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
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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!