On this blog

Friday, October 25, 2013

Celebrating a Revelation...

Friday is celebration day thanks to VikLit's delicious blog.  Every Friday we sit back and notice something that has happened that is worth celebrating.  A nice cup of tea?  A vacation?  an accomplishment at home or work?  Anything that makes you smile and count your blessings.

Today I am celebrating the fruits of yesterday's revelation.  I had been feeling under a great deal of pressure for a number of reasons - my father's impending funeral in December, a book I'm finishing up, another book I'm getting closer to finishing, the fact that I really need to organize my house...

It all came to a head (almost literally) yesterday when I stood, left my desk at work, strode out the door and took a twenty-minute walk through the parking lot.  People walk there a lot.  It is beautiful, as I had noticed driving in there, but I had never done it.  However, I needed to blow off some steam, it was ten minutes to eleven in the morning, and I needed to get out.

Crisp breezes were rattling the dry leaves on the trees.  The sun was sparkling - it was splendid and beautiful, and I will jot the description in one or another of my notebooks.  I was, however, striding along, gritting my teeth and thinking aloud.

...and it struck me, suddenly, that while there was a lot of stress at that moment, much of it was my own doing.

Dad's funeral would go off in December at Arlington Cemetery with the caisson and the flag and the band and the buglers, and I would actually enjoy it, as would Dad.

And the books I was working on were publicly scheduled to be produced in 2014.

There was no reason for me to be spinning around like my cat chasing her tail.  I didn't have to finish them tomorrow.  In fact, I didn't have to burn myself out at all.

...The wind caught a gulley full of dry, red leaves and whirled them toward me with the sound of a stampeding herd.  I watched, transfixed.  It was splendid.

So...my being stressed out was my own silly doing.  I could set the projects down and work on my NaNoWriMo project, which promised to be fun  And I could spend twenty minutes a day decluttering.  (And maybe I should start with my mind?)

Twenty minutes later I was back at my desk, sipping a cup of hot coffee and smiling.  I put away my two WIP manuscripts.  I'll fiddle with them in December.

And last night I designed the (projected) cover for my NaNo effort (It's a fantasy/fable)  It needs work, such as making it apparent that we are looking at a crocodile and not a rock, but this is OK for now:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Science versus instinct…

I subscribe to an excellent blog about writing. (Several, in fact, but I’m talking about a particular one for the time being.)  It is humorous, colorful, lots of photos, and some very good sense.  To use a phrase I don’t generally like, I can validate the blogger’s comments from my own experience.  The blogger is right on point.

A recent series of posts, however, had to do with characters – heroes, villains, miscellaneous.  What makes them tick, what makes them admirable or despicable, or whatever.    Nothing new, nothing that hasn’t been said before, but reading the blog post made me raise my eyebrows.

The post said, essentially:

  So, you have this fabulous protagonist.  He is handsome and smart and you just love him to death.  You want to read about him all the time and writing about him is a wonderful experience.  He’s the best thing since toothbrushes were invented… the problem is that your hero needs a conflict.

It went on to give examples of conflicts: love life, past crime, past wrong, inherited problem, illness, money… 

“Well, yeah,” I said, propping my feet on my footstool and shooing my cat away from my mouse as I clicked away from the post and opened one of my two WIPs. “Of course.”

I polished and tweaked and as I was doing this, almost on autopilot, my mind was clicking away with that blog post and others like it.  Why did they sit oddly for me?  Others were snapping them up.

I figured it out, finally. 

It was like reading a ‘how to’ manual.

Step 1.  Get a character
Step 2   Give the character a conflict.  Some obstacle he has to overcome.
Step 3   Do whatever else is in the works…

I had a mental picture of someone, the target audience of the blog, if you will, saying “I want to be a writer.  OK, so I get a character and give him a conflict. Now what?”

The next step is to formulate an antagonist.  Why is he opposed to the protagonist?

These are good step-by-step explanations of what goes into making a story, but for me, at least, they are…well, not useless, but beside the point. 

I don’t start out by saying, “I am going to tell a story.  Let me see…  I need a hero.  What is he going to do?  Hm.  And who is he facing?” 

For me, I can see a situation.  Using a very old example that may never be put into print, how about one of the officers of a troop of mercenaries who is in the middle of a very slow summer and wondering how they are going to make ends meet.  (This is in a universe similar to late medieval Europe.)  They have received a lucrative offer from a notorious pirate-prince who needs top quality maritime troops and is willing to pay for them.  This would be excellent pay, but a somewhat elevated probability of disaster.  They have also received an offer from a local prince who needs a force to fight fires in his bailiwick while he trains a fire-fighting group and gets it in place.  This involves low pay, relatively speaking, and a somewhat unexciting locale, but minimizes the chance of a messy death for the members of the troop.  That’s the snapshot as it popped into my mind.  I didn’t have to go down a checklist and populate things.  There they were, and everything fell together.

The story moved from there.  It did not write itself.  Some happenings were ruled out as not in keeping with the characters I was dealing with (even though the events themselves were as funny as all get-out).  Some were ruled out because they were utterly stupid, some because I had come up with a better way of handling things.  It was all pretty instinctive.

After some thought I concluded that the series of posts read like recipes.  Do this, add that, follow up with this and you will have a novel.

Utterly ridiculous!

…or was it?

Think about it: read the words to this song and you’ll find all of the ingredients they talk about:

Come listen to a story ‘bout a man named Jed,
 A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.
 And then one day he was shootin’ at some food,
When up through the ground came a-bubbling crude.
(Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.)

Well, the first thing you know old Jed’s a millionaire.
 His kinfolk said “Jed, move away from there!”
Said, “Californy is the place we oughta be!”
So they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.
               (Hills, that is. Swimming pools. Movie stars.)

With a little imagination you can see the hero, understand the conflicts and, possibly, have an inkling about the antagonists.

The Latke Revelation
When I was in college, I went into the student union of a group of which I was Vice President.  We allowed a couple other groups to use the space when they needed to, since they had no digs of their own and we were a hospitable bunch.  On the evening in question, I walked into the most delicious smells imaginable.  One of the other groups – the Hillel Society, as it happens – was having its Chanukah festivities with traditional foods.  I had a lot of friends in the Hillel Society, and they snagged me and urged me to eat their delicious food.  Which I did.  Gladly.

They had latke there.  I’d had potato pancakes, but never latke.  I got the recipe from a beaming friend and over the next many years made latke at the drop of a hat.  At some point in one or another of the nine moves since then, I lost the recipe.  So what?  I made latke as I always made latke and everyone loved it.   …then I found the recipe.

What?  HOW much flour?  Baking powder?  I don’t remember that!  Is this the—no, it is.  There’s the oil spot.  What HAPPENED???

Well, what happened is that I grew familiar with the recipe and added my own touches over time.  The latke is, and always was, delicious.  But I had to start with a recipe.  I don’t consult the original one any more because I don’t need to.  I work by instinct now.  How many times have you tried to duplicate something done superbly by a friend or family member, following  the recipe to the letter, and fallen short of the other’s perfection.  …and then discovered that they did things by eye or left out a step there? Or something?

So it is with those passages of instruction in the various blogs.  From time immemorial stories have had rules.  There’s a character with a conflict (or quest or desire – however you wish to put it) and he’s up against something that may make it difficult to achieve his aim.  There are twists and turns.

The bottom line, for me, is this:

I guess we all have to start with a recipe (people tend to read those more than they do assembly instructions), but at some point you have to trust your own instincts.  …and your beta readers and editors.

(If anyone wants the latke recipe – my permutation – say so in the comments…)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

On Being a Robot...

"It does not compute!"

In the course of visiting various sites and communicating with a number of entities, corporate and personal, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I am a robot.

I suppose I should have guessed it a long time ago, but the realization only unfolded itself this morning.

The Orphan's Tale (Book I)

I hosted a giveaway on Goodreads, (The Orphan's Tale Book I) and wanted to advise the winners that there had been a delay while the cover design had been finalized.   I pulled up the list of winners, composed a message to be sent to all explaining the reason for the delay, advising that the books would be sent out once I received them.  (I prefer to send things personally.  A handwritten note on the flyleaf, even if the book is destined to be maybe read once and then donated or sold, is a nice touch, as is a bookmark.)  Since the giveaway ended September 30, the delay was not unconscionable, but I thought it best to spread the news that the books would be on the way.

Then the fun began.  I pulled up the first name, smiled at the profile photo (a smiling mother and daughter), pasted in the message, and hit 'send'.

A Captcha image appeared on the screen.   

"Oh, goody," thought I.  "'Hotruct'? 'Hatruct'? The 'H' and the 'CT' are a given  I'll think about it.'  I looked at the other word.  It was obviously a scan from a older book, probably 18th Century.  Today it would be printed 'greatest', the 'f'-seeming character actually being an 's'.  But would a robot know that?    I asked twice for other images and finally answered correctly.  Whew!  That was worrisome.

I went to the next winner, a lady from Wales.  She seemed delightful.  I composed the message, pasted in the words and adjusted (I hate form letters) and hit 'send' only to be 'Captcha'd' again.

Oh, goody goody gumdrops... The second word was easy, but the first?  fEmpir?  Sleipnir's kid brother?

This is no time for joking, dang it!  I hit the button, found a more or less harmless choice, and sent the message.

I suspect a robot invented this nonsense.  If I find out who it is, I'll - I'll...

Well, I'll do something.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Small Celebrations, October 18, 2013

It is Friday again, and a time to stop and take stock of the small things we celebrate, often unknowingly.  Thanks to VikLit, who had the idea for this delicious bl0g hop, we can remind ourselves of the beautiful things in life that make our days just that much more lovely.

I enjoy pausing to remember, and I love reading of the things that touch others.  You would, too - why not sign up?  Details are at the end of this post.

Today, I'm celebrating the fact that I have enjoyed one of the great sensual pleasures of life: lavender.

Some day I will visit Provence.  I had a calendar of photographs taken there, with one that touched me especially.  It depicted lavender fields.

Today, since I could not stroll, myself, through those intoxicatingly scented fields, I indulged in a lavender-scented shower courtesy of the British soap and toiletries-maker, Asquith & Somerset:

Warm-to-hot water cascading off my shoulders, a scrub brush loaded with this deliciously-scented soap in a pretty bottle - just wonderful! 

...if I raise my wrist to my nose, I can catch the faint, lovely scent.

And now I am ready to start the day!  (Which, incidentally, is a Friday!)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Piece of Croc...

I have had crocodiles on the brain for the past month or so.  It all started with an idea that I had about some poor fellow poling his boat back home after a hard night fishing when a roar splits the dawn and  - ker-SPLASH!! - his boat is nearly swamped by a wall of water.  The man straightens to see a huge crocodile floundering in the river beside his boat.

It gathers itself and surges straight upward, falls back and bellows again as the man clutches his chest and tries not to hyperventilate, faint and fall into the water.

And then the crocodile looks at him for a moment with the rising sun right behind its head...

The story takes off from there.  The thing is thirty cubits long (which makes it between 45 and 60 feet in length)  with a head wider than the man's height.  It follows him home and things start happening.

Who the crocodile is, how it got there, and what happens next in various ways to various people, grownups and children, is the story.  It is shaping up to be rather amusing, but it is also requiring a lot of research into crocodilians.  There is a lot I didn't know.

For example, did you know that they can gallop?  Here's a video of a freshwater crocodile doing just that.  (Pity they didn't set it to the William Tell Overture, as Paul Serano the Paleontologist did in 'Supercroc'):

The man gets quite a turn when he comes home from a long day fishing and finds the crocodile basking in the sun with the man's  two children napping between his front legs.

It isn't quite like the other crocs in the river, being more than three times their size, but like some regular specimens, it does like to chase the man's fowl.

It also takes a rather dim view of rude people and tax collectors.

There is a lot to research (and, to be honest, I'm learning more about crocodiles than I ever really wanted to know) but I can't do any actual composing until November 1, since this is going to be my NaNoWriMo project for 2013.

What audience would I target?  Well, that's a good question.  It isn't really a children's book, though I think slightly older children (of an age to read chapter books) might enjoy it.  It is a bit of a fable and a bit of a fantasy, especially when you discover who and what the crocodile is, and how he got there and why there is a huge, dark patch in the night sky, and why the river sparkles so brightly when he is in it.

Heck, I even have a cover design well on the way to being finished.  

I think I'll enjoy it.

And now one final video that should leave you laughing deliciously.  No blood, nothing to startle you even if a croc does appear in it.  Enjoy it!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Small Celebrations - October 11, 2013

Once again it's Friday and time to happily participate in VikLit's wonderful blog hop marking the small celebrations that make life special.  Why don't you participate?  Details are at the end of this post.

We commemorate small celebrations, and this week I'm posting about one of my smallest.

cold morning, affectionate little girlfriend - happiness!
She is seven pounds, ten years old, chocolate brown, feisty and very sweet.  Her name is Frida and she came to me in May of 2005 through the kind generosity of a friend.  Frida is a Burmese cat, a breed that originated on the Malayan peninsula.  Go to Thailand and Burma and you will find little brown cats walking in the streets.  This little girl's ancestors came to the United States in 1930, accompanying a sailor who had taken ship at Kowloon.

I've loved Burmese since 1965.  I have owned them since 1980. 

In her I have my best little girlfriend, my feisty little angel, and a peppery but sweet companion.  Who could ask for more?  She's worth celebrating!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Small Celebrations, October 4, 2013

Today is Friday, time to celebrate the small things or, if you like, to invite others to join us in celebrating our small things.  There's a linky list at the bottom of this post: why don't you look around, enjoy the celebrations and – maybe?  - sign up yourself. VikLit is a wonderful hostess and we have lots of fun.

I am currently enjoying and celebrating a nice, hot cup of tea with milk, my morning drink of choice.  It truly helps get the day going, and I like it strong:

Today I'm celebrating my favorite season – Autumn – and the various views I enjoy driving to work or just walking through my neighborhood.

On a more mundane front, I'm celebrating my new book cover (the old one was somewhat lacking) and the fact that I'm working on a story I've loved for years but had on the shelf for a long time:

Old cover:

New Cover: 

…And it's a weekend, or will be, and I'll be visiting my mother and helping her to shop for cars.  Something else to celebrate: she is a ladylike Holy Terror to car salesmen who think they can take advantage of elderly widows!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Insecure Writers Support Group October 2, 2013 edition

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day.  The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh (who has a new release, by the way! – find it here on Amazon) 

Insecure Writers' Support Group
(Link is below:  blogger is not allowing me to embed a link)


We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions.

Well, my insecurity this time has to do with appearance.

No, I am not talking about font or book layout or capitalizing.  It has to do with the way this author looks.  I don't mean I think I'm ugly.  Or, perhaps, I don't think I'm ugly after I've had a cup of coffee and have run a comb through my hair.  I'll never forget the time someone came into my dorm room unexpectedly while I had blue cream on my face.  She screamed, rather like the fellow in The Telltale Heart when the light strikes the murder victim's ugly eye. 
Sometimes I am able to pass through crowds without making people drop things or scream.  I have never given a little kid a nightmare.  That I know of.   When I am not wearing blue face cream.

What I am talking about is the 'Author's Photo' that is, apparently, de rigeur if you wish to be taken seriously.  

I haven't had one taken yet.  There are so many permutations, historically, and I don't know which I should go for.


The authors with their hands in front of their faces (usually resting their chins on their curved fingers). 
This crowd of people, one of whom I really admire, would have been described by the narrator of the play, Peter Pan  as 'A more villainous-looking brotherhood never hung on any gallows...'
Then we have the obligatory Authors With Cats:

Authors with various types of tobacco¸ authors with weird face fungus (starting with Dickens and going through Bernard Cornwell – who treated Londoners a few years back to a just-before-midnight reading of his sex scenes and George R R Martin).  Authors frowning as they ponder life, authors looking challengingly at the camera. 

Lately we have had some new permutations.  Troll through Facebook and see what you see.  One fellow proudly posted his new author's photo – looking challengingly at the camera from under his brows with an undeniable smirk while wearing an impossibly heavy (English?) tweed jacket.
Another person…  well, let me be honest, there are two or three of them that I see, all of whom write erotica…  are so enamored of their faces that while they change their profile photos regularly to show their faces, the photos are so similar as to be nearly indistinguishable from each other.  Generally it's a close-up face shot, head slightly tilted, lips parted to show the glimmer of teeth.  I haven't noticed any spinach on the teeth yet.  They must have been looking soulfully into their own eyes while using their cell phones (I speak as one with some knowledge of photography.) 

Since these are living authors, I'm not going to post their photos.  Besides, they're nice folk. 

So…  My insecurity.  I need an author's photo (as it happens, I do have one with my cat, The Late, Great Boomer, but that is, perhaps, a little too-too?)  Besides, I can't hope to beat the truly great Raymond Chandler with his black Persian.

I don't feel like going for a formal sitting.  I had enough of that in school.  Or at parties, when you show up looking (you fondly think) fabulous, and the next day you see the raddled old wastrel that you truly are.  No, I'm not going that way.  
There's a rugged one of me that works very nicely except, as a friend complained, "You know, Diana, you're SUPPOSED to see the person's face!"  I don't know…  I like it. 

Nah, come to think of it, I'll just do the Author-With-Hands-Visible-Holding-A-Cat.

Yeah, that's the ticket.  (And it won't bother me when people laugh at me and don't take me too seriously…)

But note: while I enjoyed writing this and laughing, the fact is that people do want to 'see' who we are.  Putting the best foot forward is (for me) a challenge...