Category Archives: Ruminations

Danger, Will Robinson!

No one ever says, “Man, I wish something really awful would happen to me today.” Most of us say we want to go on a vacation, win the lotto, find that certain special someone. Good things. Nice things. And yet we humans appear to be hardwired for adversity. That’s why the fairy tales all stop at “…and they lived happily ever after.” Most of us would like to do it, but we don’t care to read about it. That’s boring. Maybe it is because hearing about someone else’s perfect life makes ours seem shabbier by comparison, or maybe it is because we need someone to cheer for. We want to see Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and the ugly stepsisters get their comeuppance. We want Cindy to get the handsome prince. But after she wins, we lose interest. It could also be that we like maps. If a character in a story is going through some of the same trauma and troubles that we are, there is a camaraderie, a bond. We might even get some ideas or inspiration to handle our own situation. If nothing else, we know that there is at least one other person in the world who understands. We are not alone.
That, and we’re a shameless bunch of rubberneckers.

Five Things I Learned at NaNoWriMo

1. The first verse of the Major General song from Pirates of Penzance.
2. There is a point of exhaustion which even three consecutive cups of coffee cannot overcome.
3. People who do not use contractions when they speak sound really, really weird.
4. Outlines aren’t everything.
5. I can write 50,000 words in less than 30 days.

I finished my NaNoWriMo project yesterday afternoon. Hooray! It was very cool to get my winner badge. It was even cooler that the whole thing is finished (okay, except for major editing and revisions on the rough draft).

At the very beginning, NaNoWriMo was easy. I had a very basic outline (about 1 sentence/chapter). The second week was harder. Then, due to the rules of the world created in the earlier chapters, the characters could not actually do what I had wanted them to do in the outline. So I took a detour. I never made it back to the main highway. That part (3rd week) was hard because I had no idea what the characters were going to do or why. Then I got to the end of the story. At 42,008 words. I went back and added some scenes, but was still about 5,000 words short. So I added an epilogue. I think the epilogue is really the first three chapters of the next book. Two of my strategies to pump up word count were to not use contractions and to tag every single line of dialogue. Those are two things you should not do unless you have a really, really good reason, because you will just have to go back and undo them later.

The BRIGHT side of NaNoWriMo: It forces you to gag your inner editor and lock him/her in a closet and just “let the wild man run free.” It is kind of like brainstorming – maybe some of the ideas are unusable at the end, but you do come up with some interesting things, things you might not have thought of if you were leisurely typing away, carefully crafting your sentences and sticking to your detailed outline. That is very liberating. You end up with at least part of a first draft for a novel.

The DARK side of NaNoWriMo: It forces you to go for word count, so instead of trying to say the most with the least number of words, you tend to say the least with the most number of words. It is hard. There is about the same amount of sleep deprivation as there is having a brand new baby. It is hard.
You sometimes have to pass on fun things. You tend to let things slide more than usual. Did I mention that it is hard?

I think that all aspiring novelists should do NaNoWriMo at least once. I am pretty sure I will not do it every year from now on, but I might do it again sometime. Now I have to try to go and catch up on all the things I neglected while I was NaNoWriMo-ing.


NaNoWriMo and Batty Malgoony

So I’ve finally worked up the nerve? insanity? to try NaNoWriMo this year. I’m all signed up, and I even have a buddy. The ordeal requires producing a 50,000 word first draft in 30 days. I only have to average 1,667 words per day. I spend a lot of hours during the week waiting to pick up kids from school/gymnastics/music, so hopefully I can convert at least some of that time into words. Still, it may end up being one long bout of coffee-fuelled sleep deprivation psychosis. I will apologize in advance for anything I might say or do in November. I opted to go with the drowned girl story, and I’ve been doing some research for it. I found a great article – lots of information – BUT it was written in 1894. It is very long-winded and pedantic, but I’ve gotten almost all the way through it. I’m working on my outline this week, so hopefully I won’t just sit and stare at the screen like an owl in the daylight come Sunday.
And now, for something completely different:
What could be more fun than a crazy circus tour where you have to draw in some of the characters? My six-year old daughter thinks Batty Malgoony’s Mystic Carnivale is a lot of fun (her favorite thing at school is art). My four year old son finds it a little creepy. While I generally encourage my kids NOT to write in books, I really liked the interactive “use your imagination” factor of this one. The illustrations were very appropriate for a mystic carnivale that only runs at night. I found the cow tied to the train disturbing and I wasn’t crazy about the road-kill cafe, but I know a lot of kids go through a Gross is Great! phase. This is the sort of book that I would think has a lot of both boy and reluctant reader appeal. One thing I thought was really good was that some draw-in areas were completely blank and some that needed perspective (for example, a chair and a tricycle) had very faint lines to help young artists understand how to draw those objects. I would recommend giving a sketch pad or packet of typing paper along with this book; that way children will have some artwork to hang on the fridge and can go back to their favorite scenes again and again.

Banned Books Week 2009 – Sept 26 – Oct 3

I have been trying for most of the week to figure out people who want to ban books. To the best of my knowledge, no one that I personally know has done this, so I can’t email them and ask why. I expect that they have the best of intentions and believe they are helping people. But then again, the Manson Family also believed they were helping people by committing the Tate-LaBianca murders. Maybe these book-banners want to protect children. But what are they protecting them from? Thinking? Other points of view? Ideas? Are they secretly afraid that what they believe is wrong and children will figure that out if they read disapproved materials? Certainly there are adult publications that are absolutely not appropriate for children, but that’s a different issue. What I mean here is that one person thinks, for example, Captain Underpants is “sexually explicit” (?) and should be removed from the library so that NOBODY can read it. That kind of thinking is incomprehensible to me. I don’t understand it, but I do understand that knowledge is power. It’s long been known that people are much easier to control when they’re kept ignorant. Even today, in cultures where women are second class citizens, girls are not educated. How can they make choices if they don’t know they have options?
Maybe book-banners fear that if kids read about fictional characters doing things, they’ll rush right out and do them. I can attest that I read The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmner and had no inclination whatsoever to kill and eat people. I can’t imagine that anyone would read Crank and say, “Yes! Sign me up for that!” You won’t live long enough to make all the mistakes yourself, so save yourself time and effort by learning from other’s mistakes.
Book-banners might not, like the Manson Family, physically kill people. But through their misguided efforts, they are surely murderers of thought, ideas and choices. Some people choose to wear ignorance as a badge of honor. Choose to be better. Cultivate excellence by reading a book for Banned Books week.

Summers End

Well, it’s down to the last few hours of summer vacation. I have a little twinge of is-it-really-over-already, but I’m mostly happy about it. We met my daughter’s new teacher on Wednesday and toured the classroom. She’s finished all of the Rainbow Fairies books and is now starting on Disney’s Pixie Hollow books.
Last Saturday, I read the tween ghost story, Wait Till Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn. It is the story of a blended family who moves from the city to a former church, complete with cemetery, far out in the country. The isolation stresses relationship fault lines and the family structure begins to crack as over-indulged Heather, younger stepsister to main character Molly and her brother Michael, makes friends with ghostly Helen. It is brilliantly suspenseful and creepy, with a touching resolution. My only issue was that Heather’s “deep dark secret” was not really a secret, and both adults in the story should have at least guessed at the root of Heather’s bad behavior, if not been actively aware of it. That said, what is obvious to me as an adult may not be so to the target audience for this book. I definitely recommend it.
On the other hand, I have been struggling all week to read Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart. I’m somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way through it, but I find it very slow going. It’s got a great premise – a man (Mortimer “Mo” Folchart) has such a talent for reading aloud that people, animals or things actually materialize off the page into the real world. The down side is that for each something that comes out of the book, something else has to go in, and his wife becomes trapped in the book-within-the-book, “Inkheart.” The uber-villain (Capricorn) from this story that Mo read nine years ago has finally caught up with him and his now-twelve year old daughter (Meggie). Even the author of the fictional book gets involved in the story. Have you ever dated someone who seemed to be a perfect match? They seemed really nice, were good looking, had a good job – there was every reason to adore them – but there was just no chemistry. This book is like that for me. I really want to like it, even love it, but it just isn’t clicking with me.


Three more action-packed weeks left of summer vacation. I had my daughter try on her remaining uniform bottoms from last year (her skirts were too short by March). Two pairs of pants are almost high-watering, but not quite (they will be, by the time it’s cool enough to wear them); the rest are too small. Tops & dresses are okay.  On the up side, she’s read nearly the whole second volume of Rainbow Fairies (4 books).  Daisy Meadows is the nom de plume of four writers who turn out the copious the Rainbow Magic books. There are rainbow fairies, jewel fairies, weather fairies and a happy ever after fairy, among others. Maybe I should investigate how to get on board with a book packager. Although, I’d probably be assigned to write the Sludge-in-the-U-Bend-of-the-Kitchen-Sink fairy.
I have found a website (thanks to Christina Katz) called Trend Hunter. She recommends it as research for article writing. Make sure you have lots of free time. Lots. If you can’t get inspired/amazed/horrified there, I don’t know what to tell you. Did you know there’s such a thing as brain piercing? Or a strap-on beer belly that you can fill with a beverage of your choice to smuggle into events? That the British government is putting grey squirrels on the pill? Whatever you have in mind, that site is one stop shopping.


I am not a huge fan of fireworks. Perhaps it’s the childhood memories of either being bitten to death by mosquitoes, no matter how much Off! we sprayed on, or sitting in the car to get away from them and suffocating. Still, we all went last night to Katy Mills mall, camp chairs in hand, and watched the fireworks. It had cooled down a lot (frightening that 86°F = “cooled down a lot”) and there was a nice breeze. The kids were so excited. My daughter did the thing with her hands where she holds them about shoulder level and stretches out all of her fingers. My son shrieked with delight every time one went off. That made it well worth the getting there an hour early for a good spot and sitting in traffic for half an hour afterward.
I have mostly recovered; I think the 2 days in the hospital on a KCl drip did me a lot of good, even if they never did figure out what was causing the high fever.
I am either currently reading or have in my reading stack: Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz; Inkheart by Cornelia Funke; Inkspell by Cornelia Funke; Horseplay by Judy Singer.
There is an interesting site that one of my CG friends found: Pitchtopia. The idea is that writers post pitches for their work and agents/editors read the pitches and respond to ideas they like. Sounds like a nice idea, but I’m not sure how they’re going to attract said agents/editors. From what I hear, they are already drowning in work and/or submissions, so they probably aren’t that interested in going out to look for more submissions. Just my theory. Perhaps it will work fabulously. Another interesting concept, freshly imported from Japan, is the cell phone novel. Novel is serialized in 140 character (or less) segments. Two English language sites mentioned in The Writer magazine are QuillPill and TextNovel. Apparently Harlequin is getting in on the act, with their Harlequin On the Go subscription service for cell phones.
Finally, if you haven’t seen this blog, it is amazing and hysterical: Cakewrecks. Sometimes, pictures of really incredible cakes are posted (“Sunday Sweets”). Most times, unintentionally funny, bizarre or just disturbing cake photos abound.

Not Quite What I Had In Mind

I was looking at WAHM’s (Work At Home Moms) website yesterday. Wanted to see if they had any writing jobs listed. I was looking at the forum topics and I came across “Sales: Romance Companies,” with no fewer than 14 listings. Romance companies? Do they deliver chocolate and roses with a personalized poem or something? No. They are like Mary Kay parties, except instead of makeup, “marital aids” and “adult novelties” are the featured items. I had a quick flash of my kids getting into that sort of inventory and using a couple of “marital aids” to sword fight. Okay, how about let’s go to Writer Mama, shall we? Gotta get that image out of my head (shuddering).
The kids and I went to Petsmart today to get some aquarium filter cartridges. We came home with the cartridges AND a red claw crab.  Because I didn’t already have enough to take care of. Later, I was out watering potted plants and a Brown Anole hatchling leapt out of the foliage and started licking water off the leaves and trunk of the little tree I was watering. Poor little guy. I know he’s an invasive exotic. But still. I haven’t wanted to release the toadlet/froglets because I don’t think they have a chance of survival in this drought + heat wave. Rain dance, anyone?


(Not about the book by Laurie Halse Anderson – condolences to her on the death of her mother.)
I was lying on the tile this morning at 3:45. I got up to take some ibuprofen for my screaming, throbbing  headache. I’ve been running a temperature of 102 – 103+ off and on since Sunday night. Doc says, “Seems to be some kind of virus. Come back Thursday for lab work results.” Tile may not be very comfortable, but when you have a fever, it is lovely and COLD. As I was lying there, snippets of thought slipped in and out of my brain. I remembered the desk that was in my room as a child. It was a dark cherry (or cherry colored) wood with a green felt-backed plastic sheet on it. Once when I was probably 10 or 12, I was looking through a folder of musty papers and found some information about my paternal grandfather being ¼ Cherokee. At the time, I found it disappointing that one must be at least 1/8 native to be eligible to live on the reservation. After reading the very talented Sherman Alexie’s book, Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, I realize that it’s probably not such a bad thing not to live on the rez. When my mom and I moved into her father’s house (he was living in a nursing home) there was ancient, floral wallpaper all over it. When tearing off the wallpaper in the living room, a small gold cross fell out. I always wondered about that cross. Did someone put it there to keep a particular something evil at bay, or was it just a general blessing? I still have it in my jewelry box. Do my cousin’s teeth hurt (she got her braces off yesterday)? It is very rare for me to run a high fever, but I have almost always hallucinated ants when I have one. Today, I hallucinated turtles. Is that significant? I don’t know, but it gives me an idea for a story (but I’ll have to re-evaluate it when the fever breaks for good!).

School’s out for the Summer

I had intended to take the Creating Your Character’s Fatal Flaw course at Writer U this month, but I got so busy I didn’t get signed up before it started. Oh, well. Not sure I have time this month, anyway. Definitely want to do the July Magic, Monsters and Armor one. I would highly recommend courses here. I’ve gotten some really good information and the price is very reasonable.
We have one tadpole left. The rest are now toadlets. I’ve been cultivating fruit flies for them, plus adding scoops of compost and catching aphids. I hope they grow quickly and can eat crickets and pill bugs before long. I told my daughter she could keep one, but we’d have to let the rest go free when they’re bigger.  I also have three Monarch caterpillars and a huge cluster of swallowtail caterpillars in the kitchen. I think I need to join the AZA…
My son (three) is now on a “tell me a silly story” kick. He’ll say, “Tell me a silly story about a ____.” It’s usually something like a boot or a piece of paper or a cookie. It is certainly a good brainstorming, think-on-your-feet exercise. I’ve even come up with a couple that I wrote down the ideas for – with a bit of fleshing out, they might be pretty good.  I’m very excited that my daughter, who just turned six (kindergarten graduation was so cute!), is now reading Daisy Meadows’ Jewel Fairies books all by herself.