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Archive for February, 2014

Out of Service

test-pattern

 

This is a test of the Egregious Asshole System. Musings of a Madwoman, in cooperation with whoever cares to pay attention and other interested parties, has developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an Egregious Asshole Sighting. Had this been an actual Sighting, the Attention Signal above would have been followed by laughing and pointing, deep sighs, or flaming rhetoric. This concludes this test of the Egregious Asshole System.”

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I do needlework and narrow wares weaving (you can see some of my work here), and usually sit on the couch watching bad sci-fi or something else equally mindless while I work. So it came to pass that when I was ruminating upon what to watch during my string session the other day, my husband suggested Pacific Rim. Okay, right off the bat we know it’s not going to be Chariots of Fire, but with the likes of Guillermo del Toro directing and Idris Elba acting, and with an estimated budget of $190,000,000, I had hope it would at least be a fun action movie with the occasional smart commentary.

How wrong I was.

There is no doubt serious money was spent on the thing. The CGI is stellar and the overall design of the sets and costuming is exemplary. And if you’re one of those people (like my husband, the Godzilla fan) who love giant monsters fighting giant robots, this is definitely the movie for you. But don’t go looking for a good script as part of the package, ‘cause there ain’t one.

Now before you go off on me and my high-falutin’ film school horse, let me just say that I do understand the difference between films and movies. Flicks like The Remains of the Day and Captain Phillips are films. Popcorn burners like Iron Man and The Expendables are movies. The average movie is good for a couple hours of escapism and then we go home and worry about tomorrow’s commute. But occasionally we get a movie that has some cleverness to it, which has some sharp dialogue and biting commentary on some issue relevant to the ills of society, spaced with moments of comedic relief and wit. Movies like Die Hard and Independence Day, and just about anything by Joss Whedon or Christopher Nolan. Are they perfect? Oh, hell no. But they do have more than just explosions, giant robots and mysterious aliens from the deep.

So given Pacific Rim’s pedigree, I expected more and was sorely disappointed. It took me a while to figure out exactly why. I reviewed the movie in my head and came to the realization I was disappointed because it was just completely ordinary. There wasn’t a surprise anywhere to be seen. No interesting social commentary, no witty banter, no maze-like turns in the story line that lead off somewhere you weren’t expecting. It just was.

Reluctant, brooding hero? Check.

Feisty rookie looking to prove her worth? Check.

Stoic veteran who sacrifices himself? Check.

Quirky supporting characters? Check.

The script was so formulaic and predictable, I knew what the dialogue was going to be before ever hearing it. When you’re watching a movie and marveling at the quality of the CGI instead of actually paying attention to what’s happening with the characters on screen, you know there’s a problem.

And the problem is our world is filled with ordinary. Everything must fit into a prescribed set of parameters to facilitate mass production, built to the lowest common denominator and spit out with predictable regularity. Everybody wants a hit, whether it is in film, television, music, or publishing, so they look to what has been successful before and try to forcibly create a clone – but not-really-see-we-have-aliens-not-an-irradiated-lizard. Yawn.

It doesn’t have to be ordinary. You can have Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead all in one universe. You can revel in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Cloverfield and Attack the Block without fearing a formula. It is possible to not be ordinary, and still be successful.

And as writers, that is what we should be striving for with every stroke of our keys, pens, pencils, crayons and blood. It is our job to NOT be ordinary. It is our job to challenge the status quo and crush the formulas under the weight of the boxes we have destroyed in our rush to escape them.

My greatest fear is to be just an “okay” writer, to just be one of the thousands spewing words just because I can. Far too much of what’s loose out there is exactly that: just okay. Yeah, there’s the simply terrible and the really awesome out there, too. But the vast majority is just meh. I blame the Internet and the rise of self-publishing for a large part of that ordinary. It’s too easy to spew your words all over the place with little editorial oversight (this blog case in point, but it’s my little world so deal), and we have a whole generation that’s been brought up thinking they’re the goose’s golden egg when they’re really just a turd.

So we writers need a reality check. We need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and the crap we’re putting on the page, and rip it all apart with the determined zeal of a ravenous velociraptor. Dare to be different, dare to challenge the established rules, dare to write the extraordinary. Because the worst thing anyone can say about your writing is “Yeah, it’s okay.”

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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So today started out with yet another rejection of my novel. That makes a total of nine so far: seven from agents, one from a publisher and one from a grant program. As if starting on Monday wasn’t bad enough for the week. When they have it for a long time, and then ask for additional chapters, you get hopeful. Then when those hopes are dashed on the rocks of despair, it makes a bag of dark chocolate M&Ms look like the lap of salvation.

Every time it happens, I wonder if I’ve made the right choice staying at home and slogging through all the wait, wait, wait, no thanks. It’s going on three years now, and I feel like I have nothing to show for it. Certainly no money from it, which is starting to wear thin. My husband is carrying the financial load, and while he doesn’t complain, I know the stress is eating at him. But having been out of the work force for nearly five years, and crossed into the AARP zone, the chances of me finding anything out there in the real world are somewhere between none and zip. So in some ways I have no choice but to continue on this path, because it’s the only one left to me.

I still haven’t given up on the idea of taking my novel through traditional publishing. While self-publishing is getting much easier and cheaper, the content offered through that medium is still largely crap. There are a few notable exceptions, of course, but the stigma is still there and I don’t want to have to fight upstream. Being a new writer is stigma enough. I keep reminding myself of all the novels out there that are now considered classics/bestsellers which have far more rejections to their titles than my sci-fi effort does, but there’s still that little voice nagging me from the back of my brain: “Maybe you really aren’t any good after all.”

So the question becomes, when DO you give up? Well, if Stephen King had to deal with sixty rejections before he made his first sale, I’d say I have a ways to go yet before I need to consider throwing in the towel. The task at this point is to review my process and to expand my list of prospective agents/publishers. I need to get more queries out there – the broader the net, the greater the possibility I’ll catch something. I need to get back to a regular writing schedule – these last few weeks I’ve had a bad case of Idonwanna and have spent more time in bed or playing computer games than any reasonable person should. My husband says I was just hibernating, but I think the real reason is I was just trying to escape the inescapable – to be a writer, you have to write; to be a successful writer, you have to write lots. And between the two, you have to deal with rejection after rejection after rejection.

So here’s your first lesson for free: have patience. With your characters, with your career, with yourself. I’ve learned that my characters will tell me their stories when they are damn well ready to, and not a moment sooner, so I might as well just enjoy the peace and quiet until then. And the career will come after dogged determination overcomes the constant rejection and something finally breaks through. As for you, we creative types are our own worst enemies, so we just need to ignore those nagging little voices using our fears against us and keep skipping down the yellow brick road to our goal. Success doesn’t happen overnight, and even those that are called “overnight sensations” have most likely been slogging in the trenches for years, if not decades.

That’s what I’m going to keep telling myself, anyway. For the remaining lesson packets, they can be yours for 17 easy installments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling. Just send me your credit card information telepathically and I’ll ship them out via carrier pigeon in the next six to eight years…

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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In my constant effort to avoid actually accomplishing anything, I spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the Internet, reading all sorts of memes from the right and the left on Facebook and watching videos of everything from dancing cats to epic fails on YouTube. Usually it’s all nothing but time wasters, but every now and then something sticks with me and I end up going back to it several times just to make sure I saw it right or didn’t miss anything, or sometimes just because it makes me feel good.

Recently I ran across a video of Michael J. Fox on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, during which Michael was talking about living with Parkinson’s and his attitude toward life. You can see it for yourself here. If you’re any kind of fan of his, or have spent any time whatsoever watching the news or talk shows or reading his books, you’re already well aware of his positive outlook despite his challenges. So it wasn’t really new for me to hear. But for some reason it really stuck with me this time.

As a chronic depressive, positive thoughts are a rare bird in the bush of crazy that is my mind. It’s not that I’m consciously creating the negative, hopeless, self-loathing things that inhabit nearly every moment of my life. In fact, I constantly have to fight against them, forcing logic and reason into the forefront when anxiety and OCD tendencies are running amok. Thankfully there was a time when my insurance actually paid for counseling sessions as well as the meds, so I have some tools I can use in the everlasting fight for my sanity.[1] One of those tools is to focus on the good things on your life. In the beginning it can be hard to recognize what those are, but over time and effort it becomes a growing list. Since I’ve been Mrs. Crankypants these last few entries, I decided that today I need to let that go and look at the good things I have and get back into a better head space. So here we go:

1)   Husband – For most of my life, I figured I’d never have one of these. Being bigger, stronger and smarter than most of the guys I knew made it hard to get a date. I was 39 when this big lug of a blonde finally convinced me he was worth my time and I haven’t been happier. He is truly my partner, confidante and cohort-in-crime. He supported me without question when I told him I didn’t want to go back into an office job anymore, and was going to stay home and actually try to get this writing thing going. He’s my rock, my hero, my battle-brother, my knight in shining armor, and my best friend. If I had nothing else nice to say about my life, he could make it seem like a picnic in the park.

2)   Family – I actually like most of my family. I have too many friends who are estranged from parents or siblings, and even my husband was more relieved when his mother passed than sad. But as a kid, my family didn’t have a lot and being in the military, the only constant was each other. Sure we’ve had our disagreements, but most of them we got over, and the ones we didn’t we just don’t talk about anymore. And since I didn’t have my own kids, I have to stay on good terms with my nieces and nephew, because they’ll be the ones deciding what happens to me when I’m completely senile.

3)   Friends – My husband and I are very private people and have a bad habit of not letting others in, metaphorically speaking, even when we could really use the company. We care deeply about the people in our circle and would do just about anything for them if asked, but tend to not let them see what’s going on with us. We have the attitude that we “don’t want them to see us like this.” But there have been a couple occasions over the last few years where we’ve been forced to ask for help because there was just no other option, and people stepped up for us. It made us realize that we’re not alone in this world. And we also learned that we have a pretty bitchin’ team for the coming zombie apocalypse…

4)   Schedule – I am my own boss. I don’t have to subscribe to someone else’s idea of what my day should contain and when. This is especially nice since I’m a night person. All those years working the 8-5 office grind wore on me in more ways than just all the annoyances from the bosses and co-workers. Now, I get to be on my body’s normal vampiric circadian rhythm, in bed about dawn and up in the early afternoon, all without having to set an alarm. I do what I want when I want, and any deadlines on me are those I decide for myself. That, folks, is true freedom.

5)   Creative Ability – I can play more than a dozen different instruments, compose music, write fiction and non-fiction, do needlework and weave at a level some seem to think is pretty astonishing, design my own patterns for needlework and weaving, do respectable drawings, and can even color inside the lines. These creative things have been easy for me all my life, a gift that I often neglect to appreciate.

6)   Health – There are those who know me that might wonder about this one, given that I can’t see past the end of my nose, have terrible tinnitus and frequency loss, had titanium knees installed, suffer from migraines, carry A LOT more weight than I should and, of course, the depression. But those are things that have been with me most of my life, and that I have largely adjusted to in one way or another. Even as my old, fat self, I’m far stronger than the average person, have pretty damn good reflexes and endurance, and make my doctor crazy when he looks at the scale and then looks at my near perfect blood work. Already I’ve lost a number of friends that were my age or younger even, to heart attacks, stroke, aneurisms, and I just keep on ticking. We’re long-lived in my family, and I plan on terrorizing the world for some time to come.

7)   House – Yeah, it’s in a geographic location I’m not too thrilled about, but the house itself is pretty good. It’s nice sized, has some features I really like, and keeps me dry. It’s my haven, my sanctuary from the cold, cruel world, my fortress of solitude. I’m not at the whims of a landlord who couldn’t be bothered to care beyond that monthly check. I can put nails in the wall, paint things chartreuse if I really wanted to (and could convince my husband), can have pets, and share it with a really cool roommate. Owning your home gives you a security you just can’t have any other way, and that helps keep me calm on so many levels.

8)   Companion Animal – There’s all sorts of studies about how pets can help ease stress, but anyone who’s ever had a pet doesn’t need a study to know the benefits. Right now we’re down to just a cranky old cat, but he’s a great character to have around. Mostly for comedic relief. He makes more noise coming down the stairs than our 60lb. dog did, and is about as graceless as a cat could be. But he also walks on the treadmill with me, tucks himself against my back when I’m not feeling well, and insists on helping me with whatever project I might be doing, usually when I’m right in the middle of the most important part that I really can’t screw up or the whole thing is screwed. Nothing like a 15lb. cat in your lap when you’re trying to be productive. But there’s also nothing like petting a soft, warm, purring bundle of anti-stress when the world has been mean to you.

So these are some of what I’m thankful for, the good things in my life that make it all worthwhile. I’m going to still have my days when the depression is beating me mercilessly about the head and shoulders, but these will help me fight back. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.


[1] Maybe someday cognitive therapy will be taken more seriously, but as long as the public at large, politicians and even the medical community just want to throw pills at mental illness, or, at worse, don’t want to throw anything at it at all because it’s “all just in your head and you need to get over it,” then people like me will continue to struggle. Get educated, people. It could mean life or death for somebody you love.

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