Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's officially summer


Yep, it's hot here in Texas. It was awhile in coming, but our lovely little weathermen are focasting a run for 100! As hot as it seems to be in Texas, we don't normally see 100s in May. A good thing, too, since July and August have plenty of those tar-bubbling, frying-egg-on-concrete, sweat-pouring days.

Nonetheless, today is my kids last day of school and we're headed to the water park.

If there is one thing we Texans know how to do, it's play in the water.

This past Memorial Day week-end was boat a-mania. Of course, there is always more than one boat on Texas lakes. It looks more like a jammed freeway on most lakes around holiday time. Nonetheless, for any of you stuck in the colder climes, I thought you might appreciate that Texas is already toasting.

I know some of you are still stuck inside -- WORKING! And I'll be hard back at it tomorrow. But since my kids are free from school, and I'm playing hooky for the day, I'll enjoy the sun and wind (and heat) for all of you who can't.


Happy summer! Whenever yours starts.

Don't forget to drop back by the porch. The tea is chilled and I have a really large fan to keep us cool.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Looking back . . . following the wandering muse

Just went through last year's post . . . wanted to see what I'd been doing for a year. It's enlightening and frightening to see how much time has actually elasped, and then to fret about why I didn't get more accomplished.

That whole GOTTA-SET-GOALS-THING is looming big on my horizon.

It's hard to believe that this past month we traveled south to Texas A & M again to retrieve my oldest from college. Mind-boggling to believe I now have one that's completed her sophomore year at a major university, one headed to his last year in high school, and my baby getting ready to start high school. Okay, enough about getting old -- I have the daily reminders every time my skin sags a little more.

So, what has changed in a year?

I spent 103 days in a classroom teaching this year. At the elementary level (the only grades I'll touch because I'm still bigger than they are) it really is about teaching. There is no such thing as a day-off at this level. If I don't have the rugrats busy and on task, then there is bedlam. Considering I've lost enough of my sanity at this point, I can't afford to give away any more while the inmates take over the asylum. That requires real teaching to keep students focused. I feel more in control inside the classroom now. I don't panic if there's an empty spot in the lesson plan, or what's been left is new material for the students, etc. Overall, it's been both easier and harder to teach this year because I knew more.

Wait, that sounds remarkably like writing, doesn't it?

The more I learn about the writing process the more difficult it becomes. Oops, now there are more rules to follow to make sure the research is accurate and factual; that all the writing is grammatically correct; that I've employed smooth transitions and great hooks; that I've developed character arcs and well-crafted plot lines.

FLIP-SIDE

The more I learn about writing, the easier it is to do all those things. Occasionally, it's even outrageously fun.

Recently an acquaintance revealed her secret ambition was to write. She told me partly because I'm a writer, also because I'm not involved in her life, which makes that whole 'people will tell strangers the craziest things' really true. I'd been moaning about how hard the writing process can be. This acquaintance called me on it. The conversation made me reflect. Would I have started writing if I'd known how hard it would be? Honestly, who knows.

There's a reason the road in front of us is always curved. As humans, if we saw all the obstacles in our way -- chances are we'd stand still and never leave the starting line. Equally true, if we saw all the joys -- we'd feel overwhelmed or unworthy of such pure pleasure.

Is hind sight really 20-20? Maybe, and again maybe it's just our own skewed perception that makes the past seem so clear. As to the future my advice is simple: chunk the glasses and stop trying to squint to see what comes around the next bend. You'll never be fully prepared for all the hurdles no matter how much advance warning you have. Besides a bumpy ride can be fun. Just pretend it's a roller coaster -- hang on, scream when necessary, and laugh all the way through.

Maybe that's not a real goal, but it certainly seems like a good way to deal with one.

So, what's happened for you this year?

Come on by the porch anytime.
~Sandra

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reading on . . .

The last two weeks I've been hooked on Jim Butcher's series, The Dresden Files. I've read:

SUMMER KNIGHTS, a book about the mythical Queen of Summer Faeries and the Queen of Winter Faeries -- sorta like the folks who live in the clouds and control weather,



and


DEATH MASKS, which pits wizard, Harry Dresden, up against the Denarians -- demons who have been seduced by one of the 30 pieces of silver that Judas was paid to betray Jesus. These terribly powerful creatures who have become evil incarnate, started out as normal mortals who were seduced by the lust for power and are now imprisoned inside the Denarians, trapped in their own personal Hell. Yep, there are Catholic Priests, the Knights of Christ, and the Shroud of Christ all rolled into this book. It deals with the 'what-if' theory behind the Shroud and the pieces of silver.

As usual, both SUMMER KNIGHTS and DEATH MASKS are incredibly fast, can't-put-it-down reads, with loads of unexpected twists and turns. Butcher puts more action in one chapter than James Bond movies manage in two hours.

Also, if you're looking to see how to 'hook' a chapter, you need to read this series. Using a dark sense of humor, a realistic approach, and never quite wrapping things up, Butcher consistently leaves his character in a tough situation. As always, readers are willing to turn the next page in order to find out if Harry Dresden manages to draw his next breath.

So, what are you reading?

Do share.

Drop by my back porch anytime.
~Sandra

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

1 - 2 - 3 Tag

2007 RWA's Golden Heart winner, recently sold her first novel to Kensington Publishing, Marilyn Brant tagged me to play her latest game of what are you reading now.

Marilyn knows I'm reading. Anyone who's perused my blog since the first of the year knows I've issued a reading challenge (one book per week -- come on, folks, seriously, that's one skinny little book or not so skinny as is your choice per week.) Simply comment and let me know what you're reading.

Back to Marilyn's tag, here are the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people and post a comment to the person who tagged you once you’ve posted your three sentences.

I'm into Jim Butcher's series, The Dresden Files, reading book 5, DEATH MASKS.

A cell phone rested on a counter beside a pad of hotel stationary. A woman appeared in the window dressed in a long gown of dark silk, and picked up the cell phone. She answered it without speaking and a moment later said, "I'm sorry. You've the wrong number."

Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? BUT, if you've read any of Mr. Butcher's stories, you'll know there is nothing innocent about his scenes. Does something happen right after this quiet moment? You betcha! Because that is the way this master writing technician puts together a story. Lets you breathe, then sucks all the air out of the room in one life-altering moment. I don't exactly want to be Jim Butcher. My husband wouldn't like that . . . however, I'd love to follow him around as he builds his stories. He is a true professional. If you haven't read Jim Butcher, you're missing some truly great novels.

All right, so I'm tagging a few folks now. If I didn't tag you and you're here and reading a book that has page 123, feel free to post in the comments section with the 3 lines.

What fun!

Thanks, Marilyn, for tagging me.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Reading on . . .

My Reading Challenge continues.

This past week, I finished Geralyn Dawson's newest HQN release, THE LONER. This novel is another powerful love story that features a number of the characters from her Bad Luck Brides series. If you've grown attached to this cast and crew then you'll not be disappointed with her latest entry into larger-than-life Texas history. Ms. Dawson always takes some tidbit of historical past (this time one of the earliest flash floods in Texas history and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) to add that wonderful touch of realism to her stories. It is as though she takes that one snippet of the past and weaves a tale around it -- reminds me of Paul Harvey's 'And the rest of the story . . .' (for those of you who listen to talk-radio).




As a writer, I'm always impressed by Ms. Dawson's ability to motivate her characters -- not with just a single event but by the collective experience of their lives. These are real people, with real problems, and as a reader, I root for them from page one.

Ms. Dawson revealed during a writing seminar, which she taught, that she doesn't plot out every last detail and sometimes the characters manage to write themselves into a corner that's tough to get out of. Perhaps, she sprinkles a little magic pixie dust over her characters, because she never fails to conjure up the perfect blend of goal, conflict and motivation. However, she does it -- I'm in awe.

Thanks, Ms. Dawson, for another great read.

What are you reading this week? Still on track?
Want to see why I started this reading challenge? Check this out!

Don't forget to drop by my back porch anytime. I always have a glass of sweet tea cooling in the fridge.

~Sandra

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Reading . . . there isn't much that's more important.

In January I kicked off my reading challenge. I pledged to read 52 books by the end of the year, or one book per week. Life happens and stuff gets in the way, so the point is that if you can sneak two books in one week because you may have an emergency that keeps you from reading one week, then that's simply good planning. However, the goal is to keep reading, consistently and constantly.

Why?

Because Literacy should be a basic right for all of us. We shouldn't be ruled by emails, computer games, cable/satellite, or even cleaning the toilet. One of the things that sets us as a superior species is our ability to reason, to explore, to never tire of the adventure. Books open that gateway, always pushing each reader to learn, to know more than they did at the beginning of the book.

As adults, it's a simple choice and making the time.

However, for millions of underprivileged, at-risk children it's not that simple.

In an earlier post, I spoke of Reading is Fundamental, a terrific organization designed to open young minds to infinite possibilities through books.

Reading the RWA e-notes I found this entry . . . and yes this is an exact quote, so I will give all proper credit

RWA eNOTES
May 1, 2008
Volume 8, Issue 9
"Reading Is Fundamental Program in Danger of Elimination
The 2009 proposed U.S. budget calls for the elimination of funding for Reading Is Fundamental's (RIF) Inexpensive Book Distribution program. The program distributes free books to 4.6 million children and families and runs reading encouragement programs in 20,000 locations in the U.S. RIF President and CEO Carol H. Rasco says, "Unless Congress reinstates $26 million in funding for this program, RIF will not be able to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation's youngest and most at-risk children ... Since its founding in 1966, RIF's programs have played an important role in improving literacy in this country." Visit RIF's Web site, to see how you can take action.

To read the actual press release: Reading Is Fundamental press release "

Do I think this is a crucial issue?

You betcha. If you're not reading with your kids, start. If your kids spend loads of times playing video games/computer games/or watching TV, turn off the electronics and lead by example by making a 'reading night.'

Having spent two decades (yep, I'm really that old) raising children, I can attest first-hand that the difference in reading children and non-reading children is the difference between a mole hill and Mount Everest.

Reading is forever and it should be every day.

If you are outraged that Congress believes reading is not fundamental, go to the above listed websites and find out how your voice can make a difference.

Am I off my soapbox? Not by a long shot. This is one battle we can't afford to lose for our children.

Come on by the back porch anytime . . . and feel free to bring you favorite book.
~Sandra

Reading Challenge . . .

Are you still reading? Working toward your one book a week? Remember that's the challenge to keep reading no matter what.

If you're late to the party, don't be shy. There's still time to join the fun. Why did I start this challenge? Read this link and you'll understand.

What are you reading?

Here's the most recent photo of the books I've enjoyed during the past two months.

Not pictured are The Helen Keller book and Stone Fox (sorry, had to return those before I managed to get around to taking a picture) Just imagine this stack two higher.


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