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Author Archives: Liz Fredericks

About Liz Fredericks

Liz Fredericks writes about conspiracies and vendettas with a smidge of murder, a touch of mayhem, and a pinch of sexuality.

And, don’t forget to say thank you . . .

I doubt I’m the only person to hear variants of this admonition as a child. My mother called with her reminder to show appreciation for being included in a party or excursion nearly every time I left the house. And though this phrase, ‘don’t forget to say thank you’ echoes in my head even now, it seems inadequate for moments like this. 

During the last several months, I’ve shared bits of my professional and personal roles and blogged on the applications for writing fiction. Though I hope to guest at some point on Gem State Writers, it’s time to wrap my turn as a regular.

I’ll still visit and comment. Really, who could resist sharing the richness offered by the ladies on this site? I’m looking forward to reading GSW’s newest additions. Crimeny, I’m getting weepy as I write this because the decision was so much more complicated than restructuring my schedule.

Will my fellow bloggers be angry?

Will I lose friends?

Am I making a seriously stupid mistake?

My answers – at least to the first two questions – came swiftly.

No, I couldn’t imagine a more supportive and accepting group of women.

No, my friends are amazing people and I’m blessed by their entry into my life.

But the third question? I hope not, but we can’t really know. I do hold onto one certainty. Like the bloggers and readers of this site, I will continue to write and engage with like-minded souls. And, as I wrote in the following excerpt from a 7/26/11 blog entitled ‘Limitless’, I will . . . 

“. . . Embrace serendipity. We are on the cusp of something wonderful. At 30, 40 – or 50.

This picture, snapped by a friend with a cell phone from a crumbling asphalt parking lot in an overcrowded visitor center on the edge of Lake Tahoe, captures the power of chaos.

A limitless vista of small choices leading to grand experiences.

by Finnegan

Dichotomies might be easier for my feeble human brain, but as a writer, I know the most interesting characters have infinite dimensions. The hero might be a villain but for a single step (or cough, or sneeze, or . . . you get the picture even if it isn’t poetic). I’m not arguing we should neglect taking action, or choosing a path, but sometimes –

When I hear people discuss their writing journey, they say ‘if not for’, ‘this error led me’ or ‘if I hadn’t taken the time to’. Upon reflection, they appreciate even the difficulties en route to cherished moments.

Sitting in my metaphorical kayak, I could look back toward a woman, standing in a parking lot, snapping a picture with her cell phone.  Or I could look forward, toward the next (God willing) thirty years.

Even without a clear path, the view is amazing.”

 Thank you for including me on Gem State Writers.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in friends, Idaho, writers

 

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Values

As writers, we spend a great deal of time considering motivation and conflict. We dissect, document and explore the different ways people and their respective value systems collide. And they most certainly do collide.

The first three definitions of ‘value’ offered by Encarta denote ‘worth’. If we add an ‘s’ . . . then values, according to Encarta, morphs to ‘principles or standards’.  But what this means to individuals, groups, and societies is the stuff of longstanding historical conflict.

People suppress, disparage, maim and kill for ‘principles’.

Unfortunately, most of us face some challenges in articulating our value system, but it’s a human failing to hold an undeniable belief in its transferability. That’s where Milton Rokeach can help us.

Decades ago, Professor Rokeach postulated that people use a relatively short list of values to guide attitudes, opinions and behavior. Differences in people are not tied to what they value, but the relative rankings of those values. Not only do people have the same basic set of values . . . and his research has held across time and various cultures . . . but people differentiate between a set of values used to assess what they want to accomplish (terminal values) and those values guiding how they want to operate (instrumental values).

I use this material for discussion in classes and community training sessions. People can usually come to general agreement when something isn’t particularly important to them (e.g., the values ranked from 12 to 18), but as values become more privileged in each person’s moral hierarchy . . . well, let’s just say the battles ensue. Even in an artificial setting, where the stakes aren’t high, people get rather agitated about the ‘right’ way to view the world.

The two Rokeach value lists have been enormously useful to me in considering motivation. My characters might hold very different terminal or ‘end game’ goals, but take the same basic approaches to achieving those goals (e.g., have similar instrumental goals guiding how they operate). Things get even dicier when my characters have similar end games, but their paths diverge dramatically.

Try it out for yourself (and let me tell you it’s loads of fun to have a significant other take this and then compare). Number the list of terminal values from 1 (most important) to eighteen (least important). It doesn’t mean a value isn’t important, just that it’s least important. Do the same for the separate list of instrumental values. This is not easy, especially when I add the instruction – you must rank order. You cannot have a ‘tie’ between values.

Now, for our characters . . . value rankings change over time as our personal circumstances change (aging, illness, families, etc.). Value rankings also change over time in response to evolving social conditions and new information (perhaps we learn about poverty, discover injustice, or fall in love).

Enjoy!

Terminal Values – the end game – Rank these from 1-18, with 1 being the most important
A Comfortable Life   (a prosperous life)
An Exciting Life  (a stimulating, active life)
A Sense of Accomplishment  (lasting contribution)
A World at Peace  (free of war and conflict)
A World of Beauty  (beauty of nature and the arts)
Equality  (brotherhood, equal opportunity for all)
Family Security  (taking care of loved ones)
Freedom  (independence, free choice)
Happiness (contentedness)
Inner Harmony  (freedom from inner conflict)
Mature Love  (sexual and spiritual intimacy)
National Security  (protection from attack)
Pleasure  (an enjoyable, leisurely life)
Salvation  (saved, eternal life)
Self-respect  (self-esteem)
Social Recognition  (respect, admiration)
True Friendship  (close companionship)
Wisdom  (a mature understanding of life)

Instrumental Values – our process – rank these from 1-18, with 1 being the most important
Ambitious
(hard-working, aspiring)
Broadminded (open-minded)
Capable (competent, effective)
Cheerful (lighthearted, joyful)
Clean (neat, tidy)
Courageous (standing up for your beliefs)
Forgiving (willing to pardon others)
Helpful (working for the welfare of others)
Honest (sincere, truthful)
Imaginative (daring, creative)
Independent (self-reliant, self-sufficient)
Intellectual (intelligent, reflective)
Logical (consistent, rational)
Loving (affectionate, tender)
Obedient (dutiful, respectful)
Polite (courteous, well-mannered)
Responsible (dependable, reliable)
Self-controlled (restrained, self-disciplined)

Rokeach, M. (1968).  Change within value-attitude systems.  Journal of Social Issues,  XXIV(1).
      .  (1973).  The nature of human values.  New York:  The Free Press.
      .  (1979).  Understanding human values:  Individual and societal.  New York:  The Free Press.

 

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Adventures of Hamster Girl by S. L. Witt

S.L. Witt

Note to GSW readers – Today’s guest blogger is an old friend of mine . . . how old? Well, we met at a high school event in the very late ’70s (ack!). We were from different states and took different paths, but . . . we keep crossing said paths again and again. Please welcome S.L. Witt who blogs using clever and touching cartoons depicting the ‘Adventures of Hamster Girl’.

Some people have an alter ego with superpowers, like Spiderman or Superman.  My alter ego is a giant hamster; a big, fuzzy, harmless, nervous, hamster.  It suits me, actually. We have the same build, hamsters and I, and we both spend endless hours on the wheel.  Hamsters run on wheels and chew on their hands in their cage.  I do it in my head.

After a few years of doodling cartoons of the hamster, I started a blog to highlight the ridiculous and, sadly, mostly true things that a hamster mind can do: The Adventures of Hamster Girl.  Hamster girl is not particularly lucky in love, and has some, well, “boundary issues” she’s working on, but mostly she’s just nervous. 

Most of the cartoons arise out of things happening in my own life, but sometimes I hear something in a 12-step meeting that cracks me up and I draw something up based on that story.  Twelve-step meeting?  Yep, nothing cuts the edge off of a nervous hamster’s anxiety like alcohol.  Until it doesn’t work anymore, which explains the 12 step meetings.  Most people are shocked to learn that there is a lot of laughing in 12 step meetings.  A lot.  People do funny, silly, sad things learning to be humans.  Here is a cartoon I did after hearing a woman say this in a meeting:

There’s something therapeutic to me about seeing my own misadventures drawn out as a Hamster Girl cartoon.  After drawing about how hamsters are not very good at looking out for their own self interest I actually did look out for my interests in a couple of relationships where I never had before!

When I took my first foray into the world of online dating, I drew a couple of cartoons that captured my anxiety about describing myself:

While I’m certainly not an artist, I ‘ve enjoyed playing around with the drawings. 

It gets me a bit closer to my lifelong dream — to one-day write something that’s actually interesting.  In graduate school they taught me how to write in uninteresting ways.  In fact, if you write things that are too interesting, or, God forbid, “popular” you will be shunned from the academic community and definitely not tenured.  Having been safely tenured now for years, and having produced my share of uninteresting academic things,

I’m enjoying the chance to turn to other kinds of writing.

 

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Give me a yard sale and a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you a story

I like surprises. Whoa . . . better clarify.

Surprises have a certain pecking order in my preferences. I don’t like gifts from my dogs when I’m late from work, unexpected bills, or broken pipes. I’m talking good surprises. Y’know, the can’t-believe-s/he-remembered surprises. Or, the my-daughter-said-she-couldn’t-come-for-Thanksgiving-but-showed-up-anyway surprises. BUT . . . right up there with free-dessert-cuz-waiter-crushes-on-your-daughters, are the surprises in store when I go ‘yard-saling’.

The world is split between those who find such excursions a special kind of torture and people like me. It’s not the bargains so much (though who could complain?). Nor is it the chance to discover new neighborhoods (another blog for those who get jazzed at garden reconnaissance). Nope. For me, yard sales are blessings in the unexpected and are ALWAYS good for a creative jolt.

Last week, I visited one of my oldest friends. The two of us, chauffeured by her very patient husband, spent six hours driving around Spokane, Washington. We had no shopping list. We had no expectations. We had hope, a newspaper, and $20 in ones.

Rosanne has yard sale karma. She also has parking karma (always the perfect space, how is that possible?), but last Friday we drew upon her unassailable ability to make friends, find treasures and barter with the best. We found all sorts of things . . . things we apparently needed with the desperation of a teenage boy on prom night.

And, even better than the gingham apron with matching oven mitts (exactly like June’s on Leave it to Beaver) . . . I find inspiration. I can’t help it.

People are fascinating and the stuff they collect — then discard — even more so.

Classic yard sale

Allow me to share a few pictures. I simply can’t articulate the descriptors for the nifty, nasty, clever, kitschy, poignant, or practical gewgaws, gadgets, and gratuitous sh** spilled across makeshift tables at both million dollar homes and campground trailers.

This was real. What an amazing and colorful collection? I mean really . . . what isn’t here? A Thumper coffee mug, dairy cows, angels, sand art . . . all gifted or made . . . lives linked. This reminded me of the movie ‘Crash’ . . . except for the lack of carnage.

Where shall we go?

I didn’t need a suitcase. I don’t think I’d buy one at a yard sale, but I liked these. Feels like an adventure is right around the corner. I’m considering a plot where a heroine buys such a suitcase and is immediately whisked to another dimension/time/culture/place based upon the first item she places in the suitcase. Where would a swimsuit take you? A certain scarf? Panty hose? (this is an obscure reference to a not so obscure novel with the word ‘fifty’ in the title).

The owner of the snake paraphernalia claimed his kids had the snakes and they lost interest. Really? A parent buying their kid a snake-breeding kit? Now . . . a guy between sports seasons with a couple of beers under his belt . . . interesting . . . very interesting.

And the point of the jungle vines would be . . . ?

While we were shopping in his front yard, I overheard him say “yeah, you betcha we still have a coupla snakes. ‘Baby’ is around here somewheres.”

Yes, my thoughts exactly. What the h***?

I didn’t take his picture because it didn’t seem honorable . . . oh fine . . . in truth, he creeped me out. If my book about the sociopathic garden store clerk ever makes the shelves, you can read his description.

I could go on. The teddy bears with missing parts who could give Chuckie nightmares . . . the birdfeeder and cage next to the pigeon-sized roasting pan . . . the collection of pick axes, saws, and decorative swords . . . at least I think they were decorative . . . then again, the woman looked a little unhinged . . . and maybe the brown splatters on the hilt . . . ?

What about you? Where are you on the love/hate scale for flea markets, garage sales and the like? Any inspiration from backyard retail?

 

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Mistakes: Recognition, Response, and Writing

I really screwed up on 7/10/12 ~~ missed my post. I’d become totally wrapped up in something with my kids and zoned out for several days, especially in writing. Thus, today’s post was going to be about SELF. Self-flagellation. Self-sabotage. Self – – – – absorption, protection, discipline, control, care . . . y’know . . . ‘self’.

But.

 I finally kicked my a** back into writing and finessed a couple of culminating plot points nagging said a**.  And, of course, I vowed to write seventy million blogs as backup so I don’t let my colleagues down again. My stories and their conflicts rely heavily upon a central theme – atonement – and how ‘atonement’ – for good or ill – doesn’t really provide the fix humans seek to assuage guilt. I’m particularly interested in how bias and bigotry create situations where generally well-meaning people end up doing horrendous things and are absolutely clueless about the damage done.

At this point, you’ve got to be asking yourself:  How did she get from self-flagellation to atonement to bigotry and why would this be remotely useful to writing?  Ahhh, my friends, there’s always a way to spin a good tautology.

 Mistake –> Awareness –> Remorse –> Analysis –> Response

 Mistake & Awareness: When we make a mistake and realize we made a mistake, then we feel badly and consider the best way to make amends or necessary changes to avoid the same error.

Remorse, Analysis & Response: The remorse point is critical. For sociopaths, the remorse stage will be entirely driven by the negative effects of the mistake upon the sociopath. If you’re a regular everyday flawed person (and I’ll count myself here), then the remorse stage includes concern for harm befalling ‘other’ (people, animals, places, things, cultures, ideas, etc). Assessing the factors prompting the error includes determining what variables are in your control and how likely you are to face the same circumstances. If the variables are within your control and you’re likely to face a similar scenario, then you can develop contingencies to avoid the same screwup. If not, you can consider how to gain more control over the variables or limit the fallout.

I clued into my mistaken when I logged onto Gem State Writers to read Meredith’s blog and catch up on Gail’s post. I hadn’t arranged for internet access while traveling so I was behind that week. Of course, the problem was compounded by my brain glitch on the fact that my Tuesday (duh!) ALWAYS falls between Gail’s Monday and Meredith’s Wednesday. I feel huge remorse (ergo self-flagellation, or in this case, a public confession). I have a good sense of where my usual schedule skewed and have a few stopgaps in place to avoid another gaffe, though the sequence of events is unlikely to occur again.

 But what if a person doesn’t realize his or her mistake?

What if s/he doesn’t have a clue about a significant error?

What if the unrealized mistake leads us down a dangerous path?

Or has harmful implications for others?

 Allow me to introduce an extraordinarily compelling line of research. I’ve used the Implicit Project in both my ethics classes and those dealing with personnel management to prompt my students in ‘aha’ moments. The Implicit Project is associated with Harvard University and reflects collaborative efforts with other Universities across the United States.

The site takes you to a series of quick response tests used to determine our subconscious associations and preferences for everything from physical appearance to professional and social roles. As I further immerse in writing fiction, I’m thinking about this tool as a way to demonstrate character arc, to challenge stereotypical characters or plots, and to reflect upon ways I might unconsciously limit the scope of my stories.

Each day, human beings busily deal with so many ‘things’ (sights, sounds, demands, threats, or opportunities) that our brains operate on autopilot (a contributing factor to my blog snafu). If you’ve ever driven to work when you should’ve been headed to the grocery story, then you know what I mean. Often, this is a survival mechanism. However, it can also be a damaging response to the world around us, especially when we operate on autopilot in terms of whatever subconscious stereotypes or cues we use to make split second judgments about others.

If we aren’t even aware of the mistakes we make in judgments, then we can’t possibly ‘atone’ via the Remorse/Analysis/Response cycle. I suppose the adage, ‘don’t fix what ain’t broken’, should be adapted to ‘you can’t fix something unless you know it’s broken’.

What are your thoughts about learning from mistakes? Atoning for errors? How do you use the mistake/response cycle in your writing? And how might implicit bias create conflict for our characters or drive tension in our plots?

Note: I’ll be on another small road trip with my kids when this post first comes out, but will be able to log on and comment by the late afternoon.

 

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Perspective

I know. I know. You were expecting a long dissertation on program evaluation for grant writers. I wanted to write it. Truly, I did. But, it’s just so dang boring. In fact, I’ve been struggling with a little writing self sabotage. I had good news . . . or at least promising news. An agent requested a full; another asked for a partial. Yea!!

Yeah. Good news. So, naturally, I’ve been in a re-writing, self-doubting frenzy. And just as naturally (yes, pun intended, who could resist?)  I headed for the hills.  Not in a rough wilderness way, but in a visit-my-family’s-cabin-with-all-amenities way. For several days, I hung out with Nike and Daisy. I wrote, thought, ate chocolate, and wrote some more.

The girls are pound puppies, and their heritage is indistinct. According to their adoption papers. Daisy’s a border collie/aussie mix and Nike is a blue heeler. They are definitely working dogs and have distinct breed-based styles – Daisy handles perimeter and Nike circles me 24/7 as she would a cattle herd (I deny any resemblance to such).

While I threw a pity party, my canine entourage guarded the interior front and back doors (each took one), and monitored the exterior grounds from windows. During frequent breaks (I needed carbs and diet pepsi; they needed to mark territory), we took deck time and simply listened to the sounds of the forest. And let me tell you, day or night, the forest is a dang noisy place. Admittedly, we barred the doors when the stars hit the heavens. The girls were less eager – being intelligent breeds – to explore the howls of the wolf packs (apparently we’ve two in that range). But from sun to set, they were on recon.

And their diligence, their dedication, and heck, even their near-obsessive joy in the effort smacked me upside the head with an epiphany.

The girls didn’t need to know what might happen next. They didn’t even need a reward. They simply knew their purpose. They knew what they were born to do. And they did not lose faith in the possibility of realizing it.

It’s all about perspective.

What we see is a combination of what we have experienced and what we anticipate. What we see can be limiting. But what we do . . .  what we do is based on the promise.

You can see Daisy in the lower right corner. Nike is probably either laying on my feet or figuring out the most efficient way to trip me. I had no idea what captured Daisy’s attention. Her alert stance lasted a solid five minutes, time enough to watch her, fumble with my camera, and finally take a picture. Is it the bird feeder? The sound of the woodpecker from the far right. Something hiding in the brush?

This scenario played out on the first day. And every day thereafter, at approximately the same time (7a or so), she took almost exactly the same position and didn’t move – barely an ear twitch, and certainly no tail action (that dog’s tail could solve an energy crisis) for several minutes.

Once a fox ran past – nada. Squirrels did nothing for her. Birds, wind, trees creaking, brush cracking. Zip.

Until the final day.

I was packing up, rushing around, ready to give in and head home, hoping another change of venue would help when I saw Daisy do a slow belly flop. She kept her head high, eyes locked on the same general spot. Her only movement was the minute whump whump whump of her tail.

A doe picked her way across the edge of the property, followed by two more, just to the left of the small pine in the middle (the one with a few rusty needles).

Nike, like Daisy, had her purpose of course. She stood behind me, pushed her head between my legs, (thank goodness for yoga or I’d have broken a hip) and huffed out a growly sort of yip. No predatory herbivore was gonna make trouble on her watch.

The deer bounded off. Daisy looked behind (I swear she rolled her eyes). My sweet baby Nike withdrew, planted her furry little behind on the floor and waited for my praise.

Our lesson? Be patient. Take joy in the potential of something wonderful crossing our path.  Don’t forget what we were born to do. And do not lose faith in the possibility of realizing it. Even — and especially — if those around us don’t always appreciate our effort.

 

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Grant Writing: Part 3 of 3, but let’s make it 4

Disclaimer: I’m compelled to hit four parts on this. I can’t do justice to the beauty known as program evaluation in 250 words. So, welcome to budgeting, baby. Sit back and enjoy.

My students love the budget. It’s like dessert – let’s cut out vegetables and head straight to the money. I ask them, ‘what are you requesting?’

They respond, ‘whatever they’ll give me’.

 And therein lies the problem.

When you draft the budget from the standpoint of how much you can include, then it’s nearly impossible to avoid the padding plague. And dear friends, reviewers spot a padded budget even quicker than an editor can nuke your pet project. It reminds me of a long ago scenario with one of my daughters.

The sweetheart climbed up a chair, plopped on the counter and began to stack up the cooling sugar cookies. She carefully placed a gentle kiss on the top of a stack before starting a new one (gross, I know, but ‘germs don’t count between a mommy and her kids’ ~ a different toddler explained that gem).

I asked her ‘who gets all of the cookies?’

‘Me.’

‘Why just you?’

She looked at me as though I’d not a molecule of intelligence. ‘Cuz I’m gonna ask real nice and say please.’

The strategy didn’t work for my adorable little girl (ok, maybe sometimes) and it won’t in grant writing.  Success comes to the grant writer who understands the budget as a critical fiscal document intended to demonstrate capacity and illustrate the intended program.

Think of the true cost of project accomplishment. Recognize some of the necessary resources might currently exist in the organization. Other resources might be non monetary and more easily forgotten when considering the reality of accomplishing the project.

Subtract the monetary match your organization can offer (e.g., portion of an administrator, or funding of a position). Then, if possible, deduct an estimated value of the non monetary resources (e.g., valuation of volunteer hours), the remainder must be funded either by the organization you’re targeting or through another source. If you don’t request this full amount, then you must demonstrate where you’ll find the additional funding.

When a reviewer looks at your budget, they will consider whether it’s possible to accomplish what you claim on a given dollar amount. If it seems unlikely, then said reviewer would be reasonably concerned about what other errors in judgment might be lurking in your proposal.

In the grants I’ve seen, budgets are outlined in line item form. The categories line up with the standard breakdowns for personnel (e.g., salary/wages, fringe benefits, consultants, etc). The materials/supplies category is another standard (e.g., office supplies, printing, postage, dues/subscriptions, software etc). I usually separate equipment into a distinct category, but others lump ‘office management’ content together and would include equipment with materials/supplies.Sometimes, you might include facilities/maintenance  or training/development as distinct categories. Travel/transportation is common in the projects I see; the funders expect grant recipients to attend conferences and present their findings and experiences (e.g., airfare, hotel, per diem, or mileage).

Often, funders allow an organization to claim a general unrestricted portion attributed to administration/overhead or ‘indirect’ costs. These amounts are usually capped at some percentage of the budget and must be based upon a rational and justifiable written cost allocation/criteria. Examples of the criteria include distributing A/O/S based upon program/unit’s percentage share of the total budget or the total salary budget, distributing A/O/S based upon program/unit’s per unit cost of an activity or even distributing A/O/S based upon program/unit’s use of space

Before you seal that envelope . . . ask several closing questions in reviewing your grant application draft.

Is your budget complete and accurate? Free from typographical errors and mistakes in computation?

Does your budget appear to reflect your organization’s mission/goals/use of resources?

Does the proposed budget make sense in light of actual financial and program performance (use of staffing, organization activities, or perhaps fiscal capacity)?

Do all budget items reflect the planned project/activity?

Are all sources of cash or in-kind support outlined in the grant application?

Does the budget meet the requirements of your organization in terms of internal policies and procedures, existing funding sources (in the case of matches), individual contracts and grant agreements, various accounting rules and pertinent regulatory groups (e.g., IRS)?

Does the budget consider the unexpected . . . unforeseeable expenses, unexpected opportunities, etc?

Does your organization possess the talent, skills and capability needed to implement the proposed programs and activities?  If not, budget for it!

 
10 Comments

Posted by on June 12, 2012 in grant writing, Idaho, writing craft

 

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