Monday, September 22, 2008


Guess what? Today is the first day of fall. It is in the low eighties today here in Tennessee, so it doesn't really feel like fall, but just knowing today is officially the day makes me both happy and sad. Happy because the endlessly long and humid Southern summer is almost over, but sad because soon it will be daylight savings time again, which means that it will be dark at five o'clock, but then happy again because I no longer have to wear shorts that expose my glowing white legs to the world, but sad because smoothies and yummy fruit popsicles will no longer be fun to eat.

Most of all though, as we draw closer to the end of another year I start to feel the weight of all the things that I promised myself I would accomplish this year. Hell, I even had a rhyming motto: "things will be great in 2008." Not that things haven't been good, they have been, but good does not rhyme with eight. Ah, well, there's always next year, and thankfully nine rhymes with the much more manageable goal of, "things will be fine in 2009."

In honor of the first day of Autumn I put to use a cool new website - brought to my attention by blog chain comrade HL Dyer - called Wordle. Of course, before I even knew exactly what it did I already loved it for making use of a totally made up word, but then I saw it in action and was even more impressed. Basically, you plug in words and it makes artistic words. I started my wordling with a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning entitled, "The Autumn".

You can see a better view of it here. And this is the actual poem:

The Autumn by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them --
The summer flowers depart --
Sit still -- as all transform'd to stone,
Except your musing heart.

How there you sat in summer-time,
May yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing
Beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around,
You would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees,
Doth cause a leaf to fall.

Oh! like that wind, is all the mirth
That flesh and dust impart:
We cannot bear its visitings,
When change is on the heart.
Gay words and jests may make us smile,
When Sorrow is asleep;
But other things must make us smile,
When Sorrow bids us weep!

The dearest hands that clasp our hands, --
Their presence may be o'er;
The dearest voice that meets our ear,
That tone may come no more!
Youth fades; and then, the joys of youth,
Which once refresh'd our mind,
Shall come -- as, on those sighing woods,
The chilling autumn wind.

Hear not the wind -- view not the woods;
Look out o'er vale and hill-
In spring, the sky encircled them --
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn's scathe -- come winter's cold --
Come change -- and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne'er be desolate.

Isn't it cool? I was loving it so much, I decided to try another poem - this time one of my favorites from Sylvia Plath - "Mad Girl's Love Song."

Again for a better view go here. And here is the actual poem.

Mad Girl's Love Song by Sylvia Plath
"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

You can also find lots of cool other wordles that some of my blog chain buddies have made by following the links over to the right!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Snack Break

In keeping with my goal to blog more - I bring you a short and light-hearted post devoted to fun with food.

First a pie-chart that would make any pie or chart lover proud.

This was found at seriouseats by the way.

And in case that pie picture has you in a food craving mood - these next two pics should probably kill it

Found at aldenteblog: the hot beef sundae. No, I am not kidding. This does exist.

And in the same, way to ruin dessert, mode - from Black Widow Bakery, I bring you the meat cake.
You see that is not white frosting, it's mashed potatoes. And the red stuff... not strawberry sauce, but more of a ketchupy concoction. You really need to click the link above to see it broken down step by step - it will amaze and/or disgust you.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blonking and Read This NOW!

I've been on a one post a week thing lately, which while consistent, it is also a bit on the low side for a blog. So I am posting today (two whole days before the one week mark!) with a posting that what it lacks in having a main thesis or idea, makes it up in having lots and lots of links! That's right - it's time for another blonk.

Today's blonk, in keeping with this blog's overall writing theme and in honor of my own made-up term of "blonking", begins with looking at the beauty of sniglets - which is a made-up word to describe other made-up words that should appear in the dictionary, but don't.

Part of writing is having fun with langauge, and sometimes when you are in the middle of a scene and suddenly you can't think of that word you just need for your sentence, and bits of the word keep floating up in your mind, but when you try to grab them it is like trying to catch dust motes wafting through sunlight - well, then it doesn't seem like much fun. That's the beauty of sniglets - they're just a silly good time. Some of my favorites include:

Arachnidiot (ar ak ni' di ot) - n. A person, who, having wandered into an "invisible" spider web, begins gyrating and flailing about wildly. (The porch off my apartment is a spider resort. Every night I can look out and see them sipping at their dead-fly daquiries, and come the morning when I have to go out and water my plants - the wild flailing inevitably begins.)

Brattled (brat' uld) - adj. The unsettling feeling, at a stoplight, that the busload of kids that just pulled up beside you is making fun of you. (I rode the bus until midway through high school and can actually not remember one incidence of noticing any other cars on the road at all - unless they contained other students that someone knew. Nonetheless, I do still get brattled, probably because I remember those brats on the bus so well...)

Oreosis (awr ee oh' sis) - n. The practice of eating the cream center of an Oreo before eating the cookie outsides. (Okay, this one is more of an "awww" cause my son does this - I think it just must be a human instinct thing.)

My other blonk has to do with the age-old debate over what to call insanely sugary carbonated beverages, and awesomely enough has been captured in map form. Now I grew up in a household and area that were clearly pro-pop. That place is Buffalo, NY and we pronounced the word "pop" like we say most things - through our noses. For some reason in my early college years, I decided it was more cool, mature, and/or cosmopolitan to refer to it as soda, and have continued to do so until this past summer when I was visiting my family and heard my mom ask me, my sisters, my son, my nieces, everyone else about a hundred times if they wanted any pop. And for some reason when I returned home, it stuck in my head, and now when I open my mouth to say soda, the word pop comes out instead. I am sure this says something very revealing about me... but I'm not quite sure what exactly that is.

Okay, that's all of my blonks for today, but I am adding another element to these free-form posts called Read this NOW!

This new section was inspired by my former post of the same name. I was going to call it recommended reading, but that sounds too laid back for the books that I want to talk about which are ones that have grabbed me from the first page and refused to let go until I finished the entire book - sometimes only hours later. These are the type of books that if I got them from the library, I want to own them, so that I can read them again and again. These are also the books I want everyone I meet to read, so they can feel what I feel - just don't expect me to lend you my new copy - I am a book grinch.

The first book in Read this NOW! is an older one - Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. Talk about grabbing me from the first page - It was probably almost ten years ago, but I can still remember with perfect clarity the exact place I was standing in the bookstore (that is now closed) and the display of paperback books that Angela's Ashes was sitting among. This was at a time when I had no interest in reading anything other than fiction, but when I picked up the book and read the first paragraph I was converted - instantly and irrevocably. Since then the world of non-fiction has opened up to me, and I have a much richer reading life because of it - but Angela's Ashes started it all. If you haven't read it - at least follow the amazon link above and read that first page and see if it hits you as hard as it did me... Read it NOW!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ask Me Again Later

Oh no. That was my first response when I read the topic question for our newest writing blog chain over at H.L. Dyer's Weblog. Oh no, was followed by some head scratching, and then as no brilliant ideas came to me - there was only dread. As if things couldn't get worse Michelle McLean, the next person on the chain, wrote an enthusiastic and well thought out response to the question.

And now it is my turn. Oh no.

What is this question that has been causing me such pains? Well, here it is:

How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity?

Now don't get me wrong I am not saying that this isn't a great question for writers to discuss, or that I am uninterested in the answers. No, no, no. My problem is that I, as a writer, should be able to answer that question... and I cannot.

This is not to say that my stories all take place on a generic black box stage, devoid of anything that might give some clue as to time or place. Quite the contrary. In fact my characters are often one place or another, or in transit to someplace else, until they get where they are going.

And that wonderfully vague sentence right there is the crux of my problem. Although I know the rule of good writing is specificity, often when it comes to setting I try to wriggle by with generalities.

You might be amazed at how well this has often worked out for me... except, of course, when it doesn't. Unfortunately for me
my current WIP is proving to be one of those times when I am finding it difficult to let the story-world create itself as I go. While my first novel was a contemporary romance requiring little in the way of research, my latest WIP is more of an urban fantasy with lots of weird things happening. It's been really fun to write... that is until I have to come up with an explanation for the weird happenings.

Like my previous post on plotting, I am finding that I have to take a time-out and answer the questions that are being raised. And again like plotting this is not what I would call the "fun" part of writing. I would compare it to the way I feel about doing housework - it is not something I enjoy, but it must be done because I do not want to live in the midst of a nasty stinky mess. Similarly, I don't want my characters to live in a messy unkempt world either.

None of this, however, answers the question of how I create my story-world - because I really haven't done it yet - at least, not the way that I intend to. What I can do is get back to the business of choosing, creating, and hopefully creating some sense of authenticity and when I'm done I will do my utmost to remember exactly how I did it so that A. I can do it again and B. I can tell you all about it.

You can also bet that I'll be reading the rest of the entries in this blog chain with great interest, and no doubt learning a thing or two from my fellow chain-gangers. Follow me to the next post over at Archetype Writing.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Plotting Away

In my next life I'd like to come back as a supervillian, that way when I post on my blog that I am plotting it can be followed by a hearty "Mwah, ha, HA!" Unfortunately, I am just a lowly writer trying to put the pieces of another book together and so when I say I am plotting it is usually only followed by a pathetic sigh, or if I am feeling especially sorry for myself, perhaps a whiny little, "eeennnghhh."

Why does plotting make me whine and sigh? Because for me it is the part of writing that is just not much fun. And by fun, I mean - easy. Coming up with characters is fun (and easy). Finding that first inciting incident is fun (and not as easy, but I don't break a sweat). Right there I've got the first twenty pages of a novel, but without plot it ends right there. This is why I have the beginning of several novels in notebooks and on the hard drive of my computer going all the way back to high school.

So starting novels is easy, but finishing them is hard - I know this because I have done it once. And having done it I can say, that like most things that are not easy (and not always fun) it was a bazillion times more satisfying writing the words "the end" instead of "once upon a time." Now having done it once, I want to do it again and again and again. Only problem is that I need a plot to get me there.

I actually managed to get 60 pages into my current WIP by just muscling my way through and having no clear idea of where I was going and only a hazy sense of my final destination. This meant I spent a lot of time stopping and staring at my computer screen wondering where to go next. It wasn't exactly time efficient. Plus I kept having all these questions pop-up that I didn't have answers to, and I kept telling the questions I would get to them later, although I didn't even know what came later.

It became clear that I needed a better idea of where my story was going, what is was about, and maybe have the ability to answer all those questions I was raising. Unfortunately, I wasn't exactly sure how to go about this. I thought that having written one complete novel, I would just write the next one in the same way (you can read more about that here.) Since that didn't seem to be working out I turned to my good old friend Google to see if it could help me out.

You see I was pretty certain that there was a trick that perhaps not everbody knew, but certainly a few people must know it and, of course, one of those people must have posted it on the internet somewhere. Believing all this I was determined to find that elusive secret. In looking I came across some good stuff.

This was pretty good and she definitely got the emotional states part right.
This snowflake method thing didn't really work for me, but it raised some good questions and got me thinking in the right direction.
And I was pretty certain when I found Holly Lisle's website that I had hit paydirt. It was extensive and I was certain it had the answer I was looking for. I even found this and went through all the exercises at the end of which... I still did not have a plot.

That's when I did the unthinkable - I turned away from the computer and instead flipped open a big fat notebook (that I just happen to own for this express purpose) to an empty page and decided to first address all those questions I had dug up while writing my first sixty pages. There were a lot of them - I filled about two pages. Then as I struggled to answer them something funny happened. I had to look deeper into who my characters were and I had to come up with things to happen in the novel to answer the questions and suddenly my characters were motivated and instead of acting like a bunch of kids cooped up inside on a rainy day whining that there was nothing to do - they were totally entertaining themselves. My characters were plotting.

Now this is the part where I should write, "And after that it was easy. The plot flowed like water and I never again spent a night tossing and turning instead of sleeping as I was tortured by the idea that I might never complete a novel again." Except it didn't go that way and I will probably always be a person who is part of Ambien's target demographic (although I haven't yet used any prescription sleep aids and have no intention of doing so anytime in the near future.).

What did happen is I sat back down at the computer and read through the sixty pages I had so far, just to remind myself of where I had been and to decide how much I could keep. Having answered some of those pesky questions I had to make some changes, but most of it was working out all right. Then I could avoid it no longer. I opened a new word doc and made a rough estimate of how many chapters I would need based on the chapter lengths of what I had already written and I started plotting.

It was not fun. It was not easy. And I am only half done. However, when it's over I will have a very rough (like caveman drawings of roughness) map of where my story goes, and most importantly I will know exactly where to place the words "the end" when I get to them once again. And I will get to them. Oh, yeah, watch "the end", cause I'm coming for you.