It’s a Disaster

I’m just curious. How many of you watch–and enjoy watching–disaster movies?

I remember watching both Poseidon Adventure (the original, starring Gene Hackman and his sideburns) and Towering Inferno (Paul Newman AND Steve McQueen!)in the theater.

Poseidon, along with Jaws, might have something to do with my deep and abiding mistrust of the ocean. There’s stuff living out there that we don’t know about. Which is almost as scary as the stuff we do know about.

But I digress.

I saw a headline today on Facebook about an earthquake rocking Dwayne Johnson. He’s a big, powerful dude, but I don’t think he’s big enough to absorb an entire earthquake all by himself. Turns out he has a new movie called San Andreas, about what happens when the big one finally hits the famous fault line. You can picture the trailer already–freeways collapsing, skyscrapers crumbling to the ground, explosions, massive amounts of people being wiped off this mortal coil all in one fell swoop.

I just don’t know if I can watch these movies any longer. The widespread destruction and loss of life, which we are powerless to prevent, is just depressing. Sure, the hero saves the girl. And usually the dog, often attached to an adorable child with a will to survive and a gap-toothed grin. But for every person the hero saves, there’s a close-up shot of a loving couple holding each other and bravely facing their death holding each other.

I call bullshit. How many people would really go gracefully into that good night, their eternal dirt nap? And how many would run like hell for the high ground/bomb shelter/life boat? That would be me. And if my beloved spouse proposed that we meet our end stoically and with dignity, I would happily bash him over the head, dump his unconscious form into a wheelbarrow and take him with me.

(Sidenote: That’s why we’re so well matched. Neither of us would give up. Any death that wanted to take us should be prepared to have its ass thoroughly kicked first.)

I much prefer when the threat to the world is aliens. Or monsters. Or zombies. Love me some Independence Day, because the film gives us clearly defined enemies that we can fight against. It’s the fact that we have a chance.

You can’t shoot a tornado. You can’t reason with a volcano. You can’t outsmart or outrun earthquakes, floods, blizzards, tidal waves, hurricanes or icebergs. They don’t care. They don’t exist to do us harm–they’re natural phenomena going about their own business and casually crushing anything that gets in their way.

You might say, “Hey, MB, we can’t reason with zombies. And aren’t aliens all hostile and much more intelligent that we are?”

And I would reply that you can at least outrun zombies. And everyone knows aliens can be outsmarted as long as Will Smith has a cigar.

But the natural disasters. You can’t fight nature. Because nature doesn’t engage. The planet doesn’t plot to vomit lava on someone in particular. The planet doesn’t care for your clenched jaw, clean-cut good looks and moxie.

Watching hundreds of innocent victims being trampled, crushed, burned, drowned…I know it’s CGI. I know people aren’t really being killed. But on a very deep level, I react to it. It bruises my soul.

It does not entertain me. It disturbs me.

Am I alone in this? Does wholesale destruction bother you, or are you immune to the made-up images? Or do you fall somewhere in between?

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I Found a Time Machine!

Would anyone care to guess where it was lurking?

In my daughters’ high school. That’s right, District 11, there’s a time machine buried deep in Coronado High School.

It’s not hard to find at all.

Just go to the Music Department.

Today, the man who is paid by the district to instruct my children in the fine skill of instrumental music announced to his class, “If it was easy, women and children would do it.”

I shit you not. It’s two-thousand-and-goddamn-fourteen, and this older, white male thinks the calendar has leaped into reverse and we’ve all landed on an episode of Leave It To Beaver. Or perhaps the Donna Reed Show.

When some of the students responded with surprise at his statement, his response was that the expression was something a friend of his used.

Wally or the Beav? Or maybe it sounds more like Eddie Haskell.

It just happens that both of my daughters are in the Chamber Orchestra, a group one must audition to get into. So they both heard the statement. They were both surprised and somewhat offended by it.

Thing Two, the younger, thought of a retort but didn’t want to make it, because she didn’t want to get a referral and get sent to the office. I reassured her that for a statement like this, I would happily drop everything I was doing and show up at the school to defend her. And woe to any administrator who tells me that this sort of unmitigated bullshit is either harmless or acceptable.

I’ve sent a note to the teacher in question, so that he might explain himself. Very short and to the point, nothing rude or inflammatory.

But really? In this day and age, casual misogyny can go unremarked in a high school classroom? Not only is it disrespectful to every female in the room, but it sets an extremely bad example for every single student. “Hey, putting down women is funny! And it’s okay! Because it’s funny!”

It’s neither.

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Exotic Dancers and Free Beer

(This post is appearing simultaneously on the Pikes Peak Writers blog. Which is a great place to go for all sorts of writerly stuff.)

The 2015 PPWC will not offer either of those things, but I like an attention-grabbing headline. What can I say? The spotlight is fickle and you have to grab it while you can.

Registration for the 2015 PPWC, Choose Your Writing Adventure, is all set to open on November 15th, and I can feel the weight of all those fingers, poised over keyboards, ready to connect to the link and start making plans for the most fabulous writers conference in existence.

You did know I’m the Director, right?

What is your reward for signing up for conference as early as possible? (Not counting the thrifty, intelligent and handsome souls who signed up at the 2014 conference and got a substantial discount, of course.)

  • First five people to sign up after registration opens on the 15th will get a free “front of the line” pass for one meal at conference. Yes, you get to bypass the crowd and enter first, to possibly secure a table with the faculty member of your dreams!
  • You will make the hearts of all the planning committee members go pitter-pat as we gratefully watch our attendance numbers grow.
  • The earlier you sign up, the better the chance of getting your first choice for a Query 1-on-1 or Read & Critique session.

Query what? Read and what?

Query 1-on-1 is an eight-minute session with an agent or editor of your choice, for the purpose of reviewing your one-page, standard format query letter. Same great taste as Pitch, but less filling. For those of you who aren’t old enough to get that advertising reference—same opportunity for the agent or editor to say, “Hey, send me more,” but with the additional benefit of professional feedback on your query letter.

Read & Critique is an opportunity to read your first page to an industry professional and get immediate feedback. There are three flavors:

  • R&C X: You read your first page to an agent or editor.
  • R&C 123: Your first page is read anonymously to a panel consisting of an agent, author, and editor.
  • R&C Author: Smaller, closed session where you read your first two pages to a published author.

Our incredible lineup of keynotes this year includes Mary Kay Andrews, Andrew Gross, Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant) and the one and only R. L. Stine.

Our faculty includes esteemed agents and editors, as well as some new and exciting authors we’re welcoming for the first time. As we work on faculty and workshops, I get more excited every day by the variety of programming we’re able to offer for 2015. This is going to be a dynamic, entertaining, and motivating conference, and I hope you’ll be able to join us!

 
About the Author: MB Partlow’s first paid writing gig was for the A&E department of The Independent. She wrote a parenting column for Pikes Peak Parent for several years, and freelanced for The Gazette. She’s a longtime volunteer for PPW, working her way up from chair stacker at Write Brains to Moderator Coordinator, Contest Coordinator, Director of Programming, and now Conference Director for 2015. A voracious reader across genres, she primarily writes urban fantasy, although she dabbles in space opera, mystery and magical realism. MB is physically unable to restrain her sense of humor, and her mouth occasionally moves faster than her brain. She blogs at PartlowsPool@wordpress.com, and can be reached at Conference@PikesPeakWriters.com.

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Fat Pants

I can’t speak for men. (Sometimes I can’t even speak to them.)

But many of the women I know have more than one size of pants, particularly jeans, in their wardrobe. You can wear this pair when you’re feeling skinny and that pair when you’re feeling bloated. Some are comfy enough to wear all day long. Others have a limited wear-time, and you’d only wear them to a party, where you’re going to be standing up the entire evening and you have an idea that this one pair makes your ass look fabulous. Even if you can’t draw a deep breath.

So this morning I slid into my workaday jeans. Comfy enough to wear to a meeting at school, lunch out, some errands, and possibly some chores before lapsing into evening sweatpant time.

Except…what happened?

Halfway through the day, the pants were getting uncomfortable. Cutting me in two. Crushing my liver into my spleen.

Was I bloating? (No.) Had I eaten too much? (No.)

Was I just getting fat?

That’s a depressing thought. In the span of two days, my comfy jeans turned into uncomfortably tight jeans of agony.

Muffin top? Please. I was an overflowing bundt pan.

As soon as I could get home, I changed into sweats. And went about my day, because who has time to lie about and sulk about their weight? Well, I’m sure someone does. Maybe a Kardashian. But not me. I’ve got proofreading to do. Questions to answer. Fires to pee on. A suitcase to pack.

Packing a suitcase, at my house, usually involves the laundry process. What’s the point of flying across the country with dirty underwear and your third-favorite shirt?

I’m sorting. I’m folding. I’m putting away.

I pick up the jeans formerly known as comfortable. I get a good long look at them. They don’t have the sparklies on the butt. My comfy jeans (second best pair) have sparklies on the butt.

These imposters? These are not my comfy jeans! These are impulsively purchased thrift-store pretenders with a stiff zipper mechanism and an awkward rise.

This means I did not break the land-speed record for gaining weight in two days.

To be sure, I don’t think I lost any weight in the last two days. But I didn’t gain so much that I have to go out back to the barbecue grill, whip out the lighter fluid and sacrifice another pair of jeans to the gods of denim and fat grams.

Still…everything was on right side out and my socks matched. I’m counting today as a win.

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Should I Attend PPWC? A Q&A With the Voices in My Head

This piece, which I wrote in my capacity as 2015 Conference Director, is appearing today on the Pikes Peak Writers blog. Only I spelled my name correctly.

I don’t know if I should attend the conference. I’m not a “real” writer.
If you write, or if you want to write, you are welcome at our conference. You don’t need to show ink-stained fingers at the door to prove your worthiness. If you have the desire to write or learn more about writing, you’ll be welcome at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

But I’m shy/introverted/antisocial and nobody will want to talk to me.
Then let me teach you the four magic words: What do you write? Ask anyone that and they’ll happily talk your ear off. And if they aren’t socially stunted, they will in turn ask, “And what do you write?” Instant conversation starter!

Aren’t these things often cliqueish?
People do tend to like to talk to people they already know. But everyone on the conference planning committee, and every single volunteer, is encouraged to reach out and be especially welcoming to the new faces in the crowd. Friendships, critique groups and love affairs have all started between people who were strangers before they met at our conference. (Okay, possibly not love affairs. But it could happen.)

Where should I sit during the meals if I don’t know anybody?
Pick a table, any table. For lunches and dinners, every table is hosted by a faculty member. There are signs on every table indicating who is sitting there and what they write or represent. So you could sit at a table with someone knowledgeable about your genre, or you could strike out in a new direction. You might sit with an author you’re a fan of, or an agent or editor you’re interested in querying at some point (a great way to break the ice). And remember the four magic words!

I can’t possibly talk about my writing. I’ll probably vomit on my shoes if a Big Author or Agent asks me what I write. Help!
Relax, Grasshopper. That story you’re writing? It’s your story. Own it. Be proud of it. Remember that people ask because they’re interested, not to trick you out of your inheritance or learn your secret family recipe for barbecue sauce. Also, the people asking the questions are human beings, not deities. They’ve got pets, children, achy feet, cranky coworkers and a mysterious rattle under the hood of their car, just like the rest of us. So erase any pedestals you’ve erected for them in your mind, and you’ll be just fine.

I’m not a beginning writer. Is there going to be anything there for me?
Tons. When we put together the workshop schedule, we try to balance between beginner, intermediate and advanced writers, as well as balancing the craft and the business aspects with the writing life. And we’ve never met a writer yet, no matter how experienced, who didn’t think there was some aspect of their writing they could improve upon. Sometimes just doing the writing exercises in a workshop will spark ideas you can apply to your work in progress, whether it’s your very first manuscript or your seventh published novel. And don’t forget, this is a wonderful time to network with other writers, as well as industry professionals.

Will you be talking about my specific genre?
We do have some genre-specific workshops, plus we take the attitude that good writing is good writing, no matter the genre. We find that elements of different genres, such as romance, horror, suspense and mystery, cross a variety of genres.

Where do you stand on indy vs. self vs. traditional publishing?
One thing we’re never going to do is tell you the exact path you have to travel. We support all paths to publication, because we want the stories to be told. We want to help writers put out their best work. To that end, we try to provide a balance of insight into as many types of publishing as we can. This year we’re focusing on Choose Your Writing Adventure because we want to celebrate all the choices available to writers today, as well as bring back the fun of the most wildly diverse occupation there is—writing.

For more information about the 2015 Pikes Peak Writers Conference: Choose Your Writing Adventure, please visit our website.

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How Horrible, Part 2

One does not gulp down Ray Bradbury like the literary equivalent of a spit-flavored electrolyte beverage on a hot day.

From the Dust Returned. Beautiful imagery, lyrical writing. Some of the autumnal descriptions made me envious of the ability to so perfectly capture a fleeting feeling. It was a book to savor, with a hot cup of tea on a crisp fall day. It is horror in its most beautiful, whimsical form, something a child could read, or your granny, without fear of getting a nightmare as a result.

WE INTERRUPT THIS BLOG for a very important message. Stephen King’s latest, Mr. Mercedes, jumped off the library’s Rapid Read shelf and into my waiting arms. Since I had to read it and return it in just seven days, my reading list took a detour. Incidentally, really liked it. If you don’t like Stephen King because of the supernatural elements–try this one on for size, because there weren’t any. Just the random madness of our fellow human beings to scare yourself with.

Onto Something Wicked This Way Comes, another Bradbury. Once again, the writing is beautiful and lyrical.

But I do have a beef. I know that Bradbury was a product of his time, but he’s almost Hemingway in his treatment of women. They are mothers and teachers, in need of protection. They provide soft smiles, warm hugs and always cry on cue when some misfortune befalls their menfolk. It’s as if Bradbury couldn’t conceive of teenage girls having the same wanderlust or need for adventure that the teenage boys had. (Who am I kidding? There are no teenage girls in this book, active or passive.)

I refuse to believe that Bradbury was surrounded his entire life by dull, soft, weepy women.

What surprised me was to see the reference to Pinhead at the circus. Today, most people think of the Hellraiser movie or Clive Barker’s books when they hear that name. But Bradbury used it before Barker, and I believe the usage goes even further back in time, referring to a specific kind of birth defect that often ended up as a sideshow freak.

Next came Alone With the Horrors, a collection of Ramsey Campbell’s short stories.

Finally, we got into some work that I would call scary. But what really echoes through these stories is the keen ache of loneliness, the disconnected and distanced feeling of being alone in the world. Most of the victims in these stories could have survived if they’d only had a friend, a lover, a sibling, someone to lend an ear or a shoulder and occasionally draw them out into the real world instead of letting them inhabit the inside of their own skulls until it drove them beyond reason. As a mood piece, this collection is stellar. But you’ll walk away feeling sad and lonely, not frightened.

One of the stories could have served as a precursor to Barker’s Hellbound Heart, although I’m kicking myself for not writing down the title.

Ever onward through the list!

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Three Scary Women

Me. Talk to me before that first cup of tea in the morning. Very scary.

DeAnna. Writes a cool blog. Knows more about writing than anyone else I know. Her Goodreads list is always intriguing and makes me want to read most of what she’s read.

Shannon. Also writes a cool blog. She actually writes the scariest stuff I’ve ever read.

The three of us decided to make our way through a couple of lists of horror novels. The first, which I previously mentioned, is Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books. The second, which DeAnna found, is called The Definitive 30 Scariest Books Ever Written.

We’ll just see about that, won’t we. Because so far, some of the horror novels are not particularly scary. Which begs the question, what is the point of a horror novel if not to scare you?

The other two have listed the books off the list that they’ve already read, so I thought I’d do the same.

From the 100, I’ve already read The Exorcist, The Year’s Best Fantasy Book One, The Silence of the Lambs, 20th Century Ghosts, seven Stephen King novels, probably all three Dean Koontz novels, The Drive-In, Rosemary’s Baby, three by Lovecraft, Swan Song, The Wolf’s Hour, Interview with a Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, Frankenstien, four by Dan Simmons, The Bridge, Dracula, and six books by Peter Straub.

36 out of 100.

On the scary list, I have read Rebecca, The Exorcist, Dracula, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Pet Sematary, Coraline, Slaughterhouse Five, The Silence of the Lambs and Frankenstein.

10 out of 30.

Running right around 30% for both lists.

Can’t wait to make my way through the lists, see what I think, see what the other two think. Because they’re scarysmart, in every sense of the word.

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