Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Delusions of Grandeur--My Plans for World Domination

When I’m dictator…

First off, even before I install myself on my solid gold and (uncomfortably) diamond-studded throne, I will set aside New Zealand as the only free country in the world. Why, you ask? Because New Zealand is cool, and because I respect their government and the difficult yet necessary steps they have taken to protect themselves from poor systems that give power to people like me. For that I applaud them, and I grant them their liberty.

The next bit on the docket is the judiciary system. If judges are going to call their breaks recesses, then recesses they will be. What some people might not realize is that children can be incredibly wise and clear-sighted. More often than not, they see character qualities in others that grownups don’t. And while adults understand more of the world, they are also prone to corruption, fatigue, and bias. So I figure, if you combine the best qualities of both age groups, you might have someone worthwhile on the bench. That said, I will have swing sets, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters, and other playground essentials erected behind every courthouse in the world. When court is not in session, justices will be required to play, act foolish, and enjoy themselves—something they may have forgotten how to do at their age. They will then resume their work with—hopefully—some of their baggage pushed out of the way for the remainder of the proceedings and perhaps beyond.

Coffee. (I bet you were wondering when I’d get to that.) For every hour they devote to their respective jobs, each citizen will be entitled to one cup of coffee, in addition to their various monetary salaries. Those who do not wish to work for their caffeine fix—or those who wish to procure above and beyond their allotment—will be permitted to purchase the surplus from those who wish to sell their portions. Furthermore, people who hate coffee (including my sister) will be sent to work in coffee plantations or other offshoots thereof. This rationing system works for chocolate, sugar, and other necessities as well, though quantities may vary depending on availability.

My dictatorship will open up a spate of jobs. Within the first year of my rule, I expect to increase coffee production by 5,000%. (Not even coffee rust and leaf scorch will stop me.) Other available positions include:  royal foot-massager, royal Lamborghini maintenance person, royal checking-closet-for-boogeyman person, royal coffee-brewer, royal ceiling polisher, royal spider killer, etc… I foresee a thriving economy to mark this new era.

As you may have already noticed, I do not plan to get rid of money. I have several reasons for this. First, we know that communistic systems do not work. Furthermore, I like money. In fact, I want my picture printed on every single bill in circulation. But most importantly, my sister loves pennies because they are shiny. If I were to destroy them, she might poison my coffee.

You will be happy to know I have found the solution for various weather issues, mainly:  snow and drought. Well-compensated workers will cart unwanted snow from colder regions to warmer regions. This will have other benefits beyond water dispersal. After all, what desert-dwelling child with no hope of traveling has ever had the chance to build a snowman or to get beaned by a snow ball or to taste dirty, crystalized water? I think you’ll agree—we owe the world this favor.

While we’re on the topic of snow, I have decided to deploy an Atmospheric Controller System (ACS). However, I realize this title is rather misleading. I apologize. My intent is not to manipulate the weather, only the taste. I’m thinking mint chocolate chip snow and bacon-flavored rain, with hundreds of other options, all programmable by popular demand. (Technology inspired by Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.) In fact, you won’t even remember that precipitation forms around contaminations in the atmosphere because those very pollution particles will taste like hot dogs. (I’m told there isn’t a huge difference.)

Since I am fond of festive occasions, I plan to throw massive tea parties where participants will eat sweets, dance the Cotton-Eyed Joe, and blow soap bubbles. Who knows—this might even earn me the Nobel Peace Prize. Seriously, is it possible to be angry when you’re blowing soap bubbles and wearing beards made of suds?

Christmas will be held twice a year, once when it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere and again when it’s winter in the Southern. (If you’re wondering what to get me, I’m not picky. I like Italian sports cars, large mansions from the fourteenth century, private islands, small countries, Ping-Pong ball factories, and caviar. Also books with pages made of hammered gold. With each passing year, it seems, my tastes grow ever more sophisticated.)

Finally, writers will be given special privileges including unlimited coffee, chocolate, and tissues, as well as free computer maintenance and editing services.

So remember—next time the (only slightly) rigged Global Dictatorial Elections roll around, vote for me!  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book to Finish--Vine Snakes, Rabid Bears, and Socially-Awkward Piranhas

Today has been one of those dreary days, played through a filter of sepia like an old-style photograph. Somehow autumn and summer seem to have become confused and mixed themselves with winter, and it’s the best sort of writing weather—all cozy and close. With the fire burning high and the sun burning low, my inner editor grows tired and sluggish, which means I can enjoy some peace and quiet. Lately, you’d think I’ve been preparing for a Broadway musical, the way that taskmaster screams at me to get everything just perfect:  “Not a syllable, not a vowel must be out of place!”

I gaze out the giant picture window overlooking the gas station across the road from my house. My own fishbowl view. Rain speckles the horizon and drizzles down the glass. I dreamed of floods last night. It must have been the rain whispering to me in my sleep. Now the whole world seems turbulent and wet. Just through the bare-boned, emaciated trees, I see the churning river heaving choppy white-caps up at the shale-colored sky. It’s a scene right out of a book. Poe could have captured it.

I’m getting antsy again—it’s cabin fever time, I suppose. Somehow all I want to do is get out and travel to a million different places at once. In fact, I don’t much care where. This is because I am editing, and I turn procrastination into an Olympic sport. It takes me a while to get into the swing of things. Like an old, run-down train, I’m practically at my destination by the time I start picking up speed.

But I find that list-making helps (or maybe that’s just what I tell myself). So let me give you an idea of what my life has been like over the past few months, starting with October.


·         I’m eagerly awaiting NaNoWriMo, pacing the floors and counting down the days on my fingers and toes until that fateful moment when it shall rain sunshine and roses and bolts of inspiration. With ducklings dancing round and muse-faeries raining sparkles on my prose, this will surely be a month of wonders.


·         November arrives with all its sarcastic glory and plunks me down at my seat with my fingers poised aching over laptop keys. I am beginning to realize, rather dimly at first, that the sunshine and roses have been canceled due to lack of funding. The baby ducks have all grown up into jaded adult ducks who don’t believe in miracles. And the muse-faeries were hired out by all the French novelists who got there first. Funny how I don’t remember this happening last year.


·         I ride the rollercoaster of 30,000 word days and 6,000 word days, greater days and lesser days, brilliant days and mediocre days. Sometimes I hold it in; other times I puke and scream like a baby. (Okay, not really. I just didn’t want to let the rollercoaster metaphor die before its time.) Somehow I survive, though how I manage that is up for debate.


·         Christmas season follows hot on the heels of November, and I buy presents and pretend I’m with it enough to know what day of the week it is. Soon my obituary begins showing up in the newspapers because my friends have not heard from me in approximately 7.2 eternities, at which point they have begun to assume the worst.


·         After Christmas comes the dreaded moment when I pick up my rough draft and begin the read through. To give you an idea of what this feels like, let me offer a practical example. Upon returning from a long and tumultuous vacation, you step into your room, remembering that you left it somewhat messy but expecting the damage to be both reasonable and manageable. In fact, it is neither. What you find, instead of a rumpled bed and a littered floor, is a giant sinkhole with rubble raining down from what was once the ceiling. Poison-green vines stretch across the walls, and some of them are acting like snakes. You also suspect there might be a bear living in your closet, but you hope it isn’t hungry enough to eat you…yet. Oh yeah, and you only have an hour to clean this place before guests arrive—namely, the queen of England and her entourage. Good luck.


·         In order to survive edits, I coerce my mother into buying two giant boxes of Earl Grey tea. My lovely sister, home from university for the month, proceeds to drink the entirety of said tea. (We send her back promptly.) This is not a very promising start. Plus, the grizzly in my closet is getting a tad restless. It also appears to be rabid.


·         After this preliminary read through, which feels like a form of torture probably outlawed by the Geneva Convention, I sit down to actually begin edits. Unfortunately, that is when the delicate structure of my brain chooses to collapse into a pile of marshmallow goop. Marshmallow goop is not known for its high IQ.


·         Summoning all my courage, I edit the first paragraph. I drink coffee. I move onto the next paragraph and drink more coffee. Already, I think you can see the pattern developing, and it’s only downhill from here. (After the start of the second page, I don’t really remember much of what happened. Either Louis Tomlinson proposed to me or I started hallucinating. The jury’s still out on that.)


·         I spend my time playing Temple Run and checking Facebook because they “help me think”. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I vow to rise at my typical 4:30 AM—even though it’s vacation—in order to get a proper head start on my editing. Instead, I decide to spend some quality time with my feather pillow, since the two of us haven’t seen much of each other lately. This might rule me out as a potential military candidate. But the rain is lovely and my dreams are pleasant, so I can’t complain.


As you can see, my novel is coming along swimmingly. Despite the discouragement that comes with facing the bugaboo of my rough draft, I know that I have done this before. I have braved the swamps of my consciousness in order to clean my room, and I have wrestled the rabid grizzly bear that is my inner editor. It stands to reason I should be able to do all that again. Of course, I may lose my sanity—as well as a few limbs—along the way. Still I think, in the end, it will be worth it. When this is all said and done, I will have over-listened to several dozen songs. I will have grown fat on the spoils of the land—namely coffee and brownie mounds. And I will have written a book that no one will appreciate as well as I will. (Which, come to think of it, is not helping my argument any.)

Still, it’s too late to turn back now. And if you’re in the same boat, welcome aboard and keep your fingers and toes inside. The piranhas are not as sociable as I am.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Inner Editor's Monologue

Dear Liz,

We need to talk. I don’t appreciate what you did to me this November, the way you locked me up in the basement of your mind and shoved socks in my mouth to stifle my criticisms. For thirty days, you spent your time lollygagging and procrastinating and pretending to write worthwhile stuff. On and on and on it went. But while you drank your coffee and ate your chocolate and thought your happy noveling thoughts, I lay there in that dark corner of your memory, brooding as the taste of footwear filled my mouth with the cottony reminder that we are very different, you and I. As you pounded away at the keys, writing painful prose, I rocked myself and recited Tennyson in hopes of sparing my sanity. Whether or not I succeeded is still a valid question. So thank you, for that.

All December you avoided your novel, letting it ruminate as you sang Christmas carols, wrapped Christmas presents, and baked Christmas pies. But while you were busy counting down the days, I was channeling Houdini. For a while, I may have been the Count of Monte Cristo, imprisoned for ages on an island, worn down to a mere shadow of myself. But I’m back now. Be afraid.

January 1st was the key that finally opened the lock of my confinement. As you sat in the living room, eating cake and watching Doctor Who, I crept in and joined you on the couch, unnoticed. Perhaps you cherished notions of escaping your writerly fate, of penning a rough draft and then leaving it to rot while moving on with your life. I’m sorry to say, it will never be as easy as all that. I am your curse—I am your ghost. I will follow you to the ends of the earth, the voice of the many books you have abandoned. Unlike your conscience, I will never let up.

Let me tell you something vital. I bet you thought wandering into the badlands of your rough draft, if you ever did choose to return of your own accord, would be as delightful as strolling down the Yellow Brick Road en route to Oz. But honey, the only walk you’ll be taking is into Mordor, and it will be just you and me and the Precious (otherwise known as your manuscript). You may go crazy; in fact, I’m counting on it. Art, by necessity, mandates blood, sweat, and tears. So does perfection. And you are so very far from either right now.

Style, you argue. Style is a matter of taste and perspective. Everyone has their own style. George Bernard Shaw and Leo Tolstoy disliked Shakespeare. I’m sorry you cherish these childish notions. It will only make this more difficult for you in the long run. From now on, MY style is law. Hemmingway might like that despairing passage over there, but I am not Hemmingway, so in the bin it goes. Poe might have been proud of that dramatic moment, but I feel very differently, and you’ll trash it if you know what’s good for you. Write with the rhythm of Ray Bradbury—then we can talk about style. I hope you see how this is going to work. If you’re having second thoughts, I’m sorry; it’s a little too late for those. The doubters warned you, didn’t they, before you started all this nonsense? Of course they did. It’s not my fault you ignored them.

You’re locked in forever, and you’ll do as I say. See, I let you have your fun, traipsing through November without a care in the world, heaping up work for me. Now it’s my turn. Now it’s my chanced to be unleashed, and unlike you, I am merciless. I do not spare sentences for their beauty or scenes for their potential. I do not see promise; I see words. And if I do not see good words, I hit delete. If your beautiful darling doesn’t add one jot to the plot, then the plot won’t miss your beautiful darling if I cut her lifeline and snip her string of words from the page. You’ll feel better, in time, I promise you. How can I say that? Because I know. This is the part you always forget, no matter how many forays you’ve made into the stormy waters of my territory, be it with essay, blog, or book in tow. But I always remember.

Once upon a time, we used to be friends. For a while there, not a day went by when we weren’t spending every spare moment you could dredge up counting rows of letters and marveling at how the pieces fell into place with gentle tweaking. We lay on the grassy lawn of your consciousness and studied the clouds and the stars, weaving stories out of thin air, delighting in the mayhem of the axe and the precision of the scalpel in refining words into wonder. We were more than a team; beyond the cliché, we truly were two halves of the same soul.

What happened? After all those late nights when I fed you ideas till your fingers caught fire trying to keep up, I expected to make an impression…somehow. When you vowed to live like this for the rest of your life, I assumed you meant to include me. But summer came and stole your novel from you and thrust you into work and reality. You came back slimmer and tanner and bouncier, but you were still you. As soon as you could, you rushed back to the computer screen, bursting with lively plans to finish the project we had started together, you and I. And we did. We finished.

Then I slipped from your mind altogether, like a Post-It® note without its stick. And I was crushed. What did I do to make you hate me?

When did I become your enemy?

Listen. I know relations between us have been strained. Maybe I brought that on myself. Maybe I was too harsh in my search for brilliance, and maybe I trampled you on the way to perfection. Honestly, I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know how to fix it. But can we call a truce, even if it lasts no longer than the Treaty of Versailles? Can we lay aside our differences and work together? At least once more, can we make it work?

Your hands are shaking—your trembling fingers flutter through the pages of a book—your book. Of course…you’ve been reading your rough draft on the sly, dragging yourself deeper and deeper into discouragement; you can’t face the jarring horrors without me. Please let me help you.  


Your Inner Editor

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Uses for Books

Christmas came, and I got books. Christmas went, and I bought books. Unfortunately, since my room is not the TARDIS, time and space become issues. But when I am going to read these new beauties is less problematic than where I am going to put them. That was the dilemma I faced as I stood, surveying the clutter around me, with boxes at my feet and bags in my hands. How do I squeeze all five hundred some odd papery darlings into my sardine can room? I maxed out my shelves ages ago—maybe even the Christmas before last. Unfazed, I nodded to myself and set my jaw. I was just going to have to get creative. Yet in the end, the solution was far simpler than I had envisioned. Mostly it involved advanced particle physics, cardboard boxes, scissors, and a stick of dynamite. (Okay, that was a lie—I used two sticks.)

Of course, all that got me thinking—books aren’t just good for reading. So I made a list…of other uses.

*Clears throat and tries out salesman voice. Speaks quickly. “Not all products are endorsed. Do not try these at home. If you do try these at home, please send me the video.”*  

Tired of sleepless nights, whiling away the wee hours with boredom as your sole companion? Introducing the new Lorelei Book Bed®, custom-built to specifications with our wide range of novels, classic and contemporary. Pro:  Feel yourself relaxing as the crisp pages whisper enchanting stories to ease your dreams. Con:  On occasion, customers have complained of sore backs. (We think these customers are ninnies.)

Do you live in a flood zone? Do you fear a watery demise? Simply lash your books together, following our Atlantis Three Step Diagram®, and ride out the waves on the backs of your precious hardcovers. Lemony Snicket would be proud. Pro:  You survive. Con:  Your books don’t.

During the winter, accidents and ice storms invariably causes power outages, leaving you without a furnace to warm your fingers and toes. Rather than freezing to death, simply line your walls with our Amateur Insulation Kit®. Kit includes one hammer, three nails, and seven thousand copies of To Build a Fire and Other Stories. Pro:  No need to burn the furniture for heat. Con:  Maybe you hate your furniture.

Tired of sitting around all day, reading and feeling your muscles turning to goop? Why not build a maze of books. Simply follow our Daedalus Labyrinth Diagram® and unlock hours of fun. Pro:  Endless entertainment. Con:  Risks include getting lost and dying.

Sure, the zombie apocalypse hasn’t come yet, but for a smart person like you, it’s never too early to be thoroughly equipped. In just three easy installments of $999.99, Break-Face’s Book Launcher® can be all yours. Pro:  Field-tested accuracy and ease of loading. Con:  This might mean kissing your copy of World War Z goodbye.

Do you live in an old building? Has your staircase ever collapsed? Penrose Stair-Builders® has just the solution for you. Simply fill our patent iron frame with books, and voila, you shall ascend once more. Pro:  Renewed access to the upper levels of your home…maybe. Con:  If your staircase bit the dust, the rest of your house might be headed that way too.

Are you tired of straining your mind, trying to figure out how to press your frittata (since experience shows that makes it yummier)? Strain your mind no more. Simply use our Tantalus Book Scale® to determine how many novels you need to properly weight your culinary delight. Pro:  A book with breakfast. Con:  People tend to look at you funny when you refrigerate your reading material.

Is your piano crooked? Does your table list? Are your shelves uneven? Procrustes Levelers United® offers free, one-on-one consulting services concerning which books to use for that perfect, straight appearance you crave. Pro:  No more awkward tilts. Con:  Death threats from book lovers.


The uses for books are endless. You can stand on them to make yourself taller. You can bench-press them or build your own chair. You could even—gasp—start a fire. Which begs the question:  What is a book really? What separates a book from a brick or a log? Aside from the pretty binding and the creamy pages or the cracking cover and the musty leaves, what makes it special?

When I read a story, I don’t see just paper and print stuffed between two hard bits of cardboard—I see hours of labor. I see a creature dragged kicking and screaming into this world with much blood, sweat, and tear-smudged ink along the way. I see a soul attempting to bring clarity to chaos or chaos to clarity. More than that, I see reasoning and wondering and imagining. I see ideas. One moment I am myself; another I am processing my world through a stranger’s vision and learning and becoming and altering in my moods and perceptions. Beyond the cover design and the cut of the font, I see art.

But how do you determine the value of a book? Sometimes according to the money you paid or the person who gave it to you. Sometimes the story is too priceless for words. Sometimes it is too terrible. Beyond economics and cash, though, there is a deeper element. Authors don’t just write novels—they pour their time into their works, knowing they will never get that time back. They spend chunks of their life on this labor, with strange hopes—perhaps—of bettering the world or opening minds or grinding an axe or warning of danger. The list goes on. They give themselves when they give their words.

Books are not people. They do not breathe and grow and become. Yes, they fade or endure, but they do not live, and they do not die. Not in the way that we do. Yet somehow they change lives and melt hearts and spark revolutions. They are reminders of our souls, and for some, they will be the only monuments. For that, I think, they are priceless.