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Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Thanksgiving Literary Top Ten:

I'm grateful for people who write.  I love many, many authors, but for this Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to share my "top ten" list in no particular order:
1.        J. K. Rowling:  HP fans don’t need an explanation!  The magical world Ms. Rowling created will last forever and continue to inspire kids all over the world to love books.  Besides, they’re just so much fun to read!

2.       Charles Dickens:  No one does Victorian angst like he does.  Who else but a man who worked in a factory as a child, gluing labels onto bottles of “boot blacking” for ten hours a day could have such compassion for the working poor?  Add to that his ability to create timeless stories about human nature, and you have books that will last forever.  ‘God bless us, everyone!’

3.       Barbara Mertz:  Ever heard of her?  Perhaps not, but you may have heard of Elizabeth Peters, or Barbara Michaels, her pen names.  Ms. Mertz, as herself, wrote a fantastic text book about ancient Egypt that reads like a novel.  As Elizabeth Peters, she wrote the Amelia Peabody series of detective novels that never disappoint.  As Barbara Michaels, she wrote a series of modern “Gothic” novels, tinged with a bit of paranormal.  In those books, she covered topics such as antique quilts and clothing, horticulture, architecture, jewelry and precious stones, etc., and made such possibly dry subjects fascinating.    She passed away earlier this year.  Rest in peace, Barbara.  I will miss you.

4.       Alan Bradley:  Author of the Flavia de Luce mysteries.  Flavia is witty, brilliant, na├»ve, and adorable at age eleven.  She solves mysteries that the adults around her cannot.  She raises my eyebrows, makes me laugh, and makes me want to care about chemistry.  This series will always, always be a favorite of mine. 

5.       Suzanne Collins:  Say what you want about books that feature kids forced to kill each other in an arena, but “The Hunger Games” series is well written and an obvious protest against oppressive government.  These books grab you and don’t let go until you’ve read the last word.  Besides, my daughter read all three books within just a few days, then picked up the first book and immediately started all over again.  That hasn’t happened before, nor has it happened since. 

6.       J. R. R. Tolkien:  Yes, I read him before the movies!  “The Hobbit” was a childhood favorite, and I’ll always remember dreaming that I was in Smaug’s lair, climbing over piles of gold.  Enough said.

7.       Edgar Allen Poe:  So what if he was a little crazy?  Aren’t we all?  I loved him when I read him in high school, and have always remained fascinated by his work and his life. 

8.       Stephen King:  Don’t judge me.  He’s a fantastic writer.  Though he has a “potty mouth” and I don’t actually like all of his works, I admire him.  His book:  “On Writing,” is one of the best books, ahem, “on writing,” that I’ve ever found. 

9.       Fyodor Dostoyevsky:  I loved “Crime and Punishment” for some bizarre reason.  I love that horrid book about horrid things, likely because the idea that we are all responsible for our actions and that no one man is above the law, resonates with me.  Also because when Dostoyevsky writes, I feel like I’m living in a dank, stinking attic of a room, or wandering the street of St. Petersburg in rags.  That guy was good.

10.   Jane Austen:  Nobody does it better!  She wrote brilliant books, all without the aid of a typewriter.  Every girl wants to be Lizzie Bennett, and to find her Mr. Darcy.  Full of biting social commentary, as well as old-fashioned language and manners that seem amusingly outdated, her books still sell today like crazy. 
Who would you include in your top ten?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Twue Wuv...What Makes the Speech Pathologist in Me Cringe!!!

The Princess Bride is a funny movie.  I laugh every time I see it.  You know a film is going to be good when you have character names like:  “Princess Buttercup, Wesley, Fezzick and Prince Humperdinck.”  I love the “Cliffs of Insanity” scene, the Dread Pirate Roberts, the Rodents of Unusual Size, and the Pit of Despair.  I love cute little Fred Savage’s face as he begs Grandpa for more of the story.  I adore Mandy Patinkin and the immortal line:  “My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”

Here’s what I hate:  The character Vizzini has a pronounced lisp.  His famous line, well 'word,' if you want to get technical, is:  “inconceivable.” It's pronounced:  “incontheevable!”   Here’s what I hate even more:  the Archbishop who is to perform the marriage of Buttercup to Prince Humperdinck speaks like Elmer Fudd after he’s had a little too much to drink.  During the famous church scene, we hear:  “Mawidge…mawidge is what bwings us togevuuuuh….”  Then there’s the famous:  “Wuv…twue wuv…”

I admit I laughed the first time I saw this.  Probably the second, the third, and the thirty-fourth times, too.  And then I became a speech/language pathologist.  And I began to see how people who have communication disorders are portrayed on TV and in movies.  It’s not always a pretty sight, people! 

So often, characters who stutter or have some kind of communication disorder are the bad guys.  Don’t believe me?  Looney Tunes, anyone?  Think Porky Pig (bumbling idiot) and Elmer Fudd (bumbling-er idiot).  Yes, ‘bumbling-er’ is a word, at least for today!  I grew up on these cartoons.  Elmer and Porky are always fooled by the wise-cracking, smooth-talking Bugs Bunny, and on the receiving end of many, many mocking references to how they speak.  How about Professor Quirrell in the Sorcerer’s Stone?  I love J.K. about as much as anyone, and always will, but Quirrell fakes a stutter to appear foolish and weak.  A quick online search revealed this:  at least fifteen movies produced within the last two decades portrayed communication disorders, in particular stuttering, as either something to mock, a weakness, or a fatal character flaw and evidence of evil or a psychosis.  Characters who stutter in “Pearl Harbor,” “My Cousin Vinny,” and “Die Hard With a Vengenace,” to give a few examples, are weak, incompetent, and mocked.

Whew.  Deep breath after rant.  I admit, the news isn’t always that bad.  I do remember a kid’s movie called: “Paulie,” about a talking bird (!!) who befriends a young girl who stutters, and eventually helps her overcome it.  The movie is cute and a relatively fair and accurate portrayal of stuttering, but not of…speech pathologists!   The speech therapist shows this girl a few picture cards and waits with a look of anxious anticipation on her face for the girl to say the word.  When the poor girl can’t, after maybe one or two tries, the therapist turns to the parents with a look of utter hopelessness and says:  “maybe you should take these home,” and hands them the cards.  What the…????????  No effort to teach one or two of the many, many compensatory strategies out there, such as easy onset, to help the girl learn how to deal with her stutter?  Did the writers do any of their research, at all???  I think not.

                Enter Colin Firth, aka Mr. Darcy, and Geoffrey Rusch, ‘that pirate guy.’  My heroes!  In “The King’s Speech” they portray King George V and a man named Lionel Logue.  This is the first movie I’ve ever seen that gives a true and painfully accurate portrayal of someone with a communication disorder.  It also demonstrates how a speech therapist can help someone with a stutter learn to communicate more effectively.  To be specific, Logue was an “elocution teacher,’ speech therapy being in its infancy at the time, but the portrayal was nevertheless true-to-life and utterly familiar to “speech therapist me.” 

Though the movie is R rated and not necessarily something to show the kids, I have my own edited DVD on hand so that if I choose I can show at least a few key scenes to speech therapy clients and to my own kids.  Why?  Because I want them to understand that having a communication disorder is not a weakness or a fatal character flaw.  I want them to demonstrate compassion and patience with those who cannot communicate easily. 

Maybe I just want them to admire Colin Firth as much as I do. 

What, you don’t think he was fantastic in "The King’s Speech?"  Or the best Mr. Darcy in, well, ever?


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Geek Before Geek Was Cool...

Yes, I was.  Why?  See above.  This photo was snapped in the early '90's,  way before I'd ever heard of the term:  "cosplay."  :-)  I dressed up on occasion as a Sci Fi character, and I think I looked pretty good, if I do say so myself.  I even made it to two, yes, two, Star Trek conventions.  I gazed adoringly at Marina Sirtis, aka "Counselor Deanna Troy," and laughed a little too hard at her jokes.  I listened to John deLancie, the dreaded "Q," tell his own rather stiff stories and lecture us all about how horrible we were for wanting to hear his favorite backstage "bloopers."  Lighten up, dude! 

My best Star Trek memory?  The time my sister and I did the now sadly defunct "Star Trek Experience" in Las Vegas.  "Oh my stars and garters," as my Inner Marge would say:  Nerd Heaven!  First, we got to see a fantastic display of costumes from Star Trek, Star Trek the Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine, as well as all the movies that had been made thus far.  Wow.  Then...we entered an area where all went dark, and we were suddenly beamed aboard the deck of the Enterprise!  I kid you not, we were, and it was incredible.  My sister and I couldn't stop laughing.  The story was:  one of us was an ancestor of Captain Jean Luc Picard, and in order to stop him, Klingons/Romulans/The Borg (I forget which antagonists) were trying to go back in time to capture the ancestor, which was me, of course.  :-)  Craziness ensued, and we were finally led on board a small shuttle where we were first chased by the enemy, fired at, and finally crash-landed back on earth.  Loved it!!!!  I also loved the fact that we were then led to Quark's Bar.  Lunch was fantastic, and I had my picture taken with a Ferengi.

Back to the Cosplay.  Obviously, I'm not able to claim that I had a costume for an official Star Trek character. First of all, my costume was borrowed, thanks to my sister, Mary.  In addition, my look in this particular costume is pretty generic.  I can't claim to look much like Lieutenant Uhura, nor do I look like Nurse Chappel.  (Spelling??)  Also, notice the black bike shorts beneath that skirt.  Star Trek uniforms for women are waaaay too short!  Don't even get me started about the skimpy sci fi/fantasy costumes that abound today.  Ugh. 

Why this post?  Because I'm trying to prove to myself that I can "do" sci fi.  I'm halfway through my latest NaNoWriMo novel, loving my first attempt at science fiction, but I feel like one gigantic fraud.  I keep trying to remind myself that I have just as much a right as anyone else to attempt that kind of thing.    It's fiction, after all.  So what if my science is all bogus, and it's obvious to anyone who reads it that I don't even have a grasp of the basic laws of physics?  Cue random melodramatic William Shatner scream.  "Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!"

Well, I shall forge ahead, content in the knowledge that I may not be the next world-renowned science fiction author, but at one time I made a pretty fine-looking officer on the deck of the USS Enterprise.  Engage!

P.S.  If you've ever been into cosplay, I want to see the pictures!  Post a photo of yourself in costume in the comments and show me how awesome you are!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tea. Peppermint. Lukewarm. (Or, Why I Shouldn’t Attempt to Write Sci Fi)

NaNoWriMo is here again.  My brain is filled with “word counts” and whether or not I have “just-itis,” meaning I use the word “just” far too often in my written dialogue.  I’m afraid the answer there is yes.

It’s also filled with words like:  nanotechnology, neural scanners, and atomic goggles.  Oh the joy of trying to write sci-fi when you don’t have the knack for it!

I used to watch Star Trek, the Next Generation.  All fans know the line:  “Tea.  Earl Grey.  Hot.”  Ah, such a classic!  And the nifty replicator would produce a lovely “cuppa,” nice and steamy, every time.  Don’t forget the cool transporters, fashionably attractive and yet functional communicator pins, and the fact that you should never, ever wear a red shirt.  Those were the days.

Why am I trying to replicate such a world?  (Pun intended, by the way).  Because I love that stuff!  I love the idea of traveling through space, encountering worlds similar to or vastly different from our own.  I love the idea of many, many other planets teaming with intelligent life. 

Sadly, I am no sci-fi writer.  I try to imagine a different world, one that’s familiar because it’s ours, but a couple of centuries in the future and therefore quite altered at the same time, and…I’m stuck.  What do people drink?  Tea?  How boring and old-fashioned.  What do I call it?  What does it look like?  Smell like?  Taste like??? 

The Earth I’m trying to imagine has now been home to an alien race for a couple of centuries who joined with the human race, so cultures would have mingled, perhaps greatly altering how things are done.  What do people wear?  Do they have green skin or gold tattoos decorating their faces?  (Oh, wait.  That’s a “Hunger Games” thing.  Never mind.)  Do people still travel in cars or use some kind of vehicle that hovers over the ground, aka what Luke Skywalker “drives” on Tatooine?  Do they use a Star Trekian transporter and beam themselves somewhere else?  It goes on and on, and my head starts to spin.

I suppose I shouldn’t have bothered in the first place, but I’ve already reached 13,000 words and I want to keep going.  Even though my characters may be totally lame and unimaginative, I think they’re trying to tell me something.  What will Malek do about the disappearance of his mother, Chessa?  What will happen to Chessa upon arrival at World Headquarters, where she was taken against her will?  Will Valerius still be himself after receiving his new body, or will he actually be someone else?  Who is EnYus, what is his connection to Chessa, and why can’t I come up with a better sounding name?  Most of all, how can Ava be both an Assistant with a shaved head and neural implants, as well as a thirteen year-old student at the same time?  Why does she seem to know everything when I don’t?

Don’t expect to see them movie any time soon.  Or ever.




Friday, November 1, 2013

My Stories Are Convoluted, But So Is Marge. Uff Da!!

She’s funny, kind, and tells it like it is, speaking in a rather nasal voice that for some reason has a distinctive North Dakotan accent.  (Think “Fargo Lingo,” as in “uff da” and “you betcha.”)  Her name is Marge, and she’s the voice inside my head. 

Marge knows how hard I’ve been working to improve my writing.  She knows how hard it’s been to submit to literary agents, hoping that somehow my novel will catch someone’s attention and stand out from the other hundreds, if not thousands of competing manuscripts.  She knows how intimidated I am each time I read a fantastically written book and worry that I’ll never be that good. 

Being the quasi obsessive/compulsive figment of my imagination that she is, Marge helps me keep track of all my queries to agents.  She even divides the results into categories:

·         The dreaded “no response after 6-8 weeks”                                                                       6

·         Polite email “no”                                                                                                                       7

·         Partial manuscript requests (first 30-50 pages)                                                                   3

Regarding the first category, Marge is a pragmatist.  “Well, now,” she tells me, “at least you don’t have to hear anything negative they might say.  Count your blessings, sweetie, and hand me another piece of lefse.”

As for the second category, Marge inspires me to use anything the agents say to improve my work.  I’ve looked at pacing, worked to improve my main character, and looked over several other issues based on comments received from agents.  She celebrates with me when the agents say something good, like:  “your query was intriguing,” and “keep writing.”  Woo hoo! 

The last category is harder.  Marge knows how I get my hopes up.  An agent reads my query and asks for more!  It seems so promising…then, the letdown.  No thanks, again.  “Uff da,” Marge always huffs.  “Keep your chin up, girlfriend!  Have another piece of chocolate.”

Well, I received my latest rejection, only 4 days before the start of yet another Nanowrimo odyssey.  Talk about an ego-bruiser and motivation crusher!  I quote:  “Your story was a bit convoluted and we would have liked more of your main character’s back story in the first 50 pages.” 

Ouch.  Marge was wounded.  She also fumed.  “How dare they ask for more back story!  How many times do we hear not to do the dreaded “data dump” in the first few pages?!!  Let your character reveal her story slowly, bit by bit, to the reader.”  And that whole “convoluted” thing?  Uff da.

But Marge is a big girl, and so am I.  I’ve already spent some time looking over my first 50 pages, carefully considering whether or not I need to include more back story earlier in the novel.  I’m reviewing my major plot points once again, trying to decide whether or not my novel is too “twisty and turny” in all the wrong ways.  I’m plodding onward, urged forward by Marge, who, in her usual witty style, reminds me that I’m not a quitter, and neither is she.

P.S.  A final note for all of you not of Norwegian descent:  (Don’t worry, I’m not judging you.  I know how jealous you are).  The word “uff da” is an interjection that can have many layered meanings.  One way to use it is to express feeling full or overwhelmed, as in "Uff da!  I ate way too much lefse! "  My favorite is as an expression of boredom or tired resignation, as in:  “Yet another vampire/cyborg/alien/end of the world love story hits the big screen?  Uff da!!!”

P.P.S.  Lefse is a thin potato pancake of major deliciousness.    Look it up on Pinterest!