Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Strange Spring

This has been a very strange spring, weather-wise, in the Texas panhandle. Not only has it been very rainy, but it's been cool. Usually, by Memorial Day, we've had several days in the 90s (above 32C) and it's pretty much stuck there. This year, we haven't reached 90 yet, and most days haven't made it into the 80s (26C). This is extremely cool. I've had to pull on my light jacket inside a lot of days.

Some will say that this proves that global warming is nonsense, but weather naturally varies from year to year. But something changed this year (or maybe the end of last) that I think proves global warning. The USDA had to change the growing zones.

These are the zones that show the average minimum temperatures which determine the hardiness of plants that will grow in that area. When we moved to our part of the panhandle, we moved into zone 7 which has a large number of plants that will grow here. Lilacs--which need more cold--will grow in zone 7, and you can also leave cannas in the ground year round without them freezing. However, in the recent "rezoning"--the southeast Texas panhandle is now in zone 8. Those lilacs are going to be under more stress, with hotter summers and warmer winters.

Growing zones are determined by the average temps over a large number of years, so obviously those averages are moving up. Global warming.

I want to give a shout-out to Jessica (and congrats on that baby boy!) and to Lindi. Don't know when you'll have time with a computer, Lindi-girl, but we're proud of having an Air Force girl in the family. Come visit us if you can, while we're in the same state. :)

Also, I sent an excerpt from The Eternal Rose out to my newsletter subscribers last week. An excerpt that I will not be posting on my website. So if you want to read it, subscribe to my newsletter. >:D The how-to is on my website. I'll also give subscribers first look at the "official" excerpt when I post it on the website, if you need more motivation to sign up.

Okay, off to the doctor. I'm coughing like one of the lungs wants out...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Three-Day Weekends

Here's my other painting--it's one of the pilings for the Bolivar Point ferry on Galveston Island. I liked how all the seagulls (and one pelican) made themselves at home. I want to paint pelicans all flying in a row like they do sometime...they are so cool. Now back to your regularly scheduled blog rambling.

We're not going anywhere for Memorial Day. Obligations here in town, and all that. But it got me to thinking about three-day weekends.

Three-day weekends aren't an exceptionally big deal at my house. Well, not for me, because I work at home and can set up my own schedule how I want it. But we have three-day weekends all summer long, because the fella works at a community college.

A whole bunch of community colleges across the state--and maybe nationwide, for all I know--go to a four-day week in the summer time. They still offer a full slate of summer school classes, but years ago--we're talking fifteen to twenty years ago--they realized that an awful lot of their students skipped class on Friday. And Texas summers require some serious air conditioning, which requires some serious electricity, which costs some serious bucks. So they started shutting the campus down on Fridays and getting the 40-hour week into four 10-hour days.

The local college has gone to summer hours. Which means that we can have a 3-day weekend to go visit the grandboys Saturday week and not have to deal with Memorial Day traffic.

When we used to live on Lake Whitney (north of Waco), if we took the boat out on the lake on a holiday weekend, we didn't go out until at least five o'clock. Partly because the sun is lower then and less likely to turn me and our pale children into lobsters. Partly because the central Texas wind tends to die down beginning at about 5:00. But mostly because all the nuts who came down from the big city (Dallas/Fort Worth, mostly) to party on the water had burnt themselves to a crisp by 5:00 p.m. and were coming off the water.

Of course, some summer holidays we went out on the lake at 8:00 a.m.--the wind usually hadn't picked up yet that early, and the idiots weren't out of bed yet. This is Texas, remember. When it's 99 F (37.2 C) in the afternoon, it doesn't get much cooler than 80 F (26.6 C) by 6 a.m., and the lakes are all quite, quite warm. I got spoiled. I still don't like to go in the water if it's less than 90 F (32 C) outside, and the water had better be warm!

Anyway, while we're going nowhere and doing nothing--except maybe going to see Pirates of the Caribbean III, but not at the drive-in theater in town because of all the bugs I can't get off the windshield, and I hate looking through bugs--I hope that y'all have a great holiday weekend--those of you who are having a holiday. What are you doing for the weekend? I need to clean all the books off the floor...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Paint Class - Done for Spring

The spring semester has ended, and with it, my art class. For now. I probably won't sign up for the summer class until I know more about how my summer will go. Which means I may not get to go paint, if it fills up. More people sign up for the summer classes.

In a weird aside to the art class thing, I got a certificate for completing an "Intermediate Fencing" class. I didn't think I signed up for fencing. I never went to a fencing class. I might have signed up for piano--my art teacher also teaches piano, and sometimes I sign up so she has enough people in her class to "make." I always kinda wanted to go to fencing class--just to watch and see how it's done, not because I thought I could do it.

Anyway, at my last painting class, I finished up a couple of pictures. I think they turned out pretty well, but we'll see what you think. I'm only going to post one of them though. I'll put the other one up later. Those of you who know the boy--does it look like him? If you can tell who it's supposed to be, I'm going to assume it does. :) (A lot of the shading in the painting doesn't show up in this photo, alas.)

The roses and the sage are blooming like crazy. They should continue to bloom all summer long, which is nice.
I may finally have enough flowers to hide the weeds in most of the front--but the burr clover in the back...I need to get busy before all those burrs stick to my socks...

Let's see--I didn't mention my Mother's Day. All the kids called to say hello, and the grandboys did too. It's a little alarming when you ask "How are you doing, sugar?" and the little voice says "I'm much better now." Turns out the oldest had strep throat all last week. But he's much better now. So, I talked on the phone, and I took a nap for Mother's Day. I was very tired, because we drove down to Lubbock the evening before to watch the college baseball team in the regional playoffs, and we didn't get home again until after 1 a.m.

That late, it's safer to drive up through the canyon--you have to go around the Paloduro Canyon to get from here to there and back again--and around sundown, there's a lot of wildlife on the road. It's pretty country driving through the bottom end of the canyon--I have never seen it so green. Wildflowers and green, green grass everywhere. We've had a very wet winter and spring this year--for which we are grateful, after last year's drought and fires. The average rainfall in the Texas Panhandle through this time of year is just over 5 inches. We've had 15 inches of rain so far this year (not counting the nice rain we got yesterday morning), so no wonder everything is so green. We're 10 inches ahead. Anyway, we did see a deer driving back home again, but only one. I've been down that way in the mornings and seen turkeys, deer, coyotes, road runners and maybe wild pigs (Those pigs are sneaky) out on the road.

Oh. And the Bulldogs lost, but they were playing against one of the top-ranked pitchers in the NJCAA--a guy who usually "run rules" the other team. ("Run rule" is when they call the game after the 7th inning if one team is ahead by 10 points or more.) And the score was only 6-1. They were actually proud of holding them that close. I think they won their second game. But lost the 3rd. So the guys got to go home. And given that some of those students live in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia... You know, it was just a bit odd to hear "chatter" in those Aussie accents...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Talking about Show and Tell

Laura Shin said this on The Pink Ladies Blog: "Take “show and tell.” Some writers avoid narrative introspection because they’ve been told that’s telling. Yet, I would in most cases rather know what a character is thinking—her reaction—and not read generic physical actions that are supposed to show me how she’s affected."

Sometimes I think this avoidance-of-narrative-introspection is a "guy writer" thing. Something that E. Hemingway started--and I blame him for a lot of stuff. For the stripped-down writing style that has been so popular, for one thing. And for the "girl-cooties" school of thought about "litrachure." It's not that I am fond of purple prose, but it does sometimes seem that all metaphors and adjectives are now considered suspect in certain circles. Ah well.

I tend to blame television and movies for the lack of internal reaction in novels today, not the "show vs. tell" issue. If we're in deep POV, the thoughts and emotions are showing, though they can seem like telling, I suppose. These days, a lot of newbie authors, the ones I judge in contests, tend not to go on and on with backstory and what the characters are thinking-- they've been trained out of that, I suppose. Lately, I've seen the pendulum swing too far the other way. They write prose that reads a lot like a screenplay, with dialog, action, and nothing else. Which means a lot of the characters' motivations for their actions are completely missing.

If we don't get what the character thinks about something, or how they feel about something-- about who a person is, or what that person does, or about what they themselves do--then we don't get to know who this character is, and we don't know why they do what they do, and without knowing the character and understanding them, we don't care what happens to them. We have to explain what's going on inside a character's head. It doesn't take a whole lot. Just...enough.

Here's an excerpt from the first of my Rose books, The Compass Rose, to demonstrate what I mean. (I'll put the internal reaction in another color to make it easier to spot):

Torchay had changed out of his finery into old trousers, his tunic off against the heat as he worked through his bodyguard exercises.

“Don’t you usually do that earlier in the day?” Kallista tossed her pendant on the table beside the big bed and kicked off her shoes.

“I did.” He finished the flowing form he was doing and stopped. The faint sheen of sweat over his lean musculature tempted her eyes to look, to drink their fill. “I felt like doing it again. I didn’t expect to see you before dawn.”

“Yes, well...” She tugged her fingers free of the thin snug leather and pulled her gloves off, flexing her sweaty hands in the slightly cooler air. “Didn’t work out.”

Torchay walked toward the table. Kallista backed off. She couldn’t bear being so close to him. Not now. He poured water from the pitcher into a cup and drank it, then poured the rest into the basin and splashed it on his face. Kallista watched his every move.

When he had dried his face with the flimsy towel, he turned and saw Kallista watching. “Can I ask you somethi—? No.” He shook his head. “Never mind.” He hung the towel up and reached for his hair to release his queue.

“What?” Kallista loosened the laces of her dress tunic. “If you have a question, ask it. You know you can ask me anything.”

“Can I?”

She looked up and saw his gaze focused on her. The candlelight reflecting from his eyes made them glow with blue flame. She lost herself in them for a moment before she recalled he’d asked her a question. “Yes, of course. Anything.”

Once more he hesitated, seeming to look for something as he gazed at her, but what, Kallista didn’t know. [I put all this in a different color, because part of it is what K. thinks he's doing.]

“All right,” he said finally. “I will.” He ran his fingers through his unbound hair and it fell in waves around his face, crimson in the candlelight. “When you have gone out hunting all these years—“ He paused for a deep breath, looking away only an instant. “When you have hunted a man, why did you never choose me?”

Kallista swayed, Torchay’s question touching unseen things deep inside her, drawing her tight, opening her up. Her nipples beaded beneath the brocade weave of her dress and she tucked her hands beneath her arms, more as a guard against unwanted magic than an attempt to hide her body’s reaction. [all of the previous is a physical reaction--with a teensy bit of explanation, but after is where we get the true emotional reaction.] Why did he have to ask her that question now? Now when she wanted him so much it made her mouth dry and other places all too wet?

“I— It’s not that—“ Goddess, what could she say that wouldn’t either insult him or encourage him?

Torchay waited, his face an impassive mask, candlelight licking over his sculpted form, tempting her to do the same. She curled her hands into fists against the urge to touch.

See? Most of it is action and dialogue. But the internal reaction is sprinkled in with it, and that's all you need. Not a whole lot, but enough to expand on what is physically happening. You need both. The action and dialog AND the internal reaction--mental and emotional--to the action.

When I judge contests, I often feel like a psychoanalyst for the characters, given all the times I'm writing "Why?" or "And what does he feel about that?" Those things do need to be included. Not over pages and pages, but all the way through every bit of it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

8 Things about me

Natasha Moore tagged me to do this 8 things thing. Problem is, I don't know that there are 8 things y'all don't know about me... Anyway...

Here are the rules:

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I hope my 8 people haven't been tagged with something like this recently.
Okay, here are my 8 things...

1. Just got back from a quick trip to Galveston Island--and I didn't even go in the water! (shame on me--but I did take a walk down Seawall Blvd...)

2. I played flute in high school and college marching band--and I doubt I could get a sound out of the sucker now. I was not very good at it because I never actually practiced. Barely good enough to qualify. One of my roomies and I volunteered for last chair and next-to-last chair in concert band while in college, and when playing the really hard stuff, we would play alternate notes. Together we made a not-so-bad player...

3. I once worked as the "managing editor" of a small town weekly--what this really meant was that I wrote all the copy (except sports), took, developed and printed all the pictures, wrote the cutlines and picked out the stuff from the press releases to fill up the spaces in the rest of the paper. All in 3 days a week. For not very much $$.

4. While in college, the university renovated some old buildings, replacing towers that had been removed years before. The towers were built on the ground before being hoisted to the roof, and they were roughly the shape of a metronome--those weighted ticking things that keep time for practicing musicians. One of my roommates was inspired to take a gang of us and climb the construction fence and spraypaint the front of the tower (the plywood undercladding) like a metronome. And nobody knew we had done it until about 30 years later when I "fessed up" to the alumni magazine...

5. I've been reading Tarot cards for about 9 or 10 years--and still consider myself very much a beginner.

6. I have "tilted kneecaps" which gives them a predisposition to dislocate. Because I'm not very athletic, I've never dislocated them, but they're still persnickety about a lot of stuff...

7. I have 14 nephews and 4 nieces.

8. While walking down the seawall, and other places in Galveston (plus hurrying through airports for plane changes), my sandals wore blisters on both my baby toes. (I haven't worn them much since last summer and I haven't toughened up my toes yet...) And one of them popped. Owie! I'd better get them tough before RWA in July!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Good food and good books

Because the fella is on this gluten-free diet, I get all excited when I find new stuff that he can eat that's really good. I have probably a year's worth of Southern Living magazines in the house--I read them, and then set them aside to go back through later and pull the good stuff out--and sometimes (most of the time) it takes me a while to go back through. I think this particular magazine was around a year old. Don't think it was more. (I hope.) Anyway, the recipe was sort of Italian-Southern-Southwestern, because it was browned polenta slices topped with black-eyed peas heavily laced with fresh cilantro and tomato. Basically, you slice up one of those pre-packaged tubes of polenta, brown it in olive oil (they call for a non-stick skillet and cooking spray, but since I don't have a non-stick skillet...). Then you cook a can of black-eyed peas and chopped onion, and a little salt and cayenne, till the liquid's almost gone, add in some cilantro and tomato and top the polenta slices with it. Very simple. Very good stuff. I don't know that anyone but a Southerner would have thought to put black-eyed peas with polenta--but hey, fried polenta is just a fancy name for a round, flat hushpuppy! Maybe it's Texas cuisine, since it's peas plus cilantro and tomato, which has a lot in common with "Texas caviar." Anyway--good stuff.

I've been reading some good books lately too. Picked up DARK MOON DEFENDER by Sharon Shinn. I liked it better than THIRTEENTH HOUSE--which I liked, just not as much as DMD. This one takes place in the same universe, and is Justin's story, about how he comes into his own, and falls in love. There are TWO happy endings in this story. Very good read, IMO.

I need to make maps for Eternal Rose. I have paper and everything, just haven't done it yet. Going to Galveston and the beach for a day or two beginning tomorrow...don't know as I'll take the paper with me. I wonder if I need to use the legal-sized paper for the maps... I'll ask. Also need to write a short bio. I hate writing bios. I want to sound cute and clever, and just can't seem to do it. At least I don't sound clever to myself. Maybe it sounds better to other people. I'd post two bios here and let y'all vote on which one sounds best--but that would require that I WRITE two bios. I don't even want to write one. But I will do it! I am brave.

Okay--have to share this with you. When the boy was still at home and studying WWI history, they were doing some kind of project looking up the early efforts at propaganda, and he stumbled across a cache of French WWI war posters online, the "Loose Lips Sink Ships" sort. One of these posters showed a chicken sitting atop a pile of eggs and said in large print: "Je suis une brave poule de guerre!" Which translated means: "I am a brave war chicken!"

And now, every time I think "I am brave," I also think "I am a brave war chicken!" Je suis une brave poule de guerre!

So there. :)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Things that Amuse

I got a precious comment on my MySpace space, a relayed message from the littlest grandguy. He wanted his mom to tell his Grandaddy that he "pooped in da potty free times." He had no news for me, unfortunately. (sigh) But then, I'm the one who makes him take naps when he comes to visit. Oh well. They're cute, whatever they do.

I am also amused by a sentence out of this story which has apparently been around for 30 or 40 years, touted as "The Worst Story Ever Written." I don't know whether it actually lives up to its billing--I've read a lot of really bad stories--but it is pretty bad. It was apparently written by a 16-year-old fan boy who swore never to write another--and didn't--because this one was so thoroughly vilified. Poor kid. Anyway, this is the sentence in question:
The barbarian seated himself upon a stool at the wenches side,
exposing his body, naked save for a loin cloth brandishing a
long steel broad sword, an iron spiraled battle helmet, and a
thick leather sandals, to her unobstructed view.
That loin cloth brandishing the "long steel broad sword" made me chortle, because so much early, purple-prosed romance fiction used identical imagery and euphemisms. I'm not sure how the loincloth also brandished a helmet and sandals at the same time, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief. :)

What are your favorite (or least favorite) euphemisms?