Friday, February 25, 2011

It Was One of Those Days

Hey all!

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the kind I mean: one of those when stupid things happen that you just can't help but laugh at.

One little incident (I call it little, but I'm sure I won't ever live it down - if you know my family, you know what I mean), however, made me grin for reasons other than the actual incident (which really was funny in hindsight). What made me smile was the thought of how only someone living in a very rural area would have an experience like this.

Before I start on the story, here's a little backstory on the area I live in: Lewis County, NY, is in northern NY - much, much closer to Canada than to New York City. We are a county of a little more than 26,000 people. We're outnumbered by bovines: if you count cows, bulls, and calves, there are over 51,000. We even have an oversized, sometimes snazzily dressed cow (Lady LeWinDa MilkZalot).

I work in the county seat, Lowville, which is also the largest village in the county. If I counted right, the village has six stop lights - all on one street. Yes, we're very rural, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

So on to my story. In my office, I hang my jacket on a doorknob behind my desk. This doorknob is also in the vicinity of the office paper shredder. Yesterday, as I was shredding some papers, I must have knocked into my jacket. The pretty brown scarf I wear with my jacket found its way into the teeth of the shredder. It only went in a couple of inches before the machine stalled. I turned the shredder off and tugged and pulled, but it wasn't letting go. I finally got smart and reversed the shredder, freeing my scarf. Of course, that also freed lots of bits of scarf that billowed all over.

Looking back on it, it was pretty funny, really. And one of those stupid things that happen.

I picked the little brown fibers off my cream wool coat, left the scarf at the office, and drove to the county hospital where I was scheduled for my yearly mammography. Now this is where being in a rural area comes in. Lewis County General Hospital is the only hospital in the county. Even so, it's not very big, but it is a good institution and I'm grateful we have it. Just after I signed into the diagnostic imaging lab, I heard someone calling my name. My mom was pushing Grandma in a wheelchair, taking her to the cafeteria, and just happened to see me. I told them my tale of scarfy-woe, got a chuckle out of them, and then we went on our seperate ways.

Within fifteen minutes, my test was done so I decided to run down to the cafeteria to say hi and goodbye to Mom and Grandma (Grandma lives at the hospital in the nursing home). On my way down the hall, I run into my sister, Kelly, coming from the cafeteria. She says, "Hey, Aim, where's your scarf?"

Of course, she'd already talked to Mom and Grandma. I walked into the tiny cafeteria, found my people immediately and sat down for a few minutes.

But that's what made me smile. For all of you who've spent time in larger hospitals, you know how impossible it would be to run into all these family members - you'd never see each other, I'm sure. And the cafeteria: in a larger hospital, it probably would have taken me forever to find the ladies, if I even did. Some have multiple large cafeterias - I'd be lost (again, if you know me, you'd not be surprised at my getting lost).

Like I said, I love living in a small area - my chances of running into people I know and love are so much higher. LOL!

Oh, and just before I left the cafeteria, Grandma says, "You have something on your coat, dear."

Yeah, Grandma, I know - it's part of my scarf....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Realistic Plot and Characters - Black Creek Crossing by John Saul

What I'm writing: Working on editing In the Shadow of Olympus, plus working on a YA Dystopia short story and doing a major headdesk because I can't come up with a suitable story idea for the last week of Y2K
What I'm reading: Black Creek Crossing by John Saul
What I'm knitting: I'm stalled at the moment.

In an earlier blog I touched on the need for a realistic ending (in regards to the wonderful novel, Ender's Game - which absolutely gave a great ending). In reading Black Creek Crossing by John Saul I'm getting more and more amused by the inconsistencies throughout the whole darn book. I'm about half-way through and I'll finish it because I care enough about the two protagonists to see how their story ends, but I find myself chuckling at the bad grammar and inconstant plotting and characterization to find the book at all scary.

I'll believe in any world an author creates as long at they are consistent in their handling of that world and can justify their plot points. Witches - Sure! Ghosts- why not? Aliens who look like goats, smell like dogs, and talk like humans - Convince me! In fact, I love to be convinced, to get sucked into an alternate reality and not question its existence. Brilliant stuff!

But then there are books like Black Creek Crossing. I remember reading something of Saul's when I was a teen and liking it, so when I saw this book at a used book sale, I figured I'd give it a go. It's a fast-paced, engaging read.... except when it isn't. Here's what I mean: it's hard to stay engaged when the author writes one of his characters out-of-character, or uses a plot twist that just doesn't make sense in the context of the story - it pushes the reader right out of the tale and back to reality.

A couple of examples:
One character, the father of one of the protagonists, is a son-of-a-___. He's alcoholic, verbally abusive, borderline incestuous, and arrogant. His wife and daughter are justifiably terrified of him. So why is it that he's in a drunken rage and when his wife yells at him to clean up his mess, he bows his head and does as he's told? Um... no idea. It's a good example of a character being so completely out-of-character that the reader is tossed out of the story. I would have expected him to backhand his wife, or to scream and stomp off to pop a top again... but not go clean the kitchen!

As for plot inconsistencies: There's a cat in the novel - a black witch's familiar type cat. (and this next part is spoilerey enough that if you plan on reading the book - which I highly don't recommend - you probably shouldn't read the rest of this paragraph). The cat is shown to be able to get in and out of locked rooms, closed closets, etc. It's not explained how - but that's okay because it runs true with the mystery of the book. The cat even attacks three antagonists (teen boy bullies), making them think kitty is going to kill them, that they'll surely bleed to death from the inflicted scratches (or have their throat torn out - can a house cat tear out the throat of a teenaged boy???). Of course, when the attack is over, there's not a scratch on them. Anyway, the three aforementioned boys trap the cat in a backpack and smash him against various hard surfaces to kill poor kitty. The thing is - if kitty can magically morph through walls, can appear and disappear at will, why can't he get out of a nylon rucksack? I need that justified. And from what I've read so far- it isn't.

Don't get me wrong - I know why Saul killed the cat off, I just don't agree with the gaping plot hole that was his way of doing it. He killed poor kitty off to advance the plot, because if he didn't he'd have to find another reason for the protagonists to begin dabbling in witchcraft (they bring the cat back to life with a bit of water, a few drops of blood, grave dirt, and tears - who knew it was so easy?? Not even an incantation needed.).

Writers always need to find that spark that moves a plot forward - the crisis that causes the hero to lash out at the dragon, but, darn it, that spark better be believable. It takes thought, and planning, and second-guessing, and rewriting, but really, even the most crazy sounding plot point can work IF it's justified and within the character's motivations. Like I said before: convince me! Please!

There are also spots of shabby writing and grammar errors that I won't touch upon.

And finally (and I bet you thought I'd never stop ranting), most of the characters in the book are cookie-cutter. They're either evil or they're good - they're not fallible humans trying their best. There are horrible abusive fathers, spineless mothers, sadistic bullies, and shrinking victims. All black and white -not a single shade of gray.

So that's my take on making plot and characters either believable or unbelievable.

Now I'm wondering why the heck I'm going to finish reading this book!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lowville NY Fire and This 'n That

What I'm writing: I have three short stories I'm working on as well as editing In the Shadow of Olympus and doing homework for the F2K class.
What I'm reading: Finished a Dean Koontz book last night - Relentless - I liked the book right up until it got really, really stupid at the end. I'm a fan of Mr. Koontz, but sometimes even those we love to read can slip up.
What I'm knitting: Still working on that sweater. Front and back are done and I've started on sleeve one.

I'm a lover of history. I love antiques (from afar - I don't own many) and old books. I adore that sense of permancy that comes from an antiquated building.

And I mourn history when it's destroyed:

The building known as the Times Block in Lowville burned early Saturday morning - in the above photo, it's the one that's just a little taller than the rest.

A pizzeria and a real estate agency were located on the first floor, apartments up above. It looks like an 'improperly discarded smoking device' was to blame. One person is in the hospital with horrible burns - I hope for the best for him, but it'll be a slow recovery.

The buildings on either side have some water and smoke damage, but 130-year-old fire walls kept the damage from becoming extensive.

I work up and across the street from the building that burned. It's sad to see it every day, and even sadder to think of the person who was injured, those without their homes and belongings, and the businesses that are now closed.

And now I can't think of a segue into other topics.....................................


Saturday Brian helped run a youth tournament at the table tennis club he's a member of. It sounds like it was a success and nephew Brandon took 2nd in the under 16 division.

Work has been busy! There's just not enough time in the day, lately. But isn't that so much better than not having enough to do?

The F2K writing class I'm taking is going well. Two of my assigments have been highlighted in the F2K ezine, so that's cool. The first was writing for the senses. I posted my 'sense sentences' in an earlier blog, but I didn't post the paragraph I wrote for the assignment here. We were tasked with writing a paragraph that would stir each of the eight senses (the regular five plus time, space, and unknown). Here's mine:

The metal needles warm in my hands as the steady click, click, click almost soothes my nerves. Balls of rough wool transform into a blocked burst of color, lengthening with each completed row. Outside the window, swirls of white eddy and dance on gusts, before cascading to the ground, slick and beautiful. The tea beside me would be completely forgotten if a draft didn't occasionally carry chamomile. I ignore it. What I've already drank is tainting my tongue bitter. With each roar of an engine that doesn't slow for my driveway, my fingers fly faster. I hope I don't drop a stitch. Another row finished, another car speeds past, another tick of the clock, another moment alone.

And then for this week, we had to write a scene of 500 words or less that dealt with conflict: specifically, we had to show what appeared to be a small conflict swell into something more, but we were supposed to only hint at what was going on, not hit the reader over the head with it.

Gary tossed the opened envelope onto the table and then watched Jenny sweep the kitchen floor. Her appearance hadn’t changed much over the years, except for the snowy hair. Finally, she turned around. When she saw him, she smiled and her eyes danced. "What's up?" Even her voice sounded young.

"Did you forget to pay the credit card bill?" He hated ruining her mood, but some things were best not put off.

The smile slid from her face, disappeared from her eyes. She waved her hand, turned her back to him, and resumed sweeping. "Of course not. I don't make the same mistake twice."

"I think you did."

She glanced over her shoulder. "I didn’t."

Gary picked up the envelope and unfolded the bill. "Late charge. Another thirty-five dollars. I know it's not much, but we’re on a fixed income, Jen."

Her mouth moved for a moment before she started talking, like she was practicing her words before saying them. "It must have gotten lost in the mail."

"Do you really think so?"

The broom clattered to the floor. Jenny turned fully toward him and put her hands on her hips, tapped her foot. "If I say I paid it, I paid it. Now stop questioning me. If I didn't know better, I'd think you don’t trust me anymore."

"Of course I trust you. I just don't trust…." Finishing that sentence would be tantamount to petting a rabid raccoon.

"What? What don't you trust?" Jenny took a step forward and then another, as if daring him to say it.

"Listen, why don't we just look at the checkbook and see if… see when you made out the check."

"If you trusted me, we wouldn’t have to."

He closed the distance between them and put a hand on her shoulder. "I know you think you sent it out."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

If she was going to be stubborn, he’d have to change his tactic. "You have so much to do. Maybe I should take care of the bills."

Her face flamed. Her nostrils flared. "I've kept our checkbook for more than forty years. All you’d do is mess it up. Besides, this house isn’t nearly as much work as when the kids were around. Why, I used to do twice as much. Three times!"

There was no denying that, but the Jenny from then was far different than his Jenny today. "Jen, I’m sorry, but you're going to have to-"

She ducked out from under his arm, took several steps back. "Don't you dare tell me what I have to do!"

"You forget so much, lately. Too much. How old was your father when he started to-" He cut himself off. There was no sense finishing the sentence. Jenny had already banged out the door. As much as she’d hate for him to follow, he had no choice. He couldn’t stand it if she got lost again.

But, God, he was tired.

So, that's the update. How are you all doing?