Wednesday, December 31, 2008

R.I.P. 2008

2008 has been an historic year. If you live on the planet, you don't need me to rehash all the reasons for you. However, here's a guy that will do it in just a couple of funny minutes.


For 2009, I wish you mountains of all your favorite things and a few grains of sand in your shoes so you remember to appreciate all the good times.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mushy Brain Syndrome

My live-in handyman and I were out of town for a week and returned last night. Between bits of this and dashes of that, I finally found a minute to post here.

Boy, do I ever have things to write about. I'll get to them all eventually, but not tonight. My gray matter is more like Jell-O than it is anything else about now.

But I did want to check in here for a second. Hope you all had happy holidays and are ready for the new year, because it's sort of like playing hide-and-seek -- ready or not, here it comes!

As much as I love this time of year, I'll really be glad to return to routine.

How about you?

How is the holiday season treating you?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Christmas Eve in Texas is a little different. Part of our family met at a little out of the way spot and watched the traffic go by over barbeque and beer. A new Christmas Eve tradition in the making, I imagine.

Now comes Christmas Eve After Dark. Tamales, The Night Before Christmas, and one gift opened by each child before bedtime.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holidays

It's true. Even bloggers take a holiday. I'm no exception.

I'll try to drop in Under the Tiki Hut every so often between now and New Year's, but don't look for me every day. Chat and play, just clean up after yourselves.

Santa emailed me a few minutes ago. He wants to know if anyone has a stash of reindeer pooper-scoopers?

Merry Christmas!
Happy Hanukkah!

See you back on a regular schedule in 2009!

Follow That Taxi

Today I'm going to write an overview about pacing.

Pacing is what makes your reader turn the page.

It can also apply to other areas of construction. And these also make your reader turn the page. You pace how you reveal information about your characters. In the beginning, you give the reader just enough informtion for them to have questions. Then you feed them more as the story develops. You pace how you provide information about setting and plot in the same way. Start small and build in modest increments.

Pacing is all about building suspense and tension in the entire story. There are a number of ways to do this without resorting to trickery or over-the-top Perils of Pauline chapter endings.

Think about every word. Put the strongest part of each sentence at the end. Build each pargraph to a strong conclusion. End each chapter with a hook or a question in the reader's mind. Build conflict and tension with each chapter.

But don't forget peaks and valleys. It's important to give the reader time to catch her breath, but not too much time. One way to accent the peaks is to play with time. You can slow it down by having the protagonist become of aware of sensory details. You can speed it up by using short sentences and punchy action. Valleys can be short periods of reflection.

This overview has been brought to you by a frazzled writer, three days before Christmas, when everybody and my dog, is wanting a piece of me!

Questions? Comments?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where Has This Day Gone

December is a crazy time of year. Crazy busy. Crazy fun. Crazy wild.

My live-in handyman and I also took time out to watch a movie, as if we had nothing else to do except be folks of leisure. Ha!

Just had another interruption. I love life!

Since this is so late, I'll just keep it short.

Tomorrow I'll post about writing.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ho! Ho! Ho!

The jolly old guy in the red suit sent me an email. I'm pasting it here.

Well, my friend, as if I didn't have enough to worry about, what with getting all the gifts in the sleigh - and the elves still running behind on two toy runs.

Blitzen's antlers hung at an odd angle this morning, and I asked him what happened. He wouldn't tell me, but Prancer blabbed. Seems Blitzen and Donner got into it last night. And Vixen was the cause of it all. He wouldn't tell me what that was all about, but I can guess. Vixen got new bells from a secret admirer.

Prancer said he told Blitzen he looked like a hatrack on a lean-to. Blitzen got hot and threatened him. He said if Prancer didn't leave him alone, he wouldn't even have antlers by lunch time.

Well, you know Prancer. He said, "Oh, I'm sooooo scared."

Dasher and Dancer intervened before Blitzen could get at him. And a good thing, too, because Comet and Cupid were going to back up Blitzen. Poor Prancer wouldn't have stood a chance.

All Donner ended up with was a black eye, and it should be all right by Christmas Eve. So I had Rudolph pull them all together for a meeting. He said he got everyone calmed down, and he thought they'd be fine.

Now if the elves would get it together, I could relax a little. Only a few more days, then it's vacation time at the beach.

Santa

At least we mortals don't have to deal with all that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Is There Ever Enough

Doesn't matter what.

Time
Money
Sex
Football
Shoes

Especially shoes!

Can we define what enough is?

Would we know enough when we had it?

I don't think so.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Road Trip Recap

I wanted to post photos of yesterday's journey, but it was so foggy all you'd see would be a blob of gray. This morning I slept in. Yawn. It was still foggy when I awoke.

Enough weather.

I heard a new joke. You know I have a border collie. Do you know what happens if you leave a border collie alone for a couple of hours? He does two loads of laundry and balances your checkbook.

Wrangler balances the checkbook in the car.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Going with the Flow

My live-in handyman is a worrier. His mother was a worrier. Sometimes he worries because he has nothing to worry about. Sometimes he worries about other people's worries.

Me? Not so much. More like not at all. I tell him there's no need for me to worry because he does enough for both of us.

The way I see it, worry is not a positive thing. It's fine to think about a problem and come up with a solution. But worry is not solution-based. It's fret over things you have no control over and filled with what-ifs. Worry will not affect any outcome one way or another.

For writers it's pointless to worry if an editor will accept your story or an agent will accept you and your manuscript for representation. You plan for the worst and hope for the best. This means you write the best piece you can and send it off. Then you start on another one.

In life, try to do the same thing. Do the best job possible, hope you get that raise, but plan as if you won't. Don't worry about whether the money will come through. If you've done the best you're capable of doing, the decision on the raise is out of your hands.

To worry or not to worry, that is the question.

What about you? Are you a worrier?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Creature Comforts

I'm a creature, and I like to be comfortable.

Comfort comes in all shapes and sizes, just like your characters. Think about these little things to give them an extra layer.

I'll use myself as an example.

I hate being sticky. Hate, hate, hate it. I don't care if it's a drop of honey or a blob of jelly or sap from those pesky weeds that pop up like, well, weeds. I have to get it right off.

I don't like the process of getting dirty. I don't mind being dirty after it's apparent it's happening with or without my consent, but I'll go the long way around to keep that first speck of dirt from clinging to my body. Once it's there, I'm down and dirty with the best of 'em.

I hate when I burn my tongue, not only because it leaves those little bumps and nothing tastes the same for a day or so, but also because it makes me feel stupid for doing such a dumb thing. I burn my tongue more often than I should, too, by the way!

I love being outside in the rain - as long as there's no thunder and lightning - and getting drenched. I love even better coming inside, drying off and putting on dry clothes. I love the way it makes me feel - invigorated and cozy at the same time.

I love curling up with a book in a big chair.

I love the first night on clean sheets.

What are some of the little things you love and hate? It's a start for thinking about your characters.

Think about the little things those people you create love and hate. How they get comfy. One little detail might change the direction of your story.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Foodie

I'm a little bit of a foodie.

Love to eat, love to cook. Really cook, I mean, not just slap together a sandwich or make the same things for dinner week after week.

Hate to clean up, but my live-in handyman doesn't mind that so much.

I like to try new recipes and make new creations of my own. Some of my best creations, however, are one-time wonders.

That's because they occur when whatever's in fridge goes in. And the deal is, what are the odds I'll ever have those same exact ingredients ever again? Do I ever think to write down what all went in the pot? No.

If the dish turns out really good, I can usually remember what I used, but the amounts would be iffy. I've tried to re-create certain things, but none of the re-creations have tasted as good as the original. Maybe one day I'll remember to write it down.

What about you? Do you do this? Do you even like to cook?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yellow and Blue Make Green

Except when they don't.

Too much yellow, and you have chartreuse - one of my favorite colors, by the way. Too much blue, and you have teal.

Life is kinda like that.

Too much of one thing or the other, even though you like it, can throw things off kilter. But color is finite in a way. Pure yellow is always yellow. Pure blue is always blue.

Life is a little different.

In life, too much balance can also throw things off kilter. Striving to always maintain a balance can make you miss too much because you're unwilling to alter that balance.

Experiment. Choose the path with a few weeds rather than the one worn clean. Feel the breeze in your hair and the sun on your face rather than keeping your hair and makeup perfect inside. Try something new the next time you eat out.

Thoughts from a writer's brain on a lazy Saturday morning. I think I need to get to work.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bad Hair Day

Most of us have a bad hair day every once in a while.

Me? I have one every day. It's the main reason I keep my hair cut short. It's fine, thin, and unruly. Cowlicks abound. Where it should be straight, it curls. Where it should curl, it's straight. It is . . . Hair From Hell.

Hair products are my friends. Shampoo, conditioner, root lifter, mousse, hairspray. Yesterday was no exception. I'm all done and grab the hairspray. When I pulled off the cap, the plastic part you push down to make the spray come out, fell off and rolled behind the toilet.

I retrieved it and tried to stick it back on the little nub that protruded from the can. It refused. I had a little talk with it, and pushed harder. Finally, it went on, but refused to spray. I called it names and it laughed at me.

"I'll show you."

I had some other hairspray I didn't much like, so I pulled it out. They must belong to the same union. No spray came out of that one either. I gave up. Life's too short.

But I had to go out. Obviously I was going to the store to buy hairspray. But I had other places to go first. I thought I was OK. It wasn't windy, just a little breeze. I wouldn't be too long, a couple hours, max.

Last stop was for hairspray. The clerk smiled when she took my money. I smiled back. I didn't know she was being mean until I looked in the mirror.

Now with short hair, you'd think the problem wouldn't be too bad. And overall, I don't suppose it was. Just two little spots. One on each side of my head. A little above my ears. I had horns.

Like I said . . .

Hair From Hell.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Weather

Two months ago, Hurricane Ike ravaged Galveston Island. Today it snowed there. Two months. Today I see it's snowing in south Louisiana. Snow on the bayou.

Not only is it a rarity to have snow on Galveston (I really don't know about Louisiana, but I'm pretty sure it's just as rare there), but for snow to fall in December is almost unheard of.

I grew up in Houston. The few times I saw snow as a child were usually in February, maybe January, but always after the new year. Mom said we didn't do white for Christmas. More likely, it was too hot to wear that new sweater.

Mother Nature is a weird chick.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Yesterday, it was 85 degrees here. Sunny. A gentle sea breeze. Butterflies fluttered from hibiscus to bougainvillea and back again. Doves coo-ed, mockingbirds sang.

Wham!

Now it's 38, wind is howling from the north. Drizzle and intermittent spats of rain are falling. In the words of a little boy I know . . . What happened?

What happened, of course, is a strong cold front. South Texas is having two days of winter. By the weekend we'll be back in the 70s.

For everyone north of Austin, our taste of cold is mild. But here, following eight months or more of summer, it's a little chilly. Hmmmm, chili. I think that sounds good for lunch.

Stay warm.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What Every Dog Lover Knows

Dogs have feelings, too.

Researchers in England found that dogs have complex emotions much like those they previously believed to be shared only by humans and primates. They also now believe that horses and perhaps additional species may possess emotions as well. The main focus of the study was on the concept of fairness, and the dogs showed they understood this extremely well by not performing when other dogs received a treat for doing so and they didn't.

Anyone who loves their pets could have told them this - we've all seen the look and been subjected to vocal pleasure and displeasure. But you know how scientists are like the courts - they must have proof.
.
I read an earlier version of this yesterday. When the researchers began the study, several people brought their dogs. Researchers needed dogs who responded to a command to give them a paw or to shake. Only dogs who already knew how to do this were used in the study.

The dogs represented a variety of breeds, and at least one of them was a border collie.

They had to dismiss him because he insisted on herding all the other dogs.

I totally believe this because we play dodge dog on our stairs many times every day. And when my live-in handyman is around, Wrangler wants to herd us to the same level. If one of us is down and the other up, Wrangler hangs on the stairs for as long as he can stand it. Then he does everything in his power to move us to one level or the other.

What does your pet do?

Monday, December 8, 2008

An Unmatched Set of Luggage

Sorry about being so late with today's post. Life intervened, and I've been running around like a chicken with its head cut off, as my mother used to say. I'll indicate below where I got sidetracked. And coming back here after I finished the post . . . I think I did lose my train of thought somewhere along the way. For that I apologize. I hope you're able to discern something from this post, and I promise to aim higher next week.

- - - - - - -

As writers, we bring our past to our work.

Last Tuesday my post was about me being a Texan, which I am, but with a twist because I lived on the East Coast for many years. Because of that, my views are not totally Texas-centric.

This doesn't mean I love Texas less, it means that I see it from a different viewpoint than someone who has lived here all his or her life, like the reader who left a great comment showing all the things she loves about our state.

So that brings me to today's writing post.

We read all the time about there being only a finite number of plots: Man vs. Man, Man vs. The Elements, etc. We make these overall plots into original stories by creating characters to act them out. But our characters and plot twists and turns are influenced by what we, as individuals, bring to the table. Or, rather, to the keyboard.

Given any scenario, no two writers will produce the same story. A writer from New England will tell a different tale about a bank robber than a writer who's lived in Arizona all her life. A man returning from war will write a different love story than will a Mr. Mom who has a corporate wife. The key is to tap into ACK!!! . . . . . ok, I've returned from life on the run and it's ONLY six hours later. So if things don't quite flow you can just shoot me now.

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, we bring our own baggage to our stories. But don't be afraid to open up all those pieces of luggage. Let the real you leap onto the page and give your stories life.

I don't mean that each and every character or story you write needs to mimic you and your life. I mean that in everything that makes you unique, you'll find a kernel of universal emotion. Remember how you felt when the sky fell on your head or the big bad wolf tried to steal your cookies or the glass slipper fit your foot. Because I guarantee you, the author down the road felt something different from you or reacted differently to the same experience. If he's willing to pour those emotions into a story and you're not, guess whose will sell.

It's much easier for me to say to do this than it is to put into practice. I'm a private person, and I'm still learning to open up enough of myself to make a difference. If it's easy for you to write an emotional scene, you probably haven't opened up enough either.

I've never journaled, but I think writers who do probably find this easier to do in one respect. But the flip side is they run the risk of becoming mired in an emotion they don't want to revisit.

One thing for sure - no one ever said writing was easy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I'm a Wrapper


I'm spending a lot of hours these days wrapping Christmas gifts. My printer is under here somewhere. You don't want to see my desk, or the rest of the office. First there's the problem of finding the right box for the gift. Clothing is easy, and most stores will provide boxes, even if you do need to stand in line for them. Sometimes I have to make a box fit by combining two or altering the original configuration. Anyway, my point is that boxing the gift is the major time consumer.

Wrapping is next. Yesterday I pulled the paper around the box to know how much to cut off the roll - but I measured the wrong way and ended up with a square that wouldn't fit because it wasn't long enough. So I then had to box up smaller gifts to wrap using this wrong-size paper. And there's also the tissue paper and little squares of leftover paper.

Then there's the ribbon and/or bow. Easy enough to buy a bag of bows, pull one out and stick it on. But half the bows in the bag are crushed or kinked up on one side so that when it finally makes it to the package, it looks as if it drank one Margarita too many.

So I either make my own or buy ones stuck on pieces of cardboard. Gold is usually a color that goes with most Christmas paper. Except this year. So I have lots of gold bows and ribbon still waiting to be tapped for a package. The red and green are all in use. I think I wasn't paying attention when I went paper shopping.

I know, I know. It's silly to spend so much time on something that gets ripped apart in .0001 second. But the packages look pretty under the tree. And the prettier the package looks, the more anticipation it builds for the recipient. But sometimes, the prettiest package of all contains a gag gift.

Sometimes life if like that, too.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How's the World Treating You?

Ever have one of those days when you feel as if everyone and everything is focused on getting you down or totally screwing up your life?

Don't lie. We all do.

Knock on wood, I haven't had one of those days in a while, but I've been knocked on my butt enough for two or three lifetimes. I hope it's a long time, if ever, before I have another one.

You can give up, give in and go with the flow, or fight it tooth and nail. For me, I've found it's best to do all three.

I don't mean totally give up. You are not a wienie. But allow yourself the luxury of wallowing in it all and feeling sorry for yourself for two minutes. Maybe five if it's really bad. Then suck it up. Pull up your big girl panties and plaster a smile on your face.

Go with the flow until you don't need to force the smile any more. Sometimes, that takes longer than other times. When you find yourself giggling to yourself about something, it's time for the fighter in you to kick in.

Depending on the situation, you may fight your own demons or you may lock horns with city hall. Whatever your problem, shed your tears, gather your courage, then do what you can to improve your position.

Try it the next time life gets you down. You may find it works for you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

It's Friday!

I love Friday! It's my favorite day of the week. I love the feeling of anticipation for the weekend. I love the sense of accomplishment on Friday afternoon, that I've done a week's worth of work. And the feeling of freedom.

That yummy Friday Feeling is the one thing I miss about working at a real paying job. Well, that and a regular paycheck. But I wouldn't go back. I belong here, at my desk, playing make believe.

I write every day - not just this blog, but on a manuscript. And I write on my schedule, not someone else's. Because I write every day, there is no Friday Feeling. However, when I complete each draft of a manuscript, I get that Friday Feeling big time, even if it's on a Monday.

What's your favorite day of the week?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Our Furry Friends

Animal rescue centers are great things. I know this because our furry child-friend found us at one a little over three years ago when he was barely two months old. In this photo, he had been a member of our family for about a month.



Some will accept any abandoned/abused/unwanted animal. Some are breed specific. Some are cats only, birds only, whatever.

Many are in need of foster humans to take animals into their homes and give them love, care, and attention. If you are interested in such a temporary arrangement, please contact a shelter or rescue group in your area.

Fostering doesn't work for everyone, but you can volunteer your time in other ways. Again, contact a local shelter or group to find out about their needs.

All are in constant need of donations and funds. Food isn't cheap. Neither is veterinary care or medications. Especially at this time of year, when we're focused on friends and family, it's easy to forget about our furry, feathered, or otherwise-covered friends.

Here's an easy way to help a little every day:

One click every day provides about 1/2 cup of food. Takes a second. If you want to do more, you can make additional donations or purchase items from their online store.

It costs one second of your time.

Please help.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cravings

And no, I am NOT preggers.

I absolutely love Mexican food. I love Italian and Greek, and lots of other kinds, too, but Mexican food is the only food I ever crave.

When the craving strikes, it's never for anything particular but for the flavor in general. Tacos, enchiladas, tamales. Fajitas, carne asada, chalupas. You name it.

When I read, I also crave certain things. On a regular basis, I try to alternate books by men and women. And books by favorite and new authors. But when the craving hits, I have go-to authors that rarely disappoint.

Sometimes I need to laugh. Carl Hiaasen, Sarah Strohmeyer.

Sometimes I want to grip the edge of my seat for a thrilling ride. Nelson DeMille, James Patterson, David Baldacci.

And sometimes I want a love story. Linda Howard, Sandra Brown.

Like with food, I'll eat almost anything, but I have favorites. The same with reading. I read a lot of authors, but when I crave a particular thing, I know who will satisfy my need.

What/Who are some of your favorites?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On Being a Texan

I am a Texan. Born here, raised here. Live here now.

The in-between . . . not so much.

This tends to alter my perception a little from those Texans who've always lived here. My thoughts about cities are colored by the three times I lived in New York City. My only bad experience there was arriving the first time in May and not seeing leaves on any of the trees. I knew I was in deep trouble. All I had were Texas summer clothes because it had been 90's here for a month already. I'd shipped all my winter things, which turned out to be barely good enough for autumn. I've since learned to check weather.

I'm a beach freak. Love them. Not so wild about going in the water, but I love walking on the beach. My favorite time is winter. I love to bundle up and walk in light snow or rain when no one else is around and the surf is churning. Recharges my batteries. Padre and Mustang Islands here in South Texas have great beaches, but not much snow. And they're different from other beaches where I've lived - those in Jersey and Virginia. And our stint in Miami really spoiled me for them all. We could visit a different beach each day and still not make them all.

I've lived inland only twice, once in Tennessee and once in New Mexico. Both times I really missed the water. I mean real water. Lakes and rivers don't cut it for me. I've got to see wave action and smell salt air. In New Mexico, mountains compensated somewhat for the ocean. But in Tennessee, I learned to miss flat land and salt air.

In New York, I learned about People Who Were Not Texans. And I learned to love them. I learned about food from other parts of the world. I learned to listen carefully because people talked so much faster than what I was used to. I learned that there were non-Texan ways to do things and non-Texan ideas about life in general. I grew up.

On beaches, I learned that maybe it's not a good thing to drive your car in the sand. And that it's good to protect too much sand from washing or blowing away. And if you can get a palm tree to grow there, go for it!

Inland, I learned that some people didn't like the ocean at all. I'm still not real comfortable with that one, but I'm trying. I learned that wildlife is beautiful. And I learned to carry candy bars in my pockets in case I came across a bear in the woods. Sort of like carrying mug money in New York.

Monday, December 1, 2008

People Watching

Today's writing post will be about character building. Books and books, and blogs and blogs, have been written about this. Why? Because it's so important.

Telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end - the plot - is important, too, but without characters the reader believes in, the plot becomes just a series of events. Whether you begin thinking about your story with plot or character, they must meet and become so entwined that the story could not occur without your characters.

In order for this to happen, the characters need to say Ouch! if you pinch them. That means they are not just placeholders. Not a generic man or woman. Not a stereotypical teen. I know you've heard this a jillion times, but like people, characters have quirks and flaws, hot buttons, fears, hopes, and dreams.

Our job, as writers, is to translate all these things into how the characters handle the story you have in mind for them. A woman who is allergic to bee stings won't enjoy a romantic picnic because instead of relaxing, she'll be nervous and alert. But it would explain why she's the only person in the park who can identify the man who tried to kidnap a little boy. See how that works?

How can we accomplish all this? Begin by people watching. Look at people around you in line at the grocery store instead of reading tabloid headlines. Build stories about the frowning woman and the bald man who keeps running his hand over his head. Get past hair, eyes, nose, and mouth, and notice the little things about people. That's a good beginning.

I'll write more about this another time.