I love: Z.

Because it’s the end!

By the time the Blog Challenge is over, I’m tired of posting every day.  I enjoyed this challenge much more than last year’s, however.  For one, I’m not working two jobs.  For another, I actually had a plan this time.

I also like Z because it’s a neat letter.  When I write it, I make it like this:  Z.   (That’s a line through the letter, not a strikethrough.)  I make my number seven the same way:  7.   Long ago, my late voice teacher, Margaret Thuenemann, made hers that way (Pittsburg State University in Kansas).  I liked it so much I adopted it.

I hope some of my posts were entertaining, at least.  It’s way past time to work on my book again, but I’ll try to post regularly.  That’s one thing the Challenge is good for—getting you back on track.

Thank you to everyone who hopped over here and a big thank you and hug to my regular readers.


Yucky and You

I love:  not much today.  It’s been a yucky day.

  • There is bird plop on my car and it won’t rain.
  • I drove all the way to the rink this morning and had to come all the way back and get my wallet
  • I stepped out on the ice with my skate guards on.  FAIL.

    Like this, only without the stairs.

  • I forgot my paper and had to go back out when I really didn’t want to.
  • A drop of smoking hot glue burned my finger severely while I struggled to kitbash a couple of nasty luan plywood dollhouses into something vaguely resembling a shop.
  • I did not enjoy my dinner.
  • Tomorrow is Monday.

On the bright side, I ordered a book from Amazon called Decorative Dollhouses, by Caroline Hamilton.  I’ve checked it out of the library numerous times, and extra copies never show up in the biannual sale.  Amazon had it for less than five bucks including shipping. It was supposed to show up Monday but I got it Saturday.  Happy happy joy joy.

It’s hard to keep this guy down.


I hate:  you.

Yes, you.  You know who you are.  You’re out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to annoy me.  Soon you’ll be in front of me on the road, putt-putting along like you have all day.

You’ll be filling out an application next to me, and bragging on your vast experience, trying to intimidate me.

You’ll take the last muffin on the breakfast buffet as you see me reaching for it.

You’ll cut in front of me at the store, with the lofty excuse “I have a child,” even though said child is nowhere in evidence.

You’ll put your junk right on top of mine at the skating rink, even though it was there first, like it doesn’t exist.  Like I don’t exist.

You’ll ignore me when I want to talk to you, turn away when I need you, save the best of yourself for someone else, take what I give you and return nothing.

You’ll criticize my appearance, my work, my hobbies, my choices, and my life.  You won’t always do it out loud, but your look tells all.


Perhaps hate is too strong a word.  I strive for indifference to you.  Unfortunately, we’re both human.  So I should thank you for giving me something I can use.  And you will be immortalized in a well-crafted scene, and when people read it, they’ll think to themselves, “What a jerk!”

X: The Man with the X Ray Eyes and (E)xposition Dumps

I love:  X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes!

Image: cinefantastiqueonline

I’ve wanted to see this Roger Corman film for years.  Stephen King talked about it in his non-fiction book on horror in prose and film, Danse Macabre.   The film stars Ray Milland.

It FINALLY became available on a Netflix double feature disc paired with Premature Burial, one of Corman’s Poe flicks and not a bad offering itself.   In Burial, Milland plays Guy, a Victorian man who has a terror of being buried alive.  It was a common fear in those days, that one would succumb to catalepsy and mistakenly be interred.  Perhaps in earlier times it explained some of the vampire myths about coffins being opened and searchers finding bloody-handed corpses with bulging eyes inside, and claw marks inside the lids.

The Premature Burial, by Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865). This painting always used to scare the crap out of me.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

X opens with a shot of a bloody eyeball.  Yeah, that can’t be good.   Milland plays Dr. Xavier, a scientist who is doing research on the limits of human vision. He wants to push it further than it’s ever been pushed before.

Xavier develops some eyedrops that allow him to see past the visible spectrum.  He tests them on a monkey, who freaks and dies.  His assistant asks, horrified, “What did he see?  WHAT DID HE SEE?

This isn’t good enough for the doctor; the monkey, of course, is an animal.  There’s only one way to determine how a human would react to the drops.  Only.  One.  Way.

He soon finds he can see into a patient’s body (fabulous trick for a doctor) and through ladies’ clothes at a party.  And he damn well enjoys it.

Unfortunately, Xavier soon finds himself practically addicted to the idea of it, to “explore all the mysteries of creation!” and it leads him down a dark and twisted path, to some of the world’s ugliest wallpaper.  Quite painful for a man who can see everything.

Is Xavier nuts to experiment on himself?  Is it ethical? What horrors await him? How far will he go?  Why did people in the 1960s dance so weird?

Milland plays existential anguish well.  Sitting at a casino table, x-raying cards through an enormous pair of black sunglasses, he resembles a surly alien, desperately trying to escape as the drops spiral him down into a nightmare.

Corman favorite Dick Miller pops up, as do Don Rickles and the late great John Hoyt, who Trek nerds might know was actually the doctor in the Star Trek pilot “The Cage.”  I met Mr. Hoyt in Santa Cruz shortly before his death; he was a very gracious man.

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, for all its zany premise and cheap special effects, is quite somber in tone and well-acted.   Give it a look (heh heh) if you get a chance, while Netflix still has it.


I hate:  (e)xposition dumps.

Sometimes referred to as infodumps, these occur when a writer isn’t careful about inserting expository information skillfully within the narrative.  Instead, a character stops everything by explaining things, or there are long passages that do it instead.

Dumps annoy because they stop the story.  I don’t have a problem with them if something else is going on around them.  There are times when you kind of have to do it, but you should try not to lay it all out at once.  Go through your info and pull out the main points you want people to know, and feed it to them in bites rather than shoving a huge platter into their brains.

If you really have to, flashbacks are okay, I guess.  Someone pondering can have other things going on around them that reveal character or plot points or setting while they’re working out their details.

Thinking about this now, I got some cleanup to do.  The only novel you can’t change is one that’s on the shelf.

Too late now!

Image: Lars Aronsson / Wikimedia Commons

Words and Writing

I love:  words.

I better, if I’m going to write.

Words are the building blocks of my art.  I put them together and try to do it in new and surprising ways.   I don’t think I succeed a lot of the time, but when I do, there is the delicious pleasure of having made something no one else could make.

I wrote a passage in my book that I loved.  It almost doesn’t sound like me (and I’m not entirely sure it is—I’ve googled the crap out of it and I can’t find anywhere I lifted it from).   It’s so good I can’t believe it came out of my head.

It’s unnecessary to use big words, or overly complex phrasing, to convey an idea.   Look at this passage from Hemingway’s 1926 story “In Another Country,” for example.

In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains.

You can see the street in your head, can’t you?  Each word is chosen very deliberately, and none of them are elaborate or showy.  Good word choices like powdered for the snow on the fox fur avoid clichés like dusted.

Consider the phrase the wind turned their feathers.  When wind blows a bird’s feathers, they flip up, don’t they?  But flip wouldn’t be the right word here, because it has a jovial quality that doesn’t fit with the quiet winter darkening of the street.   The birds are dead, and the wind is acting upon them.  Turned implies a more deliberate action, and a slower one.  The feathers turn as the birds swing back and forth in the wind, and in just a few words, Hemingway paints an image of motion in our minds.

He uses the word wind quite a few times here, but he has established a rhythm.  In the wintry street, it’s the only thing alive among the game animals.

By focusing on just a few details and using simple yet powerful words, Hemingway establishes a scene that sets a tone and draws us into the story.

Ernest Hemingway in Switzerland, 1927.

Image: By unattributed / Wikimedia Commons


I hate:  writing.

Yes, I said it.  Sometimes I do hate it.  If I’m tired, I don’t want to write; all I want to do is watch Emergency! on Netflix.  Or listen to music and blather in my chat room.   Or READ, for a change.

If I don’t write, I feel guilty.  When it’s going well, I love it, I don’t want to stop, I can’t fathom ending the dream I’ve fallen into.   Other times, I feel as though I’m writing a very long paper on a very dull subject.  I believe Hell for writers must be typing a dissertation on the striations in the wood grain on your desk.   For eternity.

Victorian Era and Vanity Publishers – My 200th Post!


Image: Semnoz / Wikimedia Commons

It’s kinda neat that it happened during the A-Z Challenge.  :)

I have absolutely nothing to give you, except a huge THANK YOU for following my blog.  You force me to attempt to be clever and come up with colorful examples when I’m talking about writing, because I want to entertain you.   I wish all of you good things and may 2012 be a much better year for all of us.

I love: the Victorian era.

It is generally defined by the reign of British monarch Queen Victoria, from 1837 to 1901, and named for her.  In America, those years of excess were dubbed “the Gilded Age” by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner.

Many people think of the Victorian era as a time of repressed morality.  Indeed, religion and social status were highly prized to the Victorians.  But for the first time, industrialization allowed the rise of a middle class, and mass-produced goods became available to the common man.

There are some dumb things about the age, such as protectionism and idealization of women, which didn’t allow them to reach their full potential.  And it took forever for people to realize that if you washed your hands before you delivered a baby, both mama and infant were much less likely to die.

The period saw a great uptick in discovery and technology, particularly at the end of the nineteenth century.   If you compare that time to the end of the twentieth century, they are very similar.  Look at all the cool things that exploded from the 1970s through the 1990s:

  • Internet
  • Home computers
  • The hepatitis B vaccine
  • The LCD display
  • Gene splicing
  • Cell phones

Now look at the the nineteenth century.  Before the 1850s, the telegraph, the sewing machine, and typewriters were invented.   That was only the beginning.   In the rush to the end of the century, the pace of these inventions sped up.  Between the 1870s and 1899, we have:

  • The telephone
  • The phonograph
  • Photography (daguerreotype first in1839)
  • A decent lightbulb (there’s one here that has been burning for over a hundred years)
  • The pneumatic tire
  • The movies
  • Vacuum cleaners

All the little gadgets people had back then are one reason miniaturists like the Victorian period so much.

Yes, there were crappy things about living in the Victorian era.   Children worked in factories and were often killed.   There was a thing called workhouses where the poor and unemployed were sent to live and conditions there were horrific.  Slums appeared in cities, sometimes cheek by jowl with the rich folk.   There was no air conditioning and you had to burn coal to stay warm, which made large cities look like this:

Nelson's Column during the Great Smog of 1952. Now imagine this with horse plop all over the streets.

Image: N T Stobbs / Wikimedia Commons

If you messed up socially, like married the wrong person, your life was ruined.   Remember how upset Rose’s mom was in the Titanic movie when Rose acted like she didn’t want to marry Cal?  If Mama had had to go to work, they would have lost not only their standard of living, but all their friends and any means of support, without any way to climb back out like we have now.

The era is a gold mine for historical fiction writers.   I’ve thought about trying my hand at it, given all the research I’ve done for miniatures.   Or perhaps I can worm it into another book somehow.

Bet you didn’t know that the Victorians:

  • Had a crap ton of pornography.  Yep.  Both in pictures and written form.  It’s pretty steamy too.  No, I won’t post a link.  Whatsamatta, yer Google finger broken?
  • Didn’t write recipes like they do now, when they wrote them at all.  They were like, “Take one bird, and wash well.  Stuff with a mixture of blah blah blah blah and roast in a hot oven until the juices run clear.”  You were expected to know what you were doing.
  • Took pictures of their dead loved ones (memento mori—WARNING: don’t click if you are extremely sensitive!).  Sometimes that was the only picture the person would have ever had taken.  It was sad, but it gave them a remembrance of their loved ones.  The term funeral parlor came from this era too.  When people died, viewings were held in the family home, in the parlor.  The Victorians were far more familiar with death than we were, and much less squeamish.
  • Made jewelry and crafts out of hair.  Again, remembrances and a horror of wasting things.

That’s all hair. From the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

Image:  Wikimedia Commons


I hate: vanity publishers.

You pay them to publish your work.  People keep telling me I should self-pub.  I really, really, really, really don’t want to do it.

Part of the reason self publishing gets a bad rap comes from the fact that if they have the money, anyone can do it.  There are no standards.  Therefore, a lot of bad material finds its way out there.

Many decent writers are choosing to self publish, however, since the economy has affected the publishing business in a big way.  It’s also pretty cutthroat to do it the traditional way, but it does happen.

Underwear and Unsolicited Advice

I love:  underwear.

Not literal underwear, but the underneath part of the story that sometimes flashes glimpses at you like a bra strap or the shocking flash of bright-colored boxer briefs when the pants slide down and the shirt rides up.

Some underwear is backstory.   A flashback intrudes, and the protagonist takes it out of the mind drawer and examines it.  Holes may appear or the memory may be pristine.  Either way, we get a good long look at the underwear.

Some types of underwear are more complex than others.

Others are things we all do but writers rarely put in a story.  Simple, everyday things.   Eating, smoking, peeing—you ever notice how many book characters never go to the bathroom?  I mean NEVER.   In certain genres, they don’t have sex either, not even in situations where any normal person’s underwear would be hanging from the doorknob.

Little bits and pieces of underwear help define character.  What a person chooses to reveal—or not—tells the reader and the other characters more about them than they may care to permit.


I hate:  unsolicited advice.

People always think they can tell writers what to do.   “You know what you should do is—“ has become a phrase I dread to hear.  It’s usually followed by uninformed blather from someone who doesn’t know crap about anything.

“You should write children’s stories.”  

I don’t do that.  I like writing about sex and violence, thank you very much.

“You should self-publish!” 


“You should write something that will sell!”

What the bloody hell do you think I’m trying to do?!

(After you’ve explained what a query is) “Put in your query letter that your mother liked your book!”

*takes out pistol, puts to temple* BLAM!

Skate I will, for skate I must.

Photograph by Elizabeth West

Like Tiny Batman says, stay true to your vision.  If you don’t, your writing will suffer.  You and you alone know what you are good at, what works for you, and how you want to approach it.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything you can to learn new techniques.   It doesn’t mean you can’t explore new ways of publishing.  Make sure you listen to that voice inside you.  Don’t let people who don’t know any better tell you what to do.

Twist Endings and Tropes

Gah! Behind again.

I love:  twist endings.

Sometimes referred to as O. Henry endings, for the pen name of William Sidney Porter, a writer who specialized in them, twist endings happen when something completely unexpected throws a curve ball at the characters.

Clumsy foreshadowing will completely ruin a twist ending.  If you can see it coming, it wasn’t a twist.  But if the foreshadowing is actually really subtle, you only see it after the twist has been revealed, in which case you say “OH I SHOULD HAVE SEEN THAT!!!”


Image: imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sticking some stupid crap reveal where there is no precedent for it also ruins a twist ending.  You see it a lot in horror films.  Happy Birthday to Me has a good example.  

The most famous of O. Henry’s twisty stories is The Gift of the Magi, where if you don’t know what happens, then you didn’t pay attention in school.  You can read it at the link.  It’s not long.

Movies with good twist endings are The Sixth Sense, The Mist, Planet of the Apes (1968), and Psycho.  Literary works with good twist endings are Shutter Island (I haven’t read it, only saw the movie, but it’s a great one), Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series (you have to read seven fat-ass books to get there, but it’s worth it), and Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Necklace. 


I hate:  tropes.

The word trope has more than one meaning.  First, rhetorical figurative language that twists one word or phrase away from its literal meaning.

In time, it came to refer to devices, characters and elements that are peculiar to certain genre types and recur within them.  They’re not always clichés just yet, but identifying which genre they belong to is really easy.

I don’t hate them exactly.  Unfortunately, they’ve all been used in so many combinations that it’s very difficult to come up with something fresh.  New combinations are tough to find.

There’s a wiki called TV Tropes that details many of the tropes in film, books, television, and the like.   Read it with caution.  If you’re a writer, it’ll make you hyper-aware of overused tropes in your own work, which will either help you or make you feel like crap!

Either way, it’s a very entertaining site.   A few tropes have attained legendary status.  Woe to you if you use them in anything less than a deliberate manner.

The Mary Sue character

This is a character that is so incredibly wonderful in every way that she is completely unbelievable.   Piss all over Mary Sue; she’ll come up with a lip-trembling, magnanimous reason why you should be forgiven.

Evil twins

Please, please, please, make it stop.   The only way I can even stand this is when both twins are evil.

Villain speech

Why do villains have to explain everything to the hero?  Is he/she so dumb as to not figure it out after expending great effort to stop whatever the villain is doing?   Batman never asks for an explanation.  He knows what is going on.  Although, sometimes it’s really hard to make Joker shut the hell up.

Many writers, especially in TV and films, use it as a stalling device so a rescuer can get there in time or the hero can come up with a way out.

A misunderstanding without any discussion

What is this, Three’s Company?  Most people, if they don’t understand something, will at least say, “Huh?” thus inviting some kind of explanation.  I can’t stand it when characters don’t ask.

Be creative; think up a really good reason why they can’t get the information they need.   Maybe even make their worst suspicions come true and go from there.  It’ll ramp up the conflict.   If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like one, it ain’t a pony.

Men are stupid, or women are too emotional

Let’s skip the generalization, please.  Your characters should have some individuality.  Not all women are emotional, cry at the drop of a hat, throw things when they’re on the rag, etc.  And not all men are dimwits who can’t even iron a shirt.

This is clip art of a man vacuuming, as no known photograph of this phenomenon exists.

Image:  office.microsoft.com

You can avoid eye-rolling among your readers if you take the time to develop well-rounded characters, with believable motivations.  Try mixing up a few tropes and see if you can’t come up with something new.

Spying and Series

I love:  spying.

You know, eavesdropping on people.  Bits and pieces of conversation you overhear in the grocery store, at work, etc., can be incorporated into your stories.  Sometimes they can even spark one.

I keep a little diary in my purse in which to jot things down.  Also there is a file on my flash drive where I can record things if I’m already on the computer; I just plug it in and go.

One spectacular insult I overheard at work made its way into Rose’s Hostage.  Too bad you’re never going to read it.  >:(

If you’re going to eavesdrop, be subtle about it. Like this.

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rules for Spying

  • Try not to tick people off.   Don’t point mics in their direction or anything.
  • Same goes with video.  Put the smartphone away.
  • Use your imagination a bit.  If they’re behind you, try to guess what they look like.

I was in the mall once and heard someone say something absolutely astonishing.  It became the first line of a short story.  I didn’t dare turn around because they were walking right behind me, and I didn’t want them to pound me or anything.

  • If someone says something really funny or clever, at least ask them for tacit permission to use it.  “HAW HAW THAT’S GREAT, I’M GONNA PUT IT IN MAH BOOK”  is good enough.  They’ll probably be flattered.
  • If the quote sounds like something a professional comedian would say, Google it so you don’t run afoul of any copyright laws.


I hate:  series.

Well, I don’t exactly HATE series, but now everything is one.  Sometimes you only find one or two books in the library in a series, and you can go nuts trying to find the rest.  I had that problem with the Artemis Fowl books.  I didn’t want to buy them, but I did want to read them all.

I had the idea to turn Detective Pierce into a series character, especially if Rose’s Hostage ever got published.   I still would like to.  He doesn’t have a gimmick, though.  He’s not a werewolf, he doesn’t have a mental disorder or a third leg.  I wanted to make the investigations the wonky part.   RH is pretty straightforward.

The WIP is self-contained.  No sequels there.  But I’m still working on some other ideas, so maybe I’ll come up with one that would make a good series.

I don’t have much to say today, so please enjoy this video of Psycho Kitty playing with her little bally.  (WARNING:  Turn the volume down.  For some reason it came out extremely loud.)




Research and Rejection

I love:  research.


For Rose’s Hostage, I read a plethora of forensic texts, some crime writing handbooks, and spoke with the FBI and a former criminology instructor of mine who was a police officer for many years.  I love this stuff and I like to think my research made it sound a bit more authentic.

Calling some of these people can be intimidating, especially if you have a weird question.   Be polite and explain why you would like to talk to them.  I called the local FBI office and spoke with a very patient agent, but later I had more questions.

Turns out the FBI has an office in Washington expressly for research of this type.  Write them a certified letter (return receipt requested) to show your inquiry is serious and you’re not just a crank.  They will assign someone to help you.

I found everyone there to be extremely accommodating and polite.  I hope the book gets published someday so their time and efforts don’t go to waste.   If not, I can use what I’ve learned here to authenticate the next one.

I already wrote a post about credible websites here.  If you’re using the Internet, make sure you aren’t getting second or even third-hand information from unreliable sources.  Otherwise, readers who know will call you out.

The old-fashioned way.

 Image: Felixco, Inc. / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 Be careful research doesn’t take over your project.  It’s far too easy to get caught up.  I was looking up information about Victorian life for miniatures projects and ended up doing NO work and a lot of reading.   Yeah, it was fun, but I don’t have a single finished dollhouse. YET.

I’m sure I’d have to make a name for myself before I can penetrate the deeper recesses of research.  Some dink writer no one’s ever heard of isn’t likely to be allowed into the autopsy room, for example, unless I’m on assignment.  But that doesn’t stop me from seeking information on any subject I care to write about.


I hate:  rejection.

Yes, everybody hates it.  It’s part of writing.  Get over it.  If you’re too scared of rejection to submit, it’s a dead certainty you’ll never publish anything.

The gold standard of rejections is one that contains editorial critique.  You probably won’t get that from a literary agent.   They’re too busy and screeners will send you a form letter, unless you actually get a manuscript into their hands.   I’ve gotten it from journal editors and smaller publications.  It means they thought enough of your writing to take actual time to give you some advice.

Don’t worry too much about getting one like this:  “YOU SUCK, GO CRAWL UNDER A ROCK AND DIE.”  That won’t happen.  A true professional will not do that to you.   They might really, really want to, if they get something absolutely ridiculous, but they won’t.

“I’ve had a very bad morning, and I’m gonna blast everything that crosses my desk.”

 Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If someone does that, write them off as an idiot and never submit to them ever again.  Then go back to writing.   It will make you feel good to watch it get better and better.




Querying and Querying

Two posts today:  I got behind again.  No, still no job.  :P

I love:  querying.

I had a lot of fun working out how to query my book.  My favorite part was thinking up ways to describe it in just a paragraph, not an easy task with a multi-protagonist story.   Searching for agencies that handled books like mine turned into a puzzle.  But actually sending off queries makes you feel kinda like a real writer.

A successful query starts with an excellent product, the writing.  Make sure your material is at its best—properly formatted, error-free, and edited to within an inch of its life.  Target your queries appropriately too.  Don’t waste time trying to get an agent or publisher who specializes in romance novels or stories interested in your horror book.

Come to think of it, this just might sell.

Original image: Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t get discouraged, either.  You may not get a bite because your work isn’t good enough yet, but also because there are only so many slots and too many great stories to fill them.  Set a limit for yourself and once you’ve reached it, move on.

You should be working on your next project while you’re querying one, so you have something to distract you from chewing your fingernails to the bone.   If an agent does contact you, she’s likely to ask what else you’re working on.  You’ll be able to say “I have this, and this.”

I’m no expert, but here are a few articles that made querying easier for me.

Writing the Query Letter Parts 1-5 by Elana Johnson

Anne Mini’s blog Author! Author!  Damn near everything you need to know about formatting, querying, and editing can be found here.  She responds to comments and although her posts are long they are worth reading.

Pub Rants, a blog by agent Kristin Nelson.  Anytime you can get advice from an actual agent, even if he/she doesn’t represent your type of book, it’s like gold.

Preditors and Editors  – an online resource allowing you to check out agencies, publishers, etc. for complaints.  Before you query an agency, look it up here.

Writer Beware – another cautionary site with alerts for writers.


Q Thing I hate:  Querying.  Feels like applying for jobs.  Oh wait….IT IS.  Constant rejection makes you feel like you suck.  Maybe I do right now; the only cure for that is more writing.

Writer-in-training. Is probably already better than I am.

Image: Umut Kemal / SXC.hu