Friday, July 30, 2010

Cool Tool, or Do You Know Where You’re From

I’m guessing that you’ve noticed the new blog background. Last Saturday morning I discovered that my blog background had crashed. (At the same time that Blogger had upgraded their system. Coincidence? I don’t think so.) Anyway, I enlisted Ariel to find me a new blog background—do you know how hard it is to find a background that’s not girlie?! Not that I mind girlie. But if and when I get my novel published, I want guys/men to feel comfortable at my blog site and not overwhelmed by pink, paisley, or frou-frou.

Despite the hassles of finding a new blog background, I can forgive Blogger’s update mess because they gave me a hip new toy, a Stats tab. This allows the blogger (me) to find out all kinds of cool statistics about their blog traffic. I found out that a lot of people read my blog on Sundays. And that certain posts, from more than a year ago, are very popular. Two examples: “Vodka Repellent” and “Maybe I Don’t Want a Castle.” It’s kind of strange to me—those are far from my favorite posts. But maybe it’s the titles that are enticing.

But the coolest new Blogger stats feature has been discovering where my readers are from. I always assumed that most of my readers are from the US and one or two were overseas. But I had no idea. I’ve got readers in Germany and the Netherlands (where my mom grew up, though I don’t think any of my relatives there know that I blog). I’ve got readers in Canada, India, the Philippines, China, Russia, and France. And I’ve even got readers in Moldova, Latvia, New Zealand, Japan, and the UK. I have to say that I’m thrilled. Welcome, all of you!! I want to thank you all for reading my blog! I hope enjoy the posts.

In celebration of our newly discovered internationality, I’m sharing a favorite recipe. (It came from a magazine, but I can’t remember which one.)

Frozen Hot Chocolate

½ c. chocolate syrup
1 c. fat free evaporated milk
½ t. vanilla
3 c. ice cubes

Put ingredients in a blender and blend. YUM!

P.S. If I’ve missed your country, let me know in the comments section.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Writers' Quotes

‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

~  A A Milne

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Courage to Cross the Rubicon

Recently I went back to a book that I’d begun and set aside about a year ago. I’d gotten about 18 thousand words into the novel before I set it aside for a variety of reasons.

I opened the document with a lot of trepidation. Would the writing be painful to read, in the way that reading old manuscripts often is? Would I sneer at it? I’m always eager to find fault with my own work.

With a lot of fears, I read through the text. Okay, it wasn’t great. But then again it was a first draft, and for a first draft is was actually pretty good. In fact, the voice was even shining through. (For me, voice evolves more during the editing phase than the first draft.) I was pleased.

I decided to edit what I’d already written to get me into the text before I started writing new material. It went very well—I expanded underwritten sections. (I’m a terrible underwriter. In fact, I call my first drafts “plot drafts” because I focus mostly on getting the story out there rather than fussing with the execution of the plot. Finished versions of my books are usually a good 10 to 20K words longer than the first drafts.)

The editing was going at a decent clip, until I got to Chapter Four. Suddenly I stopped. The next sentence was wrong. It’s not what my MC would do. I knew exactly what he would do, and it wasn’t even close to what I’d written. My MC was taking a different route, and he wanted me to follow him. I stopped writing and went to fold laundry.

Housework is great when I need to think. It keeps my hands busy—I tend to have a lot of nervous energy when I’ve reached a Rubicon* in a novel. I folded about three loads of laundry while I pondered the Rubicon. Should I cross the river and follow him into a new twist in the plot? If I did, what would happen to the rest of the chapters I’d written? Would I have to abandon them?

Because I’m a seat-of-the-pants type of writer, I have to trust my characters. They write the stories. I’m just along to do the transcribing. My MC stood on the other side of the Rubicon, motioning for me to hurry up and write out the new plot line. So I crossed, not knowing where the story would take me. (At least Julius Caesar knew he was on the way to Rome—or his death.)

Of course, I spent a couple of days trying to find out where my MC was leading me. I didn’t want to write without having an idea of where we were going. But he didn’t tell me. I just had to follow. So I did. He and the other characters are still being pretty-closed mouthed. But I see where we’re headed, and I’m pretty sure it will fit in with the other chapters. And the book will be much better for the crossing.

How about you, readers who write? Do you sometimes find yourself standing beside the Rubicon?

*The Rubicon was a river in Italy. Roman law forbade a general to cross the Rubicon southward with a legion, i.e. to march on Rome. By crossing the Rubicon with his army, Julius Caesar was committing to taking over Rome.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jezebel’s New Friend

The other day I babysat a friend’s young children. We had a great time enjoying little ones—reading books and playing with Winnie the Pooh. Later, we sat down for lunch, PB & J sandwiches, fruit, cheese, etc. But since I have teenagers who can eat a full refrigerator empty in less than 24 hours, I forgot that little ones don’t always eat their lunch. And I forgot that Jezebel (our dog) is an unrepentant mooch and is currently on a diet, much to her chagrin.

 During lunch the one year old picked at her sandwich for a while, but wasn’t too interested. Oh, well. However, by the end of the meal, the sandwich was gone. Great, I thought. She must have been hungrier than she thought. After lunch, Ariel gave her string cheese. We’re into munch-while-you-play.

 A few minutes later, Matt yelled, “Um, she’s feeding the dog cheese.”

No wonder Jezebel had been so quiet all through the meal. Yep, Jez has a new best friend, and she followed her around the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ultimate Opening

It always surprises me where I can learn about writing. One of the most interesting sources is watching deleted movie scenes and hearing what the screenwriter/director says about why the scene was deleted. Even in animated movies.

Last night we watched Ratatouille. After the movie we watched the deleted scenes. One of the scenes was an alternative opening. It was impressive in terms of scope and touched on many of the characters, place, and themes of the movie. But it was deleted. Why? The screenwriter acknowledged that the scene worked on many different levels, but there was one level it didn’t work on. It wasn’t from the main character’s point of view.

As a fiction writer I understand the problem. One of the first things a writer needs to do is establish compassion for the MC. We need to get the reader rooting for the MC, even if the MC isn’t the most likeable person.

In Ratatouille, the MC (Remy) is a rat. He has a limited experience of the world. In order to cheer for him and experience the overwhelming grandiosity of a Parisian restaurant, we need to identify with him and see his life beforehand. So the movie starts with Remy in a rural setting trying to scavenge food all the while dreaming of haute cuisine. We see/experience his passion, which is so consuming that he gets struck by lightning while trying to properly cook his mushroom/cheese/rosemary entrĂ©e. Yep, at that point I’m rooting for him (plus he is cute, for a rat, and has a snarky sense of humor). Now we’re ready to go to Paris, to be overwhelmed, and to see him conquer the world of haute cuisine. And all because we’ve fallen for Remy and his passion. That's the power of a great opening.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Free Linen Shift

Here's a link to a site where you can win a free linen women's shift or men's shirt. (So cool, Rowenna!) If you recognize the name, it's because she sometimes comments on my blog.

Anyway, click over and enter. Shifts make wonderful nightgowns--I know I've made one for myself and used it as a nightgown. But I've never made one out of linen, which sounds wonderful.

Scroll down to read my regular Wednesday post. Thanks.

My Special Gift

Some people have wonderful gifts. They can play a violin with such pathos that it brings tears to your eyes. Others can write poetry that expresses the deepest longings of our hearts. Still others can fill a canvas with paint in a way that makes us see the common in a new way. All of those people have constructive gifts.

I have a special gift, only it’s destructive. I have the gift of stove/oven destruction. I didn’t realize I possessed this special ability until about 11 years ago. Though there were warning signs—like when a Pyrex dish of chicken exploded in the oven and the chicken fell onto the heating element and caught fire. But 11 years ago my gift came to the fore. We were living in Hamden, Connecticut. I had a nice roast in the oven and then I noticed an odor, a burning smell. I hurried down to the kitchen. The heating element in the oven had burned a hole into itself. Normally, such things are supposed to short out. It didn’t. Turning off the power worked though. Sadly, the roast was a bit rare, but our guests were understanding.

Another time, I put a kettle of water on the stove to boil for tea. When the kettle was steaming, I picked it up. The burner came with it. For reasons I cannot comprehend, the burner fused itself to the kettle. Both were thrown out—we couldn’t get them apart. You’d think that replacing the burner would take care of the problem. You’d be wrong. Another day I was cooking dinner and one of the burners exploded, throwing molten metal through the air. I have burn holes in my apron to prove it. Thankfully, it didn’t get my skin. Needless to say, we got a new oven. I don’t know how that new oven did because we moved soon afterwards.

Our house in Chattanooga had a stove when we moved in. It worked for about a year until the burners stopped functioning. Apparently the “connections” were old, and it would be cheaper to buy a new stove. So we bought one. After two years, the burners stopped working one by one. Cal and I popped the top of the stove to figure out what was wrong. The electrical wires had fused. Maybe they’d caught on fire at one point. Who knows? But when individual wires fuse together, it’s a bad thing. I assumed that the stove was still under warranty. Nope. (N.B. appliance warranties are only one year. Apparently, manufacturers know they make crap.) Time to purchase another stove.

We bought a new stove. A better, more expensive stove. Surely, you get what you pay for. Or not. On Sunday I was broiling garlic bread when I heard a thunk from the direction of the oven. I glanced over. One side of the handle was lying on the ground and the oven door had separated into three pieces. Apparently the handle holds the oven door together. Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad engineering idea?

Cal and I fixed the oven door on Monday—of course, the screws aren’t normal sized and it took some ingenuity to find a tool to repair the door. We have a red gadget that is now the official “fix the oven door” tool. And it’s in a handy spot because I’m sure we’ll be needing it again.

Monday, July 19, 2010

WalMart Wackies

On Saturdays I do my weekend grocery shopping at WalMart. (Most of my grocery shopping is done on Monday, but the fridge is too small to hold all the food my teenagers eat in a week so I have to make a Saturday trip.) Anyway, Cal went with me and we bought cilantro for Saturday night salsa—I make tacos on Saturday evenings with homemade salsa and guacamole. I bought evaporated milk for “Frozen Hot Chocolate,” a new recipe I found that looks divine. Basically, I filled up the grocery cart.

Normally, I get in and out of the store without too much trouble. Okay, given that I shop at WalMart, there’s always some issue, but today was worse. Every odd person in the Chattanooga area was shopping at WalMart while we were there.

First, I saw a biker dude with a greasy braid down his back. I wouldn’t have looked twice except he was hiding behind aisles and peeking around corners. And to make matters worse, I saw him doing the same thing last week! Eeeuw.

Next, a skinny, gray-haired woman kept blocking the food aisles with her cart and body. It would have only been obnoxious, but she was having a loud conversation with nobody. Before you ask, no, she wasn’t wearing a phone earpiece. But she did have a glazed expression in her eyes. And no matter where I shopped in the store, I couldn’t get away from her and her aisle obstruction.

Finally, at the checkout, I thought we were safe. But a man came and stood right next to me at the self-checkout. And he just stood there in the corner of my peripheral vision about a foot and half away. Um, hello, personal space?!

While we were in the store, Cal said to me, “Uh, do you think a shuttle from a psych hospital just dropped off a load of people?” (I had a horrible experience at a park in Connecticut where this happened.) I didn’t see a hospital shuttle, but maybe I need to find a new WalMart.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Wisdom of Computers

Yesterday I told Ariel about a site that I’d heard about that analyzes one’s writing and finds an author whose work is similar.

Now I’m skeptical about such things. I understand that a computer can decipher sentence structure and word choice, but how can a computer program analyze voice? It’s that elusive quality that makes Lizzy Bennett “sound” like Lizzy Bennett. (FYI, for my male readers--Lizzy is the heroine of Pride and Prejudice.) But back to voice. It’s the facet of a story or novel that makes you suspend disbelief so that the world of page becomes real. And, in many ways, it’s the mask that the author hides behind. A good author does it so well that you forget there’s an author at all.

But Ariel was eager to try the program out. So she took chunks of my writing—blog posts, novel chapters, etc., and plugged them into the system. After the program chewed through the text, it popped out the writer that I was most like...drumroll, please....The writer that I’m most like is Steven King. Yes, that Steven King. I’m not big on horror because, well, I have nightmares. But I’ve read his book On Writing, and it’s fantastic. But the issue is that I write Young Adult romantic comedy/fantasy (at least, that’s what a knowledgable source tells me). Okay, so that didn't work out too well.

Perhaps what we needed was a second try. Maybe the text Ariel picked was unusual. She ran another hunk of text through the system and I came out as Chuck Palahniuk, yet another horror writer according to Wikipedia.

I was about to decry the follies of computers until Ariel plugged one final chunk of text into the program. This time I came out as J.K. Rowling. Yep, those computer analysis programs are really great.

If you want to plug in your own work, here’s a link to the site.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Writers' Quotes

If I'm trying to sleep, the ideas won't stop.
If I'm trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness.
~Carrie Latet

Is there a single writer in world that hasn't had this experience?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I’m a QT

If you scroll down the page, you’ll notice a new element on the right side of my blog. It’s a link to QueryTracker. If you write novels or non-fiction and are ready to look for an agent, you have to check out QT. They are an amazing, free site (no, they aren’t paying me) that helps you find the right literary agent for your book.

For each agent listed, you can find how what their response times are to queries and submissions and what other writers’ experiences have been with that agent. Plus, the site has groups where you and other writers can encourage each other and ask/answer writing or publishing questions.

Have fun. Check it out. Let me know if you’re a QT too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cow Appreciation

This Friday was Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-a. That means that if you dress like a cow from head to toe, the wonderful folks at CFA will give you a full, free meal. So the six of us dressed like cows and went to CFA for dinner. And they gave us $38 in free food, including their spicy chicken sandwiches, sodas and waffle fries. (If you’ve never had CFA waffle fries you have missed one of the world’s two fast food delights. The other being In ‘n’ Out Burger’s “double-double, animal style.”)

Here’s a photo of two members of our herd.
Half the fun in going, besides the free food, was seeing all the other semi-crazed free foodies dressed in bovine attire. They ranged from babies in cow suits to kids in trash bags with black spots to grown men with tails.
CFA also gave us cute stuffed animal cows to take home. Fun, fun. We'll definitely go next year.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Game that Never Ends

Last night we decided to play Clue. It’s not anyone’s favorite game, but Cal wanted to play so we all agreed. I shuffled the cards, inserted three in the “secret envelope” and dealt out the rest of the cards.

Everything went along swimmingly for about fifteen minutes. Then, Cal got a phone call. From the tenor of the conversation it sounded like the conversation would be long. The boys went off to play computer games, Ariel practiced violin, and I picked up the thriller that I’m halfway through. (The good guys are stuck in the hideout of the bad guys, and one of the two people they’re rescuing just died. Plus, the good guy’s girlfriend is very angry they went without her and she’s sending them text messages.) Anyway, after an hour, Cal hung up and we were back on track with the game. However, by this time Matt and Jake had gotten giddy. There’s nothing to make a game of Clue drag like male teen giddiness. For example, sending their sister’s token to a room to the opposite end of the board just for the heck of it. Or renaming the weapons—the knife becomes the booger-picker, the revolver is the booger-picker shooter, etc. As you can imagine that goes over really well with Ariel.

About that time, the phone rang again. We all left for our various amusements. (In the book, the ticked girlfriend was coming to the rescue of the trapped good guys.) This conversation was only about twenty minutes. After that, we came back to the game. We all traipsed around the board from one room to the next. Never seeming to find the right combination of person, weapon, and room. Finally, Ariel got tired and announced she was accusing “Mr. Green in the library with rope.” Luke announced, “Nope, the library’s wrong.” Then Matt accused “Mr. Green in the hall with the rope.” I said, “No, Matt, it’s not the hall.” Then I accused “Mr. Green in the billiard room with the rope.” Jake said, “Wrong.” At this point, Matt opened the secret envelope and said, “Uh, there’s a problem.” It turns out that Mr. Green did it with the rope and the lead pipe in some non-existent place. Perhaps, the fourth dimension. Yep, I messed the cards up. So the three hour game had no resolution.

Time to get back to the thriller and find out if the girlfriend really saves the guy or gets caught herself. The bad guys are really bad, so I’m hoping that she’s packing her booger-picker shooter. (Sorry, I couldn’t help that—I’ve been spending too much time with my 13 and 15 year old boys.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Writers' Quotes

"I assumed the burden of the profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing, and aren't writing particularly well."

~Agatha Christie

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Story's Calling

I don’t know about other writers, but when I finish something I’m completely at loose ends. Don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of things to do. I have a couple big gardening chores that I need to finish. Two Shakespeare costumes that need to be sewn. A basement that needs to be reorganized. And a storage closet that needs to be sorted.

But even with all those projects, I find myself wandering the house. I think I miss those characters whispering in my mind. Okay, it’s not that they stop. They do keep talking. They want to tell me their next story. But I have my fingers in my ears and I’m muttering, “I’m not listening. I’m not listening.”

Why? Because it’s hard to stop the story and the characters. And if their first story doesn’t sell, I don’t want to start their second because I hate to stop in the middle. Actually, I started their story, and I’ve left the MC in a very bad place. I really want to go back and rescue him, but it takes a lot of emotional energy and I’m not sure I want to commit unless I can finish it. And besides there are the costumes and the closet and the gardening... What? (Fingers come out of my ears.) The MC did what? You’ve got to be kidding. Sorry, gotta go. The story’s calling.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vectors and Calculations

The other day Ariel announced that she’d figured out how to back-up the car. Now since she’s been driving for years, it came as a bit of a surprise to me. Granted, she’s pretty bad in reverse, but hey, she can do it. (Though there was that incident with the Hummer...)

So I asked her what she meant. She said, “I’ve realized that backing up—whether it’s parallel parking, reversing down a driveway, out of parking place, or doing a three point turn—is a vector problem. And the point of motion is the front tires since we have front wheel drive and those are the wheels that turn.” She had a look of triumph on her face.

I nodded my head. She was right from a mathematical standpoint. I said, “Yes, sweetheart, and if that helps you, I’m thrilled. The rest of us just turned around, pick a fixed point and back up.”

But that didn’t diminish her excitement. After all, when we’re driving anywhere as a family, this is the child that offers to calculate acceleration when we’re going around a curve because it’s a “cool calc 3 multivariable problem.” She also explains the mathematical principles of why we brake going into a curve and why we accelerate on the way out, and then she offers to calculate it. The rest of us nod politely and look out the window. Who knew people could get so giddy about math?

Friday, July 2, 2010


I know I usually post on Friday mornings, and now it’s Friday night. But here’s the thing: I was busy revising/editing. I started at about 7:30 am and finished at 4:45 pm. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked on writing/editing/revising at one stretch. The good news is that I finished the revision, and bad news is that I haven’t been this exhausted in ages. I’m too tired even to read. And much too tired to write more.

Tomorrow I’ll be doing the happy dance that I’ve finished the revision. Tonight I just want to sleep. Zzzzz.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Writers' Quotes

Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.

~Orson Scott Card

Don't you just love this! It's so true.