Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

The top ten things to love about summer:

10. Warm weather

9. Fresh, sun-ripened peaches

8. Flowers

7. Sunshine

6. No school

5. Air conditioning

4. The beach

3. The pool

2. Grilling out

And the number one thing to love about summer:

1. More beer!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pantser or Planner?

Unless a story comes to us complete and whole, most of us will fall more into one category than the other. And some of us sit with one cheek in each.

I've been having a couple of email conversations with two different people. In one, we're talking about imagination. This morning she said she thought most people didn't rely on imagination and the people who don't usually believe they possess little of it. She went on to say, "I think imagination can be awakened and can grow with use."

Her comments made me decide what to write here on the weekly writing post. As writers - especially as writers of fiction - we use our imaginations every day. Or we should.

But if we're solid planners, sometimes it's easy to become so mired in making sure all the details fit together we forget we used our imaginations to get to that point. That's when it's time to rock back and allow our imaginations to take the reins again and fix the problems. Wake it up and let it grow.

On the other hand, if we're solid pantsers we can have less of a problem relying on our imaginations but more of a problem in deciding which option to choose. Sometimes we have to follow each of those options to a final conclusion in order to select the one that works best for the story.

In each case, there are times we have to trust our intuitions - which brings me to the second email conversation I'm having. It's with one of my uncles about genealogy:

"You must remember that we only got where we are in this research by making some guesses that proved out."

Good advice for writers, too.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Please take a minute of your time today to remember those who gave their lives for our country. And those who are currently in harm's way.

I'll make my regular Monday writing post tomorrow.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten truths about Texas:

10. Some of our cities are larger than Rhode Island.

9. You can drive for hours and never see another vehicle.

8. You can be stuck in traffic for hours and never know why.

7. People say Howdy!

6. And Y'all.

5. Temperatures can be below freezing in the Panhandle and in the 90's in the Valley at the same time.

4. Texans are friendly.

3. Texans are proud.

2. Don't Mess with Texas is more than a slogan.

And the number one truth about Texas:

1. Bluebonnets - No Place But Texas!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

w-a-i-t-i-n-g

My life is full and busy. I love it that way.

I've talked before about all the lists I keep. My live-in handyman is THE most spontaneous person in the universe. If he never had to keep to any sort of schedule or routine, he would be completely fine with it.

Not me.

I need order in my life. Structure. I can be spontaneous to a point, but there comes a time I need to know what's coming next. Not just "whatever."

So today was already full with things I needed to do. Things outside my house, not just putzing around here. At least there aren't any set appointments involved, like my haircut appointment yesterday.

Speaking of my haircut, right after I got home yesterday afternoon, I learned that today between 8-12 the repairman will be here for the microwave. Repair a microwave? Yes. A built-in one that is covered under our homeowners warranty. So add FOUR HOURS to an already full schedule, not to mention that I now had to actually be dressed before 8 a.m. in case that's when they showed up.

Now they just called at 9:30. They're on the way. I should be happy they'll be done by 10:30. I hope. If so, that puts me behind schedule only 2-1/2 hours instead of four.

Sigh.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Snip, Snip

Today I have a haircut appointment.

I LOVE getting my hair cut. You can read why I wear it short here. When we moved, I dreaded having to look for someone new. Most haircutters either have no clue how to work with my hair or don't want to cut it as short as I like it.

But I lucked out and found the perfect one on the first visit. Even better, she's only a few blocks from my house. My hair grows fast, and I have it cut every four weeks. I should go every three, but I deal with it during that last week. Money and time. You know.

But back to why I love getting a haircut. Bottom line, it makes me feel like a queen. Sort of like a massage, only a treat that is a need and not a want. From the time I walk in until the time I walk out, I'm pampered. And when I walk out, I look better. Something that doesn't happen with a massage.

What more could a girl ask for?

Well, a lot, but I'm trying to be real here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What a Character!

This morning I was searching for something on the web and when the options came up I knew I'd put in the wrong search terms. But one of the articles looked interesting so I clicked on it. It was from the 11-29-08 edition of The New York Times and titled "Never Let Them See You Sweat." You can read the full article here. It's about regulating emotions and what we expect from certain people.

Anyway, the article delves into the major parts of personality and how these are divvied up in each of us. How some rely more on genetics and others appear to be more environmental. You can remember these personality parts by the acronym OCEAN:
  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeability
  • Neuroticism
Each of these attributes should be present in all your characters. But they should be different in all your characters. Even if you have a story about twins. By using this as a guide, you can build a solid base for Mary and Joe and Tom and Jane. And everyone else you create.

Here are two examples from opposite ends of the spectrum:

1. Mary is an open book. She never hides anything from herself or her friends. If it happens to her, the world knows it. She has a hard time saying no to any requests, and she is always busy. Everyone in town knows her because she always makes time for everyone and never meets a stranger. Year after year the PTA persuades her to serve on one committee or another because she's able to get the members to come together quickly and get things moving. All is fine until it's not. Mary is unable to take any form of criticism without it eating away at her. If one of her children is sick, she zooms to panic mode in thirty seconds, certain her child is dying.

2. Jane is a private person. The few friends she has know little about her, only what she chooses to tell them. She isn't too reliable either. If she feels like not working one day, she won't think twice about calling in sick and then going to the beach. And when she does work, she gets the job done but if there's a mistake . . . oh, well. She'd rather be caught dead than ask anyone if they'd like to go to lunch or shopping. And if they ask her, she often says no just to be disagreeable. But in an emergency, Jane's the one everyone wants. She's cool, calm, and collected. She can jump into any situation and take charge.

See how this works? It's like buying mix-and-match separates. Or selecting the pieces for your own bed-in-a-bag. Everyone has the same choices, but each look will be unique.

Take this list and go character shopping!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten things to love about dogs:

10. Wagging Tails "See how much I love you?"

9. Soft Ears "Oh yes, right there!"

8. Big Smiles "I just shredded the newspaper in the other room and you didn't see me."

7. Good Sits "Okay, just for you. What's next?"

6. Comfort "I'm here Mommy. Everything is all right."

5. Play Time "Now! Now! Can we play now? Pleeeze!!!"

4. Protection "The UPS man is MINE!"

3. Nap Time "Sigh."

2. Doggy Drool "Look! I made a picture on the window!"

And the number one thing to love about dogs:

1. Kisses "I love you!"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hubba Hubble

I'm linking again to Eric Berger's SciGuy blog.

He's posting some of his favorite photos from the Hubble Space Telescope - one a day during the shuttle mission to make repairs to the orbiting telescope/camera.

You'll need to scroll down to view yesterday's. And maybe to view today's because he's also posting other shuttle mission info.

But the photos are amazing.

It's worth the scroll

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Zoom Zoom and Zonked

Wrangler and Shiner - aka Woof and Arf - went out to play this morning. Unknown to me at the time, the sprinklers were on.

They stayed out a long time.

When they were ready to come back in:
  • both were dripping wet
  • both wore huge smiles
  • two tongues dripped drool
I got a towel and dried them off at least a little.

Whatever game they were playing picked right back up. Woof is larger and is pretty much a gentleman. Arf is our own Silver Bullet. He shot out from the towel, into the family room, grabbed a toy and squeaked it all around the house. Up and down, around and around. Woof followed him around like an approving parent.

Two seconds later, both crashed.

They're still sound asleep.

Zonked.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stumped?

I've sat here for a few minutes and stared at the Blogger 'new post' screen and wondered what today's writing post is going to be about. When I started typing the first sentence I still didn't know. By the time I got to the second one, I did.

It's about letting your subconscious and your fingers connect while your conscious mind stays out of the picture.

There's probably a word for that. And there's probably some how-to book about it. But here's my version and what works for me.

When I reach a place where I don't know what to write, I'll take a short break if it's in the middle of the day. If it occurs when I'm just starting to write, such as happened here this morning, I'll just start writing.

If it's fiction, I'll start writing from the character's point of view. And I start small - I start with minute details. Such as: He woke up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. For the jillionth time the stain on the floor yelled at him to call the carpet cleaner. "Shut up," he said, staring straight at it and making a face. When he stood, he purposely placed his left foot square on top of the stain so that only a little strip of it, like a lightning bolt, could be seen.

Now that's horrible. And I know that I'll toss whatever I write during this time. But that's OK. Usually, this happens after I've begun the story and I know what the character needs to do next but I'm not quite sure the best way to get her there. So whatever I type will be things that will move her forward from Point A to Point B.

Sometimes I'm lucky and it's only a sentence or two. Sometimes not, and it's a couple of pages. But at some point, the lightbulb clicks on, and I'm good to go with the real words and story.

It works for me.

Give it a try next time you're stumped. Maybe it will work for you, too.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Derecho

Don't know what that is? Take a peek here at Eric Berger's SciGuy blog to find out.

Then get out and enjoy what's left of the weekend!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten signs you might be having a bad day:

10. There's no hot water.

9. Your hair dryer won't turn on, not even after you press reset.

8. You forgot to buy coffee.

7. You stop at Starbucks . . . only to discover you have eight cents in your wallet and your Starbucks card is missing.

6. Your computer refuses to boot.

5. Your cell phone dies mid-conversation. With your boss.

4. Your car has a flat tire.

3. You're late for an important appointment.

2. Your favorite TV show is pre-empted for a political speech.

And the number one sign you might be having a bad day:

1. There's only half a glass of wine left in the last bottle.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mothers

So I'm sitting here finishing my last cup of coffee, not intending to blog today, and what happens?

The perfect idea for a post popped into my head.

Sunday is Mother's Day.

We all have a mother. Some of us have more than one.

Everyday Moms
Adopted Moms
Step Moms
Birth Moms
Best Friend's Moms
House Moms
Women Who Are Like Moms

Some of us ARE moms.

So whatever your situation, take time on Sunday to remember your mom. All your moms.

If she's nearby, give her a hug. If not, give her a call. If she's no longer living, take a few minutes and remember good things about her and fun times you shared.

She's given you a lot of her time. Give her a minute or two.

And if you reach her voicemail, remember . . . mom's have lives, too!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I'm free! I'm free!

Today is bath day for the doggies. I just returned home from the groomer and poured my first cup of caffeine.

The house is blissfully silent with no undercurrent of canine tension. No low growls. No tap of nails on the floor. No baleful stares at me from either side of the door.

Today is mine, all mine.

Except it's shedding season. Before I can get down to some serious writing work, I need to de-doggy the place. I'll actually be able to dust and vacuum and enjoy a No Dog Hair Zone for a few hours.

It's the little things that keep me happy.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Two for the Price of One

Today's writing post will cover two handy-dandy tips. Both came to me through reading yesterday. Since I read them both within an hour of each other, I thought I'd share them both with you today. If I was smarter, I'd save one for next week, but . . . oh, well.

Tip #1 - Clues

Yesterday's San Antonio Express-News carried an item about Mary and Carol Higgins Clark. You can read the full article here.

Near the end of the piece, the writer includes a quote from Mary Higgins Clark:
"In one version of 'Hansel and Gretel,' Hansel drops smooth stones and Gretel drops bread crumbs," Mary explains. "The suspense writer is dropping both. Most astute readers will pick up the bread crumbs and ignore the stones."

Clues don't apply only to mystery and suspense plots. Clues apply to character, setting, attitude, passions, and just about everything needed for a successful story of any genre, whether the story is a flash or a novel.

Clues take many forms. A clue can be the proverbial gun on the mantel. It can be a look between two friends, the choice of one shirt over another, or drops of blood on the living room floor.

So remember the importance of clues. Have fun with them. And plant them well. They will grow into a lush story with many colorful characters.

Tip #2 - Writing Who You Are

Some writers say: Write what you know.

Other writers say: Explore and learn. Write beyond yourself and don't make every character a copy of you.

I've always said: Do both.

And it appears I'm not alone.

Yesterday I finished a book that had been sitting in my TBR stack for a long time. It was Devil's Corner by Lisa Scottoline. An excellent read, by the way.

Near the end of the final chapter - and this isn't a spoiler for anyone who hasn't read the book and wants to - is this bit of dialogue between father and daughter:

"You can't go home again, Victoria."

"I know people say that, but I disagree. I think you never really leave."

"What?"

"I'm Devon, Dad. I'm Devon, wherever I go. Some people are pure South Philly, and a New Yorker is always a New Yorker." . . . "Think about it, Dad. There's Jersey girls and Valley girls. Chicagoans and San Franciscans, Texans and Bostonians. . . ."

This says what I mean by doing both. Like the old saw that you can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl.

If you write mystery, one of your characters kills another. Most mystery writers have never killed anyone. Yet we are able to project how and why a character will commit such a crime. We create both characters and neither may be like us in any way that we can see. The murder may take place in a location we've only dreamed about visiting.

But - each character contains at least a smidgen of our DNA. Even if we now live in Phoenix, where we're from is always with us. More importantly, everything we've learned in our lives is always with us. It shows. It might be in the way we string words together to form a sentence. It might be in how a character reacts.

And the setting, although real, is stamped with our imprint as well. It's presented to the reader as we perceive it. And it will be different from the way anyone else sees the same place. Even if it's presented through a character and may not reflect what we, personally, think of the location.

So explore - online, in books, or if you're lucky enough, in person. Learn new things. Grow - in both your personal and professional lives. But don't be afraid to put yourself into your work. Austin or Boston. Both are great. Don't hide.

Let yourself shine, and your stories will shine, too.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten songs that take root in my head:

10. Yellow Submarine

9. Staying Alive

8. YMCA

7. The Itsy Bitsy Spider

6. Margaritaville

5. Some Beach

4. Born to be Wild

3. Happy Birthday

2. Fur Elise aka the Benny Hill song

And the number one song that loves my head - the one that's played all morning:

1. All My Exes Live in Texas