Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Random Acts of Kindness

At the risk of sounding a bit like Pollyanna, I've just been thinking about how small the world really is, and how much potential it has for eventually coming together in peace and accord. The illustrations of this might be tiny, random acts of kindness, but they do happen, and taken together it seems that there might be hope for the human race, after all.

While hatred might start from a tiny disagreement that eventually grows into an argument, then to a clan feud, then to a civil war, then to a war between nations, so too does peace grow into an unstoppable force for good. It starts small, from a simple smile to a compliment to a genuine wish for good things to happen for someone other than yourself. From there it could snowball into groups helping other groups, states working with other states, and eventually to countries lobbying together for the good of the planet as a whole.

Today my city announced its intent to comply with the Kyoto accord. Maybe our country didn't embrace it, and maybe too many politicians muttered too many doubts about statistics and scientific analyses, but city by city, state by state, our country is beginning to wake up, to say yes to humans taking responsibility for our own actions and for our future. Simply by one person standing up and being willing to be seen doing some good in the world, others are encouraged to follow.

My latest personal experience of this was when the very nice garda from Ireland took a few minutes to reply to my email question and even wish me well on my novel, and three other very nice writers on the FM board replied to my post asking for Irish email question-answering help. Without their responses, I would have made certain mistakes in one of my manuscripts--mistakes that I would much prefer to avoid. Does this affect the state of the world as we know it? Well, yes, I think so. Those simple acts of human kindness and consideration made my day, and quite possibly my manuscript. If I'm very lucky, that manuscript may one day help someone else, even if it only helps them while away a few hours in an airplane, or cheers them up when they're down and want some good escapist fiction. Small things, folks. But small things that may one day add up to something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Remember that commercial on TV where one person saves another person's life, then that person goes on to save another's, and so on until the chain reconnects just like a huge circle? That's the kind of unstoppable force I mean. With that kind of force, starting with those tiny, simple, random acts of kindness, we may go on to change the world.

Try it today. Smile at someone you meet out shopping. Compliment someone. Thank your cashier and wish them a good day even though it's not part of your job. Throw out a lucky penny for someone to find. Let someone into the lane in front of you in the middle of rush hour traffic. Reaffirm someone's faith that there are good, kind strangers out there in the world, rather than only hidden enemies.

Think about it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Last Puzzle Piece

I've been working on "Shifts of Perception," the third book of my epic fantasy trilogy, and I've hit the halfway point. After all the interruptions I've had over the last few months, it feels great to know I've almost done it--almost finished an entire trilogy! When the Moxie met today, we agreed that the last scene in Chapter 9 needs a little bit of tweaking, but that shouldn't be too hard to fix.

Despite the fact that I have Shifts plotted and ready to roar through the last half, I've continued to chew on the plot for my urban fantasy, Beyond the Pale. Up until about a week and a half ago, I had nothing but what seems like a sound premise, a promising first three chapters, and a solid plan for the ending, but not much middle. At first blush, that sounds like bad news for a plot, but the "Girls in the Basement," as my crit partners call the muses in a writer's subconscious, weren't ready to give up yet. Ready to coax, coerce or force a complete plot from the ether, I wrote out all the scene cards for the beginning chapters I had finished already, the ones for the next one or two chapters I had already plotted, and the ones for the ending of the book. Then I worked on possibilities for bridging the gap by working my way inward from both ends. This sounds like a no-brainer, but for me, it wasn't. My husband pointed out that bridges are built by starting on both sides of the gap to be bridged, and the two ends are worked toward each other until they meet in the middle--and no, I didn't forget about the supports you need in order to keep things from falling when they start to hang out in midair!

Over the last week, I made plotting Pale my priority, and by Saturday, I had all but one major issue pretty much figured out. But that one issue was a biggie, not easily solved--or so I thought. Finally, pretty much frustrated, I just asked (don't ask who I asked--call it the Universe, the muses, the collective unconscious, whoever) for the answer to the dilemma. I asked for it aloud, as though I was talking to some childhood invisible friend. Within minutes, the solution dropped into my brain like the last piece of the puzzle, as though I had indeed gotten an answer from beyond. The subconscious mind is an amazing thing indeed. Ask and you shall receive. The answer was obvious, perfect, and so simple I'm shocked that it hadn't occurred to me before. So if you ever see me talking to myself on a street corner in the future, I'm probably asking for some elusive plot point.

However I got it, the result is tangible, written out in scene cards and stuck to my wall, and the plot for the urban fantasy is actually here, real, solid, and workable. Two Novembers ago, I told my friend that I couldn't plot or write urban fantasy. Apparently I was wrong. I can. I am. Who'da thunk?

Urban fantasy is hot right now, they say. Publishers are looking for it; it's selling. And I happen to have the plot for one now. Maybe that'll be the right combination to get my foot through the door at last. But I still wouldn't write it if I didn't love it or if it didn't resonate for me. As much as I want to get published, I know that I personally can't do my best work if I can't really connect with the story or the genre, which is why I'm not writing YA right now. I can't force myself to care about it, or perhaps I simply haven't found the right storyline yet. The epic fantasy is great, I love it and still believe in it, and I'll finish the trilogy, of course. I'll probably go on to write more epic fantasy in the future--I'm sure I won't be able to stay away from it entirely. But I also happen to have found a story I love in the more popular field of urban fantasy, so now I get to take a risk that might just pay off. Now that I've found the last piece of my new plot, we'll see what happens.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Peaceful Warrior

I'd seen the book "The Peaceful Warrior", but never actually read it. However, I just saw the movie and it generated lots of thought, as I'm sure it was meant to. It's no wonder our city chose to show it at the art movie theater; this isn't one of those movies where you just go, laugh, applaud or otherwise enjoy and never have to think too much. This one's meant to make you pay attention and then go home and rethink your life.

That's right, Obi Wan.

How many of us go through our lives without actually living them? Do we pay attention to the minutiae of things and people around us, or do we pass them without ever allowing them to really touch us? Maybe Dan Millman is right. Maybe many of us aren't so much living as just going through the motions, chasing all the wrong dreams. Or chasing the right dreams for the wrong reasons.

This is especially true of writing, but it's complicated. If the one thing you really, truly love is writing and you're not in it for the money, you've got it made. But what if your life purpose is to share your stories, share your truths and visions with other people and you can only do that by getting published? Sure, writing makes you happy, but is it doing any good in the world if no one outside of your family and crit group ever gets to read it? Maybe. Maybe just sharing it with a finite group of people is enough. But if Dan Millman hadn't gotten The Peaceful Warrior published, how many people would have been able to share his incredible experience or read the story that only he could tell? Not too many, in the grand sceme of things. So in a sense, we have a bit of a paradox. You do the thing you're destined to do, the one thing that really gives you goose bumps, but you never get to share it with more than about eight people unless you just publish it online, which still doesn't reach half the people you hope to reach. You write because you love it, but you also feel deep down in your soul that there's supposed to be more to it. It isn't supposed to be just for you.

Ok, I'm talking about myself here, but I'm sure there are hundreds to thousands of other writers out there who also see themselves in the above paragraph. So how do we address the paradox?

Would you still write even if you were never to get published? Would you actually be able to just set down your pen or leave your keyboard and never attack anything more ambitious than email? If the answer is yes, then you have it easy. But if the answer is no, then you already know you love it too much to stop. Someday they'll probably find you permanently asleep at your keyboard, hopefully after having typed the last line of the last chapter of your very last book. If that sounds like you, then you're pretty much stuck. You'll have to keep writing, and giving it up just isn't an option, publisher's contract or no.

So where does that leave you? What would the peaceful warrior's answer be? I don't know. I don't have all the answers or even a good fraction of them. But maybe it would be something like this: Maybe it doesn't really matter whether you become a famous novelist. Maybe that's the totally wrong goal to shoot for. If, like Dan learned, the journey is far more important than the destination, then maybe it's about putting everything you are into every keystroke. Maybe it's about being fully present with and committed to every word you write. Maybe it's about never doing less than your absolute best, no matter what the rewards might or might not be. If you focus on the minutiae of your writing, on honing your craft, on doing what you love and making every word a labor of love, then maybe all the rest of it will fall into place, if that's what's supposed to happen for you. And if it's not, then where are your regrets? Are you proud of the job you did? Did you love it, did it bring you joy? Then you've made at least one person happy--maybe the most important person. And if you find joy in doing what you love, then you're sure to bring joy to others, simply because joy seems to multiply itself when turned outward. As above, so below. Or another way to think of it: as within, so without.

Maybe it works. Either way, it sure beats the heck out of being depressed because none of the books in your shelves have your name on the spine.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Cats and Dogs

We've had an interesting couple of weeks. We'd been talking about getting a dog for some time, and finally we decided to just do it. So for about a week, we surfed all the adoption sites, followed up leads and came up with a short list of potential dogs for adoption. One night last week I told my cat that the next day, we'd be bringing a dog home. That night at about 2:30 a.m., he went out catting, and the next morning he still hadn't returned.

We had found a dog at our local humane society shelter, a beautiful 1-year-old German shepherd who had been found wandering in late July, no tags, no collar, starving and ill. We visited her one day, put her on a 24-hour hold, and brought her home the next day. She was 2 days post-op from being spayed, and still recovering from that and her previous illness, but she gave us all a big kiss when we came back to pick her up. As soon as we got her home, she settled right down and by now her personality is beginning to emerge. The humans who'd had her before hadn't housetrained her, hadn't taught her any commands, hadn't played with her...you get the picture. She loves my kids and is blossoming with us. This is a smart dog. In two days, she'd learned her name, (we named her Andromeda, Rommie for short) come, sit, and lay down. She's still working on stay and heel. She loves living in the "den" with us and being part of our family. But there is one thing in our household that she does not love, and that is the cat.

Back to the cat. Moonshadow must have had some horrific adventure, because he was missing all day long after we brought the dog home--very bad timing, that! I was devastated and thought I'd lost him, so on what was supposed to be a happy day with the dog, I was mourning my cat of 14 years. Trying not to blubber in the neighbor's faces, I walked street after street, distributing pictures and phone numbers so people could call me if they found him. Then that morning at 2:20 a.m., I woke up thinking about him. 10 minutes later, I heard the cat door, ran downstairs, and found a very happy, very hungry feline eating big kibbles out of the dog's new dish.

We welcomed Moonshadow home, then brought Rommie down to introduce them...and they hated each other on sight, of course. So we've been trying to acclimate them to each other gradually, and I hope things will still work out. It would not be fair for my beautful, beloved kitty to lose his home of 14 years just because a big puppy now lives here, and it would also not be fair to Rommie to lose her new home just because my grumpy old cat can't keep himself from growling at her and pushing her buttons. So for now, we're keeping them separated and trying to introduce them gradually. Wish us luck, and any tips would be welcome!