My Pilot is on Standby

Make everybody fall out of the plane first, and then explain who they were and why they were in the plane to begin with.  - Nancy Ann Dibble

Make everybody fall out of the plane first.  This, my readers, is exactly what I'm having a hard time doing.  I never thought the beginning would be the most difficult part. I know the story, I know what happens, I know how things are resolved.  But the plane - well my plane can't even get off the ground.  Forget about people boarding it.  The pilot isn't even remotely nearby... he's off taking a nap somewhere, or eating his lunch, or whatever it is pilots do while they're waiting for takeoff. 

I try to put myself there - at the scene - as an innocent bystander looking in at the situation.  I can see what is happening, feel what Hallie feels... but the words... they elude me.  They're just not good enough.

Is it writer's block?  I'm thinking not.  I know what needs to be said.  I know how I should say it.  I just can't... say it as well as I should. 

Take Me Back Tuesday - Installment #2

scat·ter·brain (skāt'ər-brān')  
n.  A person regarded as flighty, thoughtless, or disorganized.


I’m not one to keep track of things. The capability of putting something away (and then remembering where I put it later) has eluded me since I was a kid. Just this last weekend Lovemuffin asked what I'd done with a gift card I received at Christmas, and I had no idea where it was. It’s not for lack of trying. I just can’t keep track of where I stuff things. (Step one to addressing the problem - admitting I throw things in random places without thinking.)

I went through my dresser drawers, favorite hiding places ("Hey! An SD card! I've been looking for that!"), the office, my closet.

“Where did you put it?” he asked me. “You lost another one?”

“I didn’t lose it.” (My answer every time.)
“It's in a safe place.”

That’s his new joke when I can't find something. “Did you put it where you put everything else? In a ‘safe’ place?”

Ha ha. More jokes. Hardy har har.

When I was a kid, the main things I forgot about had value. Now it's not so bad - a few dollars, the lighter Lovemuffin uses to light the barbeque (found it in my make-up drawer yesterday), candy. Back then, I didn’t misplace things exactly - I simply forgot about their existence for a short while. Forgot long enough that when I did remember where I'd put them, it was too late to do anything about it.

Example 1: I’m seven years old and my parents have just gotten married. My mom and dad give my step-sister and I each a gold ID bracelet with the date of the wedding on it (it probably said something personal on it too, but I can’t remember), to symbolize us all becoming one family. It was special. A special present marking a very special occasion. 

I loved that bracelet. I’d never had anything so nice, shiny and new before. I was told not to wear it anywhere. (Or maybe I just knew I wasn’t supposed to wear it anywhere. I can’t remember. Point being, I should NOT have worn it anywhere. )

There was a large area of asphalt in front of the main part of my school, and to the left of it was a huge ditch. (Huge to a seven year-old kid anyway.) A swing set and monkey bars was to the right of that ditch, and to the right of that was a big, fat-trunked palm tree with a water fountain underneath it. Kids were always finding new reasons to play in the ditch. (The only time I ever played went near it was to play Red Rover. “Red rover, red rover, send Jessica right over!” I didn't play well. Or get picked early in the game too often. But that’s a different story for a different day.)

My parents haven't been back long from their honeymoon when I decide to wear it to school. A friend and I go play in the ditch at recess, digging around in the dirt after a decent rain. The ground is the perfect consistency to work with - soft enough to dig in, but not so moist that it's muddy. We are making huge piles and having a great time.

I’ve gone back to class and then on home from school when I realize the bracelet is no longer on my wrist.

Example 2: I have no clue what grade I'm in - possibly high school . There's some sort of dress-up day, like spirit week - something along those lines. I'm dressed like a hippie (or maybe it was a nerd?), and have asked my mom if I can wear her old 70’s or early 80’s glasses. They're prescription glasses. Not cute ones, no – these are hideously ugly and not even remotely stylish. Kids are laughing at me because of how "true to character" my glasses really are. I'm quite proud of myself. (And doing my best not to admit they came from my own house. My mom still uses them for back-up when she waits for new ones, can’t find her own, ect. But again, not admitting that to anyone.)

Enter recess time. My friends and I decide to go hang out on the swings - a place we haven't hung out in forever. But, that day, someone has a bright idea to go over there, to the other side of campus and sit on the kiddy swings. I set the glasses down on the sand, right out of my swinging feet's reach. I scurry back to class when the bell rings a few minutes later .

Example 3: It's my thirteenth birthday. One of my (four) grandmothers lives in Maine. I don’t see her often - by the time my thirteenth birthday rolls around, I’ve seen her maybe five times. (Incidentally, she's my step-grandmother, not something that is usually relevant to me. You'll see why I pointed out the step-grandmother part very shortly.)

My grandma sends me a diamond ring for my thirteenth birthday. I am floored, even as young as I am. I can’t believe my grandma would give me something so expensive, so meaningful. To a girl technically not even her own grandchild. And she sent it in the mail, no less. From Maine, all the way to California. To add to the compliment, this ring is something she actually used to wear (it said so in the letter she wrote out and folded up to fit in the ring box). So it's is a hand-me-down of the best kind, something special. I am proud.

My parents ask if they should keep it or if they can trust me.

“Oh, you can trust me. Trust me!”

I wear it to school a few days later. This time, though, I realize my mistake, and decide I probably haven’t made the best decision. So I stick it in my backpack, and plan to take it out when I arrive home and put it back away.

I never found the bracelet. I begged everyone in the school office to ask anyone who entered those doors about my bracelet. Day after day I checked to see if someone had “dropped it off” at the lost and found. It wasn’t lost. It was taken. I know this. I ran back to the dirt after school that day and looked all through our piles. Someone found it after my recess and kept it (with the date May 2 and my name on it, no less). Guaranteed.

My mom's glasses were in pieces. One lens was missing, the frame beyond repair. Someone either came along after I went back to class and swung as high as their little legs could propel them into the air before landing on them, or, the possible (and most likely) other scenario is a kid just broke them... on purpose. I'll never know.

Tires and lawn equipment were not my friend. Grandma's ring fell out of my backpack sometime between me getting out of my friend’s car after school, and running into her house. By the time I realized it was missing from my backpack, someone had already driven over it (with a lawn mower or car), and my friend's dad had blown it into the grass with the leaf blower. The diamond was completely gone. Crushed into smithereens probably. We found the band intact but bent, with a worn off darker area where the diamond’s prong had previously been.  At least I still have that.  I've only taken it out of the box a few times in the past (almost)

 twenty years.DSC_0647.jpg picture by munchi5gal

After reading those examples, you'd think I would have learned my lesson.  Then again, maybe I did.  Maybe that's why now I only misplace little things, trivial items my brain won't lock into memory for future reference.

I'm sure I'll find the gift card in the next month or so.  But if I don't, I can tell you where it isn't.  It's not in a pile of dirt, or underneath the swings. It didn't get chopped up by a lawn mower, either.   It's around here somewhere in this house, waiting in a safe place until I find it.  And I will find it, eventually.


Narrative Magazine has a Backronym competition going on, and though I'm not the most creative person with stuff like that, I thought it would be fun to have a little competition (minus the uh, competition part) of my own here on My Thoughts Exactly.

Here's an explanation of a Backronym, according to NM:

IN NOVEMBER 1983 Meredith G. Williams won theWashington Post’s monthly neologism contest with the word backronym. He defined his entry as “the same as an acronym except that the words were chosen to fit the letters.”

A backronym is a phrase created to transform an existing word into an acronym, where each letter stands for another word. Here are three examples of backronyms that have become common:

Cop: constable on patrol

Golf: gentleman only, ladies forbidden

Adidas: all day I dream about sports

So would anyone like to create one and share it?  Maybe something that has to do with your personality, your WiP's, or just something you consider funny?

Here's mine (and I'd like to remind you of the "I'm not good at stuff like that" comment I made earlier): 

Cat - canine antagonizing tyrant (ha!)

I tried to do one with the word "writer", but a three letter word was as far as I could go on my lack of sleep this weekend.  Feel free to share any if you have 'em!

Happy Monday!

Disregarding Henry

Last night a good friend and I were talking about the new movie Extraordinary Measures.  It didn't take long for Harrison Ford's name to come up, and I asked if she'd ever seen the movie Regarding Henry.  She said no.  I almost bought it the other day when I was out shopping with kids 2 & 3, because I remember how much I loved that movie when I first saw it.  If you haven't seen Regarding Henry, I highly recommend it.  (Check the five dollar DVD section at your local Wal-Mart.)  So anyway, after our conversation I decided to name my MacBook Henry.

I'm not one to name things. My car is "my car" (though it's actually a suburban).  My husband's work truck is "the truck".  The washing mashing is "the washing machine", the dryer (say it with me) "the dryer".  We don't name anything like I've heard many (creative) people do.  But for some reason, I had to name this Henry.

We're two peas in a pod, Henry and I.  Lovemuffin laughs at me on a daily basis, shaking his head at our strange kinship.   Henry goes almost everywhere I go in the house - sometimes I take him with me to Panera Monday nights when the girls are at church.  Henry is my connection to the outside world, to writers and bloggers, twitterers and tweets, information I need at a moment's notice, friends who are miles away.  I don't know what I'd do without him.  

If Henry's battery is going dead, I feel sad.  Guess it's time to do dishes or laundry.  I'll have to watch American Idol with the kids instead of listening to it while clicking away on Henry's keyboard.  Those things just don't compare to hanging with Henry.  When he and the Internet aren't getting along, it makes me mad.  How dare it not want to connect with him?  I want to yell at stupid Internet and tell him he's being rude. I mean, come on.  It's Henry.

I've tried to let Henry go, to go back to my main computer, and work in my office.  But the chemistry just isn't the same. For one thing, she's big.  And stuck in one spot - she never follows me around or stays by my side like my pal Henry does.  I've had her way longer than him and yet, I still have no idea what her name is.

In summation, I could never get rid of Henry.  He lets people know how I'm feeling throughout the day, tells them what's on mind, helps me share information and learn a lot from others.  We're a great match, me and Henry, Henry and me.  

Now I'm wondering if I should name my cell phone - we're pretty close, almost as close as me and Henry.  I'm thinking maybe Tabitha or Annabelle or Clarice. Imagine the awesome high-tech offspring they could have if the two of them got together.  But no matter how many more electronic devices come through this house, my heart will remain true.  I wouldn't dream of disregarding Henry.

Just Tell the Story

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.  ~Arthur Polotnik

I've learned yet another lesson the past few days.  Just tell the story.  

Long bouts of editing drain me.  I find myself staring at the words, sick of them, wondering what I was thinking.  Why did I think that part was necessary?  What am I trying to say here? Does this even make sense?

Arthur Polotnik's quote speaks to me because months ago I felt the story burning inside of me, the need to share it with the hearts and minds of others.  The feeling is still there, but the fire isn't burning as strong - this editing is getting in the way.  Being concerned about too many do's and don'ts has begun to stifle my voice, Hallie's voice.  

It's time to take Mr. Polotnik's advice.  Time to remember the point of all this.  I'm going to stop analyzing things word for word and go back to the beginning - the part where I had one goal: telling the story.  

I will show what's burning inside of me.  I will edit to let fire show through the smoke.

Interpreting a Book Cover

If I fall into the "normal" writer category (and I'm pretending that I do, so please don't burst my clueless bubble here), then I won't be alone in saying we picture what our eventual cover will look like long before reach the point of publication.  (I will get there, eventually! Positive thinking!)  

Each book cover is different.  Some have a random object or objects (with a meaning that may or may not make sense once you've read the book), 

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others have a picture of the main location of the story,

This Is Where I Leave You

and some have pictures that make you curious as to what part the cover plays in the plot.

The Weight of Silence

The picture I have in mind for mine (which may change as time goes on) is something in my story, but not something that would stand out as particularly important unless a person knew what I'll Love You Until was about.

I've imagined what it should look like for months now, and have spent TONS of time looking all over the internet for *just* the right one, but I've yet to find anything close to what I see in my head. 

Anyway, here it is... kinda... minus a few specific details of the swing and its surroundings (I realize it's horizontal - and am not fond of the heart cutout, either). 

DSCI2132-1.jpg picture by munchi5gal

It's so exciting to think about the possibility of a similar cover someday. =)

How do you see your cover?  Is it an illustration?  A photograph?  Does it connect to a specific event, or mean something only the reader would understand?  I'd love to hear your creative ideas!

(If you like to look at book covers for research, entertainment or both, check out The Book Design Review  for many diverse cover designs.  Though Joseph Sullivan has decided to no longer post, the blog is still up.)

Take Me Back Tuesday - Installment #1

Welcome to the first installment of "Take Me Back Tuesdays"!  Thought I'd share a little bit about the good ol' days once a week - you know, add a bit of weekly entertainment at my own expense. (I'm great at self-sacrifice.  Whatever it takes to get the job done, my readers.) This week I'll be sharing one of my handful of bad experiences I had while riding a bike.

I was driving the girls home the other day when we passed two boys tossing a football in their front yard.  Being the consistently talkative/reminiscent mother that I am, I immediately felt it necessary to tell the girls a story about the last time I watched boys toss a football in a front yard.  (By the way, my oldest would probably deny this, but I saw her look at them a little longer than usual.  Maybe she was trying to figure out if she knew the boys, but the fact remains that her head was held in their direction longer than my other two.)

So. I had a decent-sized crush on this guy.  Okay, I'm going to be truthful with you, my readers. It was a few guys.  But I was twelve - who was counting?  (Besides me and my boy-crazy friends, and our concerned parents, I mean.)  I'm not going to name names.  Nuh-uh.  I grew up in a very small town.  The process of elimination would take all of thirty seconds. But I will say this: most of us girls in town had a crush on this guy.    

I did have one thing working in my favor when it came to the boy-crazies.  I may have grown up in a small town, but I always went to school out of town.  Most of my peers had no clue who the heck I was, which sucked for the most part, but at times was pretty awesome, because it gave me free reign to ride my bike around town and check everyone out in their usual places.  I could then report even the most trivial information back to my BFFs.  ("He cut his HAIR!  His shirt was GREEN, like his EYES!  He was eating PIZZA!  Of course pepperoni!  What?  I don't know, he either said 'I'd like a Dr. Pepper' or 'Here comes the hot stepper.', I'm not sure." Yes.  We were that. Bad.)

My piano teacher lived about two blocks away from my house, so when the weather was nice I'd ride my bike to her home.  I had a little canvas bag the perfect size to hold three or four piano books, and would hang it on the right handlebar to and from my lesson.

One particularly warm day, as I was riding home from my lesson, my boy crush and another guy  were vigorously tossing a football back and forth in crush boy's front yard.  Shirtless.  Now, I wasn't old enough to fully appreciate their lack of clothing, but I knew that sort of juicy tidbit would make for a great story when I told my friends about it later at our "meeting".  

So there I was, riding my bike on the opposite side of the road, staring at the boys, oblivious to everything around me, when the right handlebar turned toward me suddenly and the corner of my canvas bag jammed into the spokes of the front bicycle tire.  

 My canvas bag fell to the ground, the bike on top of it, and as the truck's alarm rang out loud and clear, saying "Look at me!  Look at me!  I've been hit!  This girl's embarrassed!  Look at her too!" (in car alarm language - I'm convinced of this), both boys looked over at me immediately.  

I was mortified.   I didn't care about the pain in my shin, the dent in the side of some stranger's truck, I almost didn't even care about my bike (the only reason I did was because I had to ride it home - what's more mortifying than crashing your bike into a truck in front of two good looking boys?  Having to walk your bent-up bike home after crashing your bike in front of two good looking boys.)  All I cared about was the possibility that those two boys, who had no clue who I was, would forever see me around town and refer to me as the "weirdo who crashed into the truck across the street".

I finally looked at my leg when I got home.  There was minor damage, at most.  But my pride, oh man, my pride was a different story.  (I don't remember much about the status of my bike, but I know I rode it around for at least another year after that, so it must have survived the crash with minor scrapes and bruises.)  

It didn't take long for me to tell my mom what happened.  And do you know what she said?  She said I should go back down there and tell the truck owner that I was the one who'd crashed into his truck.  That I should apologize for putting a dent in it and taking off without telling them what happened. I mean really.  Did I go?  Heck no.  What if the boys were still out there in the front yard?  Can you imagine how embarrassing that would have been?  No.  I could not ride my bike back over there.

I didn't ride down that block again for months. Going an eensy bit out of my way was just fine by me, long as I didn't have to see either one of them again.  But I did tell that story at our next "meeting", in all it's mortifying glory.  And I told it to my kids (minus the not going back to the truck and apologizing part, of course) almost twenty years later.  The only difference was, my friends thought it was hilarious.  My kids thought I was a dork.


The Words We Choose

According to George Orwell in Politics of the English Language, a writer should ask him/herself a few questions with every sentence that is written.  (I haven't been able to put questions one through four into action yet, as I would rather finish my latest editing and then go back over it with a fine-toothed comb to ask questions such as these, but I thought I would share his advice now anyway.)

George Orwell says,

"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 

1. What am I trying to say? 

2. What words will express it? 

3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 

4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? 

And he will probably ask himself two more: 

1. Could I put it more shortly? 

2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?"

As I re-read these questions today I realized I've already been working on the last two - especially the "could I put it more shortly" one.  I've read over my WiP billions of times (well it feels like billions) and I'm just beginning to see sentence after sentence (after sentence!) with *completely* unnecessary words.  It's as though I had blinders on, and someone took them off a few days ago, enabling me to finally see the whole picture.  

Deleting those unnecessary words is a relief for the most part, but now I have yet another problem.  Yep.  Word count.  I'm starting to panic about my word count again.  (Luckily I'm copying the latest draft over into my "current" draft one chapter at a time, so I have no clue what my true word count will be when I finish.  I can't imagine how much I'd freak out if I saw words dropping from my final word count right now. Gasp!)

So do any of those six questions affect you at all, my writerly readers?  If so, what have you done to resolve those issues?


Word Cloud

I don't usually post on Saturdays, but I had to share this with everyone. I'm sure some of you have heard of the *awesome* tool called "word cloud" on For those of you who haven't, the website takes whatever group of words you supply and makes a cloud of sorts with those words. Or in the website's own words:

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.

Wordle is a great tool to use when you want to see which words are being used too often. I've seen a few people post their word clouds on blogs and whatnot, and have always wanted to do it. So last night I sat down while the girls were watching the Disney Channel and decided to check it out.

At first I wasn't sure which part of I'll Love You Until to use. I skimmed through a few chapters, and after a minute or so I settled on the main event, the event that's the whole point of the story, really. I copied those words, pasted them onto the box on the website, and waited. After a few seconds, the word cloud popped up on my screen.

Then I cried. Cried!!! I know! I was just as shocked as you are! I'm not one to cry - not ever. I mean sure, when terrible things happen, I do cry a bit (my heart isn't made of stone, people!), but the only person allowed to see me cry is my husband. (I'm not sure why I'm like that.) Not much gets to me, things the kids do, looking back on when they were young, nothing. I'm just not emotional like that.

So to stare at a computer screen, at this cloud holding MY words in random order, words I'd written from my heart, to see such an important part of the story displayed so beautifully, well I can't explain it. The perfect words were in the perfect places in perfect sizes.

It was my inspiration to keep going. No matter how many more times I have to hit the "delete" button, no matter how many times I want to bang my head on my desk, no matter how many times the voice in my head tells me I'm wasting my time. Those words showed how I felt when I wrote that event. The generator got rid of the small, unimportant words, and showed what my story was about. And when I'm sitting here at my desk feeling frustrated, I'm going to look at the wall, at these words, and they're going to be a reminder of why I started this whole thing in the first place.

You're probably wanting to know if I'm going to share that word cloud with you. Well my answer is, I can't. I would love to, really I would (because it's so beautiful, in my opinion at least) but if I did, the story would be ruined. It would be like grabbing a new book, not reading a word and then skipping to 3/4 of the way through and reading that part. I hate to be a killjoy but it's just not possible. I can, however, share a different part of I'll Love You Until. A part where Hallie Barnes and her husband are having a bit of conflict. It's not even remotely as "personal" to me, and I'm sure you will be able to tell the words are pretty general.

So here it is. Currently Chapter 14, three chapters before the part I can't show you;)

Wordcloudblogresized.jpg picture by munchi5gal

I thought it was neat to see the main character's names. Oh and remember how I mentioned using the word "just" too often a post or so ago? Well there's the proof, right there. A big ol' "just" eyesore.

Anyway. I had to share my experience with you all. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find the tape so I can stick this "secret" word cloud right here next to my computer screen. =)

The Way to Write English

Today I'm going to share a quote by Mark Twain, mainly because I like it and have been waiting for just the right time to post it (but also because it was foggy day schedule for the girls at school and I'm two hours off schedule already).

"I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English - it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice."

~Mark Twain

He makes a few good points, no?  Happy Friday, my readers!

I'd Like to Thank the Happy Academy...

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I love the internet. Where else can you sit around dressed in your robe, pjs and unmatched socks, drinking coffee with hair looking like this

Albert Einstein by Sobibor.

and talk to a bunch of great people? Answer (drumroll please!): The internet, that's where! (And blogs in particular.) I'm sitting here typing this blog, happy as a clam...

happy.jpg Happy as a clam image by Eziek

because I've been honored with the "Happy" award

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over at A Pre-Pub Writer's Blog. So what happens now, you ask? Well now I get to list ten things that make me happy. I mean, isn't this great? *she gushes* I couldn't be happier!

Some of the items on my list are going to be no surprise to my readers... but I hope you all enjoy reading them anyway. =)

Ten Things That Make Me Happy
(in no particular order)

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1) My husband. Because he is awesome. And spoils me. He rocks.

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2) Coffee. (who knew?)

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3) My family. When the five of us sit around the dining room table (or in the car), talking and playing jokes off each other, those are some of my favorite times. Lovemuffin and I can't believe the things that come out of our 4th, 5th and 6th grader's mouths. Definitely makes me happy. And our extended family make me happy too.

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4) Friends. Friends keep me grounded. They help me stay sane. My local friends, blogger friends, facebook friends, and even the people I follow on twitter bring a smile to my face each and every day.

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5) Writing. I'm extremely happy when I'm writing, especially when the creative juices are flowing. (Now editing is a different story. Editing does not make me happy. I haven't written enough to enjoy the delete button yet.)

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6) Movies. This one could be explained in two parts. First, my favorite movies make me happy because I *love* knowing everything about them and watching them over and over. Ask any of my closest friends and they'll tell you - I almost have a problem. I learn the behind-the-scenes info, the inside stories, the facts about the actors, and truly enjoy watching my favorite movies while the actors and director talk away on the commentaries. (I won't even go there about soundtracks this time.)

The second part about movies that makes me happy is finding new ones to love. And now that I'm writing more, when I find a movie I like (or even one I find odd) I enjoy dissecting and making a writing lesson out of it. In Summary: Me + movies = happy.

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7) Candles. Who doesn't love walking into a yummy smelling room? Makes me happy every time.

beach.jpg pretty image by nicri

8) Walking on the beach in the morning. That's the first thing I look forward to when we go on vacation - walking on the sand before the fog melts away and the beach is full of people, when you can still hear the waves and the birds. I can walk with my kids, walk alone, doesn't matter. It always brings a smile to my face.

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9) Sanitizer kills germs. That makes me happy. Elated. 'Nuff said.

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10) Owls. There's just something about them. As I've tweeted before, I find them owl-dorable. =)

And now for the finale of the Happy award. I get to give this award to ten more bloggers, bloggers who make me happy! Yay! Check them out - I'm sure you'll see what I like so much about these blogs! (And remember, there are many bloggers out there who make me happy, but I had to cut this down to only ten!)

Lynnette Labelle at Chatterbox Chit Chat

Tiana Lei at Spilled Ink

Jennifer Shirk at Me, My Muse, and I

Bethany Mattingly at Asperations

Susie Talbot at A Wrinkled Time

Jen Chandler at Sagewood Manor

Rebecca Knight at Writer in Progress

A. Grey at Grey Places

Debra Schubert at Write on Target

So what are you waiting for? Check 'em out! And thanks again for the Happy award, VR! =)

A Bank, a Banana, and a Little Old Lady

When I was in high school a *ahem* few years ago, I had a little "incident" not long after receiving my driver's license.  Now, before I go into detail about my *awesomeness* as a driver, I'd like to point out that I grew up in a very small town, my summer job consisted of "chopping cotton" (which actually means the exact opposite - I chopped weeds in the cotton fields eight hours a day, many times in one-hundred degree heat, thank you very much), and my dad taught me how to drive on the levees next to the cotton fields where he worked.  (Can you imagine? "Go in a straight line or we'll go into the canal!"  "Uh, okay Dad..." *grips steering wheel tightly*)  So keep in mind that I'm no city girl, and wasn't the perfect driver or anything, to say the least.  (I didn't even get my license until my senior year because I entered my last year of high school at sixteen, and well, I can't remember why else.)

I was a decent driver though.  I mean, I did get my license.  (Lovemuffin would debate this issue but hey, he's nowhere to be seen at the moment.) I was pretty careful about my driving.  I had to be.  I went to school in another town some 20 something miles away from where I lived, and though I took the country roads to get there (highways still make me panic), the traveling helped me accumulate a big amount of driving practice in a very short time.

So one day after school I had gone to the bank (which was in yet another nearby town) and was in a hurry to get somewhere - to see Lovemuffin, or get home maybe - I can't remember exactly. I still remember carrying a big, about-to-be-ripe-but-still-a-little-green-because-ripe-is-gross banana, and peeling it as I hopped back into the car after making my deposit.

I'd parked the car at the closest parking spot to the sidewalk, right next to the handicapped sign, because, as I said, I was in a hurry.  So I  looked around quickly while eating my banana, checked both sides and whatnot, and began to reverse and pull out of the parking spot.

Then, my car shook a little.  It was a new feeling, one I hadn't felt from the driver's seat before. I hit the brakes, probably a little harder than I should have.  

Uh oh....  

I craned my head to the right to see if something had mysteriously jumped in my way.  Was there a car next to me all mangled on one side because I'd reversed into it?  No.  Did I run over some stray dog or cat that just happened to be visiting the bank at the same time as me?  Oh noooo my dear readers.  This was much worse.

Next to my car was a little old lady hanging onto her car door, her walker placed directly in front of her on the asphalt.  And I mean literally hanging on to the door.  Hanging as though she was holding on for dear life.  

Being the brilliant seventeen year-old that I was, I analyzed the walker and thought, "Uh hello lady, hold on to your walker...not the car door!  What good is that going to do?" before realizing that I must have been the one who forced her to grab onto it in the first place.

I can't remember how it happened exactly, but I do know I'd somehow managed to bump into her car hard enough (her driver's side door was open) to make the door swing back and forth which, in turn, caused it to fly right back at her and knock the poor thing off her feet (therefore making her grab the first thing she could reach to save her old little lady bones from shattering all over the place when she hit the ground).  Which is why I saw a short, frail woman with gray hair (wearing one of the plastic rain hood things) ignoring her walker, and desperately clutching to a huge piece of wobbling maroon metal instead.

I felt terrible.  I chucked the banana peel onto the passenger seat and jumped out of the car. (Strange how much of the banana has stayed in my memory.) I ran over to her, and can't remember much of our conversation anymore, but I do know I apologized over and over, and moved the walker closer to the poor woman so she could be on her own two feet again.  

How I didn't see her pull up and get out of her car while I was getting in mine and backing up, I don't know (it must have been a very distracting and tasty banana).  And nothing bad came out of that little incident really.  We didn't exchange insurance information because I'd hit her car with the rubber part of my fender (??? is that the word? It's black, and goes on the back of the car thingy underneath the trunk part), so aside from a little emotional damage, we were both fine.

I learned a lesson that day though.  Always check your blind spot.  To this day, some (okay fine I'll just say it) fourteen years later, I can still remember seeing that woman's feet dangling a foot or so above the ground as she held on.

Checking for the blind spot can also apply to writing.  We all have certain aspects to the craft that we're good at - I, for example, excel in saying "just" and "that" a lot. (Okay I'm sure there's more things I'm good at but this is just the first one that came to mind.)  It's easy to edit the areas we're more sure of - to look at what we do well, see problems here and there, and fix them.  But we also need to look out for those blind spots - areas we may not realize we're having difficulty with, because those are our walkers or tools, so to speak, and in addressing the issues, the story will be better because of it. 

That's where writing groups, critiques, reviews (from whomever we ask for reviews while working on draft after draft), ect. come into play.  Sometimes writers need other people to point out the blind spots.  And not in some "Oh my gosh there's something right there - hit the break NOW! Ahhhhhhhhh! I can't watch!" sort of way, but more of a "Okay, there's a little something here, or there... check it out."  kind of way.

Keep that in mind if someone you know ever asks for your opinion.  There's nothing wrong with stating your opinion, don't get me wrong, but in my experience at least, what I really want to hear about is my blind spot.  Tell me what I missed, what threw you off.  Show me the point I where I paid less attention to my story and little too much attention to the banana.

Avoiding Loopholes

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Loopholes. Who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned loophole when it comes to getting a job done just a teeny bit faster? My kids sure do. If I tell them to deal with the trash, they'll empty the trash can but the trash strewn across the bedroom floor will remain untouched. (Or the other way around.) When I say, "Put the milk away.", I hear "I didn't use it last!" and "She got it out first!" *insert fingers pointing around the table here* instead of "Okay Mom!" (an ongoing issue in our house). If there's a way for the three of them to get out of something, to prove I didn't tell them specifically what to do (in order to get out of punishment), they"ll find it. (Hmmm. Maybe Lovemuffin and I should be saving up for law school...)

When it comes to writing, loopholes are a slippery slope - especially for young writers. (I should know. I definitely fall into the "young writer" category.) It's easy to read a book or two by a New York Times best-selling author and think, "See! They didn't follow that rule!" or "Well so-and-so didn't bother writing a hook in the opening scene so why should I? I can get around that rule somehow..." But the thing is, as many people out there in the literary world say, until you're an established writer, it's necessary to follow the rules. (I could share tons of links regarding this very topic, but to save everyone some time I'll just share this one for now, which was actually written by guest blogger, editor Victoria Mixon on Nathan Bransford's blog back in July of 2009. Victoria lists some great points regarding the plot, scene and exposition.)

For those of you who read my "I Have No Idea What I'm Doing" blog on Wednesday, this was supposed to be last Wednesday's post. Then it was going to be Friday's, but I had a bit of inspiration once Robert Downey Jr.'s voice *swoon* entered my ear canals the other night, so this post was moved to today.

Today I'm going to share five basic writing rules that I'm still trying to put into use - rules most of us already know, yet important ones nonetheless.

1.) Write for the reader. We already know the backstory, the reason each character behaves the way they do, the time of year the story begins (or ends). But the readers don't. Those facts need to be explained in your story, without boring the reader or taking away from the overall story line. Don't assume your readers know everything. Instead, assume they know nothing at all. (I think some people would debate this point, because we're also not supposed to treat our readers as though they're clueless. But there's a fine line between setting up your story line with necessary details and going over the top with too much information.)

2.) Make it worth reading. (This could actually be part of #1, but I wanted to go into more detail.) One of the worst things we can do is make our readers wonder why they're reading what we've written. Tie everything together. Each piece of the puzzle needs to fit by the end of your story, down to the smallest of details. (I've been called out on this one myself.) Does the fact that your main character wears only red socks have a bigger part in the overall story? If so, tie in it throughout - explain the reason behind his/her obsession with red socks. If not, maybe that part should be cut.

3.) Consistency is key. Is your character scared of being in a crowd? Then why is she dancing her feet off at a club two pages after freaking out that people were looking at her in the grocery store? Stay consistent to keep your readers hooked. Things that don't make sense or conflict with a part you wrote earlier will turn the reader off. You want them to keep turning pages, not close the book and set it down somewhere, never to be opened again.

4.) Pay attention to the flow. It's important to keep your flow nice and interesting, not so much because otherwise it's boring otherwise, but because nothing is worse than making a reader go back; and, not understanding or remembering what they just read, have to read it again because the sentence is so wordy that they already forgot what the heck you were talking about, don't you think? Long, confusing sentences or paragraphs are my pet peeve. I can't tell you how many times I've had to turn back a page and start a paragraph over, or read a passage more than once because the flow just isn't there. Make sure not to trip up your readers - getting confused during an important part of the story is an event they won't soon forget.

5.) Stay true to yourself. Don't let the stress of following rules stifle your writing voice. Regardless of the many guidelines we need to follow, our stories should still sound like us. We leave a little thumbprint on everything we write, a signature on our work that tells people "I wrote this - this is my style, my point of view, the way I chose to share my story." The story you tell gives the reader a glimpse of who you are - that's what makes you different from everyone else out there.

I'll leave you with a true, yet comical version of common rules for writing. I'm sure some of you have seen this before, but I wanted to share it anyway.

Happy Monday, my readers!

Your Character's Voice: Is it deep? Scratchy? Maybe a little sultry?

I was sitting at my computer last night, messing around on the ol' facebook, when a man's voice blared from the bedroom.

"Who is that?" I yelled to Lovemuffin. "I love his voice!"

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It was Robert Downey Jr., one of my favorite actors. No wonder I loved the voice! (I'm not sure what it is, but there's something about a man's deep voice that makes me swoon. I've been that way since high school, about *mumble* *cough* *cough* years ago.)

Hearing Robert Downey Jr. on the television in the other room made me wonder. What exactly was my main character's voice? I'd never thought much about it. It's one of those things I take for granted, I suppose - I write as her mainly, so I automatically hear her voice as my own. (For those of you yet to hear me, I have no clue what to tell you 'bout that one. Anyone wanna help me out with that?)

The men are a totally different story, however. I hear their voices all of the time. My protagonist's husband sounds like a mix between Bruce Willis

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Gerard Butler. (His American accent, not his actual one. Though I do love me some European accents... but all of my characters are from the US, so that won't work this time around, at least!)

Another male character who takes up a decent amount of pages on his own in I'll Love You Until sounds pretty close to Ryan Gosling.

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I'll save a few of my female characters for another post sometime in the near future - one of them being the town gossip! (I bet everyone has a specific voice come to mind for that one!)

So who do your protagonists or antagonists sound like? Are they voices of famous people? Relatives? Your neighbors when you were a kid? How do you hear them as you write dialogue or what's going through their heads?

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

I have a confession to make.  I'm clueless.  No really.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  I've spent the past seven months reading everything I can find all over the internet and in books about the writing process - and yet there's still so much I don't know.

People in the blogosphere (I didn't realize that was actually a word - but yep!  My spell check confirms it is so) go on and on about how to do this and that regarding writing, finding an agent, or getting published, and I wanted to be one of those people. But what the heck do I know?  Not a whole lot.  I know more than I did not that long ago, and am learning at a pace slightly faster than the average snail, I do know that.  (Not very inspiring, am I?  Imagine how I feel!)

My plan for today's post was to answer a few questions regarding issues many "new" writers seem to have (I use the term " new writers" loosely because there are so many definitions to that word) - questions I had myself at the beginning.  The "What does this mean?"  "Where do I learn about that?" kinds of questions.

But I've changed my mind.  That's now being pushed to Friday.  And even then, links are going to be my main resource - because I really don't have the proper expertise in the writing field just yet to be acting like I know what I'm talking about.  

There are many people out there who do know what they're talking about though.  Take Susan Shapiro, for instance.  She has much to say about "How to Get Great Writing Gurus of Your Own" on The Nervous Breakdown, and I'm going to be all over that site like rats on peanut butter (sorry, unless you've seen the movie Wanted, one of my favorite movies at the moment, you're going to have no clue what I'm talking about) from now on.  A writer friend of mine, one of the few local writers I've met these past six months in fact, turned me on to this new (new to me, not new to the web - at least I don't think it's very new - I'm not sure - I'm new there) writer's website, and I love it.

So until Friday, my readers, enjoy that link...and keep doing what we all love doing the most - writing!

The Query Bandwagon

Saturday night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I fell off the bandwagon. I don't know where it came from, but out of the blue, with no warning whatsoever, I began to panic. My heart was racing. I tried to be inconspicuous as possible, and squeezed my eyes shut trying to calm myself down, even though it felt as though I could barely breathe.



Queries. Queries! QUERIES!!!

It was time to query! (Panic!) I was at the next stage of the game, the part where writing my query was in order. (Or polishing it to perfection, rather.) I guess for some reason my brain just hadn't put two and two together yet. Writing query + querying agent = possible rejection. (REJECTION!) Duh. Yep... that's how the process works.

It was as though I'd already been defeated - because I was lying there, assuming to be the stereotypical writer who sent query after query and received rejection after rejection. I very well may be that person, in fact. But my point is, how in the world was I to know that yet, at 1:00 in the morning, lying there in my bed on a Saturday night (or yes, technically Sunday morning)?

I spent a few hours researching agents yesterday. First I went over the ones I'd found a few months ago. At the time I'd searched for days - going through books, perusing the internet, ect. to make sure I'd found just the right people to query. But at that point I wasn't where I truly needed to be with the WiP, so I'd stuffed everything away into a folder and went back to editing.

When I sat down to my folder, a few of the agents I'd found months ago were still fresh in my mind. They went in the "First Query" pile. (Ten agents is all I'm going to attempt for my first time. I don't want to sit around knowing there are tons of them floating around in cyberspace waiting to be read, possibly read and rejected already, or I'll be freaking out for months.) After a few hours, counting a few I'd found already and the new ones I'd jotted down to look up, I finally had nine agents in my "First Query" pile. I just needed one more - the one, incidentally, that I'd been trying to find the most.

A few specific authors have reminded me of myself in ways. One in particular reminded me of myself a bit too much. I kept pointing out similarities between that book and mine to Lovemuffin as I read it. The first time I pointed something out, he laughed. "Ohhh no." That was his reaction. Like "Oh great, that sucks for your sanity." The second time - "You aren't changing it!" - his voice a few decibels louder. (Basically what he always says when that frantic look spreads across my face which, loosely translated means, "Heck no you are not changing it. I've dealt with this crazy woman in my house for over 6 months now. I've been as supportive as I know how, and I'm about to tell her to find a new place to live - and will for sure if she thinks she is going to change that book one more time"!) Then a few hours after I had taken a break at agent number 9, coming across the closest thing to my WiP yet he says - "You're always going to find some similarities!" (I imagine him looking like Charlie Brown yelling that as I type this, but in reality, he didn't really yell with his arms shoved down to his sides and his hands bunched into fists. And he was right, what he said was true. But I didn't want to hear that. I'm not sure what I wanted to hear, actually.)

"But... listen to this!" I yelled as he shook his head and walked out of our bedroom. I read two separate sentences, within a few paragraphs of each other. He didn't respond. (Which, I'm thinking, was probably the best thing he could have done, for his own sake.)

A few hours later I went back to looking for agents again. The author of that one book, the one I'd been searching all over the stinkin' internet to figure out the agent for, the one that I'd waved in Lovemuffin's face a few hours earlier in fact - that information was still eluding me. It was driving me crazy. I cursed Google. I cursed Wikipedia. I cursed authors for not listing their agents' names on their websites. How dare they. Didn't they know they were making it harder on me? I mean really.

I logged into the site I'd begun using to track queries and decided, what the hey. I'll just type in Women's Fiction, and see what happens. Well... three hundred agents happened. Some accepting queries, some not. Men, women, agencies I'd never even heard of. Eight pages of agents who, at one point, were either currently or recently receiving queries of women's fiction.

I stared at the pages. Where do you start? Click on the first one and go down the line, researching? (That sounds obvious, doesn't it? But I was trying to find a method for my madness, I guess.) I read about thirty agents' names, their agencies. Then I just clicked on one. A random link, random name. Neither meant a thing to me. And get this. Not only was it the agency representing the book I'd been going crazy looking for, but an agency that represented THREE authors I was familiar with (that particular one included).

Was it an omen? Did the sky open up and a lightning bolt came through my ceiling along with a deep voice saying "You shall now query this agent!"? No. But I can't tell you the relief I felt. That urgent, pressing, you're-running-out-of-time-fast feeling I'd had since Saturday night, was gone. Boom. Just like that.

I'm not clueless or naive enough to think that finding that specific literary agency/agency meant they'll eventually represent me. But after finding my number ten, I feel ready to take the next step. Who knows what will happen next - but for now, at this moment at least, I feel peace.  I'm back - nice and comfy, legs crossed, with my hands locked and resting behind my head - relaxing on the Query Bandwagon.