January 30, 2010

I was beginning to feel that January would never end. First there was December, with blizzards that trapped me inside my house, and illness that trapped me in my bed. Then January arrived, beginning with a visit from my sister to lift my spirits, but she left, and more snow came, and then it feels like it has been dark and gloomy ever since. OK, Thursday it was sunny, but when the temperature is 2 (above! heat wave!) it can take the joy out of the sunshine, if you let it (and I think I did…). I can’t feel the days getting longer; the nights are still long and dark, there are giant snow piles everywhere, and I’m stuck in the doldrums of the bleak midwinter. Bah.

I visit my niece’s blog to get a smile(www.kateandkhan.blogspot.com). She posts pictures of Lily, her darling baby who is 18 months old, smart, cuter than a bug’s ear (although I have to admit I’ve never actually seen a bug’s ear, but if I had, I’m sure I’d still think Lily was cuter), and generally a happy, active, curious, and occasionally willful child. The photos are darling, but they make me want to visit. And I’ll bet the sun is shining in Florida.

Still no word from my Spooky North Dakota book editor. I’d really like to get that behind me so I can focus on South Dakota. Actually I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with South Dakota; I got a book called something like “The Road Guide to Haunted South Dakota” with dozens of places, a little bit of information about each, and driving directions. It’s a great resource, but I’m a little afraid to use it lest I sound like I’m plagiarizing. There are a few places that are written up in multiple sources, like Seth Bullock’s hotel in Deadwood, and the haunted bed and breakfast in Hot Springs, but unless I can find another source for a place, I’m not going to include it. And the problem is lack of sources. Maybe I can get people to tell me about some of them when I do photo excursions.

Another distraction from Spooky is the novel I’m revising, the one I hope I can find an editor or at least an agent for, based on having published the Spooky books. Foot in the door? Do editors really care that much if you have another book, different genre, already published? I want the manuscript to be so good that it knocks their socks off, so revision is the order of the day. Whether or not that will include a critique group seems to be up in the air at the moment.

And one more distraction is the silly articles for AssociatedContent.com. I feel like I’m selling my soul for $20. But I need the money, having lost 2/5 of my income because, since I could pick up my 14 pound Bichon, I’m clearly not disabled by a chronic illness. FCEs are worthless. They are 2-3 hour snapshot, and tell nothing about longterm (say, a week of 8 hour days…) ability to perform any job. Anyway, I really need to keep getting what cash I can from AC because I have new prescription insurance, and just filled a prescription that in December would have been $15 and now is $75. I’ll now have to start getting it by mail, and it will come all the way down to $150 for three months worth. Generics are still $5 a month, and that’s a good thing. It wouldn’t be a problem, except that now I have to get all new prescriptions at once, and that’s a lot of pennies.

We hear so much about health care reform, and affordable drug costs, and there’s no agreement about how it should be done. I certainly don’t know. If I didn’t have prescription insurance, my medications would cost over $900 a month. Obviously, I wouldn’t be able to take them. The $75 one is one I must have, as is another that will also be $150 for three months. ACK.

I’m rambling, so I’ll end this post. I’m just glad that on Monday, it will be February (the month of the Hallmark Holiday designed to make single people feel like total losers… happy happy joy…)

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On Monday, November 23rd, I mailed my “Spooky North Dakota” manuscript (on a CD; no paper except the original signed photo releases) plus all the extra files (marketing contacts, biography, about the book, picture file, caption file, and on and on) to my publisher by overnight mail. Since I’m in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota, and they’re in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, “overnight” translated to “second day” delivery, but that still beat the December 1 deadline for submission.

I’m not sure what I was expecting at that point. I knew that my “writing process” editor would be replaced with a book editor (which I’m not sure I’m happy about; I feel like I have a really good relationship with that first editor and working with her would have been so much easier! but we’ll see). I also knew that the first editor would go through my submission and make sure everything they needed was there before passing it on. On the following Monday (Nov. 30th) I sent two more photos and a revised caption list by email, since I HAD the two more photos by then (foolish oversight on my part the first time, but not a problem). And was told that my book would go to one of five editors who’d be handling the 25+ manuscripts that were due on the 1st.

Now it’s January 15th. I still haven’t heard from a new editor, and I am so ready to make whatever revisions I need to do (and I know of one typo that somehow both my first reader and I missed, despite the many times we went through each chapter; I also need to make a change in one story and give the real people false names because they’ve decided they don’t want the world to know it’s their house that’s haunted — which I understand because I did the same thing!).

I guess I didn’t expect much in December; there were holidays coming up, and probably “the editors” were just getting the books and deciding what order to do them in. Apparently they do one at a time, which seems strange to me, especially since the “Writers Guidelines” stressed the importance of speed in getting the “ready to print” manuscripts actually ready to print, and said that any time that the editor had to spend “fixing” things (like grammar and spelling) would come out of the author’s miniscule royalties.

But I thought that by mid-January (today, in other words) that I would at least have gotten an email saying “I’m your editor and we’ll start working on (fill in the date). I’m looking forward to working with you!” or words to that effect. But no, nothing yet. Is this typical? I have no way of knowing!

I did hear from the “process” editor, who will be my process editor through Spooky South Dakota (or, help me, Spooky CREEPY South Dakota…), that “Pete” had stopped by her office after looking over the Spooky ND manuscript, and told her that it was too late to switch ND to color photos (which I’d been assuming all along that it would be; some of the photos have exquisite colors, especially the ones in the Badlands) but that he thought South Dakota should be in color. “Pete” is the owner/CEO/President of the publishing company (woo hoo!!! seriously!)

I do realize that it costs a lot more to print in color than in B&W, so I’m wondering what I should think about this (other than that I need a WHOLE lot more photos, as they want one on each page if they’re going to print in color — not a problem). First I thought it was because he thought my North Dakota manuscript was so good. Then I thought it was because he thought South Dakota would sell better (let’s face it: South Dakota has a LOT more tourism than North Dakota, and in all those gift shops at National and State Parks, it should do well). Either way, I think it shows a faith in my ability to write it well and finish it on time. Can anybody with experience respond to that? Is it me, or is it the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore?

Either way, I’d hoped to be working at revisions by now, so that it would be over with well before I’m nose-deep in research for South Dakota. It’ll be late April or May before I can actually go to South Dakota and start getting photos (and on-the-ground research), because of Dakota winters, which are worse in the Black Hills. (Something to do with altitude, maybe?) Honestly, I think at least half the book will be in Black Hills locations. One could write an entire book about haunted Deadwood, I think.

But either way, I’m starting computer and book research for South Dakota, while writing articles for Associated Content (dot-com) where (don’t laugh) I’m now a featured beauty contributor. (Actually you can laugh; what I don’t know about make-up and skincare could fill many volumes; I rarely wear it, and my skin care regimen is pretty basic. Clean and moisturise with Cetaphil, and wear at least a 15 SPF sunscreen when going outside. Different sunscreen –gentler–for face. And if I’ll be outside for more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time, it goes up to 30 SPF, reapplied every 2 hours. That’s it. Pretty simple. No serums, no revitalizing, none of that. Make-up if I feel I must!) But I digress.

I really want to hear from my book editor. REALLY. I’m not going to bug them, since I don’t know who to bug, but I’m really looking forward to finishing that book and having it in my hot little hands!

More years ago that I care to remember, I was in an Intro to Cultural Anthropology class at UND. The professor told us to compare cultural change to a train. Technology/Science is the engine; technology moves much faster than any other aspect of culture, and forces culture to scurry to keep up. Society is next, changing and trying to keep up. Religion (not spirituality, but organized religion with all the rules that entails) is the caboose, holding back the change as hard as it can. Think of Galileo and his discovery — he was almost killed by the Roman Catholic Church until he recanted the truth of the scientific discovery he’d made. And in the last 100 years, we’ve had more scientific and technological progress than the last, oh, 50,000 or so?

Language is in that middle car, changing to keep up with technology (raise your hand if your grandmother would have known what “gigabyte” or “nanotechnology” means!) and the changes in culture it makes. In France, there is (or maybe was; I forget) a government body whose task it was to keep track of “new” words that cropped up in common speech, and decide whether or not they could be included in the dictionary of “proper French.” That may be taking things a little too far, but as a writer who grew up with Strunk and White at my side, and a Latin teacher who taught me more about English grammar, and grammar in general, than any other teacher I’ve ever had, I’m dragging my feet at some of the changes that have been popping up. I refuse to consider them changes; in the pedantic little critic/editor corner of the brain, they remain just plain wrong!

First is the “new” expression, which if you spend time with anyone under, oh, 22, you’ll probably hear: “I could care less.” What? Do they get what they’re saying? If you could care less, then obviously you CARE — what they mean is “I couldn’t care less,” but that seems to have dropped by the wayside. Sadly.

Then we have the use of the word “nauseous.” According to MY dictionary, and every other one I’ve checked, if something is nauseous it makes you feel nauseated. A nauseous smell, for example, or a nauseous shade of green. Yet speakers and writers use “nauseous” to mean nauseated. “I felt nauseous” an otherwise excellent writer wrote; so is she telling us that she felt that she was making everyone around her sick? I think not; I think she meant she felt sick herself. Sigh.

Moving on to a Strunk and White example of a widely misused word, we have “comprise.” According to good old S&W, “comprise” isn’t a substitute for “consist” and shouldn’t be used with “of.” Their example (which I don’t like, but it works) is “The zoo comprises many animals.” I’d use it in a sentence like “My book comprises ghost stories and mysterious tales.” Not ever “My book is comprised of ghost stories and mysterious tales.” It’s wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, according to every dictionary I checked. But common usage is making it “right.”

The worst, for someone who has studied multiple languages that still use case with nouns as well as pronouns, is the disappearance of the objective case in singular personal pronouns. For non-grammarians (and non-pedantic linguists), what I’m saying is that objects aren’t different from subjects in English; “book” is “book” whether you say/write “This book is great!” or “I dropped the book.” Objects only remain in personal pronounts. ” I dropped the book, but the door hit ME in the face. Americans don’t seem to have much trouble with the plural (and second person “you” doesn’t change); “Let’s keep this between US,” for example. But divide that up, and “we” have problems. I hear it in dialogue in TV and movies, I hear it in conversation, and sadly I read it in the works of authors who should know better. “That’s between John and I,” say people who would never say “That’s between we.” It’s ME, people, it’s ME — That’s between you and ME. Do the misusers think “I” somehow sounds more, I don’t know, sophisticated? It shouldn’t, because IT’S WRONG. “That’s for us” is common, but so is “that’s for Mary and I.” Sorry, Mary, but “That’s for Mary and me.” If you’re saying “Duh — everyone knows that” that’s good — it means YOU know that. Unfortunately, it’s painfully obvious that not everyone knows that.

Will common usage make these (few examples) acceptable? Common usage forced gender out of everything but third person singular pronouns in English. We’ve also lost case and several tenses. What I fear more than anything is that texting “vocabulary” will become acceptable in speech and writing. I already hear “OMG!” and “TMI” far more often than I want to. Yes, I use them in email, but I write or say the words everywhere else. “U” should never be a substitute for “you” in good writing, nor should “4” be a substitute for “for” (it’s probably fine if you mean “four,” though). And so many others that I’m too old to know or understand.

Who will be teaching English in 20 or 30 years? Will we lose words to clumps of letters, and will what is ungrammatical today become correct then? I don’t know if I want to be around to see it.

And yes, I’m a pedantic, foot-dragging linguist, who sees change coming and doesn’t much like it!

New Year, New Post

January 4, 2010

It’s 2010 — now we all have to decide if that’s Two Thousand Ten or Twenty Ten. Or we can all say it however we want. Probably a non-starter (po-tay-toe, po-tah-to). (TATERS!). Resolutions? Pooh! As someone else said first, why commit yourself to something important, then fail to adhere to it within the first month, and feel bad about yourself? I’ve done that enough times! My one thought each year about this time is to remember: there is more good in my little corner of the world, if I just look for it, than there is bad. This is really important, because it is a daily struggle to manage what my psychiatrist described as “a nasty little major depressive disorder.” Sometimes it is managed, but sometimes it isn’t, and remembering all that is good helps get me through those times alive. (Not to whine or anything — seriously, there IS more good than bad.)

My sister Nancy, who lives in Hugo, MN, left this morning; she’s been here only since the 31st. My sister Shari and I didn’t go to her house for Christmas because Shari, a physician, was on call. And if she hadn’t been, we probably wouldn’t have gone anyway because by Christmas Eve the weather was getting nasty, and on Christmas day, I couldn’t get my back door open. We only got 9 inches of snow, according to the weather station at the airport, but it was drifted past my knees outside my back door, and a little deeper further down the drive. I managed to push and push and push and get the back door open far enough that Kimiko and I could squiggle out, then I used my gloved hands and booted feet to dig and kick enough snow out of the way so that I could get the gate to her yard open, where she began to bound joyfully around the yard (at least someone was happy about the snow — which was STILL falling and blowing). I had an asthma attack so went in for a while, but then went out again and trampled, kicked, and dug (with my hands — couldn’t get to the shovel because if I opened the garage door, about 4 feet of snow would have fallen in…) and managed to clear enough that the door opened almost all the way, I could walk to the gate without falling, and the gate could open and close completely. But the car was still trapped. My driveway was finally cleared late the afternoon of Monday the — hmm — 28th? I get SO confused! I digressed extensively — we wouldn’t have been able to get to the Twin Cities if we’d planned, so it was just as well we hadn’t planned!

I love Christmas at Nancy’s. Besides having all three sisters together, I get to see my two nephews (Erik and Ben) and my niece (Kate) and her husband (Khan) and daughter (Lily), who’s now 17 months old and absolutely adorable, if apparently rather stubborn and independent (now where could she have gotten that trait from? Not me… maybe her mother? or her mother?). “New” Christmas traditions like the annual Ugly Ornament Contest. I had sent a glitter-covered styrofoam shoe that I thought was hideous, but it was beaten by a bug-eyed pickle in a grass skirt doing a hula dance. (Nothing says Christmas like a Hawaiian dancing pickle, apparently…) I love to see all the cookies — and usually bake my share of them, although not this year. I love to see the decorated tree, and to see when someone opens a gift that really was just right. And watching Christmas movies and playing silly games with that happy bunch of people. So I was not a happy camper, trapped in my house with my dog, on Christmas day! I must get a webcam, microphone, and SKYPE so that I can actually SEE people when I call them (although that’s frighteningly like 1984 — the book, not the year!).

But Nancy came here, and on New Year’s morning, in pajamas, we three opened our presents from each other (a remarkable number of them, since at least two of us had promised not to “buy” anything but stocking presents, and to “make” other gifts; I “made” Nancy a poem that showed, I hope, how I feel about her, and framed it; she painted pictures of my house, the side of my house with hollyhocks, and a close-up of hollyhocks). I am working on a summer sweater for Shari. I completed a little sweater for Lily before Christmas and sent it to Nancy’s house, so they had that “made” present from me. Somehow I can’t see the boys (they’re 29 and 33, not exactly “boys”) wanting to wear anything I knit for them. I gave Erik a scarf a few years ago, but Ben’s in Bellingham WA and I don’t know how much use he has for a scarf. It would probably just get wet!

I do hope to get more writing done this year — more that I want to do, not just assigned articles at Associated Content (where I am now a Featured Beauty Consultant — it cracks me up, since I also write outdoorsy blogs for a partner site, like white-water rafting trips and mountain bike tips! and frankly, I’m not all that great at any of those things…) or the Spooky (and possibly Creepy) South Dakota book. I learned just before Christmas that the photos in Spooky North Dakota will appear in black and white in the published volume (April or thereabouts?), but “Pete” wandered past my editor’s desk (he’s the owner/president of the publishing company) and looked at it, and decided that he wants South Dakota done in color photos, which means a photo per page. Now THAT is going to take some time… it’ll probably take more than the writing! But they can be background shots, pretty vistas, trees, abandoned houses or mines — whatever. They don’t ALL have to be haunted things. I think the research will be harder for this one, because I’m farther away from it, but the writing should be easier, now that I better understand what they want. I suspect that deciding how to organize it will be just about as difficult, though. (For North Dakota, by town or county just didn’t work, so I did it by type of haunt or spookiness: haunted houses; haunted churches; haunted businesses (hotels, stores, etc.); and so on.) I’ll decide after I see what I get.

One of my (unexpected and delightful) gifts for Christmas was a small digital video recorder. That could be quite handy, both in research and in general. Kimiko does some really cute things that I’d like to get on video. OK, it’s hard to think of giant Akitas as “cute” but when I say, “Anybody want a peanut?” and she raises a front paw with a look that says “I do! I do!” it’s pretty darn cute.

So, off to other writing. And yes, this is mostly for me, because hardly anyone ever visits my blog — but that’s OK.

Happy New Year, and New Decade!