Beach People – North Myrtle Beach, SC

Sunrise over North Myrtle Beach

Greetings from Myrtle Beach, SC.  Of all the miles of beaches in all the world, this is probably one of my least favorite vacation destinations.  Too crowded, too commercial, too developed for my tastes.  Plus I don’t play golf.  And yet, the sound of surf, the smell of saltwater, the feel of ocean waves rushing over my toes and the magic of twilight among the tidal pools is still pretty wonderful.

There are people who love this place with a fierce passion.  I’ve spotted many cars sporting northern license plates and decorated with multiple Myrtle Beach bumper stickers.  Some families come here every year for generations.  Many a teenaged heart has found rapture on this stretch of sand, only to be broken in a very short space of time.

This is my second visit.  I was last here for spring break during my senior year of high school.  Now that was an epic trip that I will not describe on this blog (just in case I ever decide to run for public office or find a way to use that material for a future novel).  This trip was more of a last minute whim fueled by two factors:  (1) a cancelled trip to Washington DC, and (2) my extended family is vacationing here this week.

I’ve heard it said that there are beach people, and then there’s everyone else.  I say it’s not nearly that simple.

Right now I’m looking down at a beach full of vacation beach warriors.  Beach warriors come prepared for an extended encampment.  They lug chairs, umbrellas, tents, coolers and bags full of supplies over the beach access bridge so that the entire family can soak up every second of the sunniest hours on the beach without leaving.  I am not a beach warrior.

There are beach apostles, people who sacrifice and build their entire existence around beach access.  Often they struggle in poverty just to live near a beach.  Not one of these apostles would trade their meager lifestyle for economic prosperity in the middle of the country.  I am not a beach apostle.

There are writers, artists, athletes and even scientists of many specialties who have crafted careers–some lucrative, some not so much–out of a fascination with the coastal ecosystem.  I’m a writer, and I would LOVE to write the sort of book that thousands or even millions of Americans take to the beach, but I don’t think I fall into this category either.

Fact is, I’m not sure I am a beach person.  I do not feel a full-fledged, undying devotion to this one ecosystem above all others.  But I do truly love the beach.  I love the sunrise, often jumping out of bed much earlier than I ever would at home to watch the spectacle of a hazy red gumball emerging from the Atlantic.  I love the beach at twilight, with all they hues of purple, gray, and blue closing in as the first stars start to twinkle.  I love playing in the waves.  I love walking along the tide and looking for treasures.

While sitting in the twilight, my guy asked me why so many writers are inspired by the ocean.  I babbled something about the ocean being the creative cauldron that gave birth to all life and still bubbles with possibilities.  The truth is, I don’t really have a good answer to that question.  I love to be here, but the beach rarely inspires me to write.

There’s the tactical nightmare.  I prefer to write on my laptop and the beach is not a safe place for a MacBook to hang out.  I’ve managed to take my journal out to the beach to write every morning, but it’s not as romantic as it sounds.  The sand, it gets everywhere!  And the back of my neck is now an angry shade of red.  Plus, there’s so many enticing things to pull me away from my own prose.

So, I will sign off for now.  The surf and the gulls are calling for my attention.

Pretty in Prom

Do you remember this scene from Pretty in Pink?

Andie (Molly Ringwald): Did you say you went to your prom?

Iona (Annie Potts):  Yeah, sure.

Andie:  Was it terrible?

Iona:  It was the worst.

Andie:  (babbling) But it’s supposed to be, but you have to go, right? You don’t have to. I mean, it’s not a requirement.

Iona:  A girlfriend of mine didn’t go to hers. Once in a while she gets a terrible feeling, like something is missing. She checks her purse and her keys, she counts her kids, she goes crazy. And then she realizes that…nothing is missing. She decided it was a side effect from skipping the prom.

(NOTE: That may not be the exact dialogue, but it’s close enough.)

I worship John Hughes, but Pretty in Pink is probably my least favorite of his classic 80’s Gen-X films.  Even though Jon Cryer as Duckie is just freaking amazing, the overall effect of that movie left me cold.  That said, 25 years after seeing it in the movie theater, this brief little scene about the side effect from skipping the prom occasionally haunts me.  Why?  Because I skipped my senior prom.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea.  My prom night was fabulous!  I would not trade that night for all the pink dresses on the planet.  A group of my friends who were either single (me) or entirely disinterested in the whole prom thing went out to dinner then ran wild the rest of the night doing all the things the PSA spots warn kids NOT to do on prom night.  Luckily, no police records were obtained nor permanent damage inflicted.

Wishing I had opted to go to prom my senior year (stag, of course) instead of skipping it is a lot like wishing I could be a 5’9 redhead with green eyes…it defies my basic chemistry.  Still, occasionally I do get little twinge that feels a bit like regret.

This past Saturday was prom night for many of the local high schools here in northern Georgia.  While window shopping in downtown Gainesville, I spotted three of the most gorgeous creatures I’ve ever seen posing for pictures on the town square. It was like watching a living kaleidoscope of ultramarine, celadon, coral and crystal.  These girls had the hair, the makeup, the jewelry and the gowns to walk the red carpet.  Seriously, they looked 1000 times better than Cate Blanchett in that lumpy lavender Givenchy gown at this year’s Academy Awards.

I would love to be able to show you a picture to prove it, but I decided it was just too darn creepy (and possibly even illegal) to snap covert photos of prom girls (who may not even be 18-years-old yet) in order to post them on my blog.  So you’ll just have to trust me.  Those girls were a living, breathing work of art.

As I was watching the scene on the square, I happened to catch my own reflection in a store window.  Zoinks!  Is it really that easy to zap myself right back into my high school inferiority complex?  Yes, it really is. And maybe that’s another reason why I love YA literature so much…I still have such a solid, sometimes painful, relationship with my inner teenager.

Laurie Halse Anderson is one of my top 5 absolute favorite YA authors (and she’s a warm, lovely person if you have the opportunity to meet her on one of her book tours).  I’ve loved every book of hers that I’ve read (even the picture book about Thanksgiving).  She’s best known for historical thrillers &/or gritty, difficult subject matter (if you have not read Speak or Wintergirls, get thyself to a bookstore or your eBook seller of choice and remedy this ridiculous situation immediately), so I was surprised when I discovered a few years back that she published a very light, humorous contemporary novel entitled Prom in 2006.

The only reason I read this book is because it had her name on the cover.  To say I didn’t have very high hopes for this book would be an understatement.  And I was very pleasantly surprised!  In my opinion, this book wins in every way that Pretty in Pink failed.  If you are a Pretty in Pink fan, please don’t be insulted.  Continue to enjoy Duckie’s antics in perfect happiness.

Whether you are anti-prom, prom phobic or just plain mystified by the whole prom hysteria thing, I think this book takes the subject and shakes it up in all the right ways.

And Now For Something Completely Different

The first week of April was very productive for Slay the Writer.  I’ve been busy writing, editing and submitting like a demon.  At the same time, I managed to complete two demanding projects for my “day job.”  Yay me.

However, in an annoying twist of irony, I find myself entirely devoid of inspiration for the blog.  Fact is, I feel like a seven-day-old birthday balloon drooping at the end of my party ribbons.  I’ve got nothing.

And so, in the time-honored tradition of uninspired creative types everywhere, I’m going to post pictures of cute baby animals:

There's something so irresistible about a man wearing a Primate Protection League t-shirt and holding a baby pygmy goat.

The foal is 1 week old and has no idea she's supposed to look up and pose for cute pictures. The human is approximately 2172 weeks old and does no better at posing for pictures.

The baby animals appear courtesy of Milky Way Farms near Dahlonega, GA.  (I am still trying to figure out some way to convince my landlord that an African pygmy goat would be an environmentally friendly way to keep my lawn trimmed).

Actually, I lied.  I’m not just posting cute animal pictures because I have nothing to say.  I want to mention the art of NOT writing.

Writing, especially fiction writing, is an insidious passion.  It can consume all of your free time.  Even when you’re not writing, you’re thinking about it.  It’s a mostly gentle form of madness, but it’s still madness.  Anyone infected with the writing bug has to be a little bit crazy.  (Some writers are absolutely frightening, but that’s a different topic for another day.)  The point is, I aim to be functional and just slightly eccentric.  Which means I need to practice the art of not writing gracefully.

A few years ago, I was asked the question, What do you do when you’re not at work or writing novels?  

My answer (When I’m not writing I’m planning to write, thinking about writing or talking about what I’ll write as soon as I stop examining my own naval lint.) was meant to be funny.  But it was just a little too true and a little too close to the bone. 

In my experience, too much writing and not enough guilt-free playing will lead to a crash.  A writing crash is not pretty sight.  It involves a lot of creative avoidance of writing followed by deeply debilitating guilt over the precious writing time that’s been wasted.  Some might call this phenomenon Writer’s Block, but I don’t believe in that nonsense.  It’s a crash.  And like any crash, it can usually be avoided.

Short, planned periods of guilt-free, play balanced with a regular writing regimen is my best defense.

So….this past weekend was a planned vacation from writing.  I gave myself permission, no, more like strict instructions, to take a two-day break from productive writing.  I went to see a play, watched a fabulous documentary, started reading Jennifer Donnelly’s new novel, went to a Star-BQ (where amateur astronomers cook out, set up telescopes and show non-astronomers like me how to find Saturn’s moons) and played with cute baby animals.  All of this was enjoyed with absolutely 0% guilt….or as close to 0% as I can manage.

Tonight it’s back to production….if I can pry myself away from that amazing Jennifer Donnelly novel.  (Darn her!)

Flashback Friday – Milky the Cow

This one goes out to Bill & Paddi with great love.  We bonded over our Milky memories.

If you owned a Milky, maybe you’ll understand.

If you were too young, too old or just way too cool to own a Milky, you’ll never know the pure, innocent joy of inserting aspirin-looking tablets into a plastic cow and squeezing pretend milk out of her rubber utters.  I pity you!

Worst toy ever made?  Stop it.  Milky was hours of wholesome entertainment….not to mention early vocational training for a young child living in a small Ohio town with active chapters of Future Farmers of America and 4H Club.

You want stupid?  Check out the Gyro Wheel:

Or Stretch Armstrong/Stretch Monster:

Yeah…I owned all of the above.  And the Weebles McDonald’s Playset (How do you think they get their distinctive physique?), but I couldn’t find a video for that toyland gem.

I did NOT own Tanner, Barbie’s pooping poochie (It’s a real toy, look it up).

What was the most ridiculous/embarrassing toy you ever loved?

Map the Possibilities

“Let’s explore somewhere new, somewhere we’ve never been before,” he says as his fingers caress the curves and contours of topography depicted on a well-worn National Geographic map of the Chattahoochee & Sumter National Forests.  Raven Cliffs, Warwoman Dell, Brasstown Bald…this map whispers to him of past explorations and adventures yet to come.  This map tells a story more fascinating to him than any novel could ever hope to be.

Obviously, I prefer novels.  This map doesn’t dazzle me with the same mesmerizing appeal that he feels, but I do respect its power.  It holds the power of possibility.

Within an hour or two of pouring over this map, we could be paddling around Lake Tugaloo, or climbing the Appalachean Trail up to Cowrock Mountain, or biking along Dick’s Creek Falls. Sometimes, the possibilities feel endless…Blood Mountain, Black Rock Mountain, Mount Yonah, Cooper Creek or Anna Ruby Falls?

You can't see it in this picture, but the sand here actually glitters like fairy dust, thanks to tiny bits and flakes of mica.

This week we ended up on a sparkling white sandy beach along the wild and scenic Chattooga River.

When I moved here, I never imagined there were so many breathtaking vistas, hidden waterfalls and scenic trails in this part of the world.  But the names!  I mean, who wants to visit Hog Pen Gap?  Or Drip Nose Mountain?  Anyone excited for a picnic up on Bee Bait Mountain?  Is there any doubt you’re in the Land of Dixie when you’re dodging potholes on Sheep Wallow Road?

But what does all this talk of maps and place names have to do with writing?  In a word, setting.  To map, or not to map.  That is the question.

When you open a fantasy novel set in a magical, mystical land, you expect to see a map.  If this is your first visit to a new world, you might take a few moments to orient yourself within this strange land.  Place names like “Dazzle Fruit Orchards” or “The Forbidden Zone” or “Fire Phoenix Cliffs” might even give you a little foreshadowing of the story to come.  Usually it’s all a bunch of gobbledygook to me at first so I totally ignore the map until the story swings into high gear and I am forced to refer back to the map to understand something I’ve read.

I need to insert a reality check here.  If I need to check a map in order to follow a story, especially in the first chapter, there’s a good chance I won’t be finishing the book. It all depends on the writing.  If the story is compelling, entertaining, and oh so exciting in all the right ways, I am more than willing to do a little map questing to enhance the experience.  If I am struggling to understand what the blazes is going on and find myself flipping back to the map too often, I’ll give up on the story.

I’ve met many aspiring fantasy authors.  They all have maps of their fantasy worlds tucked into their notebooks and are usually more than happy to share all the love, creativity and painstaking detail that they’ve put into their world-building efforts. Some of those maps would put the greatest cartographers in history to shame.  Many of those maps make me completely disinterested in the novel they are writing. (Shhhh…don’t tell!  I don’t want to discourage anyone from writing their story.)

But what about other genres? Would you be surprised to find a map of Columbus, Ohio at the beginning of a contemporary romance novel?  I know I would.  And I don’t think it would entice me to read the book. (My apologies to the C-bus. I spent many happy years among the Buckeyes.)  Anyone writing a novel set in a real town should probably own a map of the area, no matter how commonplace that town’s geography may be.  That said, there’s usually no reason to share the map with the readers.

Sure, there are many examples where a map may enhance the novel reader’s experience:  a historical novel where you need to show a city or country as it used to be; a crime novel map might show where the bodies were found; or any novel set in an exotic locale will need a map if the geography is key to understanding some aspect of the plot.  I just started reading THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE, a contemporary YA mystery story set in Curacao.  There’s a map of the island at the beginning of the book and, as far as I’m concerned, it needs to be there.

For my novel, I’ve created a fictional town called Newkirk, OH.  It’s a mix of several small towns in Ohio that I know very well. When I started on this journey, I felt no need to create a map.  That changed after the first draft.  When an author creates a fictional town, I think it’s probably a good idea to get out the grid paper and colored pencils to create a map.  Not a work of art.  Just a quick depiction of where everything happens.  I don’t think this exercise is necessary before you start writing.  In fact, mapmaking could be another dangerous rabbit hole, an insidious form of procrastination that makes you feel like you are working on your novel when you’re really not.  However, after the first draft, I think it’s time to sketch a map or two.

And don’t forget to pay attention to those place names.  You can be sure there’s no Gooch Gulch or Frogtown Cove in Newkirk, OH.

Flashback Friday – Once Upon A Time…

…there were three little girls who went to the police academy.

And this “Season 1 Trailer” montage is pretty much exactly as I remember my introduction to the angels:

Warning: The rest of this flashback constitutes a serious risk of Unexplained Time Drainage Syndrome (UTDS).  People who are vulnerable to episodes of UTDS or those with things to get accomplished this weekend should avoid exposure.

When I first sat down to write a novel set in the summer of 1977, I knew I couldn’t rely on my memory of that period.  (I was only 6 years old!)  Obviously, I had to do some serious research.  Serious.  So I started by watching every single episode of Charlie’s Angels Season One (1976-77)…aka, the Original Angels:

I ordered all the DVDs from Netflix, but nowadays we can watch entire episodes from every season online without having to wait for mail delivery…which can easily lead to watching the highly anticipated Season Two in which Cheryl Ladd took over the spot left by the great goddess Farrah Fawcett-Majors:

It’s all down hill from there.  Next thing you know it’s days later, there’s a stack of fast food delivery boxes stacked on the trash can and you’re late for work.  Unless you are a much stronger person than me.