Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Safety in Distance

Two weeks ago in the town where I live (Omaha) a boy shot and killed 8 people, then killed himself, at the mall where I take my kids to play. It was a Wednesday. Wednesday is the day I take my kids to play there, usually, but we decided not to go that day. The shooting happened later in the day than we are usually there, but still, it is haunting to think of something like that happening so close to home.

It was a tragedy that has set the emotional timbre of the city dissonant. Yet I find myself very unconnected from the whole thing, relatively unconcerned. I don't think about it much at all and haven't really mourned much for those people who lost their lives.

When I took the time to actually realize this I was horrified with myself. What kind of unfeeling monster am I? But then I had to stop at that question because if there is one thing I am not, it is unfeeling. I feel things much too strongly in general. My siblings have agreed that my greatest fault is that I'm overly sensitive.

So what gives? It doesn't seem to make much sense. Then, as I sat reflecting on the situation, I tried to relate it to my emotional response to other tragedies and a pattern began to form. I thought of Katrina, the tsunami, 9/11 and realized that my responses to those were very similar with one exception. When news would roll of those happenings I'd change the channel. I averted my eyes from the news articles. The exception was 9/11.

The thing about 9/11 that just overcome me was the images of people jumping from the buildings. Putting myself in their places was the most terrifying feeling I could imagine and I couldn't face it. I refused to imagine what I would do in their places. Cold, electric panic would fill my chest every time I thought of it. It was too much for me.

I have come to realize that when the unthinkable happens, I do just that. I don't think about it. It's a safety mechanism I have developed, because if I let it in it will take over and I won't be able to handle it. I am so overly-symphathetic that things like that just tear at my insides and overcome me with fear.

So I'm not heartless. I've just developed self-preservation. I've come to realize the truth of this because when I really force myself to start thinking about these events, letting the people become real to me, I feel that terror reach in and I have to shut it off before it overpowers me.

In writing, if something becomes too horrific the reader starts to find it funny. Emotionally it becomes too much to handle. That's why people laugh at slasher movies. (I learned this concept from the great Mr. Card.) The key, in my opinion, is taking it to the threshold without taking it too far to elicit the maximum emotional response. When truly horrific things really do happen and it's not fiction, many people don't know how to process it.

How do you respond to horrific events and how does it affect your writing?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Contest Entry

Here is my entry to Bernita's contest.

Milk and Cookies
By Hoodie

"Mom, are markers made out of poop?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Gwen at school told me that the writey-part of markers is made out of horse poop. I said 'no way,' but then I smelled it and it really did smell like poop!"

"I find it highly unlikely."

"Then what makes that smell?"

"The ink."

"What's the ink made out of?"

"Umm, octopuses."

"Mom, are you joking?"

"I think so. What are you drawing?"

"A finger tree. It tickles you all over."

"Wow, did you make that up?"

"Well, Mr. Barr sometimes pretends to be a finger tree. At first it wasn't my favorite game, but then he taught me how to do it, like this."

"I see."

"He says I'm the best finger tree he's ever seen! It's this cool special game. He says I'm so, so good."

"Hmm. Okay. Will you draw me another picture? I'm going to be on the phone for a while."

"Are you calling Daddy?"

"Yes, and maybe some other people. I'm going to try and solve that marker mystery for you, okay? We'll find out the truth."

"I told you, Mom. I really think it's horse poop."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"She's a Writer"

Last night there was a special dinner held for the members of my husband's accounting firm that work on a particular client. It was held at a pretty swanky place and I was excited about an evening dressed up and having adult conversation. The appetizer plate alone would have been enough (the best seafood I've ever had), but the hits just kept on coming: filet mignon, cheesecake. Yum.

At our table sat the office managing partner in our city. That makes him the big man at the office. It was my first opportunity to become acquainted with his wife. We were having quite a pleasant conversation when she turned to me and asked if I worked.

"I do, but I don't get paid for it, " I smiled. "I stay home with my two small kids."

Then, with a chime of enthusiasm, my husband added, "and she's a writer."

This seemed to draw attention from everyone at the table. "Really?" they questioned.

This was the first time anyone, including myself, has just come out and defined me as such, and I almost denied it, feeling that of course I don't really qualify. But I stopped, recognized the delicious feeling of being recognized as a writer and smiled. It was a beautiful moment for me. So what if I'm not published? I really am a writer.

It was a great gift from my loving and encouraging husband. Merry Christmas to me.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I am Officially Ashamed

I never meant for it to happen like this. Things just got out of control. At first it was just a few days. A week. I never thought I was capable of something like this.

I haven't posted in almost a month.

I apologize to those I've hurt.

So why the lag? I wish I had a good excuse. The best I can do is that I have indeed been confirmed to have anemia and I am honestly taking naps at every available opportunity. I just feel so worn out. Still, I've managed to get everything else accomplished that is absolutely necessary and we all know that blogging IS a necessity.

How did NaNoWriMo go, you ask? Sheepishly I admit that I finished just shy of 8500 words, which is a lot of words, but painfully distant from 50000. I got to a certain point, didn't know what to do and sort of just stopped. I don't think I knew I had stopped. I kept meaning to jump right in, but then kids got sick, Thanksgiving (including lots of travel and kids with Chicken Pox) happened and soon November was over. Whoops. Oh well. I do intend to revisit this project, but I think my method will change slightly. I was hoping to write chronologically, but I think I'll just write the most exciting parts first next time.

I have stored away in my little brain some blog topics, so don't expect the drought to last. But first I must humbly thank Jaye Wells for nominating me for the Shameless Lion award. I've seen this award floating around and never thought I might actually be a recipient. There are few I could have felt more honored to be nominated by. Jaye is a blogging (and writing) goddess.

The rules are found at the Shameless Lions Writing Circle.

Here are my three things I believe make writing good and powerful (however much my opinion on the subject counts).

1. Basket-skills - I believe good stories are woven. There are so many elements involved in writing a good story, and they must all be delicately balanced so that the best parts peek through at the best times so that the overall finish is flawless and flowing. The longer your story, the more precarious the balance. That is something I discovered during NaNoWriMo. There are thousands of ways to write the very same story, but only a handful of them will be good.

2. Investment - If a writer doesn't believe in their character, no one else will either. I think an author needs to be emotionally invested in the characters and stories she is writing, trying to imagine every aspect of emotional and physical reaction to situations, finding the details. Yeah, gotta have details. I think good writers see their stories as their children.

3. Striking Stereotypes - My favorite books are the ones where you think you know what's going to happen and then something COMPLETELY different happens. When writing it's easy to ask yourself, "so what happens next?" The hard thing is not accepting your first answer, or your second or third.

Incidentally, these are all things that I think I need to work on. A lot.

Most people I find deserving of this award have already been nominated, and if my nominations are a repeat, my apologies. You can just feel that much "warm and fuzzy"er.

1. The Quoibler - Angeligue is a clever kitten who's proven dynamic and humorous both on her blog and in contests she's submitted to. Her strengths are her sincerity and wit.

2. Struggling Writer - I've admired this man's stories for a while now and give him a hearty kudos for finishing NaNoWriMo with an excess word count. He's got a flair for the funny and enjoys the same kinds of writing I do. Rock on, PL!