Monday, February 28, 2011

Slacker or Slave Driver?

My reading on various blogs – and Tweets and FB posts – would suggest that some writers suffer from procrastination. They find it difficult to force themselves to sit down and write, and I remember a time I used to have the same problem.

However, in the past year or so, I’ve swung completely in the opposite direction. I never let myself stop.

My laptop has become an extension of my body. I write (or edit or revise or critique) whenever I am home. I do it while cooking – and sometimes burn dinner. I have my computer on my lap while watching TV – to the point where my husband sometimes declares Family Movie Night to be a Laptop Free Zone, forcibly removing Gabbey’s laptop (she suffers from the same problem) and turning the lights out on me, because he knows I’m a terrible typist and can’t write in the dark.

Because I teach a full working day, I often feel as if I have to use every second at home to write in order to get anything accomplished. Last week, I started to burn out. I’d reached an impasse on two separate projects. I was tired and cranky and I wondered why I didn’t just …

… take a night off.

Horror of horrors! It’s not just Resolution 2011 – to write every day in 2011. In fact, the resolution was an argument FOR taking a night off. Why not donate to the Ladies in Ghana and spend an evening watching Torchwood on Netflix-streaming, hoping to catch Captain Jack in leather pants?

Leather pants. Wanna look some more? Go ahead; I’ll wait.

I came to this conclusion by 9am that day, and I felt such a sense of relief, giving myself permission to NOT WRITE. Or maybe it was the mental image of those leather pants.

Anyway, by 3pm, the VERY IDEA of taking a break had knocked something loose, and I suddenly knew how to get around at least one of the problems frustrating me.

Don’t laugh, but I didn’t take a complete break from writing that night. (I had to get down my ideas while they were fresh. I had to.) But I did set a limit on how long I would work. And then I shut the laptop and watched some TV.

No leather pants that evening, but his smile is really cute, too. Really.

So – are you a Slacker or a Slave Driver?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Kindles (and Nooks) Go to School

Technically, they’re not supposed to be there.

Of course, neither are cell phones, and we all know half the students have cell phones in their pockets or their backpacks. I insist my daughters bring their phones to school, in fact, just so we can coordinate after school play practice, who is picking up which children, etc.

So nobody ought to be surprised that ebook readers are coming to school, too. A recent New York Times article reports a sharp rise in the number of young ebook owners. Thanks, Al Past, for sending me the link!

It was not so long ago that people were predicting publishers would not bother to produce children’s and teen’s titles in ebook format, because it was assumed children would not own ebook readers. I even recall seeing a comment on a First Five submission at YALitchat which suggested the author should remove mention of the teen MC reading on a Kindle. “Teens don’t have Kindles.” Oh, yes they do – and so do elementary school students.

So far, my own children don’t own one of their own, but they both have scooped up my Kindle when I’m not using it. I ordered a book specifically for Gina, at her request, and Gabbey has been reading Sherlock Holmes stories, which I downloaded for 99 cents because I’m teaching them in class and it was easier than lugging books around. The New York Times article mentions that as well – that kids are reading more classics because they are free or priced very cheaply.

It’s a revolution, of sorts. And a good one, I think.

How about you? Seen any Nooks and Kindles in young hands recently? Would you buy one for your own kids? What role could they/should they have in school?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ride in a Riker: The Perfect Automobile

Meet the Riker Demi Coach Electric Automobile, which my character Ann Henry drives in my WIP. Awesome, isn’t it?

Did you know that electric cars predated gasoline-powered cars, and that if industry had gone a slightly different way, American cars might have been electric all along? Can you imagine how the world might be different today if we’d taken this alternate path?

As odd looking as the Riker seems today, it was typical of automobile designs of the early 1900’s. Most of them copied the design of various horse-drawn carriages, wagons, and light-weight phaetons, except without the horse. I was surprised to discover that they were steered with rods – kind of like a bike – instead of wheels. This particular model was designed to be driven by a chauffeur who sat in the back, on that high seat seven feet in the air, steering with a rod. The passengers would sit quite cozily inside, on two facing benches.

Why didn’t electric cars become the norm? According to an interesting little website called Electric Cars are for Girls, we can blame a marketing error (designing electric cars for the comfort of women instead of the manliness of men) and Henry Ford.

Electric cars were, apparently very popular with women at the turn of the century. Check out this video of two women assembling and driving away in a Folding Car!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hot Boots, a Mean Lady, A Chicken Hat, and a Chillingly Good Read

I had a chance to try out my new electric ski boot warmers last weekend when my husband and I took our daughters (plus two extra teenagers) skiing at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, PA.

First of all, I have to say the boot warmers were the bomb. Now I need to find out if they make similar accessories for gloves!

Next, I’d like to rant about people who try to “save” a table for themselves in a crowded lodge and expect the table to be left empty all day – reserved for their use only – while other people have no place to sit. In particular, I bear a grudge against this lady …

… who was nasty to my children (and my borrowed children) because we ate lunch at “her” table. She had the nerve to say to me: “I went to some trouble to spread our stuff all over this table so it would be saved for my group. We got here early so we could do that.” Note: My family also arrived early, before the lifts even opened, but we weren’t selfish enough to try to save a table for our exclusive use.

Okay, rant over.

Third item of note: When I get around to writing the contemporary thriller set at a ski resort that is percolating in my brain, it will definitely include this conversation:

You are not wearing that hat.
Yes, I am.
You are so NOT wearing that hat.
Hey! Give me my hat back.
Oh my God, it’s shedding yellow feathers.
Give me my hat back!
Fine! Here!
WHACK! Don’t touch my hat again! WHACK!

Yup. That’s real teenage dialogue, folks. Wouldn’t all you YA writers like to come with us on our next trip so that you, too, can pick up scintillating dialogue?

(Oh BTW, also in my ski resort thriller, a lady who hogs tables is going to fall off a cliff.)

And finally, a plug for a great read: I may be a competent skier, but my stamina was not up to teenage standards, so I quit early and went into the restaurant for a glass of wine. While I waited for the others, I opened up my Droid’s Kindle app and called up my newest purchase, Michael Northrop’s Trapped.

Now understand, I’m in a crowded, bustling restaurant with a glass of chardonnay. My toes are toasty warm. The guy seated next to me is wearing a Rastafarian Dreadlock ski hat and chortling with his buddies. But as I read the opening chapters of Trapped, a claustrophobic sense of impending doom and isolation descended upon me. My cozy surroundings faded away as I was sucked into sharing the plight of seven high school students during the worst blizzard in recorded history.

Yeah, it was that good. When my husband started texting me -- Where are you? I give up! -- and I saw him clomping around the entrance to the restaurant with snow covered kids – I seriously considered not answering.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Which Way to Go Next?

I’m back to pantstering my WIP, my little steampunk attempt -- which is turning out to be not so much steampunk as alternative historical fiction, but that’s okay for now. I realize this one is going to go through many drafts before it sees the light of day.

And that’s okay, too. After taking Strange Truths through something like five or six drafts before an agent got excited about it and guided me through a seventh draft – which made it even better -- I have come to look forward to that process of evolution. A few weeks back, I wrote about revisions creating alternate universes for my characters and their stories, and I have to say I enjoy reworking manuscripts better than feeling my way blindly through the first draft. Which is what I’m doing right now.

At this point in my WIP, I have an outline and an end point in mind, but I’ve already diverted from the outline twice, and I’m about to go off in an unexpected direction.

Birds navigate by instinct, and I’m listening to my instinct as I write. I had barely finished writing Chapter 6, which had been planned and visualized since before I even started writing, when my instinct told me what was going to happen next.

Instinct: Anarchists blow up the train.
Dianne: What?!?
Instinct: You heard me.
Dianne: Why? How does that further the story?
Instinct: Trust me.

Okay, so I blew up the train – with the resulting mayhem, chaos, minor heroics, and a heavy weight of guilt for my MC, Mick, who used to have ties to these anarchists and has been trying to shake himself free of them.

I don’t know exactly where this story is going, but I do know what happens next.

And as long as there continues to be a “next,” I’ll keep writing and hopefully find out if my instinct knows where it’s going. And if not – well, there’s always revision.

Anybody else out there playing Blind Man's Bluff with their WIP?

BTW -- Marcy Hatch and I are still taking submissions for First Impressions. (See post below.) Send your first page for feedback. We are kind and gentle and full of good ideas ...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

First Impressions: Send Me Your First Page!

You only get one chance to make a first impression, they say. And that’s why the first page of your manuscript is so all-fired important – to an agent looking at your query, to an editor looking at your submission, and to a potential reader taking a peek inside your book online or in a store.

The wonderful Marcy Hatch at Mainewords invited me to join her in a new monthly feature on our blogs called First Impressions. Writers who would like to have feedback on the first page of their manuscript can send it to either Marcy or me. The first week of every month, we will select three submissions to feature on our blogs with a small excerpt (for example, the first 350 words) and provide feedback. In this way, we hope to “pay it forward” to other writers and provide a little of what we all crave most: feedback, encouragement, and a little bit of gratuitous publicity!

Marcy and I are hoping to start this new feature the first week in March, so please contact us to submit the first page of your darling – whether it be a manuscript you’ve labored on through countless drafts or a shiny new story you’ve just started. For those writers whose pages are not picked to be the three featured in March, Marcy and I can provide some feedback by email or roll those pages over to the following month – depending on the preference of the writer and how many total pages we get.

If you’re interested in getting our first impressions of your work, send me an email with the subject line “First Impressions” and paste the first page into your email. No attachments, please. Contact me at or Marcy through her blog.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Just Kiss Already Blogfest!

This is my entry for Christina and Stina’s JUST KISS ALREADY Blogfest, from my current work-in-progress, titled VOLTAGE:

Mick drew back, puzzled. “What are you doing?” he growled.

“Kissing you?” She sounded doubtful. “I need practice, and on somebody of no importance.”

He expelled his breath in exasperation. She was the most damnably irritating girl he'd ever met, and she did need practice. She'd clearly never kissed anyone in her life, and when she sobered up in the morning, she’d probably fire him. Mick meant to thrust her away, but found himself gripping her tightly instead.

Oh, well -- in for a penny, in for a pound. Catching her head with one hand and her waist with the other, he drew her bottom lip between his own, teasingly. When she gasped in response, he pressed his mouth urgently over hers. She tasted of wine and electricity, and he quickly lost track of how much he disliked her.

One thing could be said about Ann: she learned fast. Within seconds she was copying him, her lips suddenly fierce. She sucked his lower lip into her mouth, pulled on it hard. He yanked on her hair, tipping her head back and applying his lips to her throat. She was soft and warm—and smelled good. Why did she smell so good?

Dare he grab her bottom? And then he did, and it was a good thing, too, because she went suddenly limp in his arms and his hands were the only things holding her up.

Blinking in confusion, his thoughts muddled by wine and sweet-smelling girl, Mick lifted his head. He’d never kissed anyone into a faint before.

Nor had he this time. She was passed out drunk. If Mick was lucky, she wouldn’t remember any of this.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Situation Comedy Situations

There’s nothing new under the sun, they say, and there’s very rarely anything new in the plot of a half hour sit com. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s something as old as the Dick Van Dyke Show or the newest Disney tweenie show, the stories are shockingly the same. Stuck home for several snowy and icy days during the past couple weeks, my daughters had the television tuned to everything from The Addams Family to Gilligan’s Island to Good Luck, Charlie – and it was astonishing how similar they all could be. I thought, for fun, I might try to list a few of the old stale story starters I saw –

1. A married couple discovers their marriage isn’t legal
2. A teenage character tries to juggle two unsuspecting dates on the same evening
3. Somebody scratches Dad’s car and tries to hide it
4. The shyest cast member gets a makeover, turns into a shallow snob, then goes back to old self
5. Eavesdropping leads to big misunderstanding
6. Match-making has disastrous results
7. A dream sequence is used to steal the plot of a better story (A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Midsummer Night's Dream, etc.)
8. A school election causes rivalry between friends
9. An obnoxious visiting relative causes household mayhem
10. A silly spat drives a wedge between MC and best friend

Help me out here. What tired-old plots have you seen on the television lately? And if you've seen anything original out there, please do tell!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In Which I Receive Messages from My Mother's Plants

My mother asked me to take care of her plants while she was in Aruba.

I sighed. Plants and I don’t have a great working relationship – especially houseplants. I do like flowers in my garden, but I don’t want to work very hard for them. I admit I really enjoy their beauty in the spring, and I will proudly post pictures on Facebook (and even sometimes here on the blog). But rest assured, I get bored with tending them by mid-summer at the latest. I even confessed as much last August and posted a picture here of my LANDSCAPE FAIL efforts.

But at least the outside plants get rained on. Houseplants don’t make out as well. They’re kind of on their own recognizance if they live with me. I can only recall two plants I ever managed to keep alive more than a month or two. One was a spider plant I had throughout college. (Although I can’t recall what happened to it now. I think my mom might have confiscated it.)

The other is an aloe plant I received from a student 6 or 7 years ago.

Bob interjects here: “Hon, that aloe plant actually doesn’t look so good.”

Me: “Oh, it’s fine!!”

So, I always worry a bit when I am handed responsibility for the greenhouse that is my mom’s sunroom. (Not to mention the other plants scattered hither and yon throughout the house.) First of all, I have to write myself a bazillion reminders just to go over there and water them at all. (Plus Mom calls me from Aruba and reminds me to do it.) Secondly, my technique at watering is this: Pour in water until it starts to overflow. Then ignore for several months.

But Mom’s plants are fussy.

Luckily, when I went over to do my duty last week, I discovered little red notes stuck to all the plants. They said things like this:

Water me, but I don’t like to be soaked.
Fill up my dish please.
Just a little. I’m resting for the winter.
None for us, thanks.

Nice of my mom’s plants to give me little messages like that, huh? If my aloe plant had a message for me, I wonder if it would be quite as civil.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coming Up: Just Kiss Already Blogfest

Next Monday is Christina Lee and Stina Lindenblatt's Valentine’s Day-inspired event: Just Kiss Already Blogfest. I’ll be participating with a kissing scene from my current WIP.

Lenny – be forewarned. You might want to skip next Monday. I know this isn’t your thing, and I’m afraid there’s going to be smooching, canoodling, and making out all over the blogosphere! :D

To participate, sign up at Christina Lee’s site. Next Monday, post a 250-word kissing scene – real kissing, mind you, no near misses. It can be from your work, or somebody else’s work you admire, as long as you give credit appropriately. Then, please visit 3-5 other participating blogs to respond to their scenes.

Oooh-la-la. Everybody pucker up!

In the meantime, I should have a post up today at the Dear Teen Me blog, if you care to visit. I sent them various teen-me photographs. I can't wait (yikes!) to see which one they post.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Iron Maidens Get HOT!

You may recall me complaining about my ski boots (affectionately nicknamed The Iron Maidens) last month. Well, they may still clamp on my legs like medieval torture devices, but at least now my toes will be warm!

Yesterday was my birthday, and my husband proudly presented me with a great big box wrapped up in snowman wrapping paper. (“Carefully selected for a winter birthday,” says he. “Leftover from Christmas,” says I.) Imagine my surprise when I opened the box and found … my ski boots.

“Wow,” said Gabbey. “Dad told me he wrapped up something you already owned to see if you would notice, but I didn’t believe him.”

However, when I pulled out the boots – with some puzzlement, I must say – I discovered a new, high-tech gadget installed inside them.


My toes are always cold, and those Toastie Toe things you stick on the bottom of your socks just don’t cut it. I can’t wait to see how these battery-charged babies work!

(Let’s hope they weren’t designed by Torquemada of Spanish Inquisition fame to go along with the overall Iron Maiden theme. That could get super hot super quick!)

You know what this means, of course? Back to the mountains to try them out, as soon as I can arrange it!

By the way, I should mention that I finally found a way to put on The Iron Maidens without wrestling, falling on the floor, or cursing. I just get Bob to kneel down and wrench them open for me, while I lean on him to slip my feet in.

In other words, I get my husband down on the floor to serve me. :D Just like it should be.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow and Ice Outside; Stinkbugs Inside

I can’t believe it’s February; there’s snow and sleet outside; record low temperatures – and I still have living stinkbugs in my house. As I write this, there is one flying round and round the light fixture, banging noisily into the glass globe.

Stinkbugs – oh, how we hate them.

My garage door opener failed last week, immediately after my husband left town on business, and I had to send an SOS to my brother-in-law Larry and my nephew Stevie. Turns out, a stinkbug got into the device, died in front of the sensor that let the opener know when it had finished its job, causing the motor to spin until it stripped one of the gears into … well, white plastic dust.

At least one of these blasted things appears in the house every day, so obviously they are living in the walls. They crawl out of the light fixtures and the baseboards.

Crush them or vacuum them up – and you’ll learn why they’re called stinkbugs. Over the summer, I swear an entire swarm of them must have sautéed themselves on the motor of my car, leaving me to drive around with their pleasant (ugh) aroma for days. In the winter – and one at a time – they’re less stinky, but no less annoying.

Having hitchhiked their way here from Asia, stinkbugs have no natural predators in America. I’ve read that bats eat them, but I’ve seen no evidence of that. In fact, we normally have a number of bats living around the house (we usually see them at night in the summer when we use the hot tub), but this past summer I didn’t see a single one. As far as I can tell the stinkbugs may have eaten the bats …

I thought they were bad last summer, but if I’m still having a problem with them in FEBRUARY, I shudder to think what they’ll be like next summer.

Think locusts. Think biblical. Think stink.