Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pay No Attention to the Woman Behind the Curtain

Can I begin to express to you what a delicious time-suck Stumble Upon is? Before, it was a non-issue. Something I'd check every month or so when I remembered. Now, with the addictive button taking up real estate in my browser, it calls out to me each time I'm viewing or reading something less than entertaining. It's like having a remote control that doesn't ever land on WWE or a Telemundo soap opera you wish you could understand. And it's restored my faith in humanity's creativity.

The best part? It constantly caters to your whim. With one click of a thumbs up or down rating, not only does it make you the Great and Powerful Oz of the current selection, but shapes your interests for future stumbles.

Who wouldn't want to experience a 360 degree rock climbing experience in Spain? If you love this like I do, check out the full-screen archives. I went to the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower this morning while drinking cranberry juice in my pjs.

How about something more intellectual? Psychology quizzes to determine your Brain Sex ID? I took the test on Disgust where you observe a photo and rate its level of ICK. Tell me what that did to the self-esteem of the poor man in photo 6. Cranberry Juice rating: put it down. Seriously.

My final gem is a parody of the homeland security website. I challenge you to read through these and not have cranberry juice coming out of your nose.

A final note: When selecting your interests for Stumble Upon, be sure to click photography and art. Every ten clicks or so, you'll be treated to something truly stunning that could change the outlook of your day better than a thousand words.

Let me know what you find...

Today in life: slaying ants
Today in novel: leaving on a steam-engine train bound for Denver, 1881

Monday, May 26, 2008


I don't believe in coincidences. Whatever you file amazing, potentially life-altering happenstances under-fate, predestination, God-I filed one yesterday. Still too fresh and incredible to share, but not unlike the one other time this has happened in my life.

His name was Matthew. You remember him. The one you grew up with in elementary school who had the eye tick everyone made fun of. He existed in a constant nervous social bubble, causing him to repeatedly stroke his thighs with his moist hands. His head seemed too large for his body, his neck too loose, like a bobble head with bad hair, but no one thing identified him as someone with a condition for which the teasing became taboo. He was just Matthew. He drank glue and ate snot and that was just him. He held a small, forgettable slot in my fifth grade memories until he moved away.

Nine years passed. I moved twelve hundred miles away to attend college. Fresh back from Europe and internalizing the enormity of the planet, its boundaries and people, I moved through a Randall's supermarket checkout late one night.

"Hey, I think I know you," the checker said. His arm stalled, whatever item I'd bought dangling forgotten over the scanner.

In an instant I knew. Not the kind of metamorposis most boys undergo-deeper voice, matured face that would render someone from the past unrecognizable. Dressed in a blue supermarket apron, he was the same boy on growth pills.

"Did you grow up in Denver?" he asked.

"Yeah, I did. You're Matthew." Genius, given his name tag, but I knew so much more about him. I remembered him sitting on the parallel bars at recess because no one invited him to play wall kick-ball. He'd sit alone at a study carol in the library instead of the seven steps littered with pillows where everyone else accumulated to read. He stuttered when he spoke up in class.

I smiled, a genuine release stemming from the incredible odds and the unbridled enthusiasm reflected from him. The vast, tiny world closed in on that express lane.

He remembered my name. First and last. His eyes, his smile, lit up like he'd stumbled upon some family reunion complete with fireworks.

"This is incredible! How are you? What are you doing here?"

"I go to school here."

"Me, too."

A Greek blond, leading a brigade of impatient customers behind me in line, snapped her gum and shoved her Zimas closer to the scanner. Matthew glanced at her, felt the rush of the moment. His words shot out rapid-fire.

"Give me your number. We can catch up sometime when I'm not swamped."

I scrawled my name and seven genuine digits across a corner he'd ripped from a paper in his apron. Something about it spelled relief for him, no longer a passing moment never to be recaptured.

His shoulders relaxed, his speech returned to casual. He uttered those three words girls loathe. "I'll call you." This time they were a comfort. What could he and I possibly have to talk about? How I never once went over to those parallel bars? How I'd never borrow a pencil or wish for one of my own back from him because I was afraid of some unknown funk residue? Did I ever once show him a shred of human decency in my own child-like way?

I bid him good-bye and left, fresh with an OMG story to tell my roommates and a lingering sense of awe at the distance and time. I tried to find meaning, because there are no coincidences.

The next night, alone in my dorm room, the phone rang. I listened to the insistent bell vibrate seven, eight rounds that night, certain it was him, but unable to understand why I wouldn't pick it up. Rings born of the same excitement we'd both been guilty of. Curiosity. A desperate need to connect. Instead, I tackled a creative writing assignment I'd been putting off. As bad as this poem is, it came fully formed that night, later published in a class anthology:

Like Him

He was the one
Who would make you laugh
When he did something wrong
Laugh, at his expense.

He was the one
The boys would shove
The girls would ignore and giggle at
The one no one wanted.

He was the one
I saw last week at a store
A thousand miles away and nine years ago
He was the one I giggled at.

He and I recognized each other
And pretended a long lost friendship had been reclaimed
He and I are near again
Much as we were back then.

He was the one who found my number
And called hours after the encounter
I still have not called him
Because they would think I was like him.

Not a proud moment, the poem or my deplorable inertness, but I did take something away from it. From that night on, I was determined that every student who set foot in my classroom would never feel what Matthew must have. On recess duty, I'd head up a kickball game with a special invite or make sure I had pressing business I needed some special hands for. An attonement, too late for Matthew.

This yesterday encounter, incredible on its own, but a complete echo of Matthew came full circle. There are no coincidences. Only fleeting pockets of meaning.

Its up to us file them.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

One of 3.7 Million

If you're like me, you rapid-fire delete all those emails that circulate inboxes threatening seventeen years of bad luck for not following through. I'm not superstitious. I've been known to read my horoscope or a fortune cookie and hang onto it all day, only to find that all the inertia of "please come true, please come true" didn't come full circle. I walk a pretty fine line between being grounded and fascinated by all things paranormal.

For some reason, I'm fascinated by the birthday calculator. Not that I really needed to know I share today's special day with Tommy Chong or my predicted date of conception was August 31. Both would clearly fall into the TMI category, but I love the science of it. I can boil 4.11 ounces of water with my birthday candles this year. The moon's phase was waning gibbous the day I was born. My Native American plant is Mullein. Who isn't a better person for knowing that? Check it out.As promised, the answers to the previous post. Congrats to Marilyn for her dogged determination to correctly match up words most of us make when we sneeze.

1) Perfect. Fifty miles from civilization, and he was about to be rescued by Doris Day.
(f) eponym: a reference to a famous person who is recognized for an attribute. Instead of using a comparative word, the author substitutes the person's name for that attribute.
2) Three winged shadows eclipsed the sun, circling him in a halo as tight as chalk marks around a cadaver.
(d) simile: a comparison using "like" or "as"
3)The classic, rocket-shaped convertible crawled along the fractured road.
(c) personification: giving human qualities to objects
4) He didn't want to stop. Couldn't stop.
(i) epistrophe: repeating the last word or final phrase for emphasis.
5) Her old fashioned mannerisms, her reserved innocence, her optimism blended into the picture of a woman who'd set off in search of love and become lost along the way.
(g) anaphora: repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of three or four successive clauses or sentences or almost successive clauses or sentences
6) Two roads converged on a lost highway.
(h) backloading a sentence: restructuring the order of a sentence so the most impactful word(s) come at the end
7) What if he were a psychopath with a preoccupation for gutting women?
(a) rhetorical question: raising a question that is not answered
8) Doo-wap music blared from the car's speakers.
(e) onomatopoeia: using words that imitate the sound the word describes
9) He fished an old bus ticket from his front pocket-every number, every detail-as faded and smooth as a wish stone.
(b) amplification: repeating a word or phrase and adding more detail to emphasize a point. Restating or amplifying a concept

Even if you're not a writer, you'll soon notice these when you read and recognize these devices for what they are-an author's attempt to manipulate emotion and thought.

I'd love to hear your tidbits. Leave behind one fact about your birth date here...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nine Happy Accidents

I'm blogging about happy accidents. Again.

Margie Lawson's online Deep Edits course has taught me so much these past three weeks that I'm startled at my writing ignorance prior to this class. It took me an absurd amount of lectures to gain enough courage to re-read my only publishing credit, The Lost Highway. In light of these new editing techniques, would my prose suck as much wind as a Hoover Deluxe? Would I have missed countless opportunities to backload sentences? Did I even attempt rhetorical devices such as Anaphora and Litotes? Were there any SAPS or power lines?

Before your eyes glaze over (mine did about day three), you probably know some of these techniques intuitively. Every craft book ever written about fiction advises writers to be voracious readers for a reason. In reading, we internalize techniques of the greats who have come before us. We may not know that redundant phrases such as "stand up" or "burning hot" are called Tautologies, but we know Elmore Leonard wouldn't allow these buggers in his tight, sparse prose.

Last night, I finally opened the bound, unchangeable, forever-kind of snapshot on my primitive publishing journey. I found sentences I would change knowing what I know now, but I also found an astonishing number of tools Margie has added to my figurative toolbox Stephen King talks about in On Writing. With no way of knowing where these gems originated or how they shaped the story's lines into living, breathing moments, I can only consider them an anonymous gift born of time and experience and the rich texture of classic novels archived in my subconscious.

So now, we play a game. Match the rhetorical devices from lines in The Lost Highway to the name your high school English Teacher would have given them:

1) Perfect. Fifty miles from civilization, and he was about to be rescued by Doris Day.
2) Three winged shadows eclipsed the sun, circling him in a halo as tight as chalk marks around a cadaver.
3)The classic, rocket-shaped convertible crawled along the fractured road.
4) He didn't want to stop. Couldn't stop.
5) Her old fashioned mannerisms, her reserved innocence, her optimism blended into the picture of a woman who'd set off in search of love and become lost along the way.
6) Two roads converged on a lost highway.
7) What if he were a psychopath with a preoccupation for gutting women?
8) Doo-wap music blared from the car's speakers
9) He fished an old bus ticket from his front pocket-every number, every detail-as faded and smooth as a wish stone.

a) rhetorical question
b) amplification
c) personification
d) similie
e) onomatopoeia
f) eponym
g) anaphora
h) backloading a sentence
i) epistrophe

To entice your brain to rise to the challenge, I'll send out a signed copy of Love, Texas Style to the first blog reader who correctly matches them all. If you're interested in taking your writing to the next level, NYT bestseller level, check out Margie's phenomenal courses.

Have fun!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Urban Sprawl

I've been thinking a lot about community this week. In the six years since we settled at our present address, our neighborhood, our street, has seen many changes. Over half are not original residents anymore. Easter egg hunts and block parties have blurred into indifferent co-habitations where the only cohesiveness is the old lady down the street we affectionately refer to as "the poop bag lady" because she's the only dog owner in a ten mile radius who doesn't believe it's her dog's God-given right to crap on our lawn. The rest are like snapshots. A back tattoo here. A swelling pregnancy there. Faces bleed into each other--brothers, another lover, a new cleaning lady.

During one of those late nights when I could no longer rub two brain cells together, I watched the PBS documentary entitled "Subdivided." It explored the reasons Americans are more divided than ever and how poor community planning and this inherent desire many feel to chase the sprawling "American Dream" has left us feeling isolated and disconnected. While people latch onto cell phones at the expense of talking to a neighbor at the mailbox and we move further away from our place of employment to escape the city, increasing our energy consumption, much of the time we would have sat on our porches or walked the dog and stopped to say hello to an old friend is spent in a daily commute.

One of our inaugural street residents died this week. Although I'm guilty of the same distractions and preoccupation with self and family, and I only spoke with her on a few occasions over the past six years, this disconnected undertone stayed with me. For all that I should have walked over and shared good news or just a simple hello, I wanted to make up for in the present. At the funeral, I signed the guest book. Would the family even know my last name? I gave her husband a hug. Would it ring empty because he remembered all the times I fetched the morning paper and was in too much of a hurry to wave?

The preacher listed the litany of roles she'd taken on in this lifetime. One was a kind neighbor. Did I know this about her? Is this something that's said about us when we've gone or is there truth in it? Could the same be said for me if I were next to go?

In truth, I thought I'd be the only representative at the service. All the veteran residents held day jobs far away in the city. I wanted to make sure someone stood in for the memory of our first July Fourth we all made those tentative bonds. As it turned out, four other neighbors came. Maybe they longed for connectedness, too.

The documentary offers hope. Community planners are embracing traditional town-square designs, where anyone wanting a gallon of milk can walk four blocks to a mom and pop store and pass half a dozen neighbors with ample front porch space to drop by and stay awhile. Downtown revitalization projects cater to those who long to be a part of something more than just a lonely one-driver commute. More than a wave or a steaming poop bag. A real sense of belonging and responsibility to those who share our little half-acre of earth.

Would Fred Rogers be proud of you this week? I know, Mr. McFeeley didn't have a barbed-wire tat, but start with a wave, just one. Maybe next week you can work up to a plate of cookies.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Good Cause and A Ghostly Pause

Today, I'm entering a bid in Brenda Novak's Fourth Annual Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research. And no, it's not the autographed photo of Fabio. I'm waiting to indulge my of-late preoccupation with him until I'm at a future Romantic Times convention, when he's tired and saucy to see where his grasp hits, geographically speaking. Be sure to visit Liz Maverick and Marianne Mancusi's Rebels of Romance blog (RT convention, Day 4 Part 1) if that joke jettisoned your pre-java brain.

Items in the auction range from once in a lifetime getaways to your favorite author's mountain cabin or beach cabana to handcrafted jewelry and gift baskets; autographed author and celebrity merchandise to critiques and lunches with heavy hitters in the publishing industry. People who can make a difference in a writer's career, much as you can in the fight against diabetes. Pop over there if you haven't already and help Brenda reach her goal of $300,000 this year.

I've been tagged by Marilyn, similar to my 1-2-3 post; and at the risk of venturing into non-fiction like Maureen, my autographed copy of Ghosts of East Texas and the Pineywoods by Mitchel Whitington called to me. First the meme; then, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story."

page 123:
"Right before she died, she looked up at a nurse and asked, "Are my babies all right?" The nurse immediately notified the County Sheriff that there might have been infants involved in the wreck, and the officers scoured the creek bed for the rest of the night. They pulled the car out, of course, and even got volunteers with hunting dogs to assist in the search. The bodies of the three infants were never found."

This comes from the Sad Tale of Cry Baby Bridge near Dekalb, Texas. Legend has it that a woman who lived in the countryside was driving back from town a quarter century ago with triplets in the backseat along with her groceries. She'd seen a friend at the store and gossiped as the afternoon stretched long. Worried her husband would be upset because his dinner wouldn't be ready on time, she rushed home, rounded a sharp corner just before a one lane bridge and slid off into the creek below.

To this day, when two cars meet on opposing sides of the country bridge and a driver honks three times to pass or wave the other on through, and the night is warm enough to roll down the windows, it is rumored that passersby can hear the sounds of babies crying in the night.

And the rest of the story? After further investigation, author Mitchel Whitington discovered Crybaby Bridge is an urban legend that dates back to the 1970s with tales from similar country bridges from Oklahoma to South Carolina. Had you, didn't I?

If you love paranormal non-fiction magnified with a lens of local flavor, it's a fun read.

What I'm reading now: Dixie Cash's Since You're Leaving Anyway, Take Out the Trash.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On Purpose? Really?

A fellow Wild Rose Press author, Katie Reus, has bestowed the Blogging With A Purpose award on this Vortex in cyberspace. I'm glad she sees purpose and not OCD about all things writing and time travel. In honor of Mother's Day, because she would want me to follow the rules, I offer up five blogs with a purpose deserving of your mouse's trigger finger:

La Vibora :: I could look up the translation, but I won't. It's more fun imagining one Spanish word to sum up Jim's obsession with all things venomous and reptilian. I'll never look at my refrigerated polska-kielbasa in Gladware the same way again. Deserving because of his commitment to captive breeding of rare species and because he adores these creatures the way I adore Godiva, Josh Holloway and injecting a hidden simile into a sentence.

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary Quotation Marks" :: We all have our usage hang-ups. Mine? Frolicking in a field of descriptive phrases with a handful of commas as an excuse. This blog's author? Ambiguous meanings those double grammar prints can leave in our minds. Deserving because once you've visited this site, you'll find these public offenders everywhere.

Blue Sue :: An expert on Blue Star Arabian horses and the fictional romance heroes who straddle them. Once my characters time jump to a setting where equestrian travel becomes a necessity, she's my go-to resource. Deserving because she can barrel race around an arena with a loaded weapon and pick off a target like a modern-day Belle Starr.

Photoshop Disasters :: True commercial advertisement fouls committed with Photoshop. Deserving because it reaffirms that even professionals wrestle with pixels and layering and viewing Gwyneth Paltrow's distorted head makes me feel better about my own.

The Graveyard Shift :: Written by Lee Lofland, a veteran police investigator and contributor to the online writing community crimescenewriter, this blog offers healthy portions of all things nourishing to writers starved for crime and literary resources. Deserving because he never allows fallen officers to be forgotten.

Thank you, Katie.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sand in the Seat-Of-The-Pants-Draft-One

Ten things I learned about writing while vacationing on the beach:

1) Hearing The Police sing "Everything She Does is Magic" while editing helps to get into the vibe. Hearing it repeated on a ten-song soundtrack piped out through the pool's Bose speakers beats that vibe to a pulp.

2) During wind advisory beach conditions, the best page of your manuscript, along with your red canvas umbrella will take flight. Fellow beach-goers will either find themselves inspired by your words or get a paper cut Mary Poppins-style.

3) Drinking a Blue Moon on draft with an orange wedge while re-reading your manuscript will only make Margie Lawson's Deep Edit notes seem like that senior college course, second semester, you abandoned for Spring Break in Mexico.

4) Through the veil of sunglasses, lacquered with SPF-30, the crystal clear resort pool looks infinitely more appealing than the dialogue you've highlighted in blue.

5) Too much sun and the forty year old in the Speedo near the wet bar transforms Faulkner-esque prose into snippy, staccato sentences where people die.

6) The most under-utilized sensation you've yet to use in your writing is the sand slipping away beneath your feet as the waves recede into the ocean.

7) Sandpipers run faster than you'll ever type.

8) The fog rolling onto the beach at 4 am feels just like the masochistic day 29 of NaNoWrite.

9) The stranger next to you on the plane will always read what you've written. Always. And nothing kills a creative flow faster than a meaty fist clinging to a Filet 'O Fish on a turbulent ascent.

10) The Rastafarian at the Head Shop, no matter how authentic he smells, would always be considered by your critics to be a cliched character.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

All That Jazz

I met some wonderful people during today's booksigning at Weatherford's Books 'n Authors 'n All That Jazz. The forty authors represented everything from non-fiction to westerns, self-published and major NY publishing houses. Best part? A huge portion of the authors and browsers were men, so watching their reaction to being snagged into a conversation and possible sale by a table full of romance authors revealed a lot about the male gender. A few backed away like we'd coiled a rattler on the table, but most were gracious and intrigued.

Hope for us romantics after all.

(l-r): me, Nancy Connally, Christine Crocker

Friday, May 2, 2008

Booksigning Tomorrow

Hey gang...I'll be signing Love, Texas Style, along with co-authors Nancy Connally and Christine Crocker, tomorrow at the Books 'n Authors 'n All That Jazz festival tomorrow in Weatherford, Texas. The event runs from 9am-3pm and includes over forty local authors and free writing workshops. Find inspiration and say hello all in one event. See you there!