Monday, November 28, 2011

You might be a writer if...

It's  been a while since I've done one of these posts. Not that I haven't thought about what it means to be a writer every second of every minute of every day. It's an occupational hazard. However, this most recent revelation is just too defining to writerdom not to share.

You might be a writer still carry a security blanket.

Don't get me wrong. We're not that obvious about it. We're writers. We've given them much better names, such as Mac, Notebook Pro, Laptop, or the classic, best disguise, Computer.

As if, you sneer. It's my computer. That's all.

I see. Let's run a little checklist, shall we?

1) Is "your computer" one of the last things you look at before you go to bed? And one of the first when you get up?
2) Do you lovingly clean its parts?
3) Do you start to feel nervous when you haven't spent time with "your computer"?
4) So do you take it with you everywhere you go?
5) Take it out of the car when it's cold or hot, just like a child?
6) Is it your ONE carry on, regardless?
7) Does your heart skip a beat when, say, your husband/child/insert name of person who clearly does not get how IMPORTANT this "computer" is accidentally unplugs your "computer" and the battery runs down and it won't fire up right away?
8) Do you plot revenge? 
9) When there's a tornado, earthquake (we've had our share here in Oklahoma this fine fall) or other possible natural disaster, do you have an exit strategy that includes all essentials, such as your children, your husband, the pets, and your "computer"?
10) Most importantly, does it feel like an organic extension of you?

If you've answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may want to sit down. I have news. Your computer isn't just a computer. It's a security blanket.

That's not a bag thing. I mean, our livelihoods depend on these computers, don't they? We find creative expression - and, if we're really lucky, a paycheck - through its magical electrical circuits (Is that a good story idea?) It's no wonder we carry them with us wherever we go.

What was telling for me is that I didn't always feel this way about my computer. The joined-at-the-hip feeling started somewhere in the middle of my dissertation, i.e. my first official written creation. When I was six months pregnant with my first child (actual, human child), I was knee deep in the dissertation. I had six of eight chapters almost complete. I got up, went through my usual morning routine, then sat down at my computer. I opened the dissertation file, which I had backed up on two different external drives, and in individual chapters just to make sure I didn't lose anything. Stories of other grads who'd lost whole dissertations due to lazy back up methods were more than urban myths in grad schools. They were nightmares.

One that became real for me. None of the files would open.

Panic. Major, major panic. The kind that was so intense my daughter didn't move for six hours.

To make a long, painful story somewhat less painful for those of you who can imagine what it's like to lose 40,000 well-crafted words, complete with illustrations, I ended up at the computer lab at UVA. Many techs later, I was at the IT guru's desk, the last resort, the nuclear option of technical difficulties. He tried everything. Nothing worked. Then he made a call. A friend of a friend had an experimental version of the latest Word program. There were no promises but...

In that moment, I understood Faust only too well.

Fortunately, I didn't have to sell my soul...or promise my firstborn to the IT guru. And my computer was way too last month for him.

The new program worked. The files magically opened. My life was saved. I have never been so relieved in my life.

I've had a very close relationship with my computers ever since. One that has only deepened since I began writing fiction. I have all kinds of back up programs - disks, other computers, time machines, clouds, you name it. That computer is an electronic version of my imagination, an much much more organized one. I can't lose it. I can't even give up old versions of it. I may have a computer hoarding problem, I admit. But how do you get rid of a security blanket? Kevin Henkes has a few ideas on that. Owen is a braver soul than I am. My heart races just thinking about disassembling a computer. What if it hurts?

Feel the same way? You're not alone. You're a writer.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Book Review Club - Bad Island

Bad Island
Doug TenNapel
Graphic Novel

This one goes out to the one I love, Sophia. Sophia is my reluctant reader; although I say that with a big grain of salt. She has a hereditary convergence problem with her eyes, so small text is killer on her. Reading a book like, say, A Wrinkle in Time, is pure torture because the text is so small.

Not too long ago, however, we discovered graphic novels. [Cue chorus] It was as if the heavens opened and the gods of reading finally threw us a bone (along with a nice rendition of Handel's Messiah). Sophia loves graphic novels. LOVES them. She'd read TenNapel's Ghostopolis, so when I saw he had a new book out, I ordered it right away, along with a couple of others. She devoured three graphic novels in one afternoon - music to a writer mom's heart.

But are graphic novels, well, good? you ask. Are they, dare we use the word, literature?

Oh, baby.

There is some good stuff out there. Really good stuff. Bad Island is decent fair. Persepolis is more hard-hitting and memorable. Smile is a graphic novel Sophia reads over and over. But Bad Island may just become a regular in her reading diet. It has science fiction, family problems, flying stone robots, a dead snake that comes back to life, an annoying little sister, a brother who finally gets to prove himself, a ship wreck. Good, riveting stuff. The story line is solid, interweaving two believable plots. This is not pure cotton candy for the reluctant reader. It's got meat to it. And flying pink birds. What more could you ask for? Plus, it's not as unnerving as say a Neil Gaimon graphic novel, but not as gentle as Raina Telgemaier's Smile. It will capture the boy crowd and hold their attention with things like stomach acid and invisibility stones. While girls will love the pet animals that have BIG moms to protect them when older brother drop kick the cute, but deadly babies. In other words, it's got a healthy does of humor too.

Basic plot line: father takes family on boat outing. Boat sinks in mysterious storm. Family lands on strange island with all kinds of life found nowhere else on earth. Family tries to figure out what the island is, almost gets killed a few times, but finally discovers the island is a sleeping stone robot that they save and which, in turn, saves them.

If you've got an hour for a waltz on the graphic side of life, pick this one up. If you've got a reluctant boy reader, ORDER IT. They will read it again and again. And if you're thrilled to find your child reading, check out a few other graphic novels. Peppered through nonillustrated reads, such as Tiger Rising, or Holes, graphic novels can actually make reading fun.

For more an abundant supply of winter reads this blustery November, scamper over to Barrie Summy's website. She's got a treeful.