Tag Archives: personal

Oreos are as addictive as cocaine

Yesterday I went grocery shopping, and as I was walking down the cookie aisle -salivating like a good Pavlovian dog- I heard someone mention a recent study that found that ‘oreos are as addictive as cocaine’. I had seen the headlines, of course, and I had found them amusing and bordering on the absurd, but at the same time I was worried about what those headlines seemed to suggest: ‘oreos are as bad as cocaine’, and that’s where the difference kicks in… not that the similarities along the addiction line can be stretched as far as that headline would seem to suggest.

Yes, sugar tickles the same pleasure centers of the brain as drugs do, that has been known for a while (hence the ‘salivating like a good Pavlovian dog’ bit), but while we can be said to crave both substances to a certain extent, there is a difference both in term to how we are likely to respond to being unable to get a ‘fix’ are, and in terms of the damage the substance in question does to our bodies.

Simply put, most people I know can skip their daily cookie fix without displaying any obvious withdrawal symptoms, and -diabetics not withstanding- the likelihood that you will eat enough oreos in one sitting to kill yourself are… well, they are pretty much nil.

And if you are wondering if my passionate defense of the blasted things means I’m secretly in the employ of the food industry, let me reassure you that that is not the case. My defense of the cookie industry has to do with something more fundamental than that: even though I am not particularly keen on oreos, I do have a massive sweet tooth, and I am not to happy about the growing criminalization of sugar I see all around me. Yes, I realize that we should try to exercise some self-control in that regard (or maybe that we should try to exercise, period), but while I am aware that sugar is not the healthiest of foods, putting it on the same level as cocaine -or even nicotine- is downright absurd, and I am not particularly fond of the fact that sweets have somehow been turned into a guilty pleasure… so excuse me while I go grab a cookie.

Keeping busy

Yikes, a week after wrapping one project up I am all but done with the first draft of book three of Citlalli. No, that doesn’t mean it’s done (in fact I think that, between revisions and rest periods, it still has something like a year to go), but even though a part of me knows that the fact that I could cross all three of those things off my list in a matter of days is mostly a coincidence, it is still a rather nice feeling… especially because when it came to Citlaill I had to deal with quite a bit of writer’s block.

Of course, I also know myself well enough to realize that, as soon as I start revising it, I will probably also start cringing at the sorry state of that first draft, but then again that’s why it is called a first draft (actually, it’s not even called that, as I usually refer to my ‘first draft’ as a ‘rough draft’… the ‘first draft’ is actually the second one, which is the first one I expect to be sort of  legible).

Well, that’s how a writer’s life goes, but for today I guess I’ll just revel in the fact that that draft is done… tomorrow I’ll go back to cringing.

Waiting for the proofs to arrive

And we are done! That project that was almost there the last time has officially crossed the finish line, including cover design and interior layout. That means that all that’s left to do is to wait for the proofs to get here, and then, if no major issues pop up, it will probably go live on November 2.

As for what that one is about: it’s a ghost story (hence the decision to release it on the Day of the Dead if at all possible). Will it sell?

Who knows? The truth is that I’m not particularly optimistic in that regard (not considering that I have a marketing budget of exactly $0.00, and would much rather be writing anyway), but I’m not particularly concerned about it either. Yes, being able to make ends meet would be great, but my needs are simple, and no matter what happens I had a blast writing it, so I’m just tossing another message in a bottle, waiting to see if someone -anyone- will pick it up…

Two down three (at least for the time being) to go

Well, one/two of the five projects I have been trying to juggle are all but done (they are two versions of a single title, that’s the reason behind the iffy numbering. The English version is done, and the Spanish one has less than a week to go, though there are also some design issues that I’ll also have to take care of… still, the end is near). A second/third project (the one that was being a bit of a brat), has effectively been shoved to the back burner. It’s not happy about it, and at times I hear it grumble so I have to go in there and stir it a little to keep it from turning into a charred mess, but on the back burner it sits. Whether or not it will agree to stay there remains to be seen.

As for book three of Citlalli (that would be the third/fourth project depending on how one counts the one that is almost done), the first draft of that one  is coming along nicely, and with a little luck it will be done before October is out… not that I don’t have half a dozen rounds of corrections to go, but I should have the rough draft by then.

Once that is done I’ll finally  be able to turn my attention back to the sort-of-history book I have been neglecting for the past few months (that would be project four/five… the problem with that one is that it was supposed to be something like 25,000 words, but last time I checked it was 90,000+ and counting). It should also make it possible to go back to my preferred kind of insanity (that would be one where I have two active projects, where I revise one while writing the other one)… okay, so that’s supposed to be the theory.

Of course, that only works if no other projects come knocking (okay, so for the most part they don’t knock, they just barge in and make themselves at home, knowing that they are welcome and that the door is always open), or if the one that is currently on that back burner doesn’t get too bratty in the meantime. Still, having some semblance of order, even if it is only for a little while, makes for a nice change of pace!

Roller coaster writing

One of the hardest things you have to do when writing a story is learning to recognize when and where should you hit the delete key. Sometimes, when you are stuck, you have to go back and make some radical changes to a section you thought was long done. Doing that can be not just frustrating, but also downright terrifying, especially when the scene involved was one that was one of the pillars of the whole plot. These little ‘surgeries’ can be enough to cause the whole structure to collapse on top of your head, a fact that can leave you bruised and battered… and if you are in the middle of a series, where a couple of volumes have already been published, well, let’s just say that that makes it even worse. Simply put, if the work in question is part of a series then there are parts you just can no longer change, and you certainly can’t walk away or start anew. That was what happened to me a couple of months ago with Citlalli.

The good news is that, even though it took me a while to figure out how, I eventually managed to fix that one, and I’m pretty happy with how that turned out. The bad news is that I’m no longer sure I know where the story is going… not quite. Oh, I have a general idea as to what the general destination is supposed to be, and I think I know how to get there in general terms, but the detailed map I thought I had has been shredded. That means that the path I’m going to have to follow is going to be different from the one I had originally envisioned.

Of course I have to admit that dealing with these little surprises can also be a lot of fun.. .terrifying fun, mind you, but still fun. This is the roller coaster aspect of writing, the one most people don’t even realize is there. Yes, you can set out with a destination clearly in mind, but there are always surprises, and pitfalls, along the way, and watching a story grow, develop and change is one of the most fascinating aspects of the whole process. In fact at times when people ask me why I write, seeing how I’m not exactly making a living out of it, my answer is that I write precisely because I have a story buzzing between my ears and I just have to know how it turns out.

I have written a number of books by now, and the one lesson I have learned is that the story I wind up with at the end of the process hardly ever turns out to be like the one I had originally envisioned… but of course, if I knew how the story was going to end, chances are that I wouldn’t even bother writing it down.

Keeping school out of the kids’ hair

Is it just me, or are schools getting completely out of hand, becoming more and more intrusive with each and every passing day?

There are a couple of stories floating around that have caused me to start wondering about that.

In the most disturbing one of those a California district has apparently hired a firm to monitor their students’ use of social media, nominally in an attempt to keep an eye for a series of problems and behavioral issues (after all, they have to make it sound like they are acting on their students’ best interest), but in practice intruding on their students lives beyond the classroom. The thing is that while keeping kids safe is a worthy goal (bullying and suicide are pressing issues), I don’t like the way schools are intruding on the kids’ lives outside of school. Call me old-fashioned, but as far as I’m concerned that’s what parents are supposed to be for, though at the same time I do realize that too many parents are too busy to care, and more than happy to have the schools step in. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a way for parents (or students) to opt out of that kind of monitoring (not that I would trust a school to respect such a decision to opt out).

The second story is more circumscribed. It is about a little girl who was told by her school that her dreads were unacceptable, and whose father decided to yank her out of that particular school instead (good for him). Setting aside the racism such a policy entails (afros were also explicitly forbidden), there is the fact that some of these policies focusing on the kids hairstyles that are written into many schools’ dress codes fail to take into account that, unlike clothes, hairstyles cannot necessarily be done and undone on a whim. Children may be able to change their clothes as soon as they get home, but they can neither uncut nor redye their hair in a similar fashion, and dreads are not exactly a hairstyle that can be changed in a matter of minutes. That means that by regulating hairstyles in the classroom schools are intruding in their students’ lives long after they’ve left the premises, and it is there that I feel that they have crossed the line.

Yes, a dress code can be a good idea, at least up to a point, but there is a problem when it comes to their definition of dress. Regulate clothes? Sure, kids can change those as soon as they get home. Require some standards of hygiene? Fair enough (as long as you make some accommodations for those students whose situation does not allow them to comply, and do it in a way that does not stigmatize those students), but leave the kids’ hairstyles out of it.

After all, as important as school may be in a child’s life, it is the parents job to parent that child, and schools should really learn when to get out of their students’ hair.

The endless lives of the dead

I have an aunt who is in her late eighties, and often when I talk to her she will tell me about some of her old acquaintances, or she keeps reminiscing of people who were famous in her youth, people she used to admire and respect. These comments usually include something along the lines of ‘if s/he hadn’t died when s/he did, then s/he would have…’ and with these comments she keeps bringing those idealized dead to life in her mind, putting them in a context that is not their own. The one thing that never seems to occur to her is that if those people hadn’t died when they did… chances are that by now they would have died of something else. I mean, most of those people would be over a hundred years old by now, some would have been something like a hundred and fifty. And yet she keeps saying of every new development ‘If s/he hadn’t died, s/he would have…’

Upcoming projects…yes, AGAIN

It’s beginning to look like I’ll be able to get one or two more books out this year (or, to be accurate that I might get one more book out in two versions. The book in question is a sort of ghost story that’s going to be released simultaneously in both English and Spanish). That’s the good news. The bad news is that book three of Citlalli is running a little behind schedule (I am hoping to have that one ready a year from now). I have two other titles lined up after that, but I have so much work left to do there that I can’t even begin to guess when they might be ready (one of those may still be done before 2014 is out, but it’s going to be close). Still, I’m working hard, and having fun with what I’m doing, so at least on that particular front things are good.

When grandpa rocks (In defense of Miley Cyrus)

This week one of the stories I have been following are the responses to Miley Cyrus performance in the VMAs. It was also the first time I’ve actually watched her (though I did so long after the fact and mostly to figure out what the big deal was supposed to be)… and while I agree that the whole thing was racist and more than a little tacky, the first word that comes to my mind is ‘sad’… sad, and maybe a little pointless.

To me it looked like an attempt at being outrageous that wound up sounding more like a temper tantrum than anything else, but at the same time I realize that that’s just me.

Oh, in a way I get where she and her generation are coming from. For more than fifty years -almost since it became possible for individual performances to reach a mass audience thanks to the radio- music, and to a lesser extent dance, have provided safe outlets for the next generation as it tries to define itself and to find its own voice, a that voice is almost invaribly raised in defiance (and I realize that, trapped as she is by her lily white past as a Disney megastar, Miley Cyrus has more to rebel against than most if she wants to remain relevant to her own contemporaries). The problem is that there are few boundaries left for young rebels to tear down. We’ve been there, done that… and to add insult to injury this generation is also having to deal with the fact that their parents get it, at least to a certain extent.

Let’s face it, Rock Around the Clock was written more than sixty years ago, and was already topping the charts back in 1955. Paul McCartney, who wrote When I’m Sixty-Four some forty-five years ago, is now in his seventies himself. In fact When I’m Sixty-Four was released on the same year in which Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild gave us the term ‘heavy metal’… and let’s not forget that a quarter of a century ago the parents of Miley’s generation were already grumbling about the fact that a forty-year-old-plus Mick Jagger looked kind of pathetic singing Satisfaction. If James Dean were alive today, he would be in his eighties.

The point of this little digression is that  Miley and her cohort are trying to express themselves using a language that was first developed by their grandparents, one that had already been tamed, at least to a certain extent, by the time their parents came along. That is going to make it hard to for them to be outrageous enough to shock their elders no matter what they do.

That, I suspect, is part of what lies behind that particular performance, but at the same time there are other issues that hardly anyone has mentioned, issues that, with all the scorn that is being poured over Miley’s head, deserve some attention. To me the most striking of these is the question of whether or not the idea behind that performance was hers at all. She was not alone on that stage. In fact what we saw was a very sophisticated production, and the truth is that Miley has always been a prepackaged product. Yes, she may be trying to rebel, she may be trying to break free, to show the world that she is a grown up, and she may be willing to do whatever it takes to stay relevant to her own contemporaries -who are themselves itching to prove to the world that they have outgrown her- but Miley Cyrus is the puppet, and in the end the one responsible for the puppet’s actions is the puppeteer.

There were others that had the power to put the brakes on that one, they didn’t.

I’m not trying to argue that Miley had no control whatsoever over what happened on that stage or that she was an innocent victim. Even if she was not the driving force behind that performance she was certainly a willing participant, one whose voice must have made itself heard at some stage, but to all the parents out there that are outraged because their little girls are still clinging to her former image, and don’t want to have to explain to those daughters what they saw in that particular performance, the only thing I can say is: kids grow up, deal with it. Miley Cyrus is no longer a child, she’s no longer even a teenager, and asking her to remain frozen in time, to deliberately allow herself to become a has-been at the age of twenty to help you ‘protect’ your much younger daughters’ so-called-innocence is absurd.

No, I didn’t like her performance. There were plenty of things I found objectionable, if not downright disgusting, in it  and I most definitely don’t get it, but at the same time I do realize that in a way that was precisely the point, that I wasn’t meant to get it. It wasn’t to people like me that Miley was addressing her message.

Getting my projects into some semblance of orders

YES! At long last it looks like my projects are in some semblance of order (don’t ask me how long that’s going to last though). Sure, seeing how I didn’t abandon any of them, I’m still juggling more projects than is good for my sanity (that is assuming I have some sanity to begin with), but at least I seemed to have come up with something that looks like a sequence that allows me to prioritize them so that things can start moving again. That’s a good thing because lately I had been feeling like there was a logjam in my mind, so much so that at times I had the feeling that I was so worried about what wasn’t getting done that I couldn’t even concentrate on whatever it was that I was actually trying to accomplish.

How do you explain that you actually love what you do?

Someone suggested that maybe I should take a break, go on vacation for a few days beyond the couple of weeks I go visit my family each year. A part of me found the idea appealing. To see new sights, to do new things, and taste new flavors (especially the latter). Then I tried to picture myself actually going. What would I want to see or do? Well, there are countless places I would love to visit, but in spite of that the image that came to my mind was mostly one of myself in a hotel room, typing away in my computer, far from home.

Granted, a couple of hours of being on vacation in some exotic location a day sounds great, and taking a break from what I charitably describe as ‘my own cooking’ would most definitely be a welcome relief, but until teleporting becomes an option going on vacation remains an all or nothing proposition. You are either there or you are home… and the truth is that for most of the time I’d rather be doing what I am actually doing.

Far away so close

I look at the world around me and, even when everything seems to be going nicely, I can’t help but to think of all the ways in which things can, and probably will, go wrong. No, I don’t consider myself to be a pessimist, but somehow we always seem to be living on the edge of something. Maybe it’s because change seems to be spinning out of control, because at times it feels like we can’t even catch our breaths before we find ourselves being shoved along in a direction that is no longer the one we thought we were going.

I know this doesn’t really make much sense. I’m not even sure what brought this about. I think it may have to do with that project that crept up on me a few days ago (it does feature a dystopian view of the future), but the thing is that all of a sudden I feel like we are in the middle of something, of a process that threatens to spin completely out of control.

Yes, I know the book I am planning, a book I may never even get to write, is a work of fiction, but at the same time, in order to be believable, it has to depict a world that I deem to be at least possible outcome of what I see around me. For it to work there has to be a path from here to there, and that is what makes bringing that world into being a slightly unsettling experience.

Yes, I know that doing that is part of the job description, and I won’t deny that there are some aspects of it that are a lot of fun, but the bottom line is that the world I am seeing is one in which I would most definitely not want to live… and yet at times it feels so near.

One more project to add to my to-do list

Remember how I mentioned a while ago that I was juggling more projects than are good for my sanity already? (and yes, I know, what sanity?) Well, it looks like a new one has moved in and added itself to the list. It was one of those instances in which you read something (in this case a news article) and a new story comes up to you, pretty much fully formed, smacks you over the head -hard- and starts jumping up and down screaming ‘do me, do me…me, me, me!’

The good news is that I’d rather deal with this than with writers’ block (just thinking about that one is enough to make me shudder), the bad news is that, no matter how I look at it, there are still just twenty-four hours a day… and to makes matters worse my body insists on sleeping  at least some of them away, plus the truth is that there are only so many hours I can spend writing before my brain feels like it is about to start dripping out of my ears. Still I am excited about this new plot (even if it is being a bit of a brat), that means that I am going to have to try to accommodate it somehow. It’s not like I’ve never done something like that before… in fact that is kind of the problem.

I’m already working on four projects simultaneously (including one that began as a brat), so I guess adding one more to the list won’t make too much of a difference (though, to be honest, two of those are taking turns and near completion anyway). Who knows? Maybe, if the project insists on being a brat I’ll just turn it into a bribe (something along the lines of ‘listen brain, I’ll make a deal with you: you do your share when it comes to all the other projects, and then, if there is still time, at the end of the day you can spend an hour working on this one, deal?’)

I wonder what THEY think

I was reading a story about a woman who found herself on the receiving end of a visit by the spook brigade because she was looking for a way to cook some lentils… okay so maybe it was a little more complicated than that, and there are some questions about the details, but basically what happened was that a series of innocent searches by different members of a household led someone to put two and two together and come up with twenty-two. That got me thinking: in a world in which our every search is logged, monitored and aggregated to create a ‘profile’, what would my search pattern say about me? The answer is that I suspect that my profile is likely to come up as puzzling to say the least. Why?

Well, as you know I am a writer. I may not be a great writer, or a successful one, but I am a writer. That means that some of my search terms are bound to be on the unsavory end of the spectrum. I can’t help it. If I want to write a less than pleasant character, and I want that character to come across as believable, then I have to try to understand that character’s world… and that is precisely where my research comes in. After all, the characters I have something in common with are easy, it’s the characters that are totally alien to me that require me to look things up to try to figure out just where it is that they are coming from, and at times that research can be pretty extensive. Oh, it’s not just the unsavory characters that lead me to Google’s door (the professional ones too tend to require their fair share of research), but those are the ones that are most likely to raise some eyebrows.

The thing is that doing that research can be an eyeopening experience. It can also be a puzzling one, or it can leave me feeling almost sick, but at the end of the day what I have is a situation in which what I search for says very little about who I am, what I think, or what I care about.

Free to write whatever I want

Is it odd that I find the fact that my books aren’t selling oddly liberating? That was a thought that hit me as I worked on the third book of the Citlalli series, and I found myself confronted with the need to make some hard choices when it came to a few critical aspects of the plot. It is a choice I have known I was going to have to face at some point pretty much from day one, and that was one of the main reasons I switched from Virtual Bookworm to CreateSpace in the first place, but still I know that, if the book had been selling, I would have found myself wondering which plotline would play better with my readers… I would have found myself trying to play it safe. That is human nature, but as things stand I am free to make my choice with no external influences. In fact if the books had been released by a traditional publisher I might well have found myself deprived of the right to make that choice at all. More often than not, that freedom is one of the first things authors working on a series have to give up when they sign on that dotted line.

Oh, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like it if my books were a source of income. Like everyone else I have to eat, but the bottom line is that at the end of the day I have a roof over my head, I am reasonably happy, I can publish what I want, when I want, and my dogs are fed, so I have no reason to complain.  It is a matter of perspective, of keeping my priorities straight, and figuring out what matters to me… and of feeling grateful for the fact that I am in a position to follow my dreams, to write and publish my books on my terms, and to live my life more or less like I want to.