Limited Communication

Eli, my dog, stuck his face in mine a few moments ago.  He’s started this habit recently; when whining doesn’t get my attention, putting his head on the arm of my chair, the edge of the bed, or my shoulder is his next effort.

Dogs have detailed, involved communication with each other; they use scent, body positioning, and sound, just to name a few.  But their communication with us is more limited.  I can tell when Eli wants something, but with a few exceptions I can’t usually tell what he wants.  (The exceptions are all related to food.  He is obvious about wanting food, either by carrying his bowl to where I am sitting or banging it around with his foot.)

When he set his chin on my shoulder earlier, I started thinking about things from his point of view.  It must be tough to live in a world where you can’t fully convey your needs.  As a person who makes a living communicating, and makes a hobby of writing, it is such a foreign concept that I simply can’t imagine going through life unable to share more than rudimentary ideas with the person who takes care of me.

Poor Eli.  I wonder if there is some way for me to open up channels of communication through training.  For example, maybe I could teach him to bump a little bell when he needs to go outside.  It would be nice to give him a little more control over his life, even if he is an old dog.

Writing Practice

Haven’t done one of these in a while…

She slipped her bare legs between the fresh sheets, reveling in the feel of the crisp cotton on her skin.  Falling back, she let out a sigh as her head met the pillow, the plush mattress taking over the task of supporting her body.  She breathed an audible “aah” as she was relieved of the burden of being upright.  For a moment she lay still, the smell of clean linens and the gentle pressure of the blanket cocooning her.

Without lifting her head, she stretched her arm to the fullest of its length, reaching for the nightstand.  After a few attempts, the tip of her middle finger found the switch for the lamp.  The dark was immediate and her relaxation deepened.  Three heartbeats later, she pulled her arm back and snuggled further into her nest of comfort.

It only took a moment before her ever-active brain began chasing the details of her day, endless laps disturbing her rest and resurrecting her stress.  She briefly wondered if insomnia had come to visit once again.  Fortunately, it had been a very physical day, and it wasn’t long before her exhausted body took charge and quiet reigned.  Her mental gymnastics had been washed away by the rising tide of sleep.


It’s finally starting to feel like spring around here!

Eli and I went for a walk this evening on the trail, to enjoy the warmer weather.  (Our high was in the upper 40s today, which feels warm after low 30s.)  We didn’t go very far, because we’re both out of shape.  Eli’s worse than me; at least I’ve been able to go to the gym and ice skating.

As I was walking I realized that the world doesn’t look that much different than last week.  The grass is still brown and dormant.  There are still pockets of snow frozen to ice, in the pools of shade under trees.  The trees themselves are still bare, waiting for leaves.

The warmth makes a difference, though, and there are subtle signs that winter is in decline.  Cardinal calls fill the air, loud and insistent.  The river is once again flowing, although the water level is still low.  I even saw a bluebird, a species that leaves our area for warmer climes in the winter.  (Of course, it was chased off by a junco, a species that is only here in winter.)

It was nice to get outside, stretch all six of our legs, and breathe in the fresh air.  Here’s hoping it lasts for a while!

Tangled Conversations

Have you ever had one of those conversations that starts at point A, aimed for point B, but instead of taking the direct route it meanders its way through C, D, X, J, and Y before finally finding its way back to the original topic?  Sometimes the conversation gets so convoluted that it won’t ever find its way back around!  Here’s an example:

A: “Do you want to go somewhere to get lunch?”
B: “That might be possible.  Let me see what I have going on this afternoon.”
A: “Oh, we have that staff meeting at two, right?  I can’t believe we’re reviewing the dress code again.”
B: “We have to!  Haven’t you seen what Lacy’s been wearing lately?”
A: “Seriously!  She did have some really cute shoes on the other day, though.”
B: “I forgot to tell you, I found this great website!  Really good deals on shoes, and some of them are super cute.”
A: “Oooh, show it to me!”
C: “Hey you two, should we go get some food?”

This is how conversations often work in real life, but dialog in books and movies is much more straightforward.  Dialog rarely exists simply for the sake of having people talk; it is there to convey information, be it knowledge, character relationships, or plot advancement.  Often we as authors are advised to include less dialog, to focus on the description and the action and the story.  It’s true that a scene with only dialog gets bogged down and boring, even hard to read, but in real life conversations are the lifeblood of most relationships.   We talk to our friends, chat and gossip and make plans.  It behooves us as authors to find a balance between descriptions and dialog, between conversations to convey information and conversations to develop relationships between characters.

Picking Locks

Mara, one of the characters in Butterflies, learns many skills in her childhood on the streets that become important later on in her life.  One of those skills is picking locks.

Initially I figured that life as a street urchin would necessitate some level of illegal behavior, and that picking locks was something she learned in order to survive.  As I am developing her character more deeply, I find that I don’t really want her to become a full-fledged thief.  The gang of kids she runs with are opportunists; if there is something easy to swipe, they’ll take advantage, but they aren’t strictly thieves.

So if she’s not a thief, how does she learn to pick locks?  She needs to have the skill before she gets to the training school where the three main characters meet – it is a secret she saves until an opportune moment.  That leaves two places for her to learn it: with the street kids, or from the woman who becomes her mentor.  I’m leaning towards learning it as a street kid, because that seems to fit better.  Her mentor is who gets her into the training school, which also means that her teachers would know that Mara had already learned the skill, making the secret less impactful when it is revealed.

There is another reason to need to pick a lock besides thieving (which she doesn’t do) and spying (which is why she needs the knowledge at school).  Locks keep you out of places.  The group of kids that she joins lives in the odd spaces between buildings and inside the city wall (yes, actually inside of the wall), and some of those spaces would likely be protected by locked gates or doors.  Once I had that realization, it was easy to envision a young version of Mara learning how to quickly and efficiently pick a lock, for the same reason the chicken crossed the road.  She needed to get to the other side.

Can you say meta?

I’ve been having a mini-marathon of the third season of my favorite tv show, Castle.  I also recently finished Frozen Heat, the fourth Richard Castle novel.

The writers of the show Castle love to pepper in references to other pop culture, particularly if it is related to the star of the show.  The last episode I watched has my favorite Firefly reference, when Castle (Nathan Fillion) speaks Chinese and explains it as “just a tv show I used to love.”  The episode that is currently playing has a reference to Jaws, which Nathan Fillion has said is one of his favorite books.  But the show has nothing on the novels, which are insanely self-referential.  I’ve mentioned this characteristic before, but the fourth book added some extra layers.

If you aren’t familiar, here is a quick overview of the layers found in the whole series.  The books are written by Richard Castle, a fictional character from a television show, including appropriate photo, bio, and acknowledgements.  They reference cases and characters from the show, in the way that an author would reference his own life.  (A quick internet search did not turn up the names of the ghostwriters.  Apparently it will remain a secret, at least as long as ABC is committed to the concept.  Given how popular the show and the books are, I’m guessing we’ll have to wait a while.)

Now to the new, very self-referencing layers.  In book three, there is a character with the last name Hamner, whose nickname is “The Hammer.”  (Nothing like a nice Dr. Horrible reference, is there?)  There is also an outright mention of Firefly, in a discussion of science fiction television.  Book four takes the Firefly reference to a whole new level, introducing a pair of detectives named Malcolm and Reynolds.

I love it all, but it kind of makes my brain hurt a little.  I must admit it also reveals the depths of my nerdiness!

Quick Query Update

Tonight will be a really quick update!  I sent two more queries tonight, both with fairly quick response times.  It’s kind of interesting to review agency websites, trying to decide who to query.

So here is the current Query Count 2013: Rejections: 4, Pending: 2, Still to Send: 4.

Hey look!  Still to Send is below half – I’m actually making progress on the goal for the year.

Spring has… sprung?

The sky is blue and clear, the sun shining.  The calendar says it’s spring.

Our clocks already made the great leap forward.
Once again the sun hits my eyes as I head to work.  (I’ve never been sure where the savings come in.)

But the grass is still brown, dormant, waiting.
The ground holds patches of ice that used to be snow, dirt captured within.
The wind carries the same sharp bite it’s held for months.

I am tired of jeans and sweaters and sleeves and coats.
Spring should mean t-shirts and sandals and warmth.

I survived my first northern winter in a decade.  I’m ready for a weather reward.

Is it spring yet?


Folding Little Boxes

My parents and I are folding origami for my sister’s wedding.  (Somehow this has become a tradition – they folded paper cranes for my wedding.)

The pattern isn’t hard – I got the paper from my mom today and within less than an hour I had four done.  I want to be somewhat of a perfectionist on this; it is for my sister’s wedding, after all.  That means I’m taking a little more time with it, just to be precise, and it uses unfamiliar muscle patterns in my hands.  Four was about my limit at a time, but I’ll probably fold a few more before I call it a day.  I’m sure by the time I finish my pile of paper, I’ll be an expert at origami boxes!

Tonight I called to talk to my dad, and discovered that we were both folding boxes at the same time tonight.  We were even watching the same television show while doing it!  Most of the time you don’t think about the fact that everyone else in the world is doing something right now.  When you have a moment of “we were doing the same thing!” it reminds you that life happens simultaneously.  We remember it in our writing; characters often have parallel story lines.  For some reason it’s harder to think about in your own reality.   It often takes a revelation, or a moment of intentional reflection (“I wonder what they’re doing at work right now”) to open that train of thought.

Enough pondering life.  Back to folding boxes!

Common Threads

Have you ever noticed that you collect people in your life who have shared characteristics?  Sometimes they don’t even know each other – maybe it’s a friend from high school, a college roommate, and a coworker who all have something in common.  I posted a funny little picture of a bat on my personal Facebook page and tagged it with the people I know who are very fond of bats.  Two of them worked with me at my last place of business (albeit in different departments) and the third was in the same Master’s program as me.  I know it’s not totally unlikely – I have a lot of animal fans among my friends – but it’s still odd enough to make me ponder.

In another example, my sister and two previous co-workers  have the same birthday.  Again, just a coincidence, but still an odd thing in common.

There are many people in my life who also share behavioral traits or personality quirks.  I’ll have moments where interacting with one person will make me think of someone else I know.  Often these shared characteristics are things that I don’t share with the people in question.  Perhaps it is simply that my personality is complementary to theirs in some way, making it more likely that I will attract friends who share that trait.

Once again, contemplating human behavior can lead to interesting implications for writing.  Anything that you notice about people, particularly the things that make them complex, layered individuals, can be incorporated into writing to build the same sense of depth for your characters.

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