Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monk, Hannibal, and Gandalf


Recently I joined Toastmasters to improve my speaking skills. In the past public speaking was something I avoided. That was because I used to believe that things outside my comfort zone were best left alone.

What was I thinking?

All the fun stuff is outside my comfort zone. Turns out I like stepping outside my comfort zone.

Sometimes I find that things I thought would be frightening weren't at all. Stuff like hiking alone in the woods at night, or hiking into the wilderness.

I'm not saying fears aren't to be respected, I'm saying facing them is exhilarating.

A long time ago I thought I was afraid to fly. Of course I did it anyway, and kept right on doing it, and one day I realized not only was I not afraid, I liked it. So I kicked it up a notch. Click here to see how far I went past that fear.

So far I've only given a few speeches, but I think I'll like that too. Writing is a solitary occupation. Speaking to a group, especially about writing and related topics, it's a bit of a blast.

Blog talk radio invited me to chat about character development. Breathing life into characters is about my favorite part of writing a book. I love getting to know them, and fleshing them out. Click here and check it out if that's your thing too. Then come back and tell me about stepping outside your comfort zone. I'm interested to hear how that worked out for you.

Monday, March 24, 2014

God, Mother Nature, and Father Time Walk into a Café…(Part Two)

Hot Black

Father Time dropped into the restaurant booth right next to Mother Nature. She scooted away, keeping her pristine gown from his dusty moth-eaten suit. Her revolving halo of birds and butterflies moved with her. Father Time rubbed his hands over swollen eyes; his five o’clock shadow appeared grayish. He removed his top hat and sat it on the seat between them.

“Sorry I’m late,” he addressed God, sitting across the booth from them. Beams of sunlight came through the windows of the café, illuminating the creator of the universe.

“No worries, you look tired,” God said.

“Yeah,” Mother Nature narrowed sharp eyes at her seat mate. “The year just began but you already look like late November. What gives?”

Father Time put his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. “Time! I just can’t keep up! It’s exhausting. Remember when we’d say ‘Just a second!’ and it meant we’d be quick? Well, no one wants to wait an entire second for anything anymore. Now it’s all about milliseconds, microseconds, and nanoseconds. Not to mention picoseconds!” His voice ended on a sob.

Mother Nature sniffed. “I get the other end of it. People want me to stop time so they can look twenty forever. Like let me reorder the universe to recapture your wasted youth! As if!”

Father Time ignored her. He clasped his hands together, hound-dog eyes imploring God. “Boss, I know you don’t make mistakes, but you know how bad I am at math!” His lips trembled. “My nerves are shot! Everybody wants more time! How many more ways can I divvy it up and keep track?”

“Pffft!” Beside him Mother Nature snorted. “Ignore them! I do. Technically time doesn’t really even exist anyway. It’s just cosmic paperwork!”

“Mother,” God reprimanded gently.

“Organization is vital to the universe!” Father Time snapped at her. One of the little birds circling Mother Nature’s head flew across the café to hide in a silk ficus tree. “Organization is something you wouldn’t understand, you’re all about chaos!”

“Ebb and flow are not chaos! How dare you use that word!”

“Where would your seasons be without time?! Not that they’re recognizable anymore. It’s cold where it should be hot and hot where it should be cold. There’s snow where it should be not, and sun when it’s not hot!”

“Oh thank you, Dr. Seuss! Do you want to try to regulate this planet for even one day? You couldn’t handle it for a femtosecond! Math that!”

“Oh go stabilize a quark!”

A frown darkened Mother Nature’s face, but she spoke sweetly, shooting a smug glance in God’s direction. “Did you know today’s Friday? God wanted cherry pie so he changed Thursday—which is rhubarb—into Friday just for a piece of pie.”

Father Time ran trembling hands through his hair until it stuck straight up, white strands visible among dark. “So that’s a twenty-four hour hop—forward—then, for the entire planet? Oh, no! Death is gonna be furious with me! What about all the people who were supposed to die yesterday? Will there be twice as many today?”

God lifted a mug of hot cocoa from thin air and shoved it into Father Time’s hands. “You worry too much. Death isn’t your department.”

“That guy creeps me out,” Father Time whimpered. “What’s with the scythe? He carries it everywhere, even to meetings.”

“It’s just his bit of flair,” Mother Nature said, “Like your top hot.”

“And your bird halo? You’ve got poop on your shoulder.”

“I do not!” She huffed, nabbing a napkin out of the dispenser to wipe at her gown.

The waitress appeared at the end of the table, and set her tray down. She slid an enormous salad to Mother Nature. God got a huge slice of cherry pie and a mug of tea. She sized up Father Time with a glance.

“We don’t have a liquor license, how about a bowl of soup? On the house.”

“I don’t have time to eat,” Father Time told her. “It’s Friday. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about that. I mean if it was Thursday I might have had time for a bowl of soup, or maybe a three-minute egg, but it’s Friday and I’m hosed.”

“Yeah…” She tapped her fingers against the metal tray. “Will that be everything then?” Without waiting for an answer she left, forgetting her tray.

“Wait!” Mother Nature hollered after her. “I have a tip for you. Preservatives don’t just retard wilt!”

“You’re rude,” Father Time said. “She deserves the early Friday this week just because she had to put up with you.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is she warming your polar ice cap?”

“I’m going to assume you’re speaking of global warming. As if she’s solely responsible for that.” Father Time slurped his cocoa loudly.

“They’re all culpable.” Mother Nature used her bird doody napkin to wipe his chocolate moustache, leaving a dodgy-looking smear on his upper lip.

“Is global warming really even a thing?” Father Time asked, “Just because people want ice and air-conditioning you’re going to blame them for your regulatory problem?”

Mother Nature’s face went beet red, grizzled wisps of her hair stood straight out. Static electricity snapped audibly throughout the restaurant, lighting up in little bursts like exploding fireflies. The muffled protests of people unfortunate enough to touch anything at that moment sounded around them.

“Children!” God said, “Enough. I can’t take you anywhere, can I? Just once it would be nice if we could go to the same place twice.” A Styrofoam container appeared on the table and he slid his pie into it, and stood up in a swish of shimmering white robes, clutching it. “You’ve got to learn to roll with the punches. I mean where would I be if I took everything personally?”

A heavy-set manager walking past their booth helpfully nabbed the waitress’s metal tray off their table. A jolt of static electricity zapped against his hand so strongly that it was briefly visible. He dropped the tray and bellowed out an expletive that involved God’s name.

“See what I mean?” God said, turning his attention to the manager who stood shaking his wounded hand. “If I did dang that tray, Son, it would do more than numb your hand.” He glided across the restaurant and out the front door. The bewildered manager stared after him.

Wild-eyed, Mother Nature hissed, “I’d smote them if they used my name like that.”

Father Time rose to his feet and jammed his top hat on. “You’re not nearly as famous, or trust me, they would.” And he followed after God, exiting the front door.

“Why do I always get stuck with the bill?” Mother Nature grumbled, digging in her pocket. She slammed a couple dirty rocks on the table and snapped at the manager, “Keep the change!” One of her stray birds flew to rejoin her revolving halo as she tromped across the restaurant and out the door.

~ The End

(And the moral of the story is...?)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Godzilla Editing

Photo Credit: 123

Truth be told all a writer really wants when she sends her work to the editor is this in reply: Sweet Merciful Heavens! This is perfect as it is! I recommend you get to work on the sequel immediately.

That is NOT what she gets or what she needs, I’m talking about what she WANTS.

Contrary to the type of editing done on college essays, editing a novel isn’t just about punctuation and grammar. It’s about whether or not the manuscript says what the writer means it to say.

Did the writer fall so deep into the writer-rabbit-hole that she forgot little details like:

o   Does every scene start out so the reader knows where it is taking place? While you’re writing it, you always know where the scene is so it is easy to leave out that little detail. But the reader shouldn't have to work too hard to figure out where the action is taking place. It's like forgetting to tell your family where you hid the sour cream cheddar potato chips, except you don’t do this on purpose.

o   If it is necessary to know who is talking in dialogue, can the reader tell without too much effort? (We’ve all had to count back on dialogue haven’t we? That was Ron, that was Harry, Ron, Harry, okay.)

o   Are there enough beats or too many? Beats are little bits of action tossed in to help with the visual, Stephanie wrote while trying to tug the end of one of her six scarves out of the wheel of her chair.

o   Is action sequential? Did I forget the hero stood up two times in the last paragraph, but never sat down between them?

o   Did anyone in the novel change names/eye color or accidentally disappear?

o   Is there too much detail anywhere? Or not enough?

o   Did the writer start telling the story instead of showing? This is a big no-no.

§  Tinker tore open her visa bill with the edge of a dirty salad fork. She groaned. I have got to stay off of Amazon! Holy cow how many times did I order pizza last month?

§  Tinker tore open her visa bill. She had a serious problem with math and never seemed to realize that all the little things would add up over the month. She bought books on Amazon about every other day, not to mention little things that caught her eye. She ordered pizza at least twice a week.

§  Can you tell which of the above is showing and which one is telling? I thought so.

Obviously these are important and necessary changes to the betterment of a story. I’m always amazed at how beautiful my editor can make my book. You’d never guess that she looks and sounds exactly like Godzilla. Okay, not really, she’s actually quite lovely, but after she’s tromped all over my manuscript it feels like she’s Godzilla-ed my Tokyo, if you know what I mean.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mists of Avalon and Shades of Grey

Photo Credit: Raspberry Lime

This little book by Marion Zimmer Bradley is one that I read ages ago. I pulled it out of the forgotten pile to pass along to someone. It always stuck in my head because it’s a King Arthur tale written from the point of view of the character traditionally known as Morgan LeFay. I was never able to view Morgan (Morgaine in TMoA) as anything other than misunderstood after reading it.

Perspective is an amazing thing. It mucks up all our beautiful and clear black and white perceptions of the world.

Perspective can turn everything to shades of grey.

As I reread this book I found my perspective had changed too. When the characters made the same poor choices I had much less patience. Do you ever reread books? They can be old friends, and it is easy to get impatient with old friends if they keep making the same mistakes.

Whenever I write a book there is almost always an antagonist that has his own perspective. In my head (and admittedly sometimes on paper too) I’ll write my antagonist’s view on what is happening. I like three dimensional characters, and a shallow predictable villain is just boring. Often I wonder if the reader could see a story from the antagonist’s perspective, would they change sides?

For instance when I went to public school, Christopher Columbus, the Mayflower, and Plymouth Rock were told from one point of view. That was the Pilgrim’s escaping religious persecution POV. Since then someone thought to point out that story had a different slant when viewed from the Native American viewpoint. Now that story is often viewed differently.

In The Mists of Avalon the story revolves around a tale where Arthur becomes High King with the help of Avalon. He swears to protect all the people of Brittan, Christian, Druid, and the Old Tribes. Over time Christianity takes a firm foothold in the land, and Arthur’s promise becomes less and less important to both Arthur and most of the kingdom.

The book doesn’t focus much on a side character named Father Patricius—though it is obvious to the reader that he is probably St. Patrick. You know the man famous for driving the snakes out of Ireland? In this story the snakes that are driven out of the land are actually Druids—they wear serpent tattoos on their wrists. When you see the story from the perspective of one practicing the old religion of the land, you see shades of grey.

The story is epic, beginning with Arthur’s mother. It explains the story behind Excalibur, and how the legendary king came to have a son with his own sister. It takes us to Camelot and the round table. We quest for the Holy Grail. The entire tale is told by the women of the kingdom, mostly by the historically maligned Morgan Le Fey (Morgaine), Arthur’s sister. We see Christianity sweep the land, often from the point of view of one being swept away.

It is shades of grey and perspective, and fascinating, even if the characters make the same poor choices they made last time you read the book.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Top Ten Things I Like About Winter

Photo Credit: Vilhelm

10.  I like naked trees. There I’ve said it.

 9.  When a storm hits no one can get up or down my driveway, so I have a legitimate excuse to write obsessively, and not leave my house.

 8.  My landscaping looks like everyone else’s. You’d never know I don’t landscape or weed.

 7.  The grass doesn’t need mowed.

 6.  At night all that snow is a giant reflector for the moon. That means it lights up the inside of the house—unless the moon is dark—and clumsy people don’t walk into stuff as much.

 5.  During sunny days all that snow is a giant reflector for the sun, and there is something very uplifting when the entire landscape is dazzling, and blindingly bright.

 4.  When I look outside I can tell by the footprints what types of animals skulk around my house. Are snow snakes a thing? Because I think they lurk outside my office window.

 3.  I like when the snowplow plows up the end of my driveway really high, because I drive a Jeep, and I like to play car commercial. If I’m ever found embedded in a snow bank at the end of my driveway, you’ll know I failed to bust out.

 2.  Every time there is a warm up you get to watch the snow die slowly. I really like watching it liquefy. It brings out the killer in me.

 1.  My top favorite thing about winter, hands-down, is when I live someplace where it doesn’t visit, and I only see it on holiday cards once a year.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Morgue Files Karpati Gabor

Recently a Communications Major posted this to my wall on Facebook.

Typical conversations with you go like this:
Email from SRKarfelt: What do you think of A, B, C?
Email from ComMaj: I think C.
FB from SRKarfelt: Why do you think C? What about D, E, or F?
FB from ComMaj: I think C yada yada. Email me.
Text from SRKarfelt: What about A/C or B/E?
Text from ComMaj: *jumble of autocorrect disasters and missing words while I multitask* EMAIL ME.
Email from SRKarfelt to A Different Account I Rarely Check: Why do you want me to email you?
Text from SRKarfelt: Check your email.
FB from SRKarfelt: What about XYZ?
Comm major mind is exploding.

 feeling dizzy.

For a Communications Major she obviously has a bit of trouble keeping up with the conversation, don’t you think? I am well aware this was meant to communicate that I needed to streamline my communications with her, but what did I hear? “Dang, you’re excellent at holding your train of thought across multi-media.”

Yep. That’s what I really thought. It’s a gift.

Once I had a desk job in an office – the kind where you get to talk to real people instead of your imaginary friends. At my performance review my boss praised my work, but opened his office door to point at my work area. “You need to get organized.”  “I am organized,” I said. He gave me The Look, I’m sure we’ve all experienced The Look. “I can find anything,” I told him, eyeballing the piles of paperwork mounded up on my desk, cabinets, and chairs. He named a random form and I jumped up, dug neatly through a box beside my desk, and produced it. Hah! I thought. “You need to get organized like everyone else does,” he said, “It’s not professional.”

S. R. Karfelt Madness to My Method
I get that, I really do, and I like the way organized looks. Isn’t that why most of us prefer to shop at Target over Walmart? It’s color-coded and neat. But when I’m working, really working, I need everything nearby. If it’s not, I forget it exists. This would explain why I have six copies of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, four copies of Holes by Louis Sachar, and three copies of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (none of which I can find beyond my kindle version). Well, that and because I often give those books away as gifts.

It also explains why I use multiple computers (I keep all the old crippled ones. They’re my old friends and have served me well. What? You just toss yours out? After all they’ve done for you?). If it isn’t at my fingertips, there’s a good chance it has fallen off my radar. Occasionally I’ve been complimented for my quick completion of tasks. Don’t be impressed. For me it’s now or never.

At any given time my WIPs (Work in Progress) are open, and social media is on a phone or tablet or whatever works. That is how I streamline. How else can you do it if you don’t do it all at once? I want to know. How do you do it? What is the secret to your multitasking success?