Thursday, September 30, 2010

Writers' Quotes

When we see a natural style we are quite amazed and delighted,
because we expected to see an author and find a man. 

 ~Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 1670

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to Kill the Classics

I admit that I have a tender spot in my heart for the classics. I have a literature degree so I love everyone from Homer to Shakespeare to Elliot. (I hate James Joyce, but that’s another story.) I realize that sometimes it’s hard for modern readers to delight in the cadences of the Iliad. After all, we’re not used to listening to recited poems so hearing Helen referred to as “Helen of the white arms” over and over doesn’t make sense—it’s an aural literary device used to help listeners identify the characters.
But that’s what lit professors are for. They’re supposed to help us bridge the chasm of time and culture to appreciate works of literature that have transcended human constructs. So I was very disappointed to Ariel complaining loudly about her literature class and the books she has to read. What made it stranger was that Ariel had read all of the books when I taught her ancient literature, and she enjoyed them. What was up?

“What’s up?” Ariel said in an indignant voice. She read me a passage, “Princess Nausicaa says, ‘Daddy dearest, could you lend me the carriage so I can wash clothes.’”

My jaw dropped. “What is that rubbish?” I asked. Apparently it’s a modernized version of the Iliad. Modernized versions are the newest fad in literature. I investigated these versions. I’m sure that the translators meant well, making culture more assessable to the masses (sounds kind of condescending, actually). But the problem is that it destroys tone and voice. Every time a modernized phrase pops up in the text—they’re scattered here and there like poppy seeds—it takes the reader right out of the narrative. You have to blink, refocus, and force yourself back into the text. Maybe these translators and professors should have taken a few creative writing classes. Lesson 10 in creative writing is create a voice and tone and infuse it into every word of the text—it’s the only way to capture the reader. Everything else is painful and laborious. And it only makes the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Orestia, etc., even more difficult to read. What students need is an accurate translation so they can lose themselves in the story just like everyone has done for the last couple thousand years.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Fall is definitely here. No, the weather’s not a lot cooler. The leaves aren’t really colored yet. And I haven’t brewed spiced cider. But it’s fall because we had college fellowship at our house last night. About a quarter of our church attendance is college students, and once a month they come to our house for food (lots of food), prayer, and murder. Prayer and murder seem antithetical, but we make it work.

We’ve played lots of games, but the favorite is always Mafia. Maybe it’s the fun of killing as a Mafioso or being killed as a citizen of Dead Town or being executed by your fellow townfolk, but mostly I think it’s the creative narration of murder. The role of the narrator is not only to run the game, but to entertain the masses. Last night we had C4-filled walls exploding with the flip of a light switch. Poisoned cafeteria food. Camera flashed to death. And speaking of cameras, John took way too many incriminating photos of the Mafioso so they strangled him with his own camera strap.

Is it any wonder I decided to write a murder mystery?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Straight No Chaser

Last night was Mother-Daughter bonding, which means Ariel and I do something fun together. We went to a Straight No Chaser concert. They are a 10 men a’capella group who puts their own “spin” on everything from rock to R&B to Bugs Bunny music.

Anyway, it’s not just the music, which is pitch perfect, it’s their twist. They mixed a Sinatra tune with Jay-Z. And in the midst of their singing, they tease the audience. For example, you haven’t laughed until you’ve seen 10 grown men imitate Lady Gaga. Even if, like me, you have only a cursory knowledge of LG, it was still hilarious.

Ariel loved it too. Her only negative comment was “They dance just like Dad.” So there you have it.

They’re on a 75 city tour. If they’re anywhere near you, get thee to a concert. Enjoy the clip--It's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." (Yes, not hip.  But it's always been my favorite song.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Writers' Quotes

Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers,
oftentimes brother and sister,
and occasionally mortal enemies. 

~Terri Guillemets

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I’ve been working feverishly on my murder mystery, trying to edit it one last time before I send it to my final beta reader. A “beta reader” is someone who reads your novel in its early stages and makes comments and suggestions about what needs work and how to improve it.

Most writers finish their novel and send it out to their betas and then collect the comments from each of the betas (compare and contrast their suggestions) and begin finishing their novel.I don’t do it that way—probably because I get nervous at the end and like to know that I caught most of the big issues. So instead, I finish the book and send it off to my first beta (Hi, Suzie!). She and sometimes her husband read my books in their worst shape—the plot holes, the cardboard characters, and the incomplete voice. And she encourages me. She always loves my books and makes suggestions about how to fix the big problems. Then I fix them.

Then the book goes to another beta who reads and makes notes and, hopefully, doesn’t find the same thing that Suzie found. I make the corrections suggested by beta number two. And so it goes including other betas like Sharmon, Marian, Ariel, and Adele. (Thanks to all of you.)

Anyway, I’m heading toward that last beta, which means it’s nearly done. At least until an agent or an editor says it’s time to edit once again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mockingjay Controversy

I’m sorry this post is late getting posted.

Last night, I stayed up until midnight to finish reading Mockingjay. It was lovely, and I’d highly recommend it. Then this morning when I announced that I’d finished reading the book, I began discussing it with three of my kids who'd also read the book. And the four of us were shocked to discover that we had conflicting ideas of something that happened near the end of the book. Don’t worry, I won’t give out any spoilers, but let’s just say it’s a very big deal about why Katniss votes as she does on a particular thing and whether that something happens as a result.

After much discussion (including impassioned arguments and re-reading), I think a couple of the kids are moving towards my point of view, but we’re all a little confused. I’ve promised to re-read the last couple of chapters tonight to compare their arguments and mine against the text. Plus, I’m going to try and see if other people are having some of the same issues that we are. How many of you have read the book? In your discussions about the book with others, did you find any differing opinions?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bartering and Green Toenails

As your children get older, they develop many “life” skills. Effective bartering is one such skill. For example, math major daughter has upcoming math exam. No one in their right mind will volunteer to help said daughter study for her exam, especially since the class is “proofs.”
But female child has learned bartering. And she is a good student—she has learned well. Girl approaches mother.

Girl: How about I give you a pedicure tonight?

Mom (heart melts)

Girl: And you can quiz me on my math proofs while I do it.

Mom (heart slightly less melted, but a pedi that I don’t have to do myself!?!: Okay

Daughter applies base coat.

Mom: Uh, give me the definition for backwards E, exclamation point, X, times the quantity P of X. (Seriously, that is what the flashcard said.)

Daughter gives answer, which involves more backwards E, exclamation points, Xs, and snake-like lines and well as tildes and carrots. (No exaggeration.)

Over the next hour I say things like the conjunction or intersection of upside down A to the R1 and other fake letter stuff—during which time I get two coats of polish and a top coat.

Interesting thing happened though. At the end, she was studied, and I had green toenails. Hmmm.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writers' Quotes

Ink on paper is as beautiful to me as flowers on the mountains;
God composes, why shouldn't we? 

 ~Terri Guillemets

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I’m Not a Psychopath

Okay, I sent off my latest R&R. Now comes the waiting period. Probably four weeks, maybe longer. Ugh.

But after I have my self-congratulatory piece of chocolate, I’ll be printing up my newest manuscript to give it another edit. And it’s not YA. Nope. This one is a murder mystery for adults. Yeah, it’s completely different. But not too different. I like to read YA and MM. Both tend to be plot-oriented. Since I’m committed to do my part in being published, it seemed to me that the best way to do it is to cast a broad net. You never know what an agent/editor is going to be looking for (I’ve already had an agent ask me to send her a query and sample pages). Plus, I’ve always wanted to write an MM. So this was the perfect time to do it. Once you have a contract, you’re committed to that genre (with notable exceptions) and to build a following within that genre. I didn’t want to think in five or ten years, “Gee, I wish I’d written a MM.” And then, I got “The Idea,” which I’m pretty sure hasn’t been done before. And The Idea poked, prodded, and generally made itself a nuisance until I wrote it.

It’s been fun. A lot of work*, but fun. After all, to paraphrase Rick Castle, “There are two kinds of people who spend their time thinking about killing people, psychopaths and mystery writers.” My kids already think I’m crazy (who else talks about their characters lying to them) so it wasn’t much of a stretch.

*If there are any wannabe mystery writers out there, the best books I’ve found are How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James N. Fry and Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who Can I Shoot?

Late Saturday night I was reading a chapter of Mockingjay aloud to my husband Calvin. I read Catching Fire to him and he enjoyed it so I promised MJ. At any rate, I was halfway into a chapter at 11pm when the phone rang.

It was the neighbor who lives next door to our church (our church is downtown). She was distressed because a lot of cars were parked in the church parking lot—apparently a club/bar opened a block away and the patrons were using the church parking lot to park. As Cal talked with her, he kept telling her to call the police, etc. Cal hung up and said, “I have to go down there. She’s making it sound like there’s a gang war going on in the church parking lot.”

I told Cal, “Take Luke.” Our 19 year old son Luke has one of the most tender hearts that I know, but he’s broad shouldered and has a menacing scowl. As soon as they left, the neighbor called back and told me that we needed to have all the cars towed out of the parking lot. Then she went on to talk about her gun. Okay... I tried to be nice and told her that everything was going to be resolved.

So I sat at home and waited. And waited. And hoped that the neighbor didn’t go postal with her gun. After 12:30am, Cal and Luke arrived home and told me the story. When they got to the church, there were indeed a dozen cars parked in the parking lot and that was it. In all fairness to the neighbor, down the street some home owners were throwing a raucous party—an arrest was made and Cal saw a drug deal going down.

Back to the church parking lot. A police officer arrived. She was a tiny blonde who looked about 18 and still had teenage acne. Cal explained the situation. He didn’t want all these cars towed, just moved. The officer went to the bar and asked patrons to move their cars. (Cal said a crowd of men followed the little officer, according to Cal, they could’ve totally taken her out before she could’ve drawn her gun if they’d wanted to.) Then, the patrons dutifully moved their cars.

As they were moving their cars, the neighbor asked the police officer if she could shoot anyone who wandered onto her property. The police officer said, “Well, you can in Texas and maybe some parts of Georgia.” At which point, Luke laughed—it was a bit surreal. But the long and short of it, if someone wanders onto your property in downtown Chattanooga, No, you can’t shoot them.

Moral of the story: Don’t wander onto someone’s property in Texas.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Word to the Wise

College has started again, which means three of the people in my home aren’t around to help with dishes. Ugh. Why do dishes never end? Oh, right, it’s because I have four teenagers and three of them are boys. Duh.

But that’s not what this post is about. Nope. It’s about this tradition my husband has of asking our progeny what they learned in school today. (Note to readers: this is a bad habit to start if your children have different interests than you do.)

Calvin (husband) to Luke (19 year old son): "What did you learn in school today?"

Luke answers: "Blah, blah, organophosphates, blah, blah, inverted equations, blah, blah, valence electron instability."

Luke is a chemistry major. Everything sounds like gobbledy-goop until he gets to “instability.” I’ve learned to play attention at this point. Instability in chemistry tends to equate to explosions. I like explosions. Luke is a great companion to watch Burn Notice with. He gets very excited at the various bombs and says things like. “That would so work, but how are they going to control the reaction?! It’ll blow the house up.”

Cal to Jacob (16 year old son): "What did you learn?"

Jacob: "Uh, we learned about derivatives (some calculus thingy)." At which point, Luke and Ariel discuss the finer points of derivatives. Jacob could get frustrated, but it gives him more time to eat before his brothers finish off all the food.

Cal to Ariel (18 year old daughter): "What did you learn in school today?"

Ariel: "Well, I completed a proof showing that the square root of five is irrational using whatever, whatever, whatever and whatever." (“Proofs” is an upper division class for math majors. I have no idea what’s she’s talking about.)

Me (who should have learned my lesson last year): "What are you talking about?"

Ariel: "I can show you."

She brings me pages of notebook paper filled with scrawled letters that don’t spell anything. I nod politely and suspect that higher level math isn’t real.

Finally we get around to Matthew, our 14 year old son. Cal says, “What did you learn in school today?”

Matthew: "Nothing."

I’d be relieved, except I’m his teacher.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Writers' Quotes

A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language,
trying to get human feelings right.

~John K. Hutchens

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sink Hole

The other day my husband Calvin and I were examining our sun-seared lawn (it’s a unlovely shade of burnt umber). On a slope under the magnolia tree, Cal found a hole. “Look, we’ve got a sink hole.”

Cal assumed the sink hole came from a water leak. About a year ago, our water line began to leak. Just imagine what that does to your water bill—when the leak’s underground you don’t notice it until the bill comes. After you recover from the heart attack when the water company tells you that you’re responsible for the cost of the water that leaked, you kiss your wife who had the intelligence to get pipe insurance, which though not covering the cost of the water, does cover the cost of the backhoe that is going to rip up your front yard. Thankfully, the line was replaced. They did leave the yard a disaster, but that’s another story.

Back to the “sink hole.” I said to Cal, “No, that’s not a sink hole. It’s a Luke hole, though it’s a second cousin once removed to the water line problem.”

You see, the water line repair people didn’t remove the old line. They just buried it a few inches below the surface. The cut end of the line worked itself out of the ground, and Luke hit it with the lawnmower. The pipe took a chunk out of the blade. Luke was displeased. He got out the pick-ax and shovel—he didn’t know it was the old water line. By the time I wondered what was taking Luke so long to mow the lawn, he’d unearthed a fair amount of the pipe.

“Um, Luke,” I said, “that’s not going to work.” He assured me it was. I explained that unless he wanted to dig up 30 or 40 feet and use the hacksaw, it would be best to rebury the pipe. He did. Then the rain came and washed away some of the loose dirt. Now we have a “sink hole.” And it’s the water people’s fault.

P.S. I want to thank everyone who encouraged me on my revisions!! Writing is such a solitary pursuit that it’s great to have people cheering me on.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Screwing Up Time

This post is a little late, but it’s a holiday so I know you’ll cut me some slack. Plus, I’ve had a cold. Though it’s a lot better now.

When I first started blogging, I read that you shouldn’t post on what was going on with your novels in regards to agents, etc. But I love reading about how other writers are progressing toward publication, and I try to glean lessons from what they’re learning. Today I’ve decided that it’s time to give back.

I’m currently revising a young adult novel, Screwing Up Time. Here’s a summary of the novel: Mark Montgomery is a slacker content with his life and in a few months he’ll graduate and get a brand new sports car from his parents, assuming he stays out of trouble. Then, she comes into his life—Miranda with her I-just-escaped-from-a-Renaissance-Fair clothing. Only, she hasn’t. She’s come from the Middle Ages and demands two things. Although Mark has never even heard of either before, he must find them quickly, or Miranda will die. To save her, Mark must break into a psych hospital to visit his grandfather who once tried to kill him, pass through the colors of time, take on a medieval alchemist, prevent Miranda’s marriage to a two-timing baron, and keep it all hidden from his parents. The sports car is definitely in trouble.

Right now I have several interested agents.  I've completed an R&R (revise and resubmit—you revise the novel according to the agent’s recommendation and resubmit it) for one agent, and the agent has asked for a second R&R. I’m in the midst of this second R&R. I have to say R&Rs are crazy thrill rides all their own. I’m so close....but not quite there. Some days are discouraging, and my brain is mush. Other days are exhilarating as I mold the manuscript and see it getting better and better.

I hope to have this R&R done in another week or two. Then we’ll see what happens. That’s where I am. I’d love to hear where other writers are at. Especially anyone that’s done an R&R.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Five

I have been threatened with unspeakable horrors if I do not post a Friday Five today. So without further ado:

What are your five favorite prime numbers?
Just kidding, though I’m partial to 3, 7, and 13.
The real Friday Five: Who are your five favorite sidekicks?

1. Sam Gamgee (Frodo would have been totally dead without Sam.)

2. Riley (FYI, the most awesome character in Nat’l Treasure. He got all the good lines.)

3. Dr. Stephen Maturin (Lucky Jack’s sidekick. He’s an Irish doctor/spy who plays the cello!)

4. Dr. Watson (especially the Dr. Watson in Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes)

5. Hermione (Okay, she’s not Harry’s sidekick. But I had to include a woman. And I’d totally be her sidekick.)
Who are your favorite sidekicks?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Writers' Quotes

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.

 ~Hannah Arendt

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tie Hoarding

My husband Calvin recently got a new suit. When he tried it on for me, he was discussing which ties he should wear with the suit. Apparently, a new tie would be best, but he’d settle for one he already owned. I pointed out that he probably was unaware of how many ties he had that would match the suit because his ties were a jumble. I suggested there could be less tie chaos if he disposed of superfluous ties. Out of 31 ties, surely some were unnecessary.

We then discussed which ties were superfluous. He mentioned the neon blue tie. I agreed that it was extraneous (secretly hoping said tie could be tossed into the garbage). He said it was superfluous only because I hated it—he liked it. I told him it looked like a tie that would be worn in South Central Los Angeles. He said that gang members didn’t wear ties. Hmmm. That’s probably true. I changed the subject.

Next we came to the Jackson Pollock muted. Basically it’s a blackish tie with random splotches of gray and white. I said, “This one goes.” Cal said, “Absolutely.” I dropped the tie into the trash can next to his desk.

Cal said: Why did you do that?

Me: Because “it goes” into the trash.

Cal: I meant “it goes” with the suit, i.e. it matches.

Me, non-plussed: Oh, sorry. (I made no move to retrieve the tie.)

Cal retrieved it.

We ended up not getting rid of a single tie. Sigh. I think Cal’s a tie hoarder. I’ve only ever been able to get rid of three ties (in 22 years of marriage). One was a knit tie from the early eighties—scary. The other was a faux stained glass window tie (a gift) and the third tie was Christmas themed and had a button that when pushed would play “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” (Even Cal could see the wisdom in getting rid of that tie.) That’s three ties out of 34. I wonder if there’s twelve step program for tie hoarding...