Monday, January 31, 2011

Keep Your Tongue Off That Flagpole

The past 3-4 days the afternoon temperature in San Antonio has been 80F, plus or minus a degree or two. And it will be there again today. Can spring be far behind?

Yes. It's but a mere speck in the rearview mirror.

Tomorrow winter will kick our butts and make us cry for our mamas. We're supposed to have nights around 20 and days with highs only in the 30's most of the week.

Those of you who live in an M-state like Michigan and Minnesota and Maine and Montana probably don't think this sounds too bad. But for us warm-weather types, it's darn chilly.

I'm not complaining, because I really don't mind a little cold weather every now and then. What I am doing is using our weather to make a point.

Think pacing and plotting.

Your protagonist is floating along nicely in an warm blur. Wham! In blows what Texans call a Blue Norther. That means it's gonna get colder than a frozen flagpole. This would amount to a whole heap of trouble for your protagonist.

Once it gets cold, it's going to stay cold. It will warm up just enough to laugh in your face during the day, the sun will shine, and maybe your protagonist believes things are looking up. Except the next night is even colder than the first one.


At the end of the week - the end of your story - the weather warms up again. Your protagonist is smiling, and all is right with her world.

So the next time you sit down to plot your story - or for pantsers, the next time things get to a standstill - check the weather forecast.

Sunny and warm makes the writer smile. But your protagonist needs a series of squalls and storms to keep readers happy.

Happy readers rock!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday's Top Ten

The top ten Texas icons:

10. San Jacinto Monument

  9. NASA Johnson Space Center

  8. Mockingbirds

  7. Dance Halls

  6. Bluebonnets

  5. Longhorn Cattle

  4. The Alamo

  3. The Lone Star

  2. Tex-Mex Food

And the #1 Texas icon:

  1. Blue Bell Ice Cream

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Wonder

I wonder about a lot of things.

I wonder if other people wonder about a lot of things.

I wonder what the next new techie 'must-have' will be.

I wonder if food items really do expire on the package expiration dates, or if you should just think about finishing them off soon afterward.

I wonder who will be the next person to ring my doorbell.

I wonder if Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow a week from today.

I wonder why it takes me so long to wake up in the mornings.

I wonder if the Mayans knew what they were talking about.

I wonder how animals sense earthquakes and other natural occurrences.

I wonder if dogs wish they had thumbs.

I wonder when housecleaning robots will be a standard feature in our homes.

I wonder if the Packers will win the Super Bowl.

I wonder how much hair my dogs really have.

I wonder if you're still reading.

I wonder when Harry REALLY met Sally.

I wonder who will comment here first.

I wonder why I wonder about all these things.

I wonder what we'd all do if Blogger pulled the plug.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Little Strange Music

Because Alex J. Cavanaugh is holding his Top Ten Countdown - Music Blogfest today and I'm not participating, I thought I'd blog about music and writing.

Sometimes I love to have music playing while I write. Other times, no. I wish I could always write to music. Have playlists for characters, soundtracks for novels and stories. Ain't happening.

I don't know the reason. My musical taste is eclectic - I enjoy it all. I sing, play piano, dance. It's not that I don't like music. Maybe I like it too much.

Other than gangsta rap and funeral dirges, there's not much I don't like. Old, new. Vocal, instrumental. Classical, rock. Opera, country. Pop, hip-hop. Salsa, Tejano. You name it, I like it. When it's playing, my attention strays from my characters and story and pirouettes over to the music. It shouldn't do that when I'm trying to write.

About the only time I can still write to music is when I'm firmly grounded with the characters and know what I want to do with current scene. Then it's OK for a little while.

I definitely cannot do fine editing with any sort of vocal music, even if it's sung in a language I don't understand. This I get, because at that point I'm paying close attention to individual words and cadences. 

The strangest thing is, it's only music that bothers me this way. Dogs barking and carrying on, televisions blaring, telephone conversations - even all of these at the same time - are no problem.

It's just music.

I wonder why that is?

Does anyone know?

Does anyone else have this problem?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday's Top Ten

The top ten winter vacation destinations:

10. Skiing

  9. Las Vegas

  8. Desert

  7. Hawaii

  6. The opposite hemisphere

  5. The Caribbean

  4. A cruise

  3. Ice fishing

  2. Snowmobiling

And the #1 winter vacation:

  1. Dog sledding

Or maybe I'm ready for spring :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Show Me The Money

Remember way back last year when you were Christmas shopping at the mall? Way back, um, last month?

Close your eyes and remember all the people of all ages jammed inside. From tiny new babies nestled in huge strollers to seniors hugging the wall so they can walk at their own pace and stay out of the way of frantic shoppers. Husbands holding bags outside crowded shops. Teens in their own worlds. Harried clerks. The long line for Santa. 

And the noise level. Holiday music, one teen yelling for another ten feet ahead, hundreds of conversations, feet moving along a hard floor, the spike of a baby's cry. We'll talk about sounds another time, but for now they'll serve to keep you in the moment.

Okay . . . got it?

Use it.

Think about all the emotions you witnessed. Happiness. Excitement. Impatience. Fatigue. Maybe arrogance, anger, fear, sadness. And probably a lot more. 

Keep your eyes closed. 

How did you know those people felt those emotions? You didn't talk to them.

You knew by how they expressed it physically.

Think about what you saw. A tapping foot. Repeated looks at a watch. Heads rolling around on shoulders. Bouncing up and down. A perfectly manicured fingernail tapping a glass countertop. Haunted eyes. Clenched teeth. Looking over a shoulder. Smiles.

Take what you see and identify the emotion it expresses while you're people watching anywhere.

You might be surprised by what you see.

And by what you learn.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday's Top Ten

Top ten ways to stay warm:

10. Crank up the thermostat

  9. Red hot chili peppers

  8. Make a fire in the fireplace

  7. Dance

  6. Heavy socks

  5. Warm, hearty foods

  4. Hot chocolate or other hot beverage

  3. Dress in layers

  2. Time jump to spring

And the #1 way to stay warm:

  1. Snuggle and share body heat :)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Order Up!

"Order up!" is a phrase heard in almost every eatery worldwide - in whatever language - whether the food served is pub grub or gourmet.

Kitchen staff never knows what they'll prepare next. It's sort of the same with writers. One day we create, another we edit. Later in the week we promote. Sometimes we do them all in one day. Even many times during the day.

Like a cook or chef, we spend time preparing, deciding not only the ingredients we need but how much of each we need. Then we cook.

We chop and dice, saute and slice. This in a pot. That in a pan. Stir up trouble in a kettle. And voila!

Our concoction is ready to plate. We want it to be as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate.

For the writer, plating is the final read and polish before we send our new manuscript out the door to meet the public.

We want the agent, editor, and reader to say, "Yummy! I can't wait to dig in."

Happy cooking!

Monday, January 10, 2011

What a Line

In today's marketplace, great significance is placed on the first line of a novel. So I thought I'd bring together first lines from some bestselling authors to see what you think. Did these authors hit a home run with their first lines, or do they need to go back to batting practice?

In no particular order other than the way I pulled them from the shelf - and I tried to pull alternate male/female authors:

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.
THE ROAD. Cormac McCarthy

The morning Tony Lucia killed Angelo Coluzzi, he was late to feed his pigeons.

My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or that I exist.
ODD THOMAS. Dean Koontz

He was coming home.

I knew this was a really terrific idea, if I didn't say so myself, surprising Paul for lunch at his office down on Pearl Street.
THE QUICKIE. James Patterson

Sometimes you get up in the morning and you know it's going to be one of those days.
PLUM SPOOKY. Janet Evanovich

The first week after Labor Day, after a summer of hot wind and drought that left the cane fields dust blown and spiderwebbed with cracks, rain showers once more danced across the wetlands, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and the sky turned the hard flawless blue of an inverted ceramic bowl.

This was the vacation from hell.
BURN. Linda Howard

Despite the mist, she spent an hour working Chica, and working herself, and she smelled of it, mare-sweat and woman-sweat, with a tingle of Chanel No. 5.
DEAD WATCH. John Sandford

Even though she'd rehearsed the line over and over, it didn't sound at all the way she wanted it to.

Do these first lines do it for you? Do they suck you in, tantalize your imagination? Do they pull you forward, entice you to read on?

Or is there one or more that misses the intended mark and leaves you cold?

If you've read any of these books, did the first line fulfill its promise? Or were you pleasantly surprised when you read on? Or worse, did the first-line promise die on the vine?

How much do first lines matter to you - as a writer and as a reader?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday's Top Ten

The top ten colors of winter:

10. Frozen Pond

  9. Foggy Morning

  8. Icicle Shimmer

  7. Tree Bark

  6. Candle Glow

  5.Winter Sky

  4. Crocus Sprout

  3. Juniper

  2. Holly Berry

And the #1 color of winter:

  1. Kiss of Snow

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Mini Report Card

In my life, I've learned that things can change at a moment's notice. I know how to roll with the punches and go with the flow. I'm described as adaptable. I have to be.

But I love structure. I crave structure when it's missing. It doesn't make me feel as if I'm in a rut. It doesn't smother me. It lets me not have to worry about anything else and let go.

So the first two days of this week have been W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L for me.

I think the doggies must have noticed. I haven't had to resort to the dreaded leashes. They've behaved. Only once one day and twice on the other did I have to tell them to be quiet. Monday they played and did the in/out thing for about twenty minutes and that was it. Tuesday was cool, foggy, and drizzly, and they wanted to stay inside except for when it was absolutely necessary.

I missed my writing goal on Monday, but only by a little and not due to the dogs. I'd been expecting some phone calls, and they all came that day. One was long, the others of medium length. Tuesday I exceeded my goal, but not by plan. I was in the zone and didn't realize it was time to make dinner.

Today's a new day. The sun is shining. I'm smiling. Whatever happens, Monday and Tuesday showed me how my writing life can function. It's up to me to see that it works. I think it's more about putting writing first. Maybe the dogs sense that I really mean business.

Look out ... I'm taking charge.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Words - They're What We Do

Today I'm beginning my new writing regimen.
Today I'm beginning my new writing regimen.
Today I'm beginning my new writing regimen.
I am.

There. Now it's REALLY official.

In order to do this, I may be commenting on your blogs at sporadic times during the day and night. But I'll get there. I don't know exactly how my new schedule will shake out - the dogs will play a huge part and are suspiciously silent. If all goes well, I'll still be able to visit all of you as often as I do now except at odd hours. If not, well, I'll deal with that when and if it happens.

Here are my writing tips to you to begin the new year:

Believe in yourself.
Work hard.
Trust your gut.
Keep learning.
Practice what you learn.

Remember...when what you've been doing hasn't produced the results you want, it's time to change something.

Happy 2011!