Caucus, Politics, and Politicking

I had an unusual night at the caucus. It’s not my first time at a caucus. My parents instilled in me a duty to the civic process, and they took me with them to caucus when we moved to Iowa. I was 14, and I didn’t do more than observe and hand out door prizes. (I think it was a county caucus, but I may be mistaken. It was a long time ago.

Many people went for the first time, including a group of college students who sat near me and a quiet guy in the corner. Two women (who hid their faces for the picture and cracked me up) may have supported different candidates but they were friendly and simply worried about what all the republicans they knew would say.

I’ll admit I’m a registered democrat. I don’t hold it against people if they are in another party. This is one of the things about democracy and allowing each person to have a vote and a say. (My husband is a registered republican. That might be what keeps both of us involved in the political process. We have to cancel each other out.)

The republican process has been simplified to not allow for discussion and realignment. Whether you call this progress or say they’re no longer allowed to talk it out is up for debate. I only know their process is different.

The democratic side goes as it always has: you arrive and find your group – there were four choices (Clinton, O’Malley, Sanders, Undecided). In the past – and I caucused every year except four years ago because I had a newborn (born Jan 13) and I wasn’t up to it – these proceedings have been quite civil. People come together, they share the letters from candidates and some of their own experiences with those candidates, and everyone woos groups that are not viable (less than the minimum required to get a delegate, and generally this is the undecided group). Then we elect delegates and occasionally there are other petitions that need to be dealt with, and everyone goes home.

Last night, there were over 180 people in the library of my daughter’s school. At first there were 179 in our count, but then one of the people running the caucus as the temporary chair and secretary realized he hadn’t signed himself in when he signed in everyone else. *facepalm* Once that was settled, we still had 6 ‘ghosts’ who had been counted toward one or another group but did not actually exist in the log.

I say there were more than that, because there were representatives for some of the candidates who were not registered to vote in my district, and we also had some observers from an Illinois high school who had to be sent into the hall to be sure they were not counted among the voters. I am not certain how many of them were there, but they were civil, quiet, and did everything they were asked.

To be a viable group, you had to have 27 people (15% of the count). Once the count for each group had been done about three times and we had only one ‘ghost’ – the count was Clinton 99, Sanders 67, O’Malley 8, Undecided 7. (If you’re curious, Sanders and Undecided were the only ones who could count correctly the first time. Yes, I know that equals 181 but it really wouldn’t change the math with one ghost.) With two groups that were not viable, there was a realignment. It was already 8:00 and we had been there an hour and I think everyone was frustrated that no one trying to do an official count could reach the proper number.

Somewhere during this time, someone said something without the mike (which meant most of the room could not hear it, and several people in the area ducked away like someone was going to throw a punch. I was sitting ten feet away and didn’t hear it, but we talked about that – because why would a fight break out over little numbers?

I sat with my four year old son, and he was playing quietly and climbing on bookshelves. (we were in a library!) I encouraged three college boys to go talk to people who might realign with our group. I encouraged the man next to me (his wife was undecided) to go try to get her to realign as well. At that point my son had misstepped off a chair while I stood to be counted a third time, and I needed to soothe him.

The man came back without being able to convince his wife, but she did realign with a party, it seemed. The college students came back after trying to talk to people civilly about why they supported their candidate and mentioned they had been branded slanderously as Trump supporters. (WHAT? That’s not okay!)

During this time, the caucus math was announced that if nothing changed, it would be 4 delegates to the next stage and it sat 2 Sanders and 2 Clinton. And even if all the unviable groups went to either group that would not change. So a knot of Clinton people went to O’Malley to make it viable, changing the delegates to Clinton 2, Sanders 1, and O’Malley 1. This was seen as deliberate politicking to take that candidate from Sanders without actually changing the alignment people who had moved.

More grumbling as delegates were chosen. They (chair and secretary who supported O’Malley) also announced only as the group became viable that once a group was viable it could not be absorbed by another. This increased feelings that the Clinton supporters who switched had only done it to change the candidates.

Each group requires a delegate and an alternate. The county/district caucus will be March 12. It isn’t me – though for a moment I might have been nominated. I do hope it was one of O’Malley’s actual supporters who went as delegate, rather than one of the fake Clinton switchers.

The Sanders leader in the room tried to reabsorb some other people until he figured out he couldn’t make the group unviable. He tried everything he could think of to get the delegates back to 2-2, except, of course, sending enough Sanders supporters to the undecided group to make it viable the way the Clinton people had done with O’Malley.

All in all, my favorite moment is when I drove home and my son said, “more music, more music,” when he heard Hello by Adele come on the radio. And when I upped it, he spread his arms wide and said, “Crescendo!” Maybe I’ll start a political story next. Sure, it’s been done before and it’ll be done again, but it’s worth pursuing to change our minds and our own politics. And there’s no doubt it’ll be some sort of speculative fiction.

Happy Groundhog’s Day to all!

 

Do you ever think, now if only I had a five foot metal chicken?

You know you already read it, but the link is here.

The Bloggess does it best, but how do you know when you’re missing an object from your life that might inspire you to write that next crazy thing?

Maybe I just need a five foot metal chicken for that creative boost!

Other items are simply don’t have the same ring to them. I have a pair of onyx dice on my mantle with hand-drilled painted pips. I’ve wondered what the gamemaster would think if I brought them to our next run, but they’re heavy and might be employed as weapons.

My kids both wanted mermaid tails for Christmas, and Santa came through for them. (Swimmable mermaid tails- almost ready for the pool!) I don’t know if everyone owns at least one questionable item that raises eyebrows of people around them, but shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t our characters?

A friend once said she wouldn’t be surprised by any book found on my bookshelves, because I have many books spanning many different topics. Another found such amusement that the Bible and the Book of Mormon were separated by a book about being bipolar. (Unplanned but interesting occurrence when new shelves require sorting by size rather than subject.)

While the houses here are not cookie-cutter in their similarities, I must admit that an absence of a five foot metal chicken in my neighborhood drives me to wonder just what should be on the front stoop to confound passersby and that odd political pollster who stopped by earlier today (in 2 deg weather!).

Alas, until the chicken arrives on my doorstep, I’ll just be glad we can contain the merchildren inside where they won’t freeze.

Another Bit of Steampunk

Continued from The New Machine

The hat felt heavy on my head, like it weighed me down with memories of Wiillem. A new ribbon woven through a pearl button from the machine replaced the broken glass that had decorated the hat when Willem wore it. He dominated my thoughts while I surveyed the clacking and whirring machines in his lab.

I still waited for him to return. I knew he must have been waylaid somewhen. How long had I perched on the steps, motionless, until that first machine faltered? The levers stuck when I examined the workings, and a little oil had it humming smoothly.

Willem’s journal sat on the middle of the counter, open to the page on his time machine. I flipped back through the pages to study his notes on the other inventions.

The journal only contained his inventions and iterations; none of his plans for travel were in any way were included. His log detailed the raw materials and the finished ones, as well as basic maintenance. The drawings sparked ideas in my head, and soon I drew my own notations around his. By the end of the week, I had begun modifying levers and changing gears and generally finding the proper rhythm for efficiency.

I wore the hat always; it gave me purpose and motivation. Everything else remained mine, the fitted corset and jacket with lace collar and sleeves and striped skirts and heavy, gathered bustle. I would continue where Willem left off, so I packed my basket and headed to the faire.

The contents of the basket unpacked covered the vendor space.

A tiny girl, probably small for her age with a streak of mud across her dress, waved a rag. “Shoe shine? Two coppers.”

I considered, then nodded. I might not have money to spare, but she needed it more than I did.

The girl set to work. Customers passed; some looked and some inquired and some purchased an item or two, but no one struck up a conversation.

A knot of people clustered just within earshot, or perhaps they didn’t realize I could still hear them. “What is it about that hat? It’s unnatural.” I needed the connection with him. It was all I had. “She rises above her station. She only sets herself up to fall.” I could see truth to that, but I had no other options. “The prices are expected, but buying from a woman?” I held my face still as stone. I couldn’t change being a woman. “Of course the beggar girl aligns with the female vendor. Like calls to like.” They wanted a reaction. I must not give them one. How could they think I would not hear them?

Passersby had taken the child as a beggar rather than a shoe shine girl. Five copper coins on the ground attested to this idea, yet the girl hadn’t picked them up.

Of course a woman at a stall must only sell her lace or her garden’s fruits. My lace was better suited to cat toys and my garden produced little more than I needed to eat.

The girl finished shining my shoes and collected her coppers. She stared at the coins with the no-nonsense disdain only children can manage.

“And what is it you want, child?” We both knew it wasn’t so easy to ask and have it handed to you.

The girl’s chin set, and like the tiny thing might cry, but then she said, “No family. No ties. Hard work, aye, and earn my way.”

Her words circled in my head. Did she mean to apprentice to me? Willem was master of the lab, and I a pretender. That did not explain all my manipulations of the wonders he created. He must forgive me, but he disappeared. “I may have need of an apprentice.” The pearl button machine, so noisy and hiccuping, would be the first complete redesign. “How old are you?”    

“I’ll be nine,” the girl lied, I knew it without understanding how. But the apprentice age was ten, so she wasn’t lying as much as she might.

“Well, if you’ve nowhere to go, you should come see my shop and my flat when the faire ends. What’s your name, child?” I offered my hand to her. In my head, I amended that to Willem’s shop, but it felt like mine.  

The girl picked up the coppers on the ground and deposited all of them into my hand instead of shaking it. “Maggie.”

We ignored the continuing whispers of onlookers. I packed up the leftover goods in the basket, and Maggie trailed along behind me. How would I care for the girl as well as myself? I knew where the rest of my garden’s fruits would go.

Epilogue

Below is information about epilogues with references. I took this to my writer’s group as part of the “program” we have within our meetings. It’s really fun to research these things, bring a topic to the group (or listen to someone else’s perspective) and discuss. It’s one of the things I really like about our group.

One thing you’ll note from the examples is the (maybe) after the Harry Potter epilogue. We can take so many examples from Harry Potter, if only because we’ve all read it. The only one of the below books I had not read was Bel Canto, though someone else had. That helped. The reason I changed it from a Not Working epilogue as the site stated to a Maybe was because it did work for me. And the epilogue worked for others in different ways which we could tie to either love conquering all or a good versus evil theme or to forgiveness between Harry and Snape.

If only every discussion could be so lively!

Function of Epilogue

  • To satisfy the readers’ curiosity by telling them about the fate of the characters after the climax
  • To cover loose ends of the story
  • To hint at a sequel or next installment of the story

How-to for an epilogue:

  1. Decide point of view and keep consistent with novel
  2. Decide where to pick up the story – next day, a few months on, decades later. Can focus on one character or a number of them.
  3. Plot out scenario- not every story needs more closure.
  4. Avoid “happily ever after” trap if it detracts from main conflict of the story.
  5. Consider different structure for epilogue like a speech or poem.
  6. Epilogue may hint at unresolved conflict or new twist for characters in future story.
  7. Keep it brief.
  8. Format as separate section.

Examples: (Does it work or not?)

Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood) – Epilogue shows a historical conference dissecting the novel’s account of events rather than showing the character’s fate. (yes)

Animal Farm (Orwell) – Epilogue shows pigs and man have evolved to not be distinguished from one another. (yes)

Bel Canto (Patchett) – After a hostage situation that goes on for months, the epilogue addresses two characters who got married after the incident and several years in the future. (no)

Harry Potter (Rowling) – 4100 pages of good versus evil or is it a story of love? Epilogue shows main character 19 years later with his own children (and those of his friends) going off to Hogwarts. (maybe)

References:

http://www.scasd.org/cms/lib5/PA01000006/Centricity/Domain/1562/How%20to%20Write%20an%20Epilogue.pdf

https://www.standoutbooks.com/writing-an-epilogue/

http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/six-reasons-for-using-an-epilogue

http://literarydevices.net/epilogue/

http://writerunboxed.com/2012/10/30/after-the-end-the-epilogue/

Fireflies

A friend mentioned the 10 most dangerous cities in Iowa, and I’ve lived or worked in half of them. Iowa gets a bad rap sometimes, but there are good things here, too.

One of them is fireflies. There’s a great sense of wonder in so many kids where these are concerned, tiny glowing flying creatures that only come out part of the year. Why is that so wonderful?

When I was small, I thought they were myths. Fireflies- I don’t care how many Iowa natives try to correct me that they’re Lightning Bugs- are creatures of beauty and awe. My mother had never seen one until we moved to Iowa. And my cousin and I always wrote in letters (on paper- through the postal service) about me sending fireflies to her because she never had them in Montana, either.

These myths change our perceptions of the world, and when they’re true, you find a piece of the impossible in your everyday life. We drove home after a wedding, and I smiled to watch the fireflies out the car window. I remember catching them in a jar and then letting them go.

My kids live in a world with fireflies. My worlds are filled with dragons and other impossibilities when I write, so it’s nice to have at least one in the world around us.

Though the more I think about lightning bugs, the more I think they deserve a special place in some awesome steampunk story. We’ll see how that turns out.

From Another Angle

I have taken up my book and marked it up nearly every day since I came back from the weekend class at the Summer Writing Festival. I’m not even sure what exactly changed. My class received about eight hours of lectures about sentences.

It seems crazy, but it was awesome, fun, and enlightening.

Suddenly I feel like editing is fun. And the book i picked up needs a big rewrite. The thing has been sitting long enough it feels new again. Also having fun uncovering the placeholders like “Bob the Bossman” and “ZZ” that are peppered through the narrative.

I get the feeling I’ve allowed it to simmer long enough that I know how to fix it. At least through the first iteration. But somehow that big picture of the novel in my head wants to get bigger.

Doesn’t matter as long as I’m having fun, right?

Open Mic Night

Last weekend I went to the Summer Writing Festival, and there’s always an open mic night. After two sessions of talking about sentences, I enjoyed listening to others. But the problem with knowing I’m going to be up next– I had to mess with my phone to figure out where the thing was I would read. And I hate that, I can’t focus on anything else. But after I read, I could listen better. So many funny, witty writers stood up to share!

Here’s my story, a steampunk flash fiction piece that I had to edit after the workshop.

The New Machine

The gears whirred. Every step drew me closer to the machine. Aether powered the thing, though I couldn’t fathom the purpose. My fingers hovered over the moving parts.

“What do you think, Claire?” His fingers scraped the back of my neck. “It’s for you, you know.”

The entire thing shifted. No big sound changed the product, but suddenly it dumped tiny pieces of pearl rounds, each one drilled with a distinct hole pattern. “Buttons?”

“They’re not just buttons, my dear.” He waved his hands over the displays for his other machines. “They’re for all the new machines. Pearl is the best. It’s lovely and it feels luxurious.”

Willem always focused on decadence. I knew this about him, but I couldn’t look away from the pearl circles in my hands. He took three and placed them over the levers on his other new addition to his collection of machines. “And that one?”

He tipped his top hat at me, then dropped his fingers to the new pearl buttons across the front. “My time machine.”

My stomach floated within my body. I gulped it down, along with my heart. For once I felt glad of the corset restraining both from leaping out of me. “Such a thing must be impossible.”

Willem stood within the machine. “I’ll be back for you, my dear.” The levers shifted under his hands, he turned to take a last look at me, which toppled his hat to the floor, and he disappeared.

His hat rolled to a stop near me, and I cradled it close to me with buttons still clutched in my fingers. I sat, skirts piled around me on the steps, and I waited. He would come back. He said he would. The candle dripped lower in the sconce. Willem always kept his word. The only question was when.

Impossible Goals

I’ve always been fond of the movie What About Bob? and partly because it has that great theory of baby steps. Of course Bob makes it hilarious-  Baby Stepping out the door. Baby stepping into the elevator. But the truth of that theory has worked for me. I don’t like to set big New Year’s Resolutions because it feels like too much to take on at once. I prefer the method of adding on something small to medium-sized and re-evaluating at the end of a month and the beginning of the next.

It’s how I combat procrastination – I spent how many hours playing video games this month? (Okay, that was a couple years ago- I don’t do it much now.) I’ve turned much of that time into more productive activities toward my goals.

So when someone close to me rattled off a median income for writers as “$70 000 a year,” I almost fell off my chair. And I was belted into a car. Median is supposedly the middle of all the writers out there, so while a straight average might take into account the big earners like Patterson and King and Rowling, the middle would be where the 50% percentile earner had income.

I’m skeptical. I want proof. I couldn’t get it, and I’d like to see where that kind of number comes from. There are so many writers out there, some of whom only send out one book and self-publish, some of whom have one book and traditionally publish, and some of whom keep sending out book after book. Some of these make great money, and others struggle along without much notice.

That median supposedly takes into account all writers, nonfiction and television and tech writers and fiction. If that had any truth, wouldn’t more of us be attempting to be writers?

Mostly, the part that makes me sad is when I think about that as a goal, as an answer to when I’ll be successful is when I hit the median of “writers,” it feels impossible. I don’t rise to impossible overnight. I like small goals. Like, how about, make more money this year than I pay out? And try to do that a couple years running?

Please send me a  comment with what you think it takes to be a successful writer – and what the goals are that keep you going on your path.

Yesterday I completed 720 days in a row of writing at least 750 words per day. I also received a rejection for my manuscript from an agent. Today’s task list includes rewriting. I haven’t given up on this writing dream.

I Printed the Draft But You Can’t Make Me Edit!

That might not be true. I can get myself to edit, but the rewrites make me fidget endlessly in my chair. It’s something I have to schedule and turn everything off, with the paper copy on one side and the screen where I translate the new words on the other.

I can’t get myself to edit appropriately without a paper copy, it seems. I mark up one copy, highlight in myriad places, and have separate notes in margins and a separate notebook to keep it all from escaping. It isn’t the short pieces that bog me down so much – it’s the mammoth manuscripts that would be novels.

Example: the one sitting on my right is about machines [read: robots] and weighs in for the rough draft at 135,000 words. Working title is The Machine Book, only because I have no idea what the title ought to be.

This year I’ve been doing something different. I’m scheduling time to sit down without interruptions and simply take notes on previous projects and learn how to make them shine. I know I’m the only one who can make myself get through the process of finishing the book.

I really wish a one-page-at-a-time idea worked, but the first edits are all about plot arcs and character growth. It’s about making sure each scene happens at the right time and the right place and moves the reader forward to the end.

Thank you to all the family and friends who occasionally ask me how my editing is going. You’re reminding me to keep chipping away at this until I finish, and it motivates me.

Engagement

Driving presents many challenges, and one of the newest problems is cell phones. But what happens when the problem isn’t really the phone itself, but that we don’t engage ourselves while driving?

My first vehicle was older than I was, with manual steering, brakes, and transmission. I had a portable radio stashed on the front seat, and it was always stuck on a local station because I couldn’t get anything else. I didn’t mind, and with all the things I had to do to drive that thing (on gravel most of the way) kept me busy.

If boredom is one of the problems, I can’t give good arguments against it. I’ve had my current car a year. It’s automatic everything, the first automatic transmission I’ve ever had. I don’t know what to do with my left foot or my right hand, and there are buttons everywhere to push and adjust things. There’s nothing to do when everything goes smoothly.

The problem with driving is not everything goes smoothly. At least, not all the time. And we’re not prepared for those moments when they arrive.

Enough for the driving, right? What about the books? Are we engaging our readers? Especially in online formats, writers are encouraged to write clearly, directly, and use short words and sentences. Many fiction novels are written on an eighth grade level, if that.

If we’re not engaging the readers, is that why we’re so worried about losing them? Because they can now be pulled away by movies or video games or any other shiny idea to promise escape.

What if we gave the readers something more to concentrate on?  Some books have sentences of one hundred words or more. Some books have layers of meaning that you don’t always puzzle through the first time. I’m sure not every book needs to be absorbing all the attention of the reader, but I wonder how many popular genre novels are brave enough to tackle these things. When was the last time you looked up a word you didn’t know from a story? Re-read a deeply layered story to enjoy the nuances? Have we allowed ourselves to lose the ability to engage completely in one task at a time?

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