Remembering Memorial Day

Do you know the meaning of Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

Both are federally recognized holidays in the United States, so many Americans get the last Monday of May and a day around November 11 off of work. Both days are meant to honor past service people.

What were we expected to think about on each day?

The short answer is that while Veterans Day (in November) primarily honors living personnel, Memorial Day honors the military personnel who died in the line of duty.

The people meant to be honored on Memorial Day aren’t the ones who can choose to march in parades or attend memorial services. That means publicly cheering the stranger wearing a U.S. Marines veteran badge might be more appropriate on another day.

Memorial Day Activities

The traditional activities on Memorial Day are decorating the grave of a service person, saying a prayer, and lowering an American flag to half-mast until noon. This can feel outdated, or unhelpful. Another option is to listen.

I’ve long thought of Monday as a time to support the veterans or civilian family members whose memories can remain raw months or years later. Those of us who have already worked through grief over a lost soldier, or who haven’t suffered any losses personally, can be receptive to stories of the military personnel who have died.

Those of you who are remembering people who were close to you should know your voice can be heard.

Remembering the Past for the Future

Speaking up and listening might be harder this year than most. Focusing on the meaning of Memorial Day can be harder when our own federal administrators don’t understand the holiday.

The current United States Commander in Chief has been talking over veterans and active duty personnel, military advisors, and military families since before his campaign. Despite opposition from senior military officials and others who care about ethics, public safety, and international relations, POTUS 45 is threatening to pardon war criminals next week. In my view, he is using a day meant for recognizing the human costs of service to boost his horrific attacks on humanity.

Please take a moment for yourselves. Enjoy an extra day off of work if you get one. But also, please, take a moment on Monday to consider the threads that weave us together.

May you have a thoughtful Memorial Day.

IWSG: Early Experiences with Words

Happy May Day! I shared a simple card on Twitter. Oddly, I forget the flowers. What is May Day without flowers? 💐

Blog Notice:

Another thing I forgot was to check last week for the close of Ad Hoc Fiction‘s “Switch” ebook, which included one of my stories. The anonymous contest voting typically lasts a week. I had figured posting a week and a half after the contest start would be safe. However, the period for that edition lasted two weeks. I took down the story when I noticed.

A version of my Ad Hoc story will post again to my blog this Saturday.

IWSG Prompt and Answer

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

When I was in elementary school, likely somewhere within third to fifth grades from what I remember, I sat in the parking lot of Walmart in the back seat of the car waiting for my mom to return from shopping.

She returned in a huff. My dad asked from the driver seat if she bought a pair of glasses.

No. All of their glasses are atrocious.”

Dad was prone to arguing at anything my mom said. This time, he accepted her answer with a shrug.

Atrocious. I collected that word in my mind, holding onto it. Atrocious. I looked it over and felt its points. What a word. A new favorite in my vocabulary but special, a word that needed to be stored away from daily use. Atrocious.

The hundreds of the glasses in the store were all wrong for my mother. They were too ugly for her to show Dad. She’d looked in the mirror and saw conflict, the way, unknowingly at the time, I would through my teens for similar reasons.

The word sounded more mature than ugly and more intense than horrible. Other kids might not know it, but I could consider it as a tool for talking to adults. It had more power in uneven relationships that mundane, egocentric phrases such “not for me” or “I didn’t like them”. The value in the word avoided monetary cost, a topic that always seemed like a jab at a cancerous wound when mentioned.

Despite the appalling feelings associated with it, the word is also beautiful. I’ve wondered at the leading “a”, the “t”  at the leader’s side like shelter, then the rowing to a delicious finish.

Atrocious. That word is as protective as a dagger flashed at predators who need reminders to respect others. Like any knife, it could be used as a weapon to harm someone, but I continue to marvel at it in my collection.

Like an ornate dagger, that’s a word better stored than needed.

dagger

 

 


Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The Insecure Writers’ Support Group aims to inspire writing and sharing. Writers are encouraged to express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who “have been through the fire” can offer advice. It’s set up to be a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

See a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

Writing from the Anti-Hero’s POV

Who’s insecure? You’re insecure!

The good news is that today is March’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) day.

What IWSG does on the first Wednesday of each month is prompt writers to blog about writing-related fears, doubts, and successes. Participants are then encouraged to support each other in comments.*

Today’s Question:

Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

My answer is associated to why I have also called my site Shadows in Mind. Traditional heroes and unsympathetic villains are difficult to understand, and clear cut conflicts are too often unbelievable to capture my interest. I write gray (shadowy) characters and conflicts.

I enjoy writing in gray areas where the difference between heroism and villainous behavior is the reader’s perspective. I think “Grotesquery” is a good example of that with each fearful protagonist an antagonist while trying to do good.

So, I’m most comfortable writing from a hero who is their own antagonist. (I’ve been blessed with a great amount of experience!) For fiction, this type of character is referred to as an anti-hero.

I understand that many writers intentionally avoid anti-heroes, but the typical hero and villain are too challenging for me to write.

Quick and Dirty Glossary

Are you wondering about my use of these literary terms? Because the meanings of these character types are subject to opinion. Here are simplified definitions based on mine.

Hero:

The Good Guy fighting against evil. This character is often an ideal of virtues.

Protagonist:

A character who moves along the story by striving for a goal; often, the hero.

Villain:

The Big Evil, often despicable. Not to be confused (in fiction, anyway) with a lower society person from the country.

Antagonist:

A character creating obstacles for the protagonist(s).

Anti-hero:

A Bad Guy fighting against evil -or- a character whose personality and actions share are a mix of typical hero and villain traits.


*Please be patient as I figure out how to leave appropriate comments and quickly respond to the wonderful support here. Your comments are appreciated!

The Insecure aWriter's Support Group badhe

Click here to see the Linky Tools list for the ISWG Blog Hop…

Tarzan and Victor, Kings of Mystery and Memory

What follows is all true.

The Mystery Cat

Tarzan’s fur grew thick and long. He smelled wild. He had unusually wild traits:

Short legs. A stocky tail. Opposable thumbs. A habit of dunking food in water before eating it. The ability to strategize and lead a group of domestic cats.

We believe he was raised by raccoons.

But Tarzan was a cat.

My sister-in-law’s family lured him away from a city pack of raccoons who’d been stealing trash. He adjusted well to eating cat food (dunked in water as needed), sleeping indoors, and playing with toys.

Years later, one of my nieces was flipping through a book on wild cats. I glanced over her shoulder, amazed at all the unfamiliar species, then stopped her on one page. The photograph of the European wildcat looked exactly like her Tarzan! She agreed but kept on flipping through the book.

I’ve since learned he might have been not only raised by raccoons, but part raccoon. Maybe. Raccoon-cats are possible. That would explain the physical features not reportedly shared by wildcats; also, it would explain why he lived so far from the wildcats he most resembled.

The Talking Cat

Ultimately, it might not matter what Tarzan was, other than a member of the family.

We tend to accept that our pets are whatever they are.

Several years ago, I kept a domestic cat who could speak English words. We didn’t teach him how. We don’t why, but he conversed.

The most consistent words were “out”; “why”; “momma”, for someone he’d once know; and “carpet”, for when he needed to vomit. (He had allergies and a sensitive stomach that took us a couple years to figure out).

We would warn everyone who agreed to cat-sit that Victor could talk. However, no one fully understood what we were warning them about until they witnessed his conversations for themselves.

Tuxedo cat with cream-colored fur stacked on his headVictor, a tuxedo ragdoll cat © A.M. LynnSometimes it was annoying to deal with a back-talking cat.

“Out!”

“No, Victor, you aren’t going outside right now.”

“Why-y”?

“Because it’s not a good time for me to go out with you.”

“Why-y?”

“I said so! Find something to do inside!”

To his credit, he would listen to me.

Sometimes it was annoying to deal with a back-talking cat.

I understand why Tarzan’s family didn’t make a big deal of their incredible pet. When friends or coworkers asked why I wasn’t taking videos of Victor to promote him on YouTube, I’d shrug. It didn’t occur to me while I was at home to video him.

One reason might’ve been that he was what he was–a member of the family. The idea of trying to gain popularity or earn money off a member of the family who can’t consent to it, all while I couldn’t predict what negative consequences would come of that, was uncomfortable.

What mattered to us was how we could take care of Victor. He was what he was–a talking cat, but also, a loving, intelligent cat with fur that felt like a rabbit’s and an unfortunate beef allergy.

Tarzan was whatever he was, too.

I’m grateful to have known them both.


Thanks go to John Lynn for corroborating the facts in this post. Happy #Caturday.

Creative Outlets: Take 2

I shared yesterday what my creative outlets have been through recent years. Lee Lowry’s post on A Taste for Murder reminded me of another outlet on my better health days: graphic design.

I put together several of the design elements across my website, including headers and the donation badge in the site footer. However, my favorite design activity is to create book covers.

Pulling apart a story into pieces to form a cover that can suggest what a reader will enjoy about the story is about a satisfying as picking apart the remains of dinner to make food sculptures for the family. (Does anyone else do that? I might have missed several of my creative outlets in the first list….)

While some of the covers are for publication (for example, “Grotesquery”), others are to test out how I feel about a story. Here are a few of the ebook covers I’ve designed for myself.

 

 

 

ISWG Creative Outlets

I’ve been feeling insecure as a writer this evening, which is convenient. Today is this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group day!

Typically, I remember a day too late to participate.

What IWSG does is prompts writers to talk about their writing-related fears and doubts on their blogs. Participants are then encouraged to support each other in comments.

Today’s Question: Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

Answer: I’ve enjoyed drawing, painting, practicing photography, performing at  various types of events, training in martial arts, singing, and dancing.

These activities are bigger challenges than they were in my 20s. Money, time, and energy have always been limiters. I’m always worked around or despite trauma and chronic health issues. Now, though, there are more frequently days when holding a pen(cil) to draw is agony, more painful than typing. Cleaning up the pain takes more energy than I have (what with the standing, walking, carrying, scrubbing, and looking for drips or spills). The physical training in martial arts and dance are impeded by the same issues. I can no longer use a flash on a camera without triggering or exacerbating a migraine. My offline social life has become almost nonexistent, and driving to gigs is dangerous most days.

What’s frequently left is singing, to myself and my child. We even sing original stories to each other.

That, singing, keeps some of the fear away when I can’t write.

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Click here to see the Linky Tools list for the ISWG Blog Hop…

Follow, Report, Delete

We the gods
forsake ourselves,
our characters reduced
to song calling hunters.

We the birds
tweet harms and hopes,
growing worms
on our branches.

We humans
debate ourselves,
forgetting to grow
together, eating words.

How to Stop Worrying About the Query Letter

I’ve watched peers worry over query letters for so long that the fact I have yet to send any to agents or editors for a completed manuscript feels strange. Perhaps I’m lucky. I have written query letters for the fun of it and to query editors about the marketability of incomplete manuscripts. (Turns out my suspicions that I love writing hard sells were correct.) On the sidelines, the steps are less intimidating.

From my observations, these are what I see as the steps toward an effective letter for a (YA to adult) novel manuscript. The most valuable part of this post is what I understand the best: where writers can go online for good advice writing the letter.

Step 1.  Prepare the manuscript.

This is easily the longest step in the process, taking anytime from a few months to a few decades to complete.

Step 2.  Study up on the expectations of what a query letter should look like.

Knowing what to expect takes away much of the fear from any new experience. Here’s a shortlist of trustworthy sources.

A good start is Nathan Bransford’s friendly “How to Write a Query Letter” or Jane Friedman’s “Complete Guide to Query Letters”.

Writer Beware provides a suggested template explained by each of the four paragraphs that make it a query instead of a generic letter.

Step 3.  Write the letter.

Use your hard-earned skills, writer!

The Reedsy Blog breaks the writing process down to seven steps.

Check what you have against Agent Query’s do and don’t list. You can also find agents at this site.

See 23 examples of letters that worked, linked from GalleyCat (2013).

Note: Forms of Address

Unlike many features of the publishing process, the query letter has not significantly in the past ten years. The biggest change might be the form of address in all professional letters. In general, it’s not a good idea to guess that “Mr.” with all names that look masculine to you and “Ms.” goes with all the feminine names. Certainly avoid “Sir” or “Madam” as a default. “Mx.” is rising in popularity, but so is using full names without a title. Follow one of the oldest pieces of advice: Know you who’re addressing. Research the agent or editor before sending your query.

Note: Conflicting Advice and Other Ambiguity

You won’t get every part exactly correct for every agent or editor. That’s not possible. Think about the decisions you’ve already made. Writing a novel is a series of decisions about characterization, settings, themes, and plot. You’ve already worked through that. So keep moving forward. Remember that nothing is perfect all the time.

Step 4.  Collect feedback.

This part should feel familiar. You’d collected feedback for your manuscript, didn’t you?

Now it’s time to ask your most trusted manuscript readers to read your letter. This can be easy if you modify your usual questions. “Do you recognize the novel in your description? Is the letter easy to read?”

One place to go for free professional feedback is Query Shark. Even if your query isn’t chosen by Jane Reid for critique, comparing past critiques to what you wrote is a good practice while waiting.

Step 5.  Polish the letter.

Make sure to check for editing errors, either with precise people or your favorite editing software.

Steps 6.  Send off the letter!

After you know you’ve written an enticing letter, send it away from you to where it belongs. Anxiety might kick in, so…

Step 7.  Distract yourself with new writing.

Stay busy enough, and you can get a break from worrying about querying.

woman smiling while using laptop
Photo by rawpixel.com

Is this helpful? Feel free to comment with how you feel about the query process.

Fresh Friday Cover Face-Off

Welcome to the Friday Face-Off, a weekly event of bloggers pitting several book covers for one title to present a favorite. This is my first time participating.

Friday Face-Off header

I’m fascinated by book cover designs. The best covers are art, yet unlike art in a gallery, the designs are meant to be judged for their appeal at a glance.

At bookstores, I find myself considering the cover design as much as the content, not (when studying the art) to know what to buy, but to take in trends and how they have or are changing.

For this Friday Face-Off, I wanted to choose a familiar title with a large selection of covers to see how the covers for one title changed over time and across cultures. The work also needed to fit with the theme of starting a new cycle.

Today’s Theme

A cover that is fresh – New beginnings for a New Year

The Competing Title

I ended up choosing a title that’s set in the United States and has apparently not caught much attention elsewhere in the world. Still, this is one of my favorite novels. Learning more about its publication history was interesting.

Title: Jumper by Steven Gould

In this 1992 novel that started a series, an abused kid discovers he can do what so few kids in his situation can–get away. He attempts to start his life fresh by using teleportation, his new resource, but he learns he can’t get away from himself. Becoming a hero might be the only way he can jump forward in life.

Covers


cover-jumper_torhard
1992 hardcover by Tor
cover-jumper-tor_soft
1993 paperback by Tor
cover-jumper
2002, by Starscape
cover-jumper-for
2008, Editura Nemira
cover-jumper-orgteal
2008, by Tor
cover-jumper-figure
2008, by Harper Voyager
Jumper with figure made out of words
2010, by digitalNoir publishing
cover-jumper-surv
2014, by Tor


My Judging Notes

A movie loosely based on Jumper came out in 2008. That movie featured a generic story for a fantastical thriller, using annoying tropes, and turning Davy into an anti-hero. I feel that the book covers from that year better represent the movie than the book.

Starscape’s cover presents an oddly phallic symbol. The digitalNoir cover looks to me more like a class art project than a sci-fi cover. Tor’s recent cover reminds me too much of the Bourne series. (Although the 2014 fonts are nice).

In contrast, Tor Science Fiction‘s original releases worked in suggestions of Davy’s love of books, scientific curiosity, unique ability, and need for secrecy.

Winner

The original 1992 hardcover. I think the more realistic presentation of colors is more interesting than the overuse of teal on the 1993 paperback.

cover-jumper_torhard

Which would you choose?


The Friday Face-Off meme was originally created by Books by Proxy. To join next week, start by checking out the predetermined theme at Lynn’s Book Blog (by a different Lynn!). You can then share on Lynn’s Book Blog with Mister Linky.