Friday, January 13, 2017

I Hate You, Sigmund Freud

Yesterday, I received a message from an old friend. He recently learned he has cancer and will be undergoing surgery on January 20th.

I sent back a message of support, saying, in part, "We've reached the point in life where the adventures we face lean less toward scary-exciting and more toward straight scary" and that my thoughts and good vibes would be with him.

I went on to share that on the day of his surgery, I will be having my own adventure. It will be the first time I've ever joined a public protest. Next weekend, I'm going to the Women's March on Washington. (With my daughter. And her wife. And their two kids. Enough said.)

I finished by saying, "I'll spare a thought for you as the Washington Monument comes into sight."

The instant after I hit the enter key, the signficance of that hit me.

I could have chosen the Lincoln Memorial. The Jefferson Monument. The Vietnam Veteran's Wall. But no, I had to go with the Washington Monument.

I came home and told Old Dog about it, who laughed until he wheezed and said, "And that's why I love you."

I live to amuse.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Extreme Makeover

This post is for my older sister, Carla, who adores home renovation. Our dad used to flip houses back in the 1960's, before that was a thing, so we were kind of brought up on it.

Old Dog and I just finished remodeling our downstairs bath in preparation for getting older.

We replaced the toilet with a new, taller, dual-flush model.

(Grab bars to be added later.)

The old vanity was pretty beaten-up. One of the mirrored doors on the medicine cabinet had worn out its hinge and kept falling out, so it had to be removed.

A year ago.

Maybe two.

Three tops.

But my favorite update is the shower. Prior to the remodel, we had what may well be the world's oldest hot tub. It was huge--so big our hot water tank didn't hold enough water to fill it--and made of that old, greenish fiberglass.

Removing that tub freed up enough space to create a huge shower, with a corner seat so you can sit down and shave your legs or scrub your feet.

Maybe getting older isn't so bad after all.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

To Sue or Not to Sue

A couple of weeks ago I was in a car accident. I'm fine, the car will be fine and the other driver is fine, although from the presence of her antifreeze on my bumper, I'm pretty sure her car was totaled. :-(

Brief summary of the crash: I was driving on a busy road that is currently down to a single westbound lane, due to construction. I stopped at a light. After it turned green and I drove on, my engine started to rev for reasons I still don't understand. Within an eighth of a mile the engine was roaring like a cyclone and the tachometer was registering 6000 rpm.  

I checked my rearview mirror. The closest car was maybe five car lengths behind me. I lifted my foot off the accelerator. The tach didn't drop, so I put on the brakes. And then the driver behind me slammed into my rear bumper. 

My little Subaru now has a severe under-bite and will be spending some quality time at the same shop that fixed her up after I drove her through the back wall of the garage

Told you that to tell you this: Two days later I started getting bombarded by calls from people offering to represent me in my pain and suffering lawsuit. Here are my issues with that:

1) I don't have any pain and suffering. I have a minor annoyance because I have to take my car into the body shop. And it's less annoyance than last time, because at least this time I don't feel like a total idiot.

2) Even if I had suffered an injury, I have health insurance and her car insurance would cover my deductible and co-pays.

3) Bottom line is, I don't believe in suing people for making mistakes. If there's ill intent, or you suffer so much damage it's going to cost you a lot of money, then maybe. Otherwise, forgive and move on. 

Life is too short to spend it trying to make a buck off someone else's bad judgment.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Fiction Friday: Plot with the Big Girls or Stay on the Porch

Last Thursday I fell off my front porch.


Onto the concrete sidewalk.

Our porch doesn't have any railings, but it does have lots of flower pots to gently herd the careless visitor away from the edge. Generally, that's enough.

So how did this happen?

Things were not going well in my writing world, major plot problems, so I decided to take a break and water my flowers.

But once the flowers were watered, no brilliant solutions had come to me. And then I noticed the spiderwebs on the porch ceiling were out of control again so I got the broom and started sweeping them off.

Only my head was still really wrapped up in the book and I was looking at the ceiling and not the floor and the next thing I knew, I took a step back to discover nothing under my foot but air.

So here's the thing. Our porch is 24" high, That doesn't sound like much, but if you add two feet of altitude when you're already toppling like a sequoia, it gives you time to think.

Thoughts like:


That was stupid.

This is really going to hurt.

And (fortunately) Wait, didn't my t'ai chi teacher say you could redirect some of the momentum of a fall by rolling into it?

She did, and it helped. (I think.) I didn't break anything. I didn't hit my head. My back and arms were bruised and scratched and I was shaken up, but otherwise okay.

At least I wasn't driving.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fiction Friday: Metaphor and Voice

On Sunday over at Eight Ladies Writing, Jilly talked about writing voice.
After forty years of writing, my own voice has developed a lot over the past five, due in large part to my trusty beta reader and queen of metaphor, Nicole Amsler. Because the experience of developing a stronger voice is so recent, I have some thoughts to offer on this topic.
I recommend going here to review Jilly’s post before you read this. If you don’t have time to do that, here’s a brief overview:
Jilly’s protagonist, Alexis, is a six-foot-tall, shaven-headed girl who was raised as a boy in a monastery of fighting monks. In her first real fight, she fells a much larger opponent in hand-to-hand combat. Jilly was looking for a metaphor to capture the way he falls to the ground.
She also mentioned a perfect metaphor she encountered in Sir Terry Pratchett’s fourth Discworld book, Mort: “Binky moved at an easy gallop, his great muscles sliding under his skin as easily as alligators off a sandbank.”
I don’t aspire to the level of Pratchett (okay, I aspire, but I don’t expect to pull it off), but there are a few requirements for creating good, voicey metaphors:
1) Original. Clichés are rich images—dropped like a stone, fell like a tree—but readers have seen them so many times they’ve lost their vividness. To really be impactful, metaphors and similes need to be fresh.
In one of Annie Proulx’s books, The Shipping News, she described a little girl’s hand as “hot as a dog’s paw.” Dogs’ normal body temperatures run a degree or two above humans’, so if you’ve ever handled a dog’s foot, that image creates a visceral impact.
2) Bounded by the point-of-view character’s experience.
Jilly attacked the task of identifying a strong metaphor in the right way—by first defining the boundaries of her character’s life and then looking for an experience that sums up what’s currently going on for her—seeing her felled opponent drop heavily to the ground.
This is something to consider when you’re building your world. Every decision you make about what does and doesn’t exist in the setting you create for your characters sets limitations on what metaphors, and even individual words, you’ll be able to use in describing later events.
One metaphor that occurred to me for Jilly’s situation is the water bucket dropping into the well.
The problem with this, of course, is that people typically lower buckets into wells slowly, using the hand-crank provided at the top of the well. Only if the axle had recently been oiled and the water-bearer just let the bucket drop unhindered would you get momentum comparable to an unconscious man falling to the ground.
Which brings us to the third requirement:
3) Intuitive.
Metaphors that enrich our writing without making it strained and hard to follow evoke an instantaneous image. They’re like the punch-line of a joke—if someone has to explain it, it isn’t funny. Similarly, if a metaphor needs a long setup, the setup robs it of intensity.
That’s why Pratchett’s alligator and Proulx’s dog paw work so well.
4) Bounded by the reader’s experience
This is a subset of “intuitive.” What is intuitive for one reader may not be for another. I would argue that Pratchett’s alligator works better than Proulx’s dog because if you’ve never handled a dog’s paw, you won’t know how hot they feel, but most of us have seen movies or nature programs showing alligators slithering off a sandbank.
You can’t, of course, account for every potential reader, but keeping in mind the general level of exposure your audience has with your planned metaphor is a good idea.
5) Generating good metaphors:
The first thing I generally do is just ask myself what the thing I’m trying to describe looks like or feels like or sounds like or smells like. I try to let words and images run through my mind, unfiltered.
If that doesn’t bring up anything useful, I sometimes try Googling the quality I’m trying to describe, (e.g. “momentum”). Often, I limit the results to images, since I don’t want to steal someone else’s words. (And sometimes I’m desperate and cheerfully rip off other, better writers.)
Sometimes you can take an element of what you’re describing and just work with that. For example, instead of describing how he fell, you might try describing how it sounded when he hit the ground.
Another option is to use the cliché, but making it very specific to the POV character’s world: not just “He fell like a tree,” but “He fell like a .” You’ll want to set this up ahead of time.
For example, in Jilly’s case, as Alexis is making her way through the forest prior to the fight, she think about the Abraxis tree that towers over every other tree in the forest. One time, one was felled near the monastery. It shook the earth for three miles in any direction. Maybe it knocked over the candles on the altar. Then, pages later, when her opponent drops, she can just make a short-hand reference to an event the reader is already familiar with.
How do you go about generating strong, voicey metaphors?
(This post was originally published on Eight Ladies Writing.)

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Problem with P

Last Tuesday morning I was working on my novel while eating breakfast. This isn't unusual. Morning is my best writing time and one of the few multi-tasks I can manage these days is chewing and typing.

Something must have happened, though, because somehow I managed to dribble milk from my cereal into my keyboard. (I picture myself leaning forward over the keyboard, mouth agape at some bit of internet insanity that popped up in response to a research term.) It wasn't much liquid, maybe two or three drops. I blotted it up with a Kleenex and kept on working.

Except, a few minutes later, when I tried to type the word "deeper," Spellchecker popped up. And kept popping up. I could type "dee," but as soon as I hit the "p," Spellchecker would announce that "dee" isn't a word.

By then I'd completely forgotten the cereal incident, so I wasted twenty minutes Googling for viruses that make Spellchecker open uninvited. It turns out that's a thing with Word 2010, but I'm still on 2007. (Don't roll your eyes--Nora Roberts is still using WordPerfect.)

While I was Googling, I discovered that if I typed 2007, what appeared in the search box was '20f0f7a'.


I opened a blank document and typed out the alphabet in lower and then upper case. 'P' was the only letter with a problem, but the numbers and special characters clustered around it exhibited strange behaviors.

Finally, frustrated, I shut down my machine and went on in to work, figuring it would dry out during the day and I'd be back in business by the time I got home.

And then while I was at work, I got one of those emails unpublished writers dream about: "Can you send me the full?"

You bet! I waited impatiently for quitting time, then rushed home and got right on it.

Hitting reply and attaching the manuscript went fine, but when I tried to compose a response I ran into problems. I wanted something simple, but friendly and professional sounding. "Manuscript is attached. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it."

Easy, right?

Wrong, because those two sentences contain 2 p's, which I couldn't get my keyboard to type. I finally copied and pasted them from an existing document, then changed the font to match.

Also, a lot of other characters now sported entourages. The space bar added a trailing "2', The 'h' had a dash and a right parenthesis following it around like love-struck groupies.. And my delete key had deleted itself, so I had to position my cursor after any problem content and use the backspace key to get rid of it.

I finally got the email sent out, so now I'm waiting to see what ha... I'm waiting to see what her res... I'm waiting to see if she likes it.

"P"—it's more important than you think.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Peeing in the Gender Neutral Bathroom

This year, for the first time, there were (almost) enough toilets at the RWA® National Conference. This is because they converted the men's room on the main conference floor to a gender neutral bathroom.

So how did that work out?

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I'm a proponent of gender-neutral bathrooms. I've stood in way too many long lines at concerts and ballgames, doing an unchoreographed dance while I wait for one of three stalls to open up so I can expel two pints of liquid from a one-pint bladder. And while I jitterbug outside the ladies', guys are breezing in and out of the men's room with no wait whatsoever.

I've never been able to figure out what the big deal is about having a single, gender-neutral toilet instead of segregated facilities. Many of us, possibly even most of us, share a bathroom with a male of some age at some point in our lives. While they're not the neatest potty-mates (comedian Rita Rudner says of men and bathrooms, "They're not very specific.") it's really no worse than trying to share a bed with them.

Anyway, the conference in San Diego was my first opportunity to put my beliefs where my bladder is.

After downing orange juice, a coffee and a bottle of water over breakfast, then sitting through a keynote followed by a workshop on Networking for Introverts (Smile!), I felt like an at at-capacity water balloon. I race-walked to the Ladies', only to find it overflowing with ladies. Then I remembered seeing the above sign.

A quick toddle down the hall and there was the men's room, completely devoid of stall-competition. Two minutes later, I was washing my hands at a long row of marble-and-stainless-steel sinks with the mirror all to myself. When I walked back down the hall, there was still a line outside the Ladies'.

I started employing this strategy after every session. (Yes, every session. Do you have a problem with that?) A couple of times there were men in residence, and to be honest it felt a little weird. But the johns at the Marriott all had louvered wooden doors, so we were all quite private. (Although it must be noted that some of us are noisier than others.)

At no time did I walk in to find anyone utilizing a urinal, and I'm pretty happy about that. (Side note: Urinals remind me of the old cast iron sink that hung on the wall in the kitchen of my Great-Aunt Bertha's place in eastern Kentucky--sensible, functional and devoid of beauty.)

On Saturday morning I actually led a bevy of impatient ladies' down the hall and showed off my find. As we hurried down the hall, Tracy Brody (two time Golden Heart® winner for Romantic Suspense--that Tracy Brody) said, "I may be from North Carolina, but I don't care what they say about using the 'right' bathroom."

When we got to the door of the men's, she hollered, "Coming in!"

A male voice responded, "Come on in."

The whole gaggle of us went in and did our business. The one-man welcoming committee washed his hands and left. Another couple of other men came in. When they encountered a roomful of women, they blinked, then manned up and headed for the stalls.

And we all got along just fine.


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