30 June 2006

River rat.

River in the rain
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train
Winding your way away somewhere
River, I love you, don't you care?

If you're on the run, winding someplace
Just trying to find the sun
Whether the sunshine, whether the rain,
River, I love you just the same.

But sometimes, in a time of trouble
When you're out of hand
And your muddy bubbles roll across my floor
Carrying away the things I treasure
Hell, there ain't no way to measure
Why I love you more than I did the day before ...

River in the rain
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train
Winding your way away from me
River, I've never seen the sea.

-- Roger Miller, "River in the Rain," from the musical Big River

Love that song. Been playing it a lot lately -- because this is flood season? Or because I'm such a river rat?

The river appears in every novel I write. I can't resist. It's come to symbolize the boundary of heaven, because all my life I've stood on the hills that surround my little town and look out across the floodplain to the hills of Kansas, blue with distance. I have never traveled to the Kansas hills to stand and look back at my home. It's a view I've never seen.

All through my childhood, the river's paid us visits. 1979, the year the ice floes backed up behind the railroad bridge, my first flood. We had just gone to Savannah to Grandma Ann's when the water came into Nodaway, so we ended up camping out there. Then I believe there was one in '81, and maybe a short one in'85. The river made it to the edge of the yard in '79, but no closer.

Then there were the floods of legend.

The great flood I always heard about was 1951. The river was five miles across. Dad, who was about five or six, made a raft and invited Uncle Harold, who was blind, to take a ride. Uncle Harold knew better. Great-grandpa Ben, who worked for the Corps of Engineers, drove a big boat right up the main street and hitched it to the front of the store, which was built about five feet off the ground.

1993 was my flood.

I was going to college and living in the house where I'd lived when a kid. Every few days, as the waters rose, the route out of town changed as yet another road went under. Every day I could smell the stagnant, brown water. I finally had to evacuate when the water, which had stayed at the edge of the yard before, now crept up to the front door, to the windows. My coneflowers and delphiums floated in the murk. I had to get my stuff and leave. I did it, though I hated to.

The waters never came into my house, which was fortunate. The main street, however, was devastated. Grandpa Vance floated by Uncle Harold's house in the canoe and cleaned the leaves out of the gutters. Aunt Olga's house had to be torn down. Nodaway's population dropped from 50 to about 36.

There's this point of pride a river rat has, this relationship with the river that fills their home with mud and silt and mildew. "Can't chase us out," they say affectionately, looking out at the water. "The river's our home. We ain't leaving."

But I left. Live in a nice town. I can walk to the library; doesn't that count for something?

But I still want to go back and live in Nodaway. Live within sight of that river, live at the edge of heaven.

24 June 2006

I love small-market radio.

See, in KC, just about all the radio stations are owned by corporations. It's either Entercom, Susquehanna, or Cumulous, all up and down the radio dial. We have three light-rock stations (two in KC, one in Topeka) that I've stopped listening to, because they all play the same stuff. Five songs by Rod Stewart, six by Billy Joel, ten by Elton John. I'm going, guys, these musicians have had a long and varied history in which they've created tons of good songs. It's not like you have to play "Captain Jack" by Billy Joel, but can you mix it up a little?

Though KYYS, which is owned by Entercom, will have shuffle weekends where they play all kinds of crazy stuff, and I do like that. However, I'm pissed off at Entercom because four years ago they mismanaged the classical station into the ground (fired the staff that I'd been listening to for years and got DJ's that didn't know how to pronounce Ralph Vaughn Williams, for example) and then banished it to the AM dial and replaced it with "The Buzz." I'll give them a buzz. Here are your Arbitron ratings right here, Jerky Breath!

But I digress.

Small-market stations -- radio stations that serve a small area -- are my solace. There was a great one out of Clinton, Mo., that I could sometimes pull in. One night they played "Madman on the Water" by Elton John, "Angry Young Man" by Billy Joel, and "Synchonicity II" by The Police. Damn, what a lineup! I heard they'd also mix up Beach Boy tunes with Motley Crue, which sounded fun. Alas they got bought out by a Christian satellite service, which pretty much put an end to Motley Crue.

My favorite is KNIM out of Maryville. They pretty much play whatever the hell they want. They'll play stuff from the Coverdale/Page album, "Driving the Last Spike" by Genesis, which is like this 9-minute song about a man who works to build a railroad. Once they played "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly, all 20 minutes of it. It started when I got into my truck after work and it brought me into the driveway. Of course they'll play the latest from Three Doors Down and Billy Idol and the Cars. Love 'em.

I'll listen to KKFI from KC when it comes in, too. They're totally independant, I think 83% of their revenue comes from their fund drives, and the rest from grants. They'll hobble along with bad soundboards or malfunctioning CD changers, but they hit you with all kinds of great stuff. Blues, jazz, speed metal, news, and lots of stuff from local musicians. They introduced me to Kelley Hunt, Anthony Gomes, Kurt Elling, and all kinds of neat and fun stuff.

Oh, I keep forgetting -- this station now has streaming audio, so you can see what I'm raving about.

I'm just a radiohead, guys.

On the computer: Retro Red-Eye Express from KKFI (streaming audio)

23 June 2006

And while we're on the subject ...

Check out Don Tate's comments on the scarcity of black males in children's books. I've also noticed that guy MC's are totally underrepresented (in the short story collection I've been writing, I've added a couple of guy stories, including one with a black MC. Hope I do it justice).

Thanks, Don, for the backup!

On being black in fiction.

Recently read some interesting articles from Ursula K. LeGuin's site, as well as a super reply by Pam Noles.

Ursula K. Le Guin said this:
"I have received letters that broke my heart, from adolescents of color in this country and in England, telling me that when they realized that Ged and the other Archipelagans in the Earthsea books are not white people, they felt included in the world of literary and movie fantasy for the first time."
— Speech to the Book Expo America children's literature breakfast, June, 4, 2004.

And Pam Noles wrote about this in her essay called "Shame." This sprung up after the Sci/Fi network did a movie based on Earthsea -- totally trashed it -- and they made Ged and all his buds white as the pure-driven snow. Cause I guess wizards of colors aren't good for ratings?

And Pam wrote about reaching that point in Earthsea when LeGuin mentions that while Ged and Jasper were red-brown, Vetch was black-brown.

And because Le Guin snuck up on it, let us thrill with Sparrowhawk as he made his way, the Revelation came as a shock. I do remember bursting out into tears on the living room couch when I understood what was going on. And the tears flowed again when Mom came home from work and I showed her the book while trying to explain. Sparrowhawk is brown. I think he's like an Indian from India. And Vetch is black like from Africa. There's a bunch more and they have real power. Not the girls, though. But still they are also the good guys. It's the white people who are evil. And Sparrowhawk is also Ged, and he's going to be the most powerful one of them all, ever.

And I look at all my lily-white characters in Symphonians. And cringe.

I mean, I look at the diversity of kids in elementary schools these days. Even my nephew and niece, who are part Portuguese, have cinnamon skin and that black hair and brown eyes I love so much. Why can't my characters reflect this reality?

I've been wanting for ages to write a fantasy novel with all-black characters. I mean the dark-black ones -- what did Toni Morrison call them? Coal-rock? (I can't remember and I can't find my copy of Paradise on my bookshelves.) I'd have all the dark colors, maybe have a token white, just to turn the whole race thing on its head. I really think we shouldn't assume that all our MC's are white just because we see a lot of whites. That's because whites seem to have a way of making other colors feel uncomfortable. And I've done my share of dumb things in the past, though I don't do them again, Lord willing.

But the thing that really got me was that one of the characters I've known longest -- Roderick, one of my wonderful Symphonians, and one of my favorites -- has always been part Spanish. His mom was Spanish. The man has black hair and brown eyes, and I've had an idea that he's dark-skinned, but it never showed up on the page. Many times I've thought, "Well, heavens, he's got to at least look like he has a tan," but it never shows on the page.

And Yvonne could easily be Asian; I can see her looking like some wild anime angel to try and freak out her parents. Not to mention the butterfly tattoo and the crazy earrings.

I'd like to bring myself next to have my main character be of a different color, race, or heritage. But I'm shy of this ... what if I offend somebody is the usual excuse. "You can't learn all about being black just by listening to the Tom Joyner Show on the radio," I tell myself. I need to do more research. I feel it's important for all to be included in my stories. I know, I know, I'm writing about the human condition, blah blah blah. But I think it's important that we acknowledge the human condition isn't only about being white.

21 June 2006

The view from inside a literary magazine.

I worked at the Laurel Review/Greentower Press, which is a literary magazine and a small press at NWMSU, ages ago, for a summer semester. I guess I was an editorial assistant, because I read slush and helped them get stuff mailed out, but mostly I was helping them adjust after their move to a different building (Colden Hall was being remodeled). So I was doing a lot of book-stacking and room organizing, too. But as a wide-eyed young writer I was fascinated.

This is how things worked at a literary magazine. The editors and the readers would read the MSS and, if a MS struck them as possibly being worthy, they'd scribble a comment on the envelopes the MS came in. "Take a look at this," or, "Not sure but maybe take a look," or, "What's with the screaming guy?"

The noteworthy submissions were set aside and given a second look. If the material was good but didn't fit in with the magazine's style, or if the ending didn't work, but they still liked the writing, they'd give it a "kiss," aka a form letter that said "try us again." All the rest of the MSS got form rejections.

Manuscripts that were accepted became proofs. On the original MSS, in red ink, one of the editors would specify margin width, page setup, font style and font size. Of course the MSS were proofread and made to conform to house style. Then a big sheaf of MSS would zip off to the printers.

After the magazine had been published these marked-up proofs would end up in the recycle bins. After asking Dr. Slater, I pounced on them and took 'em home. Among them was a couple of poems by Galway Kinsey, I believe. I kept those!

The last time I stopped by the LR offices, there were two recycle bins overflowing with rejected submissions, and a big pile of new submissions that needed to be read. Just so you know.

Most literary magazines have professors as their editors, and if they're good professors (and the guys I worked with were quite good), they're running all over the place taking care of their students, and in their spare time they run the magazine. This is why it takes a while for them to get back with you. Finals week is really bad. And don't send stuff in summer because often there's only a wide-eyed young writer running things.

Small literary magazines often send out requests for subscriptions with their rejection letters because they really could use the subscriptions! A lot of magazines survive on grants and magazine sales, not on advertising. Advertising is traded between magazines -- "I'll show an ad for your magazine if you show an ad for mine." Kind of interesting.

I think nearly all of the LR editors have retired -- I know Trowbridge and Slater have, though I'm not sure about Dr. Richards -- and there's a new generation in place. But I'm pretty sure things are still run the same way. And as far as I can tell, the new editors are pretty sharp, too, though I don't see them as much as the old-school guys.

If you live near a university, you might volunteer at a local lit magazine. It is a real eye-opener (and also you get to read real slush!). And any time an author can spend behind an editor's desk is time that pays back in understanding and patience, as well as a better sense of what a writer can get away with ... or can't.

I love alfalfa.

Got the PDF file from Therese today that shows what my alfalfa article looks like for Organic Gardening. We're going to press! I still have to get a tiny bit of information on whether one of my sources has a Ph.D or not, but other than that it's done.

Now I gotta get some OG's from the library, look them over, and write them a query about micorrhyza and what conditions are necessary to make them work with your garden plants. Not that I'm a mycologist (one who studies fungi), but mycology is an interesting field, and it's all about plant symbiology, baby.

And that would tie in nicely with the soilbuilding book proposal.

Or an article about earthworms would also be nice.

Let's get on the stick, it's 9:30 already.

BTW, we went to the Royals game last night and they actually WON. Berroa stole two bases (BRC corrected me: he stole one base and the pitcher got an error ... whatever!) and DeJesus broke his bat in half for a double, I think. And we talked a little about the Bo Jackson days, when he was playing with the Royals in Seattle and he threw a ball clear from the wall at the back of the field to Bob Boone at home plate and it NEVER BOUNCED, to get an out on Harold Reynolds! It was great to have watched him in the good ol' days.

19 June 2006

*scribbles in dust* Wash me!!

Sophie to Grandma (hand on car): Just look for our white car.

(The car's actually silver.)

Grandma: *What* color is it?

(Sophie looks at the bug mess all over the front of the car.)

Sophie: I don't know. Maybe we should wash it.


I'm up to 16 pages of character sketches and have written about three or four new pages of Symphonians scene, and moved around bits of Chapter 17 to make the chapter chronological. Now I need to figure what the impetus behind Ch. 17 is. Right now it feels like it's going all over the map -- no cohesion. But writing time is over, and now I gotta go get the kid. I feel good, though -- nice writing day, though part of it I was falling asleep at the desk and I had to sit outside and write longhand under the silver maple so I could stay awake. And then chai tea, which is also very good. I just wish I could work longer, now that I've found the groove, but, as they say on earth, C'est la vie!

On the i-Pod -- It *was* the Hollies with "The Air That I Breathe" (one of my songs) but BRC switched it "It's Only Love" by Byron Adams and Tina Turner (one of his songs). Oh well. Though Tina kicks ass.

At the library.

We have this weird computer set-up at home where my laptop doesn't have internet and the computer that does have internet won't accept a memory stick, or flash drive, whatever that thingy is. So I have to walk out to the library to send my gardening column to Jess, since the computers here are like, you know, modern.

I got through interlibrary loan three big quartos -- two on roses and one on Empress Josephine. I will carry these home (about seven blocks) and take a look at them later.

I have 14 pages of character studies finished right now. However, each character averages about two pages, so we still have work to do. I'm doing them on the computer which actually does seem a little easier than doing them on paper. I've gotten pretty good about composing both on paper and on the keyboard -- gotten used to that.

Anne says she should get back with me sometime this week on the rose query. Fingers crossed, and let's hope she doesn't suddenly experience a dental emergency or some damn thing.

Okay! Let's get back home and get some work done! There are only so many hours the kid's gone for summer kindergarten, and every minute seems precious because I have only two glorious weeks left!

16 June 2006

Some progress!

I've written three pages on character sketches so far. Only 247 pages to go to make my half-ream. Ha ha! Oh I am such an idiot.

I was thinking about typing my character sketches into the computer so I could 1) read what I wrote and 2) move things around into different sections. Sounds good in theory. But will it work in practice?

Maybe I should get off the computer and do some actual work.

Remember, I did tell Janine at FSG that it might be a year before she sees the novel again. And I want to have amazing characters like Anne Tyler does. If I want the magic, I gotta do the work. Also, this will bring the characters closer to what the book wants of them. And I'll avoid libel suits!

(I keep thinking of all the other novels I need to work on ... I wonder if I'll ever get to them, especially after I go back to working full-time. This bothers me.)

15 June 2006

Kicked it out the door!

For now. The Rose Saga proposal, that is. I went ahead and sent it to Anne today, stating that I wasn't sure if I should write this for an adult audience or a MG/YA audience. I'm leaning toward the younger audience because that market has no rose history book while the adults have plenty of 'em, there's almost always a short rose history chapter in most rose books I've seen, even if the book's about planting or cultivation. But I'll see what the bosses think first.

So now I am getting back to Symphonians again. Alas I discovered I must do more work. Here, look at this Anne Tyler interview.

(And it's rare for her to give interviews, so read closely.)

But what I love about Anne's stories are her characters. "Grownups" is my favorite book of hers, mainly because the characters are so amazing. The first chapter is hard to get through because you're meeting them all at once, but after that it's much easier.

Look at what she says about the way she writes:

I spend about a year between novels. My decision to start a new one is just that, a decision, since I never get inspirations. I'll say, "It's time I stopped lolling about. I'd better think something up." Then for a month or so I'll jot down desperate possibilities. "Maybe I could write about a man who does such-and-such. Or wait: I think I already did that. Well, then maybe about that woman I saw in the grocery the other day. What was she up to, exactly? What might her story have been?"

Eventually, one of these possibilities will start flowering in my mind, and I'll manufacture what's initially a very trumped-up, artificial plot. I'll write maybe one long paragraph describing the events, then a page or two breaking the events into chapters, and then reams of pages delving into my characters. After that, I'm ready to begin.

And she also says this:

I do write long, long character notes—family background, history, details of appearance—much more than will ever appear in the novel. I think this is what lifts a book from that early calculated, artificial stage. One day, around chapter 2 or 3, I'll be slogging through some dialogue and all of a sudden a character says something that makes me laugh. Where did that come from? I'm not funny! Then another will flatly refuse the plot contrivance I've designed for him. I'll write a scene this way, write a scene that way; it slows to a crawl and stops. Finally, I say, "Oh, all right," and I drop the contrivance and the scene falls into place and I see a motive I'd never guessed and I understand where we're going. It's as if someone else is telling me the story. I don't want to say I hear voices; well, actually I do hear voices, but I don't think it's supernatural. I think it's just that when characters are given enough texture and backbone, then lo and behold, they stand on their own.

Reams of paper on her characters creates characters that live on the page, characters that drive the plot.

I have about six characters in Symphonians that I need to write character sketches about. So, my assignment is ... gulp ...


What! That's only 500 pages!


*comes to*

...okay, maybe I could like write on one side of the page and do 250 pages.


Oh, stop being such a wuss. You just want to write 10 pages on all the major characters and get out of the assignment. You want to write a kick-ass novel or not? You want to be like Anne Tyler? Then do the work. Over and out!

Roger that.

On the mental i-Pod: "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC

10 June 2006

Back to the Rose Saga.

Because the books that might possibly be competing with my book have mostly all arrived from Amazon.

One was too short and had the same historical info I've seen in many other rose books; one had a big slant toward interior decoration; one was too old but still a good source; and one ...

... well, one was published in March 2006 and does many of the same things I had planned to do. And he got his MS checked over by Graham Thomas, the rosarian god, before he (Thomas, not the author) died. And he got David Austin, rose hybridizer god, to write the foreword.

*throws self in river*

But on the bright side, this guy is dry as heck and he does cover a lot of stuff I'm not as interested in. And I cover some things he doesn't, including the search for a blue rose.

But I was really dissatisfied with this book, and wondered why. Then I got out Robert Reddell's Rose Bible, which I love love love, and I set these two books down side-by-side, and started thinking about why one book works and one doesn't (for me, that is).

Reddell's writing is lively. The text is broken up on the page with subheads. White space is used to good effect in this book. The pages are large and generous, while the others' pages seem small (and also illustrations had no margins whatsoever, making the other book feel chintzy -- not the author's fault, but just poor design). Also, Reddell's book has these huge, luscious pictures of roses in full bloom, and I keep finding myself wanting to kiss the page. I really love the pics. The pics make me want these roses bad (though I still don't want them bad enough to actually create a rose garden in my yard -- still jaded -- but this resistance to gardening has been fading lately).

So: what if I lean more toward Reddell's model? Let's get pics. And let's get lively text. I was thinking about including many sidebars in my book. Why not small articles? Talk to a rose breeder (I'd like to talk to Carruth about that!) about what rose breeding *really* entails, and tie it to the explosion of rose breeding in France after Josephine got things rolling. Talk to a plant archeologist, or whatever you call them, about roses in ancient cultures. Let's not just pull facts from a book, but let's talk to people, make the information come alive.

But I have my work cut out for me. I'm going to have to restructure my chapter setups. But the sample chapter about the search for the blue rose is something this guy didn't even touch, so that's good.

I'd like to get the danged thing out this week. I can't keep them waiting on me much longer.

On the i-Pod -- "Sentimental Lady" by Bob Welch
Then "Lebanese Blonde" by Thievery Corporation (thanks, Tracy)

06 June 2006

Winner of the "Hell of a Segue" award for today.

On the i-Pod:

"Long Cold Winter" -- Cinderella
Followed up by "Do-Wacka-Do" by Roger Miller.

They're threatening me already.

From the school:


Your student's meal account balance is: -$.10

Any money paid will be added to the account. Any negative balance over $10.00 will be served a peanut butter sandwich.


Please! No! Anything but the peanut butter sandwich!

02 June 2006

More ramblings on Carter, because we know you need to hear all about it.

Sorry! I don't have the baby pics yet! But I will soon!

(I'm sure that everyone who visits this blog is going, "The heck with all that novel crap, we want to see the little baby!" Well, I don't blame you.)

Anyway, more novel crap.

Kind of funny, because it's going to be all about Carter's character today. I took the bits where Carter appeared in chapter 16 and copied them into a separate document, trying to see what I've written about him so far. The guy is still a cardboard cutout, which of course bugs me. I'm like, "Hurry up! Come to life already!"

Got frustrated, so I started working on the chronology of the events of the chapter, which is cloudy and uncertain. And in doing that I ended up hauling out the ...

(ringing, metallic voice): LETTERS! OF! THE! EX!!

(puts sfx away)

So I jotted down some dates, trying to put together a chronology to use as a framework in the novel. Then I started to read the letters the ex wrote. I'm trying to read them with an open mind, trying to get into the guy's thoughts and imagine, okay, what's he thinking here, why'd he say that. Though I kept breaking out of that thoughtful frame of mind with such comments as, "Yeah, right!" or, "When monkeys fly out of my butt!" And then I'd tell the peanut gallery to hush up, and I'd try to get back into the guy's mindset.

But I'm getting better. A few times I've said, "Okay, I can see why he'd say that," which helps. And I've told him, "Man, you should have chosen one course of action and stuck to it." The guy's really conflicted. He did hear me when I said our relationship was over, and he understood the words I said. But the old body said, "I want that woman" and so he kept following me around which totally screwed him up. And he did throw me a birthday party, and that was really nice.

But the guy could be really exasperating, too. In one letter he complained that when I spent time with a group of my friends, I paid more attention to them than I did to him. Reading that today kind of floored me. Okay, I guess he does have some key issues to deal with after all! But now that I think about it, it really didn't occur to me before that there might be other stuff going on in his psyche that would also contribute to his behavior toward me/Kay. That might be worth speculating upon.

If I can get a character that will live on the page, that will be most of the battle right there. One that's interesting, one that the reader empathises with, and one that has his share of surprises ....

Yo, unconscious mind, give it to me!

P.S. But hurry up because I've been working on Chapter 16 for the past three weeks and yet I see no end to it.

01 June 2006


If that wasn't enough, I got a new niece at about 11 p.m. last night. Maya Furtado. Mike says it looked like she was 6 pounds 7 ounces (he got only a glimpse of the weight in all the excitment). I'll update this later with pics.

Time now to wake the kid for summer kindergarten. More later.