Monday, January 30, 2012

Shakespeare and the Three Little Pigs

As many of you know, I love Shakespeare. (Despite the PG Wodehouse quote that says about Shakespeare, "It sounds well enough, but it doesn't actually mean anything.") And I love teaching Shakespeare. I've taught Hamlet, The Scottish play, i.e., Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, and soon Henry V. The words, the meter, the depth, the allusions... Okay, you get it.

Recently, some friends shared this YouTube video with me. (Thanks, Darren & Maggie!) So I'm going to share it with you all because we all need a smile in the morning. Think of it as Shakespeare meets The Three Little Pigs meets a Redneck. Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Five

Favorite Five Ways to Pass Rainy Days

It’s been raining here almost all month. And, while I actually love rainy days and thunderstorms, it’s getting old. So for all of you who are dealing with dreary weather, here are some of our favorite ways to pass the days and nights.

1. Play games.

Of course, this leads to long discussions and negotiations because we have lots of games and lots of opinions. For example, the guys favorite game is Killer Bunnies. But I hate a game whose point is to kill the other players’ bunnies and get the magic carrot. But the boys love the cards, which read “chocolate-covered anti-matter raisins.” “Quite irascible refractable cheese balls.” “Highly explosive missile package.” Etc. But before you think I’ve taken the moral high ground, my favorite game is Guillotine, where you collect the heads of executed nobles.

2. Read aloud.

We’re currently reading aloud P. G. Wodehouse. There’s nothing like reading Wodehouse to make you smile. For example:

“I'm not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare who says that it's always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.” 
P.G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves

“She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say "when". ” 
P.G. Wodehouse

“Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy's Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day's work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city's reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.” 
P.G. Wodehouse

3. Stream Masterpiece Theater

We’ve watched Downton Abbey, Sherlock, and now we’re watching Island At War.

4. Hide under the table/bed/desk.

This is what our tough black Lab Jezebel does. She’s terrified of thunder and lightning. In fact, she won’t even come out of her hiding place to eat. So she’s lost a few pounds. Hmm. I wonder if we can market this as a diet plan—The Fabulous Lab Fear Diet. I’m sure there’s a book deal in there somewhere.

5. Hydraulic Cement Your Basement

When it rains this much, the water table rises above the level of the ground. So every crack in your basement begins to seep/trickle/fountain water. But good ole hydraulic cement will cure it. My thought is that it would be quicker and easier to give the whole basement a coat of hydraulic cement, but no one else seems to agree.

If you have any rainy day ideas, I’d love to hear about them.

And now for your Friday fun (which is number 6 on my fun-things-to-do-on-rainy-days list--watch YouTube videos).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hacked Again

It wasn’t enough that my Twitter account got hacked. Nope. My Gmail account was hacked too. (Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that any emails were sent out advertizing products whose uses are a mystery to me.) But my Gmail account didn’t even have the same password as my Twitter account. (In fact, my passwords were listed as “strong.” Now they’re a random assortment of letters and symbols, which I’m sure I’ll forget.) GRRR. The good news is that Gmail sent me a notice immediately, told me where the account was hacked from (Singapore), and gave me step-by-step instructions to limited the damage, which included changing the password, shutting down any account access not from my laptop, running virus scans, and checking my contacts list for people I don’t know. My account should now be safe.

But here’s the thing. Why would anyone want to hack my account? I am not a drug dealer masquerading as a pastor’s wife. I am not an art thief posing as the mother of four children. I am not a wealthy benefactress pretending to be a poor writer. And unless the hacker knows something I don’t, I’m pretty sure I haven’t written the next New York Times best seller. So why hack my accounts? The only thing exciting in my computer, besides my novels, are my Facebook Scrabble games with my daughter. Aside from increasing the hacker’s vocabulary—yes, jarl, qi, za, qat are all real words—there’s not much point in hacking my Scrabble games.

Oh, wait, I know what it is. It’s my secret identity. I’m really an international spy involved in the corporate espionage of all the really high tech companies that call Chattanooga home. Phew! Now I understand it. Hmm. I guess I need to notify my clients.

BTW, a copy of my novel, Screwing Up Time, is available as a prize at the new blog Novel d'Tales. Click here if you'd like to enter the contest. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Winter Without Snow

The end of January is quickly approaching. And I’ve come to the realization that we’re going to have a winter without snow. What’s the point of cold, gray days if you don’t have snow? I realize that the city of Chattanooga has only one snow plow and two sanders, but still...

Instead, we’ve had day after night after day of rain. And the high today is 65. It’s like we hit the fast forward button to spring. Now don’t get me wrong, spring is my favorite time of year in the South. So that’s good. But there’s a problem. A big problem.

Without a heavy ground freeze, none of my late summer weeds died. I blew off weeding in the fall (while I worked on my novel) and cursed the weeds, “Die in the winter freeze.” Only it didn’t happen. And now those weeds are mocking me—they’re huge. They’re dropping seeds. If they had faces, they’d be laughing.

I try not to take stock of my yard and garden when I go outside. But wearing sunglasses doesn’t help much. The massive green patch of clover in the midst of dormant lawn is hard to miss. Strands of Bermuda grass poking out of my liriope borders mean hours of work. And those areas that I didn’t get around to mulching...well, at least there’s Round-up.

What I needed was a good dose of snow—nothing like a clean white blanket to make everything look tidy. Then, I could pretend that my only chore for the spring is enjoying the daffodils, tulips, and hellebores. But it’s not. I guess it’s time to buy a new pair of gardening gloves... Besides a new gardening catalogue came and there’s a gorgeous hardy orchid. And the daffs have buds. And the hyacinths are up. I love spring.

Friday, January 20, 2012


My daughter is a junior in college. (She’s in class right now and won’t read this blog post until later. So if you come back in a couple of hours and this post is radically different, you’ll know she said, “Hey, you can’t say that!”) Anyway, more to the point, she has only a few units left until her major, mathematics, is completed. But she still had quite a few units she needed in order to graduate. So she decided that instead of taking random classes, she’d add a second minor. One in computer science. It’s been an eye-opener for her. Let’s just science majors are different than math majors. (Though Ariel says that the personal hygiene issues are about the same.)

When Ariel goes to a computer science class, she doesn’t have to open a door. Some young man rushes to open it for her. You see, at this university there are almost no girls in computer science. The other day some guy asked her out, before he knew her name. If there is another girl in the class, she skips across the room and introduces herself to Ariel.

She’s even had a professor say, “Look, we have a girl in our class. Diversity!” Being that Ariel is quiet, this is an experience for her. In math, names are all ill-understood social niceties. If the professor knows your name, it usually means that you’ve been at his office hours three times a week for the entire semester. In comp sci, they listen attentively to make sure they master the enunciation of Ariel’s name properly. This is especially important in the South where, for reasons unknown to me, they miss the final “L” in her name and call her Aria. (Or maybe we bite off the end with our clipped New England pronunciations.)

Anyway, now that she’s a comp sci minor, I’m really glad she’s got her mace—she can fend off those hordes of girl-deprived computer geeks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I Need A Second Cup of Coffee

I am not an early bird. But I get up early and make a pot of coffee. And not any pot—a pot of freshly ground French roasted beans in a stainless steel Bodum French press. And as wonderful as that is, I wouldn’t get up early just to make it for myself. I get up to make it for my kids—would you want to go to Biochem without a cup of coffee to warm your body and soul?

My husband says that I should let them make their own coffee. I probably should. But I love watching the sun rise and being greeted by my son’s hamster, who spends the night in the dining room because he’s so noisy. When I turn on the dining room light, Rumplestiltskin leaves his wheel and runs to the cage door to greet me. After I say “Good Morning,” he goes back to his wheel.

And I love reading blogs while I eat my toast with cheese, watching various family members stumble out of bed to their cups of coffee. Sometimes they give me the “you-are-a-blessed-saint” look and sometimes I get the “you-are-a-crazed-earlybird” look. But I’m thankful to have them around. I know a lot of kids go off to college and that’s a wonderful opportunity. But we also know lots of people saddled with undergrad and grad school debt, who make life choices based on their debt. Scholarships and living at home during their undergrad years should free our kids of that burden, especially since there’s a major university a couple of miles from our home.

Of course, it does make our house crowded, noisy, and opinionated to have four adults and two near adults living in one home. But I get to be a part of their lives for a while longer and hear about their professors and classes and learn about physical chemistry and partial differential equations. And in the meantime, if I have to get up early and watch the sunrise for time alone and quiet, I think I can manage that.

Time for a second cup of coffee.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cockroach Criminals

Crime can be categorized in many ways. Felony vs. Misdemeanor. Violent vs. Non-Violent. Personal vs. Impersonal. I’d like to add another to the list. Cockroach vs. Light-of-day.

A Light-of-Day crime is a crime where the criminal shows his face. For example, when my mom was young, she worked in a bank, and on several occasions a man pulled a gun on her and demanded cash. (One bank robber was on a successful spree after he robbed my mom and returned to rob her bank several months later. While he was in line, he made eye contact with my mom and panicked. He hadn’t kept good records of which banks he’d previously robbed. Even successful criminals are brought down by bad record keeping.) But that’s what I call a Light-of-Day crime. The criminal shows his face.

But there are crimes where the criminal doesn’t show his face. I call those cockroach crimes because like cockroaches they commit crimes in the dark, hiding and pretending to be good citizens. (Like the person who stole my husband’s identity and committed fraud—you’ll find that the bank thinks you’re guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Or the scum-of-the-earth man who stalked me in college and knew the minutiae of my life and eagerly called me during the middle of the night to share it with me.)

You may know what inspired this post if you follow me on Twitter. Yesterday my account got hacked. A friend’s account got hacked in the early morning, so I checked my account when I found out several hours later. My account was clean, so I shut down my computer and snuggled up with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, which my daughter had asked me to read. Big mistake. Not the book. The mistake was assuming that my account was okay. Six hours later when I checked my account again, I had scads of notices from friends telling me that my account had been hacked. GRRR. (Hopefully, it’s all been rectified.)

Of course, other than some embarrassment on my part and some hacker harassment of my friends, the hacker didn’t get much. (At least, I hope not.) Not like a blogger friend who had her account hacked and had years’ worth of blog posts deleted. And her email address book gutted. And the emails to and from her agent and editor deleted. That’s nasty.

It gets worse. I’ve received notice of a writer whose e-books have been stolen and republished—with new titles. Interestingly, the thief kept her name on the books (you need the name recognition to sell), but the money is funneled into another account.

Hacking writers. Seriously. That’s pretty much taking candy from a baby or stealing an old lady’s purse. Most writers I know have a hard time converting files from Word to PDF, let alone setting up hack-proof systems. So I have a word for you cockroaches out there. There’s no glory hacking a writer (and almost no money in it either). But watch out, we writers will get more savy—at least, our kids, friends and spouses will help us be more savy. The light will shine on you sooner or later. And you will get crunched under foot. Plus, my son is teaching me that you can kill a cockroach by banking a shot with an airsoft pellet, so that it ricochets and hits the soft underbelly. Watch out, I’m locked and loaded.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hate is a strong word, but I really hate cleaning the bathroom.

I woke up crabby today. The snow that floated in the air last night dried up and the flakes that actually touched the ground, didn’t stick. Okay, maybe I’m just really crabby because I woke up with a sinus headache—only I don’t have frontal sinuses so it’s one deep in my head and if gets infected, my brain will rot. And I can’t take decongestants—they make my heart beat way too fast. So I’m going to spend the day in front of a vaporizer, trying to melt scum out of my sinus.

Friday is also Clean the Bathroom Day. Which I hate. Does anyone know how to make bathroom cleaning fun? I make ironing, which also hate, fun by streaming a Netflix. Yesterday, I watched the first episode of Island at War. It was really good. But bathroom cleaning...the only thing good about it afterwards it smells like lemons. Maybe I need a soundtrack. A lot of writers have soundtracks for their novels—music that puts them in the mood to write or reminds them of their characters. Yeah, that’s it. I need a bathroom cleaning soundtrack.  For the shower I could play “Raindrops keep falling on my head.” Especially for the times, that I’m thinking about my novel and turn on the shower spigot instead of the bath spigot and get totally soaked. Yes, it has happened on more than one occasion.

For the tub, I could listen to “Splish, splash.” For the sink, How about the "Happy Working Song." Although rats and cockroaches aren't my usual cleaning buddies--I'll stick to my minions. Maybe I should try singing the "Happy Working Song" to them. Or not.

 For the toilet, which I really, really hate cleaning, I could play “Hate” by the Plain White Ts.

 Anyway, I hope these make your weekend cleaning more fun! I know they bring a smile to my face.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Marketing Tribulations

Last night, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and went to a marketing seminar for writers. The speaker was amazing. He makes his living writing and songwriting. He gave examples on how he learned about marketing in elementary school—he had a bullet lodged under his armpit (true story) and he charged kids their milk money to feel the bullet. He told us how he got a $50K deal for a song he wrote on the way to a meeting (he’d told them he had a song just for them—he didn’t, he wrote it on the way).

But here’s my problem. I’m so NOT the kind of person who says, “For 50 cents you can feel the hollowpoint rifle bullet my brother shot me with and is now lodged in my armpit because it would do too much damage to surgically remove.” Nope. So not me. I’m more like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about—my brother would never accidently shoot me with a gun—that gauze hanging out of sleeve is for sweat. I, uh, sweat a lot.” Of course, afterwards I’d have a crisis of conscience for lying.

But shyness isn’t my only problem. And I have serious spending money issues. Several years ago went we had to buy a new couch (our former one broke into two pieces), Cal actually made the purchase while I did deep breathing exercises and calming self-talk—“We need a place for people to park their heineys when they visit. This purchase cannot be avoided.”

The problem with my spending issues is that I apply them to everyone. This is why I never worked in retail during the summer. This is me working at Belk/Gottchalks/Talbots/etc. “Um, are you sure you can afford the shoes and purse that match that outrageously overpriced dress? Besides, it’ll be out of style in six months.” So I have trouble asking people to pay for my book. Even if it’s only 99 cents. Okay, I don’t feel bad asking for 99 cents.

What I need is a version of the Dummies book, only this one would be “Book Marketing for Shy People Who Are Paranoid of Asking People to Spend Their Money on Anything, even on something so valuable that they’ve invested two years of their life into it.” Does anyone know about a book like that? And if you have any shy, non-aggressive person suggestions, I’m all over that.

N.B. For other who are in the same boat as I am. Here’s what I’ve done so far: book blog reviews, author interviews, book features, submitted my book to different e-book review sites, posters, GoodReads, Shelfari, Twitter, Facebook, inkPageant, and I run two blogs. I’d love to hear what you’ve done. I’m actually joining a writers’ marketing group associated with a local writers’ guild. So check back because I’ll share what I learn—we’re all in this together.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Disappeared

Everyone knows that socks disappear. You can fight it, and for a while I did. I found it an affront to my ideals of frugality and housekeeping. Eventually, I realized that sock loss is not a reflection on me personally, but the result of theft by the sock gnome. What a relief.

However, it didn't end with socks. The gnome moved on to pillowcases. At first, it was one embroidered pillowcase. Not one I embroidered by hand, but a machine embroidered one that came with our sheets. Of course, this wasn’t just any sheet set. This set was a gift. The uber expensive kind made of long cotton fibers with thread counts in the thousands. The kind of fabric that when your face touches the pillowcase and is nestled by cloud of fabric perfection, you’re sure your wrinkles will disappear over night. At any rate, when that pillowcase disappeared, I dug one out of the linen cupboard and gave it to Calvin. (He looks great with wrinkles.)

If the pillowcase theft had ended there, I would’ve let things be. But it didn’t. A plaid flannel case from our winter sheets turned up missing. I assumed it would show up. After all, we have six people folding laundry, so things get mixed up. Some of it purposely. I’ve heard one son yell at another, “Haha, not funny. Come and get this bra thing and put it in the right bedroom.”

But then, came the final affront. Two pillowcases disappeared in the same day. One was plaid flannel and the other a gorgeous hand-embroidered one. I’d put them in the washer. I did not, however, take them out of the dryer—some minion did. And the minion disavowed all knowledge of them.

This called for war. I scoured the house looking for them. I moved furniture. I checked dresser drawers. I hunted through linen cupboards and  bathroom cabinets. I checked behind and under the washer and dryer. I interrogated each and every member of the Keller family. All to no avail. Though Ariel suggested that I’m the real culprit. I have a history of sleep walking, and she decided that I’m so stressed about the pillowcases that I get up during the night and hide them. But that I can’t remember in the morning. I pondered that cheeky suggestion for half a second, pronounced it, “Rubbish.”

It’s been two weeks and the pillowcases have not shown up. I’ve concluded that sock gnome has moved to a whole new level of evil. Hand-embroidered pillowcases. Maybe it’s a sign of the economy—socks aren’t worth what they used to be. Has anyone else noticed sock gnomes stealing above their station? And does anyone know where I can get a good gnome trap?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Having A Writing Affair

When I was studying fiction writing with Mary Morris, she said, “Writing a short story is like having an affair. Writing a novel is a marriage.”

It’s an interesting analogy. A novel is a huge commitment is terms of time—at least, a year. (Unless you’re a speed writer—if you are, I hate you. Sorry. It’s nothing personal.) Writing a novel is a promise to be there and deal with the good, the bad, and downright ugly. It’s reaching down inside yourself even when you want to have a pity party because you’re blocked/tired/afraid/hate your characters/etc. On the other hand, the pay-off is amazing. To complete a novel is a feat in itself. Most people who begin never finish because it’s really hard to organize/balance plots, subplots, character development, themes, etc. It can be demoralizing and exhausting.

That’s where the short story comes in. The short is all the passion of writing and editing in a hot and heavy couple of months. (Okay, I have a couple of shorts that I’ve been working on for years, but mostly they don’t take too long.) You get to love ’em and leave ’em. “It was nice while it lasted, baby.”

When I finished an edit of the Screwing Up Time sequel and gave it to my first beta, I decided I needed a writing affair. So I’m writing a short story that occurs between books one and two of the series. And I’m having a great time. I needed this writing fling. When it’s over, I’m getting back to the novel marriage.

So how many of you writers out there have had a writing fling? It might be just what you need to get you through the novel you’re working on.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Don't Take the Ambulance

It’s a little late, but Happy New Year. I’d planned to post on Monday, but I was at the hospital Sunday night through Monday morning with an elderly family member who is fine now.

I did learn one very important thing Sunday night. Don’t take the ambulance. When we called 911, the fire fighters arrived first. They were courteous, eager to help, and professional. Then the EMS people came. Actually, they didn’t. We waited and waited and waited. (The fire fighters were volunteers, who were home with their families, got the call, met at the station, and came out. So a chunk of time was involved.) And still we waited for the ambulance. Turns out that they got lost. M’kay...this does not bode well.

My relative needed to be carried to the stretcher. EMS1 told the fire fighters to help his partner—he didn’t want to get dirty. His partner EMS2 was not happy, and yelled. (The fire fighters picked up the patient without rolling their eyes. Very impressive.)

EMS1 mumbled that he needed to check the patient’s blood glucose, but he couldn’t find his glucometer. He checked every cupboard in the ambulance. But it wasn’t there. He asked the fire fighters if he can borrow theirs. They told him that they don’t carry one. (I’m not sure why he thought they would—fires don’t usually need their glucose levels monitored.)

I was asked to ride in the ambulance because my relative doesn’t speak English very well anymore. That was fine. Then, EMS2 asked the fire fighters if she could follow them, so she wouldn’t get lost. The fire fighters said, “Okay.”

On the drive, the ambulance driver EMS2 picked up her cellphone and made a phone call. EMS1 rebuked her—they could get in a lot of trouble for that. EMS1 got hot and turned on the air conditioning. My relative complained that she was very cold. I told the EMS guy, who put a thin blanket on her. It didn’t help. After I told EMS1 three times that she was very cold, he finally sighed and turned off the AC. Then my relative complained of nausea. EMS1 handed me a barf bag and told me to take care of her—he didn’t like vomit. At this point, I considered advising him to find a new job. But I didn’t.

Thankfully, we made it to the hospital. Though things didn’t fair much better there. While my relative did receive very good medical care at the hospital, they lost her glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and medications (all things that they told us we had to leave with my relative when she was admitted).

The morale of the story is don’t call the ambulance, get someone to drive you to the hospital. Okay, that’s probably not wise. I’m sure that most EMS workers are conscientious, knowledgeable, and competent. Here’s a better morale: If the ambulance takes more than thirty minutes to show up, it’s probably better if you don’t wait any longer and drive yourself.