Thursday, February 28, 2013


It's spring, well almost, here in the southern section of the US. Like anyone, I look forward to spring (minus the pollen) because things start to bloom (thus the pollen). I like flowers and colors and pretty gardens. They make me feel like going outside. I have long fantasized about having beautiful landscaping and gardens around my home. I close my eyes (cue romantic music) and envision a lovely mix of sculpted boxwoods and evergreens and hydrangeas and azaleas and camellias and gardenias. I want a dogwood tree there and a mimosa tree here. Perhaps a magnolia down by the street. I love crepe myrtles and I mourn that we are too far south for lilacs. I want a bulb garden along the back, a perennial bed near the house and an annual bed along the walkway that changes with the season - pansies in the winter, snap dragons in the spring, vinca in the summer,  marigolds in the fall. I want to see something in bloom all year round - even if it is just the red berries on a holly bush to brighten a gray winter day.

My fantasy is not limited to flower gardens. I long for an herb and spice garden off the back near the kitchen. I'd harvest the herbs and dry them by hanging them upside down from my pot rack. And vegetables too! Tomatoes, all kinds of peppers, varieties of squashes, assortments of beans and peas, asparagus, okra, corn. Yes, I'd throw in some fruit too - black berries, strawberries, figs and dates, peaches and apricots. Yes, I would harvest carrying in the earth's bounty in a hand-woven basket and I'd spend days canning all our produce and humming.
(Screeching brake sound here) But, then I remember that gardens are outside. And with the outside comes heat, weeds, bugs and here in the south, snakes. And so far, my attempts to garden have been disappointing. In Florida, my first attempts were dismal because I tried to plant the flowers I grew up with. I grew up in Rhode Island - a completely different temperature zone. I didn't know about zones. My poor flowers withered and died. Even the bulbs didn't survive. Then I planted azaleas and hibiscus and gardenias and things were better except the snakes (heebie-jeebie dance) like to hide in them and that's scary when it is time to prune.

In Virginia we had sculpted boxwoods and evergreens and they were beautiful and not too much work to keep them that way. Because my husband did the pruning. But it lacked color. So I planted mums. I was so excited! There were yellow ones and orange ones and red ones! And I knew that they'd fade but then they would return the next year. But the deer ate them. First they ate the blossoms. Then they came back and ate the greens and stems down to the ground. On their third return they yanked up the roots and ate those. So much for my mums.
When we moved here, our first home had a huge garden area in the back and we planted our first veggie garden. It was growing and doing just fine producing bushels of beans and butternut squash and peppers. Then the heat set in. The tomatoes ruptured from the heat and the peppers began to shrivel. Mr. Bunny feasted on my zucchini blossoms. By mid-summer the boring bugs had taken over.

Gardens are work. There's pruning and weeding and thinning and spraying and watering and feeding. And all of this is done outside. And outside is hot and buggy and humid and there is a chance of running into bees or wasps or ground hornets or ticks or snakes. All of which are unpleasant. And after all that, there is still Mr. Bunny and the herds of deer that have no respect for your property or efforts. Besides, I don't have a pot rack to for drying herbs.
Still, I dream of one day having stunning gardens to stroll through, to cut flowers to put in the house, to sit on a bench (in the shade) and relax. Our fixer-upper house has many projects that need to be done inside (like the entire interior) and the exterior landscaping is one of those things that need to be fixer-uppered eventually. Perhaps, when it comes time to tackle the outside I can revisit the vision. For now, I'll just close my eyes (cueromantic music again).

Monday, February 25, 2013

I Don't Sit at the Cool Table

Growing up we moved around a lot. We finally settled in a small town when I was in 4th grade. Seems early enough to settle in but it was one of those small towns where unless your parents were born there, and you were born there, then you just didn't quite fit in. It doesn't matter to an adult because adults have other concerns that take precedence to fitting in. To a kid, however, it can be consuming.

As a result of being an "outsider," I didn't get to sit at the cool table in school. I did have lots of friends that ranged across the strata of high school society. I had band friends (even though the extent of musical ability is to recognize that music is playing), geek friends (even though I wasn't quite as smart as they were), motor head friends (mostly because my brother was a motor head and they had awesome muscle cars), derelict friends (even though I had ambitions) and even a jock or two (mostly males needing the answers to Mr. Sullivan's English Lit. test). The cool kids, especially the cool girls, excluded me.
Life went on and I went to college, got married, got divorced, had success in several career paths, made a lot of good friends, owned my own home, bought several cars, got married again, moved around a bit, had a baby, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. In all that time, not being a cool girl didn't bother me or matter. Oddly, the social media phenomenon of Facebook has reconnected some of us as friends as adults.

Still, there lingers that background insecurity of not being quite good enough to be cool. This insecurity resurfaced the other day at my son's school when the cool moms were gathered in the parking lot. These are the moms with the coordinating jewelry and make-up. Their workout shoes match their cashmere hoodies and the piping on their yoga pants. They gather in the parking lot near their Escalades/Suburbans/Expeditions to arrange a Zumba/hot-yoga/pilates/mani-pedi/coffee get together. Our children are friends, but I am not cool enough. At least that's what it felt like when their conversation stopped until I'd passed by them.
Truth is, I've got a good 10 - 15 years on these gals and I don't fall into their generation. And even if I were to be invited to the Zumba/hot-yoga/pilates/mani-pedi/coffee get together I'd probably turn it down. Really? Zumba, hot-yoga, pilates? I can't do that anymore! I'm, um, over thirty-five! I'm not the mani-pedi type either. Coffee? Maybe. As long as it's not organic or low fat. Besides, my muscle car could put their SUV in the dust. Wanna have some real fun ladies? Let's hit the time track!

I know that these sub-surface insecurities have in some way driven me down certain paths or caused me to put I extra effort to try to be an over-achiever. That's not a bad thing. I have to wonder what childhood situations may have affected my characters' personalities and given them an underlying impetus to their actions as the adults I write about. Should I include a FULL biography, to include childhood, as part of their back stories? Does it matter in the end? And all of my characters are cool, even if I'm not.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


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Yesterday was my birthday. I'm not shy about my age so I'll tell you up front I am over thirty-five. I took the day "off" meaning I only did laundry, straightened the house once, made a crock pot dinner and watched the Little Man. I did have chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and a red frosting rose on it as has been my tradition since I was five. Well, I experimented with ice cream cake in my teens, but I returned to my senses as an adult. For my birthday I received a few cards and a number of Facebook greetings. The best gift, however came from my husband and son. Little Man sang Happy Birthday to me. The first chorus he substituted his name for Mama but corrected it in the subsequent five verses. We even sang it as our bedtime song. My gift was two plaster stars. One with pretty colored glass tiles and stones pressed into it and the other one is painted multiple colors with the word Mama spelled out in glitter. To me, they are the most beautiful things I've ever seen. The real gift is not the stars but having watched Hubby and Little Man together for the past few days. They went shopping on Sunday together, then they worked together in the garage for days. I could hear the giggles and laughter and that was wonderful.

So, of course, I start thinking about birthdays past and family. One of the many, many, many projects I'm working on is the family tree. Not just my side, but my husband's side as well since this is something I want to pass down to Little Man. I don't want to just find names and dates of people. I want photos, if I can get them and stories if I can find people still alive that remember things. And memories from my siblings too. And maps to show the family's migration across this country. I want a family orchard, not just a tree. I am the middle child of three. My brother has two children. Someday my son and my brother's sons will have families of their own too. So, because I'm weird, I start thinking not just about the ancestors that have been but also about the descendent to come. What will I leave them?
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I have lived over thirty-five years and in that time I have learned that family is important. There are different kinds of family though. There's the blood-kin as my mother would say. Then there is the adopted family. My sister-in-law was adopted but her parents and her brother (also adopted) were a family just the same. Certainly, my husband's family is now my family and my family is now my husband's family. And then there's what I call extended family. These are the people who mean a lot to you - best friends you think of as a sister or brother, mentors that are like an aunt or uncle or even a parent. I consider myself fortunate because I have many of such people in my life. These all belong in the orchard.

So, because I did take the day "off" leaving me lots of time to just think, I started thinking about how my family orchard is really my back story, or at least part of it. So my characters must also have a family orchard. It may, or may not, play into the storyline of my novel but it could add to their personality, idiosyncrasies, hobbies, neuroses and psychoses. Perhaps, when it comes time to edit and revise and I need to deepen my characters, I might want to look into their family orchards. I feel bad because right now, I don't know when Walter's birthday is. Maybe he should share mine.

Monday, February 18, 2013

That New Car Smell

So, I didn't blog last week. There was a lot going on and yes, I could have written about that but sadly, I didn't. On Monday I could have written about things going on over the weekend like how we FINALLY got around to painting the woodwork in the foyer (well, most of it). And how for an entryway, there is a LOT of woodwork - door frames, window frames, baseboards, chair rail, crown molding, geesh! Instead, I spent Monday sick with worry about the Little Man who was having trouble shaking a cold and who was becoming feverish.
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Thursday rolled around and what a treasure trove of stuff I could have written about! I could have written about chasing the two-year-old around the house trying to get him to take his medicine. The State of the Union Address was Tuesday and, as an opinionated politics junkie I could have written PAGES on that alone (aren't you glad I didn't). Thursday was Valentine's Day and I could have written something schmaltzy about love or how if you aren't in a relationship this "holiday" can make you feel like a leper. Or, I could have written how Little Man shared his cold with me and how sick I was by then, stumbling around in a Nyquil haze.
And yes, all of these things would be pertinent to my writing. What makes my characters sick with worry? What hobbies or chores do they have to do? What are their politics? Should you put politics in your writing? (Writer's Digest has a wonderful in-depth article in the March/April issue covering this very question so thank goodness I didn't try to tackle it. Embarrassing!) Are the characters lovers or are they lepers? Do the characters get sick and what do they do for a cold?

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Instead, I'm going to tell you about the new car. When my husband and I got married we had four vehicles between us. He had an SUV, I had an SUV, he had a motorcycle, I had a Mustang GT (convertible, red, oh yeah baby!). We decided to get rid of my SUV since his was newer. Flash forward six years and he still has his motorcycle, and I still have my Mustang (complete with baby seat and Cheerios in the back). The family car, the SUV, had seen better days. It was time to bid farewell to it and start considering something more practical.
My husband has a substantial commute to work and the SUV was not as fuel efficient as it should have been. What I really mean to say is that it cost too much money out of our budget for gas. Still, we needed something with space. We have two GIANT labs who need to be transported here and there, the Little Man, the two of us, and not a weekend goes by that we aren't at a big-box hardware store getting something to work on the fixer-upper house. I wanted another SUV (an Expedition would be nice), my husband wanted a truck (F-150 King Ranch). Those didn't improve gas mileage and then adding a car payment on top was way out of reach. Practicality and budget won and we ended up getting, sigh, it's so hard to say, a Prius V.

At first it was a little embarrassing to be riding around in a Prius. I mean, please, it goes from 0 to 60 in eleven seconds. I'm used to my Mustang that can go from 0 to 60 in four seconds and not be out of third gear. The Prius doesn't have gears. It doesn't have a key. You press a button to turn it on. And then there's no noise because it is electric. It's alien and weird and unnatural. But it has four redeeming qualities. First, it has the same space as an SUV. Second, the gas mileage is phenomenal. The savings alone in gas will make most of the car payment. Third, my husband drives it more than I do. And fourth, that new car smell. Is there anything better than that?
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So, what does this have to do with my novel, or my writing? A lot. Fantasy is wonderful and it is great to be able to create your own world. But, I am not a fantasy writer and my characters, God bless them, live in more of a real world scenario. My characters are budget conscious, frugal, and work for a living. My characters struggle with wants vs. needs like we do. They also have things come up that get in the way of their normal lives (yes, that is the plot of the novel). I hope that makes them accessible to readers. My husband just finished reading the twenty-seven chapters I had printed out of my rough draft. He's my first beta reader. He had really good suggestions but mostly he was complimentary so that is encouraging (and no, he's not just saying nice things because I cook his food). I'm hopeful that the new novel smell lasts through the revisions!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Today's lesson is on intimacy. No, I'm not talking about sex so get your minds out of the gutter and turn off the TV so you can learn something. I'm talking about the true meaning of the word intimacy, what it means to be intimate.

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Intimate adj 1. Marked by close acquaintance, association, or familiarity. 2. Pertaining to or indicative of one's deepest nature.
American Heritage Dictionary, 1980

Intimacy is something that exists between people who have been friends so long they can finish each other's sentences. It is the husband who knows exactly how much sugar and cream his wife likes in her coffee. It is the mother who knows what to do to comfort her baby. It's the father knowing just how high to toss the ball so his son can hit it with the bat. It's knowing yourself and knowing the other person, or people, in your life deeply. It is the connection that binds.

I don't think I truly understood what it meant to be intimate until my son was born. I had experienced intimacy before with best friends, my husband certainly, even a few co-workers, but until I held my son and realized I could recognize the difference between the "I'm wet" cry and the "I'm hungry" cry, I did not know what intimacy really was. Intimacy is important. It is what makes us feel connected to each other. It keeps us in a family, it provides comfort and it is healing.

While writing my novel I discovered that not only do I have an intimate relationship with my character (duh, they are my characters) but they have intimacies between each other as well, and different levels of it at that. And for my characters to become as real to a reader as they are to me, I have to show their intimacies so the reader can become intimate with them too. I will give an example of what I mean in an excerpt from the rough draft of my novel, Murder at the Primrose Inn (working title but it's growing on me). It is a scene between Walter, Colleen Disantis and her co-worker Darryl Johnston.
     "That was horrible," Walter groaned over his slice of pizza. He really wanted to wash it, and his cross examination, down with a beer or two.
       "I told you to watch him," Disantis said picking the pepperoni off her slice and patting the oil off the top. "You did fine, all things considered. And, in the end, you pulled it back out of the shitter."
       Darryl vigorously shook the parmesan cheese over his piece of the pie and picked up Colleen's discarded pepperoni. "You did okay. I would have come off the stand and decked the guy."

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Colleen and Darryl have worked together for so long he is comfortable picking up her pepperoni and she doesn't care that he does. That's intimacy. I like their dynamic.

My goal during the editing and revision process is to look at the way the characters have intimacy with each other and with themselves as well. I hope that will make the readers feel as close to them and their story as I do.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Opposites Attract

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It is a force of nature that opposites attract. We see this in magnets and on the molecular level between protons and electrons. We see it in relationships too. The perfect example is my husband and me. I can say this because we are the perfect couple and in many ways we are opposites. Yes, I am a planner and he is more spontaneous, but there's more to it than that.

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My husband is outdoorsy. He likes hiking and backpacking, camping, skiing, hunting, windsurfing (in his youth), and all manner of being outside. I, on the other hand, view the outdoors as that place I briefly passed through going from one temperature-controlled bug-free environment to another. I will admit, however, to having enjoyed sitting outside with a pitcher of sangria or dining al fresco in the evening, as long as it's not too hot or too buggy.

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Hubby is also a morning person and I am a night person. He is up right at dawn, feet on the floor ready to start the day beginning with breakfast. I prefer sleeping in a little past sun up, then into the shower, have coffee and look for brunch. At night, my husband is ready to go to sleep shortly after sundown (I exaggerate), about 9:30 and I am looking to go do something fun. For those of you a certain age, the television show Green Acres should instantly pop into your heads. It's terrific because it works for us.

Opposites not only attract but they are attractive. How many times have we turned our heads for a double-take when we see a very tall person with a short person, even more fun if it is a tall woman with a short man. Even bi-racial couples still turn heads. There is a popular breakfast cereal that has made a commercial about opposites being attractive. Opposition is not bad. It is the whole Yin-Yang of the universe that actually binds us together. Opposites are not conflicting, but complimentary. They give us a different point of view, humor, and sometimes, just something different to think about. That's what makes them so attractive.

It works in writing. How many times have we enjoyed a book that made us think about something different? How often has an author employed the use of paradox to highlight a scene? Isn't there a protagonist and an antagonist? What about the opposition that is within all of us? Shouldn't that natural state also show up in our characters? Revisions are imminent and opposites must be included to keep the story strong and natural and attractive.