Friday, October 29, 2010

Meaner Than Me

My children call me “the meanest mom” they know.  It’s a title I wear with pride as it really means, “You make me do chores,” “You monitor my computer time,” and “You make me do the schoolwork that I’m capable of instead of what the government/schoolboard requires.”  Also very high on the list of why I’m so mean is music lessons.  The kids take music lessons until they graduate from high school.

Cal and I both come from musical families so we think of music lessons like we think of math—it’s just one of those things you have to learn.  And the music teachers have agreed, the children all were given musical gifts.  Of course, just like math, they’d rather not study it, even if they’re good at it.  

Jacob was, according to his teacher, born with an internal metronome.  So he’s particularly good with rhythm.  His teacher’s given him lots of syncopated, swing, etc.  But she’s also given him sonatas. She claims he was created to play sonatas.  Jacob strongly disagrees. Here’s what happened at his lessons the other day.

Teacher: Take the second ending.

J: Can’t I take the first? (So he can replay the stuff he has just played and avoid the difficult stuff coming next.)

Teacher: No.

J (After finishing the section): I don’t like this piece.

Teacher: Too bad.  I do.

J: It’s really long.

Teacher: Honey, this is only the first movement.

J (After the stunned silence wears off):  What?

Teacher (paging through the piece): This is the second movement

J (grunts)

Teacher: Oh, look here is the third movement.

J: I really hate this song.

Teacher: This is my favorite sonata

J: When can I quit it?

Teacher: When you love it as much as I do.

Jacob sighs heavily and meditates on the fact that he’ll be working on the stupid sonata FOREVER.  And me, what am I doing during this exchange?  I’m smiling—there are way “meaner” people in the world than me.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bomb Threats and Writers' Quotes

The university that Luke and Ariel attend had a bomb threat this morning.  Luke was sent home as part of the evacuation of threatened buildings.  Ariel's still in class.  I'm wondering if she's going to be evac'd.  Sigh.  Why do people think this will actually help them during midterms?  Do they seriously think an extra day of study is going to make a difference?

Being that it's Thursday, here's the writer's quote for the day.  Enjoy.

‘Writing is a deeply immersive experience.  When the words are flying, the house could be burgled and I wouldn’t notice.  I have a low boredom threshold and I like intensity – writing is a way of escaping the quotidian.’

~William Wordsworth

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I’m going to a writing conference this Saturday.  And since I’m signed up to go to a workshop, I got a packet of novel excerpts to read in preparation.  I was pretty excited at the quality of most of the writing. Yay!  But the thing I was most excited to see was rewritten version of a novel that I’d read in the workshop last year.

Last year’s version wasn’t bad.  But like a lot of newbie novels (mine included), it started out with backstory.  Why do we do this so often?  I mean, we all know that you don’t begin with backstory.  I think I’ve done it because I’m not as confident in my writing and my characters as I need to be.  And I think it’s because a lot of times when I start a novel, I really don’t know the characters yet—what I start off writing is more to educate me than anyone else.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  You have to start somewhere.  But you can’t stop there or your readers will yawn and move on to another book. 

Instead in this new version of the book, the author began where the story started—when something happens, when the main character gets kicked in the stomach by the plot.  As a reader, I get to see who the MC is through her actions and decisions.  As well as by what she doesn’t do or say.

What about the backstory?  It was important information.  But this time, the author dropped bits and pieces of the backstory into the chapters like chocolate chips in Tollhouse cookies.  We found out what we needed to know, but only when we needed to know it, and it left me hungry for more.  Isn’t that what every writer wants?  I know that I do.

I can’t wait to see the author and tell her how excited I am about this version of her novel.

Update: Our friend Duncan had brain surgery this morning.  The neurosurgeon said that it went very well.  We’re all very thankful.  And thanks for the prayers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Photos and Updates

Here's a photo of my three oldest in their costumes.  Luke was right.  Rubbing alcohol does remove Sharpie even after you've had it on for hours.

In case you've forgotten, Ariel went as Medusa--hence the snakes in her hair, Luke went as Harry Potter, and Jake was a pirate.

Here's a photo of my budding chemist on Sunday morning, grating horseradish for a sauce for the lunch roast. Luke always wears his lab goggles when he deals with horseradish or onions.  And, yes, it does keep his eyes from watering.

One final note, Luke's friend Duncan (18) is doing very well.  He's still in neuro ICU and will need surgery, but he's doing remarkably well.  We are all very thankful.  Luke, Ariel and Matt are visiting Duncan right now.  Cal, Jake, and I will visit later this afternoon.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bad News

We received some bad news today.  My son Luke's best friend, Duncan, had bleeding in his brain today.  (For those of you with medical knowledge, he has a AVM.)  Right now the bleeding has stopped.  The hope is for the site to stabilize and do surgery in a few weeks.  I know they'd appreciate your prayers.  Thanks.

Hydrocarbons and Costumes

Three of our kids are going to a costume party tonight. They’ve been working on their costumes. Jake’s going as a pirate, complete with eye patch, earring, and hook. Ariel is going as Medusa. She has a lovely Greek gown and is wearing snakes in her hair. Luke vacillated between the Grim Reaper, a Shakespeare character, or Harry Potter. He decided on Harry Potter. (I’ll try to remember to take pictures.)

For part of Luke’s ensemble, he got a metal clothes hanger and started transforming it into glasses. We all told him that it was going to look stupid. He told us to be patient. By last evening, the glasses looked really good. Ariel and I told Luke that we could paint a scar on his forehead with makeup. He scowled. Ten minutes later, Luke said, “Tada.” He had a lovely “scar” on his forehead. Ariel and I examined it closely. I said, “What did you use to draw this scar?” Luke said, “A Sharpie.” In unison, Ariel and I yelled, “No! You’ll never be able to get that off.” Luke’s forehead wrinkled. “Of course, I can get it off. Sharpie ink is hydrocarbon-based. All I need is a hydrocarbon-based solvent.” We dared him to take it off.

Luke left the room and came back sans Sharpie scar. Apparently, rubbing alcohol took it right off. Ariel and I are still suspicious. We’ll see if he ends up going to church on Sunday with the scar still cutting across his forehead.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writers' Quotes

"What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order."

~P D James

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trading Places with Jake

We have the autumnal cold going through our house. Luke has it, Jake has it, and I have it. However, Luke and Jake can take medicine. Their bathroom counter has Dayquil and Nyquil. Mine has cough drops. They can go about their daily business. I get to lie on the couch and blow my nose. Why? Because I can’t take decongestants. Any cold medicine that worth it’s salt (yeah, sort of a mixed metaphor, but I’m sick so cut me some slack) has a decongestant in it. But decongestants give me tachycardia—my heart will beat so fast it gives me chest pain. Long ago there was a trip to the hospital for chest pain. Apparently your heart can beat so fast that it doesn’t get enough oxygen. Who knew?

So I’m reading (finished all my library books), sleeping, and streaming an occasional TV show. Jake is jealous. I think he’d like to switch places. But he doesn’t notice the stacks of rapidly multiplying laundry, the messy kitchen (okay, the dishes are getting done, but why is it that no one wipes the counters?), and the general disorder of the house—all of which will need to be remedied when I get better. I’d trade with Jake in an instant.

Monday, October 18, 2010

This Post is Not About Matthew

I’d love to do a post on how my youngest son (who is fourteen) got invited to a college dance. He wanted to know if I could drop him off and pick him back up at midnight. (Um, hello—the answer is NO!) But if I did that I might end up with strychnine in my morning coffee. So I won’t tell you about that.

Instead, I could tell you how he’s memorized tons of riddles to wow the college girls. He’s got quite the entourage. But then I might end up with arsenic in my coffee.

Or I could tell you that he narrates college night Mafia and devises gruesome deaths tailored to each victim—he has a career as a novelist in his future. And he’s got that ruggedly handsome look, which is really important to any aspiring novelist. Watch out, Rick Castle. In fact, Matthew is already....hmm, I treasure my morning coffee. Maybe I’ll just stop while I’m ahead.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writers' Quotes

Do not put statements in the negative form.

And don't start sentences with a conjunction.

If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.

De-accession euphemisms.

If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Liking an Unlikable Character

The reason I even have a post today is that David reminded me. Thanks, David. I completely forgot. Last week I thought that once I finished all my edits, submissions, etc., I’d be back blogging full speed ahead. But writing isn’t the only aspect of my life. And the rest has caught up with me. Midterms for three students means that they’re not around to help with the dishes/laundry/etc. One of whom doesn’t have a driver’s license, so I have to hang out at the library during study sessions. (It’s where I’m writing this post.)

I also thought that after all my writing, blog posts would be easy. But it’s not. It feels like my brain hasn’t got a word left to say. And maybe it’s because I haven’t had a good laugh for a while outside of watching Castle—which reminds me to warn you to “beware the coming zombie apocalypse.”

Speaking of TV, TV shows and movies are sometimes very instructive to writers because they’re a microcosm of what works and what doesn’t in storytelling.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the show Castle, but I think it helpful to figure out what makes the show work. Obviously, the plotting on the show is good and the dialogue is witty. But it takes more than that to make Castle standout, especially with all the other detective shows that are on television. I think what makes the show so successful is that the plot and dialogue are blended together with interesting characters. And it’s especially instructive (at least to me) how the writers make me like a character that I wouldn’t find particularly sympathetic. Rick Castle has so many flaws...

He’s arrogant and actually says things like “I am ruggedly handsome.” But the writers couple that with the humility of listening and learning from his teenage daughter.

He’s irresponsible. The writers countered that with his dutiful parenting—both his daughter and his mother.

He’s a lothario. But they counter that with his true love for Kate. They twist this further by making his philandering his hamartia (fatal flaw) because it’s what keeps Kate from taking him seriously as a potential boyfriend/husband.

It takes a lot of skill to take a character trait and contradict it without having it feel fake. (I know, I’ve tried to make this work before. Not as successfully.)

Another thing that makes the characters work is the pairing of opposites. Rick is a writer—sedentary, solitary job, who also moonlights helping the police solve murders—active and aggressive. (You have to wonder when he actually finds the time to write...) Another set of opposites is the no-nonsense Kate paired with the creative, often silly Rick. Then these two are juxtaposed with Esposito and Ryan, grounded police officers who often serve as the “straight man” for the Kate/Rick comedy.

It’s these kinds of literary tricks of the trade that make the show so appealing. If you’ve watched the show, I’d love to know what else you’ve noticed that makes the show work.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I know I was supposed to post yesterday. But yesterday got complicated. In honor of breast cancer awareness month, I got a mammogram. Radiology groups in the area were offering low cost mammograms and since my insurance won’t cover a mammogram, I took advantage of the offer. Of course, as soon as the tech saw my mammogram she said, “Uh, we are definitely going to need your earlier mammograms.” (I’ve been told before that mine are very hard to read.) I explained to the tech that they were done several years ago (before bad insurance) out of state and I had no idea where they were. She suggested that I try very hard to find them. So I spend a chunk of time yesterday calling random radiology groups in Connecticut.

Me: Uh, hello, I need to find out if you have any mammography records of mine.

Records person: Well, Connie, we have a CT scan done in 2003, but no mammogram. (CT scan was ordered my allergist who subsequently discovered that I have no frontal sinuses, which explained why all those topical antihistamines/steroids weren’t doing a blame thing.)

Me: Oh, well thanks.

RP: Do you want the names of the other radiology groups in the area?

Me: Yeah. Less time spent on Google. (Sadly, she didn’t have the phone numbers.)

I called another radiology group and made my request.

RP: Hmm. Let’s see you had a kidney ultrasound. (The result of a doctor who thought I had kidney cancer. I explained that I had a familial kidney issue that wasn’t a concern. He didn’t agree. Lots of expensive testing later, guess what? There was nothing wrong with me. Apparently I had a very weird familial thing. Duh.)

Me: No mammogram.

RP: Nope. But here’s the phone number for a different radiology group.

Me: Thanks.

I called the group. And guess what they had it. And were delighted to send them to the new radiology group. Then I called the tech here and told her that I’d tracked them down. She was very happy.

Then I got down to the real work of the day—getting my chapters ready to send to the Meacham Writers’ workshop. This went much quicker than I thought. I just put back all the stuff I’d deleted a week earlier. My beta reader said, “Wow. This is so much better.” Lesson to self: Do not edit when you’re feeling discouraged.

I ended the day with rollerblading—I had to burn off all the excess energy. There’s nothing like the speed under your feet and the wind in your face.

Anyway, this is my post about yesterday which “was variously diversified here at home and a general mix-up-ness of condition is the consequence.”  (You gotta love those 19th century writers.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Five

I was thinking the other day about these wonderful excuses I’d once read about why someone’s homework was late. They were all written in Latin. One was, my goat ate my homework. Another, the Gauls stole my homework. My favorite, Hannibal’s elephants trampled it. I could share these with you in Latin, but I’d have to translate them myself and I’m tired. Sorry. Anyway, today’s Friday Five is your favorite missing homework excuses.

1. The Yankees were on last night. (Sorry. I had to get that it. They’ve won their first two playoff games. Woot!)

2. I got caught in a dimensional rift. (Or, I was preparing for the zombie apocalypse.)

3. I spilled soda on it. Luke actually turned in soda-soaked homework to a prof last semester. He apologized. She said not to worry. She once turned in homework that her cat peed on. Okay, then...

4. I was too busy saving the universe. My kids always use this when I tell them it’s time to get off the computer. “But mom I’m saving the universe from the Empire/Klingons/Mordor/Turks/Byzantines/Imperial Remnant/Disciples of Ragnos.”

5. All time most abused excuse. My dog ate my homework. This actually happened to Jacob. One morning we found our dog Jill contentedly munching through Jacob’s math homework.

What are your favorite excuses?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Writers' Quotes

Drama, instead of telling us the whole of a man's life, must place him in such a situation,
tie such a knot, that when it is untied, the whole man is visible.

  ~Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dark Mercy

This morning I printed up the beginning of an old manuscript. I plan to submit part of the manuscript to the Meacham Writers’ Workshop. (A wonderful free conference/workshop put on by the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga and others. Special thanks to those who realize that not all writers have the money to go to expensive conferences.)

In order to submit the manuscript, I know it will need to be edited. I have a little trepidation about reading it because it’s been a long time since I last worked on it, and I know that I’ve grown as a writer in those years. I expect to be shocked to find out how bad the manuscript might be, but that’s what edits are for.

And another part of me is looking forward to getting my hands dirty in the document. They say every writer has a manuscript in a drawer that is the story they had to write—a story written from the heart. This manuscript is my heart story. It’s not a story of me, but of characters that I fell in love with. Characters who demanded that their story be told and weren’t content until I’d taken apart their lives and put them back together. It’s a story about how their darkest experiences and sufferings were redeemed. Not that suffering is somehow good, that would be ridiculous. But that instead of remaining victims, they used their suffering to change who they are so that they conquered it. That’s why it’s my heart story.

I never made much of an effort to find an agent for the book because I don’t think it’s “marketable.” I think that we’d all like to believe that the best books get published and that agents and editors make their decisions based on aesthetics. But publishing is a business and like any business if it doesn’t make money, it fails. And I’m not going to rail against that. I understand it. And I believe it’s better that way. (What can I say, I’m a free market kind of person.) And just because the book isn’t publishable doesn’t mean that I’m not free to write it. I can write it for myself and enjoy it.

So I’m off to delve into the plot, passions, and symbols of Dark Mercy.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Millie’s Millions

Friday night Cal and I went on a date. Our dates consist of driving to Barnes and Noble and sharing a cup of coffee. Not too exciting, but cheap and it gets us out of the house by ourselves.

After coffee, we look through the remaindered books. We rarely buy anything, but I love bookstores—the sheen of the book covers, the feel of the pages, the smell of the glue. A sort of “writer’s high.”

But instead of a book, we found a game on clearance for $7.50. We are game nuts. Cal and I grew up playing Risk, Monopoly, and Battleship. (I always lost in Battleship. Apparently, my ships are placed too methodically. Even when I tried really, really hard to be random, I was predictable.) So about ten years ago when the board/card game world exploded with creativity we eagerly joined. I can play Settlers of Catan, Bang, Gobblet, and even Killer Bunnies—but only if I’m forced (I hate Killer Bunnies. Sadly, it’s the boys’ favorite game, especially nuclear warhead bunny.)

Back to the cheap game. I didn’t really read about the game. I just checked the manufacturer—Gamewright makes good games. Then in the car on the way home I read the game summary for Aunt Millie’s Million$. “Aunt Millies dies and you become her heir. Use speed, strategy, and persuasion to collect the most coveted valuables. Will you get the vintage jukebox or the rusty toilet? Claim the same item as another player and you must give the best sob story to convince the judge you deserve it more.” Oh, and the person who gets the most stuff wins. Um, isn’t this what we want to teach our kids to avoid—greed, selfishness, and lying?

We began the game and had our first “heir squabble.” Jacob squabbled with one of his siblings over a Picasso painting, obviously very valuable. The problem for Jake is that before the game when you have to make up a history for your character, Jake made his character a blind orphan who was adopted by Aunt Millie. Of course, this caused him serious issues when he argued that he should get the Picasso, which he couldn't even see.

In the end, nobody really cares who wins. It’s seeing Calvin be the hairdresser whose wife is a trainer for the Pittsburg Steelers, Matt who is a poor maid accused of trying to murder Aunt Millie, Ariel who is an overweight middle-aged woman trying to justify why she needs a treadmill, and Luke who always is a lawyer running some non-profit corporation trying to right the wrongs of the entire world that makes the game one we’ve played ten times already.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why This Post is Late

The normal Friday post is late.  Hmm. I appear to be developing some bad habits. But I do have a good excuse.


I finished editing my murder mystery. Yay! Well, not completely finished. I'm still working on the read-aloud.  When I finish a novel, I read the entire thing aloud to myself. It helps me find all those pesky typos. It's not much fun though. But as I tell my kids, nothing worth doing is ever easy.  Anyway I should finish the read-aloud today.

Yesterday I emailed a MM queries to a couple of agents who requested that I query them. Now comes the wait, which is the worst part of being a writer. But the good thing about that is I get to start dreaming/planning/plotting whatever it is that I'm going to write next. Time for the happy dance.

Besides finishing my own book, I'm beta reading a novel for a friend. It's young adult horror. I've never read horror before--it's delightfully creepy and paranormal spooky. I wish I could share with it. But I can't. Sorry.

Have a great weekend.