November 25, 2014

Thankful


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I’ve been thinking this week about the many things I’m thankful for. One of them is and always has been this: I’m thankful I survived childhood.

Your childhood experience depends very much upon where you grew up and your parents, and being raised on a ranch made my childhood more dangerous than some. Sure, I wasn’t an orphan on the streets of Bombay, but there were lots of things that could have killed any one of us. And the fact that all seven of us survived ~ though there was another sister who died at birth ~ is a miracle.

What immediately leaps to mind is the time my cousins were going to take my two brothers and I repelling. We have never been a safety family. In fact, quite the opposite. You were supposed to stare in the face of danger and laugh. Or at least grit your teeth in a pleasing way. I am and always have been afraid of heights, and I spent the whole trip up there praying fervrently to get out of it. The funny thing was, our car overheated or vapor locked or something, and I did get out of it. If there was ever a moment in my life where I would have become ultra-religious, that was it.

And the two times my one brother got majorly injured. Once, he was climbing some cliffs with a cousin, and the cousin rolled a rock down on top of him that swept his feet out from under him and he fell from the cliff. And the time both brothers were playing around a dragline, and the dragline bucket fell and the one brother pushed the other brother out of the way and got buried under the dragline bucket. My father had to dig the dirt out from his face so he could breathe, and he ended up in a body cast, chest to ankle with a bar between his knees. Which my cousins would hang him from.

Breaking horses. A stick came up under the belly of a green-broke horse that I was riding and I flipped forward, riding the saddle horn, and then back off the horse’s rump. Knocked the wind out of me but I wasn’t otherwise worse for the wear. My other brother was roping on a rainy day and his horse slipped and went down and broke his leg. It was three hours to the hospital, and he gritted his teeth the whole way. Oh, and chasing cows in freak late-spring storms when you’re just in tennis shoes and light jacket and it’s so cold the horses’ breaths are freezing in mustaches on their faces.

One of my sisters had a thing with her hips where as a baby she could sit on the floor and swing her legs all the way around her body. Another kid in the area had to be in a body cast and he died from it, but since my family never goes to the doctor, apparently the condition corrected itself.

We regularly drove trucks without brakes, and there was even a jeep that only turned one way. Driving up to summer pasture was quite a feat. And you’d get stuck in mud or snow 90 miles from anywhere (think the Draggin’ S Ranch Cow Country Cartoons) and have to figure out how to get out. People would push and it’s a miracle no one was run over. I’ve been in pickups that drove into ravines or kicked by horses and lost a wheel that went bounding across the prairie. The bus took us to and from school every day, an hour each way, rain or shine, and it’s a miracle something didn’t happen there.

Childhood diseases. I had pneumonia. I even had this strange disease that gave me circular spot rashes all over my arms and body and took away the tan I’d gotten during the summer and made me look like a reverse leopard. The doctor had no idea what it was. I broke my leg on a motorcycle and burned it on the tailpipe. I broke my collarbone by falling out of the back of a truck. A cousin got nicked by a chainsaw and another cousin got his arm shot off at Thanksgiving while turkey hunting.

I could go on and on. But I won’t. You get the picture.

This year and every year, I am thankful I survived childhood.

November 18, 2014

White-Knuckling It

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about systems.  How they can work for you or against you. 

Take, for example, making breakfast for the kids in the morning. They say it’s the most important meal of the day, and so we make sure that the kids have breakfast before school.  In fact, they often get two breakfasts because they’ll eat one at home and then go in to have the breakfast at school.

So I’ve worked out a number of shortcuts, systems, that help with breakfast. I make sure I get up early enough. I try to serve a bread, a protein, a fruit, and some milk. I precook sausage so that I can just microwave them.  Cheese is quick and good. So is yogurt. Lots of eggs and toasted things like bagels with cream cheese or toast with butter and jelly.  Sometimes some hot cereal or milk toast.  A parfait, which is nothing more than fruit, yogurt, sometimes cereal, and chocolate chips in a cup.  Sweet rolls sometimes. Every week or two they have cold cereal, or they’ll go on kick where they request it every day.  If I’m feeling froggy I’ll do egg-in-a-hole or pancakes or waffles or French toast.  And some hot chocolate or hot tea with cream and sugar to go along with it. You get the idea.

The point is: I have a system worked out. I try to vary enough to keep them interested.  Balance the bad-for-you with the good. I get up while my husband is in the shower, go downstairs, let the dog out, start making tea for me and my husband, and then lay out what they’re having. Often I’ll have decided the night before.

Life is like that. You need a system for it all to work smoothly.  And if you don’t have a system, it makes it a lot harder than it should be.  If you don’t have a system for keeping the house organized ~ a place for everything and everything in its place ~ you’re hosed.  If you don’t have a system for getting the kids to their practices and school and yourself to work, it’s a scramble. 

And even what system you have makes a huge difference.  This is definitely related to habit.  It’s much harder to be on a diet when you are in the habit of eating lots of unhealthy foods and you eat out a lot and you’re on the road and you don’t cook.  You have to build your life around making it easier for you to make good choices. If you don’t, if you try to white-knuckle it, you’re setting yourself up for failure ~ because as the psychologists say you only can stay strong through so many resistances and decisions per day.

And this brings me to writing.  One of my problems on getting the writing done is that I don’t have a system that makes it easier for me. I often have to white-knuckle it.  This, I think, is what people mean when they say write every day.  It’s not a matter of forcing yourself ~ it’s a matter of having the space there that you just slide into.  It’s making it easy for yourself because that’s what you expect and what everyone around you expects.  You don’t have to carve that creative space out of solid rock. Rather, it’s been hollowed out for you, and all you have to do is walk through the door.

Must carve a cave!!

November 14, 2014

A Game You'll Love


Do you love laid-back but challenging puzzle games that are beautifully designed and touch your heart? I love this game: Monument Valley!

November 13, 2014

'There Is a Warrant Out for Your Arrest'

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I was almost arrested yesterday. Or at least I thought I was going to be.

At about 4 in the afternoon, I get a message to call a policeman, a Lieutenant Johnson, right away. And so I dial the number.

“Hello, this is Tamara Linse,” I say. “You wanted me to return your call?”

“Yes,” the man says, “thank you for returning my call.”  He sounds like a young man, with a slight southern drawl, and he forms his words like policemen do: formal, precise, deep-voiced.

“Is there something I can help you with?” I say.

“Yes, there’s a warrant out for your arrest.”

Adrenalin shoots through me. What?!  What?!

“You were called to jury duty and you did not appear, and therefore the judge ruled you in contempt of court.”

“I was supposed to be in jury duty?!”  All this while I’m thinking, in my heart of hearts, I’ve always wanted to be on jury duty. Something about the access to secrets, the drama, everything.  It’s the same reason I read Ann Landers. I’m a fiction writer after all, and we’re evesdroppers and purveyors of horrible crimes.  But, alas, no, I’ve never been called.

“Yes. You should have received a written notice in the mail last week.  It was definitely sent, and the post office is really good about these things.”

“But I did not receive it.” At this point I’m totally freaked out. I want to protest my innocence.  I never received it! I’m innocent, I swear!  How can it be legal for a warrant to be out for my arrest if I did not receive the summons?!

“Well, you’re lucky,” he says. “It’s just a misdemeanor, but …”

At this point, my self-preservation brain kicks in. Everything doesn’t seem to be adding up. Would I be arrested for not showing up for jury duty? I mean, how many people probably miss those summons?  Lots, I’m sure.  And now that I think about it, it was not local number. And he just answered without a “this is a police officer” until I said something.

And so I interrupt him: “I’m sorry. There’s been a lot of scams going on lately. I’ll call you back.  I’ll call the number for the police department and they’ll transfer me back to you.”

“Uh, oh, okay,” he says.

I’m shaking as I call the police department. I ask for Lieutenant Johnson, and the lady dispatcher transfers me back. I get voice mail. That nails it for me: the voice on the message who identifies himself as Officer Johnson has no southern accent and is not the same voice.

I want to confirm, so I call back again a bit later.  The dispatcher transfers me to another person who will know where Officer Johnson is.  At first he says that there is no Lieutenant Johnson, just an Officer Johnson. I explain what happened.  He confirms: “Yes, it’s a scam, and it’s been going around for a while.” He’s really nice and tells me I did just the right thing. And the reason I thought to call them back? Because the police department had posted a notice in the paper a couple weeks back saying that’s what to do if you suspect a scam.  The system works.

After I get off the call, a coworker says she’s gotten the scam a couple of times in the last couple months too. And so it’s all over, but the shadow of adrenalin is rushing through my body. Plus, all during this, my daughter has missed the daycare van, and I have to run out to get her.

And my takeaway from this?  There are many parts of the world, for many people, where this would be real.  They are justified in believing that they are going to be arrested ~ because they are arrested, if not killed, for “driving while black” or because the guy in authority wants a bribe. 

I am aware of my many privileges that I get just because I am who I am and I live where I live.  And all my life, since I was a little girl up to this very day, all I’ve wished for was that everyone got along and loved everyone else. I say this without shame.

November 12, 2014

Sun Dog


Not the actual sun dog I saw (via)

What a beautiful morning!  It's 19 below without wind chill ~ 30 below with wind chill ~ but it makes the world so stunning.  There was a sun dog along the mountains to the north of the sun this morning, which made my day, and as I walked across the parking lot into work the ice crystals hung and flitted in the air like tiny stars. The light, too, when it's this cold takes on a pink glow that can't be matched.

I'm just glad I'm not someone 150 years ago living in a tent.


November 11, 2014

I Want to Create!


Humans are such desirous creatures. And so creative. Maybe the two are related.

It’s 2 degrees and snowing, and I’ve taken two days off from work to get some creative stuff done.  Haven’t, though, really.  With these kinds of vacations, I tend to collapse for the first couple of days, just relaxing, and so if the vacation is only a couple of days long, it’s over before I get any real work done. I really need emotional space, generally, to get creative work done, and I don’t generally get that in my day-to-day life.  The kids don’t stop needing to be picked up from school and taken to basketball and play practice and, you know, eating.

First-world problems, I know.  But it remains.

There’s so much I want to do!  I’ve written two children’s books, and I’m starting to work on the illustrations.  One is a picture book called ZoLilly and the Feeling of Impending Doom, and the other is an alphabet book called A Blush, a Giggle, a Smack. It’s so much fun!  I’ve always loved art. I took every art class I could, in addition to writing classes, as I was growing up.  So there’s that.

My narrator partner P. J. Morgan and I have just come out with an audio version of my short story collection How to Be a Man. And so there’s promotional kinds of things to do for that.  That takes a lot of creativity not to come across as an ass.

I’m finishing up the design of the next book that’s coming out in January. It’s historical fiction set in 1885 Iowa and Kansas City called Earth’s Imagined Corners.  All I need to finish is the Dear Reader letter and I can send it out for reviews.

I’ve really been into the chef aspect of cooking lately, and so I’ve been trying all kinds of things. I made cheddar and mozzarella for the first time, and I’ve been watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain.

I have this blog, but I’ve been thinking a lot about a couple of other blogs.  One I have created but haven’t launched. It’s called Family Confessional and it’ll be a place where people can anonymously send in their confessions about family. I love this idea! The idea came from Julia Fierro’s Parenting Confessional. But I haven’t had the chance to launch it yet.

And there’s the blog that I created a while back and then ran out of steam. It’s called Native Home of Hope and it’s about contemporary writers of the American West. I still believe in it very strongly, but it became prohibitive to post every day. My goals were too ambitious. But I’ve been toying with the idea of bringing it back as a less dynamic but no less valuable resource for contemporary writers of the west. I could do video interviews every once in a while, and I could put up the list of contemporary writers of the American West (that was rejected by Wikipedia).

Oh, and, you know, the YA novel I’m supposed to be finishing. And my on-again off-again photo Project 365.  And, you know, work and stuff. 

But I want to do all these things!  I want to be able to create nonstop! I want, I want, I want!  But that’s a good thing. Dream big.

November 7, 2014

Cool Person P. J. Morgan

Today I am thrilled to post an interview with my partner in crime P. J. Morgan.  She voiced the audiobook of How to Be a Man. She's an amazing person, and I'm glad to be able to chat with her.  That's why I love doing interviews, especially with writers ~ you find out such interesting things!

What’s an interesting thing people don’t know about you?

Hmm, good question! I've probably only told one or two people in my life that one of my dream stage roles is Mary Poppins. There's just something so whimsical and powerful and enigmatic about her character. The great music doesn't hurt, either!

Where did you grow up?  What were you like as a kid?

I grew up in a little town about a hundred miles south of San Francisco, right on the ocean. I was very much enamoured of storytelling from a very young age. I read voraciously, and had many imaginary worlds I inhabited at play time. I wrote my own short (and often unfinished) tales, and everything was an opportunity for me to make-believe I was living some other life. I was quirky and a dreamer and full of crazy ideas that no one else thought were very funny. I guess not much has changed. ;) My sister and I made a pact that someday we'd create our own cartoon show, where she animated and I did the voices. She got her degree in animation, and here I am as a voice talent, so I think it's time we got to work on that dream!

Your degree is in linguistics and phonetics. Wow!  Tell us about that.  Why did you choose that?

My favourite subject in school was always foreign language. I absorbed language books as quickly as I could, reading about ancient and modern Greek, Mandarin, German, etc. before they even started us on Spanish in school. I was just fascinated with other languages - the way they sounded, the mystery of them, how the sounds felt in my mouth, whether people who spoke another language still thought in English (yes, I really had to wrap my mind around that one as a kid!). Linguistics was just a natural fit in college. My favourite subject was Phonetics, particularly the articulatory branch, which looks at how speech sounds are actually produced in the vocal tract.

Who’s your favorite linguistic theorist and why? (I was pretty taken with Saussure.)

I'm going to kind of cheat on this one and talk about my favourite linguistic phenomenon, though I did indeed enjoy learning about Saussure! The one thing that stuck with me the most from my undergraduate studies was the study done by McGurk et al. in the 1970s (about the McGurk effect), and shed some light on how important visual cues are to speech perception. We tend to think that most of verbal communication is auditory, when in fact most people rely heavily on visual input to make sense of what another person is saying. This is why many people are so uncomfortable on the phone, where those visual cues are missing. As a voice actor, this is a very interesting thing to think about, especially when narrating audiobooks. You have to use your voice to convey so many things - emotion, tone, action, setting, on top of enunciating in a way that is intelligible, without sounding stilted, and still tell a story in a way that a listener can easily understand and stay connected with.

You’ve done a lot of fabulous things ~ acting, voice acting, puppets, and writing.  What do you think those have in common and why are you drawn to them?

The underlying thread for me is storytelling. There's a bit of it in everything I do. I love to bring others' stories to life, as well as tell my own. Each medium has a slightly different appeal, but I've never been able to decide which one I like best. I hope to keep doing all of them throughout my life. Storytelling for me is one of the ultimate acts of creation, and an essential part of what it means to be human.

Do you have an origin story?  In other words, can you think about something that happened in your childhood that fundamentally shaped who you are and what you do?

My mom taught me to read and write when I was three, by having me narrate and then trace the letters of a story about my stuffed toy mule. She also read to me before bed every night - The Hobbit and James Herriot come to mind - and instilled in me a great love for words and stories. I've never been able to stop reading and writing since unlocking that magic.

Talk about creating How to Be a Man. What were your first impressions? What did you enjoy about it?  What challenged you?

I'm fascinated by gender roles and norms - how they've changed, how we obey and break them, the effect they have on people and their relationships with others. I stumbled on the synopsis for How to Be a Man while shopping for a project on ACX, and bookmarked it for about a week. I had only done public domain work for the past five years, since leaving my job where I worked with a lot of commercial voiceover, so I wasn't sure how I would fare in the realm of commercial narration. How to Be a Man seemed like a project that would keep me interested through the long hours of recording and editing, and that maybe needed a voice more like mine, instead of the seductive, sometimes over-the-top tones of many commercial voice talents. I submitted an audition on a whim one night, and was completely overjoyed to find a recording contract in my inbox not long after. I really enjoyed the long, intimate evenings spent huddled in my recording booth with the manuscript, getting to know the characters inside and out and connecting with them and what they were saying. I loved the diversity of the stories, and how each one took me to a different place. I found by reading them aloud, they came to life for me in a way that stories don't always do when read silently off the page. The biggest challenge was probably having to edit all that audio! For each finished hour, it takes between six to ten hours of work. I learned a lot of tricks in the process to speed things up, but it was a real process! I've certainly come out the other side a much more proficient audio editor, though.

You’re a writer too.  What do you write?

Most of my writing is done every November during National Novel Writing Month. Writing sadly slips to the back burner for me all too often, with all my audiobook, theatre, and film projects. It's still such a driving force in me that I keep returning to it, though. When I'm not penning a novel in thirty days (or making half-hearted stabs at editing them), I also journal somewhat allegorically about my life through the adventures of a pirate lass named Captain Pen.

Finally, if someone wanted to get into voice acting, do you have any advice for them?

If you have an interest in narration in particular, I highly recommend Librivox (www.librivox.org). It's the audio book version of Project Gutenberg (an enormous digitised collection of public domain books at www.gutenberg.org). Volunteer readers from around the world narrate public domain books and put them up for free download in the catalogue. The wonderful thing about it is, anyone can sign up to read, regardless of experience. There are very active and helpful forums to help you get set up with a basic recording environment, learn how to read aloud, edit audio, produce it, etc. It was a wonderful and supportive place to get my feet wet. If you have any specific questions, I'm more than happy to help, as well. I'm on Twitter (https://twitter.com/listentopj), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/authorpjmorgan), and at listentopj.com, where I hope to start some blog content soon about my adventures in the world of VO!

Thank you so much, P. J.! You rock!