Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can't We Be Correct When We Open Our Mouths?

Occassionally I will be grabbing egregious errors in print or over the air -- even overheard, but there usually are too many overheard -- and ranting a bit about them here. Today's entry comes courtesy of the flu pandemic. Actually, there are two entries. The first is trying to change the media from saying "swine flu" rather than "H1N1." So not going to happen. Lots of poor pigs will suffer. . . .

Next comes to us from none other than Janet Napolitano herself. She was asked why the US doesn't use thermal imaging devices at our borders or airports to identify people who are sick. She spoke correctly about people being contageous before symptoms appear, thereby rendering the thermal imaging devices less than perfect. She then went on to say that these devices don't always register "people who have temperatures."

Um, if we have a pulse, we have a temperature. Or, do we have a previously unreported problem of dead people crossing our borders? What she meant to say was
fever, I think.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I never know where inspiration -- or ideas for a story/poem/essay -- comes from. Usually when I least expect it, an idea grabs hold of gray cells and won't let go until I face it.

So it was the other night when I was driving home from Jim Minick's poetry reading (see earlier post). I was deeply moved by his oral stories and poems about his aunt who has passed away. How lucky he was to know her. This got me to thinking about my dear relatives who have also passed.

Missing my aunt, who was my second mother, led to me to finish an essay called The Gift. I polished it and submitted it to a writing contest. That wasn't enough to calm the twitchy gray cells, however.

Now, I don't believe in automatic writing, but I do believe in channeling people's feelings and thoughts. I couldn't get my dear mother out of my mind. I began writing what I thought would be another essay. Right now, it looks more like free verse. Funny, neither my mother nor I like poetry all that much. I don't know why the feelings came out in poetic form. Maybe because I wanted to keep the words sparse. Tell the story with the least amount of words possible. Maybe I was too tired and lazy to form complete sentences for an essay. Maybe it came out the only way I could handle it.

At any rate, I can thank Jim Minick for stirring up emotions that have, thus far, manifested themselves in a poem.

Wonder where my next inspiration will come from.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spring Contests

'tis the season for several contests.

One is me against the oak pollen. Or, more precisely, the oak pollen against me. The oak pollen is winning. I relearned a lesson the hard way yesterday. My Velcro kitty, Nikki, wants to cuddle. She had been outside all day leaving roll-marks in the pollen on the driveway and deck. She hopped up in my lap, gave me a head butt, snuzzled a t-shirt, and jumped down, leaving yellow gunk all over me. Sneezing fit lasted 20 minutes. Maybe I won't cuddle with her for a while. Even brushing the gunk out of her no-longer-white-but-now-dingy-yellow fur brings on itchy eyes and ears, plus a fair number of explosive sneezes. Better check the tissue supply. Or use an old bed sheet.

The next set of contests are writing contests. They seem to sprout along with the dandelions.

I worked hard over the past several weeks on a short story, a poem (more as a joke, because I am really not a poet), and a personal essay. Each is targeted at specific contests. The short story already placed third in the Virginia Writers Club "Inside the Back Cover" contest (see blog entry below). I have entered it in another regional contest and am seriously considering entering a national contest.

The poem? Actually, four haiku. More of a joke because a coordinator of a contest was complaining that she had very few entries. I sent one so that she'd at least have a wee bit of content. And then I decided it too could go to a regional contest.

As for the personal essay, definitely targeted for the regional contest.

We'll see what happens. Inspiration comes between sneezes, but at least it comes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Poetry Reading

Last night the Westlake Library hosted a poetry reading in honor of National Poetry Month. Four Lake Writers, Becky Mushko, Rodney Franklin, Bruce Rae and Franz Beisser, all read original works, as did Beatrice Iceman.

The guest of honor, though, was Jim Minick, poet and literature professor at Radnor University. His readings from Her Secret Song, a collection about an aunt, were powerful and moving. If anyone wants to read more by a Southwest Virginia poet who captures the rhythm of life, check out Jim's work.

I finished Her Secret Song last night. Twice.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Contest Win

I have to brag on myself. I won third place in the annual "Inside the Back Cover" fiction contest sponsored by the Virginia Writers Club for my short, short story TOAD. I am very pleased and not the least surprised. My thanks to the judges for selecting me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Classifying Fiction

I have been agonizing over how to classify Unintended Consequences, my first Mad Max novel. (No, it's not a fiction novel! I know not to make that bone-head mistake.) Is this women's fiction? contemporary fiction? A mystery that doesn't follow the conventions for a mystery? A whydunit? Oh, the choices to make.

Then last night, I was reading Publishers Weekly and came across this description of a new series launcher: "chicken-fried chick lit paranormal."

Classifying fiction is ridiculous. See above.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On the Ball

I'm on the ball today. Literally.

I spent the entire, really the entire, day at my desk working on my own materials. Most of my friends don't believe me when I tell them I work on a balance ball. I've set up my office with my desk, two computers, two printers and a work space at right angles on the left. There is a bookcase out of view on the right loaded with reference material. So, today I was productive.

First, I worked on a personal essay that I plan to submit to a couple of contests. It needs a bit more tweaking, but overall I'm satisfied I'm on the right track.

Next, I finally couldn't put off writing the one-page synopsis for my first Mad Max novel. When someone tells you it's harder to write the synopsis than the entire novel, do not RPTFLOL! Believe them. Yes, there is a format to follow, but when every word counts, it's difficult to find le mot juste.

I wrapped up a short story for another contest, after sending it to my cousin for her approval. After all, her older brother was my model, although I took many liberties with the plot.

Lastly, I reviewed my query letter and all but trashed it. I now have four versions left on my laptop. I can't count how many I've already trashed. Then, I read entries for the query letter contest Nathan Barnsford is running. Some were better than mine, some were worse. Oops, I should have entered the contest, although my fellow writers were brutal in their rejections. Sigh. Where has the civility gone? One would-be-agent-for-a-day, the title of the contest had a terrific quote: "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have been revising the first chapter of Mad Max 2 and just pulled it up to work on it, when I was interrupted. Nikki, my CWA, who is NOT allowed to climb on the ball -- remember, she is armed and dangerous -- decided I needed to quit working and feed her.

Guess that's my cue to stop for the night, think about the changes I made to the four projects above, and begin again just after dawn tomorrow.

See ya!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Plots and Schemes

I love it when people ask writers where they get their ideas. Here's how I came up with my latest.

Over the past week, I developed the idea for the fourth Mad Max mystery. It all started with a story in the Roanoke Times about a woman who died alone and no one found her body for 18 months. And that's where my plot began.

What if Max lives near a recluse who dies and no one notices? I began fleshing out the plot in my head, wondering where it would lead. It led to thoughts of murder. Two murders. With Max, Alex, Emily and Manny trying to solve them.

All of this was against two wonderful golf courses in Pinehurst, where my husband Terry and I play two rounds on the weekend. Perfect weather. Warm, sunny, green air. Green air??? Yup, pines were in full pollen release. It isn't called Pinehurst for nothing. Great, irritating green clouds of pollen blowing across fairways, coating cars, making noses sneeze. And in my brain stem, I kept thinking about killing people.

Next, Terry and I drove down to Augusta to watch a practice round of the Masters. Don't we look like we are having fun?? We had checked the weather map before we left. It was supposed to be 60 degrees, so we rigged for 60. We did not rig for 40! It was so bloody cold that most of the top players stayed indoors and didn't practice. We'll see how they do.

We sat at Amen Corner, a place which has probably heard as many prayers as the Sistine Chapel. It's also the Kodak hole at Augusta National. I looked out at the perfect azaeleas, dogwood, greens, white sand traps. And plots and schemes continuing to build in my head about murder. We fell into a conversation with two couples behind us. They turned out to be from Kentucky and as luck would have it, they arrived with a camera and a dead battery. (No, that's not the death I had in mind.)

I agreed to take a couple of snaps of them and send the photos along. I wonder what they would have thought if they knew I was planning to murder a recluse by suffocation and a second man in a faked accident. You really can't believe what some people are thinking.

At any rate, from the single article to a complete blueprint for a novel -- all in one week. And that's where I got the idea for Echoes of Silence. At least, that's the working title.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I needed to put the trauma of the demise of my corporate life behind me and get on with something I could control. I can control my writing, and the time I spend on it, whereas I cannot really have much of an impact on my company. Yes, I still do my job and help get ready for the ultimate break up of our intellectual property. That no longer gives me any true satisfaction, since I spent a lot of time building our intellectual property collection.

I returned to a short story I've been working on for a few weeks. "Toad" is about 1100 words and features a ten-year-old boy spending a day on his own with two friends. I've read this at Lake Writers and Valley Writers, each time receiving excellent feedback to improve the tale.

One criticism kept coming up. I don't identify one of Toad's friends as a burro until the last page. Why? Because it's clear from the beginning that the pal is an animal. Since the animal doesn't have any lines, I didn't see fit to say something as obvious as "Fatso was a burro."

Then the question of a burro versus a donkey became a bone of contention. Some critics said they were identical. I maintain that the burro is slightly different from a donkey. A bit of research showed that I was right. I love being right.

What's the difference? A burro is a feral descendant from Spanish donkeys, smaller that the donkeys brought over by the English later. Both are true donkeys, but come from different DNA sources.

Fatso is a burro. Having grown up in the California desert, I saw enough of these shaggy feral beasts to know one when I see one. And in my mind's eye, Fatso is a fuzzy burro.

To my friends who wanted me to explain this in the story, NOT going to happen. For those who read this blog, this might be the end of the conflict.

Although, since another writer friend is on a quest to find out when mules first appeared in the Blue Ridge, this might not be the last word. If anyone has proof when mules came to the Blue Ridge, let me know.

Whatever. At least I'm writing and enjoying every word.