Saturday, December 24, 2011

Alternative Christmas


I have a dream. That the days leading up to Christmas are peaceful and serene. No shopping, no mall, no grumpy crowds. Last year I’d almost talked the kids into skipping the traditional holiday madness and going someplace to escape, their only stipulation was it had to involve sun. From my research I learned that on December 25th there are two places in the continental United States that are most likely to have sunshine. Phoenix and Key West. Apparently the word is out, because both places were light-years out of the budget and frequent flier miles were completely blacked out for that time of year, so discounts were out too.
The hunt was on, and my inexpensive options were shot down with verbal cannon fire. Monastery Christmas?  Nope, my dream not theirs. Grandpa’s cabin deep in the snowy hills?  Too rustic, no heat, and complete lack of sunshine. Camping in Anywhere, AZ?  Do you know how cold the desert gets at night?  We ended up right here at home, enjoying a good old-fashioned Griswold family vacation like always. It was a blast too, it always is.
It occurred to me that I’m approaching this all wrong. Being home for Christmas, with a house full of company is truly wonderful. I love it. It is the prep work that sleighs the Santa in me. My plan early and simplify has been a repeated, colossal failure year after year. It doesn't work either because I’m still deep in the thick of it the day before, shopping and gathering, and in the end - despite my planning failures - it all works out, because none of these things or any of the details matter. Well, I may be a slow learner, but eventually I do get it.
The solution finally came to me, there is only one way to avoid the pre-holiday chaos. I’ll opt out the week BEFORE Christmas. No traveling to someplace fancy or interesting either, nothing that involves much effort at all. Maybe I’ll stay right here in my house the whole time, maybe not. The idea is simply to just wing it all in a 24-hour time frame – all preparation - and see if it even matters. What an excellent experiment, I’m really jazzed about implementing it next year. No early prep either, everything from decorations, to gifts to the meal must be the result of work done no more than 24 hours ahead. Wow. I’m looking forward to next year already. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winter Solstice


Here is my spin on a Robert Frost poem, ‘The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep…’ “but I have 3,000 more words before I sleep.”  Just days before Christmas, I imagine most of us have plenty to do before we sleep. Unfortunately my solution for having far too much to do isn’t very productive, so I can’t recommend it.  Perhaps I’m just contrary by nature, but I go slower.  In fact, outside of automatic body functions, it may have looked like I was doing nothing for at least two hours today.  That was an illusion, I was awaiting divine inspiration I tell you, and I trust it will come in its own good time.  Like tonight.
This year’s winter solstice is upon us and though that means it is now officially winter, it is a BOOYAH moment mentally.  See, however infinitesimal, from here on out the days grow longer.  So take that winter.  Hah.  Summer’s right around the corner, a mere six months away, but its light is already shining.  Besides that this is also a great big fat long night in which to write, or to do those amazing Christmas things so many people do.  Like try to come up with a replacement gift for the ones that aren’t going to show up in time.  Or run out of scotch tape and stick everyone’s gifts into old gift bags and call it being green.  For some of us inspiration rarely comes in traditional homey touches, it slogs through the woods on the longest night of the year. I might close my eyes, just to keep them from drying out, but I'm not sleeping - that's an illusion - I'm just waiting patiently for the arrival of my inspiration.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reindeer Games


One awesome and under-appreciated game is scrabble, my Bohemian Gram was the best opponent because she made up words. Some people might call that cheating, we considered it thinking outside the box. I don’t play the lottery, I don’t want a bazillion dollars, I so do not want to do all that paperwork AND I have far too many relatives to ever risk winning huge amounts of money. I don’t get the gambling thing, and please don’t tell me that it is fun. I’ve been in casinos a couple of times (they have spectacular ladies rooms in places that have only tumbleweed options) and nobody is ever smiling.
Picking up antibiotics at the pharmacy one day, they pressed a handful of little paper game pieces into my hand so I could win some shtuff. Checking out at the supermarket they give me points to win various kitchen gadgets. What does a food processor do?  Seems to be a title most organic life forms could claim. Never mind, I don’t care what the mechanical ones do and I don’t even want a free one. I don’t like to raise false hopes in the kitchen.
Telemarketers have joined the game, they’re not calling to sell anything!  They’re going to SAVE me money. How about saving me time?  Though speaking of reindeer games, if a human telemarketer calls and drags me from my writing, I play with them for awhile. I’m not rude, and I’m never mean, I’m playing. I like, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak any English.”  Usually they are super polite and ask, “What language do you speak?”  Ah, I adore when they play too. Though sometimes they try to outwit me, “You’re speaking English.”  “Well, yes, but I only know enough to say, I don’t speak any English.”  The kids will often dash to the phone when I start this game, mouthing “me next!” they like to play too.
After years of effort avoiding the place, I went to Vegas for a conference and was surprised to find I liked it. For starters it is the only place I’ve ever been where the hotel rooms look just like the kind you see in movies. All those virtual reality rides are a blast, and it’s close to the Grand Canyon. The casinos are inconveniently placed right smack in your way when you’re trying to get anywhere though. For days I was badgered to try the joys of gambling, and after a couple of days I took the proffered handful of cash, plunked it down on a roulette wheel square (I saw that in a movie once) and lost it like *snap* that. No one wanted to see me do it bad enough to hand me money again. I’d go back there though, because you can skydive from 15,000 feet, more terminal velocity fall time. Now THAT is how I spell fun.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Heroes


Of all the books, movies and stories you know, who was your favorite hero? When I write a story, getting to know the hero is one of my favorite parts. It doesn’t feel like I get to invent the hero either, they just come tumbling out and kind of introduce themselves to me as the story progresses. It is a fascinating process and sometimes I’ll agonize over something that they do or something that happens to them. It bewilders my hubby. “Is something wrong?”  He asks as I push my food around my plate, unable to eat. “Yes.”  I sniff, “Asher shot and killed his girlfriend’s father today, and now they can never be together.”  “Who…  this is your book isn’t it?  If it bothers you, why don’t you change it?”  “I can’t. That is how it goes. It’s not like I can just make stuff up you know.” 
Are you familiar with the Myers & Briggs 16 Personality Types?  Apparently humanity has been narrowed down to these various types of personalities, though personally I feel like I can fit three of them depending on my mood. It is good to have options. It is fun to look at the list, check it out at:  http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/the-16-mbti-types.asp  Let me know if it works for you. Did you find yourself?  I enjoy finding my character’s personalities on there, and I can peg each and every one of them.
So what makes a good hero to you?  Does he have to be attractive?  I like to bang mine up a bit, some scars show they’ve lived. Do they have to be tough and strong?  Well I suppose at least resolute and brave enough to endure the suffering I’m tossing in their path. It builds character, right?  What’s a hero without a plot that shapes him. And of course a hero without a soft side doesn’t work either, without honor and a heart he could morph into the villain. It’s my job to make you care about him, and in my case that simply means writing well enough for you to get to know him just like I did.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Run. Faster. Hide.

Whew, really the pressure this time of year is madness.  Shopping, wrapping, decorating.  Cards, baking, cleaning.  Company, sweet kids coming and going, road trips.  That hamster wheel is squeaking round the clock.  Yesterday, in the midst of a wildly busy day, I sneaked off to my secret hiding place for a visit.  It was the wisest decision I'd made in weeks.  Calm, peace, tranquility.  THAT is my idea of a holiday.  If your house looks absolutely nothing a Hallmark commercial and more like a ransacked dorm room, then join me in the Christmas pact.  Escape from the madness, and not to the maul!  Take some quiet time, go hide someplace until the incessant noise in your ears begins to dim.  You really don't have to do everything.  No.  You don't.  Step quietly back and take a break.  Be still.  Take a nap.  Be good to you.  Finding your secret hiding place is a gift only you can give to yourself.  Do you have one?  I'll share mine if you don't. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wrap This


You know that old joke where you wrap a small gift inside an ascending pile of boxes?  There have been a couple times I’ve put serious effort into that. Once I did it to my Father-in-law, I have no recollection of what the gift was. I doubt anyone else remembers what it was either, but we all remember him opening it. Presentation can be important, and part of the fun of gift giving. My son likes to wrap his little sister’s gifts in various challenging manners, duct tape being one of his personal favorites. He makes her work for it. She retaliated impressively with a scavenger hunt where the clues were all riddles.
Do you practice the transformative marketing trick with your gift giving?  That’s where you put something sparkly, like a small gift card, gum or chocolate bar into pockets to soften the blow of getting clothes for Christmas. It’s not just for kids either, I’m not altogether certain my husband even notices that sweater underneath the pile of fishing lures.
Have you ever known one of those people who can eyeball a box under the tree and deduce, “It’s a red Teflon pan with a matching spatula, a bottle of herbed olive oil and a gift card to the gourmet supermarket.”  We secretly call one family member Nancy Drew behind her back, we’ve been able to surprise her a grand total of once in her life. It’s not that we didn’t put effort into disguising her gifts, we tried pebbles in the box in case of an investigative shake, and odd shaped boxes and even weights. All wasted effort.
There are certain gifts that take serious effort to disguise for even the non-psychic recipients on your list. Have you ever wrapped fishing poles, pool sticks or hammocks? Now I’d find a way to wrap a pony if it struck my fancy, but I often take into account the wrap-ability of a gift. When I give ponies for Christmas I usually just stick a bow on them and trot them out in full view. Sometimes a girl needs to take a break from the holidays and work on her novel too, though if you have any pony wrapping tips, I’m all ears.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mauled


Due to the fact that I’m severely allergic to it, I tend to avoid going mall sharking. Sometimes I make myself go anyway though, because it’s Christmas and I’m tough like that. The Plan was to squeeze a quick shopping trip in between appointments. I parceled out an entire hour, I like to think that means I’m an optimist. Thanks to excellent parking kismet I landed a perfect up-front spot and everything was going exactly as planned, until that part where I opened the door and entered.
Oh the humanity. Have you ever noticed that gravity is heavier in the mall?  I think that’s because the whole place is a mojo-sucking black hole. Now I know that a certain gender is rumored to enjoy the place, but I don’t buy it. I didn’t see anyone smiling, male or female, and trying to make eye contact to share a smile was treated as an act of aggression.
As I dragged my bags of holiday sweaters around, I did begin to wonder if we could all opt to exchange gifts every other year and if pack mules can be considered service animals?  Bet the kids would luv sitting up there, stuffing whatever you buy into the saddlebags.  You know I might like the mall if they let pack mules in. Nah. Not even then.
In the end I have no idea what I bought, it’s in a pile of bags on the bed behind me. All I know is that I missed my appointment, forgot about lunch and emerged hours later in the dark, late for dinner. My arms were shaking either from fatigue, low blood sugar or post mall-a-day stress. The worst part is the chapter I was writing has crawled somewhere deep inside The Glitter Globe where it is rocking back and forth refusing to come out, and now SOMEONE needs to wrap all that stuff while I go find my mojo.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Snipers & Mud Puppies

Gave two chapters of a WIP (Work in Progress) to a comrade to read, never expecting the response I received. In a nutshell it went something like this:  “Your antagonist is based on a composite of so-and-so and that crank you used to work for when you lived in… isn’t it?”  Apparently another reason friends don’t make good critique partners is that they know you just a little bit too well!! 
Comrade and I have known each other a long time. When I bought my very first house she came to visit and add artsy touches to the d├ęcor. We were deep into putting the finishing touches on a project in the kitchen, when the bay of kitchen windows began to explode. Glass flew over us and a sparkly trail of it sailed the entire length of the kitchen. Carefully stepping over the glass and watching in wonder as the windows continued to shatter and sparkle through the room we managed to dodge the imploding shrapnel.
            “I think someone is shooting at us!”  Comrade said indignantly.
Peering out at the sunny backyard and taking in the holes peppering the double paned glass I had to agree. Ducking the incoming shots that were now sporadic, we both stood, hands on hips, eyes narrowed into the sun, scouring the horizon for our sniper. Maybe we should have ducked, but we WERE preparing for vigilante justice, you see.
           “Oh for the luv of…” Comrade went storming to the back door, threw it open and screeched at her helpful husband out back. “GEORGE YOU CAN’T MOW GRAVEL!  GEORGE!”
Once she saved my dog’s life, from me truth be told. Taking a break from a heated escape attempt, Gunner tried to cool off in a puddle of oil. We’re talking Texas puddle of oil folks, not something spilled on the garage floor. We’re talking sailing through the air, grin on his doggy face, landing with a splash and wallowing around in it before he noticed it wasn’t water. If you ever get tarred and feathered do not call me. When he came dripping home, looking like some demon who clawed his way out of the River Styx, I simply went to the Sunday paper and looked under the “new dogs” section.
Comrade attacked him with the hose and a couple gallons of Tide, which only served to oil slick the entire backyard too. Then she demanded I take him to the Vet, in my car, pronto, which I did sort of, only in hubby’s car (it was his dog). Imagine my surprise when they dragged his usual abnormal white and orange fluffy self into the waiting room a few hours later.
So it was really no big surprise that Comrade could decode my fiction, she’s seen much of the fodder before it was submitted to The Glitter Globe for sustenance, modification and dissemination.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's the Hap-Happiest Time of the Year...

Remember that scene in Braveheart?  The “FREEDOM” one?  Ever feel like shouting it out in that voice when you escape through the doors of the superstore?  No wonder so many of us want to curl up in front of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and escape to Bedford Falls. After basically opting out of the insanity, as best as I can, by giving my loved ones books and socks this year, I debated what to do with this inner peace I thought I’d achieve…
Today, standing in line at a store, it hit me. I’ll play good Samaritan at every opportunity. A young mother was in front of me at the checkout, handful of coupons, two carts, two children, been there. Baby #1, nearest me, dropped his chocolaty bribe to the floor. We all know that the five second rule does not apply at Wal-mart. Unless it is the holidays and you frantically decide to ascribe to the whole 'germs are good and build your immune system' theory. Mama was going with this philosophy, she just wanted OUT, as did we all. As she juggled her coupons, Baby #2, wallet, putting goods onto the belt, shoving bags into the cart, Baby #1 let his peanut butter glob of goodness fall, again. This was my opportunity to help. Being a brave Mama myself, I picked up the grotesque mess and handed it to him, making confirmatory eye contact with his Mom first.
Stranger danger, which has gone to the realm of Orson Wells IMHO, was tossed aside for a moment. Take the candy from the stranger behind you son, just let me check out so we can GET OUT OF HERE. Momentarily the child looked frightened, hadn’t he been warned about strangers bearing candy?  Yet, like a child, he looked into my eyes, decided I was human too AND I was holding that enticing, slobbery, dusty gob of goop he wanted, so I was good by his standards. He took it, started gnawing at it again and coughing a really worrisome wet cough I hadn’t noticed before I’d juiced my hand up with his saliva.
Trying to reach nonchalantly for my hand sanitizer I remembered my kids at his age. Wait. Dropping is a game at that age. I’d just entered in the game. It’s an unspoken rule. I’m gonna drop it and you are going to pick it up and hand it to me. You’re playing Jumanji now Lady, oh you can look away and pretend not to see me drop it again, but we both know you not only saw it, you heard the splash. Come on, you’re It, and this line is long, so this is gonna be fuuuun.
Fine, I stood by my resolve even when it entailed playing pick-up with an adorable, messy little carrier monkey. Everyone knows sweet cooties don’t count, right?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shameless Verbarian

A thesaurus is my favorite dinosaur. I confess I have an unnatural attraction to them. When I go to the bookstore, I like to sit on the floor in front of them and play with them. Admittedly I judge them, too thin, too plain, unimaginative, insubstantial, easy, cheap. In a perfect world they would all astonish me at every turn, they’d be fat, come from good stock and I’d never want to leave them. They’d wear leather jackets. Oh. Baby.
Sadly my expectations appear unrealistic and fantastical. So like anyone with aberrant and outlandish expectations of their ideal, I turn to the internet for satisfaction. Yes. I am addicted to the cheap thrills of on-line word-ography. A shameless click followed by onerous load-up, while forced to endure tawdry pop-ups, and there you have it. www.thesaurus.com. It’s like voting, frustrating and unsatisfying and you wish you had better options. Yet until Mr. Write coughs up the magnum opus of my dreams, such is my lot in life.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Senseless Soliloquy

Why does somebody named Newt keep calling me every day?  If I steal some chocolate from my daughter’s secret chocolate horde, while she’s off studying at Hogwarts, will it magically stick to her hips or mine?  Apparently someone broke into my attic this year and stole our Christmas tree stand. Aesthetically speaking is there really any legitimate opposition to a Christmas hedge versus a tree? 
The crippling pressure of having to bake perfect and edible cookies, as a prerequisite to visiting new neighbors (to welcome them to the neighborhood) is why I’ve never met any of my new neighbors.
While napping inside a sunbeam, in the middle of any day, the meaning of life is crystal clear for one brief moment, just before you open your eyes. Cats understand this, which is why they are so smug.
Writing notes on either stunning stationery or random bits of junk mail both thrills me, and leaves me with a sense of accomplishment; so much so that I rarely, if ever, consult those snippets ever again. After I’ve put pen to paper, ideally my work here is done. Sometimes, though, if I do happen to jigsaw these scraps onto paper, this is what I get.
Do you think it could get me out of jury duty?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dangerous Absolutes

Is it just me or have you noticed that just about everything you ever say you (or your children/dog/etc.) will NEVER do – gets done?  For example when you were an immortal teenager (perhaps you are one now, have fun with it) and as you watched the black and white world pass you by, say, shopping at Toys R Us around Christmas time you might say, “My children will never go out of the house in their pajamas, and run through stores like rabid monkeys!”  Flash to the future and introduce your angel of light, let’s call her “Mowgli”. There she is, tearing through the aisles of a shop, biting the heads off Barbie dolls, and there you are, vigilant parent, taking pictures of it.

Perhaps you were a career driven vegetarian business woman with a penchant for Edgar Rice Burroughs, and you stumbled across Tarzan one day, next thing you know you’re married, homeschooling in the jungle and blissfully confused about how it all happened, because you specifically had said:  “I would never marry a hunter.”  “I would never homeschool.”  “I would NEVER live in New York.”  About this time, one might think, you would learn to stop talking, but you don’t. You tell your dog sitter, “Don’t worry, he’s house trained.”

Shut up already. Really?  You still haven’t figured it out though, you're still spouting absolutes. Surely I’m not alone in this phenomenon, have you ever said you’d never?  Told the meter man that your dog doesn’t bite?  And then lived to eat your words?  You know who you are. I find that the list snowballs as time rolls forward and long after you start to suspect that your Maker actually does listen to you and maybe, perhaps, is trying to tell you something, your slow-learner mouth is still going. I get it now though, and I’ll never do it again. Ever.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Sparkly World Rocks

Amusement parks. Carnival rides. Roller coasters. Are you a fan?  House of mirrors. Swinging bridges. Optical illusions. Are you in?  I’ve been trapped here for over a decade now, in my own personal Fun House. My universe is the world of chronic vertigo. Oh, we all have our cross to bear and after all of these years this is now the new normal. I barely remember what it was like before, and I am a spectacularly awesome spotter. After ten years I can stand in a crowded ballroom, with flashing lights, wearing high heels and contact lenses and make eye contact and carry on a conversation. Occasionally I may have to pause, and touch something solid, or glance at a light switch that I’m using to spot while the room spins around me; but if you make a sudden move, or expect me to turn my head and try to focus on something unexpected?  We’re all going down, and I’m taking you with me.
Fortunately there are far more functional good days than bad and even better, it was a pain portal into an unexpected and brave new world. Television had to go, especially news channels with the scrolling messages. My eyes couldn’t focus on it and who wants to sit next to the chick with the barf bag and watch CNN?  Blessedly I could still use the computer or at least a pencil and paper on bad days and I had a head full of my own stories anyway. Running on a treadmill or marching on The Stairmaster?  99% success rate, there are handles. Caffeine, sugar, flour, or any form of alcohol?  Not on your life. It was like a get healthy, get fit implant from Heck.
Chronic vertigo has made me braver, stronger and more outgoing. If twinkle lights and a crowded shopping mall can flatten me and leave me to bark at the ants, why should I fear extreme sports?  Bring. It. On. My world rocks and I write. I also run, dance, go four wheeling, jump on the bed, laugh, scream and a whole lot of the time I stagger even simply attempting an elevator dismount. If you notice, don’t judge. All in all it’s just another day in the Funhouse.  This is my life, and I intend to live it. Hang around and see what rocks out of The Glitter Globe if you want to play too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beta Data

“I thought your main character was from Chicago.” The Instant Message might read.
“She is.” I might jot back, while wondering if my critique friend had skipped the first seven chapters, interspersed with references to the windy city.
“Then what’s with the brogue she develops in chapter twelve?”
Those all-night writes really aren’t very productive, all things considered. I should not be listening to Flogging Molly while I write anyway, EVER. Pull out the machete, hack, chop, change and our protagonist is once again intelligible.
That is just one reason why I needed a Beta Reader. A Beta Reader is someone who will read through your stories with a critical eye and notice when someone changes nationalities, hair color or universes, without explanation. It helps if they read a whole lot too, so they can point out when you’re breaking every other writing rule known to man. Brutal honesty is a good trait also. Someone who can tell you, “I tried to read it, but my head filled with the drone of buzzing insects, I think I fell into a coma during the fifteenth page of back-story.”  The most excellent, professional Beta Readers work for chocolate and tattoos, because they understand that there are only four paid writers left on earth.
It is a blast to primp up several chapters and give it to a friend to read, because friends won’t tell you that your baby is ugly. They’ll never say, “Told you not to go into the desert outside Roswell alone…”  Never mind, we won’t go there. Suffice to say that few friends will boldly stomp on your offspring no matter how alien.
A beta reader, on the other hand, will tell you the truth about your offspring, because if they don’t you are going to take away their chocolate and pay extra to have their tattoos misspelled. Not that they have to be rude about your work. Choose wisely, like I did, someone with a critical eye and a knack for exceedingly polite delivery of painful news. Like a real Texan, “Sugar?  Did I mention how suh-weet your hair looked on Monday before you spent $100 and had it cut and dyed on Tuesday?”  Or a Brit, “Why, yes, my seatmates were rather large but their crushing weight felt like a perpetual hug, and it made the seven hour flight seem much quicker, on account of losing consciousness due to lack of oxygen.” 
Above all, when choosing your Beta, try to get a sparkly blue one.  They’re the best.