29 July 2011

Manic Monday

Yes, I know...

See that above? That's as far as I got yesterday morning when I came in to cobble something together for this week's post (which should have gone up on Monday, by the way). Erk.

It's been a mad, mad week. It was my birthday last Sunday and I basically celebrated from Friday till Sunday night. Phew! Two nights of vodka-infused fun followed by a round of golf on Sunday afternoon (I've never played in my life, so that was fun *snort*), followed by an evening of Sambuca spritzers... yup, it's fair to say the weekend went by in a haze.

In the midst of all this, we are currently 'doing' the back yard. My back yard is huge - around 20 meters in length and 15 meters across - and up until last Friday it was more an extension to the neighbouring woods than a garden. There was no grass to be seen - heck you couldn't see the patio - because I had about twenty trees growing out there. Not to mention the brambles. And the critters? Never mind creepy crawlies, it was more like lions and tigers and bears, OH MY!

Ok, that was a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean...

Anyway, currently my garden looks like this:

We've only kept one tree - a nice hazelnut - but all the others have been cut down. While I golfed (or pretended to *shifty*) on Sunday, the hubby jet washed the patio. Of course, we couldn't use the kitchen tap for the hose as we have a mixer tap and the thingie (don't know what it's called) wouldn't fit, so hubby fashioned something in the bathroom and had the pipe coming through the window. Yay! Only, as he was busy jet washing, the pipe kind of leaked and flooded the bathroom. Cue pulling up of carpet and mopping up pools of water. Not so 'yay'.

Monday was little better (hence the title of this post). Not content with flooding my bathroom, the Water Fairies decided that my kitchen needed a little extra water too. My daughter was playing with some water bombs with her friends, and filling them up at my kitchen sink. Quite how she managed to soak the entire floor is beyond me, but never mind. She also soaked the worktop and the inside of the cupboard under the sink. I dutifully mopped everything up (amid cursing at the daughter) and thought that was that. But... (you knew this was coming, right?) later that day, as I went to put the washing machine on, disaster struck. I picked up my huge 25 wash box of soap powder (which I'd only used once), and walked across to the machine, and found myself walking through a pile of soap powder. The box had gotten wet during the earlier flooding, you see, hence the bottom fell through. Ugh. Trying to clean up soap powder on a still-damp floor with a still- damp sweeping brush is kind of impossible.

Anyway, most of Monday was spent cleaning up and what-not, and then I had work on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by helping the hubby in the garden duties, so I clean forgot about blogging. Then fellow Burrower Leanne messaged me with a 'Pssst!' on Wednesday night and I went 'Acccckkk!'. I decided to write my post yesterday, calling it 'Manic Monday', and giving a slightly more twisted version of the week's events to loosely link with our general Thursday theme of 'delusional'. Then, after typing the title and a mere three words, my sister turned up for the day. I'd originally cancelled the weekly visit, and I forgot that I'd cancelled the cancellation... oops.

Anyway, by the time she went home, it was late and my brain was word-free. So here I am, cobbling together a post before I shoot off to work. Never mind 'Manic Monday', it's been a manic week. I'm seriously considering basing a character in a future novel on myself, but I don't think she would be believeable. Unless I was writing a farce.

Yeah. That could work.

18 July 2011

GLBT Spotlight

So, okay, I'm possibly the straightest chick to ever walk the earth, but I'd also like to believe I'm pretty open-minded and accepting of whatever the hell anybody else wants to get up to as long as it's not hurting anyone. As a long-time YA addict, I've been really happy to see a greater variety of GLBT characters show up in the last few years, as for teens who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality (or even are perfectly fine with it) it can be really helpful to read about "people like me". I mean, hell, I like books about nerds... ;-) (I'm departing from my usual "only list stuff I've read" rule in a few cases in order to add in recommendations from friends who do belong to the GLBT community.) So without further ado, a list today of books both YA and adult which I think are standouts either as a whole or for specific characters. Starting with:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green & David Levithan

Tiny Cooper FTW!!!! Whether he is the biggest guy who is also very gay, or the gayest guy who is also very big, you Must. Love. Tiny. Despite the title, which refers to two guys with the same name (one gay, one straight, BTW, just like the authors), it's Tiny Cooper and his connection to both of them which holds this book together and lifts it into the realm of completely awesome. I remember reading it while walking home from a doctor's appointment last summer and totally bumping into and stumbling over things as I just had to find out how it ended and I certainly wasn't going to wait till I got home. It's a coming-of-age story, it's a character study, and it ends with a giant musical production - what's not to love?

Eon & Eona - Alison Goodman

Yes I KNOW I keep bringing these up, so what? They're that good. They also have all manner of characters who bend or break traditional gender roles, including the title character, who starts out as a "boy" called Eon, only to reveal she's actually a girl named Eona; her transgender courtesan Lady Dela (whose father calls her his "daughter-son", which I found sweet); and the eunuch who loves her. The main focus of the plot is not on any of this - and that's one of the things that makes these characters so memorable. Okay, okay, okay, AND there are dragons. Happy now?

Anything by Libba Bray

That's not a title, obviously, I really do mean any of her books. Probably the most recent (Beauty Queens) especially, but you've got everything from girls at a Victorian boarding school who are definitely more than just friends (though society and its mores won't allow it), to a death-obsessed video gaming dwarf (yep, you read that right) who finds his true love in a most unexpected place, to the crash-landed beauty pageant contestants (and reality show pirates) who fall into any category you feel like naming (but who needs categories, really?). I've met her twice now and she is super-cool and friendly and writes stuff that makes you laugh so hard you just might hurt yourself, AND manages to touch on more than a few serious issues while she does so. The woman is a genius. Go get some.

quartets - Tamora Pierce

While not necessarily immediately apparent, the mentor mages Lark and Rosethorn (who guide the four main characters through their own magics) are a lesbian couple; in a later book in the series, Daja (one of the aforementioned four) discovers that she would rather be with women than men as well. What I like about these ladies is that it's never an issue, nobody points it out or gives a baboon's left butt cheek, it's just the way it is (which parallels the way I learned about it myself as a kid - by the time I first heard the word "lesbian", I knew at least 6 and wasn't the slightest bit bothered by it). Plus, as noted in other entries in this list, it's not the main plot, it's just another facet of the character - and isn't that the way it works in real life?

Hero - Roger Moore

Imagine you're a superhero. Awesome! Now imagine your dad is a failed one. Not so awesome. Oh, and just to make things even more complicated, you're gay. Welcome to Thom's life. There are a whole lot of classic superhero tropes running through here (they're a League! Imagine that...), as well as the absent mother, the group of misfits who must band together, and, erm, basketball. Moore was probably better known as one of the producers for the series of Narnia films; he died in slightly mysterious circumstances in February of this year. Moore was openly gay himself and (at least according to his Wikipedia article) was working on a sequel as far back as 2009. Will it ever appear? We shall see...

Luna - Julie Anne Peters

Told through the eyes of a sympathetic younger sister, this book chronicles the becoming of Luna - who, if you go by her birth certificate, is a boy named Liam. Regan is the only one aware of her brother's secret, and she helps him - or, really, her - by lending her own clothes and purchasing items (like, say, underwear) that Liam/Luna can't easily procure for her nighttime transformations. When Liam decides he's ready to transition into living as Luna full-time, however, Regan begins to fear the repercussions into her own life - and her own crush as well. I've known a few girls who were born into the wrong bodies, and they're more feminine than I'll ever be. Stronger, too, 'cause no matter how supportive your inner circle is, it has got to be terrifically hard to tell people that you're not who they thought you were and then take the steps toward becoming who you really are.

Annie on My Mind - Nancy Garden

As far as I can tell, this is one of the earlier books to depict a relationship between two high school girls; they meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and start out thinking they're just friends but discover there's much more to it than that. Long before Constance and her cancelled prom, there were Annie and Liza, trying to overcome stereotypes and opposition. It's been nearly 30 years since this was published, so many things seem dated, and information that's readily available to teens now is a complete mystery to our two here, but it is, above all, a love story, and if there's no sassy dialogue or up-to-the-minute pop culture references, well, so what?

Nightrunners - Lynn Flewelling

This is one of my favourite fantasy series (I admit it, it's at least a little bit because Flewelling is a fellow otter-fan), with lots of spying and stealing and intrigue and faie and humans and, oh yeah, the two main characters are (at least after the first book) a gay couple. Seregil and Alec are great fun to hang out with; I recently recommended this series to a friend of mine and he and his boyfriend have been devouring it, along with giving me running commentary about all the homoerotic symbolism that goes completely over my oblivious straight head. There's also a spinoff trilogy (known as the Tamir Triad) that takes place in the deep history of the Nightrunners series where the gender-bending is pretty intense - when a prophecy threatens a usurping king, a family hires a hedgewitch to do some pretty ghastly things to their newborn twins - like, you know, killing the boy and implanting a bit of him into the girl so she looks like she's a boy... Yeah. Twisted. Great read though.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - Jeannette Winterson

This quasi-autobiographical novel won the Whitbread Prize, and explores issues of faith and sexuality and, as frequently (usually?) happens, the conflict between them. We're reaching back into the 80s again (1985 this time), and for the first time in this list heading over to England (I know, where's my usual Anglophile streak today, right? No worries, more to come.). Jeanette (our protagonist as well as the author) grows up in a loving but heavily Christian home, and when as a teenager she falls in love with another girl - I was going to say "all hell breaks loose", but let's give the religious metaphors a rest. A well-written exploration of finding one's place even when it goes against everything you've ever been taught.

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters

Welcome to 1890s London, where under the exceedingly prim and proper Victorian exterior lived a whole lot of people who couldn't care less about society or propriety. Into this we throw one Nan Astley, who was raised among the oysters, becomes fascinated by a male impersonator (by name one Kitty Butler), and becomes her friend, her dresser, her music-hall partner, and more... and then that all comes crashing down and she's in London doing everything from pretending to be a rent boy (well, pretending about the "boy" part, anyway) to becoming a kept woman for another woman. There was a 3-part BBC adaptation (memorably and hilariously spoofed by French & Saunders) as well.

Lord John series - Diana Gabaldon

Gabaldon is best known for her Outlander series, seven (so far) massive novels which chronicle the lives of Claire and Jamie Fraser. (That is a ridiculous oversimplification, but whatever.) Along the way, she spun off the character of Lord John Grey into his own novels (which she originally thought were short stories, only to be told that that's how long a NORMAL novel is...) - and, as you may have already guessed due to today's topic, Lord John is gay. What sets these apart from the rest of the list is the time period - the late 18th century, when such goings-on were generally not tolerated by polite society and nobody gave a damn if you preferred the company of your own sex, you were going to get married and produce HEIRS and that was that. Yikes.

Millennium Trilogy - Stieg Larsson

How could I leave out Lisbeth Salander? I couldn't, really, so here she is. Once again, her sexuality is far from the main issue of the plot (no matter how much the press wanted to harp on the "lesbian Satanist cult" nonsense), but simply another facet to the character. She is who she is, she will sleep with whoever she wants, and doesn't give a damn if they're male or female. Very few other people may be comfortable around her, but she is perfectly fine with who she is and if you're not then you can go to hell. The term BAMF could have been invented just for her.


And now for the public service announcement portion of today's post. Namely, the Burrowers want a summer vacation! Oh, don't worry, you'll get about a post a week, possibly more if someone feels like writing an extra one, possibly not if we're being lazy. We will resume our regular 5-a-week schedule come autumn, and in the meantime feel free to visit any of our (well, their, since I don't have one) individual blogs (links in the sidebar).

15 July 2011

Who Am I?

Today, here, on this bit of floating real estate, I am going to be a photographer. I could be a mother, or a collector of dolls, a Buddhist, or a clown. All of those are part of who I am. I am a writer of plays, a keeper of chickens, a knitter of lace and a therapist. I'm a friend, a lover, a grannie jannie bananie, and a workshop leader. I'm also aware that there are no descriptors extensive enough to capture the essence of a human being. So today, I will go beyond words - to the image. Here is what turns me on these days...

14 July 2011

Delusional Thursday: Just Foolishness and Shenanigans

Chocolate Cake. . . yummy!

Okay, now that I have everyone's attention!  Uhm, hello, down here.  Let's talk delusional.  How about a whirlwind to begin this summer.  For those who do not know, I am a special education high school teacher.  I am working summer school, raising three wonderful children, catering to a loving husband and fighting with my cat. What was I thinking?  One of these summers, I will actually take off and not work the six week session.  It's hard to give up the 17 1/2% (of my annual salary), though.

Anywho, back to delusional.  I had entered the Burrow BuNoWriMo and only wrote a lousy 5,000 words.  I mean it's 5,00 more than before but I was so embarrassed I didn't even post my progress on Facebook.  *hangs head in shame*  I plan to be a bit more productive this summer in the writing department.  I have several books lined up to read, for research purpose,s of course.  *winks*  I also am going away to North Carolina at the end of August.  I think some time on the beach and a couple of Coronas will definitely help to get the creative juices flowing.

*Please note:  I do not go to the gym above.  My treadmill is one that folds up and tucks under my bed.  :( *

Oh and I cut all my hair off and now I am a golden blonde.  I am loving it.  Since I have lost 26 pounds, I feel more confident, sexier and can't wait to lose 26 pounds. I've been watching what I eat and exercising.  Who knew that all those fad diets and miracle weight loss products were a waste of money!  *cheeky*   It's been hard but it took me approximately umpteen years to put on the weight, so I suppose it will be some time before it comes off.  You didn't think I would allude to my age by mentioning the exact number of years, did you?  *smiles*  Well, that is all for now.  It's almost bed time and I must begin my crazy routine of kids, work, kids and more kids.  :D

This is where I am working this summer.  Stuyvesant High School on West Street and Chambers in NYC.  I cross that bridge every morning to avoid being run over like Frogger.  :)

Image attributions:
Chocolate Cake
Stuyvesant High School

13 July 2011

Publishing Options: Be Informed

I recently looked into the discussions under 'writers' at LinkedIn, a site I've been a member of for a long time, but mostly just because there was a little 'why not' to it... I set my profile up, then accepted invitations as they came—I didn't use it. I do this a lot—there is a learning curve, so if the functionality of it isn't immediately apparent, I don't take the time to learn.

Handtiegelpresse source
I forget what tempted me to look. I'd actually heard sort of negative things, but I got curious and checked out a few discussions. I felt like I had an informative angle on a few, so I joined...

You know... there is definitely a dichotomy over there, but it seems to me there is a reverse snobbism going on about self-publishing. It used to be the traditionally published folks looked down their noses at self publishing... Now it is the self-publishing looking down their noses at the people going traditional (particularly the agent piece: "why share your profits?!"). I have been a little dumbfounded. I think I've lost much of my original bias about self publishing, but I think there are very rational reasons for each direction (and a number of small publishing options opening up that have some of the good and some of the bad from each side) and that our job as authors is to weigh it all and decide what works FOR US, and for pete's sake, don't judge somebody else for the choice they make!

So I thought maybe I'd post some of the strengths, weaknesses and considerations of each, and if any of you have points to add, jump on in...

Traditional Publishing

☻This is still the surest route into a brick and mortar bookstore, the ONLY route into the chains.
☻They have a machine... a system... people whose sole job it is to do each piece—they are pros.
☻They have brand recognition even if you don't yet have name recognition.
☻This is probably the only way you will get an advance. There are SOME small pub exceptions, but not many.
☻There is prestige here. Your book has a veritable stamp of 'good enough to publish'.
☻In terms of getting a book into the hands of readers, this is the most likely route to reach A LOT of people. (it is probably the only way into most libraries; yes, there are exceptions, and it is the mostly likely way to get BIG reviews)

☻This industry runs the speed of maple syrup in January in Michigan, which is to say SLOW. It is often more than a year from contract to publication, and just getting to the contract has multiple tiers of hoops.
☻Working with pros means yielding to them on artwork, title... there may or may not even be author input. You have to let go of a fair bit of control.
☻Traditional publishers have gotten skittish about new authors in these uncertain times for the industry. It really takes a GREAT book to break through. And even then, there is a ton of work finding the PLACE to break through.
☻This branch of the industry is slowest to adapt and change, and the industry broadly is adapting and changing FAST—there is some worry this piece won't keep up.
☻As a percentage of sales, this is where the author keeps the least. In fact it is paltry. Trade paperback can be as low as 6%.

Other Considerations
☻Theoretically, the increased units should balance the decreased percentage, so money has historically been a little better for all but a few; however, this seems to be changing fast as the stigma comes off self pub--in fact I'd venture to say MORE books make more self-pubbing than traditional pubbing--it really is a weighing for the author--no wrong answer--do you want more readers or more money?
☻Working with a professional editor is a give and take. Some people can do this, others struggle. I'd argue it is good for all of us because we learn and grow, but you may disagree.


☻Author retains full control for the quality of the work.
☻Speed is largely author-controlled. The publishing systems add on a matter of weeks, no more, to when the author has the work ready.
☻Author retains rights (usually, read the fine print)
☻Author controls price (within limits, but those limits are pretty darned generous—Amazon, for instance, has a $.99 low point)
☻Percentage author keeps is highest possible~around 70%--though check by domain.
☻This is a great option for books that don't fall tidily onto a specific shelf—genre rule breakers, length breakers.
☻It is ALSO a great option if something is SUPER timely, because things are so much faster to get out—this is more applicable to non-fiction, but I think Rita Skeeter used it to print The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore (printed only 4 weeks after he died)

☻Author retains full responsibility for the quality of the work. [this means the author alone ensures it is adequately cleaned, GOOD, edited, perfected+arranges all art, arranges formatting, deals with which ever publishing system they believe is best (which requires a ton of research)
☻Work will NOT be in bookstores, libraries, reviewed in national or international media (unless by fluke it hits phenomenal sales, and usually then, author needs to do it many times—like Amanda Whatserface)
☻There can be costs involved—do your research. And some services offer varied costs (CreateSpace is one)--be sure to shop whether you want THEM to do pieces or whether you want to hire professionals to do them, but it is highly likely you need to pay (or trade, or make a deal) someone for both editing and artwork. (and possibly formatting)

Other Considerations
☻You decide when you are ready. This can be good, but it can also be VERY VERY bad. Who among us hasn't fallen in love with our work, deeply and truly, only to have moments of angst a month later that we can't believe we missed this or that... is there an author out there who has NOT thought 'what the hell was I thinking?' but besides that, I think writers are prone to an arrogance of 'well I know'. There is NOT a substitute for the rounds and rounds of feedback that force us to improve. And self-publishing makes it very easy to jump off that horse when really we haven't completed our laps. A hired editor will give suggestions, but ultimately they work for YOU, and will tell you what you want to hear when they feel they've done all THEY can to help (which is frankly not always enough). A publishing editor works for the publisher and will SAY if it's not done yet.

Small Publishing: note—these are making a huge surge in the rise in eBooks and feasibility of Print on Demand (PoD). Publishing used to have fixed costs that made tiny publishers near impossible, and small publishers not terribly cost effective. Ebooks and PoD systems have made this a more viable cog in the system. I'd like to thank Ciara Knight and her post on Black Opal Books yesterday for her list of questions: what you want to know about these small publishers (and Black Opal's answers) if you think you might be in the market for a small publisher.

☻You get the reality check of a gatekeeper, but without the microscope 'must be a breakout bestseller to consider' meter against which you're measured.
☻You get to collaborate with a professional editor (team of editors, even) to make sure your book is the best it can be.
☻You get a great deal of say on your artwork and title, but professional advice if you want it.
☻If your book is close to ready when the match is made, the time to publication can be a few months instead of closer to a year.
☻Many will produce print as well as eBooks (though not all) and will work with you to get into Indy bookstores.
☻They are often more flexible about genre lines, I believe it was Karen Gowen who said WiDo actively seeks books where this is the reason for trouble with traditional publishing--when books cross genres or come up with a brand new one, they are hard to traditionally market; this is a great niche for these publishers to hit--fabulous stories traditional publishers don't know what to do with.
☻The percentage to the author is higher—Black Pearl for instance said 45% to 70% depending on units sold (I am guessing that lower at first is to recoup their costs of getting it edited and produced, which honestly, seems fair)
☻You often (usually, even) don't need an agent--you can send directly.

☻There are a lot of them (small publishers, not weaknesses), and MANY are new. Buyer beware, as while most are probably great, there are many that really only want a cut of what amounts to your self-publishing profits, or to scam you into purchasing their editing or art services. Make sure the details in the contract MAKE SENSE. In fact you'd be well advised to have a lawyer look (or an agent--that is one of the things they do best). Look up Predators and Editors, but this is not sufficient, as brand new companies won't be there regardless. Read the fine print. Where possible, work with companies where you know and trust someone or have a referral from someone you really trust.
☻Some charge for services such as artwork or editing. These are probably not the options you want to work with, though some of these, in return, give you a bigger cut, so if you sold really well, it might be worth it. Take the time to calculate the break-even—how many units do you need to sell to pay back that editing charge? Because this is one disguise Vanity Publishing seems to be wearing these days.
☻You still are not going to make a chain bookshelf.
☻More work is left to the author for alerting libraries and such.
☻You're unlikely to get an advance. If you do get one, it will be small.

Other Considerations
☻This might be a brilliant stepping stone. I believe BOTH people who are intent on traditional AND people headed to self publishing have things they can do here. The former can get publishing credits, get their name out, learn the ropes, prove they can SELL BOOKS... the latter can learn the logistics of publishing, what a DONE book really looks like... I honestly think for brand new authors, this might be the smartest starting place. But I won't judge you if you disagree.

So there we have it... a basic primer on publishing options. There are obviously a lot more options (several steps between small publisher and the big traditional (specialized genre presses, regional presses), and even among the self-publishing options, there is huge variation... but these are the basics as I understand them...

08 July 2011


"Hello, this is Cruella!"

"Hi, you're speaking with Cruella."

"This is Cruella - what can I help you with?"

I was rehearsing how to answer the phone the other day. I had also printed out and read a pile of documents, made sure I had a working pen (and an extra one should it suddenly stop working anyway), a glass of water, and a notepad - just in case. I had called friends, coworkers, contacts - everyone and anyone I thought might be useful for me in preparing for a situation many dread: a job interview.

I haven't had many interviews. Most of my jobs I got on a "knowing someone who knows someone"-basis. My current job had an interview - via the phone, since the distance was somewhat far from Oslo to Tokyo for an actual face-to-face meeting. The one I had the other day was also over the phone - for the very same reason. Only now it was the distance Tokyo-Oslo that complicated the process.

The point of a job interview is fairly simple: the employer wants to find out whether you are the right person for the job. Depending on the job, this usually means assessing your qualifications and skills, but also you as a person. Will you fit into the workplace? Will the rest of the team like working with you?

Thus it is important not to take the frequently first asked question - "Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?" - too lightly. I had a coworker test my reaction to this question before the interview, and after giggling, "uhm"-ing and answering plain rubbish, I finally managed to pull together a semi-coherent string of words that explained exactly what he had asked, "a little bit".

I wasn't entirely prepared, though, when during the actual interview my potential employer wanted me to elaborate . He didn't accept my attempt to jump fairly quickly from "me"-mode to "work"-mode, he wanted to hear me explain more about my background (and possibly he also wanted to test my reaction to being forced to go off manuscript on a question every interviewee surely has memorized their lines for.

I think I pulled it off - in fact - I have it on good authority that I made a good impression (not to suggest that this means I got the job - don't know that yet, actually). But it struck me that it was an interesting study in my own wishes and hopes for the kind of person I'd like others to think I am. (I am not saying that this isn't also the person I *am* am. But there are certain sides you are more keen on promoting than others, right?)

When they asked me what I like to do in my spare time, for instance, I found myself deliberately avoiding one thing that might actually have been a benefit rather than a disadvantage. I didn't tell them that I like to write. Writing is actually one of the main skills required for the job. Of course I can refer to my writing in a professional capacity, through both studies and my current job, and that is more relevant anyway. But adding that extra touch - that I am passionate about the written word - might have put me even higher in the qualification pile (and I need all the help I can get there, since they originally wanted someone with background in finance/economics).

Still, I wasn't willing to do it. Partly because I also see problems with this "passion" - the written word can be dangerous, and a blog, for instance, can be an excellent channel for spreading things that have no business being spread. I wouldn't want them to even consider the possibility that I might take the advantage of that.

More importantly, however, my writing is highly personal. I hope to one day have something to share with the world, but until then, the fact that I like to write is exclusive information to only a handful of people (and, you know, anyone with an internet connection who could then be reading this...).

For the rest of them, however, I prefer to have some control over who they think I am.

07 July 2011

Evidence of Delusion

This little, ah, something, was written about four years ago when a friend requested a Dobby/Hagrid songfic (Harry Potter characters, if you didn't already know.) Dobby the house-elf and Hagrid the half giant. Hmm. The mind boggles. Anyway...

Love Strikes

Dobby skipped towards his destination, excitement his companion. Tonight was the night. He was going to declare his undying love and nothing was going to stop him. Not fear of rejection; not worry about what others would say; and not prejudice against him for choosing 'out of his breed.' He saw his beloved's home and sighed with pleasure. Running eagerly to the front door, he took a deep breath and knocked. Within seconds the door creaked open to reveal the object of his desire.

“Dobby? What are yeh doin' ere?” said his love.

“Hagrid! Dobby had to come! Dobby could not wait any longer!”

“Wait any longer fer what?” asked Hagrid, blushing slightly and rubbing his neck.

“Hagrid knows! Oh yes... Hagrid knows!” breathed Dobby, his eyes alight with longing.

“Ahhhm, are yeh sure yeh want to go through with this?” asked Hagrid, an answering yearning in his own eyes.

Dobby's eyes glazed over in happiness.

“Oh yes, Hagrid sir! Dobby was broken-hearted when Harry Potter didn't return his love, but Dobby is over that now sir! Now Dobby has found a new love, and he is wanting the whole world to know it!”

“Come inside then, Dobby. We can sing the song o' commitment,” said Hagrid, blushing even more, but looking ecstatic.

Dobby skipped inside and waited in anticipation while Hagrid bolted the door and entered the room. He then watched as Hagrid went over to his gramophone and selected a record. The slow, hypnotic sounds of a reggae beat filled the air and Hagrid turned around slowly. He gulped and brushed a stray tear from his eye.

“Shall we?” he said gruffly, holding his arm out.

Dobby nearly died of happiness as he eagerly agreed. He skipped over to Hagrid and waited for the intro to finish so that he could start the song.

“They say we're young and we don't know
We won't find out until we grow,”
he squeaked happily.

Hagrid beamed.

“I don't know if all that's true
'Cause you got me, and baby I got you,”
  he replied.

Dobby grinned in return and joined him.

I got you babe, I got you babe.”

Hagrid spun Dobby around before they continued.

“They say our love won't pay the rent
Before it's earned, our money's all been spent.”

Hagrid blushed.

“I guess that's so, we don't have a pot
But at least I'm sure of all the things we got.”

'We've got each other, Hagrid sir!' whispered Dobby blissfully.

I got you babe, I got you babe.”

Hagrid beamed happily at Dobby and spun him some more.

“I got flowers in the spring ,

I got you to wear my ring,” he trilled.

Dobby almost fainted with ecstasy, and could barely remember the next line.

“And when I'm sad, you're a clown,
And if I get scared, you're always around.
So let them say your hair's too long,
'Cause I don't care, with you I can't go wrong.”

Hagrid nodded his head with encouragement.

“Then put your little hand in mine,
There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb.
I got you babe, I got you babe.”

Dobby squealed again and gripped Hagrid tightly. They both twirled around the room before singing the final chorus together.

“I got you to hold my hand ...
I got you to understand ...
I got you to walk with me ...
I got you to talk with me …
I got you to kiss goodnight ...
I got you to hold me tight ...
I got you, I won't let go ...
I got you to love me so ...”

They gave each other one last adoring look and sung at the tops of their voices.

“I got you babe…
I got you babe…
I got you babe…
I got you babe…
I got you babe…”

On and on they sung into the night, oblivious to time. Hagrid and Dobby had found each other and they were determined to never be parted. Dobby moved his socks in the very next morning, and from that day on you could see Hagrid attending his duties with a devoted Dobby in tow.

They had each other, babe.


Dobby image borrowed from here
Hagrid image borrowed from here.

06 July 2011

When is a writer?

Is it when you first get your work published? That can't be it; in order to make it to publication, you generally have to spend a hell of a long time actually writing before that to get something polished enough to be worth it.

Is it when you get a story handed back to you in an English class with a high mark and a glowing comment? Nah, that can't be it either - don't know about you guys, but I had some real yahoos for English teachers in high school and they wouldn't know good from bad writing if it jumped off the page and strangled them with run-on nightmares or pellucid prose.

Is it when you realize you're silently narrating your life as if you were a character in a novel? You know, "She descended into the musty basement, sidestepping a derelict lawnmower and some manky boots on the way to the washing machine." Errrm... or maybe that one's just me. I always hate writing description anyway...

Is a daily diarist a writer? How about a doodler? That counselor at summer camp who scared the crap out of all your cabinmates with his original ghost stories? The ad agency grunt who concocts the newest and shiniest lies for the latest and glossiest products?

Is it any of these? Or is it all of them?

Image swiped from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/writer

04 July 2011

It's All A Game... Apparently.

You know, my fellow Burrowers all do so well with their book recommendations. There is always a good selection (usually ones that I haven't read), and their reviews are always interesting. I really fall down with 'Reading Monday' (and 'Writing Wednesday' too, actually) because I just don't have the reading 'experience' that my buddies have. I read, obviously, and I read a lot, but I'm a creature of habit and tend to stick to a core selection of favourites that I have built up over the last twenty years or so. Needless to say, almost all of my dog-eared old friends have already been covered in our weekly 'Reading Monday' slot.

Luckily enough, I recently stumbled onto a new favourite. It's rare that this happens, and I am extra happy because not only have I discovered some new reading material, but it has timed perfectly with today's post.

A couple of months ago I saw a new series being advertised on TV, and fellow Burrower Mari also got wind of it and asked if I was planning on watching it. The series seemed fantasy-based, had a medieval look to it, and promised lots of action and drama. Right up my alley, in fact. And so hubby and I began watching 'Game of Thrones.'

Me being me, I didn't even know that the series was based on a book. In fact, I was around half way through watching the series before I decided to do a bit of Googling (I Google all the time. I'm a nut. Comes from being an excellent procrastinator. *nods*). Anyway, I was delighted to discover that I didn't have to wait until the end of the series (another four or five episodes) to find out what happened next. I was equally delighted that the hubby was also interested in reading the book, and was due a very handy birthday the very same month. *grins*

Of course, my Googling turned up not just one book, but an entire series. Yay! On the downside, the series is ongoing, so there will be a frustrating wait to find out what happens in the end after all. Obviously I bought the hubby the first four books (which I finished reading in just over a week *shifty*), and the fifth is due for release this month (just in time for my birthday, as it happens...). The last two installments will be quite some time in coming, alas, but I suppose I shouldn't be greedy. After all, there are fans who have been reading these books for years, and I've only known about them for a month or so.

So I suppose I should tell you a little bit about the book(s). It's actually quite difficult to describe; I wouldn't strictly call them fantasy, though there are elements that lean that way, granted. It has the general good guys/bad guys sort of theme, there is plenty of action, and there are elements of romance dotted throughout. There are plenty of main characters, with each chapter being told from one person's point of view. Standard fantasy fare for the most part, in fact. But added to these predictable elements are incest, strong language, plenty of sex, and gruesome violence. Not your general Tolkien by any means.

Game of Thrones - the first book of the series - mostly follows Ned Stark and his family as they are uprooted from their home and relocated to King's Landing, the home of Stark's friend, King Robert Baratheon. Robert requires Ned to be the 'King's Hand', a position that is as dangerous as it is powerful. Although Ned is reluctant to leave his home, he agrees to go, and thus sets in motion a chain of events that changes the fate of every member of the Stark family.

The principle antagonists are the Lannister family, of which King Robert's wife is a member. The previous King was murdered fifteen years prior to the beginning of the novel, and the Lannisters played a key part. Power-hungry, often vicious, rarely merciful, the Lannisters are a perfect example of a family who let ambition rule their actions.

The 'Game' in the book's title refers to the ongoing storyline of the struggle to unite under one King. At one point, there are five 'Kings', all determined to to sit on the Iron Throne at King's Landing. Beside Robert and his heir Joffrey (a nasty, evil little toad of a boy), there are Robert's brothers, one of Stark's sons, and the children of the murdered King of fifteen years past.

As I said, each chapter is told from one person's point of view, and while I'm not a huge fan of this particular style, it definitely works with this type of novel. Having so many characters can be dangerous, confusing the reader no end if it isn't done properly. Thankfully, the multiple points of view firmly imprint each character into our heads, and once you are a few chapters in, you know most of the principal characters and have a good idea of what motivates them.

I don't want to describe it too much as I don't like giving the plot away, but if you like fantasy, then you'll enjoy this. If you like gritty family drama, then you'll enjoy this. If you like sex, violence and quirky characters, then you'll enjoy this.

Oh, and there's dragons. Eventually. Nuff said.

Picture borrowed from Wiki.

01 July 2011

By Day

So mostly I'm a nut, right?

But by day my area of interest is one I feel rather passionate about in a SERIOUS way... it is important stuff that has ripples through a lot of groups of people. It is about quality of life.

My introduction to Disparities

I began looking into graduate schools with the idea that what I really wanted to do was therapy—counseling-- but in Portland the only Counseling Psych degree was from the most expensive university, and at the TIME, I hadn't a clue that an MSW could have gotten me to a counseling license. I thought it had to be Psych. So I applied for the Portland State Psych program... I was initially interested in Industrial and Organizational Psych, only because it was the closest to familiar (I was coming out of advertising and marketing). But it didn't take very long to stumble into Social Psychology... the social reasons we do what we do—the way social stimuli change the way we think. I innately believe that—that we are social creatures. I think it is the branch of psychology that most solidly falls on the NURTURE side of nature versus nurture (though cognitive psych has a lot there too, and that is probably my second favorite strand).

Relative Risk of Death by Race
In this study, I began to run across the idea of Disparities—the unequal distribution of... stuff... because of the group people belonged to... the surroundings and economics of ones life...

And then, Fall term my second year I took a Health Psychology course and first ran across the work of David R. Williams, who I believe is now at Harvard, but who I eventually met when I first got to the University of Michigan. He proposed a model of how race, economics, behaviors and care influenced HEALTH.

Talk about a domain where disparities are unfair!

It focused the rest of my coursework and my thesis. I was primarily interested in Disparities in Wellness... why people in privileged groups practiced healthier behaviors, but I did a lot of work in the area.

My first job after grad school was as a program evaluator for the Oregon Health Division. It was a great job. I loved it, as jobs go. I was helping a Tobacco Prevention Team to evaluate the effectiveness of their interventions. (I haven't bought Nabisco or Kraft products since because of their ties to big tobacco). But it didn't take long into it to discover that a city like Portland (in fact anywhere in the US besides major research Universities) had an employment gap for Psychologists. There were grunt jobs and good jobs. But to bridge the gap a person needed a PhD because there were no MIDDLE jobs.

The quest for MIDDLE jobs (and the arrival of my daughter at her 5th birthday vs. Portland Public Schools) prompted me to look for where we might move... Better schools + Mid-level psych research jobs turned up 2 places... Ann Arbor and Chapel Hill. I had several colleagues with UM connections and stereotypes about people in North Carolina making me say Sir, Ma'am, and wear nylons with my skirts... so we headed to Michigan (after an extensive job search and offer)

My first job at the University of Michigan was great for development of awareness in terms of REALITY in a racially diverse place (which Portland really isn't) and was fabulous for my growth as a statistician (I had the BEST mentor EVER for that—Deb Bybee—you're fantastic!)

And the content was interesting... academic achievement... disparities, in a way, but more of a 'tapping racial identity' and helping students use it in their drive to succeed in life.

I worked there for four years, and when the grant ran out, I began looking again... and LUCKED into a perfect position... in fact it was posted wonky, so I didn't find it, but in fact applied for something different with the same group. And they called... gave me the strangely listed job number... and it began...

Disparities in PAIN

Did you know that one in two people will experience chronic pain? That at any given time one in three elderly people HAS it. It can result from an injury, a surgery, an illness... (often something like arthritis that builds slowly) or it can result from... no place at all... (seemingly). I, in fact) suffer back pain that I can't pinpoint a cause of (but which is helped by some sleeping props—I know—sounds kinky). I've had a few falls, but no big ones. Honestly I think I am just shaped wrong to sleep on a flat surface. Man, I wish I still had my waterbed.

But the point of the matter is, people who are poor, are minority, are female, or are on the tails of the age spectrum have more trouble and less help for dealing with pain. It impacts their lives more negatively. And the WHYs and HOWs are amazing.

But you know what else? Since I began this job, I've had SO MANY people tell me about their pain issues. You would be BAFFLED to realize how many people you interact with every single day who live with pain. The work in calling it the 6th vital sign is good—progress is being made. But drugs have historically been developed and tested on middle-age white men, and they aren't necessarily ideal for the rest of us. Opioids, for instance, are processed in fat, which women have more of, so we are inclined to have more 'out of it' feelings from them—many of us would rather deal with the PAIN than that.

And Allie, at Hyperbole and a Half TOTALLY improved on the pain chart--you really should swallow your coffee and then go look.

So that's what I do...