Friday, April 29, 2011
Okay, that's the last of the vacation pictures! I promise!
Next week I am excited to present 3 new First Impressions posts -- short critiques of first pages submitted by my blog readers. Please stop back to check them out. Who doesn't like peeking at other people's WIP's?
And I've got 3 spots open for June ...
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
“The first thing we need you to do is take a large, confident step off the platform.”
I was sitting there in my helmet and harness last Thursday, holding my clip, wondering if I’d lost my mind. I was too old to be flying through the air, hanging from a cable 300 feet off the ground, traveling at – did he just say 40 miles an hour???
I willingly signed up for a zipline tour of Catalina Island, but like a fool, I thought we’d be moving at a slower speed. It was a tour; wasn’t it? Now this guy was describing how to hold a cannonball position while flying through the air -- unless he gave a signal to slow down, in which case I was to straighten out and maximize air resistance, then curl back up before I hit the platform. I started chewing off my fingernails about then.
Luckily, there was another woman in our group even more nervous than me. She came inches from chickening out on the platform with the drop in front of her. But everybody cheered her on, including me. Because if she quit, I was going to leave with her! But if she actually jumped, there was no way I could back out.
She jumped, and I was committed.
My two daughters went ahead of me. The guide tried to reassure each of them in turn, but they waved him off and said, “Okay fine,” and leaped. No fear. And then it was my turn.
I didn’t know what would be worse: taking that “confident” step off the platform or getting into correct position in midair. (I recall failing the gymnastic bars in high school.) But due to my height (or lack thereof) and the tension on the cable, stepping off was not a problem. As soon as the guide cut me loose, I was nearly yanked off my feet. And as it turned out, gymnastic ability wasn’t really required. I cannonballed.
The first zip was not as terrifying as I expected, although when I stood up on the other end, I had to grab the guide’s shoulders in surprise. My knees would not hold me up, I was shaking so hard!
The second zip was longer; the third zip was faster. By the last two, I learned how to change position to control my speed. All this above the spectacular Descano Canyon at Avalon – and yes, I was soon relaxed enough to enjoy the view!
I guess I wasn’t too old to learn a new trick after all, which is kind of a relief to know.
And it occurs to me that many new ventures in life (including publishing) start by taking a confident step into thin air.
Monday, April 25, 2011
I’m scheduling this post in advance, but I don’t need psychic powers to know that going back to work is a real let-down today after my family’s vacation in California. I could use another week’s worth of vacation to get over the first week!
I’ll be blogging about some of my experiences in more detail later, but here are the highlights:
1) Meeting producer Amy Green for dinner somewhere between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. We discussed the current status of my screenplay (under review by filmmakers) and Amy shared stories of life as a Hollywood producer. Plus, Amy gave my daughter Gabbey an assignment that only a YA reader could do.
2) Madame Tussaud’s Hollywood Wax Museum. My girls enjoyed this way more than I expected! Plus, I got to give Steven Spielberg my card.
3) A VIP Behind-the-Scenes tour of Universal Studios. While most of the tourists drove past the sets on giant tram cars, we walked through them! We explored the prop warehouse, and even got to visit the sound stage where the TV show Parenthood is currently being filmed.
4) Catalina Island – Just all of it! Here’s the view we had when we drove our golf cart to one of the island’s two gas stations.
5) A zipline adventure on Catalina Island. Check out this 40 second video of a young man throwing my daughter Gina off a platform 300+ feet above the ground. Not only did I stand there and let him do it – I paid him to do it!
Friday, April 22, 2011
Before beginning my manuscript The Caged Graves last summer, I researched the history of Pennsylvania’s mountainous Columbia County in the 1860’s. But my plotline incorporated a lost Revolutionary War treasure, so I also researched events of the 1770’s, when this county was under threat from British forces and their Indian allies. These events were only peripherally related to my manuscript, but I discovered many tantalizing little tidbits I wished I could use.
Take Moses VanCampen. He was nineteen years old in 1776 when he wanted to sign up with a Columbia County regiment joining Washington’s army near Boston. But some older men talked Moses into staying at home as part of the local militia. Young Moses was a crack shot, as well as a level-headed young man – somebody they could count on to defend the Columbia County civilians. He agreed to stay and take on the job.
Moses was ordered to build a fort near Fishing Creek to provide shelter for the locals in case of an attack. Moses chose the home of Isaiah Wheeler as the location for his fort and directed the construction of a stockade fence around it, large enough to accommodate all the inhabitants of the area. His choice of property was influenced by personal reasons: he was courting Wheeler’s daughter, Ann, at the time.
So, Moses built a fort around the home of his sweetheart, and even before completion, it was put to the test. Indian raiders attacked and burned neighboring homes, but the settlers themselves fled to the safety of the half-completed Fort Wheeler, which withstood the attack. For the next year, Moses VanCampen made Fort Wheeler his headquarters as he ably defended the region with his company of sharp-shooters. In fact, Fort Wheeler was one of only two local forts to survive the war.
However, Ann Wheeler married VanCampen’s best friend, Joseph Salmon.
There’s a story here. A very human story amidst all the history. I kept imagining Moses living at that fort, perhaps even quartering in the Wheeler house, fighting off the Indians and the British while simultaneously losing his girl to the arms of his best friend. Moses and Ann and Joseph had no place in my story, The Caged Graves – they lived 100 years earlier and on the other side of the county – but I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
Why didn’t the hero win the girl? Was Joseph more handsome -- more charming? Was Ann fickle? Or did Moses have some flaw that drove her away?
Maybe I’ll write about them some other time – or maybe they’ll be just a tantalizing tidbit of history that will always leave me wondering.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
In the cemetery adjoining the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg, there’s a marker for a grave known as The Ticking Tomb. It’s said that if you place your ear against the stone, you can hear the distinct ticking of a watch. The Ticking Tomb is an old, old legend. In fact, it’s believed that Edgar Allen Poe, while visiting the area, went to hear it for himself and was inspired to write The Tell-Tale Heart.
According to legend, in the mid 1760’s surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were passing through the area while mapping out their famous Mason-Dixon line. A local tot supposedly swallowed Mason’s pocket watch, which continued to tick inside the boy throughout his life and beyond. (That’s some watch!)
When I was a kid, teachers told us that the ticking sound was most likely caused by an underground spring beneath the gravestone. In recent years, the ticking has reportedly stopped, which suggests the underground spring has shifted – or that Mason’s watch has finally run down.
As for the story that Poe visited the grave – it’s quite possible. In the early 1840’s, Poe stayed at the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, Delaware – the same place where Mason and Dixon stayed nearly a century earlier. He may very well have heard the legend of the ticking tomb at that time.
It is also said that Poe stumbled while getting out of a carriage at the Deer Park Tavern, and for this indignity, he placed a good-natured “curse” upon the place: Anybody who visited it was doomed to return, again and again. The curse is still in effect: The Deer Park was my college hangout when I attended The University of Delaware, and my family still goes there for dinner and brunch! Hard to believe that Edgar Allen Poe – not to mention Mason and Dixon – ate at the same establishment, but that’s just the awesome thing about history. Time marches on but stories last forever.
Monday, April 18, 2011
General Anthony Wayne is Pennsylvania’s greatest Revolutionary War hero. “Mad Anthony” once promised George Washington that he would “lay siege to Hell itself” if asked. After the American Revolution, Wayne continued to distinguish himself in the Indian Wars, particularly in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
Wayne died near Erie, Pennsylvania in 1796 from complications of gout. He was buried there with all due honors, but thirteen years later, his son came retrieve his father’s body, wanting to re-bury him near the family home in Radnor, Pennsylvania. The old hero was exhumed, whereupon it was discovered that Wayne’s body was unnaturally preserved. The son had planned to take his father’s bones home with him in a cart, and yet there was a lot more of him left than bones – which presented (ahem) a logistical problem of transportation.
A local doctor was hired to resolve the problem by separating the flesh from the bones. Butcher knives were used at first, but eventually they resorted to boiling Wayne’s bones to clean them entirely. The flesh and the remains of the stew pot (eeeww!) were re-buried in the original grave. Wayne’s son departed with his father’s bones in a box.
According to legend, the box with the bones fell out of the cart several times on the journey home (What kind of bumbling idiot was this son?), but eventually some number of General Wayne’s bones were buried in Radnor. Anthony Wayne’s ghost may (or may not) haunt the diagonal path across the state, looking for the missing bones, but that’s another story.
Somehow, I find it fitting that in a state where you can’t buy beer and wine in the same store, you also can’t pay your respects to our most famous Revolutionary War hero in just one cemetery!
Friday, April 15, 2011
It hasn’t looked a lot like spring in Pennsylvania. The month started with snow, and sunshine has been in short supply. The crocuses have come and gone and we have daffodils now – weak and sickly-looking daffodils, but nonetheless …
This past weekend, my husband and his service crew opened the pool – not that I envision us swimming any time soon, but opening the pool is necessary if we want to use the hot tub. And I would REALLY like to use the hot tub!
As you can see, Bob’s crew consisted of Gina (a big plus) and Sorcia (kind of a minus). Gabbey and I helped by staying out of the way. I am mechanically disinclined. In fact, I think I might be mechanically learning disabled. I sometimes (okay – frequently) forget which way to turn the key to unlock the door. Gabbey, sadly, inherited my disability, but Gina is obviously Bob’s child.
Opening the pool begins a whole new season of fun for Sorcia. The thing is one big water dish, and chasing the pool cleaner provides hours of amusement! She can catch the darn thing, too, but she gets yelled at when she chews it up. (Ears down!)
I’ll be on blog hiatus next week, although I plan to post some (hopefully) interesting repeats: 2 Graves and A Hero Who Didn’t Get the Girl. I’ll have my trusty Droid by my side, so I won’t be totally absent from the blogging scene, but I might be a little scarce.
Happy Spring, everyone -- and the sun can show up any time now, thanks very much!
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Today, I bring you a guest post from Food Network Fan Extraordinaire – Gina Salerni, who will reveal to you the shocking secrets behind her former favorite show, Iron Chef America.
Iron Chef vs. Chopped by Gina Salerni
I sometimes like to watch the Food Network shows like Unwrapped, Iron Chef America, and Chopped. I will be telling you about Chopped and Iron Chef America.
If you have ever watched Iron Chef America then you should know that it is not completely real. The two competitors know who they’re competing against weeks before the actual competition. They also know a couple days before the battle a list of 5 possible “secret” ingredients. They can plan their dishes and make a shopping list of the food, equipment, and dishes they will need. When they are shown the ingredient in the beginning of the battle they have fifteen minutes to plan and tell their sous chefs what to do. In the hour they have, all they have to do is make the food and plate one dish. Then they are given an extra 45 minutes (off camera) to make the additional 3 platings. If you watch carefully you can see these things are true.
Chopped, however, is real. There are 4 chefs and they are given 20 minutes in the appetizer round to make a dish. The tricky part is that that there is a basket of secret ingredients (about 4) which the chefs have to incorporate into their dish. The chef that does not do as well as the others will be chopped. They get 30 minutes for the entrée and dessert round.
I like Chopped more because it is more challenging. If you watch Iron Chef America then I think that you should know these facts.
Well, I had no idea! Gina researched this on her own.
Chopped has become a Salerni family favorite. We are even planning our own Salerni Chopped Competition, but we are still negotiating the details. Bob wants Gina on his team, but since Gabbey thinks all ingredients can just be thrown in a pot and boiled to make soup, I’m not entirely satisfied with my teammate. And who picks the mystery ingredients? I’m a little worried about leaving it in the hands of the opposing team, since Bob has a reputation for deviousness and Machiavellian strategy. (Sorry, hon, but it’s true.)
And who will be the judges? We could ask our neighbors, but we’d like to remain on friendly terms with our neighbors! If the Salerni family as a whole judges the dishes, that means the opposing team must eat the entrees, which does impose a limit on the wackiness of the ingredients. (I know Gina won’t let Bob pick octopus if she has to eat it …)
If we ever work this out, you – my loyal blog followers – will be first to know and hear about the results …
Monday, April 11, 2011
On the island of Luzon in the Philippines, there's a freshwater lake called Taal Lake. The active Taal Volcano lies in the middle of that lake, and inside the volcano is a smaller lake (called Crater Lake) which contains its own tiny island, called Vulcan Point. That’s right: an island in a lake in a volcano in a lake on an island. Have you got it?
In 1844, while traveling in the Philippines, the impetuous young Kane descended by a vine rope into the gaping maw of Taal Volcano to investigate the chemical composition of the lake within. Once he reached the interior …
No, I’m not going to tell you the whole story. Elisha Kane tells it himself in We Hear the Dead, but I will let you know this much: Readers have told me that this is the point in the story when they fell a little in love with the dashing explorer. The same goes for my heroine Maggie Fox … and probably for me, too.
More importantly, this was also the point in my writing where the character of Elisha Kane developed his voice and his personality. Up to that point, I’d had trouble wrapping my head around this man. He was my romantic lead, but the real Kane had some traits that were going to be hard to portray sympathetically. Not to worry – Elisha burst onto stage, fixed his sights on Maggie Fox, and firmly took control of the story, steering it in a direction I never intended to go.
He was a strong-willed young man in real life. His fictional version ended up no different. I wasn't able to complete the writing of this novel until I let Kane take me where he wanted to go.
Where are your characters taking you?
Friday, April 8, 2011
It’s amazing how expressive a German Shepherd’s ears can be. They are so huge and pointy and flexible – and they are so in tune with her expressions. And yes, she uses them to manipulate us.
When Sorcia is alert – or trying to look extra cute – they stand straight up at attention. This is her I-Love-You-Do-You-Have-Chicken-For-Me? pose. Yes, we feed her raw chicken. Yum.
Of course, ears flat down on the back of her head is a sad, sad doggie. Reprimand her, and that’s what you get. She also uses it to look really pitiful when she’s outside the door and wants to come in. “Ears down” has become our family phrase to express unhappiness.
Bob: They didn’t have your brand of yogurt at the grocery store, Dianne.
Dianne: Oh, ears down, Bob. Ears down!
I had no idea that German Shepherds can make their ears do two separate things! For example, if Bob reprimands Sorcia for wanting to eat the toy poodle next door, she will flatten the ear next to Bob (Total submission to you, Alpha Male), while pointing the other ear aggressively toward that poodle. (You just wait until he’s not around!!!)
We especially love the swiveling radar dish ears, which comes along with a cocked head for times when Sorcia is puzzled. The children’s voices coming out of the intercom box? That gets us the swiveling ears. She can hear the children, but that box is not the children. How confusing! Swivel ears, cock head; swivel ears the other way, cock head.
And finally, one ear forward and one back is for frustration, such as when she sees a really high-scoring word in Scrabble and it’s killing her because she can’t tell us.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
On page 1 we meet the antagonist:
Paco Rivera-Guerrero paced back and forth on the dock. He looked down into the engine compartment of his 37-foot vessel for about the hundredth time since 0100. The boat was a re-built Midnight Express, designed to meet the needs of smugglers. One of his engines was still disassembled and the Bahamian mechanic did not seem to grasp the urgency of the situation. As the mechanic reached up for his fourth beer since two o’clock, Paco lost some of his patience. He kicked the can into the water and locked eyes with the mechanic.
The mechanic said, “Yo mon, get me another beer, or I’ll be walkin’.”
“If you don’t have that engine running in thirty minutes, you’ll be floating.” To punctuate his statement, Paco drew a .45 caliber pistol and pointed at the mechanic.
“You get in big trouble here, having a gun,” the mechanic mumbled.
“I’ll risk it. You have twenty-nine minutes. If I have to find another mechanic and miss my schedule, you die.” He added, “I have a special relationship with the police.”
The mechanic, with much greater motivation, turned back to his task.
Having been to the Bahamas, I appreciate Paco’s frustration. There is no sense of hurry there! Like many other works in this genre, we won’t meet the hero of this story until later, after disaster occurs and he’s called in to help. Instead, Larry’s manuscript starts with the initiating event of the story – armed drug smugglers running cocaine into the U.S. with a malfunctioning boat. I think that's an effective way to begin a novel in this genre.
Ten minutes passed before the third crewman walked up to the boat. Like Paco, Jorge Romero was a Cuban who found the cocaine smuggling business a far better alternative to his prior career as a soldier and then a dishwasher in the Workers’ Paradise. Paco had been in a Cuban Army Special Forces unit until the General recruited him to manage his drug running sideline. Romero asked, “Is Ezzy ready for the trip?”
Paco smiled at the nickname and with mock dignity said, “Esmeralda is always ready, so long as she is treated right. It is just another routine ride to Florida. She’s made this run more times than the Viking Princess.”
I like the tone of the narration – that little bit of sarcasm slipped in so subtly: his prior career as a soldier and then a dishwasher in the Workers’ Paradise. Even the smugglers’ joking about the Viking Princess gives them a little personality beyond the “bad guy” image.
I would caution Larry to watch out for sentences that inform the reader of facts and background he wants to tell us. If you’re informing us, you’re pulling us out of the story. Instead weave this information into the narration. One sentence that bothered me was: The boat was a re-built Midnight Express, designed to meet the needs of smugglers. That information could be conveyed some other way: He looked down into the engine compartment of his 37-foot, modified Midnight Express for about the hundredth time since 0100. The sentence describing Paco’s military background is another one that breaks the narration. Try sharing that information with us in a way that would be natural for Paco to think about – give it to us through his eyes, as part of his experience in the story. When Paco meets with the General (as I know he does later in the story), that would be a more natural time to reveal their shared history.
Be sure to hop over to Marcy Hatch’s blog Mainewords to read her critique of Larry’s piece. We’ll be back next month with 3 more first page crits – one spot is still open! See the sidebar for more information!
Monday, April 4, 2011
Her first page begins with a prologue:
There hadn’t been many things that should have been possible.
Like it should not have been possible for the barbarians to the north to attack the Fortress of Chamar and get away with it – it was, after all, considered central to the near impenetrable defense of Selandra, a country of rocky mountains and blistering winters. It should also not have been possible for the witches of St. Midlet to kill the mighty court sorcerer who cast spells for the royal family but it happened anyway.
I was torn, contemplating this prologue. My first thought was that it might be better to avoid starting with a historic summary and jump right into the telling of the story itself. However, I did like Samantha’s approach – that all these things should not have happened. It intrigued me and set the tone for a world in which the impossible happens anyway. The prologue only lasts a couple more paragraphs, and it paints a picture of a very dark setting.
Then, she brings in the main character:
The first thing I ever remembered was Gothel’s hands, sharp like eagle talons though less beautiful, cutting into my skin as she carried me down the steps into the bright sunlight. It would have been a lovely thing to remember if she had not taken me to see the great Chernabog who sat proudly amongst the ruined statues of her garden.
The great beast, all black and purple scales and gold eyes that made you nauseous with fear, had stared down at me like I was a tiny twig that would be easily broken. I suppose that now that I think of it, I was easily just that; one stroke of his four feet claws and I would be nothing but decaying flesh and spilt blood.
“That, my dear Rapunzel, is what awaits you should you ever try and escape.”
Now, this I liked very much – excepting only the comparison of the witch’s hands to talons, because I confused Gothel briefly with the dragon and ended up re-reading the passage to understand it better. (Not something you want happening on your first page.)
I really liked Rapunzel’s long-lasting impression of this event:
I, four years at the time, stuffed my fist into my mouth to muffle the tears I could not stop.
Perhaps it was just as well that I was taught with such cruelty at such a young age – though I never viewed it as cruelty then. I figured that the rest of the world was like that, flowers snapping at you for trotting all over their petals, insects biting you with their pincers and birds squawking ugly sounds in your face.
The world was simply that way.
What a sad, tragic view of the world for this poor, captive four-year old! And of course we know that Rapunzel will spend long years under the dominion of this cruel witch and our hearts hurt for her isolation and her cynicism. After reading this over several times, I have to recommend that Samantha consider eliminating the prologue (even though I liked it) and start with Rapunzel’s narrative. Although the prologue has a certain flair, Rapunzel’s narrative has a voice, and that is always the best way to hook your reader.
Be sure to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page on her blog, Mainewords.