Who Are You?

Posted in writing with tags , , , , on 12/04/2016 by molliemoogle
Customer-Service-Wordcloud

Borrowed from DigitalGrowth.ca

I get an occasional bout of downtime in my job. Whether this is good or bad depends on the day. Normally, I’m waiting for a customer to get back to me, or shipping details for overseas orders to arrive.

Today, there’s a lull. I have approximately eight working hours before the deluge of orders for our once-a-month run comes through and floods my desk with paper, work, and a full shipping folder that will take about 3 working days to go through. All that doesn’t include the phone calls to customers to remind them, the small tasks that I need to get through, or the back and forth walks to the planner’s office to see if we can squeeze something in.

It sounds busy and it is, but it’s far from busy-work or mundane customer service work. Mention customer service rep and they think about the open-plan office with a load of people on headsets ready to help you with all your service queries. But most people don’t know that I’m a dedicated rep, which means that I have a set of customers that I look after. I know what they order, how much they need, their core businesses, and what’s going on in the wider market that affects them and us. On top of that, I plan a smaller sister machine, which I think of as my other baby. She’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish and a topic for a different day.

As you’re very well aware, my hobby is writing. I live it, love it, and breathe it. If I have spare time, I use it to write, so it should come as no surprise that I subscribe to a large number of writing blogs, one of which is the Write Practice. I get an email most days with some kind advice on writing and craft- from how Greek and Latin make you a better writer to writing resources and everything in between.

Today’s post outlined ideas on how to get a deeper understanding of your protagonist. In short, the author reckons you need to go through a purse or briefcase, take them out to lunch, complete a questionnaire, and let your character shadow you for a day.

I had a bit of downtime this morning (and right after lunch) while I was waiting for some information to come back as well as waiting for a meeting to start. Usually, I cycle through several news media during the day: Al Jazeera, Time, Newsweek, BBC World News, two local papers, and the New Orleans news. I would look through Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications that have actual news, not Women’s Weekly articles (like the local papers) but they’re either subscription based, or they don’t like the company’s ad-blocker that we can’t turn off. Or, I look up song lyrics on AZLyrics or anything else on Google that catches my fancy for five minutes.

I don’t know what it was about today, but I wanted to write instead. The news is all doom-and-gloom; the more I read it, the more I get upset.

Below is my 15 minutes of practice (which morphed into 30, because I talked to both my protagonists):

“Oh yeah, just go through it, see what you find,” my character Sarah tells me this morning. “Just don’t judge, okay?”

“Sure thing.”

The canvas purse is small, rather compact. I’ve seen bigger, but I didn’t expect something so tiny.

I look over it. I like the colourful sugar skulls on it. “Why is it so small?”

“I don’t have much; I’m pretty low maintenance.”

I lift the flap and dump what’s in there on the table.

Two lipsticks- one of them is a chapstick. The other is a Revlon lipstick called Cherries in the Snow. Kind of a pretty red, too red for me. “Nice.”

There’s a slim black eyeliner. Obviously she needs it, given the amount of eyeliner currently in use. There’s a compact and a twist-up make-up brush. A couple of Q-tips, a hair tie.

About two dollars in change falls out. “That’s for my diet coke addiction.”

“I know that feel. Best stuff in the world.”

“I know, right! It’s the bubbles and fizz; tastes wonderful when it’s nice and cold.”

Her wallet’s about the size of a fist, just big enough for a driver’s licence, her student ID, a couple of credit cards, and a few folded up bills. She’s got $35 in bills- $15 in fives and $20 in tens. “Shame no one carries a lot of cash. It’s just enough to get me a taxi home from the bar up the road.”

“Where’s your cell phone?”

There’s a small zipped up outside pocket on the outside. “I like my tiny phone.”

It’s a small phone alright. I check out the brand: a Sony Xperia. I can hold and use it with one hand.

“I carry so many things around in my backpack, but this is what I carry when I’m out of school and outside the classroom. Small enough to not get in the way when I’m clubbing, but big enough to hold what I need. Now Simon, my husband, you should totally ask him about what’s in his briefcase.”

“I’m taking him out to lunch later.”

I shake out the bag. A small ring falls out of the outside zip. It looks like a crown of filigreed thorns. “What’s this?”

Sarah blushes and holds her hand out, sliding it on top of the simple wedding ring she’s wearing. “It’s Simon’s way of showing everyone that I belong to him. I took it off this morning since it got in the way while I was grading.”

Later, I took Simon out to lunch.

I suggest a quick business lunch with Simon, my main character. He names a place called Tarragon, an upscale Italian place up the road from his office that he thinks I’d like. I meet him in the lobby and walk with him down there.

“The consultancy business is pretty cut-throat right now. Before the financial crisis, corporations and businesses used consultants to gain an outsiders perspective on how to improve their businesses and everyone became a consultant. But, afterwards, well,” he shrugs, “a number of independents and firms are still struggling. Prodigy did what any good consultancy business would do and worked with our clients through the financial crisis. The end result is that we’re still here.”

“Prodigy survived in-tact, then?”

“Against all expectations, we grew. We’ve got a great team that’s experienced, a board that’s forward-thinking, and a CE committee that isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty.”

We walk for another few minutes, talking about the future of the company.

I change the subject when we get to the restaurant. “And your marriage is going well?”

He offers a smile. “I have to thank you for Sarah. She is, for lack of a better word, amazing. Responsive, beautiful, intelligent.”

The waiter shows us to the table he reserved near the kitchen. The chef comes out and shakes Simon’s hand, in turn chiding Simon for not coming in often enough and congratulating him on his marriage. He then kisses my cheeks in a larger-than-life welcome.

Simon orders a complicated Italian dish that’s not on the menu and I order a baked pennette. He sits at the table like he’s sitting at his desk; forearms resting on the table and his hands are folded, leaning slightly forward. I don’t expect anything else given that’s he’s one of the most successful CEOs in the consulting industry.

“Before you decide to plumb the depths, I don’t answer any deeply personal questions- not about my wife, myself, or my marriage. You know all of that already.”

His received pronunciation sounds all the more sinister, like a James Bond villain, but I can hear that he prefers his personal life to be just that– personal.

“What’s your favourite music,” I ask.

Another smile. More than that though, is the crack in the CEO facade. “Classical, opera, and I’m growing partial to some of Sarah’s metal music. It’s atmospheric for certain activities.”

I know exactly what he’s talking about, so skip to the next question. “Favourite colour?”

“Are you really asking me this? Grey. Blue. White. Black,” he says, then adds with a knowing smile. “Red.”

“What about favourite food?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Mollie. Small-talk doesn’t become either one of us. Small-talk is mundane. It’s for when you really don’t want to know about the other person, but don’t want to seem rude. Small-talk is for weak-minded individuals who are superficial thinkers. Deep thinkers like you and me don’t worry about the superficiality of the world, because we know it’s all a facade. Favourite foods change; favourite colours change; favourite music changes. The only constant is ourselves and our core personality: courageous, wild, controlled, generous, arrogant, intelligent, funny. We are all of them and none of them. We love our favourite things, but we aren’t defined by them.”

My fifteen/thirty minutes were up, so I left it there, but I think it reveals more than I had anticipated.

First: Sarah’s low-maintenance. She tells us, but she’s very concerned with her looks and keeping them looking good. She’s superficial and she hides behind her make-up. She rebels somewhat, by taking off the ring that Simon gave her (the ring doesn’t come into play in the story). She’s practical and a little bit of an old soul

Second: Simon’s not interested in small-talk. He wants to get to the meat of the conversation and really discuss it in depth. But he’s friendly, open, and honest, and loves his job. He has time for people, but he is always very much in control of the conversation and of the things in his life. He’s got a bit of a cheeky streak.

The more I read over these small snippets of my protagonists’ lives, the more I realise that I added myself into them, without really knowing that I did it. Personally, I am low-maintenance- though I don’t carry makeup in my handbag. I’m practical and I rebel against social mores and norms. I hate small-talk- probably because I’m so bad at it. Small talk implies that I care about your favourite food enough to talk about it, but I’m only filling in time before I can leave. I love classical, opera, and metal. And Italian. Fuck, I love Italian food. It shows, believe me.

But I think it also speaks more about stereotyping people. In fiction, we can get away with it. Simon’s wealthy, so he needs to have understated, but expensive tastes: Chivas Regal whisky, bespoke shoes and suits, classic male colours, ethnic cuisine, and he talks business. Sarah’s a student, and she’s married: a cellphone, some money, make-up in her bag, a sweet and innocent side, and a ring from her husband.

In real life, we stereotype regardless of whether we should or not.

Are these characters or caricatures? Another topic for another day, methinks.

That’s just a small window into the life of my protagonists. I’m a little afraid to let Simon shadow me for the day and what would happen if I gave Sarah Marcel Proust’s questionnaire.

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What do you love most about writing?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 04/04/2016 by molliemoogle
Whoops; it’s been a while. I got busy.
One of the writing blogs I follow (Positive Writer– among manymany others) asked “what do you love most about writing”. As I’m at work and have a few spare minutes, I thought I might answer this question.
What do I love most about writing?
I love that I can be myself: a truer, deeper, more articulate version of myself.
There are no rough drafts in real life. What I say cannot be taken back and reworded, sent through to beta readers and critique partners, then changed around to give the most impact via symbolism, imagery, or theme. It’s real and wonderful and hurtful all at the same time. When I write, I can rearrange words to give more weight to some and not to others. I can choose what’s focused on. I can give meaning, both superficial and deep to one object or person. My experiences become clearer.
I love that I have the freedom to write what I want without seeking approval.
Too many times we do things because it will please others, but brings us no joy or happiness. For a long time, I denied who I was because I thought that my parents, my coworkers, my colleagues, and my friends wouldn’t approve. Writing has given me the freedom to give the proverbial finger to the never-ending, pervasive voice saying, “What would your mother/father/bestie/manager say if they saw this? What would they think of you?”.
I love that I can be human.
It’s not quite like the above, where I can be myself. I mean that I can be human, with human emotions and experiences which have shaped my fears, passions, and my imagination. My emotions and experiences have shaped my identity and my essence. I know where I was and where I want to go, and what I want to be.
I love that I can create a universe with just a few strokes on the keyboard.
I don’t have human children, but I have pets and a husband. I also have my characters. They grow in their world, with their experiences and emotions that enrich, tear down, and trap them. I love to see them soar and grow as ‘people’ and, as un-parent-like as it sounds, I love to see them fall and fail. My characters are a microcosm of the universe they’re in, just as we are a microcosm of our universe: an ant is just as complex as the brightest supernova. Humans are just as complex as an entire galaxy.
I love that I can break the rules of the universe.
I don’t have to keep my feet literally on the ground if I don’t want to; I can break the rules and levitate. Dragons, mythical beings, gods, the supernatural– they are all real while I write and read and edit. I’m not bound by the rules of the universe I live in; I’m bound by the rules of the universes I create and if they don’t work, I can recreate them.
What about you? What do you love most about writing, or anything else you do? Why do you do it?

An Educational Day

Posted in Uncategorized on 21/02/2016 by molliemoogle

RSA

Life has a funny way of teaching you things. Most of the time, it’s through formalised education and training, and others, it’s through observation, discussion, or interaction. Saturday was an informal day of the latter and one that I won’t forget for a while.

Yesterday, the Te Puke RSA (Returned Services’ Association) closed its doors for trading to amalgamate with the Te Puke Citizen’s Club.

For those of you not familiar with chartered clubs and the Returned Services’ Association, here’s a bit of history:

The NZ RSA was formed after WWI by returning ANZACs to provide comfort and support to service men, women, and their families, and honour the memories of those who did not return.  It’s an advocate for vets and provides its own welfare service.  During the formative years of the RSA, the public supported building club rooms for the returned at the same time as war memorials for the dead.

The local RSAs are independent of each other, and governed by an executive committee, but are dedicated to the objects and resolutions of the National Council.

Chartered clubs started life as workingmen’s clubs, an import from England. A workingman’s club is social club that provided working class men (and later, their families) recreation and education. It’s primarily a place for a drink, snooker, pool, billiards, sports/betting, and socialising, though they hold fundraising activities, have music/bands, and occasionally, entertainers. The education aspect of the club has fallen by the wayside, though there are some clubs out there that have reading rooms.

Similar to the RSA, each club is independent of each other, governed by an executive committee, and dedicated to the objects and resolutions of their National Office.

It’s quite sad to see an RSA close down and as PlusOne drunkenly pointed out to me, it was an important day. The changing social environment meant that fewer and fewer people were heading into the RSA for socialising.  There are usually a core group who socialise there regularly; the rest of the members come in occasionally- mostly for a club draw (a lucky membership number each week is drawn and X-dollars in cash is given out), a worth-listening-to local band, a fundraising event (like Trivial Pursuit), or an entertainer (comedian, strip-show).

NZ also changed the existing drink-driving laws to lower the limit from 400mcg to 250mcg per litre of breath/50mg of alcohol per 100ml blood for those over 20 and zeromcg/0mg for those under 20.

I’ll say this now: lowering of the drink-drive limit is definitely a good thing. The numbers are arbitrary, given everyone’s different reaction to alcohol- my limit is about 1/2 a standard drink before I’m driving impaired. PlusOne’s limit is two. Since I don’t drink anyway, PlusOne can have all the booze he wants.

Getting back to it…

PlusOne and I attended the closure since the Navy Reserve wanted a presence there and PlusOne volunteered, since it was his day off. We get there (with some difficulty- a tree fell and blocked our route, so we had to go the long way around), and we socialise a little bit before the ceremony. The old boys (the vets) are happy to see a young’un in his whites and I think they were happy that the Navy sent a current serviceman there; judging from the amount of attention he got from the olds, his presence was very much appreciated (and extremely appreciated by a number of old ladies- rubbing a sailor’s collar apparently brings good luck. For more luck, rub longer). A number of them regaled him with their time in the services (army, navy, air force) or to just thank him for being there.

Especially the navy boys.

Get a bunch of navy boys together, and they all talk about the navy. I did learn a few interesting things about the navy: gunners drink the dregs, stokers worked in the boiler room, communicators are in a special class all their own, how some of them feel about their service time vs the modern service (they’re all sitting in air-conditioned rooms now), was serenaded by a few of them singing The Lobster Song (hi-diddly-oh, rip shit or bust, never let your bollocks dangle in the dust), and was (I think) made an honourary member of a naval frigate.

And then, there’s the rum. It’s all true what they say about the navy and rum. The Royal NZ Navy was the last navy that issued a rum ration; they abolished it in 1990. The extremely abridged history goes that when the Caribbean was colonised and sugarcane became a luxury item, the planters needed to defend their plantations from foreign navies and pirates. In order to compensate a sailor and keep his mind off the shit conditions of the vessel, the navy gave them a ration of beer (about a gallon a day). As beer was apt to spoil, they later changed to rum. A sailor would now get a pint, which dropped over time to about 70ml (or a tot) of rum, between 11am and noon, since rum was less likely to spoil. In the 1970s, the British navy decided that alcohol wasn’t the best thing for mental concentration and discontinued the daily ration. NZ didn’t catch up for another 20 years.

I lost count at 5 rums and 6 pints of beer. In fact, most of it came up later, once we got home.

There’s another lesson I learned: if it’s an important day to them and for them, just let them enjoy it.

Observations from Waitangi Day

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on 08/02/2016 by molliemoogle

That time of year has rolled around again: Waitangi Day (well, it was actually 2 days ago).  The national holiday of New Zealand when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed giving the British sovereignty over New Zealand.  There’s been a lot of debate over the treaty in recent years, mainly over who owns what, and the meanings of several words, as they mean totally different things in Maori and in English.

In the simplest terms (in my opinion anyway), it’s like calling a lion a “cat”; kind of, but not really.  There’s a huge difference between a cat and a lion.  “Property” in English is sort of like “taonga” in Maori, but there’s still a big difference in what actually encompasses “property” vs “taonga”.

I’d like to think that Queen Victoria was a bit progressive and, living in the age that she did (one of strict codes of conduct), wanted to do right by the Maori.  Unfortunately, the language barriers and literacy barriers (Maori is an oral language, not a written one) came together to produce a perfect storm of miscommunication (to put it mildly).

How do I feel about the holiday?  I’m in two minds.  Let me explain.

I’m an American by birth, so our national holiday, July 4, is filled to the brim with what can only be described as rabid patriotism.  Large red, white, and blue explosions happen all over the country; patriotic songs about America being the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the cradle of opportunity and dreams.  It’s the bestest ever place in the whole wide world.  Fireworks light up the skies.  Veterans and active service members are practically mobbed in the streets and treated like rock stars.  If the Earth is an oyster, America and her opportunities are the pearl.  BBQs, picnics, free concerts, people shouting “God Bless America!” at every opportunity.  It’s freaky in a good and a weird sense.

America also screwed over a number of Indigenous American tribes before, during, and after the divine mandate of Manifest Destiny.  Trail of Tears and the Indian Removal Act.  Diseases from Europe.  Policies of discrimination.  Removal of culture and land.  The Phips Proclamation in 1775.  American committed cultural genocide.

It’s kind of the same here, except without the rabid patriotism.  Let me say this: it’s awesome being a Kiwi.  We have amazing sports teams (the All Blacks for starters), we’re nuclear-free, there’s a beach within 120km of anywhere, Pineapple Lumps, Jelly-Tips, no crocs or poisonous anything, beautiful scenery, and a can-do No 8 wire mentality.  The Treaty established a British colony in New Zealand which allowed the Kiwi lifestyle to flourish, but at the same time, misinterpretation and miscommunication has caused a number of protests over the years saying that the British/the Crown has screwed over the Maori.

Here’s why I’m in two minds about celebrating any kind of national holiday:

1- I’m proud of my heritage as a Kiwi (I don’t self-identify as an American).

2- But, I can’t forget who and what that heritage is built on.

The Silence Between Words

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on 06/02/2016 by molliemoogle

silence

This is new for me, so please, be gentle.

I started this blog about 2 years ago, but only recently realised I still had it and I remembered my password (which, in itself, is a bonus).

So… who am I and why am I doing this, and, more importantly, what in the hell am I going to blog about?

To start off with, I’m Mollie, a reformed “transformative fiction” writer- that is, I wrote fanfic.  Oh yes, it’s how we all get started.  Well, some of us anyway.  Now, I write within a few genres, romance being my favourite.  No, I haven’t published anything.  I’m working on it.  I love eating, cats, and baking– please note the use of the Oxford comma (I’m not a monster).  I’m married to +1, the absolute love of my life and my best mate, and I happen to live in the most beautiful place on Earth- New Zealand.

Question 2: Why do this?  Mostly to get my thoughts down, ones that aren’t sitting in the realms of fiction (or, as Kiwis say, “fuction”, because Is sounds like Us and Es sound like Is– the word ‘deck’ has a whole new meaning in New Zealand), but I think this is also a place where I can gather information and condense it into an enjoyable format.  I’d like to put up some of the short stories I write, maybe a few chapters of longer works, and share insights I find interesting.

And thirdly, what will I be blogging about?  Writing, for one.  As a newer and more serious writer than I have been, I want to blog abotu some of the trials and tribulations of writing, things I’ve learned, share what I’ve written, let you know where to find it (because I’m forever hopeful that someone will like what I’ve written), and basically stumble around the realm of fiction writing trying to find treasure.

I might also blog about various things that happen to me in my line of work (there’s plenty of that), post photos (I’m a very amateur [and immature] photographer), and plug authors and books that I happen to think need plugging.

Want to contact me?  I’m a bit shy about people emailing me.  But, comments are welcome.  Critiques are welcome.  Flames will be used to toast some marshmallows, or make homemade Nutella.

Oh good Lord… homemade Nutella is the duck’s nuts.