31 March 2011

The End of the World

Tsunami in Japan. Revolution in Libya. Girls stoned to death in Bangladesh. Kids abused in shelter homes in India.
Cobra escaped from a New York zoo. Leopard trapped in a Mumbai drain.

You would think people could have their pick of news. But the one thing that has taken over every living, breathing moment of over a billion people for almost a week is none of those. It is something that transcends all of that. It is something that features Gods and devils. It is the End of the World. It is WAR!

Yesterday, India took on traditional rivals Pakistan in a game of cricket. Get that? A. Game. Of. Cricket. Yes, just a game. A game which is played in barely 25 countries across the world. A game!!!!

Sure, both India and Pakistan were "on a roll". Sure only one team could have made it to the Finals and have a crack at lifting the World Cup. Sure, it is the last chance for India's finest cricketer to lift the Cup. Sure, sure, sure. But....It. Is. Just. A. Game.

Offices were declaring a holiday, people were planning to wear Blue to support the team, people were going wild with facebook status updates.

But when I mentioned on my status message "Much that it may surprise you to hear it, the world is not coming to an end tomorrow!!!", people still did not get it. I wonder which part of the message was ambiguous, but I had at leat two people call me up and ask me if I was trying to reassure myself that the result of the game did not matter because I was scared that India would lose.

Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, I had only one person back me up (and if you are reading this, you know exactly who you are)!. Everyone else chose to belive that the World was Indeed coming to an End, either way.

Like one otherwise sensible person commented, "how can u guys be so placid. This is not cricket. Cricket is when india plays with anybody else. With Pak...it is a war!!"


Get real, guys. Cricket is a game. Just. A. Game. It is not War. Cannot be War. Should not be War.

It had to happen sooner or later. In fact, knowing me and my big mouth and even bigger opinions, I am surprised it did not happen earlier, much earlier. I freaked! On Facebook! On my own wall on Facebook.

This is not War. War is when you are fighting for your Values, for your Freedom, for your Land, for Riches. War is a high stakes game, where people get hurt. War is the catalyst that forces negotiations to happen. Cricket. Is. Just. A. Game.

But more than that, do the people who speak of War even realize that by bickering with Pakistan, India is pulling herself to Pakistan's level. Pakistan is still an underdeveloped Third World Country. India is spoken as one of the Political and Economic Success Stories. War with China, I can start to condone, but a war with Pakistan? Disregarding the military might of the two countries, if India takes on Pakistan, I would call it "bullying", not "War".

Anyway, India won the match (even though I am not the only one who thinks it was fixed). The World did not come to an End. The Finals against Sri Lanka will be anti-climatic. I refuse to be sucked into the Mass Delusion. Cricket is just a game, and I would rather be out running some miles, or kicking a few balls than watching a bunch of overpaid models strut about a cricket green.

Or maybe I will do something that provided me unlimited amusement during THE WAR- follow the game, not on TV or live streaming, but through Facebook Status updates. The real winners were not the Men in Blue, the real winners were the mobile service providers- they must have done more business in one evening than they did in the rest of the month put together.

And who knows, maybe the World will come to an End if India loses the next match?

And since this song refuses to refuses to go away, I am inflicting it on all of you.

Happy Non Delusional Thursday.

30 March 2011

Writing Wednesday: Constructive Criticism

Recently, a friend asked if I could give her some feedback on a PowerPoint presentation for her education class. I agreed to help her since I have some experience creating PowerPoints for my Smartboard lessons and have been teaching for about twelve years now (maybe thirteen, I lose count). She uploaded the file and went through each slide of her presentation. I told her that she had wonderful images to go with the information on Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, the topic of the presentation. I also gave a "warm" feedback on the organization of the material and the accuracy of the content. So when I gave her "cool" feedback, this is how the conversation occurred:

"I like that you want to include as much information as possible in your PowerPoint.  But, you have a little too much information on each slide. I think you should pare it down to a few key phrases and you do most of the description or definition of the material."

"Well, I think I have a great PowerPoint," my friend replied.

"I think it's a great PowerPoint too. But, when people see too much info on a slide they tend to shut down. Also, if all the info is on the slide, they can read it themselves. It would be unnecessary for you to be up there. Try to break those sentence-long bullets to just three to six words," trying to sound less offensive.

"Well, it was good and this is what I'm going to present," she states as she yanks the flash drive out the USB port.

"Are you going to show Ms. R., so she can put in sound like you wanted?" I inquired.

"No.  I'm not showing anyone else," she replied abruptly.

"Okay," and I turned my attention towards my lessons for the day.

I often see this behavior with my students. I give them two positive or "warm" comments and one suggestion for improvement. I get resistance because they feel that their work is the best and there is no need for improvement. They are not cognizant of the fact that there is always room for growth. My friend, on the other hand, is much older than I am and should know that suggestions for improvement can help to enhance an individual's work, whether it be a PowerPoint or piece of writing.

As writers, we can always improve in one area or another. As individuals, we must be adaptable. Life is all about change, whether it's a situation or a personal quality within oneself. I feel like I offended my friend but then again, she did ask for feedback. I tried to be as honest and unoffensive as possible. Next time, if there is a next time, she asks for help, I will respectfully decline and refer back to this particular situation.

What are some ways that you give feedback?
How do people in your life handle constructive criticism?
Do you think I could have provided feedback in a way that would have been more constructive?
I'd really like to know.

29 March 2011

Mr & Mrs Fanfare

I'm pretty sure I did a 'Topical Tuesday' post quite recently, as I seem to remember wondering what the heck I would do for it. Ok, so I usually wonder what the heck I'm going to do for all of my blog posts, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, with all the serious stuff that is going on at the moment, there is no shortage of topics to choose from.

In Britain, there is the current high profile murder investigation to fill our news bulletins, not to mention the capture of a serial rapist and murderer. Worldwide, we have the conflict in Libya and the ongoing troubles of the tsunami-struck Japan dominating the headlines.

Swing back to Britain again, and we are also being bombarded with something else. There is drama, hype, people wondering how their last weekend in April is going to go, joy over an extra bank holiday weekend... the papers are filled with pictures and bold headlines, each one trying to out-do everyone else in their quest to inform the general public about The Event Of The Year.

Yup, Britain is about to enter the month of The Royal Wedding. HRH Prince William is weeks away from marrying his long term girlfriend, Kate Middleton.

Oh lordy, I really don't mean to offend anyone, but who cares? I mean, seriously? I've got nothing against young Will - he seems like a good bloke who is rather refreshingly down to earth for a member of the royal family. And as for Ms Middleton, she seems a nice girl. The prolific amount of pictures of them together seem to portray a young couple who share genuine affection. No, I definitely don't have a problem with them, just the whole Hoo Ha that surrounds them.

The thing is, I'm not really a fan of the royal family. I don't actively dislike them or anything, I just don't really see the appeal. A hundred years ago I would probably have been a huge 'fan', but in this era, I think the appeal of having a royal family has worn off. There are just too many celebrities out there who live the high life, and it was the privileges of the royal families of years gone by that made them so different to the common people, and thus made them so fascinating.

The hype for this particular royal wedding is huge. We don't get many high profile royal weddings - the younger Windsors seem to have an aversion to them (not without foundation when you look at their parents' marital history) - and this one is definitely 'worthy' of attention as Wills is second in line to the throne. But the last two weddings of upper-end royalty (Princes Andrew and Edward) didn't have the same media coverage as young William. I don't think anyone who was alive for Prince Charles and Lady Diana's 1981 nuptials could ever experience the same level of hype, but I do believe that William, being the elder son of that union, may yet come close to outshining his mother's 'fairytale' wedding. We have tea towels and mugs, commemorative sticker albums... and no doubt there will be several ten-page souvenir pull-outs from all of the daily papers when the big day arrives. Public houses are to be given a one-day only relaxation of the licensing hours, just so that people can raise a few more glasses to our future King and Queen.


People want something to feel positive about, I guess. As much as I understand the reason for the hype, I just don't get it. They are people, the same as you and me, regardless of whether their blood is red or 'blue', and regardless of their family circumstances. Will and Kate seem like a nice couple, and I wish them joy and a very long and happy marriage. But I would wish the very same thing to any couple that are about to tie the knot.

Needless to say, you won't be seeing any Will and Kate tea towels or mugs in my kitchen...

Pictures 'borrowed' from this web page, I certainly claim no ownership of them. :)

28 March 2011

Awesome Aussie Fantasy

Let's get one thing clear right at the beginning here - I live in the (not-so) United States, and therefore have a generally northern-hemisphere outlook on the world, in regards to things like when seasons occur (as in, it's spring, not autumn, at the moment) and getting colder as you go north, and stuff like that. Most of what I read was written in the States or in Europe as well, so no prizes for guessing that they just reinforce all that. However, there is some amazing world-building going on Down Under (okay, and in New Zealand too, but that didn't have the nice assonance for the title) that more people up here on this half of the globe should go and read! As usual, I'm heavy on the YA stuff, but I'm still insisting that when it's done well, categorizations be damned - just read it!

Eon/Eona - Alison Goodman

I've talked about this one before, but the sequel does look like it's actually going to come out quite soon now (19 April, at least here in the US) and this makes me very excited. In addition to the extremely cool zodiac-based dragon mythology and general world-building (which feels like a pre-industrial Asia, kinda), there are all kinds of characters that are generally absent or marginalized, especially in books written for kids; just for starters, the main character is crippled (and in disguise, and cross-dressed {at least at first}), one of her close confidants really is transgender, and one of the eunuchs has a tendresse for her while we're at it. Well-written, nicely original, and I for one will be showing up for work early on the 19th so I can get a jump on reading it before the store opens!

Pellinor - Alison Croggon

High fantasy at its highest (up to and including the preface indicating that this is simply a translation of an ancient but recently discovered work). We've got a system of magic (schools included), a big nasty evil dude, an expansive and richly detailed landscape (with map, of course!), and not least some very engaging and real characters. This is a completed series of four books; I tore through 3 of them in one sitting about two years ago on one of those "oh-my-god-I-can-NOT-get-out-of-bed" sick days and then had to basically hop up and down and wait for the fourth one (which is totally worth it). If you really want to, you can find Tolkien parallels, but seriously, let's just admit that all high fantasy owes him a debt and get on with it. You'll love this.

Dreamhunter - Elizabeth Knox

This is a lovely pair of novels (by the first of the two New Zealanders on my list here). In a country that rather resembles turn-of-the-last-century Australia, there is a place called... well, actually, it's called The Place, which only certain people can enter. Those who can, can bring back dreams, which can then be shared with others back on the outside. Teenage cousins Laura and Rose are preparing for their "try" (when they find out if they can enter or not), and as both are the daughters of famous Dreamers, have high hopes for their abilities. After that, well, things escalate into all kinds of chaos, about which I will tell you nothing at all in hopes of enticing you to pick them up. This is one of the ones that makes my head hurt a little, though, having Xmas celebrations in summer. I know, I know, Northern Hemisphere snobbery...

Margaret Mahy

I've listed a selection of her books here, as she tends to write stand-alones (this is the other Kiwi, by the way). Not all of them are readily available on these shores, but are worth putting out a little effort for. Sometimes it's straight-up fantasy, sometimes it's real-world with a side of magic, sometimes it's got some dystopian aspects, but it's well-written and (despite some quibbles I might raise about time travel paradoxes) highly enjoyable. Alchemy is a particular favourite; I could draw some parallels to Diana Wynne Jones and her Magids, but the setting (present-day New Zealand) has its own appeal as well (yes, Tara, we know all about setting things in New Zealand... ;-) ).

Emily Rodda

This is actually a step down to about the late-elementary grade level, but, well, as usual I don't really care where something is aimed as long as it has a good STORY. Rodda's main output has been based in the land of Deltora, a mythical country whose name is taken from the first letter of the protective gemstones of each of its 7 territories (namely Diamond, Emerald, Lapis Lazuli, Topaz, Opal, Ruby, and Amethyst). The world-building is very detailed (surprisingly so for a series aimed at younger readers), and the characters, who are of varying species but mainly humanoid, are good company. Rondo is another world entirely, one I quite enjoy (there are musical aspects, so big surprise); as far as I know there are two books set here.

Garth Nix

I've listed three different (very different) series here, which will likely appeal to very different readers, but they're all so good and so interesting I had to review the lot. I first discovered Nix with his Abhorsen trilogy, which explores necromancy and magic and power and royalty in a surprisingly accessible way. There's also quite a fabulous cat, which is always a bonus. The Seventh Tower, a series of 6 books, is set in a colour-coded world reminiscent of William Nicolson's or Jasper Fforde's (though I believe Nix got there first). The Keys to the Kingdom is a recently-completed series of 7 books (I admit it, I haven't read the last two yet... even I can't get to everything!) with hints of King Arthur, Dickens, and many more; I'd put it on the border between fantasy and steampunk.

Ranger's Apprentice - John Flanagan

The 10th and (as far as I know) final installment of this series is due to hit US shores on 19 April (just like Eona, above - gads, which one am I going to read first?!?). It's set (mainly) in a thinly-disguised alternate Europe (if you know a few native peoples or older names, you'll have no trouble figuring out what's where) and follows the adventures of (duh) the Ranger's Apprentice, i.e. Will. They're chronological except for #7, which is a flashback, and are great adventure stories with well-developed supporting characters like Halt (the Ranger to whom Will is apprenticed), Horace (a young knight), and Tug (a pony, but a damn smart one). There are numerous revelations along the way about various characters' hidden identities and affections, and though the magic is mainly of a practical variety, I'm still putting it in the fantasy category. Good to curl up with, especially during crappy weather.

As usual, I know I'm leaving some out - Catherine Jinks, Justine Larbalestier, and Juliet Marillier come to mind with no effort at all - but as noted above, even I can't get to everything... and besides, that leaves me room for a second post on this topic!

25 March 2011

Star Tart

[And yes, I'm aware of the tilty shifty thing and thirteenth probable sign. My thinking is THIS though. Over many centuries, trait clusters have been observed... those still exists. Maybe not related to the zodiac animal we thought, but they are there, so I like it as a tool ANYWAY].
So three of us Burrowers have birthdays three days in a row the 4th week of June. Jason is the 22nd, I am the 23rd, and Rayna is the 24th. (We also have writer friends Leigh, the 24th, and Erica the 25th) We three are not necessarily the most 'like' of our bunch (Tara shares my dirty mind (and oddly, uber tolerant kindness—I think they go together), Cruella my humor and Leanne my taste in furry animals—Chary and I probably have the most common lives. Jan is what I'm shooting for when I am a little more enlightened...) but there is something about that 4th week in June... that Cancer on the cusp of Gemini that gives a sort of common ground in perception and approach... a nearly instant recognition that with others sometimes takes a long time to form.

Rayna and I discovered this quite naturally. We were on the same discussion thread back in the Half Blood Prince era of Harry Potter and were discussing the motivations of characters... and we ALWAYS saw it the same. Having the same exact attributional patterns as someone is sort of a strange thing... especially when that person lives halfway across the world. It didn't take long to recognize. It was the Delusional Thursday thing that finally started the conversation that enlighted us that we were both born the 4th Thursday in June...

Now some of you may not know this, but I've had an Astrological HOBBY that started around my first pregnancy. I would never use Astrology to guide my behaviors, but I adore it as an explanation for why people behave certain ways. I know some people who don't fit their profiles at all (though usually, for those few, their Chinese signs take over and fit overly well... don't believe me? Look up Fire Pig and you will find a picture of my mother—that is not to say anything about LITERAL pig—she is NOT, but that personality profile is DEAD ON—so on, that when I showed my stepdad, he couldn't stop laughing)... but I digress (and there was much rejoicing).

So I thought it might be fun, since you are supposedly getting to know me a little, to go through it Astrologically.

Cathedral d'Amiens Vassil
Cancer on the Cusp of Gemini

This constellation in other cultures has sometimes been a turtle... same thing applies, maybe more so. Crusty on the outside, soft in the center... we can seem tough as nails, but feel every emotion. Cancer, ruled by the moon, is most like the tide. A single wave, with some help, can do quite a lot of damage, as we saw in Japan, but that is not a MOON wave. The moon waves, one after the other, however... are what changes the shape of continents... one wave at a time. You see, persistence is my very strongest trait (not unrelated to stubbornness...) the crab will lose a claw before it lets go... but has the resilience VERY unusual in life, that it can grow a new one... this too, is fitting.

I think this need to seem tough, but feeling it all powerfully can be a powerful tool for a writer (or a crazy person). Fortunately, the cusp of Gemini taps that ability to then communicate it.

Unlike my fellow Cancers, I am not particularly HOMEY, (though I do collect people... once loved... you are ALWAYS loved, no matter in which way I love you, which takes a secure partner to tolerate—I had 3 exes at my wedding).

I have noticed in my life, that my successes are due to that Cancer tenacity, but I think my adaptibility in the face of failure has Gemini written on it.

My Virgo Moon

Gemini and Virgo are both ruled by Mercury, the ruler of WISDOM, but while Gemini is the flighty sporadic wisdom of genius, Virgo is the slow, methodical wisdom of trial and error and documentation, and learning by baby steps (not unrelated to that tenacity thing, eh?). Where my Virgo moon makes me unusual though, is the MOON is supposed to rule EMOTION... making my EMOTIONAL outlook somewhat analytical. I am infinitely more calm that your average Cancer (though Jason seems to give me a run for my money--bet he shares a similar analytic moon). It is hard to get a big reaction... I don't get mad very easily and I get over it fast... you see, I KNOW too much... can understand too easily why some people are idiots in any given moment, and some people make a life habit of it... and EVEN when it really IS their fault... I get it. I can look at their life and parse out the WHY, and my response is usually empathy (even if sometimes my brain succeeds in telling me to run for the hills). This makes me a good counselor, or shoulder to cry on, or ear to lend. I can both explain to you how that asshole didn't mean to hurt you, while at the same time bringing home that it isn't going to change, so you need to decide whether you can live with that or not.

This helps me as a writer... I can give realistic reasons the bad guy is bad. My problem is my empathy wants me to redeem them before the end... It was fun for fan fiction, but I am not sure yet whether I want to go there with the real stuff.

Scorpio Rising

Secretive PLAYFUL Scorpio. I have Scorpio to thank for my whimsy, but also my need to keep some things close to my chest... I know I'm all Naked and stuff, but there is stuff inside no on ever sees, except in my need to write dark twisty stuff. Though my RISING sign is Scorpio, about 9/10 of my first house is dominated by Sagitarrius. This is why I like to get lucky a lot *shifty* Seriously though... Sagitarius, ruled by Jupiter, is the planet that rules luck and it is my first house... my ME house. Jupiter in my zodiac, is also in CANCER, my sun sign, giving me an extra umph... and I am lucky. Not like... lottery lucky, but more like 'lots' lucky... if half are picked, I am part of it. (my daughter inherited this.. it's an odd thing... and possibly not unrelated to my publishing contract coming at me non-traditionally).

But the BIGGIES with this placement are this: My sun is in my 8th house (death, regeneration and legacy) which predicts early death of a father or husband (father died when I was 10), and is compatible with my wanting to leave behind a legacy...

My MOON is in my 10th house—career... now who has their emotions tied up in their career? Bunch of jerks I'd guess... this never made ANY sense to me until just recently... writing. Writing is my heart's passion... and what I WANT for my career.

I think it may be Scorpio in my 8th house that predicts I will achieve FAME near the end of life or after death... so I've got that to look forward to... there is also a prediction somewhere that my money woes will eventually end. I'm still waiting on that one...

So that is me in a nut shell... or rather... a star chart...

24 March 2011

Bad Poetry

I'm not going to claim to be in the league of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings. Or even Vogons. Definitely not Vogons. Or that McGonagall chap (no, not Professor McGonagall {who is female in any case}). But I am rubbish at poetry and I'm going to prove it!

Every once in a while, I get some weird idea that just insists on being turned into a poem. You might even call it a wild hair...

Ballad of the Stubborn Armpit Hair

It was very early
On a chilly winter morn,
When I decided to myself
That I would not be shorn.

Outside was rather cold
Thus tank tops would not be worn.
And so I figured I was safe
Her body to adorn.

I miscalculated badly
For a party was that night.
But I resolved not to go down
Without a worthy fight.

She razored to the left
And then tried it on the right.
Still I remained standing
Her efforts for to spite.

She stepped out of the shower
And reached for something new.
A pair of tweezers came in sight -
She said: "These ought to do."

One way she tried, and then
She sighed; she could not get the angle.
For oh! the dread indignity
If from them I should dangle.

Oh woe! Alas! She took a grasp
And plucked me from her skin.
And so, at last, it came to pass -
She chucked me in the bin.

Sometimes, it's my friends who inspire bursts of rhyming madness. The following bit of doggerel is composed of things I found on my Facebook newsfeed one particularly odd week.

Bunnies in the backyard
A seagull in the tub
And Satan’s Spawn
Faceplanted on
The bed.

Pushups at a funeral
Falling up the stairs
And swallows aim
To wound or maim
Your head.

Running races
Making faces
Job searching
Stomach lurching

Out of work
The kid’s a jerk
Exams taken
Stirred, not shaken

Questions from the little boys
Oriental drugs
Sending plants
(Not wearing pants!)
Bare butts.

Everything I’ve listed here
Was posted recently
So it portends
That all my friends
Are nuts!

Yes, I'm sure all our regular readers will know exactly who was not wearing pants...

Which actually sounds like a really good idea right now, come to think of it. I mean, my cats don't wear pants, and they seem much happier and less stressed out than I am. Yeah. It's clearly the pants.

23 March 2011

The Other Stuff

So you've written a fabulous book, polished it until it sparkles, had peer reviewers and improved it yet again... what do you do?


Yeah, erm... I hate to be the bearer of bum news, but before you think about querying, marketing, pitching, anallat... you have several more things to WRITE...

The Elevator Pitch

The set up for this is... suppose you find yourself in an elevator with a dream agent/publisher... your chance with a captive audience for 15 seconds... they give you the go to pitch your book... what do you say?

[You should ALSO have this for random people who ask about the book, by the way, so even if you will never, in your wildest dreams, end up in that elevator, it is still good to have one. No excuses.]

This is not ONE pitch, but a handful of varied length and detail so you can cater to the time you have and the detail you think the listener wants. I suggest:

A 25 word version (one solid sentence that gives the essence of your story that will conjure a very clear emotion and make the reader want to hear in specifics, though at this length, specifics DON'T really go here.

A 50 word version: MC, goal, obstacle, hint of journey. (same thing, only you can give names, places and a detail or two to tie it to the other one)

A query pitch. Nathan Bransford says the sweet spot is about 250 words... two paragraphs. There are a thousand sites that give a far better summary of this than I could, but there are a few keys. It should be present tense, third person, regardless of your book (I'm sure exceptions get through, but this is the standard). It should OOZE your voice, which can be tricky if you are changing tenses and viewpoints. You need to be clear who the MC is, what they want, what stands in their way and give some idea what they will have to get past to accomplish their goal.

PRACTICE ALL OF THESE ORALLY. You think I'm kidding? How awkward is it to meet someone who wants to hear about your books... THESE are your tools. If you can't make them sound good in conversation, how will they read (or sound) to your dream agent?

Before you use the query pitch in a query, I ALSO strongly recommend vetting it with some pros... find some published authors in your genre and ask for feedback. Ask them to tell YOU what they think your book is about, based on the query. Ask what isn't clear. The more feedback you can get, the better, but I will tell you now, there are some people with a magic touch on these... people who really know how to pitch... see if you can find a couple of THOSE... (people who, even if they aren't published, get a high rate of requests—hint--this is NOT me)

Author Bio

Say what?

I am going to tell a tale on myself now. My first request for more than just a few pages asked for 75 pages, an author bio and a synopsis (coming next). My EXPERIENCE with a bio is what we attach to GRANTS at work... it is basically a brief resumé. Education, work, publications... well and good, eh? But the FORMAT is all wrong. Doesn't matter... I didn't KNOW that, so I basically sent a resumé. *dies*

In THIS environment, think 'what goes on the back cover about the author'. If you have publications, this is definitely where to show them off—if you DON'T, it can be trickier, as this is more than just the sentence or two that goes in the query... it is more like a paragraph... and it shouldn't be stupid filler stuff, but it does need to say SOMETHING... and it can be challenging when you don't have writing credits, writing-related education, professional memberships... the FEEL of it depends a little on the work it goes with... (meaning for some genres, it is a-okay to be playful, for others, not so much)

Some ideas for what to include if you have nothing 'legitimate':

-when and how you fell in love with your genre
-anything interesting about you
-something that brings out your personality (like I think I am safe saying I write from my bathtub, as it is part of ME)

Whatever the case, have it READY, because someone will ask for it when you aren't expecting it.


Shoot me now, will you? Seriously. A synopsis is perhaps the most painful writing experience you will have. Know how you wrote a fabulous 400 page book? Now you have to put ALL OF IT in a page or two...

Unlike the pitch that is geared only to make the reader want to read MORE, this one needs to show you can plot a darned book... the twists, turns... not all of them, but enough of them to prove your stuff. There are also some great blogs telling how on this... I recommend going to Writer's Knowledge Base and searching synopsis. (this is good advice for the query, too)

But that isn't all... the one-two page version may not be the only one you will need. SOME publishers or agents want to see a detailed synopsis... Now I HEARD this is about a page per 25 pages, but I think that is too much... this is more like an 8-10 page summary of your book.

Most agents won't ask for these, but believe me, they are NOT the kind of thing you want to do last minute, so it's better to have them ready before you start querying.

So yeah... you aren't done yet... but at least now you know what you still need to do, eh?

22 March 2011

Topical Tuesday - Man versus Nature?

I read an article titled Quake is 5th biggest, but Japan best prepared yesterday from AP Science Writers Alicia Chang And Seth Borenstein. As expected, parts of the article suggested that Japan's preparations saved them from worse damage. Other parts were not so clear. In particular, they wrote that Friday's earthquake was part of the "classic battle of Man vs. Nature".

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Let's start with the word 'nature'. Like all words, its meaning is revealed in how it's used. And like all dictionary entries, the given definition is derived from such use.

First, we have "innate characteristics":

nature - The innate characteristics of a thing. What something will tend by its own constitution.

Of course your feet are cold and wet. That's the nature of snow.

One stray ampersand will crash the whole database. Such is the nature of xml.

That should be straightforward, but it's not the meaning we're concerned with. Another meaning is the "natural world":

nature - The natural world; consisting of all things unaffected by or predating human technology, production and design. e.g. the natural environment, virgin ground, unmodified species, laws of nature.

Forest fires can occur in nature when lightning strikes.

Thwarted by stability problems, the airplane designers studied nature to see how birds managed.

That's all I got from Wiktionary, but there's something of a corollary to the latter meaning. When we urge for an "understanding of nature" or warn against "tampering with nature", for example, we do not usually mean that it's dangerous to dig a hole or eat a berry. Rather, we mean that the natural world has a complex biological (and occasionally physical) equilibrium. I would call that 'ecological nature'.

Now, does any of that work with the phrase "man versus nature"? I think not.

The phrase likely originates from literary analysis, where "character versus nature" is a type of literary conflict. My guess is that the terminology was influenced by the heavy anthropomorphism of natural phenomena, both in the literature itself (as a creative but entirely unreal device) and in the actual belief systems associated with historical writers. When Odysseus' raft is wrecked by a storm, Poseidon is not some symbol for the dangers of sea travel, he is a willful entity that does the wrecking.

In that light, the phrase should have never left the classroom. In fact, it's a lousy term even for literature. Sure it seems to fit the type of examples we're given: Jim and Judy try to climb a mountain; a bunch of people try to colonize Mars; Hank struggles to escape the burning desert. But we're being misled by the presence of undeveloped landscapes or a struggle for survival into applying the 'nature' tag. How about a story where Jim and Judy try to find the corner of 63rd and Elm? Where a bunch of people try to build a new operating system? Where Hank struggles to open a can of beans without a can opener?

It's the same type of conflict. It's not "character versus nature" at all, and neither are the previous examples involving Mars, mountains, and desert. The real conflict is "character versus unmet goal", either one that he has chosen for himself (as with the unclimbed mountain) or one forced upon him by an immediate threat to his life (as with the unopened can of beans). The literary term is poor, and I make no apologies for the fact that my alternative is much less catchy. I'd rather be right.

But Holy Hermes, how the phrase has been appropriated! A Google search reveals:

- A slew of videos depicting people being hilariously mauled by animals. This actually comes far closer to "man versus nature" than the literary standard (although "man versus animal" would be more precise). Even so, the animal in question is rarely a willful entity that seeks to thwart its human victim. More likely it's surprised, scared, or hungry.

- More videos of pratfalls involving park-like settings or naturally-occurring objects, such as a boulder falling on a car or a boater falling into a lake. The "versus nature" designation is bunk. A telephone pole can fall onto a car and a sunbather can fall into a swimming pool. These are simply accidents that involve objects.

- Environmental topics, such as global warming. The phrase seems to be a popular for describing conflict between people who disagree about the status of the environment and/or what ought to be done about it, but that is clearly man versus man. It is simultaneously used to imply that nature is responding negatively to human efforts to better our lives, particularly anything (that they perceive as) indulgent, without regard to such relevant particulars as the release of carbon. And that's absolute rubbish. The only sane purpose of environmental management is to better our lives.

- Survival scenarios, like the television show "Man versus Wild", wherein a man is left in the wilderness and tries to improvise food and shelter until he can get back to civilization. Now let's consider the "versus" aspect more philosophically, shall we? To survive in the wild, the show's protagonist eats eggs, catches salmon, makes a kukui torch, brushes his teeth with a manzanita leaf, climbs using a vine, and makes a raft out of bamboo. Barring an attack by a wild animal (again, that would be "man versus animal"), nature is not his antagonist-- it is his greatest provider. The "antagonists" are his own body's need for food and warmth (a constant among all humans all the time) and his goal of getting back to civilization (part of the show's premise).

- Natural disasters...

... which takes us back to the AP earthquake article. And I, for one, have found nothing in the lexicon or common usage that suggests a clear meaning for "man versus nature" in the context of an earthquake. There is no fight with an animal, nobody is stuck in the wilderness, and I'm assuming (for now) that we do not believe in a God of Earthquakes. So what do Chang and Borenstein-- and others who use the phrase in regard to natural disasters-- mean?

Our only remaining baseline is the literary term, which equates generally to "man versus unmet goal", with the particular goal (in some instances) of surviving an immediate threat to one's life. Not only do both interpretations stink, but the AP writers seem to have conflated them.

Japan, indeed, has made it their goal to construct for earthquake survivability. But life is not a narrative. A "character versus unmet goal" story has a beginning and an end; it presents a challenge to the character; and it describes events relevant to that challenge. Chang and Borenstein would have us believe that they are describing a bit of reality that matches this pattern, but they're full of crap. What they've done is cherry-pick to give the appearance of such a narrative.

"Japan has the strongest building standards in the world for withstanding earthquakes. It trains and prepares more for them...

And still the result was devastating."

Are you seeing it yet? Consider the tremendous challenge of the space race in the 1960's. That was life, that was reality, and that was a bunch of engineers working toward a presented goal. One could pick out a reasonable beginning and end, call it a narrative, and say that NASA "won" because they succeeded in landing a man on the moon.

But here's the kicker: Japan never set out with the goal of suffering zero deaths from an 8.9 earthquake 80 miles off its eastern shore. The event was unpredicted and unpredictable. It is neither a cause nor a result of Japan's earthquake preparedness (and, it should be noted, the worst damage was from the tsunami). The two do not constitute a narrative, and certainly not a contest; and it would be wrong--nay, contemptible-- to declare a winner.
"In the classic battle of Man vs. Nature, Nature won again."

Because people died? Chang and Borenstein, you have my contempt. To say nothing of kicking a people while they are down, this is an absolute fallacy. It makes as much sense as observing that a society has built hospitals, and then declaring them "losers" after a massive meteor impact because those hospitals can't bring back the dead. Unpredictability is not futility.

From the tone and theme, they should have flipped the article's title to read Japan best prepared, but Quake is 5th Biggest. The writers take pains to contrast Japan's preparedness with that of Haiti, and imply some kind of parallel to the comparative magnitude of the two quakes. They select the following quote:
"Nature can always throw an event at us that exceeds what we've designed for."

That's some strong personification. There's the vague implication that if you do more to protect against disaster, "Nature" responds with something unexpected. I'm suddenly haunted by visions...

... Hank made sure he had snow tires and chains, and drove very carefully through the pass. But the snow loosened a boulder, which fell on his car and crushed him. "Nature won again."

... Judy exercised regularly and stuck to a healthy diet, determined to avoid heart disease. But at the age of forty, she lay dying of cancer. "Nature won again."

... Phil's team had reached the summit of Everest, and returned, without loss. But he only thought he'd won. One week after returning home, Phil was bitten by a rattlesnake and died. "Nature won again."

Perhaps Chang and Borenstein would say that they only wished to express respect, or perhaps reverence, for the power of nature. But I say again: in this context, it is wrong. Such an attitude should be confined to the realm of biology and ecology, where the actions of man directly interact with a complex equilibrium. And I say again: Nature is a not a willful entity. The shifting of tectonic plates does not respond to our efforts to survive them; they are not an antagonist; and it is a gross disservice to measure human effort against the magnitude of such forces.

- J

21 March 2011

My favourite (and not so favourite) Indian books

I am not sure if as many people have growing up reading Enid Blyton in her native England, as they have in India. Ask anyone of my age and background to name the first book they remember reading, and I am willing to bet my dog-eared copy of 'Five go off in a Caravan' that it will be an Enid Blyton book they mention. None of us had ever had bacon and eggs for breakfast and scones for tea, but all of us knew that scones were not scones unless they came with lashings of butter.

With Julian, Dick, George and Ann, and Timmy the dog as childhood companions, and Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes forming the logical progression, it is no wonder that I was well into my late teens when I first started reading Indian authors.

The first "Indian" author I remember reading was Salman Rushdie. Everyone, and their second cousin by marraige twice removed, had told me that 'Midnight's Children' was a MASTERPIECE, and curiosity finally got the better of me, and I checked the book out of the library. I expected brilliance, and did not get it. I lowered my expectaions, but the book still did not engage. And I finally ended up finishing the book only because I had yet to realise that my time was too precious to waste on misgotten ideals like 'you started a book, you got to finish it'.

The second "Indian" author I read was Arundhati Roy. I had fallen in love with her as the protagonist of an English language, quirky, campus movie that enjoyed unparalled success within a very select audience, and I wanted to read the book that had got the unparalled advance that it had got. 'God of Small Things, was another of those books that I finished only because I did not like not finishing books. Elegant prose if you pick a page at random and read only one page. But unbelievable characters, and a plot that I thought was non-existent. Maybe I am doing the book an injustice, but not even one scene stands out, which leads me to believe the book was entirely forgettable.

I took a decision NEVER to read any more books by Indian authors, but since I had already purchased Shashi Tharoor's 'The Great Indian Novel", I decided to make that the last book I ever read. I am glad I did. Tharoor took India's greatest mythological story and adapted it to the current political scenario. It was not the most imaginative of plots (I can think of at least two Bollywood potboilers which are based on a re-telling of the Mahabharata), and at the time when I read it, the book was at least two decades outdated. But it was Brilliant. Some references were obvious, and others were too smart for me, but there were enough obscure references which you felt good when you managed to crack. A familiarity with the original story, and a knowledge of the history of the first three decades of Indian independence is needed to make sense of the book, but it is a book I would recommend unhesitantly to anyone who knows a bit about India.

By now, I could see the pattern emerging. For a book written by an Indian in English to be popular, it seemed necessary to have a very strong mystical, exotic and/ or poverty striken angle to it. But was that really India? Wasn't India a lot more complex than just that? Shouldn't books written by Indians and set in India deal with issues that occupied mind-space in India?

Shashi Tharoor gave me that book. 'Riot' is the story of a small Indian town torn by religious violence told from multiple perspectives. In hindsight, the protagonists were almost predictable- the do-gooder American wanting to discover India, and doing so insite the pants of a seemingly upright civil servant. The Hindu and the Muslim. The fundamentalist, and the seculars. The perpecturators and the victims. But what I loved about the book was the way the author portrayed 'reality' from each of their perspectives. It was a book that I ended up recommending to many people, less for the literary merits of the book and more for the balanced picture it painted of the country.

After Riot, I decided to read "Indian" authors without thinking of them as "Indian" authors. I expected nothing more or less than a decent story, well written from them. If the characters and situations seemed familiar, I would be happy. If they did not sound familiar, I would just pretend they belonged to a foreign setting. The book I read immediately after taking that decision was the book which I still consider one of the best books I have ever read.

Vikram Seth hit the headlines when I was a teenager because of "The Golden Gate", the novel written entirely in sonnets. Much as I was captivated by the novelty, I knew better than to attempt reading the book. Instead, I waited for 'A Suitable Boy' to lose my Seth virginity to. And a better book I could not have chosen. Characters I could relate to, circumstances that sounded so familiar I could have lived them myself, believable story line, great storytelling. What's not to adore? And the best part of 'A Suitable Boy' was the fact that in an absolutely non-pedagogical manner, the author was giving me nuggets about my country that I had not even suspected existed. Most people comment on the length of the book - not me. I would not want a single paragraph from that book deleted.

After that there was a whole bunch of books that I sort of liked (The White Tiger, Q&A, The Village by the Sea) even with being aware of their shortcomings, another bunch of books that I refused to finish (The Inheritance of Loss, Calcutta Chromosome), and a very large bunch of books that I refused even to pick up. One book, and only one book, stands apart from that lot.

Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance", was a book I picked up, strangely, because Cruella asked me if I had read it, and what I thought of it if I had read it. It had been a book I had been intending to read for a very long time, but which needed a catalyst to actually get me reading. And I am glad I did. Set in a particularly unsavourable period of recent Indian history, it is the story of four characters I have never met, and would never meet. The book got me thinking like few works of fiction have- it tied together all those assorted conversations which I had with various people, and from which I missed the core point. It made me start reflecting on the real cause of India's ills, and led me, many months and many conversations later, to hone in on what I now believe is the thing we most need to change in our society.  I am not sure if everyone who reads the book will take-away what I did from it, but even otherwise, it is a book worth reading, if only for a story well told.

I could perhaps go on much longer with my opinions on "Indian" books, but that can be kept for Part 2.

18 March 2011

Picture A Memory

It's past eleven pm, I have been up since 4.30 this morning, have gone to work, come home, cleaned the house, attended my son's parents' evening, come home again, cleaned, fed the kids, chased the cats, and heaven knows what else, and I had the silly idea that working an extra dawn shift tomorrow would be a good idea, so my blog post for tomorrow (er, today, when you see this) is a hotch-potch of hastily gathered photos from my photobucket account, with the vague idea that this is a sort of 'memories of me' kind of thing...

(And the length of the above sentence should also give you a hint of my true nature - that of a rambler - so that also nicely fits in with the topic of 'Who Am I? Friday).

Anyway, the earliest picture of me was taken when I was around four. Apparently the few baby pictures that were taken of me have disappeared, and I have no idea what I looked like at a younger age. I am pictured with my little sister, Lucy.

I am a little older in this next one, around seven or eight, I believe...

And this slightly embarrassing one was taken when I was sixteen. *cringes*

I'm not one for posing for the camera, and usually hide when somebody threatens to take a picture of me, but on your wedding day it's kind of hard to avoid. The first picture is obviously of myself and my husband, while in the second I am pictured with my two sisters. Lucy, the cherubic baby from above, is standing, while my elder sister, Andrea, is sat beside me.

 Although I usually hide from the camera, it doesn't mean that I don't get caught out every once in a while. This one was taken after several drinks had been consumed, and me, the hubby, and a friend were silly dancing at a school reunion themed party.

One of the few pictures that I am quite happy with is this next one. It was taken a couple of years ago when some of the Burrowers managed to meet up in Cardiff. There is Jess, Leanne, Hart, Me and Cruella. I always smile when I see this picture!

I think my best 'memory' picture is not one of me, though. I'm a bit ditzy, I like to write crazy stories, I swear a bit too much, am 'common as muck', a good friend (I'd like to think so, anyway), and a good wife. Primarily, though, I see myself as a mother, so my last picture memory is one of my two children, who exasperate and delight me in equal measures, and who inspire me in little ways every day.

17 March 2011

I ain't delusional today

Adj.1.delusional - suffering from or characterized by delusions
psychoneurotic, neurotic - affected with emotional disorder

But then most delusional people would say that, wouldn't they? I meant to file this story last night but I didn't. And I didn't sit yesterday (as in meditate) for the first time in ages. And why is that, you kind people ask? Because I hadn't spent much time with my sweet patootie in ages what with kids and meetings and hard work and so on. And we don't have a series on the go - like The Wire or West Wing or other fabulous shows that may or may not start with W. But I wanted to be in the same room with him - not me up in my office blogging or reading blogs or answering emails and him on his computer in the downstairs den. So I went down with my new knitting project (lace! it is REALLY hard) and he sat on the computer and read me things about Japan and then we watched a dopey CBC program in black & white because that is how the television felt like showing it to us and then we watched the news. Oh.
After, we decided to go to bed at the same time. Then I have a fighting chance of falling asleep before he does and starts his amazingly vibrant snoring routine. When I got into bed I was thinking, suddenly, two things. I didn't meditate, let alone do all the special chants for the disaster, and I didn't file my delusional piece. Also, I had those amazing images of Japan in my mind, and the voices filled with gravitas of the reporters and the scientists. Sleep? Forget about it. I stayed in bed beside my sp who sounds much like the lion in The Wizard of Oz when he growls (the lion not Ron) until I knew it was pointless. Then I went down to my bed in my office and read until sleep overtook me. With the word 'delusional' in my mind, and the image of the devouring water in my heart.
I don't want to write a post today about delusional. This is not the time for that. It is time for all people of good minds and hearts to banish delusion and wake up to see the world as it truly is. ONE pool. ONE organism. So we can't think anymore about not sharing what we have as we couldn't imagine deciding not to send blood to any of our limbs because we were annoyed with it, or tired of it being so needy, or indeed completely believing it was, in fact, not part of our body at all.
Please don't be alarmed by this post - I am in full agreement with my fellow burrowers that delusional is a perfectly ironic and marvelous way to see the world by times. But this Thursday it just isn't.
Here is a photo of this beautiful world we wake up to.

16 March 2011

Write for Japan

Strictly speaking, this is not a Writing Wednesday post. But it is about Writing, and it is on a Wednesday, so you can call it a Writing Wednesday post. As all of you know, the Digressionista Burrower, Cruella, went to Japan on work in January. In the days after the tsunami, she reported faithfully from Tokyo. Yesterday, she had to make the painful decision to go back home to Norway, and to decide on whether and when to return after things returned to normal.

We are naturally still in a bit of a shock because of how close one of our own came to the disaster, and that's going to manifest itself as missed blog posts for a couple of days till we come to terms with it. But since we do not want to miss a day if we can help it, here are some ways in which we writers can show our solidarity with the people of Japan- Bookish ways to Help Japan.

As many of you know, I work in the social sector, and am actively involved with fund-raising for non-profits. It is reliably learnt that Japan does not at this point need financial assistance. In fact, there are articles on how people and organizations are raising money without a clue as to how it is going to be spent. So do not feel guilty about not being able to donate anything.

In India, we have lived through more than our share of natural and man-made disasters. The one thing that people need at a time like this is to know that others care. Show your solidarity for Japan, but doing what you do best - WRITE FOR JAPAN!

15 March 2011

Japan Mayhem

Sendai Tanabata credit
I'm normally sort of a mess addressing Topical Tuesday. I'm extremely opinionated, but don't want to make THIS a political place (though I am aware on a world front, I am far more moderate than I am on a US only evaluation, where I fall somewhere between Progressive and Bleeding Heart). This week however, there is a lot of BIGGER THAN POLITICS stuff going on.

I will say first, I am not the most informative Burrower to read on this... Cruella is actually living in Tokyo, Japan and much of what I know or can surmise is ONLY because she has been so articulate about her experience. I recommend checking out her blog for her first hand account.

I do however, have a handful of friends over there, and think I can put together some thoughts that aren't my normal riduculum.

In Praise of Modern Technology

I have four friends living in Japan at the moment—three I went to high school with, including one of my closest friends through high school--my original friend of the mind-meld--we could see something, look at each other and FALL OVER laughing because we shared the same (typically dirty) reaction. (all these three are married to Japanese citizens, and so are there permanently), and then there is Cruella, who I normally talk to (almost) daily—you know her too... and she will return to Norway in May or June, though knowing her love of Japan, I expect she will end up back there at some later date.

I knew there'd been a small earthquake several days before this, as Cruella had posted about it making her seasick. I'd thought (based on my minimal personal experience), that it was one of those things that was sort of spooky, sort of cool... (you can thunk me in the head in a minute)

[Digression #1: when I was a senior in high school, I had an 'early bird' Calculus class. It began at 7am. I drove to school and on the street ran into my friend Kim, also parking for the same class (yes, in Moscow Idaho, most high school seniors had access to a vehicle to get to school), and we walked into the building together. There was a pervasive clicking... horror film stuff... closer inspection showed us the locks were tapping against their lockers--all of them... in unison... we only had to walk 15 feet before we rounded a corner and a teacher met us saying, “there's been an earthquake, we need everyone to leave the building until they're sure it's safe”. Well WE didn't need telling twice. Kim spooks easier than most anyway, and I honestly LIKED being a little freaked out (being me)... we waited and were finally let in... went to Calculus, and as Mrs. Ringo spoke... a CRACK ran through the paint, first at the front, then at the back of the classroom... I swear it looked like half the classroom was going to fall off the building... it didn't, but several people changed chairs with no objection from Mrs. Ringo... after the fact... it was COOL--one of those stories to tell... so that makes up exactly half of my earthquake experience...]

My first knowledge of THIS BIG ONE though (biggest one ever, if I am reading reliable sources), was the notice “I'm okay,” from Cruella. It was posted on Facebook, and exploration of mutual friends displayed a lot of worry over several hours, but being in my time zone... I'd slept through the excitement. Once I knew Cruella was fine, I proceeded to check Facebook for two of my old friends... the third isn't on Facebook. It turned out one was in Hawaii at the time (she and her husband met when she was a flight attendant on the Honolulu/Tokyo route and they have interests in both places—though she WAS worried about her husband--more in a bit)... My friend NOT on Facebook though, was the one I had to wait on, as I needed to wait for her to respond to my one-on-one email.

Success... all four friends safe... But I learned some interesting things I hadn't known.

Tokyo Credit
Tokyo is DARNED Resilient

This is from the things Cruella has posted. It sounds an awful lot like once the rail system got moving again, businesses got back to normal. She stayed at the Embassy, as the house where she rents a room 'felt like paper' and the Embassy seemed much more stable (and aftershocks are still in effect). It sounded like any shortages (as of this weekend) WERE there were due to Westerners panicking and stocking up.

Now I have no idea WHY the Japanese are so calm and efficient, but it certainly sounds like those are the predominant traits coming through. Maybe, as an island far from most everything, it just takes a lot longer to run OUT because they already had products in transit before things hit? It makes sense that imported goods would have been disrupted since Friday and may NOW be coming up short, where over the weekend, the things that had already made land were still easy enough to get where they had to go...

I don't know what portion of Japan's imports come by air and what by sea... I DO know the sea warnings are still in effect...

Transportation Problems

My friend who was in Honolulu at the time had a return flight to catch. I take it she lives north of Tokyo... What she found off the plane was a 5 hour wait for getting on the 'next bus' to home (I got the impression still no train?  I am working with FB updates, so I hope I understood that)... she and a few others decided instead to split cab fare... On their ride (4000 yen each), they sat in silence as the 3rd nuclear reactor exploded.  She is gathering things and headed BACK to Honolulu, though her husband can't go. He has a new business he just can't leave. I can't imagine being separated, but I also can't imagine HIM wanting his wife there in the danger if she doesn't need to be when they have other options.

A Detour

My close high school friend... the one it took me a while to reach... lives in Okinawa. Yes, Okinawa that had to come back after one of the only nuclear bombs ever exploded... there is a large US military base there, but she is there because it is where her husband is from (though initially she went there to teach English with the JETS program).

But see... Okinawa is the large city FARTHEST from the devastation... Okinawa is far to the south in Japan (it's actually tropical) and so has experienced some small tremors ( 0.5-1.0 in strength) and has had warnings not to go on the beach... but because of their history, everything is strongly reinforced for both earthquake and tsunami... their life has been largely unaffected... except the emotional impact.

Michelle talks of something akin to survivor's guilt. She has a sister-in-law in Tokyo who is okay, but her WHOLE FAMILY there is Japanese—they are tied to this event. They know people they are worried about, but they are worried for their country in a bigger way, too. Michelle's email from Sunday morning said they'd been warned of a few more earthquakes around the 6.0 range in strength, so she went to the bank, the gas station, and the grocery... stocking up for a disaster, but feeling this odd powerlessness that THEY aren't probably the people who need this... and how do they help?

I'm sure SHE, like Cruella, would request if you WANT to help, to donate to disaster relief for the people actually affected. If you can. I know economic recovery is a trickle down process, so not everybody can... but in whatever form, we can send prayers, karma, warm thoughts, healing energy... whatever your belief (the scientist I am by day knows it doesn't matter--it ALL works--our collective energies are a thing of beauty, so send away)

And then the Nuclear Thing...

GADS! I need to confess something. Among the things that scare me, NOTHING outranks nuclear power plants. It may or may not be rational, but I've long felt like our skills were outpaced by the potential for disaster. Now Cruella posted a FB update about this Sunday... that Chernobyl comparisons were not appropriate... knowledgeable people said the modern technology made that kind of disaster all but impossible. All. But.

(My American Friends hold the same indoctrination I do, so they are more worried, mostly...)

Not impossible. All BUT impossible... I worry for the radiation disaster that seems possible, if not likely. But even barring that... given 55 nuclear power plants... 11 with damage... that is a 20% cut in power in the short term... Maybe in the long term... At least 5 of these plants seem to have sustained substantial damage... maybe the time of year is lucky... Daylight Saving Time is all ABOUT power conservation... but I can't help but wonder if there is a pending power shortage and how that might impact the recovery efforts.

Michelle said the 8 prefectures (which to me, sounds like states) closest to Sendai are having rolling 3-hour blackouts for the time being to conserve power. My friend Cathy expressed her home was in one of these, so it gets CLOSE to Tokyo... This seems so practical and reasonable... which considering the magnitude of everything, is darned impressive.

And this just in... From Michelle--she is part of a Yahoo group of educators in Japan and forwarded this from their discussion on the nuclear threat:

But here's one helpful comment (from my friend at Princeton) regarding
the nuclear power plant issue:

"To the best of my understanding, the technical analysis in this blog


is essentially correct. In other words, there is *very* little danger of a radiation release at Fukushima significantly affecting people at the distance of Tokyo. And even people in the area are surely at much more risk from less exotic dangers such as typhoid (from contaminated water supplies), tainted food, dehydration and exposure, fires started by the earthquake etc. English language news coverage in the US is focusing heavily on the "nuclear crisis" (I don't know about the Japanese coverage), but this is basically due to "nuclear hysteria" and the media's love of fear, as far as I can see."

And then here are two more links from Michelle on the discussions about the nuclear power stuff:

So that is fairly heartening... Did I mention of my lifetime friends Michelle is probably the one with the highest IQ? (in fact I'd bet I could place her with Jason and Leanne, which my fellow Burrowers know is fairly phenomenal) This makes her the rare American likely to assess the information and come up with the rational answer? So on the nuclear piece, I think this is a fair assessment.

Still I wonder...
How devastating is this going to be to Japan's economy?
How much does that affect other world economies?

I'm sure a ton of you know a lot more on the subject than I do, so PLEASE, chime in!

14 March 2011

Equal but Opposite

There's a sort of stereotype when it comes to who-reads-what, especially in kidlit - namely, girls will read pretty much anything, but boys won't read about girls. While it's true more often than not, there is definitely a strong tendency among many readers to want to identify with one or more characters (especially the main ones), so when you're populating your novel, it's not a bad idea to have a decent mix of genders and races and traits if you can manage it.

The easiest way, however, to end up with something that will (theoretically) appeal equally to both male and female readers? Make your main characters twins - one of each.

Twelfth Night - Shakespeare

Let's start with a classic, shall we? Viola and Sebastian are identical twins (we're ignoring the fact that that's impossible, as Shakespeare couldn't possibly have had the required knowledge of genetics {despite having a set of boy/girl twins among his own children}), separated after a shipwreck. Massive amounts of hilarity ensue, caused by everything from cross-dressing to cross-gartering (in yellow!). One of my favourite plays; I've even got a viola joke about Sebastian in one of my WiPs (though I borrowed it from a high school buddy).

Children of the Lamp - P. B. Kerr

John and Philippa Gaunt are not just twins... they're djinn twins! Y'know, genies (but they don't like being called that). Their powers come into play once they've had their wisdom teeth removed and their estranged Uncle Nimrod enters their lives. There are currently 6 books in this series, which covers all the standard djinn stuff like lamps, bottles and flying carpets, as well as Chinese terra cotta warriors, Indian fakirs, South American - yeah, I'm going to let you find out for yourselves, more fun that way. Notable highlights include an Indian djinn with an Irish accent, guard dogs who are MUCH more than they appear, and more wish-granting and ridiculously long words than you can pronounce in a hurry (including "sesquipedalian" itself!).

The Ever Breath - Julianna Baggott

Truman and Camille are about as un-identical as twins can possibly be. However, their grandmother is an identical twin - and when they go to stay with her after their father's disappearance, they discover the existence of the Breath World, which is as magical as our world is not. It's also in trouble. Unlike many of the other books on this list, the twin-ness itself is key to this particular tale, which seems to set up a sequel but I can't find any news of it in my usual search strings.

- Laura Bingham

Wanna be an elf? Erin and her twin brother Bain had never really thought about it, but one day they stumble upon an enchanted cottage (no, seriously!) and when they enter it, all sorts of strange events are set into motion. They learn combat skills, journey to places you certainly couldn't get to on the local subway, and meet people of varying races and creatures they'd always thought were mythical (like, say, pegasi). There's a sequel due out in April; I'm interested to see where she takes this story.

- Will Peterson

New Yorkers Rachel and Adam are shipped off to stay with their English grandmother in the aftermath of their parents' divorce. When they arrive, they feel a bit like they've traveled in time as well as space, as the whole town seems mired in a previous era - which turns out to be pretty darn close to the truth. Chalk circles, weird bees, and Green Man mythology are all over the place; watch out for the Morris dancers too (which always makes me think of the first series of Blackadder, but oh well). This is a completed trilogy; the second and third send the twins to much more far-flung places...

The Immortal Secrets of Nicholas Flamel - Michael Scott

Sophie and Josh Newman have picked up summer jobs - he's in a bookshop, she's across the street at a café. But when your employers turn out to be 600+-years-old, and they're Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel - well, let's just say that it's not all pages and tea leaves. Historical and mythological figures pop in and out with the needs of the story - note that the Flamels are in fact not simply an invention of J. K. Rowling (which is where most people know the names from), but were (are?) actual people who really were rumoured to possess a Philosopher's Stone (she didn't make that up either); also keep an eye out for Jeanne d'Arc, le Comte de St.-Germain, Gilgamesh and John Dee and Machiavelli and Hecate, to name a few. Also be prepared for a whirlwind (sometimes literally) tour of some of the world's great places - Notre Dame and Stonehenge, among others. There are currently four available; I believe the fifth is due in May.

Mortail Coils - Eric Nylund

Oooh. This one. I'm totally addicted to this series, which is a bit of a problem because there are only 2 volumes out so far. One of the guys at work was going on and on and on about it (hi Max!), so I finally gave in and bought the first one. Now we have cryptic conversations about exactly which characters equate to which mythical deities and - ugh, forgot to give you a summary. Okay, Eliot and Fiona Post live with their grandmother and great-grandmother, are homeschooled and have to follow a long list of restrictive rules (106 of them, posted on their doors), and only escape their apartment to go to work at the local pizza joint. Things take a turn for the seriously weird when they hit 15, though - it transpires that they're the offspring of, to oversimplify things, a goddess and a devil, and the elderly ladies they live with aren't who they thought either. Hooboy. Heroic quests and foul temptations, supersonic limos and dangerous musical instruments, you just can't put these down. Go buy a copy, then buy one for all your friends, so he can hurry up with #3 already!