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Archive for September, 2014

It has been three months without an animal in the house. At least, an animal that’s supposed to be in the house. I’m not counting the little finches that live under the tiles in the back, or the morning doves that had a family on the porch (which was cool to watch, hatchling to flying away in about a month), or the lizards in the yard. I mean the usual household animals – cats and dogs.

It’s really weird, not having something under foot. The dogs would always tell me what was going on outside. Their hearing being so much better than mine, I realized just how handy that was after learning I missed someone at the door because I couldn’t hear them knock. Yes, we have a doorbell, but it rings when it wants to, and that’s if whoever’s at the door actually bothers to use it. Most of the time they don’t.

And the cats would tell me how inadequate I am as a servant because I didn’t pet them constantly, or allow them to wander across the kitchen table at will. Nothing like being cussed out by a little black Siamese.

Now there’s just me. Occasionally I’ll hear a noise in the house and the first response is to blame it on an animal. For so long that would have been the correct response, but these days I’m having to figure out other reasons: the house is settling, the noise was really outside somewhere, my imagination, ghosts of animals past. Given that I have five sets of ashes on my altar up stairs, that last one may not be all that far fetched. Especially if the sound in question is identical to something one of those animals commonly released. My husky used to “talk” instead of bark, that yodeling/vocalizing thing huskies are known for; the cattle dog was in constant motion, jingling collar driving all of us batshit as she tried to herd us into some semblance of order; the bully cross was pretty quiet but known for her farts, SBD’s of the deadliest variety, and her brilliant Cujo impersonation if you made the mistake of coming up to the gate; the Siamese offered an incessant commentary of his dissatisfaction in that expressive but whiny voice of his; and the polydactyl ginger cat would come down the stairs sounding like a Viking raiding party after a night of drinking.

Yes, those are our “normal” animals. Why do you ask?

Now, all those noises are just memories. There still seems to be an inordinate amount of animal hair in the house, residuals of twelve years of occupation, I suppose. And there’s still water and food dishes sitting out. I’ve managed to wash them all, but I can’t seem to put them away. I guess there’s a part of me that wants to maintain the illusion that there’s still a cat in a window somewhere, or a dog on their bed, quietly polluting the environment one methane expulsion at a time.

Working from home means having very little contact with people, and being able to have some sort of interaction with another living creature was actually very comforting. You don’t realize how important that is until you don’t have it anymore. Sure, I have plenty of stuff to keep me busy, but it’s not the same sitting at the computer without a purring cat tucked into the small of my back, or a snoring dog flopped out on the floor while I’m doing dishes.

And it doesn’t help that most of my friends have animals, and several even have litters of kittens or puppies that will need homes soon. You’re probably wondering why I don’t just adopt one of those, or travel to the local animal shelter and rescue one of them, and under most circumstances I’d be way ahead of you already. But my hubby and I have had several discussions on the matter and we’ve concluded that we have to be without animals for a while. We’re not really sure as to why, just a sense of being on the verge of something that will be easier to handle without that responsibility.

It doesn’t help that my sister just got a cute little ginger kitten and has been sharing pictures. Bitch.

We play with every animal possible, especially when we’re at our historical events. Lots of dogs at those. My husband favors dogs over cats, and has admitted to being in serious dog withdrawal. I, of course, prefer cats and miss having a warm plop of fur in the middle of my latest stitching project. It’s hard to resist the temptation to ply my husband with garlic bread and then run off to the pound as he snoozes through his carb coma. But I’ll be good. For now.

So think of me the next time you’re petting your non-human companion. I’ll just be over in the corner, gibbering to myself and playing with catnip mice.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.
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It seems fitting that, after my Ten Books entry last week, I follow up with this week’s national celebration of authorial independence and First Amendment rights. Yes, it’s Banned Books Week again, that annual protest against censorship, which allows us all to go play on the dark side. Sponsored by an impressive variety of groups including the American Library Association (“ALA”), and the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress, this week is a chance to show off your rebellious side.

Begun in 1982 in response to an explosive increase in the number of challenges schools, bookstores and libraries received against certain books (other media forms are not tracked), Banned Books Week’s main task is to bring awareness to the masses about the growing problem of censorship in our culture. Challenges don’t just represent individuals expressing their point of view, but actual requests to remove the questioned material from the shelf, thereby restricting access to those materials for all. Such restriction can stifle freethinking and the open expression of ideas by other people, which, in the long term, can only stifle us as an evolving culture. We only need to look at some Third World examples to see what can happen when censorship is the weapon of choice.

Over eleven thousand books have been affected since the Week’s inception, with every state represented. People challenge books because of sexual content, violence, profanity and slang, and against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups – or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Targeted books range from classic works of American literature to those that explore contemporary issues. Even the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary isn’t safe, being pulled by the Menifee Union School District in Riverside County, California during 2010 after a parent complained about a child discovering the term “oral sex.” While a committee later decided to lift the ban, parents were given the option of having their children use a different source for their lexiconic needs. The dictionary? Really? Get a grip, whiny holier-than-thou parachuting parents.

2013 saw 307 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom. 307 instances of people deciding what the rest of us can read. And that number represents only a small portion of the actual challenges made, as many more may be unreported according to the ALA. So, lets show those who want to restrict our choices what we think of their editorial opinions and go read the top ten books challenged in 2013:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

On the positive side, just because a book is challenged doesn’t mean it’s automatically off the shelf. Thanks to the efforts of parents, teachers and other concerned citizens, more and more challenges are unsuccessful and the material remains available. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, so it is our solemn patriotic duty to uphold those guarantees. Don’t like a book? Fine, don’t read it. But don’t force that censorship on others.

Our society needs to continually evolve and grow and move forward, and the only way to do that is by the free expression and discussion of ideas. Censorship destroys that freedom. So this week, not only can you support the rights given to all citizens by the founding documents of our nation, but you can also rebel against the rising tide of censorship by reading a book others have tried to ban. Combine that with dark chocolate and bourbon, and you have yourself one helluvan afternoon.

 

PS: In the interest of full disclosure, this is a re-working of an article I did in 2010 for Examiner.com. No, not lazy. Just utilizing my resources. 😉
© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All rights Reserved.

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A thing about books has been going around social media the last few weeks. It has varied from “The Ten Books That Stuck With You,” to “Your Ten Favorite Books,” to “Just Name Ten Books You’ve Actually Seen, You Illiterate Vente Cappuccino Drinking X Box Snob.”

Okay, maybe that last one was a little fictionalized, but we all know people who would fit under that heading. Sadly.

I wasn’t going to play along with this one at first. I’ve read so many books in my life, I didn’t think I could come up with just ten. Plus, everybody else was already doing it and I have a bit of oppositional defiance disorder so I couldn’t possibly include myself in that crowd. Plus, who the hell am I? Just some middle-aged crazy cat lady who is staggering along in that one last gasp to make something of herself in the world of fiction. Like about a bazillion others out there.

But I didn’t have anything else to write about, so here you go (in no particular order):

  • Dune, Frank Herbert: The first in Herbert’s seminal series, and one of the first sci-fi books I ever read. A major point that is constantly talked about in sci-fi/fantasy fiction is “world building.” There’s more to the story than just the characters and their immediate setting. There’s all the stuff in the background, all the stuff that we who live in 21st century USA take for granted because it’s all just there. Traffic laws, social expectations, sports teams, whatever, which makes our world a rich, multi-dimensional palate on which to play. Genre fiction has to come up with ALL OF THAT from scratch. Even if it never actually hits the printed page, the author needs to have that background just to keep the characters on track in their respective paths. Herbert gave us a rich, dense and evocative construct so deep and wide it went way beyond simply “world” building.
  • The Stand, Stephen King: I’m not a die-hard rabid fan, but the man can write and has given us some real classics in the horror genre. I have the “Complete and Uncut” edition of this one. Yes, it’s really, really long. And I couldn’t put it down. King’s writing is straightforward and his characters are richly drawn with the simplest of lines, but it’s also amazingly dense. Here’s where I really learned about voice and tone and how to tell a story through conversations. And being a fan of post-apocalyptic stories since forever, wading through this one with the ordinary people it affects instead of the scientists or the government taught me that you don’t have to answer every question for the reader, ‘cause sometimes there just aren’t any answers.
  • Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany: This one struck me with the force of its language and the weight of its themes, and yet I still don’t understand it. I don’t think it’s really meant to be fully understood. It was the first truly “adult” book I ever read, with overt sex and violence and haunting visuals. Don’t read this one looking for any answers because it will tease you mercilessly, yet never offer you release. Disturbing, beautiful, confusing, and challenging all the concepts of normal linear narrative and plot development. The writing is so stunning you can’t NOT read it.
  • Chasm City, Alastair Reynolds: I tend to avoid hard sci-fi. It’s difficult for me to get into it because the characters often seem to have been added in second thought after all the nifty science stuff is plotted out. Plus I’m only an armchair scientist, so some of the concepts just fly above my head. Not so on either account with Reynolds’ works. This one in particular reads more like gritty film noir than high-falutin’ scientist snob writing. Dark, lush and a little H.R. Giger-ish, it’s easy to disappear into this one. It’s why I now have to read everything Reynolds puts out.
  • Wizard’s First Rule, Terry Goodkind: The first fantasy book I read that I liked. It turns all the usual trite fantasy concepts on their collective heads. No cutesy dragon tamers, no bumbling wizard apprentices, no innocent girls discovering they’re “The One.” Adult characters in adult situations and magic unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Characters are complex and even the good guys sometimes do really terrible things because people are like that.
  • Dead Witch Walking, Kim Harrison: I came late to this series, only starting it about four years ago. I was initially reluctant to read it for two reasons: 1) urban paranormal was being overshadowed by Twilight, which I just can’t …, Just, no… 2) it’s written in first person. That’s right, I don’t like first person point of view in novels. I don’t like being in someone else’s head like that. It’s too limiting and too often just fucking annoying. And while I do have a problem with the main character in this series being too “girly” sometimes, Harrison has developed a rich world and interesting characters that I just need to keep following around, despite the POV.
  • Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan: The hard-boiled detective novel written in cyberpunk. The only faster than light travel possible is through subspace transmissions. Human consciousness becomes a data-stream, to be downloaded into different bodies. This is the first time I saw that concept actually used as more than a background note. It has consequences if not done correctly or if the download-ee is not properly trained. The characters become much more layered because of it, and the story hinges on the concept. Blew. My. Mind.
  • The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury: It’s a collection of stories and a novel, at the same time. From a sci-fi icon and Grand Master. It showed me that you don’t have to follow specific character(s) along definitive timeline(s), to have a rich and haunting book. And I have an autographed copy, so there.
  • Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, HM Queen Noor of Jordan: I read this shortly after it was released. We were busting our way through Iraq at the time, hearing about all the atrocities Saddam Hussein and his cronies had committed. I wanted to see why an American would surrender her citizenship and abandon her religion to become part of that culture. It is touching and eye-opening, and offers a perspective that we in the USA don’t get. Turn off the talking heads and read this.
  • The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway: One of the very few “classics” I like. Simple, poignant, and heartbreaking. I read it way back in junior high and I still think about it. That’s the kind of affect every writer aspires to.

There you go, some light reading for a rainy afternoon. And probably far too close a look into my head. It’s dark and scary in there. Better bring a cup of tea and some dark chocolate to calm the beasts…

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve been told I give good advice. I have a knack at separating my logical self from my emotional self and making solid judgments based just on the facts. That would be the scientist in me, I suppose. But it only seems to work when dealing with other people and their problems. When it comes to my own, well, you can just forget that whole logic thing.

It’s not like I don’t know what I need to be doing for my health and career. I just can’t seem to convince myself that it’s all that important. I understand on an intellectual level that my depression is behind that malaise, but most days my intellect is on standby while the raging force of “Meh. I’ll do it tomorrow.” runs rampant. It doesn’t help that in the last three years of actively trying to become a real paid fiction writer there has been nothing but a solid line of rejections. The depression loves that kind of shit.

That’s when I go look at my log of submissions. Yes, I keep a log. Don’t you? If not, how the hell do you keep track of where you’ve sent what? Even if it’s just sticky notes all over your workspace, you have to keep a record of what you’re doing. Otherwise you might submit something a second time to someone who’s already rejected it. I’ve already mentioned websites like AgentQuery and QueryTracker, which can help with both finding places to which you can submit, and with tracking those submissions. They are valuable resources I’ve visited on occasion myself. But, being the old-fashioned fuddy-duddy that I am, I keep my log on an Excel spreadsheet.

Looking over said log, I see that I’ve submitted queries for my novel to nine different agents, two of which requested additional pages before rejecting it. I’ve also sent it off to one grant program (rejected) and one publisher who had an open call (rejected, though it did end up in the final 10% before that fatal note), while it’s still pending with a second publisher. To view these numbers logically, one can see my submissions are only a drop in the bucket (see Literary Rejections for some real eye-openers). I follow several other writers and they routinely send out agent queries numbering in the double digits WEEKLY. Admittedly, most of them are doing literary fiction, not adult genre fiction, which seems to have a much smaller pool to drink from (though everybody seems to want Young Adult stuff in just about any genre. Thank you, Harry Potter and Twilight.). But the point my depression keeps nagging me about is, they’re working harder at it than I am.

My short stories haven’t faired any better. So far I’ve had four I’ve tried to sell. The most recent rejection did include a P.S. about how it had been a “difficult decision” to pass on that one, but stuff like that just reminds me how not good I am.

And there the beast has grabbed me again. I’m a lousy writer who’s too lazy to do what it takes to make it in the business. A closer inspection of my logs proves that, as there can be months between a rejection and the following submission. To make matters worse, I haven’t worked on any new short stories at all since July, despite having two started, and the latest novel hasn’t been touched since June. I really suck.

So when I give people advice like “keep pushing through,” “write everyday, no matter what,” and “one word is better than none,” I’m really just a lying hypocrite offering up empty platitudes because I want to be the good guy. There you go, readers – the truth of my parasitic existence.

I never intended for this blog to be a diary of my depression. It was started initially to force myself to write on a regular basis, to try and get into a groove and develop my skills as a writer. It then morphed into various rants, some occasional cool and fun things I wanted to share, and the rare but hopefully helpful writing tip. I wanted others to see what it was like to be middle-aged and trying a new career when the corporate world no longer wanted you. Maybe even show those others like me they weren’t alone. I suppose depression is part of that – I certainly have enough friends in the same boat with the same problems – but I don’t want it to be the defining thing about me, or this blog.

No, I want to be defined by my talent. I want to be successful, to have thousands of followers and a three book publishing deal and be invited to writing conferences because I’m just that damn cool. I want to be able to share with you my accomplishments, not my demons.

But then I realized maybe you need to see how hard it is for someone else, before you can really understand that it’s not just you. It just is.

By the time I was fourteen … the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”

Stephen King, On Writing

And that’s why we have to keep pushing through.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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If

 

If, in the distant past of my life,

the call of ancients, mired in strife,

had let me be a child of the light,

the beauty of each and every day

could be a wonder to behold.

 

If, instead sending the darkest cloud,

the gods had sang high praises aloud,

had blessed me with a heart of joy,

the laughter of my jubilant soul

could reach the farthest stars.

 

If, when culling the maddened hordes,

the blackened hearts of mighty lords,

had given peace to this quiet child,

the words offered up to hungry eyes

could soothe the minds of millions.

 

If, as nature takes its course,

the hooded rider and his pale horse,

had not touched me with his damning scythe,

the stories from my haunted pen

could fuel your revolutions.

 

If, when day has faded to night,

the wolves that bay in the pale moonlight,

had left the hunt for lack of prey,

the body with my failing soul

could find the path of redemption.

 

If, instead of graveyard silence,

the path we walked avoided violence,

had let us bathe in peaceful waters,

the life unlived by the darkling child

could lift the world to brightness.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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