Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What do you Mean?

Two things I've been told all my life have left me at some times confused and in other times in good stead. Regardless, I sound profound and wise at cocktail parties when I repeat either one of these things. So, what are these bon mots? From Dad: Words mean things. From Mom: It's not what you say, it's how you say it. So, which is it? Do words mean things or is it their usage that holds the meaning? Let's explore.....

Words do have meanings. Dad often jibes me about my 1980 American Heritage Dictionary which I've cited several times. He thinks I should have a dictionary that is more current. I like the older dictionaries because I find their definitions more accurate and less PC. I hate PC. PC blurs the actual meaning of words. For example, the word gay. In my 1980 dictionary the word gay means being merry or happy, bright or showy as an adjective. It is not until the 5th definition does it pertain to homosexuality. According to Dictionary.com the 1st definition refers to homosexuality and the last definitions have the word being merry, happy, bright and showy. Ridiculous. Why even use the word gay to refer to homosexuality in the first place? I'm not saying that the word can't be used in both applications but why change the primary definition? That's the PC part I abhor. The garden party's decorations and atmosphere were gay. My friend is homosexual. Those sentences are correct. I have no problem with homosexuals or garden parties, I'm simply using the word gay as an easy example to illustrate what I mean. And yes, I'm guilty of using the word gay to refer to homosexuality.

Then again, Mom is right in that the way you say something can make all the difference. Writers use this technique all the time. Example: Bob was very sad at the death of his wife. Or, Bob grieved the loss of his soul mate. These sentences say the same thing, the second one is just more poetic. Adolescents use it too. Anyone who has seen a Pauly Shore movie knows exactly what I'm talking about. Example: I love your mother's cookies. Or, I looove your mother's cooooookies. These two don't mean the same thing at all. The 1st is a compliment to your mother's baking. The 2nd is just nasty. Then there's the the ambiguous: That's an interesting color for a sweater. Is this positive or negative? Again, I have nothing against widowers, cookies, mothers, sweaters (regardless of color), or Pauly Shore. I'm just using them as examples.

So, which is it? Is it the meaning of the word or the way you say something? Is it nature or nurture? Is it the chicken or the egg? I guess it's both together. The gifted orator or writer can use these in conjunction to create wonderful passages and images. That is the craft of writing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cheese Noodles

My Little Man has a good appetite in that he likes to eat, a lot, most days. He is finicky in that he will only eat a few things. These things change from day-to-day so it is always a surprise and an exercise of patience on both our parts to figure out what he wants. He likes his "apple cookies" and his "purple cookies" (what he calls apple and mixed berry Nutra Grain bars), and he likes the usual munchy food: animal crackers, triscuits, goldfish, and cheez-its. Sometimes he'll want a sandwich - he will only eat ham. Sometimes he wants chicken nuggets or tenders. Sometimes I can get him to eat a fish stick. Sometimes he'll eat beef ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, or even meatloaf. Forget about vegetables. His current favorite is macaroni and cheese - what he calls cheese noodles.

Who can argue with a preference for cheese noodles? They're creamy, cheesy, noodly, fantastic comfort food, warming on a cold day and a perfect complement to fried chicken or burgers at a summer barbecue.  And they are versatile - they can be consumed as the main course or as a side dish. There are lots of variations too. You can add ham or veggies or go crazy with exotic cheeses. In the end, they are still cheese noodles. And if it is something my Little Man will eat, I'll make cheese noodles for him for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack all he wants.

What I like about cheese noodles is its versatility. Make it with cheddar and add ham, and you have good old-fashioned American Mac & Cheese. Make it with fontina, provalone, mozzerella cheeses and add sundried tomatoes, and it's Italian. See what I mean? The basics are the same, its just how you choose to mix it up. But use good stuff because if you don't make it tasty, your family won't eat it.

That's like writing. The basics are the same - plot, structure, protagonist, antagonist, tension, sub-plot, climax, denoument. What makes a story unique, is the ingredients. And they'd better be good because if the audience doesn't like them, they won't read it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Now?

So, I didn't blog on Monday. No big deal, right? For those of you who do read my blog you probably were relieved to have a respite from the notification that I posted something. For those of you who don't read my blog, well then you didn't notice so the point is moot. Anyway, I was not out enjoying myself or off on some exotic vacation. No, I was home with a migraine. I used to get them fairly regularly but I haven't had one, a bad one, in a long time.

Courtesy of

So, while I'm in pain and trying to find a happy medium of quiet and not too bright light, the Little Man is driving his trucks, making vroom-vroom sounds, dancing to the tunes on the cartoons on TV and singing. I took him upstairs with me so I could lay down and hopefully he'd nap so I could nap. No. While I was laying down I became a mountain over which the truck and train drove. My covering was a cave under and through which he crawled, with train and truck and car, and toys. He would put his face in my face and talk or sing to me, pat me on my head (just what I needed) and say, "Mama sleep." I wish.
Now that it's gone I'm still not right. What now!? I've had what I thought to be a cold for several weeks. I just thought I had a cold, gave it to my husband and the Little Man who in turn gave it back to me. We have a strict sharing policy in our home. But then I started thinking about allergies. Could I be allergic to something that's pollinating? Hmmmm. Sure enough, seed trees are the big pollinating thing right now in our area. Seed trees such as maples, elms, oaks, mimosa and sweet gum trees. Since I never had a problem with maple, elms, oaks or mimosa trees before my money is on sweet gum trees. These are also new to me. Never having had one near me before I wouldn't have had a way to know if I was allergic or not.  Lucky for me I can test my hypothesis by stepping outside into our back yard - we have a tone of them!

So, after suffering with an inability to breathe I decided to ditch the tissue box in favor of allergy medicine. This is BIG for me. I rarely take anything for anything. See above migraine - no, I didn't take pain meds. I usually just take my vitamin and my blood pressure medication and that's it. No, I'm not a freak. No, I'm not against pharmaceuticals. No, I'm not into crystals and herbs. I have found that, most of the time, medications just don't work for me. This time, I gave in. Low and behold! I can breathe! I'm not coughing. I don't feel the need to blow my nose every two minutes! AND I can think! I think I'll start putting aside cash to have the trees removed and banished from our yard.
Now you are wondering what all this rambling has to do with my novel and my writing. Well, a lot! Like it's hard to write (sit up, look into a bright computer screen, and think about your storyline or listen to your characters talk) when your head is pounding. And it is difficult to write through the fog of congestion and tissues when you have allergies or a cold. Fortunately, I'll be able to get back on track and finish this novel before my head explodes. What now? Maybe I should give my protagonist a migraine?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Purge

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When my husband and I got married we were both, ahem, over thirty-five. And because we were both hard working and successful individuals we had acquired stuff. We each had a three-bedroom-two-bath house, fully furnished. We had vehicles, lawn equipment, and dogs. What we didn't have two of, we had three of. So, before we could combine households we had to purge. Really, who needs two toasters? We decided to move into my husband's home because it was bigger than mine. Not by much, but bigger is bigger. Our first purge was a yard sale and we got rid of an AMAZING amount of stuff. But not enough.

Shortly after we married, we moved from Florida to Virginia. Before the move we had yet another purge and got rid of more stuff. But not enough. We got a slightly bigger house and this one had a basement! And after being settled for a couple of years, we moved again. Before we moved we purged some more and we let go of even more stuff. But still not enough. We settled here in Georgia and we were able to squeeze everything we own into our house which is twice the size of the one we had in Florida.
See, we are collectors. My husband, the outdoorsy one, had outdoorsy stuff. He had camping gear, fishing gear, deer hunting gear, pheasant hunting gear, hiking and backpacking gear, skiing gear, cycling gear, windsurfing gear and motorcycle gear. I had different stuff. I had books - cook books, reference books, teaching materials, a library of entertainment books. I had clothes and shoes and bags. I LOVE bags - handbags, totes, luggage. And cooking gear - pots, pans, bowls, mixers, processors and cutlery. And the other hobbies too - sewing and needlework. We first purged the things that were duplicated. Then we purged the things we didn't really use anymore. Then we purged stuff we didn't really want to lug around anymore. But that's the easy stuff. It has gotten more difficult to let go of things.

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Every spring and fall our church has a MASSIVE yard sale. The proceeds go to fund missions like the group that goes to Kenya to work on the water project or down to Honduras to build housing or the group that provides birthday parties for underprivileged local children. And every spring and fall we manage to donate a truck load of stuff. Recently it has been mostly outgrown baby things, but we manage to find things in the closets and drawers and cabinets and garage that end up at church. And I don't know why I'm willing to purge item A this spring but was not able to part with item A last fall. What am I keeping now that I don't need to keep? Perhaps the better question is - why am I keeping it? Because I'm sentimental and I have emotional attachments to things. That's why.
So, when it comes time to edit my novel and revise, I'm prepared to fill out areas, give more explanation about this and that, add more back story. But how am I really going to do at the purging? There are things in there that are unnecessary, superfluous, downright distracting, but I wrote every word. It came from me and I am attached to it. I guess that's why they tell you to give yourself time away from your novel before you begin editing so you can have fresh eyes.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Alice Doesn't Live Here

As a child of the 70's, I was a child of the television. One of the influential programs of my early formative years was the Brady Bunch, of course. (Start instrumental theme song music here.) It's a story of a man who is widowed and left to raise three boys and a dog. He meets a woman who was also widowed and left to raise three girls and a cat. They marry and combine households. The man had a live-in housekeeper, Alice. She remained an integral part of the family even after Mr. and Mrs. Brady got married. For those of you over thirty-five, it's a nice walk down memory lane. For those of you under thirty-five I'm sure you can Google it, find it on YouTube, or see it on Nick-at-Nite. Beware, the theme song gets stuck in your head!

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I had a stay-home-mom and I understood why Mrs. Brady didn't have an Alice - she had only three kids, like we did, and she was a woman so she knew how to cook and clean. Whereas Mr. Brady needed a substitute mother to cook and clean. It made sense. I didn't understand why they kept Alice after they got married, but it was part of the story, so okay. As an adult I have so many questions about that show. How, with six kids, did the house stay orderly and clean? Did Alice do all that herself or did Mrs. Brady help? How did they manage to prepare meals to feed nine people every day with only two pots on the stove at any given time? If Mr. Brady was an architect, why didn't they have additional bedrooms and bathrooms? Do these questions keep me up nights? No. Well, maybe sometimes when I'm having a hard time sleeping anyway.

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A writer is also an observer and I have observed that there are basically two types of women: those who clean and those who cook. My mom is a cleaner. We never went hungry but I was the kid who thought the food at the school cafeteria tasted good. Sorry mom. Our house was hospital clean without the staph. My mom's house to this day is in a constant state of deep cleaning. Starting with the ceiling fans and high places being washed, not just dusted, and working her way down to the floors and baseboards. One room at a time and when she's finished with the last room, she starts over. She thinks it's fun to clean. Even growing up our house could have been photographed for Better Homes and Gardens on the spur of the moment - we were clutter free and always picture perfect even with two cats, a bird and a guinea pig. I, on the other hand, cook. I love to cook. I use every pot and pan in the house. I have spices and herbs you may not have heard of and I use them. I don't put meals on the table, I create repasts and I even garnish them! I think it is fun to cook. Clearly, both Mrs. Brady and Alice were cleaners.
Alice doesn't live here. At the end of the weekend, I look around my house with a mountain of laundry to do, a sink full of dishes, sofa pillows on the floor, toys scattered EVEYWHERE, dog fur EVERYWHERE, shoes and jackets, sippy cups and snack bowls in the office and living room, books and magazines strewn about, perhaps construction equipment too. Monday is straightening day and the rest of the week I clean a few rooms a day, do some laundry every day and by Friday I'm caught up and the house is ready for the Demolition Derby called the weekend. I wish Alice lived here.

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For fun, my husband and I fantasize about winning the lottery (who doesn't?) and what we'd do with the vast millions we'd have. He talks about his super woodshop with all the tools he'd ever need or want. I talk about the kitchen I'd have and my own Project Studio where I could go to write, knit, crochet, needlepoint, do pottery, or whatever creative outlet stuck my fancy for the day. We talk about the dream house and how and where we'd build it. Frankly, I'm content with the way life is right now. The only thing I'd really want to do with lottery money is buy me an Alice.

Some of my traits and history rub off on my characters. Poor Walter is doomed to live in a cluttered home. It's as straightened as it will get, he knows where everything is, but he doesn't live in a "clean" environment. Fred's wife, Eileen, cooks like my mom. The Primrose Inn is my fantasy living environment (minus the murder, of course). There's more, but that would spoil the story and I want you to read it! Maybe I should give Walter an Alice?