Thursday, February 28, 2008

Solitude or Surrounded?

Here's your writerly question of the day.

Are you one of those writers who can go to a coffeehouse or cafe, plop down with your laptop and/or pen and paper, and write? Or are you like me, and look at everyone around you, wondering what their story is, wondering what they're thinking and doing, and not getting a single thing done on your own novel?

I've tried writing in Barnes & Noble before and it was pretty much an exercise in futility. I'm too much of a people watcher. I could go sit at a mall and just watch people all day long.

For me, I need to have solitude. Ok, so my kids are usually running around or my cats are jumping up on my desk to play with my cursor, but my distractions are minimal.

How about you?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

That One Little Phrase...

So there it was. The perfect phrase. Astonishingly simple, yet brilliant in scope (ok, I'm probably pushing it a bit...)

And oh, how I wanted to use it.

I did, at first. But then the more I played with the paragraphs and tried to make everything fit that one phrase, the more that one phrase needed to be deleted. Oh, I tried to make it work. I moved sentences around, played Pinball for awhile on my laptop, went back to the page and wrote a few more words...but in the end, I was stuck. And - it was because I was attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole.

I bit the bullet, highlighted the offending phrase, and hit the Ctrl X button. Then I promptly pasted it to the end of the page because as we all know, deleting a good phrase is simply not done. I have a hard time deleting anything I write anyway, because you just never know when you might need it.

The laptop calls...

Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Accentuate the Positive


There's no particular reason I picked this picture other than I think it's fun and why can't we have fun on a Monday? We gotta "Accentuate the Positive" as the old song goes. It's Monday, yes, but it's also a day full of possibilities, right?

Saturday I spent nearly the whole day with my laptop, lounging on the couch, and writing on the novel - managed to get quite a bit done, too. Also listened to Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours album and realized it is scratched pretty badly, so I need to buy a new copy. I've played that album so many times, I'm not really surprised.

Sunday I went to church, browsed through Barnes & Noble and picked up a book and a magazine, had a nice, quiet lunch to myself, then went home and spent time with the family. My best friend called me last night and I hadn't talked to her for months, but it was like time never passed - we picked up right where we left off. That's the wonderful thing about our friendship - we both lead very busy lives, so we don't get upset if we stay out of touch for awhile.

So yeah. Not a very exciting weekend, but pleasant. The weather wasn't bad, either. You could get away with wearing a jacket and the sun was shining. Beautiful.

While browsing through the magazine I bought at B&N, World War II, I came across an announcement for the Second Annual International Conference on World War II. And boy, did I start drooling. Why? Because it's not only going to be held at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans (I've visited New Orleans, but not the D-Day museum), but the topic of discussion is one very near and dear to my heart - Real to Reel: World War II in Film, Documentaries & Newsreels.

Oh. My. Goodness. Do I ever want to attend this. Unfortunately, I don't think I have the cash to finagle it right now (it's in April which doesn't leave a lot of time to save, plus I don't have that many vacation days left!) but oh, how I would love to go. There are some people giving presentations that I'd love to meet, including Arnold Krammer, whose book on German POWs in the U.S. during the war was instrumental in my thesis.

I must admit, my brain gets starved for lectures every once in awhile, and this conference would be FULL of them. I really just need to keep my eyes open and see what speakers are appearing at our local university, and maybe I could sit in on a class taught by my old advisor now and then. Hmm...that's a good idea.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Commentary About Nothing At All


I tell ya. If work is slow, my brain is slow the rest of the night. I get home and feel like cornmeal mush. All I want to do is sit on the couch, read a good book, like this one (which I recently finished and highly recommend) or take a nap. I did take a short snooze Wednesday night, but last night I actually worked out instead. Believe me, I had to drag myself to the treadmill and I did not experience the satisfaction or "exercise high" that I normally do. However, I did feel better when I marked another X on my calendar - that marks three times this week I've worked out, and I'm hoping for one more.

And is it just me or is everyone sick? I can't believe how many people have been out of the office in the past month. My stepson had the flu, my daughter had a bad cold, and has had tummy trouble. My brother and his family all got hit with something, and I know my mom had a terrible cold, as well.

Is this the price we're paying for the overuse of antibiotics? I tend to think so. Super Germs are starting to show up and are making our lives miserable. If you figure all the missed school and work hours, that adds up to a lot of time and money lost.

Another thing. I am actually ready for spring. I normally love the winter, but I've had enough. I want to wear my cute new shoes and skirt, and not have to freeze to do so. Walking outside has become plain miserable, so that's more exercise I'm missing out on at work. I know there was a ferocious ice storm in Missouri and southern Illinois - if you're in that area, stay safe!

The weekend is almost here. Stay warm, stay safe, and stay healthy!


Thursday, February 21, 2008

I Have To Ask...

This may be a very odd topic for me, but it's a question I've wondered for some time now.

Why do guys spit? I can't begin to count how many times I've been walking down the sidewalk and I see a guy turn his head, spit, and leave a nice spot on the sidewalk. In fact, I see these spots on the sidewalk all the time. My husband does it. My brother does it. My stepson does it. I think just about every guy I know does it.

Do they have an excess of saliva in their mouth that we women are blissfully unaware of?

Guys, speak up. Leave an anonymous comment. Just tell me why you indulge in this, urm, pasttime. Because frankly, I'm getting really grossed out by it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm Being Brave





Ok. So hubby says that I look like a librarian with my glasses - that I look, well, intellectual. I say I look intellectual with or without my glasses. Heh. So here's the test. Here's a pic of me with the darn spectacles and here's a pic of me with my contacts in.

What do you think? (BTW - I much prefer myself without glasses - but that's probably just a vanity thing).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why You Should Exercise If You're a Writer


Writers sit a lot. Sure, we get up and move around when we're stuck (at least I do), but the majority of the time is spent in a chair, in front of the keyboard or with pen and notebook. And, if you're like me, I get hungry when I write - so I inevitably end up snacking. I try and eat the healthy stuff, but dark chocolate apparently helps me in the creative process.

Here are a few reasons why you need to exercise if you're a writer:

1) It feels good. Yesterday I was in a foul mood - probably because I hadn't exercised for a few days. Once I got on the treadmill and weight machine, I felt so much better. Just getting up and moving can do wonders for your emotional health, too. And that helps you churn out better prose!

2) It's good for you. Exercise has so many benefits, but it's worth it to list them again. It helps to control your blood sugars, strengthens your heart and lungs, combats some chronic diseases, helps you sleep better, and manages your weight. It also can help you feel less tired. Before I started exercising, I also felt lethargic and wouldn't hesitate to sit on the couch because I didn't have the energy to move. I have more energy now. If I happen to take a week off from exercising (which I try very, very hard not to), I can instantly tell. I feel lousy and unmotivated. I sometimes have to force myself to work out, but I'm always glad that I did when I finish.

3) It helps you think. Have a plot problem? Can't figure out why your character is acting the way they are? Jump on the treadmill. Hit the weight machine. Take a walk. Just move. Last night on the treadmill, I was working out a few specifics to my characters' motivations and I got so lost in thought that by the time I looked at the clock, I'd walked a lot longer than I originally planned.

4) It gets you off the chair! Your body wasn't meant to sit for hours at a time in front of a computer. Yes, you may get lost in your story and look up and find that two hours have gone by. But while this is a good thing for your story, it's a bad thing for your body. At my last job, I used to set a reminder for myself through my email program that would pop up and say, "Take a break and stretch." At my new job, I get up and down from my desk quite a lot, so I don't use this option anymore. But even if you work at home, set an alarm clock to go off every half hour to 45 minutes. Stretching, getting up and walking around, or throwing a load of laundry into the dryer will keep your muscles limber.

Don't put it off anymore. Your mental and physical health are delicately entwined, and you need to take care of both, especially if you want to keep writing! Stop feeling guilty for not exercising - and just start moving. Your writing - and your life - will improve!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I Went Shopping...

It was time to get out of the house today and go on a mini-shopping spree. I found lots of great bargains - but these shoes captured my heart (and my checkbook!).

And of course, I had to find an outfit to go with them! ;-)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reason 6,453 to Love the Internet


I'm a historian. That means I like to gather lots of stuff for my research. And darn it, I like to research. When I went to the archives at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, for my master's thesis, I copied tons of documents and brought my husband along as my assistant. The curator of the museum completely understood my need to have all those documents (diaries and pictures and letters, oh my!) and said, "There's a saying with historians. Whoever has the most stuff wins."

The Internet has opened up an entirely new world of research and has enabled us to share information like never before.

Case in point.

I'm working on a novel set during the 1940s. For the past few days, I've been researching fashion of that time period. And lo and behold, I found this site which has vintage sewing patterns. For sale. Ok, ok, I confess, I have to keep my cursor off the "add to cart" button for these - but I can browse to my heart's content. Now I have a ton of fashion plates to look at - and I'm even thinking about sewing a few of these outfits, especially this one. Without the internet, I'd have to visit a museum or find someone who collected vintage patterns to find all of these.

Another case in point. I needed to know what it was like to fly in a Piper Cub airplane of the '40s. Lo and behold, I found a guy who bought one of these vintage airplanes, restored it to all its original parts, and then kept a log of when he took it out to fly it. He recorded everything, down to how it handled, the way it sounded, etc. This little find cut down dramatically on the time it would have taken me to locate someone who owned one of these.

Want to know what names were popular during a specific decade? The Social Security Administration's got you covered.

And check this out - I could spend hours on this site. It's Steven Spielberg's Film and Video Archive at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. You can actually watch video footage taken during World War II. Absolutely amazing.

I could go on and on. But. Every good writer must know when to stop researching and when to start writing. So off I go...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do You Lurk?

Sometimes I forget just how big the world is - the Internet has a way of distilling it, so to speak. For example, some of the bloggers I read on a daily basis are located all over the country and overseas. Yet with the click of a button, I can read their thoughts and ideas.

Blogging, MySpace, Facebook, and other social areas have further reduced the distance between us. In many ways, this is wonderful - people are connecting and sharing ideas like never before. Unfortunately, there is also a downside to this - it's a lot easier to insult someone, air your negative opinion, and generally be nasty to others when we're all sitting behind a computer instead of talking face to face.

When I look at my SiteMeter, I often marvel at how people got to my blog, at what search words they type in, what country they're from, etc. And it also brings up the question of lurking. I have many more visitors (as I'm sure most of us do) who don't comment than those who do. I'll admit, there are times when I'll visit a different blog and not leave a comment. And for me, it's because blogs are personal. I would rather visit a few times, get to know the person first, and then leave a comment rather than just comment and then forget to visit again.

(I just realized that if you look at the word "lurk" for a long time, it begins to look and sound really, really weird...or maybe I just haven't had enough caffeine yet)

With the impersonal nature of the Internet (to a certain extent) and the ease of being able to come out of de-lurk mode, why is it so hard for some of us to actually "de-lurk?"

Interested in your thoughts...(and yes, this is a call to come out of "lurk" mode!)

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Writer's Mind Is Always at Work

While talking to hubby yesterday, I had a sudden burst of inspiration in mid-sentence. Since we were chatting right next to my computer, I said, "Do you mind? I just had a burst of inspiration and need to write it down."

He looked at me, perplexed, and said, "Go write it down."

When I was finished, he said, "How do you do that? Get ideas like that?"

Ah...that is the power of a writer's mind. It's always working. When I told him I had no control over it, that inspiration "just happened", he accepted my explanation, but I don't know that he understood it.

When I'm deep in writing a novel, my mind is constantly turning ideas over, especially spots that I'm having trouble with, and when I least expect it, boom! There's the answer.

Where's the strangest place you've been hit with inspiration?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Torn Between The Past and the Even Further Past




Yesterday at work, I wasn't in the mood to listen to big band or swing music. Instead, I longed for some good Baroque music ala Vivaldi and Bach. Thankfully, finding an awesome online radio station for such music wasn't hard, and I was suddenly thrust back into the time period that I've loved for so long - but recently neglected.

I started out loving the 18th and early 19th Centuries, mostly in elementary, high school, and college. One of the first romances I read was Tree of Gold by Rosalind Laker, set in Napoleonic France. It remains my absolute favorite book of all time. Patricia Veryan's Georgian Chronicles further seduced me into this period of lush decadence and political upheaval - and continue to remain some of my all-time favorite books.

When I went to graduate school, I had intended to focus on the French Revolution. That evolved to a comparison between the French and American Revolutions. But midway through my first semester, after taking a class on Nazi Germany, I switched my focus and instead centered on World War II. I haven't regretted that decision for an instant.

What I do regret, however, is not being able to give both time periods equal share in my life.

Let me explain.

When I write a novel set during World War II, I listen to the music of the times, read books set during that period, and will watch that era's movies. It's how I keep myself focused and in that "time." My mind is so easily seduced, however, that if I happen to watch a Jane Austen flick (and have you been watching the Jane Austen series on PBS? I can't for fear of, well, keep reading...) I will immediately want to run back to my abandoned Regency-set novel and put aside my World War II book. Novels do not get written this way.

So. How to co-exist in both worlds? I'm afraid I do not have the answer. I wish I did.

I've always wanted to write a novel set during the American Revolution. Heck, I have several folders of another abandoned manuscript set during the French Revolution. Will I ever get to them again?

After listening to that gorgeous music of Bach and Vivaldi, I'm thinking I need to. But then I worry I will be "pulled out" from the World War II time period and not want to write my novel.

Maybe I need to trade off. After I write the World War II novel, I can revisit my French Revolution or Regency one...but then there's that whole pesky idea of getting an agent and having to try and stay in one particular time period to build a reading base.

Is your mind spinning yet? Mine is.

However, there must be a solution to my perplexing dilemma. If you figure it out, let me know. ;-)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

What I Did Yesterday



Yesterday, I stayed home with the kids because they had a snow day. It was a lovely day. Got to sleep in, write, exercise, research, and learn how to draw Scooby Doo.

Scooby Doo is my daughter's absolute favorite character. She asked me earlier in the day if she could show me how to draw him. I said yes and she patiently waited for the appointed hour to come around. She used one of her Scooby Doo valentines for a model and then we got to work. She'd draw a line, then patiently show me how to do the same. I can definitely see that if my daughter ever so desires to be a teacher, she will be a great one. She encouraged me when I got frustrated, showed me what I was doing wrong and helped me correct it, and exhibited a lot of patience (for the life of me, I couldn't get Scooby's left eye figured out!).

Here are the results. The top one is mine and the bottom one is hers. She decided to improvise and draw a pirate hat - and I think it's a pretty darn good pirate hat! In fact, my daughter's artistic talent continues to amaze me. She can look at something and draw it very well. She would like to be a children's book illustrator some day or a zoo keeper. I can see her doing either or both. :-)

Got a bit of writing done today, as well, and I wish I had another snow day to keep at it. But the sun was out in full force today and already started to melt the white stuff. Ah well. The weekend isn't too far away!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Snow Day!

Kids have the day off from school today - we got a ton of snow yesterday and last night.

If only adults could get snow days, too!

If you unexpectedly had the day off and a blizzard raged outside, what would you do?

Monday, February 04, 2008

It Can Happen Anywhere

Just got off the phone with my brother. His house was broken into last night during the Super Bowl. Thankfully, no one was home when it happened, but whoever did it trashed the place. He and his three roomates were all gone, watching the Super Bowl at different places. But they came home to quite a surprise.

Flat screen t.v., brand new, gone. DVD's, gone. Playstations, gone. In fact, anything electronical was missing. My brother found a crowbar on his bed and also discovered that a pad of his checks was missing. They even took his roomate's safe! They went through every room in the house and left stuff strewn around.

Scary thing is, this was in a good neighborhood. Just goes to show that it can happen anywhere. My brother feels violated - just to know that a stranger was in your house, rifling through all your stuff, would make even the most stalwart person blanch.

Here's a valuable bit of info - take the time to write down all the serial numbers on your electronics. Keep your SSN card in a hidden location. Don't leave cash laying around. Keep your doors and windows locked when you're not home - and keep a few lights on, as well.

I realize that we all know these preventative measures, but we all get in our comfort zone and forget that there are very unscrupulous, dangerous people out there who won't hesitate a minute to invade your home and your life.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Ah...The Good Ol' Days


I have always had a fascination with the past. Even when I was young, I became enamored of history. In junior high, I begged my history teacher to allow me to create a bulletin board of the Civil War for his room. He granted my request and I had a blast putting it together. I made no secret of my love for bygone eras, and all my friends knew that I had a fondness for out of the ordinary stuff.

I wasn't your typical teen. On Friday and Saturday nights, I would often stay home from basketball games and write. I'd turn on my classical music (I was a big fan of Bach and Mozart), get out my blue pen (always blue, never black - too depressing), notebook paper, and sit down at my desk to write my stories - and yes, they almost always took place in the past.

I've never been a fan of modern architecture and modern design. I prefer the lush Victorian period to decorate my house - I actually have gold and burgundy-painted walls, burgundy carpet, and fringed lampshades. Thankfully, hubby doesn't mind because the garage is his place, and the house is mine to decorate. ;-)

Whenever I go shopping, I like to buy the more vintage-looking clothes - especially shoes. And my nightgowns shoot straight to the floor and, as my husband likes to call them, look like something Laura Ingalls would wear (in my defense, they are not long-sleeved, but have a tank-top at the top). I like how they make me feel frilly and feminine.

I love movies of just about any time period, but I hold a special affinity for classic movies. This began in my childhood when I would watch Silver Screen Classics on PBS. I zealously collect classic movies on DVD and love to read autobiographies of Hollywood Golden Age stars.

In short, I'm usually more in love with the past than the present. There are exceptions, of course. I love my 2007 Jeep Liberty. I love the Internet. I love blogging. I love the miracles of modern medicine.

But I don't have an iPod and have no desire to get one. I just need a cell phone that works - it doesn't need to take pictures or let me play games or log on to the Internet. I don't have a Blackberry to help me stay organized because I would rather use an old-fashioned calendar and just write everything down with a pen. Sometimes I think the pen is a fad of the past!

I also don't enjoy the fashions of this era, either. Low-waisted jeans, slinky tops, and pinched boots don't really do a lot for me. I'd like to return to the fashions of the 1940's and 1950s, where women wore hats and gloves and stylish dresses and looked classy, and men wore fedoras and suits or nice slacks and a shirt.

So. That's me. Call me old-fashioned. I don't mind. In fact, I'll take it as a compliment. :-)

New Digs

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