Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Writing Superstitions and My Big, Fat Give-Back Contest

I realized two things this morning. I like dancing to techno, and I am superstitious when it comes to writing.

Why do I like techno, you ask? I don't really, it all sounds the same to me, but it is easy to see why so many people dance to it. No complicated moves are required. My kids and I had another one of our legendary early morning dance parties today, and all I needed to do was throw my arms around and jump up and down like a human pogo stick. Fun, but exhausting! Daniel Craig said I could take a day off my walking regimen since I'd already been aerobic for twenty minutes at the party. He can be such a nice muse.

Are you a superstitious writer? I am. I like to sit down to a clean desk with a cup of Celestial Seasonings (lemon or red zinger) tea in my Williams-Sonoma Ten Days of Christmas mug. (It has to be either day 5 with the golden rings or day 1 with the partridge) I also need to have my hair out of the way in a ponytail. When my favorite Pavorotti playlist begins and my dog is dozing near my feet, I'm ready to write. Only then are the stars aligned. Without these things, I feel a little off my game, so to speak.

If I'm mailing a manuscript to an agent, I need my lucky fine-point, black Sharpie. Woe to the child who has ill-advisedly used my pen, left the cap off, and let the tip dry out! I usually address two manila envelopes, pretend I'm an agent receiving both, and choose the one that looks better.

I know, I'm weird. I can admit it publicly. I would also say that the conditions I described above are the ideal. There are many days when I am merely scribbling ideas in notebooks scattered throughout the house or I'm mumbling dialogue or story lines to myself as I'm driving my kids around. You get the picture. I'm sure it sounds familiar to you.

Tell me, do you have any idiosyncrasies or superstitions? I'd love to hear what they are.

Pass the word . . . Tomorrow, I'm going to post the specifics about My Big, Fat Give-Back April Contest. It will run from the 1st-15th. The prizes will include a $50.00 Nordstrom Gift Card and two $25.00 Barnes and Noble gift cards. I've reached the 200 blogging buddies land mark, and I'd like to show my appreciation for your comments, advice, writing tips, and support. Thanks to all of you.

Now back to revising.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dan Is Back!

There he is in his chair by the window. Just soak him in for a moment. After spending a couple of weeks in The Outer Hebrides, Mr. Craig is back. (Only temporarily though, he leaves to shoot a film in a week.)

Apparently, the pure air and pristine scenery in Scotland inspired Dan. He is now concerned about my health and has begun kicking my butt out of my office to walk briskly through the hills near my home. I don't think this should be allowed because he is my writing muse not my personal trainer or life coach. The man is killing me. Dan turns a deaf ear to my complaints however and mutters something about me needing to lose two stone and eat more fish and vegetables. It's a good thing I love him . . .(He's leaving in a week, right? I can survive anything for a week.)

Here's a question for you, blogging buddies. Does your health affect your writing? Do the endorphins from exercise help you focus your mind or do they distract you from your goals? Do you schedule time to work-out?

Sorry for the interruption. The muse wants to look over my revisions and can't be bothered to leave his comfortable leather seat. While Dan does some critiquing, I want you to imagine that you have signed with an agent and achieved a remarkable three-book deal with an old, monied publishing house. Your story is as good as on the New York Times Best-Seller List! Tell me, who would you mention in your Acknowledgments section? Who would you dedicate your masterpiece to?

I can hardly wait to read your comments! Good, Mr. Craig is laughing aloud at something he just read. I hope it was the funny bit at the beginning. See you later, blogging buddies. I'm putting on my sneakers. It's a bright, sunny Spring morning and the walking trail is calling my name. (Err, or maybe that was my muse saying, "Off you go, love."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Zen In The Art Of Writing

The title of this post comes from a book by Ray Bradbury. (He wrote Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes, etc.) This work shows such a love and exuberance for writing. Mr. Bradbury could light a fire under anyone whose enthusiasm has waned. To hear him tell it, you must write to live. You need zest, gusto, and self-knowledge. Like a benevolent mentor, he instills confidence into our often-shaky, artistic souls by telling us we are not crazy for assuming we can tell a good story, that we are right, and the rest of the world is wrong.

You gotta love Ray Bradbury. He loves you. Without ever meeting you. All because you're a writer. If you haven't read Zen In The Art Of Writing, put it on your to-read list. It is short and effusive and unabashedly sentimental. It's a Chicken Soup For The Soul for writers.

This is one of my favorite sections. To set the scene, in 1925 Illinois, a young Ray Bradbury is on the cusp of adolescence. It's the 4th of July, and he is setting off fire balloons. (They are tiny, colorful paper replicas of hot air balloons.) These sparkly, floating incendiaries sound beautiful but dangerous, and Ray is entranced by them. Surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and parents, he releases them reluctantly into the air. He looks at the dear faces around him as the balloons lift toward the sky and the moment is poignantly imprinted on his memory.

Mr. Bradbury shares this story to illustrate how writers are like time machines. We can preserve life by recording it. Though age alters us, and the people we love, we are captured forever through the written word. To quote from Zen:

"I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange shifting light, thinking his own thoughts. I see me, my eyes filled with tears, because it was all over, the night was done, I knew there would never be another night like this. No one said anything. We all just looked up at the sky. . .

"My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark. The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer."

See? Our experiences remain unburied if we write them down. And I feel like one of Ray's family when I read that account. As though I, too, am sitting on that porch, gazing at a fiery light rising into the inky darkness.

Do you put your memories in your stories, readers? Both good and bad? Do you keep a journal?

Happy Friday! Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Stuff Of Life

Have you ever watched Marathon Man? This great 1976 movie stars Dustin Hoffman as Babe, a unwitting graduate student caught up in a mysterious conspiracy involving a fortune in hidden diamonds. Laurence Olivier or Szell, an evil Nazi war criminal, stops at nothing to acquire the gems. One of the most memorable scenes involves Szell torturing Babe by strapping him in a dentist's chair and drilling on his teeth without benefit of anesthesia. It is an intense, painful scene to watch. Especially if you've had deep cavities, root canal, wisdom teeth extraction, etc. . .

Yesterday, I felt like Babe. My dental appointment lasted three hours. That's 180 minutes! Or 10, 800 seconds! I won't go into the grim details of the ordeal, but suffice it to say, I was really glad when my DDS allowed me to go home. Except that my temporary crown fell off as I was driving away, and I had to go back and have it stuck on again. I parked in the lot outside the dental office and muttered to myself, "One of my characters better fear and dread dentistry in a future story. . ."

As I sat in the waiting room, a nice guy who had brought his daughter in for orthodontic work made a comment to me about a teenagers ability to send lightening-fast texts. He said a few more funny things, and I marveled silently because I'm not the sort of girl guys usually chat with. I'm the sort they might associate with a maiden aunt or a favorite cousin. My imagination immediately clicked into gear and I thought, "Alter the circumstances a bit, and this would be a cute introduction for two main characters."

Inside the operatory, the dental assistant dropped the adhesive-filled crown in my mouth. She tried to grab hold of it, only to knock it back toward my throat. Lucky for me, she caught the crown before it became a choking hazard, and then I began the "what if?" game. What if the crown had become lodged in my airway? What if I died and my grief-stricken family sued my dentist and the assistant? What if the dentist was ruined and left destitute and suicidal? How would that dramatic situation play out in a novel? My brain began plotting. Or rather, forming a plot.

Writers are weavers and fishermen. Our lives are filled with stuff, with oceans of experience to draw upon. Casting our nets over those metaphorical waters, we see what truths we can ensnare. The catch is then woven into our writing, bringing authenticity to our voice. We tell what we've learned of loyalty or betrayal, illness or health, friendship or isolation. We disguise and document the boy who got away or the man who didn't. Memories are reference books sitting near our fingertips as they rest on the keyboard.

We do not write what we know, we write what we've lived. Live well, friends, and then write about it.

Happy Thursday!

P.S. I received an email from my muse Daniel Craig this morning. He heard on Twitter that I had cleaned my office/study. His one-word response to this news? "Brava."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The beauty of weekend blogging? Very few people actually read your work. They are sleeping in or going out or making blueberry pancakes . . . My standards decline a bit on Saturday and Sunday, and I can write something ridiculous without feeling bad. Okay, prepare yourselves for my foray into mediocrity! (For those of you diligently blogging this weekend, my apologies.)

According to the old axiom from the book of Ecclesiastes, there's nothing new under the sun. I'd agree with Solomon on this, and so our topic today revolves around common experience as it applies to comedy. (There's a jarring non-sequitur if ever I wrote one!)

Let's look at the metaphorical ladder of comedy, why don't we? On the bottom rung there's Low Comedy. You don't need me to explain this. It's when you tell a dirty joke or do a pratfall. A step up from there? Farce. Actually, I kinda like Farce if truth be told. I relate well to farce. Next comes, Comedy of Manners. This is where you find the clever puns and insults, the impersonations, and witty dialogue. By and large, most popular comedians work here.

Think Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, Steve Martin, Hoops and Yo-yo cards, etc. (I love me some Hoops and Yo-yo. I will stay in the greeting card section of Walmart until I have looked at every Hoops and Yo-yo card. Twice.)

The highest rung: Comedy of Ideas. This is a difficult level to pull off. It's dark, satyrical humor. These comedians turn death, poverty, war, class distinction and government into a joke. If they're successful, we smile at the terrible. We laugh at what they say, even though there's a current of tragedy running just under the smooth surface of the punch line. Think Sam Kinesin, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor, George Carlin. These guys were brilliant. Not to stereotype them, but Idea comedians are often troubled, angry people. They walk a fine line between entertaining the audience and alienating them with insults. We think about their comments long after the standup is over.

The top two are my favorite rungs. Great comic writing reveals the everyday aspects of life in a new way. Take bacon for example. We've all heard of it, seen it, eaten it, but have we thought of bacon as particularly funny? I certainly didn't. Until I heard Jim Gaffigan's riff on this breakfast meat on youtube. So, so funny. "Thank you, Bacon. Sincerely, Water Chestnut the third." And his camping schtick. Amazing. "He's made hammocks a dirty thing." Brian Regan's inspired account of hospital emergency rooms makes me laugh until I can't breathe right. "Happy eight day! Happy eight day! Guess who's an eight again?" Steve Martin's Flydini is as clear in my mind today as it was the first time I saw him unzip his pants. Hilarious, smart humor. You all know how tech-challenged I am, I can't link to youtube to save my life. Go and see these snippets if you haven't watched them already.

By the way, comedians are dead serious about the art of the joke. It is not a laughing matter to them. It's perfect timing, precise wording, and the right choice of subject matter. (Sound familiar?) Not to mention: practice, practice, practice. Humor is a serious business.

When it's done well, comedy forces us to look at the human experience with a fresh perspective. That's what we do as writers. We reinvent the wheel, so to speak, and put an innovative, original slant on our version of Aristotle's seven basic plot lines.

What are your thoughts? Who are your favorite comedians?

Happy Saturday! (Have some bacon.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Of Good Character

Ah, here they are. Aragorn and Gandalf. If you have read The Lord Of The Rings you love them. And what about Gollum/Smeagol? And Frodo and Sam? Amazing.

I think J.R.R. Tolkien would have been just another writer if he hadn't possessed the remarkable ability to create strong, living-breathing characters. But he did have that talent. In spades. So much so that decades later people still read, cherish, and lose themselves in his work. I'm proud to say I love hobbits. I want my garden to look like a hobbit tends it. I kind of feel like a hobbit deep down inside. Elevensies, anyone? Could you pass the lambas, please? (Secret Alert: I've had a crush on Legolas since the fifth grade!)

Did you know they are performing a lavish, musical production of LOTR in London? I wonder what Tolkien would say to that.

We want all of the people in our books to be of good character. We want them to connect with the reader and hold them captive until the end of the story and beyond. How do you find inspiration for your characters? Do you base them on historical figures, celebrities, or family members?

I'd love to hear how you create this vital, literary element.

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Those Sweet Archaic Songs

English poet James Flecker died of tuberculosis at just over thirty years of age. I discovered his poem To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence during a time in my life when I felt very alone. (No. It wasn't last Thursday! It was over twenty years ago.) I'd like to share a portion of this work with you.

I who am dead a thousand years,
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
The way I shall not pass along.

I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry.

But have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
And prayers to them who sit above?

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

I found this poem at the exact moment I needed comfort, and I did indeed feel as though Mr. Flecker had reached across time and space to communicate with me. Have you ever considered that your words might carry into the future and help someone after your life is over? Do you have a favorite story or poem that you read aloud to yourself in moments of need?

The Day Is Done by Longfellow is another of my favorite poems. Tell me if you see yourself in the writer he describes.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Beautiful, isn't it? It's encouraging to know that other writers have had their struggles, too. They worked hard and sometimes doubted themselves. Just like we do at times. My last little snippet comes from Ulysses by Tennyson.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

We all hope for heroic hearts as writers. As we return to our manuscripts and works-in-progress each day, I think we're getting there. Two years ago, I almost died, and a gifted surgeon saved my life. Today, I walked in the foothills of the mountains above my home and watched as the sun broke through the clouds to settle it's fiery light in a circle on the lake below. I could see the nearly blinding rays outline the ripples in the water, making them appear like liquid pleats spreading out into the grayness beyond. I'm so happy to be alive. I'm so happy to read beautiful words and to have the time to write them.

Have a wonderful weekend, dear readers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Questions I Ask Myself (repost). . .

I hope you all had a great St. Paddy's. Be kind to yourself today, won't you? I am taking it easy after cooking a big meal for a large number of people and then doing the dishes afterward late into the wee hours. Not exactly a wild night on the town, but I'm really old and require huge amounts of sleep to function. In fact, I think I will take a nap soon.

After I wake up, I'm going to finish some important writing projects that I've let slide. I'm reposting a piece I wrote at the beginning of my blogging career. Hard to believe that was just a couple of months ago.

Have an awesome March 18th! And thanks for your help and support.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

This is what I think about when I'm sitting at my computer, a solitary being in search of company yet finding none. I don't have a story idea in my head, my Facebook home page has zero friends chatting, my email inbox is so bare it reminds me of an old West ghost town just before the big gun fight. Even the occasional spam I receive from the obscure catalogue company I purchased something from eons ago wants nothing to do with me.

In other words, I've got zilch, nada, rien, nichts...

I ask myself the great, profound WHY on such occasions. (These are also some of the questions I ask myself when I am sleep deprived or if Winter has gone on too long and the stir-crazies have set in.)

1. Why does "seven minute" icing take so much longer than seven minutes to make?
2. Why do I talk to the television or my dog or the refrigerator when I know they're not really listening?
3. Why do I take offense at blonde jokes when I'm not even naturally a blonde?
4. Why does my crummy vacuum NOT suck?
5. Why doesn't anyone else notice when I'm having a good hair day?
6. Why do I love to watch the Food Network when I hate to cook?
7. Why does my dog love my husband? (P.S. He never wanted her in the first place.)
8. Whatever happened to Mrs. Clean? Or for that matter, the Burger Queen?
9. Why do I assume my children will take a hint?
10. If you leave your heart in San Francisco, does it really matter where the rest of you goes?
11. Why do I check the fat grams in Krispy Kremes?
12. If we all wore sunglasses, would we still see eye to eye?
13. Does the Postmaster General oppose the war?
14. Why don't they have Queen-size candy bars?
15. Why do they say black swimsuits are slimming when I weigh the exact same amount after putting one on?
16. Why do middle-aged people not look so old to me now?
17. Why don't grocery stores have a Coin Star for Legos or Hot Wheels? (I'd be rich!)
18. Who invented the word Google?
19. Why do medication disclaimers sound worse than the original disease?
20. Why do my children think that an ironic twist is a wedgie from a younger sibling?

There they are...those embarrassing, unanswerable questions I sometimes think about. If they serve no other purpose, they at least remind me to smile and remember that life isn't always so serious and duty-filled. It is often absurd and laughable. That's a good thing to remember when we live in the times we do. As they say, "Keep that sense of humor!" Maybe days like this are beneficial if they help me keep my perspective. And give me a free moment to listen to my six-year-old playing with his action figures in the next room.

Every gray cloud has a silver lining, right?
(Or maybe two.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Feeling Lucky?

Cead mile failte! That's Irish for a hundred thousand welcomes. Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone. What a bunch of mischievous leprechauns I have. As you can see, we know how to celebrate at our house. Being Irish on both sides of the family, we break out the corned beef, cabbage, and soda bread tonight. There's also the tradition of telling a good story at the table after dinner. Huzzah!

I took these pictures a few years ago, and all the kids are much bigger now, yet they still wear the hats. They wore them out the door as they ran to the bus this morning. (At their age, I would not have been caught dead in those things at school.)
Do you have fun plans for this holiday, dear readers? Ever been pinched for not wearing green on March 17th? Any raucous St. Paddy's tales to tell? Visited the Emerald Isle lately? Are you feeling lucky with your WIP?

Here's my Irish prayer for writers. . .

May your keyboard rise to meet your fingers without a need to delete,
May computer viruses, and rejections, never knock you on your seat,
May your muse be good and sober when you're making plot decisions,
And may sunshine flood through your window, illuminating those revisions!
(I will avoid poetry composition from now on, I swear.)

Happy Writing All!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Big Things In Small Places

This is the next installment for my newspaper column. . .

My fish died recently. Rex was actually a hand-me-down fish from one of my children. This child begged for the fish at the pet store, and I caved, as I usually do, and bought it.

Plus the tank. And the food. And the gravel and life-like plastic water plants. Etc, etc.

Parents are gullible in pet stores and children know this instinctively. For some reason, adults suffer from selective amnesia once they pass through those automated sliding doors. We remember the thrill of being a kid wanting some little living thing to care for, and we forget the other animals we’ve previously bought for our children. The animals we fed and cleaned up after when their original owners lost interest. For, like a boomerang, the responsibility of ownership returns to us. See? Selective parental amnesia.

But I’m not complaining. Rex was beautiful in an iridescent red, purple, and gold way and we went through a lot together. His tank was stationed by the washing machine in the basement. Rex was my comrade in the laundry trenches, and we survived innumerable loads together. The whites and colors came and went, but that fish was a constant for me. He witnessed my muttering, my lame jokes, and verbal list making and didn’t jump from the tank to end his suffering on the carpet. Rex kept swimming, his elegance in tact.

Sometimes, we learn big things in small, unexpected places.

Rex had been ailing for some time. In fact, his drawn-out death scene would have done Hamlet proud. To borrow, and alter, that great line from Shakespeare, “Good night, sweet fish. And may the angels sing thee to thy rest.” Over the last eighteen months, I made countless trips to the pet store, discussing his condition with the fish experts and buying the latest fish-disease cure. I spent more on this one pet than I would have on a nice pair of open-toe sling-backs. (And I really love shoes!)

Despite my efforts, the inevitable happened, and when I found Rex lying on the bottom of his tank, I felt sad. It seemed fitting that it was just he and I at his funeral. No one else in the house paid much attention to him. It had been he and I since almost the beginning. I held Rex on my palm and looked at his still form. I said the first thing that came to mind. “You were a good fish. You did what you were supposed to do here. I’ll miss you.”

The leaving of this humble creature from the world was but a blip in my day’s occupations. Yet, Rex’s existence had value. His life was a success. When I die, I hope the same can be said of me. Because if we try to be good people, if we do what we are meant to do here, if people miss us when we’re gone, we will have left a meaningful legacy indeed.

All these deep thoughts inspired by a tiny fish. Who would have guessed so much could be learned in a laundry room full of dirty clothes? Yes, readers, you can find big things in small places.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Outer Hebrides And How I'm Like Dewey Finn

Now that I'm wearing Uggs and my favorite sweater, we can talk about that Scottish archipelago--The Outer Hebrides. Specifically, The Outer Hebrides in March. Cold, people, very cold! An extraordinary muse--Daniel Craig--recently sent me some post cards from his travels. Good thing he's fluent in Gaelic! This is Lew's castle on the island of Lewis and Harris. According to Dan, it's a lovely, old place.

These are the Callanish Standing Stones. Fascinating, aren't they? What were they for, do you think?

Dan's job here is done. He's stirred up our imaginations by showing us mysteries from the past. Off you go, Mr. Craig! Have fun at Castlebay on Barra. (Remember to wear your scarf and coat.) What kind of story would you set on the beautiful island of Lewis and Harris? If you could take your pad of paper or your laptop anywhere in the world to write, where would you go?
In School of Rock, Jack Black plays Dewey Finn. Dewey loves one thing and one thing only. Rock. He's not a musical genius, though he plays guitar well enough, and yet, he has passion. He wants to form a band and realize his vision. Sometimes, I feel like Dewey. I have the passion to write, but often lack the skill to transfer that dream to paper. I've come close. There are rare, fleeting moments when I get it right and my character says the perfect thing or I think up an unexpected sub-plot. While I'm not to words what Rembrandt was to painting, I've created a little piece of art in that minor accomplishment.
I think those brief, brilliant glimpses of being better than we are keep us coming back day after day. Do you feel the same, readers?

It might seem odd, but I actually enjoy being Dewey Finn. I really do.

And for those about to write. . . I salute you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Making Every Word Tell

Let's begin with an imaginary trip to the office supply store. I love these places, don't you? I love the copier-ink scent they all have and the rows and rows of pens, paper, and binders. I always feel safe inside when I leave Office Depot with my Brother's TN-350 ink cartridge under my arm. "There," I say to myself. "Now you can use your copier and print out that story! All's right with the world again."

Ah, office supply stores. You gotta love them. If only they served pizza and ice cream and allowed dancing, they'd be perfect!

As a child, my favorite part of preparing for the upcoming school year was buying the supplies I would need for class. (Okay, so I also liked getting cute shoes and Bonnie Bell lip gloss, too.) But pencils. No.2 Ticonderoga pencils to be exact. Think of the freshly-chopped wood smell they make when you first sharpen them. Brand spanking new pencils are awesome. They bring out your optimistic side and open your mind to possibilities. And how about clean college-ruled paper? Is there anything better for an excited writer than its cool, smooth whiteness sitting there on your desk in that Mead spiral notebook?

I will stop waxing rhapsodic about writing implements, but before I do, I'd like to ask the burning questions. Which writing tools do you like best? Do you enjoy office supply stores as much as I do? Phew. Now that I've got those tricky inquiries out of the way, we can move on to bigger things.

I took the title of this post from Strunk and White's Elements Of Style. I know what you're thinking. It is sacrilegious to mention William Strunk jr. when I have just used the word gotta in a previous paragraph. I hope Mr. Strunk will forgive me. I think he might. Even as an English professor at Cornell in 1919, he appeared to have a keen sense of humor. To quote from the introduction of E. Of S. . . .

"When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, 'Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.'"

I want to make each of my words tell. This might be hard to believe since I just spent a ridiculous amount of time praising school supplies and the stores that sell them, but it's true. Is it easy for you to be concise? Do you have a difficult time sticking to the bones of a story? Does it hurt when you edit and cut out unnecessary sections of your work? (Ouchy! Consider that last question rhetorical. We all know it hurts.)

Tell me what you think about making each word count.

Happy writing.
(P.S. The muse is off vacationing in the Outer Hebrides.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dan's Top Ten Writing Quotes!

Mr. Craig has been busy, bloggers. He's spent a lot of time at the library lately. (Perhaps that's why I've felt an absence of inspiration during my revising sessions this week.) I'll have you know, our Daniel is a Renaissance man. He folds socks, tells a great joke, makes lovely scones with jam, does hand springs when bad guys knock him down, and is a crack shot. When he's not in His Majesty's Secret Service, my muse is a big reader. Dan's not only easy on the eyes but a deep thinker as well. Here's the proof below in his top ten favorite quotes on writing.

#10. "The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new." Samuel Johnson

#9. "The best style is the style you don't notice." Somerset Maugham

#8. "All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients." Ralph Waldo Emerson

#7. "The only cure for writer's block is insomnia." Merit Antares

#6. "My language is the common prostitute that I turn into a virgin." Karl Kraus

#5. "You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." Arthur Polotnik

#4. "Every writer I know has trouble writing." Joseph Heller

#3. "Easy reading is damn hard writing." Nathaniel Hawthorne

#2. "Writing is both mask and unveiling." E.B. White

First and last, Walter Smith said the number 1 quote on writing . . .

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

Thank you, muse. We're all a bit more inspired now, thanks to you. (See? This is why I chose Daniel Craig. Isn't he awesome?)

What do you think, blogging buddies? Do you have any beloved quotes you'd like to share?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Humor Column

Yesterday, a few people mentioned that they would like to see the humor column I write. It's in a small, local journal, circulation 8,900. My column has the same name as this blog, and I want it to be a bit like the articles Erma Bombeck wrote in her day. (Except for the fact Erma was incredibly awesome, and I really don't compare.) Call this a Tribute To Erma column. I focus on the things we all know: children, spouses, housework, bills, aging, etc. I try to point out the lighter side of these things. Not laugh out loud humor, mind you, just a little smile-during-the-course-of-your-day humor.

The title of this week's installment is, "You Can Go Home Again." I've shortened the article to fit better into blogger format.

Remember that age-old axiom, "you can't go home again"? Silly. Ridiculous. Absurd. Of course you can. I did. And it taught me something, too.

I was born in Portland, Oregon, during the halcyon days of spring in 196... Well, let's just say I'm an Oregonian and leave it at that. For me, growing up in the Pacific Northwest was a dream. Rain was my favorite season. (Let's face it, when the sun did make an appearance our joints creaked more than the Tin Man in The Wizard Of Oz.)

A few summers ago, our family took a road trip back to my hometown, and I was the human equivalent of that dog we've all seen. You know, the one with the canine grin who blissfully sticks its head out of the car window as the wind whips its face. So great was my joy at seeing the Columbia River Gorge, I felt tears gathering at the corners of my eyes. From unrestrained emotion, not the wind. We stopped at Multnomah Falls, took the kids on a short hike, and then drove into the city.

We had no more crossed the Willamette than an angry motorist flipped us the bird. That put a momentary damper on my nostalgia. The weather was also chillier than I remembered. I'm not kidding, the Portlanders at the zoo wore woolly Peruvian sweaters and thick socks under their Birkenstock sandals.

In August.

Yes, that's the month we, in Utah, call The Hot Time or The Big Heat. (Okay. Maybe I'm the only one in Utah who calls it that. But we all think it, right?)

I showed my old home to my children, and it was lovely, but nearly unrecognizable. The yard I had known as a girl was as different as the house. The bridge and pond were gone, and the Yew climbing tree had been cut down.

The Oregon beach was absolutely gorgeous. However, I am not the daredevil I used to be. After trying to body surf with my older children, I realized I couldn't tolerate the water temperature as I did before. Honestly, this water was not merely freezing. My children ran in and then away from it.

How cold was it, you ask?

Cold enough that you'd prefer to go skinny dipping in the North Sea in January than test it with your toe, cold enough that you wouldn't be surprised to see a polar bear doing the back stroke in the nearest tidal pool, cold enough that even the migrating whales wear wet suits when they pass through those waters. Alright. Maybe I'm exaggerating. Slightly.

Obviously, everything changes. Portland and I both look different after all these years. Truth be told, I've discovered that I prefer warm weather since living in the desert. I will always be a Portland girl. But maybe, I'm also a Wasatch Front, Utah county girl as well.

Revisiting the past is worthwhile. It illuminates the present. It helps us realize how good things were and often, how much better they are now. Home is a relative term, after all. When we're with the people we love, our roots settle, and we're there. I'm home each time my husband and kids walk through the door.

And yet, a bit of my heart will always belong to that beautiful City Of Roses.

Can't go home again? Hah. The next thing you know, they'll be saying you can't change a leopard's spots. . . Silly. Ridiculous. Absurd.

Thanks for taking the time to read over this bit of nonsense. I enjoy writing for a community newspaper. It's nice to hear feedback from my neighbors.

Oh, my muse Daniel Craig is fed up with the noise my son is making. He says he's going to fetch a cup of tea and stretch out with a good book since I'm busy blogging. I'm not complaining. When Dan was bored yesterday, he sat next to me and cleaned his gun. I guess I better get back to work. Happy writing to all!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Out Of the Best Books

Loved the Oscars! Gorgeous dresses. Sigh. My children cracked me up with their running commentaries. It was like listening to a roomful of sports announcers giving crucial play by play information on dance numbers, acceptance speeches, and cohost comedy. Very funny.

I am behind on my deadline for the humor column I write, and I need to revise an entire chapter today at the least. Therefore, a quick blog entry for Monday. Thanks for all the help over the weekend with the snippet I posted. You are great writers, blogging buddies. I appreciate your wisdom and insight.

During this segment, I wanted to ask you for the titles of your favorite books on writing. Here are my top four.

On Writing by Stephen King (Spicy language but so good!)
Techniques Of A Selling Writer by Dwight Swain (His motivation-reaction units theory is awesome.)
Naming the World: And Other Exercises For the Creative Writer by Bret Anthony Johnston (Excellent writing prompts!)
The Elements Of Style By William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (All you need to know about grammar and more.)

There's my list. Now, tell me yours. I'd love to add more good reference books to my shelves.

Have an awesome day, and Daniel Craig sends his love and encouragement. . .

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sunshine and Quillfeathers

Daniel's quote for the day...
"Stop all this mucking about and wingeing, darling, and start writing."

Let's pretend we're at the Oscars and that I'm Steve Martin since I have some outstanding awards to present. Laurel, at Laurel's Leaves, gave me this wonderful Sunshine award! She is such an intelligent, insightful writer, and I am so flattered that she thought of me. Visit her blog, if you don't tune-in already! Thanks again, Laurel!

I follow a vast number of blogs on Blogger. I may not comment on each and every one all the time, but I alternate and read a large number each day. I've made some wonderful discoveries lately! While I obviously think all my blogging buddies deserve one of these lovely daisies, I have bestowed it upon this sunny group of people.

Michelloui at A Mid-Atlantic English
Debi at A Tale Of Two Cities
Frenchy at Le Chateau des fleurs
Terresa at The Chocolate Chip Waffle
Lisa and Laura at Lisa and Laura Write
Stephanie at Hatshepsut
Justine at Justine Dell

You are such talented, amazing people! Your blogs are always educational for me. I think differently or find something to smile about after visiting with you. It's like taking a virtual vacation. Make a quick trip over and visit these ladies. You'll see what I mean.

The amazing Jemi gave me the Quillfeather. I like Roosters! They are snappy dressers and definitely have a strut. Jemi is one of those rare, cool people you admire and wish you resembled. Receiving a Quillfeather from her is like finding the golden ticket. Visit Just Jemi. Her blog is one of the best!

Daniel Craig, my muse, is tapping me on the shoulder and telling me to move along. According to him, he has a life outside of just inspiring me... (Sheesh. A muse with an attitude and a Glock.) Oh, now he's rolling his eyes. That's it. I've done it. Alright, I'm supposed to tell you how I like my eggs. How do I not like eggs? That might be simpler. Benedict is my very favorite. I look forward to Eggs Benedict each Mother's Day.

Here are the next recipients of the beautiful Quillfeather.....

Lola at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword
Joanne at Whole Latte Life
Sarahjayne at Writing In the Wilderness
Kimberly at Kimberly Franklin
Mary at Play Off the Page
Tara at Feel Of Something New
Cate at I'll Think Of A Title Later

Love these blogs, dear readers! You can't be a real contender for publication without visiting them. No agent will even look at you, let alone your writing, if you pass them by! Seriously. They are so good. Do yourself a favor and check them out today.

I haven't commented often at Constant Revision and I think Simon Larter is unplugged now, but he writes so very well! He totally deserves a rooster. Go to his blog and read some of those installments. Great !

I'm putting off announcing my contest for another two weeks. Until then, I'll be ruminating on the contest specifics! It's going to be a give-back-to-my-blogger-buddies event.
Happy Writing!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Worn Out Wednesday

I am looking tired, aren't I? Not to mention dual-horned and wrinkly... It all began with the six am dance party.

No, I'm not kidding. My children wake up at five everyday, and by six, they're ready to dance. Our dancing isn't pretty. It's completely absurd, competitive, and rhythm-proof actually, and yet, we can't seem to stop ourselves. Picture it, if you will, six kids and me shaking our money makers. We push the couches out of the way and hop around without shame on the tile floor. (My muse, Daniel Craig, refuses to participate. He just shakes his head and looks at his Omega.) These little shindigs occur a couple times a month, and we always begin with the same song. Supermassive Black Hole by Muse. (You can almost hear it, can't you?)

The minute the first note hits the air, it begins. The Cabbage Patch, Sprinkler Head, Running Man, Grocery Cart, Worm, etc. Ah, the six am dance party. Once you go there, it ruins you for the rest of the day. What do you guys do when you're being silly? (Really, whatever you say can't be worse than me doing an ugly pop-and-lock.)

This has been a funny day all the way around. I got a rejection this morning from an agency I queried in October of 2009. They said that we didn't fit and encouraged me enthusiastically to continue looking for representation. Things were good, I wasn't upset, but I Googled the agency and looked over their client list, reading small samples of their work. The women's fiction category consisted entirely of erotica. Did you hear that? Erotica. So not me. Or my book, for that matter. I smiled to myself all afternoon about this. My point in mentioning this rejection? It taught me to research not just the agency I'm interested in querying but the authors they currently represent as well. Yep, read up on those authors.

Have any of you ever queried the wrong place?

I have a few awards to hand out, but I have followed the example of Lindsey at Dangerous With A Pen and decided to hoard them until tomorrow. I am also planning a contest. A give-back to my blogging-buddies contest. (I'm not calling you followers because if you follow me, I could lead you into a ditch, and we don't want that.) The first prize is going to be a gift card from my favorite clothing and shoe store. I won't say the name, but it begins with a Nord and ends with a strom. I love shopping, don't you? I love the way a good store smells kind of like potpourri and baby powder, the way the lighting creates the perfect atmosphere, the way the soft piano music filters into my dreamy, shoe-and-handbag addled brain... Oh sorry, Daniel's frowning at me. I'm back now. Expect a B&N gift card for second and third place, too. (I like B&N as much as I like that other place I wouldn't mention.)

But all that is for tomorrow's installment. Stay-tuned, worthy bloggers...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Poetry Nerd Alert! (Or Dreams, Darth Vader Without Pants, And My Muse Daniel Craig.)

"Had I the heaven' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

Aedh Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven by William Butler Yeats

As you know, I'm an old poetry nerd. Poetry has depth and soul, and I enjoy having a meeting of the minds with a person from the distant past. This poem is one of my favorites. Yeats loved a woman named Maud Gonne. She was a fiery, beautiful actress/ feminist/ Irish revolutionary, and though Yeats asked her to marry him a total of four times throughout the decades they knew each other, she refused each offer. It's said that Yeats spoke of Maud when he penned those immortal lines, "I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." I don't know about you, but if Yeats had written that poem for me, I would have grabbed him by the lapels and kissed him hard on the mouth. Love, love, love Yeats. His dreams sustained him.

Writers are dreamers. Funny enough, as I was sleeping last night, I found myself sitting in my living room and wondering why I write in the genre I do. My teenage daughter walks in, looking excited, and says, "Mom, so and so from such and such agency wants to represent you. They have a publisher all lined up!" I remember feeling elated for a few seconds before saying aloud, "This is a dream, right?" I woke up immediately after making that remark.

I thought this was funny. It made me laugh at myself. Obviously, I worry way too much about publishing success. I take that aspect of writing as a sign of vindication, as a means of showing those who have overlooked and underestimated me that I have merit in spite of what they think. I'm weaving psychological need into my writing and that tangles with my enjoyment of the craft. Whatever happened to just finding joy in doing something you love?
This is a picture of my youngest. He is one of the happiest people I know. As you can see, he lives in the moment. "Who cares about pants? I'm Darth Vader!" Mr. Man doesn't worry about stuff that doesn't matter. He dreams up wonderful, entertaining stories with his action figures. Complete with motivated characters, tense plot lines, and funny voices. We should all be more like him. (Although, I do recommend wearing pants.)

This is my muse Daniel Craig comforting me and saying, "Your story doesn't suck, love. Stop saying it does."
This is the angry Daniel muse. He doesn't like being ignored. When he tells you to write down that new idea, do it. Quickly.
In this picture, I've just told Dan about a plot twist I came up with. His expression really says it all, doesn't it? Usually when he looks this way, he crosses his ankles, sighs, and squints up at the heavens. I know what's going on behind those cool, blue eyes. He's thinking, "Why? Out of all the writers in the world, why do I have this one?"

(Disclaimer! My husband is far more inspiring than Daniel, but he works a lot so I had to find someone else to stand in as my muse...)

Fellow writers, I hope we can remember the dreams we had when we first started making up stories and focus on the joy of creating something good. What does your muse look like? Tell me about him or her.

Monday, March 1, 2010

I'll Let the Pictures Do the Talking--or most of it anyway.

Ever have one of those moments when the end of the rainbow seems far, far away? When the path you've chosen tires you, and the goal ahead requires a tough climb?

Sure. That's par for the course, you're a writer. It takes a will of iron to work with paper and ink. Not to mention an endless well of optimism. Here are more questions for the artist in you. Do you see things a little differently? Imagine new worlds within the ordinary?

Do you relate to van Gogh? At times. I do. (Obviously, I'm not a genius, and no, I don't intend to cut my ear off.) Yet, there are days when I feel misunderstood, as if my abilities and perceptions are on the fringes. Do you ever feel that way? As though people don't get you or your writing?

On a recent trip to New York, I fell in love with Harlem and saw this old brownstone with blooming vines dripping from the windows. I wondered about the people who lived in that home. Do you often find beauty in unexpected places? Are you always looking for a story?

Despite the challenges and difficulties, isn't writing a miracle? Don't you count your lucky stars and blessings that you can do it? Isn't the world still a wonder?

Yes and yes and yes.