Friday, February 29, 2008

Weekend Edition

We get around a lot on this blog. We've spent a day in at a coffee shop in Paris, another day at a cafe in Florence, and guess where we are going this weekend? Greece! Enjoy the sunshine, the food, the wine, and the company. Oh, yes, and the coffee.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Keepin' it real

Photo credit

That is not Kansas. I think it's Alberta, Canada. But if you take away the mountains, it looks and feels a lot like cattle ranching territory in my state and in the book I'm writing. Things in the book are finally working out well, and all the coincidences that happen when things "click" are happening on schedule. It just so happens that my son is spending the winter working on one of his dad's ranches, so he calls me on his way to and fro and I ask him things like, "Are they using high-tensile barbed wire these days? How many strands do they use, five or six? What about the posts, are they wood or metal now?" It has been a lot of years since I spent time on a ranch and things change, even there. And when I'm living in the middle of something, but not writing about it, I can miss the details. When I was married to his dad I saw plenty of fences, and I have a picture of them in my mind's eye, but I can't be sure that picture is still accurate--or ever was, for that matter. I have to ask.

Fortunately, it turns out that my son has a writer's eye for detail. Not only is he patient with his mom's questions, but he answers with the most wonderful minutiae, the kinds of things that make scenes feel real. Today, for instance, he described a gate, down to the kind of latch that closes it. He told me how he feeds the cattle every morning, how many pastures he handles and how long it takes to do it, how many cattle there are in each pasture, and how he has to go looking for a few of them sometimes when they don't show up at the sound of his feed truck. Certain things really make my ears perk up, as when I thought to ask him, "When you're counting, do you count the cows and the calves?" and he said, "No, we never count the calves." I'm glad to know that! It could make a difference with a reader who knows about such things. If I write, "she counted only the mama cows," that reader will nod to herself, and think, "that's right," and feel secure with me, the author.

Here's to keeping it real, in fiction and in life. And to observant sons.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chapter One

I so have to laugh! This is a scene in my book! Only without the catz.

If you're not addicted to Icanhascheezburger, you are not the cat's meow.

Welcome, MRI readers!

We may have some visitors coming over from the Mystery Readers International website, so I want to post a special welcome to them. (The reason for the visits is that I did an interview, conducted by my friend and sister mystery writer, Carolyn Hart, and it's posted there.) If you "regulars" spot any MRI members in the comments, please offer them a friendly wave and a howdy. And if they're lurking? Then we'll smile and give 'em a wink.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Happy trails to you

Sniff and Giddy, as photographed by their pal, Andif.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I wasn't here,

and you didn't see me.

xxoo by Np
Photo by Andif

Oscar Loves Ya, Baby

Anybody want to play tonight?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Still life without writer

You guys are cute. ; D
Photo by Andifantastic.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Disappearing writer

It's that time again. Writer needs to vanish into words. I'll be gone anywhere from a few days to a week. Depends on the words--how fast and how many. Y'all make yourselves at home here in my absence, of course, and if you need me, e me. I'll invisibly check in now and then to see if the place needs cleaning, or the coffee pot needs new filters. Katiebird also has a key to the place.

Here's the site from which I grabbed the cheshire grin, and here's a fun site (optical illusions) to entertain you if the beer runs out.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Writers Retreat Workshop

(Scholarship still available.)

It's official. I'm going to be at the 2008 Writer's Retreat Workshop for the whole week. I'm so excited to get to be there, teaching and writing, for the entire time. This will be the first time I've done that; in my two previous visits, I flew in, did my gigs, and flew out. This time I'll stick around to teach, confer, and work on my own writing. I know Beth will be there. Kimberly, are you going, for sure? Conda? Rick? Anybody else thinking of going? I am so excited to be meeting some of our blog buddies.

It will be May 23 - June 1, at the Marydale Retreat Center Erlanger, KY (just south of Cincinnati, OH).

But them's jes' the facts. What you need to know if you're thinking of going is that this retreat is a wonderful experience. It's for any serious and ambitious writer at any level of experience. It can be thrilling. It's fun. It's also hard work, but that's exactly what the writers are there for--ten day's worth of intense learning and writing. And comaraderie. It's amazing to hang out with nobody but writers writing for that long! The location, shown in the photo above, is a former monastery that is actually much prettier than that picture. And did I mention that all meals are included, the coffee pot is always on, and the food is delicious?

I wish you all were going. What a time we'd have!

The director, Jason Sitzes, will be here at the blog sometime today.

Those of you who've been to the retreat might want to offer advice or just tell about your experiences.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Presidents Day

My favorite president, hands down. Who's yours?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Weekend hangout

I have a feeling it's going to be pretty quiet this weekend, so I'll leave this coffee shop open for both Saturday and Sunday. If we turn talkative, I'll open the annex. :)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

If it's Thursday, it must be Melbourne

Photo: Craig Abraham

G'day, mates. We're at a coffee bar in Australia today. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Nice doggie

The Westminster Dog Show just ended, so I thought I'd ask about your favorite dogs or dog stories. I've had three dogs in my lifetime--Sasha, an American Eskimo, who was my true love, and Duckie and Lucy, who were mini dachshunds. Lucy and Sasha were great hunters-- of the already-deceased. Sasha once brought me the head of Garcia. . .no, no, I mean the hind leg of a long-dead deer. Lucy came in one day and set the back half of a squirrel down beside me on the sofa. I didn't know she had done it, until I happened to look to my side and down. OHMYGOD! I felt like Marlon Brando in the Godfather. As for Lucy, the little darling never caught anything living or dead, but there was one chipmunk that she chased repeatedly into the house. Each time, the chipmunk ran behind the television set. Each time, my son and I would build a tunnel of couch cushions and chase the little critter down the tunnel and out the front door. And then the next day, we'd play that game again.

Photo: My son's great aunt on his father's side won Westminster three times with English Springer Spaniels. The spaniel above was one of them. (I met the aunt, who is not the woman in the photo, but not the dogs.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do you believe in magic?

Since I have absolutely nada to say*, I'll just put up stuff to make you laugh. The scene above? It's Bill Murray and Carole Kane in the movie "Scrooged." That scene where she beats him up still leaves me in helpless, crying laughter. A lot of people look at me funny when I say that it's my favorite funny scene in all of movieworld, but honest, I don't think I'm a closet sadist, I just think it's hysterically funny.

And for something else to make you laugh? One of the world's happiest songs, "Do You Believe in Magic," from a video of The Lovin' Spoonful. Oh, my! They don't look cool at all, do they? They look like sweet goofball nerds playing air guitar.

*Well, I do have stuff to say, but I have too much election tv to watch. :)

(Photo not by Andif for some weird reason.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fresh tracks

Beautiful, and vaguely creepy. A perfect description of Monday?

Photo by Andif, of course.

High tech rescue

Behold the mighty paperclip!! It saved the blog!! We lost internet connection last night. When I called my beloved Time-Warner a few minutes ago, their kindly representative said, "Do you have a paperclip?"
"I do," I said.
"Are you near the modem?"
"I am," I said.
"Okay, do you see the tiny hole in the back of it?"
"Uh huh."
"Stick the end of the paperclip in the hole for 4 seconds."
Holding my breath in suspense, I somehow managed to pull off that challenging maneuver.
It worked! Voila! And good morning from high tech central.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Isn't that pretty? It's what I found when I went looking for an image for "SinC," which in my world stands for Sisters In Crime. I thought I might find a photo of our logo. Instead I found that pretty thing which, in a mathematician's world, is also called "sinc." Don't ask me what it really is. I may be a mystery writer, but that doesn't mean I have a clue.

So I don't know what that sinc is, but I do know what SinC is, and today's the day I'm launching a new chapter of it in the Kansas City area. If anybody's reading this who is within driving distance, y'all come to the I Love a Mystery bookstore in Mission, Ks., at 11 a.m. today for our very first meeting. It's for readers and writers, librarians and bookstore people, and any other human being of any make or model who wants to support women in the world of mysteries.

If you like your women mysterious, you're gonna love us, I promise.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Need green?

Photo by Andif

Ladies and Gents, are you as low on green as I am at this time of year? Is your account just plain outa green? Are you in need of great, lush infusions of GREEN? Well, then, let's take our coffee/tea to the meadow where spring is always bursting out all over. Bring your blankets and lie on the grass, or grab a bench inside the shelter. Ahhh, it's warm, and it's cheerful, and it's pretty, and it's GREEN.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Charlie's fine!

Photo from: The Daily Coyote.

This photo of Charlie was taken of him recently. I think it's one of the most beautiful pictures I've ever seen. And it's proof that he's FINE, which I'm telling you in case you got scared, as I did, when you saw blog posts this week that said he was desperately ill with parvo. While reading them with mounting anxiety, I finally noticed the date on those posts. They were written last September! Whew! As you can see, Charlie pulled through to grow into this gorgeous young male coyote.

Take care of yourselves, Charlie, Eli, and Shreve. A lot of strangers love you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Amazing night

I wish I had pictures! Without naming a single candidate, I want to say that attending a Kansas caucus last night was a wild and wonderful experience. And I haven't even heard from Katiebird, who volunteered in some capacity at her caucus and may not even be home yet.

Imagine this. . .

At the church where my mom and I went to caucus, they expected 500 people. The cops estimated the turn-out was 4-5 thousand! The lines were enormous, snaking around the church in both directions, through the parking lots, down the block, and back to the church again. It was cold, it was windy, it was damp. It took us an hour just to get inside. Once there, there was such chaos because of the turn-out that they had to change the agenda and let us vote just by signing a paper.

Keep in mind, my mom is 91 years old, and she was there for the whole thing.

At another caucus site, they expected 100, and got 2,000! They had to hold it outside, with people voting while standing in the sleet. In the video I saw of it, they looked cheerful and sounded excited to be there.

My mom and I thought it was fun, lol, the cold, the lines, the crowds, the chaos, and all.

Katiebird, what was it like where you were? And how about any of the rest of you in primary or caucus states? Let's try to keep the candidates out of this--to keep the peace--and just share our actual voting experiences.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A bit more about rewriting

Once upon a time, I handed in a few chapters, and my editor really liked them. But then I rewrote them a bit, handed them in again, and she loved them. "This is much more 'grounded,' than the first version," she told me. "What did you do to it?"

I had done only one thing: added all five senses.

Before the rewrite, my character was just driving her truck and seeing things. After the rewrite, she was still driving her truck, but in addition to seeing things around her, she also smelled coffee that sloshed out of a cup, she tasted fruit she'd had for breakfast, she heard a voice on her cell phone, and when her rear tires left the pavement and rolled over gravel, she felt that change through her butt.

Here's a rewrite tip that will seem obvious to some of you, but isn't to the rest of us: Check every single scene to see if it has all five senses in it: sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell. I don't mean check a few scenes, I mean check them all. Now it may be that you can't get all five senses into every scene without pushing too hard, and you don't want to push so hard that it seems overdone. It's tricky to get taste into most scenes, for example, and smell's not easy, either. There will be many scenes in which you just can't add them without being absurd. But if you can and it works, you will be amazed at how much more "grounded," in my editor's word, your story feels. Even the most imaginative flight of fantasy needs grounding, in the sense of making the world you are creating feel as real to your reader as this world feels to you.

When you check each scene, you'll probably find that you're naturally stronger in some senses than in others. I don't have any problem getting sight into scenes, for instance. But for the rest of the senses, you'd think I had a cold that clogged up my ears and my nose so I couldn't hear, taste, or smell anything. And touch? Forget it. Those senses don't always pop up naturally in my writing; I have to work on them consciously.

Checking for the 5 senses is one of the most enjoyable parts of rewriting, in my opinion. It's not hard, it doesn't take much work to improve what you already have, it allows you to get imaginative, and the rewards far outweigh the effort.

And one last tip about the senses: if you don't do anything else, at least make sure your opening scene is rich and ripe with seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling (touch). It will pull your readers deep into your story and hook them before they turn to page two.

Here is a lovely example of the use of two senses in the very first paragraph of a novel. It's from The Sultan's Seal, by a new writer, Jenny White.

A dozen lamps flicker across the water, moving up the strait in silence, the oarsmen invisible. A dry scuffling noise drifts from shore, the breeze too indolent to carry it very far. Wild dogs bark and crash through the bushes. There are snarls, a short yelp, then silence again.

flicker. . .silence. . .invisible. . .dry scuffling. . .bark. . .crash. . .snarls. . .yelp. . .silence.

We are there, on the water, in the boat. And we wonder. . .what made the dog yelp, and why did it go so suddenly silent? In four sensory-laden sentences, she's got us. Even with such a brief passage, you can see why this book was named by Booklist as one of the top 10 first novels of last year.

Hook editors, agents, and readers by baiting your scenes with provocative, believable, and imaginative sensory images. If you can do that, you've got them, and they'll follow you anywhere.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ahhh. . .

It was COLD in Kentucky, so let's all go to my favorite beach in Hollywood, Florida.

I met incredibly nice people in Lexington this weekend. They made me stay in a lovely hotel, and they kept forcing me to eat fabulous food, and they made it possible for me to spend time with one of my best friends, and they insisted on selling a bunch of my books, and they wouldn't let me pay for anything. Total meanies!
I hated to leave them, but I'm glad to be home to you. Happy Monday, y'all.