Bye-bye Borders

WHAT’S PLAYING:  Bob Dylan “Mississippi”

When I first moved to the frigid North six years ago, Borders quickly became my second home. (Actually, it was more like my first home since I went looking for new books before I even signed the lease on my apartment.) On that sunny spring day, I met someone who changed the way I looked at shopping forever: Lincoln. This man singlehandedly turned a weekly excursion into hell complete with slow moving crowds, cell phone shouters and screaming babies, into something almost bearable.

Lincoln was the first friend I made here. (Which should tell you two things about me: 1. I like books. and 2. I don’t like people…unless they’re giving me books.) Over the years, he has become my go-to guy for new authors and interesting reads, my writing confidant, cliché detector, and one of my dearest friends. Yesterday was his last day at Borders and it felt like someone had just shot my dog.

When I heard that Borders was closing its doors for good, I cried for three hours and then I spent the next couple of weeks stomping around, glaring at everyone and cursing under my breath. (I don’t handle change very well.) Because, you see, Borders was much more than just a store to me. It was my happy place, one of only two social outlets I had. (Now all I have is work. Which, let’s face it, is just pathetic.) More than that, the half empty shelves were a stark reminder that I would never get the chance to walk into my favorite bookstore and see my own novel sitting on the shelf next to the great ones like Pratchett, Gaiman, Rothfuss or Shirley. (OK, I probably wouldn’t have been on the same shelf as any of these guys, but you get the point.) It was like a sign from the Universe telling me to give it up. Why bother writing a book when it’s obvious that people just aren’t that interested in them anymore? What was I going to do now? Hawk my book by the side of the road?

Screw you, Universe. I could no more voluntarily stop writing than I could stop breathing. I spend most of my days lost in worlds of my own creation, and if I didn’t write them down, I’d soon wind up in the booby hatch. If people aren’t interested in my novel, then so be it. But I honestly don’t believe that the death of Borders is the death of books. There are far too many awkward loners like me for that to happen. People for whom reading is their only escape from a confusing, screwed up world full of people anxious to change who and what you are to suit their own purposes.

So, to all you bibliophiles who may have lost your own Lincoln and your connection to the outside world along with him, don’t despair. Books will never die, not so long as there is breath in our bodies…and roads with heavy foot traffic.

Writing Lessons From Mom (Part 1) — Motivation

WHAT’S PLAYING:  Sting “Fields of Gold”
 
Director: “Ok, when I say ‘Action!’, I need you to walk over and punch Jim on the nose. Got it?”
Actor: “What’s my motivation?”
Director: (Blank look.) “To get to the other side of the room and punch Jim on the nose.”
 
When I was about ten, a fad swept through my neighborhood. Whenever one of the cool kids was asked to do something, he or she would look up, cock an eyebrow and ask: “What’s my motivation?” (Sort of a snarky way of saying “Why should I?”)
 
That summer, I decided that I was going to change my image from painfully shy bookworm to ultra cool loner. I swaggered around the neighborhood, dressed in black and draped in silver costume jewelry (and sweating like a whore in church because it was July in Missi-freaking-ssippi). I even learned how to raise one eyebrow that summer and thought that made me the very definition of cool. For one whole day, every time someone would ask  me to do something, I would call on my newly acquired skill, cock an eyebrow, and say, “What’s my motivation?” I even said it to my mother once.
 
Just once.
 
My mother subscribed to the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child philosophy and if there was one thing she could not stand, it was a disrespectful child. Needless to say that my “cool” makeover ended with a sore bottom and great wisdom: When your mother asks you to do something, your sole motivation is to avoid pissing her off.
 
As a writer, I’ve had to reverse my thinking. Every time a character says or does something, I have to constantly ask myself why. Why would Jim/John/Nancy walk through that door/poison his wife/mix plaid with stripes? Why would my hero or heroine put themselves in jeopardy in order to save someone else? Why is my villain working so hard to oppose my hero or heroine and vice versa? Without suitable motivation for their actions, characters just don’t work in fiction.
 
While it’s true that we all do things for no reason in real life, that just won’t fly in fiction. Whenever I run upon a character (no matter how cool or unique or well-drawn) who runs pell-mell through a story without rhyme or reason, I usually put the book down and won’t pick it up again. As writers, we have to ask a lot of our characters. So go ahead. Ask.
 
What’s your motivation?
 
But, whatever you do, don’t ask my mother.

You’re a WHAT?!

WHAT’S PLAYING: “Closer” by Ne-Yo

A few people have called me out on the concept of my blog.

“You’re not a real hermit,” the said. “You work, mix with people, and buy your food at the grocery store just like everyone else.” This last statement is usually accompanied by a triumphant look at catching me in a “lie”.

Well, just to clear things up. No, I don’t eschew all human contact, grow my own food, or get my milk from goats. (Two reasons: 1. I’m just as bad with animals as I am with people and 2. ew.)

I have a job as a nuclear chemist, which requires me to leave the house. I go shopping when the need arises.  I even have a few friends scattered around the globe. But, the fact remains that I am happiest when I’m alone. I love working the night shift. It’s just me in the lab, rocking out to whatever happens to be playing on my iPod.

I run into the same problem when I tell people that I’m a writer. This is usually what follows:

Them: “Oh, that’s fascinating. Have I heard of you?”

Me: (Blank look.) “Probably not.”

Them: “What have you written? Have you published anything?”

Me:  “Nope. I’m working on my first novel.”

Them: “Oh. So, you’re not a real writer.”

Me: (Gives them a long, thoughtful look.)

Them: “I mean, you haven’t been published or anything. It’s just a hobby, right?”

Me: (Still looking.)

Them: “Um, I have to go now.”

Me: “Good idea.”

It is my firm belief that getting published does not make you a writer. It makes you published, which is (so I’ve heard) a fantastic and satisfying experience.

Writing makes you a writer. If you’re anything like me and can’t make it through a day without scribbling ideas in your notebook; or if you rush to your computer the moment you get home from work or the minute you get out of bed; or if you get so lost in the world you’ve created that you forget to eat; then you, my friend, are a writer. 

Does this mean that you’re a good writer? No. That’s more a matter of being patient and persistent enough to learn the craft. Can’t help you there. I’m still learning myself.

But for now, it’s enough to know that I am a writer. Everyday, I get to create and explore new worlds. What’s better than that?

It Always Hurts the First Time

WHAT’S PLAYING: Johnny Cash “Big River”

Let me be clear: I hate trying new things. My motto is that not only is change bad, but it’s also annoying, time-consuming, and usually painful. That being said, I’ve decided to dive headlong into the blogosphere. Why, you ask? Because along with being inflexible, I’m also a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. If I had been born in the right century, I would have been a professional hermit. (Ah, if only.) My friend, Ian, told me that I had to be the world’s youngest curmudgeon. Which sounded pretty cool until I actually looked “curmudgeon” up in the dictionary. (Not cool, Ian.)  It’s not that I don’t like people, you understand. I’m just not very good with them. Most of my personal interactions end in tears and recriminations.

Which brings me to my chosen profession, writing. Could there be a more perfect way for me to earn a living? I get to sit at my comfy desk, surrounded by my beloved books, and immerse myself in a world of my own devising. A place of magic and adventure and (occasionally) chainsaw wielding killer clowns. Truly the art of writing is meant for me.

Now all I have to do is write something that people will want to read. Easy Pease-y. Right? Wrong.

Writing is HARD.  And so, I’ve decided to start a blog. Hopefully, it will help me polish both my writing and socializing skills.  And maybe make a few new friends on the way.