Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shop 'Till I Scream (Or Pee My Pants)

In search of a perfect black sweater, I ventured to the mall braving the post-holiday flux of bargain shoppers. A deal is a deal, even if it means death by stampedes of heartless hunters out for "The Deal."

After visiting two stores, I found my perfect black sweater, on sale with an additional thirty percent off. I felt the rush of fine tequila without lemon or shaker of salt. Adding to my euphoria: NO LINE AT CHECKOUT! Had I died and gone to Heaven where I'd most likely wait in line, or sent to a waiting room for sentencing? For me, when I can enter a store, snap up an item without having to try on more than two things all within a matter of twenty minutes, it's a successful trip.

And then the counter clerk asks, "Do you have a Banana Card?"

"I do," I replied as I dug out my not-a-credit-debit-card.

Says lovely counter clerk, "You can save an additional ten percent if you use your Banana Card."

"Uh, no thanks," said I while choking my inner voice that wanted to scream, "Do you know what the interest is on that lousy Banana Card or did it slip your mind?"

Seriously, ten percent so I can swipe my card and later pay an APR of twenty-four percent isn't my idea of "The Deal." Yeah, yeah. I know what some might say: "Well, if you pay the entire balance you aren't charged the interest."

I don't have time to look up the statistics, but having known many people in possession of credit cards, few will honestly say that they pay off the balance each month. The rest are lying because credit card companies are masters of smoke and mirror tactics. They make it appear like "The Deal," and soon credit card use turns into a substitute for crack.

All this went through my mind as I stood at the check out, my lofty nirvana squashed by the check out clerk also known as Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor. "And you also will get bonus points for every dollar you charge," she chirped, "and receive reward gift cards!"

Oh, spare me, although I'm thankful that she didn't tell me how many dollars I need to charge in order to get a lousy ten dollar gift card that's only good when used with my Banana Card. After all, my mission had been accomplished, black sweater almost in the bag.

"May I see your signature on the card?" she says.

Little did I realize that I resembled an identity thief. I flip my card for her to see. She takes it to study closer. My bladder sends a signal that we need to leave the store soon. And then she says, "Can I have your zip code?"

A test to get the coveted black sweater from dressing room to shopping bag. Really? Should I have studied first? Couldn't they have posted a warning nearby the cash-wrap that there would be a Q&A upon check out?

So much for twenty minute shopping trips. Post Bah-Humbug! No wonder consumers prefer on-line shopping (she says as she finishes blog posts and wanders to the Zappos web cite).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Word About A Word That Chills Me

Call me a cave dweller; tell me I'm living in the past and need to "get with it." However,when I get text messages typed in complete abbreviation, I feel the urge to respond, "WTF?"

I completely understand a person's need to abbreviate in order to save on all that typing while driving along the interstate. Makes sense. Better to insult me with sloppy verbiage than doing a face plant into that cement barrier separating lanes. Really, I do try to understand the "R" for "are," the "U" for "you," and the LOL for, well, if you have to have that defined, welcome to my cavedom. But must I also embrace the newest form of mangled language that comes by way of intentional misspelling to make one look cool, or in their word, "K-E-W-L?"

Really? "Cool" uses four letters, and to make it easy on the thumbs, one is used twice. I feel that when a person tries to look "cool" by mispelling it, well, that just makes said person look like a "F-E-W-L." Sadly, I've seen this used by people with dual degrees. Perhaps they managed to glide through Masters programs without the need to correctly spell. Or maybe it's only Bachelors and Masters of Arts that decry "Spelling counts!"

I wonder if these misguided spellers suffer a sort of identity crisis? Or could there possibly be a secret society devoted to developing a secret language, you know, a new form of pig-Latin for those who flunked Latin, but made it through law school anyway, and successfully ran for public office?

Yes, I've been called far worse than a cave-dweller, but I am proud to be a word-snob. I hope to make a living out of the proper use of prose in order to propagate better English to the unenlightened who ignore "spell check." So, hell yeah, I get all kinds of queasy when a person, especially those who attended grad school, can not SPELL "COOL," those "FEWLS!"

I'm C-O-O-L with being called the spelling police. Someone has to stand up for correctness. So here's to abbreviation for the sake of brevity and safety; may those too inept and/or lazy to get the simple words correctly spelled have all their texting privileges revoked.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Pages of Tears

Rust did not pour from my fingertips, at least not today. After nearly two months away from my work-in-progress I shuddered to return for I realize the difficulty of jumping back in after such a struggling sabbatical.

But today, after three days that came in fits and starts (whatever that means and a free Dove bar to the one providing an answer, no matter how contrived), I conquered the damn beast. At noon-ish I sat at the computer, opened up the document and set sail, first re-reading already finished pages, but that's how I roll. For whatever reason I have to review in order to remind myself where I left off and where to begin. The downside of the habit is that I become a bit bogged down in editing. But still, today even that didn't stop me, nor did the interruption of my sister who arrived for a visit, fat beagle on a leash in tow.

A welcomed break. This time of year our sunny days are a premium. Today it blazed overhead defying the chilled air, begging for those enclosed within walls to get out and walk. So I did. Myself, sister and two dogs in tow, we did the serpentine-style walk up my street. There's something about beagles and walking. They do so with nose plowing along pavement in search of pee-mails left by other canines. A slow, not so brisk pace.

And beyond the small break that lasted longer than my usual sprint, I still returned to the pages with a goal in mind: Stopping at 4:30 p.m. EST. At 4:45-ish I realized I came to a stopping point; that I had already reached a part of the story that I had struggled to unfold, and did so beautifully.

The feeling I experienced thereafter, and it still clings, was one that tops the best euphoria I ever had. Better than chocolate, a glass of red wine while watching cherry logs burning in the fireplace. And yes, dare I say it? Sex.

Returning to the pages of this particular story is very similar to returning to the place where I grew up. I look at the place where my home once stood, gaze at the treeline and creek that still flows nearby, take in the panorama of the deepest of Finger Lakes and feel the past wrap me in a protective, soothing, welcome home hug.

That's the feeling I have. Irreplaceable. All of it validating my true path, one that continues to keep me centered.

All of it whispers in my ear, "Welcome home, Kath."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Diving Into the Bottomless Pool

Today I committed to writing every day for the month. I've joined NaNoWriMo. My fingers are rusty; I'm sure the muse spits corroded iron. If only it'll forgive me for my absence; it couldn't be helped.

Still, over two months and my poor WIP sits idle waiting my return. I hope my muse has been patient, although I have kept her exercised with mu emotional poetry, thanks to my emotional situation of late that hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh, forgive the awful cliche. Remember my rusty fingers.

I am on a mission to follow in the footsteps of my friend who recently got a book deal. I want to be her, or at least feel the beauty of success, accomplishment and freedom to breathe on my terms and only my terms. No more editors looking over my shoulder, their shadow breathing their presence into my subconscious. No more worry of criticism from unknown places. That'll come soon enough.

Today I shall write as if my life depends on it (oh, another cliche), for perhaps my life will at some extent given my recent upset that procured so much poetry, both bad and awesome.

If only my muse will respect my absence as a necessary sabbatical, random as it is. I make today the beginning of my new life; a brand new day in my total control. No more posturing or excuses. It's time to move forward. Time to take control of me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Oft' I Wonder

College degrees. Are they worth the hype? In 2007 I enrolled in college with a focus on obtaining a degree. My major remained unclaimed simply because college was new territory for me. Really, who begins college at age fifty-three? Me, that's who. Without a plan in place I attended "Registration Day" at the main campus with the objective of enrolling in classes based on whatever my adviser printed out based on a Liberal Arts degree (because that's where one begins when running screaming from math and science).

Registration experts sat at tables in a huge hall. One by one they helped students fill out a schedule. As one table cleared, a registrar would crook hers or his finger and wave in another student, similar to standing in line at TJMaxx minus the talking checkouts. My turn arrived and I was waved in by an older woman. She was pleasant and to my advantage, a former head of the English Department. She said to me, "What have you done lately?" I answered, "Before my eye-explosion I wrote three novels." In front of her was my pseudo-schedule, a list of recommended subjects based on my high school transcript. She gazed down at it and quickly scribbled a line through whatever English course listed on the printout. As she scribbled she said, "Oh, no, no. This isn't the subject for you. I'm putting you in the Honors English program."

Like I knew the difference. I shrugged and said, "Okay." She then asked how much of a course load I thought I could handle (keep in mind, I was fifty-three and over thirty years out of high school). I replied, "Maybe two or three a week?" And she added Art History to my schedule. "Let's start you off slow," she said. "Super!" said I.

Five years later and still without a degree, I have successfully completed nineteen credits, twelve of those in Honors English. I write, therefore I crammed as many writing courses as I could handle into my schedule, and have never seen my writing skills improve as greatly except for when I experienced a professional edit from this very awesome editor extraordinaire, Erica Orloff (a/k/a Author Extraordinaire).

While taking college credit courses, I also maintained writing in my work-in-progress, a project that's taking nearly five years to finish (note "eye explosion" and "enrolling in college" - those things were time sucks). All in all, I kept at the craft, one for college credits and the other for improving my skills on my own time (as difficult as it was during "eye explosion").

Another Fall semester is approaching and I enrolled in one final Honors English course, only to drop the course before starting. Thoughts of "And I need this why?" kept rolling around in my sub-conscious, sending subliminal messages for me to take one more look at "WHY?" again. Thus I set out on a path to wonder and ponder as to the necessity of a degree in Liberal Arts/English Literature. I have the utmost respect for degrees, especially in the Arts. And I strongly feel this about degrees: Once obtained no one can take them away. Plus, for the many it looks good on a resume. "They" say that these days one can't get a decent paying job without some form of degree.

I'm beyond hanging out with the workforce. I have no plans on seeking employment in the "real world." My career focus is finishing my work-in-progress with a later focus on seeing it to fruition, a/k/a publication. The question that begs asking and taps at my skull often is do I really need a degree in order to accomplish my writing goals?

Perhaps what I need to consider is the audience for whom I write. Am I trying to appeal to the Literary Fiction crowd? No, and if so I'd need the Bachelors and also the Masters in Fine Arts (most likely). And lately I've considered the "genre" in which I write. Still haven't determined precisely what it is, but I have narrowed it down, feeling my work can be considered "dramedy," a cross between a funny and serious storyline.

Do I need a degree to be funny and serious? Will said degree make an editor/agent view me in a more serious light? Do I care? Frankly, I've read many books by those with degrees in English, and many by authors with MFA's. Some were fabulous; some were "meh." Yet, my most favorite of books was written by an author with a degree in Comparative Religion. Go figure.

Earlier I mentioned the improvement in my writing skills resultant of taking Honors English and receiving an edit from Editor/Author Extraordinaire. The latter has been a mentor; with her I feel as if I was completing an internship in writing just by visiting her blog. My relationship with her has blossomed beyond the mentoring stage. (Knowing her is like having a personal guardian angel/philosopher/genius.) Through her I feel as if I'm obtaining CWE (Continuing Writing Education) credits necessary to maintain my writing edge, which works better than college for me. And she possesses a degree in English, is a literary editor and at one time in her life, a literary agent. So it goes, she backs up her profession with the necessary and appropriate credentials. (Plus, her books kick some major butt.)

All said, at this juncture in my life, I have already honed my "natural" talent (as some have called it) by completing the aforementioned Honors English and mentoring/interning via Editor/Author extraordinaire. I continued improving my skills, writing daily even if it isn't in my work-in-progress. I practice the craft regularly. I have no desire to be a critic, editor, agent or English teacher. I just want to write it, finish it, publish it. The THREE ITS. I feel it's unnecessary to return for a "degree" if my goal-focus is on seeing my work-in-progress or one of my other manuscripts to fruition. I'm FIFTY-FRIGGIN'-SEVEN! Seriously, time to carpe diem it up, right?

I honor and respect those who've pounded their way to a Bachelors and MFA. But personally I feel that a degree in the Arts isn't always a necessity for everyone. This writer-extraordinaire will succeed without the sheepskin, pretty as one might look on my wall. With the notion that writing is something I cannot quit, it proves to me that I'm on the correct and very focused path.

Degree or not to degree? What dost thou think?

Monday, July 4, 2011

No Paine, No Gain: A July Fourth Tribute to Thomas Paine, America's First Gifted Writer

The following is an abridged version of an essay I wrote for college credits. Any and all cites have been removed. Do your own damn research, suckers.

And without further adieu, I give you...

No Paine, No Gain

Thomas Paine’s reputation preceded him. His father was a corseter in Thetford, England, Paine’s birthplace. After flunking out of school at age twelve, young Thomas apprenticed with his father, but failed at that, too. If a twentieth century man, Thomas Paine might be known as a “loser.” Thus, Paine was a corset maker’s disappointment. While still residing in England and making his way as an excise tax officer, young Thomas, at the tender age of nineteen, crossed paths with Benjamin Franklin, who brought him to Philadelphia, where he set out on the journalistic path. The rest, as they say, is history. Paine became a prolific essayist, and author of The Crisis and Common Sense.

The relevance of The Crisis is rooted in Paine’s Common Sense. The essay was the equivalent of modern day “grass roots” movement in that its circulation reached many, and the body of it penetrated the fence-sitters who waffled between loyalty to, or independence from, England. It helped them embrace the reality of the situation. Perhaps its language seemed powerful, but the power belongs to the writer. Paine worded the essay simplistically; it “spoke to the common people.”

In Common Sense, Paine reminded the colonists that monarchy equals tyranny; that although England’s form of government appeared to include checks and balances, it didn’t include input by the people. So to comment on Paine’s The Crisis, it’s prudent to consider Paine’s meaning as conveyed to the colonists in Common Sense. The pamphlet “nudged” the people into considering what they had to gain through independence from England.

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” accurately depicts the inner struggle of the colonists in that they had much to consider. During the salutary neglect, colonies formed their own government and enjoyed the autonomy, yet when England reminded itself of their moneymaker across the pond, they reasserted their authority in the form of taxation. England unilaterally levied taxes on the colonists without warning. This left a bad taste in the colonists’ mouths. When the idea of separation from England spread, it created more inner turmoil. How could young America expect to defeat a country with the most powerful military in the world? What if they broke away from England only to be swallowed up by Spain or France? Some still had familial ties back in England; others felt an economic strain, particularly in the southern colonies where people actually stuck to England’s mercantilism.

There was much to consider. Would it be worth it? Paine said, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” This served a reminder that they’ve slay the dragon previously, and survived to fight another. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly,” meaning that accepting defeat without a struggle is a worthless endeavor. The colonists had already spread their independent wings and managed to endure to fight another. They already had proven their mettle in previous battles, having fought and captured British forts in New York, Virginia and Canada, as well as at Concord when they forced the British to retreat, and Bunker Hill, which encouraged more colonists to join the fight. Colonial women took a stand, boycotting tea drinking and the wearing of British goods, utilizing homespun cloth. Those boycotts instilled self-sufficiency; they proved that the colonists could, and would, stand on their own.

The colonists knew that what they accomplished was worth fighting to maintain. Although initially, the Continental Congress sought “a peaceful resolution” by exhibiting to George III, via the “Olive Branch Petition,” that they meant to remain loyal to the crown. However, the King’s opinion remained steadfast, that the colonists were subordinates. Parliament acted, formally declaring the colonies “in open rebellion.” England blockaded American ports, seized American ships and cargo, inadvertently leaving the colonists with little choice but to revolt.

Gen. George Washington ordered his officers to read The Crisis to their troops on the night of December 25, 1776. Under fierce weather conditions, troops stood armed and ill clothed while listening to Paine’s essay. I imagine sounds of coughing and feet stomping while clouds of frigid breaths filled the air. The essay, read in its entirety, was meant to inspire troop morale, perhaps in the sense of Bob Hope Christmas Shows of modern times. On December 26, 1776 the Continental Army went on to defeat both the British and Hessian troops, Paine’s essay purportedly written on the back of a drumhead.

At the time Washington’s job security was in question. Troop morale dwindled. The defeat at Trenton wasn’t considered a significant win, but in the end Washington continued in charge of the troops, and the Continental Army morale reinvigorated.

The power of Paine’s pen proved strong and vibrant.

Paine is my Revolutionary War hero, a man who never saw battle but proved beyond words the power of the pen.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Traditional or Self Publish: Game Changer

Inertia: A tendency to remain in a fixed condition without change; disinclination to move or act.

I've always valued open-mindedness. Critical thinking and viewing all sides before coming to a conclusion is the more logical path for me. Yet the subject of self-publishing took on a vivid black and white philosophy that didn't include fence sitting. True confession: I believed self-publication was an act of desperation.

Way back in the days before electronic publishing, self-publishing existed in print format. For a tidy sum one could pay to publish their book. Prices varied depending on the package, some upwards of a few thousand dollars. I checked it out once and when I saw it cost money that I didn't have, I took a pass. Preferring to take the traditional path didn't cost me a single penny - just tons of angst (and I'm not including fees for contests and writing workshops, etc. Those were necessary learning tools). Plus, for me selling to a traditional publisher would give me a huge sense of accomplishment.

I still feel that way, but lately I've considered changing my views of those who choose the self-publishing road. Many of my writer friends, who got closer to a traditional publisher's door than I ever did, have gone the self route. Many of these writers are excellent and extremely passionate about the craft, especially this one. It's just that the luck pendulum never swung in their direction. You know - right time; right place, etc. Thus, rather than leave their babies tucked away on the hard drive, they've unleashed them to the highway of electronic readers, circumventing the traditional route. Plus, they're making money and hopefully enough to justify their choice. (Side note: Those who print self-published of yesteryear most likely didn't recoup their investment.)

And who am I to denounce them for their choice? (A smug snob, that's who.)

Perhaps sometimes it isn't about how to publish but choosing to. Not all who choose the self-published route do so because they're sick of rejection. Not all do so out of desperation.

Maybe they just want to be read. And this notion struck me with brute force recently like a divine intervention. It makes me want to purchase a Kindle (again) so I might read the works by very talented writers. And maybe one day some of them will want to read my works...

That is if I have the nerve to put myself out there. And there's the rub. The self-published author possesses insurmountable courage. They have unleashed their babies for all to praise or call "meh." The latter scares me. Still, the self-published authors of the world , at least some, haven't let the "meh" reviews discourage them.

I wonder if self-publishing fulfills a desire for writers to see their hard work to fruition, which makes me question my former feelings about self-publishing. That's a good thing because to stop self-questioning is a dreadful form of inertia.

All said, I must step up and honor my fellow writers who choose self-publication. It's not about the bling, but always about honoring the art and thyself.

Here's to change and growth! May I remain true to myself while embracing the choices of others.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

One Life To Lose

Of all the despicable acts of betrayal, ABC network has cancelled my favorite soap, One Life To Live. The only soap I've watched for the last two years, it offered everything to keep me entertained. It had great acting, dialog and story-lines. Just one episode sucked me in making it the epitome of every writer's goal: Keep the audience in your clutches.

Alas, daytime television isn't like the good old days when the majority of moms were housewives and soap operas had a captive audience. With the changing times and culture, fewer viewers plummeted ratings, and if a show can't sell the soap, well then honey, you're out.

Sadly the show's writing staff winds down, and with that it appears they have thrown up their hands and said, "Let's just get it over with." The writing has diminished, story-lines rushed like a meal made in a microwave. In a sense they've lost an integral part of an artist's soul - they've become lackadaisical, they've lost all...

Integrity. It's as if the writers no longer feel commitment to the art; they're phoning in the pages in order to get the job done. Doesn't matter if it's well done just so long as it's over with.

And it made me think about how I've proceeded with writing. My current work-in-progress is something I've had an on-again off-again relationship with for the past six years. After several starts and stalls I finally said to myself, "Just finish the damn thing. It's not going to get published anyway."

Is it any wonder that I stray from my work? Why show up at all when I've already proclaimed its end result? And when I do show up to the pages I write stream-of-consciousness; whatever pops into my head I barf to the pages, not because the words come from the heart but because I'm just getting it done. I've set up a self fulfilled prophecy and lost the main part of the writer's equation: Integrity.

To show up at the page with complete disregard for the craft is like learning you've got six months to live. Choices develop. Choose to live; choose to die. Make every day count; make every day the countdown. I pity the writing staff of One Life To Live. Surely it sucks to receive a pink-slip, but it sucks more to finish out their stay like they're choosing to die without honor. Yes, the writing world can be cruel. The real world can be, too. But life is what we make of it. To choose an ending inappropriate to the life lived diminishes an already withered soul. It stamps out integrity, the blood coursing through every GREAT writer's veins.

I like to think I have developed standards (when it comes to writing). I like to believe that the pages I write are works of art even if not everyone else will view them that way. My standard is to do the best job I can - to maintain my integrity and not let myself down. As I reflected on the shoddy end-of-days writing of One Life to Live I realized that I stopped living up to my standards and in doing so, stopped living up to my fullest potential.

Through the cancellation of a soap I've learned a valuable lesson and for that I'm grateful, no matter the bittersweet feeling I have over the end. So whether I've chosen to write with or without the goal of publication, I'll remain true in honoring the craft and produce with excellence.

Integrity: Is it an important cog in your writing wheel or not?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Don't Let Your Rain Come Down On Me, Debbie.

Lately I've noticed a failing in myself. Throughout my life I've allowed the naysayers to control my destiny. This isn't a new revelation, just something I'm more aware of with age.


1. Last year I had what I felt was an awesome story idea. It was one of those ideas that kept me awake at night. I gathered research; a librarian friend helped - she was as excited as I was. And then I shared my idea with a former colleague who responded, "Good luck with that. I had the same idea and just couldn't get it to go anywhere."

2. I once received an A in a college course. This was so shocking that I shared the news with another student. Her response: "I heard that everyone got an A in that course."

These negative reactions sent my confidence and sense of accomplishment to the ninth ring of hell. I don't share information about my life in order to receive praise. It's just something shared in the course of conversation.

In physics we learn that positive (+) and negative (-) charges attract each other. In human nature positive tidings can at times attract negative comments. Unlike physics, in human nature negative comments repel the positive experience. Negative comments discredit goals and dreams; they stop motivation.

They are my personal acid rain.

I have a history of allowing the negativity of others to control my destiny. For instance, I dumped my super-duper story idea within a week after former colleague's response not only proving that negative swamps positive, but that it also stymies progress. Do I place blame on her for abandoning my idea? Of course not. I have since come to realize that I can't control what spews from people's mouths but I can control how I let it affect me.

How do I control its effect? I'm viewing the sources in a different light. Rather than allow negative comments/people to stop my momentum, I point out to the naysayer that they are the "muwah-muwah" of life. Later I rationalize where their negativity is coming from and then let it go without over-analyzing the situation. I'm not Dr. Phil. The id of others is for the experts to figure out.

My attempt to control negative effects is a difficult task. There exists no patch for my ancient habit of allowing negative energy to dim my light. It'll take practice, but I'm a firm believer in old dogs learning new tricks.

As artists we come under a barrage of negative comments from those who feel entitled to dish them out. But as artists we possess the talent to overcome obstacles. It's the nature of our beast. The power is endless and something we tap into daily. Although I have in the past allowed the negatives to get the better of me, I'm living proof that they haven't killed me.

Debbie Downer: The acid rain queen of life. Have you developed your repellent for her next monsoon?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Parallel Universe

American Idol's newest season is the best group of talent yet with new judges and new mentors. Every time I watch I can't stop comparing this season to my writing world.

Case in point: The new panel of judges. Out with the old with the exception of Randy Jackson, this season's addition of Jennifer Lopez and Stephen (pant) Tyler is nothing short of a brilliant move on the producers' part. These judges offer criticism in a non-degrading way proving the true meaning of constructive. They speak with fortification, their words improving the talent and making the contestants feel worthy of the prize.

Although I truly enjoyed Simon Cowell, his harsh criticisms were unnecessary and non-productive. Telling a contestant that they're next gig is on a cruise ship removed the contestant's drive to thrive. And although Paula and DioGuardi Who kept poisonous remarks to themselves, they didn't say the things that would make the contestants feel like they were winners. "Oh, that was really nice," isn't the same as saying, "I'd buy a front row ticket to your concert," because, really, who cares if Paula or DioGuardi Who sit front row center, but hearing Jennifer Lopez say it is like Mark Ruffalo asking me to spend the weekend at his estate in the Catskills (if he has one, if I were single and twenty years...make that ten years younger).

This year Idol added Jimmy Iovine and Will. I. Am. as mentors. Love these guys because they keep it real while showing the contestants ways to improve. Like the judges, they empower the talent with spot-on advice. They are mentors with hefty credentials backing up their claims. If the talent disagrees with advice, the mentors respect it without discrediting it.

Yes, this season of Idol reminds me of both the great and horrible critiques I've received on my writing path. There was a spell when I'd submit my work to various Romance Writers of America contests. Not a romance writer, I felt the format allowed me a view of how my work was received. This is where I learned to develop a thick skin, even though some contest judges utilized the Simon Cowell version of criticism, using demeaning words that stalled my muse. A veil of defeat floated over my pen, at times making it a struggle to drag it across the paper. So similar to how Simon Cowell's caustic criticism doused the talent of American Idol.

Luckily for me, the day came when I realized that my work had no place in Romance Writers of America. I needed room to flex my writing muscle, which entailed figuring out who I was as a writer, similar to Idol's judges querying contestants on if they know who they want to be as singers. The problem was that I had no idea where to wander. And because the Universe works in subtle ways, after several unsuccessful attempts by doctors to reattach a chronically detaching retina, I decided to enroll in college.

A strange path to take, fellow students young enough to be my children, it's where my muse got her opportunity to shake out the feathers and stretch. Thank heaven for the registrar who put me in the school's Honors English course, a place that helped me realize my true writing potential. My English Literature professor became my mentor. His manner of teaching illuminated; never did he force his opinion, rather he suggested better ways of enhancing my voice. He was the Jimmy Iovine of my college life.

Over the course of the last three years my path crossed with a very talented editor/author, Erica Orloff, the most influential mentor to date. She graciously offered to read a piece I had struggled with. As she called it, she gave it an "unvarnished edit." I called it the "yin-yang" edit. A careful eye for talent, she also has a careful eye for the unnecessary. She'd point out the brilliant and then comment on the "mehs" of my manuscript, but in such a way that opened my eyes and made me want to do better.

Certainly we can disagree with criticism, but if offered from the heart and soul of true craftsmen such as Jimmy Iovine, Will. I. Am and Erica Orloff, it's all about growing the talent and never about subduing the creative muse. And every time I watch American Idol, it reminds me of my writing experience; I find myself comparing Idol's judges and mentors with my English Lit. professor and the incomparable Erica O.

Talent grows so long as one keeps an open mind to suggestions and constructive criticism; to ignore a great mentor is to reject the wild blue yonder. Aim high or you'll never know where your talent will take you. I'm glad I kept my eye wide-open, as well as my ears.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Arrivederci Pia

American Idol fans saw a favorite bite the dust this week, losing Pia Toscano whose talent might be more suited for voice-overs and soundtracks, places that need a strong sound only. Harsh criticism, I know, but out of the nine remaining finalists, Miss Toscano's incredible voice wasn't enough to rise her above the others. She lacked the ability to entertain entirely, unable to draw in voters as well as compete with the more unique talents of Casey, Paul and Scotty (my personal favorites). She lacked "different."

In a word, her talent was generic. Not downplaying her voice, but more was needed and she didn't deliver, the difference between just okay and totally awesome. Just like writing...

Segue Alert: I see vast comparisons between the singers of American Idol whose talent captures votes as well as the eye of music promoters, record labels and buyers, and writers whose work catches the eye of literary agents, editors and readers. Contestants of Idol need to stand out. Writers of fiction need to do the same. Talent is the common denominator, but I feel it's also necessary to bring something different to the equation. In the case of Idol, singers with a distinct voice coupled with the ability to touch listeners deeply while taking a risk seems to garner the most votes, and the same goes for writers.

Like the surviving Idol contestants, I find that I'm taking chances and writing not to appeal to the norm, but to excite those looking for different. The same-old same-old has a following, but are those generic works memorable? Are their characters warped, disheveled, have a broken nose but still get the girl? Does the plot make the reader say, "Damn, that's the coolest idea ever?"

Sometimes a person needs to strap on a set in order to move ahead of the pack. This is how I view Casey, Paul and Scotty of Idol. When I close my eyes and listen I know who they are, and when I watch and see Casey with his stand-up bass, Paul with his wonky way of dancing and Scotty who is doing a stellar job bringing back smooth cross-over country, well, I just see a three-way coming in the end (win, that is).

And as a writer I tend to do the same thing, strapping on the set God forgot to give me and letting 'er rip, diving into the parts of my gray matter where all the different twists and angles live. Playing it safe in writing is like a paranoia, checking to make sure all rules followed at all times rather than shaking it up and letting it roll, an unexpected outcome worth the scary risk of doing something extraordinarily out of the ordinary.

Why settle for keeping in step when breaking into a fast sprint puts the parade miles behind you? Risks are for winners. Long live the risk-takers! Be the bright brushstroke on the beige canvas - kick it up or remain, for lack of a better word, just "meh."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Calliope's Comeback: The Importance of Quitting

Many view walking away from something as a form of throwing in the towel. "She's a quitter!" some might say behind her back. In fact, I might be one to hurl the first stone in that regard. And over a month ago I did just that. I QUIT WRITING. And then stoned myself metaphorically, wiling away the hours with Spider Solitaire, cyber-shopping and random movies.

There's something to be said for self-flagellation. In my case it brought renewal, minus the ugly scars. More to the point,the scars became marks of beauty and reminders that it's better to realize what is necessary to the cause, rather than push through and hate every minute of it. It brought an awakening, new perspective and adjustment. And it silenced...

Ugly Inner Critic. Don't get me wrong, voices in my head have multiple purposes, but Ugly Inner Critic belittled my work. I found that very defeating. It flat-lined the creative process, made writing more about how much I could scribble, quality taking a back seat to quantity.

Where is the good in just "showing up to the page" if not bringing your A-game? In retrospect, that's what I did, even though not "feeling it," I figured it was better to act the part, non-productive as it was. Worst part about going through the motions was that it robbed my spirit and love for the art. Hate filled my pages, and perhaps that was a good thing. It stopped my writing - the necessary brick wall.

The good news is that the time away from writing acted as a cleansing ritual. Putting distance between the Ugly Inner Critic's hubris and my precious Calliope brought inner peace.

Now as I write (did I mention I returned to the pages?), I feel the meditative sweetness enveloping my muse. Words flow collectively, no longer weighted down with over-thinking. Now when I write I don't feel Ugly Inner Critic hovering. Rather I feel the spirit of her, the one saving grace that gave me the courage not only to quit, but to return full throttle. After all, everyone needs a mentor. She is mine, strong and able to help me survive my recent self-imposed exile.

So when life gives you lemons, when writing becomes an uphill battle and your muse has been steamrolled by your personal kill-joy, walking away isn't as awful as it might appear. In my case it taught me that the heart of a true writer doesn't wither but grows stronger. May the pen forever be mightier than the sword, and the muse be forever stronger than The Ugly Inner Critic.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Phoenix Rises In New York

It's been nearly a month since my last post, one filled with crazy anxiety, depression and sick relatives (in every way possible). Through it all I stepped away from the usual blog haunts and social network addictions.

And then I returned to the pages. Call it "Calliope's Revival," which sounds all bible-belt-ish, but my writing curse has faded and the muse returned from her self-imposed exile/hibernation. Sometimes breaks are crucial in the quest for brilliance.

Here's hoping my muse has renewed strength and outlook in the pages ahead.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Calliope's Collapse

"It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all," a diluted quote made in an attempt to justify loneliness, perhaps. I hear it in my head in an analogous form justifying my dropping from the writing thing. Completely.

Honestly I can say I never loved writing, nor did I not. It was something that filled the empty hours, a form of personal entertainment similar to playing The Sims, for instance. Yet, The Sims never led anywhere, sort of a fantastical dead-end. While playing the simplistic game an invisible voice didn't sit close to my ear saying such things as, "Not buying it; this story's going nowhere; you are a passive writer."

Comments perhaps have killed my muse, and it has been a struggle to silence their subtle "help." I find myself holding a pseudo grudge and contempt, words that haunt while I pour my heart's muse to the pages.

She has since gone into hibernation or some form of rehab. I can't say that I miss writing per se, but I do miss the joy my characters brought on a daily basis, the wonder of what they'd do and say next, random and haphazard as they filled endless pages and hours of my time. Yet it came with an end-game: Where to go next? What outcome, goal, plan for my time and energy? I sought answers, received rejection, felt the frustration and ache of wanting achievement.

Quitting doesn't come easily, but there comes a time when reality says it's time to move on, let go of the angst, find beauty elsewhere. The good that comes to me personally is what I hold close with the hope that one day I can return without the haunting voices whispering their subtle "help."

May Calliope find her way back, well rested and eager for reinvention.

The End

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Metaphysically Waxing

There's a stretch of road off the beaten path that I drive, and on it I've unfolded and written on my mental sheaves entire scenes. Yet once back within the confines of mortar and brick the words vaporize leaving behind a few shreds to pick at. If I don't attack quickly, the crumbs turn to dust and I'm lost again.

This strange occurrence happened yesterday. The sun blazed its light and I couldn't escape, my car having windows to draw in the specter. My Ipod as company, a certain song played helping to evolve this scene that I'm sure sat between the gray folds of my brain for quite some time. It was then that I realized the connection - that there is a distinct possibility that creative being follows the sunlight. Brightness. Could it affect my personal creative space?

In my former residence I wrote in four different rooms. Each had many windows and I could comfortably sit with laptop, desktop or paper and pen and let it flow. It was there that every single new story began, many to fruition. Since moving to a new location the muse has gone into hibernation. I haven't spilled new words, have only reworked those I created at the former residence, the place with all the light and windows.

At my new residence I have an office. It has one window facing west. The walls are green, formerly pink. The furniture has been rearranged so many times that I dare not move my desk again for fear it will collapse. Out of certain desperation I've taken my work to another room and tried creating something new.

I once boasted that I could write anywhere - I didn't need no stinkin' babblin' brook and green, lush meadows to steer my muse. Her grace could work anywhere. And now I find that perhaps I was full of shit. Now I find that after living at the new residence for sixteen months I haven't felt the rush of words. It's as if I'm in permanent eclipse.

This week I'll put my theory to the test, albeit unintentionally. I've reached the place of an unfinished manuscript that is an open road ahead, just waiting for the rest of the story that has simmered between my brain's gray folds.

Here's to a new week of uncertainty. May the gods be kind and open the channels for creative light to blaze in. After all, I cannot drive and write (without getting a ticket).


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Family Honor, Cannibalism and Other Heartwarming Delights: A Review of Jeff Lindsay's Dexter Is Delicious

Taboos and other social mores receive such a bad rap in today's culture. Thanks to Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter series, the distasteful and twisted becomes palatable and entertaining. Word of warning: The Dexter series isn't recommended for the faint of stomach or readers possessing high morals. If serial killers with a heart seem offensive, better to take a pass on these books. Additional word of warning: If your liver is a lily then you're missing a truly stupendous opportunity to broaden the mind as well as enjoy very well written works. Intelligent writing is hard to find in today's shaky publishing environment. That said, if there exists literary I.Q., Lindsay's hovers in the high triple digits.

If unfamiliar with the Dexter literary series and the popular Showtime one, by day Dexter Morgan, the story's title character, is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Dade Police Department. By night "he kills only people who deserve it." Dexter can't help that he's a serial killer. "Born in blood" is the catch-phrase describing Dexter, for when a youngster (age three I believe) he witnessed the brutal murder of his mother. The event clicked a switch in the boy's inner psyche turning him into a not-so-average serial killer. Dexter was fortunate in that Harry Morgan, a cop at his mother's crime scene, took him in and raised him as a foster child and later adopting him. Harry recognized the evil in Dexter and through his guidance, taught Dexter to rein in his darkness by turning him into a dark super hero. Harry instilled "The Harry Code," translated as only killing heinous criminals who fall through the judicial cracks. People who "deserve it."

It's fair to say that in order to truly enjoy Dexter is Delicious is to read the previous four books in the series. However, each can be enjoyed individually, but in skipping the first four the reader loses the chain of events that turned deeply dark Dexter into somewhat human Dexter. And in Delicious, Dexter's heart begins beating with the birth of his child, Lily. Dexter's dark passenger slips into hiatus, until two evil events unfold making Dexter rethink his urges. First, a never before seen crime hits the South Miami scene. A missing teenager leads police to a brutal murder scene wherein the victim's body has not only been dismembered, but bones picked clean as if part of a Thanksgiving feast. Stranger than that, Dexter's long lost brother, Brian, also born in blood, shows up unexpectedly, ready to hamper Dexter's happy married life in the role of Uncle Brian. Brian's darkness was never reined in, so it's safe to assume that he treats his dark passenger as any average psycho serial killer would - killing for fun.

Lindsay does a superb job in making the heinous palatable. Humor abounds in his writing, as well as beautiful prose. I appreciate that he doesn't dumb-down his work by trying to make it all horror and disgusting situations of blood and gore. His writing is a work of art, as all great writing should be, in my humble opinion. If I could produce with half his wit I'd be sitting pretty with several publishing contracts and not sitting here writefully mumbling. Still, I cling to great writing and Jeff Lindsay is one of my several mentors. Passages such as, "Can this really be the Miami I have always lived in? Or has some strange physics experiment in an underground supercollider sent us all to live in Bizarro World, where everyone is kind and tolerant and happy all the time?" keep me returning for more Lindsay. The passage is in the book's first chapter expressing Dexter's awe over the gathering of new fathers at the maternity ward's viewing area of newborns. And if not such an unusual and unexpected opening I might have passed on this book. But it is outstanding in comparison to the other books in the series, completely blindsiding this ardent fan of Lindsay's twisted storylines. Can't help but love this man!

Surprises abound in Delicious; Lindsay has a knack for creating entertainment out of the macabre, time spent with his page turners a chronic pleasure. An additional unexpected element was his subtle nod to the Big East Conference by creating a Syracuse University graduate as a police detective. It felt a bit out of place and I wondered if Lindsay has ties to the Orange. Syracuse isn't notorious for their political science program. The character, Deke, comes across as an inept neophyte suited more for modeling than investigating. I'm still not certain it added to the story, as well as a scene where a victim's family offers a bribe to several police detectives. Both seemed a bit useless, the proverbial "sore-thumb," yet didn't detract from the story. Sort of a coffee-break in the midst of chaos.

If I were writing this review as an English Lit assignment (been there, done that, got the A to prove it), I'd comment on theme and motif. Suffice it to say, Lindsay mastered both very well. My professor would be gushing. Lindsay interweaves every other literary vehicle at his disposal and streamlines the story to its heartwarming conclusion. Yes, heartwarming, reminding the reader that blood is thicker than water, especially between born-in-blood siblings.

Unlike the Showtime series, Lindsay kept Delicious undiluted and fresh, as is all his Dexter books. There's something to be said for the creative writing beast and how it's interpreted from book to film. The Dexter Showtime series has a large writing staff; it's apples and oranges, but over the seasons it has lost its resilience. Jeff Lindsay continues to give us a strong Dexter storyline book after book. He hasn't lost a bit of steam or tired in the least.

Here's hoping he'll continue to grace us with his beautiful, albeit wrapped, sense of humor and prose.

Out of five stars, Dexter is Delicious earns a shiny four and three-quarters. Bravo!