Y’all! Evil Eye Jewelry!!

I can’t stand it . . . I must share with you the link to

The Evil Eye Jewelry Store!!

Don’t miss the Evil Eye Bead Gallery! ! ! I’ll bet you’ve never been THERE before.

Now, THAT has to blow your mind.

I am now headed to shake the sofa upside-down to see if coin of the realm might fall out to allow a purchase of Evil Eye stuff.

In other sparkly things news, just wait until you see the “Tweet” necklace I got (it’s coming next week). . . .

Shalanna–unexpected vampirism in family??

Shalanna Collins has recently been rumored to be a direct descendant of the great Barnabas Collins, of “Dark Shadows” saga fame. When asked about it, she said, “I didn’t inherit a 3@!#$%^&*ed thing. Don’t get me started.”

But I’d say some people had better watch their necks!!

In other news–mama Jodie came home from the hospital late yesterday afternoon. She hasn’t stopped moaning and complaining since, so I think she must be OK. Her heart rate has kept up over sixty, so that’s good. Her problem is her bruising (she bruised ALL OVER) and sciatica/back pain. And she had to take milk of magnesia and one of those Unspeakable dealies so she could, you know, and she HAS been, all day. Yuck! And she has been ravenous. I have cooked and called for take-out and produced cookies all day. I hate cooking. Cooking involves a bunch of work in a hot kitchen and cleaning up at a sink and is slave labor. Have I mentioned I HATE cooking? *sigh* But at last the dog seems to be returning to normal.

Yesterday when she first got home and I put her to bed, I put the Pom on the bed with her. Then I headed for the dreaded kitchen to make some nasty old foodstuffs. In a bit I heard yelling and noise. Went in there to discover that when she dozed off, the dog had gotten up on her chest and started bathing her face ALL OVER. She woke up “with my face just soaking” and rolled over to make him stop and then leaped up off the bed. I told her, “That’s how they wake up puppies when they’re first born!! He was just bringing you around!!” That dog is so clever, and totally loving. He deserves better parents than us, but we try our best because we adore him.

Frankly, I’m ready for everyone here to be well. If she doesn’t perk up and get happy, I will need some gin. And I don’t even drink.

Why doesn’t it rain? I am becoming less and less tolerant of the heat and the sun. Hmm . . . that family tree again.

Time for a poll–about a plot!

Let’s say you are reading a romance. *covers ears against squeals of indignant protest* Okay, okay, say it’s a mystery, perhaps. Even though it IS a romance, a romantic suspense. It’s a non-techie type of book. You’re not a computer nerd. I SAID “let’s say.” Pretend you aren’t a propellerhead.

Your main character is being bothered with unwanted phone calls and e-mail messages. The bad person appears to be able to get the new phone numbers and e-mail addresses as they change. So your characters decide to set a trap!

In the previous passage, they’ve discussed how they traced back the headers in the e-mail and found them to be faked to look like they were coming from a friend. Before going to the police and phone company and trying to do all the red tape stuff to get a tap on the line or whatnot, they decide to set a trap to see if it’s one of their other co-workers or friends (someone they’d rather not accuse or get into trouble if it’s a “joke”), and then take action based on what they find. (It’s tough to get that wiretap unless you’re WITH the government, after all.)

Do you want to see the trap and hear all about it, or do you want to be surprised? Should the next scene be all techie, or would you rather skip to something else that gives clues and red herrings about who it might be,a and then see the trap sprung?

I am inclined to leave them hanging with the last line telling the reader that “we’re going to set a trap,” and not to explain what the trap will be. Then I’ll cut to a different scene and let them hang for a while. THEN we’ll see the trap getting sprung, and readers will realize when it happens (I hope.)

Or would you want to see it all explained right up front?

Crud–can’t do a poll or I’ll lose all this text. Sure, I could copy it and re-paste and all that rot, but I’m not sure I want a yes/no poll. It wouldn’t help as much as an explained yes/no. People who have an opinion on this should have their full say, right? I’d appreciate a few different points of view on this one.

So . . . please leave a comment at the tone. BEEP!

CRAFT: Jumpstart

While I’m waiting for the call to come pick up Mama from the hospital (keep hoping it comes today, though, because they’re still doing blood work every hour and graphing her kidney function and hemoglobin and other Sekrit Stats), I thought I’d blather about ways to jumpstart your novel or story.

First, let’s squeak about characters. Characters make your story, as far as I am concerned. It used to be that way for most readers, but nowadays it looks to me as if plot has become the all-reaching concern. Still, once upon a time people would close a book and say, “Wow, that Scarlett!” or “That wimp Ashley!” or “I never knew a man like Rhett Butler.” It would be nice if someone wanted to write a fan sequel to your book because he or she didn’t want to let go of the characters, wouldn’t it? That’s what fan fiction is, sort of.

So how do you make an impression with your characters? They have to live for you first, IMHO. In most cases, my novels begin with a character standing there blinking into the sunshine or twilight or flourescent bay of offices, thinking about her or his predicament. Well, that’s not exactly precisely true: they BEGIN with a LINE. The LINE comes to me, and it usually connects and pours forth more. But as I type the LINES, the lead character forms and starts blinking into the sunset, wondering what the hell all that white paper with funny letters on it could possibly represent.

What if you don’t have that experience with characters? Or you’re in a hurry, such as on a deadline for a contest or (be still our hearts) an agent/editor? Such exalted beings want to see your work? Oyoyoy! Here’s a way I’ve used to jumpstart a novel. I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but who’s going to search the archives?

Cast the story! When I wanted IN THE PUNDIT’S CORNER to get started quickly, I knew the character types I was after. In fact, I approached it as a new Tracy-Hepburn screwball comedy with a touch of “North by Northwest” suspense plot stuff. My cast list was and is:

WHIT BRADLEY . . . Spencer Tracy, at 35 or so, not the Old Man you all know
KAY UNDERWOOD FISHER . . . Katharine Hepburn, at “Bringing Up Baby” age
GREG KIMBALL . . . Greg Kinnear at “Talk Soup” age, in the Gig Young role
TINA, the assistant . . . Margaret Cho, playing an old friend of mine
PET, the other assistant . . . “Mama” Cass Elliot crossed with Roseanne Barr
MANDY, Greg’s secretary . . . Kathy Griffin, comedienne of “D” list fame

And so on. You don’t have to cast it with living actors or with actors at all. Use anyone; this is a fantasy cast to help you describe the way the characters might talk, walk, act. Character quirks and tags come more easily sometimes this way. Try this sometime if you’re stuck with a great situation and have no one to populate it.

Okay, now what? If you’re having trouble with the words coming, use one of the many freewriting techniques. Do a character interview (corny, but sometimes helpful.) Try going to pen and paper or even crayon and sketchpad. Write lengthwise up the page, across the ruled lines. Whatever it takes to turn off the internal editor and bring out the kindergarten kid. “Hey, this can’t be work, because it’s too messy and not between the lines. It must be play! Whee!” Your subconscious will take control.

It can help to type out a couple of pages of something that you wrote in the past that you liked. No fair copying the original file and pasting it in. The act of retyping it (making changes as they occur to you) should put you back in the flowstate you were in when this original inspiration struck. Don’t go much further than a couple of pages, though, unless you want to revise that older work. It’ll usually turn into a marathon revision session if you do (which can also be nice, but you wanted to write something new, remember?)

I have discovered that it helps me to show my work around after the first draft is in some kind of grammatical form. The advantage is that I don’t have to wait three weeks to three months for it to “settle” in order for me to see flaws and revise. The disadvantage is that whoever I show it to gets the eternal impression that I am a bad writer, and it makes them more and more resistant to looking at anything I write. They just about never want to see the final product, which may not look much like that original. It can be kind of a problem. But it helps me so much that I still do it, even if I have the rep around the net of being a bad writer whose every draft is set in stone and written like the opening to BLEAK HOUSE done by Hunter S. Thompson reincarnated as Philip K. Dick on crack. You might try it if you have understanding critique partners, though.

Have fun out there.

A maze of twisty passages and no PLOVER

I know I haven’t posted. I’ve done nothing to mark several passings and various events that everyone has noted in their journals. But I’ve been . . . busy.

Everything’s OK now, but there have been mostly crises.

Took Mama to the E. R. at 3 AM on Monday. We figured she had a virus and needed some hydration, and perhaps would need a unit of blood (she has a continuing problem that they can’t find, but it causes her to lose a little blood over time). Instead, her pulse rate was stuck at 37, and her blood pressure was way up to compensate. Every resident and med student came by to gawk as we sat there waiting for her doctor to arrive, as it is usual that if one’s pulse is 30 or thereabouts, one is unconscious or in shock, whereas she was sitting up complaining of sciatica and heartburn and so forth. They checked her in but didn’t get her into a room until 8 AM. I was fairly fried by then, having slept about 2 hours the previous night, but they decided she needed a pacemaker right away. They didn’t let her eat or drink (and remember that diabetes . . . it comes into play), but finally the surgeon came in at 2 PM and said he thought she’d stabilized at this low rate and he’d like to do some studies of her breathing and blood and so forth, research it a bit, a heart sonogram to see if the heart is pumping strongly (it is!), and then operate in the morning. They did a lot of tests and I left her there hollerin’ about her sciatica and her back (they could NOT give her painkillers because those reduce heart rate!) Then yesterday she had the pacemaker installed. Came through it fine, and heart popped up to 61 and has stayed there since. Yet she lost a bit MORE blood and her kidney function was dropping alarmingly. The doctor and I agreed that this could be dehydration from having had all the WATER taken away and withheld, so we’re working on that. They are now hanging a unit of blood for her to get, as her hemoglobin dropped a bit more overnight. He’s ordered a bunch of X-rays and studies, determined to solve that mystery. (She may not be making blood . . . long story, pernicious anemia, etc.) *ANYWAY*, the nurses are sick of her and she’s ready to come home. Aieee! He’ll probably let her come home tonight, if her kidneys are working right again, and if she goes potty #2 (TMI). I think her kidneys are going to be OK, as she has been tinkling (TMI) since I finally went down to the kitchen and GOT one of those ice water pitchers that they kept taking away. The staff at that hospital, oy. Don’t get me started on how they cannot get those IVs going on her elderly skin.

In the meantime, there was a crisis with one of my sisters-in-law. This caused much concern until someone else in the family was able to fly in like Underdog and rescue her. Also, my niece fell on her 22nd birthday (and who’d have thunk you could trip on something THAT neat, har har) and broke her right hand and foot and has a slight concussion. They think the reason she falls all the time is that she also needs a pacemaker that should help with her fainting. Good grief! Point that crisis gun in another direction for a while, sirs!

My poor little Pomeranian has no idea what’s going on, other than he’s being left alone here at Casa el Dumpo all the time. He is crafty, so he decided not to wake me up at all last night to take him outside. Ha! I made him go just now anyway. He is now watching suspiciously for fear I should put on shoes and actually go out. I’m going to have to, too.

But anyhow. It is a trivial matter to note that Caitlyn Young’s book at TextNovel is stuck at 100 votes, but I shall nevertheless note it. I am somewhat pleased to note that this means it’s in position 23, and the top 20 books will make the semifinals and be seen by Dorchester Publishing staff, so there’s hope. However, when I did the same thing that everyone else in the contest has done and e-mailed a few people privately to ask for their votes if possible, I got a lecture about Popularity Contests and Taking the Higher Moral Ground and so forth. Even though you can vote for EVERY novel in the contest if you like–it’s just a vote collecting thing, not a picklist where you can only vote for ONE novel over the others–some felt it was Wrong. *shame* *repentance* So now I’m just pim–I mean, PROMOTING the dang thing over here, and if anybody gets curious, so be it (as Harry the pirate DJ says in PUMP UP THE VOLUME). I *know* you hate romantic suspense and that I write everything like the opening of BLEAK HOUSE as far as everyone’s concerned, but I felt that I had to include the link, anyway. So it goes (as Billy Pilgrim says in SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE).

(I stuck two of my other novels up on that site, too, just because I think readers ARE reading the stuff, and it’s simpler than giving the stuff away via my website. Perhaps that will end up being my venue, and this my bully pulpit. Avast! Away!)

P. S. Hold a good thought for Mama’s (Jodie’s) kidneys, as they’re now panicking over that. *Aieeeeee*

Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat. AGAIN?!?!

It has come to my attention that the concept of a really close-up POV with close-in emotional closeness, which I touched on a couple of posts ago, has caused confusion. I believe I said something about having such a close-in POV that you would never use “she thought” but would simply present the character’s thoughts. Once upon a time creative writing teachers or classes would circle those passages in red and scream, “Authorial intrusion!” But nowadays they don’t, and they’re more likely to fall apart if you attempt an omniscient POV.

Some people call this “psychic distance.” The official term is “narrative distance.” (I really think they’re pretty much the same thing.)

Okay, you can have a passage written like this:

She realized it wasn’t a good idea. _I don’t want to do this_, she thought.

Or you can zoom in for a closer psychic distance:

It wasn’t a good idea. She didn’t want to do this.

If you’re in deep POV, either first person or third person, your reader already knows who’s doing the thinking. Everything is filtered through that character. No need to remind them.

One of my pet peeves is stuff like “He forced the thought of her out of his head” and “She pushed the thoughts away.” Ugh! I see this all the time. Just . . . don’t. *gnash*

Now, some readers will think that your really deep POV causes a more casual, conversational tone, not very bookish. And this is in some sense true:

Take the first plan, in which she went to the party with Jim. Then she could wear any old dress and he wouldn’t mind, and she could be herself. But if she went with Jake, she’d have to dress up and keep her shoes on. And he might make a pass. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. So maybe she’d just go with Jim. But she couldn’t invite Jim without making sure his ex-wife wouldn’t be there. What a pain all this planning was turning out to be.

You’d have to do a lot of telling to convert that one. Exercise left for the reader.

Speaking of telling . . . not every scene needs to be dramatized. “Telling” is not the mortal sin that you would THINK it is if you read all these workshop rules. Sometimes the movements of a character need to be chronicled, but you don’t need to dramatize and show all those scenes. It would bloat the word count, and it would be Boring. The solution is to summarize it in narrative. Yes, this is TELLING. But that’s all right when what you’re doing is moving the character through a series of trivial events that the reader needs to know that he/she did (for later), but that aren’t interesting.

We went to the store to pick up some Diet RC and cheese sticks, ran by the cleaners to get my two nice fall suits, and dropped the DVDs we’d borrowed from Clyde back by his office.

See? No reason to write that all out. But perhaps this is a mystery, and the cheese sticks will be a murder weapon, the fall suits will be stolen by the killer, and Clyde will be passed out at home on his sofa. Or whatever. Readers can pick up on the clues without having to wade through all that “I turned on Main Street and stopped at the traffic signal and then I had to dodge a squirrel and then this guy honked and gave me the finger. . . .”
* * *
There is NOTHING to watch on TV when the Cash Cab or “Bewitched”/”Jeannie” re-runs aren’t on.

My trouble is, I don’t want to read or watch any more stuff about:
* People who are dead but don’t realize it
** –or people who are dead, but then once they do realize it they wander around aimlessly or are given some boring (yawn) “mission” to do that’s pretty much the same as what they did in life, or doesn’t make sense
* “Covered wagon” spaceships with soap operas going on among the residents
* Superpowers (except useless ones like making flowers bloom and forcing buttered toast to land buttered-side-up, such as powers the Tick suggested)
* Chicks who love shoes and shopping and are humpin’ to please (as the 66 camel trucks used to say)
* Vampires

Oh, and ANYTHING on the “Lifetime For Women” network. Sheesh!!! My mother watches those things. Using the excuse that at least she knows she hasn’t seen them before. Gag! And she claims she falls asleep during the humping scenes.

That’s why I am out of synch with the market. Alas!

Orange you glad I didn’t say “banana” again?

No more writing prompts (at least not today). No begging and pleading for someone, anyone, to go over and vote for Caitlyn Young’s novel on textnovel. No mentions of the economic downturn and how it is All THEIR fault.

Instead, in honor of school’s imminent starting, here are some ideas from when I was at UT/Dallas taking my teaching certificate. (Thanks to Dr. Jim Wohlgehagen for the math puzzles thing.)

Tell your writing students to get a Composition Book (not a spiral, for it’s too easy to rip out pages and discard them, ruining your record) for the class. Every time they enter class, there is a writing prompt on the board or overhead. When a student comes in, she may start freewriting on this prompt or any other thing she has ready (unless it’s REALLY EARLY). When you the instructor come in, you will set the timer for three minutes. Everyone who’s in class will now spend those three minutes writing to the prompt. Say, “If you can’t think of anything, write “banana” and practice yoru penmanship. Use different fonts that you invent. Write vertically across the lined pages if you want to. Diagonally. Add doodles as moved to. Whatever.” It’s good to have them date the top of that first page, but whatever.

At the end of that three minutes, everyone draws a line to indicate the end of this freeburst.

Then we close those books and start the regular class–do our crits or peer reviews, talk about the reading, take lecture notes, and the like. The lecture notes and any notes on crits done for you can go in this same book.

When the bell rings or class ends, everyone draws another line to indicate the end of this class.

Between classes, as desired, we use this same journal to take notes as we observe the world around us or think of things to add to the novel in progress or just find quotes to copy–commonplace book stuff. We also work on our little essay/assignment that we’re given at the end of each class. It’s homework–such as three pages analyzing the essay or chapter we all read for class, or writing a short scene from two different points of view as an exercise, or summarizing the event we went to such as a book signing. This gets us off the computer and into writing with a direct channel, working a different way.

Every few classes, the instructor (you) calls for journals to be passed forward at the end of class and turned in to you. You take a look before the next class meeting. Students get points for how much they actually did and whether they have followed instructions.

I feel this works a lot better than traditional e-mailed homework. It also gives the student a record of the class to keep if he or she desires, for later reference.

In the math courses I student-taught in an elementary school, we kept interest and participation high by having students do hand signals that indicated they understood the material under discussion. For example, if someone went to the board and did a problem, then if everyone agreed with the way it was worked and the answer, they’d do the Kum Ba Ya hand motion (yes, you DO know–it’s kind of a rolling of the hands around each other in front of your chest). If a student thought a mistake was being made, he or she would do a Jazz Hands-sort of flat-palm “erase” motion instead. People who were completely lost held their hands up as in “this is a stickup,” perfectly still. I as teacher could glance out over the classroom and see how many were getting it and answer any questions.

We also had a math puzzle on the overhead projector screen ready for when students walked in, similar to that writing prompt, but it was interesting artithmetic or geometry puzzles. Sometimes I’d write a message in a simple substitution cipher (A=5, B=6, etc.) or as a rebus with numbers, and they’d decipher it. That was always fun. We gave them three minutes. Students who got it right passed their papers forward and got a point of extra credit.

Students in our middle school math classes collected potential word problems, and when we had time, we’d all try to figure out how to set them up. (“My dad was going to build a brick wall, and the bricks are such-and-such size, and. . . .) That was always raucous fun. And they’d bring in examples of DUMBTH math errors (typically presented confidently by some ignoramii) that they’d seen on TV and in movies. There were lots of those.

Anyway, this is just to let you know that I haven’t ALWAYS been a completely worthless dissolute bum of a writer. I’ve actually done a bit of teaching and other world-improving activities. Though the world didn’t cooperate and get improved much, did it?