Monday, February 27th, 2012

Do You Ever DEAR? Drop Everything and Read?

The National Education Association celebrates Read Across America annually on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, March 2, but the local elementary schools are celebrating all this week.

Today, the kids started the program with a reading of The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, and at random intervals throughout the day, they had to DEAR: Drop Everything and Read.

Part of the fun was loudly dropping one’s pencil on the desk to clatter, and scootching out your chair to go find a book.

(Personally, I would love it if the boss called out intervals of “DEAR” at work on occasion. I think it would make the work day much more relaxed.)

I’ve been invited to read to a class of first graders tomorrow. I’m so excited!

I was asked to read my favorite children’s book, which, unfortunately is probably too long and too scary, for first graders. I speak of Patricia Coffin’s The Gruesome Green Witch. It’s a treasure unto itself: written and illustrated in green ink.

Instead I’ve chosen to read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton.

Had I thought about it longer, I might have read, Ferdinand, by Munroe Leaf. I adore this story.

I love them both, so I’m equally pleased to read one or the other.

Do you have a favorite book? Do you ever DEAR? Do tell!

(And just for completeness’ sake, here’s the cover of Patricia Coffin’s The Gruesome Green Witch.)

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Remember the Alamo!

The Alamo - Photo by Open ContentOn February 24, 1836, Colonel William Travis issued a call for help on behalf of Texas troops defending the Alamo.

The Alamo — a fortress, the site of an old Spanish mission, and one of two ‘gateways’ into Texas from Mexico — was under attack by the Mexican army.

A bit of history:

Travis moved from Alabama to Texas in 1831 and became a leader of the movement to overthrow the Mexican government. When the official revolution began in 1835, he was given command of a small troop of soldiers in the recently captured city, San Antonio de Bexar.

On February 23, 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana arrived in San Antonio — weeks earlier than anticipated — accompanied by a large contingent of the Mexican Army, and called for Travis’ surrender.

Travis and his troops, heavily outnumbered, holed up in the Alamo along with a volunteer militia led by Colonel James Bowie.

On the 24th, they answered Santa Ana’s demand with a cannon shot from the Alamo. Furious, Santa Ana ordered his men to take the Alamo. Travis sent out several messages via courier asking for help. He signed them with the now famous tagline, “Liberty or death.”

Travis’ pleas were largely ignored: only 32 men from a nearby town came to his aid. Still, the men of the Alamo put up a grand fight.

They held the fort until March 6, when Santa Ana’s troops broke through the outer wall. Travis, Bowie and 190 ‘rebel’ soldiers were killed — most by execution, once Santa Ana claimed the fort. (Though during the siege, the Texas rebels killed at least 600 of Santa Ana’s nearly 5,000 men.)

The loss of the brave men at the Alamo turned the tide in favor of the Texas Revolution, and soldiers were heard to cry, “Remember the Alamo!” as they entered into the fray with the Mexican army. Santa Ana was soon captured by the Texas Army and on May 14, 1836, Texas officially became an independent republic.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a ‘what if’ essay: What if you had the power to stop a war. Would you do it? Would you have stopped a past war in history, knowing that it would mean your life would be very different today?
  • Choose a legendary historical war and imagine “the other side” won. Re-write history.
  • Write a war poem. Use onamonapia to convey the feeling and action of the war.

  • Write an essay, a poem, a short story, a vignette etc.:
    1. glorifying war
    2. condemning war
    3. using war as a metaphor for something else, or
    4. using something else as a metaphor for war.


Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Latest Manuscript Takes a Surprising Turn

Bugs Bunny on MarsBugs Bunny fans will recognize the phrase, “I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”

I’m sitting here saying the same thing as my current manuscript is no longer recognizable: It’s taken a left turn into erotica.

You regulars will know that I write dark fantasy and science fiction. (Those of you who came here after googling “erotica” know that now, too.)

So, it’s as surprising to me (as you) that I’ve written three complete — and soon to be four — scenes in my current manuscript that are so steamy, I had to step outside in the cool air for a minute before I sat down again to finish them. (And nobody’s even had sex yet!)

I was reluctant to release them to my critique partners for their review. (But they enjoyed them — even the men — so that’ll show me to want to hide my work.)

What’s strange to me is that I think the male lead in the erotica section is going to become a major character. At first, he was a walk-on. In the second scene he tempts the book’s main character, not only with the promise of really good sex, but with heart’s desire: healing a demonic wound which will not heal.

I can’t decide if she’ll go all the way with him in this next scene. If she does, she damns her immortal soul. But she’ll be whole again, gain a huge amount of knowledge about something, and have incredible sex all night long.

She just might be tempted. After all, her immortal soul is only lost to her if she dies. There are ways to cleanse it before that happens, right?

Yeah, I’m still working out the sticky bits of the plot. This is what happens when the characters start talking to you and they refuse to play the roles you’ve cast them in.

I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

But I’m curious: as a reader, would you be willing to pick up a book not quite like the last you read by an author, or would you bypass it in favor of something else?

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Patience

Stop SignI was running a few minutes late to work this morning.

This is a problem, because running even a few moments late can mean being a half-hour to forty minutes late overall.

Case in point:

First I had to wait through the traffic jam at the stop sign.

Yeah, I know that sounds funny. But, because I was late, I had to wait for three cars to go through the stop sign at the intersection onto a larger road. (Normally, I arrive alone, see no cross traffic, and pull out immediately.)

Three of us were waiting for cross traffic to pass. So that made me a few moments later.

Then I got behind the pokey driver (+ a few moments) and because we were pokey, the school bus pulled out in front of us (+ a few more minutes) and then we got stopped by the train (+ a lot more moments while we waited for I-stopped-counting-at-57-cars to go by.)

When I finally got to the highway, traffic was nearly bumper to bumper, and I lost my early morning commute advantage.

::: sigh :::

The inclination is to get in the hammer lane and speed along with all the other crazies so that I can make up some time. But I exercise patience, because as the billboard says, it’s better to arrive 6 minutes late, than six feet under.

(Although in my case, it’s about 35 minutes late. That’s still better than six feet under.)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a story, essay or scene where a character’s patience led him into trouble. For instance, due to patience, someone lost a career opportunity; or, someone watched a loved one die while they patiently waited for a quack doctor to affect some kind of cure.
  • Write a story where not being patient brought on loads of trouble. (This one is almost too easy: impatient driving caused an accident, bailing out too soon meant taking hit in the stockmarket – but holding on a day could have meant making zillions, jumping to conclusions loses you the love of your life, etc.)
  • How about a play on words? Use patience, patients or pay / shuns in a poem or essay.
  • If you journal, write about a time you had to convince someone else to be patient…and you were wrong. What happened?
  • And some obligatory quotes to stir the juices:
    • Patience is the best remedy for every trouble. ~ Plautus
    • Patience is a remedy for every sorrow. ~ Publius Syrus
    • Patience, and shuffle the cards. ~ from Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
    • Patience is a necessary ingredient of genius. ~ Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield Disraeli
    • Endurance is the crowning quality, And patience all the passion of great hearts. ~ James Russell Lowell

Stop sign photo from

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Proven: Drinking Vodka is Good for Your Creativity. Martinis All Around!

MartiniIt’s no secret I like a vodka martini. It’s my drink of choice when the Husband of Awesome™ offers to mix up a cocktail or two.

But now the word is out that drinking is actually good for your creativity.

In a study (called “Uncorking the Muse”) published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition it’s revealed that drinking a moderate amount of vodka can make you more creative.

“Moderate” in this case is just below the legal limit in the U.S. Participants were “cut off” once their blood alcohol level reached 0.075 percent.

How was creativity tested in the study?

Via a word association test.

The drinkers were given a vodka cranberry. The sober men were not. Both groups sat through a cartoon movie, waiting for the alcohol to work its way into the bloodstream of the potential creatives. After the movie, both groups were administered the test.

According to the article, “the men were presented with three words (“peach, arm, and tar,” for example) and then asked to come up with a fourth word that formed a phrase with each example (“pit”).”

The results?
On average, sober men took 15.4 seconds to come up with the correct response. The men who drank vodka, on the other hand, only needed 11.5 seconds.

You’re all invited for martinis at my house tonight! Bring your laptop.

Read the full story on line at The Week.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day – What Are You Up To?

1700s Valentine It’s Tuesday night. So it’s game night in the Harmon Household.

This means that the Husband of Awesome™ and a platoon of his cohorts are in the nether realms of the basement gaming, drinking scotch, and probably acting like neanderthals.

(They probably wouldn’t like me saying that.)

But that’s not hard to believe if you’d hear the laughter rolling up the stairs like thunder every so often. (One wonders what they jabber about. The game should be taking all their attention, right?)

They approached me last week and asked if it were all right to play tonight. I was dumbfounded.

I mean, I knew I wasn’t celebrating tonight. (We’re gearing up for a raucous party Friday night.) But what are the odds that the Husband of Awesome™ and every single one of his gaming buddies is free as well?

I smell a conspiracy.

I told them that I wasn’t the woman they needed to clear this with…after all, every one of them has a wife or fiancée. They should be asking their own women!

But darned if every one of them didn’t show up tonight.

So, I’m writing blog posts…and cleaning off the desk. Looking forward to Friday when I can spend a lot more time in the company of the Husband of Awesome™. What are you all up to tonight?

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Review: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is one of those ‘famous’ books on writing that writer-type folks talk about whenever the subject of good-books-to-learn-writing-skills comes up. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time.

However, I found it very difficult to get through.

The premise of the book is based on a wonderful 30-year-old memory: Faced with the insurmountable problem of writing a book report on birds, Lamott’s 10-year-old brother is in tears and wondering how he’s going to get it all done. Their father puts an arm around his shoulder and says, “Bird by bird, Buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Fabulous advice.

But I realized after reading the introduction the book was not for me. It’s written in a literary style, a bit verbose for my tastes, and the takeaways aren’t what I need in my writing life right now. In my mind, Lamott spends a lot of time rambling about she thinks about things, rather than adding any concrete “how to” to the information. And there are a few chapters where she talks about something that happened to her, and you’re sort of left to wonder what she wanted you to get from the aside.

In the first chapter, “Getting Started,” Lamott talks about writing the truth and writing what’s real. She advocates starting with writing down everything you remember from school and kindergarten and holidays and such, along with your feelings and what you knew at the time. If you keep hacking at it, you’ll find the truth, or what’s real to write about. And that’s where you should start writing.

As a writer of speculative fiction, this isn’t what I needed (or wanted) to hear. I make things up. And while my stories might contain a kernel of something that happened to me (or someone else I know) it’s not going to resemble anything in the way of this exercise. The feelings, the emotions, yes – else how could you identify with my characters? – but the rest doesn’t make sense for me.

(From a genealogical perspective, on the other hand, I find this chapter fascinating. And, I might have to give it a whirl when I find the time.)

Other chapters in the book offer sound advice for beginners:

  • Start small. (Especially if you are easily overwhelmed by large projects.)
  • It’s okay to write terrible first drafts.
  • Stop being a perfectionist. Perfectionism is “the voice of the oppressor,” according to Lamott.
  • Plot grows out of character.
  • Care passionately about what you write.
  • Trust what your inner voice – your intuition — is telling you about your writing.

Then there’s a chapter called, “School lunches,” where Lamottt talks about a writing exercise she uses in her classes. Everyone writes down what they remember about school lunches and then they compare. She says when they discuss the differences of lunches throughout the states, it’s where they “see in bolder relief what we have in common.”

She gives some examples of what she wrote, which seem over dramatic. I think they’re supposed to be funny, but aren’t to me. It’s like she’s trying too hard.

One section of the book is called, “Help Along the Way,” where I suspect Lamott meant to suggest some useful tools for writers. But she spends an entire chapter discussing index cards, where the advice amounts to “Always carry something to write on.”

In another chapter, “Calling Around,” Lamott advises, “There are an enormous number of people out there with invaluable information to share with you, and all you have to do is pick up the phone.” Again, good, but we don’t need entire chapters to get the point across.

Two chapters, “Writing Groups” and “Someone to Read Your Drafts” are all about finding critique partners and getting feedback on your work. These are the two best chapters in the book. They contain good information, especially for beginning writers, and I agree with most of what she says.

(Unlike Lamott, I don’t advocate getting feedback from relatives, because in most instances they’re too afraid to hurt your feelings to tell you what you need to hear.)

The chapter on writers block is encouraging, but not instructional. There are no suggestions for how to overcome it (although an earlier chapter on writing letters could be useful. Lamott does not tie the two together.)

If you want to learn more about the author Anne Lamott, read this book. There are long passages about what she thinks about the writing process and how she handles it. She’s admittedly neurotic about it, and makes the assumption that most writers are as well. I disagree.

If you’re looking for concrete examples on how to write, new tools for your toolbox, or tricks of the trade, I’d look elsewhere.

Two chewed pencils.

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Writing Prompt – National Umbrella Day

Umbrellas Leaning Against a Wall in a Temple in JapanFebruary 10 is National Umbrella Day in the United States.

(I didn’t know this until I sat down to write this post.)

Seems kind of silly to me. (But fun, too. For some reason it makes me wish it were raining today.)

I suspect that “National Umbrella Day” must be the product of a greeting card company, because I can find no congressional evidence of a “national” day being declared for it.

Do you have a favorite bumbershoot? I have this wonderful golf-sized umbrella that I got free from drinking lots of Lipton Tea. It’s red-and-white-striped with the Lipton logo. It’s my go-to umbrella when it’s raining…and people laugh and laugh because it’s so huge. But it keeps me dry, so I’m keeping it.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a poem using the imagery of an umbrella. It can be any kind of umbrella: rain umbrella, beach umbrella, an umbrella in a mixed drink, one of those silly hat umbrellas, etc.
  • If you journal, write a letter to your children (or nieces and nephews) about the time you needed an umbrella and didn’t have one.
  • Consider the things that “umbrella” is a metaphor for: a shield for protection, something to hide behind, as a cover from risk, or a folded umbrella representing untapped potential, etc. Write about the time you or a character in one of your stories could have used an umbrella — metaphorically.
Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Snowy Morning, Beautiful Sunset

Woke up to a snowy morning, just gorgeous. Would have loved to have stayed in and sat by the fire, but it was not to be.

A picture from the road:

How the day ended:

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Writing Prompt – Death

Angel Gabriel taken at Holy Redeemer Cemetery - Baltimore, MD  - by Kelly A. HarmonSomeone in my family died this week.

It was unexpected, but not surprising. Still a bit of a shock to hear on the phone.

Human nature being what it is (and this being my family, I guess), the first order of business was a tussle over which family plot my uncle will be buried in.

(What – your family doesn’t have any death real estate?)

Grudges can be held, apparently, into the grave…and for decades beyond.

And we learned there’s going to be an autopsy. Required, apparently, by the state.

Since there’s time between death and burial preparation, the phone lines have lit up among the older generation in the family. People who have not spoken to each other in years, finally have a topic to bring them together.

Funny how that happens.

After you get over the initial impact, that kind of “out of the blue” call gets you to thinking about, well, death.

Here’s Your Prompt:

Caution! Some of these prompts may cause you to come to terms with death.

  • Plan your own funeral.

    (If this seems morbid to you — consider that you’re doing your family a favor by letting them know what it is you want to happen upon your death. It saves them the time of speculating (perhaps agonizing) during the initial grieving process. With luck, it will ensure that they lay you out in your favorite outfit, instead of something pulled off the rack at the funeral home.)

  • If you can’t plan your own funeral, plan one for someone else. Be creative: plan a funeral for your Great-Uncle Harry who always slipped you a fiver when he saw you, and never forgot your birthday. Do it up right. Conversely, create a special ‘funeral in hell’ for that neighbor of yours with the dogs that never stopped barking, the wild parties every day of the week, and the police raids which happened on a regular basis.
  • Your grandmother dies and leaves you $75,000 in her will. How do you feel when you hear this? What will you do with the money?
  • Write a story — starting with the reading of a will — where the most unlikely person in the room inherits all the cash and assets. This is the black sheep of the family — the runaway, the drunk, the drug user. Everyone hates him (or her). Speculate why this person inherited everything. Was there a relationship with the deceased that no one else knew about? What happens with the family dynamics now that this person inherits?
  • Your spouse or partner dies suddenly. Write their eulogy.
  • Write your own eulogy. How do you think people will remember you?
  • You’ve just learned you have terminal cancer. Write what happens for the next week of your life.
  • Write the funeral scene of the villain in your current work in progress. Or, write the funeral scene of your favorite evil character from a book, movie or television series.
  • And now for some obligatory quotes about death:
    • I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, and in short, I was afraid. ~ Thomas Stearns Eliot
    • Let death be ever daily before your eyes, and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything. ~ Epictetus
    • Death destroys a man, but the idea of death saves him — that is the best account of it that has yet been given. ~ Edward Morgan Forster
    • Our scripture tells us that childhood, old age and death are incidents only, to this perishable body of ours and that man’s spirit is eternal and immortal. that being so, why should we fear death? And where there is no fear of death there can be no sorrow over it, either. ~ Mahatma Gandhi.