Thursday, April 19, 2007

The One Way Street

Communicating with others is something we do on a daily basis in one form or another. Yet though we practice this art all of our lives, at times it is one of the most neglected aspects of it.

Lack of communication is normally cited as one of the major causes of issues at work, at home, at play. It is so easy to do and yet so taken for granted, that often it gets totally forgotten or ignored. Yet without it, misunderstandings and more can ensue. Sometimes with devastating results.

As an author, communicating is a very important part of the process of writing. Books are a definite form of communication -- with them we impart knowledge, feelings, locales, situations, reactions. And the more apt we get at showing these things, the better we get at communicating with our readers. So in some ways it has been a hobby of mine to keep an eye on communicating and communication and how these relate to everyday life and therefore hopefully teaching me things to better improve my writing. (Not that this means I ever learn anything or have gotten better at it! lol! But we must trudge on as best we can. Even I, the clueless.)

Yet there is more to learn from seeing how communication relates to life than just the writing we do. It also teaches us about relationships, human behavior -- direct correlations that can be used in the societies and organizations within the stories we create.

By this point you're probably scratching your head thinking - "yeah, that's all well and good, but what does any of this have to do with the weird title?" Ah, we're almost there! It's all about that whole communicating thing again.

One communication deficit which I have noticed occurring from groups of two to hundreds of people is the One Way Street.

In an optimal situation, communications would would work like a giant, double decker superhighway, with information/feelings flowing from and to other individuals, regardless of their status, sex, or age. Normally, however, you get anything but a free flowing highway. Throw in some construction, some pitted roads, detours, and communications get jumbled, lost, discarded.

Unfortunately, what tends to be most prevalent is that some never even make it out to the car, let alone drive. Signs get posted forbidding admittance and at times there is no road! (But I digress as I go off alone down a path of metaphors and cute phrases and make everyone gag. Okay...back on track...)

What a One Way Street is is a situation where communications should be flowing back and forth and instead seems to come entirely from one side only. As an example, let's use a boss and his employee. (Mind you the roles can be reversed on this easily and often are.) The boss sends memos or has chats with the employee and keeps them updated on what's going on and what expectations he has of them. He informs them that his door is open and to please feel free to bring up anything amiss so he can help work them out. Basically, the boss is doing what one hopes he will do - his job!

Not hearing from the employee, the boss will assume all things are fine, for surely he told the employee to come to him with any problems.

The employee, meanwhile, is actually very unhappy. He hangs in his corner and complains to his friends. The gripes fester and boil. He has all these problems and his boss never helps. His life is the pits. He knows the boss is in his office just surfing the net leaving him with all the work all day. Yet whenever he sees him, he smiles and says everything is swell.

So the boss is going along thinking all is good and fine when - wham! Something will happen that will bring all the dirt up into his face when he least expects it. (And that's if he's lucky! He might just continue on cluelessly for who knows how long!) It will be a blow from left field - totally unexpected. And worse, might not be able to understand why it happened in the first place or correct it.

Take a look around your work place, home, social setting. I mean really look. You'll see what I am talking about.

The saddest part is, the employee will probably never come to realize he was not holding his end of the highway and wasn't communicating as he should have with his boss despite the free toll tag. (Humans don't read minds you know! Despite the belief of some!)

The bigger the group, whether work or social, the more chance of there being one way streets. And as long as communication flows only one way, the road is ripe for misunderstandings, resentment, and imagined slights to ensue. All leading to eventual IMPLOSION!

People thrive on adversity - even if they have to make it up themselves! :P

So don't be a One Wat Street! Get out there and communicate!

Disclaimer: No boss's or employees were harmed in the making of this blog. Any similarities to actual persons or places was not intentional, and no such knowledge should be inferred from the above.:P

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Movie of the Week - Firehouse Dog

Firehouse Dog
Staring: Josh Hutcherson, Bruce Greenwood, Bill Nunn, Scotch Ellis Loring, Mayte Garcia, Teddy Sears, Arwen/Frodo/Stryder/Rohan

Premise: This is the story of Rexxx and Shane. Rexxx is a super pampered dog star who is believed dead after an airplane accident. Shane is the son of a fireman, who is still trying to deal with the loss of his uncle, also a fireman.

Review: This is an incredibly cute story. The facial expressions they put on the dogs and the scenes they steal for them out of James Bond, 10, and other places were just too cute! There are some heavy issues that are dealt with, which are handled pretty well. Josh Hutcherson does not disappoint, doing a very good job as Shane. There's action, adventure, some very heartfelt moments, and a mystery to boot. Fun film! ***1/2!!! (Hubby Rating: Worth the Price of Admission.)

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Movie of the Week - Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons
Staring: Daniel Hansen, Jordan Fry, Matthew Josten, Angela Bassett, Laureie Metcalf, Stephen J Anderson, Adam West, Wesley Singerman.

Premise: All Lewis has ever wanted is a family. However, somehow, no matter what he tries, he is never picked by any of the couples who come to the orphanage looking for a boy. His time is almost up. So he decides the only thing he can do is find his original parents and that they will now be in a position to take him, unlike when they left him at the top of the orphanage stairs. To do this, he invents a Mental Recall machine. He takes it to the science fair, where he will use it for the first time and see his mother. However, he meets a strange boy called Wilbur, who says a man in a bowler hat will be after Lewis. And that is when everything starts going terribly, terribly wrong.

Review: There are two versions of the film out. One in regular format, the other in Disney 3D. If you can, definitely go see it in the 3D. This movie was an utter blast! I have not laughed so hard in a long time. Lots and lots of very subtle jokes, many of which are definitely for the over 35 crowd. Frank Sinatra and Las Vegas references, old stereotype villains but with many twists, not the least of which was a pot belly. A great time travel yarn! **** (Hubby Rating - Worth Full Price of Admission)

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Movie of the Week - TMNT

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles - TMNT
Staring: Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Patrick Stewart, Mitchell Whitfield, Ziyi Zhang, James Arnold Taylor, Mikey Kelley, Nolan North

Premise: The ninja turtles are back! Leonardo has been gone a year on some solitary training to become a better leader. Meanwhile, the other three brothers have been trying to cope as best they can, taking up part time jobs. All this changes, when a planetary alignment which occurred over three thousand years ago, comes upon the world once more. Working through some internal issues, the turtles are once more thrown into having to save the world.

Review: This movie is a must for any fans of TMNT. The CGI work is utterly AWESOME! The one scene where the rain falls on the back of Rafael's armor was amazing. Comedy and angst, action and combat, way too much fun. Shredder is even mentioned and a couple of hints of possible things to come. This, unfortunately is also Mako's last film. He died during the making. He will be mised. Also, the same CGI company that did the film, has possible future plans to do a production on the Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman (Aka Battle of the Planets - no 7-Zark-7)! After seeing their faithfulness to the TMNT, I am definitely hoping they get to do KNG as well! ***1/2!

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

A problem for Authors - The Impostor Syndrome

Some friends were talking recently and a subject came up that is near and dear to most of us authors (and others) out there, but is rarely talked about - The Impostor Syndrome.

This is the feeling deep inside that you aren't at all good, that you have no right to be up there on that panel talking to fledgling writers, that your publisher is crazy for ever having agreed to publish your book. No matter how much actual success you gain, you just can't reconcile yourself to the fact your talents did that! It must be luck, or a coincidence, or someone helping you out - no way could it actually be you.

At home, safe and sound, this feeling of being a fraud is not so strong. It mostly rears its ugly head when you are out there, in front of con goers, other writers (especially if you admire their work), or anyone else who approaches you that has heard you are a writer. For some, the feelings of being a fake and the guilt at daring to put themselves out there as something they know they are surely not can be extremely depressing, and actually paralyzing, keeping them from presenting themselves to others - the biggest fear being that someone somewhere will figure out their shame and expose them to all.

I did a Yahoo search on "Impostor Syndrome" just wondering what I would find. There were a lot of hits. has the names of several major actors and actresses who have suffered from this - Nicole Kidman, Jodie Foster, Don Cheadle, and more. Caltech and Cornell both have a section on the syndrome at their site. Numerous psychologists have done papers on the subject.

One interesting fact I noticed is that this syndrome seems to be most prevalent in women. (Dang it!)

Okay, so now that you're nodding your heads knowing what I am talking about and some of you feeling you have this thing, what can you do about it? Hey, don't look at me! I have this too! And I am no expert. But...

To me, some of the feelings generated by the syndrome stem almost into the realm of phobias. I know some definite facets of it reflect in my shyness, my inability to toot my own horn, my embarrassment when others do it for me, and my not wanting to force people to buy my books but rather entice them into it so it's is their own decision.

But what I have done (and it sort of works for me), and what others I know are so good at you would never ever think they doubt themselves or their relevance, is to create an Author Persona. Basically what it comes down to is making a professional copy of yourself, one that gets down to business and has no doubts. You don't have to reinvent yourself! Just think of a more outgoing more confident you (even if by just a little) and give yourself some props to help you slide into the role.

In my case, I have clothes that I specifically use when I am the "writer". They are fancier than my usual fare (Tomboy here! Tomboy!) and they make me look professional (I hope) - like I might actually know something. Others I know dress more casually, but still have something to set them aside from their everyday facade -- they use things like funky vests, costumes (some even dress like their characters), neat hats, buttons, what have you.

Mind you, this professional alter-ego in no way makes any of the fears of feeling like a fraud disappear, but it can help you put enough of a lid on them to manage and do what you are there to do - whether it be a panel, a signing, a chat, sitting behind a dealer's table and smiling, whatever. And of course, like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

If we're very lucky, maybe even that feeling of being a fake will go away too someday. (Right...) :P

But it will let you function. And functioning before the fans and our peers as an author is something we must do! So go get 'em! We rock! Don't ever forget that!

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Book Review - Shaman's Crossing

Shaman's Crossing
Robin Hobb

Premise: Nevare is a second son. And as such, his future has been decided since birth - he will be a soldier. But when his well meaning father gives him over to an old enemy to learn their ways, Nevare's path takes an unexpected turn that will work at destroying that expected future. As grows older and joins the academy, not only will he find that the structured world he has been led to believe exists, is not as black and white as he'd been told, but that he could be used as a weapon to destroy all he holds dear.

Review: Wonderfully detailed world, with well constructed societies, politics, etc. The prose was smooth as silk and a delight to read. I was totally fascinated by the differing cultures and social structures as well as the hazing and other difficulties at the academy. Only difficulty I had was that the main problem was often subdued and was minimally hinted as ever getting to have an impact. When it does, it does it BIG, but it took its sweet time. Yet this only bothered me subliminally, the rest keeping me quite busy and content. ***3/4!!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

By Hook or By Crook

One of the most important components of a short story is the hook. In a story, the hook serves the same purpose as it does on a fishing pole. It is where you put a mental worm to entice the reader and get them to bite, hopefully reeling them all the way in so they will go ahead and read the story.

In short stories, the hook normally is the first line or second line, definitely in the first paragraph. It’s just enough of a tidbit that it will entice the reader’s mind and make it hungry to find out what this is about. Just like many components of writing, it can be its own art form. And sometimes can be difficult as heck to come up with.

With the changing times and faster pace brought on by TV, music videos, cell phones, PDA’s, IM’s, PC games, game consoles (basically springing up concepts of instant gratification or fulfillment) hooks (short and fast ones that is - for there is always a hook somewhere) are becoming more and more of a necessity in novels as well.

The concept is very much like what they teach you out in the business world about the 30 second pitch. Most people have an attention span of 30 to 60 seconds to get grabbed by something and make an impression before the rest of it becomes so much background noise. So when preparing to go out there and seek employment, you are encouraged to come up with a 30 second blurb about yourself to make an impact on the prospective employer, give them useful information, and hopefully make a good lasting impression. (As they say in the field, no matter what the truth is, if you make a bad impression in those first few seconds, regardless of all that happens after, that first impression will stick around forever.)

So what makes a good hook?

Hooks can be composed of text or description, what matters is the reaction they bring out of the reader.

Here’s the first line of “Price of Mercy” (my latest novel which is now looking for a home.) The first line reads:

“I’m sorry, dearest, but your services are no longer required.”

BOOM - right off the bat, our fertile imaginations explode with questions and assumptions. It is obvious the speaker is acquainted with whom they are speaking. Might even hint of a rather close relationship. The second half of the sentence tells us that there’s trouble. Immediately we want to now what services are being spoken of and make us wonder why they are no longer required. Also peaks our curiosity as to how badly this may affect the possible protagonist.

Of course this tiny piece of worm would not be enough to get the reader to bite, but you’ve irked the curiosity just enough to get them to move on to the next sentence.

Jarrin blinked, his throat going dry, sure he’d heard wrong. “No longer…?”

Now you’ve met the protagonist, and from his reaction your original suspicion that the first sentence was a dose of bad news is reinforced. More of the worm has been exposed (and with any luck!) things are looking mighty tasty.

“Required? Yes, you heard right.” The baroness’s voice was even. She was sitting in her favorite divan, her pampered poodle, Precious, curled up on her lap.

By this point, they’ve hopefully bit and you start in on the business of showing time, place, setting.

Martha Wells came up with an awesome hook in The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rein Book 1)

It was nine o’clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring a verdict of of natural causes in court when someone banged on the door.

Instantly the reader springs with several questions at once. Why would Tremaine want to kill herself? Why does she need it to look like natural causes? What has driven this person to this course? (CHOMP) The reader has bit the hook. The curiosity has been enflamed and now must proceed or never get answers. They’re hooked!

Grab the nearest book at hand and check out those first few lines. See what beautiful worms they dangled before your eyes on the hook to get you to bite. Come back here and share those great hooks and lets be enticed together.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Book Review - Lady of the Lakes

Premise: Corryn has waited over a year to meet again the mysterious knight he saw near one of the cursed lakes. His own sad past has forced him to try such unusual means, and there are no guarantees of success. But when he once more meets the knight, the latter is engaged in combat, and despite Corryn's attempts to help, the warrior is wounded and the infant in his charge stolen. Worse, the knight cares not for his help or is even willing to consider having him as a liege man. Yet Corryn forces his help on the warrior as the wounds knock the latter unconscious. As Corryn bandages the wounds and tries to make the warrior comfortable, he gets an unexpected surprise - and with that his life begins to take many unexpected turns.

Review: (This review is from an ARC copy - release of the book should be imminent.) A thoroughly enjoyable book. JC Hall has created a vibrant world full of magic, adventure, and intrigue. The high speech of the nobles will take a little getting used to and the introduction and instruction of magic/mental powers seems to come out of nowhere where Corryn was concerned, but aside from these two minor issues, the story was griping, the characters interesting, and made for a great ride. ***1/2!
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