Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Some of you saw the picture of my girls in their playroom that ran in Southern Living a few months ago. The picture was actually taken a couple of years ago, and Julia, my youngest, starts kindergarten next week. Whoa!

This is not a post about how sad I am that my baby is growing up. I've got a little of that going on . . . but mostly I'm looking forward to having big blocks of time to write and paint. Significant time. MY time.

My house has been absolutely driving me crazy for a while. Happy meal toys are stuffed in the cracks in the floor boards, playdough is oozing like mortar from holes in our walls, stacks of paper and art projects threaten to topple over and cause serious bodily harm if they are not whacked down. Soon.

I was going to wait until the kids started school next week to start a massive cleaning out binge, but then, I realized . . . do I really want to spend a week of my writing time cleaning and organizing?? Uh, no. So . . . here's what our playroom used to look like.

Here's what it looks like this morning.

I will post "after" pictures later. I'm waiting on some large men to come and help me move some large furniture, and I have a tiny construction project to tackle . . . and a desk to paint (one BIG reason for the reorg is to get the kid's computer downstairs where I can see what's going on).

It feels good to purge. And, my kids are helping me fill donation boxes with toys they no longer play with (I wasn't sure how well this would work, and we've had a few battles . . . but overall it's been fine).

Now, back to my rake.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Conference Notes Part 2: Revision

We are still in lovely Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It's been a great trip, but it's been a whole lotta together time. I don't know why I always think I'm going to be able to go with the inspiration and get wonderful writing or painting done on these trips. Oh well. That's what school days are for, right?

One thing I did do was get to spend a day at the Steamboat Springs Writers Conference (see earlier post), thanks to my hubby who took the kids for the day. But, before I begin my conference notes from Erika Krouse's incredible workshop on revision, I must reveal "Bear Sighting #2."

We were visiting some friends at the nearby Home Ranch--and look who was hanging around a pen which housed two very cute and very nervous piglets.

Erika Krouse's Workshop: REVISION AND REINVENTION:

Erika made it clear that revision is not about editing, changing sentence structure, or running spellcheck. Revision means redreaming the dream--literally seeing it again (RE-VISION). She called it the "journey of 1000 choices."

Writers revise in different ways:
*Some writers begin the revision process before they ever begin to write by doing heavy outlines and rethinking structure and plot points on the front end. They revise during the planning process.
*Some writers revise as they go--they write as if they are driving a car at night and only seeing as far as the headlights. They take a left turn and if it doesn't work out they go back and take a quick right.
*Some writers believe in writing that really bad first draft. Just get it all out there on the page--then deal with it.
Of course, many of us do a combo of these revision techniques.

Elements of Revision: (things to think about while revising each part of your story)

1. Beginning: Must immediately engage reader while doing these things:
-introduce character
-establish setting
-set pace
-set tone
-establish point of view
-introduce main conflict
-introduce situation
The introduction of conflict is the most important part of your beginning. If you don't get to the point, your work will be too leisurely. Conflict is your North Star--you cannot deviate from it at any point in your story. Something or someone should immediately be in trouble.

Common problems in the beginning:
-veering into backstory and staying there for a while (if you need to tell something have it come out in dialogue or have characters look at a picture or journal, etc.)
-spending too much time on a subplot--you should have faith in your subject and not run away from your story.

Ask these questions:
-Is there a better point of view?
-Does the tone match the pov and compliment the conflict?
-Are your characters developed?
-Could a different setting heighten the story?
-Can you maintain the pace set in the beginning?

2. Middle: The middle of your story has three jobs--
1) Introduce Complications and Obstacles: Try everything--what if your character did the opposite of what is expected? Do not veer off into the land of subplots--subplots should relate to the mission. If your subplots end up being your actual story, cut your losses and go with it.
2) Raise the stakes. Things must get progressively worse. We must torture our subjects to see what they'll do.
-external: how can this get worse?
-internal: how can this matter more?
3) Show change. There should be a turning point where the narrative peaks and you change course.

3. Ending: The ending exists to show change and tie up loose ends. You can have an open ending, but you must keep your contracts with your reader (i.e. resolve what you've set up)
Common Problems:
-Endings that fizzle when they should bang
-An ending that you saw coming the whole time
-Morals--nobody likes a lecture
-"And then I woke up . . ." (it was all a dream)
-The unearned ending--someone reaches an epiphany out of the blue.

If you are having trouble with your ending--go back and rewrite the middle.

Ways to Revise:

1. Cutting: "Kill your darlings"--they actually don't deserve to be killed but your feelings about them do
1) Get out of the way of the reader's dream. Being a writer is like being the host at a party. You want to be sure everyone's needs are taken care of and you're in the kitchen doing all the work.
2) When you are narcissistically in love with your own beautiful words, you are in the way of the reader's dream. Sometimes you have to lose that perfectly turned phrase.
How to cut:
-Show, don't tell: Cut explanations and replace with scenic writing (dialogue, pictures, what's in their fridge).
-Cut repetitions (don't think they didn't get it the first time and repeat it again and again)
-Cut anything that defects from the main conflict.

2. Adding: You get to redream the dream.
You also get to fix thin writing (in order to appeal to general feelings you must get as specific as possible)
Things to add:
-Make people to talk to each other
-Make someone do something--action
-Show setting in more detail--see a room through the emotional eyes of your character (even in third person)
3. Rearrange: Think of flashbacks as salt--sprinkle them and intersperse them sparingly.
Types of order:
-emotional--the emotional narrative cannot be compromised (change chronology for a more satisfying emotional narrative if necessary or skip around in time for emotion's sake)

Erika finished her talk by taking us through an intense and wonderful sensory writing exercise. She began by taking us through our body, beginning with our feet, and feeling the energy flowing through each body part. She paused at our head and had us focus on our five senses. Then she had us think about a scene in something on which we were working. She asked questions about that scene--specific questions about tastes, smells, etc. and how each of these sensory traits effected our emotions. She had us all walking around inside of our manuscripts, and then she said, "write."

It was truly amazing. I wrote about (what used to be) a minor scene in my WIP which I can see is going to be an emotional turning point for my main character.

Now, if I can just hold onto that brilliant inspiration until the kiddos go back to school in a couple of weeks and I have some blessed alone time once again!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mississippi Madness

It's been a crazy fun summer with lots of travel, but there's one thing left that I think I need to do. It's called the Neshoba County Fair and it's a true Mississippi original. Or at least that's what I'm told.

Here's what I know about it.

It's a county fair that takes place for one week in the middle of the Mississippi Delta. So, that part is normal - funnel cakes, candy apples, corn dogs, you know the drill.

What's not normal is this:

Many families own cabins on the fairgrounds and move in for the week of the fair. Did you hear that? MOVE IN! These so-called cabins are very expensive wooden sheds (read:no sheetrock) that have electricity three weeks a year and are as coveted as grandma's diamond ring. It's near impossible to get such a cabin unless it is willed to you, or you feel like shelling out a truck load of money. Seriously, I was too embarrassed to even type the figures.

The cabin folk cook a mess o' food, take it down there, and then just porch sit, or drink and ride the occasional ferris wheel for seven days straight.

The kids run around with dusty, dirty feet and sleep in rooms that house like eight double bunk beds. That's bunk beds with double mattresses on top and bottom! So eight of these babies and you got 16 sleepers. I'm pretty sure that 16 beds is actually considered a small cabin bedroom.

Today, I asked my friend Lauren what food she was taking, because there's nothin' like a slew of southern casseroles to tempt me into making the two and a half hour journey over there, but it was WAY too much to type. I saw the list though - she had scribbled it down on multiple spread sheets with a grocery list as long as my novel's first chapter.

So, I plan on checking it out maybe Tuesday and I'll take plenty o' pics to share. I'm secretly hoping to get inspired for a future novel. It's entirely possible - in fact, I'd say it's likely.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Day for Writers--Steamboat Springs

We are still in beautiful Steamboat Springs, Colorado, being joined by fabulous writer friend Paul Aertker and his super-cool wife Katherine . . . and a very cute bear who likes our storage shed. It was great to reconnect with Paul, a friend from L.A. SCBWI . . . and the bear? Well, we're hoping he gets bored with us pretty soon.

On Saturday, I attended A Day for Writers, a conference sponsored the Steamboat Springs local arts council and their writers group. Two talented writers led talks: Wick Downing and Erika Krouse. Wick was wonderful in a groovy, writer kind of way with some incredible nuggets of wisdom, and Erika (you could tell) is an amazing writing teacher. She led two talks. The first was on "when you're stuck" and the second was about "revision and reinvention". If any of you have ever seen me at a conference, you have probably guessed that I took about forty pages worth of notes.

So . . . I give you conference notes, part I:

When You're Stuck--

Erika started her talk by saying that those writers who claim to "take dictation from God" and who "never have to revise because it's perfect the first time" are LIARS. She said that it is an important part of the writing process to get stuck and that it is often a wake up call that you need to go in a different direction. Getting stuck is natural--staying stuck is not.

Four Reasons for Getting Stuck:
1. Tendency towards flight vs. fight (fighting is writing)
2. internal critic (who has good intentions because he thinks he's saving you from yourself)
3. both creating and critiquing at the same time (right brain vs. left brain)
4. Conflict stinks and all literature is based on conflict--we build this difficult world and then we have to live in it

1. Find comfort within your conflict by using your five senses. Your senses will ground you to the real world while you're writing--channel distractions to a smell or other ritual (chew gum, smell a candle). You could also deprive yourself of a sense by closing your eyes or blocking out all sounds.
2. Defeat your critique by addressing it--take it head on. You created it, you defeat it. Don't give it a chance to talk through speed (quick automatic writing). Another option is to trick it by writing badly on purpose--the worst possible thing you can write--until it goes away.
3. Use safe escapes--instead of breaking from your writing break with your writing. Stay at your desk and write something completely different. Stretch or shout. Do a finite task (NOT something like answering emails or surfing the net).
4. Create your own writing rituals (take a walk, physical location, music, schedule, etc.)
5. Use props and prompts (Erika has a file of interesting pictures that she's cut out of magazines. When she's stuck, she pulls out a picture and starts writing about what is going on in the picture).

Finally, we did a writing exercise. Erika asked each person to write down a bizarre occupation on a piece of paper and put it in the middle of the table. Then she asked us to write down a bizarre behavior (unrelated to the occupation) and put that in the middle of the table. Then, we picked one of each and wrote about the character--quick, automatic, free-flowing writing.

My prompts were "a person who likes to get married a lot" and a "stair rail polisher". I ended up with a pretty interesting character sketch.

She also stressed how important it is to figure out when and where you write well--find that place where ideas come naturally and keep a notebook in that place.

Great stuff, and a great day. I'll post about revisions next . . .


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Mega Slide.

Dennis Brown is my neighbor who wins the award as most inventive dad.

He is the guy that invents and then makes loads of wacky projects for all of us to enjoy. It is truly a pleasure to live across the street from such a dad. He has made homemade go-carts, things that blast up in the trees, water cannons out of his sprinkler system, and even shows football games and other movies in HD on the side of his garage at night. (complete with hay bale seats)

But the funnest thing he has created is the mega slide. This incredible water slide was erected yesterday and I just HAD to show you pictures. Dennis and his family invites us over to slide twice a year and last year we were out of town. It is so much fun and kills a large strip of grass in his front yard which would make most dads think twice.

But not Dennis!

I didn't partake in the fun this time (back pain issues *sigh), but Lindsey did! (shown here with Meg)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Family Vacation

About thirty years, my aunt had the wisdom and foresight to buy a house in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It is on the mountain, about a hundred yards from the ski slopes, and it's nestled into a wooded lot with trees and wildflowers in the summer (in the winter it is covered under about a gazillion feet of snow). A few years later, my dad bought into the house with her. So . . . here we are. For two whole weeks!

There is something about being in a new environment that is entertaining for children. I'm not just talking about the wonderful outdoors and rafting and hiking. I'm talking about being in a different house. We have not turned on the TV once, and the girls have discovered sledding down the carpeted stairs, the joys of a hot tub, and the thrill of performing plays. Here is their curtain call from their interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood (that is a wolf mask on Julia, if you're wondering).

Here's the other wonderful thing. My oldest daughter is ten. I love having little girls, but having older girls is a whole new world. Anne can do lots of really cool adult things with me that I like to do. Here we are hiking up to 9000 feet. It was wonderful and tough and there was no whining. From either of us.
Dad and little sisters spent the morning scoping out pawn shops for bikes that we can use while we're here. Oh, and we're wearing fleece at night and sitting by the fire. Just in case you were wondering.


Monday, July 13, 2009

RANDOM PANIC - number four

I bolted up in bed this morning after a bizarro nightmare which most certainly caused Random Panic.

As all of my nightmares of late include, my hair had been cut super short. Not that there’s anything wrong with short hair - I’ve had several sexy short versions myself. But for some reason, my recent nightmares always include my having been forced to cut it short. And it was bushy and wouldn't behave. Just sayin’ - I had to set the scene for you.

As you know, KISS is on submission with several people right now, so in the dream, one of the agents called and invited me over to her apartment to get her comments. Cool right?! But as I entered the tiny NY apartment, the nightmare began. Manuscripts littered the dusty floor and the agent and her co-agent/reading partner handed me a mess of paper. I took it (which morphed into about seven manuscripts) and went home to read it.

Back at home I couldn’t even find it in the mini slush pile, so I went back to the apartment where she and her co-agent were still hanging out. Let me add that they looked like they were 20 and they were slobs to say the least.

“I can’t find my manuscript?” I told them nervously.

The other girl looked annoyed. She took the seven manuscript mess from me, easily found mine, and handed it back to me. (naturally)

I looked at the blank pages. “There isn’t any writing on it? Did you like it? Are there problems?”

“We don’t like it,” she assured me and rolled her eyes in cliched boredom.

“Show her the movie,” the main agent said.

She nodded and after turning on some hideously loud rock music, she walked over to the corner where she cranked up one of those old school projectors that shows movies on the wall.

There, before my eyes, played the claymation version of KISS & TELL - except it was horrific! The clay people sometimes became real-ish (in a creepy way) and looked nothing like I had envisioned. Also, tons of scenes were missing. I can hardly describe it without having real panic that I somehow didn't convey what I should have. Whew!

These two agents made a claymation movie out of my baby and it sucked!!!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

WE WON THE LOTTERY! among many other things...

Now I am not sure if you know this - but SF and I are extremely lucky. In fact, we have qualified - or WON literally fifty swedish lotteries according to our gmail account. Not only that, but several people from places such as Uganda have "discovered" large sums of cash that they want to split with us. Take this girl for example:


My dear I am writing this mail with tears and sadness and pains. I know it will come to you as a suprise since we haven't known or come across each other before, but kindly bear with me at this moment. I have a special reason why I decided to contact you. My situation at hand is miserable but I trust in God and hope you will be of my help. My name is Hanan Ibrahim Bare 25years old girl and I held from Republic of Niger the daughter of Late General Ibrahim Bare Ma?nassara the former President of the Republic of Niger.

I am constrained to contact you because of the maltreatment which I am receiving from my step mother. She planned to take away all my late father's treasury and properties from me since the unexpected death of my beloved Father. Meanwhile I wanted to travel to Europe, but she hide away my international passport and other valuable documents. Luckily she did not discover where I kept my father's File which contained important documents. I am presently staying in the Mission camp in Burkina Faso.

I am seeking for longterm relationship and investment assistance. My father of blessed memory deposited the sum of US$11.7 Million in one bank in Burkina Faso with my name as the next of kin. I had contacted the Bank to clear the deposit but the Branch Manager told me that being a refugee, my status according to the local law does not authorize me to carry out the operation. However, he advised me to provide a trustee who will stand on my behalf. I had wanted to inform my stepmother about this deposit but I am affraid that she will not offer me anything after the release of the money. Therefore, I decide to seek for your help in transferring the money into your bank account while I will relocate to your country and settle down with you.

Hmmm... what to do? What to do? I guess SF needs to clean up Duck Camp since apparently she is "settling down with us?!"

Does this ever happen to you?


Finally, I am getting some good pre-teen fodder for my books!

Kate had six girls over recently - and as they were all getting ready to go to the big Double Decker Arts Fest, I noticed they received a bunch of early a.m. texts. Discussion immediately ensued as to whether or not they wanted to walk with "them?"

"What's going on? who wants to walk with Y'all?" I asked, assuming it must be some other girls."

"Just Larry, Moe and Curly." (names have been changed to protect the adorable.)

"Sounds fun." I said.

"We don't want to walk with them."

I looked at her curiously.

"They'll want to talk?!" she explained.

I was confused. Who wouldn't want to walk, or talk with Larry, Moe or Curly?

"We want to SHOP!" explained Girl number 7. Apparently "shopping" trumps talking at this age.

"They just want to be near you, Sillies." I told them.

"Whatever..." they said with faces that indicated total boredom with the idea.

"Maybe you could let them carry your purses," I suggested. (totally kidding)

Later, I walked upstairs to see what was taking them so long. Apparently not caring so much about boys still requires a LOT of primping :-)

P.S. My new eyelash curler sucks big time. We shall see, but I might go back to the old kind.

P.P.S. I take that back. I have just replaced the battery and now I think it might be rather cool. I need to post pics.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eyelash Trauma

When Katie called me panicking about her eyelash trauma the other day, I first told her that there was some sort of new prescription cream that causes eyelashes to grow. Since I love a good "guinea pig" to try things out before I waste my own money, I encouraged her to try it out (actually, that's one product I think I'll skip--something brand spankin' new and prescription that you use that close to your eye scares me a little). I did assure her that eyelashes do grow back--just like any other hairs that you pluck.

Then, I shared my own eyelash story with her. When I was four or five years old, I had eyelashes that most women would kill for. And, I got sick of my mother's friends coming up to me and goo-gooing over my lush lashes. So . . . one day, I took a pair of scissors and cut off all of my eyelashes on my right eye. My mother busted me before I got to the left one.

Poor mom went absolutely crazy. She grabbed the nearest magazine, shoved it in my face, and said, "Because of what you have done, you will never look like her!".

Of course, since all I cared about was football and digging up worms, I was thrilled with her prognosis for my future. I told her that I was glad that I would never look like that ugly woman and proceeded to take a black ballpoint pen and draw devil horns and a mustache on the cover girl.

I can't believe that Katie is out of town, and I won't be able to witness her dreaded "bald eye". I'm sure that she will still look like the cover girl that she is, with or without the heated eyelash curler (I think I'll skip out on that one, too--one slip of the wrist and it's barbecued eyeballs). We are going to miss each other--she comes back this weekend just as I'm leaving for two weeks in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I checked the weather this morning--seventies during the day and forties at night. Bliss.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

My apologies.

If you haven't noticed, I have been fairly absent from blog posting lately. This is due to a number of things, including Blog Block, Revisionitis, Extreme Traveling, and Summer Slowdown - which involves markedly less hours online, and a much higher intake of fried pickles. Just kidding.

SF, on the other hand, has been upping her intake of blogohol and has been sweating blog posts out of her pores. Thanks SF!

I am now in Virginia, so I thought I'd tell you about a couple of things that have happened while here.

Are you ready?

I yanked out about a third of the eyelashes over my right eye. I kid you not, I was putting on my new Bare Escentuals mascara (which I ADORE) and with curler in hand, slipped somehow and accidentally pulled out a chunk of eyelashes!!! YOWZA! Panic ensued and an early a.m. phone call to Carrie (SF's and my hairdresser). She advised me to trash the old school eyelash curler and buy the new battery operated heated kind that acts like a mini curling iron. Do y'all use these? I can't wait to get home and get one!

Today we went to a local parade that was so cute and felt like we were in some random New England town. My favorite parade event was a group of 40 somethings (about 16 of them) that marched together - each carrying a non-matching lawn chair (like the above photo). Their leader would blow the whistle and they would either just open the chairs and sit for a minute, or they would wave their chairs into "the wave," or they might make some random formation or sing some silly song, but they were having a ball and were loads of fun to watch. It was adorable.

I will post pics soon (and NO - not of my bald eye).

HAPPY FOURTH Y'ALL!!!!!! I have to go now. Gotta help Dad fire up the grill.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

R.I.P. Binx

Today, we have a guest poster--my wonderful husband John:

Binx was Sarah Frances’s and my first dog we got as a couple. Binx was named after a character in a favorite book of SF’s, The Movie Goer by Walker Percy. When we got Binx, we had been married for 6 months and were confident that we could handle a puppy. No problem, right?

SF and her good friend Allison went to Canton, Mississippi, to pick out and reserve Binx until we could return after the dogs attained the appropriate age. SF and Allison picked out the wallflower in the group because she didn’t want to choose a puppy who would terrorize Beau, my seven-year-old lab, the patriarch in the family. SF said that there was one dog in the group who was full of personality and a naughty mess, but that she had steered clear of that one. Unfortunately, the mama dog licked the pen mark clean, but the owners said, “don’t worry, we know which one you picked . . . “ Perhaps a red flag should have gone up.

Binx acted absolutely horrible as a puppy. SF and I thought we owned the most aggressive Golden Retriever in the world—she was so mean, we were both a little scared of her. We counseled with our Vet (new parent therapy, actually . . . there were tears) who told us to let Binx know who was the boss - make her sit before being fed and things like that. I don’t know if she ever really got out of being the alpha animal in our household, but she definitely developed a sweet personality.

I had big plans for Binx to be a hunting dog. Unfortunately, that never quite panned out. She just wasn't into it.

SF's and my first introduction to the sorrows of parenthood came early on when Binx broke her leg while playing with her cousin, Sam, a black lab puppy. I remember cryingwhen we brought her home with her pink cast. She drug the injured leg around like a champ and before long she was as good as new.

My nephew Boyd was Binx’s first introduction to children. Boyd grew up with dogs in the country and he knew how to approach dogs even though he was only 3 or 4 years old. Binx literally tried to crawl underneath the kitchen cabinets as she shook with absolute terror whenever Boyd approached. That all changed, however. Binx was there when all three girls came home from the hospital. She let the girls play on her and decorate her with flowers. She was Julia’s favorite beanbag chair. At one time I think she even had painted finger nails!

She was a good dog. Monday was her last day and it was a glorious afternoon. SF let her out and she lay comfortably in the grass. SF, the girls and I gathered around and said our good byes before I took her to see our vet for the last time. He came out to the car where I waited patting Binx and then he administrated the lethal dose of anesthesia. It was very fast and peaceful.

We had planned to have Binx cremated. I took her to our local funeral home. They greeted me at my car, and I offered to take Binx inside so they would not get dog hairs all over their funeral outfits. I got to go in the “dressing”(?) room and saw the instruments of making corpses visually appealing. There were hair brushes, make up brushes, nail clippers and more. As I laid Binx down on the table I told the man I had better ask what the costs would be. He told me with the size of Binx, 50 lbs, that the costs would be approximately $400. I got Binx out of there armed with plan B and headed home as fast as I could. Judging from his reactions, I pretty sure the gentleman was not used to customers a) bringing the corpse in or b) taking them back out again.

The physical exertion of digging a hole is good therapy for the soul. She is buried in a corner of the guesthouse yard in the shade and where Jake, our gigantic lab puppy who recently appeared on our doorstep, cannot get. Anne made a cross and the girls made bouquets of greenery to lay upon her grave. She has the best seat in the house!


Our Motto

Our Motto