Monday, November 21, 2011

I've Joined the Twitterverse

For some time, I’ve been under pressure to Tweet. It’s apparently not enough to Facebook, blog, webpage, and email.
I resisted. I’m a fantasy writer. 140 characters is too small a space to turn around in.
The Twitterati persisted. “It’s really quick and really fun and really viral,” they said.
Really? I thought. Let’s just see who’s on there.
When I looked into it several years ago, it seemed like Twitter Literary was mostly librarians, language arts teachers, agents, editors, and writers avoiding their deadlines. Not so many teenagers, save the odd book blogger. 
“My audience isn’t on Twitter,” I said smugly. And put it into the old, “one day you’ll have time for this” file. Which usually means, “I’ll adopt this just as everyone else is departing for the next techstination.”
Facebook was like that. By the time I was on Facebook, your grandmother was pestering you with friend requests.  
While I dawdled, the Twittervirus sent its tentacles into every corner of my life. The cool writers became @libbabray, @sarahdessen, @realjohngreen, @neilhimself--even @SalmanRushdie--while I languished in digital darkness. 
I’d sit on author panels while everyone else—including my fellow panelists—tweeted away. I’d say something—anything—and hear people in the audience tapping on tiny keyboards. And I wondered—are they tweeting what I just said, or are they just checking email? 
So I’m at the World Fantasy Con, where @neilhimself is the guest of honor, and I’m hanging with awesome writers like @hollyblack, @cindypon, @malindalo, @kehealey, and @gregvaneekhout, and the topic of Twitter comes up. And I’m all, “That’s it, I’m going to do it, I’m going to get on Twitter.”
“You already are,” @cindypon says.
“No, I’m not,” I say.
“You have 80 followers,” @cindypon says. “@cindachima, I’ve been tweeting you all during the con.”
“Have not.”
“Have. @hollyblack has, too.”
Huh, I think. Maybe at some point in the past, in a frenzy of social networking guilt, I signed up.
“Um. Have I ever Tweeted?” I ask humbly.
“No,” @cindypon said.
“Oh, no,” I say. “You must think I’m stuck-up. Or I have nothing to say!”
“We just figured you were squatting on the site to keep anyone else from taking it.”
“Right. That’s exactly what I was doing. But now I’m really going to Tweet. And follow some people. And maybe create some tiny urls.”
I try every email and password I’ve ever used, and I cannot get into the @cindachima account. I keep trying until they lock me out.
I send a trouble ticket to Twitter. No dice. Unless I have the email address or password, I cannot access the account.
For over a week, every time an old password surfaces in my mental files, I hurry back to Twitter and try to get in. No luck.
Well, I think. I can always set up the @realcindachima account. And then tweet to whoever stole my @cindachima account. I’ll just give them a good scolding in 140 characters or less.
Then my agent emails me. He’s in LA, visiting with our film agent.
 Oh, by the way, Vince saw that @cindachima was available on Twitter, and he snagged it for you a while ago. Do you want it?
So now I’m in. I’ve set up my profile, and I’m following a few people (always seems stalkerish, but I guess being followed is a good thing in Twitterworld. I’ve Tweeted, re-Tweeted, and created a tiny URL.
Hey! Where did everybody go?
I tweet @cindachima.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Now Autumn Burns

“Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods
And day by day the dead leaves fall and melt.”—William Allingham

“Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.”—Faith Baldwin

 “Why is it always fire?”—Han Alister, The Crimson Crown

On Sunday, it was blustery and warm, so we decided to take a hike, reasoning, as we do on every fine autumn day, that it might be the last of the season.
We drove up to North Chagrin Reservation, one of the Cleveland Metroparks, to join a walk along Beechnut Fox Trail with Mindy, a Metroparks naturalist.
Along the way, we saw wooly aphids clinging to a tree—bits of fluff that wriggle in an uncanny, rather creepy fashion.
Mindy pointed out “hickory drops,” parasitic wildflowers that grow on hickory roots. And we spotted a large, rather obscene burl on one tree.
After the organized walk, we decided to hike further on our own. Mindy suggested the Sylvan and Overlook Trails, which wind through A.B. Williams Woods, a first-growth forest named for the region’s first naturalist.
We scuffed through beech leaves, threading our way between towering red oaks, past the ruins of a nature center struck by lightning decades ago. We spotted a doe grazing along the trail. She didn’t seem particularly worried by our presence.

As dusk grayed the greens and browns of the autumn woods, the trail angled along a peninsula overlooking a deep ravine.
We looked down, and saw flames—like an angry, infected wound in the dark flesh of the woods.
We stared, open-mouthed for a long moment.  The flames swept outward in a large circle, driven by the fitful winds. It mostly grazed on the leaf litter on the forest floor, occasionally sending sparks into the treetops.
Possibilities stumbled through my mind. Was it some kind of bonfire, or circle of bonfires? Druids? Wizards? Underage drinkers?
I pulled out my cellphone and called the Nature Center.
“Hi. Um, we were just on the autumn hike. And now we’re on the Sylvan Trail and there’s a big fire.”
I explained it all to Tracy, the other naturalist, and she called Ranger Dispatch. We hiked back to the trailhead to meet the ranger. Meanwhile, Mindy hiked down to where we had spotted the fire.
All the way back along the trail, the ranger kept saying, “How much farther is it?” and “Do you think it’ll go out on its own?”
When he saw it, he said, “I’ll go call the fire department.”
My husband and I hung out with Mindy at the top of the ravine, waiting for reinforcements, feeling helpless since we had no water, no foam--nothing to put it out with. When the wind died, the flames would crouch low, dying in the sodden leaves at the bottom of the creekbed. When the wind picked up, the flames would roar up the ravine. It expanded significantly while we watched.
A panicked squirrel raced past me, and I kept thinking of the forest fire in Bambi.
Soon, we heard sirens all around us, and Mindy updated the firefighters via her cell phone. We saw emergency lights flashing on Chagrin River Road, across the ravine. But nobody could figure out how to bring any equipment close enough to work the fire.
And then, blessedly, the wind died. By now it was full dark.
Eventually, we saw flashlights, and heard the crackle of radios as fire fighters worked their way through the woods toward us. 
“Are you all right?” they called.
“We’re fine,” we said. “We’re glad you’re here.”
It didn’t take long for the Willoughby Eastlake firefighters to smother the flames on our side of the ravine. They were still working the fire along Chagrin River Road when we left. The firefighters loaned us a flashlight so we could find our way back to the trail.
The firefighters suspected arson. There had been several suspicious fires in the reservation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How We Celebrate Hallowe'en Around Here--The Pumpkin Roll

After I moved to this quirky town, the natives told me about certain seasonal rituals. The spring Bacchanalia is known as Blossom Time—a three-day party that happens every Memorial Day weekend.
That first Memorial Day, I found out that this town knows how to throw a party.
The fall ritual is known as The Pumpkin Roll, and it happens—well—it’s a secret.
“What do you mean, it’s a secret?” I asked, instantly intrigued.
“Well,” my informant said, “It’s unsanctioned.”
“Unsanctioned? Why? What is it? Who does it?” I persisted.
She leaned closer. “On a secret night around Hallowe’en time, the junior and senior classes at the high school bring hundreds of pumpkins to the top of Grove Hill, smash them on the roadway, and then slide down on the pumpkin guts.”
“They do not!” I said.
“They do.  It makes a huge mess.”
            “That’s awful,” I said, thinking, That’s awesome! “Um. Where do they get the pumpkins?”
“They steal them. They call it ‘pumpkining.’ Around here, you have to watch your pumpkins.” 
I needed the down-low, so I got online.
According to Wikipedia, the tradition began in 1909 as a “dump and run,” but has evolved into a more elaborate event, beginning with a party in a barn. In 2005, a record 22,000 pumpkins were smashed on the hill, which made me wonder who counted them. Police interference has had little effect over the years, though students caught stealing pumpkins are arrested. There’s considerable underage drinking, numerous injuries, but there have been only three deaths. 
It sounded like sort of a local “running of the bulls.” Planned by teenagers.

I am amazed, delighted, and appalled, all at once. How could such an event keep happening, at a time when helicopter parents drive their children to the bus stop?
Me, I was determined to be on scene for the roll.
As the trees turned to red and gold, I noticed that the local greenhouse offered “Pumpkin insurance.” If you bought a pumpkin from them, and it was stolen, they would replace it. Once.
At the annual October cleanup, the ladies on the Beautification Committee were already complaining about stolen pumpkins.
“They stole them right off my porch,” one woman said. “That’s twice now. I’m not buying more.”
“That’s terrible,” I said. “Um. When’s the pumpkin roll?”
They stared at me. “It’s a secret,” they said.
“How can I find out? I—ah—want to know when it’s safe to put my pumpkins out again.”
“Maybe you could ask somebody at the high school,” they say, edging away from me.
When I left for San Diego for the World Fantasy Convention, I warned my husband, “Keep an eye out for the pumpkin roll.”
“When is it?”
“It’s a secret.”
Naturally, the pumpkin roll happened while I was in San Diego. There was a photo in the local paper. Somebody tipped the media, obviously.

So I’m down at the salon and Hannah is cutting my hair and I mention the pumpkin roll.
“I was there!” she said. “It was awesome, because nobody got hurt this year. I always go and try and look out for the kids.”
“Have you…actually participated?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. “When I was in high school. I got pretty badly hurt.”
“I was walking back up the hill, and these guys were coming down and wiped me out and I hit my head on the pavement and they had to take me away in an ambulance,” Hannah said cheerfully.
“And this is…a fond memory for you?” I ask cautiously.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I was the only one sober. Doesn’t it just figure?”
It does.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meet me at Buckeye Bookfair in Wooster, OH This Weekend!

Buckeye Bookfair
November 5, 2011, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Fisher auditorium
Wooster, OH

Hope you can come out for my last Gray Wolf Throne event before I buckle down and get me some writing done.