Monday, June 29, 2009

I Cannot Tell a Lie

I came here today to make a post about writing. But we'll get back to that next Monday. You get another week of vacation.

In the comments section of my previous post, Helen Ginger of Straight From Hel tagged me with the I Cannot Tell a Lie meme. Go over there - after you finish reading here, of course - and read her answers. I can't hope to top hers - they're awesome. Here are the rules:

"Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don’t tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this Meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks (one for each deadly sin) and hope they can lie."

Pride: What is your biggest contribution to the world?
When my live-in handyman and I lived in New York, I did fact research for the NYTimes. I'm most proud of one of the stories I worked on about political corruption being nominated for the Pulitzer.

Envy: What do your co-workers wish they had that is yours?
My amazing metabolism. For some reason, I can eat and drink as I please and not gain weight.

Gluttony: What did you eat last night?
Breakfast food. Several slices of bacon, three eggs, hashbrowns, two biscuits with gravy, and a stack of pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

Lust: What really lights your fire?
Golf. Watching men play golf. All that concentration. The long shaft of the club. The little ball on the ground. But I digress.

Anger: What is the last thing that really pissed you off?
The squirrel that lives in our oak tree. He sits directly in front of my writing window and stares at me. This morning he held a stem of dried nandina berries. He'd nibble away, but every once in a while he must have found a bad one because he spit those at the window. Then he had the nerve to turn around, raise his tail, and moon me!

Greed: Name something you keep from others?
My sense of humor. I want people to believe I'm a deep thinker with a serious attitude.

Sloth: What's the laziest thing you've ever done?
Once I rigged up a pulley system from the sofa to the refrigerator so I could open the door, grab a drink or chocolate, and pull it to me while I watched soap operas.

Now I'm supposed to tag seven other bloggers. Yikes! Not happening - I don't know enough other bloggers yet. But I will tag a few: Michael Bracken at CrimeFictionWriter, Mark Troy at Hawaiian Eye, Laura Elvebak at A Writer's Musings, Mary Moores at Holy Mackerel.

Go visit them, too, and see what they have to say

Sunday, June 28, 2009

No News is Good News

I'm sorry to report I failed in my mission.

The witchy woman on duty at our hotel this morning said, "I'm sorry, all I know is that the fire department was called."

Yeah, right.

But on a happier note, my live-in handyman and I rolled up the driveway about 5:30 this afternoon. We had such a good time, but it's wonderful to be home now.

I'll be back here with a writing post on Monday.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fiery Cajun Food

Well . . . let me just tell you.

I sat down to write about the three sheriff's deputies in Baton Rouge who directed us to the Acme Oyster House tonight. Here's a shout-out to you if you should stumble upon this blog. It was reasonably priced and the food was great. The shrimp and crab gumbo was beyond great. I'm glad we found you in the other parking lot.

Since I'm a Texan, I was taught never to eat oysters in months that don't have an R in them. June is one of those. So I passed up the oysters. But there were plenty of other choices, and I was stuffed when we left.

So we came back to the hotel.

Live-in Handyman checked his email then went to bed. He was already asleep, snoring softly. Then it began. The fire alarm went off. At first I didn't realize what it was. Maybe 15-20 seconds. It was a little muted through the walls and door.

I'm surprised I didn't panic. But I felt the door. Then opened it. No more mute. No smoke. Live-in Handyman said, "What's happening?" Bed hair and groggy eyes and all.

Thirty seconds later we were in the stairwell.

Two engines and the fire captain arrived within three minutes after we were outside.

I didn't get the full gist of what happened. Live-in Handyman won't let me eavesdrop or ask leading questions. My sweet protector :)

Something about a fire extinguisher dropping and going off??? Anyone know?

I'll find out in the morning. We should be back home tomorrow, so I'll give you a full report.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Charleston

Let me just say that Charleston is a beautiful city with wonderful people. I have yet to meet anyone who's grumpy or nasty. And I've met some outside the tourist industry.

It's my first time here, and I'm pretty impressed.

If the city were a book, it grabbed me on page one.

But don't get in a hurry, because the pace is quite laid back.

And be prepared to listen with both ears when locals speak. I love the accent.

Bring your camera. Mine is great and easy to operate. It takes good photos. But I was wishing for one with a big zoom lens so I could focus on details. Most of those I'll just have to remember. But I have some others to help me. I'll post a few shots when we get home.

Also bring your appetite for some great seafood. Now it isn't Texas seafood, but it's every bit as good in Low Country style.

Charleston is a unique city with a rich history.

Visit if you have the opportunity.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Roadie Food

My live-in handyman isn't fond of flying, so when we travel we drive. If possible. We also try to work in any number of side trips near our destination to get more bang for our buck.

I tell you this so you can more fully appreciate the story I'm about to tell you.

On this trip we drove. And it seems that every other state has monster work happening on the interstates with traffic backed up for literally 10-15 miles and crawling.

Lucky for us, the first back-up we saw yesterday was going in the opposite direction. So when we found signs on our side, we pulled out the map and found a back way. This is the reason it's taken us a few hours each day more that we planned to reach our destination.

Today we encountered another road work area and plotted our new course. No big deal.

When we travel like this, I don't like to eat because it makes me sluggish and sleepy. Plus road food is usually greasy and heavy. So I graze on junk food. Salty junk food because I have the opposite of a sweet tooth. And either water, or unsweet iced tea, or Classic Coke - fully caffeinated and sugared. This is the only time I ever drink any kind of soda. Or if I'm sick.

So today it's around lunch time. We're mid-detour. I grabbed a Coke and a bag of Doritos. My live-in handyman was driving, so I munched away. We came to a suburb. With traffic.

All of a sudden, my live-in handyman makes a right turn into a shopping center.

I grabbed everything to keep it from dumping on the floor. "What the--"

"Bakery." My live-in handyman does not have a sweet tooth. He has sweet teeth. Many.

He parked, got out, and was mid-swing in slamming the door when he asked, "Want anything?"

I guess my look was enough, so he went in alone. I pulled out my book and munched away.

Tap, tap, tap on the window.

Live-in handyman stood there with something mooshy on a spoon. "Try this."

"Cheesecake?" Now I may not have a sweet tooth, but I love chocolate, tangy lemon sweets, and good cheesecake. Emphasis on the good part. I don't crave them, but they're my go-to goodies.

I popped the morsel in my Dorito covered mouth.

Oh. My. God.

It was THE best cheesecake I have ever tasted outside of the boundaries of Manhattan. Hands down. Not from a five-star restaurant in a large city but from a side-of-the-road bakery outside Atlanta.

Kudos to the bakers by the highway in Peachtree City, Georgia.

Live-in handyman then went back inside to buy his goodies. He came out with three bags.

He handed one to me. It contained a box fit for a to-go salad. Inside was a huge slice of cheesecake.

I ate it all.

It was the perfect taste to go with Nacho Cheese Doritos and Classic Coke.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Notes & Reminders

Today's post is a mish-mash of different things because my live-in handyman and I will be leaving in the morning on vacation. Yes, writers and bloggers get vacations, too. We just don't get paid for them.

Or real time off. I'm taking our old laptop that's slow enough for me to read a chapter or so before it finishes booting. I hope to make at least a few posts here while we're out and about, but I don't imagine they will be on a regular schedule. Especially on travel days.

So check in every few days and see what's up.

We will be back to regularly scheduled programming on Monday, June 29.

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Blogger has done a number on my comments. If you've left one and it hasn't appeared, please try again. If you've left one and I haven't replied, please check again. Last night I had some comments that needed moderation. And I do not have 'Moderate Comments' turned on. I approved all that were there, and responded.

So if you left a comment and haven't seen it or you saw it and I hadn't responded, please check again. I have responded to all I've received.

And let us hope Blogger fixes this little glitch soon.

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Don't forget Father's Day this Sunday.

Some old guy had fun giving you life. And some guy had more fun watching you grow up. These two do not necessarily need to be the same man. Father's Day is the day to remember the man you call "Daddy" and do something special for him.

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Help Our Furry Friends

This is the time of year when animal shelters become inundated with puppies and kittens. You can help feed them by clicking here.

The Animal Rescue Site helps support most shelters and rescue groups. Each click costs you nothing but a minute of your time and provides about 1/2 cup of food.

Furry babies waiting to find their forever homes thank you.

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I'll be back here before you know it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Graduate

On Saturday, Shiner graduated from obedience school. He's come a long way in his seven months of life.

From this:



From unruly puppy who barked at the wind and nipped at anything he could reach, he's learned to no bark, get off, sit, heel, give, come, down, stay, and leave it.

Like writing or anything else, it takes practice for these commands to become automatic. But Shiner "gets it" about what he's supposed to do. Getting it is the important part. Like learning to ride a bicycle. Once you get the balance thing, you're good to go. Everything else builds on that.

To this:


Shiner . . . this one's for you!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Do-Re-Mi

Today I want to talk about voice.

Wouldn't it be nice if writers could take voice lessons like singers do? In a way we need to learn the same lessons.

Singers learn about projection. We can compare it to getting a reader's attention. After all, if no one can hear you sing or no one wants to read further than your opening sentence, you'll end up singing to or writing for yourself.

They learn enunciation. For us, it's choosing the right word for the right job. Think about the word "walkway." I went to the thesaurus. Here are a few choices. Think what a different picture you paint by using a non-generic choice.
  • path
  • aisle
  • hall
  • sidewalk
  • trail
  • corridor
  • passageway
  • boardwalk

Singers learn breathing. Not only how to breathe but when to breathe. We can compare this to pacing. When to give our readers a pause in the action, when to go for the gusto.

And what do singers do at every lesson and between lessons? They practice!

This is the key. You find your voice by practice. The lessons teach you the correct way, but after that it's up to you.

When I first started writing, somone told me I'd have to write a million words before I'd be any good. I thought he was full of crap. Now I think he was right, because I misunderstood what he meant by those words.

He didn't mean I wouldn't be able to sell anything. He meant it would most likely take that long for me to find my true voice.

So here's your voice lesson for today:

Take a book from your shelf, preferably one you haven't read. Pick a writer you haven't read in a while or someone you haven't read before. Find the beginning of a random chapter, but not Chapter One. Or choose a short section. Read 2-3 paragraphs. Think about what the author conveys.

Now rewrite those few paragraphs in YOUR voice.

Here's an example. This is from a writer I don't know and an old mystery published in 1992. It's the opening paragraph to Chapter 16 of THE YOM KIPPUR MURDER by Lee Harris:

Harris's words:

I didn't sleep very well. Sometime around two in the morning the sound of the town alarm awakened me. Seconds later I heard sirens approach, and immediately my doorbell started ringing and someone pounded on the door.

My words:

I didn't sleep well. The town alarm woke me, but before I was awake enough to sneak out from the covers, sirens approached and my doorbell rang. Whoever was at my door started pounding before I had both feet on the floor and could look at the clock. It was 2:03.

Keep writing and you'll find your voice.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten things that wake people up at night:

10. Screaming sirens

9. Barking dogs

8. Howling cats

7. Crying babies

6. Ringing phones

5. Mis-set alarms

4. Loud snoring

3. Thunderstorms

2. Nightmares

And the number one thing that wakes us up at night:

1. "Mommy?"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Law Enforcement Appreciation

I have great respect for members of law enforcement.

Especially the ONE who stopped me the other day.

When I was running late.

And in a hurry.

Who then handed me a ticket for speeding.

Which made me even later.

Officer C-------, this is for you.

I'm sure our streets are safer now because you stopped a woman with a dog - who didn't even bark at you, by the way.

I didn't tell you I often write about people like you.

And I gave you an A+ for procedure.

I'm sure I looked extremely dangerous.

I know. Looks can be deceiving.

Would you have stopped me if I didn't drive a sporty little red car?

My dog didn't even bark at you. And still you wrote me up.

Didn't your mother teach you about appreciation?

I know. You were doing your job.

Just remember. I'm a writer. A mystery and romantic suspense writer. The next time I kill a cop, I'll be thinking of you.

On paper. On paper. On paper!

Yes, I know you have my address.

Bad. I should just shut up.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Muffin Principle

This morning I ate an English muffin for breakfast.

When it came out of the toaster, the golden brown peaks stood proud. Melting butter flowed into creamy white nooks and crannies.

Trophy food at its finest - from my own kitchen.

My mouth watered in anticipation, and the first bite filled my tastebuds with wonder.

The rest was, well, an English muffin.

- - - - -

I actually ate the English muffin one day last week, but it gave me the idea for this post.

Writing of description should be like the description of last week's English muffin.

There's more I could have written about the muffin, but why?

It's round. Everyone knows that, so there's no need to tell readers what they already know.

They're messy. The corn meal falls off and scatters on the counter, and they never arrive fully sliced. When you run the knife through, bits and pieces fall out and join the corn meal.

I was aiming for mouth-watering yumminess, but had I been aiming for a funny description, I would go with the mess. Something like:

Half asleep, I pulled the muffin from the box. When I did, corn meal skittered across the counter, each grain trying to be the first to reach the floor. They all made it, most of them turning to grit between my toes. Thinking today would be a first, I tried to pry the thing apart. I succeeded in breaking off half of one side, leaving me with three-quarters of an English muffin, half a circle of doughy, untoasted bread, and a white crumb the size of a pea sitting smack in the middle of my big toe.

See how you can pick and choose what to describe?

Next time you write description, think about the lowly muffin. Keep it as an example for what you choose to show your readers. And how you choose to present it.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten things I'd do for a Klondike Bar:

10. Karaoke

9. Dance on the corner

8. Recite poetry in the park

7. Fly a kite

6. Walk in the rain

5. Limbo

4. Climb a tree

3. Swim with a dolphin

2. Skinny dip in the ocean

And the number one thing I'd do for a Klondike Bar:

1. Kiss a puppy

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Women Rock

This morning I started writing about something else here. About plans vs. impulses, but I'm still not awake enough to think that one through.

Maybe another day. Or not.

Last night my live-in handyman and I played Spades with the couple we always play Spades with. Spades, for anyone who doesn't know isn't some kind of kinky thing . . . it's a card game.

We play partners, men vs. women. She and I always win. Always. ALWAYS!

Except last night we lost.

We knew it was happening but were powerless to prevent it. Nothing worked. Even extreme measures failed. We decided it was because we hadn't consumed enough alcohol. Seemd as good an excuse as any.

They better watch out the next time we play.

- - - - -

Moral of the story: Don't mess with women!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Trash Pick Up

Today is trash day.

Each week, Tuesday and Friday, the truck comes around and men toss the detritus of our day-to-day lives in the back. They move on to the next house, and we begin anew. Already this morning I've tossed items in a new trash bag.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could throw away destructive attitudes and habits in the same way?

Maybe we can. It just won't be as easy. But I think I'll give it a try. I might not get rid of two a week, but even one a month or one every couple of months would be an improvement.

Think about it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Writing About Writing

Unlike many writers, I didn't start early. I didn't write a chapter book when I was eight. Didn't publish poetry in high school. Didn't sell to a literary magazine in college. Had no clue I wanted to write.

I read a lot. I loved getting lost in other worlds, other people's lives. Still do.

All my life, however, stories have formed in my head. Not always complete stories, though. Sometimes a snippet of dialogue, sometimes a plot snippet, sometimes a character name with a visual image and hints of what the person is about.

As I grew older, some of these bits grew as well. Sort of like having a make believe friend, only I had a whole cast and crew - each with an individual agenda.

What did I know? I thought everyone's head was like mine.

One year at work, I ended up with someone else's calendar - and kept it. At the top of each page was a color photograph. That first work day in January, I wrote a couple of paragraphs about that picture. And I did that for every work day of the year. I kept them in a file on my computer. I did it sort of like this blog, before I started my day. Sometimes the photos were no-starters for me and I had only a paragraph or two. Sometimes I had a real flash story - or a story beginning - written in a matter of minutes.

It was the beginning of getting all the people out of my head and onto paper/screen/whatever. A few years after that, I started to write for real. I took a few creative writing type courses, bought a bushel of how-to books, and dived in.

I thought I knew how to write.

I knew nothing.

Then I found these marvelous things called critique groups. All in all, at one time or another, I belonged to seven or eight, I think. Not all at once. I learned a lot from each group. And I hope a few of those group members learned a little from me.

Now I have two critique partners I rely on to tell me when something sucks. They're good, and they tell me that a lot!

I still have a lot to learn.

So I keep writing. The more I write, the more I learn. The more I read, the more I learn.

On these Monday writing posts, I try to stay away from specifics. For every "writing rule" out there, you can find hundreds of places on the web that will tell you how to accomplish it. Most will be different. That's because writers are human, and each of us approaches the writing situation from a unique position. What works for Amy would send Tom screaming from the room.

What I do try to accomplish is to give you tips on what has worked for me. How I do certain things. When I do write about specifics, such as characterization, I strive to make the post open-ended and not cast in stone. I don't plan to ever make a writing post and say this is how you must construct a scene.

If I did, you might laugh so hard you'd snort coffee up your nose. Why should you listen to me? My short fiction and articles have been published, but no novels. No non-fiction books. You can't find me in your local bookstore. Yet. So if no one knows who I am, what do I know?

Like learning from critique groups about why certain things work and others don't, I think you can learn from me different ways to keep your writing going in the right direction. Feel free to tell me I'm full of it. Won't be the first time.

But give me a shot on Mondays. You just might find an occasional ah-ha! moment. Or a tidbit that keeps you writing for one more day.

I hope so.