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17 posts from October 2009

10/30/2009

What I Like to Read: Julia Spencer Fleming


Every time I read one of Julia’s books, I wonder why I bother to write. I’ll never be able to match her talent. I love her series, I love her characters, I love the way the small town setting is almost another character in the story.

If you haven’t tried Julia’s books, do yourself a favor and pick one up.

10/29/2009

Gift or Regift?

Books make great gift. New books, used books, cookbooks, but this post is about fiction, and book giving etiquette. Here's the question. Is it okay to buy a book as a gift and read it before you give it away?

I ask this because books are a big part of my family's gift giving tradition. I've gotten antique books, new books, rare books and cookbooks as gifts for birthdays and Christmas and I've given them as well. 

Obviously, an antique book in my price range is seldom going to be pristine. Used books, purchased to fill out a collection, will usually look used. But new books with pristine spines look, well...new. Here's where my question comes in to play. Is it okay to read a new book before you give it as a gift?

Here's why I ask. My mother was a slow reader. I'm a very fast reader. We used to read a lot of the same things, so I often bought her books that I wanted to read as well. If I wanted to read them in the same calender year they were purchased, I had to read them before I gave them away, or buy two copies. Authors would vote for the two copy route, but my wallet and my bookshelves leaned more toward reading before gifting.

If you read a hardback book and are very, very careful, you can read the book with no external signs that the book has ever been opened. Not so easy with a paperback. I'm a spine cracker. I like to roll the front cover of the book around so I can hold the book in one hand. My paperback books are decidedly lopsided when I finish reading them. That's the way my mom used to check through our shelves for books that I'd already read. I don't worship books, I love them like a well worn stuffed animal. I don't read paperback books before I give them away, but I'm serious in getting into the hardback one's before they get wrapped and tucked under the tree. I've been known to read into the wee hours of Christmas morning, to finish a book and hastily wrap it moments before the start of the paper shredding chaos that is our Christmas mornings.

So here it is, the real question. If you buy a new book as a gift and read it before you give it away is it still a new book? Should I just bite the bullet and hope that some day, some time, I'll get to read the book? And finally, what do you guys do? Huh? Come one, you can share, we're all friends here. Spill the beans.

10/26/2009

Art and the Demon Tobacco

Back in the fifty’s and sixty’s, everybody smoked. Good guys, bad guys, cops, women. Then people realized smoking was bad for you. In the eighties, the only people that still smoked on screen were punk kids, bad guys and hookers. Now days, nobody smokes on screen or on the page. Smoking hasn’t just been eradicated from public buildings and restaurants; it’s been eradicated from art.

I understand the theory behind the removal of demon tobacco from page and screen. We’re trying to protect our youth. And you can’t argue with success. Fewer children are smoking these days. Fewer people in general, but contrary to popular belief, people still smoke, and not just drug addicts and gang bangers.

My job as a writer is to depict characters and settings in a manner that draws in my readers and puts them into the story. My fictional world needs to feel, well…real. I don’t know about you, but people in my real world, still smoke. Not as many as in the past, and hopefully those numbers will continue to decrease, but cigarettes still exist and it’s clichéd to only have bad guys puffing on cigarettes.

I have characters that smoke regularly, I have characters that smoke occasionally, I have characters that don’t smoke and some that are adamantly and vocally opposed to smoking. That’s kind of what I see in the real world, so that’s what I attempt to put into my fictional one.

I find the cigarette question interesting, because I write murder mysteries. I write about people being brutally murdered and the investigations that lead to the capture or death of the killer or killers. When you’re writing about something as socially unacceptable as murder, does the fact that your star investigator smokes really send a message to your readers or is just a personality trait to be noted along with red hair and wrinkled Hawaiian shirts?

What do you think? Should art really imitate life or should our fictional worlds be cleaned up?

10/23/2009

What I Like to Read: Lee Child

I'm reading Persuader right now. I love Lee Child. I love Jack Reacher.

I wish I had an endless supply of Reacher books. Luckily for me, I haven't found all of the older ones yet, so I still get an extra one thrown in from time to time.

10/22/2009

Finding the Laundromat

During the spring and fall when the nuke season is in full swing, I live a nomad’s existence. To do this successfully, you have to be able to arrive in a strange town, find your hotel/motel/creepy apartment, etc., and determine where all the other things are located that are important to sustaining life during the weeks/months you’ll be in residence. I have a short list of things I have to find as soon as I hit town, I’ll note them below, so if you ever find yourself arriving in a strange town for an extended stay, you’ll take to it like a pro.

So here goes..

Number one on the list...Find the Wal-Mart. Okay, now, don’t get me wrong, I really, really, don’t like Wal-Mart. At home, I seldom cross their threshold, but when it comes to traveling, Wal-Mart is kind of like McDonalds; you may not like it, but you know what your going to get.

Second...Locate a drop off laundry. If you’re working 12, 14, 16 hours a day, driving an hour or more to and from work; kids I’m telling you, you don’t have time to do the laundry. Trust me, drop it off with the nice lady at the laundromat on your way to work and pick it up the next day on your way back to work. Just a note here; make sure you have two days of laundry left when you drop it off, or you’ll be arriving to pick up your nicely clean and folded clothing in your birthday suit. Uh...not that I’ve ever had to do that.

Third...snoop out the Diner where the locals eat. It will have the best food. Note of caution here, just because the neon sign says DINER and it looks like it was built in the 50’s, doesn’t mean the food is good. Finding the diner may take some time, but your waitress will be calling you hon and placing your beverage of choice on the table when she comes over to take your order in a few days.

On a related note: If you enjoy a tipple now and then, this is where you’d scope out a nice pub. I have friends whose pub hunting is always number one on the list.

Fourth...Find the post office. For some reason, a post office is often hard to find. Usually if you look for the biggest American flag in town, you’ll have it, but beware, sometimes, that flag is waving over a car dealership.

Fifth...If the Wal-Mart you located doesn’t have a pharmacy, locate one. This should probably be closer to the top of the list, but food is really important to me, and I hate to do my own laundry.

Sixth...The Goodwill Store. Trust me here. You never know what you’re going to forget and it’s a lot cheaper than Wal-Mart. If you luck into a cheap unfurnished apartment, you can furnish it right down to cooking utensils and donate everything back to the store before you leave town. You get cheap stuff AND a tax deduction. Brilliant!

Last, but not least, find a salon. Preferably one that does hair and nails; one-stop shopping if you will. If the salon has a masseuse on staff, you’ve hit the jackpot. If you’re working the nightshift, sometimes you can combine a trip to the salon with a little pre-bedtime nap. Not a thing to be taken lightly.

Okay, that’s my list of survival tips. What’s the first thing you try to find when you arrive in a new town?

10/19/2009

Where do you get your ideas?

Everyone that’s ever written a story, a novel or a screenplay has been asked this question. I find it incredibly difficult to answer. Where do I get my ideas? Um, well. How about the woman overheard by a friend and passed along to me that said, “My ole man done had two heart attacks and he ain’t dead yet.” If that doesn’t get your imagination going… What about the waitress at the small town café that listens to your order, then tells you that’s not what you need to eat that day and sends in something totally different. And you eat it, and you like it, because you’re afraid not to. How about the family dinner at the nice Mexican restaurant that turns into hysterics because the mariachi band has decided to take up residence at your table and stay there. Or the trip to traffic court with your sons when you almost get charged with contempt because something struck your collective funny bone and none of you can stop laughing.

 

I guess my answer would be not where do I get my ideas, but how am I ever going to use them all?

10/16/2009

What I Like to Read: James Rollins


I found James Rollins just after his first book came out. I fell in love and bought every one as soon as they were available. I really enjoy his Sigma Force series, but my all time favorite is Amazonia. Subterranean and Excavation are a close second and third. I hope he does some more books like those in the future, but in the mean time, I do love the Sigma Force books. They remind me a little of Clive Cussler’s Oregon Files series. Don’t ask me to choose between Clive and James, I love them both

10/15/2009

Nuclear Wildlife

Skunks are cute, industrious, and curious little creatures. I mention this because the nuclear power plant I worked at in Mississippi was overrun with the little guys. Not in the buildings or anything, I mean, we weren't actually dodging around them to do our work, though I'm sure the odd skunk has wondered in looking for treats. If they ever find our break room, we may be in trouble. Anyway, I'm heading off on a tangent, so to clarify, the skunks are all over the place outside the buildings; in the smoke pen, between the buildings, in the parking lots. Sometimes you have to wait for one to get out from under the car before you can leave work.

They scamper around scavenging food and preparing for the long winter. As I understand it, skunks don't acually hibernate in the winter, they just don't get out much. Kind of like me. I totally understand the reasoning behind their behavior and wouldn't mind getting to know the cuddly little critters, but there's that unfortunate odor problem and the rabies thing isn't all that great either.

As I watched the skunks last night, I pondered the other wildlife I've encountered or been informed of at other nuclear power plants. This is the stuff they don't tell you when you decide you want to be a nuclear professional. This is the good stuff you pick up after you hit the road. So for any of you that are interested in a career in nukes, here's a run down of the nuclear wildlife I've run across thus far in my career.

In Central California, the place was crawling with raccoons. In Southern California, they warned us about rattlesnakes. In South Louisiana, there's an entire list of harmful creatures you need to be aware of, alligators, black widow spiders, cottonmouth and coral snakes just to name a few. Yeah, coral snakes. I didn't even know we had those in the united states. Geesh. On the cute side, the canal next to the Louisiana plant has a family of nutra rats. They look like giant swimming guinea pigs, but apparently they are almost as insidious as kudzu.

At a plant in Missouri, you had to watch out for snakes. The black snakes would scare the bejesus out of you, but the copperheads were fairly aggressive and if you scare one, they bite first and ask questions later.

In Maryland, there's a heard of tiny little deer and a couple of giant, well fed, groundhogs. The groundhogs wondered around munching and sitting on their haunches looking cute and fat, the deer just toddled around all over the place. If you weren't careful, you'd step on one that had decided to have a nap next to a sidewalk.

In Southern California, I once saw a seal swimming around in one of the intake pools. I think he was laughing at the guards that were trying to catch him. There are rumors of a sea lion that escaped from a cage before he could be relocated and sent everyone on a merry chase before he could be corralled. I missed that one, but I did see a little hammerhead shark there.

Last fall at a plant in Pennsylvania, there was some sort of ferret like creature running around in the parking lot. Someone said it was a badger, but it seemed kind of small to me, maybe it was a mink. And if you think the creatures just hang out at the plant, you'd be wrong. I hit a deer with my car on the way home from work at that job. My carpool buddies wanted to skin it out and take the meat home, but I didn't want it in my jeep. If we'd been in a truck, we'd have had fresh venison for dinner, though.

I think if I had to choose my favorite nuclear critter, I'd go with the groundhogs or the nutra rats. They're cute, they don't leap out of trash cans and scare you to death, they don't threaten to cover you with a foul smelling liquid and they can't kill or eat you.

How 'bout you guys, have any critter tales to share?

10/14/2009

I've Lost My Mind

I believe over the last ten days, I have begun a rapid decline into senility. Let me tell you why. Somewhere around ten days ago, I lost my iPhone. I don't mean I misplaced it. I lost it. Gone. Dead. I had to purchase a new phone. That was somewhat unsettling, because until that time, the closest I'd ever come to losing a cell phone was if I left it in the other room of the house when I went in to watch the ball game. I survived and now I have a nice shiny new phone.

Almost a week went by, and on a sunny, humid, storm clouds building afternoon, I took my Kindle and myself out to lunch. It was good. Good food, good book, a waitress that didn't interrupt every two minutes to ask if I was doing alright. I left her a nice tip and pointed my car homeward. The sunny skies were dark and rain drops were just starting to splatter the ground when I ran inside. I complimented myself on my excellent timing and reached in my purse for my phone. It was gone. My shiny new cell phone was gone. I ran out into the rain and searched my car. No phone. I drove back to the restaurant and the sweet little waitress came running up with my phone in her hand. I left my brand new phone at the the pizza joint. I got back in my car, drove home in a crashing thunderstorm and got thoroughly soaked because I left my phone at restaurant. I gave myself a mental head slap and moved on.

Two days later I treated myself to a manicure and a pedicure. I read my Kindle while my legs and feet were massaged. Seriously, almost better than sex. I mean really. I paid my money and left the salon in a fog of relaxation and happiness. I hopped in my car and drove fifty miles, stopped for lunch, reached in my bag for my Kindle and realized I had left it at the salon. Are You Kidding Me? I left my Kindle AT THE SALON FIFTY MILES AWAY. So, I called the salon, gobbled my lunch, because I couldn't enjoy it, my poor Kindle had been abandoned 50 miles away and was all alone and sad, or maybe it was me that felt all alone and sad. I picked up my Kindle and drove the fifty miles back to where I started, found a motel for the next couple of days and settled in.

The next afternoon, I ran to Wal-Mart. Just needed to pick up a few things. I didn't even take my purse just grabbed my wallet and my phone and headed out. I left my phone in the car and ran into the story to do my quick shopping. I grabbed my things, one of them being a bag of ice, and trotted out to my car ready to go home, make a drink, settle back with my little electronic book and listen to the storm that was about to hit, rage while I was snuggled up inside. When I got to my car, I didn't have any keys. I checked the ignition. No Keys. I checked the passenger seat. I've been known to drop them there on occasion. I haven't ever locked them in my car, but, hey, there's always a first time. No Keys on the seat. I rechecked my pockets. Nope. I went back into the store and checked at the service desk to see if anyone had turned in a set of keys. No Keys. I left my cart at the front of the store and made a circuit of everywhere I had wondered while I shopped. No Keys. As I made my way back to the front of the store, I accosted a young man and asked to borrow his phone to call roadside assistance. He was an angel, and he let me use his phone and wouldn't even let me pay him. Roadside assistance assured me they would be there in 45 minutes or so. I got my cart and rolled it outside. Wal-Mart, at least the one I was in, didn't have any handy waiting benches inside or out, and no room for me with my cart and melting bag of ice to wait and still be able to see the locked out of my car rescue guys when they arrived. So, I waited. Outside. In the Rain. While my ice melted.

There is a happy ending to the key story. Some good samaritan found my keys and took them to lost and found, so I got them back the next day. The rescue guy was there in less then 30 minutes. He is a hero. My spare key happened to actually be in my car, so I could drive home. I wasn't stranded. So all is well, except for the fact that in the last ten days or so, I've lost or left almost everything of value that I own. So even though All of my toys are replaced or returned, I still haven't managed to find my mind.

If you see it out and about anywhere, would you send it home? I miss it. You'll be able to recognize it. It'll be the one wandering around aimlessly somewhere looking for it's car keys.

10/13/2009

Author Interview: Elizabeth Zelvin

This is a special day at the old homeblog. We have Elizabeth Zelvin here for an interview. So gather round and make her feel welcome. I’ve known Liz for years and had the good fortune to critique her book, Death Will Get You Sober, when it was still a work in progress. Those days are fast fading to a distant memory as Liz has survived her first book tour and today marks the launch the second book in her series, Death Will Help you Leave Him

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Hi Liz, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. I’m sure between promoting your book, and working on your next one, you don’t have a lot of time to spare. I appreciate you spending a little of it here with us at KdBlog.

KdBlog: First tell our readers a little about your background and what drew you to the mystery genre.

Liz: I’ve been a writer my whole life, worked in publishing for many years, went to social work school for an MSW in midlife, and spent another decade or two as a clinician and then director of alcohol treatment programs in New York City with a psychotherapy practice on the side. I’ve been reading mysteries since someone handed me Murder Must Advertise shortly after college graduation, when I worked briefly at the ad agency whose London office was supposed to be the model for the setting of Dorothy L. Sayers’s book.

KdBlog: So you didn’t have single pivotal moment when you said to yourself, “I can do that, I can write a mystery.”

Liz: I’ve never doubted that I can write. I wrote three mysteries in the mid 1970s, now outdated and unsalvageable, that had a good agent but didn’t sell. I’ve also published two books of poetry, a book on gender and addictions, and numerous professional articles and chapters. Nowadays, the self-doubt comes in when I’m starting a new first draft, I don’t know who the victim or the murderer or the suspects are, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it through to the end.

KdBlog: How long did you work on your novel before it was published? How many rejections did you receive before Death Will Get You Sober was sold? Was there ever a time when you just threw up your hands and said that’s enough, I give up?

Liz: I want to say 57 years! I wrote the first 2000 words ten or fifteen years ago, completed the first draft in October 2003, and held the published book in my hands in March 2008. The official publication date was April 15, my 64th birthday. My rejection tally before acceptance was 125 agents and 35 publishers. I kept finding ways to trick myself into not giving up.

KdBlog: 57 years, okay, I’m feeling better about my measly 10 years now. When you did get to that “I give up” stage, what was it that carried you through and made you push on?

Liz: As long as I could think of one more action to take, I wasn’t ready to quit. It was too important, I’d wanted this for too long. So I’d write one more query. And as I said, I’d try to trick myself. For example, I applied for a three-week residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, with SJ Rozan as the master artist. I couldn’t quit before finding out if I’d been accepted. When I was, I couldn’t quit before I went. And by the time I got there, St. Martin’s had expressed interest in the book, so I was feeling a lot more hopeful.

KdBlog: Were you always focused on getting published or was there a time when you just wrote for enjoyment?

Liz: I write constantly, but I’d never write a novel for enjoyment. I wrote poetry for thirty years, and there’s an emotional payoff as soon as you finish the poem. But after a great day working on a novel, you have to go to the computer the next day and do it again. And again. And again.

KdBlog: You’ve talked about your background, did your profession give you a platform that helped your agent sell your work? 

Liz: I sold the book without an agent, though I always say that I wouldn’t recommend the method, since the manuscript sat on an editor’s desk unread for 2 ½ years. I wouldn’t call my expertise and experience a platform, though they did give me legitimacy as someone who could write with authority about addictions and recovery. A platform is when you’re already Oprah—or a celebrity or a syndicated columnist. Having a platform means that thousands and thousands of people will buy your book because they already know your name.

KdBlog: What piece of advice would you pass on to a writer just starting out on their publishing journey?

Liz: First, finish the book. Second, get critique and do revisions before you send it out. Or second, join Guppies, the online chapter of Sisters in Crime for serious new mystery writers, as you and I did, KD. Then you’ll have all the help you need to get critique, approach agents professionally, have realistic expectations about publishing a mystery today, and a lot more priceless information and support. And remember it takes talent, persistence, and luck. You can’t do anything about the luck, but you sure can keep applying the persistence.

KdBlog: The Guppies and Sisters in Crime are terrific. I think they shortened my publishing industry learning curve by years. The advice and experience we shared there was invaluable. Speaking of advice, what’s the most helpful piece of advice you ever got concerning your writing? And the least?

Liz: Most helpful: “Kill your darlings.” It took me years to become willing to cut bits of my beloved prose in the interests of a tighter and more professional manuscript. But I believe that’s a big reason it finally got published. Least helpful: “Why don’t you go on Oprah?” Believe it or not, I’ve heard that a lot.

KdBlog: You’ve been out on the road doing a book tour and learning the ins and outs of promotion, what’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned during this phase of your writing life?

Liz: I had a lot of realistic expectations, because I’d heard so much from other writers over a four or five year period about how to promote the book and what it’s like nowadays, especially for a debut author. So the most unexpected thing I learned on tour was that I enjoyed hand selling my book. Since I’m a lifelong shy person who once tried to sell life insurance and would come home and cry for two hours every night, that came as a shock. Yes, I actually enjoyed standing near the door of a Barnes & Noble in front of a display of copies of Death Will Get You Sober with a book in each hand, making eye contact with each customer who walked in, and saying, “Do you read mysteries?”

KdBlog: I can relate to your insurance sales experience, I once tried to be a census taker, but that’s a subject for an entire blog post of it’s own, so let’s get back to our interview.  It’s time for my favorite question. What’s the one question you’d really like to answer in an interview that no one has ever asked you?

Liz: “I’m a close friend of Oprah, and she’ll read anything I give her. Would you like me to give her Death Will Help you Leave Him?”

KdBlog: [laughing] I’d like to hear that question myself.  And that’s the best answer to that one that I’ve ever gotten. Okay, we’re almost finished, just one more. Tell us what you are working on now?

Liz: At the moment, I'm focused on promoting Death Will Help You Leave Him, which will involve a lot of travel in the next couple of months, and also the holiday crime anthology, The Gift of Murder, to benefit Toys for Tots. It's a good cause, and I have a story in it, Death Will Trim Your Tree, that I think is a lot of fun. The next manuscript featuring Bruce and his friends is in my editor's hands, and after that, I will either work on one of two more planned novels in the series or try something completely different. A standalone short story about a young Marrano sailor on Columbus's first voyage has been accepted by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine for publication next year. I'm toying with the idea of using that protagonist in a Young Adult novel. For the moment, though, I'm writing blog pieces and interviews for my virtual tour and planning several different talks I'm scheduled to give to writers' groups. And chats and emails to my online therapy clients. I certainly write every day. In fact, I usually write all day every day. But sometimes fiction writing takes a back seat. Liz, that was fun. Thanks so much for taking the time to drop by KadiBlog. I hope you can check in to answer any questions the KdBloggers have for you. Here’s hoping that call from Oprah is right around the corner. 

KdBloggers, if you  haven't already read Death Will Get you Sober, run don't walk to your nearest  book seller and pick it up. While you're there, grab a copy of, Death Will Help you Leave Him, it's hot off the press and still has that new book smell


They're great mysteries and Liz is a great lady. You'll  find lots more information about her and her mysteries--including a free download of her Agatha-nominated short story, Death Will Clean Your Closet--on her author website www.elizabethzelvin.com. You can also catch up with Liz  and some of her writing cohorts at their blog, Poe's Deadly Daughters, http://www.poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com 


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If you have any questions of your own for Liz, be sure and post them in the comments.

Happy Reading,

10/12/2009

Writing Books can be Fun

These are my two favorite writing books.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block, and On Writing by Stephen King. The information I picked up from these two books shaved years off the learning curve of my writing. If you’re new to the writing game, run, don’t walk to the nearest bookstore and get these books. If you’re an old hand and just want a refreshing look at what you’re doing while life goes on outside the closed door of your office, get these books. 

An you? What are you’re favorite writing books?

10/09/2009

What I Like to Read: Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has been on my TBR pile for ages. I finally got to read one of her Dead-End Job Mysteries. What a hoot. There must be something in the Florida water that makes mystery writers able to bring the ridiculous to life. Or maybe it’s just a great gathering place for the odd. Whatever the cause, florida based mysteries are some of my very favorites and Elaine’s Dead-End Job series has leapt to the top of my TBR list.

Elaine is also one of the book tarts over at TLC. Get over there and check them out, you’ll add them to your daily read list. I promise. Go on, check them out, I dare you. Oh and check out Elaine’s Mystery Shopper books, too.

10/08/2009

I Wish I Was Cool

Last summer I broke my foot. Okay, I broke my fourth toe. But since a toe is a part of the foot, I choose to say I have a broken foot. People laugh at you if you have a broken toe. Of course people laugh at me regardless of what my injury is. 

Why you ask?

Well, because I'm not cool. I've never been cool. I will never be cool, and, I've never had a cool injury.I've never crashed my bicycle, fell off my skateboard, or cartwheeled down a mountain while skiing. Okay, I've actually done all of those things, but they've never resulted in an injury. I only get hurt while doing uncool things. Here's an example. I broke my arm when I was eight. How you ask? Okay, you didn't, but I'm gonna tell you anyway, cause it's my blog and I can do that. So, back to the story, my eight year old broken arm. That doesn't really sound right, but you know what I mean, right? Good. I'll continue.

Our school janitor used to tease those of us who worked in the cafeteria. (Yeah, I know, no one cool ever worked in the cafeteria to get free lunch. Just kind of reinforces the whole story really.) Anyway, on to the janitor, a sweet old guy, okay maybe he wasn't old, I was eight, he seemed ancient. He used to threaten to drop us into the trash can. He'd act like he was going to chase us, we'd squeal and run, he'd go back to mopping the floors.  He chased, I ran, he mopped, I tripped on my gigantic pant legs, fell, and broke my arm. It was the '70s, pant legs were gigantic. They really should have put warning labels on those pants.

When I was fifteen I was practicing for cheerleader tryouts and broke my arm doing a one handed cartwheel. I should have known better. I wasn't cool enough to be a cheerleader. I could have saved myself eight weeks in a cast if I'd just faced the inevitable and joined the debate team. 

Three years ago, I tripped over my own feet, fell onto a concrete floor and damaged my shoulder so badly that I'm still suffering with it. My latest accident...last summer, I kicked the couch as I was walking through my living room and broke my toe, um...my foot. Yeah, my foot. 

What have I learned from my life experiences??? I'm just not cool.

10/05/2009

What Welding Taught Me About Writing

A long time ago I went to welding school. It was just the latest in a long line of non-traditional pursuits. I've worked as a printer and a mechanic just to name a couple. I'm very mechanically inclined and welding seemed like something I would be good at. I imagined upon learning the secrets to the trade I would find that I had an innate natural ability. That I had a golden arm. I would weld things of such beauty that people would weep upon seeing them. A virtual virtuoso of the stinger and welding rod would be my medium. A combination of Mozart, da Vinci and Tammy Wynette all rolled into one.

What I discovered was that I sucked. I had no natural talent for welding. What I had was a total aversion to failure. I was going to learn to weld if it killed me. I worked, and sweated and welded and I got marginally better. At one point during the school I was working on a piece of pipe. Welding, if you don't know, is a long and tedious process, so I spent the better part of six hours welding on that pipe and it wasn't going well. When I finally finished, it looked like a metallic bird had left a deposit that dribbled around the pipe. I was supposed to call my instructor over to evaluate my progress, but he'd told us that before you called an inspector over to look at a weld, you needed to clean it up. Make it look as good as you could before the inspector got there for a look. The sparkle of a clean piece of work would sometimes  hide a tiny flaw that would stand out like flashing neon on a piece that hadn't been spiffed up. 

Being the good little student that I was, I got out my grinder, slapped on a wire wheel, and buffed the crap out of that bird poop weld. Then I called Jimbo over to take a look. Of course, the guy in the weld booth next to mine came over to take a peek as well. There was always someone around to share the criticism. Jim leaned over the pipe, bit his lip and took a deep breath.

"Isn't there something good you can say about it?" I asked.

The guy from the booth next to mine piped up. "It sure is shiny."

How does this pertain to writing, you ask? Okay, you didn't really, but I have to tie this together somehow.

I learned that if you take the time to polish, you can hid the small flaws. Let me explain. If you send out a manuscript to an agent and they read it, what are they going to see. Is it full of spelling, or grammatical errors? Are there typos? Was some of the paper in the printer discolored from sitting around too long in an opened container? Did you format your manuscript correctly? These aren't huge things, but they grab the readers attention. You don't want that agent or editor focusing on those little irritants, you want them falling in love with your story. 

Send them a polished manuscript that grabs their attention and even if there are a couple of small plot holes, or a character that she thinks might be done better, you might have a shot. Send out that same story with the poor formatting, the discolored paper, the spelling errors and a couple of small plot holes and that pesky character that needs work and you're well on your way to a form rejection. Agents and editors don't have time to walk you through the things that should have been done correctly before submission.

So here's what I learned from welding. Polish your work until it shines before you invite an agent in for a look. It might not get you accepted, but it will keep you from getting knocked out of the game before they get a chance to fall in love with your work.

10/04/2009

When Punctuation Goes Bad

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10/02/2009

What I Like to Read: Randy Wayne White

Doc Ford, is the main character in Randy Wayne White’s Florida based series. I love him, Doc, I mean. I don’t know Randy that well. Actually I don’t know him at all, but I feel like I know Doc Ford. I want his house, and his boat and all his cool friends. I want him to play tour guide in Columbia. *sigh* I’ll just have to wait for the next book. The man who invented Florida is somewhere in the middle of the series, but it’s one of my favorites. That’s why I chose it as the headliner. I you like the tall, silent, unassuming hero type, check out Randy and Doc.

10/01/2009

Television Installation is Not for the Faint of Heart

I grew up in a house where one of the deadliest sins was putting a hole in the wall. Didn't matter if you were hanging a picture with a straight pin, or pounding in a nail, it was highly frowned upon. Of course, that meant, when I got my own home, I put holes in the walls anytime I darn well pleased. It was an extension of opening my windows with the AC on or leaving the lights on in an uninhabited room. It was my house, my electric bill and my walls, so there. Apparently my children picked up on the, 'holes in the walls are okay' thing.

Last summer we bought a new television. My oldest son, the electronics installer in our family, grabbed his tools and went to work. I followed to fetch and carry. He found a stud, measured 16 inches and he drilled a hole, into nothing. He measured 18 inches and drilled again, into nothing. He scooted the drill bit over between the two holes and drilled once more, into nothing. I joined the project.

We found a stud at the other end of the short wall, measured over sixteen inches drilled a hole, into nothing. Eighteen inches, drilled again, into nothing. Just for fun, he drilled a few more exploratory holes, into nothing. There were now eight or ten holes. The wall looked like the victim of a drive by shooting.

We got back to basics and tapped on the walls to find a stud behind the dry wall. We found one and drilled another hole into, you guessed it, nothing. We took a break to regroup. The studs weren't on 16 inch centers and they weren't on 18 inch centers. We had multiple holes in the wall to prove that. I'm not sure what measurements were used to frame that wall, we never did figure out a pattern. Eventually by trial and error, we did find studs. Even got the television mounted in time for the St. Louis Cardinals game that evening.

With the installation complete we started clearing the room of all the boxes and extra hardware. Out of the mess I picked up a small, unmarked white box, maybe one inch wide by two inches long. I opened it, and out slid a stud finder. THE TV MOUNT CAME WITH A STUD FINDER. 

This will make it into a book some day.