The Postal Service

So the U.S. Postal Service is thinking of reducing the number of days they deliver mail. Guess they couldn’t raise the price of stamps forever . . . Especially now that they have “forever” stamps that crazy people have been hoarding against potential postal hikes. There has even been talk of USPS shutting down completely and letting the other delivery services (UPS, FedEx, &c) take over. Fine, I suppose, except that our UPS guy already hates us for how much stuff we get delivered, never mind adding a bunch of letters to the pile.

Truth is, most people like checking their mail. There’s that weird moment of potential, the fact that something wonderful might have appeared in the box. The same feeling comes with e-mail, though it’s less tangible–but it explains the strange addiction people have, the gratification that comes with seeing that someone has sent you something, even if it’s junk mail or spam. It’s validation that you exist and are connected to the great web of the world.

So I think the postal service should actually deliver every day. They should add Sundays to the delivery schedule. Then they’d be offering a service the others don’t. You say, “But you can’t have mailmen work every day without a day off.” And I agree. Which is why you have two part-time mail people working 3- and 4-day blocs. They wouldn’t get benefits, but then the way things are going, no one is going to have them (or pensions) much longer anyway. And you’d be employing more people, which is good for the economy.

This is all completely off the top of my head, mind. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons it wouldn’t work. But I’m busy avoiding work of my own. And in that spirit, I’m about to go do a cardio workout and not think about the writing I should be doing instead.

My 9/11 Story

Everybody has one, and I won’t pretend or presume that mine is any more or less important than any other. But for some reason I like reading these stories; there’s something cathartic about them, and something equally healing about writing one’s own down, getting it out, putting it in hard, visible words so as to give it perspective.

For me, September 11, 2001, began with me waking up in a bad mood because I’d had a nightmare. I often have vivid dreams, but in retrospect this dream is one I will never forget: I was a passenger in a white pick-up truck, but I couldn’t see the face of the driver, only his right arm, which was dark–I thought Latino, maybe, but it could as easily have been Middle Eastern. I didn’t want to be in the truck, but there was no getting out. We were on a highway, moving quickly even though there were many cars, all going in one direction. All the big, green highway signs (you know the ones, at least in the US, that hang over the highways and mark exits and such) read: Death and Destruction Ahead. And in the distance was a cityscape, dark clouds swirling over the tall buildings.

My alarm went off and I stomped through my morning routine, my cat following me around and mewing his sympathy for my irritation–at least, that’s what I thought at the time, but maybe he was just clued in to something bigger and deeper in the cosmos. Animals are funny that way. I eventually left our apartment building, and the day was beautiful, bright and cool, so I chose to walk to work. That walk took me across Boston Common and the Public Gardens to where I was a production assistant at Houghton Mifflin on the corner of Berkley and Boylston Streets.

It was my habit to arrive at work a bit early, somewhere around 8:30 or so. On the other side of my cubicle wall sat the department admin, and I could hear her and a few other voices chirping about the Internet, web sites too slow or not loading or some such. I ignored it. Not a minute later my desk phone rang, and my husband told me without preamble, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

“That’s stupid,” I said. I was picturing a little Cessna, and some amateur would-be pilot making a ridiculous and grave error.

My husband seemed to follow my line of thinking. He said, “No, like, a plane.”

Admittedly, I had very little grasp of the geography involved. We’d been to Manhattan a few times, had walked past the Towers at least once, and of course they were featured in any film that had New York as its established location. But other than that, I was a bit at sea about the whole thing.

I tried to go online, but like the admin and her crew, I couldn’t get any news sites to load.

And then my husband said, “Oh my God, another one.”

He worked in finance, you see, and so the open space of his workplace was dotted with televisions.

At this point the girl who worked in the cube next to me was in hysterics. In lieu of any actual, factual information getting through, rumors were flying. The Sears Tower had been hit, the Space Needle in Seattle, Los Angeles was under attack. I grabbed my co-worker, marched over to our boss’ office, and informed her in no uncertain terms that we were leaving. I told my co-worker to call her boyfriend to come get her and felt very lucky I lived within walking distance of my office.

Our boss then went to the corner conference room to tell the department head what was going on. “Can this wait until after the meeting?” he asked. “The country is under attack!” my boss told him. I didn’t wait to see how it played out; I ushered my fearful co-worker back down to the lobby to wait for her boyfriend. Once I’d seen her safely into his car, I started the walk home.

My husband called on my cell to tell me they’d evacuated his building (he’d had to walk down 38 flights of stairs) and that he was going home (he was also within walking distance) and I should go home, too. I told him I was already on my way. The walk down Boylston and then cutting through the Common was very different from the one I’d taken that morning, and as I crossed the lawns I saw so many college students lounging on the grass, reading and dozing, and I thought: They don’t have any idea.

I stopped at the corner convenience store to pick up a few things, just in case they ended up closing early. Just in case we ended up stuck in our apartment for a few days.

My husband was already there when I arrived, television on, and we watched it all unfold, the same images over and over, the media striving to give information when so little was yet known.

At some point I was able to get through on the phone to my parents. You see, September 11 is my father’s birthday.

I’m in New York today, though I’ll soon be on a train back to Boston. But there is a strange gravity in being a visitor this morning. And even still a mixture of sentiment and resilience–for in Times Square as I was leaving, there were yet people out and about, enjoying themselves, off to Fashion Week events, even as farther south many were gathered to remember. And I’ve been past the site a few times now (though not during this visit), and it is remarkable for its vacuum, even as we’ve all adjusted our sight and become used to a New York with many tall buildings but without Towers.

Snap Back

Someone called Steven Moffat a c*nt on Twitter this morning and he asked, “Does everybody get this and is it increasing?” Well, generally speaking, most people aren’t in the public eye enough for that kind of venom (at least, I’m supposing they’re not). But as a rule, the more you put yourself out there, the bigger a target you’ll become. I think my post on negative “fans” covers the bases on this.

In other, happier, fan news, please go visit my friend Rejected Riter (link also on sidebar). I’ve been posting about recent rejections, but RR helps lift some of the cloud cover.

Sparkfest – Day 5

Last day of Sparkfest!

It’s funny because I wouldn’t necessarily look at the things I write and immediately think: Well, I wrote that from experience. But experiences do color everything we write. One doesn’t neatly separate the writer from what has been written.

I’ll give a specific example of a scene I anticipate using in my “K-Pro” story. I was alone and traveling abroad (I like to travel; I find it another way of finding inspiration, especially when I’m alone and can absorb without distraction), and I got lost in a large international city. This was before I had a handy cell phone or any such thing. Yes, I’m that old! But a gentleman came along, and I suppose I looked rather distressed, and he did this interesting thing where he put his hand on the small of my back as if to guide me. And it was sweet and reassuring and a bit startling all at once, and something I’ll never forget. So I will take this action and use it in my story, because I think my male lead character is the kind of person who might do something like this, and I will embellish it a bit because that is what writers do. I will take it that step further–imagination makes it easy to picture that, when the woman turns, naturally the man’s arm will come around her and there will be a kiss. Yes?

Travel “sparks” me in that it becomes part of my broad experience and gives me new and different perspectives on the world. I could write about the place I grew up, and my family would certainly make an entertaining story in its own right, but having traveled gives me the ability to pick and choose from a variety of people and places, it gives me more material to build with so to speak. From the farmlands around my hometown to this stranger in a foreign metropolis, I can combine and create an infinite number of possibilities, rounding them out with my own imaginings.

And kisses are universal.

Sparkfest – Day 4

What else can I say about inspiration and/or spark? One can go the conventional routes: art and photographs that inspire, people watching and overheard snippets of conversation. I’ve mentioned before that I find poetry inspirational as well.

I think writing is a sort of engineering. One draws the necessary materials from a variety of places and fashions them into something new and different. The elements all remain, but they are used in unusual ways and are sometimes disguised. Depending on what you’re building–writing–you may want one thing to show through or another, or you may want to hide most of the construction by decorating (just don’t overdo it).

As you might notice, I tend to think in metaphors.

My parents are analytical people, and I inherited a certain amount of logical ways of thinking from them. But my family has a history of art and poetry, too, and while I’m useless at drawing or painting and my poetry is weak at best, I definitely got the creative gene. Sometimes spark is on the inside, settled like a seed. My insides are tangled with vines of various sorts that need pruning now and again but serve me well in a variety of ways. Climbing, swinging . . .

So yes, I think my tendency to take one thing and equate or relate it to something that most people wouldn’t match it to (see yesterday’s post about music) has something to do with the blend of problem-solving skills and creativity I inherited. Take my story “A Society of Martlets” for example. I was looking at the family crest, which has martlets on it, and thinking I like the word “martlet” and might like to use it somehow. And I was reading a book about Edward III and it touched on the dissolution of the Knights Templar. I can’t remember why I was thinking of Lambeth, though. But somehow I took all these things and knit them together anyway.

History is a great place to dig for ideas, by the way. There’s so much of it and so many possible angles. I tend to go backward instead of forward for whatever reason; I don’t write future fiction or anything like that, never minding my love of Star Trek and Doctor Who. Maybe I can blame all those Indiana Jones movies as a kid for that?

Sparkfest – Day 3

I’ve mentioned this before, but in terms of inspiration–or “spark”–I find a lot of mine in music.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve linked songs to story. Maybe it’s because my favorite songs as a child told a story; I especially liked “Chanson Pour Les Petits Enfants” and “Band on the Run” and “The Gambler.” So somewhere in the back of my mind, every song became a story (and I guess in a way they all are), and I just began to fill in the missing bits.

When I got to that age where one begins to make mix tapes (CDs and playlists now, I suppose), I would pick a character or TV show or movie and put together songs that I felt were connected to them in some way. My cassettes were stories of a sort, and my friends would come to me, bewildered, and say, “I never would have thought . . . But I absolutely see now how these things fit.”

Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember not everyone sees and hears things the way I do. Being a writer means living somewhere in your head, and the words are the open door when you invite someone in.

I was working on a major motion picture at one point, and they let me help put together the soundtrack. And while the movie itself was only so-so–it was never big at the box office and only rarely ends up on a movie channel late at night–the soundtrack became a bestseller. Too bad as a lowly PA I didn’t receive any credit! But I can look at the track list and know I was the one to suggest the Rolling Stones.

So yes, sometimes when a song comes on the radio and I start to really listen–because for me lyrics are just as important as beat or rhythm or melody–something will spring to mind. The song sparks my imagination, and I find I must go play with whatever idea has been ignited.

Sparkfest – Day 2

So my post earlier today was about the two big projects I’m currently working on. In keeping with Sparkfest, then, I’ll talk about what, well, sparked them.

The play came from a drive. Quite simply, I went over a bridge. I was thinking at the time that I needed an idea for this play, and I might’ve seen something about the lottery out of the corner of my eye? Somewhere in there, the first line of the play sprang to mind: “The day Lucky jumped off the bridge was the day he won the Lotto.”

The “K-Pro” story was something that simmered for a lot longer. I have a tendency to lie in bed and think a lot. Daydream, make up stories, whatever. But this story is an odd blend of personal experience–that is, time I’ve spent on film sets and with actors (one of the main characters is an actor), time spent abroad, and my own history. They do say write what you know. I’d probably add: but make it more interesting.

Sparkfest

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and making up stories for longer than that. So I can’t really say which book did it for or to me. In fact, since I wanted mostly to be a screenwriter, it’s far more likely a movie or television show is the culprit.

What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Right now I’m writing a stage play, and I’d say there’s a bit of Tennessee Williams in it, though I’m picturing a young Ewan McGregor as my lead, and I’d say that more than Williams is inspiring a lot of my choices.

I’m also working on a novella, and again I have an actor in mind as my main male character while drawing the female protagonist from personal experience.

Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?
Oooh. Neil Gaiman maybe? It’s funny because I read Dean Koontz and Stephen King for years and years–used to steal my daddy’s paperbacks–and they were very dark and strange and gave me a lot to think about (Twilight Eyes, Lightning, and The Dark Half pop into my mind here). BUT . . . It wasn’t until I started reading Gaiman that I sort of learned how to look at things a bit differently.

Negative “Fans”

Anne Rice is having an interesting sort of discussion with her Facebook followers about how the Internet world enables obsessive negative “fans” to launch sustained attacks against authors they dislike. Rice asks the question, “Why bother?”

Authors deal with a lot of criticism; it’s part of the package when putting your work out there. In a way, criticism is good. For one thing, an open-minded author might learn a thing or two, or at least have something to think about when reading reviews of his or her work–whether the reviews be good or scathing. And of course you’ve heard that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. People criticizing your work means someone is reading your work. Always a good thing. And even hurtful reviews might garner interest, so that other people are tempted to read your work themselves and form their own opinions.

Okay, but then there are these singular individuals (though the bigger the author, the more of these there seem to be) who make it a sort of mission to berate an author’s work. These are the negative fans Rice talks about. These are the people who send letters and e-mails to the author detailing everything that’s wrong with every book–even if the fan hasn’t read them. Not one letter but dozens or even hundreds. The fan might also write about the author’s personal life, might take the author to task for any number of his or her life choices and so on. This person starts websites that are designed to slam the author, they go on chat boards and leave nasty comments, or they write long-winded Amazon.com reviews about how awful the books and the author are.

“Why bother?” Rice asks, and there are as many reasons why a person might do this as there are people who do do it. Some people simply can’t stand to see something they disagree with succeed; they have a sort of allergic reaction to what becomes popular and mainstream. They feel a need to show they are different, somehow more selective (elite) than the average person. Some of them–I’m sure in Rice’s case–have “religious” reasons for antagonizing a writer whose books they feel are somehow agents of evil. Some of them like the idea that they have a platform and are getting attention. It gratifies something inside them.

I studied fan psychology as part of my screenwriting degree (that probably seems strange, but there’s actually only so much screenwriting one can do in college, so I had to have an additional focus). As a fan myself, I found it interesting on a variety of levels. And certainly, as Rice posits, the Internet has made it all that much easier to latch on to something, whether it be pro or con. It’s easy to start a site or a blog, easy to search and find others who like or dislike something or someone, easy to form or join groups, etc. But the flip side is that there’s that much more for authors to sift through, too, and what’s funny is how these negative fans start to feel like they’ve made a connection when, realistically, the author they are hounding may or may not have noticed at all. Or even if she’s noticed, it’s just as easy to discount the ravings of one person online in the clamor of all the other “voices.” So while the Internet works for the negative fan, it also works against him.

I should know, since I spent a year writing letters to Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty on my old site Letters to Rob. I did it as a lark, mind you, not because I really had any particular beef to pick with any of them. In fact, I very much like their music (as unpopular as that makes me with my friends). It’s strange because you have to really like something or someone–or want to like them–to be able to feel betrayed by them. So negative fans must have had some expectation that was not met, some disappointment, in order to generate the kind of hostility involved. Though sometimes the perceived betrayal is that a friend, or many friends, or the whole world likes something that the negative fan cannot embrace, and so that person lashes out in frustration. The fan feels misunderstood and wants to enumerate the reasons he or she cannot be brought into the fold, the circle of fandom, that everyone else seems to inhabit.

I didn’t read Harry Potter for a long time, even though everyone else was insisting it was wonderful, I must read it, etc. And of course the more people told me I had to, the less I wanted to. But I didn’t start writing letters to J.K. Rowling about how she was ruining the world with her stupid wizard books. (I’m sure someone did, but it wasn’t me.) The negative fan that takes that extra step–some kind of switch flips inside them and they feel that need to go after whatever or whoever is irking them. Whether it’s that “God told them to” or they just hate that something or someone is more successful than they are–these fans are the people who often say they “could have written something better”–who knows? I would tell them not to waste such energy in fighting someone who has no interest in fighting them. I would tell them that if they really could write something better, do it. Why not try to be successful in your own right instead of detracting from someone else’s shine.

But as ever, it’s easier to ride the coattails of someone else’s hard work. These negative fans are still riding the author’s train, even if they are sitting in the very back.