Saturday, December 21, 2013

This time of the year

December is a busy month at our house. My daughter has a birthday, and my dad's was on the 20th. I was going to post yesterday about what would have been his 92nd birthday, but we got busy doing things we've done in the past on that day. It happened by accident - we found ourselves driving around looking at the houses lit with a zillion lights and full of Christmas décor, remembering how we did it on his birthday in the recent past. We talked about his dog, Leroy, who passed away suddenly this year, and how the Beagle, and Rebel, the Golden Retriever, were vying for his affection in the next realm. It was a good time. Then we drove by his old house and were so pleased to see it decked out with lights and looking very festive. My dad disliked decorating for Christmas, and we would have to hang decorations in spite of him.

I found a picture of our house from 1958-1961, on Okinawa. My mother had a Japanese artist build and paint a huge plywood  Santa (with Japanese eyes) on a sleigh, complete with reindeer, to anchor on top of the roof. A typhoon swept through one Christmas and threw the whole kit and caboodle down the street. I remember my dad chasing it in the lashing rain as it went end over tea kettle. As I remember, that was the year the scrawny Christmas tree wasn't up to mother's standards, so my dad had to drill holes and glue in branches from another tree, then wire them to other branches so they'd hold the ornaments. Looking back, I can see why my dad wasn't overly fond of decorating for the holidays, LOL.

Christmas is so fast this year, I don't have a handle on it. I've resolved to be less stressed and realize it'll happen with or without my fussing about it. After all, the important thing is that we're all together and feeling very grateful to be so. And no one has to chase a plywood Santa down the street in the pouring rain.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I haven't run away...

Not yet, at any rate. Life has been, hectic, is the polite way to phrase it, I think. I have other, more pithy descriptions, but I'll rein myself in. It is, after all, getting to be that time when Santa is making her list. Don't need to add to the "naughty" column(s).

I'm so unprepared for Christmas, it's almost funny. Now, however, I understand last minute online shopping (with free shipping, too!). I made a foray to the mall, gritting my teeth and praying for a parking spot, only to find plenty of vacant spots. No festive crowds spending money, either! What gives? Has everyone else discovered the magic of online? I think I see a trend here.  (Sometimes I'm not the sharpest crayon in the box.) And honestly, there wasn't much available to make me whip out my credit card, either. A sweater here, some stocking stuffers there, but not the Big Gift array I was expecting.

And when did Barnes and Noble turn into a massive toy store? Just try to find a book! The helpful sales person assured me she could order the ones on my list, and a lightbulb exploded over my head. No thanks, I countered, I'll get them myself online. I didn't add they'd probably be cheaper.

By the way, bought the Trace Adkins Celtic Christmas album. Just a joy, is all I can say. Classic carols with cool arrangements. Helps a bit with the wishy-washy Christmas spirit deficit.

Hope you all are feeling merrier than I, and that you have a lovely Christmas.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sedaris

I've been ruminating over the David Sedaris kind of book for a while now. While I enjoyed his reading new stories, and I loved NAKED, I sat down and read his other works all in a row recently. His writer's voice is distinctive, his style charming and self-deprecating, but after reading his New Yorker piece about his sister's recent suicide, I can't help but wonder at the price paid for his acerbic wit and razor-like dissection of his family's foibles. It's one thing to tell tales on yourself, and quite another to hold your family up to ridicule.

Perhaps it's the Southerner in me, but waving dirty laundry from your family's wash seems quite tacky. Even trashy. Definitely not the behavior one expects from a boy raised in Raleigh.  The consequences within the family must be scary. Perhaps that's the plan - keep everyone riled up, and there's more fodder for the writer. I feel sorry for them all. And there's no way in heck I'll keep paying for Sedaris work.  So awful to be related to him. I feel sorry for them all.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Chartless

Emily Dickenson's poem has stuck with me since childhood. "I never saw a moor, I never saw the sea, yet know I now what heather is and what a wave must be. I never talked with God, nor visited in heaven, yet sure am I of the spot as if a chart were given."  At least, that 's the way I remember it.

My dad loved maps. After he passed on, I found hundreds of maps and charts stuffed in drawers. He'd studied electrical engineering at VPI (as it was known way back when), but he once said he would have loved to be a geographer.  He taught me to read maps when I was a kid, a handy tool to have when you're lost. But I never feel lost when I have a map or chart, or even a good compass.

The GPS in the car is insane, and seems determined to make me turn left into concrete barriers or drive through gang-laden neighborhoods on a three hour detour to Sears. I don't trust it for one second. Google maps on the smart phone is better, but who can hear the tiny voice whispering turns after you've already passed them?

I like to navigate by gut instinct, landmarks, and the compass if no maps are handy. Sometimes, if I'm heading southwest, I know I'll get home eventually. Like Emily Dickenson, I don't have to see some things to just know they're there.

Like my family's love. My love for them. No maps needed.

But I do like a good atlas.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Halloween 2013 Story

I don't know what happened, but this story disappeared overnight and I didn't realize it. Gremlins, perhaps? Anyway, this is my Gothic story for the year . . .


Stolen

            “Lily’s fat,” Annabeth, Lily’s mother, remarked to Julia, Lily’s grandmother. The conversation never varied much. Lily’s shortcomings graced a good one-half of the mother/daughter conversations that took place when the older women gathered for Saturday coffee. Lily’s weight was the newest topic, a subject they didn’t hide from Lily, who hunched on the back porch and could hear them jabbering through the kitchen window. The fact that her mother and grandmother could eat anything and did, without gaining an ounce, gave Lily scant comfort.

They were right, and Lily knew it. She knew it only too well, because Maridon Strange, who was named after her mother Mary and her father Don, a fact that Lily found absurd, told her that Todd Lucas had invited her to the fall dance.  Lily wanted to strangle the bitch, and Maridon knew it. Maridon told everyone flat out that Lily wasn’t even in the running with Todd, the boy Lily had known and loved all her life, because over the summer Lily had put on the pounds.

She’d bloomed from a gawky, skinny girl into a busty freshman who couldn’t get through a door without bruising her hips. The fact that all her clothes were so tight she literally popped buttons didn’t help.

Papa told her it would be all right, that girls like her were painted by the best Renaissance artists like Reuben and Titian, and that her red hair would have made her the perfect model. That she’d be the one slamming the door in Todd Lucas’ face when he realized what a real woman looked like.

But then, Papa had married Mama, and Mama had never had a fat roll hanging over the back of her brassiere in her life, not even when she was pregnant with Lily. Lily had seen the pictures, and Mama looked like she’d swallowed a pumpkin but the rest of her was normal-sized.

The worst came when she’d looked up Reuben and Titian on the internet and studied the women Papa had been describing. Time to give up, she figured, and hit the donuts with a big glass of whole milk.  Which was what she was doing while Mama and Geemaw added to her humiliation.

She told herself she didn’t care a rat’s ass for Todd Lucas, even if he had kissed her last year after his mama drove them home from the spring hop. He was already a freshman in high school while she was still in eighth grade, but he’d promised her when they were ten and eleven that he’d escort her to every dance she wanted to go to, after she’d told him she had nightmares about being the only girl in school who never got asked to a dance.

Todd had been like that his whole life, thinking of others, especially her. They never had a falling- out until he got a car. He’d turned sixteen just before school started, and his daddy had bought him a gorgeous ‘68 Camaro, dark green, already restored. Mama said it was because Todd’s father had always wanted a car like that, and he was just living his youth all over again through Todd, but Lily didn’t care. She’d wanted so much to go to the first dance of her freshman year with Todd driving that cool car.

Wasn’t going to happen, so she may as well get on with what was left of her sad, pathetic, hopeless life. She knew exactly how it would proceed down the lonely roads of the hills of western Virginia. She’d start jerking her red hair back in a scrunchy, wear sweatshirts with Virginia Tech logos she’d buy in the thrift store, and her jeans would get tighter every year. If she was lucky, she’d land a job at Wally World, drive a dirty white Corolla with a hundred dings and scrapes from its twenty years on this earth, and buy frilly polyester dresses for her stupid little dog who weighed all of five pounds.

Cramming in the last bite of donut, Lily decided she’d had enough of feeling sorry for herself. Scooping up the donut crumbs from the front of her T-shirt, Lily licked her fingers. This was going to be her last donut for the rest of her life. Until she could wear her clothes, at least.

She stood on the porch and studied her options. Papa was working on the tractor, Mama and Geemaw were still yammering away, but at least they’d moved on from her as the victim of their conversation. Her homework had been done for hours, and she still had the rest of the weekend to fill with something. She didn’t have a cell phone because the hills blocked any signal, and the computer was for Papa’s business, so she was only allowed to use it for homework, and besides, it was so slow it was impossible to play any games.

Then she thought of how she’d spent hours when she was little, building a fairy world out in the woods. With plenty of ferns and pinecones, she’d play for hours, making up stories for the little people she conjured from bark and twigs and some scraps from mama’s quilting leftovers. As long ago as it had been, the idea of just pretending pulled her like a jelly donut singing her name from the box. Even if she was fifteen.

The woods were just as dense as ever. Papa refused to sell their timber rights, even though they had some huge old hardwoods that would fetch a small fortune. Mama argued until she ran out of words that they should sell, but Papa said trees were all that kept the air clean, and he wasn’t going to choke to death on car fumes if he could help it.  Lily was on Papa’s side, but mostly because she couldn’t imagine looking out any window in their house without a view of the trees. Change was not her forte’ and she knew it.

Racing for the forest, she was grateful she didn’t split a seam in her jeans. They were tight enough to squeeze the stuffing out of her, but Mama refused to buy her any new clothes until she started to lose weight.  Without thinking, Lily kicked off her shoes, unzipped the old denims and shucked them off.  Reaching under her T-shirt, she unhooked her bra and slid it down her sleeve by the straps. Finally, she could breathe unfettered. Flopping on the forest floor, soft with pine tags and leaves just starting to fall, she stared at the blue sky peeking through the tree branches. If she didn’t blink and didn’t try to focus on any one thing, the air shimmered with motes of dust that sparkled as if the fairies were tossing silver confetti from the very tops of the oaks. She pulled into her mind the pictures of the fairies she’d concocted when she was a kid and let her imagination run with it.

Sure beat sitting around getting criticized.  So far she’d held back the tears, but now, they fell faster than she could wipe them from her cheeks. Todd would never look at her again, her Mama and Geemaw thought she was ugly, and her future held nothing but sorrow and disappointment. Weeping bitterly, Lily cried herself to sleep.

The dream was vivid and wonderful and sad all at the same time. Todd and she were married, living in a trailer behind her parents’ house.  It was a nice one with no rust and had air conditioning and everything. Todd still had that Camaro, and she’d wait on the front stoop for its rumble every evening when he came home from work.  Their two little boys fidgeted beside her, anxious for daddy to jump up the steps two at a time and scoop them up for a hug. When she looked at her legs, one foot tapping impatiently for his return, she felt the same clenching in her stomach she’d felt forever when she knew he was near. Her one true love was coming home, to her and to their boys. All was right with the world.

She popped inside the trailer to check on the crock pot dinner simmering away. Catching a glimpse of herself in the window glass, she saw that she was as thin as her mother. Nothing pinched, nothing wobbled. In fact, she was downright skinny. Too skinny. Chasing after two kids under the age of four must have run every ounce of fat off her, she mused as she corralled the boys into their chairs. They were hungry, Todd was late, so she may as well feed them before they got too cranky to go to bed without dire threats.

“Where’s daddy?” Her eldest, Will, had a tendency to whine. She’d have to get that under control sooner rather than later.

“He’s running a little late, is all. Come on, let’s eat. Dinner’s ready.” She spooned up the pot roast and potatoes, making sure everyone got the same number of carrots, or she’d never hear the end of it.

“Daddy’s going to learn me to drive when he gets home.” Her baby, Danny, loved to sit on Todd’s lap as he circled the yard in the Camaro, letting Danny’s hands rest on the steering wheel.

“Not if it gets too dark,” she warned, glad she had boys and not girls. Girls had it so much harder.

The children picked at their food, eventually swallowing enough she wouldn’t feel guilty for putting them in their bath early.  She kept glancing at the phone on the kitchen wall, but no one called. Not Todd, not the state police. She was glad for that, but it wasn’t like Todd to not let her know if he was running late. Picking up the phone, she punched in the number for her parents, wondering if they’d heard of any accidents on the interstate that could have kept Todd snarled in traffic. I-81 was notorious for jackknifed trucks.

No one picked up. Strange, she thought, then realized it wasn’t so strange. Her parents regularly fell asleep in front of the evening news or Wheel of Fortune. She hung up.

The children fell asleep after only two Dr. Seuss books tonight. She almost wished she’d kept them up, so she’d have someone to talk with.  She couldn’t take off and leave them, not with her parents comatose after seven p.m., but she really needed to find her husband. He was never this thoughtless, not since her freshman year in high school when he’d taken another girl to the fall dance.  He’d come to his senses, of course. They’d been born to be together.

Dread built in her by the minute, until it was an avalanche she was helpless to stop.

The sound of the dinner bell wakened her. Only it wasn’t a bell, it was more like a siren, a screaming wail that stabbed through the muddle in her brain like ice picks.  Trying to put her hands over her ears, she found she couldn’t move her arms. Every inch of her was bound like a mummy. Her throat flamed with pain, her eyes felt glued together.

“Lily! Lily! We found you! Hold on, honey!”

She thought she heard her father’s voice. Papa. Why was he yelling? Where was Todd? Had something happened? Remembering Will and Danny, she tried to sit up to check on them. Maybe the trailer was on fire, but she couldn’t smell smoke. And she couldn’t move.

A strip of light fell across her face. Total darkness lay thick around her. Impossible.  She left a night light on for the kids so they could find her if they stumbled out of bed with bad dreams. Attempting another call to the boys, she found her throat hurt so much she wanted to scream, but couldn’t. What the hell was happening?

The heat of the light on her face grow stronger. Her eyes ached with the effort, but she forced a peek. Above her bloomed cracks of light, as if they were being filtered. A tree? No. Boards. Boards laid side by side with small cracks between them through which she saw the light.

“Papa?” she croaked, the effort astounding her. She tried again. “Papa?”

Sounds like feet running above her. Shattering wood. Men yelling. More sirens, for that was clearly the source of the wailing noise. The trailer must have been hit by a tornado, she reasoned when she was able to calm the pain in her head.

Then hands were lifting her, cutting away what bound her arms to her sides and strangled her throat. Through the many hands she saw her father’s face, then her mother’s, but not Todd. Not her boys. What had happened? Were they okay? She wanted to ask, but her parents were crying too hard. The men in uniform that surrounded them were still yelling at each other, darting out of her line of vision one by one, and she knew they wouldn’t be able to hear her, anyway.

“It’s okay, baby girl, it’s okay. We’ve got you. He can’t hurt you anymore.”  Papa said the words over and over. “As soon as I found your clothes in the woods, I called the police. We’ve been searching for you day and night, honey. You’re safe. It’s all going to be fine, just you wait and see. I’m just so sorry it’s taken this long.”

What was he talking about? Her mother was sobbing so hard all she could do was pat Lily’s face with both hands and rain tears on her.

“Ma’am, we need to get her to the hospital. Please, ma’am.”

Lily watched her mother collapse in a heap in Papa’s arms. What on earth had happened? Why was no one telling her where the boys and Todd were?

“Can I ride with her?”  Papa was holding her hand, even though it hurt. The medics, Lily assumed, were her lifting her onto something stiff.

“Okay,” the medic mumbled, “but stay out of our way.”

Lily sank into all-consuming hurt and pain as they carried her into the ambulance, her mind screaming for answers no one thought to give her. A policeman got into the ambulance with her father, and began asking her questions. She didn’t give a damn about what he wanted to know, could she identify the man, how had he hurt her, did she know his name.

“Todd,” she croaked. “My kids?”

“Damn that boy. I knew he was behind this,” her father burst out. “Let me out of here, I’m going to find the son of a bitch and kill him.”

“I’m going to have to arrest you if you say that again,” Lily heard the policeman admonish her father. “Now sit down and let these folks do their job.”

Lily tried to shout over them, to ask about her children, but it had taken all she had to ask where Todd was. As the medics poked and prodded her and hooked her up to machines, she drifted off into a troubled sleep where she tried to find her family, running from one end of their property to the other, through her parents’ house, the barns, the surrounding forest, and found no one at all. Just an ominous stillness, devoid of bird calls or the rustling of moles underfoot.

 

“She’s suffering from dehydration and starvation, of course, and there’s evidence of  abuse and torture. That said, she’s in remarkable shape. Lily’s a fighter, that’s why she’s still alive.”  The doctor stared at Lily, lying in the hospital bed, as he spoke to her parents.

“The issue is mental. The physical will heal. But wherever she went mentally when she was abducted, and during what happened later, is a deep, dark place. I don’t know if she’ll come up for air, but that’s not my bailiwick.”

“You mean she might stay like this? Not saying a word?”  Lily’s mother clutched her husband’s hand until her knuckles whitened.

“I mean, it’s a process. Give it time. She saved herself by going where she was safe. We just don’t know where that is and if she’s ready to leave there. There’ve been studies. . . .”

“Will the one name she said when we found her be used in court? Will that bastard Todd Lucas go to prison? That’s what I want to know.”  Lily’s Papa could barely say the name of the man he knew had kidnapped and abused his only daughter.

“I’m not a lawyer, Mr. Slater. I have no idea. I’m only concerned with Lily’s recovery.” The doctor made it sound as if he doubted Lily would ever come out of the place in her mind she’d gone to hide.

Lily didn’t hear them. She was busy getting Todd’s lunch and the children their breakfast.  Todd had gotten home at midnight, explaining a logging truck had overturned and the highway was frozen going both ways. “You need to get a cell so you can call me,” she complained. “At least when things like that happen.”

“I will, honey, I promise. Soon as we can afford it.” Kissing her on the cheek, he took the lunch bag from her hands and gave her a playful pat on the fanny. “Any way you look at it, hon, we’re wealthy. We’ve got each other.”

She couldn’t argue with that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ugly Pajamas

After a careful analysis, I have come to the conclusion that I have ugly pajamas.  Just this morning, I caught a glimpse of myself in my gray striped Nautica nightwear, and it wasn't pretty. I looked like a convict.  Studying my nightie drawer, I gave the contents an objective grade. Failure.

My Ralph Lauren number is even sadder. The print looks like a Victorian grandmother. And the T-shirts ( General Custer, Soft Kitty, and something so faded I've forgotten what it says) don't help the situation. My flannel set looks pretty tragic, too.

I remember the days when I bought matching Barbizon nightgowns and peignoirs. Embroidered, bowed, rosetted, and cute as a button, I wore the tar out of them. Then I tried to buy some more, and discovered I was outta luck. The Barbizons still on the racks were designed for older ladies and definitely not the wonderful soft cottons I'd grown to love. Polyester only, or a blend thereof.

My only requirement for sleepwear has always been cotton. Can't stand to sleep in anything else. Hence my current array of ugly pajamas. At least they're all cotton.

How I wish I had my old Barbizons. At least my Beloved doesn't give a fig.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Believe in Me

A friend sent a link to a Barnard Poetry Slam in which a young woman condemns her mother and how her family raised her. In short, her mother dieted ferociously, taught her daughter to eat like her and keep her mouth shut. The brother spoke his mind without filters and ate whatever he wanted, just like their dad. The daughter felt like a maimed second class woman.

I found it infinitely sad. I don't remember my mom ever dieting, except she said she once gained five pounds and lost them when she cut out her Coke every afternoon. I was too young to notice or care. Quite honestly, my mother's weight never entered into how I saw her, or myself. I was more than lucky. My parents raised me to believe in the power of hard work, intellect, education, and myself. So what if I was a girl - if I wanted to do it, I was encouraged to try, whatever it was. I once built, when I was about eight, a race cart for which I carved wooden wheels from scraps of lumber. All by hand. My downfall was the broom handles I used for axles. Lesson learned. The integrity of the material matters. No one said, "girls can't build a race cart by themselves." I was given free rein in the shed and any tools I could handle myself.

Once, on a rare visit to the Georgia grandparents, I said I wished I could learn to paint. My grandfather drove me right then and there to the art supply shop, where he bought me a full set to get going, along with books that I could use to teach myself. I was never very good, but I learned basic lessons about perspective, light and shadow.

To everyone who supported, encouraged, and gave me a push, my eternal thanks. How I wish all young girls grew up with the backup to get where they want to go. And to hell with diets.







Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Seventies and Rush

We saw RUSH last night, and I loved it. Ron Howard can do no wrong in my book. I notice he loves to direct stories about people - their lives, their eras, their way of fitting in. A BEAUTIFUL MIND delved into the same kind of personal story as RUSH - a man with demons. For those not interested in racing, RUSH is about the James Hunt/ Nicki Lauda race for the Formula 1 championship in 1976. I'm sure there's a bit (and probably more) of Hollywood manipulation to make the story more cohesive, but I don't care.

The relationship between the two men is delineated clearly in the scene in the airport hangar where Lauda and Hunt talk for the first time, without ego and with brutal honesty, about their different philosophies of life. In many ways, this is Lauda's story, and he is, after all, still alive to consult with the scriptwriter.  His is the more compelling story, mainly because he's maimed in a fiery wreck, and also because no one really liked him. Hunt is the bon vivant, the Lothario with devastating good looks, who can sway a drivers' meeting to race in a dangerous rainstorm on a terrible track where Lauda almost dies.

I remember those early-mid-seventies vividly. I graduated from law school in 1976. Excesses were popular for those who could afford them, monetarily and professionally. It wasn't uncommon for lawyers to partake of illegal substances at office Christmas parties. (Not me, just to be clear!) I won't go into the prevalence of sexual peccadilloes. All in all, for those of us on the straight and narrow, we felt pretty much out of the mainstream. Thus identifying with Lauda's work ethic and downright puritanism is easy for me. It's not easy being a fish out of water when it seems all the other guppies are having a damned good time. That's Lauda's cross to bear and he never complains about it.

Now, I'm of an age where I don't care what's going on around me in society. I do my own thing without worrying about how it looks or what anyone else is doing.  My books are reflecting this freedom. I'm writing with a new ease, a certainty that what amuses me will amuse someone else, and if not, well, them's the breaks.  No fiery crashes for me, and I'm having a good time.

The straight and narrow can be a hell of a lot of fun.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Violence

Okay, so I must confess: my HOMELAND marathon gave me nightmares. Just awful. I'm not one to worry about dreams, but this gave me pause and forced me to consider the rising level of violence in our entertainment.

By that, I mean myself, as well. I'm not one to shy away from a bit of blood and gore in a good mystery or western. However, I'm rethinking my stance. I've always said that if the story needs it, then the story gets it. Yeah but . . .

Television long ago crossed societal boundaries on sexual content, and it's becoming clear to me that the violence level was left in the dust without my noticing its departure. I couldn't watch WALKING DEAD the first season because of the constant bombardment of guts and brains. Or what was left of them. Don't get me started on BONES. Peeling faces from  skulls? Really? And now HL. Great writing and acting aren't enough, I fear, to get myself past the bullets and torture. I'm wimping out in my old age.

I now understand the attraction of the Jessica Mitford books. Personally, I find them very slow and not terribly interesting,  but I can see how they're a respite, a shift back to a simpler time, a gentler people. Why has Jane Austen  persevered with constant popularity? Her witty repartee, her droll take on stuffy characters, a lancet-like dissection of the manners of her time, still sparkle. And there's nary a drop of blood on any page.

There's a book, a movie, a TV show for every taste level and sensitivity. Mine has shifted, and I'm staying away from the bloody, the ugly, the sick and twisted.  I need a good night's sleep.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Never stop learning. . .

I can't believe I missed HOMELAND until now. Purely by accident, I switched on the telly during a HL marathon, and that was it. I was hooked. Incredible writing, turns and twists I never saw coming, and incredible acting. Claire Danes can act circles around anyone in the business, and Damien Lewis has always been a fav. One show I never missed was LIFE, and he was spectacular in it. They use a ton of tight shots, lighting is moody and effective, and the characters so complex I'm in awe.

I heard a songwriter say that Springfield's JESSE'S GIRL is the perfect pop song, and anyone wanting to learn to write one, should study that one song thoroughly. Same with HOMELAND. Anyone who cares about goals, motivation and conflict can learn a ton of lessons from it. Up the ante, make it worse, and I mean really, really bad, then throw in some more problems, and you can't imagine how they're going to write the end. I sure don't see how, and usually, I can foresee the next move. I'm going to take notes, believe me.

A writer should never stop studying other creative works, whether of art, music, drama, or literature. It's easier to see what others do and how they do it if you're keeping yourself open to learning from them. I imagine whole stories in paintings, pick up tag lines that are entire novels (I wish that I had Jesse's girl. Where can I find a woman like that?), and add depth to a scene that follows the emotional arc of a song. (Sting's "Desert Rose.") I'm never one to turn down writing help, wherever it arises.



 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Time Out


Early morning at the beach. Is there anything better? Well, maybe early Christmas morning with little rug rats racing down stairs, but it's close. Just thought I'd take time out to sigh wistfully and remember last week's quick break at North Beach Plantation.

I've been thinking about defending one's chosen genre. As writers, we get pigeon-holed regularly. I still remember being shocked when a David Morrell I picked up, Brotherhood of the Rose, wasn't a western. The title should have given me a clue, LOL, but I was just sure he was a western writer because of a superb one I'd read by him. My days as a western writer are pretty much closed (though I still have one I want to write), and I remember feeling as if I were a member of a dying, obsolete breed when I told people what I published. Western readers are still out there, but their pickins' are slim and mostly reprints of old stuff. People act as if I'm an old fogey for having written westerns.

Romance authors get their hackles up on a regular basis, with good reason. Those who don't read them sneer, with a look of disdain, if they find out you write them. So they're over 50% of the market? They're not real books right, just all that bodice-ripping rot.  Makes me want to whack people over the head when I get that superior attitude. Romances have dross and gold, just as in any other genre. The golden ones are absolutely superb. I have several on my keeper shelf (Laura Kinsale's books will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands).

Whether you write vampires, werewolves, punk, urban, scifi, horror, romance, or any other genre, you should never have to defend your chosen line of work. There're readers for them all, and many of them are discriminating and well educated. Some read them just for fun, for a quick escape into another world, and some just want to read a good, well-written story.

As they say on the warning signs to alert you to slow down for workers when a highway is being fixed, " Give 'em a break."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Barbara Kingsolver Flop

No, not a bad dive, though FLIGHT BEHAVIOR feels like a belly flop. I never thought I'd actively dislike a Kingsolver book, but this one took me into that hitherto unknown territory. Yes, the writing is top notch. I could even tolerate the ecological polemics. But I couldn't stand the heroine, Dellarobia Turnbow. The book opens with her trekking up a mountain to commit adultery with the telephone guy. She doesn't, but she sure wants to. And she doesn't get much better.

I just couldn't see that this woman, a high school grad of a terrible education system, really cares all that much about her husband ending his sentences with a preposition. Ninety per cent of Americans do it, and I can't buy the notion that it upsets a woman born and raised in the hills of Tennessee.  All she does is bitch,  bitch, bitch and then bitch some more. Sure, she has a smart mouth, but who cares? I found her to be ungrateful and whiny. She cares more for some displaced butterflies than she does her husband. I'm sorry I wasted my time.

My beach reading pile has Donna Tartt's book from 2004 (?) up next. I'm praying it's better than the Kingsolver bomb. Won't take much to get there.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

More books and a movie

Just finished reading Sonia Sotomayor's MY BELOVED WORLD. What an extraordinary woman she is, and unflinchingly honest, too. If ever there were an argument on behalf of affirmative action, she's it. Given a chance, she ran with it, and it's all to her credit that she is such a success story and inspiration for all minorities, and for women everywhere, who aspire to follow a passion. Though she's very smart, it took Princeton to teach her how to learn for the rest of her life. I was surprised at how she condemned her Catholic school experience for being rote memorization (isn't that the norm for all school children in a state with standardized exams per grade?).  Learning to analyze and critique were skills she learned only in college. Yet her HS debate experience provided her with confidence in her ability to speak publicly and argue on her feet, so she got something out of it.

She's a woman of unqualified optimism, unflinching honesty, and I'm so glad someone like her is sitting on the Supremes. Long may she last in that grueling job!

I'm on a kick to re-read books I've hung onto for longer than a year, and Barbara Kingsolver's PRODIGAL SUMMER falls into that category. I love how the story is a perfect circle, with intertwined lives and themes. 

We managed to get in one movie this past weekend, and it was a winner. THE WAY WAY BACK is so worth your time and money, even if its title refers to the jump seat in an old station wagon. Sam Rockwell is wonderful as a mentor who quickly discerns a young boy's need for a father figure, and Allison Janney steals the opening scene. Funny, sad, and very different from the usual summer film fare, this is a movie you'll think about or days. Put it on your list.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Paris 1969





I recently found these black and white pictures while rummaging through a drawer that is in dire need of cleaning out. I didn't know I had them, to be honest. My dad must have taken them with his Leica. They brought back a hot August spent in France and England (also unbelievably hot), the month that the USA went to the moon. My dad tried desperately to get orders for the States that would have us home in time to see the grand event, but the Army wasn't having any of it. So we missed out on history, but in a way, I'm not sorry. 

I remember Paris was deserted in August, the Louvre uncrowded, the Jeu de Pommes wonderful, and my French got a workout. My dad expected me to translate simultaneously, a feat I'd never had to try before. I finally had to make up my own phrasing, because I sure couldn't keep up with his English and translate literally. I informed him I wasn't his Army translator, but that argument didn't fly. If he'd wanted me to translate into Latin, it wouldn't have fazed him a bit. He'd have expected it. After all, I'd studied Latin and French, hadn't I?

England was London, with its plays (I remember being swept away by the awesome theaters) and Stratford-on-Avon and the Royal Shakespeare production of Taming of the Shrew, one of my favs. All my jewelry was stolen from our hotel room, too. The only thing I really missed was my charm bracelet, with a token from every place I'd ever visited or lived.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Books that hold up well

I was fortunate to be a round-one judge in the ITW contest for best novel, etc., a while back. One of the paperbacks I received was COLD DARK MATTER by Alex Brett, a Canadian novelist. I liked the book very much, and recently having found it again, had a re-read. It held up well the second time around, and having visited the Mauna Kea observatory years ago, it brought back memories of a fun time. And a cold one. Who knew it could get freezing in Hawaii! Anyway, the mystery involved the Cold War, astrophysics, and Hawaii, all fascinating. I'm going to hold on to this pb a while longer, I do believe.

FALLING WOMAN by Pat Murphy is another book I can't excess from the shelves. Winner of the Hugo years ago, it's a fascinating time jumper (Mayan to present day), filled with a story so original, I re-read it periodically.

ARABELLA by Georgette Heyer never fails to make me lose myself in Regency England and the details of a character both classic and stunningly original. For sheer writing ability, Miss Heyer is one to study, and I always feel as if I'm a mere mortal at the feet of a writing master.

None of these three books are terribly popular, or even well-known today. But I keep them where I can find them whenever I need to read a good, well-written story with original characters. I'll add to my list later when I've had a chance to do some more re-reads.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

August already?

My Beloved had a birthday and my youngest served as maid of honor at her best friend's wedding. Normal, ordinary events that meant so much more than they should, just because we were able to celebrate as a family. It's amazing how exhausting that kind of celebration can be when you've been focused on something else. At the same time, we're filled with gratitude that all of us were there, for both events.

My dad's estate is finally wound up (OMG what a nightmare), the hot tub is finally working, and the yard looks incredibly great considering the general neglect. All this rain has helped the new plantings and grass, hence, we don't have our normally parched yard littered with brown leaves and brown patch. Some stuff is working out well!

We made a dash to Farm to Family market to stock up on peaches, melons ( snow leopard honeydew anyone?), and cucs. While there, we went kinda wild and grabbed blackberries, eggs, trout fillets, and red onions as well. The eggplants were irresistible, too. We've already made inroads on the huge Hanover tomato, so my bet is that it's gone  by lunch tomorrow.

My Beloved and I watched The Help last night. I was very affected. When my brother was a baby, a woman named Missouri would be our nanny when our mother had things to do. I found pictures of my mother as a baby, in the arms of a beautifully uniformed black woman. I suppose it was just a part of being Southern that, as a child, you never question such arrangements. Since we went overseas after that, there were no more nannies for us.

Thank goodness. I would feel even guiltier.



Friday, July 26, 2013

Still here

I find it hard to believe this summer is winding down. We've been in a wilderness place, but it's getting less dense and a bit of sunlight is cutting through the darkness. We're grateful for each ray.

It's amazing how a mind can fixate on the strangest thing when you're tired. I must have spent twenty minutes staring at the brickwork on our house yesterday. Some were coated with black bubbles, others had circles of red surrounded by the dark char, and then there were the ones that looked sun-baked and glazed. I remembered how bricks were made in Colonial times, stacked in alternating rows with a big oak fire to bake them. The bricks on the ends of the rows took on the sooty darkness of the fire, creating the bricks used in the blackened patterned style used in the Flemish bond pattern. Useless knowledge, I know, but it came back to me as I studied our carelessly fired bricks with no pattern, no style.

I like order, precision, and a plan. I don't know how others finish writing a book without an outline of some sort. If I tried that, the work, if I finished at all, would look like the bricks on our house. Not something I want my name to adorn.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Taking a break. .

Sometimes life jags when you thought it was a straight line. Being a linear kinda gal, I find jags in life can be exhilirating or train wrecks. This one, an ongoing jag that's taken life off the beaten path into unknown territory, has taught me a ton about my own limits, physical and mental...

That's a positive spin on things, and I'm going to leave it at that. If  I'm not around, as has been happening over the past seven weeks or so, don't worry. It's all good. I'll be back..

Friday, June 14, 2013

Father's Day

Normally, I tend to think about my dad when this weekend rolls around. He taught me a lot, supported me unconditionally, and probably spent many a sleepless night worrying about his children. On the good side, none of us are in prison, junkies, or basically on the downward slide of life. We're pretty upstanding citizens, in stable relationships, pay our taxes, and keep our noses clean. All in all, he and my mom gave us a happy childhood and a future. We were lucky beyond belief to have them.

This Father's Day, I'm sending out lots of love to my Beloved, who is as good a father as mine was. My Beloved often thanks his departed father for something he was taught in childhood, and remembers his upbringing with gratitude and some wincing at what a pain in the patooty he was as a teenager. He and his brother were as fortunate in their parents as I was. My Beloved shows every day that he learned the fatherhood game from a master. Our girls are very, very special to him, as he is to them.

I wish everyone had as great a father.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Photo Albums

Recently, we were flipping through some old photo albums, having a great time reliving the Galapagos trip, Christmases past, and funny birthday parties. Then it struck me - since the advent of really cool digital cameras, I haven't put together a single photo album. All my pix are on either my camera, or my hard drive. This is not a good thing, since I have been known to lose one and crash the other.

For a while, I printed copies from my hard drive, but the quality never thrilled me. Even with more advanced printer quality, I just couldn't get around to making the copies that I should. We're talking years here. If I don't get going, the task will be too daunting.

How I wish I could go back to an old-fashioned camera and 24 developing. Even with at least 50% of the prints going straight into the trash, I had a record of of our lives. Now I have "devices."

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

When I was a child, my mother would buy us red paper poppies to pin on our collars for Veteran's Day. I didn't learn until I was much older that the tradition came from the British in the aftermath of WW I. I had no idea what the poppies symbolized, but I loved their papery crinkliness and the bright color. And because I come from a line of military men, I was aware that honoring our veterans was important.

Today, when I visit Arlington and the graves of my grandfather, father, and uncle, killed in Korea, I never fail to get a lump in my throat when I see the rows upon rows of white headstones. My brother and I considered buying a larger headstone for our relatives, something fancy like those marking the graves of those whose families have eschewed simple white marble. Bu ultimately, we stuck with army-issue, simple and plain. If they're good enough for those thousands upon thousands of men who fought and died for their country, they're good enough for our family.

From our family plots, I can see the new sections, opened to take in the dead from all the wars in the Middle East. The lump in my throat disappears as I cry, openly. Arlington is both a beautiful and terrible place.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I can't believe it's done!

Yes, the grand back yard renovation is finally finished. I want to add about a hundred exclamation points, but I restrained myself. Barely. I love it. Evan Froelich of Fernhill Landscaping did a wonderful job, and next year, I've already told him to start planning the front yard renovation.  What I love is that there's room for growth, everything will have color or scent throughout the year, and the birds are flocking to our new cherry laurels and hollies. In fact, it's a regular chorus of cardinals, bluebirds, chickadees, mockingbirds, robins, and woodpeckers. When I take the dogs out at night, the air is scented and just plain heavenly.

The grand bridal shower is tomorrow (for the best friend of my younger daughter), and I'll try to post pictures.  For now, here are a few of the finished product.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

This is what we're doing. . .



Matt, my Beloved, and Evan with holly in a hole.
Now you can see how my life is being consumed by the new landscaping. I'm busy moving azaleas that don't fit the color scheme into other spots in the front yard, still tearing up liriope and periwinkle (I will never, never, NEVER plant that stuff again!), and buying more plants. This is a lot of bare earth, and I'm feeling like it'll never look un-naked. I know this is silly, but I can't control the urge to pick up a few more azaleas, some peiris (Dorothy Wycoffs), and whatever looks good at the moment. which is a lot of stuff.  I'm lucky I have the room for it all! Next week, the perennials and rock garden should come together, then the mulch. Oh, and the maple tree will be set where the hickory once grew. It fell victim to a twisting wind that turned its top into match sticks. This whole yard renovation will give us joy for years to come. 
 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I have many excuses

for not posting more regularly. The biggie - it's Spring! And that means yard and garden, of course. I decided this was the year to rip out all the 25 year old plantings and start over. Little did I know what this would involve, but believe me when I tell you, 36 hours in labor having a baby was easier. At least it was over in 36 hours and then I had a darling little girl. So far, I have weeks of digging out periwinkle and lirope, old azaleas and bushes that had gotten too big for their britches, and heaven knows what else that I'd forgotten I ever stuck in the ground. You know those plants - the ones where you say, "well, if it makes it okay, if not, okay, too." They made it. Day lilies had multiplied past the point of being cute, and the daffodils that didn't bloom this year were all excavated. Here's a pix of the back bed, all cleaned out. Well, almost cleaned out. Four azaleas can stay until they've bloomed, then they're outta here. It's a LOT bigger than it looks in the photo.

I have a wonderful landscaper who came up with beautiful plans for a whole new look to the back yard beds, and it's slowly coming to life. Evan of Fernhill Va has done the legwork finding the new beauties and the creative planning part, and now, I get to sit back and watch the yard come alive, again.

I can't wait.

Monday, April 08, 2013

A snippet

A scene keeps coming to me. It won't work in any of my current WIP, but it's definitely a kickstart for a story or something. I just don't know what. Stuff like this drives a writer crazy, or at least, this writer, because instead of keeping the fingers on the keyboard for the current book, I'm constantly thinking about this wee bit, wondering who these people are, and why in heck are they speaking to me now???

So I thought I'd drop it into this little white box and see if it gives my imagination a bit of rest. It's like when you finally get down and dirty and write that two page list, all the details are on paper so your mind can take it easy until the next blast of to-do ideas pop into your head.

Here's the set-up for the scene: A youngish woman with dark hair is at the buffet table of a party, and the woman next to her asks, "Will your mother be able to come?"  (to what, I have no  idea!) as they fill their party plates.  The younger woman hesitates, then replies, with a look that's both startled and wary, but not sad, "She's not with us." Okkkaaayyy....

Is the mother in an asylum? Dead? A contract killer on assignment? In disgrace, in prison, in a ditch with her head blown off?  Sheesh, I'm not sure, but the answer hinges the story on its frame.

When you read one of my books with this scene in it, you can say your saw the very first rough draft.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Not a pretty picture

I wish I had the courage to post a pix of me doing our taxes. For those of you in the depths of tax hell with me, you know what I mean. I may have very little hair left before this is over, and what is still around, I may have to sell to help pay off our IRS bill. Why does this have to be so complicated and impossible? For heaven's sake, people, can't we go with a flat tax? I'd give anything to just write a check for my percentage, and leave it at that.  I always go into tax season telling myself I'm a smart woman, I'm not afraid of numbers, I can do this. At the end, I just pray I covered all our bases and that the IRS realizes it's a flawed system. Remember that TV ad where a past year's tax return is given to several different tax professionals, and they all come up with a different bottom line? Yeah, that really gives a girl confidence. If I do them myself, at least I'll have no one else to blame.

We've had a couple of nice days in the midst of this interminable winter that lingers on like a bad cold you just can't shake. If it's over 55, I'm out in the garden, cleaning beds, attacking the pervasive periwinkle (shoot me if I ever say I want to plant it again), and digging up bushes that didn't make it through the drought last summer AND the long, cold winter. Good bye, boxwood. It seems like you croaked yesterday, but it was actually late last fall. I have some new plants to go in the ground, so at least I'll have some fun. Believe me, I need it.

My beloved and I just celebrated our wedding anniversary. Can't believe we've known each other so many years. It's nice knowing you married the right man.  We had a real treat on our actual anniversary, because season 3 of Game of Thrones started that night. The dragons are back! I am going to love this season.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Trying something here

I'm working on a couple of projects at once (of course, I'm crazy), and I thought, for a change, I'd post the first chapter of a YA I'm editing. It's gone through several edits, a serious re-write, and now that it's been sitting a couple of months, I'm hoping to see it with "new" eyes.  This format works perfectly for that goal. I hope.  Tell me what you think, if you wish. Proofreading always welcome.

On another note, who else is waiting breathlessly for Round 3 of Game of Thrones???? I can feel the dragons coming. . . .

This is titled OUT OF NOWHERE.  So far.


Chapter 1

 

            Death rarely descends on gas stations. I hide out in them for as long as it takes for the creepy feeling I get now and then, more now than then, to disappear. You can fritter away at least an hour, if there’s a convenience store attached.

            The next Sheetz station I saw, I’d pull in.  I hadn’t planned on driving so long.  Slowing down for a flashing light that warned of an upcoming stoplight in a one-stop town, I saw a big chain gas station on my left.  Goody.  Pepsi and Cheetos, my dinner of choice.  Now that I didn’t have doctors and nutritionists giving me hell over my diet, I ate what I wanted.  No matter what I stuffed in my mouth, my bullet wounds hurt. So why not eat what I liked?

            My luck, for once, was having a good run.  Pulling up to the pumps, I dragged my lame leg out the door and tried to stand in one swift movement. No way. I still creaked like an old lady with bad hips and knees.  In a way, I wasn’t far from it, even if I am just seventeen.

            A hell of a lot can happen in one year. Trust me on this one, it’s not all good.

            So I’m pumping away, standing beside the pumps like a responsible citizen, when I notice the kid in the minivan opposite my side.  His dad’s cleaning the windshield, and the kid, a red-headed hell on wheels if I’ve ever seen one, is leaning out the side door, shooting me the bird.  I mean, the kid can’t be older than seven or eight, and he’s sticking out his tongue and jamming his finger at me, and before I can even wonder why, he turns around and moons me.

            Why me, God?  Why?  I’ve asked that question one hell of a lot in the past twelve months, but She’s not handing out answers.  I seriously doubt She will anytime soon, if ever.

            Turning away from the future juvenile delinquent, I check out the scenery, notice the small garage behind the chain gas station, a little brick post office, even a strip of stores that includes, of course, a small Walmart.  Whoopee.  Maybe I’ll head over there and buy something healthy, like ice cream.  A gallon of it.  Milk has lots of good stuff in it. Now, the question is, does ice cream have milk in it anymore, I wonder, as I hear an insect buzz past my ear.

            It’s heading into summer, of course the bees are heading for the open trash can, filled with empty soft drink bottles.  Sidling sideways to get out of the bees’ flight path, I heard a funny sound.  Like someone gargling.  Then there’s another bee dive-bombing my head, and instinctively, I try to bat it away from my face.

            As I turn my head, I wonder why gas is gushing all over the ground.  Stupid van-driver, he’s too busy washing windows to see that the gas cut-off isn’t working.  Leaving my pump, I hurry over to jerk his nozzle out, when the kid who’s been trying to get me riled up falls out the door.  I mean, no hands grabbing the frame, no shouting at someone to help him, he’s just there.  Lying on the gas-soaked concrete with a funny expression on his face, as if he’s totally surprised and not happy about it.

            “Hey kid, don’t do that, it’s not funny.”  More insects by my ears, only this time the van’s windows shatter into tiny round pebbles all around me.  Dropping to the ground, I try to shield the boy from the rain of glass, but he’s not saying anything.  Giving him a little shake, I can’t figure out why the windows have broken and he’s not giving me grief, when I see the color of the ground changing right under the kid.  It’s dark, almost reddish, and I know instantly what it is.

            Blood.  I know it when I see it, now that I’ve got my degree in getting shot.

            “Mister,” I scream, “mister, your kid’s been hurt!  Call 911!”  I would, but I don’t have a cell phone anymore. Anyone I would want to call is dead.  “Hurry!”

            I hesitated for half a second, then threw myself over the prone boy.  Cradling his head in my arms, I look around, praying I won’t see the shooter walking towards us.  My body won’t stop all the bullets, he’ll kill the boy for sure if he gets close enough.

            I can’t see the boy’s father. I see the holes in the van’s side.  These aren’t those stupid fake decals that are supposed to make your car look badder than bad. God help me, they’re real. 

            “Call the police!” I’m yelling, when I see the father’s feet.  They’re heels to the ground, toes skyward, and I know what I’ll find.  Once again, I am too late to help.

            So I lie still, my body hiding as much of the boy’s as I can, and pray it’ll be enough to save us both.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Looking back to the War of Northern Aggression

Since the weather yesterday was spectacular ( i.e., sunny and warm, yay!), we took a break from the back yard re-do and headed for an afternoon at Cold Harbor. The battlefield is covered with trees, unlike its state during that dreadful, bloody three days in July, but you still get a sense of what it must have been like. The earthworks are pretty stellar, and the size of the park gives a hint at the seven mile expanse of both lines, Confederate and Union, as they squared off and blew each other to bits. General Grant said in his memoirs that he always regretted ordering the last charge at Cold Harbor, and given the staggering loss of men, he probably was right.

 I took a short video showing the field, with its current state of forestation, so you can get an idea of the expanse of land those men in blue crossed under withering fire from Confederates with the advantage of better ground.

video
 
This place has always felt authentic, as if the battle fought here will never end, and all those dead men have imprinted the ground with their lost lives. Visit it if you're a Civil War buff. It's one battlefield you should go out of your way to walk.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

It's been a while

and I wish I could say the 80 degree weather carried through our entire vacation, but alas, the skies clouded over, the rains came, and with them, a cold front. As you can see from this pix of me entering the crosswalk to get to the track at Daytona, I was wearing a raincoat. What you can't see is the heavy sweater that's underneath.  It didn't really matter, however, since the race was a snooze fest. Literally, we fell asleep in the stands. So much for the new car giving Nascar a boost. How about a Boo instead?

Our cruise from Jacksonville's port took two hours of line shuffling and luggage getting soaked on the dock during the monsoon driving rain while we tried to get on board. A word to the wise: cruise from anywhere but Jacksonville, Florida. The worst port I've ever seen, and I've seen quite a few. I read a ton of books and basically lived on hot tea, I was so cold.

Three books I loved, all YA. Deviant, Misfit, and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Miss P was by far the coolest, but Misfit has a super premise in its heroine, a half human, half demon teenager in a Catholic high school. Deviant is really good for middle grade boys, and I liked the authenticity of the boy's voice.  Aliens and weird private school is bound to work, and it does.

Happy to be home to my own bed and pillow, and my furnace. Yes, snow and sleet has attacked, but at least I'm warm. A big step up from our cruise.


Friday, February 22, 2013

It's 82 degrees

and I sent texts to my kids with pictures of the temperature on the car's dash. I am a bad, bad mother. Just wanted to rub in the warmth and sun, yes, SUN that broke through the clouds as we hustled into Florida on our way to Daytona and the 500.  One child had ice to deal with today, and the other was hit by flurries. I want to say I'm sorry we went South, but that ain't true. I am not sorry, not one wee little bit.

We're getting excited for the race. This new car has the drivers excited, and it sure looks as if you can't win by hanging in the back, then making a last lap move.

Tomorrow we hit a fav restaurant, Your Place, for breakfast. Then on to some great thrift store shopping. The SPCA sponsors the best one in Central Fl. Love their book selection.

I'm going to try to restrain myself  from taking pictures of the white sandals I'll be wearing

Monday, February 18, 2013

Daytona!

The weather looks promising, Danica has the pole, and we're tired of cold weather. I know, the South is nowhere near as cold as north of the Mason-Dixon line, but it's been a bear recently for those of us wondering what's happened to the forsythia. So my beloved and I are loading up the headphones, the race scanner, and sunscreen, and heading farther south. Hope to get some good pix, hopefully of my fav, Bad Brad, in victory lane.

It's been a while since we've sat in the stands. Every race we tried to attend last year was cold and miserable, and we didn't see the end of even one of them. Rain was the culprit. I can take cold, I can take wind, but throw in the wet stuff, and I'm gone.

I'm planning on quiet time on the way down to Florida, so I can re-read what I've written and get a handle on the story. Sometimes I'm just too close to it, sitting at my desk. I feel as if I need to keep plowing onward, when I really need to step back and see the story with different "eyes." So this break comes at a good time for me as a writer and as a race fan.

Let the sun shine, the engines roar, and every word I read be a winner. I don't ask for much, do I?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine's Day

My Beloved amd I long ago gave up trying to go out for dinner on VDay, so we came up with a new tradition - having a VDay breakfast. For a while, we'd cook special breakfast goodies at home, but these days, we splurge on a restaurant. Eggs and bacon cooked by someone else just somehow tastes better. This year we headed for Shoney's, where I love the fresh fruit and grits on the breakfast buffet.

After stuffing our faces, we decided to run an errand or two, which somehow mushroomed into an all day trek to the beach. I know it makes no sense, but believe me when I tell you that the GPS on a Toyota is insane. It saved our hides in D.C. last Christmas when we had to meet our daughter unexpectedly, so we'd begun trusting the little devil. Such foolishness.

I guess because the GPS is in a Prius, it feels it can squander gas. For this hour and a half run to the beach to pick up a new gas cook top (exactly the one I wanted and couldn't get at home), the GPS decided we needed the scenic route. As in, a three hour scenic amble through residential (and not) areas miles from our destination.

We knew we were being had. We also knew we were hopelessly lost, so we had no other choice but to follow the commands the GPS snapped. When we finally arrived at our destination, we knew the $/@&-$ had jerked our chains, but good. There, a hundred yards from the store, was the interstate. We could have been there in less than ninety minutes going the direct route.

As my DH said, buying me a chicken wrap at Burger King, he really knows how to show me a good time. Shoney's and BK, all in one day. And the best part about this VDay (mis)adventure? We got to spend it together.

I guess I should thank the stupid GPS.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

TAG Grants and Virginia Independent Colleges

I suppose if you're the money-person for a county, city, state, or school district, you know to the penny how much you're spending per pupil. I remember being amazed when my children spent a few years in public school at the dollars spent per pupil, until it was explained to me that this average included providing services for those with disabilities and special needs, as well.  Then the money made sense.

Getting a child through the higher education hurdle is not for the faint of heart. The money required is astounding.

Today's college graduates are almost universally burdened with a debt they'll never pay down until they're quite a bit older.  I wonder how they'll ever afford a house, a new car, insurance, food, etc., without help. Even the Obamas said they spent years paying off their student loans, and they graduated back when tuition wasn't as high as it is now.

I was asked recently to support a slight increase in the TAG grants Virginia provides its students attending private colleges and universities. You bet I do, and I emailed my legislator to say so. One of my children received a TAG grant, and every little bit helps when tuition is close to $40,000 a year.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Can we learn from the past?

A writer friend has been studying the old Perry Mason books and encouraged me to do the same. I started one, and realized I was reading a master. Maybe not War and Peace ( which I have never finished, I confess, maybe because I was reading it in a French translation), but the hand of a master storyteller is sure and steady. Earl Stanley Gardner is teaching me a lot, and I'm an old hand at this game.

A few quick impressions---

1. Quick character descriptions: sketches that give you a nail on which to hang your assessments.

2. A fast hook to reel you in as a reader. Prospective client, a man we know is wealthy and accustomed to getting his way, to PM: "I want you to find a gold fish." Okaayyyy....I'm intrigued, ecen if Mason isn't at first feelin' it.

3. Short, snappy dialogue. Elmore Leonard-esque.

4. Short chapters, one leading swiftly into the next. Back story is brief and cuts to the chase.

5. The whole book isn't too long. No leisurely, beautiful sentences. No artistic exposition. Just the story, ma'am, just the story. (Where did that come from? Dragnet?)

More later. . . .

Monday, February 04, 2013

Champs

The Super Bowl was pretty durned good. Thought the 49ers had a shot, but the Ravens just weren't going to roll over and play dead. That's what makes a champ. There's no quit in their vocabulary.

I have listened to Jimmie Johnson over the years, and now Brad Keselowski, talk about winning a Nascar championship. The talk is about how tough it is, how you need great people around you, etc., etc., but the proof of what makes a winner shows up when something  goes wrong. When a part breaks and they're twenty laps down. Do they hop out of the car and head for the motorhome?  Not Jimmie Johnson, not Brad Keselowski. They keep their tail feathers in that car and get whatever is left, out of it.

Remember Kyle Busch doing leaving his broken car when he drove for Hendricks? Dale Jr. hopped into it to finish the race after repairs had been made, just for fun, he said, since his car was wrecked. And before you could go "hmmmm?" Kyle was out at Hendricks and Dale left his father's team to drive for Rick Hendricks.

 I've  seen Kyle Busch lay down at Gibbs, just get totally furious at something that happens to the car and check out mentally. In interviews, he wonders why, if he's such a great driver, as he's been called by others, he hasn't won a championship.

I know why. It's pretty obvious to anyone who follows the sport. I wonder why no one has ever told him the truth.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Books for the End of the World

For two nights running, I was busy preparing for the end of the world as we know it. My nightmares may have had something to do with the crazy weather - from the 70s into the 40s in one day - but I like to think it's my subconscious preparing for any eventuality. While in my dreams I busily planned how to convert the shed into an efficient living space (the shed?!), I stocked footlockers with food and quilts, loaded up on cans of gas for the generator (why? What will be around to see/hear? I doubt TV or radio.), and cut wood for the woodstove we ditched last year. Yes, it had reappeared in the yard to be used in this dream. I dragged mattresses into the shed's attic and tried to decide what books to take with us. I don't know what happened to our house, but that's a nightmare for you.  Details don't matter.

I was stumped on the books.

My dilemma was that I was allowed only ten books. I guess there wasn't going to be much reading after the apocalypse, and I wanted them all to be keepers. It was easy to start with the Bible, and then three paperbacks I cherish jumped onto the list. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, Pat Murphy's The Falling Woman, and Penelope Williamson's The Outsider were easy picks. Then the five Harry Potter novels jumped into my hands, and there I was, with one slot open and no idea what book to choose.

I think I was sweating bullets in my dream. I almost settled on a Bible concordance, because those are really handy creatures, or an unabridged Oxford dictionary, but I kept wanting to add another novel. Instantly, I knew. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird wasn't going to be left behind. My list was complete.

You'd think I'd forget this nightmare 48 hours after it's over, but I'm still reviewing my book choice. Who needs food or heat? What you really need to survive an apocalypse is books.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Good bye, Chad Everett


Watching the SAG awards last night, I was shocked to see the list of deceased personalities/stars I was unaware we’d lost. I knew about Andy Griffith (sob!), but Chad Everett? Oh my stars. Those blue eyes. Those dimples. As a young teen, I was drooling. How could he be dead? It’s like I lost my youth when I heard he’d passed on.

I was thinking about the Maggie Smiths, the Vanessa Redgraves,  the shining stars of theater and film who almost guarantee I’ll see anything they’re in because they’re who they are. What happens when they’re gone? As I watched Jennifer Lawrence accept her best actress award, I wondered if she, and other actors of her generation, will have the chops to be the greats of the future. And what was Nicole Kidman, with her botoxed face, thinking as she watched Lawrence climb the stairs to the stage? Actresses over forty aren’t exactly the hot ticket in filmland. Such a shame. Maggie Smith is proving in Downton Abby that age just makes you better as an actor.

The same can be said for writers. We get better (well, I hope I am) as we age. We don’t have as many distractions (rug rats, diapers, picky eaters, etc.) and our experience alone makes us better observers of life. Watching and translating that into fiction is key. We have less to lose by being honest, and an honest writer is a good writer on the way to being great.

Good-bye Chad Everett.  You created a lovely illusion of gentle sexiness for a naïve girl. I will remember you fondly. Now I have to think how I’m going to use you in a story. That’s what writers do.

 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bling it up

A group of fellow writers has been discussing the ups and downs of offering prizes to readers. The practice has been used for quite a while - I remember years and years ago,  RWA authors talking about professional "prize-hunters" who troll the Net looking for ways to win stuff. The trollers didn't care about the books or the authors, just the bling at the end of the rainbow.

There will always be that faithful group of readers who eagerly await a new book by their favorite authors. For them, a free book is a great reward for entering a contest. Real readers don't crave a $200 necklace or an iPad (well, they might crave them, but they don't expect one) as the prize for entering the author's contest. The books are the real goody bag.

So what has happened? The consensus seems to be that the droves of self-published ebooks has created a monster. Standing out from the crowd is crazy hard, and authors figure bling is just a cost of doing business. The better the bling, the more traffic is driven to the author's site and therefore, the ebooks. I'm not sure the logic follows. While I hope they're right, for their sakes, I doubt it. Better and more expensive prizes make for more money shelled out by writers who probably can't afford it. The authors who can take the financial hit, don't do any of this stuff and nonsense.

Writing a great book isn't enough these days, I hear via the omniscient grapevine. Unfortunately, that's been a truth of publishing forever. Marketing does matter, and it matters even more in these times.  So how do you strike a balance? Reward the faithful readers who truly care, drive more people to discover your book, and entice those who normally wouldn't look twice?

If you figure it out, let me know. But I won't send you an iPad for your response.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

And the rains came. . .

It's been raining for two days, and it's not lessening. Last night, the pounding was so loud, I couldn't sleep. It sounded like a thousand clog dancers on the roof, having a good ole time.  After trying to convince myself I shouldn't put on my wet suit and flippers and inflate a raft, I gave up and went to work. That's the nice thing about working from home, as well as its curse. You can't get away from it. Sometimes, you don't want to.

Well, I don't. At long last ( it's a long story, involving painting the dark wood in the family room, oil-based primer, malfunctioning Internet, and a third TV), I was able to sit down and write without interruptions. This Nirvana lasted only about an hour, but let me tell you, I was in hog heaven. My Beloved fielded the phone calls, the workmen, the wet dogs who don't like going potty in the rain, you name it. He covered all the bases while I regained some semblance of sanity. The man deserves a medal. But only when he's not snoring.

This new year has brought changes that have been brewing for a while. Grateful as I am to have them under way, I can't wait for normalcy to return. I love my boring life. May it find its way back to me.



Sunday, January 06, 2013

Time Travel?

I just finished reading TIME TRAVELER by Dr. Ronald Mallett, a physicist on the faculty of UConn.  Dr. Mallett's father died suddenly when the physicist was only ten years old, and his life became a long, introverted, and not always happy journey to find a way to see his father again. Science fiction like H.G. Well's The Time Machine and Star Trek encouraged him to research the science behind the theory of time travel, and research he did. Using the GI bill, he delved into topics and math that sound incomprehensible to me. Yet he has a knack for explaining theories in simple terms that give me glimmers of the brain power behind his work.

Parallel universes, bending light, tensor calculus, all seem more important to Dr. Mallett than real people interaction. Driven, and I mean driven, by his desire to see his father, he suffers periodic depressions and a divorce.  When he's deep into his work, he's clearly the happiest. I feel sorry for him in a way, particularly since he's painfully aware he's unable to form friendships as a youth, and romantic attachments as a young man. Living in his head produced brilliant science, though not an especially happy life, it appears.

He does find a measure of peace when a scientist he respects a great deal tells him that while he may not see his father again, his father would be very proud of him. The story of his journey to discover how to time travel is both human, melancholy, and triumphant. Give it a read.