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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

12 Days of Christmas--Medieval Style Contest continues

by Marsha Ward

Somehow I think I missed announcing that a group of friends and I joined Joyce DiPastena in a neat holiday giveaway. Beginning on Christmas Day, we started giving away a gift a day for 12 days, running through January 5th. Today is Day 7, so get over to my blog to see what's still up for grabs. Go read the Rules, and then enter for a remaining day, or all of the ones left.

The winner of the Day 6 $25 Scentsy Gift Certificate from Kellydawn Zollinger is Jobie Marshall of Oregon. Congratulations, Jobie!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

By Marcia Mickelson

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions because I don't follow through on them. They're great ideas when you think about them in December, but by the time February comes along, it's too hard to follow through on them. So, I save myself the trouble and inevitable disappointment by not making any.

I do, however, have a goal. I am close to finishing the novel I started in March. I have 3-4 thousand more words to write, some editing to do, and about 5 MORE's. Then, I will be finished and it will be ready for a final edit and final read-through. I'm giving myself a self-imposed deadline of January 20th. It's really just a random date, but very doable if I apply myself. I've been a bit lazy the last month and have indulged in a little extra TV, but I need to get back on track. Once the kids are back in school and on a good bedtime schedule, then I can resume a good routine. I will finish by the 20th. I will finish by the 20th. I will finish by the 20th.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

by Marsha Ward

So I took my strained back on a walk (cold therapy, right), though the ice and snow drifts to the community mailbox array. On the way I dropped two garbage bags off in the park's collective bin (I'd call it a Dumpster, but that's yanno, a trademarked name). I didn't want to have them sitting around during the next storm, which I could see coming in from the west.

The mail had collected over the last couple of days, and since my box is the standard 4- x 6-inch slot, it can get filled up with junk mail pretty fast. I knew I had to make this trek, pain or not.

It was worth it. There was a key in my box along with sundry Christmas cards, ANWA renewals, and sad economic missives. In one of the big boxes reserved for packages, I found what I didn't expect to come until after Christmas: my Christmas present to myself.



Firefly!

I never saw the series until it was off the air, but my son converted me, and I've become a fervent fan since he did. After all, it IS a Western. With great writing.

I know Joss Whedon doesn't believe in God, but Merry Christmas to him and to all my friends everywhere.

(You may substitute your favorite seasonal holiday, but I'm a Christian, so "Merry Christmas" is my first choice of greeting at this time of year. Almost no one I know minds.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Lights

By Marcia Mickelson

On Saturday night, we took our kids to a neighborhood here in Corpus Christi that really puts up Christmas lights. The entire street decorates and puts on huge displays. Families were standing outside, many of them handing out cookies, candy, hot chocolate, or other treats as the sidewalks were filled with people walking by to see the lights.

There was a band playing Christmas songs in their driveway and groups of carolers standing outside homes down the streets. One home was displaying a huge projection screen on their garage of the Dallas Cowboys football game. Police was directing traffic and the streets were jammed with cars looking for a parking spot.

The weather was in the high 60s. It was a perfect night to stroll down the sidewalk looking at the lights and collecting treats. I was amazed at how excited these families were to decorate their homes and share their festivities with people that came from all around town to see what is called Candy Cane Lane.

My husband and I feel quite relieved that we don't live on this street. We would feel too pressured to go all out in decorating the outside of our home. The neighbors would hate us. We are lucky if we get a few strings of lights out. We didn't this year, by the way. It's much better to take a nice drive to see other people's lights than to go through all that trouble ourselves.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Facebook

I've finally taken the plunge and signed up for Facebook. Wasn't sure what it was even all about but it's been a ball! In just a few days I've gotten caught up with several cousins and even found a couple of my husband's old missionary companions. There are a few other people I'm really trying to find. No luck yet, but I'm going to keep searching.

The biggest problem I can see at this point is that it can be very time consuming, if you let it, especially if you give in to requests that begin with: "Hey sexy," Hmmm. Not sure how he got in my friends list. I think I confused him with someone else.

But guess what? I realized you can actually unfriend someone. Not that I want to unfriend anybody, but who is this guy? It was at that point I realized I hadn't checked the married box. It's checked now though and It's so good to see photos of cousins who live all over the country, the ones I haven't seen in ten years or more.

Well, keeping it short today. I've got an article I've got to get finished for a friend of ours. See you next Monday!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pay It Forward: A Giveaway

Come by my blog for a Pay It Forward Giveaway. If you want a chance to win a copy of my book and are willing to give something away on your blog, then come on over.

The Dork Diaries






(photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbaunach/)

by Elodia Strain

In fourth grade it was my glasses. In fifth, the fact that I was taller than all the boys. In sixth it was that not all of my clothes were—let’s say it with a French accent—Esprit. And in tenth it was the car I drove to school: the family station wagon.

To what am I referring, you ask? The things that over the course of my youth made me feel un-cool, dorky, dweeby, nerdy— whatever you want to call it.

But that’s the great thing about growing up. There comes a time when all the things that used to make you feel dorky, just make you feel, well, you. And so today, by way of this blog, I’m proudly celebrating the top 20 reasons I’m a dork—and proud of it!

  1. I still remember every step to the Macarena.
  2. I love Wheel of Fortune and am a proud member of the Wheel Watchers Club.
  3. I sometimes go to movies that are aimed at people half my age. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, anyone?
  4. I cringe when my younger brother says “Hecka.”
  5. I used to say “Hecka” when I was his age.
  6. I still use zit cream.
  7. I want to wear high heels with jeans, but I’ve never gotten farther than my front door.
  8. I like doing my taxes.
  9. My husband and I have dozens of pet names that would probably make you want to throw up.
  10. I was Valedictorian of my high school class.
  11. I may or may not watch The Hills.
  12. I often bust moves when I’m running on the treadmill.
  13. I don’t know how to whistle. I just can’t figure it out.
  14. I watch Novelas on Univision.
  15. And I like them.
  16. I still have N*SYNC and Backstreet Boys music in my collection.
  17. And I listen to it.
  18. I know how to make balloon animals.
  19. I’m a little bit afraid of the MAC counter.
  20. I sometimes pretend I’m Rachael Ray when I’m cooking.

So all you blog readers, spill: What things would make it into your "Dork Diary"?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cherished Traditions


Tonight we went to downtown Ogden to see the lights. The Christmas Village is growing and is a whole lot bigger with more displays than when I was little. It was fun to see the whole thing through my 4-year-old's eyes. As we drove down the hill and all the lights came into view, he said, "I'm so glad we're going to Christmas Town!" He even got to ride the train around the block.

Then we went to my parents' house and had Norwegian pancakes and the annual viewing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Well, by then it was a little late and we just saw the first part where Clark takes his family out to find the perfect Christmas tree. And it's just as well, because we'd have had to skip parts for the kids- you're better off watching the t.v. version if you have young-uns- but it was fun because it's a tradition, and as wacky as some traditions get through the years, they're still comfortable. They're still home.

We have a few holiday movies that are must-sees. A Christmas Story is number one on the list, despite the fact that my daughters aren't really fans. (Boggles the mind. How can you not like that movie?) My parents and husband and I enjoy It's a Wonderful Life, but my siblings and children hate that one, too. My dad has a tradition of stashing himself away in a vacant room on Christmas day and watching it by himself. My youngest sister found out he did that and was all kinds of distraught, thinking it was tragic that my poor dad watches that sad movie all alone on Christmas day. (Like he's in there sobbing into his bowl of popcorn, "Oh, no, George Bailey, no! You have so much to live for!") In reality, my dad is so glad to get away for some much-needed alone time that he's kicking his heels in unabashed glee.

My kids and I love Elf. That's already become a Christmas movie tradition for us, and I also like The Grinch, both animated and Jim Carrey. Then there are the old- time kids shows, like Rudolph, (which used to give me nightmares and make me throw up as a kid, what with the scary Abominable Snowman and all), Frosty the Snowman, and the 70s cartoon, Twas the Night Before Christmas. (There's a certain person of some significance in my stake who resembles Joshua Trundle, but I won't say who).

Such good stuff, and all the more fun because there are a few select weeks during the year when it's acceptable to watch them. Perhaps that's why I love them so much. They herald in the season for me, and they're a treat. Now all I need is a James Bond Christmas Special. Ah, then life would be complete. :-)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Getting Back on the Bike

By Marcia Mickelson

When I was twelve we lived in Victoria, TX, oddly just an hour or so from where I live now. When we lived there, I used to prowl the neighborhood on my bike with my sister and cousins. We moved from Victoria to New Jersey and left the bikes behind. We'd outgrown them. That was the last time I owned a bike. I never did get another bike in New Jersey. I think I lost interest or something.

I didn't get on a bike for several years. I rode my college roommate's bike once and screamed the whole time. I'd forgotten how to ride a bike. Okay, not really. I know you never forget how, but I just couldn't do it anymore. I haven't ridden a bike since, but I finally decided to give it another try. My parents bought this bike for $5 at a garage sale and I've slowly been riding it, trying to get accustomed to it again. I've gone for bike rides with my 8 year old. I love going with him. I let him lead and just follow. He hasn't taken it easy on me, though. I think he enjoys that he's so much better at something than I am. I'm looking into buying a trailer so I can pull my little one behind me and go on bike rides with him. I think he's getting tired of the jogging stroller anyway.

On Saturday, we took the bikes to the beach. I'm really enjoying my husband having a pick-up truck now even though I used to make fun of pick-ups a long time ago. Riding on the beach is so cool. I loved it. When my 6 year old finds something that he loves, he says, "I want to do that every day." That's when I said after our ride on the beach. "I want to do that every day!"

One of these days, I'll have the whole bike thing figured out. At least I haven't fallen yet, but I've come close.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Am I Crazy? Or is this a...?

I think I may be going crazy. I’ve been editing and Christmas shopping and absorbing the stress radiating off my pre-finals husband all week so maybe I’m just seeing things. But…what does this look like to you?

I mean today when I air-popped some organic popcorn and found this in the bowl, I was sure it looked like…Well if I tell you then it won’t be as fun. But maybe I’m just the only one who sees it.

Still, not too long ago fellow Ink Lady Tamra Norton saw Texas in her chili, like a message from the beyond saying that her penned-in-Texas book was about to take an amazing journey. So I’m thinking maybe this is my food message. Like the time my grandmother swore she saw the Virgin Mary in the masa in her tamale.

So tell me, what does this popcorn look like to you?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Maslow really knew his stuff


So I've been sick for two weeks and am finally feeling like I'm back among the living. Cyberspace has sped right along without me, and the inboxes are stuffed full.

But feeling under the weather has made me appreciate Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs all the more. Man, that guy was really on to something when he came up with his triangle. (Actually, he built on the work of Skinner and others before him, but anyway. The Hierarchy of Needs was his own creation).

So at the base of the triangle, you have your physical needs. In order to build upward and appreciate other facets of life, one first has to have those physical needs met. After the physical comes safety, then love, then self-esteem and finally self-actualization where we reach the pinnacle and find our full potential.

Mmm hmm.

Some of us are still on the lower levels, but hey, it's all part of the game, right?

So anyway, I was sick over Thanksgiving. THANKSGIVING. What a waste! So much fantastic food and I barely enjoyed it. I did force myself to eat more than one piece of pie because, really, it's pie, but the satisfaction level was dismally, depressingly low.

I also had all this time to get some writing done, work on the house, decorate like crazy--I envisioned myself singing the Happy Little Working Song a la Enchanted in a beautiful Cinderella dress. Instead, I was sick. Absolutely drained. Had time to write. Didn't care. Had time to decorate. Didn't care. Had delectable food to eat. Didn't care.

I was sunk below the bottom-most level of the hierarchy and couldn't enjoy the most basic levels of the pyramid because of it! When you don't feel good physically, it's hard to make yourself enjoy anything else. It makes me appreciate friends of mine who are currently seriously sick and undergoing procedures and treatments. Makes me appreciate my mom who's had a minor stroke and botched heart surgery, who's on so many meds she sometimes veers to the left while trying to walk in a straight line.

When I was in high school, my history teacher had a bunch of lame sayings on his wall. One of them was the old, "Health is a crown on the well person's head, but only the sick seem to see it." I'm ashamed to admit I thought of this lameness more than once while I was sick, and I vowed that once healthy, I would never again just take it as my due. Good health is a blessing, and now that I'm starting to feel it again, I'm so grateful for it.

Of course, I had preschool this morning which totally wiped me out. Which is why I figured the laundry and dishes can wait. I'd rather sit and blog. ;-)

Missed you all!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New Website!


Okay, so here's the spill, our new website is up and functioning! You've got to check it out and send the word along to anyone you know who might be interested. It's a website my daughter dreamed up where you can buy, sell and trade formals and wedding dresses. It's entirely free to post ads and buy dresses. Contact between buyer and seller is via a secure form, and they arrange the sell of the dress. Anyway, it's pretty cool. We've even put together a little "commercial" for her new site. Watch it here and let me know what you think. Go right to her website if you'd rather FormalXchange.com.

That's it for now. I just had to share the good news!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sorry about the Hiatus

by Marsha Ward

I've been gone for a few weeks due to a lot of turmoil going on in my life. I'm back, though, and have an announcement.

I've decided on how I'm going to produce my novel, Trail of Storms. Therefore, I will have it available to readers within the next 90 days, if everything goes smoothly.

The book begins in Virginia, and its characters journey across the Great Plains to Colorado Territory and thence through Raton Pass into New Mexico Territory. Here's an early 1900s photo of the Raton Pass area, to give you an idea of the rugged country through which they had to travel:


Think of going through this country by wagon! I'm thankful for good highways and luxurious vehicles.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happenings...

Does it feel like I've dropped off the face of the earth to everyone or just me? Okay, so I'm back, even if I am a day late ... or a month. My daughter had a fabulous idea to start her own business a month ago and it's been the only thing we've had time to focus on, but guess what? Her website launches next week and we're nearly ready to go!

So I've been writing keyword articles again and press releases and privacy policies ... but this time they've been much more fun. The website is great and I can't wait to tell you all about it! Let's just say that my rough and tumble tomboy has officially become a girl!

I'll fill you all in some more next week. I've got a few more articles to finish up for the site before Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving

By Marcia Mickelson

This year, we're having a nice, quiet Thanksgiving and I'm doing all the cooking. That's very different for me. I've never made a turkey before. This is my first attempt. Luckily, it will be just for my immediate family.Thanksgiving in my life has been a transitional event. Keep in mind that both of my parents were born in Guatemala and didn't celebrate Thanksgiving until they moved to the U.S. in their twenties. It was a brand new event for them and through the years, it has evolved for my family as we try to get it "just right."I remember when I was in fourth grade, a friend from school asked me what we had for Thanksgiving dinner and I told her we had turkey, rice, and salad. She was like, that's all? That's what you had. I said sure; I didn't know what "you were supposed to have." What is stuffing? Cranberries? What the heck is pumpkin pie?

As the years passed, we began adopting more traditional food into our Thanksgiving dinners. I now love stuffing; it's my favorite Thanksgiving food. Little by little, our family has picked up on all those important facets of the holiday. (Minus the year when our huge, extended family rented out a hall to have a huge Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, we had all the traditional food, but also some tamales and rice. And, then there was the huge sound system they set up for dancing. It was a regular dance party with all kind of Latin music. That year was a little weird, especially for my husband and his friend who joined us that year.)

So, we'll see how it goes this year. Any good suggestions for my first turkey?

And, don't forget Elodia's contest. See the previous post for a chance to win a $20 BN gift card.

A Few of My Favorite Things (And a Chance to Win a $20 Barnes and Noble Gift Card)


My friend Kimberly Black recently blogged about a few of her favorite things. With Thanksgiving just around the corner I thought I’d follow suit. So here they are: a few of my favorite things in no particular order. And at the bottom of the list are instructions on how you could win a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card!!!

1. Dentyne Fire gum.
2. Nic’s Sticks nail polish pens-It’s like nail polish for writers! I’m much better at holding a pen than a brush, so I have these in pretty much every color including my current favorite-midnight blue
3. Sun Kill Moon-Perfect writing music. And my husband loves that the band name was inspired by Sun Kill Moon the boxer.
4. My pillow-top mattress and flannel sheets-Luxuries I’ll always be grateful for. My dad grew up very poor, and he never had sheets until my mom—his high school girlfriend—bought him his first set. The story still makes me cry.
5. My Gilmore Girls box sets-It’s hard to find a show you can watch over and over, but this is so genius, so intricate, that even after multiple viewings there are still things I miss.
6. Victoria’s Secret Pink sweats-I’m addicted. I wear them much more than jeans. I don’t care if Stacy and Clinton say you shouldn’t wear sweats out of the house.
7. My sister-She makes me laugh when I need to laugh, lets me cry when I need to cry, and still remembers playing Saved by the Bell with our Barbies and buying the first cassette tapes that were all ours: Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.
8. Pink Grapefruit-The Sunflower Shop (our area’s answer to Whole Foods) down the road has specials where they sell 10 for $1. I take my reusable totes and buy like 30 at a time and eat a grapefruit with every meal for ten days straight.
9. The Community Pool-Passes are only $13 a month, so I go a few times a week and enjoy the water and watching the tween birthday parties—complete with cute swimsuits, cute water tricks, and cute-lifeguard watching.
10. My hip hop dance videos-I love dancing, and this way the people in the class can’t see me, but I can see them!

So what are your favorite things? Write your answers in the comments and if we get the comment number up to 20 by the end of Thanksgiving day, the names of everyone who left comments will go into a hat, and we’ll pick a random winner who will win…a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card just in time for Christmas!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Broad Spectrum or Dig Deep?


I had a conversation with Tristi Pinkston at the Provident Book Grand Opening about different approaches to historical fiction, and I've often thought about the approach I took to my Civil War series. Tristi and I basically discussed the difference between taking a big look at something, kind of like stepping back and taking in the panoramic view vs. narrowing in on one slice of an event and delving deeply into it.

For example, when I wrote Faith of our Fathers, my goal was to give the reader a very broad overview of the WHOLE thing. Different cities, battles, events, etc. In order to do that, I created characters and placed them in strategic places so we could see all of those events through their eyes.

This approach allowed me to look at the whole of the conflict, but at only, say, a foot below the surface. If an author were to take one particular town, for example, and focus on one family during the Civil War, she would be able to go more like six, ten, fifteen feet deep. As far as she wants to, really.

Historical Fiction is an interesting animal. Seems like people usually love it or hate it. Purist, arm-chair historians tend to prefer the nonfiction approach to history. For readers who like a more humanized, (for lack of a better word), look at history, the fictional element helps. Fiction is also more entertaining, usually, and many readers enjoy that element.

There is danger in fictionalizing history, I think. I felt this weight when I wrote the series. As an author, you run the risk of people thinking that the "truth" as you see it as an author is, in fact, gospel. Sometimes it's just personal opinion. I felt a huge responsibility to portray real, living people as they were, and not to allow my view of things to alter what they may have said or did. I would venture to guess that other authors of historical fiction would agree with me. You just don't want to get it wrong! When I wrote that series, I said a lot of prayers.

Any strong opinions on this, one way or another? Do you prefer fiction or non when it comes to reading your history? Do you like a broad overview or an in-depth chunk?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writers Conferences and Other things on my To-Do List



By Tamra Norton

If I'm not snorkeling in Hawaii or romping through castles in Europe (neither of which I've experienced, but both on my to-do list...along with becoming Stephenie Meyer's BFF, dancing with Maksim Chmerkovskiy and being adopted into the Jolie-Pitt clan--Auntie Tami Jolie-Pitt. I wonder how it would look on a book cover?) I can't think of a better way to spend an entire Saturday than at a writers conference. Just this past Saturday I attended the Brazos Valley SCBWI Conference in College Station, Texas (go Aggies!). In a word--outstanding!

I've been to several conferences over the past five years--even spoken at a few--and I've come to the conclusion that aside from the act of BIC (bum in chair, a.k.a. writing) and, of course, reading-like-a-nut-job, attending conferences is one of the best ways to hone the craft of writing and assist in that seemingly elusive quest for publication.

Here are some of the highlights from my past five years attending various writers conferences.
  • Hanging out with my writer buddies--it just doesn't get any better. These are MY PEOPLE. They totally get that I have conversations in my head with my characters, look for them on street corners and in Target, even cry with them. Really. I'm normal...right?

  • Schmoozing with editors and agents from some of the largest and most respected NY publishing houses and agencies. We've talked shop. They've offered invaluable advice in their presentations. And I've resisted the urge to stalk them during down time at the conferences. These meetings have lead to numerous manuscript submission opportunities which wouldn't have been available had I not attended the conferences.

  • Schmoozing with published authors--many, my literary idols! For a solid hour I sat next to Joan Bauer and we chatted during the author signing portion of one conference. She signed about 75 books. I signed 4. And last year at a pre-conference mingle-thingy, I had a great conversation with Kimberly Willis Holt as we compared our "military kid" books. Fascinating...and freaking fun!

  • I've had several "first chapter critiques" by numerous editors and agents including agent Erin Murphy and author and SCBWI founder Lin Oliver. Wow--now that was the coolest experience ever. She even highlighted a part of my manuscript the next day in her presentation--now that was a validating moment!

  • Because of one of these "first chapter critiques" at an SCBWI Houston conference, I (or my first chapter) won the Joan Lowery Nixon Award--mentorship through the editing process of that manuscript by National Book Award Finalist, Kathi Appelt. Working with Kathi was a phenomenal experience, and that manuscript, MAKE ME A MEMORY went on to be published by a regional publisher and was chosen by the Utah Commission on Literacy as a Book-of-the-Month selection. Its sequel, MAKE ME A HOME was published this year.

Oh, there have so many memorable experiences! These are only a few. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending a writer's conference. Who knows, maybe I'll see you in Hawaii one of these days. I definitely plan on snorkeling...either before or after attending the Maui Writer's Conference--one more thing on my to-do list!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why Facebook is Like High School


by Elodia Strain

I finally gave in. I made myself a Facebook page. I resisted for so long, but I was an advertising major in college and my ad training just wouldn’t allow me to let a good marketing venue sit untouched anymore.

So I sat down at my computer one day, no big deal, and signed up. I uploaded my photo and typed in my favorite movies and TV shows and felt relieved to have finally done this. But the relief was soon to be replaced by something more akin to, well, panic.

It started when I was Friended by an old high school pal, I’ll call her W. I was so excited! I clicked on her page, feeling exhilarated by the prospect of virtually catching up. But soon I was staring at the page, mind whirling.

My page didn’t have a cool background on it like W’s. I just had the white and blue normal ole Facebook page, but W found some trendy wallpaper on some website that apparently specializes in that kind of thing.
I also didn’t have tons of photos on my page like W did—amazing photos that made her look like the coolest person ever to live. I quickly scanned my photo folder to see what I could upload—but most of my photos are of me and my husband, taken by one of our outstretched hands.

And then there were W’s friends. Two hundred and some of them. I stared at the little friend box on the bottom of her page in shock. W and I are from a small California town. How did she have 278 Facebook friends? And how did her friends have so many friends? (Up to 980 in one case.) And, was it just me, or was this whole Facebook thing suddenly feeling a lot like high school? I mean, I was feeling like a total loser, something I haven’t really felt in quite this way since I left the hallowed halls of Los Banos High.

All of a sudden I had the pull to get myself a cooler page, some cooler photos, and some very cool friends.

I started with the friends. But the question was, who did I know? Over the next few days, I discovered the answer as friend requests started coming into my email box. More friends from high school. A few people who read my book. Old roommates. And even some complete strangers.

So this was how so many people had so many friends! I wasn’t a total loser. I just needed to dig out my old yearbooks and college directories—like everyone else was apparently doing—and I’d easily be on the cusp of two hundred friends. Whew.

Relieved, and pretty weirded-out that I’d gotten so sucked in by Facebook, I decided to forget about my boring page and lack of glam photos for now. Because if I were to go back to my high school self and tell her some words of wisdom, they would be: “Don’t worry so much.” And I have to practice what I preach.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's the Little Things...


Winning a gajillion dollars would be wonderful, don't get me wrong. I collected those McDonald's Monopoly pieces last month, reasoning that someone has to win, it might as well be me. Alas, it wasn't me.

I've realized lately, though, just how little things can bring so much joy. Like discovering a certain four-digit code.

A few months ago, my car battery died, so my car stereo thought it had been stolen from the car and locked itself up. It required a four-digit code to reactivate and because we bought the car used, the magic card displaying said code was no longer in the glove box. (What a silly name, "glove box." Like any of use it for gloves anymore. It ought to be called, "Collection of Crap Box.")

So the stereo routinely gave us three tries to guess the code, and then it locked itself up again for a random amount of hours. I could never figure the rhyme or reason behind that number of hours, either. But anyway, the code option would come back on with a loud BEEP, and the kids and I would scream, "Code Time!"

We tried so desperately to guess the code; we all took turns and I was waiting for the moment when someone would guess the right combination and we'd have music in the car again. I was going slowly insane from the quiet. Well, relative quiet. When the kids weren't in the car, it was quiet.

Time came and went and we couldn't get the dang code. I kept thinking of Terminator 2 where the young John Connor has that PIN code contraption that he sticks into the ATM and gets money out on people's stolen cards. (That was when John Connor was a delinquent and before he was destined to save the world.) I needed one of those machines.

I finally just called the dealership, (duh), and asked if there was any way, even though we bought the car used, if they could look up the stereo code using my VIN number. My heart sank, the lady said "no." BUT, if I took off the casing around the stereo and pulled out the stereo itself, I could find the manufacture number and model number on the stereo, and THEN she could look up the code.

Yesterday, I took out my screwdriver and pried the face off the stereo. Oops. Silly me, the lady meant we had to take off the ENTIRE CASING AROUND THE STEREO, THE VENTS AND CONTROL NOBS. Hmm. I decided I needed reinforcements for that, so I tracked my husband down at work and asked for his help. I was relatively certain I could get the casing off, but I wasn't sure I could do it with any kind of, shall we say, finesse.

So we got the casing off, called the woman at the dealership, and got the magic code! I was slightly disappointed that we hadn't managed to guess it, but I was desperate enough to not play the Code Time Game any longer. It was amazing. Punch in four little numbers and voila! Paradise!

It was in that moment when I realized how grateful I am for little things. My stupid little stock stereo in a car that has its share of dings, (again with my finesse issue), and the glorious sounds that poured forth had me in absolute ecstasy.

I started thinking about the other little things I'm grateful for. My kitchen, for instance. It's a galley kitchen, ridiculously small for more than, say, half a person to be in at any one time, but I have all the little gadgets I feel I need to make yummy stuff for my family. ( I even use white flour to cook with, on occasion. Take that, David Woolley!) And even though I don't have all the counter space I'd like, I'm not lacking for anything I feel I need.

My house is small, but we have heat, running water, and fun Norwegian decor. My children each have a bed, miscellaneous and sundry age-appropriate paraphernalia, clothing and cute hair. My husband has the job of his dreams and I get to write pretend stuff for a living.

So yes, while I was genuinely bummed that I didn't collect both Park Place and Boardwalk, (did anyone notice the profusion of Park Place pieces and total lack of Boardwalk this year?) it really is ok. I have a good little family, food in the cupboard and music in my car.

Life is so good. :-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Veterans Day

By Tamra Norton

Today, Veterans Day, my mind and heart can't help but turn to our brave servicemen and women who have dedicated their very lives to protect the many freedoms we enjoy in this country. What a huge sacrifice! But it's not theirs alone...

My heart also turns to their families, separated by many miles, and often oceans from sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives... Can we even understand how they are feeling today? I'd imagine there are a mixture of emotions--pride, for sure! But also concern for their loved one's safety and well being. Sadness for days and memories missed.

Today I'm going to give the ones I love an extra hug. And today we will say an extra prayer--for those serving, and for those at home.

Click here to read my friend, Alison Palmer's awesome Veterans Day Blog...where she also happens to talk about my two children's novels, Make Me a Memory and Make Me a Home--both dealing with military children.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Know Your Stuff

By Marcia Mickelson

A month ago, I was toying with the idea of going back to work. I did job searches, sent my resume around, and did a few interviews. I received a call from a children's hospital in town. It was the perfect job for me. It was part-time with great hours; I would be off in time to pick my kids up from school. The job was in the Interpretation Department. I would be translating for Spanish-speaking patients and their parents. I grew up speaking Spanish and am fluent. I've also had several jobs in the past that have included translating.

I thought about brushing up on my Spanish in preparation for testing I had to do, but I felt fairly confident. I've basically been translating all my life. It would be easy. Boy, was I wrong. The first part of the testing was written. If I did well, I would come back for oral testing, followed up by an interview. The written test was hard! What was I thinking? There were 40 medical terms written in English, and I had to translate them into Spanish. There were words like congestive heart failure, jaundice, and other medical terms that I have no idea how to say in Spanish, much less spell. There were also 2 paragraphs to translate. One from Spanish to English, which was easy and the other one from English to Spanish which was very hard, especially because it kept repeating the word pulmonary and I had no idea how to say it in Spanish.

I was overly confident prior to the test; thought I knew enough to not study the night before or at least brush up by looking through a dictionary and testing myself. Yes, Spanish is easy for me, but medical terms in Spanish not so much. I learned a very important lesson. Confidence will only get you so far; you have to know your stuff if you want to succeed. So, I never did get the call back about the oral exam. Guess I didn't do so well. I've decided not to go back to work. I'm just going to stay home and continue writing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

What If Dr. Frankenstein Had Loved His Monster?


(Slight change of plans for tomorrow's signing- the Provident Bookstore grand opening has been moved back one week to November 15. All the times are still the same, as far as I know.)

I wanted to send a shout-out to my book club friends and tie in to my odd post title. Book Club met last night and my sweet friends read my newest book this month. So we talked about it and they gushed appropriately for my ego's sake. The hostesses made Indian food and the main hostess wore her Indian shirt.

They were so good to me, and I was really grateful. Also, one of my friends mentioned that she wants to be Isabelle when she grows up. Me too! I love Isabelle. She's all things that are smart and brave and clever. Her flaws and weaknesses only serve to make her that much more wonderful.

When I wrote her in the Civil War series she was little more than a secondary character, a good friend of one of my main characters. It didn't take long, though, for Isabelle Webb to leap to the foreground and there were times I had to hold her back a bit. By the end, she got lots of her own scenes.

So this series is for her. She's so wonderful, and I do say that without guile. This is not an autobiographical book- I only wish it were! But I've come to love this character so much and was so gratified to see that other readers love her too.

So my question for readers is this: have you ever read a character and thought, "Man! I wish I could be her/him!"

My question for writers is this: who's your favorite character you've written to date and why?

Or am I the only writer out there egotistical enough to be totally enamored of one of her own creations? ;-)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Things to Look Forward To...

By Marcia Mickelson

It's November, and there's a lot for me to look forward to this month. Let me share:

Election Day. I just love staying up into the night watching election results come in. And, we have DirecTV this year, so there will be about 100 channels covering the election.

David Cook. David Cook (from American Idol) is releasing his first album this month. I watched him on Saturday Night Live and am so excited for his album.

Twilight. I've read all four books in the series and am excited about the movie coming out this month. If you're interested in taking a quiz to see which Twilight character you are, go to my blog.

The Lexington. On Wednesday, my 3rd grader is taking a field trip to the USS Lexington, a WWII Aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum.

Pull Ups. By the end of this month, we will be all out of pull-ups (training diapers) and that means my 3 year old is officially potty trained. I won't have to buy diapers for a long time, at least not til the next baby. No, that's not an announcement.

Thanksgiving. It will be fun for my kids to have a whole week off and just relax.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Texas in my Chili--Really!

By Tamra Norton

So the other day I was fixing lunch for the kids (chili mac--a staple at our house), and when I opened the can of chili and took off the lid, I found something very interesting--the state of Texas--really. I found Texas in my chili. Apparently a hunk of chili fell from the top, center of the can, which resulted in an almost perfectly shaped cut-out of the state of Texas (where we happen to live AND where this particular can of chili was made.


Now I know what you're thinking. What in the heck does this have to do with writing? Well, my friends, I'll tell you...


Was it simply a coincidence that I found Texas in my chili? I think not!


A miracle? Ummmmm...okay, so not exactly...


But was it incredible? Astonishing? Fantastic? Sure, why not. My kids and I got a huge kick out of it.


Personally (and please, don't read too much in to this like Tami has turned coo-coo-nutzo or anything), I think it's a sign from the heavens telling me that my little ol' "fairy tale" manuscript from this little ol' author from Texas is going to be picked up by some fancy schmancy agent, and shopped around to some fancier schmancier east coast publishing house. And the end result will be something much more incredible than a hill'a chili beans.


Just sayin'...

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Book Was Better!


There's a reason people say, "The book was better."

When we who love to read get involved in a story we see things a certain way, we experience the book individually. I've heard that the same book is never the same to various readers, and I believe that. Reading is a unique, usually solitary experience and the reader finds herself living that book in her own way until she discusses it with others and broadens her perspective on it. Maybe she'll agree with other opinions, maybe she won't, but she comes away from the book with her own feelings about it.

J.K. Rowling once said that a young girl standing in a signing line was a little upset that there were so many other people there, that she felt Harry Potter was her book. I love that! And it's one of the reasons that I sometimes have a hard time with audio versions- it's like the reader is intruding on my experience or something. I know, weird.

The reason I bring all of this up is because I was thinking the other day about one of my very favorites, The Count of Monte Cristo, and the movie version that came out in 2002. I have loved the book for ages. I suggested it for my local book club, we read it, and then went and saw the movie together. (Should have seen us all, a bunch of married Mormon women, staring at the screen with our mouths agape at James Caviezel).


But other than the eye candy, I was really unhappy with the way the story had been totally altered.

I mean completely.

Why does it have to be that way? Monte Cristo gets a happy ending in the book! Why couldn't Hollywood have stayed true to the story?

It's funny to listen to my kids say, "That didn't happen in the book," when they watch movies. And one of my favorite memories along those lines was when I was first married and my husband had read John Grisham's The Firm. When the movie came out, we sat in the theater with him muttering the that-didn't-happen litany through the whole of it. The reason I was so tickled by this is because my husband isn't a reader.

So, I'd have to say that overall, the book is better than the movie. My Junior English Seminar teacher at Ogden High School once told us that this was true for every movie she'd seen except for the movie adaptation of A Separate Peace. I hated both the book and the movie, so I can't say I agree with her.

What about you? Can you think of any movies out there that are better than the books? Have you seen a movie adaptation that made your blood boil because it was such a shame they slaughtered your favorite book so much?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Life

by Marsha Ward

Do you ever get the feeling that you're drowning in all life has brought to you?

That's how I feel today. I thought last week was bad, when a dear friend died. I thought yesterday was bad, when I got a rejection on a major piece of writing. Then today's news happened, out of the blue with a phone call, and I have some things to really cry about.

Sometimes I wish I were a turtle and could pull my head in and ignore the world. That's not gonna happen, though. I've got to buck up and muddle through everything. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Keyword Articles

I told my husband the other day that we should sell our house. So what if the economy is slow, house prices have dropped and we really don't want to move? I know how to sell the house, every last detail from putting in on the market to preparing it for an open house. I even know the steps to a successful closing! I also know how to repeat keywords so they don't sound repetitive.

Yeah, I just finished a series of keyword articles on selling a home. Now I'm working on the wonders of Utah. I'm no sports fan, but I can now tell you the names of every professional and semi-professional sports team in Utah, what they play and where. I can also tell you that the Utah Jazz originated in New Orleans in the 70s and moved to Salt Lake City in 1979 where John Stockton and Karl Malone earned names for themselves, but I won't bore you with the details.
Some of it has actually been fun and educational ... oh, and it's a paying job ... and now I'm exhausted.

I just updated the online calendar for the chamber and can tell you every upcoming event in the Cedar City area from now until Christmas. Anyone coming to visit soon? I'll direct you to the right location. How about a bonfire and smores at Brian Head on Christmas Eve? Sounds fun to me, but cold ... too cold.

I think soon ... very soon ... I'll be ready to get lost in a good book and I just happen to have one started in my Word program.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

posted by Marsha Ward - In this time of grave concern about political and judicial assaults upon the institution of the family, I thought it was appropriate to remind or inform our readers of the following.

The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

"We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

"All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

"In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

"The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

"We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

"Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

"The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

"We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

"We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society."

This proclamation was read by President Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting held September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Grandma Love

By Tamra Norton

Last week I experienced something truly amazing--the birth of my first grandbaby. I was able to be with my daughter when she gave birth, and even though I've been through the process seven times myself, it was a completely new experience in the role of Grandma. Here was my baby having a baby. I was terrified, overjoyed, and everything in between. But my baby did great, and her baby is absolutely incredible--I'm sure the most brilliant grandbaby in the universe. (But I'm not prejudice or anything...)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Exhausted

I know it's my blog day, but it's been a long one ... Short and sweet: I've had to put my novel aside for a little bit to work on some keyword articles, lots of them. It's a change of pace, but as always I'll be glad to get back to work on what really fulfills me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I Can't Kill Him

By Marcia Mickelson

I haven't written in over a week. My BIAM goal is not going well. I have to kill one of my characters, and I just don't think I can do it. I've researched several times the symptoms of his death. I know exactly how he's going to die and why he has to, but as I sit down to write that scene, I can't kill him.

I'm so close to finishing this book; less than 10,000 words to go. All I have to do is kill him. I don't think I've killed any of my characters before. In Reasonable Doubt, one of the characters is already dead as the book opens, so I don't think that counts.

This is the first time I've had to kill someone, and I think that's the reason I'm having some writer's block. I really want to finish this book, and my goal was to have it done by the end of the month. I don't think it's going to happen. He still needs to die and I will do it, but I just don't know when. Maybe I need a few more days off and then I'll try again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Greatness vs. Mediocrity


When I was 17 years old, I had my wisdom teeth removed over a long weekend from school and my parents rented the movie, "Amadeus." Imagine me bawling my guts out with a swollen face as they dump Mozart's body into a common grave and then poor that guck all over it to make it decompose faster.

Yeah. Nice wisdom teeth memory.

But what has stuck with me from that movie is the whole concept of Greatness vs. Mediocrity. Here we have Salieri, a nice enough composer, who is forever coming in second, (or third, or fourth), to Mozart, who was lecherous and scandalous. Salieri was a God-fearing man who couldn't comprehend that God would put such incredible talent into what he perceives as such a sinful vessel.

At the end of the movie, we are led to assume that Salieri poisoned Mozart and Salieri is in an "insane assylum" for trying to end his own life. He is wheeled down the hallway with his throat all bandaged and is basically calling himself the king of mediocrity as all of the other unfortunate inmates are running around half-crazed.

For YEARS that scene has haunted me as a writer. At times I have found it almost paralyzing as I try to write stories knowing full well that there are so many works of genius in the world that the best I can ever hope for is to be someday wandering around with a bandaged throat and calling myself the Queen of Mediocrity.

Somehow I've managed to stumble through this funky mind block and produce a few books. Some have been well received by readers, others have not appreciated my efforts so much. I've reached the point where my skin has thickened a bit and I'm able to try to focus my attention on all of the people who have said positive things about what I've tried to do.

But still! I'm no Chaim Potok. I'm no Dickens or Austen or Bronte. I'm no Barbara Kingsolver or Kaye Gibbons or Sandra Dallas. I'm no Tom Clancy or Stephen King or my personal hero, Frederick Douglass. So where does that leave me? What am I to do with that?

I'll tell you what.

I had an incredible epiphany a couple of years ago. I was thinking about classical music and how much of it leaves me in a real downer. I've played piano since the age of 8 and had a mother who loved classical music, so I'm no stranger to a lot of it. But man, some of it depresses me so much. Mozart is rarely an exception to this, for me. So as I was loading some music onto an iPod a while back, I loaded Vivaldi, some Handel and three select pieces of Grieg for their sentimental value, having grown up with a Norwegian mother who was often homesick.

NO MOZART.

I realized that as brilliant as he was, and as much of a genius as he was, I didn't want him on my iPod. Other than his Queen of the Night Aria, he depresses the blazes out of me!

And I started to realize something else. If I had only a few reading choices left to me in this life, as much as I admire Dickens, I don't think I'd pick him. Don't even know that I'd pick Potok, whom I love. I'd pick some fun, escape fiction.

*GASP*

Genre fiction? That's my choice if stranded on a desert island? Yes. (Aside from the scriptures, which is a given. I mean, come on). I would choose something that would lift my mood and spirits, and for me, genre fiction- romance, thrillers, mystery- that does it for me.

So while Mozart is indeed a genius and beloved by so many, and he deserves to be, he's not my favorite. And it's ok. And it's ok that I'm not a writing genius. I've received a few emails and letters here and there from people who say I've given them some reading enjoyment and it warms my heart like no other. I've been able to give people a few hours of reading pleasure and provide for them the same kind of experience I love to have as a reader. I am at peace with my talents and my limitations. I hope to live another 40 or 50 years and continue to improve my craft. I absolutely love what I do and that is such a blessing.

I guess, in the end, even if I am wheeled around in a crappy old wheelchair and moving my hand in circles like the queen at my mediocrity subjcts, I can die happy knowing that for a little bit, I helped someone escape and have a fun reading experience. I lifted a mood for a bit.

Like Vivaldi. :-)

Monday, October 13, 2008

At it Again...

So I've been at it again, making little movies on my home computer to share trips with others. As it got cold outside I had to revisit my Samoa photos and today, a trip to Kolob.

We love to hike and one of our favorite places to go is Kolob Canyon! Ah, so pretty, prettier than through the main entrance of Zion National Park, of which it is a part. We've hiked this particular trail several times, in the summer, winter and fall. It started as a research trip for a novel and became a favorite place.

I took lots of landscape photos the first time out ... did I ever mention I love photography? Anyway, it's a hike to the double arch alcove. Anyone been there? It's about five miles round trip, but it's not too hard. My six year old has done it twice.

There's another hike up Kolob we're thinking of taking soon, it's over 20 miles up the canyon, where you spend the night rustic style and hike back again. Of course, we'd leave the littler ones home and wait for it to warm up before we commit!

I'm always looking for great places to go hiking and visiting. What are your favorite spots to travel?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

You Stay Here

By Marcia Mickelson
Here's my three year old hugging his cousin. It's funny how the exact same phrase can mean different things in different circumstances. When he doesn't want me to leave the house, he'll say, "Mom, you stay here."

A few weeks ago, my parents were visiting and they wanted to take him to Burger King while the other two were at school. I was helping him into his car seat and he said to me, "Mom, you stay here." He didn't want me to go with them; he wanted special time with Grandma and Grandpa. That was fine by me. I had somewhere to go anyway.

It just makes me laugh that the exact same phrase meant two different things.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Things to do Before I Turn Thirty


by Elodia Strain

Back in college my friends and I were big fans of the TV show Friends. One epiode I remember well is: “The One Where They All Turn Thirty--” which shows the characters’ thirtieth birthdays. In this episode, Phoebe, who was always my favorite of the female characters, spends her day catching up on her list of things she wanted to do before she turned thirty.

Well, this month I celebrated my birthday. And, since I’m now a lot closer to thirty than I am to twenty, I thought it might be fun to start my own list of things I want to do before I reach this milestone birthday.

Here are a few of the things on my list:

  • Write a book that gets reviewed by Kirkus Reviews

  • Go to Hawaii

  • Watch my favorite movies in Spanish

  • Know enough about my iPod that I don’t have to ask my husband for help anymore

  • Know the moves on my favorite dance-workout DVDs as well as the instructor

  • Re-read the classics I read in high school

  • Go on more adventures with my husband

  • Find the perfect pair of jeans

  • Be able to lower my heels completely in yoga’s Downward Dog pose

  • Learn at least one song on the guitar

  • Become a favorite aunt

  • Design and sew my own grocery totes

  • And finally, because I believe in shooting for the stars, become the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question

    So what’s on your list? What do you want to do before you turn 30, 40, 50, 60, 70?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Location, location, location


Not long ago I read a discussion some fellow authors were having about how they see strangers in a crowd and begin to imagine stories about that person. I could relate to this author oddity, which is probably shared by a lot of other imaginative people as well, but I realized that even stronger for me than people is the setting.


How strange! When stories are all about characters, why is the biggest trigger for me the place? I don't really know. All I know is when I see an old Victorian home that could be fantastically beautiful but looks slightly eerie, I imagine all kinds of gothic romance. That slight twinge of scary along with the promise of a brave heroine and a tortured but dashing hero who will be ultimately emotionally saved by that brave heroine...Ah! Such good stuff!


The first four books I wrote are what I call Romantic Adventures. I don't know anyone in real life who would have these things happen to them. But so much of these books, to me, were the settings. I picked places I want to go see. The first, Love Beyond Time, was a Civil War time travel. (A noble enough first effort, but kind of hokey). The second, No Time for Love, takes place in London, Greece and South America. The third, (my personal favorite and is now, ironically enough, out of print), A Time for the Heart is set on an archaeological dig in Guatemala, and the fourth, Echoes, (recently re-released and available wherever fine books are sold), takes place in Savannah, Georgia and the Tuscany region of Italy.


Now, of course, I do extensive character sketching and back story in my personal notes before I ever even begin to write a book. I plot like crazy and make notes to myself to keep all the twists and turns straight. But oh, how I love the setting. And as a reader, with a delicious setting I can almost forgive weak characters or silly plotting. Weeelll, maybe that's actually stretching things a bit, but you see what I mean.


How about you? Where does setting fall in your list of priorities, either as a reader or a writer?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dashner Does Houston

By Tamra Norton

My good buddy James Dashner, author of The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters, published by Shadow Mountain came to H-town for a week of school visits and Barnes&Noble events, so of course, I insisted he stay at "Hotel Norton" while he had events in the northern parts of my fair city.

Knowing James was coming and doing his presentation to a bajillion elementary schools, I asked if he wouldn't mind doing his presentation for the homeschoolers and others in my area. After a quick visit with the lovely Rebecca Denham, YA librarian at the awesome Barbara Bush Branch of the Harris County Public Library, the gig was scheduled, and I was psyched. I've seen James in action numerous times--even team taught a few classes with him--so I knew his presentation would be fantastic and get the kids pumped about reading, writing, and "Changing the World"--the theme of his book tour. He did that, and more!

I don't want to give away too much of James' presentation, but if you've ever been curious about what The Dude looks like in tights... Well, I've already said too much. But here are some photos, complements of the incredible and lovely Sunbum.

Me, James and my two youngest kiddos.
Every kid went home with an autographed poster.
And a bookmark!

The maaaahvelous Sunbum (my adopted daughter, if her mom would let me) and her fave author.


"Friends of the Library" not only had books for sale, but a nice spread of cookies, fruit and vegetable trays, punch and even cheese (which James gobbled up before anyone arrived).
What happens when James eats too much cheese!



James and me at Nauvoo Books--the rockin'-est bookstore in Houston!

Come back again, James...but maybe not during hurricane season! :)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Halloween ...

Halloween ... again? It's coming and I've committed to dressing up, again. Okay, so I had a ball last year, but can't quite figure out how to top the costume. I mean how can you top a punk rock outfit and blue hair?

My daughter picked out the clothes at our local D.I. and my best friend did my hair ... oh, she's an abstract artist ... a good one, so you can imagine! We were actually going for a mohawk, but no amount of gel could keep it upright, so we settled for this peacock looking do.

Now? Well, we've entertained multiple ideas. One friend has already ordered a French maid outfit, but that's not quite something I can even imagine! We've even talked of going as the Spazmatics, but seriously, who wants to dress up as a nerd? Oh well, a few more weeks and a couple more trips to second-hand stores and something will have to surface.

Anybody have any grand ideas?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Watching People

By Marcia Mickelson

I'm a people watcher. I watch people. I can't help it. I think that partly, it's the writer in me. I just am so curious about people, what they're doing, where they're going. I hope I don't come off as rude sometimes because I'm staring at them, but people watching has helped me come up with story ideas or characters.

I might get a face in my head and think about that person's story or else I might come back to them later if I'm trying to imagine what one of my characters looks like. With the story I'm working on right now, I have the image of a woman I saw at a parade once. She was middle aged, had red hair and delicate facial features. She is now my character, Vivian, the main character's mother who is actually dead. She is just exactly what Vivian is supposed to look like. I spent a good part of the parade watching this woman--she just seemed so right. I hope she didn't think I was weird. Actually, I am weird.

I am now on the lookout for what my character, David, is supposed to look like. I am constantly watching people tyring to find the perfect David. I once saw a man at a pizza place that almost looked like him, but I didn't get a very good look at him and can't recall exactly what he looked like. He probably would have thought I was rude if I asked to take a picture of him for the character I was writing. I can't do that. But, I'm still on the lookout. Hopefully, no one out there will think me weird.

A few weeks ago, I was at Home Depot where there was a huge line of people waiting for plywood to cover windows in preparation for the hurricane. I couldn't help myself. I had to look at the line over and over again. It was such a curious phenomenon, and I kept looking at them. One man in line even asked me, "you looking at the animals at the zoo?" I was so embarrassed. I didn't mean to be rude, but I'm just a people watcher. I felt pretty bad about that. I'll just have to be more discreet from now on.

Well, if I find my David, I'll let you know. Until then, I'm still looking.

Friday, October 3, 2008

In Defense of Cinderella


Ok, so this is so lame in comparison to Tamra's blog! That was absolutely incredible. I love reading first-hand accounts and that was amazing. Tamra, I'm so glad you're all well and whole.


Now, this is a topic that has absolutely no socially redeeming value. I've posted it on my personal blog and now share it here in hopes someone will agree with me on this one! :-)


I've been thinking, lately, about Cinderella. The old one of Disney fame, not the newer versions.When I was a girl, I loved this movie. As I got older, I still loved this movie, but felt like I shouldn't because Cinderella really was just a dork who was waiting to be rescued by a man.


Now that I've given it more thought, I've decided that the Cinderella of Walt Disney's creation was quite ahead of her time. Ok, so she didn't have the wherewithal to leave her nasty stepmother on her own to find gainful employment as a governess or ladies' maid somewhere, but she did the brave thing by going to the ball at all, even after she'd been totally roughed up by the stepsisters.


When my daughter was young, I let her watch Snow White, but every time that scene came on where she sings (in that horrible shotgun vibrato!) "I'm dreaming for the one I love, to find me...today..." I'd snap under my breath that she ought to be dreaming of a scholarship instead. But really, much as I hate to admit it because I think Snow White is ugly, (I am so shallow), she did the brave thing too, by running into the woods, away from the knife-wielding henchman and facing all the scary forest creatures. (Who really turned out to be cute and cuddly and most helpful). And then she set up shop in a house full of men and totally took charge.


So, as much as I took the feminist high road about a decade ago, I've come around to the belief that, although not optimal choices given today's world, those princesses did pretty well for themselves.


Plus, I really still want a Cinderella dress-up dress. (And a tiara).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I Don't Like Ike

By Tamra Norton
The good thing about a hurricane is that you know it's
coming. The evening news shows a big, orange swirly
blob in the south Atlantic, and our greatest hope is
that the swirly blob we'll never receive a name . . . because
then it gets personal. It becomes that annoying relative you
hope never visits. But odds are, eventually, ready or not,
that annoying relative will come . . . and it's not gonna be
fun! It does, however, give us a "heads up" to clean out our
refrigerator!


The bad thing about a hurricane is that you know it's coming.
And as much as we don't want to, everyone goes into panic
mode. At the grocery store, there's a rush on bread, water, and
Spam (never mind that its nutritional value is questionable at
best). Thankfully, the stuff is yummy—especially fried—and
hurricane season is the only time this mommy will buy it.
There are lines at the gas station, Home Depot, and the
bank. Neighbors take down trampolines and put away yard
furniture. Some put up plywood over their windows.


And then we wait . . .


Three days before Ike made landfall, just northeast of
Houston, the craziness began. And though I felt we were
somewhat prepared, I still went out and purchased more of the
essentials. I mean, who wants to be caught in the middle of a
hurricane without Spam? (Our last supply was ravenously
consumed the week after the last hurricane threat). And since
I really didn't want to break into the fifty-gallon water barrels
disguised as furniture under tablecloths in the corners of my
bedroom, I went out and bought a dozen jugs of water and
extra batteries. (Thanks to GameBoy, I can't seem to keep
them stocked in this houseful of videogame-aholics.)


Friday afternoon, anticipation of the looming storm was
palpable. With gray skies and wind already stirring the tall
pines, magnolias, and elms of our neighborhood, we tried to
settle in. After the fiasco of Hurricane Rita three years earlier,
where the Houston freeways became clogged, those of us
living inland (we're 70 miles in, on the northwest side of
town) were asked by the mayor to hunker down so those
near the coast could safely evacuate. Even before a drop of
rain fell, the streets of Galveston were flooding. We were
glued to the television as slowly, the storm approached and
the sun set. They said it would arrive sometime between
twelve and two.


Since we don't have an "inner room" in our house except the
bathroom, we decided that the hallway and bathroom would
be the safest place for our little Hurricane-Ike slumber party.
After thoroughly scrubbing the bathroom (normally used by
three boys—yeah, you're feeling my pain already), I pulled
twin-size mattresses into our hallway and a crib mattress into
the bathroom. I even made a bed inside the bathtub for my
six-year-old. (She won't stay in her own bed all night, so I
have no idea why I thought she might sleep in a bathtub-bed
during a hurricane. Wishful thinking, I guess).


At 10:15 p.m. while watching the news, the lights went out.
Little did we know just how long it would be before our
precious electricity would be restored. My husband decided
to sleep in our bed, my twenty- and twenty-two-year-old
daughters slept in the room next to ours (away from the
window), so this brave momma-bear hunkered down in the
hall with her cubs—a twelve- and sixteen-year-old, while
the ten- and six-year-old occupied the bathroom off the hall
(probably the safest spot in the house).


When the flashlights finally went out at about 11:30, the
house was already hotter than h&!!. Houston's nickname—
H-town—is for more than one reason . . . and I don’t mean
hurricanes. Between the soaring wind, giggling six-year-old
(now sleeping at my head—picture the letter T) and sweltering
heat, I could not sleep. And that's when I had a brilliant idea.
With flashlight in hand, I wandered into the kitchen, opened
the freezer, and quickly grabbed the first cold thing I could
get my hands on—a frozen ball of leftover bread dough. This
ball, soon-to-turn blob, was my constant companion for the
remainder of the night. Forget about the husband, batteryoperated
radio, flashlight, and even water. All I wanted—
needed—was my blob of cold dough (confined within its
trusty zip-lock bag and plastered to my stomach or back) and
I'd survive this thing.


I think I dozed a bit—maybe an hour—and woke up feeling
like I was sleeping on the floor of a laundromat with every
dryer running with a handful of loose change thrown in. I'm
not sure what all debris was knocking against the living room
and family room windows, but the entire front and side of our
house was being pelted good. The wind was relentless. I
checked the time on my cell phone—2:00 a.m. We were in
the thick of it! At the same time, as if on cue, Dennis came
out of the bedroom. We were both absolutely stunned by the
violent roar of Ike. We grabbed the battery operated radio—
my lifeline for the next eight days—and started out into the
family room to listen . . . but quickly turned tail back to the
safety of the hallway. In a word, we were spooked. The tall
ceilings and large windows of the family and living rooms
suddenly felt very unsafe.

For the remainder of the night, we were stuck on the
"laundromat floor" listening to Ike's wrath. Due to the
noise, we all remained awake most of the night, dosing only
occasionally. We were hot and rattled, but we were together,
and we definitely felt the protective hand of the Lord.


By about 6:00 a.m. the winds had died down considerably
(although the storm wouldn't completely leave until about
noon). The view from our front door was like a vegetative war
zone. Tree limbs and foliage were strewn everywhere. We also
noticed that one section of our living room carpet under a
window was completely rain-soaked. With three very
absorbent towels, we sopped up the water over and over, and
wrung out the towels outside—for a good forty-five minutes.


We'd also noticed a few roof leaks during the storm and had
placed buckets and bowls underneath. One section of ceiling
in the master bedroom, roughly the size of a dinner plate, was
especially bad (actually starting to droop). This was directly
under an old antenna on the roof which should have been
removed long ago—grrrr. The winds had jostled it completely
loose, leaving an opening for all that rain to leak through.
When we received a second rainstorm the night after the
hurricane, it caused this section of ceiling to collapse, leaving
a gaping hole the size of previously mentioned dinner plate
between the attic and my bedroom. (More on this later.)


Well, I could go on and on, but at this point I think I'll just
offer in bullet points some random thoughts for those who
find themselves in the path of an oncoming hurricane.


» The scripture is absolutely true—if we are prepared, we
shall not fear. I'm so grateful I didn't have to brave the
grocery store and gas lines (at the very few stores and gas
stations that were even open) after Ike blew through. I
literally saw fifty-car gas lines, and every open gas station
was patrolled by police officers. Can you say scarynutzomania?!!!
The FEMA POD (Point of Distribution) across
from the grocery store where my kids work was insanely
chaotic. Again, more lines, more police officers. I'm glad
the food, water, and ice were available for those who
needed it, but I'm grateful that we didn't.


» Bathing in cold water really isn't all that bad when it's 500
degrees outside.


» Bathing in cold water is miserable for the first four days
after the hurricane when it has cooled off to the 80s (mid
60s at night). This is when we started to boil water . . . to
BATHE in (still had plenty of drinking water).


» After a hurricane, when you've boiled bathing water,
you are absolutely fine with—and even encourage—the
sharing of said bath water (especially when you are first
or second to use it—these things usually go by age).
And after everyone has bathed, you then use the same,
still fairly warm and quite cloudy water, to wash clothes.
Waste not, want not! :) We have eight bodies living at
home. NO WAY could we go eight days without doing
laundry. I think I counted four batches in the eight days
(the last of which was still on the rigged-up clothes line
when electricity was restored, and therefore re-washed).


» Blessed are the neighbors who own a generator and are willing
to run an extension cord to our house! Our dear neighbors
asked if we wanted it hooked up to our refrigerator.
We said, "Naah. How about the TV and DVD player?"
Yeah, we have our priorities straight (and we have children
employed at the local grocery store who can bring home ice
each night for the cooler).


» If you'd like incentive to do a speedy clean-up after a
hurricane, invite a famous author friend to stay while on
his book tour the day after you receive electricity. We'd
invited Jeff to stay at Hotel Norton months before the
storm, so I was sweating for more reasons than the heat
when his arrival date was approaching. Five days after
Ike hit, I called Jeff to see if he was still coming (all
schools had been canceled that week . . . and we still had
NO electricity). When his scheduled schools assured
him they'd be open, he tried to locate a hotel, but there
wasn't a room within 50 miles of the outskirts of
Houston. Jeff—the trooper—was prepared to "camp"
with us (though I think he would have preferred a cold
shower to the #9 bathing rank which he would have
received. Hey, we like having guests and all, but c'mon!)
:) Luckily it didn't come to that.


» Lastly, if you have a hole in your bedroom ceiling, fix it—
right away!


Dennis and Josh (our 16-year-old) had repaired all of the leaks
on the roof, but hadn't gotten to the hole in my bedroom
ceiling yet. Early Monday morning at about 5:00 (the day
after Jeff arrived) I was awakened by a huge thump below
"the hole." With trusty flashlight still next to my bed, I
pointed the light toward the hole and determined that a flap
of hanging ceiling must have fallen. Dennis thought it was
one of our two cats playing around. We went back to bed for
an hour.


Fast forward to 9:00 a.m.

I'm reclining in a water-heater heated bathtub, basking in
(and marveling over) such wondrous modern conveniences
as water heaters—not to mention hair dryers, microwaves
and the internet—when I hear my six-year-old daughter
squeaking outside of my bathroom door.


"Moooooommy . . . there's a biiiiiiiig raaaaaaat!"


"What?"


"Mommy . . . there's a BIIIIIIIG RAAAAAAT!"


I heard her that time. And indeed, there was a big, gray,
furry creature comfortably seated on my bookshelf. Only it
wasn't a rat. It was an opossum—most likely the same one
that had twice been removed by my teenage son from our
garage a few weeks earlier and deposited down the street.
The critter had obviously returned and somehow made its
way through the walls and attic, and had fallen through the
hole in my bedroom ceiling hours earlier. Eeeeeew, ick,
yuck, and all that! This time my brave son caught the critter
and deposited him 20 miles from our home. I truly hope he
never comes back—the opossum OR Ike (or any of his
annoying hurricane relatives).


It was a crazy eight days, but I'd give up fried Spam forever if
we never had to go through that again. Carry on!