Saturday, March 31, 2007

Things to Do While Driving to Texas

This summer I will be making two (count them, 2!!) trips to Texas. One for my brother-in-law's wedding (yea Curt!) and one for the upcoming RWA Conference.

My brother-in-law, I get. I mean, he fell in love with a beautiful girl from Texas so he really has no choice but to call us forth to the blistering heat of Texas in the middle of summer. I love him. I'll go.

RWA has a choice, of course. There are many, MANY other places in the US of A that do not fill the air with so much humity you have to chew it to swallow it. I can think of several nice places. San Francisco. Seattle. Witchita. However, I love writing. I'll go.

It's a 10 hour drive. I'm making a list of things to do (or NOT to do) along the way (garnered from past experience of driving to Louisiana and Texas). Feel free to add your own items to the list:

1. DO wear a rain coat while driving your car. This is to protect you from the smothering humidity that causes your formerly cooperative vehicle to suddenly spit whole mouthfuls of water at you out of your air conditioning vents.

2. DO NOT throw anything at an alligator. Ever.

3. DO refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.

4. DO NOT eat armadillo. No matter what anyone tells you, it doesn't taste like chicken.

5. DO come prepared for an all-out battle with the insect world. This requires more than your average can of mosquito repellant. This requires gallon cannisters of experimental chemical products loaded into black market bazukas that thankfully you can just mount on the top of your truck.

6. DO NOT offend a man carrying a shot gun. He will use it.

7. DO eat any variety of pie offered. It's ALL delicious.

8. DO NOT ask for Cajun-anything and then whine about the spice. For explanation, see #6.

9. DO learn to say "ya'all" unless you want to be thought of as unmannerly and poorly raised.

10. DO NOT drink anything made in a bathtub. (unless, of coure, you really didn't need your stomach lining after all)

Any other hints? Let me have them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Be Prepared!!

Thanks to Shelley S. for sending this hilarious email to me!


Many women are afraid of their first mammogram, but there is no need to worry. By taking a few minutes each day for a week preceding the exam and doing the following exercises, you will be totally prepared for the test and best of all, you can do these simple exercises right in and around your home.

EXERCISE ONE: Open your refrigerator door and insert one breast in door. Shut the door as hard as possible and lean on the door for good measure. Hold that position for five seconds. Repeat again in case the first time wasn't effective enough.

EXERCISE TWO: Visit your garage at 3AM when the temperature of the cement floor is just perfect. Take off all your clothes and lie comfortably on the floor with one breast wedged under the rear tire of the car. Ask a friend to slowly back the car up until your breast is sufficiently flattened and chilled. Turn over and repeat with the other breast.

EXERCISE THREE: Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Strip to the waist. Invite a stranger into the room. Press the bookends against one of your breasts. Smash the bookends together as hard as you can. Set up an appointment with the stranger to meet next year and do it again.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Revision - The Real Craft of Writing

The more I get to know Alexa Tate, the more I revise what has already been written. Though I don't plan on posting more than the first three chapters here, I want to give you the most current version.

Hence the reason I posted the revised chapters 1-2 before chapter 3.

The change is huge. I think it works well with Alexa's character arc and the direction of the story itself.

Can't wait to hear what you think of it!

Chapter One - SHADOWING FATE

Chapter One

I hunt people in my spare time.

Some women crochet. Others garden. I deliver my own brand of vigilante justice.

I only track down those who deserve it. Those who are about to commit a crime against another person. I know this sounds like I’m one slippery step away from a padded cell and a lifetime supply of anti-psychotic drugs, but I can hear when someone is going to give in to their inner demons.

Evil has a voice all its own. It sounds like insatiable greed, impotent rage, and terrible grief blended into one throbbing hunger for power. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only one who hears it. It haunts me, compelling me to make it silent.

I have no control over the fact that I can hear the worst people have to offer. I do, however, have complete control over my wardrobe. Few things are as thrilling as hunting down evil in a kicking pair of four-inch stilettos. I never know when the need to hunt will strike and the fact that I can wipe the pavement with a man twice my size while wearing heels is a pretty satisfactory bonus. It’s like being Wonder Woman without all that tacky spandex.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Why else would I be clinging to the side of an old brick apartment building on Fifth Avenue wearing a little red dress and a gorgeous pair of leopard print Manolo Blahnik stilettos?

I was four stories up, digging into the tiny ledges between brick and grout for balance. My bronze beaded clutch swung gently on my wrist. Beneath me, New Yorkers stalked the streets. Above me, a few intrepid stars winked in the velvet sky, their light pale compared with the brilliance of downtown Manhattan. Two feet to my left, a fire escape led to an open window and the sound of breaking glass. I hoped the owner of the apartment was far from home.

I gathered myself and leapt sideways, landing softly on the fire escape. A sudden gust of wind swept the street, chasing leaves and bits of paper and forcing me to do a quick Marilyn Monroe as my dress fluttered toward my ears. I comforted myself that most New Yorkers wouldn’t notice anything beyond the three feet in front of them and even if they did, I’d worn cute leopard print bikinis to match my shoes. Not only would I have clean underwear in case of an accident, by God, I’d be color-coordinated.

The sounds of glass breaking and furniture thudding escalated with a woman’s terrified scream. The owner was home after all. I cleared the stairs in one leap and slid over the windowsill and into a bedroom.

The sound was deafening. Waves of twisted need edged with hate screamed for power.

It always came down to power.

I blocked the noise in my head as best I could and slipped through the room. The woman’s scream died to a thin, agonized wail, and I heard triumph surge.

The only light in the apartment came from the kitchen, separated from the living room by a half wall. I skirted the broken glass strewn across the floor and reached the doorway.

She lay on the floor, eyes shut tight - as if by denying his presence, she could make him disappear.

He straddled her. One hand viciously clamped around her neck, choking off her air and her will. The other scored her flesh with the tip of a knife, drawing perfect beads of crimson in its wake.

“Hi there.”

He jerked his head up, swinging the knife toward me. Her eyes flew open, flush with terror and hope.

He lunged to his feet.

“Tonight must be my lucky night,” he said. “Two for the price of one.”

Obviously, he and I had never met.

I stepped back from the doorway.

“Go on. Run.” He said. “I love a good chase.”

Funny, so did I.

I ran through the living room and into the bedroom. Keeping my back to the door, I listened. A grunt as he rushed from the kitchen. Sharp crunching as his feet dug glass into carpet. The slap of his hand on the doorframe as he skidded into the bedroom and stopped.

“There you are.” He said.

I kept my back to him, facing the open window. Listening. Through the lust, the hate, I sensed the hardening of intent. A soft twang disturbed the air as he threw the knife. The blade arced, vibrating delicately. At the last possible second, when he was already moving toward me, sure of victory, I ducked.

Spinning on my left foot, I shot my right leg into the air and snapped his head back as the knife buried itself into the wooden window sash. The four-inch heel of my shoe snaked across his cheek, opening it wide and eliciting a scream that did my heart good.

Stilettos. Never leave home without them.

Waves of anger poured off him, drowning out all but the primal struggle between us. He wanted to kill me.

I had other plans.

He lunged. I bent back, nearly parallel to the floor, and he flew over me, crashing into the wall. Scrambling to his feet, he yanked the knife from the window sash and threw it at me.

I held up my hand, palm facing out. The knife struck, sending vibrations up my arm. The tip crumpled, and the weapon dropped to the floor, useless.

“What are you?” He asked. Blood leaked down his cheek, puddling against the black jacket he wore. I sniffed the air experimentally. Faux. Cheapskate.

“You don’t act human.”

“I’m not.” I said. I meant it. I’m something more, but what that really means is as much your guess as mine.

He bolted for the window and crashed onto the fire escape. Sirens wailed in the distance as he clattered down the metal stairs.

I followed him out the window and judged the distance to the ground. Making a jump like this in heels could be tricky but I didn’t want to waste time taking them off. He was already skidding around the landing of the second floor. I wanted to beat him to the bottom.

I swung my body up and balanced for a second on the thin metal rail of the landing. Successful free-falling was all about precision, control, and, of course, choosing the right place to land. I scanned the sidewalk, picked a planter full of soft dirt that was more or less directly beneath me, and jumped.

The heels of my stilettos sank into the dirt, and I rolled my body down into a crouch, letting the ground absorb the force of my landing. People walking by barely spared a glance for me. God bless New Yorkers.

The man scrambled off the fire escape and hit the ground beside me.

“Still with you.” I said.

He plunged forward. I waited for a moment as he dodged the traffic on Fifth, narrowly escaping the front grill of a taxi. I wasn’t really hoping he’d become road kill. I do love a good chase.

He reached the opposite side and raced toward Central Park. Only fools or those strong enough to survive anything go into the heart of Central Park at night. Of the two of us, he was the fool.

The distant sirens materialized, and police cars screamed up Fifth Avenue to the entrance of the apartment building. Someone had called the cops. It didn’t matter. I’d get to him before they could.

I walked half a block to the nearest pedestrian crossing. No point jaywalking in front of the police when the heels of your shoes are dripping blood and dirt. When I reached the entrance to Central Park, I sniffed the air.

A flood of scents assailed me. Rotting leaves. Unwashed bodies. Kettle corn. A faint whiff of Calvin Klein Eternity for men. Yum.

To the left, I caught the scent I hunted. Sweat, blood, and faux leather. I slid into the shadows of the park and followed.

He was hiding - crouched behind some bushes. The soft rasp of his frightened breathing scraped my ear, giving me his exact position.

I bent to take off my shoes. It was bad enough that my eight hundred dollar Manolo Blahniks now had blood and dirt on them. I didn’t intend to add gore to the mix. Besides, I could stop him easily enough with my bare hands.

Silently, I slipped from shadow to shadow, circling to his right until I could see him, hunched between two unyielding shrubs. His fear cloaked him but I could still hear it: beneath the fear, the anger, beat the same jagged need for power. I felt an answering hunger in my own mind and shut it down.

“You hurt a woman tonight. Nearly raped and killed her.”

He swung to face the sound of my voice and his eyes skipped frantically from tree to tree. He couldn’t see me. I was part of the shadows.

“You’re crazy.”

Ah, questioning the sanity of a woman who can kill you. Good plan.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

He stood slowly, still searching the shadows for me. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

“Liar.”

“I didn’t – I don’t know what happened.”

“Liar.”

“I won’t do it again. Just go away. Go away and I won’t do it again!” He screamed.

“You will.” I said and let him see me. “You will hurt and punish and hurt again. You hunger for it. I can hear it in you. I can smell it.”

He scrambled to the left. I space-shifted and blocked his path.

“Go away!”

I was relentless. Space-shifting every time he moved, staying in front of him, hedging him in. His anger grew in proportion to his fear.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

“She had it coming!” He cried, spittle flying. Hatred twisted his face, an imperfect version of the beast he held inside. He scrambled to run away.

I snapped out a roundhouse kick, slamming into his left leg and snapping his femur with a thick, wet crack. He screamed.

“No running.” I said and dragged him against a tree.

“You broke my leg.” He was sobbing in short, panting bursts.

“You’re lucky I didn’t break your neck.”

“This hurts.” He moaned.

“I’ll do much, much worse to you if you ever terrorize another woman in this city.”

He grabbed the tree and dragged himself up on his right leg. I rolled my eyes as he hopped a few steps away, clinging desperately to the trunk for help. You’d think by now he’d get the point.

A sharp, sideways kick shattered his right ankle. He fell, wailing.

“I said no running.”

He cursed.

I leaned close. “I’ll know where they send you to prison. I’ll know if you get parole. I’ll know where you live, what you eat, when you sleep, and where you go.”

“Urgh.” His face was pale and shiny with sweat.

“If you ever hurt another woman, I’ll tear you apart piece by piece.”

I left him lying there and gathered up my shoes. Carefully wiping the heels on some leaves at the edge of the Park, I walked sedately onto the sidewalk at Fifth and hailed a cab. An ambulance joined the police cars, and officers were canvassing the street, heading steadily toward the Park. I turned to the cabbie.
“Heidelberg’s on Second Avenue.” I was late for a date.

Chapter Three - Alexa Tate

On the advice of a published author, I've removed chapter 3. I don't want future publsihers to think I've given too much away when they are trying to sell my book. I've left the comments.

Don't worry, the first installment of Alexa's story will be complete by the end of June and I'll let you know as soon as some savvy publisher snaps it up. (say that five times fast)

Imagination

Imagination is what sparks the fire of greatness in us. It's how we got the Model T, the Eiffel Tower, and Lemon Cream Cheese Pie. It's where Captain Jack Sparrow, Harry Potter, and Frodo were born.

Do you remember flexing your imagination in strange and beautiful ways when you were little? Whole worlds attached to your bedroom that only you could see. The distinct possibility that your old lady neighbor was a Queen in hiding. The absolute certainty that fairy tales were true in a place not so far away.

We lose that as we get older, unless we fight hard against the encroaching wall of reason, responsibility, and math teachers who slap down our "what ifs" and remind us of "what is".

I have a vivid imagination but I find myself constantly second guessing an idea. I say, "What if..." and quickly follow it with "oh, but, how could I explain that?"

Now, I've decided, the most interesting part of the journey through my imagination is "how could I explain that" because the answer takes me further and further away from "what is" and closer to the magical world of "what if". I just have to be willing to let the explanation stay as fantastically whimsical as the "what if".

Today, my imagination snatched three ideas (modern day pirates, world-wide treasure hunts, and a modest detection agency specializing in finding what most believe doesn't exist) and threw them together in one fascinating pot.

Who knows what will come of it?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Show, Don't Tell

I'm reading a book by an author I haven't tried before. I do this a few times a month to keep current on what's out there and to discover new voices I admire and want to study.

This author, however, irritates the ever-living daylights out of me. She tells instead of shows.

She tells me that the hero finds the heroine funny and takes several sentences to do so instead of showing light banter back and forth and having the hero reluctantly crack a smile.

She tells me the heroine is dizzy and unsteady on her feet due to lack of sleep and lack of food because of the untimely demise of her husband two years ago. This takes three paragraphs. She could show the heroine stumble and respond to the hero's concern with a brief "Didn't get enough sleep" while her thoughts continue "and haven't since Doug died."

She insists on pouring backstory with a heavy hand (even repeating facts I know already) instead of pouring on plot and sprinkling in backstory here and there. I think backstory should be treated like cayenne pepper. A little goes a loooong way.

I find myself rolling my eyes, skipping whole paragraphs, and feeling irritated that I'm told something is funny when so far, it's yet to make me smile.

Want a great example of show, don't tell? Read Linda Howard. Read Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum series. Read Keith Ablow.

Want to know how to fix it in your own writing? Write out what you want to accomplish in a scene. Write the scene using as much dialogue and as little backstory as possible. Then hack ruthlessly.

Use minimum description - just enough to set the scene.

Let dialogue serve double-duty - both moving the story forward and giving the emotional barometer of the character without an additional twelve sentences of ponderous exposition.

Take out every extraneous word or phrase until your scene is a lithe, fast-paced thing of muscle and beauty.

Take your readers for the ride of their life. Show, don't tell.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Art for Art's Sake?

I used to think "art for art's sake" was a pretentious little phrase invented to cover the corny work of those with more ambition than talent.

Now, I wonder if it isn't a way of saying, "My personal creative muse invaded my body, sank into my brain, and refused to leave until I did her bidding. This is the result."

Art is subjective, we all know that. Just as we all know that even in a sea of talent, there are those authors, poets, painters, and performers whose talent is so breathtaking, it trancends subjectivity and becomes something - more.

Every artist strives to be "more".

Behind that "more" are unseen hours of perseverance, rough drafts, rejections, and well meaning people giving opinions and advice that erode the confidence and creativity of the artist.

Art is a peculiar thing. It is a dual-natured creature, both intensely personal and shamelessly promiscuous.

It is hard, as an artist, to create, shape, and craft my work and then go through the agony of sharing it with others. I know I am inviting a slew of reactions: from glowing reviews, to bafflement that I have that in me to give, to opinions on what I should really be writing. Most days, I am confident in my craft. Most days, I can gracefully acknowledge that yes, I could write any number of things but right now, this is my art.

Some days I can't.

And yet, I am driven to perfect my craft, to be true to the voice of my characters. To get it right.

I am the only one who can say when I've got it right.

And when I do, I am driven to share it with others. To bask in the praise, listen carefully to the questions, and withstand the rest because it isn't enough for me to create just for myself.

Maybe it isn't art for art's sake. Maybe it's really art for the sake of saying "I am capable of this".

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dead Man Walking

This guy I work with (henceforth and forevermore referred to as FOOL - Foolishly Over-Optimistic Loser) started a war with me.

This just proves how little the FOOL knows me.

It started as a small squirmish (FOOL put ice down my back, I retaliated in kind),

grew to a serious battle (FOOL put ice down my back while I was in the dining room TAKING AN ORDER thereby eliciting a scream from me that may have adversely affected my income given that most people won't part with their hard-earned singles to a crazy woman. I responded with a well-placed handful of whipped cream)

and has now escalated to an all-out WAR.

Why? Because Friday night FOOL mashed an entire piece of chocolate cake into my face, my hair, my ears...you get the picture.

Not only did that seal his impending doom, it was a hideous waste of perfectly good chocolate.

FOOL got so much chocolate on me that I smelled like a Hershey factory all night. So much chocolate that as I undressed later that evening, I could have had a satisfying late night snack from the chunks of cake that fell out of my clothing and onto my bathroom floor. (If, of course, I was the kind of woman who loved chocolate enough to actually eat it after it had touched the bathroom floor. I'm proud to say that while my mother and grandmother own that gene, it skipped me.)

It didn't end there.

My good friend, Kelly, decided FOOL's actions were inappropriate and so she did something completely out of character. She got him back.

In spades.

She took a glass full of grits (for you Californians, that's a lot like Malt-o-Meal) and mixed it with water. FOOL was standing around a corner from the main kitchen area, thus lending Kelly the advantage of surprise.

She popped around the corner, shrieked at the top of her lungs (no one really knows why...) and threw the entire glass on FOOL. And ran.

When the rest of us got to him, he was covered head to toe in watery, yellow chunks. The spatter split on either side of him and travelled a good two feet.

He looked for all the world like a 40 pound baby had projectile vomited a week's worth of spit-up on him.

Priceless.

FOOL was all set to retaliate against Kelly (which, as I'm sure you can deduce from her screaming and running, would have been the end of her). I convinced him to aim his response at me instead because a) she was defending my honor and b) the deeper he digs himself, the more satisfying the revenge.

He hit me with a pitcher full of ice water as I was getting ready to leave.

FOOL is a dead man walking.

Blogging 101

For those of you unfamiliar with how blogging works (and no, Mom, I'm not just talking to you), to leave a comment, you click on "comments" at the end of a post. Part of what makes blogging fun is to hear reactions, opinions, and additional stories from the readers of a blog.

So comment freely!!! (I can say this because I hold the power to moderate. But not, sadly, the power to correct your spelling.)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Thank God For Bathrobes

So, this morning, as I was getting out of my shower, my dog, Bear, went nuts.

This happens quite frequently (he has a jogger fetish) so I ignored it.

Five minutes later, he's still at it. Barking feverishly. Whining. Racing up and down the stairs trying to communicate with his DENSE owner that he really wanted to go out. Now.

It occured to me that joggers generally don't take five minutes to pass my house. On the heels of that revelation was the memory of a nasty bout of doggy diarrhea six months ago. (I still shudder to think of the smell.)

I decided to let Bear out. Immediately.

I raced out of my bathroom sans clothing. Why not? I'm home alone. My neighbors work. It's a quick little jaunt to the back door. No problem.

My old green bathrobe was lying by my bedroom door and I grabbed it as an afterthought. Don't ask me why. Maybe my latent anti-humiliation gene, completely dormant until now, suddenly kicked into gear.

I went downstairs, ran to the backdoor, unlocked it and turned the knob when suddenly a man was there, standing on my deck, looking straight at me through my uncurtained glass door.

The pest control guy.

I screamed.

If I'd neglected to grab my bathrobe I feel quite confident he would have screamed too.

Thank God for bathrobes.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Help! Runaway Tongue! Muzzle Wanted!

Ever had one of those days when the things you say just come out wrong? Or worse, the things you think actually come flying out of your mouth?

I do.

Take last night, for example. I was working my night job waiting tables at Cracker Barrel. One of my co-workers is a bit of a flirt. I was politely turning his interest elsewhere by saying "I'm married. Don't bother me." (Okay, I wasn't that polite. He ought to know better.)

When he persisted by telling me he didn't care if his women were married or single, I loudly announced to one and all that "I am a one woman man."

That raised some eyebrows.

Or take the time I was facing a table of two - a huge, bearded man, and a petite person in a cardigan sweater, long hair, and delicate cap. The bearded man looked at me as he ordered but his companion stayed buried in the menu where I couldn't see a face. I turned away from the bearded giant and said these famous last words, "Would you like sweet tea as well, ma'am?"

Turns out he had a beard too.

Ah well, you win some, you offend some.

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