Friday, August 29, 2014

The leaves are falling. . .

I found another notepad with my dad's name on it just yesterday. He must have had hundreds, all "gifts" from charities he supported. (And he supported a ton of them.) I use them for jotting down phone numbers from the message option on the phone, just as he did. After he passed on, I threw away bags full of these pads, until some gained a reprieve. They're still useful to me, but I wonder how he could have possibly used them all in his lifetime. He loved little 3 x 5 cards, tucked in his front pocket on his shirt (all his shirts had to have this pocket or they were returned immediately), and small notepads he could use for reminders. Once, I gave him a small notebook to use beside his computer, handy for jotting down things he wanted to remember, including passwords, but he found it difficult to remember to use it. Once again, the 3 x 5 cards came to the rescue.

I discovered my older daughter was doing the same thing. Tucked in a slot in her bedroom desk is a tidy pile of 3 x 5 cards, covered with passwords and reminders. Seems the 3 x 5 card gene has skipped a generation. I, however, hoard notebooks. Rows of them. All filled with pages I figure I'll  need to re-read someday. One even holds passwords. So there.

Leaves are falling, much to my disgust. Autumn simply has to hold off a while longer. We're just not ready to rake and pull on sweatshirts. Once, though, autumn was the highlight of my year.  When I was a girl in Kansas, Fall meant the beginning of the fox hunting season, my big thrill. Since there weren't a lot of foxes where I lived, the hunt would put out a drag, or scent, for the hounds to follow, which meant a fun ride at full tilt. I was never prouder than when I was awarded my "FLH" buttons to sew onto my jacket. My little roan half-quarterhorse, half-thoroughbred, normally a well-behaved mare, would thunder over logs and leap streams as if she were seventeen hands instead of fifteen. Once, I almost passed the Master of hunt, when she got the bit in her teeth and decided she was going to lead this parade. I ended up jerking her in circles to try to slow down our certain expulsion from the hunt.  She hippity-hopped and she bucked and I almost went over her head, until she calmed down. Thank goodness. That day was more fun than I'd ever had.

The writing is coming. Bathroom renovation is almost complete, so the sound of workers' radios and drills and hammers and whatall is just about silenced. A few more bits to go, a re-do by the plumber of the hot and cold handle in the shower, and we've survived the bathroom re-do from hell.  I don't think I'll ever do this again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Strong Greaved Achilles and helmet-haired McDonnell

I'm re-reading the Lattimore translation of the Illiad - and it's wonderful. When I read it in school, it was work. Now, I'm caught up in the language, the imagery, the violence.  Still a heck of a read. It's a textbook of how to make characters come alive. Use a tag with a name - like strong-greaved Achilles- and keep it going until you can't think of the character or see his name without the extra descriptor. The descriptor gives a visual image that is many instances is almost cinematic.

A friend recommended TYRANT on FX. We could only start with the fourth episode, but boy howdy. Nothing like it on TV that I know of. I'm going to have to hunt down the first three, but I have an idea what's happened so far. RAY DONOVAN is going slowly - I don't have much time for TV, but Season 1 is so original, I wish I'd written the character.

I miss comedies of the old days, like The Dick Van Dyke Show. Network TV then hired the best writers. I've always thought comedy is harder to write than anything else in the world.  I'm beginning to believe only tortured souls can write truly great comedy. Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams, RIP.  I find writing humor to be nothing but torture. Sometimes I can catch a quirky phrase that sounds at least amusing, but that's as far as my talent goes.

Our former governor continues to deny any wrong doing in his acceptance of money and gifts from a corporate bigwig. The whole story is so sordid and embarrassing, I don't know how he can get on the stand to testify. I'd have accepted a plea deal for a hundred years in prison, if it would have spared my children and wife this public humiliation. I can't imagine how his wife has retained her sanity, unless she really is crazy already. Totally possible.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Paring down

I just re-read HUNTING BADGER by Tony Hillerman. I remember the first time through, I was shocked at the large print and short page count. As I do with Hillerman, I read for story. This time, though, I read it for technique.

What I discovered made me rethink my own craft. Hillerman has distilled each scene, each conversation, down to its essence. There's no fluff, no "pretties" to distract from the story.  Yet each character retains his/her distinctive voice. Jim Chee never sounds like Leaphorn.  I found I really liked it, because the story is fairly complicated for such a short word count. Personally, I'm really fond of all my digressions and side stories, but none of them are that spectacular that they can't be eliminated. Any distractions need to be central to the mystery, or they're history.

I miss these masters of mystery, Tony Hillerman, Dick Francis. At least we have their bibliography, and they'll never go out of print.

Friday, August 08, 2014


Since I'm playing with another Tal Jefferson book idea, I needed to refresh my memory on its locale. Hitting the Web, I pulled up pictures of the real town on which I based Wynnton, and looked around, courtesy of Google. (Personally, I hate the fact Google has my house in its data base.) I couldn't believe how the streets I thought I knew well have changed over these past years.

The houses I am using are no longer residences. What was once a very neighborly street is now all business in these old, lovely homes. Pickup trucks park in the side yard. Large signs by the driveway announce the business name and address. Houses once painted a brilliant white to ward off the summer sun are now tans and beiges, reds and blues.

I remember all those neighbors so clearly. Mrs. DeShazo with her curved spine, club foot, and tiny stature, always impeccably dressed, wearing lipstick, and the sweetest woman on earth. Mrs. Smith, worrying about her husband's arthritis. Mrs. Ritchie, her house filled with luminous art painted by her Spanish son-in-law. Mrs. Amos, housing her granddaughter and her son, wealthy as Croesus but not flaunting it a bit.  Visiting each other was a ritual not to be missed. Front porch swings on hot summer nights, lemonade in the garden, a tuna stuffed tomato for lunch with all the neighbor ladies happy to attend a hastily arranged party. I know they are no longer with us in person, but they will always live in my memories. Their white houses with huge old shade trees, now cut down for parking areas, will survive in my mind as well.

The owners may change, but the stories these women told, their personalities, their faces, are with me still.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Where have the readers gone?

I read some horrifying statistics today. I'm generalizing here, but the article said that only one-third of high school graduates pick up a book after graduation, for the rest of their lives. College grads were even worse! Something like twenty-eight per cent deign to read a book after receiving their sheepskins.  There was a further breakdown, but oh my stars, did I feel discouraged. With so few young people reading, the publishing market is bound to cater to those sacred few. I just didn't see the trend as clearly as I do now. The aisles between YA books always have more people than any other section, even the ones with cookbooks and devotionals, so mercy me, I hope those few stay faithful to the printed word.

Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. Cliché, yes, indubitably. I can't imagine a life without books in some form or another. So I feel sorry for those who never want to go near a novel again for as long as they live. Then again, who am I to judge? There's certainly great storytelling on the TV (I just started in on RAY DONOVAN on cable), but some of the best TV drama comes from novels. LONGMIRE, anyone?

I'm mailing copies of OUTLANDER to friends who are too young for its first iteration in 1991. I know they'll be caught up in the series now airing on Showtime (I think), and will want to see what's been left out in the necessarily truncated TV version.