Monday, October 31, 2011

Zombie Pandemic

I don’t get the whole zombie fascination. What is it about bloody semi-dead humans? I mean they’re not really scary—they seem incapable of rational thought. So even if there was a zombie apocalypse, it doesn’t seem like it would be too hard to defeat them. Of course, the whole undead-so-you-can’t-kill-them thing does make it a bit hard. But it seems to me that it wouldn’t be too hard to round them up a la the Pied Piper routine and take them out. I’m guessing that zombies are susceptible to RPGs. Once they are separated from their entrails, I’m guessing they’re a done deal. (That might be too gory, but I’ve got boys in the house so entrails are a hot topic.)

Jake and Matt are fascinated by zombies. Jake has made a zombie game, which is actually pretty fun since it’s a competitive/cooperative game and the only way you can survive the zombie onslaught is to work together. Matt draws murals on our big white board of the zombie apocalypse. Just when I thought my boys were getting too obsessed, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) put out a Preparedness 101 novella, Zombie Pandemic. Yep, find out how you too can survive the Zombie Pandemic. Click here. The art is pretty impressive. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bomb Threat

Yesterday, Luke called me from campus and said, “Uh, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but sirens are going off and students are being escorted out of Grote Hall.” It’s the end of midterms, and a midterm cycle can’t be complete without a bomb threat.

Aside from the very remote possibility of an actual bomb, the threat is a massive hassle. Grote Hall is the chemistry building, which explains why bomb threats are almost always centered at Grote. If I were a freshman, I’d want to get out of a chemistry exam too. But the threats play merry heck with our schedules. Luke is a full-time chemistry major with two jobs and research. Ariel is a full-time math student with a job. Jacob is a dual enrollment student taking Calc 2 lecture and lab. For everyone’s schedule to work together, it takes a spreadsheet and a careful car usage study. Thus, when everyone’s schedule gets whacked (they empty buildings one at a time, and some buildings not all, and no one knows which/when) and the parking lot is off-limits because the bomb dogs are sniffing the cars, it makes my spread sheet irrelevant.

I get phone calls. “Uh, could you pick me up?” I say, “Sure.” (I think, “Ack! I was editing—I’m not going to get this chapter done.”) “Where shall I pick you up?” Adult child, “They’ve closed the road. So I’ll try to get to the corner of X and Y streets.”  After I got to campus and passed the fire trucks, etc., and picked up said child. The child said, “I’m so glad to have a mom who can pick me up. Most students are sitting on the sidewalk, missing work. Thanks.” And then, I remember that editing isn’t the most important thing in my life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Books On Writing

I’m just getting over a bad cold. I spent yesterday evening going over edits with my husband as his second set of eyes (He’s been asked to write material for a website and heard back from his editor.) I’ve also been editing the first draft of the sequel to Screwing Up Time. And I’m up to my neck in winter clothes that need to be washed. So instead of writing a long post, I thought I’d do a list of books on creative writing. Please feel free to add your favorites—I love reading new books and discovering new ways of looking at the process.

Here are my favorites:

1. On Writing by Stephen King

2. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King

3. How to Write a Damn Good Novel 2 by James N. Frey

4. Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

5. The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

Two more notes of interest.

A big shout of “Congratulations!” to Lydia Kang on the sale of her novel The Fountain to Kathy Dawson at Dial/Penguin.

If you didn’t see it yesterday, check out the Internet Book Fair

Monday, October 24, 2011


I’m not a hoarder. My husband and I belong to the if-you-haven’t-used-it-in-six-months-give-it-to-Goodwill club. But I’m seriously considering setting aside an area in the basement for incandescent bulbs, which are being phased out by the government. I know compact fluorescent bulbs save lots of energy. But, setting aside the fact that I have mercury concerns, and that CF bulbs are really ugly, I don’t want them because they flicker and flickering lights give me migraines. Even watching a movie on the new TV with their LEDs, which have much less flicker, can give me migraines.

So I investigated CFBs. I’ve read reputable reports—not just scare websites. Some say “Technology has improved. The new CFBs won’t cause migraines.” Though I can’t find any research that supports this claim. But other websites, also reputable, say “danger: CFB may cause migraines.” A WebMD website recommends that people with flicker-induced migraines wear blue-green tinted glasses when they’re around CFB. Right. I can just see myself wearing Jackie O-type glasses with blue-green lenses. Everyone will look like Martians. On the other hand, they might give me the eccentric-writer look. And everyone knows that makes you more successful. And I could write by candlelight. Except...candles flicker too. Time to buy up those incandescent bulbs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Five

Top Five Ways You Know That Autumn Has Begun

1. The smell of burnt dust is in the air from all the heaters and fireplaces that have been turned on.

2. We’ve shivering and it’s only 60 degrees. (When it’s that temperature in the spring, we wear shorts.)

3. I have mountains of laundry—all the winter clothes that need to be washed and ironed before they can be worn.

4. I sweep multiple times a day. Jezebel’s winter coat is coming in so she’s shedding her summer fur.

5. You don’t need rose-colored glasses. Sunlight reflects off the fallen leaves and gives the world a pink glow.

I Love Autumn.

What about you all? How do you know it's autumn?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Good News

Two blog posts in one day?! That means I have some good news to share. This morning, we caught Walter! (If you've missed the Walter sage, click here and here.) He is even now being released into the wild to carry on his squirrely life.

It's kind of sad now that he's gone--hygienic, but sad. No longer will I hear the patter of his feet in the attic. Unless, of course, Wanda lives there too. I guess we'll find out.

Here are some photos of Walter. Note the intelligent eyes and beautifully bushy tail. Have a good life, Walter!

I'm a Realistic Cynic

I’ve always thought of myself as a positive individual. But Cal says that I’m a glass is half-empty kind of person. So I re-christened myself a “realist.” But with the latest election stuff swamping the newspapers, my response has been to misquote Bertie Wooster, “It all sounds well enough, but it doesn’t actually mean anything.” Which makes me a cynic. And I wondered, “Have I always been a cynic or did it crept up on me slowly?” Then, I remembered elementary school.

When I was in elementary school, the teachers would occasionally have days when they were sick of the kids. On those days, they’d herd us into the big multi-purpose room, plop us on the indoor/outdoor carpet, and turn on an educational movie. Usually, the girls all sat together and braided each other’s hair. I was never big into hair braiding—I’m not sure how the other girls made the braiding take two hours.

Normally, we watched some kind of Mutual of Omaha flick where a cheetah stalked and ate a gazelle—I think they got these movies to keep the boys quiet. After all, they didn’t spend the time braiding each other’s hair. (I found out later these episodes were staged!) But one day, we had something different. A kind of weird cultural oddities movie. My teacher must have been late to the library and they were out of mayhem movies. Anyway, one of the oddities was a house without a roof. I think the house was in Southern Egypt. The voiceover announced that the house was cool because it had no roof. The people who lived in the house didn’t need a roof because it hardly ever rained in this area of the world. This would be believable if people were actually living in the house and it hadn’t been abandoned. But no one lived there (except jackals) and there wasn’t a stick of furniture in the house. And judging from the sand and dirt, no one had lived there in quite some time. Maybe the reason they weren’t living there...was the lack of roof!?

Even if you lived somewhere without a lot of rain, it seemed to me that you’d still need a roof to protect you from the heat of the desert during the day. Not to mention the wild animals at night. Or the sand storms that plague desert areas. But apparently, those considerations weren’t vital. At least not to the producers of the educational film.

So to answer my own question...yeah, I was born a cynic.

BTW, if you’re interested, I posted on my book blog about the physical tools I use for editing. Click here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Walter Update

Today my chances of coming up with a creative post on something new and delightful are almost nil because I have post-migraine brain. Late Saturday night (i.e., early Sunday morning) a sort of neighbor called. She was upset about something. She didn’t want comfort or encouragement. She wanted to whine. Now if she were a friend, I’d have listened semi-patiently to her whine (even though it was the middle of the night). But I barely know this woman. If that wasn’t bad enough, she called back a second time to whine. It was the second call that gave me the prickle in my brain, which said, “Migraine.”

Anyway all that to say that today is a Walter update. (Click here if you don’t know/remember who Walter is.)  In the last Walter post, Cal had gotten a humane trap to put up in the attic for Walter. Ariel was very concerned because the trap had been in the attic for several days and she was worried that Walter was starving to death in the trap. Cal reminded her that we could still hear Walter playing in the attic so he wasn’t “caught.” But he went to check.

Getting into our attic is an athletic acheievment. There is no pull down ladder. Instead a wall in the pantry has a small “door in the wall.” You open the door, hoist yourself into opening, which doesn’t have a flat bottom but slopes toward the ceiling. Then you grab the ceiling rafters and pull yourself up. (This becomes important later on.)

So Cal went to check the trap. When we’d tried the humand trap the first time, we discovered that Walter had bumped the trap enough that the bait dish moved and he could pick it clean from outside the trap. This time, Cal wedged the trap so that Walter couldn’t bump it. (Yes, Walter has a very high IQ. We grow smart squirrels in Tennesssee.) Since Walter couldn’t bump the trap, he ignored it. The trap bait was untouched. So Cal moved the trap closer to Walter’s nest. Maybe the smell would overwhelm his squirrely wisdom.

When Cal was finished, he decided to leave the attic. Except there was a problem. Even though Cal told me that he was going into the attic, I forgot. In the meanwhile, I saw the open “door in the wall,” decided that one of the kids must have left it open (shame on them), and I shut it. And locked it. Fifteen minutes later, Cal was stuck in the netherworld of the attic chute. Eventually, I heard him kicking the door—he couldn’t reach it with his hands. He was very nice about it. He even smiled. But the smile was one of you-see-I’m-right-about-you and added weight to his You-clean-up-before-I-even-start complaint—I’ve been known to put his tools away before he starts a project. I’m very blessed in my choice of spouse. He even talked to crazed, whiney woman the second time she called. He was very nice, but I don’t think she’ll be calling to whine during the middle of the night any time soon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Week Of Relaxation

Last Friday I finished the first draft of the sequel to Screwing Up Time. This week was supposed to be my week of relaxation. Week of Relaxation. I may have said those words, but I didn’t really mean them. What I meant was “my week to catch up on all the things that I slacked off on when I was writing.” (See this post.)

So did I get the yard work done? No, I didn’t even get Round-up sprayed. Instead, precious child number three, Jake, had a midterm in Calculus 2 (he’s taking a dual enrollment class—college and high school credits at the same time). Now you’d think that child one, Luke, and child two, Ariel, who are fulltime students at the university would be able to squeeze Jake into their schedule and transport him to review sessions/office hours. You’d be wrong. Luke and Ariel have jobs with weird hours. I drove Jake back and forth, even one time when guess what—the prof wasn’t available. I just love those car trips with no purpose.

Did I get the ironing done? Sort of. I got a pile finished, but not the one I wanted. I wanted to get Cal’s winter dress pants/shirts out of storage, washed, and ironed. (Our old house has miniscule closets.) I didn’t even get the clothes out of the basement. Child four, Matt, was taking the PSAT this week and needed help with the bizarre writing section—I had to explain that “B” was the right answer because the clause was modifying the correct noun even though it broke a grammar rule. I hate defending bad writing.

Did I get the refrigerator cleaned and washed? No. (Though I did throw out the scary food.) Instead, I helped Ariel get information sent off for a summer internship. You’d think that getting a transcript would be easy. At UTC, she just walks into the records office and they print one up. At Chatt State, she had to submit a request form and wait up to TEN days. And they don’t allow you to call and ask if it’s ready. And you actually have to drive down to the campus to find out. Seriously. When it was finally done, we had to fax everything. Except the fax machine was down at the site Ariel had to fax it to. It was finally back up five minutes before Ariel and Jake had to leave for class—Jake had his midterm waiting. He was doing the “I’d better not be late to my midterm.” I was promising, “You won’t be late. You won’t be late.”

So I’m looking forward to next week and getting back to writing. I never get anything done when I’m “relaxing.” 

N.B. If you're interested in discovering which character you're most like in Screwing Up Time, click here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lying About Writing

My baby is taking the PSAT today. For those of you who aren’t Americans, PSAT stands for Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. Of course, he’s not really preliminary yet—that would be next year when he’s a junior. So this is a practice preliminary SAT. Which seems kind of redundant to me. But we take testing very seriously in the US. Though not as seriously as Europe.

Matt’s spent the last two weeks preparing for the PPSAT. (Not to be confused with the SSAT—secondary scholastic aptitude test, which is given to junior high students hoping to get into very academic high schools. Or at least it was when I was young.) Anyway, Matt was preparing by taking a PSAT prep writing quiz. He got an answer wrong and called me over.

Basically, he was supposed to read a sentence and then decide whether the sentence was correct as is, or if one of four other sentences presented the same information but in a better way. I read the sentence. I paused. What?? I re-read the sentence. I paused again. It was a piece of crap sentence with more clauses than Santa. Hmm. At least I knew it wasn’t “correct as is.” Then I read the four other sentences. Whoa. They were worse. Misplaced clauses. Weird verb issues. Parenthetical tripe.

Me: Uh, Matt, the right answer was “correct as is.”

Matt: But it doesn’t even make sense.

Me: It sort of does.

Matt: scowling and thinking “If I wrote that, you’d lecture me and make me rewrite it.”

Me: Okay, you’re right. The sentence is terrible, but it’s better than the other choices.

Matt: These tests are stupid.

Me: Yeah.

Part of me understands why they test the kids on these kinds of sentences. If you’ve ever read a college textbook, you know too. Academic writing isn’t too concerned with clean writing. (I know, I worked in the Academic Press division of Harcourt.) For example, Luke is taking Scientific Writing for Chemists this semester, and all he does is give Powerpoint lectures on really exciting stuff like Acid-Base Theory. I understand that they’re preparing him to be a professor or a researcher because unless he was forced, Luke would never learn to use Powerpoint. But maybe, writing classes should encourage clean writing. Crisp sentences communicate clearly. Stuffy, pedantic writing isn’t smarter. It’s just stuffy.

If they did that, then the PSAT could have examples of good writing. And Matt would be happy. And I wouldn’t have to explain why a terrible sentence was really not terrible. I hate lying.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Top Ten Reasons You Know Your First Draft is Done

On Friday I finished the first draft of my sequel to Screwing Up Time. (Confetti and cheers.) Though, of course, after I wrote the final word, I thought, “Oh, dear, maybe it’s not really done. Maybe my readers will be disappointed. Or, maybe I’ve written too much and over-gilded the lily.

I figured that other writers must have the same problem. And while I can’t read your manuscript and tell you if it’s done, I think there are outside factors that may strongly indicate when a first draft is complete. So I’ve come up with a checklist.

 “How to Know When Your First Draft is Complete.”

1. Your beautiful flower garden is now being considered for a filming of Tarzan.

2. Your pile of ironing has collected dust.

3. You look in the mirror and discover your eyebrows resemble hedgerows—and the eighties look is not in. (Why can’t that come back?)

4. You’ve emailed your latest WIP (work-in-progress) to yourself, at least two hundred times—after all, you never know when your computer will die.  (BTW, in the old days, writers used to store hard copies in the freezer.)

5. The printed letters on your computer keyboard have worn off. My space bar is actually “grooved.”

6. When your children need you, they IM you.

7. You are adept at writing while cooking, which explains the spaghetti sauce smears across the laptop screen.

8. Your dog throws her water bowl into your lap.

9. Your refrigerator has Tupperware cartons of leftovers that are unrecognizable and move under their own power.

10. Your husband bites your neck and complains that he’s a book widower.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Borrowing Library E-books

Very cool, exciting tech news for me. I borrowed an e-book from the library while wearing my jammies and eating breakfast! 

I’ve been waiting since December when I got my Kindle, hoping that libraries and Amazon could reach an agreement. They finally did. I don’t know how many books are currently available. But the book I looked for, which is a new release, was lendable through the library. Interestingly, my library had the hardback version of the book and I could have borrowed it, but they charge a fee for new releases and they don’t for e-books. Yay!

It was pretty easy to download—of course, tech-daughter has already done it so she said, “Click there, click here, click that. Now turn on your Kindle so it can download the book.” VoilĂ . Now I have the latest Daniel Silva book to read while I run the treadmill this afternoon.

A brave new reader’s world. No more driving to the library, trying to remember which days they are open. No more overdue fees. I’m loving it.

As for Walter the squirrel, someone gave us a humane trap (Thanks, Ken) so we're going to try catching him again. In the meantime, Walter has been a busy boy. Here he is attending a Cardinals game this week. Click here to take you to MLB and watch the video.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Squirrel in the Attic

We have a new pet. Okay, not really a “pet” per se. Pets are cute, cuddly, and you actually want them. This creature, who I’ll call Walter (after the uber-bizarre character on Fringe, which I sometimes watch because I love my son though I despise the show.) lives in the attic.

Walter is a squirrel. We know Walter lives up there because we’ve seen his beady eye balls glowing red in the flashlight beams. We would LOVE to get rid of Walter because he’s a danger to our house. Imagine chewing through electrical wire—my hope is the power would short before the cellulose insulation caught fire.

The big problem is we can’t figure out how Walter gets into the attic. We’ve walked the outside of the house looking for gaps. Nothing. The attic vents are secure. (When Cal was in grad school, he worked for a pest control company doing this sort of thing. But Walter is good and sneaky.) So Walter still lives in the attic and presumably gets out to gather food.

One day, we decided to track Walter in the attic. That idea had one great flaw—Walter is nimble as a squirrel and we are not. Other flaws: Our attic is huge so even finding Walter is a chore. Our attic has no lighting so you have to hold a flashlight in your mouth as you grab beams. Our attic has no flooring so would-be squirrel trackers must hop from rafter to rafter, hoping to avoid falling through the ceiling and hitting the wooden flooring after a 12 foot drop. Let’s just say that my college ballet instructor would be pleased at my leaps, balance and pirouettes. And before you get the false impression that I was actually a good squirrel tracker, let me explain that I ended up sitting on a beam while Calvin “danced” around the attic, chasing Walter.

In spite of Cal’s dancing prowess, Walter outsmarted us. And we’ve given up, at least for now. When Cal and I lay in bed at night, we listen to Walter jump around the attic—squirrel partytime. And I feel proud of Walter, which is kind of pathetic. But then I have an odd sense of humor and think that Allstate’s raccoon commercial is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time, especially because it reminds me of Walter.

Here's the raccoon commercial. Enjoy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Parakeet vs. Canada Goose

I have a lot of respect for birds (except for the ones that nest in our attic vents and break the venting mesh). And I have a special place in my heart for the monk parakeets of Connecticut. Though their beginnings are a bit sketchy—some say they’re from a PT Barnum show, and others say they’re from an overturned exotic pet truck. In either case, these green and white parakeets got free in CT. Everyone assumed that a New England winter would kill them off. It didn’t. The parakeets build their nests around the transformers on high power lines—lots of warmth. The problem is their nests can cause fires and power outages. So the power companies are fighting the birds. (I’m rooting for the birds.)

But I don’t respect Canada geese. They plop their big feathered rears right in the middle of the road. I’ve been known to honk and yell. They just stare me down with their black-ringed eyes. Daring me to hit them. Which I haven’t, though the thought has occurred to me.

The other day I was driving home from WalMart when a flock of them were coming in for a landing at a fake pond. Now this pond is very small and the flock was big. And they were coming in too fast, their angle was all wrong, and they were wingtip to wingtip. And I waited for the fiasco. At the last second, the big flock all baffled their wings at the exact same second and settled their derrieres perfectly on the pond, whose surface was now solid Canada goose. And, of course, they gave me their standard I’m-so-superior-to-you Canada goose stares. I smiled. TouchĂ©.

I just hope they continue their journey south—maybe they could go to Brazil or Peru. I’m sure there’s a WalMart pond there somewhere. Though maybe the parakeets will fight them for space. I’d love to see that.