Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How to Write Kissing Scenes that ROCK!

Oh my gosh I'm so excited. I have never felt so well prepared for a blog topic ever. I have studied this subject extensively, and have so many opinions, because to me, plot is just the stuff that happens between kissing scenes.

So...How to write kissing scenes that ROCK!

Step 1. Make a couple that rocks. You can write a good kissing scene between a doomed couple, but a kissing scene only ROCKS if the reader believes in them. Which means they should be able to communicate like humans long before they lock lips. This couple should sacrifice for each other, long for each other, and complete each other - one character's strength balancing out another's weakness, etc. 

Step 2. Conflict. There should be a reason why they aren't kissing. And the stronger the force pushing them apart, the more you can show the longing and the desire to be together, so make it a good Conflict. Make it impossible. Make the reader doubt that it will happen.

Step 3. Time. They need to long for each other way before their lips meet. They need to earn an awesome kissing scene, and that takes effort, pain, sacrifice, and time. And not just for the characters...I'm actually talking about the readers. The readers need to be invested, which means they need to make a sacrifice, they need to be emotionally connected to these characters, and it needs to happen later on in the book, so the reader has invested their time in a couple.  If a kissing scene isn't working, then maybe it's just too soon. Just don't wait too long, because that also is a thing.

I went through this with my book The Waxling. I wrote the scene where Ari and Henry get together way too soon, and it didn't work for any of the beta readers. So I changed it into a fight scene, where Ari and Henry break up instead, and it works so much better. The longing to be together is still there. I remember where they kissed, and the point in the conversation, if they were just brave enough to say what they were feeling, they would be making out is, so there is an undercurrent of loss through out the fight that really works.

I think ninety nine percent of the work that goes into a good kissing scene happens before the kiss.

Once they've earned the moment, and the reader believes in the couple, and their longing for each other is bigger than the conflict that is standing between them, then you have a kissing scene that really works.

Now you just have to write it.

Tips for writing the scene itself.

1. Turn down the voice in your head that gets embarrassed, but don't turn it off. A good kissing scene can get weird easily, and so try to keep a weird meter running while writing it.

2. Remember the senses, but you don't need to use all of them. I don't need to know the sound of a kiss. Gross I tells ya. I don't want to read about it. But the reader needs to know what is actually happening, and what it feels like. They've put the work in with the couple, and you can give them a few details to make it special. Go in close for the POV. Notice the smell of the girl's perfume, the taste of orange juice on lips, the rough stubble, or soft skin, increased heartbeat, etc. 

3, Remember the setting. There are a lot of kisses in the world, and two people  kissing can feel unspecial. One kiss can blend in with another, so don't forget what makes your couple special, and remind the reader of that while in the scene. Choose the location, setting, and moment of the kiss in a way that it reminds the reader of the struggle to get there. 

This is an example of a kiss that really works because of the use of setting, and even the theme of the story. Start at 1:30. 

 I also love how in that kiss, you can see him waiting, and wondering, and oh my gosh James McAvoy is adorable, and once he knows it's her, he doesn't wait. He is done waiting and runs to her. It's adorable.  

So while you are zoomed in close for the moment, don't forget to show the whole picture, because otherwise they are just giant heads.

4. Remember the moment BEFORE the kiss, and give it time. There's fear before a kiss, awkwardness, longing, and something special, so whatever you do don't forget to take a breath beforehand, or not have time to have a breath so all those stomach clenching moments happen so fast it makes the kiss itself sparks fire.

5. Remember the moment AFTER the kiss. This is a real pet peeve of mine, but you got to remember to pull back, or to have an awkward smile, or a consequence to the kiss. I hate when you have a kissing scene, and then they start talking, and as a reader you're like..."wait when did the kiss end?"

 A good kiss is like a good story, it has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This clip is a good example of a powerful beginning, middle, and end. Also James McAvoy. 

6. Remember the fear. Every good kiss is a risk. To love at all is to be vulnerable, so don't lose the heart pounding vulnerability in favor of steam. And don't forget also the character's age and experience.  Pet peeve number two, is when a character is acting out of character just for a kiss. You get invested in characters being together, so don't forget to invite them to show up. 

7. Less is more. Sometimes yes, you need every sense and every moment of a kiss, but sometimes, you simply don't. If you've done the work before the scene well, then you don't need every moment for the reader to get it. Sometimes simple is the best policy.

This is a non James McAvoy example. This is from The Waxling, which will be coming out, you know, sometime, whenever. This is near the end, after Henry and Ari have struggled and longed and earned each other. Henry writes a letter and finally tells Ari he loves her, and then a disaster happens, and they work together to solve it, and he keeps asking her if she got his letter, because he doesn't know what her reaction will be, and she's terrified, and keeps changing the subject. Then once the disaster is solved, this happens.

I clutched the folds of my nightgown between my fists. “I got your letter,” I said to him. Sarah took three steps forward without us. Henry swallowed, his jaw tense.
I let out a breath. “I read it four times.”
The terror didn’t leave his eyes. “And?” 
I smiled. 
And then Henry Johnson, the boy who sat with me, and painted for me, and found me, ignored my parent’s watching, and the council members, and the Singers, and he put his hand around my cheek, and he kissed me like he’d waited his whole life to do it.

Oh my gosh it's so cute. It probably only works for me, because I've read all the work I've done, and I know what "sat with me," and "painted for me," and "found me" means to Ari, (You'll have to read it to get the full toe curling experience) but it works in one sentence, without any taste or touch or embarrassingly too personal moments. When you go less, the reader gets to imagine their own moment, and that gives them ownership of it. 

Which of course is the goal and secret to a kissing scene that rocks. It has to rock for the reader. Remember them. Their reaction and experience is more important then the character's reaction and experience.

Or you can just cast James McAvoy or Benedict Cumberbatch. That will also do it.

~Sheena Boekweg

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Complete Guide To Kissing

If you search this blog using the terms “Melanie” and “kissing” or “romance” you’ll see that I’m something of an expert on the fine art of kissing...at least in my own mind.

There is the Is This A Kissing Book? post from 2012.

AND a five part series on how to create romantic subplots:

Back in 2003, I wrote a post called K is for Kissing for the A-Z Challenge.

Nothing lately though. Don’t ask me why…maybe because I’m in the middle of writing MY FAVORITE romantic subplot ever, and so I don’t feel the need to lecture everyone ad infinitum about how to do it. Whatever the reason, I can’t think of much about kissing that I haven’t said before.

Except this. Never forget this:
  • Don't bite his face, Eleanor told herself. It's disturbing and needy and never happens in situation comedies or movies that end with big kisses. (from eleanor and park...the quintessential guide to real kisses)
And of course, Albert Einstein was a well known expert on kissing:
  • Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, that reminds me of Ray Bradbury...ugh. I couldn't find it. But there's that scene somewhere where the woman kisses an alien, and it's so perfect, because he's not thinking of anything except kissing her...does anyone know what I'm talking about??

What are your favorite quotes about kissing?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kissing an Alien

Think of the planet Earth. Think about kissing on the planet Earth. There are almost 200 countries on this planet and each one has different attitudes and approaches to kissing. Kissing in public ranges from being very common, to absolutely illegal.

So how should you handle it in your science fiction?

Any way you want – but make it interesting.

Kissing is a great opportunity for world building. If you're writing a first contact story, who is the first to try kissing the new alien species? What happens and what are the consequences? The person could die by toxin, or because they broke some law. Or maybe an alien kiss is the greatest high ever and it becomes a challenge to see how many aliens you can get to kiss you. Maybe the person is ostracized, or maybe just teased. These things give you the chance to not only display your society, but your character's true nature as well.

And this works both ways. You can tell the story from the alien's pov as well. If you were an alien, what would it be like smooching a human for the first time?

Even if it's not a first time, there's a huge realm of possibilities. Alien A loves Alien B but their pieces don't fit together, even for kissing. Maybe kissing causes the alien to teleport. Wouldn't that be a bummer? A society could have an entire cleansing ritual before kissing was allowed. Take a bath? No problem – except the bath is in sulfuric acid.

An alien's kiss could be addictive. Imagine a whole slave trade where the slaves are kept in line because they're dying for a kiss from their master. Or those aliens are simply the most successful drug lords ever. Flip the idea and you have aliens being kidnapped and held prisoner for the narcotic effects of their kiss.

The consequence of kissing aliens doesn't have to be the entire focus of your story, but it can add a unique layer of conflict and possibility. It will add richness to your society and can be one more hurdle you throw in the path of your protagonist.

So don't waste an opportunity. Make your kissing scenes with aliens exciting, or dangerous, or funny. Above all, make them interesting.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Clara Frost tells you all about kissing

This week we decided on a theme of kissing in books and especially kissing scenes. I have literally no experience writing kissing scenes and I was starting to worry about finding anything to say on the topic until I realized: I have the option of ringing a friend. Enter Clara Frost, romance author extraordinaire. I decided to interview her to get help in writing romance into scenes.

Fool's Gold by Clara Frost
How do you decide when the characters should be kissing and when to go further?
Authors tend to be categorized in one of two ways: plotters and pantsers. Plotters start a new story by working out what will happen in broad strokes, refining down until they know their direction for anywhere from a few chapters to the whole book, and only then do they begin writing. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go along. While there are shades of gray between the two, I fall on the side of the plotters most of the time.

Because of this, I know at the beginning who my hero and heroine are, how their relationship will develop, and how far I want their intimacy to go in each scene. Take Fool’s Gold, for example. The story is about two relationships: Trent and Victoria, and Victoria and Beta. I wanted Trent and Victoria’s to be fast and steamy and ultimately unsustainable, but Victoria and Beta to start of much slower and grow into something that meant more at the end. Victoria and Trent start with a touch and a kiss and then fall right into bed. Beta, on the other hand, cares deeply about Victoria, and is afraid of hurting her, so he will hardly touch her until much later.

How much set up do you do for any expressions of physical intimacy?
This is a place where I think fiction and reality have much in common. Intimacy is as much mental as it is physical, and the best intimacy is preceded by plenty of anticipation. In fiction this may mean multiple encounters culminating with one grand climax late in the story, or it may mean a much earlier scene that is slower paced and more drawn out, but ends just as steamy.

Of course, fiction and reality are both sometimes too fast and too messy, and the consequences of a deed may be more entertaining than the deed itself.

Do you have any pet peeves regarding kissing scenes in romance or non-romance stories?
Boredom. I hate boredom in all forms of fiction, but a story that beats me over the head with how perfect a hero is, and then he turns out to be a perfect kisser, too, I feel like I've wasted my time. There are certain tropes most romances follow, and when an author can give me a new take on those tropes, I’ll love them forever.

What do you consider to be the most important aspect of scenes featuring physical intimacy?
It has to have a purpose, preferably more than one. Intimate scenes should give the reader insight into all characters in the scene, it should move the plot of the story forward, and it should surprise me. To me, there’s nothing worse than two characters meeting, go straight into a steamy scene, and then afterward nothing has changed.

Duty Honor Family by Clara Frost
How detailed do you get?
In my more recent work, such as Duty Honor Family, I've taken the approach of setting up the scene and fading to black as the clothes hit the floor. If it’s done well, the reader’s imagination will give them a far better experience than I can as the writer. The secret for me is getting their imagination to the right place.

What are your favorite kissing scenes in fiction?
Rhett and Scarlett is probably the most iconic kissing scene in fiction, though I think you can make a case for Han and Leia being a slightly re-written take on the same beats.

But for my absolute favorite, I’ll defer to William Goldman.
“There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C...(before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy.... Well, this one left them all behind.”

Clara Frost is a romance writer based in the Midwestern United States. You can follow her online at www.clarafrost.com. Her latest novel, Duty Honor Family, is available at all major online retailers, including Amazon, B&N, Kobo and Apple.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ewww - Kissing!

 So with where I appear in the Prosers publication cycle, when we decide on a new theme to use, I get to debut it. Isn’t that fabulous? OR, it could be the other ladies decide to use me as a guinea pig and if my post flops/makes no sense they go in completely different directions? Hmm….<contemplates my fellow prosers posting habits carefully.>

AT ANY RATE – this cycle, we got chatting about romance in novels, and particularly KISSING. Although some Prosers may take this theme and talk about romance and conflict in romantic plots more generally, I plan to talk about kissing. Who doesn’t like to talk about kissing, right?

Well, I’ll be honest. This mother of a thirteen year old does not always like to talk about kissing. The older my kids get and more likely to experience the kinds of things I write into my books, the more my heart lurches as the idea of them having these kinds of experiences! Putting aside the existential-angst-by-proxy of imagining my babies EVER entangled romantically with other folks, though, I will focus more on how and what I do about romance (and KISSING) in my YA and MG stories.

First, here’s my philosophy as a mother, woman, writer, and massive reader of YA and MG stories. I think middle grade books sometimes over-emphasize romantic subplots. I think it’s realistic to include crushes and boys/girls thinking about (obsessing about?) each other, but to go beyond hand-holding or chaste kisses is wrong, IMHO. That’s not the kind of thing I want my own tweens thinking is normal for kids their age, and kids base a lot of what they think is normal/acceptable behavior off what they read in these kinds of books. Plus it's not all that reflective of the real inner lives of 11 and 12 year olds. 

These two share one of the bigger big-screen kisses of recent memory.

In YA books, which are meant for teens, I think some amount of heart-racing is appropriate. But I really don’t want my kids having sex. This is where I diverge from many popular YA titles in, as there’s quite a bit of sex in YA. In many popular series’, the sex is done in a “fade to black” way. That’s a better way of handling it than crossing over into erotica, but since most kids “read up” (as they age kids always want to read about kids that little bit older than themselves) it’s a source of frustration. I am not sure I want my 12 year old reading about 16 year olds having sex. Then again, for many writers it seems to be the only way they can figure out how to culminate romantic plots. It’s the “will they or won’t they” question. The last Divergent book stands out to me as an example.

I feel that this sort of thing is an easy way out. It’s like the idea of killing off the parents (also a technique Divergent used) as a way to up the stakes for the characters in a YA or MG book. It frustrates me. I’d rather see the difficult work of portraying a changing relationship between tween/teen and his/her parents than the author just arbitrarily offing the parents to remove them from the scene, to up the stakes for the MC, and to make it so the MC has to take all the actions in the book (not get “saved” by adults in the story.) Fair points, but again feels a bit like a cheat to me.

I think I need some examples to help illustrate.

First, from my own novel, CONVERGENCE, here’s the bit at the end where the two main characters kiss. It’s a YA novel and this is the only kissing, though there’s some heart-flutters earlier.

Her arm felt like it was on fire. From this close angle, Anya could look directly into his eyes. Her voice was hoarse. "You have to feel that, too." 
Bruce didn't say anything, but nodded, still looking at her, still holding onto her arm.
"I'd like to, you know, like, try out something a little more than friends." Anya said, clearing her throat. 
Bruce's eyebrows shot up. "Really? I thought, I just thought, you know, well when you didn't say anything." 
Anya silenced him by putting her lips on his. They were as soft as they looked, and she relaxed into him, feeling the warmth as he put his other arm around her and they kissed for several long seconds. She felt her new Identity clank into Bruce's. Anya tried to memorize everything about the moment, her first kiss. She felt a little dizzy, and lighter than the low-gravity of the school hall.

And here’s a bit from one of my all-time favorite books, The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley:

“Yes-of-course-I’ll-marry-you,” said Aerin, and when he caught her up in his arms to kiss her she didn’t even notice the shrill pain of burst blisters.

Less than I thought, actually. I’ll have to dig around and see if there’s one more kiss elsewhere in the book, but… well that’s one example from a Newberry winner published in 1984.

A book I read recently had a different (more along the lines of modern sensibilities, frustratingly) take. I joke that it seems like it oculdn’t figure out if it was a fun steampunk adventure tale, or YA bodice-ripper. For example:

“Her laughter brought a smile to his lips that made Charlotte’s breath quicken. 
“Shall I take you upstairs?” Jack asked. Something about the question sent warmth pooling into Charlotte’s belly. 
“Please,” she whispered. 
Jack kept her hand in his as he escorted her up the grand staircase. They stopped at her bedroom door, shrouded in darkness. 
“Charlotte,” Jack murmured. 
She could barely make out his face, but she felt his hand against her cheek. Without thinking, Charlotte leaned her cheek into his palm, turning her face so her lips brushed the heel of his hand. She heard Jack stifle a groan. 
Charlotte quickly straightened, shocked by her own behavior. What had she done? Was she so wanton as this? She’d practically swooned into Coe’s arms earlier that night, and now she was playing the seductress with Jack. 
“I should say good night.” Charlotte’s voice cracked. 
But the weight of Jack’s hands rested on her waist, then moved to her lower back, drawing her forward. The silk of her gown rustled when her body pressed against his.

(and then our young lovers get interrupted, THANK HEAVENS since I was feeling a little over-warm just re-reading that passage.)

This is a book with 16 year-old protagonists, set in an alternative history America of the nineteenth century (with all the steampunk trappings.) In the fourth chapter Charlotte more-or-less does a striptease with Jack, pushing the sexual tension far beyond my comfort level for a book that is advertised as an alt history adventure/thriller. (The book is The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer. There really isn’t anything wrong with it other than my complaints about this overly mature content in a book marketed in a young-tilting way, but your mileage may vary.)

Last example is from Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, also a Newberry Honor book.

Peder shook his head as if giving up on words, reached out and took her hand. Miri bit her lip to keep herself from pulling away. She was certain he could feel her heartbeat in her fingers and would know that inside she was trembling and sighing. Then after a time she stopped worrying. She could feel his heartbeat, too, and it was as fast as a fleeing hare.
 When they entered the village, Peder still kept hold of her hand. Frid stared as they passed, Esa blushed for them, Gerti and her three younger sisters giggled and chased after, chanting about a kiss for every miri petal. Twice Miri relaxed her hand in case he wanted to leave her, but he held on even tighter.

No kissing at all, as it turns out, but the scene shows a great example of saying much without saying much at all. By this point in the story we know the characters quite well and the reactions of Frid, Esa, and Gerti are as important as the main character, Miri’s, thoughts about holding hands with Peder.

So there are three really different examples from books all aimed at a 12 and up audience. What are your thoughts on kissing or public displays of affection in YA and MG fiction?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Proser Classic. - Read This Post If You Want to Live

Original post published almost two years ago, and since then I've discovered outlining, and have spent plenty of time imagining scenes for a long time before I write them. And I've also lost plenty of scenes and story ideas to over exploration. So it's a good tip, that I can't and don't always listen to.

Happy writing, people!

I'm about to share with you my Number One Writing Secret.

Imagine this scenario...you're nodding off to sleep for the night, or you're jamming out to some Colbie Caillet, or you're in the shower, when you hear the rustling sound of fairy wings that is a brand new idea.

You're intrigued. You starts asking questions, and the Next Great American Novel idea has magically opened up behind your eyes.

You with me?

Okay now, stop here.

This path is beautiful,
but watch out...
the gate's locked.
From here on, you're about to take one of two paths. One of them is a trick that will make your writing better, but first here's the, perhaps, familiar path.

You follow the idea around for a bit. You explore, ask questions, and patches of prose, or scenes, briefly touch your mind. It's delicious. This is brilliant, you think.

The fairy tells you the last of her story, and zips away, and you're left with a smile on your face.

 Then life happens. You drop the kids off at school, you buy milk or broccoli, you break up fights, or finish an assignment for work.

Finally, you put the kids in front of something mind-numbing, or your roommate goes to bed, and you can finally open up Word...

...and nothing happens.

Okay, you think. There was this idea, and it was so cool, and oh yeah...(you write a sentence recited from memory), but... that's not exactly it. Darn this writer's block. You shut off Word, check Facebook, or Hatrack, and then go watch Netflix.

And the idea is gone. You've lost it.

Okay, now, rewind with me on the path, back to the moment I said stop.

You're in the car, (or the shower, or on your pillow with your eyes closed) and you hear the rustling of fairy wings. You open your mind for a second, and ask enough questions to see if the idea has magic in it, or if it's actually a moth disguised as a fairy. I hate those.

If it's magic...trap it. Wrap it up in a ball, and put it in your pocket. Then, turn on Beyonce as loud as you can, and force yourself to STOP asking questions. Do not explore the idea yet. Put your metaphysical fingers in your ears, and say, "La la la la la! I'm not listening"

Let life happen. Drop off the kids at school, buy your milk, chat with your coworkers. This magical fairy of an idea will stay with you, and pop her head in at the oddest hours....because you are a writer, and fairies like writers. Do not let her out. Keep her trapped, and ignore her the best you can.

As soon as you are able, open up Word and let the girl go. Ask her questions, and she'll tell you her answers. Your fingers will fly over the keyboard, and will catch snatches of prose, moments of magic, locations, characters,  and pain.

Then the fairy will tell you the last of her story. She'll leave you with a smile on your face and enough fairy dust left on the screen that you can go flying again whenever you want.

Last week, MaryAnn wrote about how sometimes life gets in the way of writing in this beautiful post.  I've thought about that post all week, and I think I've come to a conclusion.

I think she got it backwards. I think the problem comes not when life gets in the way of writing, I think the problem comes when we let writing get in the way of our life. Life comes first. Life is the meal, writing is dessert.

Real life, our children, our responsibilities at work, smiling at our neighbor, talking to the kids as they're buckled in, taking care of yourself so you get enough sleep, or exercise, or keep clean - these things are more important than writing time. I'm not saying writing is not important. It is. But life happens in life.

Writing should always happen at your desk.

But I'm world building, you say. But this is just brainstorming...


Brainstorming only really happens with a pen. Writing, without a pen,( or a desk), is just daydreaming. It's creating ideas that you are going to lose. It's wasting your time, and your magic.

So... my number one writing tip is this. Stop daydreaming, and start writing.

What I'm reading now, Stephen King, On Writing
What I'm writing now, FTCM, Fourth Draft.

Seriously how cute is it that I was working on FTCM? I should keep doing that.

What I'm reading now: The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight ( Sixth time is the charm, I super love this one)
What I'm working on now: Pyromancy Part One, final draft,  The Waxling, structural edit, AND Funny Tragic Shadowed Magic, first draft...but mostly Pyromancy.(We're at the kissing scenes! Squee!) :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hurricane Ivan - 10 year anniversary

It's pretty appropriate, how tropical it feels in San Diego tonight. A heat wave was broken by thunderstorms and a few minutes of pouring rain. Now it's 80F and 80% humidity long after sunset, and it's the perfect setting for the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Ivan.
A bit of background about me is necessary at this point. For the first 23 years of my life, I lived in one town in California. My only foray out of the state was a five-month study abroad program in Australia, but that always felt like an extended vacation. As a result of all that stationary living, when the time came to accept my first post-undergraduate job, I moved from San Jose, California, to Pensacola, Florida. I got a job (an internship, really) at Gulf Islands National Seashore, working with sea turtles and shorebirds. It was a dream come true, for an ecology student.
Kemp's Ridley hatching, picture by me

Most of all, I remember the chaos that was nesting season. Hatchling turtles naturally navigate by the light of the moon – what used to be the brightest light in the night sky. But in modern times, the lights of a major city and a military airport, and the little guys can get a bit disoriented and head in the wrong directions. It was my job to make sure that didn't happen. That meant I had to be there at sunset, to put the screens over the nests (to trap the baby turtles in case they hatched while I was elsewhere). Then I had to check all of the nests at 9 p.m., midnight, and 3 a.m. One last check at sunrise to remove the screens (don't want the babies to get stuck in the hot Florida sun), and then I would go drive the beach in a Mule to check for new nests, and spend the rest of the day until about noon checking on shorebird nests.
Common nighthawk chicks, picture by me

It's the kind of job that basically only a young 20-something could do. I loved every minute of it. I loved the starry sky at night, the feel of baby turtles in my hands and the incredible amount of energy in their tiny bodies (they can really motor down the beach!), and I loved my Fridays, when I would go grab dinner and sit in a zone of dazed exhaustion, anticipating the 14+ hours of sleep I had ahead of me. I loved my house that was on the barrier island, in the middle of the national park, even if tourists had a bad habit of considering us part of the experience and picnicking on our back porch.

Me and my sister, in front of my  house on Santa Rosa Island, Cape Cod National Seashore

I don't think I believe in destiny. It seems incredibly arrogant, I guess, to assume that all the processes that make up our world could turn their focus to screwing up one person's life. So I likely just happened to be in the way when one of the strongest hurricanes in living memory aimed itself at the Florida panhandle. At its peak, Ivan was the size of Texas. It generated a 27 foot storm surge on the U.S. coast – and remember, that means 27 ft above normal ocean levels… not counting any waves the storm generated on top of that.
At that time, I had the good fortune to be working for someone who had survived Hurricane Andrew in Miami. My boss organized the removal of all the Natural Resources equipment off the barrier island and to the mainland. He also took me, an intern with not much money, with him and his family to northern Georgia to wait out the storm. I still remember it quite clearly, sitting in a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains, watching the waves was over the top of a 50-foot high pier and thinking, Well, there goes my life.
I would like to pause at this moment to emphasize how little I suffered from this storm. I didn't lose my internship, though I had a couple of scary moments. I did lose access to the house that I'd lived in, but it wasn't something I owned. I wasn't one of the many people who came back to town to find their entire home washed away, with only the concrete foundation remaining. I wasn't one of the people who had seven feet of water flood their house, rendering the first floor and the entire structure unlivable. I wasn't one of the people whose family members decided to have a hurricane party out near the beach, who underestimated the power of a category 5 hurricane, and who died in the flooding (Worldwide, 121 people died due to Ivan). I was so, so lucky, and I know that, and I hope those people forgive me my grieving and remembering what I did lose, and my recounting of my memories of what we all survived.

Remnants of a road, Santa Rosa Island, by me

What I lost was my first rented home (not destroyed, but rendered unlivable), the first place that was mine, my first real sensation of freedom. I lost a job that was the most perfect thing I could have imagined. I don't think I would have wanted to do any of that forever. It's certainly not what I want to do now. But oh, I wanted to do that work, to have that life, for just a little bit longer.

Beachfront condo crumbling, Perdido Key. Picture by me.

But now I feel like I’m being too tragic, so I'll recount some of the good things. I discovered that MREs are surprisingly tasty, and are kind of like Christmas in a pouch because you never know what kind of snacks and desert you're going to get with your beef stew. I got to live with an amazing woman who opened her home to me for a few months after the storm, and whose sweet and optimistic nature is still an inspiration to me.

I don't know if I can say I wish Ivan never happened to me. Because of the storm, I stayed in Florida for a much shorter time than I would have otherwise. Instead, I moved to Massachusetts and met one of my closest friends. And because I met her, a few years later, she gave me a professional reference that got me the job I have now. And of course I have all the amazing memories from the time I did get to spend there. All the time "rescuing" juvenile loons who couldn't walk on land, because tourists would call us over ("There's a duck with two broken legs! I threw sand at it, but it didn’t move!"). The time that the lifeguards found a dead sea turtle and brought it back to the pier where all the tourists were, and there was the one tourist who asked my coworker, "Is it dead?" and she replied, "Well, it doesn't have a head." (and then there was the time I had to respond to a dead turtle washing up on the beach on Thanksgiving… and let me tell you, few things smell worse than dead marine animal). I could go on. It was so much fun.

I'm not sure how to end this. I don't have any big life lessons or such to share. I'm just glad to revisit my memories of the time there, even if 23-year-old-me's journaling was kind of painful, and if looking at the pictures was far more so. I still miss Pensacola and the South; you can see my massive affection for the area in the fact that I made Juliette from there. I can't wait to visit again, and go to Bagelheads and that Irish pub and those beautiful beaches, even if I don't think I'll ever risk living in hurricane territory again.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dr. Seuss and the New Job

First of all, welcome to Nina! I am so excited to have you here with us on the Prosers. Your energy and perspective are exactly what I need in my life right now!

Second of all, this has been a crazy, busy, difficult, out of control week. I wrote a post about it on facebook yesterday, and since I'm too tired to write it all again, I'm going to cut and paste it right here:
So many people have asked me this "Melanie, are you OK?" question that I thought I ought to just do a generalized answer. Yes. I'm good. I love this job (I'm a long-term sub for a special education teacher at the elementary school). For the first time in my life, I'm doing EXACTLY the thing I imagined doing when I was in college. I'm teaching a great bunch of kids, and though I don't know how long it will last, I'm grateful for this reminder that THIS is what I want to be when I grow up.

But I also want to be a writer when I grow up, and I hate not having time for it. But what with the (insert really long list of things going on in my life), I haven't had time to write. I know this isn't different than the 7 billion other people on this planet. What's different is my ability to cope, which, judging by how many people have asked me if I'm OK today, is pretty nil.

But you know, some months are just meant to be like that. At the end of this month, I will know things about myself that I didn't know before. God knows what I need, and THIS is it! Not forever, but for now. That knowledge is so strong in my heart that it burns there even when I feel like I'm messing everything up, and missing writing so badly it hurts. So yes, I'm OK. Thanks for asking!
So, with that in mind, I've decided to reblog what is arguably the most popular blog post I've ever written...my tribute to Dr. Seuss:

I used to have One Fish, Two Fish, Old Fish, New Fish completely memorized. I was bizarrely proud of this accomplishment. Every night, my children and I would sit surrounded by a pile of books and read, and read, and read. When it finally came time for One Fish, Two Fish, I would give a little sigh, shut my exhausted eyes and begin:

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish
Black fish, blue fish, old fish, new fish
This one has a little star.
This one has a little car.
Say! What a lot of fish there are!

This ended up being ironic, since it turns out that Dr. Seuss once wrote, "You'll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut." It's true, Dr. Seuss, but sometimes a mom's just GOT to.

The Dr. Seuss book I read the most often was probably There's A Wocket In My Pocket. It wasn't because it was the best, but because it was the shortest. It was perfect for those days when I wanted to be a good mom and read to my kids, but I wanted to be finished in under five minutes. J

My youngest son was obsessed with Dr. Seuss. We "searched high and searched low" for every Dr. Seuss book ever written--even the 500 Hats of Batholomew Cubbins and Thidwick, The Big Hearted Moose. My youngest is gifted mathematically, and I think it was the mathematical side of him that was pulled to the cadences of Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss wrote most of his books in anapestic tetrameter, which is composed of two weak beats followed by one strong, like this:

On the FIFteenth of MAY in the JUNgle of NOOL in the HEAT of the DAY by the COOL of the POOL. (From Horton Hears A Who).
Seuss generally maintained this meter quite strictly, until late in his career, when he no longer maintained strict rhythm in all lines. The consistency of his meter was one of his hallmarks; the many imitators and parodists of Seuss are often unable to write in strict anapestic tetrameter, or are unaware that they should, and thus sound clumsy in comparison with the original." http://www.moorepartners.ca/seuss-sc.cfm?ID=91&categoryid=22
He also wrote in trochaic tetrameter, (an arrangement of four units each with a strong followed by a weak beat) or it's opposite, iambic tetrameter (an arrangement of four units each with a weak beat followed by a strong.)

ONE fish TWO fish RED fish BLUE fish (trochaic tetrameter)

My HAT is OLD. My TEETH are GOLD. I HAVE a BIRD I LIKE to HOLD. (iambic tetrameter)

The first book Dr. Seuss ever published was To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and it was rejected 27 times before it was finally accepted by Vanguard Press. Isn't it nice to know that even someone as obviously gifted as Dr. Seuss wasn't universally admired the moment he jumped into the writing scene? Just like us!

Advice for writers from Dr. Seuss:

"We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital. Virtually every page is a cliff-hanger--you've got to force them to turn it." (A Writer Teaches Writing, by Donald Murray)

"You can fool an adult into thinking he's reading profundities by sprinkling your prose with purple passages. But with a kid you can't get away with that. Two sentences in a children's book is the equivalent of two chapters in an adult book.

For a 60-page book I'll probably write 500 pages. I think that's why it works. I winnow out." ("Dr. Seuss's Green-Eggs-and-Ham World," by Judith Frutig)

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” 
Dr. Seuss

“I'm afraid that sometimes you'll play lonely games too. Games you can't win 'cause you'll play against you.” 
Dr. Seuss

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” 
Dr. Seuss

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.” 
Dr. Seuss

 “You can get help from teachers
 But you are going to learn 
A lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room. 
All alone! Whether you like it or not, 
Alone is something you'll be quite a lot!” 
Dr. Seuss
, Oh, the Places You'll Go!

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” 
Dr. Seuss

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” 
Dr. Seuss
, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

“If you want to catch beasts you don't see every day, 
You have to go places quite out of the way, 
You have to go places no others can get to. 
You have to get cold and you have too get wet, too.” 

“Fame! You'll be famous, as famous as can be, with everyone watching you win on TV, Except when they don't because sometimes they won't..” 

“You have to be a speedy reader because there’s so so much to read.” 
Dr. Seuss
, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

 “If things start happening, don't worry, don't stew, just go right along and you'll start happening too.” 
 Dr. Seuss