Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Most Memorable Summer of My Life

Nerd Girl

I mentioned last week that this blog is proof that there are nerdy women in the world. Well, today's post may just become the key piece of evidence. It may have to compete a bit with the post where I shared a snippet from my teenage diary, showing the world that at one point I was this dorky kid envisioning Heaven (yeah, I'm talking about that Heaven: Pearly Gates, St. Peter, Jesus seated at the right hand of God, and all that) as an eternity of Star Trek binge-watching. Don't believe I really wrote that? Go read it and see for yourself.

Is today's post as nerdy as that one? Not sure, but it's pretty nerdy.

The Backstory

The story of the most memorable summer of my life actually begins about a year and a half earlier. The Memorable Summer occurred between my seventh and eight grade years of school. The story begins back in sixth grade.

It started with a casual conversation with my parents. My mother was telling the story of the worst date my dad ever took her on. It must have been when they were both in high school, because 2001: A Space Odyssey was playing in theaters. And my dad took my mom to see it.  In telling me the story, my mom went on and on and on about how incredibly stupid the movie was.


One thing I could not abide at that age (I was around eleven) was someone expressing an opinion without lists and lists and lists of facts to back up their position. Come to think of it, that still bothers me. Don't just say a movie is stupid. Give me bulleted lists showing all the things that make the movie stupid.

I was also at that preadolescent age where I liked to disagree with everything my parents said. My mom thought the movie was stupid? I was just going to have to watch that movie and prove to her it was not stupid.

So I watched it. My parents and I watched together, in fact. Of course, my mother complained all the way through it. Maybe if I hadn't had her voice in my ears the whole time, I would have felt differently about it, but I was a preteen with something to prove, so I naturally loved the movie. Deliberately and defiantly, I loved 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

After seeing the movie, I wanted to do two things. I wanted to watch the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and I wanted to read the book.

The book was easy to find at the local library. The movie version of the sequel was not so easy. My dad and I went to every video store in the area looking for it. Nobody had it. You see, at the time, video stores only kept new movies in stock, and 2010 had been out for about six years by that point. And it wasn't exactly the most popular movie of the decade, which made it nearly impossible to locate.

I did read 2001, however. And I must say, I enjoyed the book more than the movie.

There was one thing in the book that bothered me. It was the fact that the astronauts all had families back home, and they never got to see them again. The book mentioned that unmarried men were intentionally chosen because of the length of the mission, but it also said that Dave Bowman and Frank Poole both had girlfriends. Girlfriends who would be waiting back on earth to see their men again.

I could not shake that idea from my head. They left their girlfriends behind. They never went home. It was all very well and good for Frank. Frank died. There was some closure there. But Dave? He evolved into some alien entity and then chose to never go back home. How could he do that? His poor girlfriend!

The thought of Dave and his girlfriend nagged me for a long time after I finished that book. Then the Memorable Summer happened.

A Very Nerdy Summer Vacation

When I was twelve or thirteen, my parents and I went on a camping trip. I use the word "camping" loosely. We had an airconditioned travel trailer with a full kitchen and bathroom. But my parents referred to it as "camping."

We also brought a TV and VCR with us. It was the first time we'd had a TV in our camper. It was all very exciting.

There was a little gas station/convenience store not too far from our campground. Do you remember that, back in the 80s and early 90s, gas stations used to rent video tapes? Well, this one did. While my parents were busy getting gas and picking up some sodas and snack foods, I was perusing the video tapes. And guess what I found. 2010! 

I excitedly ran over and showed it to my dad, beaming my biggest "Can we get it? Can we get it?" smile. He seemed almost as excited as I was. After all, he was the one who had driven me all over our county looking for the darn movie. He was as ready for me to see it as I was.

So we rented it. This was before all rental stores required membership cards. Anybody could rent a movie back then.

The movie blew me away. Remember that I was obsessed with this need for Dave Bowman to reconnect with his girlfriend? Well, guess what happens in 2010. He goes home and talks to her! Even tells her he loves her. My little heart did its best reenactment of the ending of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, when the Grinch's heart grows three sizes. Pleasant tingling sensations spread all over my body and I truly thought I would burst from the intensity of emotion.

Not only that, but HAL is redeemed in 2010. The villain from the first movie becomes the savior in the second. I'm a sucker for a good redemption story, and this one did quite a number on me.

I cried myself to sleep that night. I don't remember if it was the first time I cried for a movie. I know I cried the first time I saw Beaches, but can't recall if I saw that before or after seeing 2010. I do know I've never cried harder for a movie than I did for 2010. Seriously. I cried myself to sleep every night for about two weeks after I watched it.

I spent the rest of that vacation wandering around the campground by myself, rewatching my favorite scenes from the movie in my mind. I remember that certain words and phrases would get stuck in my head, and I would make up little melodies to go with them, and pretend I was singing them to the characters in the movie. One was the catchphrase on the Morton's Salt container: When it rains, it pours. I turned it into a song:

When it rains it pours.
Pours so true.
Hold you head up,
So I can love you.

I constructed the melody in such a way that the last line led right back into the first, so I could sing it over and over again without stopping. And I walked around and around the campground singing that song and thinking about Dave Bowman and his girlfriend. 

And HAL. Let's not forget HAL. I assigned a song to him, as well. 905 by The Who. It's on their album Who Are You. I thought the song was about a robot, because that's what my mom told me the song was about. I realize now that my mom was wrong, but at the time I didn't know that, so I spent my summer singing that song and thinking about HAL. There's a line in the song that really grabbed hold of me: "At each end of my life is an open door." Because I did not have the internet to give me access to all lyrics of all songs ever written, I misunderstood that line and thought they were saying, "And the end of my life is an open door." I thought it was about immortality. You know, the kind of immortality HAL finds when Jupiter explodes, destroying the Discovery and uniting HAL's consciousness with that of Dave Bowman's for all eternity. After we got home from vacation, I spent hours in my room listening to that song and crying. 

When Summer Ended

Eventually I had to go back to school. You know how some teachers like to have students write about their summer vacation on the first day of class? Well, I had a teacher who assigned that very thing. Can you guess what I wrote about? 2010! I told the whole story. How my dad and I had been looking for that movie for such a long time. How we finally found it in this little gas station near our campground. How it relieved all the frustration I was left with after reading 2001. How I spent the rest of our trip sitting alone in quiet contemplation of the best movie I had ever seen. 

After writing our essays, we had to exchange papers and let a classmate critique our work. The girl who read my paper commented that I spent too much time talking about the movie. There was nothing about what I actually did on vacation. Well, sure, we had done other things. We swam in the campground's lake. We went fishing. We did some sightseeing at nearby tourist attractions. But through all of that, I was only thinking about the movie. The movie was the most important thing that happened that summer. 

A Lingering Effect

I was inspired to write this post after listening to music while working in my kitchen the other day. I have quite a long playlist on my phone, which contains the song 905, and I was listening to it on random shuffle. When that song came on, I felt all those same pleasant tingles coursing through my body that I felt during the summer that I saw 2010 for the first time. And though I knew the song wasn't really about a robot, still I sang along with it and pretended that it was about HAL. I may have even teared up a little. 

So there. You've now heard the story of the most memorable summer of my life. And I think I've nerded out enough one day. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Dating Advice on Television Shows

Rediscovering an Old Favorite

I've been re-watching Friends recently (sharing it with my kids). A huge chunk of time on that show is spent on the dating lives of its six primary characters, and certain themes keep appearing that seem to reflect (if the TV shows I watch are any indication) mainstream society's views on what "rules" we should follow when interacting with the opposite sex.

Disclaimer: I started dating my husband when I was sixteen. We've now been married nineteen years. I haven't been in the dating world for a long time.

Nevertheless, I have some opinions. I know what would attract me to a man and what would turn me off. And I must say, I couldn't disagree more with the sitcom version of dating etiquette.

In the episode of Friends we watched last night, Ross was talking about how advanced computers were going to become within the next fifty years and how one day it would be possible for humans to upload their consciousness into a machine and live forever. The reaction of the others seemed to say that if he ever talked about that stuff to a woman he was interested in, he had basically zero chance of getting a date. Ever. For the rest of his life.

Um...I was kind of offended, if you want to know the truth. After all, there are nerdy women in the world. If this blog isn't proof of that, I don't know what is.

The implication on the show is that women will flock to a guy like Joey but will run screaming in terror from a guy like Ross. Again, I've not been in that world since...well...probably since Friends was still in its first season, but I know I'd much prefer a guy to come on with the nerd talk than come at me with a calculated, "How you doin'?" I'd recognize a genuineness in the first guy while recognizing that the second guy was just turning on the charm. You want to know something about charm? Charm is manipulative. If you want to get to know me, show me your true self. Don't show me the charismatic face you put on when you're trying to woo beautiful women.

My Experience in the Real World

Let me tell you the story of how my husband and I got together. I'd been acquainted with him for a while because we were in marching band together. He was a senior when I was a freshman, so he graduated pretty soon after I came along, but he was good friends with a guy who was dating one of my good friends, so we saw each other from time to time.

One day he came to a band competition our high school hosted every year. It was common for former band members to come back and watch other bands perform. Once a band nerd, always a band nerd, after all. He was sitting in the bleachers with his friend, who was naturally sitting with my friend. When I got a break (all band members were required to work the event), I came and sat with them. I remember very little about what we talked about. It was probably a lot of my husband and his friend goofing off while I and my friend sat and listened (we were both very shy and didn't talk much back then).

Then my (future) husband turned to me and, out of the blue, said, "Did you know that the United States is actually a representative republic, not a true democracy?"

Okay, before I go on, a little something you should know about me is that I am absolutely terrified of people thinking I'm not smart. When someone tries to tell me something I already know, I have this irrational anger reaction. So when my (future) husband said that to me, I responded with a curt, "Yes, I knew that."

He was surprised. He had just learned that in his college political science course. But I had taken political science in high school the year before and had already learned it.

Once I succeeded in making it clear that I already knew the mind-blowing information he was trying to give me, my mood improved considerably, and he and I lapsed into a comfortable nerd-talk session. I don't even remember what we talked about. Only that we talked and talked. And talked. So much so that my friend and her boyfriend (my husband's friend) began scheming to get us together. So about a week later he asked me out and we've been together ever since.

The moral of the story is that I'll take a Ross over a Joey any day. Joey might be fun on a first date, but seriously, what would you do for the rest of your life if you married him? I'd be bored out of my mind after a week.

Another Sitcom Example

Friends is not the only place I've heard this terrible advice. There is an episode of The Lucy Show (not something I watch regularly, but I happened upon it while flipping channels one afternoon) where Lucy is attracted to this handsome, wealthy man. She wants to know how to entice him, so her friend tells her to pretend to be interested in everything he's interested in. In this case, it happens to be duck hunting. So Lucy goes hunting. And hates every second of it. She asks her friend why she has to pretend to love something she hates. What if she ends up marrying the guy? Is she going to be duck hunting for the rest of her life? No worries, says the friend, after you're married you get to make him do the things you like.

Um...yeah...that sounds like a terrifically healthy marriage.

And it reminds me of another story from my high school years.

One More Story

It was before my husband and I got together. There was a guy in my Algebra II class who was being really nice to me. I told my mom about it. She began grinning foolishly and making all sorts of "ooh la la" noises. She saw romance on my horizon.

But, I said, he has long hair. (I didn't care for guys with long hair back then.)

She made her infamous pshaw gesture and said, "Oh, you can change him!"

I instantly gave up on any thought of a future with the long-haired guy from Algebra class. There was no way I was going to enter into a relationship based on one person's desire to "change" the other.

And yet this mindset is rampant. It's all over the television. I've seen it on Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Thirteen Reasons Why, Freaks and Geeks, and on and on. Why do people think you can't be your true self in order to get a date? I mean, if you want that date to turn into anything long-term, it seems to me you have to show the other person your true self.

But, like I said, I've been out of that world for a long time, so maybe I just don't understand.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Fickle Nature of Book Reviews

You expect to get a few critical reviews when you put a book out into the world. That's the nature of the beast. That doesn't stop it from hurting though.

Of my first two books, Amelia's Children and Primogénito, I openly admit to having a favorite. Primogénito just plays on my heartstrings more than Amelia's Children does. It's deeper, darker, and richer in detail.

Readers, on the other hand, seem to flock to Amelia's Children while avoiding Primogénito like the plague. Now that I've put a couple of years distance between me and those two books, I can look at them more objectively and see that Amelia's Children has more mainstream appeal. Primogénito doesn't exactly qualify as navel-gazing, but it is none-the-less a very personal work. A primary concern of mine in writing it was to hit myself in my own feels, so to speak. I assumed everyone else would love it because I assumed everyone else kept their feels in the same place I keep mine.

So I published Primogénito and reviews began to trickle in from readers and book bloggers. The reception was lukewarm. No one really hated it, but only a select few gushed over it the way I'd hoped. Nevertheless, it's held its own. Some people find it a little too slow at the beginning and others are turned off by its dark themes, but general consensus seems to be that it's a decent book.

When I decided to start entering writing contests, Primogénito was the first book I wanted to put out there. I was still convinced it was my best. I've entered it in three contests so far, two of which, Writer's Digest and Booklife, give professional critiques to all entrants.

The Writer's Digest critique came first. I was so excited to open my email that day, just knowing I'd have something I could proudly display all over the interwebs to show what a world-class author I was. Here's' the review I got:

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 3

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 3

Plot and Story Appeal: 3

Character Appeal and Development: 2

Voice and Writing Style: 3

Judge’s Commentary*:

A striking cover but almost a little too spare. The title certainly piques the curiosity. Okay, you only need to state once about Ashley. I feel like you’re hitting me over the head with it. Otherwise, it’s an intriguing opening. Was Damian a good name choice? Isn’t that a little loaded? I love the literary mystery aspect of the story, 11%. This is a pretty fascinating discussion at 20%. I like your insights about the patterns in their relationships. Pretty inventive, this glowing, evil scar, 30%. “Right now, he had a lot to prove,” – good line, 37%. A little bit of overexplaining sometimes. I feel like I’m watching a soap opera, 45%. Your characters seem cold and clinical. I’m having a hard time caring about them, 52%. This shadow world is used far too often in books of this type, 65%. Pretty interesting, having the baby be the focus of all of this, 74%. There’s far too much talk. The story needs a lot more direct, present action. You spend a lot of time having your characters discuss past events, 81% “like her heart was being ripped right out of her chest,” That’s a little bit over the top, 88%.

I was devastated. And, honestly, I couldn't disagree more. My characters were cold and clinical? My characters were my favorite part! I loved them almost as though they were real people. As for the rest of it...well, I've learned a lot about "show, don't tell" since then and can recognize a tendency in my earlier work to be repetitive when I had a point I wanted to drive home.

Still, I was bummed. This being my first professional review, it left me with the feeling that my books were good enough for the average Joe, but I would never be able to compete with the big kids.

Then the Booklife review came rolling in. I'll let it speak for itself:

Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10

Originality: 7 out of 10

Prose: 8 out of 10

Character/Execution: 7 out of 10

Overall: 7.25 out of 10

Plot: The plot of this novel is engaging and soundly constructed. The story moves along at a good pace, but some readers may find the ending a bit predictable.

Prose: The prose is one of this book's main strengths. The writing is clear and smooth. The dialogue is effective.

Originality: Though the conceit of this novel will be familiar to some readers, the author manages to make it feel fresh and different.

Character Development: The characters here are well rendered and believable. Readers will care about them, though some character motivations could be clearer.

So readers will care about my characters, eh? Take that, Mister Writer's Digest Reviewer Guy! story is well-paced? The dialogue is effective? Ah...Mister Booklife Man, you are my hero!

So what have I learned from all of this? I've learned that all reviews, even professional ones, are subjective. What one person loves in a book, someone else will hate. That's the way it is and that's the way it will always be, so there's no use fretting over it.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Indie Book of the Month: July 2018

The Girls Across the Bay by Emerald O'Brien

I went back and forth a bit in deciding how to rate this book. Here's the thing: When indie authors read indie books, they fall into two basic types. There's the type who says, "These are my fellow indies! This is my tribe! These are my people! We've got to stick together and support each other!" Then there they type who says, "If just one indie author publishes a bad book, that reflects on all of us. It's up to us to find all the mistakes in all the books and get all the authors to rewrite and re-edit and re-proofread until it's absolutely perfect so no reader will ever again point to a bad indie book and say 'There! That's why I only read traditional books!'" 

While I like to remain somewhere in the middle (I get no pleasure tearing other authors down and try not to write scathing reviews if I can help it) I have to admit to leaning a little in the critical direction. And I tend to be more critical of indie books than I am of traditionally published books. Basically, I don't care if traditionally published books are bad. Bad traditionally published books make me pat myself on the back and say, "Hey! I can write better than this guy can!" But I tend to hold indies to a much higher standard. 

I won't review indie books if I can't give them at least four stars, but I've been known to come down to four from five for things like typos or details that are just slightly off. Things many readers tend to ignore. I can't ignore them. And if there are grammar mistakes...well, I can be a bit pedantic in that regard. I've always been this way, and I annoyed many of my friends when I was in school because I was always correcting their speech. 

So with The Girls Across the Bay, it was a given that it was getting at least four stars. Like I said, I won't read indie books if I can't give them that much. But the question of four or five plagued me right up until the end.

I've finally decided on five stars because I realized that the little things I was getting hung up on while reading it were truly little things. When I stepped back and looked at the big picture, what I found was an engaging story with likeable characters set in a beautiful location. What more could I want? 

Yes, I thought Mac was a little too crotchety to be believed, but Grace and Madigan were beautifully written, as were Evette and John. Yes, I felt that some aspects of the police investigation were glossed over and parts of it seemed rushed, but I was compelled to keep reading because I needed to know all the connections between the characters. The personal drama between the two main characters and their former foster family made the book a page-turner for me, and the way it all came together at the end was fantastic. 

The author did a wonderful job of weaving the backstory into the narrative. Some data dumps are inevitable when writing a story in this way, but this book managed to avoid having too many of them. And when I did come across one in the course of reading, I was intrigued rather than annoyed. Finally, I was getting some answers! And because they were spread throughout the book rather than all being clustered together at the beginning, there was plenty of time to become engrossed in the story before getting plunged into stuff that happened in the past. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read murder mysteries.