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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Honey on Thorns

Goodreads recently presented me with this “quote of the day”:

My grandfather always said that living is like licking honey off a thorn. (Louis Adamic)

Wow. Can I relate to that!

Book #3 is well underway, though being away from it so much of the time has been a challenge. On the other hand, it has given me the perspective of distance. I can go back and read it much more objectively than I could have a few months ago, so that gives me an edge for editing.  This honey is on the thorn of little available time.

There have also been some recent life changes—people important to me who have left this realm of existence. Death is always bittersweet. While I am certain of the kingdoms to which they have gone and that they are absolutely joyous in those places, I am also watching the effects their passing has on the people who love them. My personal belief is in an amazing afterlife, so I don’t fear death; but the fact is that the prolonged absence of loved ones is difficult to deal with, whether the loved one has moved far away or has stepped through the veil of this existence into the next. It helps me to focus on the fact that this passage is one we will all make one day, and that the reception committee on the other side will be glorious! Still, it’s honey on a thorn.

There are a lot more thorns in life. If we try, we can find a little honey on most of them. The trick is to keep our eyes wide open so that we know the danger, then carefully approach the experience of licking the honey so that as little harm is inflicted as possible. On the other hand, some thorns approach outside our lines of vision and strike hard, wounding deeply. The sweetness of those experiences can be hard to imagine, but if we study them hard enough, we can find something. Often that “something” is the personal growth we can experience if we (as the old expression goes) take those lemons and make lemonade.

The sweet things in life are always tempered with the bitter. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t understand how sweet the sweet things are, because we would have nothing to compare them to! And if we’re really paying attention, sometimes we can see the honey dripping off the thorns, so we can avoid most of the nastiness and maximize the goodness.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Monkey Wrench Mystique

I thought I might share with you an experience I had a while back. I wrote an article about it then. The subject came up again recently and people still found it pretty entertaining. Please let me know what you think.

I know how zoo animals feel. You see, I’ve walked into an auto parts store alone.
Everybody in the store stares. The counter guys approach with that what-did-your-husband-send-you-to-get? attitude. Hey—there are lots of women who know our ways around cars! Okay, I can’t rebuild an engine, but I can fix things a lot of men can’t.
I decided a long time ago that I was not going to be a helpless female. I’ve changed sparkplugs, put in a radiator fan, and shown several men how to use jumper cables. Then there was the carburetor in our old van. Many times I had to pull the cowl and hold the butterfly open to get the beast to start. When my fuel filter recently became clogged, my mechanic told me where it was on my car and said, “You’ve done harder things. You can handle this.”
Good old Bob. He once said he ought to hire me to do diagnostics. He’s found that his female customers can often describe the sounds and shudders of a problem better than a man. He just chuckles when I call to check on a repair. “Yeah, you were right again.”
I was getting my oil changed recently. (Some things aren’t worth doing at home.) The technician approached me like an orderly sent to tell me I had cancer.
“Uh, ma’am, you have a fuel leak.”
I know he expected hysteria. I got out of the car and asked to see where.
“Oh, yeah,” I nodded. “That’s the line to the fuel filter. It was rather old. Must have weakened it when my daughter and I changed that out.” I loved the looks on their faces.
Well, you don’t procrastinate with a fuel leak, so I drove straight to the auto parts store. I got that look when I walked in. I bought the tubing, went to the parking lot and started to work.
Then he showed up. Jeans, cowboy boots, a tank shirt and lots of chains, topped with a Stetson.
“You need help, ma’am?” I was struggling to get the old, heat-hardened line off and said so.
“Well why didn’t you ask for help?” he asked. He shook his head. “You’re just like my ex-wife.”
Women should be helpless, huh? Never attempt to do things on their own? No wonder she was his ex.
 I got out my pocketknife and continued to work.
Mr. Macho didn’t stick around long. I saw his true colors when he went inside and got one of the boys from the store to be my hero, then roared off in his oversized pickup.
The kid made a cut in the hose all right—exactly the one I was trying to avoid making—the one that left a tiny, hard-to-remove ring of rubber around the fuel filter inlet. He also splashed gas in his eye. I sent him in to take care of that while I cut away the rest of the tubing and finished the job. All I needed after that was a place to wash my hands.
Looking at me as if I were wearing a caped costume, the clerks inside the store pointed me to their washroom, where they kept a large container of hand cleaner. As I scrubbed my hands, I noticed their hopelessly grimy sink. I couldn’t resist taking a little of the cleaner and rubbing the stains. “What they really need is….” I stopped myself. This wasn’t my job. Besides, I didn’t think they could take any more female competence that day.

Friday, July 6, 2012

My Comrades in Ink

 Missing in action again, wasn’t I? I get lost in the work of writing and sometimes ignore the fact that I’m working on more than one publication. I guess that’s a backhanded way of letting you know that I’ve been nose-to-the-grindstone on my new book, which is a sequel to “Ora’s Quest.” Working title: “Return to Dynora.” It’s out with readers at the moment—those valiant friends and associates who help me put the polish on the draft. Let me say a word about all of that.
I am a professional writer/editor/proofreader. I make money doing those things for strangers; but I don’t let them remain strangers. I observe them. I ask questions. As I come to know them better, I am able to use my insights about them to more fully address the work they need done. Sometimes these people become friends, but the parameters of those relationships are set and maintained; this for-profit work.
It’s wonderful to be able to make money doing what I love. In that setting, I find it quite insulting for someone to expect me to use my skills for free. In fact, there are many jobs that come up on the Internet that are extremely offensive to me because they want to pay less than minimum wage for a skill that we professional writers/editors/proofreaders have spent our lifetimes perfecting.  I discourage anyone from taking such jobs. If those so-called employers can get people to accept their ridiculous offers, they will continue to exploit us. We have to stand together on this.
(A slight aside: I don’t edit theses or class-required papers, either—proof for typos, maybe, but not edit. I view that as cheating. I am appalled at the lack of writing skills in people who hold degrees, and having their papers edited by writers is one way they get away with it. Their lack of proficiency is a hindrance to them once they’re out of school. I don’t think we do them any favors by helping them buck the system.)
That said, I have to admit that there is another side to the coin. I also have a network of friends and writing associates for whom I will happily edit and proofread for free, and who do the same for me. On my end, these “coveted” spots are not easy to fill. They are held by people whose opinions I value highly, who know a good deal about the skills required, who have spot-on instincts about what works and what doesn’t, and who are trusted members of my inner circle who will tell me the truth.
They are not all writers/editors. My husband happens to be one of the highest on my list. He is a computer engineer and a woodworking artist, but it turns out he is one of the best editors I’ve ever met. Why? Because he’s wrapped up in the details of everything he does, from use of language (English or computer code) to seeing the detail and perspective of a scene (in wood, on the computer, or on the page). He also has a mind like a compass. We can go to a place we’ve never been to—or one we haven’t visited for years—and he can find his way to just about anywhere by instinct. I had him long before we had GPS on our phones, which is the only explanation for my not being permanently lost in the woods somewhere long ago. Consequently, he can find typos, contradictions in direction, words that don’t fit the time period, and on and on. I always knew he was a treasure; now I have one more reason to keep him!
Some of my readers are just that—avid readers who know what they like and don’t like in a book, and whom I can trust to give me their honest opinions. Some are teachers, which gives them another layer of skill. They also have to be friends—people whose personalities I know, so that when they give me  critiques, I have a pretty good idea what is driving their comments. That makes a big difference in how I receive the comments—not as in taking offense or not, but as in “how can I use this to clarify, drive the story, etc.?” And because we know each other well, they know what I am trying to accomplish. They are not going to pat me on the head and tell me how nice it is that I wrote a whole book. They are going to give me their concerns straight and help me to become a better writer.
For those of them who are writers, I do the same kind of critique for them. It’s a wonderful reciprocal exercise that not only helps the writer of a particular manuscript to shine it up, but the discussion surrounding comments helps both writers to hone their skills. It’s like attending on-going workshops; amazing information to be gained and techniques to be perfected. In this business it’s hard enough to make a buck. It only makes sense that we would ensure some degree of profitability by using this rich resource rather than paying money to strangers whose opinions may or may not be valid. Not to mention that the quality of this type of opinion far outweighs anything we could get from strangers.
I almost did that once. I was in what I felt was a bit of a slump, and someone I knew only online offered—someone who projected himself to be a very accomplished writer and coach. I sent him the first draft of a couple of chapters for free evaluation, thinking that perhaps further input from this person would be worth the money he was asking—like taking a master’s class.
While I was waiting for his response, I did some checking and found some excerpts of his work. It turned out that if I were the one editing, I would have “bled” all over his work from page one! He had fallen into the cliché trap over and over again, breaking rules that even the newest newbie knows spell “death” to a novel. He seemed to think that he was gritty and edgy, but he wasn’t, at all. The chapters I read were mediocre at best. It was sad.
Needless to say, the free evaluation I got back was worth just about as much as I paid for it (but not quite). My style was way beyond was he was trying to do, and he didn’t have a clue about that. He wanted to stick me into his mold and erase all traces of me, even saying that he “would not allow me” to call myself “Debbi” instead of “Debra.” (Not at all what I would do if I were editing. The idea is to preserve the writer’s voice and offer suggestions as to how it can be clearer.) So much for “stranger” evaluations.
So, to all of those who read for me, you have my undying thanks. To those for whom I read, thank you for allowing me to participate in your process and thereby improve my own skills as well as helping you. True peer review is one of the richest blessings of pursuing this craft.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Garden/My Life

My Garden/My Life