Monday, December 21, 2009

Kiss and Tell

According to Elana's blog (well, she got the idea from another blog), today is a Kissing Day Blogfest, when you're supposed to post a kissing scene from your blog. I don't often post excerpts from my work in progress here, but I thought I'd play along. This is from Across Two Universes. Paul is attempting to convince his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne, to help him, but he becomes distracted when he learns he has a rival....

Paul’s blood pulsed at the unfamiliar male name. “Caleb? Who’s Caleb?”

She flushed. “The minister’s son at Nana’s church. We dated a couple of times while I was on leave.”

He grabbed her hand. How dare someone try to steal Yvonne from him! He forced himself to breathe slowly, normally, as if he didn’t want to punch this Caleb’s guts out.

“You love him?” he challenged her.

“I...I don’t know. No. Not yet, anyway; I don’t know him that well. All I know is he expects to take over the church when his father retires. I felt like he was interviewing me for the job of minister’s wife. Stop squeezing me so hard!”

He relaxed his grip. “I’m sorry.” He rubbed her hands with his thumbs, hoping he hadn’t hurt her. “Look, I don’t care who this guy is, if he’s telling you what to do, he’s not the one for you.”

She met his gaze. “And you think you are?”

He looked down at her. Even as upset as she was, she was still beautiful. If anything, the tears sparkling in the corners of her eyes and the color in her cheeks brought her passion to the surface. Her hair smelled like lavender; he wanted to bury his face in it. For the first time since he’d revealed he was Sean’s clone, she didn’t seem afraid of him.

His hand drifted up to her chin. “I could be, if you’d let me.”

It seemed the most natural thing in the universe to kiss her, so he did. He wasn’t sure if she’d ever French-kissed before, so he pressed her lips gently with his tongue. When she let him in, he wrapped his free arm around her and pulled her closer. He’d waited years for this moment; he needed to savor every detail of her, from the way her mouth tasted of apples to the way her curves fit so well against him.

Yvonne’s hands crept up his back, raising prickles of excitement. Her mouth opened wider, and she returned his exploration of her mouth with a tentative quest into his. But then she pushed herself away. Stunned, he let her go.

She fought to control her breathing, but her eyes were still full of longing even as she said, “I can’t do this, Paul.”

The sweet taste in his mouth turned bitter. “I shouldn’t have done it. I’m sorry.”

He bolted for the exit so quickly he almost stepped on a butterfly.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Polar Express

Early this evening, we took Alex for a ride on the Polar Express.

A nearby trolley museum hosts the Polar Express every year. We found out about this back in September. Although we haven't read the book or seen the movie, we thought this would be a fun activity for Alex, so we went ahead and bought tickets, since they sell out quickly.

After Alex woke up from his nap, we drove to the station. It's located in a forest preserve, but we were still able to find it without too much trouble. We had to wait about half an hour before we were able to board. It was a short train (two cars), but the inside was decorated for Christmas. Alex sat on my lap, so I didn't have much room to move.

Once the train departed at a slow pace, volunteers in chef costumes came around with hot chocolate and cookies. Another volunteer read the first part of the story; another person walked around displaying the book. Then two more people, one playing a guitar, led us in singing carols.

It wasn't long before we arrived at the "North Pole." Santa and Mrs. Claus boarded the train. After a bit of joshing, they went around and gave bells to all the children. We sang a song or two, then returned to the first station. The second part of the trip was similar to the first.

Alex didn't seem to know what to make of everything at first. He was quiet and looked around a lot. He didn't say much to Santa, but he took it in stride. He also enjoyed playing with his bell. After a while, Alex warmed up (perhaps the cookie had something to do with that). I think next year he'll get more out of it. It was a fun activity that I think will become a family tradition for us, at least as long as Alex believes.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: What Was I Thinking?

This is the last Blog Chain for 2009. (scary thought, huh?) Shaun picked a fun topic:

What is the silliest thing from a book or short story you've written, and why? It can be a line or a paragraph or a whole page. Anything that you look back at and go, "Say what?"

Or, as Christine Lavin would say, "What Was I Thinking?"

(Please note that this version is much more political than the one I know from her album.)

Mandy posted before me, and Eric comes next.

Personally, I think my funniest story was the one I wrote in March for another Blog Chain. It seems like cheating to use it twice, so I'm going to post an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project from 2007. The premise is that the narrator, who can shapeshift into an owl, is trying to cheer up her sister, a reluctant werewolf:

Although I couldn’t manage words, I could try to hoot a song and see if she recognized it.

I started with a song from the late 80’s. It didn’t take me long to realize that owls weren’t meant to sing. Although I could make different sounds besides hoots, none of them were exactly melodic. I continued anyway. So what if I drove all of the prey into Lake Michigan with my singing?

Yeah, I'm cringing myself. But hey, anything goes during NaNoWriMo!

I hope once you recover from reading that paragraph that you have a wonderful holiday (whichever one you celebrate). Although the Blog Chain will be on break until next year, I'll continue to post. Please stop on by!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Writing the Other: Review and CONTEST!

When Shaun started our latest Blog Chain a couple of days ago, he mentioned he had considered picking race and stereotypes as our topic. I read a book about this recently; I've been meaning to blog about it but haven't done so. So let me dust off my blogging fingers and get to it.

Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is a series of essays and writing exercises by Cynthia Ward and Nisi Shawl, who lead a workshop (or used to; I'm not sure if they still do) by the same name. If you've ever wanted to write about someone who isn't of your own gender/race/ethnic group/sexual orientation but didn't know how to go about it, this book can help. It's not going to tell you everything you need to know to bring that Buddhist Native American lesbian who uses a wheelchair to life, but it will point you in the right direction.

One of the first major points made in this book is that unless otherwise indicated, readers will assume a particular character is in the "unmarked" state. This means that the character is presumed to be white, middle-class, male, straight, able-bodied, etc. if you want more diversity in your cast of characters, you have to indicate that, or "mark" them. But it's not as simple as changing a few names and physical features; people are going to view the world differently based on their backgrounds. Some of the writing exercises in this book will help you get into another person's mindset.

Another essay discusses some of the common mistakes/stereotypes writers make when working with marked characters. For example, the hero may have a friend from a minority group whose main purpose is to suffer/die to save the hero. Alternatively, marked characters may be shown as not being the protagonists of their own stories or may require saving by someone else (in other words, showing them as less competent.) The authors mention books and films that have these types of mistakes; in some cases, they also list books that portray marked characters more realistically. I found this section especially useful.

I don't have the book with me at the moment, so I can't review everything that it includes. But besides what I've already discussed, it includes an essay about borrowing from other cultures and an excerpt from one of the authors of her own work.

Overall, this is a thin book, but it's got a lot of meaty material. The tone is generally meant to be candid and helpful, though it may come across as a bit "PC" at times. Still, I think this is an important book for every writer who wants to create realistic, diverse groups of characters. After all, although some people may feel afraid to write about marked characters for fear of getting them wrong, it's an even worse mistake to exclude them completely from your work. As people travel around the world and settle in different areas, populations are becoming more heterogeneous. If you can't show this in your book, then it feels less real.

(I recently read a paranormal romance set in modern Chicago, and all of the characters, even the minor ones, seemed to be white. Although this wasn't the only issue I had with the book, I think it contributed to making the setting feel flat to me. And since the main reason I bought this particular book was because of the local setting, I won't be reading the rest of the series.)

I bought two copies of this book at WisCon so I could give one away on this blog. So, here comes the contest part of this post:

1. A copy of this book will be given to a person, chosen at random, who comments on this post between now and Friday, December 11, noon CST.

2. No anonymous posts or spam will be considered. Also, any posts that are disrespectful of this topic or of other commenters will be excluded.

3. You can earn a second entry into the drawing by blogging or tweeting about this contest. Please e-mail me (sandra AT sandraulbrich DOT com) the link to your blog or tweet.

4. Although I would prefer waiting until after Christmas to mail out the book, I can do it sooner if you'd like to give it as a gift.

I think that's it! If you have any questions, please feel free to post them. And please feel free to discuss how you write about the other in your own work.

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