Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Life is life.

I stumbled across a couple of fine books over the last 72 hours. By a writer I'd never heard of. And really, isn't that how it should be?

The author is Susan Wilson. The books, One Good Dog, which I read first. The second, The Dog Who Danced.

No surprise there are dogs involved. I love dog stories. I've been reading them since I could read, and I've forgotten almost all of the authors of those childhood read stories. 

But I'm not an idiot. I love well-written dog stories. It's rare enough to find them. It's even more rare to find good dog stories with a good people story attached. 

As an adult, I certainly more fully appreciate good people stories, as much as, as a writer, I appreciate well-written stories. 

Here's the thing, though. A good dog story, coupled with a good people story is not easily come by. Susan Wilson accomplishes both. And just in case you think this is going to be a review of those stories, think again.

Susan Wilson introduces human characters who are hugely fallible. I despised many of them. The dogs, of course, were goodness. Because dogs are. But I especially enjoyed how Wilson brought her human characters around to redemption, where, as a reader, I didn't so much as forgive them their failings, but allowed that shit happens, and you were one way but you can change, and you did, so good.

This is how I view people. Don't judge me.

I'm not a fan of happily-ever-after stories. Not because I don't believe in them, but because I do, with fervour, and because I'm an optimist at heart, and I wish only the best, and hope for the same. But life isn't like that, and shit happens, and you live with it and deal.

I'm a writer. 

As a writer, I write what occurs to me.  I write, not necessarily from personal experience, but from possible personal experience. In other words, I put myself where I have never been, but could possibly be, under different circumstances. The old "what if?" This is what a good writer does. Or so I understand ( I don't really know. I just write. It's a thing).

I will not sugar-coat anything. I will not give you characters who lack depth, or meaning, or belief. I will not give you situations of that kind either. I will give you what I know to be true. I will give you a story that is believable and has depth, and characters who also have the same. If you initially come to despise the characters I introduce you to, know that it's entirely likely that I have, as well. I will sugar-coat nothing. It's been one of the most difficult things to come to terms with, this complete refusal to paint happy pictures without struggle, without pain, without ensuring that my characters have suffered, and may suffer. It's what I adhere to, because it is life. 

Life right now is pretty fine. I love my life currently. Well, frankly, I love life, period. But life changes on a dime, and I'm not in the market for white-washing life's experiences. Life speaks for itself.

I believe I'd like to write those stories, the stories about how life...is life.

But I'm not sure I can inject puppies as smoothly and surely as Susan Wilson has. Yet, even if I can't, I'm sure I can write as good a story.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Treasure a toddler's smile

I have spent a lot of my life believing I was worthless. But a lot of what has happened over the course of the years has caused me to feel that that is not so.

I love children. Not all children, because some of them, like some adults, are not very nice. But if you've read the "About Rebecca" on my new website, I shared something that I really, truly love: A toddler's smile. There is a reason for this. I have been subjected to some amazing smiles from toddlers. I'll give you a few recent examples.

Just over a year ago, November or December, I think, I was in Safeway, looking over the various kinds of canned tuna. I was crouched down, and as I rose to my feet, a shopping cart came around the corner of the aisle. I looked, to see a woman pushing the cart, and a little girl, with short, curly, dark hair and dark eyes, bundled in her snowsuit, sitting in the front of the cart. My eyes went right to the little girl. She couldn't have been any more than a year and a half. As soon as she saw me, she smiled at me. An amazing, open, brilliant smile. Like seeing me was the most wonderful thing. It was the kind of smile that just catches you completely unawares, completely unexpected. Immediately I smiled back, in wonder. I felt, I kid you not, as if the sun had just broken out from behind the clouds, as cliched as that sounds. I knew my smile was not even one of those close-mouthed polite kind of smiles. My jaw literally dropped into an open-mouthed smile. I felt almost in awe. The little girl's face was lit with happiness, with pleasure, as she looked at me. Completely uninhibited, completely genuine. 

Her mother (or so I assumed) said, as she saw the little girl smile like this, "Oh, that's so nice, look at that! What a good girl!" As if she was as surprised and pleased as I was. "Hi," I said to the little girl, who seemed to smile even more, if that were possible. And then they moved past me, and I left the aisle without my tuna, filled with such an amazing feeling of goodness.

Several months ago, I was on a plane to North Carolina. In the seat next to me, was a man who looked to be in his thirties. Across the aisle, a woman I guessed was his wife, who had seated next to her a girl of about 4 years, and in the woman's lap she held a little girl, blonde haired and blue-eyed, who looked just over a year. The little girl had a very serious air about her, and was very intent on what was going on as the plane took off. As the plane leveled off, the woman handed the little girl over to the fellow beside me, and as she made the transition, the little girl looked at me, and she smiled. A big smile, that lit up her face and her eyes. She plopped down in her daddy's lap, who positioned her to face forward, but just before he did, she looked over at me again, and smiled very cutely at me. 

Her daddy pulled out his laptop, a MacBook, and he brought up Angry Birds, and taking her tiny index finger in his fingers, he moved it across the screen to play the game, flinging the birds for her, keeping her attention diverted. But every once in awhile, she looked over at me and smiled so sweetly, I felt it. Deep inside. It felt wonderful. Pure and sweet.

"How old is she?" I asked.

"Fifteen months," he said proudly.

A couple of months ago, the beginning of February, I was at Southpoint Mall in Durham, NC. I was just about to go into the Barnes & Noble there, when I saw an older woman coming toward me, holding the hand of a little girl, who was obviously not very steady on her feet yet. She was tiny, a petite little girl, in her jacket and boots, with wispy strawberry blonde hair and big eyes. As they came closer, I paused, because they were intent, it seemed, on reaching the fountain just ahead, and I would have gotten in their way. The little girl looked up at me then, and she tilted her head, and she smiled at me. It was a shy smile, at first, and then she looked away, and looked back, and she paused, and her smile broadened. It was brilliant, uninhibited, sweet, warm. I smiled back, again in wonder, not expecting such a smile.

The woman holding her hand, who must have been her grandmother, noticed the exchange, because the little girl had paused. 

"Say Hello," she said gently, to the little girl. "Go on, say Hello, it's alright."

And the little girl lifted her tiny right hand, held it close to her face, and did that little scrunching thing with her fist, the fingers closing in to her palm as she waved Hello.

I felt my heart lift, and I smiled and returned the Hello wave in the exact same way. I had to. And then, with a final shy smile, she turned toward the fountain she'd been so set on, and I turned away, forgetting about Barnes & Noble.

I love children. For the most part, I really do. I may not be overly fond of most people, and many people may not like me, and perhaps I am not always completely likeable. But I almost always get along with children, with toddlers. I seem to have an affinity for children of that age. I've never understood it, no more than I try to understand why I seem to have an affinity for puppies. I just do. There's a sweetness there that seems to respond to something in me. Or I respond to it.That something that tells me, that affirms, that I am not worthless, that I am not a bad person, that I am a good person, and sometimes, that can be seen right off. The fact that it's usually toddlers doesn't bother me in the least.

This is what I am trying to convey here. I don't always know it. Or believe it. But little children, barely over a year old, smile at me, as if they see that, know it, feel it. And their smiles, those smiles that I rarely get from adults, reassure me that such a smile is not something that just happens. Such a smile, from a little child who is full of trust and goodness, and whose perception perhaps I should not trust, is what I trust most of all.

You may think I'm deluding myself. You may think that. 

But I doubt those little children think that.

Because if you think about it, how could they?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Weaving a not so tangled web(site)

Have you ever designed a website before? 

It turns out that it can be very time consuming. Both in its development and launching stages, of course, but also in the idea stages. Where you have an idea, a vision, of what you want, how you want your site to look, but you can't get there on your own.

A handful of years ago, around 2004, it was politely suggested that I should think about someday having a website; most authors were heading in that direction, and it was an excellent way to promote oneself and one's work. At the time, it was a fine idea, but I was nowhere near that stage yet, so I put the website idea on a back burner. Fast forward seven years, to June 2011, and I've signed a contract for my first novel, and then things progress, and I have to start thinking about marketing, promoting, reaching an audience, and I realize, Oh, I'll need a website! 

But I had no idea how to build one.

I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like. Mainly, nothing too similar to any other author's. Something professional looking, classy, that stood out, but in an understated way. I knew I could have done it myself, say via WordPress, but as I said, I wanted something professional looking and classy, which meant it couldn't be something that I had cobbled together. Also, having done something rather similar on Blogger, with this blog, I had no intention of doing the same with my website (it can be a pain in the ass). I believe in doing things the right way, the proper way, the way a website should be done. 

I mentioned this all to my sweetie one day, a few weeks before Christmas. She's a graphic artist. She hangs out with other artists, and IT people, techie people, web designers, etc. She knows so many people it's rather mind-blowing. And she says, Oh, I can help you with that. Tell me what you have in mind, and I can find the right person we can work with.

And before I know it, there's me, her, and a friend of hers, a web designer. They're picking my brain on my thoughts and ideas, adding their own, showing me one thing, discarding another. I write text, revise it, consider placement, change my mind. I show them several websites, most of which have their own merits, some of which have none. Eventually, what was in my head makes it onto the computer screen. What they are able to do is nothing short of amazing. And it takes much less time than I expect, but it's not an easy job. Tensions rise, frustrations build, discussions are sometimes abandoned when things cannot be agreed upon. But it's like building a house, your own house. It's not just a house then. If you're building it, why not build it exactly to your tastes and standards? If you're going to be living there, you want it not only to look beautiful, to yourself and others, but you want it to reflect yourself, and the pride you take in it.

This reflection of self is important, and it's not something some people might get when working on their own site. I was fortunate to work with two people who allowed me complete personal input, while working within their professional parameters. It's been an amazing and gratifying experience. I think we did well.

Please visit my website at the link below:


I hope everyone who visits thinks we did a good job as well.