Monday, August 31, 2009

Whispers of the Columbia

We made two stops along the Columbia yesterday. One was at Avery Park, a tiny spot about ten miles north of Goldendale. Avery Park is open to the public year-round--except when the fish are running, when it becomes a private Native American fishing ground. It's quiet there. The wind riffles the surface of the river and the birds speak constantly, an exchange of secrets encouraged by the hidden nature of the place. You can not see the little cove from SR 14.

It was strange standing beside the US Army Corps of Engineers Survey marker, just a slender orange post with a white label. Unpreposing. But words "Witness Marker" stirred my imagination. Here a treaty was made. Here a people all but exterminated won back a toe-hold of their world. For how many years did they come down beside the river to take the shining silver fish, the world-makers, the people-savers, the salmon? There was a strange sensation to the air in this park--the feeling of expectancy like an indrawn breath before speech.

What was it ready to tell me? I didn't find out. A man with a jet-ski drove down and got his car stuck on the boat ramp, and we had to give him a jump to get him out of the river. And then we were off, quickly stopping at Horse Thief Lake State Park to see the petroglyphs.

How small they were! How surprisingly tiny! They were like the works of Frida Kahlo, human-sized works with all the presence of a room-sized mural. Removed from the ancient canyons, these sacred carvings cried out in loneliness for their lost brethren, swallowed up by the dammed river.

The last of the glyphs, the biggest, and the one I was most eager to see in person, turns her back to the rock fragments in their careful display. She looks out to the river, just as she always has. I was hoping to see her face, but horribly enough, her trail is closed now, due to vandalism. Who could deface the resting place of She-Who-Watches?

Who could jet-ski in a place sacred to the spirits of the salmon?

Who could damn a river and drown the cathedral of a people?

How I wish I could have heard what the river was going to say!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Blog before I go

Well, the plants are mulched and watered (that was a workout, believe me), most of the bags are packed and the garbage is emptied. Yep, we're ready for vacation. I'm pleased and only a touch nervous. Pleased to get underway and to see my mom, and nervous about keeping two kids occupied on a 7-hour car trip. And keeping my dad from driving me insane during our 3-day visit.

And nervous that my teenage niece will actually water my babies. I mean, the pumpkin is starting to turn orange! The melons are getting bigger! The tomatoes are the size of my fist and showing sunset colors around the stems! Can my lovebugs survive without me?

Whew. Enough drama. I'm going to gather up my dulcimer strings and prepare for my father's irritation with my lack of practice.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prisoner of Parenting

I know that I lead a good and wonderful life. I am happy that I am a mother. I love my child and the fullness she brings to my life. But honestly? Sometimes I can't believe the psychological damage a child can inflict! In fact, being a parent and being a Prisoner of War share some remarkable similarities.

Think about it. In war, humiliation is a tactic to demoralize a POW. They're given no privacy for bathing and elimination. In a truly horrific facility, they might be targeted with urine or feces. Man, that sounds like infancy and toddlerhood! There were weeks when every day I got peed on. And if you think I can use the restroom in peace today, my six-year-old will gladly set you straight.

Another psychological demoralizer: good-guy/bad-guy tactics. My daughter's picked up on this one. When she gets in trouble or if I do something she doesn't like (today? I sent the neighbor kids home so we could prepare for a trip to the library), she first complains about how everyone is mean to her and how no one loves her, and just when I've about reached the point where I'm about to deliver my dad's famous "If you want something to cry about, I'll give you something to cry about" line, she switches gears. It's time for the "I'm so terrible! I can't do anything right! I'm the worst daughter in the world!" pitch. It crushes my spirit into the dirt.

Inconsistency. Gotta keep those prisoners on their toes. The minute we left the house, the kid was holding my hand and telling me a story. No tears. A big grin on her face. All trauma forgotten, at least for the next few hours.

But I didn't use the bathroom while we out. No sir. I'm too smart for that. Those public bathroom stalls leave plenty of room for the little monster to crawl into my stall and talk about my "marshmallow tummy." You haven't lived until an entire public restroom's worth of women know your kid thinks you're chubby.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Domesticity break

1st draft of dress: check. Homemade focaccia: check. Freshly baked zucchini bread: check. Top of stove uncovered: check, check & check. That should be enough domesticity to last me a couple of days!

Gearing up for a trip to the folks's house. Got a few deadlines to beat, so I plan to knock out some stuff tonight, but right now, feeling the blogging urge.

I just read a note from a friend who successfully completed her super-in-depth book outline. I've never been much of an outliner, but I like her idea. She calls it the Craptastic Speed Copy, and it's sort of an outline-1st draft hybrid that pushed her out of that beautiful-writing mindset and into "this is actually what is going to happen in my darn story." Her (epic--this thing is going to be multi-voluminous) project ran her 60,000 words.

I might try the Craptastic Speed Copy for Nanowrimo this year. Or not ... this is going to be my first horror Nano, so creating mood is going to be my biggest challenge. The first year I did Nano, I worked through a convoluted story spanning about 30 years--I could have really used the CSC method! Last year I had a solid idea for the story, but the project was pretty much crap (although it inspired one great short story). This year, though. I have high hopes for this year. Anybody else out there have their projects lined up for Nanowrimo? Anybody even doing Nanowrimo?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Flowergirl dress

Whew! The sample edition of the flowergirl dress is complete. It was a little big in the waist for Fiona's preference, so that means I can make the whole thing pattern size 7 and it should be fine. It turned out really cute, too!

I am still terrified to work with all those fancy fabrics, though.

Okay, off to make zucchini bread. All this domestic goddess stuff is wearing me out, but there's just so much to get done before we leave for Mom & Dad's house that I just have to hustle my bustle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I AM Winnie Woo-hoo

My dad pretty much refuses to use people's real names if they're related to him. (Hmmn, looks like I inherited more than brown hair from the guy...) He calls my mom "Frau;" he calls my brother "Fritz;" he calls my nephew "Eli;" he calls my sister "Monkey." He always calls me "Winnie," and when I was a little girl, he loved to call me "Winnie Woo-hoo."

Now, I didn't mind Winnie Woo-hoo until we moved to the town of Bonanza, where my sister attended high school with a boy whose last name was Wu. Then my whole family decided to tease me about marrying this guy so my name really would be Winnie Wu. I freaked out. (Nothing like being 5 to make you grossed out by the very suggestion of matrimony.) And after that, I refused to be called Winnie Woo-hoo, going so far as to give one snarky 9-year-old a bloody nose in retaliation.

But my dad's nicknames have a strange kind of rightness about them. For example, unbeknownst to my family, my sister was born in the year of the Monkey, and I was born in the year of the Horse (which whinny, in case you didn't know). That seemed striking enough, but recently my reading took me into the realm of Chinese names, where I learned that the surname "Wu" comes from a Chinese word for witch. And the woman's name "Hu" means tiger. As someone with a lifelong interest in the occult and supernatural, it seems like a remarkable coincidence.

And so I wonder if somehow my father's name for me steered me toward my path in life. It definitely contributed to my dream of being a bad ass (still unfulfilled, but a dream, nonetheless). And it gave me a secet identity, one that only my family knew, which I think is no slight contributing factor in my interest in character and identity. Important interests for a writer!

On the other hand, I hope there's nothing deeper to these silly nicknames. After all, what on earth could a handle like "Fritz" have done to my brother?

Monday, August 17, 2009

I like the drug

It's appropriate that Socrates called writing a pharmakon--a drug. (His reasons, by the way, are complex and interesting... run out and read Plato's Phaedo for the lowdown.) That's how I treat it, like a drug, both addictive and curative. When I'm not writing, I despair. When I am writing, I'm on top of the world. I don't know if writing pushes aside unhappiness or if not writing creates it.

There are plenty of other writers who talk about the link between not writing and depression. Ramsey Campbell (personal hero) said it particularly well. I can't remember the name of the story and I'm going to butcher the quote, but he said something like "Writing is what I do so as not to face the depression of not writing." And that's it, exactly. I write so I don't have to live with the downer of not doing it.

Does that make me an addict? Yep. Should I seek a 12-step support group? Hmmmn. I think I'll just join the HWA.

But one other thing about this pharmakon called writing: much like marijuana, it's a gateway drug. It opens the doors to multiple substance abuses. Some people take it too far (Stephen King himself turned to cocaine once, and Hemingway was a notorious alcoholic), but most of us keep a handle on the addictive substances, limiting ourselves to the trifecta of caffeine, fat and sugar. Me? I'm nursing a cup of tea as I type, and there's a cup of cocoa waiting for me right after I tuck the kid into bed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A scary day at the kiddie mus

So my kiddo keeps asking me for a baby sister, and I keep trying to explain to her that she's it. The one and only. She is going to be an only child, for many, many reasons.

Maybe the biggest reason of all comes from watching kids hurt themselves in the museum. Here's a place designed for maximum safety, a place that has its own safety committe, a place that studies literature on the subject of keeping kids safe ... and we get 2 or 3 kids a week trying to kill themselves. Running into walls. Pulling shelves over on themselves. Falling off anything they can possibly fall off.

I couldn't survive another kid. Just watching children play makes my blood pressure rise. The fact that there are 9 billion people on this planet seems impossible to me after watching the antics of these death-embracing little tykes.

Now, Fi was good. She was very concerned with her own safety and to this very day, usually refrains from an activity until she's certain it's safe. So you know what that would mean? If we had another kid, it would be a regular daredevil.

I saw all this now, but in ten years (fingers firmly crossed that in 10 years I will not be working at Chimu) when Fi's studying for her SATs and I've forgotten the trauma of toddler head injuries, watch me. I'll be wishing we had a second little monster to shower with love. That's when we get a pet.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Soul mates

Once or twice while reading, I have stumbled across a voice that reaches out to me with a soul-seizing grip. A voice that immediately resonates deeply across the psyche, and upon further exploration of that speaker's works becomes profoundly nourishing. In a roundabout way, I guess I'm saying that there are writers whose words speak to the soul and feed it.

For me, there are two of these writers. One is a man I consider my spiritual big brother: Neil Gaiman. When I read The Wolves in the Walls, I knew I had found someone who spoke my language, and when I read Coraline, I knew I'd found a hero. I felt as if he had gone into the same realm that I inhabited and come back with a bit of a map. Not a complete map in any way, but certainly a fragment of one of the mysterious land's shores.

The other man is the father of my Writing Self, Stephen King. Now, I loved Stephen King as a young reader, but I didn't realize that he would be my spiritual guide until I read On Writing, a book that just about made me cry with joy. It gave my inner writer CPR after I'd nearly drowned it in angst and literary fiction. You see, I'll never be a writer of literary fiction, but On Writing made me proud that I heard the call of spec fiction. And yes, it made me proud to be me.

Tonight, I'm raising my glass to Stephen King. He saved me. He inspired me, and every time I just about give up on my latest project, I pull out some of his wisdom and feel a whole lot better. Thanks, Steve!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I am a big, big sinner

Forgive me, for I have sinned. Now, I'm not talking about those trifles--fornicating, having babies out of wedlock, telling lies, neglecting my plants, or coveting my neighbor's anything. I'm talking about the big one. The worst sin of all.

I bought premade pie crust.

Please don't tell my mom.

Okay, you can laugh. Laugh as much as you like. But some kids grow up going to church and learning about Jesus or Mohammed or at least picking up a stray Hebrew phrase. My house, we ate pie. We take it pretty damn seriously. As we have no other idol or saint who speaks to us, the worship of pie is not undertaken lightly; I am pretty sure my mother has pledged her soul to the creation of perfect crust and magical fillings. For that, she is a high priestess of her art.

I would make my own piecrust, except I'm too lazy to clear space on the counter, and because making pie crust makes me break out in a nervous sweat. It is the anxiety of a worshipper who kows she might fail her god.

Today I not only failed my idol (and Mom), but when I attempted to cap my pot pie (at least we're talking pot pie, which is not the holiest of holies), the purchased crust ripped and crumbled and looked awful. I nearly cried. Not only do I quail in the face of creating my own crust, I can't even treat the store-bought stuff with proper respect!

There's only one fit punishment for this kind of failure. I'll have to eat a slice of the Safeway brand lemon meringue pie in the fridge. It's a long way from Marie Callendar's, and my mom would probably throw it away.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Rough draft--done

Whew. Finished the very first draft of a dark crime story set in Portland, circa 1890. It was inspired by this story, from Slabtown Chronicle, a blog I find fascinating. It is all about crime in Portland. 98% of the time, it's just depressing. 2% of the time, it's incredibly inspiring. Obviously, this is one of those inspiring entries.

Now I will let the story sit on the back burner for about a week while I get a package ready for the Orycon Writers Workshop. I'd like to send the first 7500 words of the first novel I wrote, which is currently in its 3rd or 4th revision (okay, this time it's really a giant major rewrite!), but then I also have to include a synopsis, which means I need to undestand all those major changes I'm planning to make. Yikes! Sounds like some serious work.

Well, time to relax a little and hope Sweetie-pie took me seriously when I told him he had to bring home pie tonight.