Thursday, April 30, 2009

Asian Proverb

As I sat in Barnes and Noble working on copy editing another dissertation (long story) I kept getting up and browsing through books on my "breaks." We're not going to talk about how my breaks were longer than the times I was sitting down reading through a dissertation about certified nurse assistants and their job satisfaction when working with dementia patients.

It's riveting.

Anyway, I grabbed Malcom Gladwell's new book, Outliers, and started flipping through it. I'll write a longer review of this book later, but one thing that riveted me was the chapter about why Asian kids are better at math than everyone else.

This Asian proverb reverberated in my heart all night long:

"No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich."

Growing up on a cattle ranch, I certainly know the meaning of hard work. So often we were always up before dawn, and many times out of the house working before the sun rose. Growing up, being a part of the family business, working hard, it all taught me so much about discipline, character, and hard work.

Back in Asia, where this proverb originated, most of the population were farmers, who grew rice in their rice paddies. Gladwell discussed at length the amount of hard work and discipline it takes to grow rice, comparing it to the farming done in Europe, which was a lot less labor intensive. Because of that long history of working hard, putting in thousands and thousands of hours just to grow enough food to live on, has passed on discipline, patience, and an incredible work ethic. Gladwell reasons that is because of this incredible heritage of hard work and patience that Asian students are better at math, simply because they don't mind working hard.


This cowgirl has spent hours sweating and laboring on her family ranch (although the pictures above show me watching my dad work... I promise I sometimes worked too.), yet I hate math. Maybe if we grew rice instead of beef I'd understand Algebra a bit more?

Hmm... it was interesting to think about, and racial stereotypes aside, I love the proverb. It adds fuel to my desire of getting more done, being more productive, achieving more dreams! I just have to get out of bed earlier!

Here's to working on my novel from 4-6 am, maybe that hard work will translate into an incredible book contract, where I'll make millions... thus making my family rich.

What do you think? Possible?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I love Photography

Sometimes, when the stars are aligned or perhaps I'm just incredibly lucky, I manage to have my camera with me and take the most incredible shots.

On Easter Sunday, I went out to help my dad do chores, and I took probably about 900 pictures on my digital camera. The weather was a bit gray and drizzling, but the colors were soft and faded like a watercolor.

As I stood holding the gate for my dad so he could check the heifers, this little calf, we'll call her Claire, started posing for me.

"See, aren't I pretty? I'm not afraid of you." Claire said as she stared at me through a thick rim of eyelashes.

"Oh, you want me to pose? Ok. I can do that. Mom said I should talk to strangers, but I can pose for you."

Champ the horse, always eager to strike a pose in front of the camera also agreed for me to take pictures of him-- even though I didn't go through the model agency he usually works for.

I started directing Champ and Claire, calling out commands and suggestions like I was Tyra on America's Next Top Model.

Champ wasn't listening to me, "I've caught the light with my face." He said. "Hurry up and take the picture."

Claire the calf was a little more gracious. "Can you send my mom some of these? It might make the Christmas card!"

Easter, the rain, horses, baby calves, my family... one perfect day. And one perfect photo op.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spring Showers

What's that saying? April Showers bring May Flowers?

So this year in Denver, it should be: April blizzards bring more blizzards?

Yesterday morning we woke up to find the expected rain was actually fluffy snow. April is the third snowiest month of the year for Denver, and this year is definately that!

I didn't mind the snow, although it was ridiculously wet and slushy and made driving in to work a bit of pain. However, it made everything a winter wonderland. I know in two months when we're blazing hot here, I'll be looking back with longing at the brief snowstorm.

My garden is loving the moisture. I have planted about half of the lawn at this point, and can only hope that it'll spring up happy and thick, a lush green carpet.

Before the soft drizzle turned into snow Sunday evening, I planted two apple trees in our backyard. I hope they love the snow as much as I do... and survive.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Polishing your Writing

When I attended author Jeffery Deaver’s session at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The title of the session intrigued me: “Writing for the Most Important Person in your Life: Your Reader,” and I was not disappointed. The small hotel meeting room was quickly filled, and a dozen people crowded around the open door to hear the lecture.

After polling his audience about their preferred flavor of toothpaste, Deaver opened the session by imparting great wisdom, “Proctor and Gamble don’t market liver flavored toothpaste because no one wants it… Novels are also consumer products. We must respect our marketplace, and we owe it to [our readers] to give them what they want.”

I laughed and took notes rapidly, struggling to keep up with his lecture, as well crafted, outlined, and full of details as his novels.

Deaver laid out the set writing rules he follows, which helps authors write for audience and avoid giving them liver flavored toothpaste. These rules apply to every style of writing, however, with one caveat, “Everything I say can be completely wrong.”

The first rule in writing, according to Deaver, is to “Write what you read or
something you enjoy reading. Readers know when you are faking it… It sucks to write, but it sustains us if we like the genre we’re working in.” Secondly, plot and character are the two most important aspects of any book, everything else is secondary.

While breaking down the essentials of plot and character development, Deaver also revealed a great deal about his own writing style and habits. The structure of the story, the plot line, is so vital to him that he outlines the book, often taking as much as eight months to create an in depth outline, something that’s 100-200 pages long. Only then, when he’s satisfied with the bones of the story, with the twists and turns of his plot, that he sits down to start writing.

“Once the outline is created, the work is done. There is no writer’s block, there is idea block.” Deaver said. After the outline is created, he simply fills in the outline with text. He writes depending on his mood, not chronologically, and often jumps around in the book, filling in the holes.

Despite his lengthy planning, Deaver said when the first draft is done, it’s “too long, and it’s really bad.” He will often rewrite a book 30-40 times before a human being ever sees it. Then he hires a copyeditor to go through it before he sends the book to the publisher. Since the invention of computers, books are 30-40% longer than they used to be, which Deaver contributes to author’s laziness. “Rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite” he said, cut out the superfluous words and descriptions.

As authors, we craft our work to satisfy both ourselves and our readers. Both are imperative to writing that sells. We don’t want to give them liver flavored toothpaste, we want entertain and inspire our readers. And in the end, even successful authors, while having writing rules; know that it’s still all about revision, and polishing that manuscript until it shines.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Still at the conference, and I'm pitching my book in fifty minutes.

(need a brown paper bag to hyperventilate in)

I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's painful

Writing is painful for me. Oh, its true, I love to write. I love the stories that unfurl from my imagination and whisk me off to different worlds, different lives, different cities. I love listening to the voices in my head as they tell me different stories, and I scramble to write them down.

I know that hearing voices is never a good sign, unless you're a writer, then you want to hear as many voices as possible.

So here I am at yet another writing conference, the Pike's Peak Writer's Conference in Colorado Springs. I am writing this blog as I sit in the hotel lobby during happy hour before the opening dinner and keynote address.

I am surrounded by people I don't know, and as many chat and laugh and network, I know that we are all in the same place. We're terrified.

We love writing so much, and have poured our hearts and sweat into words on a page, and now we're hear to sell those words.

Most are searching for agents, some are seeking new tips and methods to write or to spruce up their finished novels, and some are just here happy to be surrounded by the writer coven.

I love writing, but this part, this is painful to me.

I don't like selling myself, selling my books, trying to network and make connections with the "right" people.

But I'm here because I love writing, and its time to take the next step.

Pray for me as I face my fears and sell my books. Oy, I feel like I'm selling my children on the black market, it is that painful.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pigman: to chew or eschew?

I'm sorry, but I have to talk about the Pigman some more. It's like a cancer that I can't get rid of.

Once Happy Life #8 (that's the statues' name) was installed we stood around talking about the statements that this artist was trying to make. The artist grew up in Communist China, and so there's symbolism in the color of red, the Asian features of the statue. There's an argument against commercialism, and a statement about the materialism of the world...

Yet in all of this weighty conversation, as we fought to be intellectual when looking at the big red pigman, one person noticed something wrong in the pigman's location. The signage on the walls, directing students to different locations in the library, had a very unfortunate arrow pointing the way...

The arrow was promptly removed, but I think it would have been icing on the cake if it was still there. Am I the only one that thinks that's hysterical?

I'm twisted, I know.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

never been kissed

I'm sure at this point, everyone and their dog has seen this you tube video about the Scottish lady who wanted to sing, and how she blew Simon's socks off.

Today Show article
By Mike Celizic contributor
"Simon Cowell sneered and the huge audience at the “Britain’s Got Talent” show made the sort of faces associated with a bad smell. The object of their disaffection was contestant No. 43212, a plain, middle-aged woman from Scotland with bushy eyebrows and a dress and hairdo that might have been stylish when Dwight Eisenhower was president.

The looks of disdain would shortly turn to tears of sheer elation, as Dawna Friesen said in a report filed for TODAY Wednesday. But first, there was the Cowell torture test for the woman to endure.

“What’s your name, darling?” Cowell said, his tone dripping with condescension."

Above is quoted from an article I read. Poor woman, all anyone can talk about is how she lived alone, she'd never been kissed. Why don't they talk about how she gave up college and career to stay at home and take care of her invalid mother? or the fact that she's a volunteer in so many different areas around her town? or the fact that she never stopped following her dreams?

Anyway, it break my heart how the whole audience was laughing at her, and then she opened her mouth to sing.

(Secretly, I really like Simon. He says it straight, and I like honesty. I don't think he's as mean as they make him out to be either.)

Please watch the you tube video if you haven't seen it before, it makes me cry with happiness...

Then come back and tell me what you think? Am I just an emotional smuck?

Enter the Pigman

Several weeks ago it happened.

My office is located in the main library on the U's campus. I love it. I can order books from all of the public libraries around the country online, and within days they are ready for me to check out just steps outside my office door. For a bibliophile like me, having an office in the library is heaven.

But then it changed.

The library has been searching out new ways to draw people into the library, to spur conversations, to encourage people to talk and gather. A few months ago a coffee cart was installed just inside the front door. So people can browse books and drink coffee. Love it! And then the librarians decided to bring in some art to stimulate conversations and make the 70's architectural design of the library a little more modern.

We have some lovely modern art paintings displayed on the walls... but that wasn't enough.

A statue, some thought would stand out a bit more, have more of a presence.

And so we got Chinese artist, Chen Wenling's Happy Life #8. It's orange they told us, and 8 1/2 feet tall.

I started to tremble. Nothing orange and eight and a half feet tall appeals to my artistic taste.

And then one day I walked out of my office and saw them installing this:

What? I moved a bit closer and watched as the art curator lovingly unwrapped the statue. No, surely that's not...


a big orange butt perfectly highlighted by the spotlight? It couldn't be!

But, alas,

it was.

The statue is of a giant man wearing only a pair of shorts, carrying a huge sow (that is a female pig for non agricultural types) over his shoulders. The sow, complete with huge pig butt and snout, also is sporting some rather impressive teats.

The man himself seems to be an odd combination of racial stereotypes of Asian men. Big teeth, slanted eyes, weird looking fingers. Odd.

I am not a huge art person. I love to paint little roses on china teacups and I quilt. I love photography and my mom's oil paintings of landscapes. I like realism.

This? I don't quite get.

I'll admit I was a heckler, and giggled the first three days whenever anybody walked up to it and stared at in shock and sometimes horror.

In fact I took my digital camera and volunteered to take pictures of people standing next to the statue so they could post it to their facebook profiles. I considered charging people for the photos, but figured that I'd too closely resemble one of those scalpers at Disney World who charge you ten bucks for a picture of you standing next to Goofy.

Since the installation, the statue was moved from under the spotlight, since the light highlighting the pig butt didn't quite convey the right tone for the library. Also, the Pepsi machine directly across from the statue in its old location apparently threw off the feng shui of the library. So now whenever I walk into the library, I have to walk around the statue. I often am tempted to give the statue a little rub for good luck as I walk by, but so far am a bit afraid someone would see me and then judge me for it.

Ahh... art in the library. Am I alone in thinking that this might not be the correct tone for a library? Isn't it a tad inappropriate? Just curious.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Identity Crisis

At the Northern Colorado Writer's Conference that I went to two weekends ago, I learned a lot about writing, about submitting my work, and incidentally I had a bit of an identity crisis as a writer.

What brought on this identity crisis is the fact that I pitched two very different books to two very different agents. One book, my novel, tends to be much more on the light reading, commercial fiction side. I don't know how to classify it. It's a romance, but its not a typical girl meets guy romance. It's a mystery but there is no paranormal events or murders, and the suspense is not the driving force behind the novel. My other book is a collection of creative nonfiction essays that I wrote about my childhood growing up on a cattle ranch, my struggle to grow up in an isolated place, and since I've left the ranch as an adult that pang of knowing that I can never return home. It's literary, more serious, more intellectual in a way.

I ask myself, "Who am I as a writer?"

Am I romantic, smart, creative, descriptive? Am I defined only by my childhood? By my experience, by who I am? (Well, yes.) Can I only write about that? about my childhood on the ranch? Should I even bother writing these quick, fun romantic mysteries? Should I just be writing serious literary fiction?

As an author can I keep my persona's separate? The quirky romance writer? The introspective narrative nonfiction author? Do I have to pick just one? Or should I embrace both? Can I embrace both?

Who am I? Why is this such a challenging thing to sort out, to comprehend, to embrace. Why, as I write do I see such a conflict. What should I be focused on pitching? What should I be writing? Time is energy, money, and it is so very limited? Am I wasting my time by writing romance? Or should I embrace it as a part of me that I take pride in?

I feel slightly schizophrenic, two narrators in my brain, each telling very interesting but very different stories. Can I write both ways? Or just embrace one?

So as I had this identity crisis during the conference, I haven't been able to write since. I'm still sorting it out in my mind, its created a huge barrier to my creativity. I still haven't wrapped my mind around it, and feel slightly like Denver's big blue bear, standing outside the convention center and looking in, not really belonging in either space.

Missing You...

I know that its been over two weeks since I've last posted. Much has happened.

  • Finished copyediting a hellacious dissertation.
  • Completed my 40 day fast from tv.
  • Went to a writer's conference.
  • Pitched my novel to an agent.
  • Hyperventilated in the bathroom.
  • Recovered, then pitched my nonfiction book to another agent.
  • Went to the ranch for a total of 24 hours for Easter.
  • and much, much more.

So as I plumb my memories and events for good blogging fodder, please stay tuned. I'll be posting throughout today and tomorrow, trying to catch you up on my crazy life.

And I'll be reading your blogs too... because I've been so busy I haven't even been reading blogs! Gasp! (the shock and outrage!)


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