Posted in IdahoAuthors, writing

Setting Sail: the Launch of a Serial Novel

I’ve been writing “creative nonfiction” for years–-my Master’s thesis in poetry, essays (for introspection), freelance articles (for pay), and  this blog (for joy)… But I haven’t touched fiction-writing since I was a schoolkid.

Until last summer, when I did.

Not sure exactly why, but this person called Gayla wanted to go whaling, so I let her. And she turned out pretty stubbornly not to fit in to the century in which I’d placed her, so I threw in a little time travel to explain her. She’s a whaler wearing a sports bra instead of a corset—an anomaly in more ways than one.

Time & Tide by Kana Smith
She’s still growing, and I’m still writing her journey. I’ve been releasing one chapter at a time to a small circle of friends and family who have been reading along (and keeping me writing!) and I got to thinking that it’s the READERS who really make this art form work. If I’m writing in a “black hole” by myself, I’m not going to last for long–and that would be a bummer, because I’d never find out what happens with Gayla.

So I took it into my head to publish as I go, rather than waiting (for what?) to finish this whole tale. Charles Dickens published many of his works as serial stories in the newspapers of his day… I’m no Charles Dickens, but I do have this great medium we call the internet. So here we are.

And I have an idea that blogging about the book as I write it (and as readers receive it) might provide some interesting introspection into my own writing process–so I’m hoping this becomes bigger than just the book.

All that said… I’m launching this book. Before it’s anywhere close to finished. As of this writing I’m at 67,636 words–and I’m not posting all of those today. But I’ll start with Book One and a teaser to Book Two, and I’ll invite you along for the ride. Along for the read.

And none of this is set in stone (I go back to edit as I get to know Gayla and her story) so I very much welcome critique and feedback. In fact, I’m more interested in what doesn’t work than what does–because that’s what’s useful to a writer. I’d love to see my online community function like a larger version of the “workshop” classes I took for my Creative Writing degree. I’d love to grow in my craft and become a better writer. I’d love to see where this story takes me. Will you sail with me? It’s a free book… if you have patience to wait for an ending!

Time & Tide

whale tail

Advertisements
Posted in writing

Playing Sims (and Questions of Free Will)

It’s a little like writing fiction, or at least that’s what I tell myself is appealing about it.  If you haven’t played with Sims (I hadn’t before this week), it’s a simulation game where you get to create and dress up little people, build and furnish their houses, send them to jobs, prompt them to interact, and so on.

Sims
At first glance it seems like a pretty limitless array of options for play, given the many different objects you can place, and the many different ways your little people can interact with those objects… But the inherent limitations to its interest have already become eminently evident.

There’s no creativity, and no content, to the actions and interactions here. I can make a Sim “read fine literature,” but there’s nothing really to be gained from it. (Why am I not picking up my own book instead?) I can make a Sim “phone a friend,” but there’s no content to the conversation. (Why am I not picking up my own phone instead?) I’ve imagined different personalities and proclivities for my various characters, but that’s only in my head. (Why am I not picking up my own piece of unfinished fiction instead?)

In short, the shine has already worn off my little game. It made me think, though, that I understand God a little better. Sometimes people ask why God gave us Free Will when he could have made the world perfect by orchestrating everything himself. Well, I can give you one good reason: it’s tiresome telling your creations to go potty or eat a sandwich so they don’t make a pee-puddle or fall over from malnourishment. It’s not interesting or fulfilling to make them do everything they do.

Okay, that’s the flippant answer, but it’s a peek at the bigger one. Writing fiction is more interesting than playing Sims, because it doesn’t have the limitations—I can create everything about the world, the relationships, the conversations. Having children is more interesting than writing fiction, because (these days) the people I’ve created say and do things without any orchestration from me, and they’re always interesting and surprising.

KermitWhen my daughter squeezes me in one of her long-lasting hugs, it’s rewarding because she did that on her own. I didn’t click a “hug button” to make her do it. Similarly, God made us to love him. Voluntarily. Without being compelled, which would make the “love” meaningless. I know I do a shoddy job of it overall, but I like to think God delights in every moment that I do turn to him (like asking for help against my alcoholism)—the same way I delight in spontaneous affection or requests from my offspring.

Well, the game—and the weird role of “playing god”—got me thinking about all that. But there’s still one more question of free will…

I’ve already determined that this game isn’t rewarding or fulfilling, and yet… I keep orchestrating my little people to meet each consecutive task and challenge presented to them. I can’t seem to put the damn thing down.

My addictive personality pops up in far more areas of life than just my alcoholism. I’m an all-or-nothing girl. This week I’m obsessively playing with my Sims. The couple weeks before that, it was “Words With Friends” (a glorified Scrabble set—though at least that has the virtue of requiring some mind-exercise). For a couple months this summer, I was obsessively working on the first 59,000 words of my nascent novel—which has since been sitting virtually untouched while my mind has skittered across other serial obsessions in the intervening months.

writer's blockThis morning my husband challenged me to find a way to get my mind back to the book—“or even a blog-post”—during this rare day-off-both-jobs. So I’m here with laptop open and coffee-cup to hand, with a DVD playing of the “writers’ commentary” on one of the Hobbit movies (I think I’ve mentioned that writer/director Peter Jackson is one of my story-telling heroes—I always feel inspired by the “how-it’s-made” extras on these movies). I Am Writing.

My phone with its insidious Sims-game is out of reach on the charger, and I am determinedly wielding my Free Will against its compulsive draw. (Let’s be honest–the reason it’s on the charger is because I was glued to it all morning.) I Am Writing.

And I’ve just opened up my computer file of “Whaler’s Wife” (working title) to see what I can make happen.

I can be stronger than my addictions (even the silly ones). I Am Writing.

Posted in Motorcycle, On the Job, writing

Learning Curves

Home Depot bucketSitting in a “town hall meeting” of Home Depot employees last week, several of us broached the subject of training with our store manager, Jeremy. The Home Depot offers some incredibly structured online training modules (I’m especially grateful for the interactive “Cashier’s College” that helped me weather my first days at the register!) but several of us felt our on-the-ground training had been rather haphazard. Invited to critique our experiences as employees, we gave voice to what we saw as gaps in the training process.

Jeremy is a master at the positive spin, and he proved as much in the town hall meeting. While he acknowledged the concern and validated our experiences, he also spun our critique into a pep-talk of a learning-moment. “Well, it IS a do-it-yourself store,” he said with a laugh, after acknowledging our concerns, and sharing the challenges inherent in employee training—“and sometimes that do-it-yourself culture will apply to learning too.” He talked like a teacher, speaking of Pushed Learning (like the online modules that are “served up” to the learner) contrasted with Pulled Learning (when you seek out the new knowledge for yourself).

Essentially he was inviting us to consider whether we’re content with limiting ourselves to what gets served up on a platter, or whether we want to take charge of our own experience. I came away feeling inspired to demonstrate that I AM invested in my own learning.

image
An orange-apron learning-journey… saying goodbye to the Garden register

It was a timely pep-talk for me, because I’m embarking on a whole new learning-journey with my move from cashiering to the Service Desk. While I’m excited about the move, I’m all too aware that it’s a steep learning curve. There’s a whole new (complex) computer system and a load of new procedures and services for me to master before I’ll be effective there.

All in all, it’s the perfect time for me to feel inspired.

I applied some of the same attitude to last weekend’s three-day motorcycle class. The classroom segments were definitely “pushed learning,” but the range practice required more. No one is guaranteed a completion card just by taking the course—in fact, several students failed the skills testing—but I can happily report that my completion card will be in the mail this week, and I can officially add the motorcycle endorsement to my license when it arrives.

In order to accomplish that, I had to get past the step-by-step verbal instructions being shouted to us and feel the bike. Stopping. Swerving. Weaving. Cornering. (This is a venue where the “learning curves” are literal curves!) Continue reading “Learning Curves”

Posted in writing

Radio-Speak (Do You Copy?)

image
snapshot from the British Virgin Islands, Christmas 2003… Uncle Dick at the helm, my sister (holding my son), and me (pregnant with my daughter)

My first sailing trips were under the tutelage of my uncle, who’s a stickler for doing things properly. (Best training ever! Sailing with Uncle Dick made my later “official” training a breeze. Even when the “breeze” was 18 knots!)

Uncle Dick’s pet peeve regarding the radio is when someone signs off with “Over and Out.” So okay, for the record: it’s EITHER “Over” (meaning you’re standing by for another transmission from the other party) OR “Out” (if you’re signing off entirely). We hear “over and out” on the TV, but it’s actually a mixed message—are you over or are you out?

Working at the RV park office, we use radios to communicate with our outside guys, who serve as parking guides for new arrivals and pump propane for guests. We’ve had a couple military guys who know radio-speak, and I had fun “being proper” with them, since they understood and appreciated.

I don’t break out the full-on marine-radio etiquette though, because that would be silly. An office coworker and I were giggling yesterday about what that would sound like, if I used the triplicate marine hail: “Parking Guide, Parking Guide, Parking Guide! This is Office, Office, Office, Over.” Somehow that sounds fine when you’re hailing a marina or a drawbridge with your boat-name, but pretty goofy if you’re hailing a golf cart from a desk chair!

radioStill, I guess I do take after Uncle Dick, because I prefer “affirmative” to “yeah,” and “Office receiving” to “Mic check,” and “copy that” to “okay,” and a “Bravo” designation when someone is parking in the B-row… I keep my transmissions clipped and concise (though I do add the human etiquette of “thank yous” that aren’t strictly part of radio etiquette).

And like Uncle Dick, I’ve discovered I have a radio-peeve. Mine is when someone asks “Do you have a copy?” So okay, for the record… “Copy” is the verb in that query, meaning to acknowledge receipt of the message. It’s “Do you copy?” Copy that?

And with that little note, I’m “Out.”

Posted in People, writing

Going GRAYcefully?

I’m thinking about letting my gray grow.

I know this doesn’t sound like an earth-moving decision, but the question has deeper roots in how I see myself. I don’t “feel” like a gray-haired person, so I haven’t liked seeing the silver strands framing my face when I let it lapse between color rinses.

I honestly don’t even know for sure how much gray I’ve got (besides “a lot” around the face), because I tend to run to WalMart for another three-dollar box of Revlon color every time I start seeing silver.

kana red
My FaceBook profile from the redhead years

When I started coloring my hair, it wasn’t because of gray; it was because I’d always wanted to be a redhead. Unlike my literary heroine Anne of Green Gables (who always lamented her hair color) I admired its “standout” quality, and wished as a kid that my subtle copper highlights would somehow morph into a full-on head of red.

So I bought a box of red ten years ago, and I loved it and I stuck with it. While my late husband and I owned our restaurant, his spicy barbeque sauce was called “Redhead’s Temper” after me (though he was politic in declining to comment on the “temper” half of that label). I spent that whole marriage as a redhead… And then the day after his funeral, I went back to the brown that God and my mother gave me.

That shift was entirely unpremeditated, and I didn’t bother at the time to try to explain it to myself. Perhaps it was a modern expression of a Victorian sensibility—a sort of putting on mourning, or the mark of a chapter-of-life being closed.

Because I’d never colored my hair to its natural hue, I didn’t know what color to buy. I took my daughter (whose tresses match mine) to the store and walked her down the hair-color aisle, holding a hank of her waist-length locks up against the various boxes to find a match. And I figured that was my last box of hair color, since going back to my natural color meant not having to cover or color roots, right?… Continue reading “Going GRAYcefully?”

Posted in People, writing

Advice from a Polyglot

imageYesterday I asked my co-worker Shawky where he’s from. He was born in Cairo, he answered, and grew up in Greece—and he used to work on ships, visiting 89 countries and acquiring six languages. Apparently Home Depot doesn’t have an “I speak Romanian” badge, because that’s the only one he’s missing.

I joked that he probably doesn’t have much call for that here, but wouldn’t you know—not half an hour later a customer made a beeline for his register, greeted him by name, and started chatting him up in (you guessed it) Romanian.

One of our mandates as cashiers is to get customers to sign up for the Home Depot credit card. While most cashiers got a handful, or maybe a dozen, apps in the last month, Shawky had a stunning 111 credit card applications. While I worked the register next to him yesterday, I watched him sign up three more people as smooth as you please.

I teased him about his “magic” but asked him in earnest what advice he would give me to help the magic rub off on me.  He answered me very seriously, in his accented but impeccable English. “Listen. I will tell you. You must have absolute confidence. Don’t say so much. Choose what you say,” Continue reading “Advice from a Polyglot”

Posted in Family, People, writing

Legos—Did You Know?

on a scale of one to stepping on a lego, how much pain are you in?As a parent, Legos were my least favorite toys to step on barefoot. Did you know that a Lego can withstand over 4,000 Newtons of force? That’s why the Lego always wins when you step on it.

But that’s really the only drawback to Legos. (Well, that and the price of Legos these days—it’s nearly as painful to pay for them as to step on them.) The reason why Legos are so awesome is summed up in this description, from Wikipedia: “Anything constructed can then be taken apart again, and the pieces used to make other objects.” Lego is the ultimate imagination-toy.

Lego castle 1980s
This was my favorite set.

Did you know that there are over 915 million ways to combine six basic 2×4 Lego bricks?

Growing up, my favorite set was a castle compilation of all-gray bricks, complete with hinges to make the requisite drawbridges and swinging doors to hidden passages. Legos usually come with a “construction plan”—and I’m sure mine did, though I don’t remember it… because the real fun is inventing your own stuff out of the possibility of all those pieces.

Lego Jack Sparrow Indiana Jones
Jack & Indie—two of my favorite characters in Lego!

In retrospect, my castle set was pretty simplistic, in part because my Lego-play predated the licensing agreements that have brought us Lego Harry Potter, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, Lego Marvel comics…

Just listing them makes me want to sit down on the floor and play. My son’s earliest Lego sets were pirates—any guesses why? Yup, Mommy wanted to play with them. (Did you know that the name “Lego” comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”?) Continue reading “Legos—Did You Know?”