Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's not that I haven't been blogging...

I just haven't necessarily been blogging Here...

Yesterday, I had a blogpost at Borders' True Romance blog, and at the To Be Read blog, and I'm pretty sure I had one at My Book, The Movie-- Yep, there it is.

You can still comment at the To Be Read website during the rest of the week, for a chance to win a copy of New Blood--those few of you who don't have one. ;)

In other news--we had a great Christmas, even though the fella gave me his cold for the holiday. I slept a lot. I cooked, then went to take a nap and the fella cleaned up.

The Dallas grandboys arrived on Tuesday afternoon--they'd come to Galveston with their mom to stay in a hotel overnight--the little one wanted to stay in a hotel for a Christmas present. Then, as they were driving downtown the next day, they recognized the turns to come to our house, and directed their mom straight to our front door, ready for their stay at Gigi & Grandaddy's house. They were out the car with a "bye, Mom" and nary a look back. I did have to tell Mom how to find downtown so she could do some shopping in the historic, boutiquey downtown area. There's a lot of neat stuff to do in downtown Galveston, and it's not hard to find, you just have to go all the way to 25th Street or lower to get there.

I baked chocolate chip cookies, I made cheesecake, I made snickerdoodles (after the chocolate chippies were almost all eaten up), I made buttermilk pie... We had a Lot of food at Christmas. We got our tamales at The Taco House up on Broadway and 50th. I went in to see about ordering them, and the owner brought one out for me to sample. Now, a lot of tamales--you get thick dough and not much meat. These babies had maybe a quarter-inch of dough around a inch-thick core of perfectly seasoned beef, and they were about 6-8 inches long. Most packaged tamales are only about 4 inches long. These cost a little more than a package of Pedro's Tamales (made in Lubbock by a family whose son was at North Texas State U with our daughter--and they're good for "every day" if you can find them), but oh my, were they worth it! Yum!!

I had already made the salsa, and I cooked a nice carne guisada to go with the tamales. (The guisada served by the local LULAC group tastes just like mine, so I figure I'm authentic, even if I'm so white I practically glow in the dark. I'm a Texan.) And I made guacamole. We ate Really Good on Christmas Eve.

Oh, I am a bibliophibian. I got a T-shirt that says so from the daughter. It goes with this comic. Are you a bibliophibian too?

Now, it's almost New Year's Day. The fella and I are going out to a party at one of the local hotels-- It's a private party thrown by the foundation that runs the place, and is always fun. We also went to the local liquor store and bought some of almost every liquor there is: gin, vodka, rum, tequila, schnapps-- The boy brought Scotch whiskey back from his trip to England--we picked them up last night. I don't know when we're going to drink this stuff, since we're going out tonight... I'm really more of a stay-at-home-to-celebrate girl, but we've been invited, and they do have some really great food at this party.

It's lunch time. Better go eat.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Orchids and OCD

Didn't get another blog posted last week here on my own blog. I had two last Thursday in other places. I blogged at Whipped Out about making salsa from scratch (or from tomatoes, onions & peppers, if you can't get any scratch (Ba-dum-ching!)), and I also blogged at To Be Read the same day. So you can go read those posts.

I was coming home from the parents' on Thursday when those blogs posted, so I wasn't in a position to tell you about them--and I've kind of been on a computer break since then.

Do y'all ever do that? Just stay away from the computer, because you know if you log in, you won't get away for Hours, and you just have to much to do to take that much time at the machine? Anyway, I was Verra busy over the weekend--well, except for my major nap Sunday afternoon. If you don't take a nap on Sunday, the whole week doesn't work. So I napped. ;)

Had an all-morning doctor appt. Friday a.m., then errands--got about 6 books from library. One I think I own. Read the library book again anyway.

Saturday, I repotted my orchids--or maybe I did that on Friday afternoon. Somewhere in there. I had bought a grocery-store orchid (phalaenopsis) about a year and a half ago, and it survived my neglect over the winter in the house. (I don't remember if the flowers are like the ones in the picture, or of they have more white on them with the purple just in the middle, but they're similar...) This spring, it made a baby orchid on the flower stalk I neglectfully didn't cut off. So neglect isn't necessarily bad!

I didn't know what to do with the baby plant, so I just left it there. And sometime in the late spring/early summer, I bought another orchid from the grocery store, because the one I got for my anniversary died. (It wasn't potted right, and its roots rotted. I do know that orchids Have to have drain holes in their pots.) The new one had similar flowers. And I stuck them on my outside wire plant stand, watered them occasionally, and finally brought them inside the first weekend in December, because snow was predicted.

That was when I noticed that the newer orchid had new buds coming out on the flower stem I hadn't cut off this plant either. (Grocery store orchids are usually blooming when you buy them. Don't cut off their flower stems!!) So I decided that I ought to go to the library and get a book on orchids and see what I needed to do to put the baby in its new pot and how to take care of the things properly. I figured I was doing the right stuff, but I wanted to KNOW I was doing the right stuff. I guess I'm a little OCD like that. I tend to look up books about things I want to know how to do, and read everything I can about them. Then I try to do things right--but I tend to win more from benign neglect than anything...

Anyway, I discovered that if a phalaenopsis isn't blooming for you, that if you let it deal with cooler evenings, down in the 45-50F range (7 - 10C), a lot of times it will put on flower buds and bloom. Huh. So by leaving the plants outside till it actually threatened to freeze, I was doing the Right thing to get flowers. How 'bout that...

I also learned that I just had to cut off my baby from its stem and put it in a pot. Since my baby had already made four aerial roots, it is a little ahead of other rootless babies--but I put rooting hormone on the stem anyway. :) And I bought a Home Depot orchid. A cattleya, but it's supposed to make sprays of flowers, not singles. (I think they're supposed to sort of look like the ones in this lower picture.) I'm getting brave and adventurous, branching out from the grocery-store easy-grow moth orchids...
Wish me luck with my new enthusiasms.

My 15-year-old Christmas cactus died here in the Land of Great Humidity. It just rotted. And I couldn't keep the bougainvilleas watered. They grow GREAT in the ground, but I'm not planting a bougainvillea until I have my own house. There are some 10 foot tall bush ones on the way to the beach... Anyway, wish me luck. When/if the buds bloom I will post them.

Do y'all have any plant obsessions? Any stellar specimens? Something really cool on your windowsill? Sometimes, just keeping a mother-in-law's tongue alive is an accomplishment...

EDIT: Actually, I looked at the label on the plant in this picture, and I think this is Exactly the plant I bought. This is Slc. Jewel Box 'Dark Waters.' Slc. stands for (something I don't remember) laelocattleya, meaning it's a hybrid. Anyway, I think this is what is on the label on the plant I bought... So. Cross your fingers that I can convince it to bloom. :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday insanity strikes

I suppose I could say the insanity strikes again, because it does strike every year--but this year's version just hit last week.

I was running around frantically trying to get ready to go accompany parents to the doctor's early last week, and be ready for my RWA chapter party on Tuesday, when someone reminded me that the meeting was the third Tuesday, and therefore this week (tonight) rather than last.

It wasn't that I got the dates mixed up. I knew it was the third Tuesday. I just thought last week was this week. So, in my head, I acquired an extra week for Christmas stuff. I didn't actually get an extra week, but it felt like it. So with "all" that extra time, I went shopping.

I have to go back to the parents' tomorrow, so I picked up presents for all the folks who live there. I got them wrapped last night--even the ones with unwieldy shapes and sizes. Go, me! I got presents for the Pittsburgh folks--except the grandson still needs toy(s). Granddaddy is taking today off from work to go shop for toys. He likes to shop for toys. He is also having to shop for some of the ladies in our lives (like his mother and sister-in-law). He struggles with their gifts, but always comes up with something brilliant.

Anyway, after all the shopping, the Christmas party deluge struck. We had one (potluck) party Friday night, two parties Saturday--one of them was actually a birthday party (Happy Birthday again, Ian!)--two parties on Sunday, and--no wait. That was all. Till the party tonight. And there's two parties at pretty much the same time on Thursday. One starts an hour earlier than the other, so we'll hit that one first, then slip out to the other.

Some of the parties have been potluck (took sour cream mashed potatoes to one, homemade salsa and tortilla chips to another, and may take salsa & chips to the third, depending on how I'm feeling when I get back from the 'rents'). Some call for White Elephant gifts. I couldn't think of anything else, and I've been wanting to get the paints out again, so I painted pictures. If I ever get any time at home again any time soon, I'll try to get them posted so y'all can see them.

Writing? I'd like to get some done, but I haven't been able to hold still long enough to get my brain unfolded. And I haven't even started cooking yet--except for the salsa.

BTW, I will be the guest blogger at Whipped Out on Thursday, blogging about my homemade salsa. It's good stuff. Y'all should go over there and read about it. :) On Thursday. I'll try to remind you then...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thoughts about books I've read

Ian would get me if I capitalized anything but the first word in that title. He's the (English) editor I work with at my mini-p.t. dayjob at the newspaper, and I spend a great deal of time knocking down capitalization before I send stuff to him. So I will try not to overcapitalize out in the world of blogging as well. (By English, I mean that he is from England. Not that he edits English, which he does but...oh, never mind.)

My last blog was about writing stuff, and I'd like to have readers read this blog too, and since I am also a reader (Big Time), I thought I would write about something related to reading. Then I thought I might write about the books I read recently. Except...

While I liked those books, a lot, and read them both on the same day (stayed up too late to finish the second one), I did have some quibbles about them. (I've read one of them a second time already.) And I've found that when I talk about quibbles, they seem to overpower the fact that I really did enjoy the books, and my discussion winds up saying that I didn't. But I did. So, this time, since I want to talk about the quibbles, I'm not going to name the books. You might be able to figure out what they are, but I'm not going to mention the titles. Because, really. I liked the books. I enjoyed reading them.

So, here are my quibbles. The book I read first is book 7 or 8 (I haven't counted) in an ongoing fantasy series. It is one of my favorite series, I own all the books, and have them in hardback. As said, I liked this book--but it's not one of the better ones in the series.

A lot of writers talk about how--now that they are writers, it's hard for them to read a book as a reader. I don't generally have that problem, and I think it's at least partly because I read so fast. (See above, read both these books in one day.) My process, I read the book, then I have to think about it, and decide why it pushed whichever buttons it pushed. Why it grabbed me by the throat, or felt more like an intellectual exercise (though I can usually figure that one out while it's happening). So after I finished this book, I thought about why it seemed to be a "second tier" book (as compared to the top-tier books in the series).

I think it's because the whole book felt like a transition. You know those scenes in books that are put in to indicate what's happening while time passes? There were a pazillion characters in the book, but most of them didn't really seem to have a purpose, not one that linked to this book. They kinda had a purpose to the whole overall series, but it wasn't clear why they were in this one. There was an overarching plot--a mystery that had to be solved. But the mystery didn't seem to link to the story arc of the series. It was just a mystery stuck in to give the book a sort of plot.

Now we may learn later that the mystery does link to the series story, but right now, it's pretty much a subplot to the series--except that subplots are supposed to drive and link to the main plot. (See, the writer in me comes out when I think about the stories, after I've read them.) I kept waiting for the link, and it never came. And the things that did link to the series plot didn't resolve, which was annoying. Like I said--the whole book felt like "Okay, meanwhile, back at the ranch, these people are doing this, these people are doing that, and remember this guy? Well he's still around, and he's doing this other thing. And we're all waiting for the other shoe to fall." And that's what a transition is.

The other book I read is part of a universe, but it's not part of a series. It begins a mini-series within the universe, I think, (it's a science fiction novel--I will give you that much), but it's not like "book 8 about these people with this plot." It's not quite a stand-alone, but it's not really a book inside a series. My quibble about this book didn't have anything to do with the plot or threads left dangling or story not connecting. It had to do with the conflict.

Writer/story people know immediately what I mean when I say conflict. Reader-type people may not. Conflict is the stuff that creates the actual story. A story is about characters--people--who have trouble and problems, and the story, the plotline, is what they do about those problems.

You can have quiet conflicts--like spouses struggling with their marriage--or you can have big, noisy conflicts--like bad guys trying to do you in. Even those noisy conflicts can be various levels of violence/noisiness. The bad guys might just try to drug you into compliance, or they might want to blow you up. Still, I think that storytellers need to push that conflict--that trouble, whatever kind it is--just as hard as they can push it. And this story didn't. The conflict felt softened. Eased up on.

Even before I was published, I was telling my friends in my writers' critique group to grab hold of the readers' emotions and twist as hard as they could. (I even made wringing gestures with my hands.) I like conflict that goes all the way out there, that hurts and scares and makes me angry.

In this book, several times the author walked right up to the edge of the conflict, the really Bad trouble--and "headed it off at the pass." It was kind of "Oh look, this awful thing might have happened to you--but these people rescued you and so it won't happen now." I wondered if they might have done it because the main character in this book is a child (a teen), and maybe they did--but they've pushed the conflict closer to the edge with other young characters. And the book is not marketed as a YA, and YA books have Really Awful things happen to their characters.

In one of my very favorite books, The Queen of Attolia, the author, Megan Whalen Turner, lets the main character get his Hand Cut OFF!! (The story opens that way, so it's not a spoiler.) And it is Marketed as a YA book. (Apparently a new book in this universe will be out soon. Can't wait!)

So, I don't know why the author eased up on the conflict. I still liked the book, but I didn't like that easing off, that softening up. I want to see the protagonists really have to fight to achieve their goals, and when the author lets them off easy like that, I miss the emotional impact that struggle will give.

And what have I learned from reading these books? 1. If I ever do write a series with continuing characters and an overarching series story line, I will make sure the individual book plots support that overarching series plot. 2. Also, I will not have so freakin' many characters. I have written books with as many as nine (9!) POV characters. Nine is not too many, but it's pretty much my upper limit. (Yes, this story had More than that.) 3. I will not soften, or hold back the conflict. I will not "be nice" to my characters. I will put their hearts in the wringer and twist until they weep, or scream, or whatever is in their character to do. And only then will I let up and let them win. (Hmm. Did I do that in the last book? Will have to go back & make sure.)

So there. Have you learned anything from a book lately? What was it? (It doesn't have to be about writing. It can be anything. Like--I learned from Steve Harvey's Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man that women have power and they give up way too much of it. But that's a blog post for another day.)


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Writing contests--the good, the not-so-good & the truth

I've seen a number of articles and blogs about writing contests for the unpublished lately, whether they're worth entering, and just how much they are worth. On the whole, I'm in favor of them, if you know why you're entering and what you hope to get out of it.

I actually personally know of only one all-genre writing contest sponsored by a non-profit writing organization. I'm sure there are more, but the Frontiers in Writing contest, sponsored by Panhandle Professional Writers is a pretty good one. (I'd have linked directly to their 2010 contest info, because it ought to be starting pretty soon, but the website hasn't been updated just yet.) There are other contests, of course, but some of them look to me like they're sponsored by business ventures solely to make money off hungry authors.

Of course, the non-profit groups use the contests to make money to support their organization--but that's not their sole purpose. The Romance Writers of America sponsor the Golden Heart contest to give unpublished authors a chance to shine. The RWA chapters have contests for the same reason, and to give the entering authors some feedback on their manuscripts. The finalists and the winners in these contests also have a chance to get their pages in front of editors and agents in the business. That's the main reason some writers enter.

And contest finals and wins are good credentials to put in a query letter. Some contests are better than others, but if you start finaling in contests, especially if you make the finals in more than one, the "people who count" (aka those who are in a position to get you published) are going to start taking notice.

Yes, there are judges out there who will tell you that the whole premise of your book is faulty because they don't believe in terminal cancer, because prayer will heal you, or that your English heroine needs a reason to move to Ireland--when you thought marrying an Irishman was reason enough... But think about it a minute. This is actually a good thing. It gives you an opportunity to grow a thicker skin. A chance to learn to deal with rejections--even if the rejections may not be "fair." And with any luck you will also have those judges who will encourage you to look deeper at your story, dig deeper into your characters' psyches and then put it on the page.

Then there is the truth. Winning a contest will not get you published. Not even if it is the big Mama contest, RWA's Golden Heart. Yes, many of the winners thank the editors who just bought their book, but there are also many finalists and winners who still haven't sold a book.

There is also this truth. NOT Winning A Contest Will NOT PREVENT You From Getting Published. I Never won any contest for unpublished authors. I finaled a number of times in some good contests, but never, ever came in higher than 2nd place. And I Never, Ever Finaled in the Golden Heart. Ever.

But I have been a RITA finalist. For those who may not know, the RITA is RWA's big Mama contest to recognize the best in published romance fiction. In 2002, I was a finalist for Best First Book with my little Silhouette Desire romance.

And every single book I have had published since (so far, knock on wood) has either finaled, or won a contest. I won the Aspen Gold for best series romance with my second Desire, and my One Rose books--The Compass Rose came in second for the Prism Award, behind The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe, for Best Fantasy in 2006, The Barbed Rose won the Prism in 2007, and The Eternal Rose won it in 2008. (I did not enter any of the Rose books in the RITA.)

New Blood has been entered in several of contests. We'll see how it does. (Wish me luck--or a broken leg, whichever is appropriate.)

The thing is--contests can be helpful, both before and after publication. Just don't start believing that contests, in themselves, will can either get you published, or keep you from it. Only the writing can do that.

So keep writing!!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Vampires, Werewolves & Moons, Oh my!

I have noticed a lot of clamor floating around the Internets about vampires, and how many people wish they would go away. "No more vampire books!" they cry. "Vampire movies--HATE!" and more things along that line.

There are also a lot of hilarious reviews of the Twilight saga movie New Moon. I love these review/recaps. They are SO true. I thought there was too much standing around looking angsty (though they might have been constipated--hard to tell.)

And yet...I enjoyed the movie. Really. (All the shirtless werewolf dudes helped a lot. Hey--past 50 does not mean dead. My eyes work just fine with the glasses.)

And I do understand how so many teen/tween girls (and their moms) can love the books and the movies.

Confession time. I am not myself a big fan of vampire stories. I read Interview With the Vampire way back when it came out--didn't read any of the stories that came after. Most vampire stories I can take or leave. I do read a few vampire series, but only a few--most of which have a different mythology for their vampires: they're different species (J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood), or they're humans who caught a virus (Lynn Viehl's Darkyn books). I also am addicted to Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books (they are my crack!)(I like Hamilton's Meredith Gentry books a little better--but it really doesn't matter. Crack, I tell you, they are crack). Do not tell me how bad they are, and how bad they are for me. I do not care. I like them. And because I have this addiction, I Understand.

And to all those who wish to see no more vampire books, and no more sparkly vampire stories or movies or anything vampire (unless it's related to blood & gore & violence), I say SHUT UP. You do not get to pick. You do not get to dictate to people what we should or should not read, watch or enjoy.

As long as people are buying and reading sexy/sparkly/emo vampires, publishers will keep publishing the books. As long as people are going to movies about sparkly/sexy/emo vampires, (and Hoo-boy! Are they!) Hollywood will keep making movies like that, trying to repeat the phenomenon.

And yeah, we do get a glut of them, and some of them aren't as good as others. Some might be downright bad. In the Opinion of Some. But people are still buying them. When they get tired of them, they will stop buying them, and that will be okay too.

People (even pre-teen/tween people) are allowed to like what they like and read what they want to read.

I don't like bloody, ultra-violent books where people get both hands cut off with a hacksaw. (Ick.) But I don't go around saying "Publishers should stop publishing horror novels!" You can like what you like. You can even say that you don't like vampire books. (Though I've found that most of those who say they don't like vampires like them just fine when they're bloody and violent and horrible, they just don't like the sexy-sparkly ones.)

Just let me like what I like too, and don't try to tell me what I Should like. I don't care. I'm going to make up my own mind, thank you.

(Disclaimer: I resisted reading any of the Twilight books for a very long time, until after the fourth one came out. (They're vampires. I'm not a fan of vampires.) I did not even know they existed, until my 27-year-old son, who read them and loved them, insisted I read them, and gave me his copy of Twilight. I did enjoy it. But haven't got round to reading any more. I also liked Meyers' The Host. And I liked the movies.)