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

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