Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Walk in the Woods (Part 1)

Photo credit : (cc-by-nc-nd) Bruno Monginoux / www.Landscape-Photo.net : nature and urban photography, free stock photos

Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately. Step out of my childhood home and you couldn’t walk in any direction without bumping into a tree. Even though we lived in a vast suburban neighborhood, no homes lay to our left, right, or front. Instead, these vacant lots were home to dozens of sixty-footers. I had no idea if they were oaks, maples, or Kapok. To a child, they were trunks.

Behind the house? Yep, more trees and beyond those was a tiny inlet of Lake Hartwell, giving us the distinction of having a house on the water.

When I dream, this is the house and the yard and the woods that haunt me. Come, let me show you.

We’ll start on the concrete patio, half in the sun, half in the shade under sunroom above. The ping-pong table was under the shady side. The penalty for missing a strong shot was trek into the lawn on one side or under the back deck on the other. Both hid balls better than the Easter Bunny.

Once in the sun, you’d pass a cut-out in the concrete. Pre-1982 this rectangle held boxwoods. In the summer of ’82, my dad put in a concrete pool. Before the lily pads claimed the surface and attracted bullfrogs and dragonflies, before the algae turns the whole thing into a mini-swamp, this 12x6x2 box was an aqua-blue swimming pool. For a month or so, knees were scraped, elbows banged, and breath-holding contests ensued with frantic vigor.

Run down the steps past the birdfeeder, but take care. The ivy grows overnight. It’ll snatch off your Tretorns when you’re not looking. A few stepping stones more, through the back gate and there you are. The trees have you. Twenty yards down the path finds you at the dock.

From this point, a million adventures await. Maybe I’ll continue this thread and take you on some. For now, I’ll just say that I regret living in place without the woods just a hop, skip, and a jump from my back door. Walking under a canopy of trees takes planning these days—a damn shame.

What’s missing in your life? (Other than a literary agent and a publishing contract?)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Huckleberry Finn and the n-word: Where Do You Stand?

In case you’ve been living under a rock as I often do, there’s a tempest brewing in the literary world. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has been published with the notorious n-word taken out—replaced by ‘slave’(not the edition pictured above). Outrageous or a reasonable alternative for teachers to use?

First off, I haven’t read Huck Finn, but if I do, I’ll take the original version. The n-word is an ugly word, but I’m guessing it was chosen, in part, because of that ugliness. If you want to peg a modern-day character as brutish, ignorant, racially biased and mean, using that word will do it. Then again, a conversation between two black characters set in 2011 might see the word used in jest.

But what about historical writing? My current wip takes places in the late 1850’s on a tobacco plantation using slaves. As much as I cuss in real life, I never use the n-word. But I’m not one of my characters. Will I use the n-word in this book? My internal debate is ongoing.

As a parent, I have a hard time taking sides. I would let my children read the original version, but I wouldn’t organize a protest if a teacher of theirs wanted to use the sanitized version.

I do have cause to worry about racial epitaphs with my kids. I’m a pale-as-milk Caucasian, but my husband is very dark with an Indian/Caribbean heritage. Our two girls are mocha-babies. Big Bear has already been called a ‘redacted’ by one of her first-grade classmates. (Oh dear God, this name-caller is on my shit list and if she ever says this to my child again, there’ll be hell to pay.)

Okay, now I’m more informed on how names can hurt—more than I ever wanted to be.

How do you feel about this controversy (as a parent, a writer, or both)?

Want to read more? Check out the following or google “Huck Finn n word”.

Huck Finn, A Teacher’s Guide

Huckleberry Finn Looses the N-word

Teacher thinks Obama is proof that 'Huckleberry Finn' needs to leave the classroom

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions/To-Do List

Yes, I want to lose weight. But I still want to eat lots of candy at the same time. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be buying any bikinis despite my four-mile runs or fridge full of fruits or veggies. Temptation, thy name is Peppermint Patty and I curse your sweetness.

What else? For writing, I would like to add a prologue to my first book and tweak the opening chapters. They were rewritten last fall and still feel a little raw. I don’t think the first five to ten pages are strong enough for an outstanding query package. A prologue would be nice because chapter one opens with a minor character. I don’t like that. The book should really start with the main character, don’t you think? There’s something dark and disturbing in my MC’s past that would suit.

The second book needs to continue! I’m reading Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour for the first time in about fifteen years and absolutely loving it. The parts that chronicle the witch family’s history from the 1600’s to the present are superb—exactly how you’d want a historical novel to go—enough detail to capture the period, but nothing slowing down the pace and a dialog that fits without being awkward. Delicious!

As for the house, clutter beware! I’m vowing to rid my house of the overwhelming amount of crap that we never use. Yes, it’s the same vow I’ve made for three years running, but this time I mean it. Really.

As for me, I’d like to learn how to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (1st movement) on our piano. Yes, I’m completely serious. I love that song. It runs through my head whenever I get stressed or depressed. Sadly, this is the resolution least likely to happen.

Finally, I need to stop using so many damned adverbs. And exclamation points!

So what’s on your plate of resolutions?

Well, crud. Now I have to figure out how to add images again now that Picapp is changed. Curse my blondness when it comes to computers!