Pig

Enraptured with squirrels she cant have.

This is Pig, otherwise known as Psycho Kitty.

I have mentioned her before.  She lives in the backyard, a half-feral thing, terrified of everyone but me and my neighbor.

She used to live across the street where her mother, whom I called Boo, birthed her in the neighbor’s garage and hid her before she could socialize to humans.   Therefore, humans are not to be trusted.  Except that tall lady who talks baby talk to her.*

One day my across-the-street neighbor’s nephew knocked on my door and presented the vet’s letter stating it was shot time again.  He said, “We don’t want her anymore, she hangs out in your yard.  Congratulations, you have a cat!”

What could I say?  I had a cat.

The people don’t live there anymore, and Boo is long vanished, having gone crazy after the ice storm and run off.   A brief reappearance before Christmas didn’t last.   Her daughter’s name was Miss Piggy.  I didn’t like it and shortened it to Pig.

She certainly eats like one.  Throws food everywhere.  I have to fish bits out of her water dish all the time.

Fairly neat this time. The wood brick is there to keep her from nosing her dish under the siding.

She won’t come in the house; that’s a big no way, buddy.  When the threat of tornadoes looms, I have to go out and drag her in.  She sits under my funky antique recliner and wails:  “MOOWWWRR…MOWWWRRRR…”  Her nickname is Bawlbaby, as in “It’s time to go feed the bawlbaby.”  Everyone in my chat room knows her by this moniker.

Another one of her tricks is to sit outside the kitchen window and cry until I come outside.  Then she rolls around looking cute, as if to say, “Pet me!”  When I do, I lose parts of my arm.

Stupid cat.

"What?"

She doesn’t even know how to play.  Dangle something in front of her, and she looks at it and then at you as if to say, “What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”  I recently discovered, however, that the laser pointer on my keychain is a source of endless fascination.

Since she’s so impaired, it seems as though she came to me because I’m the only one who will look after her.  If I moved, I don’t know what I would do with her.  You’ve already heard about her trip to the vet.  Imagine trying to keep her inside!

I could leave her…I’m sure a real estate agent would love it.  “Oh yeah, that?  It comes with the house.  No?”

I have to admit, for all the complaining I do about her, I worry when I’m out of town.  Is she scared?  Is she too hot?  Did Neighbor-Who-Feeds-Her remember to put an ice cube in her water dish?

Pets…can’t live with them, can’t not love them.

*That would be me.

Miniatures!

People who think dollhouses are for little kids may want to think again.  Miniatures are big business, with adult collectors spending big bucks on ready-made scale furniture, house kits, and custom artisan minis made with every bit as much care as full-size objects.

Below are a couple of pictures of my smallest dollhouse (I have seven).  Not all are put together and none are finished right now.  This is a old thin luan plywood Greenleaf kit called the Fairfield, and I rescued it from a flea market.  It was already assembled so my decorations had to be applied in completed rooms.  It’s hard when it’s so small.  How I’m going to decorate the stairwell I have NO clue.  Long-handled tools will be my best bet.

I apologize for being the worlds WORST photographer.

Originally blue. I have put fake cardboard clapboards on part of this house. Might take off and do brick.

Bottom: Parlor, dining room. Top: Two upstairs bedrooms. The plaster ceilings are pieces cut from Anaglypta wall covering and glued to lining paper, then painted over.

Someone needs to sweep…

I set the period of this house at around 1895.  A well-off merchant might have had a bathroom.  Electricity was still for the rich, and most people had gaslight.  I didn’t think to wire before I put wallpaper on, but I can do pipes for the gaslight and that will cover the wires.  Ha!

This dollhouse is ½ scale.  That means one half-inch equals a foot.  The most common scale is an inch to a foot, or 1:12.  Most ready made miniatures in the US come in this scale.  1:6 is known as Playscale, and fits 11-1/2 inch fashion dolls like Barbie and Ken.

The first miniatures appeared in baby houses in the sixteenth century, which were cabinets with shelves decked out as fully furnished rooms.  England, Germany and the Netherlands have the finest examples.  They were not playthings, but showcases for wealthy adult collectors.  Later, house–shaped containers were specially made to display collections of miniature objects.  Both present a fascinating glimpse of life in the time they were made.

Eventually, dollhouses became children’s toys.  But there are still plenty of artists making tiny furniture, silver, dishes and fabric minis that are scarcely discernable from their full-sized counterparts.

Modern miniaturists have created a wide variety of roomboxes and houses from the simplest found objects to elaborate constructions with everything from electric lights to working fountains.  The history of dollhouses is too vast to recreate here, so check this Wikipedia page for more information.

There is a huge divide on whether dolls should be included in a display house.  Some miniaturists feel they take away from the realism of a carefully-crafted room, as no one can ever make a doll that looks exactly like a person.  Others feel that rooms are more artistic than realistic and dolls make the rooms more lived-in.

If you do use dolls, it’s better to have them posed in the midst of some kind of action, to give an illusion of life and movement.  A room without them can be staged to look as if someone were just there, perhaps with objects in disarray as if the person stepped out for a sec to yell at the kids or go to the loo.
I personally dislike dolls, but I have to admit there are some fabulous doll artists out there.  I had one idea I want to try and if I can make decent-looking dolls for it, I will do it.  If not, I’ll just stage things.  When I ever get that finished I’ll be sure and post a picture of it.  Why can’t there be more than 24 hours in a day?

Some people prefer to buy miniatures and some like to make their own.  I like both because I can’t afford the nice stuff, like Bespaq furniture.  If you look regularly at flea markets you can sometimes find things already constructed, or even kits still in the box.  The most I paid for a mini was $85 for a German Bodo Hennig replica of a gramophone that really works (it’s a music box).

Left to right: Window and door components, gramophone, wiring kit, tiny suitcases (they don’t open), a discontinued furniture kit.

All kinds of found objects can be used to make miniatures.  Once you start doing this, you look at things with a different eye.  A metal bottle cap with pleated edges becomes a pie plate, pepper seeds look like tiny potato chips, flat buttons can be plates.  Beads have myriad uses.  When I was a kid, we made stuff for our Barbies all the time.  I’m just working in a smaller scale now.

If you’d like more information, check out the links below or go to your local library and look in the Crafts section.  There should be some excellent books on miniatures with lots of pictures.

Links

National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts.  See Links and Resources for a list of miniature museums.

http://www.miniatures.org/newsite/index.php

The best source for minis, dollhouses, components, electrical supplies, etc.

http://www.miniatures.com/

Another good place to buy minis.  I got a working pair of teeny barber’s scissors here.

http://www.dollhouseminiatures.net/

Daylight Savings Must Die

I tweaked a comic cover and made this poster last year at work to remind everyone to turn their clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time.  The only reason I got away with posting it was that my former boss wasn’t there that day.  The woman had NO sense of humor.  I thought this was one of the best posters I ever made.

I know I didn’t take this picture, but this was too good not to share.  There are several reasons I believe Daylight Savings needs to stop.

1.  The stupid sun won’t go down until later anyway.

The whole idea of Daylight Savings Time is to move an hour into the evening, so you can do more.  Back in Ben Franklin’s time when this ridiculousness was conceived, when the sun went to bed, so did you.  Now that the clock is an hour ahead we still have to get up in the dark.  Unless I lived on a farm, why would I need to change my clocks for extra evening light when the days are already longer anyway?  Manipulating my clock doesn’t have any effect on the sun.

2.  How much energy does it save, really?

Daylight Savings means energy savings, because you don’t have to use as much electricity at night.   Bull pucky.  According to this National Geographic article, people are using MORE electricity, not less.  It’s dark in the morning now.  When they come home in the evening, they’ll run everything anyway because no one goes outside anymore even if it’s light.  They’re too busy playing video games and watching Netflix and Internet porn.

3.  Dealing with people in other time zones becomes funky.

Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas Islands do not partake of Daylight Savings.  Since business is global now, or at least nationwide, now you have to remember who does and doesn’t put the clock ahead and won’t answer the phone when you call, because they’re not up yet or they already went home.

It also messes you up if you’re dating someone who lives in a place that doesn’t participate.  Now you’re two hours ahead of or behind your honey, instead of one.  Too bad if he/she wants to chat and you’re already falling asleep in your cocoa.

4.  It messes with your sleep.

Lose an hour, gain an hour.  Which is worse?  Doesn’t seem to matter.  Many people are draggy after they change the clocks.  More light later in the evening makes it harder to go to bed.  Then it’s more difficult to get up.  And how many of you have forgotten to reset the clock altogether and were late to work?   Oh come on, you’ve done it.   This is why I make the posters.

5.  It’s a pain in the ass.

Counting my watch and both my phone handsets, I have eight clocks in my house that need to be reset.  Thank God my computers and my cell phone do themselves.

Okay, I’m done whining now.  Do you like Daylight Savings Time?  Has it helped or hindered you?  Sound off in the comments if you like.  I promise I won’t hate you if you love it.

Pictures and Weather and Work: Oh My!

Love the weather around here tonight; the first tornadic storms of the season.  Wheee!

Gotta go to work tomorrow.  I hate Mondays.  All I would like to do is sit and write but that’s not happening just yet.  The winter has frozen my brain, so books and articles aren’t going as well as I would like.  I plan to make some more queries soon for Rose’s Hostage, now that I have a Guide to Literary Agents.  Perhaps I can target them a little better this time around.  If the next list doesn’t make it, it will be time to shelve it.  Poo.

I promised you some pictures from my recent trip and here are some I particularly liked.  Keep in mind that I am NOT a professional photographer, or even a talented amateur.  I apologize in advance for any eyestrain or seizures that result from viewing these photos.

Tucson, Arizona has some really cool mountains.  In fact, it’s surrounded by them.  Here are some:

Yes, I took that from Someone’s car. Them’s some pointy mountains.

Tucson also has a lovely little zoo.  Most of its denizens are typical, like these two:

Simba and Nala!

This dude:

African elephant; you can tell by the ears (bigger). Someone special took this one. :)

And this handsome fellow:

Om nom nom...

Here’s a capybara, an unusual animal.  He’s the world’s largest rodent, about the size of a medium dog.  Waaaay bigger than I pictured him; this was the first time I’ve seen one other than National Geographic.

AND…a roseate spoonbill!  I love these birds.  They are so sweet-looking.

Pretty bird. I wanted to pet it soooo bad...

Okay, enough aminals.  Up around Oro Valley sits Biosphere 2, that big greenhouse thing those scientists spent a couple of years in the early 1990s living in while they did experiments.  It’s called that because it’s named after Earth, which is Biosphere 1.

Today the University of Arizona runs it and there are still lots of experiments going on, mostly about climate changes.  You can tour the biomes and even see one of two big air exchange “lung” things that give the biomes a fresh breath now and then.

The outside of Biosphere 2:

Pretty, isn’t it? This is one of my better pictures.

Here is the South Lung room, under Biosphere.

Right above this well is a great big disk attached to a huge rubber membrane.  When they open the doors, the air rushes through and the disk lowers, where legs keep it from hitting the ground.

The disk. See the legs? Is it dark in here or what? Big echo chamber, too.

This is the desert biome.

A lemon growing on a tree in a side area.  I don’t know why, but I found the lemon really funny.

Hee hee...

The beach and a million-gallon ocean! With real Pacific Ocean water! Yes there are fish in it!

And the rain forest.  So pretty…

If you ever get the chance to visit Biosphere 2, please do.  Support research and science wherever you can.  Hopefully current scientists working here will learn more about our carbon dioxide levels and find a way to curb the human factor in climate change.  We are having an effect, even if it’s not as dire as recent predictions have said.

South of Tucson is the Mission San Xavier del Bac, one of the best examples of Spanish Colonial architecture around.  Here’s the outside of the place.  If you go, make sure you try some of the Indian frybread being sold in the parking lot.  Mmmm.

And the inside:

I’m sorry if this is blurry. I FORGOT MY CAMERA (!!!) and had to take them with Someone’s phone.

Traveling is fun (except for flying; see previous post), and I had an interesting idea I might use in a future project.  Writers should get out of the house once in a while and go someplace new.  Living in your head ain’t really living.

6 Things to Do When You’re Sick

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving holiday.  Me, not so much.

Traditionally, I get a cold between Turkey Day and Christmas.  This year, it showed up two days before the holiday.  I spent the last four days wishing I had enough energy to clean the house and put up the tree.

But being sick doesn’t have to be miserable or boring.  Here are six things to do when you’re feeling puny.

#1

Update your computer

Don’t you hate those update balloons that pop up when you log in?  Or the numerous anti-virus, spyware and malware detector scans that take up so much time and memory?  Well, now’s the perfect time to get them going, since you’re too fuzzy to do any work on the thing anyway.  Just open them up and let them run while you take a nap!

#2

Watch cartoons

When you’re sick, your mind can’t comprehend things like reality shows or the news.  Watching fake-tanned idiots scream at each other or depressing economic stories will only tax your poor, befuddled brain.  Escape into the wonderful world of cartoons!  Spongebob’s colorful images, silly storylines and brainless comedy are all much better when you’re stoned on over-the-counter meds.

Daytime television is a great sleep aid if you’re too dizzy for the cartoons but need something to break the eerie silence that pervades your house on a weekday.  Soaps (who are those people and why are they hanging off a cliff?), court shows, and endless commercials for diploma mills and car insurance will knock you right out.

#3

Eat kid food

If you’re lucky enough to have someone taking care of you, they can make you easy-to-digest foods like chicken noodle soup, toast or grilled cheese sandwiches, the way your mother did.  If you’re on your own these are fast and easy to prepare, so you won’t have to stand up for too long.  Never mind the health regimen; you need comfort food!  Sip a little Coke or have a prepackaged Lunchable with the little crackers.  Pick them up on the way home from work, when you know you’re going to spend the next three days horizontal.

#4

Surf the Internet

Most people have laptops and wireless routers now.  You can get a tilt-table laptop cart at Walmart that will allow you to lie on the couch and use the computer.  Since you’re not at work, you can read all the sites your IT department blocks.

Alternatively, you could play video games if you’re up to it.  You can finally play uninterrupted while everyone else is gone, and you don’t have to hide Grand Theft Auto XI: Kill and Maim from the kids.

#5

Mess with people

If you’ve lost your voice, you can call your nerd buddies and pretend to be Gollum.  Ask them things like “What’s taters, precious?” and say “Stupid fat hobbit!” before hanging up.  They’ll think it’s funny, honest.

Call your boss and croak, “I feel better…I’ve only been to the bathroom six times in the last hour; are you SURE you don’t want me to come in?”

Rub your head with a dry towel and make your unwashed hair stand on end.  Wear your crappiest pajamas, an old tattered robe and if you’re a man, forget about shaving.  You probably won’t feel like it anyway.  Answer the door like this when you hear the mailman come, making sure to cough and sneeze violently.  Watch him fall off the step trying to get away from you.

#6

Do crafts

You’re too sick to work but not sick enough to sleep or you’ve been getting better and now you’re bored.  Make a sculpture from toothpicks and glue.   Steal your kid’s coloring books and crayons and create a masterpiece to hang on the refrigerator.  Carve animals out of soap.  Do origami.  Make paper airplanes and shoot them at the dog.  Spend an hour with a treat trying to get him out from under the bed and de-traumatized before your family gets home.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re sick?  Please share in the comments!

10 of the Best Horror Films Ever

As a horror fan, I’m always on the lookout for a decent flick that will scare the poop out of me.  Since I’ve seen so many on my quest, unfortunately I’ve become extremely jaded.  Most horror films can be divided thus:  85% of them are awful, 10% okay and only 5% awesome.

Leaving out truly scary mainstream films like Jaws and The Silence of the Lambs, I’d like to share some horror flicks I thought were particularly good, whether they scared me or not, and some that actually did.  Most of these are older films, since later ones don’t seem to quite know how to grab a viewer and shake him like a baby into a terrified, mewling mass.

The following are particularly good movies in the horror genre:

#10

Let the Right One In (Swedish, 2008) d. Tomas Alfredson

12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is lonely and bullied relentlessly at school.  When he meets fellow outsider Eli (Lina Leandersson), he finds strength in their friendship.  Too bad Eli is a vampire.

Set in a frigid Stockholm suburb in the 1980s, this adaptation of the bestselling novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist isn’t about bloodsuckers; it’s about two misfit children seeking solace from their despair.  Definitely the best twist on a vampire in years, there’s nary a sparkle to be found, just blood, snow and fire.

#9

An American Werewolf in London (1981) d. John Landis

By turns funny and horrifying, this film was notable for the groundbreaking werewolf transformation engineered by makeup effects master Rick Baker.  Two American tourists (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) end up on the wrong deserted moor.  Although it ends rather abruptly, it’s still the best werewolf movie I’ve ever seen.  With Jenny Agutter.

#8

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) d. Tobe Hooper

The trouble starts when Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her asshole wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain, who was brilliant) and their friends pick up a crazy hitchhiker.  It’s a good film because the concept is so creepy, and it takes the time to let you get to know the characters a little.  Hooper skillfully builds tension with unflinching shots of Sally’s ordeal.  By the climax, we really want her to escape.

#7

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) d. John McNaughton

Based on the case of true-life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, this movie is so realistic it’s extremely hard to watch.   I don’t think it was meant to be strictly a horror film but it’s often classed as one because of the subject matter.  It’s the most realistic portrayal of a serial killer I’ve ever seen.  Stars Michael Rooker as Henry, with Tom Towles as Otis.

#6

The Shining (1980) d. Stanley Kubrick

“RedRUM!  RedRUM!”

Some people consider this one of the scariest movies ever.  Jack Nicholson stars as the barely-dry alcoholic hired to take care of a haunted Colorado hotel over the winter.  Based on a novel by Stephen King, the film is deeply flawed, particularly in its characterization of Wendy (Shelley Duvall) as kind of a twit.  It does have great bits from the novel and the buildup to Jack’s encounter in Room 237 sends shivers up the viewer’s spine.  Also stars the great Scatman Crothers as Dick Halloran.

King got the idea for this after staying in the famously-haunted Stanley Hotel at Estes Park on a trip with his wife Tabitha (also a brilliant writer, by the way).

The top five are movies that actually scared me:

#5

The Descent (2005) d. Neil Marshall

Not scary because of cave-dwelling creatures.  This film terrifies because of the pure claustrophobia of squeezing through a tiny hole in the dark with tons of rock atop you, not knowing who you can trust or where you are, or if you’ll ever make it out alive.

#4

Psycho (1960) d. Alfred Hitchcock

Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), mild-mannered motel proprietor with a mother fixation, meets lovely fugitive Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, mother of 80s scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis) and bloody hijinks ensue.  Based on the excellent novel by the legendary Robert Bloch, who in turn based Norman loosely on Ed Gein, a notorious murderer and body-snatcher.  Gein was the inspiration for Norman, Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and aspects of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.

Psycho spawned several sequels, only one of which was decent.  In Psycho II (1983), Tony Perkins reprised his role as Norman Bates.  The film also starred Meg Tilly, Vera Miles and Robert Loggia and boasted a very nice score by Jerry Goldsmith.

#3

The Thing (1982) d. John Carpenter

One of the few remakes I actually like.  The original Howard Hawks production is pretty good, but this one, drenched in the slime that was so popular in 80s horror flicks, ramps it up awesomely.  The blood test scene builds so much tension you may need a sedative afterward.  Stars Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David and Richard Dysart.  If all remakes were as good as this one, I would spend more time at the theater.

#2

The Exorcist III (1990) d. William Peter Blatty

Trust me on this one.  I only have one thing to say: head scissors.  Blatty directs the third sequel to the film of his best-selling novel, The Exorcist. We’ll just pretend the second one never happened, won’t we?

This film is based on his book Legion and stars George C. Scott as Lieutenant Kinderman, the world-weary detective from the first novel.  Jason Miller, Brad Dourif (Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings), Viveca Lindfors and Ed Flanders round out the talented cast.  I saw this at a drive-in theater with a motley crew of friends in California, including one very cynical man named Sandy.  By the end of the film, we had our feet off the floor and were huddled on the car seats clutching each other like little girls.

Wherever you are, Sandy, I wish you well and hope you’re not still having nightmares.

#1

The Haunting (1963) d. Robert Wise

Forget the stupid remake.  This movie has it all.  The eerie sets, skilled actors (Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn – Amber’s dad) and mind-bending special effects bring Shirley Jackson’s novel to brilliant life.  You never actually see what’s haunting Hill House, but to hear it pounding on the wall in the dead of night is completely terrifying.

What are your favorite scary flicks?  Why did they terrify you?  Share their spookiness with us in the comments!

Have Fun at Work on Talk Like a Pirate Day!

YARR!  Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy bilge rats!

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19.  Every year on this momentous occasion, would-be pirates dress up, scoff a tankard o’grog and dance the hornpipe in celebration of a bit o’ silly fun.

How did this holiday start?  Well, me lubbers, click on the link near the crow’s nest of this article for a detailed explanation of why people are running around saying things like “Ahoy!” and “Avast!” today.  It’s mostly for fun, and we all could use a pint o’ that!

How do ye celebrate this day of days, ye be wonderin’?  Ye talk like a pirate, that’s what.  And act like one, iffen ye can get away with it.  But what if you’re at work, as ye may be next year, when the holiday falls on Monday?

If yer captain isn’t too scurvy of a tyrant, ye can answer the phone with a hearty “ARRR!”  If he’s a whip-crackin’ slave driver, ye could stage a mutiny. Or ye could keep it on the QT, among yer shipmates (coworkers).

Some ways to enjoy Pirate Day at work:

  • Make up a pirate name and insist everyone call ye by it.  Find one here!
  • Call people things like “bilge rat,” or “knave.”  Everyone will think yer nuts, but that’s part of the fun of it!  Look here for some language help.
  • Wear something piratey to work.  Fer the menfolk, a casual dress environment means ye can wear a Jolly Roger t-shirt, a bandanna or an eyepatch even, if yer cap’n don’t have a peg leg up his arse.   A hoop in yer earhole will lend a seafarin’ touch.  If yer stuck wearin’ business clothes, a skull tie pin or somethin’ subtle be yer best bet.  Wenches, ye can wear a frilly ruffly blouse and skull earrings, or some epic hoop earrings if ye like.  Add some boots and black pants with a scarf for a belt and ye have a nice pirate outfit that don’t look like yer gonna walk the plank.
  • Add pirate clip art to all yer emails.
  • Eat lunch at a buffet that serves things like chicken legs, fried fish, mashed taters, and hearty breads and desserts.  Pirates ate a-plenty when there was plenty to have.  Pack ye a big, meaty sandwich and some chocolate coins for sweets if there’s no galley nearby or ye can’t jump ship.  Throw in some oranges so ye don’t get scurvy!
  • Read Treasure Island on yer break.  Gotta keep up the image!
  • Describe things in nautical terms.  Like “The Chumley account is three leagues from bein’ complete!” or “”Hoist the mainsail, and let’s finish our slog before Happy Hour!”

Use yer imagination, lubbers, and if ye come up with some other ways to make the daily deck-swab on next year’s Talk Like a Pirate Day a rip-roarin’ party, post ‘em in the comments.  Shovin’ off now.  Enjoy, me hearties!

Interview: Chuck Sambuchino’s How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack

There’s a new book coming out September 7 that I am dying to read.  The cover looks like this:

I think he's looking at me...

The author is a favorite blogger of mine, Chuck Sambuchino.  He’s been a wealth of information for all us UNPUBs out there.   I found him through Writer’s Digest and never looked back.

Chuck looks like this:

Gnome defense expert and publishing advice giver. Top that, Van Damme!

In his own words:

Chuck Sambuchino is the author of HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, a humor book coming out Sept. 7, 2010.  He is also the editor of GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (2011 edition in stores August 2010) and runs a large blog on publishing: www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog.  Besides that, he is a magazine freelancer, playwright, husband, owner of a flabby dog, cover band guitarist, and all around chocolate chip cookie fiend.

Anyone who likes chocolate chip cookies can’t be all bad.  Chuck was gracious enough to grant an interview to this blog.

Tell us about the book.  The cover is hilarious.  It looks like a spoof of the 1976 book Gnomes, by Wil Hugyen and illustrated by Rien Poorvliet.  I loved that as a child.  Is this a gritty reboot?  Were you attacked by a gnome?  Should I rethink buying a gnome statue for my garden?

The cover is a spoof of the old book—good catch.  It’s not a reboot as much as something else entirely.  But yes, I would rethink that gnome purchase if you want to stay alive.

 

Humor writing is not easy for a lot of people.  Funny is very subjective.  Do you have any tips for writers who might like to do this type of work?

Obviously, the concept of the book is key—but there needs to be good content in the book, as well. My editor said it well when she said that people will pick up the book because of the title and cover, but they will only buy it if they flip through some pages and are impressed.  Besides that, I would try to build a platform and network of friends any way you can.  With the big publishing blog I handle (guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog), I have developed a decent platform to reach readers.  It isn’t necessarily a “humor platform,” per se, but it is a platform of some kind.

Your blog contains a great deal of information for new writers.  We thank you profusely for the help you’ve given us. Working in the business yourself, you’ve undoubtedly been well-prepared for publishing your own book, but is there anything that surprised you about the process?

Several small things. For example, a large portion of the original text ended up on the cutting room floor to make room for lots of photos—that part surprised me, but the end result is better for it. A surprising thing for me was how quickly the book came to life.  The publishing industry moves sooooo slow, but this book went from initial discussions with the editor to being published in 10 months, and that’s lightning.  I am very fortunate for that.

Marketing is getting pretty important for writers. Any hints for novelists in particular on their platforms and establishing a presence?

Bribe TV anchors to interview you and get involved in some kind of political scandal.  Besides that: Become involved in writers groups and organizations.  Join a local group, the MWA, the RWA, SCBWI—whatever you like.  And you can always develop a platform that has nothing to do with your writing.  For example, if you start a popular blog on yoga, when you have a novel to sell two years from now, you will have some kind of platform in place to read people who may buy the book.  You need friends who will help you spread the word in their small circles just as you will do for them.

Money is seriously lacking in every industry these days.  Advances are shrinking, editors are being laid off and it’s harder than ever to even get a manuscript past the round file.  Can a fiction writer really make a living anymore?

Well, it’s not likely if all you want to do is sell fiction.  A successful writer needs to wear many different hats—they need to write fiction, teach classes, write articles and freelance edit.  You need to remember that it’s OK to write some things for love and other things for money.  David Morrell, a popular thriller writer, once told me that only 250 people make their living solely from writing fiction.  You have to do other things to pay the bills.  But yes, you can make it work and make a full-time living writing.

What do you see for the future of publishing?

Not sure.  My specialty is helping people get their work published and finding an agent.  As far as the looming transition to e-books and such, I’m already kind of burnt out on people taking wild guesses on all that, and any guess I take would be beyond wild.  (Note to self: Write novel and title it Beyond the Wild.)

Just for fun, what’s the weirdest question / comment you’ve ever come across on your blog?

Following an agent interview, I do remember one comment that was something along the lines of “If this agent can’t sell books, she should model in Playboy because she’s that beautiful.” I think it was about 20 minutes later that the agent frantically e-mailed me to ask me to remove the comment.

Thank you, Chuck!  Everyone, get thee to a bookstore or Amazon and buy this book.  It looks like a hoot.  God knows we all could use a laugh these days!

A Castle in the Ozarks

Re my last post:  you’ll be getting a lot more pictures from now on!  All the shots in today’s post were taken by me.

Here I am complaining there is nothing to do in Springfield, and lucky me, I received an invitation to the grand re-opening of a local historical landmark, Pythian Castle, now a performing arts and events venue.

Pythian Castle exterior: Late Gothic Revival, modeled after a real Scottish castle (I don’t know which one)

The Knights of Pythias, a fraternal society similar to the Freemasons, built the Pythian Home of Missouri in 1913 for the purpose of housing orphans and widows of the members and as a meeting place.  One of those orphans, Mildred Hall Cherry, turned ninety years old today.  Happy birthday, Mildred!  She was on hand for the Grand Re-Opening ceremony to celebrate her birthday and share her reminiscences with the audience.

 

Mildred Hall Cherry on her 90th birthday, August 7, 2010. Check out her awesome t-shirt!

 

Mildred was eight when she and five of her six siblings came to Pythian Castle in 1928 after their father died.  The loss of the breadwinner was very hard on the children’s mother, and she wanted to keep them together.  Putting the kids in an orphanage was not an unusual practice at the time.  Mildred and her siblings went home eventually, after their mother remarried.   She stayed in the castle for eight years.

The boys and girls in the orphanage were segregated.  Two staircases lead to the second floor; one for the girls, one for the boys.  No one was allowed to use the opposite one and the boys and girls could not even speak to each other.   Mildred barely got to know her own brothers, including the smallest who was only 23 months old.  She said she could often hear him crying but there was no way to go to him.

Girls' staircase, west side.

Boys' staircase, east side.

In 1942 the United States Army took ownership of the castle and used it as an adjunct to nearby O’Reilly General Hospital, which treated injured troops.  It became a service club for recovering veterans.  Such notables as Bob Hope appeared in the second floor auditorium, which also housed Springfield’s very first movie theater.

Mildred told us it was a great treat to watch silent films in the auditorium.  It cost a nickel for the public to attend.  She said, “A nickel was hard to come by in those days.”  If only things cost so little now!

German and Italian WWII POWs were interned at O’Reilly and spent time maintaining the grounds and buildings there along with those of the castle itself.  There are several cells in the basement, but whether or not any prisoners were actually confined there is unproven.  A Japanese POW is rumored to have painted the walls in one of the basement rooms.  Here are pictures of his work:

Sun picture. This room has no windows.

Funny little face. Was this a caricature of someone in charge, perhaps?

I think he might have been homesick; reminiscent of Japan.

The Army owned the building until 1993, when it was sold as surplus.  It is now privately owned and run by Tamara Finocchiaro and her mother.  They have extensively renovated the property.  It serves as a performing arts venue, as well as an events center.  You can get married at Pythian Castle, go to ghost hunting workshops, rent it for private parties, and take dance lessons.  I’m going back for the last one.

The building has beautiful woodwork and Tamara and her mom have redecorated while staying true to the feel of the original property.

All the radiators are the old, scrolly kind. I had one of these in an apartment once; steam heat is fantastic.

Upstairs, the two staircases open out onto a spacious landing.  It was right in the middle of the landing where I had an unusual experience during one of the ghost workshops.  I was walking down toward the doors at the end, when there was a stir of air next to my hand and a very strong presence.  It was a small person, like a child, and I had the feeling that a little hand was about to slip into mine.   You know how when someone is about to touch you but they don’t quite do so, how that feels?  It only lasted about ten seconds.  I stood very still and waited.  I should have had someone take a picture of me at that moment.

Here is the landing.

Look in the center of the picture, and in front of the auditorium doors to the right, on the jamb.

Look right over the door toward the left of the picture.

You notice anything in those pictures?  Some people think orbs are signs of supernatural energy.  In the first picture, they could be just dust reflecting the light of the flash.  There is an anomaly in the dark part of the picture, some distance away.  It’s very interesting that they only show up in those pictures taken in that spot, and in no others that I took today.  And I was thinking (and talking) about the that experience at the time.  Just file it under “things that make you go hmmm.”

The castle is a happy place.  It has very good vibes.  It’s not the least bit scary, and Mildred said except for a little redecorating it looked very much the same as it had when she lived there.  To have weddings and dancing and food and friends there only reinforces its original purpose, to care for the people the Pythians loved.

If you get a chance to come to Springfield, there are regular tours of the castle.  It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been certified haunted by the Ozarks Paranormal Society.  More information can be found on its website.

 

 

Three Good Reasons to Always Carry a Camera

I need to start taking my camera with me wherever I go.  I missed a ton of photo ops recently, several in one day.

This past Saturday morning, I took Psycho Kitty to the vet to get her yearly shots.  She must be tricked into the carrier, which involves setting it outside near her food dish for a few days so she forgets about it.  Then comes the luring with treats, a kiss and pat, and poking her inside before she realizes what happened.

Is oblivious...or perhaps just doesn't give a crap.

I got to hear about it the entire way there, too.  Once in the exam room, she clammed up.  The doctor was very nice (why do I get a different one every time?) and the actual shots went smoothly.  As he was preparing the flea treatment, she did something so cute I nearly died.

This unsocialized, play-impaired, half-feral kitty scooted over on the table, tucked her head into my hip like a frightened two-year-old, and stayed there.  I patted her gently, spoke soothingly to her and WISHED LIKE HELL I’D BROUGHT MY DIGITAL CAMERA WITH VIDEO FUNCTION.

  • Reason Number One:  Moments.  When cuteness / astonishing feats / a horrible accident strikes, it pays to be prepared.

After returning Psycho Kitty to the house where she promptly disappeared under a bush, I drove to Branson, MO to find the small airport recently constructed there, from which I will soon be flying to see Certain Someone.  The town is located in the picturesque hills near where I live.  It’s easy to find, but the airport was another story.

The views were spectacular.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Ozarks, but they are very pretty.  Not on the scale of Yosemite’s craggy peaks, they are more like the gently verdant mountains of eastern Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Kinda like this.

Image:  Ron Bird/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I drove and drove and drove, past town and all the way to Hollister until I missed the turnoff—damn tiny signs!  Since the airport is privately owned, I guess they don’t have that much traffic, and figured they didn’t need anything bigger.  The road winds in serpentine curves in and out and back on itself, and seems to never end.

I finally found it in deep within an exclusive area of golfing communities, after following an annoyingly slow pickup truck for several miles. The road is blasted through the mountains in spots, and you drive through walls of glowing, otherworldly yellow rock, half expecting to see Kirk and a redshirt appear.  I promise, I’ll take my camera when I return.

  • Reason Number Two:  Scenery.  You never know when you will happen upon something naturally spectacular.

While I was there, I thought I might as well go to downtown Branson and hit the flea markets.  There were a ton of people there, as usual for a tourist destination in the summer.  Cars parked everywhere, oblivious pedestrians strolling across streets and into the many little shops in the historic buildings.

In Branson, you have a mix of tourist crap and historic stuff.  Everything is geared toward visitors.  The people are very nice.

I found a flea market I’d visited during the 2007 ice storm, and a couple of others.  I think one of them, in an old building that used to be a feed store in 1918 when it was built, might be haunted.

The entire building is decorated—floors, walls, etc—in conflicting designs.  Anyone who has seen flea market booths with painted floors knows what I mean.  Somehow it doesn’t make your eyes bleed.

At the back is a set of creaky stairs and at the top, a large room.  I went into the room and immediately stopped.  It felt funny.  I wasn’t sure why, so I ignored it and looked around.  In the back left corner, I saw an item that interested me.  Standing in the corner gave me a very strange feeling, not sinister, but sort of a breathless, choky feeling, as though I needed to move.  I could not concentrate on the item.

I left the room and went to another upstairs, but it was uninteresting.  To test my experience, I went back and stood in the corner again.  Same feeling, same need to move.  Okay, time to go.

  • Reason Number Three:  Paranormal.  What might my camera have captured had I taken a picture in there?

The proprietor said I wasn’t the first person to describe that sensation in that room.  Ha! Vindication is mine.  I knew something was wonky up there.  He didn’t know why it was so, but he said “I believe in such things.”  I do too.

Writers should keep a camera handy.  Pictures can jumpstart your imaginative process.  If you have a personal anecdote that goes with the picture, that’s even better.  Digital cameras are cheap now; you can buy a decent one for under $100, with a video setting and autofocus.  They’re tiny and go in a purse, backpack or even your glove box.  No tricky film, no difficult settings; the instruction books help a lot.

If you have any suggestions for taking great pictures, please share in the comments.