Monday, November 30, 2009

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Arf and Woof are covered in hair. Of course. They're dogs. And you've heard me rant about dog hair enough on here.

Both have black downy undercoats, as if someone covered them with tiny little black cotton balls. There's no difference between dogs on this undercoat.

The difference is in their top coats.

Arf's hair is short and stiff, like two-inch long bristles. Black on the bottom, silver at the ends. Spiky, although the hairs lay flat on his body.

Woof's is long and silky. Wavy. People often say he's the softest dog they've ever petted.

Everything we touch feels different. Remember haunted houses and feeling the olive eyeballs and spaghetti guts?

How things feel when our characters touch them is one way to use the sense of touch in our writing.

Another way is how touching makes the character feel.

A mosquito bite itches. When we scratch the itch, it's soothing. But scratch too hard, break the skin, and the bite stings and burns.

Think massage. I'd love one right now after Thanksgiving! Heavenly. The wonderful relaxation that comes over you when knotted muscles become unkinked. But sometimes those fingers and elbows hit that certain spot that brings a tiny jolt.

Our characters don't go through their stories without touching and being touched. Let your readers feel what they're touching. And let the character's experience being touched.

Your story will be richer and more vivid.

Trust me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten Black Friday shopping rules:

10. Make a FIRM list

  9. Stick to your list

  8. Take along high energy snacks

  7. Pack a bottle of water

  6. Wear comfortable clothing

  5. Wear comfortable shoes

  4. Plaster a smile on your face

  3. Keep your true thoughts to yourself

  2. Remember . . . free shipping

And the #1 Black Friday shopping rule:

  1. Stay Home

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Here in the U.S., tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for many things, among them for all of you who stop by here from time to time.

Arf and Woof are at the groomer getting spiffied up. Please send positive thoughts for them to keep their coats to themselves. They don't need to share them with each new person who walks through the door. Or give a good shake in the middle of the kitchen while we're cooking.

We have a whole passel of family arriving starting this afternoon, so the days will be busy and fun.

For those of you elsewhere, I'll eat an extra bite of everything for you.

And I'll waddle back with the Top Ten on Friday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

In Your Face

Have you ever wondered what something tastes like?

Most of us know about common everyday foods. And we've all heard the old line about unknown or exotic meat - tastes like chicken.

But what about something you don't know?

Using the senses of taste and smell to boost the reader's experience is one way to bring your writing to life. I put them together because almost any strong smell can be tasted in the back of your throat. A nice red wine is wonderful. Burning rubber, not so much.

But what about those things we've never tasted?

If it's a food, a character can read ingredients from a menu or recipe. Or a character can say or think something like, "It's really sweet and topped with a raisin sauce," or whatever.

But what if it's not a food?

Maybe Cognac and you don't drink. A liquid medicine. Or your character accidentally sprays furniture polish in her face. The possibilities are endless.

Read. You'll probably find your answer online.

Ask. Someone will know.

Experiment. Spray the polish on your finger and take a deep whiff. You should be able to describe it well enough for your readers.

After all . . . we are writers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

By popular request . . .

Top ten quick and easy dinners:

10. Tuna Casserole
        THE official standby if all else fails.

  9. Hearty Soup and Sandwich

  8. EZ Baked Chicken Breasts
        Serve with veggies and/or salads of your choice.

  7. Make Your Own Tacos

  6. Salmon Patties with Mac/Cheese and a Veggie

  5. Take Out!

  4. Fake Enchiladas
        Serve with salad.

  3. Burgers - Beef, Turkey, or Lamb - w/your favorite roasted veggie.
        Go HERE to see the best lamb burgers in the world.

  2. Spanish Rice-a-Roni with Meat
        This is so easy you'll have a "Duh!" moment if you've never made it.
        Serve with salad.

  And the #1 quick and easy dinner:

  1. Reservations

Please ask in the comments section if you'd like recipes or directions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Due to Technical Difficulties . . .

. . . this will be a different post from the one I'd planned. With a little good luck, the one I intended will be in this spot next Wednesday.

So moving right along, as I'm rarely without something to yammer about, I thought I'd chat about the book I'm reading. A generic discussion.

It's by one of my favorite authors and is, so far, one of her better books. And I'm surprised to say that because on page one there's a major stumbling block for me.

The author is asking me to accept something that doesn't ring true to me at all. After I read the opening chapter last Friday, I sat the book aside for the weekend. I was too busy to have much reading time anyway, so while it dozed on my desk, I tried at times to figure out how the premise presented on the first page could have occurred.

The book isn't science fiction, fantasy, or horror, where you know things will be different. It's suspense, and the premise is something rooted in the everyday.

When I picked up the book Monday, I'd decided to just accept that it had occurred by whatever reason - a fluke, a string of good luck, exceptional attention to detail, total lack of skill, whatever.

So as I sighed and turned to the second chapter, I was transported into another character's point of view. And I've stayed there. I'm now at the halfway point.

It's a page-turner for me. The character's voice, her predicament, the pacing - it's all there.

I know there's a connection between events happening to the protagonist and the characters in the first chapter, but I don't know what it is or how it's going to resolve.

The almost outlandish premise presented by this author is one thing. She's somewhat well-known with a large enough following, I'm sure. If anyone else questioned this [or maybe it's just me] they took a leap of faith. As I did.

I don't think newer authors should try this at home if they want to be read beyond the first page. Not in today's tough market.

But this time, I'm glad I trusted the author enough to turn the page.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Smell the Roses

As writers we're often reminded that we need to take time to smell the roses. When someone tells us this, it usually means they believe we're working too hard and need to take a little time off for play.

I'm guilty. But sometimes I'm not.

Each day my goal is to write a certain number of words, edit a certain number of chapters, whatever. Running here and there or chatting with neighbors or playing too much with the doggies . . . it all takes time. Not to mention laundry and vacuuming dog hair and other yukky things.

Some days, I meet my writing goal by three o'clock. Some days, six. Some days - not too many - I don't meet it.

Those are the days when I encounter a problem and spend the time on research or deciding which fork in the road will cause the most problems for my protagonist. I don't meet my word goal, but the time is spent constructively on writing, so that works for me.

And some days, too many real life things I can't ignore - perceived necessities like buying food or going to the dentist - converge and I don't write at all.

It's when I have too many of the 6:00 p.m. days in a row that my live-in handyman notices and tells me I spend too much time at the computer and need to take a break. No matter how many times I tell him those six o'clock days are the ones where I've spent too much time away from the computer, he doesn't quite get it.

So I've learned to live with it because I love living with him. And I've learned roses have a delightful aroma that doesn't make me sneeze.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten things I rejected to write a top ten about today:

10. List for Writers

  9. Reasons to Sleep In

  8. Ways to Enjoy Your Birthday

  7. Items in the News

  6. Things to Take Deer Hunting

  5. Funny Things Dogs Do

  4. Funny Things Cats Do

  3. Easy Dishes to Make for Dinner

  2. Reasons We Lose Focus

And the #1 thing I rejected to write a top ten list about:

  1. Ways to Put Off Writing

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Holiday Season

Today is Veterans Day.
Please remember.
- - - - - - - - - - -

If you're a writer, you know about NaNo. If you're not a writer, you're going WTF? NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, and it's held every November. Novelists aim to produce 50,000 words of a novel during this time. It's an official thing - you sign up and writers everywhere support one another.

Anyway, I've never participated because November is so crazy around here. Even with the craziness, I do manage to keep up my writing schedule. I don't know exactly how that works, but I just say "I'm doing it" . . . and do.

Actually, from Halloween to New Year's in our family is flooded with birthdays. And Thanksgiving. And Christmas.

You'd think by now I'd have it all down to a science. If only.

Every year it's different. This year, I'm already working on the letter I include with our Christmas cards. Yes, we still send them. From living a hundred different places in the Coast Guard, we have friends everywhere. And we all communicate at Christmas. Sometimes in between, too.

This year I have to send our cards early because I wimped out and didn't send a "We Moved!" card. So I'll be mailing the day after Thanksgiving. That's the plan.

And the Kilgore Thanksgiving Dinner will be at our house this year. My live-in handyman is the official baker. And chopper. We have the menu, but haven't shopped yet.

Or cleaned. Not just downstairs, but the WHOLE house. At once. We'll have sleepovers.

The doggies are going to the groomer the day before Thanksgiving. I'm lighting a candle they will be relatively shed-free at least until Friday.

If not, we may have dog hair soup.

Monday, November 9, 2009

And the Beat Goes On

Everything has a beat.

From the strict cadence of a marching band, to "There once was a man from Nantucket," to the notes a robin sings, to the laps of waves against the rocks. Everything.

I once had a chow-chow who barked in a series of five: bark-bark-bark . . . bark-bark. Repeat. Bless his heart, I thought he was OCD until I listened to other chow-chows bark. Most of the time, they barked that same way, so I'm guessing it's a breed-specific thing.

Our writing has a beat, too. You know how that beat should sound to you. You hear it in your mind when you put the words on the screen. Sometimes, through the various editing passes we make, that beat gets skewed.

That's why it's important to read it one last time.

It's preferable to read it aloud because what your ears hear and what your mind tells you it hears are often two distinct things. And this can go either way. "Did I write that?" can be said with awesome respect as well as with abject horror.

If you can't or won't read aloud for one reason or another, at least read slowly on this read-through. Don't read for anything except the way things sound--words, sentences, paragraphs. The way the words, sentences, and paragraphs flow.

This is your beat. Your very own personal beat. It's got PROPERTY OF ME stamped on the front.

If something is off as you read, fix it. I suggest fixing it then and there and reread in the same way until you're satisfied. If you're not, your readers won't be either. Then continue.

And the breed-specific thing?

That's our genre.

A mystery shouldn't sound like chick-lit . . . unless it's a chick-lit mystery, of course.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten things that have fascinated me:

10. Statue of Liberty

  9. Rubik's Cube

  8. View from a mountain

  7. Lake Tahoe

  6. Tropical ocean

  5. Surf

  4. Snow

  3. Icicles

  2. Birth of a baby

And the #1 thing that has fascinated me:

  1. My live-in handyman

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Daily Muddle

A million things are racing through my mind this morning. Here are a few examples of what it's like in my head.

Our guest bath needs a new shower curtain, so I've been looking online for ideas. I'm 100% positive my live-in handyman will turn thumbs down on the two I really liked. I chose the color, but he painted it. So I feel like I need to at least consider his wishes :) We always meet in the middle on things like this. Would it hurt him - just once - to say, "I love that one." Yeah, that's what I thought. I guess I'm stuck in the middle.

My desk is a mountain of junk. This always happens when I'm knee deep in a project. By the time I finish writing at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is spend time cleaning off even a portion of it. But I really need to attack at least a corner of it today. I'd pop in a photo, but my camera is charging. Note to self: Try planning ahead next time.

Today I'm taking a short road trip to deliver a birthday gift. This means Arf and Woof will be alone for much of the day. Arf gets crated. So by the time I get home, it will be time for two long exploring walks.

And a beer.

Since I won't be writing today, either, maybe it will also be time to clean my desk. Yeah!

Or not.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Paint a Story

My sister-in-law is in the middle of painting the interior of her house. She is putting color on all-white walls for the first time.

Sounds easy enough, especially since she's a watercolor artist and knows a lot about color.

But I think painting walls must be a little different from painting a picture, because she's encountering color shock.

What does this have to do with writing?

Writers experience word shock.

We all speak and read every day. These activities involve words. Yet putting words of our own on the screen is vastly different from ordering a burger at a fast food drive-thru. Or from reading the latest bestseller.

Writing requires us to think of words in different ways.

So try thinking of your words as paint.

Verbs are the deep colors on the paint chip. Strong and intense.

The color next to the verb is the noun. It works with the verb but isn't quite as intense. It's still precise and leaves no doubt in the reader's mind what the writer means.

Flowing down from these two colors are the adjectives and adverbs. Nice colors, but middle of the road.

The light pastels are all the other words - prepositions, conjunctions, etc. They fade off into nothingness, as they should. Their job is to connect the words that shape the picture we're painting.

Instant accent? Black or white. Those are interjections.

So . . . paint a story!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day of the Dead

If you're not familiar with this custom, you can find general information on the Day of the Dead on this Wikipedia page.

The Day of the Dead is for remembering family and friends who have died. It's celebrated in conjunction with All Saints Day and All Souls Day each November 1 and 2.

Halloween Results

5 bags of candy

4 & more vampires

3 Things - Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3 . . . thank you Dr. Seuss

2 Glow Men

1 Great Halloween!