31 December 2010

Just A Few Words...

Hmm, we are back at the 'Who Am I Friday' thingy, are we? Last time I fudged my way through the subject by giving you a fairly detailed account of a typical Tara Day. That was one of my better ideas, I have to admit. So what do I do this time? Well, after having spent a virtual day with me, I figured another good way to 'get to know' me would be to throw some adjectives at you, and some alphabetised adjectives into the bargain too. *nods* Youknowzitmakezsense, like innit?

So... *clears throat*:

I can be very annoying. Really, I can. I think my most annoying foible is saying 'in a minute'. I'm pretty sure I drive my kids and the hubby loopy several times a day by uttering this lie, because it is a lie, trust me. Whenever I say 'in a minute', I actually mean 'sometime today, when I can be bothered'. *shifty*  I'm also pretty bitchy. It's a horrible trait, I know, but I just can't help myself. On the plus side, my bitchiness is usually fairly humorous (except for the person it is aimed at, obviously), so at least I provide a giggle or two. Which can only be a good thing, because I need laughter to counteract the moodiness. Yup, I get really cranky, and far more often than I should.

So three adjectives in, and none of them are pretty attractive, it must be said. Good job we're on 'D', cause I like this one. *grins* As most of my friends - cyber and real-life - will tell you, I'm pretty delusional. And proud of it, too. We all need a little crazy in our lives or we'd go, well, crazy, ifyouknowwhatimean. Being delusional is good. *nods*  Being efficient is good too, as well as being fair, and I'm pretty sure I'm both of those. At least, I try to be at any rate.

Keeping with the nicer stuff, I am also giggly. Extremely giggly, in fact. I find humor in almost everything, which can sometimes lead to trouble, especially seeing as I have a bit of a dirty mind. Oh alright, my mind is almost always in the gutter, I admit it. But it's just so damn funny down there with the dirty. *winks* Plus being giggly goes pretty well with being humorous, which while not my strongest 'talent', is certainly worth a mention. 

Back to the not-so-nice stuff now I guess. You see, I can be very irritable. Some days something as stupid as rushing to tie my shoes with my suddenly ten-thumbed hands sets me off, and the tiniest of things will continue to bug me for the rest of the day. I suppose that's similar to to being cranky, but 'i' is a pretty tough letter, you know? But not as tough as 'j', which I can't think of anything at all, apart from 'jolly', which reminds me of Santa, and I'm not sure I like comparing myself to an extremely overweight elderly bloke with a white beard. Hmm, tricky.

Moving on to the letter 'k', and I think I'll go with 'kind' on this one. Not trying to blow my own trumpet or anything, but I'm generally a kind person. Aside from the bitchiness part of me, obviously, but that is only saved for people who really deserve it, and luckily I haven't come across many people like that over the years.

So that I don't sound like I'm stroking my own ego here, I'm going to dive straight into 'l' and tell you that I'm lazy. Very, very lazy. Not in the shirking work kind of way, but in the There Aren't Enough Sleeping Hours In The Day kind of way. If I could sleep for twelve hours out of twenty four, I'd be very happy. I just love to sleep. Probably because in reality I find it hard to sleep more than four hours in one go, so sleeping for twelve hours straight is a bit of a fantasy. Still, I am lazy.

I guess for 'm' I'd have to say I was maternal. Even before I had my kids I was mothering people, it's just in my nature to look after everyone. *shrugs*  Along with my mothering instinct is my urge to nag. I'm a natural-born nagger, it has to be said, and honestly, it's kind of a motherly thing to do for the most part, because generally my nagging is for the good of the person I am nagging at. *nods firmly* Again with the motherly stuff, I'm over-protective. There's not much to add to that except to say that any parent out there will know what I mean.

Most of you know already that I'm a procrastinator, so nothing really needs to be added to that, and I've also been described as 'quirky' (mostly after people have read my Taff blog posts, to be fair), but I'm pretty sure most of you know that by now too.  And although I have debated in the past about the true so-called randomness of being random, I've been called that a fair number of times too.

But what may come as a surprise is that I am generally quite shy, at least, on first meetings at any rate. It takes a while for me to feel comfortable enough to say more than a few words. Which is probably good now that I think about it, because once you get to know me I don't know when to shut up, so these initial times of virtual silence should be enjoyed while they can. You see, I'm very talkative. I can prattle on about anything and everything, without even knowing what I am prattling on about half of the time. My mouth runs about three seconds ahead of my brain too, which isn't always the best of things...

Now we get to 'u', and I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, because all I can think of is that I am a very understanding person. This works out well in some ways, but not so when I am overly so. It gets that I can be so understanding that people walk all over me, and while I know this isn't a good thing, I don't always do anything about it. I enjoy a quiet life, you see, with as little disturbance as possible. This shouldn't really be such a problem for me, because I can be really vile when I want to be. It links back to the whole bitchiness thing. Sometime even I can't believe the nastiness of my own thoughts. Thankfully, being the cautious person that I am, I am wary of speaking these nasty thoughts out loud for the most part, so I get to stick to my quiet life.

Um, I can't think of anything for 'x', so I'm going to pretend that you didn't read this bit. *shifty* And as for 'y', well the only adjective that springs to mind is 'yummy', but that probably has more to do with the fact that I'm still digesting my Chinese take-away treat of an hour ago...

And as for 'z', well there really is only one word that can be used to describe myself that starts with that particular letter, and that is 'zany'. OK, so this is basically the same as 'delusional', but I've been awake since half four this morning, it's now half eleven in the night, and I have to be up again at four thirty tomorrow (which is actually 'today' for you guys seeing as I wrote this on Thursday night), so I think I can get away with it. *shifty once more*

And that's all folks. Not even a picture for today (that would be my lazy streak), but I spent a little time making my adjectives bold and colourful, so I'm not going to worry too much about pictures...

Happy New Year! And may 2011 be fruitful for one and all!

30 December 2010

Delusional December

Today being the last Delusional Thursday of 2010, it seems fitting to point out that December really is one big delusional month. Or at least we treat it that way. I don’t know if things are as bad everywhere, but at least in my neck of the woods December tends to be the month where we try to prove we can do everything, all at once. Just have a look at my December:

It started off with me being in recovery mode after finishing (and celebrating) my master’s thesis. It takes surprisingly long to get back on one’s feet after having spent more than two years working on a project (did I mention the celebration? Yeah, that took a while to get back on my feet from too).

Just as I thought I was getting my head above water, however, I wasn’t. You see, that’s when the marathon at work started for my part. Between the 1st and 23rd of December I had a grand total of four days off (including weekends). And those days weren’t really off. I’ll get back to that in a sec, but let’s focus on work first.

I know I’ve written about this before, but work in retail in the holiday season is nuts. Here in Norway, where we don’t do Thanksgiving or even extensively Halloween, it’s exclusively directed at Christmas. Then again, Christmas is the big It. In my shop alone we tripled and quadrupled our income compared to regular earnings every day the last few weeks before Christmas. The shop was packed with customers, with boxes with books we hadn’t yet gotten to unpack, and with the mania that only occurs as a result of pre-Christmas stress. Working long shifts in this chaos definitely wasn’t the best way to find the peace of mind Christmas is supposed to be. However, I needed the money. You see, the reason I agreed to such outrageous hours was the impeding post-Christmas stress. In just a few weeks I am leaving the country. But I am getting ahead of myself again…

My days off from work were not spent sleeping in. While the written part of my thesis was done in November, I still had to “defend” it. Thus I had time off from work the day of my exam, and the day before it, so I could prepare a little bit. After all, an exam to conclude two years of hard work only requires a grand total of 24 hours of preparation, right? Fortunately, this was stuff I knew well, so despite the minimal preparation and despite the other stress that preoccupied me, I managed to do well with my exam. All finished I now know that all the hard work paid off. But a part of me wonders if I couldn’t have done without some of the stress?

Anyway, with the exam over with, there was finally time to consider the other stress factor that’s been weighing on me lately. The job market isn’t the easiest these days, and thus many students leave university without having a job or the slightest clue what they’ll be doing next. I almost envy them. I was one of the fortunate one – I already have the next six months figured out. I’ve got an internship to look forward to. The problem – and the perk – is that the internship is in Tokyo, Japan. 

I applied in October, thinking I wouldn’t get it. When I did, I was thrilled (deep down I’m highly competitive). But now I’m getting anxious. There is a whole lot that needs to be done before you leave for something like that. For instance, how do you find an apartment in Tokyo? (No, really, how? Any ideas would be appreciated…) Considering that my financial situation hardly will be extravagant, and the area of Tokyo I’m primarily looking at (since it’s close to my workplace) is the most expensive there is, it’s not an easy task. I also had to book flights, to get a visa, and to familiarize myself with the workplace and coworkers. I’ve been living overseas before (in fact, I’ve been living in Japan before), but everything seemed to fall into place quite quickly then. This time it’s been bugging me considerably, and often resulted in the question “do I really want this?” The answer is of course yes, most of the time, but there is a tiny voice in my head wondering if I wouldn’t be better off with some quiet around me for a while. I probably could use that. I probably won’t get it.  

Thus my remaining two days off before Christmas was spent packing and moving. The apartment I lived in was partly furnished, so I didn’t have as much stuff there as I’ve had other places I’ve lived in the past. But still. When you pack to move, you realize how much you manage to accumulate in a short time. I’m starting to look forward to eventually moving in somewhere (at least semi-)permanent, so that I can finally get all my stuff out of storage (where it’s been for two years – I’ve basically lived in various sizes of suitcases ever since), build a proper bookcase, and LIVE somewhere again. It’s about time. Yet due to my upcoming adventures in Japan, the life in the suitcase will have to go on for at least another six months. Perhaps I should take the time to learn how to get by with little? I’m a material girl, without doubt, but living without much money in one of the world’s most expensive cities might have some educational effect… (Then again, the shopping in Japan is GREAT…)

On top of my heavily scheduled December, I also tried to squeeze in some catching up socially. I managed to attend a few dinner parties, I had lunch/coffee with some long-neglected friends and I spent some time with my family. I even got to make the traditional gingerbread house with a friend. I also had to do all my Christmas shopping (though to be frank – most of that was done at work – one of the benefits of working in a bookshop is that I can get most of my presents from there), send some Christmas cards (but not as many as I’d liked. I’ve made a compromise with myself this year – people I planned sending stuff to that didn’t get it will have to wait ‘till I get to Tokyo. Much more interesting to get something from Japan anyway, right?), watch some Christmas movies (okay, that one was entirely for myself. I needed some holiday spirit), get a massage (again, all for me, though it was a present from my sisters, so I felt obliged to use it before I left Oslo) and clean my desk at the university. Returning all my books to the library is quite possibly the most liberating thing I’ve ever done, and I managed to not get a single fee all through December (which is saying something, since I’ve practically financed the library singlehandedly these last two years)!

It’s been a busy month. Now, I realize that my December has been rather extreme – hopefully yours haven’t been as busy (and hopefully my future Decembers won’t – I hereby swear I will never ever finish a master’s degree at the same time as preparing for moving to another country and working full time ever again). But December is still frequently a busy and stressful month, and I think a lot of people end up feeling inadequate because they are trying to “do it all”. This is the delusional part. No one can do it all. I ended up getting a terrible cold the second I was finished with my thesis examination. It really kept me under the weather for a week or so, but there was nothing I could do, because I had already committed to so many things. Thus I went to work being sick, I went to parties being sick and I managed to spread it to some of my family members (sorry mom!). The consequence was that I didn’t even enjoy the good things that happened in December as much as I should have.

Hence, my lesson to you all is this: don’t be delusional (other than on Thursdays). Okay, so there is a lot to be done in December. Do the things that make you happy. Every once in a while we have to pull the strength from deep within (I know I did this time) and get heavy loads done, but it eventually pays back. And not everything is worth fighting as hard for. Sometimes you just don’t have the strength or energy to wash the entire house before Christmas (well, it’s probably not as dirty as you think, and who is going to care if the attic is spotless anyway?). Certain years you can’t find the imagination to give intensely personalized presents to all your family members (buy something generic that everyone will like – chocolate, or coffee or a nice candle!). Try to be realistic with your expectations for what you can accomplish, and don’t feel bad for the things that just will have to be crossed off the list. (A nearby example – this post was supposed to go live at 1 pm my time, but that simply proved beyond my capacity. I hardly doubt anyone will care that I am half an hour late…)

That being said, I am VERY glad that Delusional December is finally over! 
(Now don’t forget that New Years Eve HAVE TO be the BESTEST party EVA'. Otherwise December is a COMPLETE WASTE!!!) 
((Just kidding)) 

Happy New Month!

29 December 2010

Raise Your Voice

They say it's the one thing you can't fake—the thing that separates you from every other writer out there. I've read a couple of blogs recently that talked about it... some wondering how to GET ONE, others telling us advice on finding it. I thought some of the advice was great, but other pieces rubbed me as a little off, so I thought I would tell you my (probably blasphemous) thoughts on the matter.

What the heck IS Voice?

The way you sound, ne? Lets think about this really literally first. A singer... (Leanne, don't poke me too hard for not knowing any proper musical terms)... what goes into the voice of a song is a variety of things... pitch, tone, ability to carry a tune, range, technique, LYRICS... (say what?)

I'm serious. I can't carry a tune to save my life. When my daughter (of the perfect pitch) was two, she used to cover my mouth (everyone's a critic, eh?). But by the time she was 5, she loved me to sing to her because I knew the world's SILLIEST songs. [/digression]

The accompanying music affects the sound, yes?

But a group of singers VERY SIMILAR on all the above STILL sound different from each other, yeah? There is still some quality LEFT that is their VOICE.

I believe the same is true of writing.

Suggestion to the Contrary

I don't want to be disrespectful, but one of the really BIG things that got me rolling on this was Nicola Morgan's suggestion that it is the BOOK not the AUTHOR that has a voice. I don't buy it. YES the book has to have a voice... the CHARACTERS need to have their OWN voices, so presumably the MC gives voice to the book in a way that is distinct from the author's primary voice, but the AUTHOR VOICE is still there. I agree that books in different genres should sound pretty different. (The same person singing an opera versus a show tune has a very different SOUND, but under that, her voice is still there, yes?) I've written suspense, mystery and cozy mystery, but I've also written some parody and more humorous stuff. And I have been TOLD that readers who've read a lot of my stuff can STILL tell it's me. How?

Am I a BAD Chameleon? I don't think so. I just think voice holds up to a change of scenery.

MY VOICE... has a sensibility to it that is a little off the mainstream... Typically the characters presented most sympathetically are a little sassy... have some authority issues... they either are a little sarcastic or downright nutty (I will NEVER NOT EVER write a humorless MC, even if it is gallows humor, which situationally, sometimes it needs to be). There are always people you ought to be able to trust who can't be trusted... materialism is frowned upon...

MY VOICE... has a couple of catch phrases that appear in pretty much every book... SOMEBODY is a snorter... In my Cozy mystery there is disgruntled jasmine... you'd be disgruntled too, if you'd had somebody murdered across you... but it isn't a TYPICAL way of saying it... it is more... how I'D SAY IT. It is too light a word--a silly word... but it is a ME word (and probably indicative of why Cozy Mystery suits me).

MY VOICE... has a cadence to it... I use mostly simple language... I don't like people to get caught up in something hard to pronounce (and any character who uses big words thinks entirely too much of herself—a bias that may or may not have origins in my life experiences *cough*). I don't like long, run-on sentences (except in blogs [but that really is about a love of parentheses which I don't use much in my books]). I adore semi-colons; don't ask why.

I guess I am just saying that I think there is a consistent voice, even if each book sounds different... There is a me-ness to it...

So how do you get YOUR VOICE?

Many of you already have a solid voice, but some people struggle, and some have been kind enough to share rejection letters that say the voice isn't quite there... I have some suggestions...

1. Practice using somebody else's voice. (What, are you NUTS?--yes. We've established this.) This sounds REALLY contrary, I know, but there are some very distinctive voices out there among the famous authors... maybe choose essay samples so they sound most like themselves... read... and then write a piece of your own IN THAT STYLE. Then choose a different author and REwrite the piece in THEIR style... then another... then another... I think it is a good way to see how differently the same content can look. And it is a good STRETCHING exercise for YOU.

Why would being a good mimic help you find your own voice? I think this is more about awareness... I think it makes you better able to note when something is creeping in because you just read something and loved it (or hated it) and it has influenced how you are doing things. But it is ALSO a good exercise in what CAN be done... which leads to the next bit (well not BIT, but bit, ifyouknowwhatImean?) [*cough* for my hesitation in using the word 'bit' lightly, check an Aussie phrase dictionary, or maybe I will tell you later]

2. KNOW YOUR RULES!!! I don't mean have them handy and look them up. I mean KNOW them... intimately... so they NEVER bail on you unless you heave them out on purpose. I happen to think this is why EVERYONE should master writing in third person first. Those are the rules. Once you KNOW the rules, you can go back and shake it up, in fact... I encourage you to...

The way this BOTH relates to voice AND to the above claim is this: I think if you are THINKING about the rules, voice gets muffled. Ever watch IDOL (any version) and you get somebody doing an intentional warble because they are trying to be Aretha Franklin or something? It seems canned, doesn't it? It is STUPID. No matter how nice the voice, and how well they warble, they are trying too hard and it shows... you don't NOTICE the performance because of the conscious effort by the artist to do what she thinks she needs to do.

When a writer hasn't internalized all the rules, there is a piece that is busy worrying about it and the voice WILL NOT come through as clearly. Now SPELLING RULES and PUNCTUATION can be fixed later. But grammar changes change the sound... word choice changes the sound. Lack of variation in sentence length or using a thesaurus after the fact because you use your favorite word too much changes the sound...

[biased note on why the 3rd person thing matters: I think our instinct as writers is to start with first person as young people... and so it takes GREAT MASTERY to not sound like a young person's diary in 1st person... mastering 3rd person [and I MEAN MASTERING] gives you the ability to spot all those little diary moments and douse the temptation to over-analyze on the page)

FINALLY (and most importantly)--to settle into your voice YOU MUST WRITE. Write a variety of things. Write fiction, write letters, write essays... Write poetry... (even professional or academic work can contribute if it isn't formulaic). I read once that it takes a million words for a writer to finally 'get there.' Sounds daunting. I believe what this MEANS is that is about how long it takes VOICE to settle... That is the point at which YOU become YOU—sometimes in costume, sometimes dressed to the nines, sometimes completely naked... but YOU, under it all (or under nothing, as you prefer).

Opera Singer by Alfred Schmidt Permission
English word order for the Icelandic speaker permission

[A note on 'bit'. Australians use this term as short of 'a bit on the side' which is...well, fooling around... but being the innuendo loving folks they are... THAT meaning sort of takes over... so that is ALWAYS what 'bit' means...]

28 December 2010

New Year's Sneak Peek

Topical Tuesday, eh? I have to admit the only topic on my mind is the immense amount of snow outside my window... but I wrote about snow last time (although that was in the "lack thereof" category). Retail is still in holiday mode, but Mari covered that pretty well, both this year and last.

So I guess I'll look at the upcoming New Year, tie on my goofy kerchief and gaze into my crystal ball (okay, okay, it's actually a vase) and make some wild and crazy predictions for 2011. How's that sound?

1. Tara and I will continue to tussle over the "who's the biggest procrastinator" title. We're both really good at it (maybe that should be "really bad", huh?), and yet somehow I feel like she ends up with better stuff out of it. Hmph. I'll have to work on that.

2. More Burrowers will complete books and even (gasp!) get publishing contracts. *nods earnestly* I have great faith in my fellow nutcases 'round these here parts, and considering the number of written-already-but-needing-cleaning manuscripts we've got floating around (or sitting in my living room in binders, as the case may be), at least one more of us will HAVE to get a break. Right?

3. My cat Durwen will become a YouTube dancing star. He has a short clip already posted (courtesy of my roommate), but we're planning on doing a full dance video to that old song - hell, what's it called... probably "You Can Dance if you Want To", but if that's not the title then you can figure it out from that anyway. Wanna see his moves? Too bad.

4. We will hit 200 followers. Hey, we've already got over 100, it could happen. All it takes is a whole lot of shameless self-promotion (which in my case means mostly posting links on my Facebook page, but I've got it in my email signature as well).

5. I will adopt a hedgehog. Yep, I'm currently obsessed with the prickly little cuties, but since I live in a city with really-freakin'-cold winters (Leslie and Mari are laughing right now... don't deny it, you two) and hedgies need to stay above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, I figure I'll be much less stressed about getting him used to me and the house and stuff if I'm not also constantly panicking about him accidentally going into hibernation (which is usually fatal for the housepet type).

*takes off kerchief* Okay, I think those are wacky enough for now. So let's see how many of them turn out to be true... Now all I have to do is remember to come back and check this post at this time next year. I predict that THAT will be the easiest of them all. ;-)

27 December 2010

Reading Monday: Sci-fi and Mystery Collide

Welcome everyone.  I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.  For those of you who are lucky to be off this week, it is the perfect opportunity to catch up on your reading.  For those who don't have the week off, so sorry.  Get in a chapter or two wherever you can.  The word "wherever"  looks odd but I just looked it up, it's spelled correctly. :D

Up first is the Stephen Baxter Manifold Series

Manifold: Time-  Book 1-  The entire series centers around astronaut and entrepreneur Reid Malenfant. An asteroid is discovered that is a time portal to various points in time of the human race.  Manifold: Time is primarily dealing with the passage of time and the fate of the human race.  Are we really alone?  How do we evolve?  Is there an end or cataclysmic event that decimates the Earth and all life on it?  This book is a combination of an answer to the Fermi Paradox (explained below) and the Doomsday argument.

Manifold: Origin-  Book 2- This book still centers around Reid Malenfant but in a parallel universe of Earth.  A red moon mysteriously appears and Reid is transported to this alien landscape.  He encounters several species of primates, including those which we believed to be the ancestors of man.  It is a different perspective of Manifold: Time and tackles the questions of origin.  Where did we come from?  How did we get here?  What happens to us now?

Manifold: Space- Book 3- This book revolves around the detection of alien activity.  Reid Malenfant uses technology to colonize the galaxy.  The human race is faced with eradication caused by a pulsar star event.  The pulses create such high radiation and emit so much energy, the human race becomes sterile.  The questions here are:  Can the human race survive a cataclysmic event?  Where do we go from here?  What happens to us?  Is there anyone out there who can help?

Manifold: Phase Space- Book 4 (I have not read yet but put it on my wishlist for hubby to purchase).

All of these books try to provide a solution to the Fermi paradox.  This is the argument by Enrico Fermi, that we are truly alone.  In a universe as old as ours, he claims that extraterrestrial life should be more than evident.  However, the human race has not collected any true evidence that there is life out there, somewhere.  Fermi concludes that the universe is so vast and has existed so long , it is difficult for any one advanced civilization to exist for long periods of time.  He explains that this may be why it seems that the human race is alone in the galaxy at this point in time.  There are several counterarguments but I won't get into that.  :D

Well, I hope you enjoy the series as much as I have.  It contains everything from science fiction to murder and mystery.

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Take care,

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

24 December 2010

When should the Tree go up?

Some of you are aware of my misadventures with the Christmas tree, but for those who came in late.....

Last week, after watching the kids decorate the tree, I had just turned on the lights, and stepped back to admire the sight, when my younger one went to take a closer look at the ornament and managed to knock the whole tree over. Two days later, when I was rushing to drop the kids off to the school-bus, he managed a repeat performance all over again, causing me to blow my top off, before banishing the tree to a corner where it just could not be reached.

Part of the reason why the tree came down twice in two days is my (nearly) five year old son. I have been hearing all of you go on about the adventures of your cats, but trust me, Thing Two can be more destructive than Bella, Angel, Callie and Flower put together. But TT (Thing Two, not Thursday Twin) is not the only reason for the tree toppling over so often- the main reason is that I did not store the tree too well the year before last, and the base got dented and made the whole tree really wobbly.

Last year, I promised to get the kids a new tree, and in the second week of December, I finally went to the market to keep that promise. Guess what I found - lots of thinsel, and plastic candy canes, and Santa hats, but no trees. Yes, you heard it right- not one single tree over two feet in height was to be found ANYWHERE in the ENTIRE market.
"Come back next week", they told me politely. "We will definitely have bigger trees then."
"But Christmas is in ten days", I sighed.
"Yes, Madam. Christmas is on Saturday. After that, you will get many trees. Many varieties of trees."
"But I need a tree before Christmas. Not after it", I said. "What will I do with a tree after Christmas."
"But, Madam, everyone buys a tree after Christmas", he explained patiently.
"Where will I put my Christmas presents if I don't have a tree?", I wailed.
By then he must have thought I was a certified nutcase. "Come back next week, Madam. You will find many trees", he said before turning his back on me.

Ridiculous though it may sound, in India, the official date for unveiling the Christmas tree at home is December 25th. Hotels and malls take down the Diwali decorations in the last week of November and replace it with Christmas decorations, but houses wait till Christmas to put up the tree up.

In a way, it does make sense. Christmas is not really a 'festival' for most Indians. It is a tradition that we have picked up along the line, and incorporated into our own. In India, we need an excuse to party- Diwali is one such excuse, the one immediately after is the New Year. When you throw a Diwali party, you decorate the house with candles, marigold flowers and floor patterns. When you throw a New Year Party, you have a tree.

Since New Year Parties typically happen on December 31, there is really no reason why the tree should be up before December 25, is there?

So, if I want to avoid tree toppling incidents next year, I would be wise to brave the crowds tomorrow and get myself a new tree.

Merry Christmas!!!!

23 December 2010

Delusional Thursday: Snow is Evil

I can only hope, my friends, that you have a chance to read this before our blog is mysteriously deleted and I am hauled off to a frigid concentration camp.

Snow is evil.

I don't mean that it's "bad" in the sense that hurricanes, floods and earthquakes are bad. All of these things cause damage, but most natural disasters make no effort to evade responsibility. Snow, on the other hand, pretends to be our friend. More importantly, it attacks with deliberate malice.

Let's say you wanted to form an evil, fascist organization to carry out a reign of vicious destruction. You wouldn't just jump in and start killing people, right? You'd commit those acts of terror in little bits and pieces, so as not to alarm the populace. You'd look for a scapegoat to shift blame. You'd recruit followers with vapid slogans and nifty uniforms. Above all else, you'd saturate the public with an intensive propaganda campaign.

Snow does all of this. And therein lies the proof.

Subtle Tactics and Blame-shifting

Quick, what causes an avalanche? Did you say 'loud noises'? Maybe 'steep slopes' or 'rocks'? You've been hoodwinked. They're caused by snow.

Why do drivers slide off the road? Bad brakes, they say. Or driving too fast. Sometimes we blame snow, but just barely-- it's "snow and ice". Really, ice? Does ice fall out of the sky and blanket the roads? I think not.

Then there's the heart attacks. Seventy thousand people a year end up needing medical treatment after shoveling snow. We blame heart disease. We call it a medical issue. Snow is in your driveway but off the hook.

By spreading itself out (pun intended), snow has made it nearly impossible to arouse public concern. We can point the finger at 'Hurricane Sam' or 'The 1906 Earthquake', but such generalizations slide right off of snow (pun intended). You can't stick a name on it. At best, you'll hear a vague and scientific-sounding (i.e., boring) report about the aggregate suffering caused by "winter conditions". Really, winter conditions? That's a million people who've had the crap beaten out of them by snow and a handful of tomatoes that didn't get picked in time.


Basketball is a winter sport. So, for that matter, are volleyball, fencing, wrestling, handball, gymnastics, and weightlifting. And we have two Olympics: Summer and Winter. Or do we?

We do not. We have a general sports Olympics and a Snow Olympics.

There is no "Ball Olympics" for ball sports, "Water Olympics" for water sports, "Race Olympics" for races, or "Gym Olympics" for indoor sports. But for some reason (discrete manipulation by powerful entities, obviously), a bunch of sliding around in the snow ranks equal to all other sports combined. That's some damn good propaganda.

Imagine if we classified canoeing, bailing, kite-flying, parasailing, and running-for-your-freakin'-life as the "Hurricane Olympics". Sounds trite, doesn't it?

The Cult

You can't build an evil regime just by manipulating the general populace, of course. You need a core of devoted followers. And the key to recruitment is to emphasize the glamorous aspects whilst downplaying the ugly truth. You also need snazzy uniforms and good-looking representatives.

Enter the skiers.

Several images come to mind when you think about skiing: There's the sharp-looking clothes, of course, worn by universally attractive skiers; then there's the ultra-comfy, socially elite ski lodge with its blazing fire and happy faces. Last on the list comes actual skiing, but even that has been carefully presented to potential recruits. Google images for "skiing" and see what you get: People flying through the air, a cluster of skiers at the top of the slope, some folks on a ski lift, etc. You will never see a shot of what skiing actually looks like from the perspective of someone in the middle of the slope, looking down at all that cold, wet, pointless nastiness.

Hijacking Christmas

Perhaps their most impressive propaganda coup is the appropriation of Christmas themes. What does the North Pole have to do with baby Jesus? Why does Santa have to travel by sleigh? To children, Santa Claus is the most universally recognized figure in the western world, he brings them presents for free, and his entire routine depends on snow.

That's sick and twisted.

And in case that weren't enough, listen to the titles and lyrics of three-quarters of what passes for "Christmas Music". It's all about the snow: Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, and the sinister, eponymous Let it Snow!

The Masters

So who are the conspirators? What powerful group of men is executing these murders and reaping the benefits?

Not men at all, but snowmen:

Kind of obvious when you think about it. Two prominent-but-reclusive cartoonists, Bill Amend and Bill Watterson, have tried their best to call our attention to these monsters without being snowed under themselves. They have met with limited success. Curiously, Watterson has no licensing deals for Calvin and Hobbes. Mysteriously, Amend has stopped writing dailies for Foxtrot. Plainly, both men have been caught by the Cabal of Snow and hushed up.

The panel above, from Watterson, may suggest the only reason that any of us are still alive. The Demons of Snow frequently turn their dark magicks on one another, no doubt fighting for power within the Snow Hierarchy. I shiver (pun intended) to think what will happen to humanity if a single faction wins out.

22 December 2010

Um... er... ah...

Most of us here know each other - even if we are just ships that pass through blogosphere - and most of us are aspiring to be authors (or may even be authors already). So, having established that I'm amongst if not friends, then at least like-minded individuals, then I am fairly comfortable with admitting that some days (er, probably most days actually), I don't have a clue what I am doing. Being me, that's not really a surprise, and not even an insurmountable problem. But there is a problem nonetheless. What do you do when aside from the normal I-Don't-Know-What-The-Heck-I'm-Going-To-Do-So-I'll-Just-Wing-It approach, you also have a great big neon sign flashing in your brain that says STUMPED?

Depending what you are working on, this state of inactivity can cause anything between mild irritation and sheer panic. Unfortunately, I get this a lot, and because it is in my nature to panic, I end up getting really stressed. I've always been an 'up and down' person, but because I've been that way for as far back as I can remember, I never really thought about why I was this way. My recent diagnosis of episodic depression at least explains the why of it, but it doesn't really help me to get anything done.

Obviously not everyone will suffer the same problems that I do, but I'm betting that every single writer out there has periods of inactivity, or 'dry spells' as it were. So how do we counteract this? I know a few people who have strategies to cope, but they don't really work for me because a lot of the time it is lethargy that keeps me from writing. Add to that a predisposition to make things up as I go along, anything that sounds remotely like a plan is liable to send me running in the opposite direction anyway.

Take today's blog post. You may notice that it's just over four hours late going up (which I apologise for, by the way). It's not that I forgot about it; in fact, I was panicking about this week's 'Writing Wednesday' post about three seconds after I posted last week's 'Reading Monday' post (which I also panicked about for about a week prior to writing it, by the way). And the more I stress out and procrastinate, the less inclined I am to do anything about it.

It's hard, really hard. I honestly love writing, I really do, but some days it can feel like a chore, and when you are working on something that you probably won't get paid for (for those of us yet to be published, that is), the last thing you want is to feel that way. When you write, you should enjoy it, not least because you are likely to produce drivel if you don't have any enthusiasm.

I get stumped on just about everything. In fact, my dry spells are at least three times as long as my 'flowing' spells. *rolls eyes at self*  With my blog posts, I usually manage to come up with something - even though they tend to be rambles - and I think the only reason I am able to scrape a few paragraphs together is because I am scheduled for them. There is a deadline (even if I am a few hours late *shifty*). So coming from a writer who is regularly stumped, and dithers far too much for her own good, I have one very big piece of writing advice. You'll have heard it before, and you'll most likely hear it again, but that doesn't matter because it is such a strong piece of advice that it bears repeating.

Give Yourself A Deadline!!!

Yup, that's my advice. It really works. I've been dithering over editing last year's NaNo novel for, well, a year, and although I've given myself deadlines, they've always been the Finish Editing By Blah Blah If I Can, But Don't Worry If I Don't kind of deadlines. Even as I was saying the words (or typing them), a little gremlin in the back of my mind was tittering and rolling their eyes.

However, my blog posts for BB&B are scheduled, and if I miss them I let the whole group down. That's not an option. I can post a little late, or in sheer panic ask to swap a day, or maybe beg a few ideas, but I can't miss. I haven't blogged for a month on my own blog, yet I managed to blog every day of October for it. The reason? I had requests for each and every blog post for that particular month, and people were expecting to read my rambles on the topics they'd given me. Yup, accountability really shifts your butt. Not writing my own stuff, or not editing a half-decent novel, only lets me down, so I can procrastinate as much as I can. Can't really feel guilty when the only person my dithering affects is me, after all. But letting other people down is another thing altogether. So along with deadlines, I'd also suggest promising a few nearest and dearest that you'll finish whatever it is you are working on.

Deadlines and guilt trips. Works for me. (Erm, sometimes *shifty*).

Image courtesy of publicdomainimagesdotnet

21 December 2010

A Christmas Carol

When I was growing up, learning English, it took me a while to understand who this Carol was, and why she was so Christmassy. Once I figured out that a carol was just another word for song, however (slightly disappointing, I must admit), it all made much more sense. What still doesn’t make sense, though, are the titles of the carols. Just look at the list below:

The Twelve Days of Christmas 
Which twelve days are we talking about? Even in Norway, where we do our best to stretch every holiday as long as we can, where many people take time off between Christmas and New Year, Christmas only lasts for a week. You can perhaps stretch it to eight or nine days, depending on whether you count the night before Christmas Eve (“Little Christmas Eve” as we like to call it) and the day after New Years (“Hangover”), but still… Twelve? I wish!

Ding Dong Merrily on High
Well, someone’s been on a high, alright…

Deck the Halls
I’m confused. While I realize the lyrics imply that the halls (which halls? All of them?) shall be covered with boughs of holly, the dictionary suggests many alternative meanings for this word. Such as

1. A platform extending horizontally from one side of a ship to the other.
a. A platform or surface likened to a ship's deck.
b. A roofless, floored structure, typically with a railing, that adjoins a house.
c. The roadway of a bridge or an elevated freeway.
a. A pack of playing cards.
b. A group of data processing cards.
4. A tape deck.
5. Slang A packet of narcotics.
tr.v. decked, deck·ing, decks
1. To furnish with or as if with a deck.
2. Slang To knock down: He decked his sparring partner.
(From The Free Dictionary by Farlex

How, then, can we be absolutely sure we're doing the right thing according to this carol. Are we supposed to build a roofless, floored structure of holly, or perhaps this is a proposal to get into drugs! I’m particularly fond of the implications of the last suggestion – let’s knock down the halls with holly! (though I imagine it might take some time…)

Silent Night
The “silent” night this title refers to is the one when Jesus was born. Now, I have only been present at one birth (my own), and thus I am no expert, but I believe it is common knowledge that giving birth is not a particularly silent affair. And Mary’s delivery took place millennia before epidural was an option, so I’m guessing the Holy Mother got to test her vocal chords that night. But “A Night Filled With the Agony Screams of a Virgin” probably wasn’t considered an appropriate title back in 1818 when this song was written…

O Tannenbaum
O Wunderbaum?
While this title actually makes perfectly sense in the original German, it always makes me giggle. Why? Well, simply because it reminds me an awful lot about the little air “fresheners” known as Little Tree, or Wunderbaum

White Christmas
You can dream all you want, Bing, but with the global climate change threat hanging over all of our heads, I don’t think it’s very likely the dream will come true. Well, except for here, in Norway, where it already is white, and it has been for a while. But even if the Christmas Present isn’t a prime example, many Christmasses Past (and many Future, I fear) were green, or grey, or brown or whatever variety your non-snowy Christmas will take.

Let It Snow
(see above)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
While this song technically ends well (they find a use for Rudolf, after all), I don’t like the fact that Rudolph’s red nose has to be a factor at all. After all, he probably only has a really bad sinus infection, and after having been on a 100-a-day Kleenex prescription for a few days I can assure you that’s no picnic. I wouldn’t want a song written about my red nose, so I’m guessing Rudolph isn’t to cheery either.  

Little Drummer Boy?

The Little Drummer Boy
I think it is good that someone else than the lead singer gets some attention, I really do. However, I have no idea what this has to do with Christmas.

The only one that really makes sense is the good, old “The Christmas Song”. No confusion there. It’s pretty straightforward, really – it’s Christmas, and this is the song that accompanies it. The Christmas Song. Even if the title makes sense, however, I question the lyrics. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” First of all – if you’re roasting something, you ought to make sure there isn’t so much a fire as embers. If you try to roast something while there is still a fire, it will only taste smoke. Secondly, I’ve always imagined that roasted chestnuts would taste amazing, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in my life as I was when I actually tried it. It tasted… Well, it tasted like they’d been roasted over an open fire (not embers). It was almost like eating charcoal (not that I’ve tried). I don’t recommend it. 

So there. If you thought Christmas was crazy, I have now presented the evidence. But no worries – it’s almost over, and it will be a whole year before we have to consider Christmas for “Topical Tuesday” again…

20 December 2010

Christmas Reads

Okay, so I am totally tardy and apologize. I have GREAT plans for NEXT WEEK but somehow forgot all about this week… forgive me please… I have editing brain.

As to this week’s post, I thought I’d go with some Christmas stories… seems fitting, ne? [I should probably admit beforehand, too, that in spite of Christmas having a specific meaning to Christians, I have geared toward more secular themes here.]

The Night Before Christmas

I had this story memorized at age 2—my mother thought I was actually reading. I loved it THAT MUCH. I can still say most of it (and periodically embarrass my children by breaking into it). When I was a kid cadence was EVERYTHING and this book has fabulous cadence and such a fun tale…

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Like all Seuss, this one ALSO has great cadence, but it is one of those I really prefer to WATCH. The book just doesn’t get across the same evil of the Grinch or evoke the same sympathy for Max.

The Polar Express

This book has beautiful art and a great story, though I confess it doesn’t meet my cadence junkie needs… but in terms of a more modern tale, this is one of the better ones.

And for older readers

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is one of those that I have seen MANY times and in many iterations and love the story, but I haven’t actually read it. I probably should…

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This one isn’t JUST Christmas, but there is an important Christmas theme running through it—I think it is a good one to read around this time to make us all appreciate what is really important.

And though I haven’t read this next one… when I looked to see if there were adult Christmas book recommendations, I ran across one that I now HAVE TO FIND”

Holidays on Ice: Stories- David Sedaris

I’ve read enough Sedaris to know that this HAS to be fall-down funny, and I think I’ve heard essays from it on NPR—it includes an essay about working as an elf in a department store.

17 December 2010

It's the same date every year...

Okay, so I got out of the whole my-imaginary-friend-is-better-than-your-imaginary-friend mess years ago, but my family is still all about the Xmas. Which means that, like a couple billion people around the planet, I have to find presents for them (and my friends, of course, because I wouldn't even be approximating sane without them). However, I am a Knitter, with a capital "K", and therefore I make as many of my gifts as possible (especially this year, when I have very little money and yet giant heaping piles of yarn that I've been stashing away). You guys have probably figured out where this is going already, haven't you?


I'm totally not done knitting gifts yet.

Now, I know perfectly well that the damned thing falls on the same date every year, and therefore I should be capable of proper advance planning and get everything worked out and knitted well in advance so I can bask in the glory of completion (preferably with a nice mug of hot mulled cider in hand). However, this doesn't factor in two things, one of which I deal with all the time (procrastination) and the other - well, see, it's like this:

Those friends I mentioned above? I love them dearly. And some of them have been busily reproducing this year, which means - you guessed it - I've been knitting baby things instead of Xmas presents. Now, I don't begrudge 'em for a moment, because I have the absolute most wonderful friends on the whole planet (I am reasonably certain of this, because they live all over the planet). Wanna see what I've been coming up with?

This is a Baby Surprise sweater (check out the dino buttons!!! Win!!!) that I made for my friend Sonya's third child (and second son) Rowen. Despite the fact that it is worked entirely in garter stitch (for non-knitters, that's the easiest possible thing to do - you just make the knit stitch over and over and over and over until you're ready to scream) and has only two short seams, it's also got 6 stitches to the inch and it took forever (partly due to the boring stitch). But it turned out looking pretty good if I do say so myself (and besides, come on, DINOSAUR BUTTONS!!!).

However, notice that I said it was her third child (which is terrifying in SOOO many ways - we've been friends since we were freshmen in college)? Being an older sibling myself (though fortunately only to one), there is no WAY I'm leaving big sis Makenna and middle bro Caden out of the gifting - so they got sweaters too. Here they are:

So a zippered jacket on the one hand, and a cotton denim gansey on the other. Those weren't small projects, either, despite the fact that they're for a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. A word of advice - never attempt to sew in a zipper when you're tired. :-P

Another friend (whom I've known even longer - since I was 15 or so) had a second baby due this fall too. Since he and his wife were being stinkers and not finding out if it would be a boy or a girl, I had to go gender-neutral. Fine, I said. If you people are going to make me knit in yellow, then you're getting a duck! Heh. It still makes me smile to look at it. Anyway, Ruby Joy arrived healthy and beautiful, but as mentioned above, was also a younger child... so for big bro Harold, in honour of his Aussie mum...

A koala hat! And mittens. I couldn't resist the googly eyes, either, but I certainly sewed them on with a ridiculously redundant amount of yarn. And probably thread too. And knotted it a whole bunch of times, just to be extra sure. Oh, and that's Australian merino wool as well, because seriously, knitting an Australian marsupial with American or even British yarn just does not seem like the thing to do, you know?

Okay, so that explains part of it. Then there are the birthday presents (one of which I still haven't finished... eurgh...), the most pressing of which being for my dad, who has the unbridled temerity to have a December birthday. I mean, honestly, as if I didn't have enough to do this month! So I borrowed my best friend's husband to go tool shopping (I can safely say on here that I got him some fancy-pants thing that has about a zillion different attachments {for screwdrivers, socket wrenches, and who-knows-what} because he honestly doesn't know how to use the internet), but still am only about 3 1/2 feet into a scarf that should be close to 6 feet long. Then there's the belly sweater for the aforementioned BFF, 'cause I'm barred from making more baby stuff until she hits her third trimester. Okaaaaaaaaay... I can handle that, I suppose.

And then there's the giant bag o' hats I take in to work on the 21st with a sign reading "Happy Solstice - have a hat". I think I have 6 or 7 so far. Gotta do a few more...

Hell, what am I doing writing a blog post? I need to KNIT!!!!

16 December 2010

Guest: Rubeus Hagrid!

This is a major coup--the fact that we Burrowers have some truly impressive connections. I first met Rubeus Hagrid in person a couple years ago when I was a staff member for a monthly online rag called The Quibbler.  Hagrid had a section called Kreecher Feetcher, in which he would share with us more in depth details on certain creatures.  We asked him to do a little version here on Burrowers, Books and Balderdash having to do with Christmassy Creatures.

So without further ado, Rubeus Hagrid!  *endures rib-cracking hug*

Hagrid's December Kreecher Feetcher

It’s that tyme agin, another month and another Kreecher Feetcher at yer service. I have a reel surprise fer all my magikal reeders out there; this month’s feetcher is all abowt “Christmas Kreechers”. So pour yerself a nice cup o’ tea and get ready fer a real treat.

Last month I took a hike up in the mountains to visit my half brother, Grawp. On my way up, I had a fantastic exchange with a jarvey ( foul mouthed weasels), whom I have affecshunatly named Effie as “F” seems ter be her favorite letter. She had followed me fer a few miles callin’ me all sorts of funny little names when I finally stuck her in my pocket. She seemed right comfortable there, so she’s been my travelin’ companion ever since. After New Year’s though, I’m startin’ her on some lessons to get her speakin’ like a proper lady.

I also had the rare oppurtoonity to have a run in with a reel life yeti. Tha’s right, an abominable snowman! Let me start with sayin’ that their size has been greatly exajurated—this one weren’t no bigger than me! Aside from that though, their description by Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them jus’ abowt does ‘em up right. It was a bit like yours truly-- big, mad, and hairy!!! I tried to calmly walk up to it, but the beast wasn’t havin’ none of that. He must have been protectin’ a nest of baby snowballs, because he charged us barin’ his fangs and claws like a Veela in a tizzy. I would have a nice picture fer ya, but I can’t figure out how to work this camera the Quibbler supplied me with. If You can imagine it through, it looked a bit like a smallish mountain troll covered in white fur and the face of a Manticore. Now, I won’t go so far as ter say they are mean kreechers exactly; jus’ misunderstood is all. I’m sure there was a perfectly good reason he was tryin’ to make snow kabobs outta Effie and me—I bet he was tired and jus’ didn’t know his own strength when he threw that spruce at our backside! 
Not too much is known about yeti’s in general. European yetis are mostly found in Tibet, but the American Yeti ventures all over the upper and lower porshens o’ the continent. The South American yeti has been a thorn in the ministry’s side fer years as it keeps getting’ seen by muggles who like ter call it “Big Foot”. 

Fortunately, most muggles think it’s all a bunch of codswallop and dismiss the yeti as crazy talk.

I know a lot o’ my young reeders are wanting ter know abowt a certain type o’ reindeer that can fly and pull a sled full o’ toys. This kreecher is a bit trickier than the others, and you won’t find them in any book abowt magical kreechers because they aren’t naturally magic at all. Hopefully I can explain this properly. Reindeer aren’t so much deer as they are a funny mixed bag o’ kreechers. Ya see, a long time ago there were herds o’ centaur that lived in the very northern regions o’ Europe and America. Their numbers dwindled very low due to a tragic misreadin’ of a planetary line-up in sky. Many were forced to wander alone, and centaurs aren’t used to travelin’ like that—they’re meant ter be in a herd. Anyway, long story short, bein’ alone wasn’t workin’ for ‘em. Most of these scragglers went a bit loopy and took up with the native caribou herds, which later led to “reindeer”. All reindeer really are is caribou that talk. Reindeer have slightly different tradishuns than centaurs do. They don’t hold much stock in the stars and planets and what not, but they do have their own form of divination that focuses on the Northern Lights. They can’t fly either, but a good hover charm can trick a muggle just as good as any. Anyway, that’s what reindeer are and if ye ever happen ter meet one, don’t menshun Rudolph. His kind see him as a bit of a show boat. And don’t go askin’ yer friendly neighborhood centaur abowt reindeer either, cause they don’t like ter discuss them at all.

What abowt Santa’s elves you ask? Well, this won’t be much of a shock to most of you, but some o’ the muggle-born’s may be interested to know. Christmas elves aren’t no different than any other common house elf. The cloth that a house elf wears varees regionally; tha’s why many pictures of them show red and green colored outfits. Sorry to let ya down, but house elfs are nifty little kreechers any how and they are definitely more than capable of fillin’ yer Christmas stockings!

Well, that’s it fer this month’s feetcher. I hope you enjoyed it. Be sure to come back next month for a feetcher on Golden Snidget to celebrate the start of Quidditch season! Have yerself a great hollyday and have a pint o’ Christmas cheer fer me!

Hagrid is channeled by Burrow Buddy Marissa Montano

15 December 2010

Writing Wednesday - Memorable Characters


When my kids were younger, they were addicted to the British TV show, Bob the Builder. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely), their favorite characters were not Bob, or his partner Wendy - it was Scoop, the yellow loader, and Dizzy, the orange concrete mixer, who captured their imagination. On one memorable occasion when, in a misguided attempt at bonding, my husband wrongly identified a machine, my then three year old piped up, "Papa, you know nothing. That is Lofty, not Roley. Roley says 'Rock and roll'!!!"

The creators of the show knew a thing or two about creating memorable characters. Not only were the machines all different, they had different colors, and distinct personalities. You could argue that the characterizations were rather simplistic - Lofty the hesitant blue crane, Roley the cool green roadroller, Muck the impetuous green bulldozer, Dizzy the baby of the lot and Scoop the leader of the gang. But the key to creating memorable characters for children is to bring on the differences.

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Pluto - even a kid can tell them apart. And kids are supposed to tell them apart. Archie Andrews the carrot top, Jughead Jones with the crown hat, Betty Cooper with her blond ponytail, Veronica Lodge with her slick black hair, Big Moose, and Reggie Mantle with his shiny black hair - there is no way you can get them mixed up.

But what if your audience is slightly older than children? Do you still concentrate on the physical and obvious personality differences?

Yes, and No. Think J.K. Rowling, a lady who has captured the imagination of billions with her memorable characters.
Harry Potter - untidy black hair, green eyes, lightning bolt-shaped scar on forehead
Ron Weasley - bright red hair, freckles, tall and gangly
Hermione Granger - bushy brown hair, brown eyes, large teeth

Hard to get them mixed up. Now double the number -
Three girls - one blond, one brunette, one red-haired
Three boys - one blond, one black haired, one red-haired

Still easy to keep apart for the simple reason they are physically so diverse. If you increase the number to include the entire Dumbledore's Army, you find that you can still keep the characters apart - the Houses the students belong to slot them to some extent, and the uniqueness is nailed down by providing one or two physical characteristics that keep them apart - Susan Bones and her blond plait and famous Aunt anyone?

But what if the characters are not too different? What if they look alike and behave alike? What if they are twins? Identical twins? Twins so similar in looks and temperament that even their mother cannot always tell them apart? What if they are Greg and Forge?

Fred and George Weasley are so unique they cannot be mistaken for anyone else. They look alike, think alike, act alike, even play in the same position in Quidditch. Or do they? Hasn't Fred always been the more impetuous one, and George the slightly calmer one? Hasn't it always been Fred who threw the first punch when it came to defending Harry Potter. Could George have come up with the memorable line, "Oi! Angelina! Do you want to come to the ball with me?"

Much as you did not want to think about it, wasn't it always obvious that the only Weasley kid who would not come out alive from the 'Final Battle' would be Fred? Fred could not have been left behind to mourn George; six books were spent preparing us for the inevitability of George having to come to terms with the loss of his twin.

Is there a lesson in it for all of us? Yes, of course. Characters make or break a book. People rarely re-read a book for the plot, but they always re-read a book for the characters. And the key to writing memorable characters is making sure they can be told apart, and then allowing them to grow.

Harry, Hermione, Ron
Fred and Geroge Weasley

14 December 2010

Topical Tuesday: Wikileaks strikes me

If you haven't heard about Wikileaks by now, then you obviously aren't connected to the Internet... which means you must be reading this from a printout that a friend made because you're both such big fans of the blog. Wow. Thanks!

So, having embarrassed the U.S. federal government (is that so hard, really?), the folks at Wikileaks have apparently gained the confidence to come after yours truly. It seems like a lot to take on at once, right? But when I inquired with my lawyer about the possibility of legal action, he pointed out that any action I might take against the 'Leakers would be like a crippled baby vulture trying to peck some flesh from a wounded moose that's surrounded by a pack of ravening sharks. He's obviously not a nature guy, but you get the point.

Now, I'm normally pretty careful with important documents, but in a way, that's what led to my downfall. I had most of my hard drive backed up with a remote data service, and they got hacked by a third party who sent my stuff to Wikileaks. My lawyer strongly advised me not to give the name of this remote data service, as they apparently can't be held liable and I cannot prove negligence. Personally, I think my lawyer is dating one of their lawyers, but if true, all the more reason to take his advice, right?

I considered paying blackmail, if a reasonable offer where made. But my lawyer strongly advised against that, saying that funds would be much more effective if spent on legal counsel. Surprise. Said lawyer also suggested that I could mitigate the damage by preemptively posting the most embarrassing documents myself, in a format where I would have a chance to present some kind of defense. He then advised me that his "suggestion" was just that, and not legal advice per se, so if the attempt failed miserably it was on my own head.

Nonetheless, it seems like a good idea. So here I present a representative sample of the documents that I expect Wikileaks to be posting within the next few weeks. I beg of you, do not judge me too harshly. Remember that I am not some silicon monolith, impervious to harm, but a mere human being-- weak, flawed, sensitive, and squishy.

Let's start with my email archives. There are quite a few things like this, which don't look so bad at first glance:

From: Joyce Baxter To: Jason Drake
Subject: Re: Re: Dinner tomorrow!

Oh no! Well, you have to take care of family. I hope she gets better

Love, Joyce

----- Original Message -----
From: Jason Drake
To: Joyce Baxter
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2010 11:08 PM
Subject: Re: Dinner tomorrow!

Bad news. My grandma is in the hospital. I can't make it. :-(

----- Original Message -----
From: Joyce Baxter
To: Jason Drake
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2010 6:32 PM
Subject: Dinner tomorrow!

I'm on my way to pick up mom & dad at the airport. See you tomorrow night
at six. They're excited to meet you!


But then there's more:

From: Alan Redlan To: Jason Drake
Subject: Re: Re: Moving Day

Bummer, dude. Well, I'm sure you tried. Take care.
- Al

----- Original Message -----
From: Jason Drake
To: Alan Redlan
Sent: Friday, May 28, 2010 9:31 AM
Subject: Re: Moving Day

Bad news. My grandma is in the hospital. I can't make it. :-(

----- Original Message -----
From: Alan Redlan
To: catmatch31, Jason Drake, Cindy Lane, tankman, goose_catcher
Sent: Thursday, May 27, 2010 8:15 PM
Subject: Moving Day

Hey, gang, we're all set. Let's meet at my old place Saturday morning at 8. With
everyone pitching in, it shouldn't take too long. Pizza is on me. Thanks again!

Well, I'm sorry. Who doesn't fib a little? But I've already got my comeuppance:

From: Silverlady To: Jason Drake
Subject: Re: Re: Missed you today

Thanks for your concern, dear. But I'm feeling just fine.
See you Tuesday.


----- Original Message -----
From: Jason Drake
To: Silverlady
Sent: Monday, July 19, 2010 5:02 PM
Subject: Re: Missed you today

Bad news. My grandma is in the hospital. I can't make it. :-(

----- Original Message -----
From: Silverlady
To: Jason Drake
Sent: Monday, July 19, 2010 4:00 PM
Subject: Missed you today

Hi, Jason. I thought you were going to mow my lawn today??????
Can you make it tomorrow?????

At least with email, you have the expectation that other people are reading your words. But I also use my computer for a personal journal, writing down ideas, and stuff like that. It's really just a way of recording some thoughts, which makes publication of documents like this a pretty unfair intrusion:


Online Dating
Pro: Can tweak images before uploading so those shallow tarts will have a chance to judge me on my inner qualities
Con: Deceitful witches likely to use altered images, making it hard to weed out the uglies

Church, general
Pro: Good for weeding out freaks with lots of piercings and tattoos
Con: Insincere intentions could lead to eternal damnation

Pro: Nice, virtuous women
Con: No easy women. Will have to buy the cow before tasting the milk

Pro: Colorful services with lots of music; mass has good production value
Con: Tithing

Pro: Women desperate for same-faith partners are notoriously easy
Con: Honestly have no idea if the above is true, just saw it in a movie

Pro: Unusually high percentage of buxom women
Con: Will have to spend rest of life taking coffee on the sly

Pro: Easy access, lots of interaction
Con: Can't lie about my job

Star Trek Conventions
Con: No actual women
Pro: But, still, I'd be at a Trek convention, which is awesome

Just idle, random thoughts. Think of it as more like a dream I can't control than a collection of actual opinions and plans. Also, if anyone has any novel ideas, please share.

Next comes the following, which-- at first glance-- is a little too organized to be classified as "idle musing":

Folks, I was testing out some spreadsheet functions. That's it. There is nothing "real" about that document. I swear!

Finally, the worst of the lot: poetry. Most of us think of poetry as something that shows up in literature books, or gets read at an inauguration. But a lot of people write poems that are never intended to be published or shared in any way. It's just an outlet for personal feelings.


Carroll and Schneider had made their plan
And watched the NFL draft unfurl
When the time came for pick number eight
They took Okung, he's solid, great
But at fourteen came Thomas, Earl!

Safeties are rarely drafted so high
Had the front office botched the deal?
Earl was young, but manly
And his instincts, uncanny
He might actually be a steal!

By opening day, Earl was the starter
He took the field in a streak of blue light
With the veteran Milloy, he'd get things done
They were like the holy Father and Son
Leading the glorious fight!

The San Diego Chargers came to town
A frightening offensive juggernaut
Thundering down the field, again and again
The hated Chargers seemed destined to win
Their quarterback's hand was hot

Seattle lost the lead, but took it once more
As the clock ran down, the Chargers needed a score
Again came the storm of passes complete
Against a secondary that was tired and beat
But on the goal line in this hour so trying
Patrolled mighty Earl, with dreadlocks a-flying
He shadowed a receiver-- an incomplete throw!
The Chargers had but one down to go
They huddled up and made their best call
The quarterback dropped, made a perfect read
Hurled the football with precision and speed
And Earl intercepted the ball!

Okay, I love Earl Thomas. There. I said it. But ninety-nine out of ninety-five Seattle Seahawk fans would say the same (four will be drunk and repeat themselves). I mean, look at this guy play! That's not even his best pick, and only one of two against the Chargers!

Well, that's that. If my humiliation isn't complete, it will be after I pay this bill from my lawyer.