May 02, 2009

Making an Impact posted by Doranna, officially substituting Ch-ch-ch-changes! They make you think. Many of you who follow Writers Plot are probably not entirely familiar with me, although I started up the blog beside Loraine, Sheila, Leann, and Jeanne. When changes happened in my life--a fairly profound illness that's made quite the impact--Kate graciously stepped in, filling Wednesday's spot with remarkable aplomb. And changes sometimes beget changes, as they have for me. Instead of returning for frequent Saturdays and substitutions, I've remained sporadic while I stay on the roller-coaster ride. Different body, different home, different state, different living arrangements altogether...and still in process. Ch-ch-ch-changes! Totally make you think. About everything. Even the things you might have come to take for granted. Like, why the writing, anyway? Why do I do this thing? Why when--in spite of my best efforts--production for three books overlaps deadlines for a book, a novella, and a proposal AND the move...and it's all barely living wages? What am I even thinking? It was Leslie McDevitt who reminded me of the answer. Leslie is the dog trainer/behavioralist/writer who penned Control Unleashed--a book for vulnerable dogs who need extra tools for their journey. Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader who was appalled to learn of our struggles following the (3rd!) attack on ConneryBeagle, I heard about the book. I was still in a wrist brace; Connery was recovering from an ulcer, a smoldering infection, shoulder damage, and a stress interaction with his allergy meds, all triggered by the attack. He was afraid of sounds, afraid of people, afraid of unusual objects. He had learned his lesson well: The World is Not a Safe Place. And I had just consulted with one of the most respected clicker trainers in the field, who told me: "Get a new dog. You can't fix this one." Give up on ConneryBeagle. So I was by golly moved to tears when I picked up a book that had tools for us. There are no quick fixes, not when it comes to a dog so profoundly damaged. But that's okay--there weren't any quick fixes for me and my health and my own fallout from that attack, either. So Connery and I settled in to work on the long haul, drawing on many resources but always with the foundation tools from Control Unleashed. And it's eighteen months later. Now we're trialing again, and getting out to train in our new stomping grounds, and the people who don't know us, who never saw Connery implode with fear at the mere distant sight of a larger dog, now give me looks of clear disbelief when I refuse to let other dogs approach us. (The rule stands. I can live with being considered neurotic.) And after so very many months of losing qualifying agility runs to wariness on the course--that polesetter too close to the weaves, this photographer leaning into the ring, that dog moving outside the ring--at our last trial, Connery ran for 100% Qs, placing each time in his large classes...Border Collies, Aussies, Cattle Dogs... Yeah. It was a moment. Serendipitously, my long-awaited set of Control Unleashed companion DVDs arrived the next day, even as I dove back into doubled deadlines and pending production work and doubts. And that's when it all came together: The impact of that book on us--that's why I write. Suddenly I was back in my little work nook of over twenty-five years ago, clutching my latest book--Katherine Kurtz, I think it was--and wanting so hard to be able to share my worlds with others in a way that would make them feel the same magic she had given me. I wanted, so badly it hurt, to make that impact on other people. To change something for them, if even only for a short time. I don't know that Jaguar Night or the Wild Thing e-novella or even the ambitious Reckoners series later this year can make the same kind of impact on readers that Leslie McDevitt made on me. But it's definitely my profound hope that the magic of it touches you, and lingers with you, and, if I'm very lucky, gives you a little bit of a new way to look at things. Impact.
JUMPSTARTING THE MUSE Posted by Sheila Connolly (Sarah helped, but she doesn't get out much) On one of the many internet loops I follow, somebody posed an interesting question: if your creative engine fizzles to a stop, how do you jumpstart it? People proposed various useful suggestions, but I've always found getting out–whether it be a walk around the block or a trip half a world away–usually does the trick. Most of us writers spend a lot of time glued to our seats, in one place. Maybe there are some adventurous souls who haul their laptop around the house, or who seek out a local coffee shop in order to meet their self-imposed word quota, but for most of us our desk/computer set-up is our haven, our comfort zone, our "room of one's own," even if spouses and children and pets and delivery persons intrude periodically. But that very familiarity and comfort can put a damper on creativity. So get out of the house (and leave that bleeping computer home). Yes, this means you have to put on clothes (I know, those twenty-year-old sweatpants are sooo comfortable!), even talk to real people. Okay, maybe they're sales clerks or waitpersons, but they are human. You also have to breathe fresh air (let's ignore the problems of pollen and pollution for the moment). You have to move your body. Scientific studies have shown that doing something is better than doing nothing, right? Okay, okay, the brain is a muscle–but exercising your brain doesn't keep the rest of your body from turning into mush. For me, traveling works (and I don't mean to the nearest mall). Years ago there was this stereotype of tourists from the U.S. as "ugly Americans." Our emissaries to foreign lands expected people in other places to speak English (and if they didn't, yelling made English so much easier to understand), to cook just like back home, to have all the mod cons–but cheaper. They schlepped around draped with heavy cameras, clutching wrinkled maps, wearing silly hats and baggy shorts, and buying trite souvenirs. And whining. They traveled because they thought they should, because their neighbors did it, because they wanted to consider themselves cultured–so they went "abroad" and plodded through dusty, crowded museums filled with Great Works, and brought home postcards and stories of hilarious snafus. I came of age in the Europe on $5 a day era. Yes, it was almost possible to survive in a foreign country on that much, or maybe $10 if you rented a car and shared that cost and a room with a friend, and bought your own food at markets and ate on the run (but, oh, the restaurants you missed!). But we were young and eager, and we didn't mind a few discomforts, like sharing a bathroom a mile down an antique hall with one dim light bulb that stayed on for 30 seconds, leaving you stranded in the dark. It was an adventure. It was all shiny new, and it was wonderful. For a long time I wondered if I'd lose that rosy view of Other Places. I visited a number of foreign countries in my twenties, and after that, not so much. Life intervened: jobs, lack of funds, marriage, a child, mortgages. Heck, I didn't even check out the local hotspots unless there were visiting relatives who insisted. I lived in the Philadelphia area for five years before I crossed the sill of Independence Hall–and I worked within walking distance. It's like you put blinders on, and you see only the narrow path in front of you, and all the things that have to be done, and you forget that there are other things out there. A few years ago my research-scientist husband had to make a working trip to Australia–and something in me woke up. And I said, don't you dare go without me! His expenses were covered, including a vehicle, so my added costs would be minimal. I had always wanted to go to Australia, although I have no idea why. And one of my arguments was: we're not getting any younger. Who knows when the knees or some other vital part will give out, and we won't be able to walk and climb, and haul those blinking suitcases around? And aren't there age limits for renting a car abroad? Go, now! We went. And for me, it was like being a child again. I went everywhere more or less open-mouthed, with a sense of wonder. Look, that's a parrot sitting on the table! See? A wombat! There's a sign for a koala crossing! Good grief, that's a kangaroo–it's not a cartoon character, it's real! If I had been a nit-picker, I would have complained about some of the strange accommodations we stayed in (the heating blanket goes under you? What's with that?). I would have carped about the beets in my sandwich. But I thought everything was amazing. The food was surprisingly good everywhere we went. The roads were deserted, and the landscapes draped with rainbows (really! I took pictures!). The people were welcoming and interesting. And because this was a working trip, we saw places off the standard tourist paths–I spent half an hour watching a mechanical tree harvester topple, strip and slice up fifty-foot pines. I was fascinated–it's something you don't see every day. The trip taught me two things: one, it's never to late too find something new in life; and two, you can hang on to that sense of wonder throughout your life, and be the better for it. Have I used all this in my writing? Sort of. I introduced an Australian diamond miner in Through a Glass, Deadly, and he's based on a distant cousin I met in Sydney (although the cousin is a dentist turned librarian); and the character of Christopher in One Bad Apple is modeled on a delightful professor I met in Canberra. I'd be happy to find a way to send any of my characters to Australia–and I'd...

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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