Monday, August 30, 2010

One Last Party

As I was driving home this morning from dropping off Ariel, I saw a tree whose leaves had begun to color. Though I know it’s early and this means that the tree is under stress, it also reminds me that autumn is around the corner.

Soon the hills and mountains that surround Chattanooga will be painted yellow, scarlet, and maroon. It’s like the trees are having one last party before they go to sleep for the winter. It means soon I’ll be sipping hot apple cider at night, snuggling under wool blankets, and enjoying chrysanthemum blooms. And it means I begin the wait to see snowflakes dancing in the air.

We don’t get much snow here in southeastern Tennessee, but just enough to have spontaneous city-wide holidays that make the wait for Thanksgiving and Christmas seem shorter.

But it’s still 90 degrees during the days, and I’m soaking in the warmth and telling myself that I’ll miss it in January. I looked out the window and saw a yellow leaf fluttering in the breeze. Sigh. Maybe fall is closer than I think.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mind Mush

This post was supposed to be about characterization. I had it all planned out in my mind. I should’ve written it early, but I didn’t. Still, I started the post and got about two paragraphs into the post. And my mind was total mush. Of course, having a migraine at the time didn’t help. I can write with a bad cold or any minor illness, I can’t write (at least not well) with a migraine.

But the migraine didn’t cause the brain mush. It was a result of mind mush, stress, and really tired eyes. But the point of this blog post (am I making sense or is post-migraine fog interfering with my thought processes) is mind mush. Mind mush is that state of brain where you’ve been writing/editing/revising way too long and the words you’ve written look like Swahili. Normally, I’d take a break. Do something fun. Watch a movie. But this time I can’t. Gotta get this revision finished.

Oops, I forgot about the point. Here it is: How do you deal with Mind Mush? How do you sharpen your mind? Yesterday I tried the move-to-a-new-writing spot and read aloud. It worked until the end of the day, at which I was reading aloud and wasn’t even sure what I was reading. And I’m not asking only other writers, I’m sure students have suggestions. (Sadly when I was in college I was one of those students who kept regular hours and never pulled an all-nighter or even a past-midnighter so I have no experience to draw from.) Please do not recommend twenty cups of coffee—I do have to sleep afterwards.

I’m looking forward to your suggestions!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Writers' Quotes

Writing is my time machine, takes me to the precise time and place I belong.

 ~Jeb Dickerson

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Dangers of Boredom

I’ve always heard that it’s dangerous to let a child get bored. I have discovered that a bored child will try to cut off his finger with a wire snips. A bored child will paint black tiger stripes on his face that will not come off before Sunday church service. And a bored child will take fish out of the fish tank so they can watch television with him. It’s best to prevent boredom in children.

But children aren’t the only who succumb to boredom. It is the bane of chemists too. I’ve wondered how come I’ve known so many chemists in my lifetime. In our small church we have a scary percentage of the congregation that are chemists, chemistry professors, or chemistry majors. A bored chemist can curl your hair, literally. One chemist friend got bored in grad school and burned off his eyelashes and eyebrows. Unintentionally, of course.

Blowing up things is also extremely popular. One of Luke’s profs got bored and blew up a lake. I guess it’s one way to make the sky rain fish. Unfortunately, the police got involved.

Luke, our chemistry major son, is a teaching assistant in a chem lab, which was recently re-opened after being gutted. One day the prof and Luke got bored. They realized that they’d never tried the new eyewash/shower. (If you a non-science person, it’s the place you go when things explode and your eyelashes, eyebrows, and clothing begin burning off.) Anyway, Luke and his prof decided they had to make sure eyewash/shower functioned properly. Besides they were interested in how the new piping worked. So they pulled the cord. The water coursed through the pipes and spat out the valves and onto the floor. At which point, they discovered that the floor didn’t have a drain. Not long afterwards they discovered a mop and were no longer bored. I’m hopeful they stay very busy for the rest of the year. Perhaps they should study English. English majors/profs are never bored—there are always more books to read.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is released today!!  (It's the final book in The Hunger Games triology.)  I'll be waiting for the UPS/FedEx guy to deliver our copy.  Except, of course, I'm working on my revision.  Hmm.  Maybe I'll use chapters of Mockingjay as bribe to get my own work done.  I'm so not above bribery.

Anyone else as eager to read it as I am?

(I'm Team Peeta.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Taking Liberties

When I was a kid, airplane crash movies were popular. We didn’t watch too many. Not because my dad was a commercial pilot and we were afraid of what could happen to him. No. We didn’t watch them because of the monologue that would occur: “That’s a DC-10, the plane they showed earlier was an L-1011, and before that it was a MD-(whatever).” As the movie went on, we’d learn about how planes actually behave and why the movie company should have hired an aviation consultant. (I must’ve learned a lot because my dad wasn’t around when I watched Tom Hanks’s Castaway and I knew that the movie was an aviation disaster, and not because the plane crashed.)

A few weeks ago we were watching Proof (a rom-com, math-nerd movie), and the main character mentioned a formula for finding prime numbers. Ariel said, “That’s not true” and went on to give us multiple examples of why the formula was bogus.

I got to thinking about authorial liberties. A writing friend once asked me how I decide what to “make up” and what I refuse to make up. I try to nail historical details, which is a tremendous amount of work. I even change the plot if I can’t find out the detail I need. I suppose I could argue that since my book’s about time travel I can make up other things too. But I can’t. In order for the book to work, I have to get the reader to suspend disbelief. The reader must trust the writer—verisimilitude is the way to do it. If I screw up an historical reference, I lose that trust. In fact, a few months ago I discovered a source that proved a small, but critical, detail in my novel was wrong so I rewrote the entire section.

However, some things I’ll make up completely. In one of my books, I gave a minor character a job assessing rattlesnake populations for the forestry department. Did I look up that job? No. I made it up. I did research the forestry department and rattlesnake populations, and I figured that someone must have a job doing that. Why not my character?

A while back, I read an author who was asked about the liberties he took in his novels. I believe he was known for his closely detailed settings of Los Angeles. He said that he tries to nail all the details perfectly. But if he needs a restaurant on a particular corner, he puts it there—but it better be exactly the kind of restaurant you’d find at that particular intersection.

What about you? What kinds of liberties do you take as a writer? What kind of liberties do you allow as a reader before you put the book down?

Friday, August 20, 2010


Our kids love acting.  They were recently in Shakespeare's As You Like It.  Here are some photos.  Notice the cool costumes--I made the boys' and Ariel sewed her own.


Matthew played Touchstone.  He needed a motley coat.  Blue and green was as "motley" as Matt was willing to go.

Ariel played Rosalind and also performed in a string trio before the play.

Jacob played Oliver--the bad guy in the play.  But it's okay because he's reformed by the end.

Luke was the stage manager (he's too old to participate anymore).  However, when an actor dropped out, Luke eagerly took his place as well as managed the stage.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In Which I Feel Sorry For Myself When I Shouldn’t

I’m not sure if I’ll get this post up today (Wed.) when it’s actually due—if you haven’t noticed I post on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Or if it’ll be tomorrow. We’re on the way back from vacation, rested and relaxed. Now we’re already to get back to our work. Luke and Ariel to the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, Jacob to Calc 1 at Chatt State, and Matt will start high school. I’d say that Cal would be getting back to work too, except that he never really stops studying, he just slows down on vacation. As for me, I’m ready to start teaching again. And I’m starting a new revision.

Yesterday I heard back from one of the literary agents who has been considering my young adult novel. Six weeks ago I’d turned in an R & R (revise and resubmit). I was hoping that when I heard from her this time, she’d be offering me a contract. She didn’t. But it wasn’t quite a rejection either. Instead she wants me to do another revision. Actually, I skipped the entire letter and read the last paragraph where it said she’d love to read a revision. Imagine my lower lip quivering. I didn’t cry, mostly I felt sorry for myself.

I forwarded the letter to one of my writing buddies Sharmon, who is also a very good friend. Then I waited for what I assumed would be a forthcoming email of consolation. I was wrong. Instead, she sent long emails telling me that not only was she not feeling sorry for me, she was actually jealous. She pointed out that one of the hot, upcoming and coming agents loved my book and was giving me specific guidance on exactly what issues needed to be fixed. Oh, did the agent say that? Right.

I guess, according to Sharmon, it’s time to “get my big girl panties on.” I’ll be starting those revisions on Monday.  Or maybe even Friday.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Unplanned Excitement

When you go on vacation, you assume certain things will happen. You’ll relax, have fun, bask in the sun, etc. But then, vacations have ways of surprising you that you didn’t plan for. Here’s what I didn’t plan for, in the style of David Letterman.

10. Giving my husband wrong directions twice in the same trip.

9. Passing a sign that says “Tank Crossing” on the way to the beach.

8. Drinking perfect Turkish coffee in Jacksonville, North Carolina

7. Listening to eleven teenagers sing the rap songs from Hoodwinked.

6. Finding out where you missed applying sunscreen. Don’t ask.

5. Seeing my husband curled up with the latest Artemis Fowl novel. (Very cool.)

4. Discovering that I actually like chick peas.

3. Finding out from a knowledgeable source that our friend speaks Arabic with a “sexy Palestinian accent.” Let the teasing begin.

2. Hearing my daughter scream when a two year old boy tries to hand her a live palmetto bug, aka cockroach.

1. Barely avoiding a blow dart in my derriere. A real blow dart—a four inch long thin metal spike that flew through the air.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Writers' Quotes

I know this is a popular quote.  But it's so true that I had to post it anyway.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

~Mark Twain

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Maxims of Travel

Some people love traveling by car—they enjoy driving and watching the scenery fly past. I am not one of those people. Give me an airplane any day. I love climbing aboard and getting where I need to be in a few hours or less. Of course, I tend to buy a margarita at the Mexican restaurant situated in the middle of the airport. Not because I’m a nervous flyer (I actually don’t mind turbulence—having a father who was a commercial pilot and taught me what turbulence is and how the plane responds took care of that.) No, the reason I drink the margarita is so I’m tired enough that I can get on board, grab a pillow and a blanket and sleep. It really helps fend off the almost inevitable time change-induced migraine.

But enough about air travel, we traveled by car. Car travel always has certain givens. Things that always happen. A kind of Murphy’s Law for trips that I’ll call Connie’s Maxims of Travel.

Rule #1

When you are driving and not hungry, fast food chains will be at every exit. In fact, at every stop you could choose between Chick-fil-a, Pizza Hut, Subway, McDonalds, Hardees or even Long John Silver. However, when you are hungry and in the middle of Nowhereville, Georgia, you will not be able to find a single fast food store. Instead, you will continue to fill your stomach with the Runts, pretzels, jawbreakers, Cheetos, and Swedish fish that you brought for the children. (I brought granola bars too, but no one wants to eat those.) Eventually, we found a place that the children referred to as Taco’s Smell, and we ate there. BTW, 12 tacos and 8 burritos can be eaten by our clan without anyone pausing to talk, even after all the candy. And, even worse, they hit the candy bag as soon as we got back into the car. In deference to the ladies, it was the guys who inhaled all the food.

Rule #2

Actually, this is sort of Rule #1, part B, since it’s a food scarcity thing. When you need an infusion of caffeine, you can’t find a Starbucks anywhere. Starbucks isn’t actually my favorite coffee (theirs tasted burned to me), but a cafĂ© mocha or a java chip frappachino is a perfect pick me up. We couldn’t even find a Mickey Ds for coffee. You see how desperate we were? MD’s coffee tastes like road tar. They should really take a cue from Starbucks, toss some chocolate in their coffee and advertize dark chocolate java with essence of road tar. I’m sure I’m not the only weary traveler who’d buy it. But why is there no Starbucks between Atlanta and Wilmingon, NC?!

Rule #3

At some point during the drive my husband Calvin will toss me the map/directions and need an immediate answer to a “which way do we go” question. I, trying to turn the map right side up or decipher Mapquest’s odd syntax, will give Cal the wrong directions. This time, however, we only ended up twelve miles out of our way. He now has the directions firmly planted on his lap. Enough said.

Rule #4

No matter what time of the year or where I travel, I will run into road construction. Last year it was road construction in Orlando two days before Christmas. What state in their right mind, shuts down four out of five lanes of their northbound highway at 5pm two days before Christmas? Um, hello, has the state of Florida ever heard of holiday travel?

Today was the state of South Carolina’s Day of Mowing and Road Work. I’m not sure why they want to mow and do road work at the same time, but they did. The interstate was narrowed to one left lane while the workers repaved the right lane. In the left lane, I drove behind mowers. They go 20 mph. We laughed at the 70 mph signs. Afterwards I felt compelled to “make-up for lost time.” Cal explained that if I was pulled over that highway patrolman would probably not look favorably on my “let’s just average my rates of speed” excuse. I slowed down. Much to the kids’ chagrin.

Rule #5

No matter how much you dread the trip, the friends you are going to visit are always worth it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Okay, okay.  Sorry.  I know I owe you a post from yesterday.  But we had something more important yesterday--we spent the day with the husband and children of a dear, dear friend who recently died.  It was a blessed time for all of us. 

But I promise to make it up to you, my faithful readers.  We're leaving for vacation tomorrow, and I'll have at least nine hours in the car--plenty of time to finish a few blog posts that I've already started.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with a new watercolor that Cal recently finished.  Of course, you'll have to remember that my old digital camera does not do justice the the wonderful nuances of color and shadow in Cal's paintings.  But enjoy!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Five

We haven’t done one of these in a long time. So it’s time. What are your favorite stress-reducing/comfort foods?

Here are mine:

1. Lindt’s dark chocolate with sea salt

2. Kalamata olives

3. Brie with crackers

4. Lindt’s white chocolate with coconut. (I usually hate white chocolate, but this is altogether different.)

5. Sour Apple martini (you can make it with club soda if you want).

What are yours?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Writers' Quotes

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.

 ~James Michener

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Outside My Norm

I try to make a semi-regular habit of reading outside the genres I normally prefer—young adult, middle grade, murder mystery, thriller. (Yep, I like those fast paced genres.) But I do read other things. One of the literary fiction novels that I enjoyed recently was Peace Like a River. And I’ll read the occasional sci-fi like Ender’s Game or Dune. But aside from LOTR, I’ve never read much high fantasy. High fantasy is a genre in which everything takes place outside our normal world. But I’d read that The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan was one of the best so I gave it a go.

The first 50 to 60 pages of The Eye of the World were a slogfest. I had to force myself to keep going. I like books that immediately thrust me into the hurley-burley of their world. But I knew I should be patient—a lot of my favorite books start slowly.

Over the course of a few more chapters I got to know Rand, Mat, and Perrin, who remind me suspiciously of Frodo, Merry, and Pippin. (In fact a lot of the book is similar to LOTR, even down to Loial who’s like Treebeard.) In spite of these similarities and the fact that Mr. Jordan sometimes spends a chunk of text describing the fog, atmosphere—yes, yes, I know it’s called “world building,” but I skip those paragraphs—I really am enjoying the novel. I’ve got about 100 pages left and I’m eager to read them. And I’m wondering when I can fit the next book into my schedule—the books of this series come in at 600 to 800 pages, and I have to fit books of this size into my life. Maybe I can read the second book, To The Blight, at Christmas break. I’ve heard the series gets addictive...I think it’s too late for me. Watch out, or they may get you too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Colloquium Cretin

Ariel went to her first math colloquium last week. It was on differential equations, oscillations and Euler DEs. Honestly, I thought, “YAWN!” But Ariel was excited—she knows a bit about DE and was invited to attend.

When she arrived, she was the first person there. The lecturer (from a country we won’t name, but let’s just say it’s not a democracy) greeted Ariel. He wanted to know if she taught at UTC. No. Are you a grad student? No. He demanded (with condescension) to know if she’d studied DE. Ariel said, “Yes.” He said, “You must be a senior.” No. He refused to believe her that she’d even done calc 1,2, and 3 let alone DE, which is lame because DE is one of the last lower division classes a math major takes. So things aren’t looking good for a man we will now call, Dr. Jerk.

More people arrived, and Dr. J began his lecture. It was interesting, at least it was to Ariel, and had to do with oscillations and their implications for nuclear physics (particularly nuclear bombs—I wonder if the State Department knows about this guy). After the brief talk, Dr. Jerk went on to discuss the glories of his homeland. Ariel pondered asking him about his country’s multitudinous human rights’ violations, but she decided it wasn’t the proper venue. Someone did ask about working in a dictatorship, he described it as a familial relationship. Right, paternalism as a justification for political abuses. Hmmm.

A very nice professor, who was born in Nigeria, asked some questions. The lecturer answered a few and dodged others—it was clear he didn’t know the all answers. Ariel exchanged glances with her DE professor who smiled and waved. The lecturer, clearly unhinged by his own ignorance, went on to disparage the Nigerian professor’s personal finances, his home country, and implied moral turpitude on the part of all Nigerians.

As if racism wasn’t enough, Dr. Jerk made a snide comment to Ariel (the only woman present) during the lecture. He publicly told her that he could give her advice on how to marry a rich husband. Yep. Total racist, sexist loser. It might be wise if the math department screened the invitees a bit more strictly next time.