Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Milestone

This is my 100th post to this blog.

When I began, I didn't know how well I would do at this blogging thing. Would my posts be sporadic or would I run out of things to say? Would anyone read or would I be writing to myself?

I haven't run out of things to say. And except for The Great Move when I was computerless, I've posted on a consistent basis. And people read.

Thank you for coming to the Tiki Hut.

Stick around.

Invite your friends.

I'll make another pitcher of margaritas.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Yesterday I Killed a Man

...and I did it before breakfast.

He's not the first man I've killed, and he won't be the last. As they say in certain areas of Texas - He needed killin'. So he had to go.

His name was Eddie, and he died on page 27.

He was a small-time hood who tried to use his muscle to better himself. He tried it with the wrong man.

That's the story version of why he died. The writer version of why he died was to show the ruthlessness of the man who killed him.

I knew all along that Eddie would buy the farm, but I originally wrote his death off the page. This time I wrote it in real story time.

His actual murder took place over six lines. But as always happens when I kill a character, it took me several days to complete the scene.

Why?

Because it takes me a while to come to grips with the fact that I'm taking a life. Even though it's only the life of a character, not a real person.

So call me weird.

I procrastinate, find reasons not to write, do anything and everything to avoid typing the words. Then finally the day comes. The day when I wake up in the morning and say, "Today I'm killing him."

That day was yesterday. I pulled the trigger during my second cup of coffee.

I don't know if I'm the only writer who hesitates before killing a character. I just know that it has always been this way for me. I guess I grieve before I kill.

Maybe it's because a character can't return from the dead. Unless you write horror. Or urban fantasy. Or soap operas.

Or unless you undertake a rewrite and decide not to kill him. Or her.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten occupations for children:

10. Dog Walker

9. Cat Bather

8. Pet Feeder

7. Bed Maker

6. Porch Sweeper

5. Bicycle Racer

4. Wii Wizard

3. Slap Jack Sensation

2. Hug Giver

And the number one occupation for kids:

1. Mess Maker

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fiesta!

It's Fiesta time in San Antonio.

Fiesta is an annual week-long party, filled with parades, music, art, and food. It commemorates the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto in Texas' war for independence from Mexico back in 1845. It was after Sam Houston's troops forced Mexican General Santa Anna to surrender at San Jacinto that Texas became its own country.

One of the events is NIOSA - A Night in Old San Antonio - held in La Vallita. The historic little village in downtown San Antonio occupies one square block. Last night it held about 20,000 people.


NIOSA celebrates the diverse cultures that played a part in shaping this really cool city. There were 15 separate areas. Food ranged from tacos to etoufee to fruit kabobs, and music from Texas swing to cover Credence to jazz. And oom-pah-pah.

All in all, a fun night.

As my live-in handyman said as he munched on a chalupa inside the German beer hall booth: "Where else can you listen to German music, eat Mexican food, and drink American beer all in one place?"

What a city!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Help, I'm sinking!

I'm a list maker. I think I might have told you that before.

After I set up my office, I made a list of everything that I needed to do to get my life organized and back on track. Things with the house, things with unpacking, things with writing, things with life in general.

Slowly, I'm marking items off this list. I'm maybe halfway. Most of the things I'm working on. Others are things to do, like get a library card. Most will be off in another month or two (I hope) and then I can start a new list of long-term projects. I already know what some will be.

After I made up the Everything List, I made another list to help me get my daily life into some sort of order and structure and even the dreaded R-O-U-T-I-N-E.

The Daily List lets my brain think about other things besides "Now I must do laundry." Some days I get to every item on this list. Some days I don't. It doesn't bug me too much. More than anything it keeps me on track and lets me see at the end of the week where I either spent too much time or not enough so that I can tweak it a little as I go along. This list is not something that's written in stone.

Up until the end of last week, things were rocking along pretty good. All of a sudden, ten gazillion small things fell out of the sky and landed in my lap. I can't even point at one thing and say, "You! Out!"

Anyway, for no specific reason other than things related to the move and our new home, my life changed from frenzied to CHAOTIC!

So I made another list. This list was everything I needed to do by the end of the weekend. Nothing on the list is a major time consumer, but it was two columns long. By Sunday night, I hadn't marked off one item.

Okay. Monday I'll fly through them all, get them all marked off, and be back on track and fresh by Tuesday.

It's now Wednesday. The list has not been touched. In fact, it's buried under a couple dozen sheets of paper on my desk. My corner of the world is completely bonkers crazy right now. And I don't see it ending within the next few days.

Maybe by the end of this weekend I'll finish that list.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why I Blog

Actually, I blog for a lot of reasons.

The most important, of course, is to share weird, bizarre, everyday, boring, your-word-here things with you.

Another is because it clears random thoughts out of my head early in the morning and helps me make better connections throughout the day. By better connections, I mean that it enables me to be better at seeing outside the box.

Whether I'm writing or painting a wall, my natural tendency is to focus so intently I can't see anything else. The good thing about having this trait is that I can work through barking dogs and other distractions. The bad thing is I want to see everything one way.

As a happy side effect of blogging, I found my teeny brain is more open to different connections even when I'm focused. I like that. It definitely makes my life easier.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why I Toss a Book

UPDATE:
Sorry for the reposting. First I forgot the title. Then I read it over again. Not enough caffeine for me yet, so I tinkered. Probably still some writing errors on my own part here, but it's Monday. And I'm not yet awake.

----------

Last week I pulled a book from my TBR stack. It's one by an author I hadn't read before even though she regularly makes bestseller lists. I was looking forward to the read because I thought I might learn something.

The story started off OK, even though there was a prologue. Prologues don't bother me as much as they do some people, but I'll admit to being a little surprised to find one. This one, from the antagonist's viewpoint, was tight and zippy, so I read right through it.

The first few pages of Chapter 1 were fine. Then there was a point-of-view shift from one paragraph to the next and back again. Just one paragraph in a different character's head, no section break, no nothing. Okay, I could forgive that, but I was surprised it wasn't caught.

Later in the first chapter, guess what showed up? A huge chunk of backstory, about five pages worth. I'm like what the hell? But the author has been around for many years and her fans love her. And this book was a couple years old. So I marked it as a perk we newbies can't yet enjoy.

I kept reading.

During the next few chapters there were more POV shifts. So I assumed this writer just writes that way and it's okay because she sells books. I might not prefer her style, but the story is good. And now that I knew how she wrote, I could overlook it as long as the story kept me enthralled.

The bombshell exploded yesterday afternoon.

I was sitting under my own personal tiki hut while the dogs played, looking forward to what was going to happen next in Book World. Sun was shining, light breeze was blowing. I started reading.

I didn't read far.

The setting was a crime scene. And it was all wrong. From the get to the go. Now I'm not a law enforcement officer or a forensics person. But I do research. A lot of research. Sometimes it might take me hours to learn what I need for just a portion of one sentence.

If this author did her research, she chose to ignore most of it. With no warning to the reader.

I closed the book. A minute or so later, I opened it again. I was just sitting there with nothing to do. The next thing I read was some narrative from the homicide detective. It didn't fit the character as we had known him up to that point. I closed the book again and it stayed closed. When I say the narrative didn't fit, it was disparate enough to shine in flashing neon lights. It was as if it had been written by a different person who hadn't read the first several pages of the novel.

When I came inside I threw the book into the 50-cent box for our upcoming garage sale. I'll sell it for less if asked.

Now if the writing had been clean - or at least cleaner - up to the point of the inaccuracies, I would have kept reading. The storyline was still good. And if I found another goof, I probably would have read more.

But it's the lumping together of all the problems that finally made me close the book and toss it.

Here's a list of the problems:

POV Shifts
Backstory - too much too soon
Technical Inaccuracies
Sloppy Characterization

And here's today's writing lesson:

Strive to be perfect. No one will be - we're all human. But the fewer errors you make, the better chance you have of being published.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten items for a healthy diet:

10. Veggies
9. Wine
8. Fruit
7. Beer
6. Grains
5. Ice Cream
4. Meat
3. Guacamole
2. Dairy Products

And the number one item for a healthy diet:

1. Chocolate

Remember, a healthy diet includes food for your body and food for your soul.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chug-a-Lug Run Run

Ever wondered about all those sports drinks?

Take a peek here at Eric Berger's SciGuy blog to learn how they really work. You might be surprised.

I'm outta here for the rest of the day. The dentist wants to peek at my toothies. Since I still don't have one here in San Antonio, it's a drive down to the coast. Aw, shucks!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Dream of Dogs

Literally.

Those who know me know that I often have strange, bizarre dreams. Strange, bizarre hormonally-fueled dreams.

Other times my dreams are a complete story with beginning, middle, and end.

Sometimes I awake dripping wet and can't climb out from under the covers fast enough to escape the nightmare.

Sometimes I go back to sleep and pick up the dream where I left off.

Once I even woke my dead-to-the-world live-in handyman and our dog with a blood-curdling scream.

But last night, I had the sweetest dream in all the world.

I was walking toward some unknown place with a purpose. A big red dog appeared. Not a big red dog like Clifford, but more like an Irish Setter. Anyway, this big red dog stood up on his hind legs and wrapped his front legs around my shoulders and gave me a huge hug.

This hug was filled with love, as if he knew who I was, had missed me, and was overjoyed to see me. I hugged him back. It was wonderful.

Then Wrangler and Shiner woke me ready to go outside.

It was a great dream. I wonder if I'll ever meet Big Red for real?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Exercise Your Writing Muscles

My favorite writing exercise is to string a group of random words into a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

One such story of mine, "Once Upon a Time," has been reprinted several times, and it all begin with a list of 10-12 words.

If you have a critique partner, you can set a day once a week or once a month or however often you choose, and give each other a list of words in the morning and have your stories due no later than the end of the day. The shorter time frame you give yourselves, the better. These stories do not have to be polished. You'll probably be finished in less than an hour with plenty of time to spare. If both of you enjoy this type of exercise, you may find yourselves racing - not only to see who finishes first, but also who has the best story.

If you don't have a critique partner, you can make up your own list of words. If you do this, I suggest you begin by keeping a small pad or a few index cards on your desk for this purpose. Each time you sit down, add a word to your list. The words should be unrelated. When you have enough words on the sheet or card, begin a new one. Do this until you have several. Mix them up.

When you have enough, begin your day by pulling one out of the stack and writing a story that incorporates every word on the list. Write it quickly. Let your subconscious make the connections.

If you write short, this gives you a start on a new story each time you do the exercise. If you write long, one or several may give you plot or character ideas or give you a new twist for a sagging middle.

Whether you write long or short, it will get your imagination and subconscious in gear and get you writing. Those muscles need to be exercised just like all your other ones.

Here's your first word list:
sample
floss
pitcher
palm
diamond
flag
book
frame
gadget
vent
slow
shove

Let me know if you write a story from these words. Really let me know if it's published!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pirates 2 - U.S. 0

UPDATE:
The crew on the tug of mixed nationalities - 10 Italians, 5 Romanians, and 1 Croatian. It took less than five minutes for the pirates to gain control.

=============

They've done it again.

This time they hijacked an American-owned tug pulling two barges in the Gulf of Aden. No word yet on the nationalities of the crew of 16.

Yesterday the French rescued a hijacked yacht. People lost their lives, including the yacht owner and two pirates. The remaining pirates were taken back to France to stand trial.

There's no easy fix for this abhorrent situation. These pirates are not modern Robin Hoods. They are thugs and bullies who have moved to the big leagues. It's a situation our country has now been forced to deal with, so it's time for us to pull up our big girl panties and get to work.

Watch for updates on this.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

I stole today's Top Ten post from an email I just received:

Top ten things I learned from the Easter Bunny:

10. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

9. Walk softly and carry a big carrot.

8. Everyone needs a friend who is all ears.

7. There's no such thing as too much candy.

6. All work and no play will make you a basket case.

5. Let happy thoughts multiply like rabbits.

4. Keep your paws off other people's jellybeans.

3. Come out of your shell and show your true colors.

2. Some body parts should be floppy.

And the number one thing I learned from the Easter Bunny:

1. The best things in life are sweet and gooey.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It Ain't the Same Old Pirates

UPDATE: I took the captain's name from the news reports on Thursday, where it was given as Mark Phillips. Captain Phillips' first name has been corrected to Richard. So please read Richard Phillips below instead of Mark Phillips. Also, I'm not sure if this will post again showing today's date or remain under Thursday. I need to tune up my geeky side. I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
-------------
There's no Penzance in the waters off Africa. No Black Pearl or Captain Jack Sparrow. No Captain Hook or Tinkerbell. As for real pirates, no Jean Lafitte or Blackbeard. No buried treasure.

Pirates have long captured our imaginations. We've romanticized them and dressed our children in pirate costumes for Halloween.

But yesterday Somalian pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama, a ship manned by an American crew. Pirate attacks off Africa are nothing new. These guys who hail from a dirt poor country have found a way to coerce a lot of money from shipping companies. Is hijacking ships on the high seas ethical? Legal? No. It's theft and extortion.

Has the world done anything about it? Not much. Last year some countries started sending ships to patrol the area. But it's a vast ocean out there where the pirates operate, and it would be impossible to cover all of it 24/7.

Yesterday it became personal for Americans. And for me. We have a friend who is a ship captain. And since he often sails off the African coast, we were naturally concerned for his welfare. It was a long wait until we heard Mark Phillips was the Maersk Alabama captain. Not our Charlie.

It's a different feeling when a tragedy or disaster has the potential to affect you personally.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mark Phillips and his family. And to the now-safe crew members and their families as well.

Let's not wait until another such attack gets personal for us. Next time it might not end as well. And as I write this, Captain Mark Phillips is still held hostage.

The Maersk Alabama was not a fluke. To the world, it was a wake-up call.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Rise and Shine


Today it's Shiner's turn. He's almost five months old now. 20-25 pounds. And look at those ears! He's vocal and makes a lot of sounds that sound more like a cat than a dog, but his favorite sound is his bark. Shiner LOVES to bark.

Next month we begin Obedience School, where I'm sure Shiner will try to make me behave. A woman affiliated with the group gave me a tip that - shhhh, I'm whispering so Shiner doesn't hear - seems to be working.

Each time he barks, I look him in the eye, point my finger at him, and say in a stern voice, "No bark!" Never smile. Always be taller. I found it doesn't work if he's in my lap or sitting next to me. Yesterday I learned it's now working if I say the words from another room.

It isn't an instant cure, but I've been doing this for less than a week now, and the frequency is decreasing. Not only do I need to say it on fewer occasions, but on each occasion I only need to say it once or twice instead of five or ten times.

There's also been a side benefit. Instead of barking a high-pitched, ear-piercing, "Arf!" to go out, most times he asks in quite a polite way. It's amazing - unexpected and wonderful!
Even better, it works with four-year old Wrangler. Shiner barks just to bark. Wrangler barks when people come into our yard or house. Or when the UPS or Fed/Ex trucks are on the street. Or sometimes when people are out walking.
With him, I found that since he's heard me doing this with Shiner, all I've had to do is say, "Wrangler, no bark," in a softer voice, and he stops.
Harriet, I love you!








Monday, April 6, 2009

Writing Between the Lines

You know how in real life it's always the words unsaid that give you the complete picture?

The same holds true in fiction.

Sound easy enough, right? Like getting a farm subsidy for not growing corn or wheat or soybeans - just don't write the words, and you're home free.

Not so much.

Writing between the lines requires planning and practice. For me the trick is knowing the thing I want the reader to know without the characters talking or thinking about it or sharing it in dialogue. Then I think about how I can do this. One way is to use words that imply specifics. Add in a grimace, a glance, or a tapping foot, and you can convey the knowledge to the reader without telling them the information.

You can't do this with everthing, of course, but there are times when it comes in handy.

For example:
Jane stood stock still inside Tom's study, his most private sanctuary. She wore clean white gloves to avoid leaving any marks on the polished surfaces. Although he'd never shared it with her, she knew what the combination would be to his safe. She turned the dial, and voila. Tom never failed to remember his mother's birthday.

Here's what I wanted you to know:
Tom has a touch of OCD.
Tom is controlling.
Tom has never allowed Jane inside his study.
Jane doesn't like that Tom's mother comes first.
Jane is determined.

How did I do? Do you get an idea how this works?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday in San Antonio

I hadn't planned to post today, but . . .
My live-in handyman and I went to the La Villita Spring Arts Festival today. Gorgeous weather. Lots of great art.
I don't have photos of any art, but here are a few of San Antonio.
Bougainvillea


Fountain at Pat O'Brien's

Riverwalk

Torch of Friendship














Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten ways to screw up dinner:

10. Forget it's your night to cook.

9. Forget you are cooking.

8. Lose your place in the recipe.

7. Use an ingredient someone is allergic to.

6. Lift the beaters out of the mashed potatoes before turning off the mixer.

5. Rub your eyes after slicing jalapenos. Even after you washed your hands.

4. Don't check to see what that smell is.

3. Don't realize you've cut your finger until you're mixing the salad - by hand.

2. Break out in hives while peeling the shrimp.

And the number one way to screw up dinner?

1. Find out at the last minute that the gourmet take-out place is out of business.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day

It's that day again. The one time of the year when we can prank our friends and family and get away with it.

Trouble is, I've never been much good and pulling April Fool jokes. I'm real good at having them pulled on me, though.

Not sure why that is. Maybe I send out neon vibes that shout easy target.

So take care. And don't believe everything people tell you today.

Happy April Fool's Day!