Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Cannot Tell A Lie

I received the I Never Tell A Lie meme from Helen Ginger at her Straight From Hel blog. Here are the rules:

Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don’t tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this Meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks (one for each deadly sin) and hope they can lie.

Now it's time for me to answer the questions, and since my mother always taught me my nose would grow if I lied -- and it really doesn't need to get any bigger -- I will answer with the absolute truth.

Pride: What is your biggest contribution to the world?
My family. This is so important to me I can't even think of anything funny to add.

Envy: What do your coworkers wish they had which is yours?
Coworkers? Nobody told me I had coworkers. Jeesh, and here I've been doing all the work myself. Well, okay, I'll fess up. The cat helps sometimes.

Gluttony: What did you eat last night?
I ate a hobo sandwich with carrot sticks on the side. Good little girl that I am. Then I countered that with a bowl of chocolate almond ice cream.

Lust: What really lights your fire?

Anger: What is the last thing that really pissed you off?
Other than government, politics, greed, celebrities, and stupid people. Nothing.

Greed: Name something you keep from others.
My chocolate.

Sloth: What's the laziest thing you've ever done?
I sat for an hour at my daughters with nothing to clean. Seriously. My son-in-law cleaned the kitchen before we arrived for a visit. When my daughter asked why he didn't leave it for me as I really love to stay busy, he said "I know, but I want to watch her twitch."

I'm not sure I know seven people who might not shoot me for bothering them with this, so I will send the meme to Ginger Simpson and Terry O'Dell. I don't think they own a gun.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Critique --Guest Blog by Christine Duncan

As I have been doing this blog tour, I have been amazed by the questions other writers ask me. One question I get a lot is, "Do you really think critique groups help?" Yes.

Okay, that should be the end of the questions, don't you think?

But it seems that many writers have had bad experiences with a critique group or two. Or to put it another way, there are a lot of mean and crazy people out there willing to tear their fellow writers and their work apart.

So here, in my (not so) vast and wonderful experience, is what to look for in a critique group.

1. Manners. Any critique group that advertises that it is not for the thin skinned (yes, I've seen that put just that way) knows exactly what it's talking about. Don't go there. They're not for the rest of us either. You should not have to grow scales to be able to take critique. Honestly.

2. Sandwich Critiques: I've seen this put a couple of different ways, but the gist is this. The critiquer starts by telling the author something good, then tells the author something that needs work, then ends with something else they liked. This is very important. A critique group that practices this, believes in telling you what is good as well as what is not working.

Many of us are uncertain about our work, so when we hear that this or that is wrong, we are apt to want to throw out the whole thing. Hearing that someone loves your description but thinks you should take out the description of the old lady on Third street since she never appears again is helpful. If the whole group says it, you should probably ditch the description of the old lady on Third street. Groups that believe in some form of sandwich critique tend to have writers who grow.

3. Size: Critique groups can be too small, too big, or just right. Size does matter. Meeting with just your writing buddy can be helpful. But sometimes, he or she may be thinking fuzzy and just not getting anything. ther times, everything looks wonderful to her.If there are only two of you, then you can't get perspective on anything. And what happens when she just can't make it? On the other hand, a critique group with 12 or more members may be too busy to get to your stuff every week or even every month but you still are putting in the time, without getting any new writing done.

4. Time Requirement: (Closely Related to size) Some groups prefer to read all of the manuscripts before hand and just give critiques during the meeting. This seems to occur with bigger groups. Some groups prefer to read each manuscript and then critique right there in the group. Some groups want the author to read the manuscript out loud and then they critique as it goes along. It's all preference.

The important thing here is that someone is the gatekeeper. In other words, if you all agree you will only exchange 8 pages and will be out of there by 9:00 p.m., someone needs to make sure that Eager Annie does not sneak in 14 pages making you all stay until midnight. Groups can break up under this one. Some groups I've been in have had a timer that they passed from person to person to make sure that no one went over their agreed-on time. Whatever works and keeps people content.

You'll see other preferences. Some people prefer to stick to just one genre in a critique group. Some like to mix it up. I've seen groups where they exclude anyone who is not published. I don't think the quality of the writing in these groups was necessarily better, but it made them feel good. I do believe in having people submit a bit of their manuscript before they are accepted in a group but I came by this belief the hard way.

One group I was in did not practice that, and a lady joined who wrote in computer code: You know If/Then followed by the arrows and boxes and lines? I never did figure out what she was trying to say. After about 3 weeks of the group telling her she needed to write it out, she quit the group. I think we all offered up prayers of thanks for that.

I have been in groups with beginning writers and published folks and I don't think you can spot a good critiquer easily. One woman I was in critique with had not only never been published, but she wasn't sure she wanted to write either. Consequently she wasn't strong on the terminology of craft but she knew when something stopped her, and by listening to her critiques, I was able to smooth out many a kink in my manuscript. I dedicated book two, Safe House, in part to her memory.

So you can see, I'm a big fan of critique. I know it has helped me grow as a writer And by being a little careful in choosing a group, I believe that it can help you too.

Christine will appear on July 5th on Chester Campbell's Blog
Check out her books on her Web site

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Guest Blogger- Christine Duncan

This coming Monday, June 29th, Christine Duncan will be my guest and will share her thoughts about critique groups. Please try to stop by in your busy day to see what she has to say.

Christine is an Arvada Colorado mystery writer. She got her start in writing for the Christian market, writing for Sunday School magazines. Her credits include Accent Books and Regular Baptist Press.

Her Colorado based, Kaye Berreano mystery series debuted in 2002 with the book, Safe Beginnings, which deals with arson in a battered women's shelter. Safe House, the second book in the series is due out this spring.

Although the Kaye Berreano mystery series is set in a battered women's shelter, Ms. Duncan's husband wants the world to know it's not because of anything he did!

Visit Christine at Http://www.ChristineDuncan.com
Or at her blog Http://www.globalwrite.wordpress.com

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Excerpt From My New Book

Or, Are we There Yet, Papa Smurf

My husband’s idea of a vacation is two weeks of puttering around the house and watching what day-time television he can stand. My idea of a vacation, however, is to go somewhere, preferably to Michigan, with stops along the way in Kentucky and West Virginia to see relatives.

My father is from West Virginia, and he felt a need to go home at least twice a year. So, when I was a kid we’d all pile into the back of an old station wagon and head south from Michigan. I loved it, even though I was usually car sick from Detroit to Pittsburgh. Some of my fondest memories are of those trips.

I have always shared my father’s need to go home as often as possible, so one year I suggested we take a road trip.

"Are you nuts!? You want to drive twelve hundred miles with five little kids?"

"We can do it. It'll be fun."

"Fun? We can't even drive to the store without World War Three breaking out."

"We can drive at night, while they're asleep."

Since he didn't have a quick response to that, I knew he was weakening. He did offer one or two other feeble arguments, which I countered easily. Financing the trip wouldn't be a problem. I had six whole months to scrimp, and I was a master at getting pennies out of the grocery budget.

I started saving right away, shaving the budget closer than I shaved my legs. No more brand name cereal, and we’d eat hot dogs twice a week for dinner. The kids didn’t mind the dinner menu so much, but balked at the store brand oats.

When the balking got to be too much, I would dangle the vacation carrot and suddenly they loved Toasted O’s.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Making Music

This past Saturday I attended the Northeast Texas Music Festival in Winnsboro. There were a number of great performers starting just after noon and running until late that night. It made for a long, hot day, but it sure was worth it.

I was given a press pass, which is always nice, so I got to go backstage and meet the artists. It was quite a thrill to talk to T. Graham Brown and The Bellamy Brothers. I've been fans of both for years -- which I guess means we are all getting old -- and they never fail to give an audience a great show.

The music was a mix of country and gospel, so at times it was toe-tapping and other times it was heart tapping, especially when T. Graham Brown sang "Wine Into Water." And who couldn't love The Bellamy Brothers' "Guardian Angel".

Luke Williams and his band was quite a hit, and he had a tremendous command of the stage even at the young age of 16. This is a singer/songwriter that we are going to hear a lot more of in the future.

Here is a link to the story I did for WinnsboroToday.com.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Father's Day Tribute

A popular sentiment on mugs and tee-shirts says, “Any man can be a father. It takes someone special to be a Daddy.” Those words have always impressed me, perhaps because they express something I’ve always wanted to convey. My father is, and continuously has been, a ‘Daddy’ to me, even though I didn’t always view him with an objective eye.

When I was a child, I saw him as a saint or super-hero. The source of Sunday afternoon movies and ice-cream cones, he rarely stepped into the dull routine of my daily life. Our times together were marvelous adventures and I never questioned that they were largely determined by a divorce decree that granted him visitation rights.

But if he'd remained that fantasy figure, I don't think I'd be writing this today. Possibly I wouldn't even be writing today. I’d like to say this enlightenment came to me out of one of those Hallmark moments that resound with emotion; but in reality, it emerged from an incredibly frustrating experience.

Daddy and I were working together to rebuild an old bike to meet my need for wheels. He took all the working parts home to clean, grease and reassemble. My job was to sand the frame to get it ready to paint.

My enthusiasm for the project dimmed considerably when I discovered how hard I had to work. Sanding away multiple layers of old paint and rust demanded more effort than I’d anticipated, so I quit. I rationalized that the new paint would cover what I missed and nobody would know the difference.

Daddy could have let me quit. Or he could have belittled me by pointing out how foolish my choice had been. Instead, he asked if I’d noticed those few spots of rust still clinging to the metal. We could paint it that way if I wanted to, but give it a week and the new paint might peel. The final decision was up to me. It was my job and if I was satisfied...

Something in his manner told me I shouldn’t be satisfied.

Every day for a week, I sanded until my muscles ached and my fingers had blisters. There were still times I wanted to quit. I was also tempted to wrap that old frame around my father’s neck. But I stuck with it.

Now I know that Herculean effort is called tenacity. Then I thought it was torture.

That’s the first lesson I can clearly recall learning from my father, but there were more to come once I left the idealism of childhood. Like how my father never cheated the grocer or the IRS. Or how he always stopped at a red light even if the intersection was empty. And how he always treated people with respect until they proved they didn’t deserve it.

I don't know if that learning could have taken place had I kept my father up on a childhood pedestal. When I allowed him to simply be a man, it took a lot of pressure off us both.

We still probably won’t qualify for a greeting card commercial. Neither of us is perfect in our relationship. But that’s okay. My father no longer has to save me with an ice-cream cone or Sunday matinee, and I don’t have to struggle to live up to something I’m not capable of. We can just be the people that we’ve become. And when we fail somehow, we can always pick up the sandpaper and turn our mistakes into something bright and shining.

Happy Father’s Day to all the men who have been that special ‘Daddy’ in someone’s life.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wonderful Writing Tips

I just read a great article by Elmore Leonard with some great writing tips. Many of them are ones we have heard before, but he has a knack for restating them with a bit of a punch.

He starts his article with, "These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over."

What a polite way of saying, "Pay attention."

Here is a link to the article for those who are interested.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Let the Government Do It

A common knee jerk reaction to some accident or natural disaster is for people to call on the government to enact new laws to protect us. Some people think that "It's time for us to hold our lawmakers accountable for keeping us safe," as one person wrote in a recent letter to the editor in The Dallas Morning News.

Okay, let me get this straight. A law is going to somehow change an accident or a natural disaster. Accidents are called accidents because they occur by chance. They are undesirable or unfortunate happenings that occur unintentionally-- according to a dictionary definition - - so how is a law going to help?

I know, I know. There have been laws enacted that were of benefit. The main one that comes to mind is speed limits. Numbers of traffic accidents decline along with a decline in speed limits.

But we have a tendency to overdo what can be helpful from government. Some people try to legislate common sense and/or morality, and that simply cannot be done.

Sure, we can ban cell phone use while driving -- the issue that spawned the recent commentary in the Dallas Morning News -- and give law enforcement one more thing to look for on the road, but that won't change the facts. Some people are still going to speed. Some people are still going to drive or ride without seat belts. Some people are still going to drive while talking on a cell phone, or eating, or changing CDs.

Until people take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others, we can legislate until pigs fly and not a whole lot is going to change.

Monday, June 15, 2009

How Low Can We Go?

Just when I thought I'd heard it all when it comes to the absurdity of people, I run across a story like one I just read in The Dallas Morning News.

It seems that a woman in North Texas who was selected to be on Bridezillas - a show that should be on the bottom rung of the most stupid reality show ever conceived - was upset that her minister, her vocalist, her deejay and her bridesmaids all backed out of the ceremony.

What did she expect? I can't believe that she thought they would all love to be on the show and have their five minutes of fame.

Thank God some people had the good sense to decline.

It used to be that people would do silly pranks for the notoriety or maybe a cash prize, but they weren't pranks that crossed a line between funny and demeaning. What we often see on reality TV now has left that line in the rearview mirror.

Such as Bridezillas.

When I first saw teasers for this show, I thought they were for some new comedy. I just couldn't believe that women who were entering into this "most holy state of matrimony" would stoop so low as to be part of this farce for real. The premise is to show the brides at their worst in terms of demands, tantrums, and maybe even drag-out fights, while preparing for their weddings.

And the audience is supposed to enjoy this? To me, there is nothing funny or redeeming about this show and others like it.

What about you? Do you think anything goes when it comes to reality TV?

Friday, June 12, 2009

If Life is a Bowl Of Cherries, What Am I Doing in The Pits?

I remember when I first read Erma Bombeck’s wonderful book I thought she made up all the craziness she wrote about. But I also thought that maybe somewhere in the midst of her jokes would be some tidbit of wisdom that would help me get a handle on the insanity at my house. Alas, all I got was a good laugh.

Looking back on those early years when the kids were young – five between the ages of 7 and 1 – I wonder how we survived with sanity intact. Or maybe that’s the deal. Our sanity is not intact. We only think it is.

But also looking back, I don’t know that I would have changed much about it. Oh, maybe it would have been nice to be rich, or even comfortable financially. I would have loved a bigger house to contain a growing family. And we could have done without some of the turmoil along the way. What I would never want to change, however, is the fun we had, or even the nonsense that became funny long after the fact.

Such as the morning my doorbell rang at six o’clock. I didn’t think anyone would be paying a social call at that hour, so it had to be an emergency. I jumped out of bed, tripped over the dog, stubbed my toe and jump-hopped to the door. Opened said door to see my neighbor, Jessica, holding the hands of my twins. “Do these belong to you?”

Yikes. No doubt. There they were. Paul and Dany dressed in Sesame Street PJs and nothing else. Well, actually they each also had a diaper, hanging low from a night’s accumulation.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t still asleep and having a nightmare.

“I found them walking down the street,” Jessica said. She was holding the twins away from her suit, the effort making her look like a scarecrow—if a scarecrow would ever be dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit.

I reached out to take their hands. “I am so sorry. I have no idea how they got outside.”
Her look said, “Of course not.” But she offered a smile. One of those “we are both women in this rat race together” smiles.

But we weren’t in the same rat race at all.

Jessica, without child, was a financial advisor. She went to work everyday. If we lived in New York and not a suburb of Dallas, she might have been on her way to assault Wall Street in that finely turned out suit. I, on the other hand, was dressed to assault the kitchen in my tee shirt and Capri pants. She didn’t even have a hair out of place – despite the wind whipping down our street at about 25 MPH – and mine was a tangled mess. Her make-up could have been applied by a pro, I didn’t even know where my make up was.

“It’s a good thing I found them,” Jessica said, putting a great deal of emphasis on the “I”. “Otherwise God knows what could have happened.”

“Yes, you’re right.” What else could I say? Her logic was perfect. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

I hurried the twins inside before Jessica could say anything else to make me feel lower than a worm.

In the twins’ bedroom, I discovered how the great escape had occurred. The screen was pushed out of the low window facing the porch. No doubt, thanks to Dany. She was the reason there was no furniture in the room and the crib mattresses were on the floor and the bureau was turned against the wall. At nine months of age, Dany had started walking. And climbing. She climbed over the crib rails to get in bed with Paul.

Then she discovered that she could pull the dresser drawers out and use them like a ladder to get to all the interesting stuff on top of the dresser. Forget curtains. She’d pulled them down so many times it wasn’t worth the effort to put them back.

And don’t you dare ask me where the discipline was. I challenge anyone to try to discipline a one-year-old. Especially since most of these shenanigans occurred in the middle of the night. When was I supposed to sleep?


NOTE* This is more from my new book in progress

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Writing Life

Years ago when I first started writing my children were all young and the formidable task of ‘writing around them’ was daunting.

I remember one time in particular when one of my two-year-old twins, Danielle, known lovingly as Chicky, had just settled down beside me to help or hinder my writing. She contributed a few words of dialogue consisting mainly of a few well-placed “Mommys,” spiced with a few unintelligible words or praise or criticism.

When she left the room, I breathed a sigh of relief and raced to get a few thoughts on paper before she came back. But alas, she’d gone into the kitchen to get the box of cereal I left on the counter and was off sharing it with her brother.

Should I have been delighted she was sharing for a change? Or angry because she snitched the cereal and hid in the laundry room? If I hadn’t beaten our dog with my child-psychology book years before that, I could have looked for the answer. (A note to all the dog-lovers who are about to call the Humane Society. Our dog was much larger and harder bound than the book, and he loved the extra attention.)

That’s the way my writing life went for years. The moment I thought I had the most subtle, cynically amusing thought, matching the excellence of an Erma Bombeck or a Judith Viorst mapped out in my head, I was interrupted.

I remember thinking that if it weren’t for my kids, I would’ve been famous years ago. I could’ve sat beside Johnny Carson when he was still doing the Tonight Show and chatted amicably about my latest thought-provoking novel or my charming little anecdotes on life, If it wasn’t for the endless “MOMMYS”.
“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…”
“Mom, what is…?”
“Mom, can I have a snack?”
“Mom, would you tie my shoe?”
“Mother, if you don’t keep those twins out of my room…”
“Mom, why is it raining outside?”
“Mom, where is my homework…my lunch…my shoes…my coat?”
“Mom, if you’re not doing anything important, can you…”

And, believe it or not, I was a lot more prolific back then.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Congrats to Grads

I am getting ready to go to our grandson's graduation party. This is an exciting time for all the high school and college graduates as they end one phase of their lives and move into another, and we are thrilled for Justin, who had a stellar high school career and is going to SMU in Dallas to study theatre and political science.

There have been, and will continue to be, commencement addresses that will contain kernels of wit and wisdom for the graduates to carry with them into this new adventure, so I won't try to write an entire treatise here. But I do offer this bit of advice.

Stay focused on the ultimate goals you have set for yourself, but don't forget to enjoy the journey. That takes a bit of delicate balancing, but worth it when you reach the destination and you know you haven't missed anything along the way.

And specifically for Justin, "Break a leg."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

I'm Psyched

Been away from my blog for a couple of days -- as you may have noticed due to the lack of posts since Monday - and came over to find I have two new followers. And these aren't family or friends or people I've bribed to follow me.

The first one is Joe R Lansdale, and if you have not read his books, hustle over to the closest bookstore and check one out. He's written a jillion, so there is a wide variety to chose from. I did a panel discussion with him at an author event in East Texas a couple of months ago, and that was my first introduction to this great writer. His books can't be categorized. In fact, he said during the presentation that he just writes stories. Some of his books are listed as horror, and he does admit to taking a Stephen King approach to some stories, but the ones I've read are novels with a mystery element. The Bottoms for one. Great story.

My other new follower is Joe M O'Connell another terrific writer with a book Evacuation Plan, that I had the priviledge of reading and reviewing. The book is called "A Novel From the Hospice" and is an intriguing look at death and dying that is anything but morbid and sad.

Having two such acclaimed writers following my offerings here is a bit daunting. I know we're supposed to be so cool and professional and act like we're so used to hobnobbing with such talent that it is no big deal. But it is a big deal to me, and I am honored that they chose my blog to follow.

Monday, June 01, 2009

My New Book

My husband and I raised five children, and I think we got through the challenges of a large family by using humor. It can pretty well diffuse any situation, although the humor might not always be apparent right away. Some things have to age somewhat before they take on comic proportions.

For instance, spilling a pan of chicken broth on the kitchen floor didn’t make me laugh until I quit sliding past the sink as I took my first step into the room.

It was difficult to laugh about one of my kids storing her unwanted sandwiches in the bench next to the table, especially when it was my neighbor who found them a few weeks later.

It took me a good two weeks to find anything amusing about the youngest two playing dress-up and taking all the clothes off the hangers in their closet.

I was sure I would never see the humor in our son losing one of his tennis shoes or the 15 futile trips he made to the creek to look for it. And to think, when I saw a shoe in the street, I used to wonder how someone could lose just one shoe.

I knew I could live to be at least 90 before I’d laugh about the fact that I couldn’t get my kids to go outside and play until I mentioned that it was time to clean house.

It took six months to see the humor in the time that one of my kids swept the kitchen floor, and later I went in to find six spoons, three bowls, two dried up old sandwiches and the contents of at least two boxes of cereal under the table.

Equally difficult to laugh about was the time that one kid threw his cereal bowl at his brother, who ducked, so the bowl hit the window and broke it.

At least that's the story I got.

I used to wonder if all the spilled milk, chairs covered with soggy cereal, buttered bread dropped on the floor face down, or the macaroni noodles that have squished through my toes as I walked across the kitchen floor, would even qualify as fond memories when I'm old and gray, let alone be funny.

Now that I am both, I’ve decided that all those family escapades are funny. And to tell the truth, they were pretty funny back then, too. In fact, I used to write about the family nonsense in a weekly column. It was along the lines of what Erma Bombeck used to write, and I always thought some day I would combine the collection in a book.

Well, it’s “someday” now.

I'm working on a book that I describe as "The Devil Wears Prada, meets Erma Bombeck." I'm not sure if it will get published. I'll worry about that later. But I sure am having fun going through all the old columns and revisiting the nonsense that we called family.

I'm about halfway through the project, and I will periodically post a segment here when I don't have anything to rant about.