Tag Archives: phenomenon

Dancing with the stars

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Jennifer Crusie is the second from the right.

The blogging group with Jennifer Crusie (second from the right)

Every year for some years now I’ve attended RWA’s national conference in July. This year it was in New York, which meant that my favorite writer of all time, Jennifer Crusie, who also taught the McDaniel College creative writing/romance program I took, could attend. I went to her two conference sessions along with my group bloggers (my former classmates from the McDaniel program), and a nice person took a photo of us all. Proof positive!

The conference was its usual busy self. Besides meeting Jennifer Crusie, the other highlight of the event was that one of our number, Jeanne Oates Estridge (third from right) won the Golden Heart award for paranormal romance. We’re all super proud of her! It’s a tremendous honor, winning over hundreds if not thousands of entries. I’m hoping for a major hardcover release for her.

I got more out of the conference this year than usual (good sessions, connecting with old friends, cementing new friendships, interesting pitches, and did I mention Jennifer Crusie?), but it took more out of me than usual (too much noise, too much rich food [all my fault], not enough sleep [ditto]). It’s been my vacation of choice for a while now, but after next year, when it’s practically in my backyard, I might think about cutting back to every other year or so and maybe going instead to smaller, more local conferences. I could save me some bucks and plan a bigger trip for the times I do go. We’ll see.

Next year in San Diego!

Let’s hear it for the girls

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Catas-TrophyToday I found a fun and inspiring story about publishing, and I always like those. It’s about a book. Here’s the opening:

“Miss Peacock felt the warm tears welling up in her eyes…. It had been Miss Peacock’s lifelong ambition to hoist the trophy aloft with two victorious arms. Apart from basketball, Miss Peacock’s two more modest pastimes were knitting and the regular manufacturing and drinking of hot chocolate in the staff canteen.”

Thus begins The Catas-Trophy, a 140-page mystery about the theft of a prestigious basketball trophy from a school in London. The author(s): 29 girls, students in Class 5 at the Teresian School in Donnybrook, Co Dublin, ages 11-12. Each student wrote and illustrated a chapter.

Caoimhe Ní Fhaoláin, the girls’ teacher, assigned the project to develop the students’ writing and teamwork skills. The girls voted regularly to decide the direction the story should take.

“It was a great lesson in diplomacy,” said Ní Fhaoláin. “They worked together to develop the characters and ensure that the plots are flawless throughout.” The students were responsible for the front and back cover design and illustration, blurb, and title.

Printed volumes of The Catas-Trophy are sold locally, and it’s also available on Amazon. Proceeds go to the Irish Cancer Society and Down Syndrome Ireland. Because that’s how the girls voted to do it.

So, excuses for not writing and publishing, anyone? I didn’t think so.

 

Flash fiction challenge: The car chase

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Chuck Wendig issued a flash fiction challenge: write a car chase in 2,000 words. I’m cheating a bit, because while my antagonist leads the chase in a car, the scene is about the chaser, not the chasee. And the chaser is a food truck. But, hey. There’s a car in there. Somewhere. Comments welcome!

When the Eklunds broke away from the race and sped across town, Karen Renfrew turned from the orange and blue paisley–painted, Indian-themed food truck and stared as the small cavalcade—the electric sports cars driven by the investors, and then the electric support vehicle—bashed their way through the traffic cones that marked the route and peeled off in the wrong direction.

“Well, that’s really weird,” she said to Uncle Boo-boo, who had taken her to his sister’s startup food truck and was introducing her to the tasty miracle that was chicken tikka masala. “Why are those cars going off the track? Why is Phoebe following them?”

“Perhaps it is secret CIA business!” Uncle Boo-boo said, beaming.

“What are you talking about?” Sanjay asked, sticking his head out of the food truck’s order window. “What CIA business? What’s Phoebe up to now?”

“We don’t know!” Karen said, frowning after the cars. “It’s very odd.”

“I think it’s secret CIA business!” Uncle Boo-boo said.

“Maybe we should follow them,” Sanjay said. “Phoebe has a exhibited a distressing habit of taking risks. Perhaps she could use our help.”

“An excellent suggestion!” Uncle Boo-boo said. “Let’s go!” He unhooked the chalkboard menu that hung from the side of the truck and stashed it on the counter. Sanjay disappeared inside, and in seconds, a cloud of black smoke erupted from the tailpipe as the truck roared to life.

“We’re chasing them in the food truck?” Karen didn’t think they could catch them in the food truck. Or even keep them in sight, no matter how bright those ghastly yellow cars were and how tall the cones stood out on the vehicles’ roofs.

“With what else do we have to chase them? By all means, in the food truck!” Uncle Boo-boo clipped the menu securely to the counter and then nudged her toward a small door in the side of the truck. “You do not see any other vehicles here, do you? The food truck is what we have. The food truck is what we’ll take.”

Karen heard a shout from inside the truck, and a skinny teenaged boy started slamming down the window covers. In seconds, the truck was secured and ready to go.

“No time to lose!” Uncle Boo-boo beamed and opened the side door.

In for a penny, Karen thought, and tripped up the steps in her killer heels. At the top she bumped into the teenager. “Oh, sorry!” she said.

“This is the nephew of my nephew Sanjay,” Uncle Boo-boo said. “Justin.”

“Justin?” The teenager, a beautiful younger replica of Sanjay with dark brown, almond-shaped eyes, dark hair, and pants at least four sizes too big, shrugged.

“Don’t ask me.”

“Better sit!” Sanjay yelled from the driver’s seat. He ground the gears into first and stepped on the gas. The truck was heavy and slow, but even so, the lurch sent Karen flying into Uncle Boo-boo.

“Here, we have seats in the back,” he said, holding onto her firmly. “With belts. Better than an airplane.”

They staggered to the back of the truck, where Uncle Boo-boo pulled down a jump seat for the two of them, and Justin braced himself in a crevice between two built-in cupboards.

“Hang on!” Uncle Boo-boo called gaily as Sanjay ground the gears into second and the truck lurched again. Uncle Boo-boo grabbed Karen’s leg for emphasis, which was a lot less irritating than she thought it would be. She looked into his twinkling eyes and smiled.

“Where are we going?” she asked. “Can we still see them?”

“We will catch them,” Sanjay called, glaring into the traffic, his eyes focused on the road. “They will not get away.” With one hand on the wheel, he dug his phone out of his pocket, and hit the speed dial.

“Phoebe!” he said. “What are you doing?” He listened for a minute, swerving around traffic with one hand, leaning on the horn when he had to. “We’re right behind you! Alert the hotel!” He disconnected and shoved the phone back in his pocket.

“The Swedish-Korean terrorists are making their move!” he said to his passengers. “We have to step on it!”

“Terrorists?” Karen said. “What terrorists? I never heard anything about terrorists.” She’d never really been positive that Phoebe had worked for the CIA. Her daughter just seemed to have a boring desk job at some gray agency in Washington where she sat all day and pushed paper around. She was a spy? When did that happen? And—chasing after terrorists like this, somebody was bound to get hurt.

“The Swedish-Koreans! I told you! They have guns! They are on the move! We must stop them!” Sanjay stamped on the accelerator. Hungry pedestrians, seeing the food truck barreling down the street, tried to flag him down, but he gestured wildly to get them to move out of the way. Then he turned on the truck’s exterior speakers and hit a button. Music from a Bollywood musical blared out into the Las Vegas desert.

“Ah,” Uncle Boo-boo said. “That is Lat Lag Gayee. Very nice tune.”

“What?” Karen said, hanging on to Uncle Boo-boo for dear life as Sanjay careened around a corner.

“From Race 2,” Uncle Boo-boo said, holding Karen firmly. “Not my favorite film, but I do like the music, don’t you?”

“Ah, sure,” Karen said. The truck sped down the street, music streaming out to the public. Several other vehicles honked. Sanjay honked back. From her position on the jump seat, Karen could see only a tiny sliver of the front-facing windshield. Buildings sped by, but she had a hard time orienting herself to where they were. And then Sanjay slammed on the brakes, and they all lurched forward.

“We’re here!” Sanjay threw open the driver-side door and leaped out of the truck. Uncle Boo-boo helped Karen to her feet and she, feeling unexpectedly hampered by her stilettos, followed him out the side door, gratefully taking his helpful hand. Justin jumped down and hiked up his pants with one hand after he landed. Karen looked up at the imposing façade of the Desert Dunes casino and the yellow electric SUV parked in front. What was Phoebe doing here? What was happening?

“Hey!” the liveried valet parking guy said. “You can’t park here!”

“CIA!” Sanjay flashed his food vendor’s permit for less than a second.

The valet parking guy grabbed Uncle Boo-boo’s arm. “Stop right there!”

“They’re with me,” Sanjay said. “National security!”

“At least turn off that music!”

“CIA!” Uncle Boo-boo said, shaking his arm loose and flashing his realtor’s license. “It’s most urgent.”

“I’m the cocktail waitress,” Karen said, wondering if the valet parking guy might actually hold her back. She thought that might be a good idea. He was kind of cute, and her feet were killing her. When she’d accepted the date with Uncle Boo-boo to see the race, she hadn’t expected to do so much running herself.

“Hey! Wait!” The valet guy said, but Sanjay ran to the revolving doors without looking back. Uncle Boo-boo towed Karen, who tripped along as fast as she could, and Justin slouched behind.

“We’re in,” Sanjay said, looking around the lobby for Phoebe, or alternatively, any sign of trouble. “Now let’s go save us a Secretary of State.”

Selective blindness

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Watch this 1999 video by psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. You won’t be sorry, I promise.

Did you get the number of ball passes correct? I really focused, and I did count correctly.

For those who didn’t see the 300-pound gorilla in the room, which I did not, this phenomenon is entirely normal. Did you ever not notice a friend’s new haircut? Or not realize that a sibling had gained weight over the last 10 years? If so, it’s not because you’re too self-involved. According to researchers, it’s how our brains are wired. It’s called “change blindness,” and it’s the phenomenon of not noticing something—even a 300-pound gorilla—when it stares us in the face.

There’s also “inattentional blindness,” when we don’t see the difference because we’re not looking for it. In the video, if didn’t see the gorilla, it’s because you were told to count the number of ball passes. If you’d been told to look for the gorilla, you’d have seen it. Which I did, easily, when I played the video back.

These blindnesses are shortcuts our brains take. There’s too much information to process everything constantly, so the brain fills in the space we don’t much care about. The brain assumes. And we know how assumptions can sometimes get us into trouble!

While inattentional blindness can be fun when it’s about gorilla videos or video games, it can have serious consequences, because if you’re not looking for gorillas, you won’t see them. So if you’re not consciously looking for motorcycles or dogs in the road, you might miss those, too.

So be careful out there! You never know when a 300-pound gorilla will be in the room.

It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to

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poetryWhat with one thing and another, it’s been a rough week. I took a hiatus and wandered over to Jenny Crusie‘s site, where I learned about The Toast, which is a blast and just what I needed when I was done assembling receipts for Uncle Sam. For a fun look at oppressive activities, take a look at “Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History” by Mallory Ortberg. In fact, her entire “Western Art History” oeuvre is not to be missed. As one of her women who’s having a terrible time at a party would say, it’s bears.

Happy (or whatever) Thanksgiving!

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Charles_Green01-victorian-christmasWhen I was a kid, my family celebrated all the holidays in a Norman Rockwell-esque Midwestern way. There weren’t many of us, so that worked for a while. By the time I hit early adulthood, though, enough had changed that holidays couldn’t be celebrated the way we used to do it, so every year since we’ve made some kind of nontraditional accommodation in one way or another. Now we know that what counts is the time we take together, whenever that is, wherever that is, and whatever it looks like. Sometimes a six-foot meatball subway with your vegetarian second cousin twice removed and the church bag lady on the Sunday before is the best holiday ever.

I dug around a little for what other people might think about Thanksgiving. One of my favorite quotes is from William Jennings Bryan, who from school history, I always thought was a bit of a blowhard. Here’s what he said: “On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.” I love that idea.

A Native American saying also hits the spot for families who might be living through dark days: “Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.”

Finally, I rounded up a few memories, thoughts, amusing stories, and jokes about our “uniquely American” (as write O. Henry would say) holiday. Have at it! And wherever you are, with whomever you are, I hope you have a Thanksgiving that brings comfort to your heart.

From Johnny Carson, entertainer:
Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover that once a year is way too often.

From Oprah Winfrey, entertainer:
Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.

From Erma Bombeck, journalist:
Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.

From Sherman Alexie, writer:
I always think it’s funny when Indians celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, sure, the Indians and Pilgrims were best friends during the first Thanksgiving, but a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians. So I’m never quite sure why we eat turkey like everybody else.”

From Phyllis Diller, comedian:
My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor.

From Debi Mazar, actor:
On the morning of Thanksgiving, I would wake up to the home smelling of all good things, wafting upstairs to my room. I would set the table with the fancy silverware and china and hope that my parents and grandmother wouldn’t have the annual Thanksgiving fight about Richard Nixon.

From Robbie Robertson, musician:
It’s a bit of a sore spot, the Thanksgiving in Indian country.

From Dave Barry, writer:
Proper turkey preparation is critical. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more Americans die every year from eating improperly cooked turkey than were killed in the entire Peloponnesian War. This is because turkey can contain salmonella—tiny bacteria that, if they get in your bloodstream, develop into full-grown salmon, which could come leaping out of your mouth during an important business presentation.

From Larry Omaha, comedian:
My mother won’t celebrate Thanksgiving. She says it represents the white man stealing our land. But she’s not angry. She figures, what the hell, we’re taking it back one casino at a time.

And—if you want to see what my family looks like, just google weird families under Google Images. You won’t be sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The season’s upon us!

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My tree. Thanks to Beth Barany for taking the photo!

Here’s a picture of my Christmas tree. It’s not really a tree. It’s a traffic cone that I liberated from a construction site and then wound with lights. When I first got the cone, I used regular Christmas lights, the old-fashioned kind. They generated so much heat that they made the rubber that the traffic cone was made of smell (there’s nothing like the smell of burning rubber for the holidays), so I switched to LED lights that I got on sale after the holidays were over. They do not generate any heat, and the tree is now as fabulous in every respect as I thought it would be.

The other thing about my tree: I keep it up all year round, so it’s not exactly a “Christmas” tree. It’s just a tree—or, really a traffic cone—with lights. So for anyone who worries that I’m being insensitive to cultural diversity, it’s just festive home décor.

It’s too, um, avant-garde for a lot of people. I love it, though.

Best wishes for everyone throughout the next month or so!