Monday, August 31, 2009

Woodchucks and Siege Engines

Here's my dilemma.

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?

As with any question, the left brain immediately seeks the logical answer, in this case going for the mathmatics.

But wait, there's more.

There's that dastardly IF thrown in so nonchalantly.

So does a woodchuck chuck wood or not?

And what is chucking wood, anyway?

So here I go off to my favorite search engine.

And how did anyone come up with the moniker of search engine? Did it have anything to do with siege engines?

Research.

It leads down the most interesting avenues and to a few cul-de-sacs and dead-ends.

My little brain is filled with odds and ends. Does everything end up in a story? Of course not. Barely a smidgen (technical term) lands there. Some side trips - like to the siege engine site - never do. But it all enriches your base of knowledge and primes the pump.

The other day I had to wake myself up twice while slogging through a 15-page Coast Guard human resources publication about officer promotions. After I read it, I talked to a real live Coastie to find out what sort of duty stations would have been available at that time.

Time spent = most of a morning.

The reason? To figure out where my protagonist had been in her career at a certain point in her life.

How much will be in the manuscript? Maybe a sentence or two scattered throughout.

Here's the thing.

Don't scrimp or begrudge your research time. It all pays off in the end, one way or another.

On the flip side, set limits for yourself. Like the siege engine. Recognize you're off on a tangent and allow yourself one every once in a while. Just don't let the tangents catapult you too far away from your main focus.

Unless you land in a field of goodies, of course. Then pick them all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten things that sting:

10. Bees

9. Slaps

8. Wasps

7. Reprimands

6. Hornets

5. Angry Words

4. Yellow Jackets

3. Con Jobs

2. Jellyfish

And the #1 thing that stings:

1. Rejections

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

. . . are when the best ideas come.

Case in point.

Just the other day, I discovered a major problem with my new manuscript. All day I futzed around searching for a way to make it work my way. I could've changed it a couple ways to make it work, but it would have become a different story.

The new story would've been OK, but it would differ in a big way from the way I really want to write it.

I wrote a friend and spelled out the problem. She had a few suggestions - good ones - and I spent the evening pursuing one of her ideas. By the end of the night, I had a solid direction to follow up on the next morning.

Upstairs getting ready for bed - well after midnight - I had a V-8 moment. Duh! I knew exactly what to do. Such a simple answer, too. How come it took me all day?

I don't have the answer for that question. I do know this kind of thing happens to me a lot. After I give up concentrated focus on a problem and think about something else, the answer often pops into my head. Usually this is right before bedtime or right when I awake in the mornings.

It's as if my subconscious says, "About time you gave up and let me handle it."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Oooh, What's This?

Curiosity.

They say it killed the cat.

That's the left brainers talking.

Writers - and other right brainers - know curiosity by other names. It's our spark, our muse, our subconscious, our what-if.

We see one thing and want to know a thousand bits of information about it.

It's what we use to get to that core of emotion we seek to get across to our readers. That essence of personality we want our readers to understand about our characters.

Our curiosity is a gift to be fed and nutured.

How do we do that?

By not being afraid to explore.

Walk down those lanes that intrigue you, physically as well as mentally and emotionally.

See what lurks behind the cobwebs in the corners of your mind.

You might be surprised by what you find.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten ways a writer cleans house:

10. Cleans off notes written to herself in the dust

9. Sneaks a glance at the monitor to reread the last paragraph she wrote

8. Scrubs the cooktop where the pot boiled over while she read the latest bestseller

7. Turns the page with her other hand

6. Cleans the window by her desk so she has a clear view while she's thinking

5. Gets a new idea and stops to jot it down

4. An hour later . . .

3. Vacuums crumbs from around her desk

2. Mops paw prints from the floor

And the #1 way a writer cleans house:

1. When it's important, she calls Merry Maids

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dog Tire-d

I apologize for the messed-up spacing in this post. I think it must have something to do with the photos. Just know that I do have white space between paragraphs, but I can't get it to show here. - C
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Puppies chew. It's a given. It soothes them much like a massage or a good stiff drink soothes us mere humans.
Shiner is nine months, but still a puppy until he's a year. After puppyhood, dogs usually lose the need to chew as much as they did when they were puppies. In the past this has been true for all our dogs. But we've never had a world-class chewer before. Shiner is world-class.
Back in June, we bought him a Paw Prints Tirebiter. It's made from thick rubber exactly like a miniature tire. It's 8" in diameter. From the marketing photo, you can see what it looked like, including the paw-print treads and how wide the tread part of the tire is.


This is what it looks like today. The tiles are 12" tiles.





I think Shiner's next goal is to eat the words off the piece on the right because he's eaten through the rubber at that point.
Now, while he's had a grand time with this toy, put yourself in my place. I walk into a room where he's playing with it - and this is usually the family room - and there are tiny rubber pieces on the rug, the floor, the ottoman. Day after day.
He likes to mess with me, and one day he left me a piece in the laundry room.
Yesterday, he and Wrangler were playing. I could hear them from my desk and knew all was OK by the tones of their yips and grrs.
Usually they play five minutes or so before one tires or one gets angry. But yesterday, they'd been playing about twice as long as usual and were still going at it.
I got up to see what was so good. Here's what they were playing with:
This is a tiny piece of the tire.
One would pick it up, run it by the other's nose, and drop it. The other would pick it up and do the same. They'd do this a few times, then they'd play tug-of-war with this little bit of rubber.
Nose to nose.
Then the game started again. They played for almost twenty minutes.
Go figure.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Give it Your All

As writers, we have responsibilities. To our readers and to ourselves.

To our readers we owe the very best we have to give.

This means don't let those rough patches of narrative slide. Whether it means they're blah and not emotionally charged or the structure needs attention or whatever. Fix them. Same with stilted lines of dialogue, spots of redundancy, and anything else that catches your eye as you read through your work again and again.

When you think you've caught and fixed them all, let it sit at least 24 hours. Longer if possible. Read it again. I guarantee you'll change at least one thing - even if it's only spotting an excess space or a stray comma.

To ourselves we owe the very best we have to give.

Last week I talked a little about taking care of ourselves and our relationships. Today I want to talk about taking care of our mental and emotional health.

I recently finished a long edit. It became doubly involved because of our move to San Antonio, which meant it took at least a jillion more hours than it should have. Don't try that at home! It's dangerous.

Anyway by the time I finished reading the manuscript through after the edit, I questioned if the story was good . . . or not. Do not let your mind go there! That's dangerous territory as well. It's either good or it isn't. If you've given your work the best you have to give - and I knew I had - then it is as good as you can make it at this point in your writing career. Let it go.

Don't dwell on the negative.

Look forward.

Build up energy and optimism.

Begin a new project.

And that's it. Sounds simple, right?

Try it. It is!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ana, Bill, and Friends

Having gone through two and a half months of hurricane season with not so much as a strong sea breeze . . . bang!

Two named storms and a tropical depression withing 24 hours.

Tropical Storm Ana looks like it's headed for the Gulf of Mexico, and at this point it looks like it will remain a tropical storm or shrink to a depression, which is good. Once it reaches the Gulf, however, all bets are off.

Tropical Storm Bill prefers the Atlantic - at least for now - which is also good, because it shows good possibilities of strengthening to a major hurricane. Let's hope it stays at sea.

Both of these are still a week away - give or take.

And already in the Gulf, a tropical depression over near the Florida coast. It's forecast to move ashore later today or overnight somewhere along the Florida Panhandle. Not good for Texas, because it looks like a rainmaker. And we desperately need moisture.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum . . . NOT

The pirates are at it again - this time on both sides of the coin.

Two Egyptian fishing vessels, that had for months been held for ransom off the coast of Yemen, are heading home - with pirates locked in cabins aboard the vessels, overcome and restrained by the crews. The Egyptian government says the pirates will be tried in Egypt.

But . . .

The freighter with a Russian crew carrying a load of timber from Finland to Algeria is still missing. A ransom demand has been made to the ship's owners, but it's unknown at this point if it's a hoax or legitimate. This comes after reports that the ship is in international waters off the Cape Verde Islands AND in the Bay of Biscay off the French coast. These waters are hundreds of miles apart.

Something needs to be done about these bullies of the seas, and it will take global cooperation.

From one point of view, it's a complex situation. The solution won't be simple, but it could be a beginning to more cooperation in other areas if governments are willing.

From another, it's simple. Either we act, or the bullies take our lunch money.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten things that come to mind when I'm trying to think of a top ten list:

10. Not funny

9. Boring

8. Why are the dogs so quiet?

7. Dull

6. What's for dinner?

5. Done it

4. I need more coffee

3. XXX-rated

2. No one would believe it

And the #1 thing that comes to mind when I'm trying to think of a top ten list:

1. It can't be that late already!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

This Thing We Love

The past several Mondays, I've talked about different aspects of writing craft. Today, let's talk about another part of writing - the writer. What's important to us, how to take better care of ourselves so we can keep writing, maintain our relationships, and continue enjoying life.

We're all different and approach everything in this world from a different direction. None of us thinks exactly the same way, even if we agree on a lot of things. So I'm going to talk about me. Maybe a few things I share will apply to you and will help you in some way.

By the same token, I'd love to hear what works for you because you can give me ideas, too.

Family comes first over writing, but sometimes you'd never know. I'm good about keeping evenings and weekends free most of the time. But near the end of a draft - first, last, or in between - I really push to finish. My live-in handyman tells me it's time to eat and pretty much takes control of non-writing things.

If I'm working out characters or plot problems or if I get stuck between choices on the way, I'm usually deep in thought, quiet, and a little withdrawn. My live-in handyman often needs to repeat things. He gets tired of this, I know, because his temper runs a little short after a while. Sometimes he's able to help with a problem, but I don't usually ask unless I've exhausted all my inner resources. Other times, he's no help at all.

He's a huge help in keeping me organized because he knows what works for me even when I don't. Both of us are fairly organized, but in different ways, so together we make a pretty good team.

During these times when I return to the world of living, breathing humans, I strive to be extra-present because I know it won't be long until I return to the characters and story in my head and will stay there for a while.

I imagine it isn't easy living with a writer. When I ask my live-in handyman, I get "the look." It speaks volumes. I think if our roles were reversed, I would keep a list of things to do and places to go by myself that he had no interest in doing or seeing. That way, when he was pushing to finish or lost in thought, I would have "me" time.

It's also important to exercise at least a couple times a week. My movement of choice is walking. I try to walk the dogs 2-3 times a week. Usually in the morning now because of the heat, but I'd rather walk in the afternoons, weather permitting. After a long push to finish, with minimal exercise, I really enjoy doing anything that gets me out and about.

So remember to think about your family and yourself in addition to your writing. Keep a fair balance over time, and see if you don't jog through life with a few less hassles.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten items Under MY Tiki Hut:

10. Chairs

9. Music

8. Plastic glasses

7. Cooler

6. Party lights

5. Koozies

4. Cards

3. Dominoes

2. Dog toys

And the number one item Under MY Tiki Hut:

1. Ribbit Frog

Monday, August 3, 2009

See the World

Remember when you were little and everything was done for you? Someone cooked and cleaned and fed your dog or cat. Someone washed your clothes, washed your hair. Someone brought in money and paid the bills. Someone took care of you when you were sick. Someone drove you to dance class and ball practice.

Now you're an adult. That "someone" is you.

If you're a writer, you have to take as much care of the characters you create as you do yourself and your human family.

You have the responsibility to give them life each time they appear on the page. Not only your protagonist and main characters, but the secondary and tertiary characters,too. Especially the antagonist. And even the walk-ons. Those walk-ons are there for a reason. If they're not, then they need to go. Or several need to be combined into one.

Giving life to your characters is more than writing about facts that would appear on a driver's license. Live in his or her head for a little while. Really put yourself there.

Go outside and take a walk around the block in your characters' shoes.

In the manuscript I just completed, the main character is a woman trying to outlive the man who wants to kill her. She's extremely aware of her surroundings and the body language of the people she meets. Her point of view is filtered through those priorities.

The antagonist thinks he's king of the world. He's the baddest, smartest dude in the sandbox. No one would dare try anything with him. When you take that same walk with him, you see the block from a different perspective. You don't spot the places someone could hide. You don't think about the dangers of deep doorways. Instead, you think about how stupid some people are. How they invite anyone to break into their houses and cars and don't even know it. How easy it would be to befriend one of the women out walking. Especially one woman.

Go take a walk with your characters. It'll do all of you good.