Monday, June 30, 2008

It's all in the words...

Interpretation is everything. In the writer's world, the task of getting your point across hinges on the words and punctuation you employ. Sloppy or effective word choice can make all the difference between presenting the reader with a vivid or murky picture. Any average writer can do a fair job with description and action. Personally, I think the thing that separates the average writer from the arresting writer is dialog.

Really. I've read a lot of books in the last few weeks. And some of the dialog is pitiful. I wonder if the writers really listen to the way people talk around them. There are a few people who use complete words and sentences all the time, but most? Nope. Most people use a verbal shorthand to communicate.

The vocabulary the character uses is equally important. Now in my writing I might use the word communicate like I did in the paragraph above. But if I was in conversation with the house hunk I would be far more likely to use the word talk. I might describe the sky as azure, but I probably wouldn't turn to my friend and say, "Isn't that a lovely azure sky?" If I did she would look at me as though my marbles were missing.

I love a good snappy dialog. What I don't love is a long-winded information dump via dialog. Especially a fake sounding information dump. You know. The characters are gathered in the library while the chief of police explains how the murderer did it. Ugh.

Equally annoying are the really strange conversations some authors hang on their characters while they're in bed. Verrrrry strange. I've been around a few men in my time. I've never met one who had a lick of sense when he was in the process of getting some. Certainly, I've never met one who had enough presence of mind to have a long-drawn out conversation. And if the woman is able to focus on this long-drawn out conversation then he's doing it wrong!

Last week I swear I read a book where the hero/heroine were having a detailed conversation about decorating the bathroom. While they were in bed. Doing it. No.

People use contractions when they talk. Can't, won't, didn't, she'd, wouldn't... When the writer refuses to use contractions, then they change the character's tone of voice. I'm sorry, but I just don't believe some big biker dude is likely to speak like he graduated from Harvard. He might have. But what's the point? Is that central to his character? Speech patterns matter. If he speaks like a professor, he's going to stand out for sure in a bunch of rough biker men.

Most people do not have organized conversations. You know what I mean. First I'll say something insightful and complete. Okay, now it's your turn to say something insightful and complete. Okay, now it's my turn. Nope it doesn't happen unless the two individuals in question are really, really ticked off and are consequently trying for civility.

Anyway, I think I'll close with a conversation from Traveller's Refuge.

Traveller cleaned up, as quickly as humanly possible, checking himself out in the blurry mirror hung over the dirty rust-stained sink. When the toilet ceased running, he turned off the light-blower switch and leaned against the cold door listening intently.

“You think he’ll show?” The sleepy tenor voice came through with startling clarity.

“Nah, I think he’s probably in Kansas by now.” The deeper growl was more alert but clearly disinterested. “Get your coffee and we’ll go find Angelo and send him home.”

“I wish I knew what the hell this was all about.”

“No, you don’t.” Deep voice spoke with curt authority. “You don’t want to know. You don’t want to see. You weren’t even here, Kevin. Got that?”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Shit, I just was thinking.”

“Well, don’t think. Go pay for our coffee so we can get out of here.”

“Can’t we take the time to get a sandwich? The restaurant sells those egg and bacon sandwiches on a bagel. I nearly starved yesterday.”

“Fine, fine. Get one. Get two. Just hurry! I’ll wait for you in the van.”

Trav listened to them walk away. Counting to three, he opened the door and slipped out, heading for the rear exit which passed the showers and bunks for the truckers. With a quick look around, he moved into the shadows of the trash bins, ducked into the woods and silently approached Angie.

Angelo turned in his direction and shot him a curious look. “Back so soon?”

“Yeah. You know someone named Kevin?”

“Shit. Yeah, he’s my replacement. You saw him?”

“Nope but I sure heard him. And FYI, he’s got company. I slipped out the back.”

“What the hell is up?” Angie demanded fiercely.

“I think that dear old Free is setting you up for a fall. I’ve got to beat feet, uncle. Thanks for keeping an eye on my stuff.” Trav grabbed his bags and walked further into the woods.


Monday, Monday

So it's Monday again! Why do weekends go by so quickly? And why do they go by so slowly? On the one hand, I get absolutely no writing done on the weekends. On the other hand, there never seems to be enough time to get all the other work done on the weekend. Why does it work that way?

Monday is my day to re-read everything I've written the week before, regardless of the number of works in progress. Sometimes that's one. Sometimes, unable to settle down, I've worked on several different things so there are multiple wips to read and contemplate. Monday is the day I decide whether of not to change directions or delete work or radically revise stuff. Then on Tuesday morning I plunge into the fray again.

Since I'm at the beginning of three different wips, there's not a lot to re-read, though there is a lot to ponder. Already I can tell that all three stories are going to take sharp turns away from my planned story line. Sigh. I have the most contrary characters in the world.

So enough about me... What do you have planned for the week? Anyone going away for the fourth of July holiday? If not, what do you usually do?

Finally, today is my grandson's second birthday. He's two today. Happy Birthday, Brandyn!


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Good Old Days

I will never forget the time that my son eagerly asked me how many covered wagons it took to move when I was a girl. I gravely pointed out that they didn't have covered wagons back in the days of dinosaurs. We only had two wheeled carts. Like Fred Flintstone.

This picture brought back a lot of memories. When I was growing up, I had grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins all around. There were a host of stories from my family's past. So much so that I developed a life-long interest in genealogy.

As I married and had children of my own, I attempted to pass on some of the stories I collected from my childhood. Two summers ago I spent a week with my brothers and sisters-in-law. It was a funny week. One would start "Do you remember...?" and another would take up the story. Since my brothers were younger than I and since I married early and left home, there were stories that I was unfamiliar with.

I suspect that my children could do the same. I'm sure there are things that they remember that I don't even have a clue about. As much as we have shared lives with our children, there are always things we don't know about.

The picture strikes such a chord I think because it's something we're all familiar with. In every story our elders tell life was always so much harder than it is now. At least it is the way we remember it.

I remember walking home from school in one particular town. There were no sidewalks. In the winter I waded through snow and slushy ice. In rainstorms passing cars sprayed waters from puddles on the road. And in summer it was blazing hot as there was no shade. It was uphill both ways as it had long hills. The books were heavy. Probably the worst was that it was lonely. I was in a new school--again. By eighth grade the little cliques that develop in middle school were set. I was weird, too. Talked funny because I was from "down south". Dressed funny because our clothes were hand-me-downs. And had a totally different cultural background as my father was a minister. In eighth grade I had not yet developed the skills to be who I was.

I suspect that walking uphill both ways is a metaphor for life. I means that there are ups and downs on that walk we all take. But rather than whine about the journey because we're in a hurry to reach the destination, perhaps we should take time to look around us. After all. We'll only come this way once.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Wash Days

Yesterday was laundry day. We did fourteen loads of laundry. Sheets, towels, and lots of clothes. I sure by now that you're tired of reading about my laundry. I'm perfectly aware that things could be worse. And it's not as if I've never had to do laundry before.

But most of my married life I had a washer and dryer in my home. A laundromat was someplace that other people went to do their laundry. Not me. I had a nice little laundry room where I sorted the clothes and washed the clothes and sometimes even folded the clothes. And laundry was done one load at a time as the urge hit me.

Now laundry day takes on a forbidding aspect. There is all that sorting and packing to do. Then hauling the laundry bags to the car. Then hauling them into the laundromat... Yes, yes, I know you're tired of it.

Anyway, today I started thinking about the loads of laundry I've done over the last forty years. There was a lot of it. Back when I had babies, the disposable diaper hadn't been heard of. I used cloth diapers. Yes, I know the idea is shocking, but there you are. Cloth diapers needed to be folded -- especially if you were one of those modern young mothers that owned a diaper hanger. It was a neat bag that was designed to hang on the crib or changing table. It could hold about six dozen cloth diapers. Folded.

I had two diaper hangers as I had two babies in diapers. And I washed about six dozen diapers a day so I actually owned about eight dozen. And of course, what had to be washed and dried also had to be folded. That did not include the other baby clothes, blankets, sheets, etc. When those two kids were potty trained (ages two and three) I compounded my problems by having another baby. More laundry.

The thing is, I used to take the laundry into the living room and toss it on the couch. Then I could sit down and fold laundry while I watched television. When the babies were little, they could hang out in their playpen or walker while I folded laundry. Quality time. One big happy family.

When my children were a little older, I used that little potty stool we kept in the bathroom for potty training out in the laundry room. Then it was a stool to make them tall enough to set the washer dials so they could do their laundry. Ah, the cruelty of it all. But it seemed to me that if they could dirty their clothes, then they could clean them. I found it very interesting when the amount of dirty laundry was significantly reduced. They found that they really didn't need to wear four t-shirts in one day. Amazing.

Do you know? The same amazing discovery worked for the dishwasher, too? Once they started loading the dishwasher the number of dirty glasses dropped by an amazing margin.

Anyway, I'm ashamed to say that it took much longer to teach the house hunk how to do his laundry than all the kids put together. But the time came when he was on a temporary transfer to another state and he had to be responsible for his own laundry. Now this temporary transfer lasted eighteen months. By the time he came home for good, he was extremely nit-picky about his laundry. After a couple of rumbles over how I didn't do his laundry right I informed him that it was all his and wished him luck. He's done his own laundry ever since--even when we go to the laundromat. The disgusting thing is he never loses a sock! Not even one!

Laundry is one of those fact of life that no one talks about when you're thinking of getting married. They talk about cooking and cleaning house and sharing a closet, but does anyone mention that you'll have to do twice as much laundry? Noooooo. That's a shock waiting to ambush you the second week you're married. Where did all this stuff come from? Why are there six towels in the laundry instead of one? And what are these disgusting shorts doing in my underwear hamper?

Well. I guess I'm done with my laundry rant for another couple of weeks. Then I'll have to empty the laundry baskets of any stuff that I haven't gotten around to wearing. And I'll have to sort the laundry that's piled up next to the bathroom door. Yeah... we'll worry about that then. On laundry day.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Bad Guys

Suspense. It's a staple now in romance. The woman-in-jeopardy/man-in-jeopardy scenario often provides the background for the romance. After all, the pressure from a dangerous situation forces the couple, trio, whatever to work together much more closely far more quickly than they might have otherwise.

Danger rouses all the protective instincts setting the romance in motion. Protection requires physical closeness. You can't protect the threatened one from across the city. Maybe you can't even protect them from across the room.

I have used minimal suspense elements in my stories because quite frankly that is not my talent in writing. I can envision something bad happening. I seem to have difficult describing it. I don't have much trouble describing the aftermath, but the actual event... well I keep wanting to rush through it. I haven't had the patience so far to fashion a truly suspenseful story. I envy writers who can do that.

When I read books by authors who have it down pat, who can maintain the suspense without giving away too many clues I will frequently study the construction, trying to understand how they put it together. It a weird combination of high action and tight mystery. And the action alternates with the mystery compounding the heart-stopping suspense so that you wait moment to moment for the bad guys to burst out of hiding and grab everybody.

I've tried to analyze why I shy away from that tight bow of suspense and I think it's because I've lived my own suspenseful moments in my life. Those are places that I don't want to return to, even in make-believe. I love reading suspenseful books. I don't want to write one. That cuts too close to the bone.

If I ever do get around to writing one, it will no doubt be a farce because that just seems to be the way I handle things. Irreverent and cockeyed. I have a feeling it will turn out like one of those Disney comedies that they used to do so well. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong but in the end the good guys will win because their efforts were so off the wall that the bad guys couldn't plan for the good guys mistakes. Sometimes in real life that's exactly what happens.

I'll never forget an old James Garner movie where he was a sheriff or gunfighter or something. The bad guy comes to town and challenges him. Instead of drawing his gun, he picks up a handful of rocks and starts throwing them at the gunfighter. Because it was unexpected the gunfighter ends up running away. And that would be exactly the kind of story I would end up writing.

In the meantime--I'll enjoy those writers who have mastered the romantic suspense tale. And I'll keep on trying to guess which one is the bad guy.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008


On the Ellora's Cave editor's blog--Redlines and Deadlines--they have a contest in progress to come up with the worst pen name. There are some pretty interesting ones on there. Over the years I've run across some decidedly strange ones. There was a time when it seemed like all the romance writers were named Valerie. Elizabeth Peters even wrote a very funny mystery based at a romance writers convention. In her book all the romance writers were named Valerie except for the lone male writer. I think he was named Valentine.

So why do we choose pen names? And how do we choose them? The why is usually relatively simple. We want to protect something. Privacy, family, or job are the usual suspects. It's amazing how often family and job figure in the reason for a pen name. And there are a few authors that have several pen names because they write in multiple genres. Jayne Ann Krentz would fall in that category.

But how we choose them fascinates me. When I was choosing a pen name I wanted something easy to spell, easy to remember, and last but not least, easy to query on the internet. Even so, you would be surprised how many Anny's there are. I deliberately chose a surname with a letter close to the beginning of the alphabet because I found that searching through a long list of author's names quickly became boring. Unless I was very, very determined I usually quit by the time I hit the E's or F's.

There are all sorts of reasons for the ultimate choice of a pen name. Some women use their maiden name or middle name or the combo of their children's names. Others honor family members or close friends or even ancestors. Some flip through a baby name book in search of something unusual and unique. A few use a play on words that refer to their genre.

I suspect that the choosing process would make an interesting study for some enterprising student. What do our choices reveal about us? What about you? Do you have a pen name? If so, how did you decide what it would be?


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Happy Face

I had a telephone conversation with an acquaintance today in which she more or less accused me of being a pollyanna. "Nothing ever gets you down," she complained. "There's always somebody who has things worse."

Well... this is true. There are lots of people out there much, much worse off than any person I know personally. You only have to turn on the TV or read the internet news to know that this is true. Therefore, I choose to be a half-glassful person rather than a half-glass-empty woman. I believe that most people--with the exception of the mentally ill--can choose what type of person to be. We can be positive or negative in our outlook on life. We can decide to look at the up side of events or the down side. And what we choose determines whether or not we are happy.

There are people who live their entire lives in bitterness and anger, professional complainers who are never, ever happy. They choose to always look at life as half-empty. These are the people who are never happy with their spouse's paycheck, their home, their children's accomplishments, their car, their friends, their dog. They believe that everyone is out to get them, out to cheat them of something the world owes them. They die young of heart disease or cancer, fulfilling their own beliefs.

On the other hand, there are people who should have died long ago... they are often out of shape, eat and sleep wrong, work hard and give of themselves unstintingly--and yet they live, some to an astonishing age. They are content within themselves. They've chosen to be happy. They know the value of laughter.

No, their outlook doesn't mean that they fail to see the needs of others. In fact, frequently, they are the first to respond in an emergency. They're almost hyperaware of the less fortunate around them. But they don't believe that they are less fortunate. All of us know people like this. They are the ones who smile. They are the ones who offer the encouraging words. They are the ones who take the high road toward peace rather than the road to confrontation.

Yet their anger when stirred can be righteous and justice is important to them. Often that anger is not on their own behalf, but the behalf of a friend, neighbor, acquaintance, or even a total stranger. The half-glassful people are people who are selfless rather than self-centered. They look outward, rather than inward.

In our country today, on June 24th, there are thousands of people who have no idea where they will find their next meal. They don't know where they will sleep tonight. Their homes are under toxic water. Their belongings are ruined. Schools, churches, libraries, government buildings, businesses are all gone. And yet they have not given up. They are not turning inward with bitterness. They are out there, doing what they can. They have chosen to see the best instead of the worst. They will pick up and rebuild because they are half-glassful people.

It seems to me that the rest of us could take a look at their examples. Yes, I know there are tough times in our country right now. But we don't have a war going on in our country. We aren't trying to deal with thousands of people displaced by earthquakes, typhoons, or wars. Our children aren't being ravaged by AIDS or raped by rebels. It would behoove us to pull our socks up and be grateful for our blessings.

We need to learn to be half-glassful people.


Don't forget to check all the wonderful blogs to the right!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Techie Tales

Have you ever noticed the way that most people respond when you ask for help with a "technical" problem, whether its a car, appliance, or computer? First, immediately they start asking you this whole series of questions... Did you try this? Did you try that? Well, what about...?

Hello. I'm reasonably intelligent. Yes, I tried all that stuff and even stuff you haven't mentioned yet! Believe me, I wouldn't have bothered calling you if any of that stuff worked!

I used to do a little bit of technical consulting. When people called me, I had a standard greeting. "What do you believe is the problem?"
"Tell me exactly what you've tried to rectify the problem."
"Tell me about any events that might have caused the problem."

In the first instance, you find out immediately whether you're speaking to another techie or not. That can make a big difference in how much assistance you can render via the telephone.

In the second instance, you find out whether the caller might have inadvertently done something to make the problem worse. This has happened to me. But by asking the caller to list their actions you tend to get better information.

In the last instance, you simply get information that the caller might not realize is important. "The electricity went out." "There was a lightning storm." "The cat chewed through the wire." "I ran out of gas." Believe me, it happens. I once had a woman caller who complained that she couldn't get her computer to start. We tried various things. Then after I made an appointment to go to her office, she asked, "Could this cut wire have anything to do with this?"

"What happened to the wire?"

"I think it got caught in the vacuum cleaner."

"How big is the cut?"

"Well, it's in two pieces."

"Yeah, that'll do it."


Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Butler Did It

I Recently had a discussion with several fellow writers about my current work in progress. There were a variety of comments made. But one of the, um, most interesting to me was the one who said "but I figured, this is an Anny Cook novella and she can get away with murder. It's expected." No, I won't identify the writer, but it certainly made me think about my writing style.

Am I such an edgy writer that weirdness is expected? What if I write something that isn't my trademark strangeness? Is there such a thing as too off the wall? Maybe. I kind of find the idea funny as I'm a fairly conservative type in real life. Perhaps this is my rebellion so to speak. Anny Cook, writer of the weird and strange romantic erotica. Sex isn't enough? Read Cook's books for a little more adventure...

What's truly funny is that I've been smiling all afternoon. Every time I thought of that line, I would chuckle. I suppose that no writer wants to be one of the herd, just one of the guys. So this assessment made me feel for a few short seconds that I was not one of the bunch, but something unique.

Incidentally, it isn't true, you know. If my editor didn't keep a firm rein on me, there are probably some fences I would jump that really don't need to be taken. But that's what an editor is for. They read the good, the bad, and the incredibly ugly and then tell the writer what's what. So my editor keeps me from straying too far.

But considering... that's probably pretty breathtaking all by itself. I can see a couple of my peers shaking their heads at the scope of the task. If our editor is responsible for steering me around the traps in writing, what must she face when she receives one of my books. Consider all the adventures she's exposed to when she turns the page! Terminal weirdness with a touch of strange.

Heh. Well I thought I would offer a touch of my writing style for your pleasure--or not. Here is a short excerpt from Daffodil.

Prowling down the dark rubble strewn alley that separated the Two Trick Tavern—or as it was locally known—the Triple T from the rest of the scruffy little village, Timmy observed a man darting stealthily from one of the shadowy huts near the edge of the village. Curious, Timmy followed him to a dimly lit squat building near the center of the village. Further cogitation led Timmy to conclude that the building must be an ale house where the locals gathered for a pint or two. And where there was ale, there was usually food.

He pulled open the heavy door and poked his head in just to be sure his conclusions were correct. Happy to see that they were, he slipped inside and made for the nearest empty high-backed booth. A plain young woman with a frankly unbelievable bosom spilling from her tight gathered blouse approached almost at once.

“What’ll ya have?” she demanded while giving the table top a lick and a promise with her grungy towel.

Timmy kept a leery eye on her straining top, positive that it was going to give way at any moment. Those were lethal weapons she was carting around and he wanted to make sure he wasn’t in the line of fire when her top exploded. “What do you have?” he asked absently.

“Venison stew, chicken pot pie and hot bread.” She rattled it off with the bored expression of a woman who’s been on her feet too long.

“I’ll have one of everything and a pint of ale.” Timmy edged deeper in the booth and glanced around the dark room as she stomped away with her blouse still intact. They must use some strong fabric in waitress outfits, he decided as he watched her leave. Only three lights flickered in the room providing minimal illumination. He caught a whiff of smoke that revealed the presence of someone smoking illegal Earth cigarettes in the small room. Obviously, the local justice system was pretty lax.

The young woman returned with a tray loaded down with steaming food. It landed on the table with a thud as her breasts shimmied beneath the top. Hastily, Timmy helped her unload the tray. She shot him an odd glance and flounced off to get his ale.

Timmy grabbed a hot yeasty roll from the bread basket, tore it apart and dunked it in the smoking stew. Lifting the dripping bread to his mouth, he took a hearty bite and sighed with relief. It was delicious. The cook was probably a troll, he speculated. They were the best cooks in the kingdom. Without further hesitation, he dug in. He had polished off the stew and was nearly finished with the chicken pot pie when he heard the name “Sidney” from the booth behind him.

Pausing in his eating he listened intently.

“Oh please! What kind of idiot keeps a pet rock?” A male with a whiney light tenor voice exclaimed.

“When you’re the king you can have any kind of pet you want—even a rock,” A deeper voice replied and with horror, Timmy recognized Florian LeFleur was the speaker.

Tenor voice laughed heartily. “That’s exactly why we need a new ruler. Tomorrow morning I’ll take Sidney to the blacksmith and borrow his anvil and sledge hammer. When I finish, Sidney will just be a pile of marbles.”

Florian growled. “Don’t be stupid, Nigel. All that will do is make the king angry. You’ll screw the plan and your mother will lock you away with the pixies. Quit screwing around with the damned pet rock. Everything is under control. Our spies have informed me that my ex-butler, Raulf has talked that idiot Gareth into giving Daffodil to him. It should be very easy to snatch her right from under his nose.”

“The butler did it, huh?” Nigel chortled in glee. “I always wanted to say that.”


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Zen Garden Queen

Life is chaotic most of the time. All of us have something, some way that we cope. Some have plonk and Chinese food. Some eat chocolate or Tim-Tams. Then there are candles, bubble baths, reading, and hot herbal tea. I listen to music.

Not just any music, of course. Depending on my mood, I may listen to a mellow Josh Groban album or a loud rowdy Gary Allan album. But when I want to totally, flat, zone out, I listen to Chariots of Fire or some other album of Zamfir's.

I'll never forget the first time I heard the music from Chariots of Fire. I was standing in a small record store in Houston, Texas. In the midst of whatever were the current rock bands, this magical music filled the store. I stopped dead in the middle of a sentence, listened for a few minutes and then demanded the name of the song. The clerk looked at me as though I had lost my mind, but he told me it was from an album called Chariots of Fire. I believe that is the only time in my life when I walked out of a store with an album just because I liked what I heard.

I had no idea what the movie was about. Listening to each beautiful piece I tried to imagine what possible place it could have in a movie and what such a movie would entail. What very few people know is that the "back" of the album (this was before the time of CDs!!!) contained a single twenty-five minute piece of music that incorporated almost all of the themes from the front of the album.

Have you ever listened to a piece of music that made your soul fly? That's what that piece of music does for me. It lifts me out of whatever dark place I may be inhabiting and flings me out into the light. It's likely that piece of music saved my life when I was treading through some pretty dark valleys.

Everyone should have one song, one piece of music that makes the heart soar with delight. No doubt the choices are as varied as the individuals making those choices. But some nights when the soul is cold and lonely, a candle lighting the darkness, a taste of wine, and music to sooth the worst of the terrors is the perfect prescription.

As I sit here with the music soaring all around me, peace has settled in beside me.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Traveling Helping Hand

I have noticed over the last few months that I seem attract a certain sort of friend. This would be the independent I don't need anybody's help friend. I wouldn't worry about it much, but every single friend I have fits in this category--from the neighbor who didn't want to disturb me in the middle of the night when she was sick to the friend who suffered through the loss of a family member without letting anyone know because--you guessed it--she didn't want to bother anyone.

So I think I will offer a gentle observation. When my friends stubbornly hold to their independence, refusing even the slightest help, they are sending a subtle message about our friendship. They are saying that their control is more important than our friendship.

I'm sure you're sitting back, giving this blog the old hairy eyeball about now. Yes, I know exactly where you're coming from--every one of you. I'm the high priestess of independence myself. I'm the one who moved across the country with three babies, dealt with crisis after crisis on my own, spent long hours alone because the house hunk was working two full-time jobs so that we could buy groceries. I managed just fine right up to the point that I fell flat on my face, ended up addicted to Valium, and nearly checked out.

That was when I learned that independence can be another name for pride. Sometimes it's another name for shame. Sometimes it's another name for private despair. Sometimes it's just another name for control. And most of the time it's unnecessary. The vast majority of women don't have any idea how to accept a helping hand. In our mad rush to prove that we don't need a man to lean on, don't need a man to take care of us, we lost something. We lost that ability to admit that once in a while it's a relief to accept that helping hand--even if it's just a sympathetic ear.

Since that time in my twenties, I've had many occasions when I gratefully welcomed that helping hand. Sometimes it was a couple bags of groceries when we had no food. Once it was a stack of maternity clothes when I found myself twenty weeks pregnant with no prior warning (that's an entirely different blog!) There were wonderful women all around me who pitched in to help me find crib, baby clothes, and other necessities.

When that baby had grown to be a troubled teen, I had new friends who held my hand, listened to me cry, even rode with me when I went to visit my daughter at the school where we placed her for twenty-two long months. There were many, many people I talked to during that period of time who commented about my willingness to share my experience. They were going through very similar things, but were too shamed to ask for help. Offering my story allowed them to share theirs.

Of course that wasn't nearly as humiliating as the time I had a small mini-stroke. I knew that there were certain "things" that were gone. But the morning that I realized that I no longer knew how to tie my shoes... Well, I found a pair of "slip-ons" and went off to work, still in shock. My boss asked me what was wrong. "I don't know how to tie my shoes," I blurted out. Very calmly she said, "Well come in my office and I'll tie them for you."

Forty years don't pass in a marriage without a stunning variety of crises. A few years ago I knelt on the floor in the main aisle of Wal-Mart screaming for help as the house hunk had a grand mal seizure. Little did I know the hell that awaited us in the future.

When you've had a seizure, particularly a grand mal seizure, you're not permitted to drive. In the space of a few minutes we went from a two-driver family to a single-driver family. We lived in an extremely rural area without the slightest pretension of mass transit. When the house hunk was eventually permitted to go back to work, I rose every morning, rain, snow, or clear to take him to the closest park n' ride so that he could commute to the city. Inevitably, there were doctor's visits and other family necessities that needed transportation. And I had to ask for help. And I did.

I can just see you nodding your head at my good sense. Of course--even you would be willing to offer your help under such circumstances. But let's put the shoe on the other foot. When was the last time you asked for help? Because this is a two-way street. Every person needs help sometime in their life. But more importantly, they need to return the favor. Yep. That's right. If you refuse to ask for a helping hand, you're refusing to allow that other person to do their part! When you're always the helper and never the "helpee" you're taking a valuable necessary opportunity from the other guy.

Success is possible in life without the help of others. But it's more likely when we all take turns lending and accepting that helping hand.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Book snobs

Are you a book snob?

In the last few weeks I've run into several book snobs. Haven't quite figured out what I'm doing to attract them, but there you have it. Whenever I talk about reading, I invariably hear from two or three readers indicating that my choice of reading material isn't acceptable. Sometimes it has to do with genre. Others object to the sex in the books... who knew that Louis L'Amour's were erotic? And one person felt that I should be reading the classics. Um, My Secret Life is classic--classic Victorian erotica, true--but classic.

What exactly makes one book better than another? Is it vocabulary? I used to read all the novels by William Buckley. Now that fellow had a vocabulary. I kept a dictionary handy. So maybe that means that his books are good? Actually, they were pretty good.

Or is it the story itself that matters the most? I read all the stuff you're supposed to read in high school, Orwell, Twain, Poe... And the books that supposedly are really important--Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, Tess of the D'urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, Oliver Twist--and a few hundred more.

Perhaps I just have a light heart or light head (could be either one). To tell the truth, I'm at a stage in my life when I'm not terribly interested in reading books with deep meaning and/or unhappy endings. For heavier reading I'm working my way through a biography of St. Paul the Apostle. If I finish that one, I have a few more to wade through. Mayflower, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings... And other than that, I want something to entertain and delight me.

On the whole chick-lit bores me. I think it's that age thing again. I'm fifty-eight years old. In general, my life is more or less settled. I'm not interested in clothes, work, shoes, dating, getting married (or divorced) or going out with my girl friends on date night. No doubt that defines me as a radical, but somebody has to step in and fill the position.

Over the years I probably average reading a thousand books a year. No I'm not exaggerating. I read very fast. In the last two days I wrote 4000 words and read five books. That's pretty standard for me. I have keepers (that I keep, naturally) and then there are those "other" books that I forget almost before I read them. The keepers are the ones that I can discuss the plot, main characters and usually even the title five or ten years later.

Actually, I could still discuss some of the books I read as a kid. Don't suppose anyone is around who would care, but just sayin'.

I think what bothers me the most is that there is an assumption that if you read mysteries or romances that you never read anything else. That stereotyping irritates me. It makes us one dimensional. Today perhaps I'll read a romance. Tomorrow I might read a biography. The day after I could choose to read War and Peace or a history of the Battle of Waterloo. Short of listing every book I've ever read, there is no way for you, my readers to really know what my reading might consist of so... my advice is to find a book you like and read.

It doesn't really matter what kind of book. The important thing is that we take advantage of the books available to us. It wasn't so long ago that one fellow was busy burning them.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday Chit Chat

Awkward situations are kind of like the photo at the right. They required delicate balancing and steady nerves. Quite frankly, I'm not very good at maintaining the balancing act for very long. My usual modus operandi is to jump down and um, run away.

However, I'm trying to pretend that I'm a big girl now with the ability to manage all sorts of difficulties so I'll work on the balancing for a while longer. But if you hear a crash, that was me, falling out of the tree.

I am on a current reading jag--re-reading all my Jayne Ann Krentz novels. Since I have most of them, either in hard cover or in e-pub, I've been happily occupied for several days. I believe the thing I most enjoy about her books are her guys. They're such...guys. For instance in the current one, the hero is an ex-marine with traumatic stress syndrome. He's managing a very run-down resort with ten little cabins. When he bought the resort he was under the mistaken impression that he would have peace and quiet to write a book. Naturally, things are not quite working out that way.

In one hilarious scene, a very young groom tries to rent a cabin for his wedding night. After barking orders at the gawky young husband Luke, the hero declares that check out time is twelve hundred. Of course the groom has no idea what he's talking about. So he swallows his pride and asks "Twelve hundred what?"

"Hours. High noon."

Then Luke started rattling off the "regs", confusing the young groom again. After they get that straightened out, he redeems himself by informing the young couple that they have the honeymoon suite. This of course impresses the young bride no end though it briefly alarms the young groom as he doesn't have the money to pay for the honeymoon suite.

When the heroine queries him later about the non-existent honeymoon suit, he gravely replies that "the management takes the view that if you spend your honeymoon in one of our cabins, said cabin is, by definition, the honeymoon suite." ~~ All Night Long by Jayne Ann Krentz


I really enjoyed the book. Frankly, I've enjoyed everything of hers that I've read and I look forward to her new paperback coming out. I believe I'll be able to download it to my e-reader. That will entertain me at the laundromat!

No telling how long this current reading jag will last. Sometimes it goes on until I've read every single book by that author that I own. Sometimes just a few books will do the trick and I'll saunter off on another direction. I'm thinking that I might haul down some of the Georgette Heyer's and have a few of them for a snack. Then there's Louis L'Amour and Alistair MacLean... so many books. It's a good thing that I'm a very fast reader.

What about you? Do you read a variety or do you gorge on one author at a time? Tell me about it. Who does it for you?


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In Search of the Past

I've probably mentioned a couple of times that I have spent many, many years as the family historian. The position entails a few more things than keeping up with current births, deaths, and weddings. There are all those same facts from the past. And the past facts aren't always the easiest to dig up.

It's interesting how families will hold onto secrets long after they could possibly harm anyone or affect any lives. And then with shocking abruptness, someone will decide to talk. Without that informant, much of that information might be lost forever.

I don't dig in my family's pasts just because I'm nosy. There are real bits of information that are important to know. Certainly a medical history for a family can make a huge difference in lives. So many diseases run in families. Ours has kidney disease and severe nose bleeds. One of my ancestors in the very early 1800s died in his twenties from a severe nose bleed. He left a young pregnant widow with a little boy.

The picture to the right is quite a rarity. It is both sides of my family. My mother's family and my father's family. My mother's family lived in Arizona. My dad's lived in Texas. This was taken at a rare family get-together before I was born. Many of the people in the photo are gone now. But I treasure the picture for the memories.

I mentioned to someone about all the family vacations we spent in cemeteries when my kids were growing up. My family never had the good taste to be buried in a nice civilized cemetery. Nope. My families were buried in tiny little plots hidden in the woods or out in the middle of corn fields or in one case, behind a derelict rest area on a little two lane highway in the middle of nowhere.

Locating such cemeteries can be an adventure all in itself. One summer the house hunk and I went to Kentucky. We took a notion one day to drive over two counties to the west to see if we could locate the family cemetery in Christian Co. When we arrived at the little town... well, it was a stop sign and a run-down little store that sold bait, bread, and beer. That was it. My sister-in-law and I went into the store with the picture I had of the grave we were trying to locate. We showed it to the lady behind the register.

First she lit a cigarette. Then she studied the picture for a while. And then she squinted off into the distance and drawled, "Waaaalllll, I 'member this here place mebbe. I was pickin' som akerns." (At this point, I was wondering what akerns were.)

Then she took another puff on her cigarette and tapped the picture. "Yep, I'm pretty sure I saw this out yonder where I was pickin' akerns."

Well, taking a deep breath I asked for directions. She told us go here, turn left there, go a little "futher", turn right.... and of course, you know that "we couldn't miss it." Riiiiight.

We hopped in the cars and took off. And of course, we promptly got lost. So I drove down the road a ways until I saw some men tearing down a house. I pulled in the driveway and hopped out. One of the men came to see what I wanted. When I explained my quest, he invited me into the barn. Now I would have really hesitated to go into the barn with the fellow, but my intrepid sister-in-law was with me, so into the barn we went. Inside, much to our amazement, the fellow had a huge blackboard. He proceeded to draw us a MAP. Heh.

After having a good look, we went back outside, got into our cars and set off once more. This time we ended up on a narrow lane-and-a-half road to nowhere. Finally, I told the house hunk I was going to look for a place to turn around and go home. Just then, he said, "I see headstones in the woods!" So I stopped. We all piled out into the poison ivy and lo, and behold. The first headstone we found had my family's name on it.

My teenage nephew and niece had been feeling a bit impatient about spending their afternoon on their auntie's wild goose chase...until they stood next to the old moss covered headstones with their family's names on them. Then it was real. Then it was worth it.

When I was a teenager, I spent summer vacation staying at the old home place in the house to the left. It looked pretty much the same way then. There was no electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. The outhouse was in the back off to the left of the house. The well was at the extreme right. That little lean-to structure to the right was the kitchen. I once wrote a short story about climbing Nipple Peak. That took place on this property that same summer.

The family pictured in front of this house was my grandfather's siblings. There were thirteen of them and my grandfather was number twelve. I have traced the family line back to the very early 1700's in Virginia. They moved on every generation. Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and finally Texas. They fought in the American Revolution, both sides of the Civil War, and an assortment of smaller conflicts. They were deacons, farmers, blacksmiths, school teachers, and shop keepers. They served on juries, taught Sunday School, voted, and witnessed legal documents. They were small town America.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Jump Starts

The are a few times in my life when the head is just... empty. It's roughly the same feeling I had in high school when asked to quote a few lines of Shakespeare. Emptiness is not a bad thing unless you're trying to write not just one blog, but two. That's correct. Tonight is also my turn to write the OhGetAGrip blog. With two blogs to write, emptiness is definitely not a good thing.

So--what to write about? I do not have a clue. Finally, I thought I will write about what I do when I'm stuck at at stopping point. I tried to explain it to a friend tonight. I write these little scenes. Sometimes down the road they turn into a book. Most of the time they don't. But I use them to allow my brain to roam freely and meander around. Call it an exercise. So here are some of my favorite paragraphs from my "jump starts".

Gerald was sweating like a troll. Seized in a massive heat wave, all of Avalon was sweltering and in a heat wave the woods was the last place to be. Grumbling beneath his breath, Gerald tripped over a fallen branch, stumbled into a bush and rolled down a rocky bank with his arms and legs flashing a fancy cartwheel, ending in the cool creek below with a resounding splash.

The scent of spicy aftershave drifted past in the seconds before the gun was pressed to his spine. Nik’s gut clenched as he watched his half-sister, Jade dancing gaily around the ball room with her new husband, Baron Llewellyn. They had waited a very long time to be together so why had someone picked their wedding to crash?

Penny moaned softly. “Next week when I turn twenty-one I’m moving in with you. The trust will be finished and Uncle Cyrus won’t have any hold on me. I can’t wait, Cage! I want to be with you.”

“Then plan your wedding sweetheart, because you know very well that Pa and Momma aren’t going to let us live in sin. That’s the way the Jericho family is. Marriage first.”

The switch caught and there was a flare of light from the tiny flame. He groped around in the shadows searching for a dry stick or piece of tinder. His fingers encountered a stick wrapped in cloth. He picked it up and carefully touched the flame to the edge of the torn fabric until it caught and flared with a rush.

With sick horror, he realized that the “stick” was a human bone. Just in time, he ruthlessly suppressed the instinct to throw it down. He needed the light and the human was long past the time when it was important to him or her. After drawing a long shaky breath, he shifted to a hunched squat and surveyed his shelter.

When he returned, he found that his estimate was off by several minutes. Maggie was out cold, lightly snoring as her lead lolled to one side. No longer under pressure to be the calm strong one, he collapsed in a heap and just shook with the fear that had been building since his first glimpse at their attackers. Something was not right and the possibilities terrified him.

Then the low rhythm of far off drum beats and chanting began.

Jump starts. Ideas that stream by, sometimes capturing the imagination, sometimes not. But at least it's writing, exercising the writing muscles in the most basic way. The neat thing is that the jump starts still speak to me, months later, luring me in, enticing me to tell the story. So... maybe, eh?





Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day!

This is the day we set aside to honor dads. And granddads. And men who stand in for missing dads. And sometimes dads who also serve as moms.

Personally, I think there is nothing sexier and more macho than a man who is comfortable in his role as a father. Men who can change a diaper, fix a ponytail or braid, play Barbies and GI Joe, read a bedtime story, explain to his small son exactly how to aim to hit the center of the bowl... those are the heroes in my book.

Those are the same men who show their daughters how to change the oil in the cars and teach their sons how to do the laundry. They're the men who are more concerned about raising their children with moral values than raising them with gender roles.

My househunk did that. Thanks to his example my children searched out mates who have the same goals. In my house, he's the one who crochets the afghans, takes care of the house plants and does his own laundry. He's the one that the kids call up to ask for advice about anything and everything from computer problems to how to make biscuits.

That's a father.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Appearances and Deceit

Appearances can be deceiving. For instance a handsome hunk can be a jerk. Or a chunky nerd can have the heart of a knight. Too often we don't really look past the outward appearance to really see what's underneath. One of the nicest men I've met in my life was a school teacher that taught building and construction. He was uglier than sin on the outside. But on the inside he was pure gold.

A reader once wrote to me to tell me that she liked my secondary characters because they were "real". Had to think about that for a while. I think she might have been talking about this appearance thing. Books can't be filled with only beautiful people without setting the teeth on edge. It's kind of like having too much sugar in the fudge. It just makes your teeth ache.

It's best to temper that with what I call medium...medium coloring, medium weight, medium height...medium. So your secondary character Joe is not too tall, not too short, not skinny, not fat, with brownish hair and eyes. That's pretty much most of the people around us. There are other variations out there.

The neatest trick is to then let that individual be your villain. They're perfect. No one will suspect them. That's the beauty of appearance. If you are skillful enough at camouflage to be invisible, then the deceit is complete. And shocking. After all, isn't that what the neighbors always say about the killers? He was so ordinary.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Got Sex?

Yesterday I read an internet article about a couple that had sex for 101 days in a row. Annie and Doug Brown chronicled their sex marathon in a book, "Just Do It" for the edification of the rest of the reading public. For more info
It seems that they agreed to have sex everyday, no matter what. Interesting. That's pretty much the way things are at my house, but I never thought to write a book about it...

At the bottom of the article, I noted a reference to another article about a woman who gave her husband an entire year of sex for his fortieth birthday. Hmmmm. Cheap gift. Wonder if the house hunk would go for it? To see how it came out--

Some of the statistics they were bandying about in the articles seemed a little...sad. So I went in search of the real lowdown on what's happening in the bedroom. Not much, it seems. According to Kinsey research,
  • 3% of married women reported they have never had sex in the past year,
  • 12% reported only a few time in the past year, 47% reported a few times in the past month, 32% reported 2-3 times a week, and 7% reported 4 or more times a week For more info

  • The item I found interesting was the finding that 19% of women think about sex everyday or several times a day, 67% a few times per month or a few times per week, and 14% less than once a month. Clearly us romance writers must be in that 19% or we would never get any writing done at all!

    But wait! There's more! According to the Durex Survey
    "People around the world would rather go out with their friends than have sex. More than a fifth (22%) choose their peers rather than having sex with a partner (19%), while a further 10% prefer to either play sport or go shopping."

    The Aussies have their own surveys going.

    More than 19,000 Aussies aged 16 to 59 years were questioned over the telephone about their sexual experiences, relationships, use of condoms and contraception, sexual satisfaction and difficulties and sexual attitudes and knowledge of sexual transmitted infections.

    Researchers from La Trobe University, The University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales reported that more than three quarters of those surveyed believed that sex before marriage was acceptable.

    Heterosexual couples who had been together for at least a year reported they had sex on average 1.84 times a week - but most wanted more. (Interestingly, while 85% of respondents said they would like sex at least twice a week, only 27% actually had sex this often).

    For more info check

    So what does it all mean? I think it means that we as erotic romance writers really, truly deal in fantasy. Not the way things are for the vast majority of the population, but the way a lot of women in particular would like things to be in their fantasies. Maybe even what they long for in reality. I don't know. Like the old saying goes, one woman's meat is another's poison.

    Personally, it's that sex once a week that I'm having trouble with. Once a week? Oh, heck no. Not even in the worst part of our marriage did we ever sink to once a week. Hmmm. I wonder if I could convince the house hunk that that was normal...?


    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Romancing the Sequel...

    In the last few weeks, I've had the opportunity to read several sequels by several different authors. A fellow reader and I were discussing a particular sequel that finally appeared at least two years after the previous book. Technically, it was just fine. But...there was no affection for the characters.

    Now I'm not talking about my personal feelings. I kind of liked the characters. But I don't think the author was very involved. Unfortunately, if the author doesn't care, it shows. I suspect that happens when too much time has elapsed between stories. After all, as writers, our lives are busy, not static. We change. If we don't take our characters along on that journey, then we lose our interest and affection for them. As the narrator for their story, we have to be involved. And if we aren't, if we're just writing their story because of fan feedback or because its time, then that passion and vibrancy is missing. Without that, it's just a bunch of words.

    One writer I know wrote a sequel for a book that she despised to begin with. Why? Well she wrote the first book, sold it, and then came to the realization that she really wasn't satisfied with it. She tried unsuccessfully to pull it from the release schedule. Thoroughly disappointed with the book she moved on. Eventually, she was called on to produce the sequel as per the terms of her contract. And that was worse. With no solid foundation, she had to deal with characters that she truly disliked. It was a fight to the bitter end. Small surprise that neither book did well and fans just scratch their heads when they encounter those two books.

    Another thing that happens sometimes is that a character just doesn't engage our heart. Yeah, we know that Joe's supposed to have his turn, but what if we don't really have anything to say about Joe? Sometimes Joe can be a stubborn SOB and just refuse to tell us his story. We can't make it up just because the readers are clamoring for Joe's story. I had two characters in the Mystic Valley series that I seriously planned to write books for. So far, it's a no-go. Those books might never be written. Or those characters might only be revealed through books that have other central characters. Sometimes Joe values his privacy too much to talk. Forcing a story for the sake of having that sequel doesn't reveal anything useful about Joe. And when the reader and writer walk away, there's a vague sense of dissatisfaction and incompleteness.

    In a romance, more than any other type of story, the author must, must, must have great affection, if not outright love for his/her principle characters. They must engage the author so much that it's impossible to walk away without telling their story. If the narrator doesn't like them, isn't impelled to show readers how wonderful they are, then there's no point in writing, is there? Particularly in erotic romance where sex is such an integral part of the romance, love and affection have to provide the base for the story. Otherwise, the story depends more on the erotic and less on the romance.

    As I write this blog, I'm in the midst of writing sequels for two series. It is my custom to read every book that I'm working on from beginning to end every Monday. One of the things I noticed about one of my current wips was that indefinable point where I suddenly engaged with the characters. Smoothing out the story required some changes, but I was pleased to see that indeed, yes, I've fallen in love not just with the main characters, but with all the entire supporting cast.

    And that's when it starts to be fun.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Passion or Paycheck?

    I was having a conversation yesterday with a fellow writer. She asked how the writing was going. And I indicated that things were rough. There is a certain amount of pressure to meet some deadlines if A) the books are to be considered and B) the books are contracted for publishing for certain projects.

    Then my friend asked if I was writing because I had a passion to write? Or was I writing to fill a personal quota? And that stopped me in my tracks. At what point had my passionate enjoyment of writing turned to a drudgery filled job just to make a deadline? This required some self examination. Why was I working on a project that didn't have my whole-hearted support?

    There are perfectly good reasons for deadlines. After all, the publishing business runs on well defined schedules. There are release dates that require a whole series of little mini-schedules. Within that framework, I can work pretty well. At that point, my book has been written. The creative spark is not at work because technical expertise is at work once the book has been contracted.

    But before then... Before the book has been submitted that creative work (for me) cannot be harnessed by something as mundane as a schedule. Forcing the story willy-nilly just doesn't work. Oh, I can sit and type until my fingers are numb, but the end result--while technically perfect--will not have any soul or heart. There is no passion, no humor, no adventure, no satisfying ending.

    So when my friend asks if I am writing from passion or just to have another book under my belt, she demonstrates a knowledge about my writing that compels me to stop and consider what the answer is for myself. I have a book scheduled for release in July. And oddly enough for me, there are no others. I have one contracted with no release date. And I have a possibility for one for the winter holidays.

    Perhaps--perhaps the problem is that I had unrealistic expectations, expectations for myself that I cannot possibly meet. But looking at it from the outside, I must admit that the writing I do because I feel like I must have another book (silly idea now that I really look at it)--that writing is flat, lifeless, and meaningless.

    Over the years I have often encountered a book by one of my favorite authors that was just that way. I suspect that that writer, too, faced the same dilemma. Write for the sake of writing? And forever have your name on a book that you wrote not because your heart was in it, but because you wanted another book with your name on it. So I think not.

    I once asked my editor what project she recommended that I work on next. I actually sent her quite an ambitious list. And she sent me back a brief e-mail. "Write what you burn to write." I had forgotten that sage piece of advice. It seems for me at least, passion must triumph over the possibility of just another book for sale.


    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    The Parenting Gene

    I think that the parenting gene is present--or not--from birth. There are men and women who just seem to take parenting in stride. And there are those who will never be a parent no matter how many biological children they have. Most of us know that kind. They're the people who just can't seem to care what their children need, whether it's affection, vegetables, or clothes.

    I believe those type of people have an inherent selfishness that prevents the parenting gene from working. That's too bad because there are tons of people out there with a functioning parenting gene who would love to have a child and can't.

    There are a lot of single people who have the parenting gene in full force. These people often step in and take responsibility for a child who needs an extra boost or a child that's neglected by those "other kind" of parents. Biology is not an issue. Love and commitment are the important facets in the relationship.

    There are a lot of throw away children out there in the world because the adults responsible have a defective parenting gene. Part of that defect is their wish to have a child so that they have someone who loves them unconditionally. Unfortunately, much like the people who get puppies and kittens because they're cute, people who have babies because they're cute usually find that the cuteness wears off pretty quickly.

    If you're one of those singles with the parenting gene who's stepped up to the plate, thank you. If you're one of the thousands of parents with a clutch of children of your own who's also taken a few more under your wing, thank you.

    If you one of those people without the parenting gene... please don't have any more. We already have more uncared for children than we can handle.


    Monday, June 9, 2008

    Grandmother's Chocolate Cake

    Last night I made my Grandmother's Chocolate Cake. Since it's my grandmother's recipe, naturally it's a cake made from scratch. And no matter how many chocolate cakes I've tasted in my life time (a LOT) there has never been one that matched Grandmother's.

    In our family there was a tradition that you were not allowed to have the recipe for Grandmother's chocolate cake until you left home to live on your own or you married (which could be the same thing almost). Since I married at eighteen I was one of the early ones in the family.

    The first time I made it my grandmother and I mixed it up together. That's a good thing as it was a "bit of this and a handful of that" kind of recipe. We worked it out that she did it her way and then I measured it out and we wrote it all down. There's a hot fudge icing that goes on top but I seldom make it as I love the cake just as it comes out of the pan.

    When I was a youngster, after my mother died, Grandmother lived with us for a while and she made this recipe only she baked it in muffin pans. We had chocolate muffins to take in our lunches or on road trips. That was well before the Tupperware days so she packed the muffins in empty oatmeal boxes. Surprisingly, they kept very well.

    I suppose you could say that when I bake Grandmother's Chocolate Cake I bake a few memories while I'm at it. My cousin, my grandmother and I all had birthdays in November in a span of four days. Our birthdays were always celebrated at Thanksgiving. And there were always the cakes. Mine was the chocolate one with a generous helping of pecans on top. My cousin (she was allergic to chocolate!) had one that was a banana cake. And Grandmother's was an applesauce cake. Actually, all of them were yummy.

    A few years back my Grandmother died just days before her birthday. Things were really not good at my house. The house hunk had just fallen from a scaffold at work and crushed his ankle. The cars were limping on their last bit of rubber. Money was incredibly tight. And my grandmother's funeral was several states away. Two of my kids went with me as we set out on a marathon drive from New York to Indiana. In Scranton, PA the radiator died. A very nice trucker helped me select some "stop-leak" stuff to put in the radiator and we set off again.

    Apparently the trucker passed on the word about the crazy lady in the bright yellow Ford Fiesta who was on the way to her grandmother's funeral because all along the route every time we stopped at a rest area, somebody would come up to me and ask if I needed anything. Strange fellows would check the radiator and make sure that it had water. Twice, people offered food. One guy treated us to breakfast at McDonald's. And one lovely couple offered to watch over us while we grabbed a couple hours of sleep in our car at a rest area.

    Finally, we arrived in Gary about forty minutes late for Grandmother's funeral. I was wearing a sweatsuit as I had slipped in spilled antifreeze and soaked my "good" clothes. My intention was to wait until after the funeral and then go inside for a few minutes with my Grandmother but my dad came out to the car and persuaded me to come inside. They were waiting for me to arrive!

    So that's how I came to attend my Grandmother's funeral in a grubby sweat suit. When I went through the door, my extended family was lined up in the hallway, and one after the other they hugged me and welcomed me and told me how happy they were that I came.

    After the funeral I went to stay overnight with my cousin. We had dinner. And after dinner--we had Grandmother's Chocolate Cake to celebrate my birthday. Memories are precious, aren't they? And those with chocolate? They're the best.


    Amarinda, Kelly, Barbara, Jae, Rita, and OhGetAGrip!

    Sunday, June 8, 2008

    Order now, get the second one free!

    Commercials! Especially those "as seen on TV" commercials! Don't they get you? "Order now and we'll send you a second one absolutely free!" Heh. "It's a $50.00 value for only $12.95!"

    I think not. Who are they fooling? Usually the very people who can least afford to lose the money on gimmicks and false promises.

    Actually, commercials are the main reason that I don't watch television anymore. Most of them are repetitive, stupid, and some are downright offensive. Have I ever bought something because it was advertised on television? No. I confess that I'm usually the last one to know about a product or service. Eventually, a friend or family member will mention it to me. Then I'll ask stuff like, "Does it work?" "How much is it?" "How long does it last?"

    And maybe in another six months or so, I might try it.

    An interesting study was done a while back. The scientists involved in the study discovered that people EAT more when they watch television if they are shown more commercials for food products. People actually get up and go in search of food if they watch food product commercials. Interesting? I think so.

    What else do they go in search of? I wonder if there's a correlation between internet shopping and commercials. I'm not talking about QVC, though goodness knows you could run up a hefty debt by watching that channel. I'm talking about the regular television channels. Hmmmm.

    On the other hand, maybe I should try that sales pitch for my books. "Order now to get your $20.00 value half price!" Would it work??? Maybe.


    Saturday, June 7, 2008

    Sleeping late

    I used to be able to sleep late. Once upon a time. I think I might have been sixteen or seventeen. Then I joined the real world. I reset my clock. People demanded that I get up! Get up! And now for whatever reason I can't sleep late!

    I suppose that forty years of rising early will do that to your biological clock. Or maybe I just don't realize that eight o'clock is late compared to five o'clock. Hmmm. I'll have to think about that.

    Anyway, it's very annoying when you have a dark rainy morning--perfect weather for sleeping--and you're wide awake. What are you supposed to do on a rainy morning? Now especially as we're heading into summer when most of the days of bright and sunny.

    Of course there's no guarantee that I'll get to sleep anyway. The telemarketers are out in full force at eight o'clock! How are you on going to sleep after a phone call? I'm not so good. Usually my little heart is pitty-patting from adrenaline. Ugh. Who are these people? And what do they want?

    It used to be my kids in the middle of the night. Those days are long gone (Thank you, God!) so that generally I don't receive emergency calls from them. Now life is serene and flowing... and if you believe that, I will sell you a bridge from England to Australia. Come to think of it, that might not be such a bad idea... think of it--a bridge over the ocean with little mini-cities dotted along the length with hotels and gas stations and restaurants. Maybe it could have some of those underwater buildings so people could watch the sea life...

    Ahem! Sorry about that. I sidetrack easily. Ah, well. I suppose it's time to go to bed so I can fit in my eight hours since I can't sleep late. Until tomorrow...


    Friday, June 6, 2008

    Procrastination is good for the soul...

    Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow...

    We've been "doing laundry" for about a week now. I suppose this afternoon we'll finally pack up the laundry hampers and go to the laundromat. One day there was a legitimate reason--we seemed to be in the midst of a mini-hurricane. Apparently, a tornado actually touched down somewhere in the vicinity. Certainly we had enough wind and rain to make it incredibly dangerous to be out and about.

    Yesterday I had some banking to take care of. It took about an hour longer than I planned. And that was later than I had any desire to be washing clothes at the laundromat.

    Today, we've run out of excuses... except I really, really hate to do laundry. I wonder if my househunk would do the laundry so I could write? Do you suppose that would be sufficient reason for him to do that? Nah, probably not.

    Perhaps I would be more motivated if I actually needed clean clothes, but the truth is I don't have to get dressed everyday so I don't need that many t-shirts and shorts to get by. I have enough clean undies to get me through the next week or two...or three...

    Maybe I should buy the house hunk more underwear!

    A few good blogs... Amarinda Jones, Kelly Kirch, Regina Carlysle, Barbara Huffert, Jae's Rants, and OhGetAGrip!