Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Theme Me Up, Scotty

I've stated on my website that I'd like folks to read my work and enjoy it, but not necessarily search for any deeper meaning or theme hidden within the words like some painful "Where's Waldo?: The Flashbacks to High School English Class Edition." I just want to write fun stories with interesting characters. (And hopefully someone will pay to read them at some point.)

But the other day, as I was figuring out what to do next while I have my current manuscript out on submission (keep your fingers crossed and sacrifice a few chickens for me, will ya?), I made a list of my work and had one of those Oprah "a-ha" moments. Each title I jotted down naturally made me consider the story and I realized I do, despite all my protesting to the contrary, have a theme running through them. Maybe I didn't realize it at the time I wrote the bit for my website because there weren't enough samples to consider. In scientific experiments/data collection, it's imperative that there are sufficient numbers of test results to compare to each other to allow you to say, "Yes, this hypothesis is true (or not)." And then, of course, the scientist needs to actually be looking for something. Maybe I wasn't looking for the way my diverse genre choices were connected until then.

So far, I've completed four novels. Two are sword and sorcery fantasy, one is a paranormal women's fiction, and the latest is a science fiction romance. The current WIP is a shapeshifter romance. And no, it seems I cannot write anything without adding a bit of a speculative bend to it. Maybe some day. Anyhoo, they are different in tone and in POV, some are first person some are third, all have female protagonists, though some have male character perspectives in them. But what hit me is that in three of the stories the MC has to learn who she really is (literally, in one case) and deal with how that self realization will affect her. In the other story, the MC is the one who was affected by someone else's true self and has to suffer the consequences.

Thinking about the overall theme of my stories made me consider WHY I was writing about "finding yourself."

Like most everyone, I grew up with a plan as to how my life might play out. For a long time, it involved studying animals, working with them and for them in some capacity. Sure, a spouse and kids were tossed into the mix at some point, but the idea of life as Science Gal stayed with me for a long time. That was who I was and who I would be.

Then circumstances, job opportunities and financial obligations changed. Long term positions in my chosen field meant separation from DH or upheaval of my spouse's more lucrative and promising career. Summer field positions were fine, but we needed the steady income of my getting year-round work. Science Gal needed to step back for a more practical solution. At least temporarily. Right. That's about when the biological clock chimed and we started our family. So much for returning to the life of field work. And no, DH was not able to stay home because he is Science Guy who needed to be in the field or trotting about to meetings across the planet. So I took local, out-of-my-chosen-field-of-study jobs.

I was lost. This was NOT what I'd seen for myself as a young woman contemplating her future. Not that I regretted the choices I'd made. I knew what I was doing when I chose to marry my husband, when I decided it was time for children. But still, the question of what would happen to *me* now that I wasn't who I thought I'd be made me very anxious. I liked who I was, for the most part, but this new person ? What was she like? How would she react to situations? And more importantly, did she still like coffee and chocolate?

It took me a while to fit into this new skin. There were times, early on, that I felt frustrated, depressed even, because after all that hard work in school, after traipsing across the country to take exciting positions, I couldn't use my knowledge and experience. I was now a stay at home mom with two kids. What happened to ME? Well, life happened. And once I realized that I wasn't lost, that I was merely taking the scenic route to what I was truly meant to be, I relaxed.

And now, I write about women who are on that insane journey of self discovery. It's exciting to experience those moments through characters, but I'm getting too old for major shake-ups. Let the perpetually younger and sturdier people I create have that fun. Plus, as the writer, I can REALLY mess with their lives. Kill my darlings? Maybe not, but I sure like making things rough for them. Better them than me.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Pineapple Express: No Trip to Paradise

Here is South Central Alaska, we're used to a bit of rain and wind, but when the forecast calls for hurricane-force gusts, even we sit up and take notice. Or rather, batten down the hatches, cover our heads and take notice.

For the past few days, the region has been hit by a warm front racing up from the south. It's locally known as the Pineapple Express because it originates near the Hawaiian Islands. The front brings with it temperatures in the mid thirties to mid forties, lots of rain, and lots of wind. The abrupt change from the clear and cold weather we'd been having was a tad disconcerting, but not terribly surprising. I liked the clear and cold. I particularly liked the lack of snow. More precisely, I liked not having to shovel snow.

The rain has been no big deal. After living here for more than a year, I'm getting used to the amount of precipitation that lands here. We are, after all, in a temperate rainforest, meaning we average over 70" of wetness annually. It seems like we've received half of that in the past few days, but according to NOAA and this map, we've hardly dented the rain gages. I think NOAA needs new gages.

This year is particularly windy. Our living room has four windows that are 3' X 4', better to catch what sunlight we can (when it's out) and better to view the lake and mountains across from us. All very lovely in nice weather, but when the wind blows, and it does, the windows flex. When the wind blows at gusts over 100m.p.h., they rattle and threaten to come out of their frames. And the entire house shakes as if it's about to come off its footings. It was scary, to say the least, and I hoped the windows would hold up. Maybe I was being wimpy, but we aren't used to that kind of force. (It made me think about folks who live in more vulnerable areas, and those who don't evacuate when they can and should. Why someone in a hurricane-prone area would choose to stay during one of their storms is a total mystery to me.)

I sat in the living room with my husband, watching TV with the sound turned up loud enough to hear over the wind and rain, wondering if we had plywood sheets large enough to cover all the windows. Wondering how much stuff from beneath our "dry" storage was now strewn across the yard. And was the roof still on? We detected no leaks, so we assumed all was well when we went to bed.

The next morning, things had calmed down enough to make rounds. We'd suffered nothing worse than some excess water in our covered storage and a few up-ended empty garbage cans. A neighbor had lost a panel or two from his metal roof. That seemed to be the worst of it in our area. On the plus side, there is no longer a sheet of ice covering my driveway or the roads.

They say a gift from Hawaii is like receiving a bit of paradise. Personally, I'd exchange this one.