and that, my friends, was reason enough to give him the first place in our journey.
Thursday was hot and stormy; thunder urged us on in our quest and we surged forward, only slightly hindered by the humid air that clung to every inch of our bodies. Adding to the tension, I was driving. I am not a very relaxed driver, I'll admit. I really don't enjoy going over the speed limit; and unfortunately every other driver in Hamden seems to. It was a relief to pull into the shaded lane of Deepwood Drive--where, sudddenly, time and traffic seemed to pass away with the appearance of old, stone houses and overgrown gardens. Not so our excitement.
There it was, the "House the Bridge Built," so called because Wilder bought it with the royalties of his Pultitzer-winning (and cool) The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
"Hurry, give me the camera," I whispered to Rose. Not that anyone could have heard me if I spoke normally, but despite the fact that I was barely within sight of the house itself (though I got a nice pic of the mailbox!), I felt scandalously rule-breaking.
Keeping my foot nailed to the brake, I snapped a shot or two, while Lucy called from her carseat, "Mama, what are we doing here? Whose house is this? Are we going to this house?"
"Uh, no..." I answered, while Regina (Sister 2) added to poor Lucy's confusion by holding up her phone to take pictures. If I hadn't driven away in such a hurry, she might have gotten some good ones, too.
I know, sneaking past a house in the midday light and heat was kind of crazy, and only borderline inspirational. But our next stop was both completely proper and quite inspiring...oh, and air-conditioned. Ahhhh.
Even though no one's decided the house deserves to be a museum yet, some kindly folk of the Thornton Wilder Society decided there should be something of his to serve as a muse to the they recreated his study in a tiny corner of the Hamden Libray. I must have walked by it a few hundred times and never stopped to look closely, but there I found the treasure of the day, our el dorado, a writer's pearl: one little bit of wisdom...

Besides the awesome quote, there was other goodness: the desk where Wilder penned Our Town,

his bookshelf...

...and his pencil sharpener! (I know, how cool is that?)

When we had finished this feast for our eyes, we headed on to our last stop: Mount Carmel Cemetary, Thornton Wilder's last stop, too, incidentally...

We found his grave at the top of the hill, nearly forgotten. Grass and mud obscured the last several letters of his name; we cleaned it off as best we could and shared a moment of silence and a moment of prayer:
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.

I couldn't help feeling a little angry as we walked back to the car. Here was a man who changed lives with his writings. He won three Pulitzer prizes. His play is still more performed than any other American play. And we have only a tiny corner of the library and a neglected grave to visit in his memory.

But then, back in the air-conditioned sanctuary of the car, I flipped to the last page of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the highlighted, underlined, dog-eared copy from our high school days, and read:

"But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."