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Random Writings

The Care and Feeding of Viral Posts


iStock_000011338930SmallWe live in the age of viral posts, where everyday an under-the-radar blogger publishes a heart-felt post about {insert buzzword here} and suddenly find herself on morning talk shows, defending her view to a panel of experts.

The author of the viral post is lifted high with “atta-girls,” a flurry of Facebook Likes, and five minutes of trending on Twitter. In some cases, book deals are offered, careers are launched, and new fans are cultivated. But in the same time frame of her 15 minutes of fame, vicious comments disparage the author, rebuttals are written with scathing tones, and dirt is offered up on the “supposed expert.”

Our anonymous, drama-addicted society sees no wrong in this whiplash version of fame.

It’s a Conversation, Stupid

Let’s suppose the author was thoughtful and intent on their topic, whether it is parenting, social media, celebrity behavior, bullying, rape culture, or special needs. I believe most viral phenomena are unassuming, honest comments from normal everyday people. A sparkling stardust idea fell from the sky and landed in their heads. And they were compelled to share the idea.

Let’s also assume these authors are not professional lawyers, award-wining graphic designers, or familiar with sudden fame. So why do we expect their genuine post to cover every alternative argument and circumstance? Why is the format of the blog, the photo accompanying the post, and the typos argued ad nauseum? And why is the author expected to respond in grace and with thick skin to hateful comments, disparaging her, her family, and her dog?

We even hamstring the new celebrity blogger by calling any clarification or rewording “defensive” or “backpedaling.” The blogger’s essence is distilled down to a sound bite, minimizing the person and their importance.

Handy Guidelines for Viral Posts

So when reading tomorrow’s viral-post-of-the-day and the day-after-tomorrow’s heated rebuttal, please keep these simple reminders handy:

1.     The person who wrote the post (and the rebuttal) is a PERSON—a real-life person, who you would likely apologize to if you bumped into them with a grocery cart. So stop with the name calling, the question of the parentage, and the hypotheses on their IQ and/or destination in the afterlife.

2.     Assume the post of 200-600 words does NOT cover every single aspect and every single argument. Assume the point of view is broader than the few words listed. Assume it is an invitation to DISCUSSION. But discuss with kindness.

3.     If you are going to add a comment, do so with your name and not anonymously. It is my opinion that anonymous commenters should have to wear a yellow A, in a nod to the scarlet letter. If you don’t want your name attached to your nasty comments, don’t comment.

4.     Recognize sarcasm. Even Sheldon Cooper can learn how to identify sarcasm.

5.     Consider the post as a conversation opener, not a definitive line in the sand. We are all allowed to have opinions. And for the record, let’s define the word opinion.

o•pin•ion noun 1. a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

No matter how loud you yell or how vehemently you use your exclamation points (!!!!), your opinion is not more important than someone else’s. Broaden your worldview. You will learn more from people who hold vastly different beliefs than you will from the same homogenous crowd of lemmings.

6.  Lower the communal need for 24-7 drama. Reality television is bad enough. Don’t turn thought-provoking idea exchanges into a WWF smack down. Do as I do and save all your drama for fictional books (and in my opinion, this is the absolute correct course of action.)

7.  Be kind.

My morning prayers will now include please god, first, don’t let me win the lottery and second, don’t let me write a viral post. I don’t have the stomach for either.

Ode to a Breeze


breeze is mouth to mouth resuscitation

Is there anything more intoxicating than a breeze? Its insistent caress at your neck invites you to breathe in the whispers of birdsong, leaf rustle, and change. A breeze is mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for the beauty-starved soul.  ~ Nicole Amsler

Inside the Writer’s Studio


iJames Lipton of nside-the-actors-studioRecently I have been addicted to DVR’d episodes of Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton. I find the discussion of craft fascinating and I appreciate the honest ask-then-listen aspect. There is no drama here, just active learning.

At the end of every interview, before the guest actor answers questions from the class, James Lipton asks the same ten revelatory questions. It’s interesting to hear different actors supply diverse answers to the same basic questions.

So recently, I posted the same ten questions to my Facebook friends (and if we aren’t Facebook friends, why not?) Once again, the diversity of the answers was riveting.

Nicole’s Answers to Mr. James Lipton

1.    What is your favorite word?
Uxorious. Fun to say and spell and lovely to benefit from.
2.    What is your least favorite word?
Wait.
3.    What turns you on?
The sound of laughter. Drum beats.
4.    What turns you off?
Elitism and guilt trips
5.    What sound do you love?
Nature: Wind in the trees, bird trills, water rushing. My kids cracking up. The garage door opening, indicating my husband is home. The mail truck rounding the corner.
6.    What sound do you hate?
Raised, angry voices, talk radio of ANY kind, sports commentators, sugar-sweet, simpering voices (Delilah and most DJs on Christian radio), and the old dialup squawk.
7.    What is your favorite curse word?
Son of a bitch. (Because I require a mouthful of words rather than one concise one.)
8.    What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Professional speaker or seminar presenter, likely on writing.
9.    What profession would you not like to do?
Anything involving driving—truck driver, taxi driver, race car driver. I am nearly phobic about cars.
10.    If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Everyone is here.

So you can imagine my pleasure when my good friend, Tara at Faith in Ambiguity, tagged me a question post.  I don’t think Mr. Lipton will change his questions to hers but I found them fascinating to answers nonetheless.

1. Would you ever dissect a cat—if no one was using it and it was already dead? If so, why?

Probably, provided it wasn’t a pet of mine. I am sure I could use the experience somewhere in a future book or story.

And how does one use a dead cat?

2. Are you a writer or a blogger? Does your answer affect what you do?

I am a writer with a sporadic blog. But more specifically, I am a storyteller, plotter, editor, and terrible dawdler. Actual writing time is eclipsed by my preparations and procrastinations. This is not a good habit to cultivate.

3. Sushi—yes or no?

No. An emphatic no. Fire good.

4. What sorts of things really offend you, not just on an abstract level, but in day-to-day life?

A saccharine tone of voice gooey enough to induce cavities. Myopic surety in your absolute truth when you have a 0.01% view of the world. Sense of entitlement on the road (and in other places.)

5. What’s the one secret ingredient that brings life to your cooking (or, you know, your re-heated Lean Cuisines)?

Basil. The taste is a miraculous meld of summer sunlight, verdant verve, and melancholy.

6. Santa Claus: magical childhood delight or insult to children everywhere?

A long standing tradition of story, cause and effect, and a translation of our own childhood memories.

7. Name the best piece of short fiction you’ve ever read.

Killer Heart by Barb Johnson (Glimmer Train, issue 67). I reread it often to remind myself how to portion out a story.

8. Name a novel that changed your life.

My own. Not said with conceit, but I think it is impossible to write a book without effecting how you read books. Once I wrote a complete novel length book, I understood firsthand what a challenge it was. My respect for novelists and storytellers grew exponentially with every chapter I wrestled to the ground. Great writers became gods.

9. What is the thing that everyone likes but you, and even so, you know you’re right?

Reality shows. Everyone makes their arguments for their favorites. “They are cautionary tales.” “I only watch reality shows which involved talent/home improvement/weight loss/etc.” “It’s a guilty pleasure.” But I can’t tolerate them. They are a pale facsimile of story and should instantly trigger a mental assessment for those who want to participate.

10. If you’re on the right path, will you be happy? Or are some people called to walk a harder path?

As long as I am moving, I can be happy on most paths. I hate standstill traffic—in life and metaphorically.

As for harder paths, I do not claim to understand why I won the genetic and locality lottery. By being born white and middle class in the US, I have privileges the bulk of the world can only wish for. Locality also decides your religion so I take umbrage with the idea that the American God preassigned the bulk of the world into the wrong religion and greater hardships.

11. Name a really good soup that can be bought in a can.

Bean and Bacon soup. Much like yellow powdered macaroni cheese awakens childhood taste buds; the overprocessed bean soup is the familiar road home.

Maybe Mr. Lipton should consider adding to his question repertoire.

So let me ask you a question.

What startling idea have you recently tripped over?

Evil Eye


daruma dollYou know the look. The one your mom gave you when you said something out of line or broke a promise. The one I’ve finely honed on my own daughter now, as she breaks the same rules I once bent to my will.

Mothers know how to speak without using a single word. They know how to pin our conscious to the board, like a butterfly skewered with a stick pin.

A daruma doll is a good luck charm from Japan, which incorporates a convicting singular gaze. Upon receiving an empty daruma doll, you are supposed to write a goal on a piece of paper and tuck it inside the doll. Then you fill in one eye with a pen or paint.

This is the eye which watches you.

The eye witnesses your noble attempts and your pointless hours of procrastinations.

It sees your trials, tribulations, and triumphs.

It knows your desperate heart and your self-sabotaging fears.

The doll stares, expectation in its one eye. You have made a promise by bequeathing it one pupil. It awaits the other. And only you can fulfill the promise you’ve made to yourself.

When (and if) you complete your task, the daruma doll gets its second pupil. And in this case, two eyes are less judgmental than one. The two eyes look to the future, toward a new goal. The daruma doll no longer looks to you for its completion and purpose.

Seven times down, eight times up.

A common phrase which often accompanies the daruma doll is Nanakorobi Yaoki, which means seven times down, eight times up. Since the daruma doll is rounded and weighted, it always rights itself. Another life lesson can be found in that simple concept as well.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.  -Richard Bach

 

What goal would you place in a daruma doll?  Would you feel motivated to complete your project? Are you up or down right now? What encourages you to get back up?

Book Themed Wine Charms


Keeping track of your wine glass or coffee cup is a challenge when the book club conversation starts. I crafted these simple but adorable book club wine charms in less than hour. They can be used meeting after meeting and create a fun conversation piece.

Book charms 1 edSupplies:

  • Jewelry wire
  • Assorted beads
  • Oval jump ring
  • Silver charm with open insert (I found these at Hobby Lobby)
  • Magnetic closure jewelry finding
  • Jewelry pliers and wire cutter
  • Photo copies of book covers (suggested books with lovely covers: Life of Pi, Still Alice, Night Circus, Alice I Have Been, Room, Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Hunger Games, The Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Fault in Our Stars, A Grown Up Kind of Pretty, and Water for Elephants)

Directions:

  • I chose a selection of popular book club covers and printed them to fit inside the open charm. I cut them out in ovals and pushed them gently into the open charm.  I added a silver jump ring to the top of the charm so it could be threaded onto the wine charm ring.Book charms 4 ed
  • Cut sections of jewelry wire to 3”. Add one magnetic closure to one end and string various color-coded beads onto the wire, leaving enough room to add the second magnetic closure while twisting the end shut.
  • Center the charm on completed wine charm ring and reclose the silver jump ring.
  • Click open the magnetic closure to add wine charm to your wine glass or coffee cup.

Display on a jewelry tree for guests to choose their book wine charm on arrival. These can even be given as gifts to your favorite author or book lover.

A Readable Feast


I have hunted for years for a relevant topic which I could seamless write about, without wearying. Because a topic could not be found, I stumbled and floundered, at loss for words.

And then, as all epiphanies appear, I suddenly connected several random puzzles pieces together and had an Ah! moment.

Pushing Food and Books

If you have met me in person, you know two things. 1.) I am going to attempt to feed you or tempt you to my house with the promise of food. And 2.) I am going to recommend a book to you—probably a long list of books.

As my family and I have moved from state to state, my constant community is constructed of book people. Whether it‘s moms discussing books during playdates or formal book clubs, books are my link to socialization and community.

I am a book pimp, a pusher of words, and a full-fledged addict.

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Because my community spans multiple states, includes all walks of life, and is constantly growing, I’ve decided to reposition my blog as a virtual community for other book addicts.

So today, I launch the Readable Feast. This is what you can expect:

Mondays:  Book reviews of popular book club reads, recommendations, interviews with authors, and discussion questions

Wednesday: Recipes related to book club books—tying your book and foods together

Friday: periodic thoughts on creating and participating in community, finding connection, and other random thoughts

I have a year’s worth of books, recipes, and thoughts lined up but I’m always open to suggestions.

Whether you read alone, run a book club, or just enjoy a new recipe, hopefully you will add Readable Feast to your RSS feed, sign up for our (upcoming) monthly newsletter, or check in occasionally. If you are a book enthusiast too, I hope you will spread the word by sharing www.readablefeast.com with others (which redirects them to here, www.nicoleamsler.com.)

I look forward to this new journey and the impending calories.

May words nourish your soul,

N@

The Lament of the Socially Awkward


The common trope for fiction writers is that we are locked away in a log cabin, typing away on clickety-clack keys, spinning yarns for our own amusement and for occasional pay. A deer might even be nibbling on grass nearby. Alcohol is certainly involved. We rarely speak, stockpiling lofty words like opine and insouciant to spice our books. We are an antisocial bunch, venturing out only occasionally, blinking like moles and fingers twitching to return to our hovel.

According to this legend, we are a quiet crowd, drinking too many spirits, feeling too much, but providing a needed element to the earth’s periodic table. Readers buy our books and stories, thankful that we sit separate from the world to write their entertainment and tell them the truth.

Is writing for introverts anymore?

But there is a new paradigm. The solitary cabin is no longer our reclusive home. It has Wi-fi, trilling cell phones, and social media tickers. We are expected to write our daily word sacrifice on computer, which has the potential to distract us from our goal.

But worse is that we are no longer allowed to sit alone, weaving our words independently. We must also build a platform. We must cultivate our own audience like summer tomatoes. We are expected to converse on Twitter, befriending potential agents, prospective readers, and esteemed book reviewers. We must gather likes and follows and retweets like produce. We are forced to balance polite interaction with low-key marketing.

What are we to say? We are skilled at creating worlds which illuminate truth. This does not always mean we are good conversationalists. Fantastical personas, ingenious gimmicks, and lightning rod personalities rule the ‘verse. The bland need not reply.

The Fight for Words

I can only speak for myself. I fight for every minute that is needed to craft a story. Each line of text requires several minutes, if not hours. I spill out the first draft, often in a great flurry of excess. These words are almost never kept. They are placeholders.

Somewhere among the faux text, I find the dots which define the story and I go about connecting them. Again, these are connections are made with words which won’t make the final cut.

Finally, in fits and starts real, bonafide sentences begin to arrive. They arrive individually, slowly and alone. A polished draft is glacial in its arrival.

And then I must submit the words I have birthed over many months to people who are exceptionally cruel, killing hordes in great bloody swathes. They bruise and batter my poor draft, exterminating plot points, clever passages, and my very favorite parts. I am indebted to these vicious masters, for they are writers too. Every word of mine that they read and find lacking, is time away from their own words.

In the end, a manuscript is completed, imperfect but loved. And yet no audience awaits my words. I have spent too much time writing my words that I have forgotten to court my audience.

My Gamble

It’s an impossible balance. And one I fear I will never master. I have put my faith in craft, rather than marketing. I can only hope that someday I will write words which will be read, not because I cleverly marketed my stories or because I am a sparkling conversationalist but because my stories created such fans that they felt compelled to speak out, passing along my words and saying, You must read this.

After all, this is why I read my heroes. For the story, for the truth they coaxed out of dictionary words. For the words which stick with me, nourishment for my soul. For the time they spent locked in the cabin, writing stories instead of tweets. And for this, I honor them, trudging along in their footsteps.

The Next Big Thing (Week 24)


I was tagged by Masako Moonshade for The Next Big Thing blog series. She asked (and answered) the following questions:

1.)     What is the working title of your book? It is titled Zone Trippers.

2.)    Where did the idea come from for the book?   Have you ever looked in the mirror and been caught off-guard by the person looking back at you? It is like saying a word so many times, it becomes mush in your mouth and meaningless. I think we see ourselves so often that we forget who we really are. Then I wondered what it would be like to see yourself, from inside yourself, but with new eyes. And the idea of soul swapping was born.

I shared the idea on a whim with a writing friend and she was enthralled. Once I realized all the rules which would change if souls were transient, the stories just wrote themselves.

3.)     What genre does your book fall under?   There is some debate on that. I have always seen it as an epic family drama with a slight sci-fi twist. But the sci-fi assignation creates certain expectations. It has been classified as a thriller, a mystery, a medical drama, paranormal, magical realism, and my favorite, new weird.

4.)    Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?   I have images saved on my computer for many of the characters. If it were ever to become a movie, I can only say that I would want Joss Whedon to direct (might as well dream big.)

I envision Nathan Fillon or Brendan Fraser as the father figure, Owen. Eve would require an actress who could bring to life the many, many souls who inhabit her body. Perhaps Chloe Grace Moretz or Ellen Page?

5.)    What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Owen loses his daughter, Eve, to the worldwide epidemic of zone tripping (or soul swapping) and he risks everything to bring her soul back home.

6.)    Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?   I am currently searching for an agent and would like to be traditionally published. I have editor envy and I want to work within the industry to make my book(s) the best they can be. I admire the people who can self-publish but it is not an avenue I am currently pursuing.

7.)    How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?   I plotted for two months, wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2010, and edited for a full year. I’m still tinkering with it.

8.)    What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?    I’ve always pitched it as Taken meets Contagion (both movies).   Stylistically, it is similar to The Time Traveler’s Wife and World War Z. How odd is that?

9.)    What inspired you to write this book?    The world is far bigger than you think it is. Much of your world view is based on geography, including your political leanings, your religion choice, your likes/dislikes, your expectations, your status quo, etc. If geography lines were erased, the world would change. But would it change for the better?

10.)  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?    There is a reality show which abuses the pretty zone trippers they have procured for the show. And there is a serial killer who believes he is called to kill zone trippers and release their souls. He marks them with an infinity sign on their wrist, therefore, he becomes the Infinity Killer. Ironically, he is a zone tripper too so he has a permanent “get out of jail free” card as he kills.

I’ve tagged my fellow writerly friends to answer the same questions on their blog next week. Please plan to visit their sites (and subscribe.)

The unique Laura VanArendonk Baugh

The amazing Rick Flynn

The up-and-coming Sharon Short

 

Appeasing the Angel of Death


I am a worrier by nature and by intense decades of practice.

Each night I lay in bed worrying about a potential flood in the basement, a house fire caused by a clogged dryer vent, the abduction of my children from a stranger, and the death of my husband in a plane crash. I worry about bankruptcy, government collapse, the flu virus, a forgotten bill, and a new lump in my breast.

My philosophy on worrying:

If I worry about it, it is less likely to happen.

I sing myself to sleep with a litany of worries which I believe inoculates me from befalling their tragedy. The act of worrying is a preventative measure.

Sacrificial Characters

I have never understood the idea of creating characters in a book you are writing and then going easy on them. In classes and critique groups, I often hear from writer’s who like their characters too much to apply the proper force of conflict. They don’t want to inflict damage on the character they love so much (and who often is based on them.)

I do not have this problem.

I torture my characters. Everything they love is forcibly removed. They lose their dreams, their hopes, their dignity, and their purpose. They are buffered by waves of pain, loss, and betrayal. No one is safe. Even secondary characters are mortally wounded.

I do try to write hopeful stories. In the end, they are alive. Battered and bruised, but newly wise and looking toward the future. But I don’t minimize their pain. They have scars from traversing through my stories.

I think the people who can’t torture characters believe they are tempting fate when they do. My philosophy on worrying takes me in the opposite direction.

By inflicting all my worst fears on my literary characters, I am offering them up as a substitute sacrifice. If I sufficiently torment my protagonist, perhaps the angel of death will pass over my house. Their sacrificial blood marks my doorway.

Burning Sugar


I have a slight obsession with making caramels. I love the burnt sugar smell, the rolling boil, the slam of vanilla scent. Of course, I enjoy eating them too but I usually make a batch and give away ¾ of them.

Today as I was stirring, I was plotting my new novel in my head. (I cook more frequently when I am writing. Particularly anything that has a lot of stirring or chopping.) As I browned the butter, making sure to not to scorch the delicate butter, I considered my protagonist, Aubrey.

She is one of those characters who can be very sweet but who were nearly ruined by too much drama, too much heat. She is much like my caramels.

You can feel the danger when you eat a good piece of caramel. Both the butter and the sugar were brought to the edge of ruin. They are degrees away from ruin. But because of their near devastation, they hold a whiff of redemption. They have experienced much and have been transformed because of it. What began as innocuous ingredients you often add to coffee have visited the flames of hell and came out as a new being, one with form and function.

Our characters must do the same. They must feel the temperature rising, convinced the end is nigh. Their feet must be scorched and blistered from their travels. Pain is the main ingredient in transformation. The character suffering the burn of conflict can’t read the thermometer. She can’t even know it is there.

Neither can the reader. The reader must feel ruin is possible. A second too long on the heat and all will be lost. The reader must taste the danger.

As my caramels cool, I’ll be turning up the heat on Aubrey and watching the thermometer. I am the only one who can see it.

Browned Butter Caramels

Original recipe by Nicole Amsler

 

1 stick of unsalted butter

2 Tb of light corn syrup

1 cup of brown sugar, packed

1 cup of white sugar

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 tsp of almond extract

Brown the butter in a heavy sauce pan until brown bits form on the bottom of the pan. Watch carefully. Add corn syrup, sugars and cream, alternating. Bring to a rolling boil and insert candy thermometer. Stir occasionally. Boil to 240° for a softer caramel and to 250° for a firmer caramel. Remove from heat and add extracts, stirring r thoroughly. Pour into molds or a low buttered pan. Cool and cut.

I often add a sprinkle of sea salt or a drizzle of chocolate to the finished pieces.


Copyright  2018 Nicole Amsler • Copywriter by day… Fiction writer by night