Archive for October, 2010

About a year ago, my husband asked me to come look at something on his computer.  Not sure how he had stumbled onto it, but he had discovered Steampunk.  Sometimes he’s cutting edge, sometimes he’s late to the party.  This time, I think he was a little of both.  For the uninitiated, Steampunk is that unique fusion of the modern and the antique – technology and Victorian styling.  For great visuals, rent Wild Wild West, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing or Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey, Jr. version).   And while it is certainly not something you find in the mainstream, its popularity is prolific.  There is a huge culture surrounding Steampunk, as evidenced by the size of its Wikipedia page.  There are myriad sites devoted to the asthetic – blogs, shopping sites, and music (one of my faves being Abney Park).  If you are looking for it, you will be able to find it, but like many counter-culture things, it is not going to jump up in front of your face and advertise itself.  Usually I find new things because of the variety of sites I surf and things other people send to me.  Tonight I came across the next thing for modern-day authors to covet, thank you Twitter and Roger Ebert.

For your consideration: the USB Typewriter.  Jack Zylkin is a genius and I humbly bow down to him.  I want one of these!  Preferably the Underwood, but I’m not entirely certain about the green.  My sensibilities say it should be flat black.  I remember having to take typing in high school (my mother told me it would be a useful skill, no matter what field I decided to go into, because I could always make money in college by typing other students’ papers for them).  It took effort and deliberation to push down the keys of a manual typewriter (yes, I’m that old – or my school didn’t have the money to get that many electric typewriters – you decide).  And God forbid if you made a mistake.  Your only choice then was to either try and correct it manually or start all over.  That takes dedication.  You really have to be committed to what you are writing, otherwise each time you type it, it changes a little.  I guess that is the beauty of the writing process.  Each draft includes changes, until you just don’t change it anymore.

Anyway, I am ready to shop.  I am wondering if Jack would custom-make one of these for me if I came up with the typewriter.  I am thinking of one of those 50 pound jobs that comes with no warning labels or attorney-drafted disclaimers against such things as strained backs or crushed fingers.  But of course, I would also need to get an iPad . . . which begs the question: if I am old enough to remember manual typewriters, does that mean I am too old to be on Santa’s watch list?

Santa, if you are reading this, you know what I want . . . .

Humans are, by nature, social animals.  We have an innate need to interact with others of our species.  We talk, we touch, we exchange thoughts and ideas, we disagree, we fight, and sometimes it gets down-right ugly, but at the heart of it all is the interaction with another human.  We weren’t meant to be alone.  Sometimes though, those interactions have unexpected results.

I had breakfast with a dear friend the other day, and we spent several hours “catching up,” discussing the various aspects of our daily lives and the troubles we are facing and how we are handling all of it.  Of course, the occasion began ominously, with the wait staff giving me the evil eye for bringing Starbucks into their restaurant.  The one lady finally came over to seat us and said, “We’ll let you do this this one time, but we really can’t have you brining Starbucks in.  It’s like advertising for another restaurant.”  I never knew Starbucks was a restaurant.  I always thought it was a coffee shop.  ANYWAY . . .  this particular friend is the one I would consider my “best friend.”  No topic is off limits, and all discussions are met with respect and a healthy dose of frank, in-your-face honesty.  I know that if I share something private with my friend, it goes nowhere, and she’ll be the first one to tell me I am being a idiot or an ass, as the case may be.  She will also be the first one to share a shoulder to cry on and be at the ready with a supportive hug.  Even though we are not related in any way, I could not ask for a better Sister (we informally adopted each other years ago).

Still, every now and then, when we get together, I feel a twinge of jealousy for the things she has that I don’t, tempered with a thankfulness for my own situation.  Being able to compare our joys and woes lets me take a good look at what I have and how I am coping with it.  Today was one of those days.  As our discussion progressed, in the back of my mind I could occasionally hear a little voice saying, “Oh, to be so cursed . . . ”  At other times, I would listen to her talking about her situation with her family and parents and think, “Man, am I lucky.”  Ironically, I could see the horror/compassion on her face as I told her about some of the difficulties my family is currently facing.  All in all, it was a typical get-together for us.  And yes, I did tip generously, despite (or maybe because of) the Starbucks flap.  But the point is, it is only during those times of social interaction, where we compare ourselves to those around us, that we look outside ourselves, and then look back at ourselves from the outside, and make an honest appraisal of our situations.  Not everyone is willing to go there.  Americans do have the tendency to be overly self-critical, but not in the ways we need to be.  Not everyone can accept honest criticism, especially when it means accepting the truth from the one person we trust the most – ourselves.  I continue to learn about myself every day.  Sometimes I may not like what I learn, but that is when I have to take a step back, and put it all into perspective.

Physicists and other such brainiacs who spend their days pondering space-time agree that the possibility of alternate realities in parallel universes is valid.  Every choice we make, or fail to make, results in a step down a particular path, in turn determining which choices will be presented to us in the future – eliminating some, adding others.  If you think of it as a giant flow chart, you get the idea: pick this path and these are your choices, pick this other path and your choices change.  Theory says that the outcomes of all possible actions exist simultaneously in parallel universes.  So, in effect, it really doesn’t matter if you eat the chocolate cake or not – somewhere you do.

I was considering this today as I read a portion of a manuscript given to me by an acquaintance.  In one of these parallel universes, I am the modern equivalent of Meg March, sitting in my attic gable, pounding out the Great American Novel.  That Me chose to devote herself to her writing, and is a wildly successful author.  In a parallel universe.  Which isn’t this one.  ANYWAY, reading this story made me rethink the craft of writing.  What does it take to be a good writer, and why are some people more gifted with that thing than others?

I met the aspiring Author whose work I am reading because of a license plate.  I know that sounds odd, but I have always been a fan of quirky license plates, and trying to figure out what message someone is sharing with their personalized plates.  I am speaking of the ones that go beyond “my initials, their initials and a number.”  In North Carolina, you can mix letters and numbers within one field, and there was a car I saw, usually about twice a week, that had the license plate “ESC4p3”.  I always thought that was cool.  Here in Illinois, the letters and numbers have to be grouped separately, so there is no escape for me here, but I do see people who have gotten creative enough to get their message out there.  Such is the case with the Author.  His license plate looks like a jumble of letters and one number, but when read phonetically is actually an obscure French word from Medieval times (don’t ask how I know this, I just do).  When the opportunity arose, I asked him – a total stranger at that point – why in the world he would put this word on his license plate.  He was dumbfounded that I not only knew the word, but also its meaning, and so began our conversation.  It turns out that the word is directly linked to his writing, which opened the door to the present situation.

The Author is working on a collection of short stories that all revolve around a central location.  While I have only been introduced to two characters, the storyline was intriguing enough that, by the time I got to the end of the excerpt, I had an interest into what happens next to these people.  That is good storytelling.  Unfortunately, from a technical aspect, the writing needs a little help.  I am sure that the Author is on the right track.  He definitely shows promise.  What he lacks is a good editor (and NO, I am not interested in the job).  But with a little direction and encouragement, I can see his book in print.  I would even be willing to pay retail (less, of course, my Barnes & Noble 10% discount).  But again, this begs the question, how does one get to this point?

I have been told by various people that I am a good writer.  Most of them have a vested interest in supporting my aspirations because I cook for them, drive them to activities or do their laundry.  At the same time, I know at least one of them has a policy of complete and total “Brutal Honesty,” so if it sucked, he would tell me.  So maybe I’m not that bad.  I just wish I had the luxury of being able to devote my time to fostering that creative force and squeezing those creative juices from my brain that form those things worth reading.  I was recently reminded that the brain is a muscle, and like the rest of the body, needs to be exercised regularly.  Of course, one need only look at me to know that exercise is not my forte.  But still, I am willing to try.  The most common advice given by Famous Published Authors is to write every day.  And after all, some of the most prolific writers aren’t writing the Great American Novel.  They are writing for Harlequin.