Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After

Sounds like a post-nuclear bomb story, huh? Not that bad, just the post-Christmas explosion of wrapping paper and ribbons that means Christmas is over and it's time to clean up. I'm big on getting all the decorations put away right after the Big Day, because it's over, right? But this year, the tree has been up only a week, so I may have to relent and let it reign in all its sparkly glory a while longer. The house always looks naked after the decorations return to the attic, anyway. Kinda sad.

My beloved gave me a Sony ereader! Can't wait to start playing with it. It's going to be interesting to see what-all it will do. The screen is incredibly clear, that's for sure. I love being able to adjust the font size. Now, if we'd just get some sunshine, I'll check it out in daylight. It's been pouring rain here nonstop, which made for crummy weather. On the up side, most of the snow is gone. It was getting old and dirty-looking, not very white-Christmas.

Think I'll hit my New Year's resolutions early this year and see if I can shovel out the desk and office. Then it'll be time to buckle down to the writing again, hurrah! While I love the holidays, it sure puts a crimp in my computer time with the book.

BTW, only 50 days until the Daytona 500!! I can feel it comin', the stands shakin', the crowd roaring. . . .

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Again, apologies

It's been ages, and I have no excuse other than Christmas, two birthdays (the 4th and the 20th) and the usual baking, cleaning, decorating, etc. You'd think I'd have enough experience under my belt to be organized. Harumph. I wish. The need to change it up always strikes, and that means starting from square one. I wish I could put the same decorations outside on the house year after year, and be done with it. But no, I have to rethink the scheme every year. And the house theme. Sigh. At least I like it, LOL. My poor husband has to come up with ways to make things work, shine, sparkle, etc., and so far he has never failed me. I still remember the year I had him drill holes in the Douglas fir and insert more branches to make the tree look fuller. He used glue and wire, and it worked.

The rains have been coming and coming, and then coming some more. Our yard looks like a swamp on one side and a lake on the other. I know we should be grateful for this surfeit of wet, but enough is enough. I have no idea how people live in the Pacific Northwest. I would turn into a lunatic with 350 days of rainfall.

I finished the first No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - and have no idea why I didn't read it before. Charming. I'm surprised how faithful the first of the HBO series was to the book. Jill Scott is the perfect Mma Ramotose. Where's the third season, may I ask? I'm waiting. . . .

I'm terribly tempted with a new e-reader. The Nook looks cool, as does the Kindle. However, having been burned with the first e-reader, years ago ($500!), I'm taking my time. I LOVED that e-reader, which could take HTML content, but which is alas, now useless and gathering dust in a closet somewhere.

If I don't get back before Christmas, have a merry one. Be filled with joy and may your new year be one of constant blessings.

Friday, November 27, 2009

This and That

Can't believe it's been so long since my last post. Will have to try to make up for my laziness. Well, not laziness. Just been too busy. Now that the leftovers are in the ice box and I'm too wired from running full tilt boogie to sleep, I can take a break and do some writing. This is a good place to start.

So, Jimmie Johnson (who gives a male child the name of 'Jimmie'?) has taken his fourth Cup title in a row, a new record. Give the guy (and especially his crew chief, Chad Knaus) major kudos, and then figure out how to beat him. Let's see hard, hard racing next year, not this cruising around making points to get into the Chase, the only ten races that really count.

The Christmas rush isn't going to be such a rush, if retailers are correct in their predictions. About time. Let's cut out all this uber-gift giving mania. As a child with a November birthday, I remember hoarding every birthday cash gift so I could buy gifts for Christmas. Never bought myself a present. It was the whole idea of giving that I loved. No gift was very expensive, because I didn't have the means, but each was lovingly chosen, and I'd augment them with something homemade. If I'm not making a Christmas gift, it just isn't Christmas for me. I was bereft when my children outgrew their American Girl dolls, and I wasn't stitching up doll dresses on Christmas eve.

I'm re-reading Tony Hillerman and catching up on some James Lee Burke I missed. How I'll miss Tony Hillerman. And Kate Duffy, who really cared about books and their authors.

Now, it's back to work. The house is quiet, everyone will sleep late, and the book is half-done.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

'Dega!

OH my stars. What was Nascar thinking, telling the drivers how to drive at Dega? Cut their power with the restrictor plate, cut it even more, and the disaster was bound to happen. The disaster was Newman on Harvick's roof, then his own, and the final smash-up at the white flag. Congrats to McMurray, kudos to Kahne for pulling himself up to 9th place in the Chase, and thank goodness the fall Dega race is over.

The change in time has dark settling at 5 p.m. Bummer. Time for hibernation and more writing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fascinating Woman

Found this article about a Thai woman forensic pathologist. Wouldn't she make a great character for a story?

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/1026/p07s01-lign.html

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Story

When my children were younger, I would write a story for Halloween just to amuse them. It's been a long time since they were young, but this year the idea came to me for another story, so here it is. Enjoy, and if you don't, don't tell me, LOL

By Tracy Dunham
© October 28, 2009

House of Purity
Of all the crappy things in a year filled with crap, Laura had to take her little brother trick or treating. Even worse, she had to stick with all the moms and dads at the bottom of the porch steps, make “oooh” noises when the candy rolled out and the munchkins dove in like starving sharks, and pretend like all the snotty nosed kids were just darling, so cute, yes indeed, precious beyond a doubt. Oh, the joys of being older by twelve years. If she had a penny for every time she wished her parents hadn’t decided to have another baby, she’d be as rich as Ivanka Trump. So here she was at seventeen, looking like an unwed teenaged mother with a five year old brat who thought dressing like a ninja was cool. Ninjas went out of style when she was twelve.
“Laurie, hurry up. I don’t want Robbie to stay up past eight. And no eating the candy! Dad and I will be home by eleven at the latest.” Her mom put on her lipstick by the hall mirror.
“Lucky me,” Laura muttered under her breath. Louder, she grumbled, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Bed by eight, no candy.” As if Robbie the House King would keep his sticky little fingers out of his candy bag. The only way she could keep him sugar-free was to wire his nasty little mouth shut.
“Laurrriiieee,” Robbie screeched from the front door. “Hurreeyyyy!”
“Off you go. How do I look?” Her mom primped, adjusting her tiara and fluffing up her tulle skirt. She was too old to dress like a fairy princess, Laura wanted to say, but it was just sour grapes. She hadn’t been invited to a Halloween party since she was ten and everyone in the fifth grade got invited to the class party.
At least it wasn’t raining or freezing. She remembered some miserable trick or treating when she was little. Robbie got all the luck. Always had. He got the smart genes, the DNA that got him put into advanced classes for super geeks. He was reading at two, full sized books that gave her a headache, and doing math problems she wouldn’t even try. Everyone loved Robbie. Big blue eyes, curly blond hair, and a laugh that made everyone smile with him, even if they didn’t know what got him giggling. Yeah, Robbie had it all. What did she have? A sucky grade point average, stringy mouse-colored hair, braces for the past four years, and zits.
“Okay, little monster, let’s hit the road.” She grabbed the flashlight her mom handed her and followed Robbie out the front door. “If you give me any grief, we’re going home. Got it?” She didn’t like the way he stuck out his tongue at her, but what was she going to do? Smack him? He’d tattle and her mother would take away her Internet. Robbie was perfect around adults, but with her he acted like she was his serving girl. Clean his room, fix him a snack, blah, blah, blah, and her mother made her do it. She couldn’t wait until she graduated from high school next year and could get out on her own. College wasn’t going to happen, her parents informed her. Robbie’s extra classes cost a lot of money, and her grades weren’t good enough, so what the heck, she was on her own.
Fine by her. Far as she was concerned, this was the last Halloween she had to play nanny for the Super Kid. Next year she’d have her own place and a job, and she wouldn’t have to see the brat again if she didn’t want to.
“Hi Laurie. Good to see you.” Mrs. Evans was waiting for them at the sidewalk, her two little girls dressed like ghosts.
“Hi.” Laura figured Mrs. Evans was cool. She hadn’t spent a fortune on some stupid costume for her kids or herself. The ghosts were made from old sheets. “Mary and Susan look great.”
“I want candy,” Robbie whined.
“So start walking,” Laura ordered. “It doesn’t jump in your bag by itself.”
“I hate Halloween,” Mrs. Evans noted casually. “No child needs as much candy as they get. ”
“I guess so,” Laura agreed. “My mom said Robbie couldn’t eat anything tonight. She wants to check it all out, I guess, before he swallows anything.”
“Can’t be too careful.” Mrs. Evans waved at the Roginsons, who were standing in their doorway, making admiring noises at the kids’ costumes. “Would you and Robbie like to stop by our house on the way home for some hot chocolate?”
Just what she wanted. More chatting with Mrs. Evans while Robbie whined that he wanted to eat his candy.
“I don’t think so, thanks. Mom said Robbie has to be in bed by eight.”
“Sure. Makes sense. I’m a terrible mother, I know.” She sighed, then laughed. “The girls won’t be able to sleep until I let them eat their candy, but they don’t have to show off in school tomorrow.”
Laura couldn’t help it, she laughed.
Mrs. Evans tilted her head under the nearest driveway lantern and looked at Laura as her girls and Robbie attacked another front door. “Must be difficult sometimes, being the elder sibling to the alien child.”
This time Laura’s laugh was less enthusiastic. Robbie was a brat, but he was her brother. “Not too much. He has a mouth on him, but then he was talking in full sentences before he was one.” Her mother was very proud of that fact and repeated it often.
“How far are you taking Robbie tonight? Around the block?”
She hadn’t really thought of it. “I guess, and maybe the next one if we have time.”
“I hear the church on Ford Avenue is open and handing out candy. I might take the girls there after this row.”
“Sounds good.” Robby couldn’t object. “What’s the church? Isn’t it new?”
“I’m not sure of its name. It got left the old Coleman house in the old lady’s will, so it’s turned the place into a church. Opened about a month ago. They’ve been pretty quiet, but I hear they’ve worked on the yard a lot, and the neighbors are happy.”
The trick-or-treating on their own street took forever, it seemed. Laura was sick and tired of all the cutesy comments about costumes and how big everyone was getting, blah, blah, blah. Dragging Robby with the two girls turned out to be pretty easy, since the girls were handing him pieces of candy from their bags and he was stuffing it in his mouth as fast as he could. Finally, they headed for a new street.
The church on Ford Avenue that Mrs. Evans wanted to visit didn’t look too promising, however. No lights brightened the second floor windows, and the front door hid beneath a bulb that couldn’t have been more than ten watts. A hand-painted sign reading “House of Purity” hung on the porch eaves. If this was a church, she was a gorgeous blonde with big boobs.
“You sure they’re handing out candy?” Laura dragged Robby back beside her as the two girls and their mother wandered down the walkway. “It doesn’t look open for business.”
“That’s what I heard. Can’t hurt to try. I’m right here, and besides, I’ve been wanting to see what they’ve done with the place.”
Not much, Laura thought. The paint was still peeling, and if they’d worked on the yard, she’d be surprised. Big branches hung low over the sidewalk and leaves cluttered the gutters. Checking out the second floor, she saw the shutters still hung at crazy angles. Fat lot of good the House of Purity was doing this house. And who in the heck would belong to a denomination with that name? Purity of what?
Laura watched Mrs. Evans ring the doorbell. To her surprise, it opened and a nice looking woman wearing a long blue dress gestured for the two girls to enter. Something didn’t feel right to Laura, but Mrs. Evans didn’t hesitate. She and the two girls disappeared. Waiting for them to come out, Laura started to worry. When the porch light went out a few seconds later, she panicked. What did she do now? Call the police? Call Mr. Evans?
“I wanna get more candy,” Robby whined. “Why can’t we get candy there?” He pointed at the house where the Evanses disappeared.
“I don’t think it’s a good place. Come on, let’s go home.” She’d call Mr. Evans from her house. Maybe after this, her mom would let her have a cell phone. She was the only girl in her class who didn’t have one.
“No,” Robby screamed. “I have to go in there! They’ll get all the candy!”
“You’ll do what I tell you to do! Now come one!” Jerking Robby behind her, Laura tried to drag him down the sidewalk but his hand slipped from hers. Running as fast as his short legs would carry him, he hurtled to the front door and beat on it, crying “candy, candy!”
“Robby,” Laura cried, scrambling to catch up, fell flat on her face. To her horror, the door creaked open. A single hand reached out, and before Laura could dive to catch him, Robby disappeared.
A loud crack sounded like a gunshot as the door slammed shut behind him.
“Hey,” Laura screamed, “give me my brother! You can’t do this! I’m calling the police!”
Racing to the house next door, she beat on the front door, crying that she needed to use the phone. No one opened to her. Down the block, she continued her quest, but it seemed the whole block around the church was dark. Where was everyone? This was Halloween, at least a few houses should have been handing out candy at this hour. Why weren’t they?
She gave up trying to get to a phone anywhere near the House of Purity, and fighting panic, ran for home. Hands shaking, she could barely unlock the door. Grabbing the kitchen phone, she was trying to see through her tears to dial 911, when someone came through the front door behind her. Terrified because she hadn’t locked the door, she ducked under the kitchen table, clutching the phone to her chest. She hadn’t turned on the kitchen lights, thank goodness.
“Laura, where are you? What happened to you? The girls missed you when they left the church.” Mrs. Evans lifted the tablecloth and peered at Laura. “Are you ill?”
“You’re okay,” Laura screamed, “I thought they’d taken you and the girls. Where’s Robby? What was going on in that place?” She could barely talk, she was so relieved to see Mrs. Evans.
“Robby who? What do you mean, you thought someone had taken us? We didn’t go anywhere. Just got the girls some chocolates, we brought you some out to you, and you were gone. Come out, dear, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Grabbing a table leg, Laura held on for dear life. “What do you mean, Robby who? He’s my brother, he followed you into that creepy so-called church. I’ve got to call the cops, my parents will kill me for losing him. How could you let them keep him?” Shrieking at Mrs. Evans, Laura tried to dial 9ll again, but she dropped the phone trying to fight off Mrs. Evans. The woman had her foot in both hands and was dragging Laura like a sack of grass seed.
“You poor dear. I can’t help you if you won’t let me. What’s your mom’s cell phone number, she needs to get home right now.” Mrs. Evans, Laura realized, sounded like the sane person in the kitchen. She wanted to scream, but no one was home to hear her.
“I’m going back for Robby,” Laura cried as she fought free of Mrs. Evans, and half on her hands and knees, threw herself out the front door. She was younger than Mrs. Evans, she had to be faster if she could just stay on her feet. She did. Running so hard her lungs hurt, she cut through back yards to get to the House of Purity before Mrs. Evans.
As she rounded the corner, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She had to have the wrong street, but glancing at the street sign, she saw it was Ford Avenue. How could this be happening? Where was the house that had swallowed her brother as if he were a gnat? Nothing but trees stood where the house had been extant not fifteen minutes ago. Big trees. Black walnuts and pin oaks. Even the grass had been planted at least a season ago. There was no way that house disappeared into thin air. Or any kind of air, thin or not.
“Robby? Where are you?” she sobbed. She’d lost him, her little brother. Her parents would never forgive her. She may as well find another place to live right now.
“Honey, what’s wrong? Mrs. Evans called, said you were having some kind of breakdown.” Her mother hopped out of her dad’s car, still in her fairy princess costume, and came running to her. “Come home before you make a complete fool of yourself out here.” She gestured to the black Mercedes.
“Mom, Robby’s been taken! By a house that was standing here not twenty minutes ago. You’re got to believe me.”
Her mother stroked the sweaty hair from her face. “I believe you sweetie, but you need to rest. It’s been a busy month, with all the games you had to cheer, researching colleges for your applications, tutoring after school, being class president. It’s my fault for letting you get so busy, but you seemed to be thriving. Please, hon, let’s go home.”
“You’ve got to call the police about Robby.” What if he were hurt?
“I don’t know about any Robby. Is he your new boyfriend? I’m glad you’re dating, but there are so many boys, it’s hard to keep up.” Her mother laughed.
Fighting for breath, Laura shut her eyes and counted to ten. This was a bad dream, she’d wake up any second now. Please, let her wake up. What if she didn’t?
__________________________________
Malin morphed from the humanoid woman dressed in blue into her true state – a large gaseous blob. “I must say, this has been a disappointment.”
“You weren’t the one who had to live as a human child for the past five human years. I thought you’d never show up! What took you so long?”
The green gas once known as Robby swirled into the house’s ceilings. “And when can we get out of here? There’s nothing here for us, I can report with the utmost certainty.”
“It’s a shame their intelligence is so limited. We had high hopes.” Malin’s gas form grew more frenetic. “There’s only one thing left to do. I’ve wiped clean the memories of everyone who had contact with you as Robby. What an unfortunate name.”
“Good. What about the sister? I sense her distress. She doesn’t seem. . . .” He hesitated. “No, it can’t be. She’s searching for the boy. Malin, what’s wrong? Why isn’t she cleansed like the others?”
Malin sighed. “It happens sometimes. You know that. We’ll have to go to stage two. Not that it’s a loss, this planet is so useless. I just hate expending the energy.”
“Well, it’s your job, not mine. I’ve done my part. See you on Ulona 6. I’ve got my orders. First, though, I’ve some R & R coming after that ordeal.” With those words, the green gas blob dissipated into the night sky.
“Right, leave a woman to clean up the mess. How like a man.” Swelling into a larger gaseous state, Malin swirled into the sky behind him. From miles above earth’s atmosphere, she hesitated, then with a mighty swelling, knocked earth out of its orbit. With compassion for the pea-sized inhabitants of this minor world, she added a quick shove that would hasten the end more quickly.
No sense in prolonging their pain.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Playoffs and Chase duds

The Folk Music Festival this past weekend was beyond stellar. From throat singers to Persian prayer music, there was enough different music to make any music fan happy. I'm a fan, but not a knowledgeable one, and all I know is, I loved it all. Good music, good food, a sunny afternoon, and happy crowds - yep, the day was a keeper. Wish I could bottle it and store it away for the gray, icky days - like today. Staring at a leaden sky and incipient rain, all I want to do is nap. That doesn't get the pages for today onto the hard drive.

Baseball playoffs make the evenings a TV marathon, and so far, the games have better announcers and more drama than the Chase format in Nascar. ABC is just awful when it comes to announcing the final races. To keep myself from blowing up and tossing the flat screen TV into the drink, I don't watch anything but the last few minutes. Yes, I know, that's heresy from a diehard fan. No, I don't care. Nascar signed the contract with the bozos calling the races, let them deal with the falling numbers of viewers.

What about Obama and the Peace Prize? I think he'll be even more careful about the next step in Afghanistan. After all, he now has a reputation internationally to protect.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Ranting

After fuming about those who decry Polanski's arrest on the thirty year old rape charge, I've decided to write off the moral idiots who think it's no big deal and Polanski shouldn't have to answer for what he did. Legally or morally. Who are they kidding? I'll no longer go to their movies/support any of the artists who signed the petition saying he should be set free. Since when is raping a thirteen year old and then running from the U.S. to avoid sentencing okay because you're an artiste? Yes, some creative people are complete jerks. Life with Robert Frost was no picnic. But does being a successful director/writer/poet give you a pass when it comes to the basics of civilization? Minor details like rape don't count if you're an Oscar (tm) winner? Sorry, I thought I'd dismounted from my high horse, and it appears I was mistaken.

Some of the nicest, moral, and kind people I've ever met are truly creative and successful. You don't have to be a cretin to be creative. And that's all I'm going to say on that!

I'm going through an episodic stretch with the book. I want to write scattered scenes, then link them together. For a plotter, this is anathema. I have no idea where this urge arises, but I'd better get it under control before I end up tearing my hair out and wishing I'd never started this book. I'm blaming it on Polanski, LOL.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dialogue tags

My husband was reading a book last night and remarked how much he liked stand-alone dialogue. No "he said," or "she tossed him a look," added onto the dialogue. Just a plain ole by-itself line of dialogue after line. I took slight umbrage, because I really like adding those little bits to give the reader a picture of how the speaker is acting, but I see his point. Elmer Leonard says tags are anathema, and while I respect the man as a writer, it just isn't my style. I read (or tried to) a book that was page after page of dialogue, with no quote marks so you never knew when the talking stopped and the exposition began, and gave up because I never knew who was saying what. I'd count 1) he said 2) she said in my head, and I'd have to go back three pages and start over on my counting mission. That one hit the trash basket right fast.

First person, present tense - it's becoming more the vogue, I think. I hear from people who say they hate it, and I admit to being disconcerted when I start reading a book with FP, PT, but the discomfort goes away after a bit. I've even tried writing that way, and while I like the immediacy of what's happening on the page, it does get awkward. At least for me. First person, past tense I had to learn by starting out with a few chapters converted from third to first, before I could begin in FP right off the bat. It's my comfort zone now, but it took a while.

As to tag lines, I'm not willing to give them up just yet. Maybe I'll try cutting out a few here and there and see how it feels when I re-read the page.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Richmond Race and Eudora Welty

Despite a steady rain an hour before start time, the race got going pretty much on schedule and without thirty laps under caution to dry the track. The racing, per usual, was stellar - lots of 3-wide battles - and the Vickers/KyBusch battle is well documented. Not too many people took serious note of Matt Kenseth's (deliberate, it looked to me) stop in Michael Waltrip's pit stall, forcing MW to drive through pit road. MK was ticked off about getting blocked in his stall by Waltrip, and decided to take out his frustrations at a bad car and a bad season on the most likely target. Being a small man, he couldn't hop out of the cockpit and threaten 6'5" Waltrip, so screwing up the #55's night was his chosen alternative. Petty and mean, huh, Kenseth? Great combo.

The weekend disappeared like easy money, and it's back to work. New book gelling in the brain cells as I get SIGNS in order. One thing I never lack, and it's ideas, LOL.

I've been thinking about celebrity tell-alls. And even non-celebrity public (US and Newsweek, anyone?) vomit. Having been raised with Southern manners, I find it extremely distasteful to publish family secrets and problems (or the author's version of the same - who knows the real story?) for the world to dissect. Does being the daughter of a famous writer give you license to expose the seamy side of your mom's addiction? Who wants to read these literary train wrecks? Rubberneckers and voyeurs, is my guess. I re-read George Garrett's chapter about Eudora Welty in GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT and found it charming and laugh-out-loud funny. The story about Miss Welty eating everything in sight was chuckle-laden because it followed a description of EW reading "Why I live at the P.O." The lady had a wicked sense of humor, as well as a dead-on ear for dialogue. She would have approved, I bet.

BTW, if you haven't read "Why I live at the P.O." in a while, go back and do so. You can hear those people talking. Talk about dialogue lessons - there're a hundred in that one short story.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

More Rantings

I forgot in my last (too long) post to mention buying and reading a novel published by one of those tenure-track creative writing people. Just awful. I could, with half a brain firing on half its cylinders, pull out every sentence, every scene, that had been mangled by fellow creative writing academics. Maybe the mashed-up, artsy final version was better than the original but Lord, I hope not. Clearly, too many hands had passed the red pen over its pages, and its tortured existence placed no credit at the door of its author's academic institution. My final salvo on this topic, at least for now.

Next Rant: Bobby Labonte has replaced David Gilliland in the #71 Start and Park car for the seven races that HoF racing got stuck with Eric Darnell because of sponsorship issues. How humiliating. I never thought I'd see Bobby drive a SnP car. David Gilliand deserves better as well. He's done everything asked of him and more by TRG racing, and to get bumped to the curb like this is as bad as the way Labonte was treated by HoF and Yates Racing. Karma, as they say, comes around and payback can be a rough row to how. Or something like that. May Yates (and Roush, who engineered Bobby's ejection), and TRG get what's coming to them.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Writing and Academia

I’ve been thinking about the arts and academia, heaven knows why. Perhaps it’s because I’m seeing parallels between my daughter’s architecture studies and those I went through in creative writing courses, and I’ve always been fascinated by the creative process. Anyway, I was watching Masterpiece Theater the other night (Inspector Lewis, yes!), and was struck for the first time by the creative freedom afforded Oxford art students. Yes, I know it’s a TV drama, but give me some latitude here. In contemplating the role of art schools in real life, I decided that sure, that’s the purpose of one’s college years, to produce and experiment with art in a way you’ll never get again because. . . . lo and behold, with the handing over of the diploma, you must cease playing in the art box and get a real job. One that pays the rent, etc. Accounting majors know this is coming, but art students avoid thinking about it as much as possible. (I confess this with complete pride: I have a BA in Art History, which qualifies me to recognize painters and movements and a few other bits and pieces here and there, and that’s it.)

The dichotomy between the real world and that of the artist at university solidified for me a few years ago when one of my offspring was undergoing the routine matriculation seminar mandatory for new freshmen and their parents . An announcement that grad students would now teach first year creative writing seminars set off cries of dismay from a parent sitting behind me. After we’d all trailed out of the finished seminar, I tracked the father down to try to reassure him. I had, in fact, many many years before taken those same beginning creative writing seminars from tenured profs with big reputations. In later classes, I been paired with grad students, and as far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter who taught the class. I reassured this agitated parent, who was paying, as I was painfully doing as well, big bucks to this private university so his child could graduate with the reputation of having studied in the top writing program in the country. I tried to tell him, obliquely and with Southern manners, which means thinly veiled ugly truths couched in sugary terms, that creative writing classes don’t teach you to write or how to publish. They don’t even teach plotting.

If you want to be a writer, you have to write and teach yourself what you need to know. Writing is the ultimate school of hard knocks. Finding out how to get past those first hundred pages and track the all-crucial plot points, dissect the hero’s journey and how to find the way into the cave, theme and character-driven v. plot driven – all of that isn’t going to be taught in a CW seminar. Lord help you if you want to find an agent and shop a book. The narrow focus of most CW teachers is in the literary and poetical world, a narrow strip in the publishing landscape and geared towards university presses, bless their hearts as we say in the South. That’s because that’s what those so-sincere CW teachers learned in their undergrad and MFA programs, and because the academic writing world is so incestuous, that’s what they produce in their students when it comes time to take the tenure track.

Writers need to write, to live, to get out in the world and hear different speech patterns, meet people who haven’t heard of W.H. Auden and don’t give a damn about a library card. Living life makes a good writer a better writer. I have friends who were extolled and praised to the roof top in CW classes who today haven’t done a blamed thing with their writing. Once released from the cotton-wool cocoon of academia, they found the real world of publishing to be a cruel and vicious creature that eats its young. Definitely not for such delicately nurtured artistic souls as they.

A few years after that seminar for freshmen, I tried to steer a young woman just graduating from college towards an agent who specializes in paranormal books. This young woman had been working on the manuscript in high school and college. I didn’t know if it was any good, but I gave her props for wanting to get it published. For an hour I discussed marketability and query letters, how to write a tight synopsis, how to make her pitch in person. She’d learned none of this in all the years she’d studied creative writing, even though her stated goal was publication of this magnus opus. I felt sorry for her, and for all the other writers who thought they’d graduate with everything they needed to know about how to survive the publishing world. What writer wants to keep her words to herself? Not a blamed one of us, if we’re honest. We have a story to tell, a truth to reveal, and the world will be better off if it can find us in a book store, at least that’s the way I feel.

While spending four years writing angsty poetry and obscure prose is fun, it isn’t where the real writing world reposes. So don’t worry who teaches what classes, because the true writing work starts when the diploma is on the wall. Then, a real writer will get down to the brass tacks of the job and figure it out, or quit. As the cliché puts it so well, it’ll be time to fish or cut bait. And little if nothing learned in academia will land the big fish.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cooking

And no, I don't mean the August heat. The South chilled down today into the 70s, believe it or not. The weather seems out of kilter - we don't get cool this quickly, and often September is as warm as July. I'm sure it'll warm up again and I'll complain, but for now, Wow.

Today's topic is cooking, a chore that is not among my favorite. I've always thought a lot of work went into something that disappears down gullets, leaving nothing but dirty dishes. Don't get me wrong - I love to eat. But fixing meals ranks right there with raking leaves - a necessary evil. Tonight, however, I realized I control my destiny to some extent. I don't cater to everyone else's whims and fancies, and pretty much put on the table the flavors I like. Garlic, butter, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, onions - anything fresh and seasonal ends up in my recipes. Speaking of recipes, I love reading them - they're like mini-stories. But follow one exactly? Please. It's like plotting a book according to a set formula. What's the fun in that? Sometimes I produce a dish that makes everyone happy (and a red-letter day that is!), and all is well. Other days, it's Chinese take-out and I don't go near a stove. In a way, it's like writing. When it flows, everyone's happy because mama's happy. When it's a pain the patooty, watch out. . . .

Friday, August 14, 2009

Exceeding Limits

The dog days of summer slammed into the South with the vengeance of Sherman taking Atlanta. Phew, has it been hot. It's all I can do to get through the day without wilting like hot lettuce. Me, I love the heat. But there are limits. . . and mine have been exceeded.

So, came home from the grocery store the other day and just glanced at the paper bag. (I usually take my cloth ones, but that day I'd exceeded my cloth bag limit. So I had them pack the remainder in paper. I recycle!) On the side, printed in bold letters, the paper bag read "Less Stops, More Savings." Who was the nitwit who approved "less stops?" Apparently he or she never had Miss Moffatt for English. More and more, I see "less" used when "fewer" is the correct word. ARGHH! What are we coming to as an English speaking nation? It's become so common for people to say "where's it at?" that I don't even react anymore. In years past, I wanted to vomit with disgust. How hard is it to ask "where is it?" My tolerance for bad grammar and syntax slides downhill as I realize I can't save the language singlehandedly.

If you google the name Stephen Becker and the Virginia Quarterly Review, you can read a wonderful essay by the late writer about dealing with grammar/syntax editors from hell. He cared as much as I, and railed against the horror with more courage and finesse, to be sure. A COVENANT WITH DEATH is my favorite lawyer book of all time, and he's the author.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Perfect Knife

Back in the days when you could buy old quilts at estate auctions for change, I would hang out at those held at old farms. Sometimes I scored a really wonderful quilt, which I would repair and hang on the wall of our house with 12' ceilings. Researching the fabrics and designs was fun, and I would make up stories about the women who pieced these lovelies. My more modern house doesn't have the ceiling height the Ohio Stars and Drunkard's Paths require for proper display, so most of them have been carefully packed away. However, at one old farmhouse, I felt compelled to bid on a kitchen knife as well, and its use continues today, at least 25 years later.

The kitchen floors in this white frame house curled with old linoleum, the enamel table in the center of the room showed rust spots under the crackling, and every pot and pan was up for sale. This one knife, with a smooth old wooden handle and an "s" curve of a blade from years of being sharpened, had clearly been a favorite. I bought it. It reposes next to the fancy knifes with shiny blades in my kitchen, and if I don't dry it quickly, rust skims its surface, but I love that knife. It's light, well-balanced, and razor sharp when I get its blade done just right. Every time I pick it up in lieu of one of the new knives, I feel its age and know that this knife, clearly homemade, served its owner well for many years, and me for many more.

One day, one of my children will be gifted with this knife. I feel as if I must pass on its secrets, its story, until its blade shatters into nothingness as it slices one last Hanover tomato. If only I knew what it had to tell me. Mostly, I make up my own tales for it. That's good enough for me.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Home at Last

Phew. Loved NYC with my mate. Spent a whole day at the Metropolitan Museum, replenishing my art history well. Artifacts from Afghanistan was a stellar exhibition. I grew up in part of the Middle East, and this display was among one of the best I've seen. Beautifully curated.

Caught some musicals, but our fav production was "Mary Stuart," which has some spectacular staging and great acting. The scene where it rains on stage was amazing. I kept wondering where all that water was going to go, and it just puddled right there on the stage for at least fifteen minutes as everyone got soaked. Found the men wearing business suits, while the women wore Elizabethan dresses, a bit odd. Simple set, effectively lit, and the costumes played along with the change in light colors - plain black, black and gold, etc.

Shows what great acting can do - my beloved was a total Mary Stuart fan, while I thought the play's weight went to Elizabeth I. She got my sympathy. Two great actresses for the price of one ticket. Wow.

The only disconcerting part of the vacation was that our hotel was overrun with painfully thin young teenagers wearing too much makeup, skimpy clothes, and deadly high heels, all pretending they were older than they were. Some kind of modeling competition was going on. I wanted to grab those girls, wash their faces, and tell them to get out of those tacky, trashy clothes. What are we doing to kids that they think this is beauty? At their age, I was wearing jeans and jodhpurs, had smashed helmet-hair from my riding helmet, and was mucking out stalls every day. No makeup. I sure didn't worry about how I looked, LOL. Now my horse, that was another matter. She had to look great, and she did. I even did French braids on her tail. I feel so sorry for those girls at the Sheraton. And I wonder where their parents are, and why they're allowing this?

Back to work. My mind isn't focusing yet on SIGNS ,but I can whip it back into shape. I'd better. . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Self-healing Websites

Well, it did its thing and got itself up and running again. Good thing, since I was in the complete dark. I really need to get better educated here about Web stuff.

Missing RWA in D. C. this year so I can take a trip to NYC with my beloved. We'll see some shows, get to the museums, and eat good food. Our twenty-fifth anniversary was earlier this year, and we decided to do something every month to celebrate. I'm enjoying this year-long party! It's been a fast twenty-five years, that's for sure.

Talked via Skype with Guatemala Girl, alias Daughter #2, and she's in love with the country. She'll be heading for Belize and Mexico soon, so that means she'll be home in about a month. We miss her. Then she's off to school again for her fourth year of architecture. Two more years, and she'll be ready to take her licensing exam! Hard to believe.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Web Site down

Don't know the root of the problem, but my web site seems to be down. Just in case anyone is lookin' . . .

Watched Michael Waltrip Racing's announcement of MW's retirement (semi) and replacement by Martin Truex Jr. Good move for all parties, but boy howdy, will I miss seeing MW at the track every weekend. At least he'll be in the 52nd running of the Daytona 500 next February.

Now to find out what's wrong with the web site. Oh goody.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Post-Fourth Recuperation

So, the racing Saturday night was stellar. The top five cars made a night of it until the last lap. I'm sure Kyle Busch isn't happy, nor is Kasey Kahne or JoeyLogano, all of whom got a piece of the #18 car as it flipped from hitting the wall just before the finish line, but that's what you get with restrictor plate racing and the "don't pass below the yellow line" rule. I'm sorry, but Nascar is nuts. Before this written-in-stone rule, drivers understood that the yellow line was fair game on the last lap, and used it until Talladega last year when Regan Smith got robbed of his win because he chose not to block and wreck Stewart coming to the checkered flag and dipped below the line. Last Saturday, Stewart blocked and wrecked KyBu. Same thing at the last Talladega race, when Edwards went airborne. When will Nascar reconsider the yellow line rule? Restrictor plate racing is dangerous enough, and 'Dega and Daytona will continue to have last-lap wreck-fests if something isn't done. No one wants to see fans or drivers hurt.

Watched "Independence Day," a Fourth of July tradition in our house. Its pacing is perfect -lots of slam-bang action with enough lulls for the viewer to catch a breath or two. Ate potato salad and deviled eggs, another tradition, and hunkered down for the Daytona 400 and its fireworks display. Having been there in '06 when Stewart last won this race, and watched the subsequent magnificent fireworks the track provides, I look forward to seeing them on TV every year.

Cali-the-puppy still thinks she's a lap dog, although she' getting close to 30 lbs, I'd guess. She enjoys movie night and trying to fit onto her daddy's lap. He always wanted a lap cat, now he has a semi-lap dog. We laugh uncontrollably when she starts snoring.

Taking a break from SIGNS. I'm so happy to be back with these people.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Redecorating and Lost Days

When my beloved changed the ceiling fan in our bedroom, he initiated an avalanche of redecorating. Nothing like a new, shiny white fan to prompt repainting the ceiling. Then the walls, of course. And since they went from yellow to White Chocolate, that means new curtains, bedspread, headboard, dust ruffle, valances. . . you get the picture. The worst part was having to dig out the drawers so I could paint furniture. I decided to go for the beachy look, and it didn't take long to decide that the furniture all needs to be painted beachy colors. Now I've found my box of antique lace, I'm making new pillow covers and . . . . again, it's pretty clear I've sunk into the morass of redecorating. Since we get into a major overhaul only every ten years or so, it's worth the time to have something new and bright to admire, but sheesh, is it a lot of work!

The worst part is, I look up and it's already five o'clock, I'm whipped, and I haven't written a single solitary word. This has gotta stop, or I'll be a cranky woman. No writing makes me want to run screaming into the street, and since the neighbors think I'm a little odd anyway, I'll have to get some writing done before I confirm their worst suspicions.

And Daytona is this weekend, which means very very little will get done on SIGNS. Not gonna miss Daytona!

Oh, and the shoe count continues. Add my good black high heels, the ones I can actually wear without falling on my face, to the pile of dead leather that Cali has decided are her new toys. Maybe this is God's way of telling me I don't have to ever wear high heels again. Hmmm, I think I like that explanation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Books and Shoes

I admit, I love shoes. Always have. So does the new puppy. Have no idea how she wiggled her way into the closet, but the blue Timberlands are now doggie toys. Sigh. Good thing she's cuter than cute.

Reread SILENCE AND SHADOWS by James Long. It holds up well, and this time around, I realized I like it the way I like Pat Murphy's FALLING WOMAN. The use of dual time frames, each separated by hundreds of years, yet paralleling the current story, sucks me in without fail. I'm also a sucker for archaeologist heroes/heroines. I had visions once of digging in the dirt and discovering a lost civilization, until the reality of filthy hair, no showers, sleeping bags, and tents (save me!) sank in. I'm a room service kinda girl, I fear. Although the bugs wouldn't bother me a bit. Just so you don't think I'm a total wimp, I did battle tonight with a tick from the garden (the gardenias are so laden, I pick handfuls every day), and I won.

Painting the bedroom sucks up time I don't have. Gotta finish the woodwork so I can restore order and calm to the oasis. The chaos of furniture under tarps, light switches removed, etc., always gets me. My beloved has done the hard part - the ceiling - so I drew mullion-duty. Ick. Back to my itty bitty paint brush.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's Going On?

Hoped to see the shuttle launch, but it was scrubbed early yesterday morning for a gas leak problem. Isn't it odd, that after so many years and so many launches, problems arise that stump the brilliant ones who know what they're doing with those rockets? We saw one a few years back - all smoke and noise, incredible shaking and rumbling - and I, for one, can't help but wonder why only seven more launches remain on the schedule. The Russians are taking over for us, aren't they? That's what I hear - and again, I wonder. What the heck is going on with our space program? I still remember the thrill of hearing that an American landed on the moon. My generational bias may be showing - I thought we were the best at this business, once upon a time.

Maybe when all the US publishers are ruled by corporations with headquarters in Berlin, Moscow, and Beijing, we'll wonder what happened there, too. So much for publishing houses in the US of A....

My sunburned back is probably affecting my mood - considering I put on sunscreen, I'm really ticked. Wait, maybe I'd better check where it was manufactured before I start complaining about its lack of efficacy. . .

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Carl Long Racing Needs Help

Although I try to hide the fact I'm a lawyer, albeit retired, sometimes I want to get back in the game so badly it hurts. Especially when I see someone getting kicked around unfairly. Unfortunately, there's not much I, or any other lawyer, can do to help Carl Long with his Nascar penalty of $200,000 in fines for him, and $200,000 in fines for his crew chief. His Ernie Elliot engine, rebuilt after being excessed from the defunct Chip Ganassi garage, was .17 off the mandated measurement. This was after it had blown up, too, and was never used in a race. A non-points race, I might add.

Long and his crew chief are part-timers, racing when they can scrape up the money and equipment. These fines effectively put them out of business, and since there's a 12 race suspension as well, Long can't work his job with Front Row Motorsports in the Spring Cup garage. So long to earning a living.

I went to www.carl-long.com and donated a few dollars. If every fan of the underdog racer did the same, just $5, and 40,000 of us did it, we'd have his fine covered. Make it $10 each (lunch at McD's, for heaven's sake!), and he and his crew chief will be in the clear money-wise. Don't let the nitwits at Na$car win this one. Racing isn't supposed to be about kicking the little guy because you can. It's about beatin' and bangin' on the track. I'm going to vote with my dollars and boycott all official Na$car merchandise this year. If I'd buy a T-shirt or a pin, even a cap, at a track, I won't. Those dollars are going to Carl Long Racing.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Un-Twittered

The good news is, I figured out how to get rid of the Twitter garbage on this page.  The bad news is, the prior post now makes no sense.

However, I'm a happier camper.  After six chapters of SIGNS, I realized I didn't like my hero's name. Normally, characters come to me already named, but when they don't, it's pretty much a mess.  Today I bit the proverbial bullet and played with names.  One fit. Thank goodness.  The first name sounded like a prig, and he's not. He's a good ole boy who fixes cars and plays the fiddle.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Uhhh... All a-Twitter?

I had absolutely no idea every time I posted a Twitter, it would show up on the sidebar for this blog. None. It's a bit embarrassing, since I've been posting to see if I'm getting the thing done right. A lot of it mystifies me, and the fact my tech-savvy kid can't help throws me. She's a die-hard face-booker, and thinks Twitter for the birds. Literally.

Been writing in between getting in my other daughter's way as she packed to go to Guatemala. She should be there by now, so we're waiting to hear what she thinks. She's designing a meeting building for the Highlands Project, so she packed mostly architectural supplies. Hope she has enough clothes, but I doubt it. Getting a level, plumb, and design supplies in the duffle bag was more important.

Been skipping through some books I hoped to enjoy. Not a one caught my fancy. Bummer. Won't name them, as most are NYT bestsellers. In fact, I found the lot to be boring and very same-ish. Yikes. I need to read some Jane Austen to cleanse my brain cells of this cynicism.

The new puppy has been re-christened Calamity Jane, or Cali for short. It fit better on her name tag than Callie. Calamity is more descriptive. I won't go into the depths of her destructiveness, because she's really a very sweet dog, but I'm exhausted from trying to keep her amused so she won't eat every shoe in the house. Or turn over every trashcan. Or chew up every newspaper and book. Or eat every bed skirt...you get the picture. We've bought bones, Mr. Squeeks, chew toys, you name it. Nothing is as good as a sneaker, evidently. One she dragged from the closed closet, no less. The girl has talent.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wicked

Wicked good, as the Brits say. It is the Brits, right? Anyway, my beloved and I trekked two hours down the road to see the roadshow of the Broadway hit, WICKED, and I have to say, it was stupendous. Marvelous sets, stunning costumes, wonderful lighting, super songs, and totally talented singers and dancers. The theater was packed, and I can see why. The musical's reputation is well deserved. If you get a chance to see a production near you, GO.

While I waited afterwards for the line into the ladies room to resemble something smaller than an infinite conga line, an usher and I discussed older musicals we loved. We agreed on West Side Story, South Pacific, and My Fair Lady, and of course, Camelot. Both of us could name some of the stars on Broadway in each, and then, we realized that those Broadway shows later became films. Nowadays, films (The Color Purple, Legally Blonde, Nine to Five, Billy Elliott) are going to Broadway. When did the trend reverse itself? And why? Is there a dearth of writers who are willing to slave on a Broadway production first? Or is the allure of Hollywood money and prestige trumping stage efforts? I imagine so, and who can blame the writers/songwriters? Millions of people go to the cinema, while fewer can get to Broadway.

Since one of my children has taken up a life on the stage, I've rediscovered the joys of live drama. The audience is physically connected to the actors by being in the same space with them, breathing the same air. In smaller theaters, we see them sweat, work, and strive to put the play's best foot forward. The audience becomes an extra character in the production. I love that feeling.

Speaking of extra characters, we have a new puppy. She came from a local rescue shelter for a foster care stay and has ended up as a permanent part of the family. It's a good thing she's charming, funny, and terribly smart. Our 16 year old cat is trying to train her to be civilized, but he has little patience these days for puppies, and who can blame him? He's a long-time dog lover, but Callie clearly has never been taught respect for her feline elders. She'll learn, even if it's the hard way.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sad, Sad Days Ahead

As if the suicide of suspended Nascar Nationwide driver Kevin Grubb, found dead in a hotel room, isn't horrible enough, now Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield has been suspended from Nascar competition indefinitely because of a positive drug test. I'm crushed. Just as I was thinking Mayfield was getting his team on an upswing after his gutsy driving in the Richmond race, he not only doesn't make the Darlington field, but his suspension is announced an hour before race time. What a downer of a note on which to start what should have been a fun night race.

I'm not taking sides - Mayfield has an explanation, he alleges - and Nascar has made some colossal blunders, such as suspending Tim Richmond back in the '80s for taking Sudafed, and acting as if Mauricia Grant made up every little detail in her multi-million dollar sexual/racial harassment suit. Then they go and settle the suit to the obvious satisfaction of Ms. Grant, as well as firing two employees mentioned in the pleadings. As to Tim Richmond, it's a sad, sad story about the death of a very talented driver from AIDS, and it's clear Nascar didn't have any idea what was going on, except Richmond seemed to be very ill at times.

It's particularly annoying that Nascar won't say what drug they found in Mayfield's specimen, but I understand privacy concerns. It's up to Mayfield to work it out, and I hope if there's a problem, that it's faced squarely and handled appropriately, for his sake. Shane Hmiel has said he suffered from severe problems for years, and self-medicated to try to feel better. After his suspension, he found a treatment program that has helped him immensely, and I'm just grateful he didn't end up like Grubb. Truck driver Aaron Fike has also benefited from being discovered with a heroin addiction, and is, from what I read, well on the road to health. Good for them.

But it's still scary to think they raced while high. That's unacceptable any way you look at it.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Richmond: Start-and-Parkers

Although the weather played the rain-game off and on, it couldn't dampen the crowd's enthusiasm. Despite not selling out, the stands looked fairly full, and the parking lots sure were. Our tent was used by several tailgaters who forgot theirs,and we met some lovely people and had a nice time chatting during the off-and-on downpours. Friday night, we brought some Nascar-newcomers to the track, and I'm guessing new fans were born. Good racin' both nights. The entire weekend is a mini-vacation for us - we love the atmosphere, the camaraderie, and talking with people we'd never have met if we hadn't gone to the track.

A big shout-out to under-funded Jeremy Mayfield for his guts and stick-to-it-ness Saturday night in the Cup race. His car wasn't great - he was a back-fielder the whole night - but he kept pitting and working on it, and by golly, he finished the race in 35th place. (Ahead of Jimmie Johnson, I might add.) At least he was running. A handful of cars pulled into the pits after a few laps, clearly start-and-parkers. When the pit stall doesn't have one crewman or a single tire, you know they're not planning on racing. The economics of fielding a car are daunting - $250,000 for one race if you're going to do it right. There's no way the purse will cover those expenses, not if you tear up your lone car. I have a crazy idea. If Nascar insists on having 43 cars in the field, set up a S&P fund. It'll be used by those teams with more spirit than money, and allow them to at least buy tires to try and stay in the race.

A lot of writers are start-and-parkers. They rush into the first hundred pages with all kinds of enthusiasm, then reality sets in. There's not enough story, they haven't figured out where it needs to go, or the sheer labor of writing discourages them. While I don't believe in writer's block, I do believe in planning ahead so you don't run out of steam when you hit the first plot point. It's akin to having a crew, tires, and a crew chief in your pit stall. You need that backup, a plot, an outlines, characters planned ahead of the actual writing, to keep the car (oops, book) on the track.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

'Dega

Yep, it was typical Talladega - wild racing, crazy wrecks, scary seconds as Carl Edwards hit the catch fence. I hope the people behind the fence are okay - they never had time to even cover their faces before Carl was heading for their laps. You can see the wreck video on nascar.com. Fox coverage of the post-race situation wasn't too stellar. The least they should have done is acknowledged there was a situation and offered to update the public whenever they were knowledgeable. A big congrats to Brad K., who was driving a James Finch car (with a Hendrick chassis and engine) that didn't even make the Daytona race in February. Nothing like beating your boss, Earnhardt Jr., at the track where he's a master!

The weather has heated up here in the South, well over ninety degrees F. The azaleas won't last long, but the dogwoods have held up for weeks so I can't complain. I'm on my gardening kick, per usual for this time of year, but with my book running full tilt boogie, I can't play in the dirt as much as I'd like.

Richmond race weekend coming up next! Can't wait. I'm so ready for a full weekend at the track.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blackout


My daughter took this photo of some of her fellow architecture students. Since they're dressed in the stereotypical black that plagues the architectural profession, I thought it was a fun photo, expressing individuality despite the "uniform." I got a kick out of it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

New Beginnings

Without the huge old dogwood, nestled under the bracketing oaks, my front yard looks like a new place. The dogwood finally reached its end last fall, and we decided against replacing it immediately. I'm glad we waited. With new azaleas, hostas, and tulips planted where the dogwood once stood, that area catches my eye as it hasn't done it in years. We'd become comfortable with its prior arrangement, and the invisibility factor had set in. It was what it was. Not now. I'm constantly looking out the window to check out the new yard design and getting a kick out of it.

Starting a new story has the same effect upon me. I love the thrill of something fresh and different. I can't wait to see how it grows and what its final look will be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Motivations

How important is it to a story for a character's motives to be spelled out completely, along with supporting scenes? Or are we willing to accept that people do things for no reason other than it seems like a good idea at the time? In real life, I think I accept that explanation. In a book, not so much.

What motivates people to do something extraordinary (think of the person who rushes into an inferno to save a stranger's life, with no thought of personal danger), as opposed to those who act in the smallest of ways with serious weighing of consequences before the first step? Confused? Yeah, me too. The worriers sometimes forget their fear and rush in where angels have to think twice. And sometimes, those we expect to be the most heroic, aren't. Degrees of heroism fascinate me. The little boy who shares his lunch with the outsider who can't make friends in the second grade is as big a hero in my book as the winner of the Medal of Honor. Well, maybe almost as much. I'm working on redefining my literary definition of hero these days.

April showers are upon us, along with a cool day that isn't feeling too spring-like to me. I'm ready for the sun and warm breezes! Mexico seems like ages ago (it was only a month!) but I'm ready to go back, LOL>

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Amendments

I woke up this morning feeling guilty about a mild trashing I'd given a book in my previous post. I'd been led to believe the novel was better than it was, and to say I was disappointed is mild, especially since I paid for a hardback edition. However, I realized I'm not comfortable slamming, even mildly, anyone else's work. A book is your child, and when your child is criticized, it's awful. Hence, I removed the paragraph. The previous entry probably makes little sense because of that missing piece, but now you know why. So much for my life as a reviewer, LOL.

I'd much rather praise books. I have shelves of books I read over and over. WINTER RUN from Algonquin Press is one of those small gems. MONTANA 1948, another. FALLING WOMAN by Pat Murphy (yes, it's sci-fi, but so cool and perfectly paced) is in tatters on my keeper shelf. Anything by Mary Balogh, who knows how to write true emotion. Dick Francis for his perfectly imperfect heroes who are honorable above all else. I'll make a list one of these days and post it here.

A week without Cup racing. At least there's the Nationwide series this Saturday. After the UNC blowout last night, I'm ready for some baseball, LOL.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Tweaking Books and Race Cars

I didn't think the Texas race this past weekend was as bad as it looked on TV. With the cameras following the leaders, the viewer doesn't get the big picture. I have a feeling a ton of teams in mid-pack and back were working like demons in the pits to make their cars better. Would have loved to hear an interview with a crew chief like Bootie Barker. Plus, where's the Scott Speed interview? Wonder if he's ready to admit this Nascar deal is harder than he thought it would be?

Is Joey Lagano going to get bumped down to the Nationwide series? I doubt it. Gibbs likes the boy, and he has talent. Remember, Jeff Gordon smashed a ton of cars his rookie year. This year may be rough on driver and team, but Zippy will pull both together sooner rather than later. And how about Tony Stewart? You go, boy!


Which leads to another point about writing. When do you take critical advice, and when do you dump it? It takes guts to tell a seasoned editor/fellow writer to back off and leave your book alone. I'm a firm believer that "clear" eyes can read a rough draft and give you feedback about the next draft, but there comes a time when you have to take control of the book and be responsible for it as its author. I once had an editor who rewrote just about every sentence in a book. At first, I, being very green, thought "Okay, she knows what she's doing," until I realized, she was trying to rewrite my book in her style. At that point, I dug in my heels. Now, when I re-read that book (what a painful experience) I can tell where my paragraphs survived, and where she ruined it.

Tweaking. It can ruin a good race car and destroy a book that has the bones to be good.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Believing

I was listening to an interview with the author of a new book about how successful sports figures pull out of a slump, and he made the most interesting (and true, I thought) point. He said they all believed in their abilities and committed to success, even if it wasn't looking good for either. When they didn't have that confidence level, they lied to themselves. Yep, despite their failures, they told themselves they could do it and they focused, sustaining their commitment with whatever it took. I like that idea.

Writers can generally find an excuse, any excuse, to escape writing. It's not good enough, I can't get it right, the characters are flat, the plot stupid, the market won't be ready for it. . . I can probably come up with a list of a hundred off the top of my head, but that'll just delay getting today's writing done, and heaven knows, I can invent easier ways to do that, LOL. The point is, a writer has to believe, and believe strongly, in the book and in her ability to get it done. Rewrites are the ultimate horror for me - I find I lose the vision of the book too easily when I become ensnared by the minutiae of phrasing, verbs, cutting adverbs, etc. During that process, especially, I need to keep my belief in the book bolstered. (And my alliteration to a minimum!)
Being committed to making a book the best it can be involves the boring and painful parts as well as the fun of its creation.

And as Winston Churchill said, never, never, never, never give up. Never.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bristol!




March 22, 2009


This was taken during the pre-race activities. Kyle Busch won. Darn it. But the day was beautiful, the crowd pleasant (and not as copious as it looks - there was plenty of room for everyone and quite a few empty seats), and we had a great time. We still think Richmond and Martinsville have better racing. Turn on your sound for the video below taken during the race.


video

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to Rain, Drizzle, and Yuck

After a fabulous week in the sun, it's back to the Real World. While pining for sunny Mexico won't get the laundry done, at least I'm back in my own bed. I love my bed. It's the one thing I crave while I'm away.

Got to hear the Atlanta race on the radio - it's so cool. The announcers are wonderful, and I now understand why families clustered around the radio in the old days to listen to Fibber McGee, the Lux Theater, etc. Without the distraction of pictures, you can "see" anything you want. Maybe that's why I love books so much - my imagination can add whatever it wants to the story. Have you ever read a book with a cover of the hero or heroine on it, and after you finished, wondered what the hey the artist was thinking? Because, clearly, the characters in the book didn't look like that.

Looking forward to the Bristol race. Hope the weather improves. So far, Virginia isn't my favorite place to be this spring, which is unusual.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Aftermath, Anniversaries, and Away

The snow is finally melting. My daffodils, the ones not frozen to death, are giving it another try. It's hard to believe that a week ago, we had more snow than we've had in years and years. Being a Southern city, my hometown stopped dead in its tracks. Yep, no school, no video store runs, no nuttin', all because of a measly ten inches, LOL.

I'm off for warmer climes. A week in the sun, stacks of my to-be-read pile beside my deck chair, yummy meals cooked by someone else - yes, I'm feeling good just thinking about it. My beloved and I are celebrating our anniversary, our kids are tagging along to make sure we behave (as if they could make us!), and the garden will have to sort itself out while I'm gone. Vacation reading? Susan Elizabeth Phillips, for sure. A biography of John Adams. Elaine Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels. A Lee Child for my husband, as well as Craig Johnson's latest mystery. I may take some rough draft papers from the paranormal with me and read them away from the office. I'm never objective when the project is this close, but I'll try.

Did I mention how much I hate Daylight Savings Time? I'll never understand the idiotic thinking behind shifting the clock around. What a bother, as Winne the Pooh would say.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Birds

Geese have been flying overhead, honking like there's no tomorrow. Starlings swarm lawns, looking for brand new grass seed. Sorry guys, it's still winter here. Maybe it's warmer elsewhere, but I swear, winter here is clinging like a leech. My poor little daffodils are hanging their heads, just trying to survive on whatever the sun gives them. During my daily walk, I make it a habit to check out my favorite trees, looking for any sign that they're getting ready to bud. The other day, a plaintive screech was coming from one of the big oaks on the grounds of the Baptist church. Checking it out, I found a lone blackbird hanging onto the top branch, twisting one way then the other, crying loudly. They're usually in murders (are blackbirds a murder, just like crows?), so I figured this little guy became separated from his buddies. With dusk falling, he must have been desperate to find them. Searching the skies, I couldn't find any signs his gang was doubling back for him. Waiting a bit, I finally gave up and walked on.

His situation brought my thoughts to loners. Lee Child writes the ultimate loner in his Jack Reacher character. Think Paladin, (the Western variety), or many of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' heroines (and heroes, for that matter). They believe they're alone because of circumstances or their own sins, (Sugar Beth in AIN'T SHE SWEET), that they're the only ones who handle their problems, but eventually, they find they can rely on someone else (and must do so) to evolve and find happiness, no matter how much they don't think they deserve it. I guess that's why Reacher doesn't appeal to me book after book - I want him to learn he can and should share the burden. Even Bill Gates found his Melinda.

Besides, a static character arc grows old for the readers. Nothing more boring than a character who doesn't grow emotionally. Hmm, same with people, n'est-ce pas?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Feeling Philosophical

Sure hope I spelled that correctly. My spelling has become lazy with the advent of word processors. Having started in WP on the original Dell computers (the cognoscenti know how long ago THAT was), I think I can safely say the spelling is in the tank.

Anyway, yesterday on the way to church I saw thousands of those flimsy plastic bags, the sort used at huge chain stores, clinging to the barren branches of some trees and bushes populating a tract of unsold land. It was windy enough for them to flap like giant white bird wings, struggling for freedom from the enchaining scrub oaks and weedy bushes. For a second, I wondered what would happen if some magic turned those shredded bits of plastic into animate objects, and they did take wing. Would they fly heavenward like prayers, or fall into the muck again because they'd never learned how to properly flap their feathers?

Back to work on the paranormal. . .

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Daytona is over. . .

big sigh. I know the rain wasn't going to end in time to finish the race before midnight, and I never would have sat in the stands through the deluge, but still - it would have been interesting to see if AJ Allmendinger could have worked his way to #1 from where he ended the race, in the three spot. Good race - Kyle Busch had the car to beat before he got wrecked. But none of the other Toyotas showed the brilliance everyone was expecting. Michael Waltrip and the 00 with David Reutimann, both out of the Waltrip stable, were the top-finishing Toyotas. All in all, I'm happiest for Allmendinger. The guy deserves every bit of success - he's a fighter.

The other bright spot for me was seeing Scott Riggs finish the race somewhere in the 20s. That'll help him and Tommy Baldwin keep racing for a while longer. Those guys have guts. I love the independents who lay it all on the line, gambling their money and their careers, to chase their dreams.

Now it's back to work - the paranormal took a back burner to Speed and Larry Mac and Jeff Hammond. It's hard to work on weekends when there's racing! We didn't trek to Daytona this year, so I really should have stayed with the laptop and done more writing, but it'll be there tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Times they are a'changing

It's time to talk Nascar. The Bud shootout rolls off the starting line three days from now, and it's no longer the "Pole" race, limited to those drivers with engines and cojones big enough to win a pole position in '08. Now, it's a manufacturers' race. Sigh. Where's the history in that? I'll be glad to see something race other than the nitwits on Pinks (and no, I won't watch that show), so I suppose I should be happy Daytona is coming our way again.

W, as a society, need a lift. The truck series looks as if it's barely going to field enough trucks to make the racing interesting, and the Nationwide field doesn't look a whole heck of a lot better. Mike Wallace is still hustling for a ride in Nationwide, and how fair is that? He lost his personal sponsor, Geico, because Nationwide didn't want a competitor on a car in a series bearing its name. Think that'll endear Nationwide to the fans? Yeah, right.

Too many teams are winging it on prayers and promises from sponsors who have yet to sign on the dotted line. Fifteen new teams are registered for the 500, but how many of them will make the long haul to California the next week? The famed Wood Brothers will race only the 1.5 milers, and Yates will lose its iconic 38 if it doesn't line up sponsorship AND make the first five races, because they yanked its points and gave them to Menard, who has family money running his car. Again, how fair is that? (from now on, I'll have to shorten my sarcasm to HFIT.)

We'll see after California how things start to shake out. I'll personally miss seeing the #22 with Dave Blaney behind the wheel, and it looks as if the #4, given Larry McClure's conviction for income tax evasion, won't rise from the ashes anytime soon. I'll have to find another team to root for, but it won't be one of the biggies. Earnhardt, Gordon, Edwards, they all have enough voices shouting their names. I need an underdog who pulls out in front of the pack with flashes of brilliance. A David Reutimann, for example. Hmmm, I may have found my guy.

Today is a sad one because The Daly Planet is no longer an active blog site. Its owner and mentor, John Daly, is closing it down because he feels as it's more important to focus on helping Nascar survive than in dissecting television coverage of its events. Instead of complaining about Dr. Punch's boring race delivery on TDP's message boards, I'll have to do my grumping here, I suppose. And you all thought I was all sweetness and light, right?

It's a good writing week, with dreams about the characters following a day's worth of work, 12 pages or more. Can't ask for better. Racing is getting started again, and the book is flowing. Life is looking up.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Eclairs

I promised to post the recipe if anyone wanted it, and someone does, so here goes.

Puffs: boil 1 cup water, add 1/2 cup butter, stir until melted. Add 1 cup sifted flour and 1/2 tsp salt all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and resembles mashed potatoes. Remove from heat, let cool 1 minute, then add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth.

Drop heaping tablespoons 2" apart on a greased cookie sheet. (I use brown paper instead of greasing the cookie sheet.) Bake 10 minutes at 450 degrees F/ reduce heat to 400 degrees F and bake 15-20 minutes more. Cool the puffs.

Filling:
Take one envelope of whipped topping (I use Dream Whip) and whip it up using 1/2 cup milk, following the packaged directions.

Using two 3&3/4 oz boxes of instant vanilla pudding, make the pudding using 2 cups of milk (half the amount normally used to make the pudding). Fold the whipped topping into the vanilla pudding and refrigerate.

Cut little tops in the puffs and insert filling. Cover with your choice of chocolate. I make a chocolate drizzle using melted semi-sweet chocolate squares and sugar, but other people buy instant chocolate icing and slather it on top of the puff.

These take no time at all to make. Keep them refrigerated until ready to serve. The puffs can be frozen and used when you're ready to add the filling.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Big Day Tomorrow

I imagine most of the nation, excluding the brave souls on the Mall who will be freezing in the cold in Washington, D.C., will be watching the inauguration on television tomorrow. I know I will be. What an exciting moment, the orderly transition of power. At moments like this, I'm profoundly grateful to be an American.

After a week in the Florida sun, long walks on the beach, and making a solid dent in my to-be-read pile, I'm back in the cold and trying to get myself into the groove. It's been hard. Gazing wistfully from my office window, I stare at the bare oaks and forlorn maples, wishing for green and fun in my garden. It'll get here, but not soon enough for me.

Finally read NATURAL BORN CHARMER by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - and laughed out loud. It's actually a pretty sad story about adults who grew up without parents, for reasons the parents could have controlled, but didn't. The parents made choices that essentially left their kids abandoned, and as adults, those kids have the classic 'issues.' Mostly, it's a funny book, but it also says a ton about responsibilities and obligations we owe our kids. The repartee is wonderful.

My cat won't leave my lap. I think he didn't really missed me - he just has cold paws.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year, New Ideas

I love the freedom of January 1. As all moms know, September is the real new year, especially the day school starts. But January 1 is my personal day to give myself permission to shake things up. Doing everything the same way at the same time (have you ever driven home on remote control and wondered how you got there as you pulled into the garage?) is a soul-killer. So I'm shaking it up. Joining writing organizations I've admired from afar. Planning on a conference I've never attended in the past. Trying new things. Painting the downstairs hallway Petal Pink. (My poor, patient husband. . .) Putting up new pictures. I'll do my usual desk shovel-out, weed through the books piling up everywhere (sigh), and put away the last of the Christmas candy, but I'm going to live more adventurously this year. Heck, at my age, I'm allowed to get wild and crazy. (Did I mention my poor, patient husband?) If not now, then when? Updates to follow. Right now, I'm thinking of getting together a team for the Baja 500 this year. An FJ Cruiser sounds about right. . .

My NASCAR life is in turmoil, however. Elliott Sadler is, from online reports, out at Gillett Evernham, and Evernham has cleaned out his office. Kasey Kahne so needs Rick Hendrick to tuck him under his wing, now that Ray has shaken the dust of NASCAR off his shoes. The Petty dynasty is no more - allegedly the famed 43 car will go to Gillette for Reed Sorensen to drive (Sheesh. Enuf said), and Kyle will be racing rally cars somewhere else. What in the name of tarnation is going on when the Wood Brothers will get the 21 car on the track for the 1.5 milers ONLY? I despair. I'm even wondering if Daytona will be worth it this year, so you know how seriously worried I am about the state of my favorite sport.

Otherwise, it's onward and upward. Bring it on, is my new mantra. Time to rock and roll.