Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A New Circle

Mr. Alighieri did not live in modern times. However, if Dante had, he would have had a special circle reserved in the Inferno for drivers of semis who run permit-carrying teenagers who are driving with their mothers off the road.

Jacob has about twenty hours of driving practice. At twenty hours, I deign to drive with the children. Before that, they drive with Calvin. It’s mutual—I won’t drive with them and they won’t drive with me.

Today was the first time I’d let Jacob drive with me to his music lessons. I was a bit nervous. We’d have to drive down a few narrow, twisting roads that made my knuckles white when I drove them with Luke. But this was my third child who was learning to drive. I knew to take deep breaths, speak gently, and give the directions early.
But before we hit the narrow roads, we had to take the interstate for a few miles. Jacob was in the midst of merging onto Interstate 24 when the driver of a massive semi decided he didn’t want anyone getting on the highway ahead of him. So he sped up. I raised my voice. (Jacob says I was screaming—he’s melodramatic. I was resonant.)

We weren’t the only vehicle he ran off the road. The car behind us was also run off the highway. Thankfully, we both got on the highway on another on-ramp. Luke was also run off Interstate 75 by a semi when he was learning to drive. Yep, I think we could definitely add another circle to the Inferno.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hail the Almost-Conquering Hero

On Saturday, Luke went to the regional US Fencing Association tournament in Atlanta. (Luke and two of his friends run a fencing school for kids who are elementary age through high school.) While Luke participated in a few tournaments when he was in high school, he’s never fenced in any USFA tournaments because most are on Sunday and involve substantial driving.

Anyway, we wished him a good time and went about our Saturday routine. In the afternoon, Luke called and said, “Hey, Mom, guess who’s going to the semi-finals?”

I said, “Wow, that’s great. We’ll be praying for you.” I thought, “Huh, that was lucky.”

Later I got another call, “Hey, Mom, I’m going to the finals!”

I was in shock. The finals?!

I asked Ariel, “Did you know that Luke was this good of a fencer?”

Ariel said, “No.”

Luke lost the final, but he took second place! (If he had won, he'd be a nationally ranked fencer. Or if two more fencers had shown up, the event would have been big enough that Luke's second place finish would have given him national ranking.) Anyway, we're very excited for him. I’d post a picture of him in his fencing gear with his medal, but he’s already at UTC this morning, keeping students from hurting themselves or blowing things up in the chem lab where Luke has a summer job as a TA.

Here's a picture of his medal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

In Praise of Deadlines

Up front I will admit that I’m a type A personality. I enjoy lists, schedules, due dates, etc. The way to make my lower lip quiver is to throw a wrench into my plans for the day. I will whimper, “Um, that’s not what I had planned.”

So when I praise deadlines, you can write off part of the praise as the ramblings of one of those first-born type As. Go ahead say it—my kids do. Now that you got that out of the way, here is why I love deadlines. They keep me honest with myself. For example, in the novel revisions I’m doing, I’ve set my own deadline. And I’m really thankful for it. Today I’d been working on the revisions and had the panicky feeling: what-am-I-doing/what-if-I’m-doing-this-wrong. Normally, I would break out a square of my favorite Lindt white chocolate with coconut or dark chocolate with orange and almonds and start my private pity party—either that or I’d send an email to my favorite rant listener. (Thanks, Sharmon.*) But because I had a deadline I told myself, “Suck it up, girl. Get with the program.” I didn’t eat the chocolate—actually I’m out of the white chocolate (time to take a trip to Walmart).

A deadline helps me do what I need to do and keeps me from making excuses. Yay, deadlines! Which reminds me, I have several Shakespeare costumes that I need to start sewing. Ack!

*Okay, okay. Deadlines don’t keep me from ranting emails. They just make them shorter, maybe.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writers' Quotes

An author in his book must be like God in the universe,
present everywhere and visible nowhere.

~Gustave Flaubert

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Last Saturday we watched the last episode of Lost. (Not all of us—one member hates the show.) I know the show finished weeks ago, but what can I say, other things were more important.

I’ll admit up front that I’d turned my back on Lost last season. After Ben was found “not guilty” by the smoke monster, I threw up my hands in protest and resigned myself to never watch the show again—I’m a huge believer in justice.

However, a couple of friends convinced me to give it another shot. I think they just wanted someone they could talk to about the show. So I watched random episodes this year. And I have to admit that the sideways flashes were interesting, even though I was being manipulated to like certain unlikeable characters like Ben.

I geared up for the finale. After all, the writers had showed real creativity in early seasons, and I figured that they might have something amazing for the final episode.

I was wrong. The white chapel with the symbols of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, etc., etc. Please. I realize that they chose to go with non-offensive American religious inclusivity, but that was just hokey. While the credits were rolling at the end, two of my teenage boys said, “Said is seriously bummed.” “Why?” I asked. “He didn’t get his seventy virgins,” they said. “He got Shannon.” None of my boys liked Shannon—she was/is an uber-whiner and they hate whiners. I explained that Said was probably atheist and didn’t die during jihad so it didn’t count. “Oh,” they said. Any wonder why they watched the finale?

Part of the disappointment for me is the writers went for the easy out—the characters are in all process, maybe to heaven, but you can pretend not if you find that offensive. Several seasons ago, I was hoping that the island was purgatory and that the characters were redeeming themselves from their past sins. Now I’m not Roman Catholic and I don’t believe in purgatory, but it would have been a cool concept and very Dantesque. Even the holding back evil on the island was fascinating concept that could have been a much bigger part of the ending. They could have gotten all Greek on us and tied the ending into the whole Pandora’s box thing—Jack is only thing between us and a descent into utter chaos.

I guess I wanted a full-orbed purpose for the story. Maybe it’s the novelist in me. Or maybe it’s the years of studying literature. I wanted a purpose for the character’s suffering, even if it was post-modern purposelessness. It just felt like they tacked on a non-offensive happy ending.

Time to watch Leverage.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chemical Dependency

It’s the time of year where I have to admit that I am chemically dependent on...Round up. Any other time of year, I’m willing to put on my hat and gloves, grab my gardening bag, and hit the flower beds. But once the heat shatters the 90 degree, massive humidity mark, I break out the Round up. (Maybe it’s the evil dictator intent on world domination in me, I tested out as Sauron in the LOTR personality test, but I love killing weeds.) Nothing’s more fulfilling than spraying unsuspecting healthy green weeds with Round-up and knowing they’ll be toast within a few days. Bwa-ha-ha!

I sprayed weeds on Saturday, and when I went running this morning I had satisfaction of seeing the weeds had already started to turn brown. Of course, if my neighbors actually cut their “grass” (read weed patches) on a regular basis I might not have such weed problems, but that’s another story.

In the meantime, die, weeds, die!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Alter Ego Vacation

I don’t know how many people do this, but when we watch a movie or a tv show, we think of who among the characters (if anyone) are like the people in our family. Thanks to Netflix (we don’t have cable), we’ve gotten to enjoy the show Leverage.

If you haven’t watched Leverage, it’s a show where a group of former thieves decide to use their skills to right the wrongs of the world. Each member of the group has a particular skill. There is the grifter, the hacker, the hitter, the thief, and the mastermind.

If Cal were a member of the team, he’d be the hitter. When he was in college he worked at a psychiatric hospital as a “strong man.” He’d take down the PCP-addled “patients” that the police dropped off. Cal was very good at taking addicts down.

I could assign the children to various other positions, but I’m not sure they’d all be happy with what I assigned them. Okay, okay. Jake’s the hacker, Ariel’s the grifter, and Matt and Luke could double up and be the mastermind. That’s leaves me as the thief. It’s not that I like to steal. I don’t. And I’ve never been a good liar. But there’s one trait I share with Parker—the desire to catch air. Parker jumps off the roofs of buildings and down elevator shafts. Parker blows things up with C4. I’d love to free fall and blow things up. Ka Boom! But most importantly, Parker climbs through air ducts! I have a secret desire to climb through air ducts and enter and exit buildings undetected by security.

I’m sure that I’m not the only spy/thief/risk-taker wannabe. Wouldn’t it be fun to go on a spy/thief vacation?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Migraine Experience

Some people have never had a migraine. I started getting them around age thirty. Migraines are weird headaches that can vary in intensity from nasty to I’m-afraid-I’m-going-to-die to I’m-afraid-I’m-not-going-to-die. I suppose the pain could be equated to an elephant sitting on your brain.

A lot of migrainers have an aura. (Yes, migrainer is a made up word. But it should be a real word.) An aura is a weird pre-cursor that your body sends and basically says, “Um, hello, we’re just notifying you that severe pain lies in your immediate future. Have a nice day.” Classic migrainers (like Ariel) have stroke like symptoms—a side of their body goes funky. Numbness, blind spots, tingly, etc.,. I have a non-classic aura. I get “brain drop-cloth.” It’s as if a migraine is a re-decorating session, and my body prepares by draping my brain with cheesecloth. It’s a bit odd as auras go, but much preferable to numbness, partial blindness, and body parts falling off (oops, that’s a different disorder).

We migrainers also have triggers. Individual oddities that bring on the full-orbed migraine experience. A sure-thing, slam-dunk trigger for me is flashing lights. That doesn’t sound too hard to avoid until you consider that televisions are boxes of blinky lights. I strictly limit my tv/movie watching. My other triggers are sleep issues (not enough, at the wrong time, or waking up during the wrong phase), barometric pressure changes, getting overheated, and stress. If I get a trifecta of any of these, then near instant migraine. But I don’t feel sorry for myself—some people actually get migraines from red wine or chocolate. That would be awful. I can do without tv, but chocolate...

Medical marvels do abound, even for migrainers. And they really do work. Ariel does very well on them. They work for me too—I take the lowest dosage, least problematic medication. But I still get the post-migraine, post-medicine experience. My whole body feels like it ran the Boston marathon backwards, I fall asleep, my jaw aches so much it’s hard to eat, and that drop cloth on my brain prevents me from putting two thoughts together in a coherent manner. (Cal will notice that I’m not functioning at full capacity and will ask, “Did you have to take migraine meds today? Two minutes later when I've finished processing his question, I’ll say, “Uh, yep.”) But at least I don’t get the hiccups any more. When I first started taking the medicine, it made me hiccup for hours. You really don’t want to hear about a meeting I went to and hiccupped through the whole thing. It’s an incident best forgotten. Yesterday, I worked on my novel revisions with post-migraine brain. Tomorrow I need to re-read that section. I’m a bit anxious, who knows what I could have done... Gulp.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Weather Won

I’m not sure why people chose to live in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, I have friends and relatives that have lived or live in Florida. I just don’t get it.

Here in Tennessee we’re having late summer weather in June. (Florida’s normal weather this time of year), which means it’s like living in a pressure cooker. You walk outside and you begin to feel the fluid temperature in your body start to rise as the humidity steams you.

Of course, I could stay in my air conditioned house. (I’m trying not to think about what the electric bill will look like when the ac is running almost 24/7.) But that would be to let the weather dictate my plans.

So I got up this morning nice and early and went for a run. I ran the hills. Up and down. I put my brain in neutral—if I don’t think about the heat maybe I won’t notice it. Yeah, okay, I get a bit delusional at times.

We just finished our run, and Jezebel and I are panting. I’ve downed a massive glass of ice water, but Jez is panting too hard to drink. It’s too hot and way too humid. And in our 30+ minute run the temperature went up five degrees. Ugh. In the time it’s taken me to write this blog post it’s risen another five degrees. I think the weather’s won.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Method Writing

Last night I had a dream. (Yes, I know posts on dreams are lame. But bear with me—it’s a great metaphor.) In my dream, I was sitting at a table and all my characters were in a queue waiting to talk to me. A man sat down opposite me and said, “Okay, I’m the guy who sells his coat. What is my motiviation?” All my characters wanted to chat with me about their hopes, history, etc. They all wanted to know their motivations.

I mused on that dream. I think writing is a lot like that. When I first start a novel, I become each of my characters—I’m the irritable, bitter teenage boy hoping to be brave, the villain trying to kill the protagonist, the girl searching for love, etc. In that way, it’s a lot like method acting. But, it doesn’t stay like that.

The longer my characters are around, the more they become “themselves.” They have secrets they don’t tell me (eventually I drag it out of them), they manipulate me, they refuse to do what I tell them—they take over. In fact, they take me over. Ask my kids. They see me gesticulating wildly, mumbling under my breath, and plotting demises—with an evil look in my eye.

It’s no wonder they call writing a special form of madness. My characters and I slip in and out of each other’s skin and mind like changing clothes.

Watch out—I’m becoming the villain later today and he’s intent on world domination.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Writers' Quotes

It's Thursday, and here's your inspirational writing quote.

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no-one knows what they are."

E M Forster in Aspects of the Novel

Don't you feel that way sometimes?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Teen Betas

Most writers love their beta readers. (A beta reader is someone who critiques the early versions of your novel.) I have some dear beta readers (thank you, you know who you are). However, the problem with writing YA fiction is that I have four YA reading teens aged 19 to almost 14. This can be a good thing—I know what teens are like and they keep me honest.

On the other hand, they also will pick up pages and chapters that I’ve left unguarded. A few minutes later, one of my teen betas will burst into my writing bubble by shoving a page in front of my face.

Teen One: “Um, Mom, I don’t think character X would say this sentence.”
Me: “Fine. Mark it with a read pen.”
Teen: I don’t have a red pen.
Me: Here take mine.

With a sigh, I get back into my writing bubble.

Teen Two: I don’t want to bother you.
Me (muttering, “you already have”): Yes, dear one.
Teen Two: You forgot a closed quotation mark here.
Me: Here’s a red pen. Mark it!

I take cleansing breaths and try to remember why I put character Y into a wooden box. After remembering why said character is in the box, I begin writing again. Then my teen plops down next to me on my bed (my favorite place to edit). Now my lumbar support pillow is out of place, and I have to pay attention.

Teen (pointing to page): I don’t like this word.
Me: There are lots of words I don’t like.
Teen: You should change this word.
Teen: You’re cranky.

It’s no wonder that I buy red pens by the boxful.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Shoe Love

I admit that I love shoes. Ariel loves shoes. I’m pretty sure that most women love shoes. Even little girls loves shoes—I wonder if it’s an X-linked trait. Yesterday I was leading Sunday school singing and one of my three year olds (I teach two and three year olds) raised her hand. I thought she was picking a song so I called on her. Instead she said, “Mrs. Keller, can I try on your shoes?” I said, “As soon as we get to class.”

When we got to class I took off my strappy black high-heeled sandals. She tried them on and looked at them. “Hmm,” she said, “They’re a little big.” Shoe love starts early.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Last night we watched Hamlet. Cal loves the movie. I don’t. It’s horribly depressing—oh, look, everyone’s dead. You want to like Hamlet, but he’s no better than anyone else. Ophelia’s the only one I like and she goes mad and drowns. (Okay, no one else in our house shares my opinion.)

I will admit that the acting is superb. And the play has some of the best lines (though the Scottish play has more). To be or not to be. Get thee to a nunnery. The play’s the thing. Time is out of joint. Alas, poor Yorrick. Man is a wondrous thing. Frailty, thy name is woman. Horatio, I am dead. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

I would actually like to spend some time studying the play. I’d like to dig into the themes of truth and lies, predestination and free choice, sanity and madness, and love and vengeance. But if I did it would probably convince me that it’s a great play and I’d love it.

Why did we end up watching it? I quote a line from the play in the book I’m revising and I had to make sure that it’s in the movie. It is. Whew! Which line, you ask. It’s a secret! You’ll have to read the book. In the meantime, it’s a famous line, and it’s not one of the ones listed above.

I suppose you could guess...

Writers' Quotes

I don't usually post on Thursdays. But I think I'm going to use Thursdays to post writers' quotes. I love writing quotes, and I hope you'll enjoy them too.

Here's one of my favorites. It actually adorns my computer screen as my desktop.

"You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club."

Jack London

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Revising Diamonds

Most writers that I know have to cut. Their first drafts wax long and wordy. They end up cutting and cutting. I have the opposite problem, especially near the end of my books. I tie up all the loose ends a little too quickly and undercut all the tension I’ve built over the course of the novel.

After someone pointed this out to me, I started a revision on my novel. It’s a heady thing. Today one chapter morphed into three or four, and it’s not done yet. My characters are getting a chance to do more and to be more as their personalities find more opportunity for expression. It’s exhausting and exhilarating.

That’s one of the joys of editing. Writing a story is mining a diamond out of the earth’s depths. You experience the thrill of discovery. (And even above that metaphor, writing is creating something that didn’t exist before you made it.) Editing, on the other hand, is becoming a lapidary. It’s meticulous, cutting and polishing that rough diamond until every facet catches the light and reflects a myriad of colors. It’s honing the plot, dialogue, action, characters and voice so that someone else can know and love the story you have to tell.