Saturday, March 31, 2007

Prayer request

My friend Lauren is having a very bad time of it right now. She's stressed and frazzled and at her wit's end dealing with crap at school, theater/teacher politics and a whole slew of other stuff.

Please pray for her that she will know God's peace, know that He sees her as a beautiful woman made in His own image, and provide guidance for her with the boyfriend issue that's at the heart of about half the problems.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stereotypes

The uproar over a church youth group skit about Chinese take-out has had me thinking about stereotypes today. (for the low-down on that, check out Camy's blog, just scroll down, you can't miss it)

What exactly are they? Webster's defines it thus:
4.Sociology. a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group
And: 7. to give a fixed form to.


That first definition I find particularly interesting. Special meaning by members of a group? Sure! Stereotypes always have some grain of truth in them. It may be buried and forgotten in the anals of history, but it's still there. I'm a white Southern girl who lives in Louisiana. I encounter stereotypes everywhere I go. Many Southerners are quite proud of our stereotypes, particularly the ones involving food.

First off, when people find out I'm from Louisiana, they're surprised I don't have a Cajunn accent. Easy explanation, I'm not Cajun. Sometimes wish I was though, they have so much fun.

A lot of people will also automatically assume I'm a racist pig. I'm not. Every person on this planet is racist in one way or another, but I do think I'm not a racist pig. Most people I know aren't. But that's still the stereotype. Again though, it does have a grain of truth to it. It's a very old grain of truth that goes back to Reconstruction, but it's there.

The only stereotype about Louisianians that bothers me is the one that we all live in New Orleans. After Katrina, I had dozens of people wondering if I was ok, if my house was still standing, did my family lose everything we owned, etc. I don't live in New Orleans, I live 250 miles NORTHWEST of New Orleans. August 29th and 30th was actually a beautiful couple days here in Central Louisiana, slight breeze, a few clouds. It was one of the nicest days we'd had since March. 30 days later was another story though. The forgotten hurricane, Rita, decimated the rest of Louisiana.

(do not EVER refer to the storms as "Katrita" in my presence. I will rip you to shreds, as one unfortunate Red Cross worker found out)

I do have another heritage though, that of the redneck from Mississippi, and the hillbilly from Arkansas. Those two stereotypes are steeped heavily in things that would be offensive to most people. Me fitting into those 2 categories finds it absolutely hilarious. Especially when people in town think my youngest brother and my sister are actually husband and wife. But he wasn't born in Arkansas, so they couldn't get married. That's our own private little family joke and we laugh constantly about it. I also laugh till my sides hurt every time I watch "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" I could care less that it's supposedly based on a Shakespeare play. It's like watching my ancestors, because a lot of them were exactly like that.

To others who aren't familiar with hillbilly or redneck culture, they would probably find the movie and the family joke offensive. Yet it has special meaning for this particular member of both cultures. One set of my great-grandparents upholds the most stereotypical of all stereotypes about rednecks and hillbillies. Her father was a moonshiner during Prohibition, hid in Texas from the revenuers for a few years, then when they came home, my great-grandparents met, fell in love and got married. Her parents didn't get running water in their house until my mom graduated high school in the mid-70's. Mama's sister was the first person in our branch of the Stewarts and Webbs to go to college, and my father was the first person in his entire family (all 4 sides) to obatin a post-graduate degree, an MD.

Sounds like a stereotype? You bet! It's totally true, on my word of honor. So is the story about a distant Stewart relation losing his plantation in a poker game. Stereotypically Southern? You bet! Totally true.

Far too many people these days are entirely too sensitive for their own good in my not so humble opinion. I have very little tolerance for political correctness, particularly when it lays the blame for all the world's ills at the feet of those of us who are white. It gets really old not being able to safely say anything simply because I'm white.

Why yes, I am descended from moonshiners. And horse-thieves and rednecks and hillbillies, and poor Southerners who couldn't spell to save their lives, who only had an 8th grade education, who never went to college, who speak slowly and love country music. And no one has the right to tell me how I should think in regards to the stereotypes of my own culture and sub-cultures. I will continue to very proudly say my grandmother could get run over by a reindeer if such things could happen, and to claim my cousins who think the Redneck 12 Days of Christmas is the best parody ever. I happen to agree with them on that point. I shall continue to follow college football and make fun of Tiger fans. I shall continue to root for the Saints. I shall continue to eat mudbugs and feast on shrimp. I shall continue to use Southern euphamisms and be proud of my chicken and dumplings. I shall continue to prefer my meat fried, or freshly shot, or freshly caught. Preferably all at the same time. I shall continue to think William T. Sherman was a madman, and that plantations are the best thing ever. I shall continue to go to church partly for the good food, I shall continue to eat peach cobbler and run around barefoot 9 months out of the year.

But wait, those are all stereotypes about Louisiana residents and Southerners! GASP!!! And they're all true. (except for the making fun of Tigers fans, that's an Arkansas thing... Sooie pig pig pig!)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I love research!

And right now, I REALLY love the current research course that ACFW is doing. For years, I've been looking constantly for a good book about the Russian army during WW1. I've scoured the 'Net, haunted through the World History section of every single bookstore I walk into, every single time I walk into it, run hundreds of searches at Amazon and B&N.com.

Then lo and behold Laurie Alice assigns us our homework for this week. Share the one piece of info you're looking for that you can't find. So I did. The Russian Army and the Russian front during WW1.

So, I get back from taking Zoe to the vet to get her stitches out and I've got two emails sitting in my inbox. Both emails send me down the path of hitting the Mother Lode for my subject! I found a book, just published this past October that is exactly what I need. The title? "The Russian Army During World War One". How perfect is that? The only bad thing is that I have to wait until I get paid to buy it because it's still in hardback and 30 bucks.

I am one very happy historical writer right now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Writing tools

Lots of things fall under the heading of writing tools. Pens, paper, your computer or AlphaSmart, the right desk, the right chair.

Few people think about the right height for their keyboard though. Being a tall person, this is something that really affects me. Being the daughter of a computer geek means I have to keep my laptop at the correct temperature. That usually requires a cooling pad since my laptop sits on a desk all the time.

I killed my first one. For something that only cost me 10 bucks, it sure did the job! The fans finally got so noisy that I just couldn't take it anymore and had to turn it off whenever I was in the room. And since it was so cheap to begin with, I didn't really see the need to cut holes in the plastic to oil the fans. So I ordered a new one over the weekend from NewEgg.com and it arrived today. These guys are the BEST when it comes to fast shipping. I wasn't expecting it before tomorrow.

I couldn't find a flat one with 3 fans in my current price range (under $20), so I got one that tilts the laptop at an angle. I didn't think I'd like it. Turns out I really do! Typing is much easier now, it puts my hands at almost the right level and gets my screen up to about an inch shy of where it should be. This should all go together to make writing a more comfortable experience. And maybe help me get my typing speed back up to where it should be and start wearing some letters off my keyboard. One tiny dent in my spacebar just isn't enough...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Being specific

Kaye Dacus has an excellent post on her blog today. About windows. I found it wonderful!

Her comment about needing to know what her characters houses look like really struck me. I thought I was the only one who has to know what the house looks like! And I mean from the color of the paint all the way to whether or not the kitchen has bamboo floors and what kind of appliances did they buy. I have a growing collection of house plan magazines. I buy them for the express purpose of finding the right house for my characters. I need to know the layout, where's the fireplace, where are the stairs, how many bathrooms are there?

For years, I've wandered through my writing, thinking I'm the only one out there who has to write by the seat of my pants, who can't stick to a plot outline to save my life, who never knows what's going to happen next. All around me I kept hearing "that's not the way to write, you have to outline". Chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene. I just can't be that specific! It isn't in my nature.

It was such a wonderful breath of fresh air and renewal to my writing spirit to finally join ACFW. I am now surrounded by other writers who can't or won't plot, have to know what a character's house looks like and aren't afraid to tackle the tough and sometimes taboo subjects in the realm of Christian fiction. Tough and taboo subjects constantly pop up in my writing, from childhood abuse to characters struggling with homosexuality and PTSD. None of these are things that I have ever experienced, or even know someone who really had.

I'm convinced the ideas and character backgrounds are there for a reason. Maybe my being specific and even tackling the subject of human trafficking will help someone find God's grace someday.

So I shall continue to be my specific self, always looking for the right detail, the right piece of information, the right house plan. It's comforting to know without a doubt that I am not alone.

And once I've sufficiently recovered from my harrowing drive home, I'll get specific about how my 13 minute drive home from work took me an hour and quite literally all the way around town.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Oh happy day!

I thought this post was going to be sad, and depressing, reflecting my mood over the weekend. But it's not. It's happy!!

My weekend was awful. It started with my sweet munchkin going missing. I searched everywhere for her Saturday, and cried most of Sunday. I'm very attached to the little beast. That thing about pets being great for depression and people with chronic illnesses, it's totally true.

Cried some more this morning, then at 1:30, Mama called me at work and announced that Zoe was home!! In 10 seconds flat I felt 200% better and had to explain the tourists why I was crying and saying "Thank God!" over and over. I'd finally made my peace and decided that next week, I would go find another cat.

Well, I hope that other cat finds another home, because I won't be going out looking for another one. She's currently curled up in my lap alternating between taking a bath and snoozing.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Conversations with characters

Thursday night I had a conversation with Tanner. He's a Green Beret. He decided- much to my chagrin, that he didn't like the title of his and Annie's story. (Annie's his girl) And he informed me of this fact. It went something like this...

T: I don't like the name of our story. Doesn't suit us.

Me: Do I look like I care? And do you have any idea what time it is?

T: It's not late!

Me: Yes, it is. It's 11:30 at night and I'm trying to go to sleep! In case you forgot, I have to get up and go to work in the morning.

T: I don't care. We want it to be called "I'll See You In My Dreams". After all, I do tell her that.

Me: Do I look like I care right now?

T: Well I do! Changing it is the only way you'll get me to shut up

Me: Fine! I'll change it. But now what am I supposed to do with the other one? It took weeks to come up with you know.

T: Give it to Connor. It fits his story better than it does mine.

Strange how he was right. The old title does fit Connor's story better. But now it's all Tanner's fault that I have "I'll Be Home For Christmas" stuck in my head!