You can’t make a plowhorse out of a cat!

The problem is not a failure to communicate.

The trouble is that I am sort of like THIS girl:

(Albeit an old, fat version. But still with good hair, knock on wood.)

But what this family expects, wants, and needs is THIS girl:

Tote that bale! Push that plow! Dig, dig, dig that dirt! (And it’s not dirt. It’s clay soil full of old, tough roots.)

*sigh*

We planted quite a number of nice things today, though. Everyone else voted against lantana, but I sneaked a few of the “Dallas Red” ones in.

I want an aquarium. We used to have four, but then . . . well, bad things happened. I saw a large (30 gallon or so) aquarium sitting out front of someone’s house by the mailbox, and I just knew . . . bad things happened ONE TOO MANY TIMES to her tank, and she said, “Damn if I’m gonna do this again and have everyone crying all the time over the toilet during fish memorial services,” and she just pulled the plug and put it out for anyone who was game. I wasn’t QUITE game enough to get hers. I’d like a big one, sort of like this.

Ya THINK?

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It’s not QUITE over. . . .

Now that 11:25 has passed by, Dallas time, I can officially say that I’m halfway to 102. *sob* But everyone played nice today, and we did that picnic-of-sorts. The weather behaved. We returned home to plant almost $90 of flowers and patio stuff. And then the weatherman predicted snow flurries for next week! But I also got a backup hard drive and an iTunes card and Barnes and Noble gift card. We have an angel food cake here that I’m admiring, wondering how much effect it would have on my blood sugar. Oh, well, comes but once a year.

I even got a couple of birthday cards and e-cards. If we all had episodes of crankiness . . . well, you would, too, if you had to plant all those flowers in DIRT. That turns to mud. Yuck! Geraniums, pincushion flower, horsetail, mint, kale, strawberries in a strawberry jar . . . and we re-potted a number of things that overwintered well, including two passion flower vines. “Organic” soil can be stinky.

Hope you had a great day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! (“Lá ‘le Phádraig shona daoibh!”)

It has come to my attention that I have maintained journal silence for nine days! So . . . catching up:

17th: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Hope it was green and leprechaun-laced!
16th: Happy Jerry Lewis’s Birthday! “Hey, laaaddddeee!”
15th: Happy New CD-ROM Burner Day!
14th: Happy Planting 15 Ajugas Day!

And tomorrow . . . Your Correspondent turns *mumble* years old. How depressing. I demand a picnic. With cake.

I’ll be making the picnic and dragging the reluctant family along. Tra-la!

CRAFT: Beginnings (Fiction)

DISCLAIMER: This is only one of many ways to construct tribal lays.

DISCLAIMER2: I may not know what I’m doing, but at least I know why I’m doing it. (Analysis takes place after the writing; I’m not consciously thinking, “Now let’s set the scene . . . now let’s tell them who is the parent.”)

Here’s how I would explain why I did what I did in the opening paragraphs of the short story “Clownshoes.” Original text of paragraph is interspersed with bracketed explanations. Those of you who hate parentheses and asides should scroll down to the next entry–nothing to see here.

My brother and I are begging Mom to let us wait in the car. [Sets the tone. Viewpoint character is young enough that “Mom” still runs the show. We get the feeling there is a reason for this reluctance to get out of the car. Default “suburban street” setting is probably being assumed by most readers.]

“Come on, just this once,” Tyler says. [Ah, this is the brother.]

“Don’t be ridiculous.” She adjusts her striped Afro wig and honks her round red rubber nose. “Besides, I need you for my bits.” [OMG, she is dressed as a . . . clown?]

“Your bits, Ma’am?” he says in his Elvis voice. Making a face, he tosses his backpack across his shoulder into the back seat, where it skims my knees. [This tells you that Ty is kind of a drama king and class clown who likes to act out and can do voices. He is also the dominant sibling over the viewpoint character. Backpack tells you they just came from, school, maybe?]

“Watch it.” I kick the olive green pack onto the floor on top of his matching jacket. He’s into Army surplus for some stupid reason. Probably all about turning thirteen and Becoming A Real Man, big whoop. There’s an up-side to being eleven and still sane without the hormone rush. [Ha! I sneaked in their ages. Note that we still don’t know if the POV character is another boy. . . .]

“CheyAnne,” Mom says to me in the rear view mirror. Typical. She always comes after ME for stuff that’s HIS fault. “You two have to be there for the card tricks, and if I need to choose someone from the audience.” She glares at me as if I was the one who’d mocked her. “This gig pays our bills, so why not relax and enjoy it.” [Aha! CheyAnne is a girl with a weird hippie-style name. This indicates the mother is one of Those Types. Also, the eternal fencing battle between mother and teenage daughter has already begun. We also now understand that she’s a clown who does parties for children, not a circus or carnival employee.]

“And think of England.” Tyler makes his voice a quavering Julia Child. He ought to be a voice actor. [Just underlining how Tyler feels about the dang parties and that he will fight being a part of them. At the end, spoiler alert, he defends his mom when an older kid mocks the idea of being a clown. So that’s not exactly a character CHANGE, but it reveals a deeper layer behind the character.]

Mom ignores that, and we all slam out of the Kia. Tyler heads around to help me drag her trunk out of the hatchback. This is a birthday party, so she’ll be using the full arsenal of tricks, sleight of hand, and slapstick idiocy the likes of which Jerry Lewis would be embarrassed to resort to. [Now we’ve got the suspicions confirmed–it’s a kiddie party, and middle schoolers are totally NOT into this stuff. Oy! A Kia means they aren’t exactly rich, to some people. It’s almost a clown car . . . to snobs, anyway.]

SO! Instead of being a random bunch of typing that I did just to irritate you, you now see that there was method to the madness. Does it work? I don’t know. But I wanted to show that there should be reasons for what you are writing in your opening, beyond just “hook them.” There should be some way for readers to clue in pretty quickly about the age and gender of the narrator and of the other characters, and about the setting they’re in. I know Ursula LeGuin or somebody important like that said to start 100 miles underground on the day before the end of the world and DON’T TELL THEM, but I think we DO need some kind of hook to hang things on or we will be too disoriented to continue reading. I also like to put in a couple of the characters’ important quirks, by implication or just by stating them. For example, Tyler has a voice talent for mocking, and the mom is convinced that her kids should participate happily in the “shows.” These will be important later on.

This is a literary story in the sense that it’s not a fast-paced genre thing, and the plot is not the main reason to read it. You probably will want to write genre stories, because you have some hope of selling those. (*grin*)

You won’t necessarily do things this way. But it’s one way to do things.

Why not shift into neutral, Toyota victims?

Here’s something that has been bugging me big-time since the original problems with Toyotas that have sticking accelerators. (Back when they lied and said it was floor mats, I wondered why all Toy-owners wouldn’t just rip out those floor mats–not the carpet, but the added-on floor mats–immediately!)

When I was in Driver’s Ed, our instructor told us (and I remember this quite vividly) that if the car ever ran away with us, and the brake wasn’t enough to stop the car, there was a simple solution. “Turn the ignition off!” yelled one kid. That was my thinking, as well. “No,” said the owl, “because then you lose the power brakes and more importantly the power STEERING boost, and do you want to try to steer this thing that has power steering without the vacuum pump on? It’s much tougher than steering a car with a wheel that isn’t power steering.” We tried it and found he was hootin’ the truth.

“So,” said our wise owl, “what you do is shift the transmission from Drive into Neutral. NOT into Reverse! Not anywhere else but just into Neutral!”

“Can you DO that?”

“Yes! See where you can go from D to 1 or 2 for climbing hills?” (This was still true in the 1970s and 1980s; I don’t know if automatic transmission cars still even have “2” and “1” gears on the shifter. I should go look before I post, but bah. I’m wingin’ it. Do you think that gets me into trouble very often??)

“Yeah. So you can shift into neutral? Like just BOOM, even though there’s only the automatic clutch?” Our eyes lit up. “That means the power won’t be TRANSMITTED using the transmission from the engine to the drive shaft and wheels. So it won’t be engaged!”

“Exactly. Then you’ll have a car that’s just going ZOOM without adding to your speed. Okay, BUT. You still have the momentum and you’re still rolling. Now you brake, and if that’s not enough, use the emergency brake. Sure, that’s going to ruin the hand brake, but who cares if it saves you and/or the pedestrians and vehicles you’re going to otherwise crash into?”

I agree. Even if this ruins the transmission, I would argue that this is better than being in a runaway car that won’t stop until it hits something that will probably NOT be a haystack (which is what the Scooby-Doo kids always used to hit in order to stop . . . but there just aren’t any convenient haystacks in suburbia. Or anywhere. Not any more.)

Anyone out there know if this is still a viable idea? CAN you shift into “N” from “D” at any time while an automatic transmission car is rolling? Mama is arguing with me that you can’t do that and that CNN told her so. Of course, if you are driving a stick (manual transmission, which used to be called “standard”), this won’t apply, and you can just stomp the clutch and rip down into any other gear you like, such as neutral. But the automatic transmissions of today may be much more fussy.

If you hear an awful grinding noise and the transmission falls out of your Toyota onto the blacktop when you try this as an experiment, don’t blame me. As my Dad always said, “Piece of Japanese junk! 3@!%$^%!!” (But remember, he served in WWII. Radio/radar operator landed on Leyte, standing up to his knees in typhoon waters, learning to drive in a Jeep. He never really forgave the Japanese for WWII.) Also, who cares if you ruin a car that is trying to kill you? But maybe that’s just me.