Friday, September 29, 2006

Short Story Time


It's been awhile since I've written a short story. In fact, I think it's been well over a year. That's too long. I've had a few short stories published, but then I largely abandoned writing them to work on my novels. And to tell the truth, I sort of miss them. A short story's first draft can literally be done in a matter of hours and the final draft done in a few days. Not so the novel.

While working on my novel the other evening, a minor character appeared out of nowhere in a scene with the main character. This fascinating woman suddenly jumped to life on the page, and I wanted to know more about her. But she had already served her purpose in my novel and wouldn't be making any more appearances. And then it hit me. Write her story. Only I knew her story wasn't meant to be a novel, but much, much smaller.

I'm eager to start work on it, but since I'm about 10k words (or possibly less) away from finishing my novel, it will go on the backburner for just a bit. But after the novel is finished, I think the short story will be a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Importance of Minor Characters

What would the Wizard of Oz be without the wizard?

Sure, you don't actually see the wizard (Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!) until the end, but the whole journey of Dororthy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto is to meet the wonderful Wizard of Oz. But really, he is a minor character.

What about Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol? He actually is only mentioned a handful of times and only appears twice - once to utter his famous line, "God bless us everyone!" He, too, is a minor character. But the impact he has on the story is huge.

Minor characters can do lots of things for our novels - they can reveal information, give us background, or set the mood. And they can also be integral to the plot and to our main character's development. Look at how the snotty saleswomen in Pretty Woman affected Julia Roberts' character. They were VERY minor characters, yet they made a big impact on her.

Take a moment to think of your novel or short story. How do your minor characters impact the "bigger picture?"

Just for Fun...

Did you watch Sesame Street as a kid? Do your kids watch it today? I credit that show with helping me learn how to read. And of course, I loved to watch all the Muppets. My favorite one was Grover. But I think my favorite skit is the "One Way" skit. And lo and behold, I found it! The guy can't get to his girlfriend's house because she lives on a one way street. I remember feeling so upset over his plight. How, I wondered, would they ever be together? Yup - an early indication of my future in romance writing. :-) Enjoy.

Sesame Street's One Way Video

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Struggle to Read

My daughter is having a hard time with her reading. She is only in first grade, but we noticed the signs in kindergarten. It took her awhile to learn all her letters and their corresponding sounds, but thankfully, the school tested her and she has no learning disabilities.

Right now, she is in the Reading Recovery program. This requires a lot of parent participation and I'm just fine with that. The only problem? It breaks my heart to see my daughter so frustrated that she cries. This is foreign territory to me. I never had a problem learning my letters or learning how to read. I largely credit Sesame Street with helping me out in the early years. And it makes it hard to know that something that I love so much - reading - is difficult for my daughter.

Last night I had a few moments where I wondered if I could have done something different in those years before she went to school. Did I go over the alphabet enough? Did I read to her enough? What didn't I do?

I've just had to realize that I did my best at the time. There's no room for regrets, only for moving forward.

We're reading every night now, going over vocabulary words, and sounding out words. I read her a bedtime story at night and that is still one of the best times of the day.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Writing and Home Improvement

I made a list yesterday of all the things we need to do on our house before we put it on the market. I came up with 17 things. Now to the average person, this might be a bit scary. But not to my husband. He loves lists. In fact, he thrives on them. He says they make him feel more productive, more organized, and more motivated. To which I say, hurrah! ;-)

I managed to clean and organize our bathroom closet yesterday, washing all our linens and throwing away a ton of stuff that was either empty, old, or simply not needed anymore (like diaper rash ointment!). I felt quite pleased with myself when I was finished and that's just one more thing to cross off the list.

My local RWA chapter started a BIAW on Sunday and I managed to write 1500 words yesterday. I stayed up until 11 p.m. to do it, but hey, I got it done. I'm also giving our presentation at our meeting tomorrow night - I'm doing characterization and using one of Dwight Swain's books on the subject.

All in all, a productive weekend and I also had time to relax and start another book - Charlotte Gray and of course, it's set during World War II. I happened to spot this on the shelf one time while browsing through Barnes & Noble and had to have it. Little did I know until after I bought it that they also made a movie out of it. So, of course, I ordered the movie. But I am determined to read the book first. :-)

Friday, September 22, 2006

BIAW Set for Sunday

If anyone is interested, I am doing a BIAW with my local RWA chapter and thought I'd invite people in the blog-o-sphere to join us. I'll be keeping track of things over at Villa in Tuscany. For those of you who have never participated in a BIAW, just go to Villa and scroll down to the previous BIAW posts.

Sign up at Villa if you're interested!

Paint Yourself Silly

Last evening, my mother, my daughter and I went to our town's historic district to a cute little shop called Paint Yourself Silly. They have shelves upon shelves of ceramics that you can pick out and paint, and then they'll fire them for you. They had everything from small tea sets to lamp shades. After you picked out your future work of art, you then got to choose up to six colors to paint it with. My daughter chose a dinosaur and a miniature mouse, Mom chose a Halloween pumpkin, and I, being ever practical (and knowing that I already have too many knick knacks) chose a business card holder. Ha!

It was a relaxing evening and lots of fun. I can't wait to see our finished products (which we'll pick up in about a week). We plan to do it again.

Weekend plans include writing and more writing. Thank goodness it's Friday!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Caught Up in Research

I haven't written much this week - actually, about a paragraph and that's it. That bothers me, but I do have a decent excuse. I'm bogged down in research that must be done before I write the rest of my novel. Unfortunately, it's the type of research that is a bit difficult to track down. However, I'm pretty certain I could find what I need to in our university library - I just need a day off to do it!

Unfortunately, the lack of writing is playing havoc with my brain. I am actually frustrated, grumpy, and just plain miserable without writing. And of course, today is one of my very favorite days to write - rainy, cloudy, and cold. But I'm stuck at work. I doubt I'll get any done tonight either, since my daughter and I are going with my mom to a painting place. I guess you can pick out what you want to paint (ceramics) and just sit there and enjoy yourself. I know my daughter is looking forward to it. And it will be a change in creativity for me. I used to love to do crafts, but one must pick and choose when one has very little time to do things!

Do you get grouchy when you can't write?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Where To Draw the Line

In the news today, there's the story of an 83-year-old German woman who lived in San Francisco and was discovered to have been a guard at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp during World War II. Although she was not a member of the Nazi party, she worked with an SS-trained attack dog.

When federal officials found out about her past, the woman agreed to leave America and never return, give up her green card, and move back to Germany (because she lied on her immigration papers). Ironically, she married a German Jew after she came to America, who has since died. Relatives claim that her husband had no idea of his wife's past.

Such stories keep coming up of Nazis who have finally been tracked down and are now awaiting punishment. It's been sixty years since the end of World War II and these people are now senior citizens.

While in grad school, a story like this appeared in the news. I talked to my graduate advisor about it, who is Jewish and a Holocaust specialist. His response surprised me. He thought we should leave these people alone. What will we gain by forcing senior citizens to go on trial (and possibly go to prison) for something they did sixty years ago?

But then there's the other side of it. These people are guilty of participating in one of the worst crimes in human history. They can't just get away with it.

But did they get away with it or has their conscious and the fear of being caught for over sixty years been enough punishment?

It's hard to say. Where do you draw the line?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Thrill of It All



I'm staring to really love the thriller genre. And y'know what? I think I've loved it all along and just never really realized what it was that I loved. Spy stories, check. Lots of suspense, check. Mystery, check. Danger, check. Edge-of-your seat tension, check. But to give that all a specific name - well, it just didn't "click" with me until today. (And somehow, I feel incredibly dumb for it not "clicking" with me before.)

I love thrillers. Love them. For me to really enjoy a good novel, it's got to have some type of suspense in it, some form of danger. I love Ken Follett, Clive Cussler, and Jack Higgins and I'm starting to find an awful lot more authors out there. There's some good romantic suspense that I'm delving into. In fact, I'm just hitting the tip of the iceberg. I've got an entirely new genre to read!

They always say you should write the kind of book you like to read, right?

And that brings me to my point. I think I'm going to try my hand at writing a romantic thriller. Actually, I already made that decision a long time ago when I started delving into my World War II fiction. I called it suspense for awhile - but I really think "thriller" encompasses it all. (Who knew a definition could be so important? A thriller is different than a mystery in a lot of ways.) And of course, romance is going to be thrown right in there along with the danger and intrigue.

With this new realization comes a whole other nest of responsibilities. A thriller has it's own "formula", to a certain extent. There are a few key items you need to include in your novel for it be an on-the-edge-of-your-seat read. Lots of action. A ticking time bomb, so to speak. Danger. Brian Garfield has an excellent article called the Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction that John Grisham revealed as the article that gave him the tools to create The Firm.

In a sense, I feel like I'm a newborn babe. While I enjoy these books, I do not yet know how to create them. And herein lies the conundrum. Just because I like to read these books, does that mean I can learn how to write them? Should I put forth the effort of taking the time to study the craft of suspense? Is it possible for me to learn how to create the twisting road that a thriller takes? Up until now, I've written a Regency historical with an element of suspense to it, but nothing close to what it needed to be, which is why it's sitting on my harddrive right now. My second book is an inspirational World War II novel, a far cry from a suspense. And now...now I want to delve into the thriller world. (Which brings up the whole branding issue, but I'll save that for another post.)

I feel myself starting to move toward a more mainstream feel to my books. My writing is gravitating that direction and I couldn't even begin to tell you when it happened. But when the muse starts tapping you on the shoulder and urging you to look in that shadowy corner, you've got no choice but to take at least a small peek, right?

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Nada, Zip, Zilch

I sat in front of my computer this morning wondering what in the heck to blog about. It's not like I didn't do anything this weekend. I worked on my novel, slept in on Saturday (oh, how wonderful that felt), watched my football team get clobbered, went to church, and did a lot of house hunting.

And here it is, Monday already.

The house hunting is starting to take over my life. Normal, I suppose, but if my hubby didn't absolutely need a two-car garage, it would make my job a lot easier. There's a lot of nice houses out there with only one car garage, but that would never work. So I scour the Internet, go through the paper, and generally drive myself crazy. I think I dreamt about houses last night! And then hubby's snoring didn't help anything...

It's 7:15 a.m. and I need a nap already. ;-)

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Struggle


It's amazing to me how much I'm reliving some of my childhood with my daughter. She has many of the same traits as I do. She loves to stay up late and sleep in late. She's not a morning person and if you try and joke with her when she wakes up, watch out. She loves to collect rocks and I used to carry around purses full of rocks. Heck, I even went and excavated rocks out of the front yard! Mom and Dad bought me a rock-polishing machine one year for Christmas, too. She loves to draw and do crafty things and so did I.

This morning, though, we had a struggle with clothes. While I love all the pretty dresses and the cute lace-lined shirts or pants or whatever, my daughter wants nothing to do with them. And that brings back memories of when I used to go shopping with my mom. Our tastes were radically different. If she bought me something, she expected me to wear it. Half the time I didn't because I just didn't like the clothes.

When my daughter and I went school shopping, I made sure to double check with her that she liked what I was buying her so we wouldn't have the struggle in the morning that my mom and I used to have.

This morning we tried on two pairs of pants. My daughter's crestfallen expression, bowed head, and near tears about wearing either of those pairs of pants about undid me. But boy, did it bring back memories. I even said some of the things that my mom used to say to me. "I bought this so you would wear it." and "You said you liked these at the store!"

In the end, I told her to go pick out her clothes herself. What did she put on? A pair of jeans with a hole in the knee and flip flops.

Hey, I tried. :-)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Random Question of the Day

I went to Barnes & Noble yesterday (ostensibly on a work-related research trip, but also to pick up a book I wanted) and as I browsed the aisles, I realized that my reading tastes are starting to change. I used to read just straight romance with the occasional thriller, mystery, or mainstream novel thrown in. Now I'm delving into more mainstream fiction than before and really enjoying it.

So here's the question of the day:

How have your reading tastes changed over the years?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

IT'S HERE! (And a Meme)



There was a package in my mailbox today and I knew exactly what it was: How to be a Spy: The World War II SOE Training Manual. (Cue Hallelujah chorus here.)

I've been wanting this book for months now. Yes, months. Sure, it's been available, but at a price I couldn't pay. So I've been patiently watching Amazon.com for another used copy to show up, one that would coincide with payday. ;-)

Lo and behold, The Miracle happened last week and voila! Here it is!

Why this book, you ask? Let's see...

1) it deals with World War II; (a given that I'd like it, right?)

2) it deals with espionage (another given since I lurv espionage, especially anything to do with WWII and James Bond)

3) it explains in detail the way spies were trained in England for the War in Europe, and

4) because my next book deals with this very topic. WWII, espionage, danger, etc., etc., and I can't wait to start working on it.

Ok, ok, enough blathering. The book is here, all is well, and the checking account didn't suffer too much.

Favorite Childhood Memories

Sue tagged me for a meme on favorite childhood memories. Oh, I have TONS. Let's see if I can push back the cobwebs a bit...

~Strawberries fresh from my grandma's garden, sprinkled with sugar. YUM.

~Making sailboats and racing them with my two brothers on the big puddles that used to appear in our farmyard after a huge rain storm

~Dressing up like Brainy Smurf for an elementary Halloween school party one year. Yup, blue make-up and all (I was Brainy 'cuz I wore glasses. Heh.)

~Sitting in front of the kitchen stove with the stove door open on a cold, winter morning, waiting for Mom's homemade bread sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar to finish toasting while we put our feet on the door to get warm. No better way to start off the school day than that!

~Playing motorcycles with my brother complete with sunglasses, hats, and t.v. trays.

~Taking walks with my grandma and grandpa down the country road and throwing big rocks at rattlesnakes to kill them. Yes, this really worked - my grandma was a crack shot.

~Playing plastic bat and ball baseball games in the front yard with my brothers during the summer months. We'd always have "ghosties" on the bases if we hit anything but a homerun. Throwing the ball at each other counted as an out. Believe me, platic baseballs sting.

~Reading every single Nancy Drew book one summer.

~Having a "bead war" in our living room. We used plastic beads (roughtly about three inches long) and zipped them around the room (we had a HUGE living room) and usually one of us was behind the couch. That was the best spot. If you got that spot, you were SET. The blue beads hurt the worst - they had sharper angles than the others.

~Playing King of the Mountain on the steps to our house. I don't know how many times I got pushed off, but I'd always climb back up again. Hey, I was the only girl - I had to be tough. ;-)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'm Back

Wow. Talk about a headache.

When I get these tension headaches, they have a tendency to stick around for about a week. Sunday was the worst. By that evening, I was in tears because it hurt so bad. Tylenol wasn't even touching it. Hubby went and got some heating pads and icy hot, then rubbed my shoulders and neck. I finally just had to go to sleep to get rid of the pain - in fact, I was this close to heading to the emergency room just so they could knock me out with some heavy duty pain killer. I resisted, though, because I didn't want to pay an outrageous fee for said heavy duty pain killer!

Missed work yesterday and hubby stayed home to take care of me. (What a sweetheart!) We went to the chiropractor and the doc told me my neck and upper right shoulder were "really bad." Sigh...so while the pain has diminished, I really just need to make the chiropractor a once a month or once every three weeks visit to keep my neck loose. I've had these types of headaches since high school. That was a long time ago. In piecing the puzzle together of why I get them, I remember a time in volleyball practices where I wrenched my neck so badly that I actually thought I was going to pass out. I didn't, though, and never went to the doctor. An auto accident two years ago didn't help matters since my neck was again the recipient of a good snap. I've about exhausted all the over-the-counter medication there is out there.

Needless to say, not much was done over the weekend. I did manage to get a page and a half written on Saturday, but then the in-laws were here for a visit and I didn't have time to do much else.

Thanks for all your responses to the "what are you reading?" post. I enjoy seeing the different authors people like. And to all you who suffer from migraines and headaches, let me say I know completely how you feel.

For me, it makes it all the harder to be a writer when sitting at the computer, using a mouse, etc., is contributing to my tension headaches.

I guess I do suffer for my art. ;-)

Friday, September 08, 2006

What Are You Reading?


It's a slow news day in the Land of Melissa. A tension headache sidelined me yesterday afternoon. I slept for four hours. GAH! I really don't feel too much better today. These tension headache take awhile to go away. Sitting at a computer all day certainly doesn't help.


So tell me...what are you reading? I'm reading The Good German by Joseph Kanon. Very good. I'm also reading Berlin Diaires: 1940-1945 by Marie Vassiltchikov and JoAnn Ross's Out of the Mist.

You?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Frog Fiasco

When my daughter went fishing with her dad and brother on Monday, she came home with two frogs stuck in a plastic bottle. I wasn't too thrilled, but I figured as long as they stayed in the bottle, I'd be fine.

That night, she was watching a movie in our room. When I went to go check on her, I opened the door and saw her lifting up blankets and pillows, searching for something. Immediately suspicious, I asked, "What's going on?"

Innocently: "Nothing!"

"Tell me what's really going on."

"Ummmmm...." She paused to look furtively around the room.

Me: "Did you let one of the frogs out?"

A reluctant nod.

A sigh from me. "Well, let's find it."

Thus started a frantic search around the bedroom while I had thoughts of being attacked by a slimy amphibian in the middle of the night. Luckily, she found it and put it safely back in the bottle.

Last night we decided to move the frogs to a more respectable home. But making the transfer from the bottle to the new, air-conditioned place was a bit of a challenge. Both frogs decided to make a run for it and my daughter and I scrambled after them, she shrieking with laughter and I shrieking with, um, yeah, laughter, that's it.

I think the frogs will have probably a brief stay as I don't have any dead crickets or bugs to feed them. We tried fish food, but they didn't appear too interested. :-)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

It's Tuesday

Ah...the weekend was great! We got to spend a lot of time as a family this weekend, which I really loved. Plus, the Huskers won! 49-10. Rather a blow-out, but hey, it's a terrific way to start the season.

I managed to get 5,000 words written over the last three days. I wrote the black moment and was pleased with how it turned out, although I know I need to put a bit more emotion in. But that's what editing is for. :-) Surprisingly, I also only checked my email once over the weekend - largely because hubby doesn't have the Internet hooked up at his house right now. It's good to take a break from it, though.

I'm also quite happy that last week was a short work week since I got off early on Friday and this week is a short week since we didn't work yesterday. That is cause enough for happiness on a Tuesday morning!

What did you do over the weekend?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Beware All Ye Who Enter Here!




This is my daughter's imagination at work. To keep the nighttime monsters away, she equipped her trusty stuffed tiger with a Batman mask and cape and placed him in the hallway. I must say, he does look quite terrifying!

Have a wonderful weekend!


New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net