Sunday, September 21, 2014

Return

I have just returned from two weeks away from the electronic life. I watched a few TV weather reports and checked my phone messages once a day, but other than that, I didn't touch a digital device and didn't miss them at all. I kept a travel diary which I wrote longhand; I read paper books.

This is something of a first for me. While I do enjoy interacting with people online, and missed those personal connections, I really didn't miss the total internet experience the way I have during previous offline vacations.

So I'm thinking about that, and what it means for me, and how and where I want to spend my time going forward. Unplugging has always been valuable for me, and this time, I suspect, even more so.

In the meantime, it's good to "see" you again. :-)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Unplugging

A few times a year, I like to unplug from the various online networks to which I belong. I like the people with whom I interact online, and I do miss my online communities when I step back. But there's something refreshing about it, too, about taking time away from mouse and cursor and screen.

It's that time again, so I'll see you later this month. In the meantime, if you have major news, please leave it in the comments, since I probably won't be able to catch up with the posts I'll miss!

Monday, September 1, 2014

New roads

One of the hardest things for me to believe is that endings are followed by new beginnings. All my life, I have been an opponent of change, a nostalgic, a person who clings to things. I never assume that newer will be better.

There is some basis for this, of course. Plenty of change in this world is for the worse, and much of it seems to be pointless: change for the sake of change. But there are changes for the better. And some of the things I value most in my life right now are things I would not have if I had not let go (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not) of what I used to have.

Over time, I've become a little more accepting of change. I've gotten a lot more willing to part with material objects, and have been doing an ongoing downsizing/decluttering project at home. But I still have a hard time trusting that a situation that has stopped working for me can be replaced by something better.

In hindsight, it's easy to see the turns I should have taken sooner, or with less trepidation. But when the turn is in front of you and you can't see around the bend, it's impossible to know whether a dead end or a beautiful new scene lies ahead.

Eventually, the choice is whether to sit staring at the washed-out bridge on the old route, or whether to try a new road. I keep reminding myself there are new roads, for all that I get focused on the most familiar one.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beach reading

I think that when most people talk about "beach reads," they mean light reading, books that are heavy on action and thrills.

For me, vacation reading trends in the opposite direction. Vacation is when I have the time and leisure to approach a quiet and thoughtful book, or to dig into a slow, meaty tome. When I've worked all day, I often want a book that doesn't require intense concentration or considering philosophical nuances. On vacation, I'm rested enough to read slowly and deeply.

But I'm glad there are all kinds of books, for all kinds of moods and seasons.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Where to begin

Time for my monthly slot at YA Outside the Lines, where this month we're blogging about beginnings of all sorts. My post starts with "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and proceeds to discussing opening lines of recent books. A sample: "When I get lost in the writing of a story, I try to remember what compelled me to start it in the first place ..."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Denial

If you read about real-life paradigm shifts, disasters, and other large-scale changes, one thing that is strongly evident is the presence of denial. Human beings often resist accepting a new situation, especially a negative one. Usually there is a time when most of the population is in denial, and then acceptance creeps in, a tipping point occurs, and those in denial become the minority. The phase of major denial can be short or long; its presence can have consequences ranging from minor to tragic.

I think denial is built on a few foundations: People don't want to change (or don't want the world to change); it's too much trouble and they're afraid of what they might lose. (Often, people with the most to lose from the change are the most resistant to it.) Or they can't wrap their minds around change and don't know what to do about it anyway, so they choose not to deal with it. Or they don't trust the source that is warning of the change. Or they are suspicious because of false alarms in the past; after all, some predictions turn out to be wrong. But in any story we write where a major change is overtaking the characters, denial is likely to be part of the process.

This can be tricky for writers to manage. Usually, readers are quick to heed the omens and prophecies and predictions and warning signs in stories, because they know those signs wouldn't be there unless they were important. Readers know that something big is going to happen, or there wouldn't be a story at all. The characters don't have this advantage--and can't, unless you are writing meta-fiction and breaking the fourth wall. Realistically, the characters can't jump right into accepting a new normal without some questioning, resistance, nostalgia, if-only thinking, etc. Meanwhile, readers are likely to be shouting at the characters: "Of course the plague is coming!" or "Get out of the way of the tornado!" or "The ghost IS real, you fool!" or "Yes, there WILL be a war!"

A little of this can provide tension and urgency. Too little of it seems false and can break the reader's spell, but too much of it makes readers impatient and cranky. It helps if readers can thoroughly feel the old reality the characters are clinging to, and to embrace it themselves so that they won't want to let go of it either. It helps if the characters' tipping point is logical--an undeniable fact, a trusted source. It helps if the characters test out the idea of acceptance before finally embracing it. And it helps if this phase doesn't go on so long that it just feels like a pointless delay or a stagnation.