Thursday, July 28, 2011

Novel Lovers

I have a Lucite paperweight with bright orange letters that say "Readers make Novel Lovers."  It makes me smile every time I read it. No, not what you're thinking. Get your mind out of the gutter!

Reading has been such a constant in my life, I can't imagine where I'd be without it. Books took me places I never could have imagined going. Mary Renault's Theseus books carried me into the land of myth, Kristen Lavansdatter to ancient Scandinavia, The French Lieutenant's Woman to Victorian England.  Who hasn't been transported to the War of Northern Aggression's South by Gone with the Wind and into the Great Depression in Alabama, and the heart of racism, by To Kill a Mockingbird?

I have much to be grateful for, and reading is high on the list. Support literacy. Tutor if you can. Help someone learn to love books as we love them. It's a wonderful gift.


I deleted the last post upon realizing that it not only sounded smug, but also cruel in light of poor Amy Winehouse's passing. Major mea culpa.

Monday, July 25, 2011


I must confess, until I was very pregnant with our first child, I never considered men's clothes as being anything other than for ... men. Duh. But while I was trying to hide the fact that I was as big as a barn (I was so delusional), I wore my beloved's sweat pants around the house, with a big sweatshirt on top. This was during the weeks before Christmas, when it was cold enough to layer and pretend I was still a size 8. During the summer before, I wore tent dresses and a maternity bathing suit that hid nothing. And I was nowhere as big in those early months, so now you understand why I was delusional in thinking those sweat pants were a great camouflage.

Fast forward a few years (okay, so she's now in grad school), and I have rediscovered men's clothing. One of my beloved's polo shirts found its way into my closet and I grabbed it out of desperation. I'd sweat through all of my cotton knit shirts, and wanted a clean shirt pronto. What a serendipitous moment. Why hadn't anyone told me men's polo shirts are way cool? Neat little band around the sleeve, heavier knit, nice collar, great fabric, and colors I like.  I put it on and promptly told my beloved he wasn't getting it back, period.

How often, as writers, do we stick with the tried-and-true?  What does it take to force us into another style? Sometimes we do it by accident, sometimes by design. The point is, if you don't stretch your writing muscles and tread into foreign territory, you're probably going to wonder for the rest of your life what you mighta, coulda, maybe shoulda done as a writer. So dig into those controversial subjects. Play with language. Come up with characters totally unlike anyone you've ever met.

Take a chance. I love my beloved's polo shirts. And he ain't gettin' this one back!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hot Stuff

No, not my cutie pie of a Beloved. Hot, as in where the heck did this blast furnace come from? Wherever it was, it can go back now. The garden is gasping, and even the squirrels are too whacked out from the stupendous temperatures to chase what's left of the vegetable garden. (Note to self: next year, it's a cutting garden. Flowers only.)  Me, I walk out the front door and instantly, I look like I just pulled myself from the swimming pool. And not in a pleasant way. But I'm warning myself to lay off the complaining. It's much worse elsewhere.

I can't imagine how hot it must be in the Horn of Africa.  As I read about the plight of the Somalians who've endured more than two years of searing drought, I feel like such a wimp. Our American society can't conceive of that kind of devastation, the land stripped bare of anything green, water disappearing into constantly blue skies, crops and children dying in front of our eyes. Where is the American generosity of spirit that answered the need after the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan? Does a long, spread out disaster not register on our radar?

We must help these people. Go online and check out the charitable organizations with stellar reputations who are trying to aid the Somali refugees, and give generously to help these desperate people. Please.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I never want to stop learning. Years ago, I bought a copy of The Iliad in ancient Greek, and I fully intend on reading it someday. I may be a hundred and ten, but I'll get there. Growing up all over the world gave me educational advantages most kids don't have. While I attended traditional schools, some of my best education came from outside the classroom. I think that's why I'm not wedded for life to traditional learning models.

When the architect daughter was in lower school, she wasn't showing her math work step by step.Teachers frown on this. I realized, after having a very rational discussion with her, that her mind didn't need those steps to solve math problems. She was bored by the tedious, lengthy process, since she knew the answers (and they were correct). The librarian daughter was a hands-on learner. If she could hold it, make it, see it, she had that for life. Step-by-step worked well for her.

Just as there is no one correct way to learn, since we are all uniquely individual, there's no one way to write a book, a short story, or a poem. We each need to find our own process, the one that fits our creative process. I've found some "how to write" books wonderfully helpful (i.e. Vogler's THE WRITER'S JOURNEY), and others are simply torture. I did a one-day seminar with a well known agent who has written a couple of "how-to" books, and they have simply and effectively crippled my writing process. I came out of the session feeling like a failure and paralyzed by not being able to create the way he said we writers should.

Horse feathers. Learning to put words down in tangible form is intrinsically tied to how we learn any other skill. It's your process, so you need to figure out what works for you. Are you a plotter, with detailed chapter outlines? Good for you! Or is half the fun figuring it out as you go along? Stick with it if it's giving you joy. Don't let anyone mess with your head.

It's the only way you'll get where you want to go.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Farewell, Coach Taylor and Tami, Tim and Tyra, Matt and Julie...

"Friday Night Lights" has now gone, officially, to the great DVD boxed set in the sky.  Five years of great characters, super storytelling, and a real Texas locale left memories about people who aren't real, but who felt real.  I'm going to miss it horribly. Aside from "Upstairs, Downstairs" (the original) and "Poldark," (both on PBS), I can't remember being so engrossed and enamoured of fictional characters on the screen. FNL did what a great story does: it focused on a few characters, their flaws, their fears, their failures, and let us feel how they felt as they struggled to succeed. 

At its heart, it was about a marriage and family.  The Taylor family was no less important than the football team family or the Saracen family.  They all got equal air time.  When it became clear that Matt's grandmother was losing it, we understood his anguish and inability to know the right thing to do.  Tami Taylor's fights with her daughter Julie are echoed every day in real houses.  Yet the characters and their lives were all strung together with love, and we, the viewers, knew it. No matter how bad things got (and they got pretty ugly sometimes), we were sure of the love, even if the characters seemed to have forgotten about it.

Love always triumphed. How can a series based on that fundamental go wrong? FNL did everything right, and the last episode was the best of all.  Farewell, Dillon, Texas. I wouldn't want to live there, but I loved being with you for one Friday night every week.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Following your gut

Sometimes people try to do the right thing. A lot depends on what it is. Friends and family get the first priority, but then it gets dicey. And sometimes, they just don't know what to do, so they do nothing.

I was listening to the Jaycee Dugard interview, and what struck me was how the two campus security ladies followed their instincts when they saw Phillip Garrito, with two young girls, on campus. He wasn't breaking any laws, but they just felt something was off kilter. So they did some background on him, and as a result, they started the ball rolling that lead to the rescue of Jaycee.

They did something when their instincts warned the situation wasn't right. How many of us would do the same? Once, several years ago, I was leaving the mall when I saw a young teenaged couple arguing quite loudly. The guy was much larger than the girl, and he kept grabbing her and jerking her back when she tried to leave. I watched from my rearview mirror, then turned around and drove up beside them. I told myself that I would want someone to intervene if one of my daughters were in trouble in public, so I rolled down my window and asked if she was okay.

I got a typical snippy teenager response, which didn't bother me one bit. I hung around them a few more minutes, and the situation seemed defused, so I finally took off. At least they weren't yelling, and he wasn't grabbing her by then.

I have made a pact with myself. I don't care if I'm called a busybody. If I see something my gut tells me is dicey, I'm going to do something about it. If it’s nothing, great, I’m happy. If not, well, I won’t have to worry that I could have helped someone and didn’t.

I couldn’t live with that.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Peas and Pages

The garden, sigh. Big sigh. I doubt I'll see a tomato or an ear of corn. This time it's not squirrels or bugs. (Actually, ants destroyed the zucchini.) I think it's just a long stretch of horrific heat and no rain. Watering just didn't cut it. Then the torrential downpours beat everything to pulp. Today I harvested all of four string beans. All that work for four string beans, another big sigh.

It's like a nonproductive writing day. Hours at the keyboard. Working through the rough parts, you hope. Trying to keep the momentum going, praying you'll salvage something after all those pages. Then you read it back the next morning and realize there is exactly one four sentence paragraph worth keeping.

On the up side, that's one good paragraph. On the down side, it's just a single paragraph after all that work.

I think I'm going to call the squirrels to finish off what's left of the garden, then I'm getting back to work on the WIP.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Cake Pans

Yes, that is correct. The topic is cake pans. I am the new owner of a pair of bright red Kitchen Aid silicon(e?)cake pans. They wiggle like Jello, but boy howdy, do they look cool.
I couldn't wait to try them out, so, because they're red, I made a red velvet cake. I couldn't wait to get them out of the oven and shake the cooked layers, effortlessly, onto the cake plate.

You see, I've been using a set of cake pans I received as a shower gift lo these many years ago. Many, many, many years ago. I know all their quirks, how much longer they need to stay in the oven with certain types of batter, and how hard it is to remove the cake in perfect shape. (The nonstick surface bit the dust eons ago.)

Flicking my red velvet cake loose from the sides of my new red, space-aged caked pans, I made a fatal mistake. I flipped without checking. And lost a hunk of cake stuck to the bottom of the pan. Yikes.

I gazed with fond nostalgia at my battered old pans. It's like using Word Perfect. I knew all the keyboard shortcuts without having to think of them. But now WP is anathema, and I have had to brave the new-to-me world of Word. I have navigated the basics. But my heart belongs to Word Perfect.

The next cake is going in the old pans, just because I can. Take that, Word!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Many years ago (and no, I'm not saying how many), I took a two week course for trial lawyers who had been in practice a minimum of five years. We were videotaped in the courtroom, trying cases in front of mock juries. Intense, effective, and an eye-opener in how we were perceived as trial attorneys by jurors, the course provided one huge eye-opener for me. A microphone was placed in the jury room, and we lawyers were able to hear the jurors discuss the cases we presented.

Thus was born my belief in the jury system. In jurors, to be specific. The jurors I heard showed such commonsense, I was in awe. They cut through the razzzle-dazzle, the bull pucky, the grandstanding, to dig out the salient points. This may not happen in every jury deliberation, but I'm sticking to my faith in the jury system, no matter what.

And that's why, when a supposedly slam-dunk case is lost, I blame the lawyers for not providing the jury with the evidence. And that's all there is to it.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Fourth

When I was a kid, we always went to see the post fireworks today. Not only were they pretty great, because who blows up things better than the military, but they were also a rare event. We didn't have fireworks after a ball game, or in victory lane at the end of a Nascar race. So, every time I see fireworks dotting the skies, I think of the Fourth of July. That's all there is to it.

Often, on military bases, the Fourth is a time when families and the public are invited to climb through a tank or shimmy down a narrow ladder into the bowls of a ship. I even got to sit in the cockpit of a huge plane once, I don't know its proper designation. It humanized where our daddies worked, and we knew they didn't just sit at a desk like other fathers. Not that we knew other kids with parents with normal jobs, because we went to school on base most of the time, and our friends' fathers did what ours did. Unless they were generals or admirals, then they rode desks.

Also, a bit of advice should you find yourself living on a military base. Don't let your little terrier attack the commanding general's boxer, and win the fight. Not good for your career.

Enjoy today eceryone, and remember why we celebrate it. Freedom is too precious to take for granted.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Thank a Teacher

My eldest is home for the holiday weekend, and we were having a quick lunch at a local hangout. Three people came in after us and took the booth behind ours. Immediately, my daughter said "I think that's my eighth grade Algebra teacher!" Then she came up with her name.

Mind you, this child is now finishing up her master's degree at the University of South Carolina. She took two years off between her B.A. and starting her MLIS. She had this teacher a few years back, about eleven. So she got up, asked if this woman was her math teacher,(she was), and proceeded to tell her she was the only teacher to ever make math comprehensible to her.

I could tell the teacher was pleased, and she thanked my daughter for saying so. I hope she knows what an impact she's had on the lives of her students. At least she does for one.

Although my daughter still hates math.