Friday, August 30, 2013

Haiku Challenge: History, Politics, and Life in 17 Syllables

This last week or so has been filled with a number of historical and political events. The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr's "I have a dream" speech. Marches across the nation that served as a memory of the suffragists who fought for women's rights to vote and a reminder of how far we still have to go. New kitten drama continues. And Twitter is continuing to serve as a surprising outlet for all of these things.

Here are the haiku's from this last week.


Haiku - like new thought -
Breathe softly and disappear
without impression.


Would the solid clank
of a press imprint my words
more firmly than keys?


One hell of a night.
Pain wracks my head like lightening.
Fucking allergies.


Alone among friends,
The writer in me panics.
Paper is kinder.


Nineteenth amendment
Gave women the right to vote.
We should use it now.


Exhausted, throat-sore
I make my way through darkness
To the ones who wait.


Mad Men: Where women
are not allowed to play and
nice guys finish last.


M.L.K. Jr
once had a dream that spoke
to all. Still we dream.


Life falls short of dreams.
Everything sounds much better
when it's on paper. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

100 Writer's Project: In the Beginning

Introducing... Claudia Wagner!

My first novel, first draft almost finished. How did I get here? If I were Michener I would start--In the beginning, God. This blog post begins only a little later than that, but well before cell phones and the internet.

I used to write and submit poetry for publication. Acceptance letters along with the standard thank you and a promise of two copies of the issue in which my poem would be published thrilled me. But in those pre-cell-phone days, it cost a fortune to call all my friends and relatives long distance to tell them the good news. Not to mention the expense of buying additional copies of said issue and postage to send those copies to friends and relatives.

I’ve worked for a small-town daily newspaper. I’ve seen my by-line and my name in cutlines enough. But the idea of a book with my name on the spine sitting on a shelf in the Edmond Public Library seems much too grand. It shimmers above me in the night sky, brighter than the moon. A dream, a desire, a star too brilliant to look at and too distant to touch.

Knowing that a novel was beyond me, my book started out as a short story. I’ve written short fiction. I took a course in college. I understand how it works. So all I needed was a prompt of some kind and a deadline. My daughter provided the prompt and the deadline allowing me to choose the genre.

I ignored her prompt and chose murder and science fiction. And I went to work.

The deadline came and went, and the work proved to be as undisciplined as I. The story would not limit itself to short fiction. So I reconsidered the situation and decided to do a little book, a murder mystery that takes place on a colony in low orbit around the asteroid Ceres. But I needed help.

I happened to attend a monthly meeting of Oklahoma City Writers, Inc. at which William Bernhardt was doing a two hour presentation on novel writing. He talked about outlining. An instant turnoff since my research paper days too many years ago. But he made sense and showed how to plan the structure of my book. He was talking about the actual nuts and bolts of constructing a book-length story.

Three years plus several months, three of Bill Bernhardt’s intensive writing workshops plus a conference here and there, and I am coming around the last turn on this full-length murder mystery science fiction novel.

Bill said write every day. Four hours a day. If I had done that the book would have been finished long ago. Did I mention that I’m undisciplined? I heard somewhere that Stephen King says to write four hours a day and read eight hours a day. Or was that Mark Twain?  The eight hours reading I could go for, whoever said it.

There was a recommendation that I join a writers’ critique group for support and critical input. But that meant I had to also give support and critical input. I left every one of those meetings feeling bad because I had said harsh things to people as earnest about their writing as I was about mine. Tact is not one of my virtues. And have I mentioned lack of self-control?

Then somewhere else the advice was to just write it all the way through, do not do any editing until the story is complete. What a good rule. But mine is a murder mystery. As I wrote I discovered things that needed to appear earlier in the story. That required a rewrite of a scene. Editing? Even sitting down to begin the next writing session without looking at what I’d done the day before was impossible. Reading the work from the day before required minor or major changes. Did I mention that I tend to break rules even when I impose them myself?

What have I learned these past three-hundred, ten pages, and counting? Somewhere I heard that the definition of the verb to persevere is to begin again, and again, and again. No matter how many times my discipline fails, my control is lost, and my rules are broken, I can begin right now where I am. My book will be written and I will be launched into the night sky to find my name on the spine of a book in the Edmond Public Library. Just gotta finish this book first.

Claudia Wagner
I was born in Oklahoma. I learned to read under my mother’s ironing board. I learned the importance of stories around the dinner table during holidays and in the cellar during storms. I started writing to entertain my classmates. I continued to write because classes or work required it. Sometimes I wrote to understand my life. I have been office help, a welfare case worker, a fast foods manager, and a roustabout in the oil patch. I have also worked for the USDA. I’ve managed a veterinary clinic, helped care for my dying mother, and been a Page at the Edmond Library. I am a woman, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. I believe the future of humanity is as unlimited as the Universe. And I believe that we as a species are imaginative enough and brave enough to move beyond the Earth into that Universe.

For more from Claudia, check out her blog, The Bookwright.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Haiku Challenge: Twitter's Take on Poetry

Recently one of my fellow writers and denizens of Twitter, Alexis Lantgen, inspired me to do something I'd never truly considered before. Use Twitter for more than just 155 character snippets of though. Use it for poetry. And what poetry form could be more appropriate than haiku?

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that uses 17 kanji for one poem, which English speaking poets translated to 17 syllables of 5 then 7 then five again. Traditionally, Haiku were about nature, but that is becoming less common, and let's face it, writing about falling leaves and cherry blossoms is really not my style. Another aspect of haiku is the use of juxtaposition or the "cutting word." Most haiku use imagery or symbols to strike a discordant note in the poem.

Anywho... here are my Twitter haiku from last week.


You say I'm grown-up,
But sometimes I am a child
who's just pretending.


Once Ulysses-proud,
Our world fell to the sea gods.
Oceans consume us.


Four years of laughter,
We celebrate more to come
with a new kitten.


Late in the evening,
I forget all I've not done
and fall swift asleep.


Yesterday's haiku
proved itself a lie, false hope.
A night without rest.


Paralyzing fear
distracts me from my duty.
I submit my work.


New Sunday morning
Cat chases the new kitten
I wish I still slept

I'm still working on the use of juxtaposition, but it's a nice way to start the morning. Who would have though Twitter could be a tool for poetic expression?

If you're interested in following my forays into the Twitter #haikuchallenge, follow me here, on GraceW_Writer

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Taming of the Mew: An Adventure in Cat Behavior

First off, let me introduce Matches:

Matches is a big, black tomcat that Bob had when we met. He's sweet, smart, and craves attention more than a lot of dogs I know. He's also very much Bob's cat.

I've got countless more pictures like this. He loves cuddling. Matches will cuddle with me too, but Bob is his person.

So I wanted a Matches of my own. I've been pestering Bob for a while and attempting to forcibly adopt any kitten we come upon. My best friend got two new kittens. Bob's friends have acquired kittens. I wanted my own. A fact that Bob was intensely aware of.

So because he's super sweet (and let's face it - he loves cute kittens just as much as I do), Bob decided to get me a kitten of my own to celebrate our four year anniversary.

We went to the shelter with a completely open mind. I didn't care about gender. I didn't care about breed or color. All I wanted was a cat that would love me as intensely as Matches loves Bob.

And this is what I found:

My own mini-Matches. He was the first kitten we saw when we walked in. He was vocal and exceedingly friendly. He wanted us. He chose us. I attempted to look at all of the kittens, but I just kept coming back to this little guy. I took him out of his cage and he immediately gave me kitty kisses (rubbing his face on my nose). That was it. He was the one. 

Introducing Julius Robert Oppenheimer (Oppie for short):

I certainly didn't intend to get a clone of Matches, another black boy-cat with a loud meow and big ears. Their personalities are very similar and, we hoped, compatible. Matches didn't see it that way.

Matches has always been an "only cat" and while he is great with dogs, he hates cats. And we brought one into his house. 

For the first couple of days, Matches hissed at the kitten continually. And at us. And at the world in general. He transformed from a happy, lovey cat into a grumpy old man in the space of twenty minutes. Neither of us was surprised, but it upset Bob. He missed his kitty. The kitty Matches used to be. 

I've always had lots of animals growing up and my dad is a vet, so I wasn't that worried. Of course it would take time. 

At first, Matches was too scared to even approach the kitten. He spent the first evening hunched up in a corner. Slowly he was goaded (by an overly enthusiastic kitten) into asserting his dominance. Matches has never had to prove his dominance before, so it didn't come naturally to him. And Oppenheimer wasn't making it easy. Oppie is fearless and inquisitive and talked ugly to Matches. That kitten has a mouth on him. Eventually they began to interact and Matches realized he was bigger. Much bigger. 

A few wrestling matches later, their interactions felt less like fighting and more like play. Matches still wasn't pleased, but a couple of days on he was beginning to act more like his old self. The fateful key ended up being Oppie's litter box. 

When Matches was finally allowed in Oppie's bathroom, he immediately used the litter box and it was like a switch had been flipped. Suddenly everything was infinitely better. Matches cuddles Bob and still gives me kisses. The cats chase each other around the house and are comfortable napping on the same bed. All this only since last Wednesday. 

Several of our friends have expressed surprise at how quickly these two have adapted to living together. The only advice I can offer is this: let the cats work things out between them. It's good to be there to make sure that no one gets hurt, but some fur has to fly for them to figure out who is on top. That's normal. They're going to hiss and talk ugly, but eventually, they'll settle down. 

Now we have two black cats. I have a cat that loves me, that hurries every morning to cuddle and kiss me. Bob has his Matches back to normal. Matches has a playmate. And Oppenheimer has a forever home. 

All is right with our world. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Orange is the New Black: Hope for American Television

After my rather bleak view about television last week in Elementary vs Sherlock: The Trouble with American Television, I am excited to say that there is light at the end of the T.V. tunnel!

Introducing... Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is a dark comedy/drama following the unlikely felon, Piper Chapman. The show is based on the memoir of real life convict Piper Kerman and follows the thoroughly engrossing day-to-day lives of women living in prison. The most striking aspect of this show is it's humanity. With a large ensemble cast that could have easily devolved into stale stereotypes, all the women in this federal corrections facility are fully fleshed out people with back-stories, dreams, and flaws. Spanning a vast racial, socio-economic, and religious spectrum, OITNB is the most progressive and risk-taking show I have watched in a long time. The humor is harsh and spot on, the drama intense, and the main character proves herself to be admirable, relatable, and disturbingly human. 

I don't want to get too much into a direct review of the show. It's good. Go watch it. My main point is what does Orange is the New Black mean for American Television?

First off, the format is the real revolution. OITNB is a Netflix original series and the entire first season is available for streaming online. For T.V. gluttons like myself, this makes it easy and satisfying to consume the entire series in a few days. More importantly, the fact that it airs only online gives the show a freedom not experienced by network T.V. or even by cable. They don't have to meet any FCC regulations. Sex and Violence has become common place on cable and both make a solid appearance in OITNB. Even more importantly? They don't have to please advertisers. This gives the writers an unheard of freedom to write what they want and to write it well. They do not disappoint. 

The main character is a secular humanist. There are many characters across the LGBT spectrum, including a very well written Trans-woman. Racism is addressed directly without any sugarcoating or tiptoeing around the meat of the subject. OITNB attacks these issues and more head on with a fierce and heart-wrenching authenticity. These real-to-life characters are dealt with intelligently and fairly. I have never seen anything like it on regular T.V. 

There is a reason why OITNB generated more viewers and hours viewed than the former spectacular Netflix originals House of Cards and Arrested Development (who boast a total of 12 Emmy nominations in 2013 between them). 

The era of Internet Television is here, and I am definitely excited. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Elementary vs Sherlock: The Trouble with American Television

As I have thoroughly established, I am a lifelong fan of British television. I grew up watching Masterpiece Mystery with my mom and now I have developed an intense - if one sided - love affair with the Doctor from the BBC's stunning sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Through the years, I have avidly consumed British media and for the last few years, Sherlock as become one of my all time favorites.

Sherlock, written by Stephen Moffat, features the thrilling actor Benedict Cumberbatch who embodies the character of Sherlock Holmes better than any of the varied and talented actors that came before him. The writing is crisp, the dialogue pithy, and the mysteries confounding. Sadly, as with most British television, the seasons (or series as they're known across the pond) are short. In Sherlock's case, very short. The show only has three episodes per season and it's been quite a while since the cliffhanger ending of season two.

Now that I've established my personal bias, let me turn to Elementary, an American production.

During the devastatingly long interim between Sherlock seasons (and it doesn't help that Doctor Who is also on hiatus), I've been searching around for something to fill the void. Though it may seem so, I certainly do not limit myself to British television. There are several American shows that I love: The Newsroom (and the West Wing. Basically anything written by Aaron Sorkin), Game of Thrones, Smash (I love a good musical), and Grey's Anatomy (yes, I know. Keep your teasing to yourself). So I am not in any way against American programming.

I heard from several people who like Elementary and the concept of Lucy Liu as Watson was intriguing so I decided to give it a try. After seven or eight episodes (because I badly wanted to like this show), I gave up. What was wrong with it? It wasn't a bad show per se. In fact, I would consider it above average for the American crime-solving genre. But because of the timing and the connection to Sherlock Holmes lore, Elementary faces the inevitable - and inevitably detrimental - comparison with the BBC's Sherlock.

Let's start with the basics.

The Casting:

As I've said previously, I think that Benedict Cumberbatch is the greatest actor to play the Character of Sherlock Holmes ever. This obviously puts - let me look up his name - Johnny Lee Miller at a disadvantage. I think it says a lot that when you look at IMDB's Elementary page, Miller isn't even billed at the top. Which brings us to the companions. Drs John and Joan Watson. I like the risk that the American writers took casting Lucy Liu as the damaged and intensely loyal Dr. Watson. It's a great twist and I think she does a good job. I think she suffers much less by comparison with her counterpart, Martin Freeman. Once again, however, she comes to the table with a handicap because Martin Freeman, like Benedict Cumberbatch, is spot on casting and is easily the most memorable Dr. Watson of all time.

There's a reason why the fangirls are so obsessed with the Cumberbatch/Freeman pairing and it's not just their pretty eyes. They become the characters of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson so thoroughly that they cement themselves in your mental image. They are Holmes and Watson.

The Show:

Sherlock has three episodes at one and half hours a piece, which basically makes each episode a movie. Elementary, on the other hand, is limited to the approximately 45 minutes show of American prime-time. By nature of time-frame alone, Sherlock is able to delve much more deeply into each story, allowing the writer to craft an intricate and compelling mystery. Elementary, on the other hand, devolves into a typical and expected crime-solving show that happens to feature characters with the names Holmes and Watson. Oh, and Holmes is a recovering heroin-addict. Honestly that is about as much as the show has in common with the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Which brings me to the main point. Casting aside - because although not nearly as good as the Cumberbatch/Freeman pairing, Miller and Liu aren't bad - the main problem with Elementary is that it's not smart. Elementary's Holmes doesn't blow me away with any cleaver deductions and the mysteries themselves are laughably predictable. The entire point of Sherlock Holmes is that he's a genius. Not only is a genius, he is THE genius. The smartest man that ever lived. A damaged yet compelling detective that solves crimes purely with the power of his amazing intellect.

There is just no comparison between the shows on an intellectual level. I STILL haven't figured how Sherlock escaped death in the last episode and I've watched it many times over. And that's the point. We need the writing to be, not only smart, but smarter than we are. We need a show that keeps us guessing. That keeps us on the edge of our seat and has enough clues and subtleties that we can watch the show over and over and still not catch everything.

This is a problem throughout American Television. The vast majority of shows lack any intellectual punch. They're dumbed down. If American television gave their writers the lee-way to write truly great shows, I have no doubt that they could do it. The problem is not that American producers aren't capable; it's that they don't give good writers the time and money needed to created a masterpiece like the BBC's Sherlock. I, for one, wish they would.

After all, smart is the new sexy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Thanks to Alexis Lantgen for tagging me in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop!

1: What is the working title of your book(s)?
My finished book is called "Free." That's a definitely a working title and I am open to any suggestions, especially if they come from an agent or editor.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
I've always love dystopias and I've always been fairly politically active. The idea for my book all started with the Supreme Court's ruling on the Citizens United case. The entire concept of a corporation as a "person" fascinated me. Could they vote? Could they adopt? What would the world be like if corporations had all the same rights as an individual and, in some cases, more? These questions spurred me to created the world of Opal and Hands (my two main characters).

3: What genre does your book come under?
Free is a near-future, young adult, speculative fiction novel.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Opal - Lily Cole or Zena Gray. They might be bit old though.... Maybe Emma Watson with red hair?
Hands - no idea. Someone tall, dark, and broad shouldered.
Janus - Definitely Andrew Garfield since he's the one I modeled the character after.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Opal, a genetically engineered, super-intelligent sixteen year old girl, is imprisoned for crimes against the company and must find a way to escape torture and prevent her parent company from unleashing a deadly famine on the world. 

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
My book is not yet published. I am currently seeking an agent for representation.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took about a year to get the book to the point it is at now, which I consider the third draft or so.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Uglies

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My favorite dystopia of all time is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. After reading it, I aspired to that level of writing. I'm not there yet, but Free is a good step in the right direction.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

While the world of Free is a made up of vast sprawling metropolises and secure corporate compounds, the story is actually very personal and follows two young people from different social castes as they try to make sense of their world and stand up for what is right. I think the intimacy is what really drives this story forward.

Tagging more Writers:

I hate to tag people without their permission, but feel free to do this blog hop with me! Let me know and I'll add your name (and link)!