Beth Deitchman

Reader, Writer, Knitter, Slayer

Category: blogging

Puppies Make Everything Better

Because I’ve been working on a fantasy trilogy, I haven’t written many posts recently. But if you scroll down my blog page, you’ll see a clear shift in my focus over the past year. Before the 2016 election I wrote mostly about my life as a writer, with the occasional essay about something deeply personal. And then came November 8th. Since then my mind has been occupied more than I would like by the mishegoss in Washington. But sometimes I have to look away. Sometimes I have to focus on something else. So that’s what I’m doing now.

About a year ago I started volunteering as a dog walker at the Oregon Humane Society. It’s the oldest animal shelter on the west coast, with a beautiful facility and an amazing adoption rate. At OHS no animal is euthanized to make space for others. In fact, we take animals from other shelters that don’t have room. We have a behavior department and a medical facility on site where veterinary students do a shelter medicine rotation. There’s almost always a line at the door well before we open—often because people want to get first dibs on the kittens and puppies. Sometimes people just wander through the kennels to look at dogs, people who have recently lost pets or who just want to say hi to the puppies. At any given time you’re likely to find a volunteer or Animal Care Technician sitting in a kennel with a dog.

Over the past year I have fallen in love with several dogs—there were Harvey and Jupiter, long-term residents who finally went home around Christmas last year. Then there was Kobe, a pit bull with a skin condition, and Buddy, a black lab who lost a leg because of a tumor. And of course, sweet little Fox, a Chihuahua who loved belly rubs, cuddling, and cheese. If Ralphie would have been cool with having a little brother, Fox would be curled in my lap right now.

Who doesn’t love a belly rub?

I loved that little dude. He spent more than a month at OHS, so I signed up to be his Pet Pal and worked with him on basic commands in between belly rubs.By the time a family came to take him home, he had learned sit and stay (more or less). Luckily I was at the shelter that day, so I got to tell the family what a sweet little dog he is. And I got to say goodbye. I think about him every day and hope that he is happy. He’s an easy-going sort of guy, so he probably is.

Now I’m spending extra time with a labrador mix named Jackson Brown.

Look at those beautiful eyes!

Jackson and I have a bit of a history. The second time I walked him, he accidentally bit me. I can’t stress that enough: he didn’t mean to get me. He was just trying to bite his leash and my finger got in the way. Because the bite drew blood, I had to report it and then JB went into BQ (bite quarantine). I felt wretched. If I had moved him past the other dog’s kennel faster or more effectively, he wouldn’t have gotten over-excited and then redirected his focus on the leash. But Jackson got plenty of attention from the staff during his quarantine, and now he’s back on the floor, playing with his buddy Margaret every day and his other Pet Pals several times a week. Jackson will play fetch with his toy pigs forever if you let him. Luckily he loves food, so I can bribe him when it’s time to get them away from him and take him back to his kennel. Every day I check the OHS website to see if Jackson has gone home. One of these days, the right family for Jackson will find him.

In the midst of our POTUS inspired insanity, OHS is an oasis of calm. Yes, there are dogs barking, and kittens playing, and staff members delivering food, and people milling about in the lobby. Every day we deal with animals who may have been abused, who are terrified, who need extra help in one way or another. Sometimes the cacophony in the kennels is deafening. And sometimes the smells are overwhelming (puppies poop a lot, but they’re PUPPIES!).

Cuteness overload.

But when I’m working with a dog, the rest of the world fades away. I don’t think about the insanity and the tweets and the fear. I think about the dog, about how to help him learn more so that he can go home, how to make sure to keep her safe because she has a vision problem, how to manage dogs who don’t like each other. I think about my little man Fox’s cuteness and about Jackson Brown’s exuberance. I also think about how to get Jackson to surrender his pigs and let me put on his gentle leader. And I make mistakes that I have to learn from right away. It’s also time away from my writing, time where my mind can work on some narrative problem without my knowing what it’s doing. It’s time spent doing something that has meaning to me. That gives me a little light and makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

And puppies make everything better.

Best volunteer gig in the world.

Liebster Award

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My sister in Luminosity, Maestra of Pilates, and Mother of Dragons, Emily June Street, tagged me to write this post. Although I’m not sure what the Liebster award is, I’m happy to play.

Here are the rules:

List eleven random facts about yourself.
Answer eleven questions posed by the tagger.
Devise eleven questions for the people you tag.

And so:

My eleven random facts:

1. Pizza is my favorite food.

2. I started keeping a diary in second grade. The entries are hilarious.

3. I first drank wine at my bat mitzvah. After singing the Kiddush, I threw back the wine, expecting it to taste like grape juice. Manischewitz does not taste like grape juice. I grimaced and said “Ewww.” Everyone laughed. So much for gravitas.

4. Fall is my favorite season. Spring second. I like the chaos of the changes.

5. I once got drunk with Judi Dench’s daughter.

6. Baby birds give me the creeps, but snakes and spiders fascinate me.

7. I prefer towns and villages to big cities. (But I hate the suburbs.)

8. I love thunder storms.

9. I have an Oscars speech ready just in case.

10. The music of the eighties makes me happy.

11. I like grammar.

And on to Emily’s questions:

1. What was your dream career when you were a kid?
Ballerina and manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I planned to wear a yellow and black tutu and yellow and black pointe shoes during games. That only lasted for a few months (after the Pirates won the World Series). Then I just wanted to be a ballerina.

2. What is one physical activity you want to do before you die?
I would like to ride a horse at a fierce gallop.

3. What is your favorite trip or vacation that you’ve ever done and why?
It’s a tie: hiking the Southwest Coastal Path in Cornwall in October of 1997 by myself and a two week trip to Tahiti in December of 2005 with my husband, Dave.

Cornwall: This was my first solo vacation. I wasn’t sure how I’d do with that much alone time, but it turns out I really like alone time. I spent every day hiking by the sea, encountering very few people along the way. I also made only one hotel reservation in St. Ives for the first two days of the trip. After that, I planned to wing it. I’m not a winger of things, but it worked out–except for a terrifying moment in a tiny village called Zennor where the hostel had closed for the season. Luckily, there were a few people in the village who let rooms to wandering travelers, so I didn’t have to sleep outside. During that trip I discovered the joys of an afternoon cream tea and that when left to my own devices, I do very well. Two good things to learn in my late twenties.

Tahiti: Pure gorgeous luxury with my favorite person on the planet.

4. Do you dance?
Every day. Usually in my kitchen.

5. Editing or drafting?
Editing. Dear God, editing. I love shaping stories, finding the perfect word, moving sentences around, fleshing out bits that seem thin–all that. The drafting. Oy. That’s a necessary evil to get me to the fun part.

6. Your favorite myth or fairy-tale and why?
The Arthurian legends. I’m having a hard time articulating why. There’s something about ancient, stony, misty, green England that appeals to me, although it is on a visceral rather than an intellectual level.

7. Where (and when) did you grow up and how do you think it shaped you?
I grew up in Evansville, Indiana in the 1970s and 1980s. We lived in a solidly middle class neighborhood near the school I attended for nine years from kindergarten to eighth grade. Farmland surrounded us–mostly corn and soybeans. Today it’s almost all gone, built over into strip malls, car dealerships, and subdivisions. I miss the huge stretches of green.

I think I have an earnestness that one might ascribe to being a Midwesterner. I’m also fascinated with mountains and the ocean since they did not form the landscape of my childhood; Southern Indiana is flat and landlocked. We had lakes and rivers, but those have visible boundaries. And don’t smell of salt.

As for growing up in the 1970s and 1980s: I remember the heart-pounding anxiety of calling a boy and hoping his mother didn’t answer the phone. I miss receiving letters, but I don’t miss busy signals. Technology still throws me a little for a loop, although that could just be part of my personality. I’m torn between appreciating the convenience of cell phones and being bothered by always being reachable. I harbor nostalgia for a simpler time, but who doesn’t?

8. You have $100 that you must spend on yourself by the end of the day. What do you buy?
A really fancy lunch and some books.

9. Pick any three objects or people to be stranded with you in a lost spaceship.
Dave, Ralphie, and a fully loaded Kindle. (Dave would also have a fully loaded Kindle and its charger in his pockets.)

10. What’s your favorite piece of music and why?
Beethoven’s Third Symphony. I love Beethoven, especially the boomy symphonies. My dad introduced me to the third symphony and we used to pretend to conduct it together. That’s a fond memory.

11. Pantser or plotter?
Pantser all the way. I never know where a story is going until I’m several drafts in.

And here are my questions for Jessica Grey, baseball aficionada and author of modern day fairy tales; Kristen Falso Capaldi, singer, songwriter, screenwriter, and all around cool lady; and Callie Armstrong, writer of hauntingly beautiful stories and bad ass Mama:

1. What was your favorite game when you were a child?

2. What is your favorite game now?

3. List five fantasy professions (besides full-time writer).

4. What is your perfect day like?

5. What is the first thing you ever wrote? Did you share it with anyone?

6. What name would you choose for yourself if you needed a new identity?

7. Where is the farthest place you have been from your home?

8. Where do you write?

9. Are you a morning person or a night owl?

10. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?

11. Spike or Angel? (alternate question: Mr. Knightley or Captain Wentworth?) Feel free to answer both!

Backwards and Out of Order: My Writing Process Blog Tour

Introduction: My Writing Process Blog Tour
Several months ago I saw this blog tour making the Twitter rounds. Several writers I follow posted marvelous accounts of their writing processes, and I secretly longed to be invited along. So when Karl A. Russell asked if he could tag me in his post, I was thrilled, not only because I get to join the tour, but also because it was Karl who invited me. I made Karl’s acquaintance through Twitter and the weekly flash fiction contest The Angry Hourglass hosted by Rebecca J. Allred. His stories consistently impressed me with their pure, cinematic style blended with poetic leaps. That a writer of his caliber had named me as someone whose writing he admired, well, let’s just say I’m still smiling. Thank you, Karl, for the invitation!

And so, here we go…

What am I working on?
I’ve got a few projects in the works right now, which seems to be my constant state. Book two of my Regency Magic series, Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas, is currently in the hands of three marvelous beta readers. I’ve got more work to do on Margaret, but I’m not thinking about her until September.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing short stories. The daughter of a good friend is in the hospital, so I’ve undertaken a little project to entertain her. I sent the first story, “Vivian MacBain and the Case of the Itchy Feet” (she likes Encyclopedia Brown mysteries) about two weeks ago. I’m planning to write at least one more before the summer’s end. This week I started work on “Vivian MacBain and the Case of the Purloined Puppets.”

I just finished a second draft of a super creepy story called “Irina Voshnikaya,” affectionately nicknamed “Vampire Ballerina.” Emily Street, my writing partner (about whom you’ll learn more below), gave me the idea after I confessed that I prefer theatre to film when I’m acting because I like to “borrow” the energy from the live audience to feed my performance. Emily thought that would make a great story. I agreed. At first I envisioned it being a story about an actress playing Hedda Gabler—she would need all the energetic help she could get. But since that would involve re-reading Hedda Gabler, I revised the setting to a performance of Swan Lake, and “Irina Voshnikaya” was born.

Although I’ve been absent for a few weeks, I try to get a story in to The Angry Hourglass as frequently as possible. I love writing flash fiction, but I’ll talk more about that below.

Finally, I’ve started research for a new novel about (non-vampiric) ballet dancers called Anna’s Piece. I’m planning to start the first draft in October—provided Margaret Dashwood edits go smoothly. So far by research I mean watching documentaries about ballet dancers, contacting a friend who attended North Carolina School of the Arts for an interview, making a list of all the dance books available, and reading Dancer by Colum McCann (a lovely book). I have every intention of dragging this old body back to a ballet class or two just to remind myself what it feels like. (And I’m dragging Emily Street with me!)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This question stumps me a little as I am not consistently faithful to any one genre. My two Regency Magic books, Margaret and Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven, straddle at least two genres: Jane Austenesque fiction and fantasy (of the Harry Potter variety). From the first genre, my work differs because it includes magic and from the second, because it’s set in Jane Austen’s England and borrows Jane Austen’s characters. I invent many of the characters, too, and they tend to resemble ones you’d find in Harry Potter. Both books feature young heroines rather than young heroes–so that’s another point of overlap and difference.

As for my other work—I’ve written a few horror stories for Ungodly Hungers, the first collection of short stories (actually the first book) that Emily and I published as Luminous Creatures Press. Having read only some horror—Dean R. Koontz years and years ago and Stephen King, also years and years ago—I can’t say how my stories differ, except that women populate them in higher numbers than men. However, I love Edgar Allen Poe, and I’d say that my story “Lucine’s Gaze” has Poe-ish qualities.

Our section story collection, The Painted Dog and Other Stories, fits more squarely in the fantasy category. I’m not sure how these stories differ from others in their genre. I aspired to a Neil Gaimen-esqueness in the real world settings I’ve chosen, but I don’t think I really succeeded.

After I finish Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas, I’m taking some time off from Regency Magic to write a couple of novels that I think will fit more squarely under the heading “general fiction.” While Anna’s Piece got its start in a fantasy / magical realism short story, I’m going to explore keeping everything rooted in this world—specifically in San Francisco and the San Francisco Ballet. I’ve also got plans to write a historical fiction novel about a woman who grew up during the Depression. It’s based on a piece I wrote for The Angry Hourglass months ago. I have no idea whether or not these books will differ from others of the same genre in any significant ways, but I think that’s okay.

Why do I write what I write?
Regency Magic got its start in a tiny story in which Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice finds a magic book and becomes a sorceress. I had played Mary in a stage production of P & P and felt she deserved a little adventure of her own, which led me to think the same for minor characters in the rest of Jane Austen’s books. Plus I really like inventing magic spells. I intend to write five more books in the Regency Magic series: one each for Jane Austen’s published works and a final book currently called “The Avengers” because all the Regency Magic heroines will work together.

While the Regency Magic books adhere to an Austenesque style, I’m still discovering my own voice and style. I aspire to clarity, precision, and elegance in my writing, which is why I was so happy to discover flash fiction. It has taught me to write with more economy, lending more power to my writing. I’m also learning what I can leave out, allowing the reader more play for interpretation. That learning process has been revolutionary for this ex-academic who was trained to take readers by the hand and guide them through an argument rather than trusting them to supply the missing bits for themselves. Other writers posting to the Angry Hourglass have taught me so much, too: Karl Russell with his cinematic clarity, Kristen Falso-Capaldi with her ability to reach in and tug out my heart with the simplest words and images. The flash fiction community is filled with lovely writers who support each other’s work, which is an added benefit to joining it.

As for genre and that sticky question of fidelity, when Emily and I first started working together, I was certain that I would write fantasy fiction. We had bonded over reading George R. R. Martin, Mary Stewart, and J.K. Rowling. (We also bonded over our shared past as ballerinas and many other things). Emily writes marvelous fantasy with beautifully drawn worlds, which is why she often gives me notes like “how does this magic system work?” and “who made that law about magic?” But aside from the authors listed above, I don’t read much fantasy. My favorite authors are John Irving and Kate Atkinson. I’m keeping my eye on Anthony Doer, too. (If you haven’t read All the Light We Cannot See, go get it.) Lev Grossman has an interesting piece in the NY Times about moving from literary fiction to fantasy. For my next few books I’m moving in the opposite direction.

How does my writing process work?
When I started thinking about this blog post, I jotted down a few notes. The first one for this section reads, “Backwards and out of order,” which sums up my basic process. I started writing my dissertation by working on the final chapter. Then I wrote chapter four. Next came the chapter that ended up second, followed the chapter that leads the whole thing off. I wrote the third chapter fifth. Then I re-wrote the last chapter because I had finally figured out what the dissertation was about between writing chapters two and one. That’s when I realized I didn’t need the fourth chapter, so I cut it. Finally, I wrote the introduction. Naturally the finished product bears no resemblance to the dissertation prospectus I had written for my oral exams. (That’s a whole other story about how I don’t outline.) I’m planning to begin the first draft of Anna’s Piece right in the middle.

With all this backwards and out-of-order-ness, I go through a lot of drafts, leaving plenty of time in between for things to simmer on my mind’s back burner. I give myself permission to write pure shit for at least two of those drafts. No one sees the first one. Ever. Not even Emily, who reads all of my work. I find the first and second drafts painful, especially when I try to write things in order. On the other hand, I love revision. I love finding exactly the right word, making my sentences as crisp and clean as possible, and clearing out anything unnecessary—I have no trouble killing my darlings. Well, okay, I don’t so much kill them as move them into an outtakes file, but you get the point.

I tend to think best in writing, so I’ve always kept a journal for working through whatever is going on in my life. Now I keep a freewriting journal for each project to help me make sense of my stories, figure out sticky plot points, and generate ideas. Entries might be small notes like “start Anna’s Piece in the middle!” Or they might be long explorations of events in a book—how to get Mary Bennet back to Hertfordshire from London (with the Folding Spell, of course!). I’d be lost without these files.

Tag!
And now it’s time to introduce three writers whose work I admire:

Callie Armstrong

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A Southern writer transplanted to America’s Midwest, Callie writes haunting stories that linger with me long after I’ve finished reading them. She develops rich characters in beautifully drawn settings. I love the brutal honesty of her writing. She’s also one of my favorite tweeps.

You can find many of her stories and her musings about writing on her website.

Kristen Falso Capaldi

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Kristen is a high school teacher, a singer / songwriter, and a writer of fiction and award-winning screenplays. She writes with clarity and complexity, even in stories of as few as 150 words. Somehow Kristen manages to create stories that grab me and leave me breathless without any trace of sentimentality. Like Callie, Kristen is another favorite Twitter friend.

You can find Kristen at her new blog.

Emily June Street

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Co-owner of both Luminous Creatures Press and Flow Pilates Studio in Fairfax, California, Emily is a reader, a writer, a cyclist, an archer, a trapeze swinger, and a Pilates instructor. She is also the mother of two adorable canine dragons. Emily packs her richly imagined stories with excitement and gorgeous imagery. I count myself very lucky to have her as a writing partner and a friend.

You can find Emily at Luminous Creatures Press and her new blog.

Widgets

I’m not embarrassed to admit that the interweb still frightens and confuses me. I’m a little technologically challenged, so there is A LOT out there that I simply do not understand. Among so many other things, apparently the internet is a great place for the independent author who knows how to navigate her way around Twitter’s hashtags and retweets, Facebook’s likes and pokes, and Goodreads’ giveaways and widgets. Because I had to be dragged into the twenty-first century, I’m amazed by people who actually know not only what all that stuff means, but also how to use it. My friend Milton, for instance, has been blogging for years, and his blog is filled with all kinds of media and icons and, I am pretty sure, widgets. And while I put the link to his blog in this post myself (here’s hoping that it works), I still haven’t managed to figure out how to make my blog look pretty, much less how to navigate my way through all these newfangled thingamajigs.

Nevertheless, I’m trying, and, the other night, frustrated by my inability to follow simple instructions about how to use the Goodreads Author program to my advantage, I asked Dave, “What the hell is a widget?”

As he usually does when I ask an impatient question about technology, my tech savvy husband smiled before responding with a mixture of patience and amusement. “I’m pretty sure I’ve already explained that to you,” he said.

“Well, clearly I have forgotten,” I replied with more than a hint of sass. “So can you tell me again?”

Unfortunately I can’t remember what he said (because sometimes when people talk about things I don’t understand, they sound like the adults in Peanuts cartoons), but I think his response was that it is a general term for a tool, not a specific thing. So I’m still not really clear about what a damn widget is because the Google was not much more specific. But I do know that I’m supposed to use them to encourage people to buy Luminous Creatures Press books and add them to their Goodreads bookshelves and write reviews so that other people will buy the books and add them to their bookshelves and other people….

If I’m really honest, though, I will confess that my fear of technology masks an entirely different issue. Behind my reluctance to learn how to use these technologies lies an aversion to self-promotion–specifically the shameless variety. I don’t mean other people’s shameless self-promtion. Just mine. I see people like the great monologist Mike Daisey on Facebook employing it almost purely as a tool for marketing. And he navigates it like a master. First of all he accepts friend requests from everyone. I know this because I sent him one after I saw him at Berkeley Rep a few years ago, and he accepted it. He also posts article after article and review after review of his work. He must issue thousands of invitations to performances every day. But what strikes me the most about Daisey’s use of Facebook is the complete lack of self-consciousness that I see. He clearly does not feel even the least bit awkward tooting his own horn. Or if he does, he hides it very well.

I do feel awkward. Terribly awkward. I resisted posting status updates or putting up a profile picture on Facebook for at least a full year after my friend Jill convinced me to join. Why on earth would anyone care what I’m doing or how I’m feeling in any given moment? Now any one of the five hundred or so Facebook friends I have could tell you that I’m obviously over that. Then came this blog, which Dave convinced me to write. I’ve also begun tweeting (a verb that still makes me shudder). I signed up for a Twitter account after Emily and I released our first short story collection because the books about marketing your self-published work suggest it. I believe I’m up to a whopping thirty-two followers. That after harboring nothing but disdain for Twitter since I first heard of it. Yesterday I did my first hashtag (does one do hashtags, employ them, or what? What’s the verb here?). And today I retweeted. All with only a little embarrassment.

So I’m learning, and bit by bit I’m getting over my fear or aversion or whatever hinders me from doing what every other successful artist seems perfectly willing to do–tell everyone how awesome their work is. In fact, I am very proud of the work Emily and I do. So much so that I am willing to sit down and learn to make use of the technology I’ve avoided.I think I’m making progress in teeny tiny baby steps. In this blog entry alone, which I’m posting to both Facebook and Twitter, I’ve set up two links to promote my work. And I’m okay with that.

As for the Goodreads author widgets: last night I asked Dave to show me how to use one. I cannot tell you how pleased I was that he had trouble figuring it out.

Blogger’s block.

When I started this blog in December I intended to post regularly–maybe not daily or even weekly, but definitely monthly.  And I was dutiful about it for a few months.  I posted some writing that I was proud of, and I felt good about myself for it.  But after I finished my hypochondria post, I found myself stuck in a rut.  I started to write several new articles (all with clever titles), but I could not finish any of them.  They just seemed silly or self-indulgent and so I abandoned them, leaving them to languish as half-developed drafts.

I’m naming my inability to post anything new blogger’s block rather than writer’s block because I write almost every day.  For the past few months I’ve been working on a story that started its life as a five-page free-writing exercise and has grown into a seventy-five page novella about Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice (think P & P meets Northanger Abbey and Harry Potter then says a brief hello to Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  In it Mary gets to have some adventures and romance of her own, which I think she deserves.

I also have a temporary job that I found through Freelancer.com that involves writing “articles” using key words sent to me by a marketing firm in Boston.  I’m pretty sure I’m writing a series of fake blog articles about Thai yoga, youth soccer, and IT asset management with links embedded in them to direct readers to websites offering something for sale.  Despite the soul-numbing boredom that the topics can inspire, I have been churning them out pretty quickly.

Yet, even with all this writing, I have been unable to bring myself to post anything new here since March.  Until tonight, of course, when I decided I have to break my blogger’s block.  So here I am, blogging about not being able to blog.  Does this mean that I have broken the block?  I hope so because I really want to do something with all those drafts  just waiting to be shaped.

 

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