Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This is a stupid post. You can skip it if you want. Though it does contain the words "gigonzo," "ginormous," and "schlong."


1. Cleaned three toilets.

2. Went to Costco, even though I really didn't need anything. (Not that that stopped me from buying stuff. I mean, gigonzo bag of frozen waffle fries? Come on--who can resist that?)

3. Read a bunch of other people's blogs (and even left comments on some of them). Became depressed when I saw they all had good ideas to write about & I didn't.

4. Cleaned & replaced the soap in the automatic soap dispenser. (Can you stand the excitement?)

5. Did a load of laundry that probably could've waited until tomorrow. (Am feeling kind of guilty about that. Would it have been "greener" to wait for a full load? I suspect so. *sigh*)

6. Pulled my drawer novel out and whimsically cut seven thousand words from it. Then added two. (Not two thousand. Two.)

7. Played around on Twitter.

8. Called my mother & played three games of computer Mahjong while listening to her tell me what terrible gossips old ladies can be.

9. Contemplated repainting my toenails, but ultimately decided peachy-pink was peachy keen for now.

10. Dug out my old copy of THE VALLEY OF HORSES to see if I still like it, and if the parts about Jondalar's ginormous schlong are still embarrassing to read. (They are.)

I was just sure a great blog idea would come to me as I was doing one of those things. Shows how wrong I can be, huh?

Gawd. Stop me before I go iron something!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ruthless? Or just quirky? You decide...

I'm a nice person. Kindness personified. Really. *blink*

I will do anything for a friend, and do it with a smile on my face, happy to be of assistance in whatever way I can. Need me to pick up your newspaper and mail while you're on vacation? No problem! Stuck at work and can't get your sick kid from school? Just call the principal and tell them to expect me. Want me to check that essay for typos before you hand it over to your freshman composition teacher? Glad to do it.

Let you win at a board game?

Uh...not so much. (Though I will smile as I beat the pants off you.)

I admit it. I may be *cough* very slightly, um, competitive.

Okay, family tells me I'm cut-throat ruthless when it comes to games like Scrabble. Or Monopoly. Or Clue. Or Life. Or... well, you get the idea.

I don't want to be. I want to be nice about it. I want to simply take joy in the camaraderie of the shared experience, to laugh and joke, and occasionally blow an opportunity to score big and not even care. But...

I...just...can' it.

Not even when my kiddos were little, stuck in the endless-games-of-Candyland phase, could I let myself lose. Which just proves it's a sickness, because what parent in her right mind doesn't cheat to lose that game just so it will finally--for the love of all that's holy!--be over? But, noooo. Not me. By golly, when my kids won at Candyland, they knew they had won!

My win-at-any-cost nature used to be a source of great conflict for me. It went against my perception of myself as a warm and giving person. But I've come to terms with it. Now I try to look at it as part of my quirky charm: "Oh, that Linda Grimes! Nicest person you'll ever meet. Uh, don't play games with her."

[All of this is not to say I'm poor loser. I'm not. Because, ultimately, I will not lose. We will play...and play...and play...until I win. But even when I am *cough* temporarily not in the lead during a round of games, I never get nasty. I don't throw game pieces or up-end the board. So, really--nice. I'm a totally nice un-loser.]

Now, the pertinent point to this little ramble (you knew there had to be one somewhere, right?) is, it applies to books, too. Characters do not always see themselves the way other characters--or even readers--see them. The discrepancy can be an excellent source of conflict.

And, in writing, conflict is king. :)

When you think about it, my competitiveness isn't such a bad thing. Because I can use the concept of the dichotomy between how we see ourselves (or would like to see ourselves) and how others see us as, say, a character building-block. Literally. Not my character personally, of course, but the characters in my books.

So, really, being cut-throat ruthless isn't so much a personality flaw as it is a work tool.

(Have I mentioned yet I'm also really good at rationalizing?)

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Soft Spot for my Dad

Yesterday Tawna Fenske, comedic blogster extraordinaire, wrote a post about how her recent girls night out was a little bit different from the norm, since one of her pals was now packing offspring. Tawna expressed a certain trepidation about the baby's soft spot, and whether or not the baby's brain could be dented by accidental mishandling.

As I read the post I was flooded with memories of my father--I'll tell you why in a minute.

My dad died when I was twelve years old, and a lot has faded in the intervening [*cough* more than ten *cough*] years since then. The pain has long since been buffered by time, and when a memory bubbles up it more often than not contains only a nostalgic joy that he still exists in my head and heart.

I'm older now than he was when he died, which is kind of hard to wrap my mind around sometimes, but as I'm mostly still stuck at twelve in my memories when I think about him, it doesn't really bother me too much.

I get my love of words and writing from my dad. He was the seventh of eight children (no, not Catholic; just prolific), born into what some might call a poor family, but really it was just normal life in Missouri at the time. After high school he would've loved to have gone to college, but couldn't afford not to work. So he enlisted in the Army, and after his time was up, switched to the Air Force, which apparently suited him better.

While stationed in Sweden, he met my mom and swept her off her feet. He always claimed she was blinded enough by his brilliant wit to ignore his looks. (She always claimed it was because he had access to Hershey bars through the embassy. So I guess we know where I get my love of chocolate.)

Whatever the reason, they married and eventually produced four children--my three brothers and me. My youngest brother was a bit of an afterthought (that sounds better than "accident," right?), and a source of great pride to my dad.

Yessirree, he still had it in him! Even after the brain tumor that nearly killed him the year after I was born, and the subsequent heart disease that was aggravated by the medicine he had to take daily after his surgery.

Dad was superb at relating to all of his sons. He played chess with my oldest brother, the genius. He tossed the ball around with my middle brother, the athlete. And he played a mean game of patty-cake with my baby brother, never failing to to make him laugh and give my mother a break at the same time.

With me, he seemed less certain of himself, but he gamely constructed dollhouses out of cardboard boxes, and listened to me talk endlessly about my favorite subject: horses. I was tall and gawky, with knobby knees and bony elbows, but he called me his long-stemmed American beauty and made me feel pretty anyway.

But enough of that. Here's the part where I stop crying and tell you why Tawna's post reminded me so sharply of my dad:

My baby brother was freshly home from the hospital, and finally asleep in his bassinet. Mom (after tackling five loads of laundry that had accumulated while she was giving birth--hey, I never claimed Dad was perfect) was resting with a well-deserved glass of iced tea and a magazine, doing a bang-up job of pretending to ignore the mess around her.

I was in the kitchen, doing my nine-year-old best to make myself lunch (no, I didn't like food prep any better then than I do now) when Dad came in, got the bottle of ketchup out of the fridge, poured some over his thumb, and walked back out. Curious, I followed.

When he got the living room he held his thumb up and said to my mother, "Hey, honey, you know that soft spot on top of the baby's head..."

My mother, used to Dad's sense of humor by then, only paled for a second or two before she threw her magazine at him.

(Yes, it's possible I got my sense of humor from Dad, too.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Hard Way

When I was three years old I got a nifty prize in a box of Cracker Jack--a wedding ring set, both the engagement ring (with a gen-u-ine fake diamond) and the wedding band. Sure, it was silver plastic, but it was cool.

I wore those rings everywhere. It didn't matter that they were way too big for my fingers; as long as I kept my hand in a fist, they stayed on.

Until that eventful day I went to the bathroom on my own (still kind of a big deal when you're three), took care of business, and...the rings slipped off my hand into the toilet.

Well. I knew better than to stick my hand into that dirty water. Mama hadn't raised any dummies.

So I figured I'd just fish those rings out after I flushed. Because then the water would be clean, right? Made perfect sense to me.

*sigh* I still miss those rings.

Life Lesson #1: sometimes there's no avoiding the crap when you're figuring out a problem.

Another time, when I was about six, I wanted to climb to the top of the clothesline pole. I wasn't very good at shimmying up, like my brothers were, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from viewing my backyard from on high.

A length of rope, with a loop on one end, lay abandoned by my second-oldest brother in the corner of the yard. He'd been using it to practice lassoing any of our pets not smart enough to avoid him. (Yes, the rabbit hated him. The dog was fast, and didn't mind as much.)

My mind feverishly devised a complex (for a six-year-old) pulley system. I threw one end of the rope over the crossbar on top of the pole. Put my feet in the loop. Pulled on the other end, envisioning being lifted by my elegant rope elevator.

Hmm. I was heavier than I realized. This, thought six-year-old me, will take more effort.

So I put my all into it. Gave a MIGHTY heave...and yanked my feet out from under me. Landed--hard--flat on my back. Knocked the wind right out of myself.

Which, let me tell you, is an absolutely awful feeling. Honestly. I thought I was going to die right then and there. Took me for-effin'-ever to get the air back into my lungs.

Life Lesson #2: sometimes shortcuts are treacherous.

When I was a freshman I was in a play at my high school, and after it closed, I attended my very first cast party. Most of the other kids were juniors and seniors, and had later curfews than I did. Not wanting to appear "babyish," I didn't let on that I had to leave early. I just stayed out with the gang (and had a blast) until the party closed down about 2 a.m. When I got home, my mother was sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea.

She took one look at me, got up, took her cup to the kitchen, and went to bed, so mad she didn't trust herself to speak.

Of course, I worried the rest of the night about what my punishment would be. Rightly so, since it turned out I was grounded for a month, in spite of my abject apologies.

*cough* It was SO worth it.

Life Lesson #3: sometimes it's better to apologize afterward than ask permission before. ;)

(What? You were expecting virtue? Ha-ha-ha! I'm trying to be honest about the lessons life has taught me.)

How about you? Has life taught you anything the hard way?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seducing the Muse

I read a really great post on Cynthia Reese's blog today about how writing is like cooking. She makes a great analogy about the correct amount of "seasoning" -- especially with regard to backstory -- being crucial. Too much or too little can ruin a a great recipe...or book.

Not being much of a cook myself, I find my writing analogies drift more toward other areas. Like sex.

Yes, writing is like SEX.

It can be good, it can be mediocre, or it can be downright awful. But there's just something about it that keeps us coming back for more.

See, I'm talking more about the act of writing than the resulting [great literature/timeless prose/pure dreck] that comes from it. The physical act of grinding out the words, sweating and bumping and building to the climax, and then wrapping it all up in a satisfying package.

Like with sex, sometimes writing is overwhelmingly what's on your mind. Overshadowing every other thought you have, buzzing in the background, informing your every action. You can't wait to get to bed--um, the computer--to pour out every feeling, to exorcise every amazing plot point bubbling through your blood.

In other words, you are In The Mood. Marowr!

Writing comes fast an furious at times like these--the more so for any forced delay. Every obstacle Real Life puts in your way--the day job, the kids, the laundry that can't wait another second or everyone will have to go naked--becomes an exquisite form of foreplay. When you finally get a chance to sit down and make love to your, I mean, type...the relief is overwhelming.

When a session like that is over, it's hard not to light up a cigarette and sigh in blissful contentment.

But we all know sex isn't always so urgent.

(Okay, I realize I could just be talking about women here.)

If we're honest, some days other things weigh on our minds, or we're just plain exhausted, or maybe getting hit with the hormones. Whatever the reason, the ol' body says, "Oh, come on. Seriously? No way."

But, have you ever noticed that, even when you don't feel very sexy at the start, sometimes just going through the motions for the other person's sake winds up paying off big time? You start off kind of slow, feeling almost virtuous for being so selfless, and before you know it...WHOA! That kind of worked.

And that...hey, that wasn't half-bad at all! Hmm...maybe you're not as tired as you thought you were after all....

Well, same goes with writing. Real life, feeling bad, hormones, etc.--they can all play a part in how inspired you are to sit down and produce the prose.

In other words, some days your muse needs a lot more seducing than others. ;)

So, go. Buy that muse some candy and flowers. Massage its feet, maybe offer a back rub. And tease your WIP a little while you're at it. Tickle it here and there, and see what pops up.

You might be surprised at the payoff.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mrs. Fish and the Very Bad Words (or, Another Explanation for Cynthia)

Some of you (*cough* Cynthia *cough*) may have noticed my tendency--rare though it is--to drop the occasional F-bomb, or pepper my prose with a hefty helping of "cr*ps" or "sh*ts." I previously explained how, having once upon a time kissed the Blarney Stone, I really couldn't help having a potty mouth.

Which is entirely (or perhaps 98.7 %) true.

But really, that episode only watered (um, so to speak) the seeds that had been planted in childhood. Because buried deep in my psyche was permission.

On the street where I grew up children ran wild all summer long. (Yes, I am that old.) I harken (See? Proof. Only old people use that word.) from the time before every second of a child's day was scheduled and micromanaged. We were forced to *gasp* think up Stuff To Do on our own.

Oh, some kids were in scouts, and the ones with really obsessive parents might be forced to join the swim team, but mostly the kids in my neighborhood were left to their own devices, secure in the knowledge that somebody's mom would always be watching out her window, ready to instantly phone-tattle any misdeed.

Not that I, personally, ever got into trouble. (Stop laughing. It's true.) I was an absolute angel. No, really. I was. It's tough not to be angelic when your nose is mostly in a book, and you have three brothers handy for easy comparison. The bar was set low.

But, my angel-hood notwithstanding, I *cough* sometimes managed to be in the vicinity when other kids were getting into trouble.

The leading cause of mischief was, of course, the luxurious amount of boredom we were allowed to wallow in. Boredom led to all sorts of interesting activities, usually at one of the houses where the block mothers were not gathered for their coffee klatch.

At least, I'm pretty sure it was coffee they were klatching with...though, come to think of it, they sometimes looked suspiciously jollier after their get-togethers.

One fine day, when all the block moms were gathered at my house, my gang o' girls was hanging out at my friend Rose's house. (Not her real name. I've seen her on Facebook, so I know for a fact she's internet savvy, and if she comes across my blog I'd like plausible deniability.)

Anyway, Rose's mom--let's call her Mrs., um, Fish (there being a Piscean element to her real name)--was never meant to be a stay-at-home mom, but her kids made it necessary. Nobody else would babysit them on a regular basis. She still managed to do every volunteer job humanly possible, though, and not out of the goodness of her heart. More because it got her out of the house in a socially acceptable way.

Mrs. Fish terrified me. She was so in-your-face active. Full of answers to questions no one was asking her. And loud. Yelled at her kids, and everybody else's too. Not in an abusive way, exactly--it was just how she communicated.

A piece of Fishly advice I remember vividly came after one of the coffee klatches. She was walking down the street, back to her house, hugely pregnant and not looking particularly happy about it. (Well, it was her fourth, and her first three were somewhat...challenging...children.) She stopped in front of a bunch of us playing tag in somebody's front yard. Shook her finger and said, in her no-nonsensiest PTA-President voice:

"Young ladies, just remember one thing--a girl can run faster with her skirt up than a boy can with his pants down."

She had a point. But we were eight years old and didn't quite know what it was...

Anyway, it was Mrs. Fish who gave me permission to cuss.

My cohorts and I (two of whom were Mrs. Fish's daughters) were experimenting with the stove in the Fish kitchen (being ever so careful not to burn the house down) when the terror of the PTA returned from the coffee klatch rather earlier than expected. As she came in the front door, the lot of us high-tailed out the back. All of us made it, too...except my hand.

Yes, the door slammed shut on my poor digits, pulling me up short.

It was bad enough to...

[if you're squeamish, skip this next part]

... pop the fingernail right off my middle finger. Well, not entirely off. More like up. Akin to raising a car hood. (Yeah, wearing the bandage to school the next day was all sorts of fun.) It hurt so bad it literally took my breath away--I couldn't inhale enough air to squeeze out a decent sob.

Mrs. Fish came running at the sound of the screams. (Not mine, mind you. My friends'. Apparently seeing what the underside of a fingernail looks like really freaked them out.) Mrs. F took one look at my face and said, "You're allowed two bad words--as bad as you can think of--and you won't get in trouble."

Well. I was flabbergasted. None of our mothers let us get away with bad words. At ALL. Dads could say bad words, and sometimes big brothers (if no adults were around), but it was unthinkable for the girls.

I was so stunned I almost forgot about my finger.

The worst part was, I couldn't come up with any naughty words. Oh, I'm sure I knew them, but my mind went totally blank. So, while she took me by the arm and sat me down at her kitchen table, and fetched the ice and bandages, I thought.

Silent tears streamed down my face, and I thought some more.

Finally, as she was finishing up her first aid, I stammered, "P-p-poop."

She smiled and said, "Is that the best you can do? Come on, you don't get opportunities like this very often."

So I took a deep breath and said, "Shit!"

She patted my back and said, "That's my girl! You get one more--poop doesn't count."

By then I was almost laughing. "I can't decide between 'hell' and 'damn,'" I said, feeling very clever at sneaking in a third bad word.

Mrs. Fish winked. "Well, hell, Linda, that is a damn tough choice."

So there you are. Permission to say bad words. And given at a very impressionable age.

It didn't take right away. I was still pretty much an angel for years after the smashed finger incident. But later--perhaps reawakened by by the Blarney Stone, perhaps not--it came to me that an occasional slip of the tongue had its place in my vocabulary.

After all, a little salt enhances the flavor of any good conversation. ;)

Monday, May 10, 2010

I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning....

In our household Mother's Day is traditionally a drinking holiday.

Oh, I'm not saying drinking like the Fourth of July drinking, or even New Year's Eve drinking, but the occasional Mimosa or champagne cocktail would not be considered out of place. After all, what better way to celebrate motherhood than to numb some of the side effects?

Sadly, this year my day did not effervesce with the traditional Bubbles of Euphoria. Because I was afraid to partake.

Yes, I, the 2-cherry Manhattan lovin', martini-swilling mama, was terrified to take even a single sip of an intoxicant. (Are you crying for me yet?)

Reason: Benign Positional Vertigo.

Which basically means the room spins if you tilt your head the wrong way. Possibly caused by labyrinthitis (a viral infection of the inner ear) or maybe by allergies (highly likely, considering our pollen counts lately)

When I woke up a few days ago, and rolled over in bed, I was overwhelmed by the same sensation one might expect after ingesting that ill-advised third martini. Now, it's not that I've never experienced the bed-spins before, but I've always had a pretty good time beforehand. In this case, I hadn't.

I managed to get myself upright, and all seemed okay. A passing thing, I thought. Until, while sitting on the toilet, I reach down to pick up a stray q-tip from the floor in front of me...and fell off the seat.

Okay, now that I had never done before. Even at my most inebriated (which, if I'm honest, isn't ever anything to brag about, because I tend to fall asleep before getting to the truly entertaining stage) I have always managed to keep myself firmly plastered (you should pardon the expression) to the toilet seat.

"Honey, are you okay?" the theater called when he heard me crash into the wall set conveniently close to the throne.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I lied, and picked myself up. "Just, uh, trying to change the roll of toilet paper."

I quickly figured out that if I held my head upright I could keep the room from spinning out of control, but the underlying vague dizziness continued. Know what a day of that causes?


Motion sickness. Whee. Spent the following evening getting better acquainted with my new best porcelain buddy.

If you'd like to get a good feel for my weekend, just have three or four martinis and watch this vid of my current theme song over and over again:

Fortunately, my tenure as the proverbial dizzy blond seems to be winding down. I was saved by the doctor-recommended Epley Maneuver. Apparently going through this very specific set of gyrations knocks your inner ear back into proper working order in about 80% of vertigo cases. It's holding true for me so far.

Now, there were some upsides to the whole dizzy blond thing. For instance, the theater god didn't think it would be safe for me to shower by myself, and helpfully offered to assist. (Isn't he a saint?) And laundry got put on hold, because walking up and down the basement stairs didn't seem like the best plan. And if I sat still on the sofa I could read or watch TV without too much difficulty.

But honestly? Next year I'd rather just have a drink.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

You take the Lone Ranger, I'll take Tonto

The Lone Ranger had Tonto.

Lucy had Ethel.

Napoleon Solo had Ilya Kurayakin. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I did have to look up how to spell that--thank you,

Johnny Quest had Hadji. (That too.)

Or, for those who appreciate more modern references, Doctor Evil had Mini-Me. And, of course, Michael (from Burn Notice--an extremely entertaining TV show on the USA Network) has Sam.

What do they all have in common?

Me! I like them all even better than the characters they kick the sides of.

Aaaaah. Sidekicks. Precious, precious hero-foils.

I love sidekicks. Sidekicks are cool. If I could be in a book myself, or in a movie, or on a TV show, I'd much rather be the sidekick than the main character.

Not sure why. Less pressure, maybe. You don't have to carry the story--you're free to have fun with it, and leave the heavy lifting to the lead. (Ha! Lazy much? Um...yee-aah. So?)

But, strangely, I tend to avoid them in my own writing. I think I'm afraid any sidekick I would write would steal my protag's thunder, and I'm rather protective of her. Wouldn't want any nasty sidekick-lovin' readers like me to come along and dis her.

So, do you write sidekicks? (If you're a writer, I mean. If you're not, and you still write sidekicks--get help.)

And how about Real Life? Are you a sidekick or a hero in the drama that is you?

Don't worry. I'll still like you even if you're a hero.

In fact, maybe I can be your sidekick! I'm pretty good at it. I will stand next to you and look not quite as good as you do. I will be quietly competent at whatever we're doing, but not nearly as great at it--whatever "it" is--as you are. I will even make smartass remarks that somehow serve to highlight your brilliance. (It'd be a sacrifice, but hey, I'm willing.) Soon you will wonder how you ever managed with my kick-side presence.

Whataya say, hero? I won't even wear my steel-toed boots*. I promise.

*Yes, my fingers are crossed. Why do you ask?

Taking my cue from directors

So, I've *cough* mentioned my background in theater, haven't I?

It can't come as any surprise that I'm always somehow comparing theater productions to writing. In my head, anyway, if not always here. But you know what?

It's true.

Producing a play is a lot like writing a book. Especially its ultimate goal--to entertain an audience, and give them a few hours of escape from everyday life.

The director of a play is like the writer--in charge, at least nominally, but really more of a herder of ideas. The director has to look at the big picture--s/he is responsible for making sure the curtain goes up on something worthy come opening night.

The director casts the play, just like the writer "casts" a book. Sometimes the director is surprised by a cast member who doesn't perform as expected--or directed--same goes with the writer.

Nothing is ever perfect the first time through. That's what rehearsals--and rewrites--are for.

And here's the biggie--the one I really wanted to talk about: not everything that goes into making the play a successful production is visible to the audience.

In fact, most of the very necessary underpinnings are backstage, never to enter the consciousness of your typical audience member. If it's working right, viewers should be so caught up in the story unfolding in front of them that they never give a second thought to the stagehands, the props coordinator, the costumers, the lighting technicians, the sound engineers, etc., etc., etc.

Same goes with a book. Sure, you know and I know how much painstaking research went into getting the facts behind the fiction precisely right--but the reader shouldn't be aware of it.

We know every last detail of our protag's life history--but the reader doesn't need to. If it's not entertaining in its own right, leave it "backstage."

If it's something the reader has to know for the story to make sense, try to keep it short and sweet. There's a reason stagehands dress in black and learn to work in dim lighting. It's unobtrusive.

Back at Melodrama Theater, if we had to do a scene change in view of the audience (sometimes unavoidable) we added a bit of interesting "stage business"and let the actors do it, staying in character.

If it can't be invisible, at least make it entertaining. ;)

Finally, book launch = opening night.

Whether you're playing to a full house or a half-empty theater doesn't matter, as long as the audience enjoys the show. (Though, yes, I admit full houses are more fun.)

Then, if you're really lucky you'll get rave reviews, and be asked for an encore performance. :)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Standing on tiptoe, reaching for an idea...



*taps fingers, stares at feet*

Tippy-tippy toenails.


Well, I do have toenails. They are currently pink. Kind of a peachy, dark pink that goes fairly well with my white sandals and my black sandals, and passably well with my brown sandals. (I don't wear the brown ones much anyway.)

I'm thinking of going dark red on the toes next time. You know, that really, really dark red that almost looks black? Like blood spilled on asphalt.

Hmm. Blood on asphalt...blood on asphalt...or maybe blood on dark stone pavers in the backyard of a NYC brownstone? Yeah, that could work.

Or blood spreading in a growing, irregular circle on the bodice of a white sundress, dripping onto the pavers...near an outdoor pond...with a fake grotto!

Yeah, that's it. And a body half-in, half-out of the small, cave-like indentation in the rock wall. The sounds of the party inside are muffled by the artificial waterfall, and...

Never mind toenails. I have a scene to write!

(Thanks for the random blog idea, Tawna!)