Monday, October 27, 2008

Chuckles aplenty . . . thanks Maxine!

I don't know why this cranky old broad appeals to me so, but she always makes me smile. Here's one to kick off Halloween week.























Monday, October 13, 2008

Things aren't always what they appear . . .

SIDEWALK ART . . . WHAT'S REAL AND WHAT'S NOT!


I tried to be terribly creative and ground these images to how I work as a writer. The whole 'words are big and needed to be reduced to size to fit our page', or 'this is how I feel when I write my characters into a corner and need my muse to throw me a life-line', etc. But how about this . . . I simply love sidewalk art. It speaks to the artist trapped inside me -- the one who will never get free because I can't draw a straight line without the help of a ruler. I'm always in awe at the images folks can create with a box of chalk and an load of imagination.

So in the end: Enjoy the talents of the artist below. I did.
















Monday, October 6, 2008

Snap shots

Sorry to have been out of touch. My family is experiencing a state of emergency, and I haven't been by the blogs in awhile. Promise to do better.

However, I went through one of my 'many' journals yesterday and found a great writing exercise.

Snapshot!

Now, it can be done with any of our senses, but the point is to take a moment -- one that you're experiencing -- and list sights, sounds, smells, . . . well, you get the picture.

Two years ago, my son was admitted for an emergency appendectomy. They sent us home, then he developed complication and we returned to the hospital for another 72-hour-stay.

While all was quiet and my son was sleeping, these were the sounds that surrounded me.

Wheels on the floor -- gurneys, trays, and monitors.

The steady slap of tennis shoes against the squeaky clean floor.

The rise and fall of voices.

Clattering of metal trays.

The ever-persistent beep of the IV units. The occasional squall of an IV alarm when the bag empties.

The quick squeak of voiced announcements over the PA system.

The humming trill of the nurses' phones.

A child's protesting wail.

A toddler's piercing scream.

A muffled moan of pain

The ripping of plastic bags as syringes, medicine and needles are feed.

An occasional laugh.

I discovered that hospitals are anything but quiet and still. Constant motion, constant noise.

Observations are the basis for a good writer.

Take a snapshot today and tell me what you saw, smelled, heard, tasted or felt.

It's raining today. Can't wait to get out on the porch for a little cool weather. Maybe I'll take a snapshot there.

~Until later,
Sandra

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Still learning . . .

As mentioned before, I substitute teach. Exclusively at the elementary level -- I'm no dummy. If I'm running the asylum, I want to make sure I'm the biggest inmate in the group. Size does matter when teaching.


This week, I reverted to 3rd grade. Amazing how I always learn something new, something I'm positive I didn't learn the first time. Science is one of those subjects, being a total left-brainer, that is more difficult for me. It's all practical facts, while I live in the world of make-believe. However, after my day with 9-year-olds, I believe I've found the correlation.


The science lesson for the day consisted of MATTER. Yep, MATTER. Okay, I'll be the first to admit I didn't remember the technical definition. For those of you wanting to be 'Smarter' than your kids, MATTER is anything that takes up space. Anything that takes up space. That's all you need to be able to answer, and even Charlie Gibson can't blow you out of the water. Now, for the writing definition. MATTER is anything that takes up space . . . on page. Not much more complicated, but it takes on a completely different spin when considering that any word that hits the page of a work in progress is MATTER. The question becomes: does it matter what your MATTER is?

Oh, so much.

It's easy to fill space with useless secondary characters or scenes that are fun to read but don't advance the plot or build internal conflict. It's much more difficult to cull through the verbose and strike out the useless. MATTER can't be allowed to run rampant on a writer's page. Anything that takes up space -- is not always and generally isn't -- usefully writing.

So don't let MATTER control the writing page. Anything is not better; selection is crucial to the writer.

The next science lesson was about VOLUME. Again, for the masses, volume is HOW much space something takes up. Think 3-D. Glass, bowl, frying pan -- I'm cooking dinner and it shows. But the concept works in anything. Pouring oil into the frying pan, if poured to the top would allow for computation of volume. It can be done if the frying pan is only half full, but honestly the conversation process makes me crazy so stick with a full pan. The oil or liquid is contained in the pan, just like writing is contained on the page, characters in a scene, hooks at chapter's end. The oil takes the shape of whatever object it's subjected to, just as writing must take the shape of the scenes.


Occasionally, however, the oil spills on the floor, running free and wild and taking the shape of the floor. MESS! and completely out of control. Writing can suffer the same fate by spreading and spilling across the lines. Characters need to develop in a specific order -- I didn't say predictable -- in order to be believable. If the race car driver suddenly refuses to get behind the wheel of his own personal car, then the oil has spilled and the character's shape is dissipating across the page. Is it possible to reign that VOLUME back into confines? Certainly, through motivation. But without reasonable explanation, a writer has simply blurred the character into a non-recognizable form (that means unbelievable) and the reader will feel cheated.

Personally, I like the odd shaped container, but considering how much I detest cleaning, I don't believe in spilling the oil. The same rule applies with VOLUME in writing. Keep the edges of character development always in mind, meaning know where the character starts and where they should end. Keep scenes clean; have a definite goal for the scene. Start it and stop it when that goal is accomplished.

The final science lesson for the day concerned density: cool formula to really impress, p = mass/volume

See, I told you it was impressive. However, I found it a little confusing which is why I loved this diagram.


What's this mean?

Note the identical size (hence volume) of both cubes. Now, note the difference in amount of red balls in the two cubes. Consider that the balls are all the same size (mass), and the forumla begins to make sense.

Is the cube on the left (one with more balls or mass) more dense than the cube on the right? Of course it is.

Density works exactly the same in writing and the pay-off is just as great. It isn't more MATTER that a writer needs, or even more VOLUME, but more DENSITY. More bang for the buck. Better word choices. Stronger verbs. More vibrant characters.

Literally, DENSITY to a writer means packing the most mass (the best writing) into each sentence and pleasing the reader at the end.

This concludes the science lesson for the day.

Almost.

Remember -- the simple definitions for MATTER, VOLUME, and DENSITY. 1st because it will impress the fire out of the kids. 2nd, you might be chosen for 'Are you smarter than . . .?' and you really will be. 3rd and most importantly for the writer is the ability to pack great words together, tightly, concisely and offer a satisfying ending to the reader.

See, and you thought you were bad in science.

Drop by the porch again.
Until then,
~Sandra

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Original Computer

Many of you have probably already enjoyed this tidbit. Me? I'm a little late to the party occasionally, and haven't seen this before. However, I'm old enough to truly understand this bit of wisdom.


Memory was something you lost with age
An application was for employment
A program was a TV show
A cursor used profanity

A keyboard was a piano
A web was a spider's home
A virus was the flu
A CD was a bank account

A hard drive was a long trip on the road
A mouse pad was where a mouse lived

And if you had a 3 inch floppy...

You just hoped nobody ever found out!?!


Drop by the porch soon. I'm writing like crazy -- less than 50 pages from the end of my WIP (work in progress) and it's started the rounds with my critique partners. Spare time is precious these days and mainly spent pouring over pages. Stay tuned for the big finish. I'll be hosting a party on the porch.

Until then
~Sandra

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reading on . . . the literature challenge

It's been awhile -- quite awhile -- since I've posted about my reading challenge. I'm still working through my TBR (to be read) stack and completely enjoying the opportunity to meet new authors and find more great reads to cherish.

I've add 8 new titles since last I posted about this subject. My number is now up to 36 for the year. I haven't calculated how many weeks I have to make in order to hit my 52, and frankly at this point, the number isn't as important as the joy of reading each week.

Did you forget why I challenged everyone to read? My post on ILLITERACY explains the epidemic trend of 'non-readers' in our country. It also gives websites where we can all make a difference.

So what have I added since last I posted:

A PIECE OF HEAVEN by Barbara Samuel
-- a redemption story for older love, set in beautiful New Mexico, dripping with actual problems that real-life characters managed to solve.

THE LONER by Geralyn Dawson
-- another in Ms. Dawson's 'Good Luck Groom' series. Her hero Logan Grey is the most unlikely groom I've ever met, which makes it simply delicious when Caroline Kilpatrick reels him in. There's a kid, an old codger and loads of Texas on these pages.

THE OTHER WOMAN by Candace Schuler
-- this is an old Harlequin Temptation that I've tucked away on my shelf. I've read it several times and love going back to it because it's the Alpha male character who is felled by the love of a woman he never expected to deserve.

TORCH SONG by Lee Magner
-- another oldie but goldie for me, this one is from the CandleLight, Ecstasy Supreme line. These are ones you either have or don't. No more reprints of these babies. Again, the total Alpha male. But during this publishing era, artists were still allowed as focal characters. Today, we'd term this book squarely in the Romantic Suspense genre. Fun to read those that started the trend, without evening knowing there would be a trend.

HEAVEN IN YOUR EYES by Judi McCoy
Ms. McCoy was a former critique partner of mine -- thanks Judi for nagging about all those 'thats' that (uh-oh) snuck into my writing. Ms. McCoy writes whimsy and HEA with the best of them. HEAVEN IN YOUR EYES deals with angels as they oversee the lives we so often 'screw' up. Gotta love those that are routing for us, without ever being seen.

CLAIMING THE COURTESAN by Anna Campbell
-- when Ms. Campbell was nominated for the coveted Romance Writer's of America, RITA award, I knew this book deserved a second reading. Verity and Kylemore are two characters who should never have a chance at love, everything conspires against them. Yet, Ms. Campbell twines their complicated emotions around one another just as a vine clings to and grows with a massive tree. It becomes impossible to separate the two, and while society will never understand their choice for love, it is inevitable or irrevocable. Yep, it works for me.

THE NANNY DIARIES by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
-- I loved falling into the world of the nanny, and learning to hate the rich who have kids and then let others raise them. As this 'hand-the-kid-off' philosophy goes against everything I've pursued as a parent for the past two decades, it was easy for me to boo for these vain parents, and cheer for the nanny. That said, I wanted this nanny to stand up for herself. I understood that her choices were limited where 'their' child was concerned, but not once -- even in the end -- did she hold these adults accountable to HER. Perhaps, that is the characteristics of nannies, to be subservient to others, but her choices left me completely unsatisfied.

GRASS by Sheri S. Tepper
-- WOW! is the start of how I felt about completing this book. This read is not for the faint of 'reading-heart'. GRASS is a complicated science fiction read. Don't expect to understand everything in the first 50 or even 100 pages. This book requires effort on the part of the reader, but the payoff for those willing to put in the time is tremendous. Excerpts from this book reminded me of Ayn Rand's writing. Terrific symbolism and layered characters -- some of who are not redeemed, and that's perfectly acceptable in the course of the book. There is a poignant conversation between one of the main characters and God. The revelation that his 'very small beings' are not expected to understand everything He's done or even His whys is beautiful written and made a lasting impression. GRASS was published in 1990, so it may be difficult to find. However, the book is worth the effort.

As an author I want everyone to believe that reading is fundamental. However, as a mom, a woman, a human being, I want everyone to experience the joy of great words. That can only happen if we continue to read and encourage our children to be readers as well.

Here's to a happy and hopefully, storm-free, Sunday for all of you. Drop by my porch anytime.

Until later
~Sandra

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Building Vocabulary . . . this week's letter is E

As writers we often fall into the rut of using the same tired words over and over again. I understand if the story is compelling enough, readers don't always notice our stuck-in-rut trend. Personally, I'm longing for more creativity.

I considered my options for the bigger word trek.

Several of my fellow writing gurus plop open the dictionary --yep, the old fashioned one with pages and everything -- then pursue a particular letter. Sounds doable.

Some of my friends increased the size of their language skills through higher academic degrees. A number of years ago, a dear friend obtained her MBA from SMU. When I asked what a difference the higher-priced degree made in her life, she said, 'I paid for a twenty-thousand dollar vocabulary. The right words make people notice.'

*MAKE PEOPLE NOTICE*


As a writer that should be my job.

So how to accomplish this increase in my 'learned' vocabulary. I'm too old for a MBA -- nor would I ever have the stamina for this challenge. The dictionary exercise is fun and entertaining, but solitary. It's all about me and what I observe. For my intense learning, I wanted something more interactive.

To that end, I'll post a letter each week, list the words that I can think of, that I would use in normal writing or conversation -- not what I'd find from the thesaurus -- but words that I own.

Play along, and add more words for that letter.

Is this in the typical A, B, C order? Naw, that might staunch creativity.

This week's letter is E:
1) evidence -- my latest romantic suspense deals with lawyers and 'political' backroom deals gone awry. Evidence is essential for my heroine to undercover the 'real' villains.
2) exhilarate -- what I feel when writing.
3) enthrall -- I've been writing love scenes and hope my characters are totally enthralling or charming each other at this point in the book.
4) exercise -- what I feel guilty about NOT doing.
5) energetic -- what I'd feel if did more of word #4.
6) eviscerate -- just used this in writing yesterday, means to take away something vital. Is that a strong word or what?
7) eerie -- love the concept, can never spell the word without spell check.
8) entertained -- what I hope my writing accomplishes.
9) enthusiastic -- what I'll feel when I bang out the last 60 pages of my work-in-progress (WIP).
10) edgy -- what I want my suspense books to contain.

This is only a start, but I'm searching to 'expand' (snuck that one in) my 'entire' E collection.

Rain has arrived in Texas and the weather is holding in the mid-80s. Lovely! Even if we have a few (more like an epidemic --one more E to close on) of mosquitoes. Do drop by the porch again. I have plenty of bug spray.

Until later
~Sandra

Thursday, September 4, 2008

To theme or not to theme . . .

It's not really a question of 'can I theme or not'. Because the bottom line for writers is they must possess an ability to craft their words around theme.

I've posted before that themes and I don't get along, see eye-to-eye, hey, we don't normally exist on the same planet. I scandalously use my critique partners, my English Liter-major collegiate daughter, even my two kids still at home to grasp the concept of theme and shove it one more time -- forcefully -- into my brain.

Image my delight, okay, it was more like downright squeals of excitement when I discovered while teaching (4th grade) today, an insider's tip for building theme.

Three simple ideas, really!

FIRST LEARNED LESSON -- The theme is the author's statement. Not an explanation that really works for me since I don't think of my writing as 'statement' oriented. However, and it was the perfect however when I read further and found, 'Theme is the lesson (or lessons) on life the author is trying to show'. That was a simple enough description even my brain could understand.

So, I started a list:
overcoming a challenge
courage
survival
friendship

then the movie idea struck:
love conquers all -- The Count of Monte Cristo
life goes on -- Steel Magnolias
valuing one's self-worth -- Where the Heart is
acceptance -- I, Robot
individuality -- V for Vendetta (also huge theme in The Fountainhead)
the power of truth to conquer lies -- Serenity

Other themes for you? Don't skip ahead to the comments section yet, but be sure to stop there before leaving my blog. Remember, I'm theme-challenged so all the themes you can share will help.

SECOND LEARNED LESSON -- The theme can be a moral. Examples given were: 'look before you leap', and 'haste makes waste'. Hardly morals that I would use to titillate readers in a romantic suspense novel, but the point was well made.

My elementary experience lead to thoughts of Disney movies. Here was a virtual kaleidoscope of moral teachings.

I thought of:
'Don't judge the Ogre by his cover' from Shrek.
'Just keep swimming' from Finding Nemo.
'Under the skin/fur, everyone is the same' or 'family is more than blood' from Ice Age.

Before you say I missed it with themes on these movies, consider that many books and movies will have more than one theme.

Can you think of other 'Disney' or children's book morals? Share in the comments section.

THIRD LEARNED LESSON -- is to turn from a statement and form the question:
'The lesson I want my readers to learn from this book is . . .'

Do you have additional questions that help cement the theme of your book? Please share.

4th grade is turning out to be a very good year for me -- even if it is the second go round.

It's cooling off a bit here in Texas, meaning we're seeing lower nineties instead of the high version. That means it almost back porch time again. I've been sweeping -- it hasn't rained in weeks and the dirt is in epidemic proportions -- and even managed to scrub down the BBQ grill for another go round. Do stop in again.

Until later
~Sandra

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Memories . . . storms


Watching the radar is a frightening pasttime right now.


Storms seem larger, more fierce than before, but perhaps that's only my older eyes watching that swirl and determined path of the present hurricane.


When I was a child, my family lived in Houston. During the summer of 1964, Tropical Storm Abby hit the area. Tropical storms pack sustained winds from 39 to 73 miles per hour. That is the 'constant' range; gusts can exceed these numbers. The power behind these storms can sweep a person from their feet and certainly awe or terrify a child. Even young, these memories have stuck through the years as though attached with the permanence of superglue.



Our small three-bedroom, sided-house displayed front and rear plate-glass windows that were in direct viewing line of one another. As these windows were our observation platforms to every happening on Crooked Creek Street, I'm certain my mother seldom found the glass clear of child-sized finger prints and smudges. As the storm approached and the radio crackled with constant weather updates, my father retrieved rolls of masking tape from his never-empty, and constantly-fascinating tool box. With careful precision, he laid racing stripes of beige tape across the glass as though marking the spot with a large 'buried treasure' X. As Tropical Storm Abby neared landfall, my brother and I were constant voyeurs to a world gone mad beyond the panes. Massively tall oak trees stood sentinel in our side and back yard. The trees were so numerous, grass was sparce beneath the constant cover of multi-colored leaves. The sky darkened bit by bit until everything seemed gray. The winds built and the trees danced back and forth across the dim sky. Sheets of rain blew in, sometimes straight and flooding against the street, sometimes sideways as though simply passing through and on its way to another town. Gusts kicked up and snatched any trashcan, yard tool, or poorly attached shingle. It looked cartoon-like to us as the debris hurried down the street on its way to some unseen destination. Wind intensity increased and tree limbs snapped, some entire trees groaned then fell, power lines gave way, and transformers sparked and lit with Christmas-tree glow, and the entity of our house went dark. Our ooh-ahhs turned to squeals then screams as the sound of the storm roared through our neighborhood. Flashlights clicked on and my parents dispensed all the needed hugs and reassurances then we waited. Safe in my mom's embrace, the power of the storm seemed to fade. I don't remember closing my eyes or nodding off to sleep, but suddenly it was morning and the sunlight was back.

What happened the next day? Did we have a lot of damage? Glass broken, limbs down? I, honestly, don't remember. It is the roar of Tropical Storm Abby that stays with me so many years later.

Your turn.


Share your storm memory. Hurricanes (or Tropical Storms) not required. Any storm memory that lives with you is welcome.


To all those I know in the path of the lion -- know that you are in my prayers. Be safe.


Do drop by the porch anytime. I always have the sweetened tea ready to pour.

Until then
~Sandra

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two days deep into school and what's happened?

My three not-so-munchkin-sized kids started to school this week. Everyone hit the academic buildings on Monday morning -- okay, the college student doesn't start until noon on Mondays. That seems so wrong in the real world, but makes perfect sense in the college environment. So this year it was two high schoolers and one collegiate preppy.

What changes when the kids hit that higher level of learning?

Did I buy fewer supplies?
The requirement is for fewer boxes of crayons, but more map pencils. The glue in the bottle stage has passed, as it's on to the all important glue stick mania. School note: there is no such thing as too many glue sticks in the house. Fewer spirals, the cheap 100 page ones are obsolete, but more of the 3 to 5 subject variety. Of course, those are never on sale -- ANY WHERE! No construction paper or Manila paper, but colored pens are a must and some must be fine point, while others are medium point and just for good measure, please throw in a Sharpie or two. Still need book covers, dividers, scads of 3 X 5 and 4 X 6 cards. Oh, and never mistake that buying only one size of note cards will suffice. Ah contra, if 3 X 5 cards are purchased, then the demand will be for 4 X 6. Same with three-ring binders and the color choice. If last year every band and choir student for the entire region was required to purchase a navy 3-ring binder, then rest assured the entire stack secreted away for a smooth school start will not be this year's color choice. The note will say black or red or fuchsia, but guaranteed it won't be the stocked color.

Did I spend less money? Are you nuts? I said two high schoolers and one college student. There is never enough money set aside! NEVER. Did I point out never?

Was the first day less stressful? No, but at this point of fifteen odd school years, we've grown so accustomed to the controlled chaos of morning insanity that it almost seems natural.

Is the school drop easier?
For the first time in many years, actually for the first time ever, I need only see my dumplings to one school building. The college student would take serious umbrage if I tried to walk her to class. So, it's one drop at the high school then I'm home again, home again, like pinky pig.

Did the house seem empty, lonely even, after they'd left?
Absolutely. Some things, such as missing a child, is a constant in a parent's life. The minute my oldest moves back to college, even knowing that she loves her university and is geared for learning, I miss her. When the high schoolers were safely ensconced in their home away from home for seven daily hours for the next 178 school days, the house seemed too large, strangely silently, and definitely lonely.

As for the first two days of school . . . well, we're all still standing and that's something important. No one absolutely HATES a teacher, YET! Everyone has someone to eat lunch with, to walk the halls (campus) with, and the work load looks overwhelming as it always does at the beginning.

The best part is that they always come home at day's end -- I do need to wait for 'non-football' weekends to get my college student home, but they're here for dinner and conversation, sharing parts of their day and more importantly, parts of themselves.

My 6'5" son has dubbed me 'Mini-Mom. I'm not exactly sure when I became the smallest in my house, but short I am compared to the gentle giants that I raise. Short or not, I feel a thousand feet tall when they rush in the house to tell some terrific tidbit about their day. Some things don't change at all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday morning and you survived the summer with your kids!


Okay, it's treat time. Take yourself to lunch. Eat an ice cream cone you don't have to share, or simply sit in the quiet and enjoy the nothingness.

However, if you're feeling a little sad and blue because your play buddies have disappeared for several hours each day, enjoy these laughs.

They aren't mine. I've heisted them from Reader's Digest, September '08 edition. Okay, with due credit offered, here are the ones that made me laugh.

FAMILY:
My 50-something friend Nancy and I decided to introduce her mother to the magic of the Internet. Our first move was to access the popular 'Ask Jeeves' site, and we told her it would answer any question she had. Nancy's mother was very skeptical until Nancy said, "It's true, Mom. Think of something to ask it." As I sat with my fingers poised over the keyboard, Nancy's mother thought for a minutes, then responded, "How is Aunt Helen feeling?"


You laughed, you know you did because there is someone in your family just like this.

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES:
On the way back from a Cub Scouts meeting, my grandson asked my son the question. "Dad, I know that babies come from mommies' tummies, but how do they get there in the first place?" he asked innocently.

After my son hemmed and hawed for a while, my grandson finally spoke up in disgust." You don't have to make something up, Dad. It's okay if you don't know the answer.


MORE CHILDREN:
We rushed our four-year-old son, Ben, to the emergency room with a terrible cough, high fever, and vomiting. The doctor did an exam, then asked Ben what bothered him the most. After thinking it over, Ben said hoarsely, "I would have to say my little sister."

THE TRUTH:
I am feet feet three inches tall and pleasingly plump. After I had a minor accident, my mother accompanied me to the emergency room. The triage nurse asked for my height and weight, and I blurted out, "Five-foot-eight and 125 pounds.

"Sweetheart," my mother gently chided, "this is not the Internet."


HUSBANDS:
For some reason, the bookstore clerk couldn't get the computer to recognize my preferred customer card. Peering over her shoulder at the screen, I said, "There's part of the problem. It shows my birth date as 12/31/1899.

"That's right," my husband chimed in. "She was born in June, not December."


Family can be soooo much help -- as in the temptation to help them right out of a moving car can be overwhelming, but it does make for funny moments.

Hope you found your chuckle today.

Enjoy the day of freedom, and be sure to drop by my porch anytime. The yard's mowed and flowers watered. All in all, looks pretty grand.

Until later,
~Sandra

Friday, August 22, 2008

Update on Cell phone tips!

Go to SNOPES at http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/cellphones.asp

Not all of the techniques from my previous post work. Sorry, friends. I should have checked this closer before I posted. Thanks, Juliet for finding this link for me.

However, the FREE 411 will work. Also, I know that there is an additional Free 411 service, check the comments section in the earlier post.

The PIN access will work on Samsung, AT & T, and Motorla phones. Whether the phone company will shut down your phone or not depends on your service provider. So check with them.

Also, if you're in Texas and check the back of your DL, there is a 1-800 phone number that will provide road-side assistance, supposedly FREE OF CHARGE. I did say supposedly -- as I haven't tried this yet. Apparently this service is paid for by Texas taxes. Thanks to one of my fellow NT writers who offered this tip.

However, big disappointment is that the 'unlock the car' technique won't work. Apparently not on the same signal wave-lengths. For those of us who've managed to lock our keys in the car this one was gravely disappointing.

I put road-side assistance on my college student's phone and the good thing about this is that the coverage is on the PHONE not the car. So if she's with a friend and said friend locks her keys in the car, my daughter just needs to have her phone and ID to prove she's the user of the phone and road-side assistance will show up and get the car unlocked. I know this one works because my daughter has needed to use it. Also, she left the lights on inside her car and sent her battery into the wasteland. Even though her car was parked face in against a garage wall, the service that came out brought a portable charge unit and started her car.

Hope these tips are helpful.

Drop on by my porch anytime.
~Sandra

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

5 Cool cell phone tips . . .



Here are some handy cell phone tips. Nope, they are not mine, just one of the cool things someone sent to me.

Great tips to print and put in the glove box of your car.

These are a few things that can be done in times of grave emergencies.

FIRST ~ Emergency


The Emergency Number worldwide for Mobile is 112. If you find yourself out of the coverage area of your mobile; network and there is an emergency, dial 112 and the mobile will search any existing network to establish the emergency number for you,
and interestingly this number 112 can be dialed even if the keypad is locked. Try it out.

SECOND ~ Have you locked your keys in the car?

Does your car have remote key-less entry? This may come in handy someday.

Good reason to own a cell phone: If you lock your keys in the car and the spare keys are at home, call someone at home on their cell phone from your cell phone. Hold your cell phone about a foot from your car door and have the person at your home press the unlock button, holding it near the mobile phone on their end. Your car will unlock. Saves someone from having to drive your keys to you. Distance is no object. You could be hundreds of miles away, and if you can reach someone who has the other 'remote' for your car, you can unlock the doors (or the trunk).

Editor's Note: It works fine! We tried it out and it unlocked our car over a cell phone!'

THIRD ~ Hidden Battery Power


Imagine your cell battery is very low. To activate: press the keys *3370#. Your cell will restart with this reserve and the instrument will show a 50% increase in battery. This reserve will replenish when you charge your cell next time.

FOURTH ~ How to disable a STOLEN mobile phone?

To check your Mobile phone's serial number, key in the following digits on your phone: * # 0 6 # A 15 digit code will appear on the screen. This number is unique to your handset. Write it down and keep it somewhere safe. If your phone gets stolen, you can phone your service provider and give them this code. They will then be able to block your handset so even if the thief changes the SIM card, your phone will be totally useless. You probably won't get your phone back, but at least you know that whoever stole it can't use/sell it either. If everybody does this, there would be no point in people stealing mobile phones.

And Finally...

FIFTH ~ Free Directory Service for Cells

Cell phone companies are charging us $1.00 to $1.75 or more for 411 information calls when they don't have to. Most of us do not carry a telephone directory in our vehicle, which makes this situation even more of a problem. When you need to use the 411 information option, simply dial (800) FREE 411, or (800) 373-3411 without incurring any charge at all. Program this into your cell phone now.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

MY CPs new book

I posted about HERE COMES THE BRIBE, a great romatic comedy release by The Wild Rose Press from my CP, Sherry A. Davis.

The cover art is fabulous:

And the book blurb certainly gets it done: A single administrative assistant accepts her temporary boss’s offer to masquerade as his fiancĂ©e to keep his matchmaking grandmother out of his personal life and out of the way while he negotiates a high-profile merger for his family-owned company. In exchange, she’ll get the down payment for the loan she needs to keep her ex from selling her condo out from under her.
But neither of them counted on the lines blurring between real and pretend--or for the temporary arrangement to leave them both longing for something more permanent.

NOW: Sherry A. Davis has recieved another terrific review from The Night Owl Romance.
Click on the review, or click straight to Novel Words, Ms. Davis's blogsite for ways to purchase her tremendous book, HERE COMES THE BRIBE.

Congrats, Sherry, all the kudos are well-deserved for great writing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hooking the reader . . .



Slowing the pace or resolving the conflict – any conflict, even a little one – at the end of the chapter or scene gives your reader an opportunity to put your book down and turn off the light. Bad news for any author aspiring who has designs on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Make your readers hang around and hang on, forcing them to read through what would be a natural place to break.

How to?

Use strong hooks.


As writers, we want to finish the thought and build to the end always pushing the conflict up the next notch. So resolution is the last thing that needs to happen at the end of a chapter. Break the action right in the middle, leave the reader asking the question, ‘What happens next?’ or even ‘OMG, I’ve got to find out more.’, and you’ll provide all the incentive readers need to keep . . . well, to keep reading.

Answers are a must – but only in small doses. Weave in the answer through the beginning of the next chapter or scene, or leave the thread dangling until the reader absolutely needs to know in order to increase believability.


At this point, my critique group is accessing my WIP, TRICKLE OF LIES, in chunks. Reading through the first 100 pages for posting, I noticed a number of chapter hooks that were designed to keep my readers forging through to the next page.

I picked a random hook: Boston Donavan waited for the first sheet to finish printing from his fax machine before snagging the page. The ‘receive’ light glowed amber as another piece of paper rolled into the printer. Across the cover page, Dump (his deputy) had scrawled notations regarding the origin of the documents.
A second sheet popped free and Boston immediately recognized the Austin police letterhead. It took only minutes to scan the contents then he crumbled the page’s edge in his fist.
With a glare, he focused on his closed bedroom door. As though he could see the woman lying in his bed, he swore. “Son of a bitch, she’s lied to me again.”


Does the reader know what’s on the pages printed from Boston’s fax? Nope, but they know it has to do with a police department and that whatever has been revealed means he’s been deliberately lied to, or at the least, misled and the woman doing the lying is in his bed. Uh-oh. This hook is designed to keep the reader moving forward and pushing toward the end of the book.
Share a hook from your WIP, or one from your favorite book.


As always, you’re welcome to drop by my back porch. Actually, it’s cooling off a little here in Texas. BBQ is on the grille and beer in the cooler. Drop on by anytime.

Until next time
~Sandra

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Character analysis . . . how do you do that?

I finished watching The Count Of Monte Cristo with my collegiate and extraordinarily literary daughter. She mentioned how the book had been more than a bit boring, but the character development and analysis was awesome.

From a writing perspective, authors have a certain . . . I hesitate to use the word, but we do have a formula that helps develop characters. Buzz words are goal, conflict, motivation, mentors, allies, enemies, accepting the quest and the list goes on.

However, I wondered from a purely literary viewpoint (my daughter is an English Lit major) what did she look for?

My first surprise was that it strongly depended on whether the book was a single title or part of series. It seems real character analysis can't fully take place until the end -- the real end, if that's a series -- is read. Case in point: the Twilight series. While the characters can be understood inside each book, they can not be fully appreciated until the end of the 4th book. A personal favorite of mine is the Dresden series (Jim Butcher). Wizard Harry (no, I don't know if JR or Butcher penned this name first) Dresden becomes embroiled in a series of magical mishaps in each book. And while, it seems straight forward -- the whole good against evil thing -- there is tremendous depth as the books tie together in a stream. It is possible to understand Harry's character in each book, but I must agree with my daughter, it would be impossible to fully analyze his character until the end of the series. Since Mr. Butcher hasn't finished the last book yet, I'll need to let you know.

Second, my daughter pointed out that relationships between the protagonist and other characters in a book will assist mightly in character analysis. As writers, we employ secondary characters to illuminate aspects of the character that would seem like 'author intrusion' if simply dropped on page or to advance the plot, but how much more could writers give to the reader if the relationship between the 'page' people was considered? Back to Butcher's Dresden series, he introduces secondary character that seem cardboard, perfectly predictable, the reader knows exactly what to expect, then like a certain famous chef, he 'bams' the reader with the unexpected. Butcher finds an obscure part of the secondary characters personality, exploits it and offers the reader real depth for this minor player. How does that affect the main man? Quite simply, Harry Dresden is often turned on his ear, just like people are in real life. When the expected becomes the unexpected, when the unworthy villain becomes salvageable, when friends betray and enemies protect, then it is more than just a secondary character advancing plot, it's about relationships. What readers learn about Harry Dresden as he faces these developments tells about the real man he is and the frightening and sometimes ill-fated choices he must makes.

Thirdly, my daughter always takes into consideration the theme in the book. All right, this can be shaky ground for some authors. Many will theme a book in advance, they'll have the plot points that reinforce, correlate the settings to enhance, and then some fly by the seat of their pants and are clueless to the theme until they type THE END. For those authors, half will thread the theme intuitively and half will need to catch it in rewrites. Wait, those are wrong percentages. Some authors never catch the theme and it will show in the level of writing. While the overall-needs-to-apply-to-everyone thing sounds as though it should be mandatory, many a manuscript has become printed and bound without a theme in sight. So as writers, the need to consider the universal 'rule' is necessary but to tie said theme back to the protagonist is crucial.

Writers look from the inside out -- always considered how it goes on page. Perhaps the real joyous reading happens when that's reversed. Seeing the character in the big picture as in reading to the end of the book or the series, considering every aspect of the character's relationships, and finally to offer a theme translates into a 'keeper' book.

As writers, we love our characters. The stronger desire should be to impel our readers to love them as well. Consider breaking down the character in his or her world to determine if the protagonist meets a true 'literary' critique, and will become the characters that patrons line up to read about again and again.

How do you analyzes your characters?
Who are some of the memorable characters in print? On film?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Survivng Texas Heat . . .

CAN YOU SAY SWELTERING?


HERE IN TEXAS WE CAN!


WHAT DO WE DO WHEN TEMPERATURES SOAR OVER 100 FOR TWENTY STRAIGHT DAYS?


CALL EVERY FRIEND -- AND SLIGHT FRIEND THAT WE KNOW THEN OFFER BEER AND BAR-B-QUE UNTIL SOME ONE'S WILLING TO TOTE THE NOTE TO PUT GAS IN THE BOAT AND HEAD FOR THE LAKE. Oh, and boat size doesn't matter -- as long as it runs under its own power (no rowing allowed) then the boat is fine for a day on the lake.

Of course, it is way better if the person we've swindled into toting us to the lake happens to own a ski boat because to survive Texas sun, large doses of water are required!

To endure blistering temps, this is good

but . . .


This is much better. Remember, in Texas there is no such thing as too much water!

When outside fails us, then we look for cool indoor sports:


A little indoor manufactured chill.

Indoor cinema works too!

Something hands on!

Or a quiet afternoon in the library will help turn the temperatures down.

Bottom line to managing triple digits in Texas is to stay cool and wish for winter:



Drop by anytime -- just don't look for me on the porch -- it's too blessed hot!
Until next time,
~Sandra

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This is one billboard worth reading . . .

THIS SIGN IS LOCATED OFF ONE OF THE MAJOR FREEWAYS IN DALLAS, TEXAS.

THINK ANYONE GETS IT?


ENJOY YOUR DAY!

I PLAN TO!

UNTIL LATER
~SANDRA

Monday, July 28, 2008

New Read . . .

Have you been reading this summer? Keeping up with the reading challenge? Thought I had forgotten, didn't you? Just because I haven't listed all my reads? Well, fooled you.

I've had a great time delving into and digging through my TBR stack this summer. I just finished A PIECE OF HEAVEN by Barbara Samuel.

This is no typical lovestory. As a matter of fact, I wasn't totally sure Ms. Samuel intended to pull off a lovestory by book's end. HINT: it was a lovely surprise to find that she not only satisfied her hero/heroine but readers as well. That said, Ms. Samuel delivers a novel of a truly broken heroine. Luna McGraw doesn't believe she deserves a second (actually more like fifth or sixth) chance. She feels her sins were bad enough that she should be condemned to live without her teenage daughter. The hero Thomas Coyote is anything but perfect, yet somehow he's the perfect foil for Luna McGraw -- shame Luna is convinced that he's everything on her 'can't have list'. Through any number of personal obstacles, these two preserve and find a happy ending of the mature kind. I love reading about older heroes and heroines -- especially the ones who are certain their turn for happy endings has already come and gone. The imagery in A PIECE OF HEAVEN is dynamic and I'll admit to being more than a tad jealous of Ms. Samuel's ability to turn the perfect phrase.

Interesting note, while looking for the book cover for my blog, I found two other covers for this same book. Why? Who knows. Perhaps multiple printings have been released of A PIECE OF HEAVEN. Whatever the cover, if you encounter A PIECE OF HEAVEN snatch it up. It's well worth your time . . . and then some.

Happy reading and writing.

Stop by my porch again.
~Sandra

Sunday, July 27, 2008

10 . . 9 . . 8 . . 7, can you say LAUNCH?

Here I am in cyberspace!!! Again!!!

My website, SLFERGUSON is launched.

The building, and rebuilding of the pages, the tweaking until the site and I both screamed, the hunt for the perfect graphics, and the exploration of embedding music and links was certainly worth the effort.

Special thanks to my fabulous hubby who learned all things great and wonderful on how to ACTUALLY publish the website.

As I'm working on a seminar about self-promotion, the building of the website was great experience.

Would I say it was easy? Uh, definitely not.

But can the skill be learned? Absolutely so.

I love when you pop by my back porch for a visit, but do pop by my SLFERGUSON then let me know what you like (and okay, maybe what doesn't work for you).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Traveling Tips

Yep, I've been back from vacation for a day or two, and should have posted sooner, but the bottom line is that when I come home from vacation, another vacation is needed to rest up from the one I've just taken.

However, here are a few traveling tips that hit while on vacation:

1st -- Trust a truck stop for a decent meal. There is a side-note to this one. Look for a truck stop where trucks are ACTUALLY stopped. If there are semis in the parking lot then you're safe for a good meal. No parked 18-wheelers and you needed to keep trucking right on down the road.

2nd -- Carry a spare set of keys. Oh, and don't let the same person have both sets. Keys managed to get locked in cars -- even those with the push button locks on the door -- more than folks believe. And it's always in the most remote location, the hottest time of the day or the deepest part of the night. Save grief and carry a second set.

3rd -- Pack duct tape. This handy silver lined product has a 1000 and 1 uses and while on any car trip, travelers will find at least one use. Don't question this wisdom, just pack a roll.

4th -- Stay at a hotel that provides breakfast -- it's better if it comes with the price of the room. Kids can be picker eaters while on vacation and having a full-service kitchen right in the hotel can make morning starts much more enjoyable.

5th -- Locate the closest Wal-Mart/Target/Superstore to your hotel. Guaranteed something will be missed in the packing stage and knowing where the nearest replenishing station is can go a long way to easing vacation strain.

6th -- Don't expect Google or MapQuest maps to make sense or be 100% accurate. Won't happen! Simply be prepared for the directions to not make clear sense. Best way to keep from getting lost? With Google or MapQuest map in hand, call the hotel, the restaurant, or tourist site to confirm the directions. Sure beats endless circles of confusion on $4.00 a gallon gas.

7th -- Carry simple board/card/domino games. The easier the better. Simple games are often the most family fun, and are great if an afternoon event gets rained out or for a quiet evening in the midst of vacationing.

8th -- If staying at a cabin/condo, etc, where a kitchen -- a stocked kitchen -- is provided, do not believe that 'stocked' means the same thing to all cooks. Ask for particulars on kitchen appliances and basic cookware. Don't assume a bowl or sauce pan or over sized skillet will be on-hand. Better to pack a few additional essentials than have a hungry family and no skillet to feed them from.

9th -- All beds are not created equal. Does it make a difference if you normally share a king with your hubby and are reserving a double bed? You betcha. You may not be talking to your hubby at the end of the vacation after those sleeping arrangements. Are your children no longer those little kiddos that can be tucked any ole place and sleep happily? Teenagers require bigger beds and more reinforcement from a mattress than toddlers. Poor sleeping arrangements can sour an entire vacation.

10th -- Finally, there's no place like home. Leaving for vacation is great, but coming home is always better.


I love vacationing with my family. 3 great kids that I still enjoy being with and who enjoying being with my husband and me. There is always a guarantee for loads of laughter, at least one truly terrible meal, some weird bug attack -- trust me we can find bugs in the middle of a cement city, one driving excursion (that's my husband's terminology for getting completely lost), and scads of Kodak memories. I wouldn't change one good or not so good experience from our vacations because that's what makes them unique and totally ours.

Where have you been this summer? Do share.

Drop by my back porch anytime. Okay, so it's a hundred plus in the shade here in Texas right now and sitting outside isn't happening. But drop by anyway. We'll sit inside under the A/C and fans and look out at my back porch.

Until next time
~Sandra

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Vacationing . . .

We're back -- just for the day, so I'm rushing to get a few more photos and info on the blogsite -- hope you enjoy the pictures and the great places there are to see in Texas. We loved this part of our vacation.

<
Son and husband beside the grave of yep, famous coach Tom Laundry, who still reigns as supreme Texas Cowboy coach in our house. This is at the Texas State Cemetery. Didn't know there was such a place, visit here: Texas State Cemetery.


More pics of the cemetery:
Confederate gravesite area -- hauntingly beautiful!
Flowing garden at the beginning of the cemetery.

Mission San Juan in the theatre located inside the visitors' center.
Everyone's heard of The Alamo, but there are actually four additional missions in the San Antonio area. We chose the site as it has the only working mill still on site. Visit here: San Juan Mission for more information.


This photo taken at The Alamo in one of the back gardens. We wandered the riverwalk during the middle of the day. Can you say hot and humid? We're dripping, but the scenery is lush.

Come on back by the porch later in the week to see more photos.
Sandra

Texas sayings

~Watch your step! Cacti, tumbleweeds, and an occasional armadillo might be ahead.

~Welcome to the land of tar-bubbling summers, gas-guzzling pickup trucks, standard Stetson headgear, and mile-high hair.

~Welcome to the Lone Star State, and Romance With A Texas Twist!

Quote of the Day