Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter Wonderland release

Winter Wonderland Cover WG2E just released its first all-for-indies anthology, the Winter Wonderland Edition! I'm in it! My short story, a cozy mystery, features Jade O'Reilly, a private investigator on the search for a missing vase. The anthology is comprised of short stories of different genres, so I'm really looking forward to reading the other stories and seeing their takes on the Winter Wonderland theme, which ties all the stories together.
Thanks, WG2E, for including me in this book!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Organizing the household clutter

I’ve got the itch: the itch to organize! I’m working through our house, one room at a time, and organizing absolutely everything: drawers, tabletops, bins, closets! 

academic,closets,clothes,coat closets,coats,gymnasiums,locker rooms,shoes
Photo by
At least every year (and more frequently the older I get) the chaos drives me wild and I feel driven to organize! With a husband and two young sons, the stuff in our house quite frequently becomes out of sorts. Toys migrate from one room into another; kitchen utensils and lunch containers get shuffled; papers pile up in scrap piles scattered around the house. For a while, the buildup goes untouched. And then I snap and I feel like I must make my house once again look like a house!

When I was a girl, a couple times a year my mother would enter my bedroom (after she admonished me to clean it first) and, finding my bedroom clutter still unacceptable, would sweep everything off crowded dresser tops and dump everything out of jumbled drawers into one huge pile in the middle of my floor. She’d then leave me to put the mess away – this time where it belonged. Afterward, having rediscovered toys I’d forgotten and folded clothes neatly, I felt much more relaxed than before.

I get the same sense of peace after organizing the house now. Closets where miscellaneous bags and cleaning supplies and books have been dumped now are so neat I can actually find what I’m looking for! Clothes that no longer fit are donated or put away for a sale, leaving more space than before. Of course, within a few months, that space will be claimed once more by the clutter that inevitably seems to accumulate. But for the moment, I can release a sign of contentment!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Yes, I’m reading it again.

"You’re reading that?” My husband asks, pointing at the novel I’ve read, and read, and read, over and over. “You’re reading that again?!"

Yes, I’m reading it again! And so what if he’s seen me more times than he can count in the course of our decade-long marriage holding that particular book. Of course I’m reading it again! See, he just doesn’t get it. (And sometimes I don’t, either.) But I have a handful of novels that I come to again and again. They’re not necessarily in the genre I write. But I love them. And sometimes I read them for inspiration, and sometimes I read them for writing instruction, and sometimes I read them for plain old pleasure. If I don’t have a new and exciting (and shiny) library novel to read… or if I don’t have some cable television episodes to catch up on while exercising… I’ll shimmy out one of my broken-spined novels from my bookshelf and read it… again!

(Just to name two books I’m not ashamed to admit I come back to time and time again: When Crickets Cry and Prayer for Owen Meany.)

But right now I am reading a novel (checked out from the library) on my Kindle! Admittedly, I've read it before. Some books are so delightful, they demand multiple readings. 

Which novels do you find yourself reading again and again? What do you think brings you back to these books?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Branding passed down through generations

At a recent MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) meeting, an interesting topic came up: how mothers often parent as their own mothers/parents did…. Not just in parenting styles but in brand choices also. 

This question was raised: Are there any brands of items your mother used that you persist in using, also? Even if another brand might be better or cheaper?

Yes, I realized, much to my amazement! I insist on buying Bounty paper towels and Cascade dishwashing powder and Tide powder for laundry! (Gel caps and liquid detergent - do they work? I wouldn't know! Why haven't I ever tried them?) And of course for holiday family recipes, I find myself looking for the exact labels my mother used, trying to recreate the precise taste of the dishes she made, which I so love (but this practice is hopeless for me as my cooking falls to pieces). 

I also find I stockpile toilet paper like my mother, and save other items, such as wrapping tissue and plastic bags! And of course, in the more traditional sense, I also find myself parenting like my mother, or trying to, as I very much respect her as a mom… but how ironic that in addition to her behaviors, I’ve also picked up her choice in brands!

You know what they say: if it works...

Monday, December 12, 2011

How I’ve been writing lately

Recently, it seems like my writing process falls into the same pattern: an idea strikes, I do some planning, I zip through a completely horrendous first draft, I revise (and revise, revise, revise), and then I edit.

My writing hasn’t always gone this way. During my occupancy at the MFA program a little more than a decade ago, I wrote more haphazardly. I’d get an idea, write a scene or two, and then I’d let the story or characters tell me where we were going. Or I’d go back and make that first scene or two really pretty.

Nowadays (what a fun word), as I’m writing that first draft, it’s so completely awful that I shut my screen if somebody (like my husband) passes nearby. Sometimes I’m groaning out loud as I leave out character descriptions, script out dialogue so clunky it has square wheels, and write in stage directions for me to flesh out later (“Character really mad here.”).

It’s not pretty, and it’s not fun, writing that first draft. But the enjoyment for me comes in the revising process: making the writing work, getting that dialogue spinning, finding the right descriptions.

I’m shifting between that first draft and the revising process today, having just completed the final scene of a project. I’m going from being a house painter to painting on canvas: switching from sloppy broad strokes to detail work, work that will get the picture right. Let the fun begin!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Making things pretty

I’ll admit to having certain talents. Making things pretty just ain't one of them.  Things I’d like to make pretty range from table settings to a room’s decor.

Take for instance the snack table at my Monday-morning Bible study. Every week, it’s another lady’s (or group of ladies’) turn to bring snacks for the other women in the Bible study. If left to my own devices, I’d have brought a box of donuts and some of the white paper plates I’ve stored beneath my kitchen table for such occaions. Have at it, ladies! Dig in! That’s my idea of a nice morning snack: simple, store-purchased (so I know it’s edible), cheap, and with easy clean-up. 

Well, this go-round, a sweet woman signed up with me. She’s one of those ladies that has a knack for making things pretty. She set me straight: I was instructed to bring (store-prepared) mini-muffins and sliced cantaloupe.  By the time I’d gotten to the study, she’d decked the table with not just one but two tablecloths, a centerpiece that matched the season, the table cloths, and the plates and napkins. She'd set out her homemade bread (two loaves), a bowl of chocolates, a bowl of gummy bears, and not just one but two pitchers of ice water. Man! The spread looked fantastic. Then she took my muffins out of the plastic grocery-store bin and placed them on another dish (that matched the tablecloth, etc.) and scooped out my cantaloupe, also. I’d also saved an unopened orange juice from a previous Bible study, so that was placed on the table as well. Voilà! Our table was beyond beautiful. It was like a color-coordinated cornucopia of good eating!

This woman made it all look so easy and fun. I don’t know why I can’t replicate her efforts and turn a plain fold-up table into a feast not just for the stomach, but also for the eyes. I have the feeling it’s the same way with my house décor. I like it, it feels cozy and fine… but in another woman’s hands, I’m certain it could be so much more fabulous.

Sometimes I think I’m just not gifted with the decorating skill. Or maybe I just never cultivated it (as a child I was too busy climbing trees and playing with the boys, Barbies, and my imaginary unicorn Pegasus, Sprite). For now, I’ve given up trying to make things look pretty. And that’s okay by me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Observations: from the real world to the written page

Writers often are told to observe their surroundings, to follow people, to watch and study… and write it down. What’s that person’s story? Where is that woman going? Where has that man been? Why are her eyes red? How did he get that scar?

Recently, I found myself at a birthday party for the friend of one of my sons. While watching him play and eat cake, I met some parents I’d not seen before… and gathered some fascinating material for stories… not material about the people themselves, but odd facts they’d gathered. For instance, I overheard one father talking about insects’ imperviousness to drowning. Apparently, try to drown a fly, keep it under water for an hour, and the insect will appear dead, but actually its metabolism just shuts down and the bug, after drying out, will fly away. Fascinating. Also, did you know red-tailed hawks can fly faster than 200 mph and form a spiral shape while diving? Great topics for a young boy’s birthday party, right?

Nonetheless, the conversations are tucked away, perhaps fodder for inclusion in future stories. I would never had guessed I’d get writing ideas at a birthday party. But that’s one wonderful aspect of life and writing: surprises and revelations can appear when you least expect them.

Also... Walmart. I was there the other day and saw a character. A woman with a florescent pink stripe in her hair, which perfectly matched her shit, riding a scooter-cart: I couldn't imagine it better! Of course, if I looked in the mirror right now, I'd also see a character! Grubby, nubby green hoodie, bell bottom jeans that don't quite fit, bags beneath my eyes... and a smile on my face!

By the way, my book signing at  NoFo last weekend was fabulous! Friends dropped by to say hello, I got to chat with my publisher over a delicious NoFo brunch with the sweetest, freshest fruit... and books were sold!

NoFo has some fantastic Christmas merchandise... and (ahem) books... for sale!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Yippie-Yae! I’m doing a Kindle dance!

Oh yeah, that’s right! For my birthday, my in-laws gave me a Kindle! I love it so much I nicknamed it “Wubbie” after, you know, “lovie,” since the word appeared in the first book I read on the Kindle (the day after receiving it). I told my husband that all I needed now was a pouch so I could carry it around my neck like rappers wear bling necklaces. 

And to think my in-laws were worried I wouldn’t like it! (I did ask for it, though, so perhaps they worried I wouldn’t like the particular version they chose.) No! I don’t like it – I LOVE it! So many books at my fingertips… and now no one knows what I’m reading… it could just be a YA sci-fi/fantasy novel for all anyone would know! SSssshhh! Or it could be D. D. Scott's Bootcootin' Blahniks. Wouldn't you like to know? 

Now I just have to watch myself so I don’t get into trouble downloading too many books for $$$. Our library has books on Kindle, but not a couple of the ones I was searching for. And I’ll also have to watch myself to make sure I’m not giving up writing time to devote myself to my own special Wubbie. 

Today, a week after getting it, I had to recharge it. The batteries were low. Guess I'm using it just a little.

Oh, I’m so happy; I’m doing a Kindle dance! 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book signing at NoFo this Saturday

So now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time for Christmas shopping! If you’re local to the Raleigh, NC/Wake County area, one great place to pick up unique gifts (that are affordable, too) is at NoFo in Raleigh. If you happen to drop by on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., please stop by and say hello to me. I’ll be doing a book signing and simply would enjoy having company. I’d love to chat. And if you want to buy a book, my publisher will have a few for sale. I’d be more than happy to sign them. Or, if you want to buy a friend for life, purchase one of NoFo’s truffles (I like the whiskey one) and share it with me. (I’ll be your friend. Promise.)

What is NoFo? Well… it’s hard to explain. It’s a down-home yet trendy place. (Now how many places can you say that about: down-home and trendy?) The store is eclectic and yet grounded. It’s just a fun place to be. Visit and you’ll see why I’m struggling in trying to put NoFo into words. The bottom floor is a restaurant that serves the most delicious foods. I personally love their black-eyed peas. It’s a dish that normally doesn’t interest me, but the store was handing out free samples. I tried one and felt like going back for another free sample and then another… but it was the end of the day, and they were going to sell what remained. Oh well. And the upstairs of NoFo offers tons of NC merchandise for sale (including my novel). From clothing like scarves and tutus to children’s handcrafted toys to kitchen and bath stuff to antiques - I could find a gift at NoFo for everyone in my family! It’s a dangerous place; food+shopping+fun=NoFo!

So, I’d love to see you this Saturday, Dec. 3, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at NoFo in Raleigh… especially if you are bringing a truffle to share with me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fiction writing things I’m thankful for

1. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, which tells me not to use “things” or end a phrase with a preposition (like the heading of this blog entry)!
2. My publisher, Peak City Publishing, and my editor, Kerry Holjes, who rocks and is unafraid of telling the truth about em dashes, colons, commas, and so much more.
3. WG2E, and their inclusion of me in their Winter Wonderland anthology. WG2E is a group of indie writers, with a great blog that’s updated all the time with informative posts about being an indie writer. The Winter Wonderland anthology will be my first baby step in indie publishing! Thanks for giving me a chance and offering this incredible opportunity, gals!
4. All the stores that are selling my book, including: All Booked Up, NoFo at the Pig, Quail Ridge Books and Pelican Bookstore at Sunset Beach.
5. My library and the librarians who make my library such an amazing place. Wake County Public Libraries rock! Thanks, Sue!
6. Presents: this year, I’m hoping to get my very own Kindle! Thanks, parents-in-laws! What a lucky gal I am!
7. Laptop computers. Right now, I’m writing this blog entry in the back of my vehicle!
8. Caffeine, be it in the form of coffee, hot cocoa, Coca Cola Classic Zero, Diet Dr. Pepper, chocolate candy…
9. Writing buddies, including those at the Apex Literary Guild
10. Stephen King’s On Writing: one great read. Its title is self-explanatory.
11. The internet: for research, for education… not thankful for how easy it makes procrastinating writing!
12. Free editors/readers of draft manuscripts: My mom, and Naomi, to name two. I’m thankful for my husband’s editing, but lately he’s been a bit slack. (Step it up, sweetcakes!)
13. Always, my readers.

I think I could go on and on here, but with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I need to go cook something! If you hear sirens, they could very well be coming from emergency responders racing to my kitchen to extinguish the fumes! Watch out!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Christmas card time… again?!

I opened my email the other day and received a message telling me it’s time to prepare photo greeting cards for Christmas... again! (Can you hear me groan?) As much as getting my act – I mean my family photo - together and addressing envelopes can be a pain, I always enjoy receiving Christmas cards from friends, especially when the card includes a photo. So in order to keep those cards coming, I’ve got to keep my cards going out!
I do it the easy way, through a photo center, digitally. My mom, on the other hand, takes it to the next level.

Instead of sticking in a photo into the pre-fabricated card design with the pre-penned standard greeting on it and printing a couple dozen, she cuts out real photos (at least five photos), glues them to a sheet of paper, pens in captions and greetings, and photo copies the pages. Sometimes, she even writes a page-long summation of family activities throughout the past year. And then she personalizes the cards with a message before inserting them in envelopes. The cards are fun to look at and read… but I sometimes wonder if this is merely because I’m a featured family member.

One year (more than a decade ago) I tried the lengthy summation ala Mom… and later I felt like I’d written something akin to one of the short stories that appears in Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice. Um, yikes. So I’m sticking with the photo-card, and maybe I’ll write a personalized one-liner on the back.

Would you like to get a card? Forward me your address! But you’ve got to promise to send me a card back… or else I’ll take you off the nice list!

Monday, November 14, 2011

To MFA or not to MFA

You want to be a writer. Should you go to school for it? Can someone be taught to be a good writer?

Rather than answer that question directly, let me tell you a little about my experience. I’m a graduate of an MFA program in creative writing. When I entered the program, I’d just finished a degree in English, and I knew I wanted to be a writer. I thought the MFA program would help me to do that – and three years of submerging myself (to a lesser or greater degree) in a community of writers undoubtedly was beneficial. I thought by the end of those three years, I’d have a publishable-quality manuscript. (I did not. I had a novel-length manuscript, but it stunk. And that was my own fault.)

See, I think what I needed was maturity and life experience, neither of which any school program could provide. And I also needed to learn about what makes writing worth reading.

The MFA program helped me see what worked and didn’t work in writing, and ultimately I believe through the program I became a better writer. But sometimes I wonder, if I instead had just joined and participated in a good writing group, if I wouldn’t have gotten much the same benefit.

Sometimes I wonder, what if I’d majored in something entirely different – like marine biology or physics? Surely the knowledge of a field other than writing might help me write about something; I’d be able to pull information from that field rather than conducting extensive research into something I’m not familiar with. Or what if I'd joined the Peace Corps? Then, in addition to having something to write about and some real life experiences, some good also would have been accomplished. Back to the MFA topic...

Instead of taking out loans to pay for college expenses, as professors encouraged us students to do (enabling us to fully immerse ourselves in writing), I also worked full time during my graduate experience. So perhaps I didn’t allow myself the true MFA experience of abandoning everything and devoting all to the writing craft.

Regardless of my time in the MFA program (and afterward), the desire to write has never left me. It’s always been there. So after graduate school, I continued writing, sometimes haphazardly while also enjoying marriage and different employments, gathering that much-needed maturity and life experience (both of which I still am gathering). And I also read a lot, and learned more about what makes writing worth reading to me. 

Finally, after years and years of writing and reading, and a re-dedication to the craft, my first novel was released.

If you want to be a writer and are considering an MFA program, great. Enjoy it as much as possible. But also remember, the more you write and the more life you experience, the better your writing is going to be.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My grandma is not my grandma

It seems like, suddenly, my grandma lost her mind. I suppose I saw it coming. She’d forget words, she’d forget the name of my spouse. But she also drank a lot of wine, so lapses in finding words had always been fairly common, though recently there had been an uptick. And then, it seems like from one month to the next, she really lost her mind. Just recently, she was placed in a memory care unit at her assisted living home. And now, when I call, she’s begging me to get her out of there.

It’s a weird feeling, to have your grandmother pleading with you to take her anywhere – anywhere but there. “I want to live,” she says. “Just get me out of here. I can take care of myself. I want to live. This? This is not living. I want to live!”

But she can’t survive on her own. And she lives on the other side of the country. I try to explain she needs to be with people who can take care of her, that she needs that care, but the pleading continues. I wish I could do something, but other than sending her cards and calling and praying for her, there’s nothing I can do. So I told her I’d do everything I could for her.

“Which means nothing,” she says, meaning she won’t be getting out of there, which to me sounds like grandma isn’t too far gone to get that fact correct. Though I believe in the power of prayer, I’m not praying to get her out of that place; I’m praying for her peace and clarity of mind. “I’ll remember what you said,” she says. “That you wouldn’t help me. I’ll remember that, even if I die.”

It’s heartbreaking. I wish I could somehow soothe her. But I can’t. But I do take solace in remembering our last good conversation, before she was placed in memory care, not too long ago. She acknowledged that she wasn’t remembering things like she used to. I tried to tell her that it was normal, that I forgot things all the time, too. And she then told me that I was a good mom, and that she loved me, no matter what. "Remember I love you," she'd said.

So now, with her pleading on the phone and becoming angry at my lack of response to her begging, with her hanging up on me without telling me she loves me back, I’ve got to remember that my grandma is not my grandma. It’s so rotten: such a wonderful woman, once so full of cheer and laughter and light, living the end of her life in memory care.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A week of solitude: YES!

My husband is going to be out of town for five straight nights! I’m getting excited!

On one hand, I’m truly going to miss him, for his company and presence, and for all the work he does around the house – parenting help, cleaning dishes and cooking – and the house does seem so quiet and (sometimes) eerily empty when he isn’t sleeping next to me at night. 

On the other hand, I can’t wait for him to leave! I get all this time to myself. It’s going to be me and my computer! The plans I’ve made involving 100% devotion to my writing after my children’s 7:30 bedtime! I’m going to whip my short story for the WG2E January Winter Wonderland e-book anthology into shape! And then, if all goes as planned, I’ll move on to working on developing characters for the other project I’m beginning! As my brother would say, it’s going to be ka-blam!

When my husband is around, he does give me time to write. He’ll sit in front of the television at night, and I’ll be in the other room, writing. But something about writing alone, without a nearby presence, really gets the gears whirring. Something about being alone, in a completely quiet house, is special and more conducive to writing.

(I wrote the above before my husband went out of town. The following is what happened while he was gone.)

I burned up the pages! Yes! Sometimes it's easy for me to write, and sometimes the writing simply doesn't flow, but for that five-night absence, I accomplished what I needed to: getting together a solid short story for the WG2E anthology.

Since my hubby came home, I've not written a stitch! (But that's going to change today.) I'd missed him and wanted to spend time with him Saturday night... and then yesterday, I was just plain being lazy. I blame it on being brain-fried from all the great writing I did when he was gone. ;) Excuses, excuses: excuses that will end as soon as I put my 2YO down for a nap!

Happy writing, all!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jogging: peace, ideas… and exercise

I love jogging! As I write, I’m enjoying endorphins from a four-miler. When I jog, I’m free: no children I’m watching, no emails asking to be read, no obligations other than placing one foot in front of the other.

I notice details I wouldn’t have picked up driving by: the soft tuft of white of cottontail darting into shrubbery, the fragrance of gardenias, the stink of the port-a-potties, the relaxing soul music issuing from a parked SUV. My jogs are peaceful times when my mind can wander. Sometimes on my jogs, writing problems are solved or decisions are made. And sometimes my jog is just a matter of survival: making it over that next hill, through the heat or cold, back to my driveway. I’m a busy person, as most people are. But when I jog, I’m jogging, and there’s something about that purity of focus I enjoy.

How about you? Are you a jogger? Or do you, like my husband, think I’m crazy for loving running?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Editing drudgery

Corny as it is, one of my first readers is always my mom. Having her for a reader of a first draft is beneficial to me in a multitude of ways:

1. She’s free.
2. She catches big things: holes in the story, plausibility problems… you know what I’m talking about.
3. She catches little things: when I change a character’s name a couple different times accidentally, for instance.
4. She’s honest. My mom tells it as it is, and then some! I can always expect her to give her true opinion, no matter how painful it is, usually in a constructive manner.
5. She’s fast. Once she begins editing, she doesn’t stop!
6. Did I mention she she’s free? She doesn’t charge me a reading fee or expect services in return.

But let me tell you about the editing drudgery I’m in right now, thanks in part to my wonderful mother! I had finished a lengthy novel draft. My mom had read it through once, along with a couple other folks. I had made changes, and I let my mom have another whack at it. Some significant changes were made, and, after all, her second whack was for free. And whack away she did!

This time, her edits weren’t quite so constructive. In dialogue, she wanted me to say who is speaking exponentially more than I wished to write in. She wanted me to change “said” to “shouted,” “bellowed,” and other superfluous words, which, by my descriptions, should be obvious. She wants me to say what people are thinking, even when it breaks POV or when this should (again) be obvious based on descriptions. Perhaps I’ve already written that my character is stomping around the room. My mother wants me to say, in addition, that the character “felt so angry because…”  But here’s my problem. Along with a bunch of edits I don’t agree with are nuggets of 100% pure gold useful edits: again, I’ve messed up a couple character names. In some places, I really do need to divulge more information about what a character is doing in order for readers to understand the scene. 

So on every single page, with the exception of a few, I’ve got multiple edits written in cursive to sift through, separating wheat from chaff. Argh! Not fun. Not fun at all!

My mom has offered (more like demanded) to go at the draft for a third round. I told her, “Mom, you give great edits, but I don’t think so. Not a third time. That’s why I have an editor.” (As in real, paid editor.) My mom wasn’t happy at my polite refusal. But hopefully soon I’ll have another first draft for her to whack away at. And I'll open myself again to more editing drudgery.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween fun: rabid bunny attacks older bro

 Mom that I am, I just had to share these photos. They’re of my two boys, and the youngest is wearing a costume my mother herself sewed for me when I was age two… and saved for this very occasion (my child’s 2YO Halloween). It’s a very scary bunny costume with carpet-thick gray fur and huge bunny ears and a cotton tail wedgie. If not for the ears and cotton tail, my boy could pass for a rat. Of course, I find the costume and my son humorously adorable, as does his older bro, despite how the photo on the left may appear! Who wouldn’t want to wrestle a bunny-rat for Halloween?

Halloween in my NC neighborhood consists of massive amounts of children (and adults) completing a circuit of tightly spaced houses. With so many children, the streets practically shut down. It’s a huge party, with some houses partnering together; parents sit around an outdoor fire pit and let kids pick candy from a centralized bucket. At my house, we always run out of candy (because I’m not shelling out a whole bunch of money to buy candy I won’t be eating myself and because I’m saving some of that candy for myself for later)!

I’m half looking forward to and half dreading this Halloween. I’m thinking that I'll be enjoying the kids dressed up… but walking around both with a 6YO who wants to run the mile circuit and get all the candy AND with a 2YO who can be sluggish and will not want to run around all night… that will be the challenge!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Making time to write, a.k.a. getting back on track

I've been a bad, bad writer lately. What’s the number one thing you want to do if you want to be a writer? Write, of course! And lately… lately, I haven’t been writing. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. I just keep making excuses. At the end of the day, it's “I’m too tired,” or “I want to spend time with my husband.” Two hours and a couple episodes of Pawn Stars later, 0 pages have been written and it’s bedtime. During my son’s naptime it’s “I’m so tired I want to take a nap, too,” or “I’ve got some newspaper writing I need to attend to first.”

Well, to be a writer, you’ve got to write. And instead of sitting down and dedicating myself to it… I’ve been making pitiful excuses. I’m between projects, wrapping up the sequel to Storm Surge and getting started on a new novel. And working on a short story, too. (Is this another excuse I’m spinning?) So I’ve been planning and brainstorming and getting background character ideas circulating. And in terms of written pages? Um, not so much.

But every day is a new day, and every week is a new week. And so here I go again, making a resolution again, to – no matter how tired I am – to sit in front of that computer screen and put one word in front of the next! I’ll let you know how it goes…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gone camping!

Sorry, but I won't be posting this week... My family has gone camping!

We try to go every fall. This year, we chose Stone Mountain State Park. We had a blast, hiking about 5 miles and taking in mountain heights and a 200-foot waterfall over smooth rock. My husband's favorite site was an old farmstead. I liked the mountain tops. My six-year-old liked the fire. The two-year-old? Hard to tell. He said he liked drinking the water.

So now that we're back and (almost) unpacked, I need to catch up on my writing!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cooking styles, revelations

There are too many cooks in my kitchen!

My husband is by far the primary chef in our family. Although I probably put together the most meals out of necessity, my husband is the creative cooker who tries new recipes. Like just this weekend, he made eggplant parmesan! I loved it; he did not. Last night? Baked chicken with corn and sticky rice.

We approach cooking in two different ways. I fling ingredients together, guessing how much butter I add to macaroni, tipping the salt shaker into the bowl, eyeballing measurements. Conversely, my husband methodically measures everything and patiently waits for the water to come to a full boil before adding the pasta. Usually, my canned vegetables boil before I take them off the burner. I mean, isn't that how you know the dish is done: when the pot boils over?

Naturally, my husband's dishes taste much better.

And, if we’re trying to cook different parts of the same meal at the same time, we argue. He’ll try to turn down the burner because, as always, I’m cooking too fast. I’ll tap my fingers irritably as I wait for him to finish painstakingly measuring some ingredient before moving away from the counter I’d claimed first.

Sometimes I wonder what our cooking styles say about ourselves, our more general personalities. Between my husband and myself, our cooking styles do seem like a microcosm of our wholes. But that's a good thing: he's great at research; I'm great at on-the-fly ideas. Together we're rounded!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What’s a nice girl like you doing writing that genre? Part B

I’m not so nice. Don’t let the laugh lines fool you.

I’ve read other writers’ takes on this question. Some say that mysteries boil down to a battle between good and evil – that’s what attracts the writer to the genre. I can go along with that; sure I’m interested in that struggle. But the underlying question I ask myself remains: why write about something so dark as murder? Couldn’t the stakes be less drastic?

I really don’t know why I write what I write. It’s just what I feel compelled to write. When some acquaintances were (as we say here in the South) fixing to buy my novel, they asked me if my novel had any vampires or werewolves (to make sure it didn’t). And though my first novel doesn’t include supernatural or fantasy elements, the stigma bothered me.

Sure, some people don’t like fantasy. I totally understand that. But what would be wrong with me choosing to write a novel with such supernatural figures in it… or witches, for instance? I’m a Christian, so I do have certain beliefs about witches, and I don’t want to encourage any real-world witch worship. But if it’s not okay for me to write about imaginary witches in an imaginary world, or vampires, how can it be okay for me to write about murder, or anything un-Godly? Where do you draw that line?

I struggle with this topic. And as a Christian, I realize that my cozy murder mystery novel is trite in the grand scheme of eternity. My novel won’t stick; it’s flotsam; it’s entertainment. And also as a Christian, I realize that I’m not so nice, anyway. Not that I’m giving up the fight to be nice. But it’s always going to be a lifelong struggle... and I don't always win.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Consignment sale madness

When I was a new mom, I had no idea about consignment sales, and so I purchased (and was given) a ton of baby toys and supplies that were new (from a store!) and encased in shiny plastic. Then I learned about how many huge consignment sales are held in my county. 

I remember my first time walking in the doors of a huge warehouse filled with more baby and child clothing, toys, and equipment than I'd ever seen in one place before. I quickly learned I could purchase an entire season of like-new baby clothing for $40. 

So now I’m wiser. I find clothes that cost a fraction of the retail price. And I sell my children’s old clothes and equipment at these sales. Goodbye shiny plastic; hello money saved! My objective is to spend less buying new stuff than I rake in with my own sales. (I’m still struggling to master this concept!)

This weekend, I spent my time finishing applying tags to clothing and toys and rushed through what could have become a tearful goodbye to the best piece of baby equipment I ever owned: a pack-n-play. This miracle of inventive ingenuity folds up to fit in a compact container for carrying on the road. The pack-n-play was a bassinet, a changing table, a play pen, a toddler bed – and my ticket to five minutes of almost worry-free hot showering in the morning. (The kiddo was penned up and on his own while I enjoyed a few minutes of wake-up time.) As sentimental as I am saying goodbye to the pack-n-play, my children also are emotional about me selling toys they no longer play with. To confused cries of “Mine!” I packed away a toy house my youngest son used to enjoy but now seldom glances at.

Exciting and emotional times: getting rid of the old, unused equipment and finding steals on “new” needed clothing in bigger sizes.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What’s a nice girl like you doing writing that genre? Part A

In more or less words, I’ve been asked the question at most book signings I’ve been to. And basically, it boils down to plot. I’ve been writing book-length manuscripts since I was a teenager. Storm Surge was my fifth… but only the first of publishable quality. After four manuscripts, I realized that my writing lacked forward momentum. And as I remember being told during my schooling, if you as a writer are bored reading what you’ve written, you’re guaranteed that any reader will be bored, also. (This is one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my MFA program. That and that a professor’s stuffed rooster makes a fascinating focal point during lectures. Why oh why did I give away my stuffed bobcat as a wedding present?) I digress.

When I was preparing to write Storm Surge, thinking back on my past writing, I realized that my problem was that my plot – well, I didn’t have a plot in many of my manuscripts. That was my problem. So I set out to write a genre cozy mystery, which in its very nature must have a plot with twists and turns, a story line that spirals up into a definitive climax. Based on reviews, I achieved a fast-paced plot. Of course, the need for a plot wasn’t the only reason I wrote a mystery novel. But having a plot in mind before I started writing (even though that plot dramatically changed during the writing process) helped my writing move.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Hope for a black thumb

Some people are great with plants – they seem to be born with some ability to nurture green things. Like my mom. Her houseplants grew so wildly she was forced to throw away their offshoots.

I once thought I’d never be able to grow a plant. Even cacti died in my care. But there was this one plant that flourished despite my feeding it cold coffee (with cream) and stale soda. But then I placed it outside and left it to die one cold, frosty night.

But now, years and years later, I’m actually surprised that not one but no less than five houseplants are alive (and well!) inside my home! Six, if you count the orchid my husband takes responsibility for. What’s changed? Is it newer, better engineered soils? Perhaps. Is it that my desire for fresher air (which houseplants are proven to filter) has increased? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s that I’ve become a mother since my doomed-cacti days and learned how to care for two boys… so perhaps I’ve learned responsibility. Plus, plants are easier to care for than boys... most of the time... though I'd be afraid of what my boys would do after ingesting coffee (cream or no cream).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writers' Police Academy = 1 full, awesome weekend

Combine a weekend full of hands-on workshops with a general lack of sleep (so excited I couldn’t sleep and then so excited from what I experienced I couldn’t sleep). Add 150 writers and the most energetic and welcoming group of police/forensic professionals. And so much more… I had a blast this weekend at the second annual Writer’s Police Academy. I learned a lot from the workshops, but also from just being around law enforcement folks and other writers. Here’s a quick summary of what I did, as well as a few photos:

Sonja, a latex cadaver
Friday: First things first, I experienced the Crime Scene Investigation workshop and learned that cold weather and rain really don’t make raw flesh smell all too bad, especially not in the first 24 hours. I also learned that my rain jacket is not waterproof and that clay stains from pouring rain jump to calf level. Photographed is Sonja, a latex body. Our instructor was incredibly knowledgeable and talkative, so I really did learn a lot, despite not being able to experience the smells and bugs.

Arrow points to kitchen knife
confiscated in real prison
Jail searches: I watched fellow writers search a mock jail cell and learned about where inmates stash various items. See the knife in her hand? It actually was seized from a cell!

Arson investigation: Did you know rust is a form of fire? I didn’t! We learned why you shouldn’t make a Molotov cocktail using a plastic bottle (it might bounce back at you) and a whole bunch of other facts about arson. Also saw some gruesome photographs.

Lunch: Who would have thought I’d be so famished I wouldn’t mind eating lunch in a room with real (equine) blood stains demonstrating how blood dries when it hits various inclines.

Handcuffing and arrest techniques: I tried to handcuff my fellow writer with the cuffs upside down the first time. And then I was cuffed! The snick and cold metal felt exactly as I thought it would. See me in my sopping wet clothes? I’m still happy!

hostage negotiators
Bloodstain patterns and presumptive testing: The nice folks from Sirchie showed us tons of photographs of evidence and demonstrated how bleach and blood look when sprayed with a special chemical. The bleach actually was very pretty, the stain (illuminated purple) seeming to shift like fog blown by a breeze! Just like CSI (kind of). We also learned that blood seeps into cracks and crevices, under baseboards, and so when criminals clean up, they may forget these areas… and that blood can spatter upward (under tables)…

Psychological sleuthing: Dr. Katherine Ramsland gave a fantastic presentation that touched on victimology.

hostage negotiators
Evening reception: Sisters in Crime sponsored a reception… with cake, celebrating its 25th birthday. I’m so grateful for the organization, which also offered a discount to the academy. We also heard a presentation from a former officer about his experience during and after a shootout.

AND THAT’S DAY ONE! I collapsed into bed, completely exhausted, but it took me a while to wind down, and then I had some fairly strange dreams…

Saturday: First thing, six Guilford Tech Community College instructors and police staged a hostage situation. A sniper finished off the perp. Great, dramatic action and a really cool scope! (See 3 photos)

sniper from hostage dramatization

Women in law enforcement: Two instructors discussed how women law enforcement officers are sometimes treated differently, how shirts may not fit so snugly in various areas, how going to the bathroom takes time for female officers (because of stays on their belts to prevent the belts from being easily ripped away from their uniform), how inmates treat women correction officers… Great stories were told. And when the primary instructor talked to us like we were a misbehaving delinquent, her whole persona changed. It was almost as if she became someone else. It was amazing!

Police tools and equipment: Here we learned more about what officers carry and wear. A gun, at least two extra magazines, one to two pairs of cuffs, a flashlight, a baton, a taser, spray, a radio… and the list goes on!

Police tools and equipment. Thank goodness the guns
are fakes, especially since you see one writer
aiming the replica toward some other writer's face!
Police car simulator: My roomie actually drove the police car simulator. I watched another writer drive one for a few minutes… and get wrecked quite a few times as well (not stopping at intersections).

Going undercover to solve your crime: Fantastic presentation given by a former NYPD undercover cop. We saw an interesting video of a bust, also, with officers exiting from three buses simultaneously. I also learned I might need to visit a spy store and check out some gear.

Crime scene investigation: I didn’t get the bugs and smell the first day so I thought I’d try again. No such luck: I got a little bit of the smell and only a few bugs. But I did learn a lot about dead bodies and heard some very chilling stories.

Women’s personal safety & self protection: Ending the workshops with this instructor, a self-professed mean woman (though really she’s not… if you’re behaving) was great. We fight dirty and to survive… and the average fight lasts 3 minutes! We learned a few hands on techniques for fending off attackers, and we learned some tips for preventing attacks.

Evening banquet: Author Christopher Reich spoke, and I learned that his first advance was a whopping $700,000 and that his daughter rides horses… and he confirmed that wonderful piece of writing advice, attributing Mark Twain: apply pants to chair.

Here’s a photo of my academy friends, authors Nina Mansfield and Lauren Carr.

Nina Mansfield, Lauren Carr, and yours truly

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Imagination begins young

When I was a girl, my friends and I used to subject my brother to a game I called “Dress the Turkey.” It was a game I’d made up, and the object was to dress up as absurdly as possible and make someone else laugh. My poor brother learned very quickly that stuffing my blue pompoms down his shirt and singing and twirling around almost always produced a giggle.

At one point in our childhood, we lived in a house that backed about an acre of woods. We’d tear around the woods, passing different landmarks we'd named (as well as the shallow burial site of my first gerbil, Candy). The Monster’s Toilet was the bottomless, water- and muck-filled, heart-shaped hole where two sections of a tree joined. Big Dump Dump was a huge hollow where dead leaves collected. We’d jump in the leaves – the hollow was on a slope – and slide down. Big Dump Dump was near Little Dump Dump and also near Mr. Grouch (a real person, a made-up name), who was so named because he yelled at us when we dropped rocks down the cliff onto his property!

Now that I’m a parent, and now that I realize Mr. Grouch had a very good reason to be grouchy, I wonder how I can influence my sons’ imaginations. I think often imagination occurs best on its own – when you’re alone – when parents aren’t around. (Like writing a book – it seems to develop best away from outside critique, at least initially.) I prompt my boys to use their imaginations by imagining with them, pretending a leaf found on top of a slide is a pizza my son cooked for me in his own kitchen, and by playing with their toy figurines with them. But there’s only so much time I seem to be able to endure playing “little people” or doing “animal talk” before I grow incredibly weary. Perhaps this is as it should be: let the boys’ imaginations take on lives of their own.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Experience it yourself

Years and years ago, during orientation for graduate school, during the q&a when us green master of fine arts in creative writing students were gathered in some bland, windowless auditorium, I dared to ask about the university’s bus service. The head of the program responded. He said, if I wanted to know about it, I should get on a bus and ride. Don’t ask us professors, he said. Don’t ask us administrators. Go ride the bus. Or, at least, call the bus service itself.

My cheeks probably flamed red, and I ducked my head, chastised. After I recovered from my embarrassment, too-soft freshman that I was, I heard his advice. It resonated. As a writer, you must experience. Much of the craft, much of the writing, is written from personal experience.

This week, I get to go to the Writer's Police Academy. It's as close to being a law enforcement officer as I think I'm going to get, and many of the workshops sound extremely hands-on. I can't wait!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where you’re from

In the South, where you’re from can be a big deal. A neighboring town, Cary, has been dubbed “Containment Area for Retired Yankees.” So you can begin to get the feeling that there’s at least some underlying resentment to nonnatives.

And we’ve got Southern writers: those men and women who are distinguished AND from the South. But, even if I was distinguished (I'm  not), I couldn’t comfortably say I am from the South.

When people ask me where I’m from, I often don’t know how to respond. I could say where I was born, but my family moved from that state before I could even form a memory of it. I could say I’ve been in North Carolina for the past couple decades, but that’s not really where I’m from.

My family moved along across the country as my father was transferred during his employment with a federal agency – no, his work wasn’t military or even remotely espionage related. He worked in agriculture. My first memory is of Illinois, then New Mexico (a place I truly love), then Virginia, and finally the state I call home: North Carolina. I can proudly note that, once I came here, I never abandoned North Carolina, save for the occasional vacation.

Often, when a Southerner asks me where I’m from, I’ll say where I was born but quickly and proudly tack on that at least I married a native North Carolinian. But the answer doesn’t truly resolve the question. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

When you don’t resolve everything

In writing a stand-alone novel, loose ends typically must be tied up, plot lines resolved. Otherwise, readers leave the book hungry, unsatisfied when they ought to feel full.

What about in a series novel? Should everything be tied up? Should all questions be resolved, all conflicts settled? To a point, not so much, I think.

In my first novel, Storm Surge, I introduce readers to a box owned by Daniel Wyeth, a detective. My main character peeks inside the box and finds a piece of black metal, which Daniel says is shattered. My main character wonders what would make metal shatter, but she backs off her pursuit of this knowledge when Daniel shows he’s uncomfortable speaking about it. By the end of the novel, the mystery of the contents of the box is not resolved.

Is that a problem? For one of my pre-publication readers, yes, she was/is frustrated the shattered metal is not explained. And I understand her pain. But part of the sweetness of a series can be the ongoing mysteries or conflicts that keep you coming back to find out what happens as the larger story evolves. My main character reaches an understanding that she will wait until Daniel is ready to discuss the contents of the book – this is all the resolution the reader gets in novel one. 

And, with Storm Surge, it’s not just the minor detail of the shattered metal that is left unresolved. Yes, the main mystery of the novel is completely solved, and the ongoing relationship dynamics enjoy a small resolution. For instance, my main character and her stepsister enjoy a respite from their all-out battle. But will it last? After all, the two characters have spent their entire lives fighting. The resolution provided at the end of Storm Surge hopefully is enough to fill readers up but open enough to become unraveled once more at the beginning of the second novel. After all, that’s part of the fun of a series. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Human-sized hot dog

My next door neighbor has a human-sized hot dog statue. I can’t tell if he’s plastic or concrete (or kosher), but he used to rest in her backyard. He’s very cute, with eyes and a plump tongue licking his upper lip in concentration as one skinny arm reaches up to spread ketchup in a neat spiral on the crown of his head.

Last year, or perhaps it was the year before, our neighborhood held a yard sale, and my neighbor stuck the hot dog out front with other various items for sale. Some teens drove by, several loaded into the bed of a pickup, and asked how much she wanted for the hot dog. She said a million dollars. Tires squealed and the sound of laughter rose from the bed of the truck as they zoomed away.

My neighbor also has two life-size blues brothers statues. Once, at dusk, I glanced out my back window and gasped at the bulky man in the dark sunglasses and hat staring back at me from over the fence. She’d moved one of the statues.

I’m not sure where the hot dog has gone; I’ve not peered over the fence looking for him recently. The summer humidity has kept me inside, and I don’t want to snoop. But I’ve begun to miss the silly grin and earnest eyes. And since the weather is beginning to cool down, perhaps I'll pay him a visit.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Looking forward to the Writer's Police Academy

In a couple weeks, I’ll be at the Writer’s Police Academy! I am so excited! As described on its website, the academy “offers the most hands-on, interactive and educational experience writers can find to enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement and forensics.”

When I first found out about the academy, I knew I wanted to attend. But then I saw the whopping registration fee (at least it was whopping to me). I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Then Sisters in Crime offered a HUGE discount on the registration fee for members. I couldn’t believe my luck! In a heartbeat I signed up.

What looks to be the most interesting workshop is the one where we’ll investigate a crime scene. We’re instructed to bring appropriate rain gear and insect repellent, and we're warned: “be prepared for all the smells and insects associated with death.” Um, yipes!

In addition, there will be workshops where we can search for contraband inside actual jail cells, learn about alternate light sources used in crime scene investigations, find out how search and rescues and arson investigations are conducted, learn about bloodstain patterns and fingerprinting... And that’s just a sampling of the first day!

So now, instead of trying to figure out how I’ll afford the academy, I’m stuck with a new dilemma: which workshops to attend.

I’ll be sure to bring my camera… and blog about the academy afterward. I can’t wait.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Natural Flavor: Guest blog: J. Lloyd Morgan of The Hidden Sun

I'm pleased to host J. Lloyd Morgan, author of The Hidden Sun, on this blog. A friend of mine with the Apex Writers Guild, Morgan's first novel was just published by Walnut Springs Press. The book, classified as medieval YA but enjoyable for adult readers also (this adult reader included), has characters that suck you in and don't let go and a plot that not only clips along at a quick pace but includes good number of unexpected turns – truly – events in the book I never saw coming. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel to be published by Walnut Springs in 2012. So, without further ado...

Natural Flavor

Dinner time at the Morgan household can be quite the interesting experience.  Aside from talking about the day's events, we'll talk about any number of things.  One thing I love to do is "acquaint" my four daughters to the music of the 80's.  You Tube is an amazing tool for such an activity.  It's something else to see your seven-year-old daughter doing the "Safety Dance."

There are other times when the kids will ask a question like, "Why does it say 'Tomato Ketchup?'  Are there other kinds?"  So, we'll look it up.  And yes, there are other types.  One we found was "Banana Ketchup."  That then leads to the question, "Why do they call it 'yellow' mustard?  Isn't it always yellow?"  The answer?  No, it can be brown.  Heck, with a little food coloring, it can be any color you want.

But we aren't content to leave things there.  We'll start reading the ingredients of various foods.  Doing this led to a rather shocking and somewhat disturbing discovery. 

Natural flavor. 

What the heck is natural flavor?  And why is it in so many different things?

For example, I randomly sampled things in my fridge and pantry and these are things I found that contain the mysterious "natural flavor":  Apple / Cranberry Juice, spray butter, mixed berry yogurt, salsa, maple syrup, mayo, mustard (yellow), ketchup (tomato), animal crackers, hot cocoa mix, tomato soup, chocolate frosting, root beer, granola bars, pudding and macaroni & cheese.  Whoever invented this "natural flavor" must be richer than Bill Gates!  I mean, it's in everything.

But as odd as natural flavor is, there is something even stranger:  artificial flavor.  I mean, how can flavor be artificial?  After all, it has to be made from something on the earth, right?  Does that mean if I mix chocolate and peanut butter, I've created an "artificial flavor?"  One thing I know for sure, "artificial flavor" and "natural flavor" are not opposites.  Of the items listed above, several of them had both natural and artificial flavors.  (Maple syrup, hot cocoa mix, chocolate frosting, root beer, and strangely enough, granola bars)  If they were opposites, wouldn't they just cancel each other out?  Or if it's like matter and anti-matter, wouldn't having both ingredients in the same product be dangerous?

However, of all the items I "investigated", there are two that were the most disquieting:  hot dogs and bologna.  Neither had natural nor artificial flavor--but both of them did share a common ingredient:  something simply called "flavor"--and thank goodness they did!  Can you imagine how they would taste without "flavor?"

And then there was the case of the mystery drink we had one night for dinner. It claimed to be lemonade.  I'm a virtual coinsure of lemonades (I guess that is a hobby you pick up when you don't partake of the strong drink) and this, my friends, was no lemonade.

Now my sweet wife tried to explain that there wasn't enough of the mix left to make real lemonade and it was actually just slightly flavored water.  However, it was yellow and smelled lemony--watered down or not, it was something I needed to investigate.

As to not get sued, I will not reveal the brand of the alleged lemonade.  But as I examined the container, a couple of things caught my attention right away.

#1.  It clearly states on the front that there are no "Artificial Flavors" in this mix. 

#2  Its selling point is "Lemonade Drink Mix.  Naturally Flavored with other Natural Flavor." 

Wait . . . 


"Naturally Flavored with other Natural Flavor?"  What does that even mean?

So, off to the back of the label I go.  There has to be some sort of explanation.  But no!  The ingredients were printed right where the lid joins with the jar--and when the lid was opened, the list of the ingredients was obliterated.  How you mock me you faux lemonade!

Hello!  What's this?  Below the ingredients in bold are the allergy warnings.  Let's see here.  This "so called" lemonade may contain traces of milk, eggs, coconut, wheat, soy and . . .tilapia.  Tilapia?  Isn't that some sort of fish?

Alas, if only the lemonade had traces of lemons in it. 



Monday, August 29, 2011


I’m addicted to reading, which should be no surprise as I’m a writer. I can’t remember ever not loving reading. My mother encouraged me, early on, buying me armfuls of books for Christmas. She allowed me to read when we went out to dinner (during dinner, at the restaurant table). She was and continues to be an avid reader herself. Like me, she’s got bookshelves of novels she plans on reading soon and never leaves the house without at least one book she’s reading (two if she’s almost done with the first). As she says, you never know when you’ll be stuck in a line and that book will come in handy.

She saved many of my childhood books and has given them to me to share with my boys. I’ve got boxes of books in closets, books upon books on shelves in various rooms. We live in a house filled with books, and my husband groans when I return from yard sales with – you guessed it – more books for me and the kids. But at such a bargain, how can I resist?

Can you be a writer and not love reading? 

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I pulled weeds in my yard today that were taller than my two-year-old. I’m not exaggerating. And by the time I returned to my air-conditioned sanctuary, I needed the rough side of the sponge to scrub my fingers free of dirt. And not even a fifth of the yard is weeded – and that meager portion was weeded not at all to my usual standard. Ugh!

In my family, my husband takes care of some traditionally feminine responsibilities (washing clothes, cooking at times, rearranging the dishwasher), and I handle a couple of the assignments that perhaps are more masculine. Like weeding. My husband abhors weeding, so the task is left to me, an unspoken delegation. But my life is crazy at times, and I’d rather be living (enjoying the kids, writing, reading, doing practically anything other than weeding) – so this summer the weeds were left to flourish. Finally, as often happens with me, the straw breaks my back, and I’m on a roll of reformation! This week, our entire yard will be weeded. I’ve divided the backyard into quadrants and delegated different areas to specific days.

I’m always amazed (today as well) at how quickly the weeds grow, at the fleshy green mass they acquire during just a few months – while the gardenia my husband tried to root in early spring still looks like less than a twig, four flimsy leaves as small as my pinkie fingernail flagging sunward.

Perhaps there’s some deep analogy I could draw here. Gardenias are to x as weeds are to y. But my back is too sore; my fingers, despite their scrubbing, still sticky. And a shower beckons. So perhaps you can give me the x and y. Would you?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stuck? Need an idea?

Have you ever been stuck in the middle of your writing or needed an idea (that just wouldn't come) to move the story?

Recently when I was writing, I came across a scene I couldn’t get past or through. I knew something pivotal needed to happen in it, but I wasn’t sure what exactly that drama would be.

My answer to most of the writing bogs I get into is: sleep on it. If there’s a problem, and I can identify what that problem is, often if I put the writing down and come back to it the next day, the solution will have presented itself in the meantime, after a good night’s sleep.

Where do ideas come from? I once knew a woman who said she had people living inside her brain and, if she needed an answer, the people would find it in her filing cabinets… but sometimes finding the answer took some time for the workers in her brain.

While I don’t know of any people living inside my brain and accessing filing cabinets, I do know if I’m looking for a particular word, it comes to me if I give it time and think on it for a day or two: just like my story-solving solution.

Of course, other strategies might also prove helpful, like trying to write the scene from a different point of view (even if you’re going to have to go back and write it again from your original pov). Or, you could skip ahead and come back to the troublesome scene. Sometimes, if a scene is stagnating, adding another character to the mix can liven it up.

For me, I like my zzz’s.