Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hang Together

Since the explosion of self publishing, large numbers of authors are publishing their older books they've regained rights for. Many are taking the opportunity to revise/refresh/edit the stories prior to putting them back on the market.

While not self-pubbing, I am revising one of my stories before submitting it to a different publisher. The difficulty with revision is making sure the 'new' story hangs together. For every small change you make, you must scour the rest of the story for consistency. The greater the changes, the more opportunities to slip up.

Then you get silly things like eye color changes in the middle of the story. Or even in one case I recall name changes for both the hero and the heroine. It's very disconcerting to be reading along and sudden find the hero's name is Joe instead of Nathan.

In the story I'm working on, I added a new first chapter to explain some things that were kinda murky in the original. Now I need to go remove the later references lest my readers wonder if I'm on drugs. I also changed the background 'world' for the story. Technology, laws, customs all have to be altered to fit the new world.

It will be a better story when I finish. Yes, it will...if I can just get it all to hang together.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Solstice--Summer or Winter

From ancient times various cultures have observed and marked the solstices. Stone circles around the world helped shamans and priests keep track of the sun's journey. For half of the Earth, today is the winter solstice--the shortest day of the year. Here in the north, it's the opposite, the longest day.

This is a day of beginnings and endings. For northerners, this begins the countdown to the darkening days of winter. For the southerners, this is the day winter starts moving toward spring.

Cultures all over the world marked these two days, some with solemn worshipful observations--others with wild joyful rites. Whatever form the celebration might take, the main incentive was to acknowledge a change, a change in time and a change in purpose for the culture or group. A large part of the rites were centered around agriculture.

In the United States, we are no longer a mainly agricultural society so for most, the solstice is just another day with little or no meaning to the general populace. We are also a primarily Christian culture where celebration of what is perceived as a pagan observance is taboo.

I find this sad. The scientific and historical observation of the solstices has nothing to do with religion. If some choose to mark the solstices with formal rites, what has that to do with the rest of the population? I am Baptist by faith and rearing. That doesn't mean I have a problem with the Catholics who celebrate their saints' birthdays or the rites observed by any other religion. All are free to worship as they choose, including those who celebrate the solar path.

In our eagerness to shun other faiths we've tossed out the baby with the bathwater. The summer solstice is an important turning point in our year. It's half-way. It's an opportunity for assessment and recalibration of our personal plans and resolutions. Have we accomplished what we wanted to up to this point? Do we need to focus our efforts more purposefully for the rest of the year?

Our calendar is an artificial construct with arbitrarily chosen names for months and days and varying lengths attached to those months. I find it untidy. Yet, we all must use the same method of counting time in order to navigate in the global culture.

I suspect life was much simpler when we followed the track of the sun.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gossip Game

When I was young, we played a game called 'Gossip' or 'Telephone'. The larger the group, or course, the more interesting the game. The object of the game was simple. Everyone sat in a big circle. The first child whispered a simple sentence in their neighbor's ear. The neighbor repeated it in his neighbor's ear and so on until the 'secret' made the round of the circle and ended with the last child who would announce it out loud.

Naturally, the end result bore no resemblance to the beginning. It was usually quite garbled. At that time, most families had 'party line' telephones. Gossipy individuals frequently listened in to other folks phone calls. And everyone knew privacy was not only impossible, but quite unlikely. Hence, the name 'telephone' for the game.

I haven't played the game since I was a kid. There's no need as I have the hunk. He can garble a spoken message with the best of them. So far I haven't been able to convince him he needs hearing aids so we muddle along with our own version of 'gossip'. I say something. He replies something totally different. I repeat my original statement. And so on.

Or I just...take care of it myself. Usually, that's faster.

As I age, I admit my hearing is fading a bit if people speak softly, but I usually can figure out what people say from the context. The hunk has no idea of context. In fact, I used this idea in a scene from my book Chrysanthemum.

“Yes? What do you want?” the little old man querulously inquired. “We’re not buying anything today. Or any other day, for that matter.”

“We’re seeking Father Liksalot,” Gareth replied loudly. “We’re not selling anything.”

“We don’t have anything to sell,” the old man informed them. “We’re not a market, you know!”

“We know! We’re here to see Father Liksalot!”

“Eh? Barker kicks the box?”

“No!” Gareth bellowed. “Father Liks-a-lot!”

That's exactly how our conversations go. Total nonsense. Of course, there's some entertainment value in seeing just how outlandish his interpretations are. Maybe that's why the game was so much fun back when I was a kid...


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dawn Attack

Over the years, the expression 'we attack at dawn' has puzzled me. I would think it would be more advantageous to attack at say...three-thirty a.m. It seems the enemy would just be settling into their deepest sleep and therefore be their most disoriented when roused by the attackers. Why wait until dawn?

Most warriors or soldiers are at their most alert at dawn. Why would that be the time to attack? Heck, if I was going to attack, I'd do it about two-thirty in the afternoon when the human brain starts shutting down and the body needs a nice nap. Have you ever noticed how we slow down mid-afternoon? By three-thirty, I'm nodding off over the keyboard. Now THAT would be the time to attack.

Ancient instincts lead us to be cautious and wary after dark. We draw the curtains, close the blinds, lock the doors and windows because who knows what lurks in the night? Noises are more ominous in the lonely hours before dawn. Who has not spent at least one night wide-eyed, praying for sunrise?

Why do we sleep at night and not during the day? Oh, I know there are some folks who work the night shift, but the vast majority of our fellow humans don't. Why? It's not as though we don't have the technology to light our way now. I sometimes wonder how we will cope if the time ever comes when our sun is so hot we are compelled to work at night just to survive. How would that change our culture?

Maybe that's why there's such a fascination with vampires. Their lives, limited by their inability to walk in the sun, are exotic and strange. And that confinement to the hours after dark places them squarely in the pantheon of scary bogeymen, monsters who prey on the innocent in the night. They wouldn't be nearly as frightening if they were confined to movement during the day only.

Perhaps the main attraction of dawn is the final banishment of the night. Dawn equals security, the ability to see the dangers around us, the beginning of a new day.

Maybe that's why we attack at dawn.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Starting Over

"No matter how long you've been at it, you always start from scratch."~~Jeffrey Eugenides

I'm not sure why the above quote struck me so powerfully this morning. Maybe I was just awake...for a change. Perhaps it was because I realized I am not the only writer who begins anew with each book.

Every writer starts from scratch.

Think about it. Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Shakespeare, Cindy Spenser Pape, Louis L'Amour, Amarinda Jones, Georgette Heyer, Harper Lee, Alistair MacLean...they all started from scratch with each new book. It sort of levels the playing field, doesn't it? Regardless of genre, working style, message, or craft level, we all start from scratch with every single book.

There is a tendency to put established authors up on a pedestal, somehow elevating them so we fail to remember or believe they have the same tasks as a newbie author. Our struggles seem more difficult than theirs.

Not so. The creative process is the same. We all start from scratch. We all deal with the edits/revisions/plot issues. I find this comforting. Yes, I'm still developing my craft, but when it gets down to it, we all belong to the same guild.

We all start from scratch.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dad's Hands

Yep, that's me standing on my father's hands. I was about six months old and he had just turned twenty. That was pretty much our relationship for the rest of my life--his support so I could stand on my own.

He's eighty-three now. Still doing some interim pastoring for small churches in between ministers or for pastors who go on vacation. Still driving. Mowing the lawn. Taking care of my stepmother. He can outwalk me on my best day...and when I could still run, he always won our races down the block.

I never had any questions about where he stood on questions of right or wrong. And I always KNEW I was expected to do my best. That was never a point of discussion.

Some kids never see their fathers actually work, but I never saw my dad sit down. He was always doing something...his hands were never idle.

He plays half a dozen instruments he taught himself. And sings.

When I was growing up he worked at dozens of different jobs from picking cotton and pumping gas to working in a mine and delivering milk. No job was too insignificant or menial.

He rides horses. He milks cows. We've raised turkeys and chickens, sheared sheep, slopped pigs. We've lived in the country and lived in the city.

I grew up in churches that ministered to a broad range of people from the wealthy to the stone cold broke. My dad treated everyone the same. If someone needed help, then he was first in line to offer a hand.

Today he's about 1800 miles away, but I still honor him on this sunny Father's Day.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Lessons from the Doc

About a month ago my son came to visit. I don't normally watch television in the evenings, but while he was here we fell into the habit of watching the news on PBS and then whatever we found to watch after that. During that week we discovered a British show, Doc Martin.

I admit it's very quirkiness fascinated me...and I was hooked. Now my Thursday evenings are taken up with Doc Martin and the show that follows it, Death in Paradise.

Doc Martin is a brilliant surgeon, but hopelessly, socially inept. At the height of his career in London he develops hemophobia (a blood phobia) which negatively impacts his career. So...he takes a General Practitioner position in a tiny, sleepy sea-side town.

The town is filled with quirky, charming characters who have no notion how to deal with Doc's abrupt, total absence of bedside manner. He never smiles, never lies, and never lets the patient down gently.

The romantic interest, a school teacher in the village seems to be the only one who sees past his stony face. Against all odds, they have a very brief affair and decide to marry. Then, thinking better of that idea, they agree they won't suit.

Louisa goes away, only to reappear a few months later, obviously pregnant. Eventually, she has the baby.

Here's where I learned about character consistency. When Louisa came home, most series/stories/romances would have immediately married them off (because that's what you do--right?) Well, not so fast.

Louisa is an independent woman, determined not to take the easy way out. For several episodes, she and Martin work at cross-purposes. Martin decides his hemophobia is under control and he will go back to surgery in London. Louisa plans to stay in the village and raise her baby.

And then...she's in an accident and has the baby early. Martin is shocked into really looking at his life. He sees how fragile her life is.

It could have been a very unsatisfying, mushy childbirth scene. But no...the writers stayed true to character. No mush. Faced with the reality of childbirth, Martin rushes away to be sick in the bushes.

When Louisa asks if he wants to hold the baby, he immediately says no, fearing he might hurt the baby. Rather than accept his rejection, Louisa points out, he can learn. He rather gingerly takes the baby, holding him for a few seconds before returning him to Louisa. She pats the baby and says, "You'll get used to him."

I salute the writers and actors because they stay true when it would be so much easier to make especially Martin more likeable if they softened him up a bit. But no...they allow his care (abrupt though it might be) for his villagers to show he indeed does have a heart.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Simmering on the Back Burner

I think I must be one of those people who has to ponder ideas for a looooong time before implementing them. My first book, Dancer's Delight was the product of several years of mental planning. In fact, I carried the kernel of the idea of Mystic Valley around for about twenty-five years. By the time I sat down to write it, the background details were pretty well set.

I had no schedule for that first book. I knew very little about publishing so I had no notion of the expected amount of time to finish it. I just wrote. From beginning to end, I spent almost two years on it. And if I had it to do over, there are numerous things I would change in revisions, but that's mostly because I've changed as a writer.

Publishing has changed drastically since I blithely sent off that first book. Authors who only produce one book a year find their sales suffer enormously. Readers devour books with the voraciousness of locusts, no longer content to wait for the annual offering from their favorite authors.

The competition is fiercer with so many authors entering the field, whether from the New York publishers, online publishers or independent self-publishing. There's an unconscious urge to produce faster, faster, faster...a notion the reader will forget the author if their works aren't at the forefront every day.

It seems to me that doesn't say much for the author's capabilities. For at least the last three years--and maybe more--I find myself buying fewer and fewer books. That's not only due to rising costs and shrinking income.

The bald truth is I'm finding fewer books worthy of my hard earned dollars. Authors I loved and kept on auto-buy five years ago no longer hold my interest. Short stories churned out of the writing mills offer less and less sustenance for the mind and soul. They have little entertainment value and nothing to offer the mind. Vocabulary is shrinking.

For comfort I turn to old favorites. Dorothy L. Sayers. Louis L'Amour. John D. MacDonald. Tony Hillerman. Mary Stewart. Georgette Heyer. Helen MacInnes. Alistair MacLean.

A personal epiphany dawned. I don't write quickly. The only reason I produced so many books my first year of writing was because I'd carried those idea around with me for so long during my 'rearing kids and working' years. Now that most of the internal stories have been written, I take longer to work out the details. And of course, the story is in the details.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I See!

"I don't wear glasses to see. I wear glasses to see better." Remo Williams

The hunk and I had our annual eye exams today. I've worn glasses over fifty years so I'm an old hand at the eye exam. For several years now, I've had two sets of glasses--one for distance (driving and walking around)--the other for 'close' work (computer and eating). The doc and I had a lively conversation when he started the exam for the close work. I explained my increasing difficulty with reading and other fine work such as embroidery.

HE explained the 'close work' prescription was designed for a 20-25 inch distance. For reading, I need one for about 12 inches. Ditto embroidery, weaving, beading, yada, yada...


I admit I felt stupid for not realizing the problem sooner. By the time we left the office I had ordered new lenses for my distance and computer glasses and a third pair of frames/lenses for reading.

Now I know there is bound to be someone out there who asks why not bi or tri-focals? Well, you see, I'm short. I spend long hours in front of a computer or reading/crafty stuff. A tall person might be able to get away with using multi-focal lenses. But short people end up with a major neckache from trying to peer through the bottom of the lenses. Years ago my optometrist at the time (a tiny woman who had to stand on a box to do the exam) pointed out the possible difficulties with multi-focal lenses in my occupation.

Actually, I like having different glasses for different purposes. Generally, if I'm driving it's several hours for a trip. Or I might spend hours working on the computer. And certainly if I'm reading, that can take hours. problem with swapping glasses when I need to. 

In a couple weeks, I'll have new glasses and I'll finally be able to read (or do crafty stuff) in comfort.

I see!


Monday, June 10, 2013

Part of the System

For folks who have never dealt with the pervasive, invasive presence of the United States justice system...the ideal embodied by the system may be comforting. But for those whose lives are taken over by the many services that nestle under that umbrella, it can be--and usually is--a nightmare.

'Protect the innocent' is just a phrase that allows arrogant, aggressive invasions of privacy and arbitrary judgments of actions and responsibilities. Once in the 'system', there's no stopping the avalanche of demands from the very folks who are supposed to be helping.

I'm sure there are sympathetic people out there involved in Social Services, Child Protective Services, Legal Aid, Courts, etc. I've never met them, but surely someone in the 'system' cares about the innocent. Maybe.

We're a hard-working, middle class family. Our adults work. Our children do well in school. We do all the ordinary things families do. But once in a while, a viper sneaks into the family unit. In theory, if you confront the viper, the 'system' will be there to support you.

Not so.

There's a reason folks don't ask for help from the 'system' unless they're forced to by well meaning laws. Because once involved, there is no possibility of privacy. Every aspect of your life is suddenly shoved under a microscope. Unreasonable demands are the norm're a case number. Instead of a name, you become that spousal abuse case or that drug abuse case or that child abuse case. Instead of a helping hand and encouragement, all decisions are wrested from your control as though you're incapable of dealing with life.

I have family members, both close and distant, dealing with the system. Far from aiding the families, the system is piling on stress and heartache.

Maybe...we need less interference and more compassion.


Friday, June 7, 2013


Some of the most dramatic moments in my life have been defined by rain. Lots of rain.

One of my earliest memories--about the time I was five--was a harrowing trip down Mt. Graham in Arizona in the midst of the remnants of a tropical storm. I remember my father using a chain to movedrag huge trees and boulders out of the dirt road so we could get past. Then when we reached the foot of the mountain, there was so much water it was over the running boards on our car. Yeah, that was back when there were running boards. For those too young to remember those days...Google it.

When I was ten, another tropical storm pounded our small town south of Globe, Arizona. We lived in a house that clung to the side of a mountain. The yard of our next door neighbor's house was level with our roof. And our yard was about a level above the house below us on the other side. Rain poured down as lightning and thunder rumbled all around us. Water washed under the doors, rushing across the floors. I remember all of us cowering on top of the kitchen table.

Years later we lived in Houston. We were transferred to New York. The moving company was scheduled to arrive and pack up our possessions...except a major rainstorm prevented that. Water up to our knees kept the moving truck from entering our subdivision. The move was postponed by a week.

Twenty years later in the middle of moving from New York to Baltimore, in the Pennsylvania mountains we drove through the worst rain storm I've ever encountered. It was dark. We couldn't see the road. And our dog never recovered from the trauma.

As a gully-washer, so far Tropical Storm Andrea is a bust. And that's just fine with me. Just fine.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Flashes of Light

I collect photos in a folder titled 'Story Ideas'. Some are scenery, others are just pictures that satisfy some inner need or a research reference. At the moment there are about four hundred in the folder.

This morning I scrolled through them, looking for a little flash to jumpstart my second chapter. I wasn't looking for some huge idea, but something small. And I noticed a thumbnail titled 'living under a rock'.

I always have to preview the pics because I usually can't make out the thumbnail. Anyway, I clicked on it and it was picture of an enormous rock with a home--really just a bricked up space--beneath the rock. Now, how secure could you possibly feel living in that bit of space?

Then that expression--Where have you been living? Under a Rock?--came to mind. Hmmmm. How can I use this idea in my story?

Readers often ask writers where they get their ideas. The answer is 'everywhere'. Some are quick scenes we see in our daily lives. Or something we read that leads to a new idea. It might be a picture. It could be a dream. More than likely, it's a 'what if?' moment.

What are your flashes of light?


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Little Steps

Folks post all sorts of inspirational stuff on the internet. There are quotes from people, famous or unknown. Anonymous seems to be a popular fellow. Pictures of cute animals. Short videos. Short stories. Cartoons.

All of those have their place. You just never know when something will strike the right chord, when a simple observation will speak to someone.

The picture above was posted by someone, illustrating what could be done with a few rocks and imagination. Creativity doesn't require a pile of exotic supplies. The individual just needs an eye for possibilities.

Take another look at the picture. How long do you suppose it took for the artist to arrange the stones just so? What sparked the original idea? Maybe the largest stone near the bottom? And then what?

Possessing an idea is not enough. The creator must then exercise enough patience to work out the final creation. See...that's my problem. I want each idea to be finished instantly. Right now. And of all the creative endeavors out there, writing is perhaps the slowest. Its a creative process from the first word to the last, changing with every sentence like a kaleidoscope on hallucinogens.

Whatever the beginning plot idea might be, it seldom survives to the end. It requires thousands of small steps to make the journey from conception to birth.

The stones didn't leap from the beach to the plank and arrange themselves. The artist spent time arranging and rearranging until he or she declared it finished.

Little steps.


Monday, June 3, 2013


For the last several months we've had intermittent internet issues. For the last two weeks, the issues have deteriorated to the point that they stretch from minutes to hours. Yesterday, it was down sixteen hours. During a forecasted severe weather event.

I learned something from our internet loss. We're relatively blind, deaf, and mute without the internet. We don't have cable, depending instead on the services of the Internet for news, weather, and information.

Suddenly, we found ourselves without any of those services. It was a sobering experience. We don't have fancy cell phone service, preferring the steadiness of landline service. I'm a tad old-fashioned. When I leave home I don't want to hear from anyone. That's why I go out. My cell phone is a cheapy I use when I leave town.

What I discovered was a blackout of information. Television unfortunately has ceased to serve as a source of information... or even entertainment. Without cable, there was no current weather information available. Most channels now depend on the internet to disseminate information between standard news broadcasts.

I could (and did) write, but every time I had a quick question or reference check, instead of popping on the internet long enough to check it out, I had to set that question aside until later.

By late evening, I plucked a paperback from my extensive collection and settled down to read. It was almost like the 'olden' days. Quiet, a bright light, a book and a cup of chocolate.

Maybe I don't really need to know what the weather will be...


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Simple Pleasures

Sunday morning.



The first coffee of the morning.

A cool breeze in the desert.

The sound of crickets in the evening.

The song of wind chimes.

Thunder rolling across the sky.

The first snow of winter.

The first daffodil in spring.

The smell of freshly mown grass.

Sitting beneath a shady tree.

Hot chocolate on a cold night.

What's your pleasure?


Saturday, June 1, 2013


Fifty three years ago today my mother was laid to rest. She was thirty-one years old when she died in an automobile accident near midnight on a lonely New Mexico road. I was ten. In the way of life's memories, most of what I recall is misty and vague.

I was the oldest of four children. My brothers were seven, five, and three. They were in the car with her. Other than my youngest brother's broken leg, they were unharmed.

The few memories I have are disconcertingly sharp. When I was eight, we lived in a small 'shotgun' house in Hayden, AZ. It had worn tile floors, but she mopped and waxed with a vengeance. Paste wax. Then she gave my brothers and me old rags that we stood on and 'danced' to polish the floor. I remember the giggles and laughs as we tried to outdo each other.

She played the piano for church. I learned the old hymns as I sat on the piano bench next to her, singing with joy--if a little off-key.

Once when I was nine we were in another car accident. We were alone on a gravel road in the desert. The car had rolled, ending on it's side. She boosted us all through the door on the 'top'. Once we out, she sent me down the road to a blind curve, instructing me to wave my red sweater to stop any cars that came along. The next car was a plain cop car. I was enchanted because it had a phone in it.

She was exceedingly crafty. Crochet, sewing, quilting, embroidery, cooking, baking... She made her tortillas from scratch and for my eighth birthday sewed two outfits for each of my dolls...all twenty seven of them. The year I was nine she crocheted a gorgeous hat so I could be a little Dutch girl for Halloween. I still have a shawl she crocheted for my grandmother.

She wasn't squeamish. A few months before she died, we found a mama scorpion and babies on her bedroom wall. I wanted to take them to school so she found a glass jar and helped me capture them. Oddly enough, I got in trouble for bringing them to school--not because of the scorpions, but because the glass might have broken and cut someone.

When a mountain lion prowled around our house when I was six, she kept us safe though she was terrified. When a terrible storm raged over our house when I was ten, sending water flooding across the floors, she reassured us.

At five, I picked cotton by her side. At seven, I learned my Bible stories at her knee. At ten, I learned you can never take back the awful things you say in anger when I shouted, "I hate you! I wish you were dead!" Twelve hours later she was gone.

Unfortunately, we usually don't value what we have until it's gone. Hug your loved ones. Say the words. Say them at every opportunity.

You just never know...