Thursday, April 29, 2010

No news is ...

*Warning- this post has nothing to do with paranormal happenings and may be considered long and drawn out. Just FYI

Have you ever just been overwhelmed? So much so, that even the smallest task seems out of your capability? Everything shuts down into a huge wall of not only writer's block but an everything block? That's where I've been for the last few weeks, just trying to sort out everything and find a place to start.

I love to help people. Always have. It's very hard for me to tell someone no if I know they need my help. Stranger, friend, family, it doesn't matter the who or why. Everything started with the contests. I've been judging several years now. I enjoy it, but with everthing else I have going on, I said to myself just one this year, Beth. Did I listen? No. Well, before I knew it there were six contests going on about the same time and I was judging all of them. I had twenty review books waiting to be read and have reviews written. I set aside other things and got my entries turned in on time. At one point, I had over seventy files of different sorts, mostly word, pulled up on the computer continuously. All needing my immediate attention and I ticked the off the list as I could. I couldn't write anything on the new book. Not a word would come, even for reviews.

So I shut down, literally. I've ignored the computer for over a week, except at work where I'm required to answer email, etc. Put all my yahoo loops on digest to keep my inbox down to a manageble level and responded only when necessary, with exception of fan emails. I always answer those first. It helped to quiet some of the stress so I could just think. Think about Anna's cheerleading stuff and driving permit test, L.J. 's driving license test (Yes, I have two teenagers that are driving or going to be. God help me, no wonder I'm stressed.) Kayla's volleyball tryouts, work, Jackie's doctor's appointments and the book I'm supposed be almost finished with for Lyrical. Then came the fire.

If you don't know already, I've been remodeling an older model double wide that we've set up like a house for about two years now. Every time we get a move in date, something happens and it gets pushed back. Frustrating doesn't begin to describe it. Well, it was the water holding us up this time. We spent all day last Sunday working on busted pipes and trying to get things going, but ended up tearing out the shower wall to fix stripped handles. Of course, when we got behind it, there was a pipe that had to be replaced. This set back the move in date yet again. The new one is May 12th, my daughter and mine's birthday. The same date as the first one we set, LAST YEAR. Anyway, the following Tuesday evening someone (at least that's what we think) tried to set the house on fire.

Any material that we had torn out of the house and replaced was thrown into a big pile directly behind the house for use to help fill in the huge gulley in back. (Well, as far as I could throw it anyway, considering most of it is old carpet and big chunks of molded ceiling board and presswood). On the right is a old sawdust pile also intended for fill in use and to keep the back bank from washing away.

Around six that evening, my mother-in-law pulled into the driveway at her house (She lives just below the new house we have been staying with her while I'm remodeling.) blowing the horn to tell us the sawdust pile was on fire. Anna (my daughter) called 911 and I grabbed some jugs already filled with water to try to put it out, thinking it was probably small because I'd just come from the house about thirty minutes before and all was well. (I had filled the jugs that morning for water to clean with at the double wide since we are dealing with busted pipes and have the water shut off.) We didn't know if it was a tiny fire or worse, but I thought I could wet the area or something til the fire department got there.

When we got to the house, the sawdust was just starting to catch at the edges but the main part of the old material was already blazing, directly at the back side of the house under the den door. I know no one had been at the house after 4:30 pm when my son stopped to check on things after going fishing. I was there at 5:30 pm to check for a UPS package and get something out of the freezer. There was nothing wrong at that point either. No smoke. Nothing. I have taken extreme care to see nothing was put outside that I thought might be dangerous or explosive. I'm terrified of house fires. Always have been since I was little.

At six the house was full of smoke. All the alarms were going off. It's a horrible feeling to watch something you've built with your own hands in danger of burning to the ground, knowing you have no insurance and its your only ticket out of the mil's house. We can't insure it until the siding and underpinning are finished. (some sort of insurance rule.) They pumped a million gallons of water on the fire and house (to keep it from catching fire) and chemicals and still couldn't put it out. They ended up having to push the whole burning mess off into the gulley and smother it by covering it with the dark red dirt that already existed on the property under the fire. It smoldered for three days.

We stayed up all night watching over it to make sure it didn't rekindle and take the house. All day Wednesday on and off and that night we went to check on the house and where it was still smoking in the ground. The sliding glass door we had taken out in favor of a better door had been moved and the glass busted.

Jackie (the hubby) and I were looking for smoking spots in the ground when we saw the door. He starting looking at the house and saw what appeared to be a copper wire and something on the end of it hanging from a back bedroom window. We went inside to get a better look. This wire was not there the day before. It was stuck down in the window sill and bent so as not to touch anything metal. We cut the screen and clipped the wire contraption leaving about an inch of wire in its original place. We then checked the house as best we could in the dark for any other suspicious looking things. We found none.

So, a week plus later there is no news on the possible arson (the law still hasn't answered my phone calls or email) or the weird device in my window. The smoke left no damage inside and the house itself didn't catch, but most of the siding on the back will have to be replaced (melted from the heat). I say yellow, he thinks green. Yet another hold up. Grrr. I've decided the only way to keep people out is to going ahead and move as soon as the water is fixed. I want to write paranormal suspense, not live it. Sheesh.

So, that's what's been going on in my abscence. I finished To Take up the Sword in one sitting on a rainy Saturday and turned it in to my editor. And I've since been playing 'catch up' on the writing front, turning in reviews, getting You Gotta Read's website set up and doing some serious writing when I can. I've discovered spending three solid quiet uninterrupted work hours garners more word count, then worrying about it constantly and writing five minute snatches at a time.

So, if you made it this far, you deserve a medal. Here's my question. How do you deal with stress of life?

Til later, when hopefully I'll have something wise and witty to say about paranormal writing. Anyone go to RT?


Monday, April 26, 2010

Who's coming to dinner?

Years ago, in what seems like another life, I had to write my fair share of "get to the new boss" articles. And, let's be honest, I had to make the boss sound good, no matter how boring his or her personality might really be.

To make the boss seem more human, I always tried to ask one question that was completely off the wall and not related to the job in the slightest. I thought I would use my favorite question to spark some conversation.

Ready? Here goes: If you could invite any three people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be and why?

For me, my dinner list would be as follows (in no particular order):

Rosa Parks: By refusing to give up her seat on the bus, this woman started a chain of events that made the United States a better place.

Annie Sullivan: As Helen Keller's teacher, Annie was the one to unlock the world for the deaf and blind girl -- a task that most people thought impossible. Annie then stayed with Helen for the rest of their lives, becoming not only a teacher, but a friend.

Jane Addams: What a woman! Jane was among the first women to graduate college. After that, she fought for women's right to vote. And she worked hard to improve the quality of life among the poor in Chicago.

This would be a serious "Girl Power" dinner, wouldn't it? But what a way to thank these women who are my heros; who have fought the fight to allow me to be who I am.

So, who would be at your dinner party?


Monday, April 19, 2010

Didn't you already know that?

I spent a good chunk of this past weekend at the Black Hills Wholistic Health Expo. Part of me attended because it was something inexpensive to do. The admission price was just $2, so it was more than affordable.

The Expo offered so many amazing booths from the local food co-op to a few of the chiropractors in the area. There were also a variety of "readers" available -- some who used tarot or oracle cards, some who just used their intuition.

Both my daughter and I got readings (separately and from different people) while we were there. As we were getting ready to leave, we were stopped by one of my former bosses. He has since left the field we were in and is pursuing his "otherworldly talents." He's doing pretty well for himself, besides!

Anyway, he was teasing my daughter about "psychicly cheating" on him and asked my kiddo how her reading went. As she relayed information about her reading, he asked one important question: "But didn't you already know that?" She looked at him with all her almost-17-year-old wisdom and said, "yeah, I guess I did."

Isn't that the way that is, though? Sometimes don't we need that extra "kick in the pants" to get us moving? Why is it that our own problems seem so insurmountable, yet the problems of others are simple to solve?

I think that's why I enjoy mysteries -- both writing them and reading them. I'm able to put my own problems and issues aside for a bit. Wouldn't it be nice if everything could be neatly wrapped up in 200 or so pages? Or if you could hear the creepy music right before you did something stupid? I can clearly see in someone else's life what I struggle with in my own.

Perhaps that is why I write paranormal mysteries. Even though my characters are mostly "normal" (and I use the term loosely!), they need some extra guidance. They need to know that they can believe their intuition.

But, frankly, they already knew that.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Changing of the seasons

Spring is starting to, well, spring here in the beautiful Black Hills. I even planted some wildflowers this weekend.

It's been a long winter. I'm so sick of snow, and yet the "old timers" are saying we'll probably get one more storm. Yuck.

There's something in the breeze that makes me want to be outside, to wander around the hills, to get my bike out on the bike path. This is the time of year when I want to plan a vacation, to do some deep cleaning, to spend some time meditating in nature, to be creative.

I think Spring might be my very favorite season. Things are new and green and just smell better in the Spring. The sun is brighter. The rain more refreshing. The entire Summer is just around the corner with all it's unlimited possibilities.

What about you? What is your favorite season and why?


Monday, April 5, 2010

A day in the life....

I'm not a morning person. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever spoken to me before noon.

But I enjoy the peace and quiet of my house during the early morning hours.

Oh, don't get me wrong! I get NOTHING accomplished during those hours. Not a sentence gets added to my current work in progress. I consume large quantitates of coffee and occasionally manage to grunt when my early-bird husband wishes me a good morning. It's the time when I can harvest my Farmville farm and avert all-out-war in Mafia.

On weekdays (or, rather, school days), I am still in my pajamas when my teen ager heads out the door. That's one of the advantages to working at home, I suppose.

Shortly after she leaves, I feed the animals and make myself presentable for the day.

Sometime between shampooing and conditioning my hair, I start to think of killing people. Usually, it's purely fictional.

I get some writing done in the morning, along with some exercise if the weather permits. And since I live in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that's iffy. Yes, I know I could go to a gym. I know I could use the yoga DVDs I already own. There's just something about taking my little dog for a walk that is satisfying. Oh, and I listen to some of those classic novels while I'm doing it. (Currently, I'm hearing Uncle Tom's Cabin.)

After lunch it's time to do some serious writing. Or at least staring at the computer screen for long periods of time. At some point in the afternoon, I try to get some critiques done -- either ones for my online group, my face-to-face local group, or revisions from the critiques I've received.

Then it's time to get dinner started and do some housework. That's one of the disadvantages to working from home, I suppose.

My evenings are spent hanging out with my family. It's when I watch TV, knit, or read a book.

Of course, this isn't how everyday goes. I also design web pages, so I sometimes have to do that job. And because I'm at home, I can get easily distracted by a friend who wants to go out for coffee or errands that need to be done.

It may not be an exciting day, but isn't that what fiction is for?


Friday, April 2, 2010

Holiday hellos

Ya know, it is almost frightening to offer holiday wishes anymore. The more I thought about which ones to offer up, the more I stumbled over my fingers. Should I say "Happy Easter!" "Blessed Ostara!" or, wait ... Passover already passed over, so I sort of missed that one. (Not really, it's seven days long and runs until April 5th, but how many Jewish folks are reading here? Well? How many of you guys are there? Speak up, don't just let the crickets chirp!) If you'd have a look at the collective faith calendar you'd find it a bit intimidating, trying to keep all those days straight. Just think of all those poor greeters at Wal-Mart trying to be PC in big urban areas.

A lot of folks get bent out of shape when cashiers just say a generic "happy holiday" without even considering the feelings of others. It is such a shame they can't stop for a moment and consider for a split-second that just maybe the person in front of them might have been Jewish, another three back might be Shinto and two lanes over Wiccan. Hey, the scowling short chick kicking your ankle for giving the under-paid woman a hard time is affectionately called the Voodoo Jew by friends and family for a very good reason. And please, when you do discover those few others out there who are in the minority in this nation who aren't of your faith, don't take it upon yourself to convert us publicly or privately.

Recently a friend took a large dose of acrimony about the "Scarlet A for Atheism" on her Facebook page. Me being me, I defended her - my dad is an atheist and proud of it. In retaliation, an evangelical fundamentalist thought it would be great fun, as an April Fool's joke, to sign me up for Bible study sessions with an email confirmation sent via a public alert system. It went out countywide; it then took me about two days to end the phone calls and hysterics from both the pagan and Jewish community without touching the outraged Christians at my heinousness stepping foot on their hallowed ground *rolls eyes*

So, whether you eat chocolate or bitter herb - attend temple or church or synagogue or dance under the moonlight following the sound of drum - may this weekend be one of warm days and cool nights shared with friends and family. Blessings be many.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tips from a contest judge...

Thank you for the well wishes. Jackie is out of the hospital and the pneumonia is completely gone. Good news for both of us. The month of April is seeing contest season in full swing. I've been spending a lot of time in front of the computer screen lately, just trying to catch up. The cold weather, deadlines, work and life in general have made me lazy when it comes to writing. I've let reviews pile up and put off judging some of my contests until near deadline. My computer files are in serious need of spring cleaning, a task which I plan to get to Saturday.

It's sort of like a really huge pile of homework or housework. The more you think about it and worry, the bigger it gets until you don't know how you'll tackle the mess. I'm about to start edits on To Take Up the Sword, which is set to release in September, while keeping a watchful eye on my deadline for Wait for the Wind in June. 

I bought one of those Dragon software and microphone setups with the hopes it would make all this writing go quickly. Umm. Not so much. Learning to talk to your computer is easy, teaching it to listen and UNDERSTAND you is like trying to get your sixteen year old to do his geometry homework. It works in fits and starts with lots of late hours and headaches involved. 

Oh, wait. I did stop by to give you some contest tips.

While judging paranormal entries over the last few contests, I've noticed several things that could have improved a score with just a little more preparation.  So here are some tips to help you down the road, particularly in the paranormal category.

  1. (Often I've had to count off for puncuation and grammar. One or two mistakes can slide, a bazillion simple fixes don't.) Don't rush your work. Take time to READ through the entry. Make sure it makes sense and is free of typos and basic grammar mistakes. Don't count on spell-check. Do it yourself.
  2. Another thing to watch out for is the all important HOOK.  A hook is the first sentence of a book and it should jump out and grab you by the throat.  For example. 
          Amy opened the door to sunshine and singing birds.  Pleasant and sweet, but it doesn't hook me.

         The knob slipped in her nerve slicked hand as Amy opened the door, bending to retrieve the  brown paper covered package lying at her feet.  Immediately I have to ask why she's nervous, what's in the package, etc. I keep reading because I have to know what's in the box. See? Hook 'em.
     3.  Paranormal elements.  Here's another pet peeve I have.  If its a paranormal, I should be able to get a feel for that by the first page or so. I've seen entries that show NO sign of the genre, anywhere.  If I can't see it in the those first twenty pages, I began to wonder if the entry is in the wrong category.  In other words 'Show me the magic.'  Nowadays, if you're going to write paranormals, you better bring your 'A' game.

   4.  Characterization.  Your characters should feel like living breathing people. Can you see them just by reading the words? Forget what you know about them in your head. Can you see them? No? Then how will a judge, editor or publisher endear themselves to your characters.

   5.  Narration needs a purpose. If you can't justify it, cut it or amend it.

   6.  Info dumps are a no-no and take the suspense out of a story. Do you want see what chocolate ice cream tastes like yourself? Or listen to someone else talk about it for three paragraphs. Let the reader experience for themselves.

   7.  The biggest mistakes I see are POINT OF VIEW slips and I always explain them like this.
  • You are a ghost floating around. You see and hear all everywhere. Omniscent POV and a good start to a rejection slip.
  • Same ghost possesses the heroine. Now you can see her thoughts and experience ONLY from her pov. Same goes if you possess the hero. You can not see through the heroine's eyes.
  • Every other sentence your speaking from different pov's. Now your ghost is popping back and forth between hosts. It's exhausting to try to keep up with all the head hopping. Pick a 'host' character and stick with them until you need to change and show it clearly.  You can't read his thoughts in her pov unless your heroine is telepathic and if so, you need to explain that (by showing not telling) up front.
If you take time to double check your work, everyone will be better for it. 

It's officially the weekend for me, so I'm going to enjoy the sunshine from my office window and hopefully get caught up on the chaos of work I need to finish. Y'all have a lovely weekend.