Monday, September 12, 2011

Blogging at #amwriting Today

Please check out my post over at the #amwriting blog today. "Write What You Know and Slaughter the Cat"

Friday, August 5, 2011

Which Spray Sunscreen Works Best?

I have absolutely no claims to a scientific mind, so y’all just take what I’ve got to say with a cup o’salt. 

We just returned from five days in Virginia beach. Now, if you’ve ever seen pictures of my family, you may have noticed that we are as lily whitebread as the day is long on the solstice, and all that jazz. My family goes back at least as far as the Salem witch trials, and my husband’s goes back to Jamestown. We are British Isles, British Isles, British Isles, with a bit of German and Dutch thrown in. So, yeah, we don’t exactly TAN.
This means we are sunscreen, hat, umbrella, and beach coverup fanatics. Like, strap on a stink bomb and raid the baby oil suntan manufacturer’s headquarters fanatics. (As pacifists, we still think nasal passage violence is okay).
So, here’s what we found with our unscientific study of spray on sunscreen usage:

Banana Boat Kids Tear Free UltraMist Spray Sunscreen - SPF 50: 
Cons: Sprays on horribly. Really, really, sucky spray. Bad coverage. Hurts your finger to press for as long as it takes to get on your kid, or your own feet. Rubs off easily.
Pros: Doesn’t make kids’ eyes tear up and turn into golf ball sized agents of parental sanity destruction.  

Coppertone Continuous Sport Spray, Ultra Sweatproof SPF 50
Cons: Runs out really fast. One bottle will cover one family with two adults, one 7 year old, one 2 year old, ONE TIME. If it gets in your kids’ eyes, there will be screaming of a SAW movie type variety. Buy prophylactic earplugs. And eyewash. Also, if you happen to open your mouth and inhale while spraying, your throat will hurt, a lot. 
Pros: Fast, even, awesome coverage. 

Pros: Fast coverage. Long lasting. Stays on until you scrape it off with a spatula and a pumice stone. No sunburn unless you decide you need to loofah yourself in the sand fifty times while body surfing and applying battery acid to your body.
Cons: See other Coppertone Spray for cons. Basically, eye and throat misery. Runs out super fast. 

And there’s the scoop, folks. Use at your own risk.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Happy Birthday #amwriting!

Writing is a lonely pursuit. It’s two minutes until 5am, and I’m penning this blog post. The sky is still dark. In the distance, the lights of a ship remind me that my closest colleagues may be far away and separated by an ocean of time and space. 
It’s not all bad, of course. For most of us writer-folk, solitude is a precious thing. I’m on vacation, so I happen to be sitting on a beach, waiting for dawn, and watching the white foam of the waves in the darkness. 
But even though we crave our solitary time with the words, sometimes it’s good to have a friend out there in the darkness, someone’s hand to grasp when the abyss threatens. 
Two years ago, I joined Twitter. I mostly did it in anticipation of attending my first Romance Writers of America national conference. There was no local chapter, and I knew only one person. That year, Twitter made little difference to my conference experience, though it has since enhanced that week immeasurably. 
It was not a good time for me. I was all fired up from the conference to write, but my son was five months old and had begun having sleeping issues. I was often up in the wee hours of the morning, holding him in one arm and nursing, while typing one-handed on my laptop in the dark. My progress was excruciatingly slow. Then, one day, I discovered the #amwriting hashtag. I now realize it must have been right at the beginning. Johanna Harness had decided to get up early and write before her kids were awake. The other folks using the hashtag were all writing in the wee hours like I was. I wish I could describe the excitement of finding those people.
I would post my measly word counts. 62 words written while nursing, I might tweet, and people would jump in and cheer me on. #amwriting became my spiritual gatorade in the midst of a long, slow marathon. Later, as more and more people found the hashtag, it morphed. No longer just for a.m. writers, it came to mean I AM WRITING. 
Since that time I’ve found that when I’m not on Twitter regularly, I’m also not writing. Isn’t that strange? You’d think it would be the other way around. But the #amwriting hashtag and the community of writers I’ve found there feed me in so many ways. When I’m not feeding, I lose energy. I lose heart. 
So thank you, #amwriting community. Thank you for two wonderful years, and may we have many, many more together. You nurture my spirt, you feed my soul. You make me WRITE.

Now, to continue the #amwriting party love, please check out David Ozab's site. The #amwriting community is wide and varied. There's room for all!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Profanity: How do you feel about it?

The heroine of my work in progress is an agoraphobic mage and a native New Yorker. She has a lot of pent of rage and she swears quite a bit. Some of this is the habit of lifetime, and some of it is a way to express a visceral feeling without losing herself so completely that she sets fire to New York City.
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano on HBO. A swearing king.
I’m also a native New Yorker, and I swear a lot, too. Since having children, I’ve mended my ways a bit (only a bit) and I’m pretty sure my kids think, “Dude!” is a terrible word, because it’s what I say when someone cuts me off in traffic now. This is a far cry from the two word phrase I used to use, which referenced the sucking of male genitalia and things one shouldn’t do with one’s mother. 
Personally, I love swearing. Maybe it wouldn’t matter to me so much if gutteral cries of rage were in vogue, but people seem to expect us to use language--except--if I’m in the middle of a totally non-rational state of pissedoffedness (my word, you’re welcome to use it) then the last thing I’m up for is a little rational debate. 
So how do you feel about swearing? Does it bother you? What about in fiction or in films? I feel like there are people who swear and people who don’t, so I’m cool with characters being true to themselves, but I also don’t write Young Adult books or make children’s movies. 
Is swearing the failure to make full use of language, the last refuge of the irrational mind, a bad habit? Or is it a fun part of the language which allows us to express ugly feelings? 
You tell me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Do We All Love the Bad Boys? (And yes, Lucius Malfoy IS SEXY)!

Photo: Warner Bros
I would never marry the proverbial Bad Boy. I rarely dated them, ahem. 
But in fiction? On film? Sexy villains, Regency rakes, suave con men and fist-first, talk-later beefcake boys? Love ‘em. 
Why is that? 
Well, I have a few theories.

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox
1.  Throw you against a wall sex. Yes, you read that right. Everything about the Bad Boy screams, “In bed I’ll be the guy who is totally happy to have you every way there is and make you like it.” Spike and Buffy, anyone? They wrecked the freaking HOUSE.

2.  The allure of the forbidden. We all want what we can’t have. Women, especially, are told to be “good” from a young age. It’s not bad advice. Going against what society considers to be good behavior for women can have disastrous results: unplanned pregnancy, disease, rape, poverty...NOT BEING LIKED. (More on that another time). But breaking the rules? There are thrills in that. There’s fear in that. There’s really awesome sex in that. (Do you see a trend here)?

Photo: MGM
3.  Bad Boys don’t expect you to be good. You’re not going to disappoint them when you screw up. Unless you have a weakness for the honorable bad boy, in which case, sorry, you’re screwed (but hopefully, well). When Catherine Banning doesn’t trust Thomas Crown enough to go with him at first in The Thomas Crown Affair, he doesn’t hold it against her. He understands human foibles. Okay, he’s one of those honorable bad boys, I know. Did I mention I have a weakness for those? Oh, yeah. Which brings me to...

4.  The promise of redemption. Yes, I know. You’re not supposed to try and change a man. But let’s be real. The allure of the reformed rake, or the bad boy made good is POWERFUL. There’s a saying that men want an angel for the daytime and a whore at night. It’s not just men. We want it, too. But when you’re looking at that fine, upstanding man, the noble hero, it can be harder to see the potential for throw you against a wall sex. At the moment I can’t think of one character who exudes both a mainstream, stand-up guy image and the bad boy in the bedroom image. I’m sure it’s a failure of my imagination. You’ll all help me out here, right? Name some super hot, wild man heroes for me, would you? 
Oh, and turn up the air conditioning. It’s getting rather warm in here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Guest Blog at #amwriting

I'm also over at the #amwriting blog today, offering my Top Ten Tips for Introverts to Survive a Writers Conference. Come over and say hi!

Don't you just LOVE Alan Rickman?

Remember back in high school when you just looked around the room and could tell by what people wore and who they were clumped together with in the corner who the cool people were? No longer. Now we have the internet. We have Twitter follower numbers and Facebook friend counts and now we also have Klout.
What is Klout, you ask? Well, I don’t really know. But, I’m using it. In fact, I logged in just a little while ago and was dismayed to have lost a Klout point. WHAT?!?! 
Now, Klout analyzes all sorts of things across various sites, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin etc and gives you a score. And the only possible reason I can come up with for losing points is that I failed to blog about Alan Rickman this past week. 
You see, Klout tells people what subjects it considers you to be influential in, and Klout has decided I am influential about Alan Rickman. It is certainly true that I adore Alan Rickman. I loved him in Die Hard. I cheered when he threatened to cut out someone’s heart with a spoon in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. I swooned for him as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. And of course, I utterly adored him as Professor Snape. 
Photo: Warner Bros.
When he took out a full page ad to thank J.K. Rowling for the wonderful ride of the Harry Potter films, I officially added Alan Rickman to my mental BEST PEOPLE EVER list. (If you don’t have such a list, I suggest you get on that). 
This weekend, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Hands down, the best part of the film for me was Snape. I have a feeling I’ll be buying the DVD and watching Snape crying over Lily Potter about ten dozen times. Unrequited love? A lifetime of hiding ones feelings and protecting a child while wearing a mask of villainy? Redemption? Villains turned heroes? Oh, my God. It pushes every last one of my favorite story buttons. I’m getting heart palpitations just thinking about it. (No, I’ve only had one cup of coffee, friends. Don’t go there).
So in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m blogging about Mr. Rickman because of the evil Klout number drop. But, I’m also doing it because it has been a few days now, and I’m able to write this without falling into a sniveling dripping mess. Because, damn, I’m going to miss that character! 
Farewell, Snape. I can’t wait to see what Mr. Rickman does next.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When Animals Go Bad

Yesterday evening, the dog did not come in when I called him. When I went searching, I heard the most horrific, high-pitched terror/pain freakout wailing. If we had bear traps, I'd have thought the dog was stuck in one. I found the dog in the backyard, unhurt, but anxious to lead me to the scene of the terror. About ten feet from the back of the garage, I found it--a small turtle, with suspicious amounts of dog saliva on its shell, and what looked like a death crack from doggy jaws zig-zagging across its back.
I took our dog inside and announced to all and sundry that we were harboring a vicious turtle-killer. Later, when my husband and I were leaving to go out to dinner, I decided to check and see if the turtle was truly dead. As I rounded the corner in the fading light, I saw the little guy, neck stretched out, and amphibious feet paddling for dear life. He was like an armored Michael Phelps, swimming for the gold, as he raced across our grass.
"Go, little turtle, go!" I shouted. He stopped cold. Apparently, turtles do not appreciate Olympic style cheers. So, after showing Chris and peeking my head back inside the house to shout, "The turtle lives!" we went out to dinner. 
But, this morning, I went looking. The turtle was gone. And now I'm crossing my fingers, and hoping the turtle indeed lives, because I'm pretty sure a dead turtle nearby will get very nasty very quickly in the June heat. 
All of this brings me to the realization that I'm totally down with respect for all of life, as long as I don't have to deal with the rotting carcass. 

So, as we prepare for a summer surrounded by pets and woodland creatures, I ask you, what am I going to do if another turtle shows up, and this time, the dog finishes the dastardly deed?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What do your characters value?

In this post, I talked about my own internal conflict between my ideals and my reality. This morning, I realized this is the seed for internal conflict in characters. 
We are always in conflict. Some conflicts are larger than others. A character needs high-stakes conflict to keep a reader reading. And high-stakes conflict always involves values. Life vs. honor has often been a big conflict in books. What if your character values loyalty? What if she also values friends and family? Now what happens if she finds herself in a situation where she can’t be loyal to both? 
Small conflict in the midst of these larger-than-life conflicts can help you make bridging scenes more tension-filled. Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon is claustrophobic, but he keeps having to go through underground passageways and the like. Many of those scenes would be dreadfully boring were it not for Robert Langdon’s conflict. He wants to get out of there; he needs to keep going.
Just think about Indiana Jones and the snakes.
On a light note, what if your character had been told to give up caffeine? The doctors have told him his stress is too high and he’s heading for a heart attack. Maybe throughout the story he has been trying to keep his stress under control, which has to be hard, because the author has been chucking stress at him in fits of sadistic authorial fun. He really wants a cup of coffee. It’s a small thing, but it will run through all the scenes, adding a layer of tension. 
You can take it to high stakes if you want. Maybe he reaches a point in the novel where he has been awake for three days and cannot fall asleep or someone he loves will die.  
Now he’s in conflict with his need to stay alive, his desire for a cup of coffee, and his need to keep a friend alive. What if this character values survival above everything else? What if in the past he has been a lousy friend?
Finding that internal conflict in your characters, both the larger-than-life kind and the everyday kind, all comes back to values. 
So, what do your characters value? How do those values conflict?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why do you love Dancing with the Stars?

Oh, there’s a hot-button title, isn’t there? What presumption. Actually, I just figure if you don’t like the show, you won’t have clicked the link. :)

If you love Dancing with the Stars, then maybe you’ll understand why I love it, too. There are lots of reasons, but let’s start with the important one--costumes.
How can you not love the costumes? I mean, even when they are hideous, they’re gorgeous in a totally tacky, we-didn’t-have-enough-time-and-we-can’t-drape-to-save-our-life kind of way. (That doesn’t happen often, and this season, they’ve been very good indeed).
It’s fun. That’s right. Dancing with the Stars makes me smile. It makes my daughter smile. ToddlerDude shakes his diaper-clad bootie when we watch the dvr’d shows. Even the husband, who professes to despise such not-worth-his-time-tv laughs at Len, shakes his head at Bruno and offers his opinions on ranks and scores.
But you know why I really love it? 
It’s about learning. I love watching the people start at the beginning, clueless and frightened and then work themselves until they drop week after week, trying to improve. And when they do? 
It’s magic. 
My favorite quote, which my Dad marked out in pencil in his copy of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, is when Merlin says to Arthur:
“The best thing for being sad is to learn something.”

It’s true for me. There’s an energy to learning. It captivates my senses. When I watch “The Dancing Show” as we call it in my house, I live that energy vicariously. 
Dancing with the Stars makes me smile. That’s why I love it. Why do you?

Daily Check-in

It’s time for the daily check-in. Today offered more opportunities for living my values, and most importantly, I didn’t skimp on creativity, so my mood was a whole lot better.
Health Napped. Ate good food. Took a short walk with the ToddlerDude. Basked in the sunshine.
Fun  Monday night is Dancing With The Stars, which daughter and I watch together. She has to go to bed before it is over, so we tape it and watch the rest later. She is routing for Mark Ballas and his partner, Chelsea Kane this time, since her beloved Lacey was voted off. 
I am all for the Karate Kid and Kirstie Alley. (Kudos to whomever can name the Kirstie Alley character from a fabulously soapy period mini-series--the reason I adore her). We critique the costumes, the dancing and the behavior of the stars. It is great girlie fun. Daughter’s comments are hilarious.
Spirit Writing this post. *wink* Also, some very interesting dreamwork while I was napping--more on that another time.
Creativity Two blog posts and 7 pages on one of my novels!
Beauty Redbud leaves! Yeah! On our many redbuds, but especially the spindly baby on the side of our house. 
Gratitude Twitter friends and the lifeline they have provided me. Can never fully express my gratitude for this one.
Family See Fun, but seriously, this Monday night time with my daughter is my favorite family time all week.
Friends I will be calling my good friend from college to wish her a happy birthday. And let’s not forget my husband, who is my best friend. 
Learning The process of writing this blog and seeing the comments is a huge learning experience from me. I learn so much from the people who comment.
Nurturing Others Poor ToddlerDude is sick once again, so there was a lot of snuggling today, and lots of sick-care love to go around. Still, we managed to plant one plant in the yard today. That felt good.
What about you? Is Monday easier or harder for you to fit in all the things that are important to you? Do even try to fit things all in one day? Or do you divide your time and attention differently?

Do you feed yourself first? What feeds you?

Do you feed yourself?
On an airplane, the flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. This makes sense. If you’re passed out from lack of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else. 
In life, however, many of us forget this lesson and try to feed the world before ourselves. We go around the plane affixing oxygen masks while we slowly suffocate. That doesn’t sound very smart, does it? I mean even if you want to be a saint, surely saints could help more people if they didn’t collapse after helping ten?
Writer Johanna Harness once told me when she gets up at 5a.m. to write it makes her a better mother. She didn’t say, however, that she writes to be a better mother. My guess is, she writes because it feeds her in some way.
I’ve realized over the past few days of writing these posts that I could actually cull my values down to one--Spirit. Every other value on the list feeds my spirit. When my entire being is filled with the joy of friends and family, when I hum with the vitality of good health, when my heart overflows with happiness from laughter from fun, when I am humbled by gratitude or the profound breadth of all there is to learn, and when my very being brims with awe from the sight of something beautiful, then my spirit is full to bursting. 

It makes me want to pass it on. So, my top value is Spirit. My spirit. Because when that is full, I am at my best, I can be my best and I can give my best to the world.
And let’s be clear: my best today may be a different thing than my best tomorrow. Life is a work in progress, or WIP, as we writers call them. You have only to check in with the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter at any moment to see how writers are dealing with their WIPs. It covers the entire gamut of human experience--just like life. 
So what feeds you? And could you narrow your values down to just one?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Living Our Values: Sometimes the steps are very small indeed

I wasn't going to put anything up today. But then I started doing violence to my clothes dryer. It seemed like I was in need of a little perspective. 

I don't know about you, but I often get my angriest when I'm angry with myself. And today, by about 6:30pm, I was downright furious with myself. Why? 

Oh, because I hadn't accomplished anything important today. I was giving myself the old failure mental beating. So, I decided it was time to hit the list. About mid-way down the list, you'll see where I slipped up, and why I might be angry. 

What about you? Do you get angry with yourself? Is it justified? Do you take it out on your slacker appliances? 

You don't? Oh, well. I'm sure there's something else wrong with you.  Good for you!

Here they are, my alleged 10 values and what I did towards them today. It seems harder on the weekend, and I wonder why that is?

Health  I...wait for it...slept. No, really SLEPT. 12 hours and 45 minutes. Yeah. That happens about once every couple of months. Still, in a life so often devoid of sleep, a long night is a good thing. 
Fun  I read. (You'll see this a lot. It's kind of my favorite activity). I finished the book I started on Friday night and while reading it was fun, it almost doesn’t make this category because I was so desolate when it ended and I discovered the next one doesn’t come out until 2012. Where is a literary time machine when you need one?
Spirit I wrote this post. *wink* (Okay, so this is likely to be my standard answer for a while). But, seriously. You wouldn't believe how much this exercise can strip a foul mood down to its core and toss it out on its nasty little ear.
Creativity So, as of right now, nothing. Which may explain why I have been in an utterly foul mood for a few hours. 
Beauty   My hair looks fantastic. Yes, I realize this sounds horribly vain, but I’m having a really good hair day. I actually *like* seeing my hair in the mirror today. This is good. Sometimes the hardest place to find beauty is in ourselves, especially our personal appearance. When we have those moments, it’s probably a good idea to celebrate them. No probably about it. It is a good idea.
Gratitude  Today, I’m really grateful for my husband. He kept the kids this morning while I slept and listened to me me whine about stuff with an understanding ear. 
Family   It was nice to chase the kids outside for a bit. Daughter and neighbor-child opened a roadside hair salon. Remember Beauty? Yeah, um, so about that.  I didn’t let them touch my hair, lol. Favorite moment of the day was ToddlerDude’s guttural, “Woah!” when older neighbor-girl hard-pedaled down the block trailing a colorful kite high above our heads.
Friends  This afternoon, the neighbor-moms and I chatted as far away as possible from the neighbor-kids and today’s backyard wildlife adventure find--a snake. I confess I was glad ToddlerDude was still small when one Mom had to race her son home to stop him from bringing his slithery new friend into their house. Whew. Dodged that bullet!
Learning I did a bit more exploring on the blog front. In other news, I learned AGAIN how little patience I have, and how much work I have to do on that front. Is there a school for patience? What about self-patience? 
Nurturing Others I made dinner, even though I really wanted to crawl into bed. I made lunch. I didn’t sell my children to ebay gypsies. 
What? The last part didn’t sound nurturing? I did say small steps, right? 
Itty bitty steps. Sometimes that’s all we can do.