Highlights: Angel of Karma, a side kick who loves grape bubble gum, satisfyingly creepy vampires, an entire realm of Scottish influenced shape shifters, a coming war, and a ton of butt kicking.
Congratulations, Teal! You’ve worked hard for this.
I’m picky about things. By which I mean I can be a snob.
I’m a tea snob. I got started drinking herbal teas (which I still love), and slowly developed a taste for good English Breakfast, Lady Grey and Earl Grey, then delved into the world of loose tea, where you buy fancy little tea bags that you fill yourself, or tea pots with fine mesh especially for brewing loose tea.
I’m a coffee snob. I used to be only lattes with lots of milk and sugar person. Then my friend, Teal Haviland, introduced me to her fancy-pants searched high and low to find a good taste coffee, grind it right before brewing and then add cinnamon to the grounds, coffee. And I tried a sip of it black. Instant coffee snob. I’ve never been able to touch Starbucks’ regular coffee. Not even when I add oodles of milk and sugar myself. I can do their lattes. I own several french presses and coffee grinders. But french presses are messy, so I took my tea bags (the fancy fill yourself ones — my mom even has reusable cloth ones, but I just use the disposable) and filled it with coffee and cinnamon. BAM. Easy clean french press. Toss the bag in the garbage. Done. And less sediment in the coffee.
I’m a wine snob. I started out with Lambrusco — a light fruity red wine with a little bit of bubble. Like juice plus a tiny bit of alcohol. Then moved to Moscato, a very sweet white, Riesling, a little dryer white, though ranging from insanely sweet to just below the sweetness of a Pinot Grigio. I’m still figuring out some Pinot Grigios I like. I require flavor from my wines. I, unlike my husband, can’t drink most reds for pleasure. I have to pair them with food. Generally chocolate.
An alcohol snob. Mostly Bourbons. I’ve been trained to be picky about my Bourbons. My husband is Kentucky born, his blood runs blue, and they take their bourbon SERIOUSLY. In case you were wondering, bourbon only comes from Kentucky. Anything else claiming to be such is bourbon style whiskey. Though I think they might call it an imposter. But also mixed drinks. I started making my own sour mixture because most in the stores are too sugary for me, and once I got used to homemade whiskey sours, I found it difficult to drink the ones I get at most restaurants. Mojitos too. Nothing beats fresh mint and lime juice.
I am not a chocolate snob, however. I see chocolate, I eat it. Most of the time. Though I will wax eloquent about particularly glorious specimens. (If you’re ever in Bratislava, Slovakia, go to Schokocafe Maximilian, get some hot chocolate [which is more like pudding] and a Truffe Beurre. I can’t find words to describe it that I would want my mother reading.)
And yet, I don’t know if I would call myself a book snob. I love books more than I love coffee, wine, alcohol, tea and chocolate. I feel I could live without any of them except books. (Though chocolate is a close second.) And I wonder why that is. It’s not that I enjoy all books that I read. I vehemently dislike a very popular epic fantasy series that my husband and several close friends love. (No, it’s not Game of Thrones, though I gave up on the books in favor of the show. This would have been sacrilegious to me several years ago.)
I wonder if I don’t identify as a book snob because, in the genre-reading circles I often run in, the term is generally used to label those of the literary fiction persuasion who look down on any other kind of writing, while it is trendy to be a coffee, tea, wine, or alcohol snob. So maybe I’m misusing the word snob. Maybe I should just replace it with the word geek. But then again, it’s just a label. Does it matter what label I choose?
I think it does. People have told me before, “I don’t like labels. I’m just a…” and they then follow to label themselves. The label may not be anything succinct (unlike one man I met, who quickly identified himself as a gay Christian punk), but when we tell people what we are, what we believe, when we attempt to describe who we are, we give ourselves labels, and the labels we choose reveal part of how we see ourselves or how we choose to reveal ourselves.
Labels can get a bad rap, but it’s impossible to avoid labels when we attempt to use language to describe ourselves. Language isn’t sufficient to convey the entirety of someone. The problem comes when negative labels are assigned to us from others. Or even ourselves. Labels are words that define. We use them everyday. They can be negative. They can be positive. They can be destructive. They can be empowering.
As a kid I was given labels from others: nerd, awkward, smart, clueless, lazy, belligerent, creative, bookworm, stubborn, opinionated. I accepted those, and I gave myself others: unlovable, weird, ugly. It says a lot about my mental state at the time that I find it hard to remember anything positive. It took me a long time to learn that depression lies.
It took a while to work through the negative labels; I’m still working through them. I’ve held on to some labels: smart, creative, stubborn, opinionated, still sometimes clueless. I’ve rejected many of them. And I’ve given myself more labels, labels I enjoy, labels that I’m proud of, including those above, and recognizing labels I’ve had all along: geek, editor, writer, programmer, Yankee, wife, quirky, intense, helpful, sister, daughter, friend. Words, labels that describe part of who I am as well as what I do. I’ve picked up and discard labels as I’ve changed: gamer, student, girlfriend.
Now if I had just given the labels above, it tells you something about me, but not all of it. Saying I’m a wine snob doesn’t tell you I prefer whites to reds, sweets to drys, Riesling most of all. Saying I’m a book lover doesn’t tell you whether I prefer escapism to intellectualism, sci-fi to literary, short form to novel, or if I like varying mixtures of them all. Saying I’m intense or opinionated doesn’t tell you which things ignite those elements of me. Saying I’m smart doesn’t tell you whether I pick things up very quickly or hold on to hard-won information for long periods of time. Saying I’m awkward doesn’t tell you why, or if I’m only awkward in situations. Labels have limited but intense power. When we hear something negative about someone or about ourselves, we tend not to look any farther. We accept it at face value and often try to avoid the person or situations that we associate with that label. Negative labels are limiting. When we hear something positive about someone or ourselves, we see that as a point of entry. As C.S. Lewis said (addition mine), “Friendship is born [and strengthened] at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” Positive labels are empowering.
I try to keep in mind the power of labels. We internalize them when we hear them often enough. I try to tell people in my life you are awesome. You are smart. You’re such a good mom. I miss you, you’re someone I want to be around. You’re fun. You’re really good at making me feel better. You really encourage me. I learn a lot from you. I really appreciate your dedication.
I try to tell people who have had an influence on me what they’ve done for me, even though I don’t know them very well, even though it feels awkward. A teacher who shared her personal story of depression with the entire school. An author who owned up to her mistakes in how she wrote a story about indigenous people and asked for guidance in learning a better way to approach the topic. Thanks for being brave. Thanks for admitting your mistakes. You’re inspiring. I’m learning from you.
It seems silly to try to discard labels altogether. They have such great power for good. If we refuse to acknowledge that we use labels, we simply internalize them. We need to bring them out in the open. We need to figure out what each label means to us. Recognize what labels we have allowed to define us, discard the negative and reach for the positive. Label away, but let those labels be something you are proud of.
June is coming up quickly.
Two big things are happening in June. One — I’m going to my first conference ever, UTopYA, at the end of June with the lovely Teal. This is its second year, and it sold out a few months ago. Looking forward to meeting some wonderful writers and new friends.
Two, and even bigger for me, is the Out of Excuses Writing Retreat at the beginning/middle of June. One week in Chattanooga, TN (a place dear to my heart and memories), with other writers, writing and learning from the Writing Excuses crew.
I finally booked my hotel this week. I went back and forth a bit, because the hotel they blocked rooms at is a reasonable price, but over a week, it still adds up to quite a bit. I found another option further down the street for about 10-20% cheaper, it’s in an area nearby to several friends who might let me kip on their couch, there are plenty of camping options (though the shower bit might be tricky) near, or I could see about finding a microtel for hopefully about half the cost. The microtel was a no-go; the prices weren’t enough different to tempt me. I finally ended up booking at the hotel they’d reserved a block at (though I finagled a slightly lower price through awesome internet skillz). What won me over is that it’s within walking distance. And it might foster some good late night conversations with other attendees.
I’m excited about not driving my car for a week. And about that not keeping me from doing things. That was one really new and fun thing about Slovakia, or Europe in general, learning to be independent of personal vehicles. (On a side note, rode in my first taxi in the US this year. I’d only ridden one once before in Slovakia. And I think we had to switch taxis because the driver got in an accident… just a fender bender, mind you, but we were on our way to the opera!) I’ll probably slip away for a trip to McKay’s (amazing used book store), which I think is still in walking distance, but if I don’t have a wagon to drag after me, I’ll drive there. And I find it difficult to go into Chatty without stopping by Rembrandt’s. Hopefully I can entice a few of my attendees away with me for some coffee and tea.
But other than that! A morning walk. An evening walk. Yay! My aversion to driving has grown as my skills in driving seem to have decreased. For those who know me, yes. Yes, my driving has indeed gotten worse. This should terrify all of you. I have had at least three fender benders in the last year (last few months?), five (or six?) in the last two, only one of which we had fixed because I screwed up the entire front bumper of Jonathan’s car. The back corner of my bumper has a distinct concave spot that I refuse to pay three hundred dollars (or whatever it would be) to get fixed. All but one of these happened while attempting to back up. I’ve learned to find pull through spots whenever possible.
All of this to say, everyone should be excited I’ll be off the road for a week. Mostly.
So. Limited driving for a week! I’d also love to go no phone/internet for a week. I love being cut off. However, Husband does not feel the same way. He is significantly less hermity than I, and does like to hear the sound of my voice, or see the words I have typed, at least once a day, preferably more. Hopefully, our recent move to be closer to our in-town friends will help him stay busy while I’m gone.
The excitement is definitely building.
I started reading two books this past weekend. One of them I finished. One of them I didn’t. The one I finished was The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf. The one I didn’t I won’t say. Both had fantastic back cover copy that interested me enough to buy the book. The one I finished was a twisted Snow White story told partially from the POV of one of the dwarves, a female dwarf, at that! The other was a con/caper with an intriguing romance twist. Both lighthearted, fast-paced, and pure entertainment. I really wanted to read both of them.
But the difference was in the sentences. Finished book used great verbs that pulled me from sentence to sentence without a problem. Unfinished book used a lot of ‘was’ and ‘had’ when a stronger verb would have worked. There may have been more hidden issues that I registered on a subconscious level. A quick look at where I left off seems to contain a bunch of clunkiness, words that just don’t flow well from one to another.
So that this post isn’t just a vague rant, here’s a sample of what I’m talking about. And analyzing it, most of it is probably passive voice. (Note, I made this sentence up; it is not from unfinished book.)
We joined up in 3024, just a year after the five major universities were blown up.
The best way I’ve ever heard of defining passive voice is if you can add “by zombies” to the end and it makes sense, it’s passive voice. (Thanks to Rebecca Johnson.) So which sentence is more interesting? The above, or:
We joined up in 3024, just a year after the zombies blew up the five major universities.
Though in reality, it was probably the rebels, and not zombies. Still more interesting! We may not actually care who blew up the five major universities. It may not be important to the story. But it can be important to the sentence.
There’s definitely a time and place to use passive voice. It’s not uncommon to hear well-meaning advice-givers say “Never use passive voice” or simply “Don’t use passive voice”. Any kind of writing advice that beings with “Never…” should probably be replaced with “In general, you’ll want to avoid…” Passive voice isn’t evil. But when you’re writing a high action story, which unfinished book was meant to be, you should make very sure that if you’re using passive, you’re using it consciously and you have a good reason for it.
In writing group last week, I saw a good example of how passive voice could be used to subtly convey something about the characters and story. Most of the characters were very active, doing things, deciding things, arguing about things. But one character just felt like he was getting dragged from one place to the next. He was a passive character, and using passive voice more often when focusing on him would have been a subtle stylistic choice that most readers wouldn’t pick up on while reading, but would subconsciously enforce the idea that the character let things be done to him rather than choosing to do things himself.
Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer, recounts the story of a writer who told his agent that what he wanted most of all was to write really great sentences. I love that thought. And finished book did that well. The sentences weren’t gorgeous gems of prose (Oscar Wilde currently holds my award for most beautiful sentences, especially in The Picture of Dorian Gray), but they did exactly what they were supposed to. They kept my attention, they conveyed information, and they never distracted me from the story.
I completed my final edit of Inception. Hooray! Watching this book and the author grow and refine has been a fantastic experience. Teal and I have spent many hours talking about the characters, their futures, writing and life throughout the birth of this novel, and we’re in the home stretch. I can’t wait for you to meet Gabrielle, Lucas, Phalen, Amaziah and the rest of the crew.
Goodreads has a widget for you to set you reading goal for the year. I set it at 5 books a month, which is 60 books for the year. When I told my mom, she said, “Well that’s not a lot.” She was right. I haven’t been reading as much as normal and I’m still three books ahead of schedule.
One thing the month of no book buying has done is clarified the books I really really really want:
- Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories
- A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane
- Etiquette and Espionage
While I’ve added a bunch of books to my to-read list, while packing up to move (closer to work), I’ve discovered I have a bookshelf full (single depth) of books that I have not yet read. And this is the big wide bookshelf, not the skinny Target bookshelf. The only books I’m taking with me to the new apartment fall into the following categories:
- Haven’t read yet (can’t count)
- Writing and English Literature (can’t count)
- Favorites I absolutely can’t live without (about twenty)
- Jonathan’s choices (probably also about twenty)
So I think I might morph the book buying ban into a slow buying plan: Don’t buy books throughout the month, and then on the first day of the next month, buy the books I’ve determined I absolutely cannot go without. And keep working my way through the books I already own.
On a slightly related note, I finally tested out the Goodreads bar code scanner on my phone. And proceeded to unpack every box of books in the house to scan them into my Goodreads account, placing each book on a shelf that corresponded to the box it was in. I scanned over 350 books, and I still have some I took pictures of covers or ISBN numbers that wouldn’t scan automatically. If I’m really industrious, I’ll pick up the first two boxes that are already in the storage unit and process them as well. I doubt I’ll be that industrious.
I don’t think I’m quite using Goodreads the way it was intended, but I find that it is designed to work quite well for a home catalog system. I think I could even create a lending shelf and scan books onto it when I lend one out, and add private notes as to who has it. I’ll have to check on the notes bit. But it’s nice knowing what books I currently have in my possession. Hopefully it will keep me from inadvertently buying a third or fourth copy of Dune.