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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Yes, We ARE "Those People!" or For Love of Dog

Our neighbor, Mark, brought over a Christmas gift for us (yummy peppermint bark--thanks, Marchant family!) Then Charlie and Puddin' brought some chocolate chip cookies that Lynne had made! (We have such good neighbors.)

Now that they've moved into a bigger house, Mark and Liz's kids are holding them to their promise of getting a dog and Muggle is just the right size. Talking of Muggle naturally leads to talk of agility. Which led to talk of the hilarious movie, Best in Show. If you aren't familiar with it, it's a parody of the intensely, freakishly dog-obsessed folks who frequent the dog show circuit. Mark asked if there are similar characters in agility.

"Oh, yeah! But not us. I mean, we don't have any kids, so we spoil the animals, but we know they're pets," I told him. Then felt the need to qualify. "Well, I mean, sort of. We aren't as obsessive as the Best in Show folks, but maybe we over do it a bit with our babies."

Muggle with his Christmas "loot."

Then I had to go in to check on homemade chicken jerky I was making for Muggle in the dehydrator.

This morning, looking at the wonderful pile of gifts under the tree, it struck me. Yes, we ARE "those people" from Best in Show! I didn't want to be one of "those" dog-obsessed, crazy people whose life center's around their dog. That's almost as sad as people whose life center's around their human children! Almost. Human kids grow up, become independent, and move on. Our dogs are dependent on us for their whole lives.

The evidence of our (my) obsession with my dog is overwhelming and it's been right in front of my face the whole time. I just didn't want to see it:

  • Drawers full of "Muggle" and agility clothing.
  • A whole "travel bag" just for roadtrips with Muggle (crate, toys, food and water dishes, treats, blanket, pillow, 2 leashes, bandana)
  • The agili-tree.
The Agili-tree: decorated with Muggle's agility ribbons.

  • Albums and albums of Muggle on Facebook.
  • My gifts from Matt: solar panel for the car to run the seat-heater at those cold, outdoor agility trials, and a Muggle photo collage.
  • Making homemade treats for Muggle.
  • More gifts for Muggle under the tree than anyone else!

My Christmas gift from Matt: an Agility-photo Collage

Guess I have to face the facts. We ARE those people. And it's not a bad thing at all. Animals are and should be treated as part of the family. We love them, take care of them, and while we may have other interests and friends outside of them, to them, we are everything! I can't think of a better, more admirable or redeeming quality in a person than for them to be an animal lover.

From our house to yours, and from our furry, 4-legged kids to yours, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Frohe Weihnachten, and a happy, healthy New Year filled with much barking, meowing, and many sloppy, wet kisses!

Lynne, Matt, Muggle, Spooky, and Minerva

Minerva and Spooky

Me and Matt in DC

Saturday, December 15, 2012

'Tis the Season: A bit of Christmas past

We have some family friends who are visiting Germany right now. Their blog posts about the small towns and Christmas markets they've visited around Stuttgart and in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France have brought back wonderful memories of our Christmases in Germany. The excitement and goodwill of the season thrive in the festive markets and even a curmudgeon like me can't help but feel the joy!

With fond memories of Christmas past, here's a repost from a blog of our first Christmas in Germany.

December 2005

Glűhwein, Socks, Knives, Axes and Gerbils – Christmas in Germany
At the Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt
Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Happy Hannakuh and more from Wendlingen, Germany! 

The most obvious and telling signs of the Christmas season in Germany are the Weihnachtsmarkts–Christmas Markets (sometimes called ChristKindl Markts)–that every town, large and small holds in the weeks before Christmas. Some of these are small, weekend long affairs in the town square, with a few booths selling ornaments, candles, sweaters, toys, and of course, food and beverages. The preferred beverage of the season is Glűhwein: hot, spiced wine, either red or white. It might be the heating that does it, or the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and orange peel to super-sweet wine that does it, but whatever it is, this is POTENT STUFF! But oh, so wonderfully warm and aromatic on a cold night outdoors wandering through the Christmas villages of booths decorated with everything from Santa and his reindeer to the nativity.

Skating at the Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt
The the BIG Weihnachtsmarkts last from November 24 or 25 through Christmas. These spread through all of the squares, parks, and marketplaces in town and include everything from ice skating rinks and “restaurant” booths with sit-down table service, to live music and sleigh rides! 
But the really spectacular, and truly unique markets are the medieval-themed villages.  Esslingen, a medieval, walled town known for its vineyards, is the perfect setting for a medieval Weihnachtsfest–the old town was spared bombing during WWII and portions of its original wall still surround parts of town. Some of the buildings date back to the 13th century. a true medieval town.
The Esslingen Weihnachtsmarkt

The medieval theme brings out all the “Goths” in Baden-Wurttemburg and we were never sure if the people walking around with dyed black hair, black nail polish and lipstick, black flowing robes, and chains were part of the entertainment, or visitors. The vendors knew their crowd and about ½ the booths were selling amulets, celtic-designed jewelry, dragon and gargoyle items, and incense.  Lots and lots of incense. 
Medieval musicians at the Esslingen Christmas Market

Jugglers, musicians, and acrobats roam the crowd and periodically perform on stage, in between church choirs and youth singing groups. There are people dressed up as knights, pages, lords, and ladies, and vendors selling period clothing for all of them.  We could have bought some wonderful robes, poofy-sleeved “pirate shirts,” and leather shoes with pointy toes that curled up at the end (they even offered to specially make a pair for Matt’s size 15s!) 

 Not only were there people in period costume, but the vendors were craftspeople plying their trade, as well as their wares: candlemakers, leather workers making hats, gloves, slippers, and those pointy-elf shoes, women spinning wool into yard and then making sweaters from it, and a blacksmith forging corkscrews, axes, and knives. And socks.  There were lots of booths selling wool socks. Maybe the German’s know something we don’t about the coming winter? I felt this perhaps indicated severe weather to come, like the red stripe on woolly caterpillars, so I bought some. 

If you wanted to test out the wares before buying, the game booth next to the blacksmith–knife and ax tossing--gave you the chance. And nearby, you could test out a freshly-fletched arrow (and NOT the suction cup kind of arrows, either) at a booth where a lemon hung from rafters by a string. Stick the arrow in the lemon and win a prize! Right across from that was a food vendor with a whole pig roasting on a spit... hmmm... makes you wonder, doesn’t  it? Surrounding all of the games involving sharp and pointy objects were booths selling Glűhwein, eggnog, Christmas punch, beer, and wine! We're pretty sure there's no ATF in Germany!

Test your aim at the bow shooting booth!

Maybe someone had good aim with the bow and arrow?
There were rides for the kids, too.  Like the hand-powered ferris wheel. About 5 m high, the wooden wheel had “troughs” for the kids and two young guys worked handles to turn it, sort of like contestants on “The Price is Right” spin the big wheel to get into the showcase. Other games included throwing a lead ball at an egg sitting on top of a log and trying to smash it, trying to land a 1 Euro coin into the center circle drawn at the bottom of a barrel  filled with water (about .5 m deep), and our favorite – Maus Rondell!

Yes, you guessed the correct English translation.  Mouse Roulette.  A misnomer since they used a gerbil. How can you resist a game called Maus Roulette, especially when the playing area had clear indications of a live mouse being involved? The round table, divided into 12 “pie slices” that each had a small cardboard “mouse house” at the end, and evidence that some of these houses had been “inhabited” at least briefly. The gerbil was released into the center of the table and we all waited eagerly to see which house he’d run into. After many “here mousey-mousy-mousy’s,” lots of kissy noises to lure the gerbil in, and three bolts into houses with no coins on them, the gerbil finally ran into Matt’s house and he won...a small stuffed mouse. I was really hoping for the gerbil. Probably for the best since Spooky is gnawing away at the prize as I write this.
Maus Rondell

After all that fun, we needed some much deserved glűhwein and a wurst, then we headed back home to put up our Christmas tree!

Esslingen Christmas Market

Matt setting up the tree at our house in Wendlingen

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Giving

Last year I promoted selecting charities that are meaningful to those on your Christmas gift (the humane society for the animal lover, American Heart Association for someone who has or has lost someone to heart disease, etc) and making donations to those charities in the name of your gift recipient:

Random Thoughts by Lynne Hinkey: Christmas shopping?

That's what Matt and I have been doing for the past few years and will continue to do this year. Very few of those on our gift lists really need any store bought items or more clutter for their households but they all have causes near and dear to their hearts. We'll contribute to those causes on their behalf. I hope you'll all consider doing the same.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just in Time for Christmas: Marina Melee Book Signings!

Being an author requires some serious juggling skill and I often feel like I'm failing miserably at keeping all the balls in the air: continuing to market and promote Marina Melee, querying for Ye Gods! (the novel formerly known as Chupacabra), writing The Old Putters (working title), and outlining Un-familiar (the sequel to Ye Gods!)

Just when I start making progress on any one of these, I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the others. I haven't been promoting Marina Melee the way I should  because I'm researching agents and sending queries for Ye Gods! I'm not querying for Ye Gods! enough because I'm writing Old Putters (and trying to get a short story from Old Putters published). I'm not writing as much as I should on Old Putters because I've started a new marketing push on Marina Melee for Christmas. 


Just when I'm about to throw an all-out hissy fit and give up because I obviously have no talent or ability in writing, marketing, promoting, publishing or anything related to being an author, I get a surprising little boost. About five or six months ago, the encouragement came in the form of encouragement from Hanna, who LOVED Chupacabra when I was ready to give up and rewrite the whole thing. A few weeks ago, the boost came from my editor, Rebecca Bender, who told me not to give up or change the story, and there is an agent out there who will love it, want it, and find a publisher-home for it, and who thinks the new title, Ye Gods!, is better.

The latest bit of encouragement comes from two sources: The Center for Women and West Marine. The Charleston Center for Women holds an Annual Lowcountry Women Authors Book Signing in time for Christmas shopping. I'll be signing copies of Marina Melee. It's on Sunday, December 9th at the Citadel's Holliday Alumni House at 69 Hagood Ave, Charleston.

I made up some of my own fliers to post at marinas and boating supply stores around Charleston. When I stopped by West Marine in West Ashley, the manager, Rob, asked if I'd like to do a book signing there, too! So, I have a signing on Saturday, December 8th (10:00a.m.-2:00 p.m.) at West Marine, too!

West Marine, Savannah Hwy, West Ashley
Charleston, SC

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where are you now, Mary Richards? or Sitcoms, Role Models, and the Election

I voted today. We'll be returning from a visit to DC on the 6th and didn't want to risk getting in after the polls closed. Prior to voting, I spent a lot of time looking over the candidates websites and voting records. The effort got me reminiscing about television sitcoms that helped my generation define ourselves. Yes, the subjects of sitcoms and the election are related. How? I'm glad you asked.

I'm at the tail end of the baby-boom generation, so I wasn't among those women who broke down walls. I reaped the benefits of their fight for equality and them demonstrating that women were equally competent (if not more) than men in the workplace. By the time I hit my teens, girls knew we could be anything we wanted to be. Women were in the military, and the first female cadets had entered the military academies. Women were running businesses, representing us in Congress, and challenging (and beating) men in sports (shout out to Billy Jean King!)

At that same time, sitcoms moved women from the kitchen (in a dress wearing heels and pearls, a la June Cleaver) to the newsroom with Mary Richards in the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sure, Mary had been Rob Petry's wife on the Dick Van Dyke show in the 60s, but by the 70s, she'd moved on to the "big city" (Minneapolis) to "make it on her own." She was a single woman in her 30s with a career.She wasn't widowed or divorced or seeking a man to support her.

Mary Richards was what the women before me had worked so hard for, and had achieved. She was part of my generation's world view: women go to college, have careers, move away from home to pursue their own interests. They meet life on their terms and conquer the world without a man. Once a woman is a whole person in her own right, well, then, if she meets the right person, she can have a relationship, spouse, and family too. But it isn't a prerequisite of happiness.

We also had Maude, Edith Bunker's outspoken, middle-aged, politically liberal cousin to show us what women are capable of. Even our 1950s girls, Laverne and Shirley, were independent, sharing an apartment, working in Schottz's brewery, and always scheming ways to get rich.

In the 80s, we had Murphy Brown, a sharp-witted, sarcastic investigative journalist who was also a recovering alcoholic. Candace Bergen's Murphy Brown gave us an older, more world-wise and world-weary role model than the ever-perky Mary Richards. She was a 40-something woman who had made it in a man's world. She showed us that it could be done. The show's political satire maybe cut too close to home for some, and when Murphy decided to become a single-mom after becoming pregnant by her ex-husband, Dan Quayle decried the country's falling morals all because of Murphy's choice to raise a child alone. Sadly, Republican's are still blaming single moms for the country's problems. 

I don't know what happened while I was off pursuing my own education and career, but when I finally had a few minutes to watch TV, I found women's role models had devolved. Instead of women struggling with work-homelife balance, fighting for equal opportunities, or continuing the fight for equal pay, and instead of strong women determined to live life on their own terms first, we had Ally McBeal, a twenty-something, airhead who could NEVER have passed a bar exam anywhere, ever. Somehow she became a lawyer who obsessively fantasized about meeting Prince Charming and having a baby. Her strategy to accomplish that? Wear the shortest skirts she could get away with on prime time television and act ditzy. 

The de-evolution didn't stop there and we can only hope that we're at the very bottom of this sad trajectory for women in television. Now we have reality TV where women fight to find a husband in 10-easy episodes on The Bachelor, where Snooki struts her illiterate brand of stupidity and slutiness on the Jersey Shore, and where Teen Moms get their own show. We're back to being objectified and shown as mere "arm-candy" and gold-diggers. These women's and girl's lives are defined by having a man, not by having a brain or an identity or even a personality. They don't want to accomplish anything by themselves or for themselves. They're just there to please a man; any man will do.

With shows like this, is it any wonder that teens and women in their 20s and 30s don't have a clue why women of my age and older are so upset with the current political climate? All those hard-won gains at becoming people, rather than just some man's posession, are trickling away. That trickle will become a torrent if the GOP wins the presidency or control of either the House or Senate in the upcoming election.

"Feminist" isn't a dirty word and it isn't a euphemism for lesbian. The Feminist movement is the reason young women today can go to a bar with their friends and not be branded sluts (but stick with the GOP and you'll lose that right, just ask Rush Limbaugh). The Women's Right's movement is the reason we can be more than just secretaries--we can be scientists, engineers, business owners,astronauts, congresswomen, or even President because women who are 10, 15, 20 years older-than me--and more, back to the suffragettes of the early 1900s--fought for us to have those abilities.

We're in danger of losing so many rights, and much more. We're in danger of losing self-respect, self-determination, dignity, and the right to say NO. Sitcoms may appear to be a bit of fluff given the serious problems our country faces. But right now, they seem to be a harbinger that we're heading in a very wrong, very dangerous direction. Imagine a world where Snooki is considered a woman's role model. Imagine a that we could have in just a few weeks....where you can't say NO; where rape is "just another form of conception (1)" and it must be "God's will (2)," and if it's "legitimate rape" (3) (I guess that's the kind these men thing some women "deserve" or "ask for"because "some girls rape easily. (4)" [Just an aside to fathers and mothers who might be ill-advisedly considering voting Republican this year, notice, they don't even stop at adults, this moron from Wisconsin is talking about raping girls. Does he have experience with that? Sure sounds like it. Do you really want who condones raping girls because it's easy representing you in Congress?!?]

This election is hugely important for all women, and for our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces The voting booth booth is the one place where even those women who have been dominated, subjugated, bullied, belittled, or just made to feel less-than-equal by men in their lives can exert their equality and their independence. (I know it happens 'cause I've been there--supporting his side to win favor. It doesn't help, just makes him push for more!) Don't be intimidated or threatened. Don't let this election be the one future generations of females look at and say, "that's when we became less than human."

Go watch a few episodes of Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, Maude, or even Laverne and Shirley, and then go vote. VOTE to keep our ability to choose our own lives, whether that is as a housewife, a mother, a career woman, or all of these. Our lives should be our choice, not something predetermined by men. VOTE!

(1) Paul Ryan, GOP vice-presidential candidate, August 24, 2012
(2) Richard Mourdock, Indiana Tea Party senate candidate, October 24, 2012
(3) Todd Akin, Republican congressman and current senate candidate from Missouri, August 19, 2012
(4) Roger Rivard, Wisconsin GOP state senator, October 10, 2012





Sunday, October 14, 2012

Just Braggin' on My Dog

Let me apologize in advance to all you readers who thought you had the cutest, coolest, best dog in the world...I can't let you go on holding that delusion any longer because the fact of the matter is, you don't. I do.
Muggle (Photo by Matt Drobnik)
Yes. Look upon my doggy's divine countenance and weep, for no matter how adorably, loveable, cuddly ALL dogs are (I really have never met one that wasn't cute), Muggle is the awesome-est and cutest!

Many of you may know Muggle's story, but if you don't, you can go to his website, The Muggle Chronicles, and read about his--and our--amazing journey from discarded, to rescued, to agility dog.

Some of the things that make Muggle one-of-a-kind:

1.  He doesn't run to greet us at the door. When we come home, he maintains his dignity (and his spot on the sofa) and gives us a Joey Tribbiani nod of the head: "how you doin,'" and patiently waits for us to come over and pet him. He has a bit of Eey-ore in him about the whole enthusiasm thing. Most dogs are excited to be invited onto the sofa, chair, bed, car...not Muggle. He'll slowly inch his way to the seat, look up through his eyebrows and sigh, then slowly lug himself up alongside you. "If I have to...."

"How you doin'?"
2.  He's neat and orderly. I'm not, so I figure this is a good thing. Muggle has upstairs toys and downstairs toys and gets absolutely neurotic if they're out of place. He'll pace and fret over his toys, poking his nose into the basket and under furniture until he's certain something is missing, then he'll rescue it and return it to its rightful place.

Looking intense through the tire (Photo by Matt Drobnik)
3.  He talks to us. If you've ever seen Muggle run agility, you know he's a talker. He grunts and growls, and snarls and snarks the whole way through the course. Today, I found out that could be me. When I give him clear directions, he gets quieter. I did see something similar when Matt ran him and did some incorrect handler motion--Muggle would turn around and give him what-for before doing what he was supposed to do. But, he'd still do the right thing. That could explain how we've gotten as far in agility as we have. Because of Muggle, not me. I know he far outperforms me in the ring.

4. He's a grandstander. As Ginger said, he is my dog. He does well when he has an audience. He doesn't do particularly well at agility class, or when we practice. But put him on a course at a trial, with an audience, and Muggle will do things I'm positive we haven't learned, trained, practiced, and certainly shouldn't be able to do given how much (or little) we actually do train and practice! And he only does that when he has an audience! Imagine what a little more effort (on my part) could produce?

Eey-ore says, "I won some ribbons, oh well..."
5. He's OCD in a really funny way. Aside from the toys being in their right place, Muggle is a schedule- and routine-driven dog. He likes things to occur in the same way, all the time, every time. So, when 9:30 p.m. roles around, he likes me to head upstairs and get ready for bed. He waits patiently through my part of the routine, knowing the last thing I do before crawling under the covers is give him a biscuit. Then, he's like a machine: eat, get a drink of water, get the gator (his squeaky toy), and come into bed. He plays with gator for 5 minutes, then lays down between me and Matt while we watch TV or read. When Matt turns out his bedside light, Muggle goes downstairs (we have stairs for him to get on/off the bed) and into his crate. At that point, he gets really anal about his schedule. It is now BEDTIME. We do not mess with bedtime. If Matt or I talk after Matt's light goes out (I can still be up reading with the light on, doesn't matter, it's all about the Alpha-Matt) Muggle dives us a "grrrfffff." He's the chaperone. There is no talking, kissing, or moving after Matt's light goes out. Sometimes we make kissy noises just to mess with the dog. Poor Muggle goes crazy and runs back up the stairs into the middle of the bed to get between us and break it up.

He's pretty darn funny. And adorable. And when he gets to the agility field and knows he gets to run, he gets excited and happy. Regardless of ribbons or Qs, there isn't anything as wonderful for me as the look of sheer bliss on his face when Muggle and I are running together:

Just happy to be out playing with me!! (Photo by Matt Drobnik)
Muggle is keeping guard over me right now as I work at my computer. He stares out the window and lets me know when strangers walk by across the street. I think he might also be looking our for "the biscuit lady" and "the biscuit man." A couple who live in the neighborhood carry biscuits when she goes for her morning walk and he for his run. Muggle has learned to time our walks to their routine. On a good day, he can meet Joanne once on her walk and Michael twice on his run.

He's a funny, funny dog.

While I am truly sorry that you can't have the cutest or funniest dog out there since he's mine, I know every one of our pets have their own unique qualities and, while not THE cutest, rhey're all pretty darn cute too. What makes your pet the best?

Muggle with his best-bud, Dagan, getting ready to root for their team.

December 5, 2009. The first photo we saw of Muggle...and decided to adopt him.
Dec. 12, 2009. Muggle's first night with us...after some grooming and neutering.
Looks like a completely different dog, doesn't he? And completely different from what he looks like now, too!


Monday, September 24, 2012

The Perils of Positive Thinking, or Why I'd Rather Be a Curmudgeon

In the RSAnimate video Smile or Die, acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the darker side of positive thinking. Obviously, this appealed to Curmudgeon-Lynne. While watching, all I could do was nod, wipe away an occasional tear, some of happiness knowing I'm not the only one who sees through the smoke-and-mirrors of "happy-happy-joy-joy" and others of sheer terror at how far we (the majority of the American people) have been led down the garden path with this happy-horseshit.

At one point in my life, I was a pretty optimistic person.

Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. At one point, I was naive and even then, I was a realist and had pretty strong critical thinking skills that led me to question and analyze the world around me. It usually didn't stack up to the bill of goods being sold. When it did, it made me very happy. That hits the high points of my optimism.

The video focuses on happy culture in the corporate world, where being a team player and cheerleader trumps knowledge or skills. As I discovered when I went to work for the federal government, it's equally true there. Early on in my tenure as a fed, I was assigned a project overseeing a contractor's progress and ultimate product. It became apparent in short order that there was little (no) progress being made. So, I pointed that out. A few times. Until finally, some scraps of nothing-substantial were submitted. I could've done the same in 30-minutes. Only my work wouldn't have had the typos, poor grammar, or misused words. I pointed out the flaws.

For that, the contractor got more money (because obviously the reason for the shoddy work was their initial inadequate bid, so more $$ would fix it, right?), renewed contracts, and an apology for my tactlessness. I ended up doing the majority of the work (rework), and got sent to "Dale Carnegie," also known as "a total waste of time learning to be a peppy cheerleader for mediocrity". If you aren't familiar with him, Dale Carnegie (he of the "people with mental disorders just need to think positive, happy thoughts" philosophy - seriously, it's in the books they give you to read) was one of the robber barons who made his millions by taking brutal advantage of cheap and abundant labor, only to later be called a "philanthropist" when he used a small fraction of his wealth to build some libraries. The Dale Carnegie course consists of learning how to never say anything that might offend anyone. Ever. Even if they need it. Even if it will help overall productivity and morale to lay the cards on the table so everyone can get to work fixing what doesn't work.
God forbid we should do that. Someone (the idiots who everyone else has to work harder for to carry their weight) might be upset. Brings to mind Nero and Rome. Not a happy time for the Romans, but I'm sure Nero was enjoying the music.

I was one of the lucky ones, however. I've had a few supervisors who value substance more, or at least equally, to form. When I gave my honest assessment of what a waste of money the course was (want to improve my attitude for the same amount of money? Send me on a paid vacation), he stopped sending others.

Prior to and after my life as a fed, I'd worked in private industries both big and small, local government, nonprofits, and academia. I've seen that same "positive" model played out in all of those, all striving to keep an amicable, happy work environment, where top management can retreat to their boardroom meetings, hold hands, and sing Kumbyah because life is so good and isn't everything peachy-keen?

The one place where that brainwashing, tuck our problems away, don't air dirty laundry, don't even acknowledge it's in the hamper attitude isn't so prevalent is in small businesses, where workers become like families, so are willing to argue and fight and occasionally call one another a horse's ass when the situation warrants. That gives me hope that we aren't entirely doomed to a death spiral of happiness and positive thinking. There are still bastions of reality in the workplace. That is my happy thought, my positive thinking that I hold on to and that gives me hope that there are others like me out there. Enough of us to prevent a total meltdown due to sheer ignorant bliss.

I won't go into more detail on the video other than to say, if your inner-curmudgeon needs a reassuring pat that it's okay, there's nothing wrong with a dose of reality, watch this. If you worry about those who embrace misperception as reality because that's so much easier than acknowledging errors and then having to correct them, watch this. And, if you vehemently and violently oppose willful ignorance, watch this. It might not make you happy, but it could make you feel better knowing there are others out there who recognize the perils of positive thinking.

Remember, MIS-perception isn't reality. It's WRONG. Deal with it.

EAnd enjoy the video--but don't be happy about it.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Here we go again!!

The rollercoaster ride of publishing is exhilerating and terrifying. Describing it in words doesn't do it justice, but a very creative blogger, Nathan Bransford, has gone one step further and created a multimedia experience that truly conveys the myriad emotions writers go through from the genesis of an idea through the culmination of the dream with a published book. Then we jump in line for another ride on the rollercoaster!

Here's his post:
The author, hard at work
The Publishing Process in GIF Form

I'm back on the ride and having a terribly superstitious moment right now. Part of me wants to jump up and down and scream "Wheeeee!" The other part is afraid I'll jinx myself if I do, or if I share the news that an agency has asked for an exclusive to review my manuscript (partial) and asked for additional info from me.

HURRAY! HURRAY! YIPPEEE!! I was on the verge of, well, not exactly giving up, but definitely sulking...and then Hanna cheered me up and I persevered, sent out more queries, and HURRAY! HURRAY! Got a request!

So, once again, I'm in a holding pattern, waiting to hear back from them NLT September 24. I'm afraid to get my hopes up only to have them dashed again, but I can't help it!

When it rains, it pours, you know. No surprise that I'd get a second request while I've given exclusive review to another agency! I'll have to keep my fingers crossed that a) agency #1 loves it and signs me, and b) if not, that agency #2 likes it enough to still want to look at it about a month from now.

Whether you're a writer, along on a similar ride, or just a curious reader, take a look at Nathan Bransford's very creative and funny explanation of it all. You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On: Queries, Rejections, and Patience

I'm in the long, tedious, and ego-smashing process of querying for my second novel, Chupacabra. For those of you not familiar with the process of getting published, once you've written your novel, edited it five-ways-to-Sunday, and think it's ready to go forth into the world--your masterpiece--you then have to convince someone else of that.

This is called querying...a nice word for baring your soul and getting your heart ripped to shreds by total strangers. More specifically, by literary agents. You have one, brief shot to make a good impression and that one shot is called a query letter.

A query letter is a brief (3-4 paragraphs, no longer than 1-page) business letter letting the agent know:
  • Why you selected him/her to query
  • The genre of your book
  • The word count of your manuscript
  • What the story is about
  • Why you're the best person to write it
  • Your publishing history
  • That you can write...(demonstrated by your ability to do all of these things in less than one page and make it fascinating enough that they want to read more).
Once you've researched agencies and agents to find out who might be interested and compatible with you (this will be a long-term relationship, one hopes), you start sending off query letters. This entails reviewing the agency's submission requirements and revising and tailoring said query letter to their unique requirements.

Then you send the letter (and perhaps a 1-2 page synopsis and/or some sample pages or chapters, depending on their submission guidelines), and wait.

After a few weeks (or, in some cases minutes, hours, or days), the rejections start flowing in. At this point, that "I'm-on-top-of-the-world" glow you've worn since writing "The End" (for the sixth or seventh time, after each round of edits) is replaced by a morose, dull look of dejection. No one loves me. They don't even like me. They hate me. <Sigh.>

The London Olympics provided me with a new slogan and path forward when I get to the heavy-sigh stage:

Yes, that's all there is for it. Rejections will come, rejections will go, and until you've amassed a significant number of them, you probably haven't put yourself out there sufficiently as a writer.

This week, when I started to sink below the heavy-sigh stage into the I-suck stage, I received a phone call from a dear friend who also happens to be a brilliant writer--and one who makes a living at it! I'd sent her my ms to see what she thought. I'd been considering some drastic changes after only a relatively few rejections. Hanna said "Don't change a thing! It's exactly right just the way it is." She loved it! She really loved it! Her enthusiasm and positive feedback were just what I needed to keep me calm and carry on querying.

It's hard (impossible?) for a writer to judge his or her own work. In the past, others have judged my writing worthy of publication. When I go back and look over my publication list (something I had to compile as per one agency's submission requirements), I'm prepared to cringe. Will I be embarassed when they go and look at these? I will be judged based on the words I've written. Are there things I'd change? Certainly. But, rewriting forever more, in search of perfection, won't get us published.

At some point, we have to take a deep breath, keep calm, and carry on. That means querying and rejection. These days, while waiting for the rejections to roll in, I practice my casual, flip of the hand and merry response for future interviews: "Rejections? I have hundreds of them. They come with the territory. A writer just has to expect them, have patience, keep calm, and carry on."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Welcome to the Charleston Riverdogs, Robert Refsnyder!

Let me be possibly the first person in the state of South Carolina to offer a sincere and warm welcome to the Charleston Riverdogs' newest player, Robert Refsnyder. Welcome and good luck.

Robert Refsnyder, Most Outstanding Player, College World Series 2012

If you haven't followed college or minor league baseball news lately (and really, unless you or your kid or your college is playing, why would you?), the University of Arizona Wildcats beat the USC Gamecocks in the college world series last month and Refsnyder was named Most Outstanding Player (congratulations!)

Yes, emotions run high with sports, yes, people say stupid things, especially if they happen to be sore losers on the losing side. In this case, the trash talk stepped over the line of even poor sportsmanship. Some USC fans felt the need to contribute to the state's stereotype as the redneck, ignorant jerk capital of the world by not only heckling the player, Refsnyder, who was born in South Korea, adopted and raised in California, but by making threats against his family. Let me be more specific: they were making death threats against his family.

Refsnyder did what any twenty-something would do: He tweeted his reaction to the whole world. He "will never live in South Carolina because they can't accept Asians playing baseball." Not an unreasonable conclusion to jump to when someone threatens your family because of your race.

To anyone who is no more familiar with this state than what they've read in the news or seen on South Park, these USC fans (I'll call them 'Cocks rather than the synonym for what they really are) just reinforced the stereotypes. The intelligent and sensible people of this state should be furious at the USC fans for hurting the state's reputation! And at this point, some USC officials, including Ray Tanner, should have apologized profusely for these morons' stupidity, and dissociated themselves from the "fans" with some "gee, we're sorry, we're sure they aren't USC students or alums, just some out of control fans we don't have any control over," but they didn't. (Although to be fair, rumor has it that some fans and South Carolinians sent Refsnyder messages apologizing for the 'Cocks.)

Fate is a funny thing and Refsnyder was then signed by the New York Yankees. I'm sure he felt quite safe signing with a team whose home is in that bastion of northeastern, liberal elites and racial diversity, New York City, but of course it couldn't be that simple. The Charleston Riverdogs are the Yankee's Class A team and guess where Refsnyder was sent?

To quickly make amends and set a better tone for his move to the south, Refsnyder apologized publicly and profusely in the media and on Twitter for stereotyping the state based on a few bad apples. ("Generalizing the whole state was foolish on my part, just immature.")

For an "immature" twenty-something, Refsnyder took the high road. The Riverdogs are lucky to have such a talented, intelligent, and classy addition to their team. You'd think the Charleston fans would be thrilled and attempt to make up for the poor representation of our state given by USC fan. We are, according to our own myth, the "friendliest city" in the country. I was expecting to see this warm Charleston welcome at the Riverdogs game on Friday, waiting to see my city show this young man that those rude and ignorant crackers were the exception, not the rule in this state, that our reputation is ill-deserved.

I am embarrassed through and through for the City of Charleston, the Riverdogs' fans and organization, and the entire state of South Carolina. If there was any doubt in Refsnyder, or anyone's mind, that his original characterization of the people of this state as racist was incorrect, Riverdogs fans relieved them of that misconception. At his first at-bat, the Riverdogs' fans loudly and overwhelmingly booed and heckled Refsnyder. Matt and I were among the very few who cheered him on.

Way to go Riverdogs fans and Charlestonians. You gave further proof to this young man and to the country that we really are the bunch of racist rednecks everyone thinks we are.

To Robert Refsnyder, welcome to Charleston. You may find it hard to believe right now, but not everyone here is that mean. There are a lot of us "from off" who were raised better, who know what hospitality means, and who can accept and welcome others, regardless of "where your people are from." I wish you all the best in your baseball career and the strength to ignore the myopic, xenophobic and vocal minority and find some real "southern charm" in your time here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Happy Curmudgeon

Holy Crap! I'm a happy person! Who'd've guessed?

Me being happy

If you found my blog via my website, you may have read the "About Me" section, and more specifically, the part about me embracing my inner-curmudgeon. I have, and while it's made me less frustrated than keeping my irritability locked inside, I've often wondered if maybe that's a less-than-ideal strategy for maintaining some...any...positive perspective on life. By owning my grouchiness, am I dooming myself to a life of misery?

Not according to Marc and Angel's website "Practical Tips for Productive Living." (That sort of website, quite frankly, isn't my usual cup 'o tea with all its perky upbeatness, but a friend posted the link to their "30 traits" on facebook and I just had to read what a bunch of malarkey that would be!) Well, wasn't I in for a surprise! With a whopping 27 of the 30 traits they say happy people possess, I'm practically the poster child for happiness!

Here's the link to their blog where you can take an inventory of your own happiness.

I won't go through my entire self-assessment with you, but I did try to be honest. I lost a point on #6 (I LOVE to complain--it makes me happy, so I'm not sure if I should be penalized for that!) I took off 1/2 a point for #9 (I like to identify idiocy when I see it. I don't think I'm blaming anyone for my failures because I'll find a way around the obstacle despite stupid people, but when things could be easier for EVERYONE if someone would just identify the problem, by name, then I see no reason not to.) I also lost a 1/2 point for #17 because I know I'm arrogant, particularly about things that I excel at, but I didn't take off a full point because I do admit when I make mistakes and I'm humble about those things I'm not very good. Finally, I lost my 3rd point on #18. It's debatable--at least to me--whether being in control of one's emotions is such a big plus on the happiness scale. I love letting my emotions out on a rampage and think everyone would be happier if they occasionally did the same. For the rest of the questions, well, most of those I do in spades and can't fathom NOT doing them.

So, despite my inner and outer grouches having finally synched up and come to the fore of my persona as Curmudgeon-Lynne, I'm actually a pretty darn happy person. I'm happy with myself, the choices I make in life, and my actions.

It's just all the morons out there making bad decisions that impact my life in a negative way that piss me off. Thank goodness I have my curmedgeon to get me through it all!

How about you? How happy are you and what do you think of those traits?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bring on the Gatekeepers, or Why I Won't Read Any More Self-Published Novels*

I came out of the closet this week. No, not that one. The "Anti Self-Published Books" closet. I've been afraid to say that out loud since many of the people in the writing groups I belong to have taken that path. I include the many "small publishers" whose entire author list consists entirely of themselves or their family members in that category, as well.

No offense to anyone who has self-pubbed their fiction or gone through a small, indy publisher. My first novel, Marina Melee is published by a small indy publisher, Casperian Books, and since they only publish print books and I put out the electronic version myself, I'm technically self-published, too. So, I'm sure there are some perfectly wonderful books out there, but because of the poor quality of the vast majority of these, I've made the decision to stop reading self-pubbed books*

Call me a reading snob if you will. I love to read, I love good writing, and even more, I love a good story. I'll forgive a lot of bad writing for a great plot. In the past few years, I've wasted loads of my valuable and limited reading time slogging through books that have neither good writing, nor a good story. They are just not ready for prime time. Mostly, the self-pubbed books I've read, with few exceptions*, read like the first draft of something I might like to read--after the author has outlined and cut out the tangential mess, revised, rewritten, edited, and reedited the story, then sent it to a professional editor.

Too many writers think one round of self-edits is plenty. Yes, Browne and King's Self-editing for Fiction Writers is a terrific resource, but every manuscript needs at least a second set of eyes to review it, if not a third and fourth. Marina Melee went through four rounds of editing: my own, two critique groups, and a professional editor, before going to the publisher. Their editor found a few more errors. Even after all that the book ended up with 2 typos. When I saw them, I wanted to cry. But, it was a good lesson and made me a kinder, gentler reader. I've stopped looking for "perfection" in editing, but if I'm going to spend my time and $$ on a book, I want it to at least have been proofread.

I know many self-pubbed authors will immediately come back with, "But I've read books by the big publishers that aren't very good." True, the big-6 make some poor choices, like giving giant advances to Jersey Shore "celebs" who can barely speak, much less write in English. Even though I wouldn't read that book, if I did I'd at least feel confident that the publisher had hired a ghost writer and editor. There might be a few typos in the books they put out, and there's no guarantee that the book will be my cup of tea, but I at least know it's not someone's first draft.

I expect my new stance against reading self-published novels* to raise hackles. So far though, I've been pleasantly surprised to hear I'm not alone. My time is too valuable to wade through all the crap out there looking for that one-in-a-million good self-pubbed novel. If it's that good, an agent or publisher will find it, or the buzz will be big enough that I'll hear about it. Of course, those aren't guarantees of a good book (as  demonstrated by a current novel that started as a self-pub, was bought by a big house, and is now on the bestseller list), but it greatly increases the odds that it won't be total tripe.

When the current self-publishing tidal wave ebbs and some vetting process evolves, I'll give self-published books another try. Who knows? If the vetting process is effective, maybe I'll even consider self-publishing in the future. Until then, bring on the gatekeepers! I have a new appreciation for everyone in the publishing industry who will slog through all the crap so I don't have to.

*except for those by authors whose work I know and trust

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Our Costa Rican Adventure: Food, Food, and more Food!

Getting ready to zipline through the forest canopy!

Yes, Costa Rica is an eco-tourism destination. It's renowned for spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, and adventure travel. What I hadn't heard about was the food. Guidebooks mention the casados and gallo pinto, but they don't warn you that ALL the food is delicious, usually made with fresh, local ingredients, and there's no such thing as a small portion in Costa Rica!
Belgian Waffle with fresh fruit at Marie's
in Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste, CR

Of course, there's always an exception that proves the rule. That would be the resort hotel restaurants. Don't fall for the "all inclusive" deals, or even the breakfast buffet. Good food is easy to come by, inexpensive, and far tastier at small restaurants and "sodas" (snack stands along the road).

Going to Costa Rica, I couldn't wait to zip line, explore caves, snorkel, and hike. We did all those things, but if you take a look at the photos on Matt's and my facebook page, you'll notice for every 2-3 action/scenery/adventure photos, there's 1-2 food photos. Food turned out to play a huge role in our trip, and made a big contribution to all of us wanting to return. Now, my memories of our trip are inexorably tied to food and I can't wait to try out all the recipes in my new Costa Rican cookbook.

Working our way through plates of food at
Don Brasilito in Brasilito, Guanacaste, CR

Friday, May 18, 2012

On the reading front...

Getting ready for our vacation in Costa Rica so I'm trying to finish reading all the books I'm in the middle of so I can start fresh on vacation. This time, I'll have books loaded on my tablet, so won't have to worry about picking, choosing, and making sure I have enough to last 10 days.

First, the books I'm finishing up:

The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya. Two thumbs up (out of two - I'm going with the Siskel and Ebert approach). The author beautifully captures the enchantment and befuddlement of someone exploring a strange land. Although claiming to be a novel, I suspect the events he writes about are true, with perhaps some embellishment for the sake of plot. I most loved how perfectly he captures the dialect. While his lack of explanations for some of the slang terms might leave some readers confused, most can be deciphered from the context. For the more obscure phrases that can't be figured out phonetically, not defining them reflected a travelers reality--you might not understand everything, but you don't stop the moment to have it explained, you just take it in. Bhattachayra's prose is elegant and filled with the nostalgia of someone who's fallen in love with a place and knows the glow of early romance will wear off if he examines it too closely or remains for too long. His year in Guyana was the right amount of time for the country's stark, often grim truth beneath the infatuating surface to start to seep in, but not enough to kill it entirely. Highly recommend it.

Love Dreams by January Valentine. Before I tell you my rating, let me give you some background. My very first short fiction was published in The Skyline Review in 2008. After my novel Marina Melee was published, Victoria Valentine, the publisher of Skyline, interviewed me on her blog, Away with Words. In that interview, I told Victoria--a romance novelist as well as publisher--all about why I don't read romances. In a nutshell, I burned out on them at a far-too-tender-age, when I'd sneak them from my mother. Aside from those serving as my sex education (mom's version of "the talk" was "good girls don't"). As I got older, it became apparent that I don't have a romantic bone in my body. I find any and all romances to be melodramatic. Those Nicholas Sparks books everyone raves about? Ick. Bridges of Madison County? Puh-lease. I don't like those books and I don't like those movies (I am a sucker for romantic comedies, though.) But this book steps over the Harlequin romance bounds and dances on the edge of soft-core erotica--like many of the Favio-on-the-cover books I borrowed from mom.  So, when Victoria announced she had some early, pre-editing copies to give away, my first reaction was "ick." Then I thought about what a fun, vivacious person Victoria is, and how much I enjoyed our online exchanges. Maybe, if her personality came through in the writing, it would be okay. And who knows? Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age, maybe I'll appreciate a good romance.

Well, let me tell you...not so much. I was suppressing smirks and snarky comments through the entire book. It lived up to my expectations of cringe-inducing dialogue ("Are you thirsty?" "Only for you." Ack!!), predictability (happily-ever-after, of course), and overall schmaltziness. That said, I'm pretty sure it's everything fans of the genre expect: a Mary Sue heroine, a Gary Stu hero, star-crossed lovers, dark secrets in the past, incredible coincidences, frustrating misunderstandings, and a happy ending. It's also, so far as romances can be (no offense romance writers, just my preference) well-written with a coherent, pretty good for a romance storyline  (because all romance stories, at their heart, have the same plot and story arc). With all the hoopla surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey, I decided to do a quick comparison, just skimming the "Look Inside" preview offered by Amazon. Within two pages it was clear that the quality of January Valentine's Love Dreams is far superior. I can't say if the erotica is any better, and if you're looking for the BDSM, Love Dreams isn't the book for  you. But, if you're a romance reader looking for a romantic, happily-ever-after, after some ups and downs story, you'll enjoy this: two thumbs up. For fellow curmudgeons who don't like the genre, Love Dreams won't change your mind about it, no thumbs up for an average of one-thumb...and take that as a pretty high mark coming from me!

Sams Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours by Dick Oliver and Michael Morrison. Yes, you read that right. A technical book. I'm learning web design. I need an author's website--not just a blog--or so I've been told by "them" - all the author/book/writing marketing experts. I could pay someone to do this for me, but given all of the handy-dandy template tools and WYSIWYG software for webdesign, I could do it myself. I chose the latter, then decided I should have a better grasp of what's going on underneath all those easy-to-use tools. I signed up for the "Intro to Web Design" continuing ed class at the community college: 4 classes over 2 weeks, getting through 8 chapters of the book.

I can't tell you how excited I was when, within the first hour, I had a web page! Okay, not really, but I'd managed to get "Hello! Welcome to My Website" to pop up in Windows Explorer. The class--with a great instructor--obviously was helpful. But the book is a breeze to follow and very hands-on. I jumped ahead and did a lot of playing on my own time. Yes, I created a very rudimentary, amatuerish website. Definitely not ready for prime-time, but the progress I made, from knowing nothing to creating a multi-page website using HTML and CSS is pretty thrilling! I learned far more than I expected and enjoyed it more than I expected, so now I'm going to take the advanced class. I'm sure I'll end up using Artisteer and WordPress to create my "real site" when I'm ready, but in the meantime, it's nice to know more about how all this works. Two thumbs up for the book, and two thumbs up for the TTC continuing ed class and instructor Shawn Rosado.

Now for the books on the vacation reading list:

Outlaws, by fellow Internet Writing Workshop member Bill Weldy is being released today. That link takes you to an interview with Bill (the book isn't available just yet). Here's the blurb:
Ex-cop Josh Grant chooses to live as a recluse in the mountains of Idaho as penance for failing to protect his murdered wife and child in Detroit. His new serenity is shattered when he stumbles onto the murder of his only friend and an assault of his friend’s daughter, Jolene. By saving Jolene, Josh angers the Outlaws, a gang of vicious bikers. When they seek revenge, Josh must draw on old skills to keep he and Jolene alive.

Josh thought he'd left danger behind, but the Outlaws have other plans for his peaceful life.

The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy, by Mary Ann Duke, MD. The author went to my high school, graduating three years ahead of me. She was the valedictorian of her class, a great athlete--the girl who you knew was going to succeed. The book chronicles her rise to success as a surgeon and her death-spiral into drug and alcohol addiction.

America, You Sexy Bitch, by Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain. Not scheduled for release until July 4 (according to the publisher) or June 12 (according to amazon), I have a pre-release copy I'm reviewing for the Internet Review of Books. From the description (click on the link), it promises to be great fun.

That's my list. How about yours? Have you read any good books lately? What's on your "to-read" list? Show More

Friday, May 11, 2012


A fellow writer shared a fun website with me: Wordle ( Input your text and it draws a mind-map or concept-map based on the frequency with which words appear (ignoring the, and, a/an, etc.) At first I thought, "Well that's useless but fun, and I have a cool 'picture' of my narratives.

I cut/pasted in the entire MS of Chupacabra and got a fabulous picture with--no surprise--Jack, my protaganist, as the largest word. The secondary characters Kiki, Eddie, and Milagros were next largest. Chupacabra, Muggle, Flaco, and Carmen weren't far behind followed by a nice smattering of other key words. Much more balanced than the giant "George" with everything else significantly smaller for Marina Melee.

Then I looked closer. I'm so glad I did. 'Just' and 'know' -- two of my favorite filler words -- were much larger than they should have been. I did a quick search throughout the MS and, wherever possible, got rid of those words, greatly reducing their size in my story's Wordle image.

What I thought was merely a fun toy turned out to be a helpful writing tool. Most of us have those crutch words and fillers that don't add anything to a sentence. Especially in dialogue, where I do write very much like I speak, I tend to use "you know" at the beginning and end of sentences, and a lot of "justs." Seeing it writ large--literally--helped me become aware of my problem words and fix them. As you can all see from the image above, I still have some editing to do: 'like' and 'back' are jumping off the page at me now that I've reduced the 'just' and 'know' footprints--so back to the MS.

I'd like to hear if any of you  have used Wordle and found it to be helpful. What fun and helpful tools do you use in your writing?