Saturday, July 31, 2010

Proper maintenance of your tools

[Does that title sound dirty to anyone besides me? Perhaps I should have said "writing tools." But honestly? I can make that dirty in my head, too. Granted, my head is overcrowded with nudges and winks. Whatever.]


Most writers I know take pretty good care of the obvious tools: their computers. They back up their files, run virus scans, and upgrade the equipment when it's feasible (i.e., affordable) to do so. Also, I'm sure those who still crank their words out old school make sure they have fresh pens and plenty of paper on hand. And, I dunnoh, massage their hands regularly to prevent writer's cramp?

But the tool I'm really talking about, the indispensable part of the writer's toolbox, without which no creative endeavor can proceed, is the brain.

Proper maintenance of the writer's brain is essential for optimum word output. Not only quantity (which everyone seems to obsess about), but quality. Anyone can churn out enough blah-de-blah to fill the page, but to keep the reader's eyes glued to it takes more than that. It takes nimbleness and acuity and perception to fit exactly the right words in the right slots to make the whole puzzle of your story come together to form a pleasing picture.

Nimbleness and acuity and perception are difficult to extract from a burned-out, over-tired brain. In my case, impossible.

This was brought home to me yesterday, when I tried to compose a simple paragraph in a simple scene of my WIP. I pounded at that thing until even words like "the" and "said" looked strange to me. If I'd been working with pencil I would've erased a hole in the paper. I could not herd those words together for the life of me. Every time I'd swing around and prod them from one side, they'd scatter out the other. Go to the other side, and they'd split and circle back behind me.

I swear they were laughing at me, pouring out little pixelated guffaws at my expense. Probably even sticking out their tongues while I was banging my head against the keyboard.

Why? Why was this happening?

Because I was exhausted*, and had no business even trying to compose. No point in slicing tomatoes with a dull knife. You just squash the tomatoes and shoot tomato innards everywhere. Take it from me--it pays to invest the time in sharpening the blade before you start. You'll save yourself the gooey mess.

In my case, I should have just given in to my tiredness and rested instead of trying to make my word count for the day. But, as I may have mentioned before, I can be a wee bit stubborn.

Now pardon me while I go clean up those gooey words. I got enough sleep last night, so I think I can slice and dice a little more efficiently now.

*TG and I had been up half the night at the ER with his dad. They thought it might be apendicitis, but it turned out not to be, and he's okay now. Whew!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

NUMB with Excitement!!

Numb, by Sean Ferrell, goes on sale 8/3/2010!

I know this because a Twitter bud of mine, Harley May, is doing a bang-up job of pimping his novel (tee-hee--get it? "bang-up" and "pimping" in the same sentence?) over at her blog.

Go check it out. Really. Go now. There may be a quiz.

[Imagine a musical interlude here. I would actually include one, but frankly I'm not that technologically savvy.]

There. Did you look? Did you see there's a contest?

Which I am now about to enter by staging my own re-enactment of three scenes from the book:

1. A man engaged in a lion fight.

2. Someone hammering a nail through their body for profit.

3. A man on fire.

Now, since I am such a badass rebel (and a writer who can't resist editing), I took it upon my presumptuous self to consolidate ALL THREE scenes into one SUPER EXCITING image!!! Cuz that's just the way I roll.

So, here you have it. My (loose) interpretation of the events in those scenes: a man in a fireplace, on fire with fear because he is being attacked by a ferocious lion, just when he was about to pound a nail* into himself for money!

*Okay, so he's holding a screw. "Getting nailed" means the same thing as "getting screwed," right? Synonyms count when you're a writer. Work with me here. Suspend your disbelief.

Now, I realize taking these liberties with the rules may result in my disqualification from the contest. (Though, seriously, I think I deserve extra credit for creativity.) But that's all right. I was going to buy my own copy anyway.

And so should you. From everything I've heard about this book, you won't regret it. :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Enunciate those body parts!

The following has very little to do with writing, but the "where did I come from?" subject came up in my Twitter stream, and reminded me of a story. So, since I didn't have a post planned for today, I thought I'd share it with you.

If cute kiddo stories annoy you, or turn your stomach, feel free to stop reading now. You could just skip down to the comments and say "Awww." If you're so inclined. It'd make me feel good, and I promise there won't be a quiz on the details.

When Darling Daughter (hereafter referred to as "DD") was not quite four years old, TG and I decided it was time to add to the family gene pool again. After much consideration, long-term planning, and a meticulous weighing of the pros and cons of letting another person into our lives, we embarked on a repeat journey to parenthood.

Either that, or we got drunk and said, "What the hell!"

Whichever, it turned out great. Darling Son was conceived, and has brought much joy to our lives, as has his sister.

Since DD was a precocious child*, she was naturally curious about the means by which she would become that most hallowed of all creatures, the Big Sister. Being a hip and with-it mom, I was eager to answer all her questions.

Hence, the following conversation.

DD: "Why are you growing a new baby?"

Me: "Because you asked for a baby sister." [Hey, it never hurts to lay the groundwork for future blame.]

DD: "Hooray! I'm getting a sister!"

Me: Oops. "It might be a brother. That would be okay too, right?"

DD: "No."

Me: "We'll talk more about that later."

DD: "How did the the baby get in your tummy?"

Me: [Gets out adorably illustrated book that explains the whole process on a simple, yet accurate, preschool level.] "So, you see? The little sperm and the little egg come together and make a baby. Isn't that wonderful?"

DD: "Boy, those sperms sure must be strong to jump all the way from Daddy to you!"

Me: "Uh, yeah. Something like that."

DD: "How will our baby get out? Like that chicken on Sesame Street?"

Me: [Gets book back out. Points to illustration. Explains about the special passage the baby will use to get out of Mommy. Mumbles "vagina." No sissy-la-la words for my brilliant daughter!]

DD: "Does food drop on the baby's head when you eat?"

Me: "No. The food goes to the stomach. The baby is in Mommy's uterus, remember?"

DD: "Okay. Can we go to the park now?"

Whew! I'd made it through one of the "hard" conversations. I just answered the questions, using the proper terms in a matter-of-fact way, and voila! My DD was perfectly straight on where babies came from. Couldn't have been simpler.

When I picked DD up from preschool the next day, her teacher took me aside, a somewhat perplexed look on her face.

"Um," says she. "I know you told me you're expecting another baby..."

"Yes," says I, patting my baby bump. "We sure are."

"Well, that's what I thought. But today [DD's real name] told the class her new baby sister was coming from 'Mommy's South China,' so I wondered if maybe you were adopting."

Red-faced, I explained our anatomy lesson.

"Vagina" and "South China" -- guess I mumbled more than I realized.

Moral of the story: Never assume you are completely understood when you're talking to a three-year-old. Even a bright one. And, for goshsake, speak clearly!

*She started reading at two, and was writing & illustrating her own books by age four. Her Lisa the Purple Poodle was well-received, and her Baby Bunny series, including my favorite, The Baby Bunny Gets a Cough, garnered blockbuster reviews from all the grandparents. She always included the copyright date--complete with a circled C--at the front of her books, too. Even then she was concerned with intellectual property rights. Though perhaps a little vague on geography.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lessons from a testosterone-riddled mailman

Yesterday I happened to look out the front window just as our mailman stopped. He put a few envelopes in our standard-size mailbox, and then reached back into his truck for a brown cardboard box.

Yay! A package! I love packages.

I figured he'd bring it to the door, as he usually does with packages, but no. He decided it would fit into the mailbox.

He was wrong.

Not that he would admit it once he got started. Probably because he was so close to right he couldn't stand to back away from his course of action. So he kept on pushing. Rearranged himself and got both arms into the act. Strained and shoved. I was too far away to see if sweat popped out on his brow, but I'm betting it did.

Yes, I could have walked out at this point and relieved him of his effort--it's not like I was lounging around the house naked (then)--but I was sucked into the drama of his struggle. Would he give up? Would he succeed? Would my mailbox survive the assault?

And he could have walked that package to my door (and himself back to his truck) three times during this episode. At a leisurely pace even. I was torn between admiring his stick-to-it-iveness and questioning his intelligence.

That's when it occurred to me I'd been in the same place before with my own chosen field of work. I've tackled scenes in my writing just like that damn package. Looking at them, I've thought they should slip right into the "mailbox"--my WIP--but somehow they didn't ... quite ... fit.

And yet I struggled with them, squishing and warping and shoving them until I forced a fit, even though it would've been less work for me to just give up already, and write a new scene.

Yeah, you could say I'm a wee bit stubborn.

So, did the mailman succeed? Yup. He got the the package in, slammed the mailbox shut, and drove off with a look of grim satisfaction on his face. I could almost see the testosterone coursing through his veins.

BUT. It took me five effing minutes to get that effing package out--I nearly pulled the mailbox off its wooden post doing it. And I broke a nail. Huh. Screw his victory.

The package was crumpled at the corners, but otherwise okay. It performed its function--that of transferring its contents* from the manufacturer to us--adequately.

But you know what I decided? I don't want my ill-fitting scenes to function adequately. I want them to fit seamlessly within my book, so the reader doesn't have to work to ignore the crumpled corners to get to the goodies inside.

I'm not saying scenes should never be hard work--plenty of them are. But if you can't make them fit without leaving them so scarred the reader notices, then maybe your efforts could be spent more wisely. There's a difference between applying elbow grease towards polishing, and stubbornly whacking away at something just to win.

*What was in the package? Cigars for TG. All that for cigars. Not that I don't think he deserves his occasional indulgences, but I'm the one who broke the nail. It should have been my books from Amazon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's not whether you win or...oh, who am I kidding? Just let me WIN already!

Winning stuff is cool.

I'm not talking about spelling bees, or geography bees, or math bees (are there math bees?), though those are all cool in their own way. But when you win those, the prizes are more like rewards. You've earned them.

What I'm talking about is the "Woo-hoo! I got lucky!" kind of winning. Like a lottery ticket. Or a raffle ticket. Or a random drawing.

Sadly, I hardly ever win anything. Proof:

List Of Things I've Won

1. Two chickens in a raffle.*

2. $10 from a "Let's Go To The Races" TV show.**

3. A chance to buy the Beanie Baby "Princess Bear" at regular price when it was the hottest thing on the market.***

So you can see why I'm rather excited about Elizabeth Ryann's RomCom Books Edition BIG OL' CONTEST.

Just look at some of the loot up for grabs:

Alas, now I am conflicted. If I were a nice person, instead of a Major Badass, I would tell you all to go enter. But that would mean more competition for me, and since I basically suck at winning stuff already...well, you can see my dilemma.

Tell you what. I'll leave it to your conscience. Go ahead and enter...if you can stand to look at yourself in the mirror when I don't win something yet again in life. Go on. I dare you. And just try to live with yourself afterward.

*I was two years old, so this one is family lore. I really don't remember it all, and thank goodness for that, since apparently the farmer's wife who lived down the road from us (we were in England) offered to kill & pluck both chickens in exchange for keeping one. Seemed like a good deal to my mom, who had no interest in keeping chickens as pets.

**This was when TG & I were first married. The deal was, you "bet" on a horse and then watched a cheesy TV horse-racing show to see if your horse won. Technically, TG's horse won, but we're married, so what's his is mine, right?

***I'm not sure this one even counts, since Hallmark made me pay the $5.99 retail price. This was at the height of the Beanie Baby craze, and Princess Bear was going for upwards of $700 on Ebay. Did I sell it then? Nope. It's still in my drawer, in pristine condition, and now worth...oh, about a buck ninety-five, last I checked. But I have high hopes that it's just a temporary downturn. (Okay, no I don't. I was stupid not to sell it then. Stupid, stupid, stupid...)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Addendum to yesterday's post

Had a little convo with the theater god after he got home and read yesterday's post.

TG: "You left out the best part."

Me: "I did?" Not the shoe thing again.

TG: "Yeah. You know."

Me: I do? Please, not the shoes....

TG: *meaningful look*

Me: *gulp* "Oh, yeah. I was trying to block that from my mind. Because it wasn't my fault!"

TG: "Yes, it was."

Me: "Okay. Maybe. But it wasn't significant."

TG: "Like hell! It's significant that I ever asked you out again after that."

Me: "Oh, for Pete's sake. So I melted a little. Most guys like it if they can make their girlfriends melt."

TG: "You didn't melt. Your shoes melted. All over my chrome exhaust system."

Me: "Well, how was I supposed to know it was too hot to rest my heels on?"

TG: "It was an exhaust system!"

Me: *stares blankly*

TG: "Admit it. You only did it because I didn't bring toilet paper."

Me: "I am not that petty!" Heh-heh-heh.

TG: "I just think it's important to note I did not yell when I saw what you'd done, even though my pristine chrome was ruined. "

Me: "Hey, I didn't yell when I saw how your stupid motorcycle ruined my shoes, either."

TG: "And that's why we were meant for each other."

Additional things I learned on that camping trip:

1. Motorcycle exhaust systems get hot enough to melt the rubber soles of shoes.

2. When your feet keep sliding around, your soles might be melting.

3. You should probably keep your feet on the handy-dandy little flip-out pegs that are meant for, yannoh, your feet.

4. A guy who doesn't yell when you maim his precious motorcycle is probably a keeper.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From wiggling my bait to bait-and-switch, subtitled: "Sorry about that, honey!"

Loyal blog readers might recall the story of how the theater god and I met when I wiggled my bait on stage where we worked. Early in our relationship, when the Glow of the New overpowered everything else, I was eager to learn all there was to know about my honey. If it involved TG, I was interested.

Reading Tawna Fenske's (Agency Sistah Extraordinaire) blog post about her camping trip with her hubs, I got to thinking about my own past alfresco experiences with TG. Because, yep, you guessed it, TG loves the great outdoors.

Huh. Well, he sure chose a strange profession, considering. *blink*

Be that as it may, when I found out about TG's avid passion for Mother Nature, I was willing to give it a go. I mean, I liked some things about being outside. Horseback riding, for one., horseback riding. But honestly? If they'd made air conditioned indoor riding trails, I'd have finger-waved* buh-bye to Mama Nat early on.**

Alas, the new love of my life liked being outside whenever he wasn't holed up in a dark theater. So when he asked if I wanted to go tubing on the Guadalupe with him and a bunch of our theater buddies for our second date, I naturally said, "Tubing? Oh, I love tubing!" while secretly thinking, Tubing? What the hell is tubing? Sounds naughty.

In case you're curious, this is tubing on the Guadalupe (not us, of course, though our group did have a cooler in its own inner tube a lot like the one shown here; also, I'm pretty sure these are the same rapids, AND we wiped out just like these guys***) (Oh, and don't feel like you have to watch the whole video. Really, it's just for flavor.):

Since there was a shortage of inner tubes on our tubing trip, TG kindly volunteered us to share one. Wasn't that altruistic of him? And I'm sure it wasn't just so he could cop a feel when he "steadied me" after every rough patch of water.

We survived the trip, despite almost drowning when we flipped entirely over at one particularly treacherous point. Gah. Have I mentioned how much I hate getting water in my nose?

Hardly anyone got past that stretch of the river intact, a fact well known by the little boy--seriously, he looked about 10--with the snorkeling gear who stuck his face in the water every time a girl went past on a tube. Seems it was quite common for bathing suit tops not, maintain their hold on the girls, shall we say...after an encounter with the tumbling water. And don't think that budding perv didn't know it!

For the prurient among you, no, my top did not survive the encounter, either, but TG was quick on the uptake, and pressed me quickly to his chest before the kid could get a good look at me. Wasn't that thoughtful of TG? And, really, it didn't take him that long to help me hitch my top back up.

Of course, after our date was over, I raved about what a good time I'd had. I mean, I'm a polite person. What was I going to say? Certainly not, "No way in hell are we ever doing that again." (Though we have not, in fact, been tubing on the Guadalupe since then, much to TG's dismay.)

But that doesn't mean I wanted to give up entirely on learning to share TG's love of Mother (-effing) Nature. So when he invited me along on a camping trip I said, "Sure! I love camping!" while secretly thinking, Camping? How bad can it be? Aren't there s'mores with camping?

Nope, I'd never been camping. I come from a non-camping family. I was briefly in the Brownies, but all we ever did was glue alphabet macaroni on Popsicle sticks to spell out the Brownie pledge. Nothing "fun" like camping. So maybe I wasn't exposed to it at an early enough age for it to imprint on my psyche.

Some things I found out about camping:

1. When your mode of transportation is a motorcycle, you don't have room to bring a lot of extras. Say, like, portable camping toilets. Or toilet paper.

2. Guys don't seem to mind the above nearly as much as girls do.

3. Maybe because they can pee standing up without getting their feet wet.

4. Squatting over the woodland floor brings you waaay too close to Mother Earth. AND the small, crawly creatures that inhabit her. As for clean-up: "Here, use these leaves. But whatever you do, don't use those leaves." Help! They look the same to me!

[Does this list seem overly preoccupied with the call of nature? Well, believe me, it seemed vitally important at the time.]

5. Don't eat canned beans for dinner and then zip yourself up in tiny 2-person tent with a guy unless you want to learn the real definition of "intimacy."

6. Mosquitoes in Texas could give the Cullen family a run for its money.

7. S'mores are just as good when you fix them at home, over the stove, in an air conditioned kitchen, as they are when you toast the marshmallows over an open fire while terrified a bear will show up at any second. Better, in fact.

8. It is absolutely mind-boggling what you do in the name of love.

After TG and I married and started procreating, I no longer felt a pressing need to try to like camping. I'd been willing to give a try, because I knew how much he loved it, and I thought there was a slim possibility that I might grow to love it, too.

Hey, it could have happened!

Of course, TG is still claiming it was bait-and-switch the whole way. Thought he was marrying an out-doorsy girl when in fact he hitched his star to an indoor-plumbing-loving wuss.

What can I say? Um, sorry about that, honey!

*Feel free to guess which finger.

**Granted, if I'd been capable of turning a sexy, golden-brown in the sun, I might have felt differently.

***TG tells me I am mis-remembering, that our rapids were much gentler, more akin to the "Lazy River" ride at the typical water park. But this is the way I remember it. And it's my blog, so nyah. :P

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hot and bothered...

...and not in the good way.

Ugh. It is steamy outside. Hot, hot, hot...but I'm not allowed to complain about it because back in February, during the Snowpocalypse, I swore to myself I would not bitch and moan about weather that does not involve shoveling.

Back then, I would have welcomed 100 degrees F with open arms, while I whispered "Ooooh, hot stuff, burn me some more" in its sizzling little ear.

Yeah. I know. It's all about what you don't have at the moment, isn't it?

But, since I am a woman of my word (even if it's only my word to myself, with nothing signed in blood*), I will now try to come up with:

10 Reasons I Love The Hot Weather

1. I get to walk around barefoot without my feet freezing. I hate wearing shoes, so this is a big plus.


3. TG grills something delicious almost every night he doesn't have a show or rehearsal. Yum! Plus, no cooking for me--YAY!

4. I don't feel guilty for skipping my daily 2.5 mile walk. In fact, I even feel virtuous about it, because I am sparing some poor stranger the trauma of finding my dead-from-heatstroke body on the trail.

5. VANILLA ICE CREAM! (I'm not that picky about ice cream.)

6. Frosty mugs of icy cold beer.

7. Movie theaters with the a/c cranked up just a little too much, so I have to actually bring a long-sleeved shirt with me.

8. Watermelon. With seeds, without seeds, pink or that weird yellow kind, big or tiny. Doesn't matter to me, 'cuz I loves me some good watermelon.

9. Tomatoes from our garden, eaten still warm from the sun. (Alas, this one will have to wait until they ripen, but it's something to look forward to.)

10. CHERRY ICE CREAM! (Uh, yeah. Told you--not picky.)

How about y'all? Got any reasons that'll make me love this hot weather? I sure could use a few more!

*Okay, that is my official weasel clause, in case I just can't stand it as the thermometer rises, and I let loose with an un-hold-back-able stream of complaints.