Saturday, June 18, 2011

50 things I love about me

About 10 years ago, a friend of mine posted something in her blog, an entry detailing 50 things she loved about herself.  I liked the idea, so I stole it, and since then I've been posting odes to myself periodically -- usually when I'm feeling like I need a pick-me-up.

Now is one of those times.  I've been feeling curiously contemplative of late.  Things are unsettled, on a lot of fronts in my life.  Plus, with my currently chaotic work schedule, both my eating and sleeping habits are suffering -- not a good thing for a girl who needs seven hours a night and regular caloric intake to maintain her equalibrium.

When I did this the first time, I thought it would be fun, a silly little exercise in extolling my own awesomeness.  Girl power, and all that.  Now...self-indulgence?  An excuse for narcissism?  I don't know, except I'm pretty sure I didn't think about it this deeply a decade ago.

But it doesn't matter, not really.  Sometimes, I just need to remind myself that I'm not that bad.  I believe it most of the time, and I fake it really well the rest of the time, but sometimes, I need a reminder.

So here it is:

1. I'm pursuing my dreams (i.e. writing novels), and I've been treating it seriously for about the past year and a half now.

2a. I read a shit-ton of books.

2b. As CC2K's Book Editor, I don't have nearly enough time to write about all the books I read, so I resolved some time ago to make most of my reviews positive rather than negative.  I know that might make some take my opinions less seriously ("That Beth, she likes everything.") but I'd rather build up the books/authors I like than tear down the ones I don't.

3. I am stubborn.  Mules have nothing on me.  It was a trait that got me labeled difficult in childhood, but has served me well as an adult.

4. I will fight for what I believe in.  I try to choose my battles based on what I think is important, not those I think I can win.

5. I trust my intuition.

6. I don't have very many friends, but I'm very loyal to the ones I do have.

7. I really admire my mother, and will tell people so.

8a. I'm unfailingly honest.

8b. I will tell people the truths that maybe they don't want to know, but I try to tell them in a way that won't hurt or upset them too badly.

9. I'm a cheap, and easy to please, date.  Pizza (good pizza, that is), a good movie, a long walk, good conversation, a guy who will give me his jacket if I get cold...makes me a very contented Beth.

10. I really like hot sex scenes in romance novels.  (And non-romance novels, for that matter.)

11. I make really good chocolate chip cookie bars.

12. I got a tattoo, even though no one I knew thought I would get one.  (Partially because no one I knew thought I would get one.)

13. I adopted a cat, even though I was terrified of them.  (Partially because I was terrified of them.)  Now I like Annabel (the aforementioned cat) way better than most of the humans I know.

14. I'll admit it: I love the color of my eyes (very, very blue).

15. I can remember really random facts and details.  I kick ass on trivia games, especially entertainment trivia.  (Managed to flummox my coworkers the other day when I came up with Salieri as the name of Mozart's rival in Amadeus.  Probably would have flummoxed them even more if I mentioned I had never actually seen the movie.)

16. I have resolved never to be anyone's doormat.

17. I love kick-ass heroines in books/movies/TV -- both the kind of heroines who kick ass physically, and the kind of heroines who kick ass because they're really intelligent and strong.  Those are the women I aspire to be like.

18. I laugh a lot.

19. I don't hold grudges.

20a. I don't believe in diet soda.  Diet soda is not healthy, not with all the chemicals and crap in it.  If you're going to drink soda, just own it and drink the regular stuff.  If you want to drink something healthier and with fewer calories, drink water.

20b. I drink regular soda a lot.  I'm a Coke girl.  I know it's unhealthy.  But screw it.  I like it anyway.

21. When I finally saw Titanic all the way through -- about 10 years after it came out -- I thought, "This isn't as bad as I thought it would be...but it needs more sex and violence."

22. My imagination tends to dwell on the dark side, and it's only become worse as I've gotten older.  I don't need monsters in the closet; I create them myself.  I don't think I'm even capable of writing a normal, happy story without death and destruction at this point.

23. I am completely indepedent.  I can -- and do -- take care of myself.

24. Even though I've finally learned to appreciate the appeal of a pretty dress, I still come home at night and immediately change into yoga pants, a t-shirt, and slippers.  (Sometimes, I'll get invited to go out again, and I have to change back.)

25. Sometimes, I'll turn up the music loud ("Come on, Eileen" is always a good choice) and jump up and down around my apartment.  My downstairs neighbors must love me.

26. When I really like a song, I often Google it so I can memorize the lyrics.

27. I'm a strong person.  Not physically -- the average guy (hell, maybe even an average girl) could kick my ass.  But you'd be hard pressed to find someone who could dominate or intimidate me.  And if you did, I'd move heaven and earth to make sure it didn't happen again.

28. I try to live without regrets.

30. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

31. I love kids.

32. There are few things as fascinating to me as an old cemetary.

33. I call myself an agonistic, but I'm not sure that's exactly accurate.  I like to keep my mind open to possibilities.

34. I don't particularly like wearing makeup.

35. Heard this story from my mom: at my first birthday party, I was toddling one, maybe 2 steps at a time.  I saw some of the older kids (i.e. 18 months-2 years) running around.  I jumped up and ran over to catch up with them.  So I literally ran before I could walk.

36. My favorite movie is Harold and Maude, this cult classic from the early 1970s about a suicidal 20-something who develops this friendship with a lively octogenarian.  I can't explain it adaquately, so you should just watch.

37. My conversations tend to be very stream-of-consciousness.

38. I don't own a car.  When I start to get frustrated by how much of a nuisance this is, I just think, "But my carbon footprint totally rocks."

39. I can laugh at myself.  Most of my anecdotes consist of stupid things I've done.

40. I bruise easily.  When I'm bored, I try to invent interesting stories for how I obtained said bruises.

41. I use big words in everyday conversation.  It's not an affectation; it's just the way I've always talked.

42. I am a musical anachronism.  Most of the music I like is 20 years old or better, and was popular long before I came of age.

43. I use sunscreen on my face every day.

44. I'm not afraid to speak my mind.

45. I take my Kindle with me almost everywhere.

46. Sometimes, I really like being alone.

47. I don't take crap from anyone.

48. I've thrown up in public no fewer than three times, and none of those times has ever been because of drunkenness.

49. Forget liking to travel; I like to move.  (To different places, not just different apartments.)

50. I know what I want, and I try my best to work toward it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


There's not much writing advice that I put much stock in, but one piece of advice that I do is this one: know your characters.

I recently read a book that I loved.  One of the revelations the book had to offer was that the two main characters had been engaged in a sexual relationship -- even though they were adopted brother and sister.  Once I turned off my immediate "ick!" reaction (there's something about two people who were raised together -- even if they aren't biologically related -- having sex that immediately stirs that reaction), I realized it made sense for the two characters, and that it also made sense, given the character's personalities and the first-person narration, that it wouldn't have been revealed earlier in the series.  (This was book two of a three-book series.)  Reading the comments on the author's blog regarding that relationship, I realized something: she (the author) didn't seem entirely comfortable with it, either, or at least hadn't been when the story started to go in that direction.  But she took it there because that's what those characters would do, and because it made sense within the story -- knowing full well that it could make people uncomfortable.

It worked well.  At the end of the story, I was still rooting for those characters, still hoping for everything to work out for them.

I've discovered that most of the authors I really, really admire can tell you just about everything about their characters, often right down to what breakfast cereals they prefer and what kinds of pajamas they would wear.  It's not a "genre fiction versus literary fiction" thing, either: contrary to the conceptualization that genre characters are not as well developed as literary fiction characters, I've found genre fiction pieces where the characters are incredibly complex and well-developed.  I've also found literary pieces where the characters seem flat and cliched.  (And vice versa, of course.)  To me, fiction -- whether high-action and plot-heavy, or subtler and more contemplative -- is driven by its characters.  I'll often give stories with lackluster plots a chance if they have engaging characters.  Likewise, I'll give up on fiction that has interesting stories if the characters aren't interesting.  Good characters are often more memorable than the particular twists and turns of the plot.  If we're talking series fiction, strong characters are essential: if I care about what happens to the characters, I'll come back for more.

A lot of writing how-to guides that I've seen suggest things like creating character dossiers or answering pointed questions about your characters.  (If your character was a tree, what type of tree would he/she be?)  For better or worse, I started writing long before I realized how-to guides were even an option (most seven year olds don't spend a lot of time in the self-help section).  At any rate, I'm too set in my ways, writing-wise, to follow such guides.  Maybe they work for some people.  They tend to make me feel like an idiot.  Whatever.  Not like I'm in any sort of position to offer writing advice to anyone.

For me, the getting to know my characters comes from the act of writing the story.  When I started my current work in progress, I had one scene: a young woman wakes up next to a dead man; she knows she killed him, because this has happened before, but she doesn't know why.  At the time, I didn't know why.  I also didn't know what triggered the blackouts she went into when this occurred.  Hell, I didn't even know her name.  Some of these questions were answered very easily, but some of them took 300 pages of writing to figure out.

I've been hanging out with Dale (which is my protagonist's name, but not her real one) for a year now.  I can tell you what breakfast cereal she prefers (Cheerios) and what she wears to bed (t-shirts, often with retro cartoon characters on them, paired with sweats in the winter or boxers in the summer).  She reads a lot of children's books and fantasy, light and escapist.  She watches a lot of old movies, and listens to a lot of old music.  She picked out her current alias -- Dale Highland -- because the last movie she had seen was Flash Gordon, and the last book she had read was Outlander.  She doesn't believe in using aliases like "Jane Doe" or "Jennifer Smith," because she thinks they're too obvious.  She hates wearing makeup, but she'll do it because she often has to change what she looks like.  She's not evil or crazy, but she thinks she might be.

I'm close.  It kind of hit me last night.  I'm working on cleaning up the climactic scene, and then there's one more scene I want to go back and do some major tweaks on -- mostly adding some stuff, because it wasn't quite as sensory as I wanted it to be.  (In other words, it needed more heat.)  Then a final read-through of the whole thing for consistency and continuity.  And then...and then I'm going to take a deep breath and start submitting.

After that, I probably won't talk about this project much anymore, unless there's news.  I don't want to jinx anything.
I've heard that writing for publication is not for the faint of heart.  I'm trying not to be.