Tips on digital photography

If you got a digital camera for Christmas and want some tips on making superb pictures, visit one of my favorite sites, Digital Traveler. Not only will you find some great photographs - check out those of France - but also you'll learn the elements of a good photograph.

Security system writers can afford

Who creates these things that float around cyber space? Unfortunately, at what we writers earn, this is the only security system we can afford.

How to install a wireless security system:

Go to a second-hand store and buy a pair of men's used work boots, a really big pair. Put them outside your front door on top of a copy of Guns and Ammo magazine. Put a really big dog dish beside it. Leave a note on your front door that says: Bubba, Big Mike, and I have gone to get more ammunition - back in 30 minutes. Don't disturb the pit bulls. They've just been wormed, and they're a little edgy.

Unique jewelry from typewriter keys

Got any money left? I wish I'd seen this before Christmas. I would have if I'd read my Writer's Digest online newsletter. What's Your Type creates jewelry from old manual typewriter keys. Too cute!

Stunning Christmas decorations



Since this is floating around the Net, I decided to post it here. I received it as Christmas in Texas. Yep, it takes Paw and me a while to hoist the old VW up ever year but the decorations jest woulden be the same with out it.

Sling Words (laughing so hard I almost spilled my coffee) out.

Spying on Americans

The controversy continues about whether the government has the need and/or the right to spy on Americans who may be involved in terrorist activities.

I'm sure they're waiting for my two cents so here it is: NSA guys, you can listen in or follow me or monitor my emails any time you want as far as I'm concerned. Yeah, yeah, I know it opens a can of worms, but if it keeps another 9/11 from happening then I'm okay with it--within reason.

Just don't tell Aunt Millie what I really thought about her fruitcake, and don't tell Joe and Molly what I said about their decision to move to Alaska. And don't reveal the contents of the email I sent my best writing friend about my thoughts about a certain editor who rejected my friend. While your at it, keep it under your hat about that stock that's such a good buy - we don't want everyone buying it or the price per share will skyrocket and we might not get filled. Oh, and if you divulge my real weight that I told my doctor last week then I definitely will change my position on this issue.

See, that's the problem with spying. Even if you have nothing to hide, intimate information about yourself and your activities can be used, misused, and misconstrued. How do we ascertain the gatherers and keepers of the information will use it solely for our country's protection? I'm all for protecting my country and my fellow citizens, but there must be safeguards somewhere. Our government was formed as a system of checks and balances. Yes, times are far different now than they were a couple of centuries ago, but there still must be watchdogs to protect our freedom.

So, Mr. Government and Ms. Watchdog, if you're reading this, just keep quiet about Aunt Millie's fruitcake.

Looking for a car, see my brother


Okay, I've just got to brag a bit. My younger brother Johnny Ainsworth finally got his car sales business in the Dallas/Fort Worth area up and running. My dh and I visited over the weekend, and I have to admit I'm really impressed and very proud of him.

He's trying to incorporate his values, his integrity, in the operation of a business usually not known for those qualities--selling used vehicles. He wants to make the buyer a customer for life, someone who will return again and again.

He's been guided through life by a moral compass that makes him go the extra mile to help people and to treat them as he would wish to be treated. BesTex Motorplex, his car dealership in Keller, is his attempt to run a business the same way. Visit the web site, you'll be impressed. If you're in the market for a car, stop by his dealership, and you'll be even more impressed. He'll treat you with respect and give you a good deal. Oh, and he's got motorcycles, scooters, and all-terrain vehicles too.

Bestex Motorplex
9705 Denton Highway
Keller, TX 76248
817-562-4888

New market for writers of paranormal romance

Sadly, another market for novels is closing. Harlequin has announced the Signature imprint which debuted in January of this year and offered special projects, anthologies, continuities and reprints of popular authors' works will end June 2006. This program mostly featured their established authors, but it was unique for the bonus features offered with the books so readers will miss it.

However, just as the cliche goes about doors closing but windows opening, the huge publisher also announced they're starting a dark paranormal romance line with Executive Editor Leslie Wainger at the helm. She wants all kinds of dark paranormal, not just vampires and werewolves.

This sounds like a great opportunity for those who love alternative reality stories so, writers, start your engines, uh, that is, turn on the PCs and pound those keyboards.

By the way, I received this information from Cindi Myers who writes a great marketing newsletter. If you'd like to subscribe, just send a blank email to

cynthiasterling-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

and she'll add your name to her list. It's a great resource for those interested in writing romance fiction.

Christmas and writing


Once upon a time, I tried to maintain a writing schedule during December. In fact, I pretty much drove myself crazy trying to keep up the page production and do all the other Christmas things that wives and moms do which pretty much means I did it all.

I still do it all, but I've changed my expectations of what "it" means and in what time frame "it" gets done. I gave myself permission to not be perfect. Yes, I write less from Thanksgiving to New Year's, but I enjoy life more.

This reminds me of some cocktail napkins I bought a few years ago. They were emblazoned with this motto: If at first you don't succeed, lower your expectations.

I couldn't succeed at being Super Mom - mild-mannered suburban wife and mom by day, successful author by night. No one can. So don't make the mistake of looking at some successful woman author and marveling at how she does it all. She doesn't. You're just seeing the public face, not the frazzled behind the scenes struggle to find a clean pair of socks for her son while trying to remember whether she "told" the reader why her hero hates his father, while her daughter is telling her she volunteered old Super Mom to bake two dozen cupcakes for the class Christmas party.

No woman who is married and has kids and succeeds at writing should be called Super Mom.

Super Juggler is much more accurate.

Decorating for Christmas

I've been decking the halls with a couple of my friends pictured here. They don't talk much, but they always have a smile on their faces.

Sling Words out - to Wally World to replenish the cupboards and load up on Christmas chocolates. Umm ummm good.

Things I don't understand

The list of things I don't understand grows daily. Every morning when I make the mistake of reading my local newspaper The Houston Chronicle, I find myself echoing that great philosopher Cher who said: "Nothing surprises me any more, and everything surprises me." If you think about it, that statement really makes sense.

Social Security cards are available for $30.00 at a flea market on X Street
(name changed to prevent everyone who already doesn't know about this from rushing over there and buying one). If this is common knowledge, why hasn't that guy been shut down?

Dr. Phil is lambasted for asking what was in it for him when he was asked to speak at the annual management meetings for Sam's Club and WalMart. Why are people upset to learn he is a businessman first and foremost? It seems his spate of bestselling books, television shows, and such would have made that apparent.

Houston's smog solution might be to plant more trees.
Duh. One of the first things I learned in elementary science classes was that trees store carbon dioxide and release oxygen in their transpiration process.

Trouble came fast for lottery winners.
A man and his estranged second wife won $34 million in the lottery and proceeded to "move on up" from trailer parks to individual mansions. Apparently, their drinking and drugging escalated because what they could afford increased from weekly paychecks to nearly unlimited funds. He died of alcoholism, and she died apparently of a drug overdose.

Patients are upset at doctor who reveals ingredients in $285.00 lice treatment is Cetaphil.
Costs about nine bucks at the store. That's it. Spread it through the hair, use a hair dryer to dry it, comb it out. Another doctor who's a businessman who knows how to make a buck, huh?

Sling Words out.

Christmas with the chipmunks


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a geeky kid with my nose always stuck in a book. I had no clue about what was popular or in and had yet to reach the maniacal teenage phase of yearning for popularity. In other words, life was pleasant with me lost in the world of words. Then Christmas came, and I awoke to find a record player under the Christmas tree along with a half dozen 45s.

Though I wasn't exactly tuned in to pop culture via radio and television, the only links to a world outside my small town, I knew the records appealed more to my parents' generation than mine. With one exception. A little gem of a song sung by Alvin and his chipmunk buddies Simon and Theodore with some ineffectual blustering by an adult named David Seville according to the record label.

Wow. I loved that song from the minute the round black vinyl made its first few revolutions on the turntable. I literally wore the record out. Thinking back on the months that followed Christmas and realizing how many times I must have played The Chipmunk Song, I now see how extremely tolerant my parents, especially my mother, were. They never yelled, "Cut that damned thing off." (I confess, I wasn't as tolerant with some of my daughter's alternative or rap or hip hop.) Nor did they try to sneak it off the turntable and consign it to the trash.

Alvin and The Chipmunks was produced by Liberty Records and first appeared in 1958. The whole thing was created by Ross Bagdasarian aka David Seville. He was a pioneer with the multi-speed record player and became a millionaire by fiddling with those speeds. You may have heard of his first hit, a little ditty called Witch Doctor which sold over a million copies.

A million copies might sound like a huge hit, but it pales in comparison to The Chipmunk Song, actually titled Christmas, Don't Be Late. He wanted to use a gimmick to represent animal voices, and his children suggested chipmunks. In the end, Bagdasarian did all four voices including the David Seville character. He named his chipmunks after Liberty Records executives. Si Waronker became Simon, the good chipmunk; Ted Keep was Theodore who was kind of silly, and Al Bennett was the memorable Alvin.

You can get a copy of the original Chipmunk Song as well as videos of the subsequent television show or books, but the song remains the best of the lot.

Flash forward many years. Yesterday, my daughter gave dh and me an early Christmas gift - two CDs containing a Christmas mix she burned for us. Track 1 of the first CD is, you guessed it, Alvin and the Chipmunks.

It's really silly to cry over a dumb little song, isn't it?

Visitors from Boston

These three beauties arrived from Boston yesterday to become the first Christmas gift at the Reeves hacienda.

To the Campbell's soup tune, altogether now: Ooo-oom good. Ooo-oom good. Boston Lobster is ooo-oom good.

Unforgettable Thanksgiving

Greetings from the staff here at Sling Words (meaning me). We had some really cool entertainment Thanksgiving day when my brother Vernon's favorite cow Abigail gave birth. So read along for the story in word and pictures.

This is my older brother Vernon. I made him take off his dark glasses so I could see his eyes. Good sport that he is, he did so. That's why he's squinting. Vernon lives with his wonderful wife Judy and high-schooler son Joshua on a farm in northeast Louisiana. Every few years, we make the trek from southeast Texas to northeast Louisiana to spend the holidays with my brother and his family and my mom who lives in a nearby town.

I'm ashamed to say Judy did all the work of preparing the Thanksgiving feast. I had the easy job of buying napkins and disposable plates, etc. along with some bakery-made desserts. The food was fabulous, and it's always good to be with my mom and Vernon, Judy, and their kids. This year their married son Lafayette who is a sheriff's deputy for the parish had the day off, but his wife Brandi didn't. So he joined us until he had to report for the night shift. (Brandi got to eat leftovers which I'm sure she enjoyed.)

It's always fun walking around the farm and looking at all the animals. In addition to a great dog named Tip and several cats, there are cows, chickens of several varieties, attack geese who squawk in alarm at any stranger, and a pair of peacocks.

Vernon has a cow named Abigail who is more like a pet than a barnyard animal. He pets her, and she follows him around the pasture much as a dog would.

As it turns out, Abigail was pregnant and in labor on Thanksgiving day. We all went out to see about her, and to everyone's surprise, she started to deliver her calf. Her water broke. A short while later, the head appeared. It happened so fast even my brother and his helper, son Josh, were caught by surprise.

Abigail's healthy newborn is a bull which I promptly named TG for Thanksgiving. The miracle of birth on Thanksgiving Day. Wow. Now that's special - and something we'll always remember.

Emotional truth

Affair To Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr was on this morning so my daughter and I took a few minutes out of our busy day to watch THE scene.

I haven't watched the entire film in years, but if I find it's on, I always watch THE scene. Which one is that? It's the one where Cary Grant is at the door leaving, and he's talking about how he painted Deborah Kerr wearing the lace mantilla, or shawl. He couldn't take money for the painting so he told the gallery owner to give it to this young woman who fancied it because she liked it and because she was... you know....

The play of emotions on his face as he's saying this and as he begins putting two and two together to get a possible four is incredible. You are so into the character that you can imagine his thoughts arriving at the impossible conclusion that the woman who was in a wheelchair and who fancied the painting is the same as his beloved who sits on the couch and makes no attempt to go to the door to see him out.

He comes back to the couch, places his coat and hat on it, and walks to the other door in the room. He opens it, sees the painting he'd been describing. That's when he creates another memorable cinematic moment. His face reflects how crushed he is, how his heart is in a vise as he realizes the woman he loves is indeed the woman in the wheelchair who visited the gallery. He's staggered by the certain knowledge and nearly falls against the door.

That is THE scene I can never miss just as I never watch it without tears sliding down my cheeks. It's the greatest of acting because of its truth. Cary Grant is so good in that scene that I forget he's Cary Grant. He is Nicky, the devastated, artist in search of his own truth.

And that is what writers strive to create with the characters we write into existence - a character so true that we are moved to tears by his heartbreak. Each time we put words together, we are searching for our own truth as reflected in the characters we endow with life.

Mom's always right

Things moms say: Don't get your feet wet or you'll catch cold. Get out of those wet clothes before you cach your death. It's cold outside - don't go out there with a wet head or you'll catch a cold.

Well, medical research has proved them right.

I immediately sent this link to my daughter. Feel free to let your children know that Mom (or Dad) is always right.

Self-publish? Moi? Sacre bleu!

I've been cruising blogs as if I have been granted more hours than the usual twenty-four. The good news and the bad news are the same: I've found more great blogs. One I particularly enjoyed Cabbages and Kings belongs to PJ Parrish, a sister writing act. Be sure and read their Advice to Writers - Get Real. It's something every writer should realize.

Since I enjoyed PJ Parrish's blog, I checked out some of the blogs it links to and found POD-DY MOUTH which I clicked on just because of the name. Pod-dy Mouth reviews POD books, revealing the good ones that deserve a reader's money and attention.

I've got to admit the anonymous author, published traditionally by Penguin Putnam, gave me food for thought about the Print On Demand controversy. When I read: I mentioned this to my editor, part as a jab and part as a query. She responded with “Look, I read tons of good stuff, but reject most of it because it just doesn’t move me. If this writer happens to miss the mark with other editors the same way, then her book dies, with no imprints left to submit to. She’s got two choices: self-publish or throw it in the garbage.”

Wow! Like most authors, I've got a few manuscripts like that. They're not in the garbage can, but they do take up sizeable real estate in my file cabinet. Friends needle me every now and then about submitting them again. Though I adore everything about these stories and believe they are good, I just let them gather dust because they are apparently square pegs in a round-hole publishing industry. I've never thought of self-publishing them, other than maybe as a freebie for those who visit my web site, but I just might change my mind.

Any thoughts?

Women: hide now!

Oh, no. I just saw in the newspaper this bit of distressing news. Ruffles are back.

Please, God, say it isn't so.

I look again just to make sure. Yep, there it is in the Dillard's ad, right above the picture of what is probably a fifteen-year-old girl who wears a size 0. Yes, guys, there really are size zeros. The model in the ad weighs maybe 95 pounds and 5 of that is foundation, eye shadow, and mascara. She may look as if she's twenty, but I'm not fooled. I have a daughter who modeled so I know the way that fantasy business works.

Discover the trend, ladies romantic ruffle blouses.

I hate ruffles. I don't think shirts, excuse me, blouses, with a gazillion tiny buttons up to your chin and yards of ruffles hanging from chin to navel, are romantic in any way.

If God had wanted women to wear ruffles, He'd never have let the tee-shirt be invented.

Holly Lisle offers opportunity

If you haven't met or read Holly Lisle who writes the Pocket Full of Words blog then come out from lurk immediately. Holly has more than twenty critically-acclaimed novels to her credit and is one of my must reads since I discovered her via Lynn Viehl.

If you ever wished you could get one on one tutoring from an accomplished author like Holly Lisle, now is your chance because she's auctioning three one-on-one tutoring sessions on EBay.

One Day Auction

Three Day Auction

Seven Day Auction

In the next day or two, she'll add an auction for a manuscript critique.

Hurry to EBay!

Holiday entertainment = college football?

I freely admit I'm not the biggest college football fan in the world. Probably because bowl game days are holidays, and I'm always in the kitchen slicing, dicing, roasting, and baking. Even so, I do have an opinion about college bowl games, and I think it's time to share it with the world. This is something that really bugs me. I think it's abhorrent, and should be felonious, for bowl games to have a corporate sponsor name attached to them.

I grew up with the Orange, Sugar, Cotton, and Rose Bowls. With the exception of the Rose Bowl, the rest don't exist. Why? Because evil corporate empires have slapped their names on them.

It's no longer the Orange Bowl. It's the Fedex Orange Bowl. Same with the Sugar Bowl now the Nokia Sugar Bowl. What was the Hula Bowl is now the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Gator Bowl? Why that's the Toyota Gator Bowl. The good old Cotton Bowl is the SBC Cotton Bowl. My goodness, couldn't the Peach Bowl at least have petitioned Del Monte Canned Peaches to take them on? Instead it's the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. I don't know about you, but chicken and peaches don't mix in my kitchen.

And when did there become 28 bowl games? Yes, that's right. Twenty (ridiculously named) eight bowl games. Who's going to remember who won the EV1.Net Houston Bowl? or the Meineke Car Care Bowl? That one would be far more interesting if mechanics on two teams competed to replace the muffler system on a seventy-three Plymouth Fury. When did car financing create the GMAC Bowl? Do colleges get bragging rights for earning a trip to the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl? Is that more prestigious than the Gaylords Hotels Music City Bowl?

I guess I'll stick with the plain old, un-corporatized Rose Bowl until some corporate giant offers them enough money to rename the venerable contest the Viagra Erectile Dysfunction Bowl whose winning bid, by a fraction, beats out the Preparation H Hemorrhoid Bowl.

8 million stories in the Nekkid City

Fodder for the story idea file.

Living in the Houston metropolitan area is like living near any huge metro area. It's just another Naked City. (There's 8 million stories in the Naked City.... Except I grew up saying Nekkid City.)

Hmmm. Let's see what's happening today around Texas.

Baptists elect first black president. Congratulations, Reverend Mister Michael Bell of Fort Worth. Kudos to Texas Baptists.

First African American principal honored. Billy J. Baines, now 77, has been honored by the Fort Bend Independent School District by having a new middle school named for him. How nice! Congratulations, Mr. Baines.

Robert Dale Howell put to death. He's the 18th inmate to die at Huntsville. He was 50; no public campaign was ever waged on his behalf to save him. Apparently all the abolish death penalty groups aren't impartial in their support. They seem to go for the high-profile cases, and this guy had no PR at all attached to him at trial or afterwards. He had killed before and got away with it. Apparently, the only reason his defense could come up with for why he should escape the needle for having killed his crack dealers in a crack house was that "yes, he killed them, but he didn't rob them afterward."

Mother of a Justice of the Peace charged with illegally trying to renew handicapped parking placard. I personally think a handicapped parking placard should be authorized by a doctor's written report and prescription form and should have to be renewed each year. I also think anyone who is not handicapped should NOT have a placard, and anyone who parks in a handicapped slot who is not disabled and has no placard should have each of their tires punctured on the first offense. After that, maybe seize their vehicle and sell it at public auction. Since I have a mom and a brother who are handicapped, I feel very strongly about these scumbags who take handicapped spaces, making disabled people have to park out in the back forty. I'd be willing to volunteer a few hours each week to administer justice. Or simply write tickets if that's the worst the law can throw at them.

Eight people accused of smuggling girls for prostitution. Okay, this has got to stop. I vote for death by bongo on this one.

Work crew finds skull near terminal site. Anthropologist called in. Interesting. This was in an area that is now Port of Houston property on a dead end road. There was a serial killer working the area just to the west and south of there. Several bodies were found in League City from the 1980s on. No one was ever arrested. I remember reading about all those unidentified bodies they found in the field near League City and wondering why no reference was ever made to a serial killer. Finally, about twenty years later, there was a big splash in the Houston Chronicle about serial killers working the Texas area, and it was mentioned.

List of things I'll never understand

I have a new entry for my list of Things I'll Never Understand. I don't care how long I live. I'll never understand how any man or woman can strap on pounds of explosives with the idea of detonating them in a place filled with people and think that by doing so they are committing a righteous, justified act, an act that will eventually bring peace.

Question: How is murdering innocent people, including children, ever justified?

Answer: It is NOT.

When does my flight leave?

I took a Net quiz this morning. I get a ton of these. Some I ignore; some pique my interest. I confess sometimes I play around with the answers to the questions to see what changes the result. Kind of like reading a choose your adventure story and changing the path each time, but I didn't do that today. This quiz was to determine in which city I belong. My answer is below along with a link for you to determine where you should be.

You Belong in Paris

Stylish and a little sassy, you were meant for Paris.
The art, the fashion, the wine, the men!
Whether you're enjoying the cafe life or a beautiful park...
You'll love living in the most chic place on earth.


Now, I have only one quibble with the constant reference to Paris as the most chic place on earth. When I was in Paris, I was disappointed in that I expected to see women and men dressed oh, so stylishly, and that was not the case. They presented a rather mundane appearance. Now I'm talking about the people I saw on the street regardless of the particular district I visited. Since I didn't hang out in the various houses of design, maybe that's where the fashionable people were hiding.

One thing I found very interesting was the condition of the shoes worn by most people. Leather shoes were scuffed, run-down, and generally looked as if they should have been consigned to the trash, but I guess if I walked everywhere as many of them do with some of it on cobblestone, my shoes would age pretty quickly too.

Whatever happened to....

Jack Abbott

Over on the delightful Miss Snark's blog Miss Snark, Literary Agent, she made a passing reference to getting discovered by writing Norman Mailer from prison. She included a link in case a reader didn't know why that was "funny."

I knew to what she referred, but I found myself interested in the sad life of Jack Abbott, a man who quite simply could not be saved, even by the likes of Norman Mailer, Susan Sarandon who named her son after Jack Henry Abbott, and others who tried.

Abbott, incarcerated from the age of 12, should never have been released from prison, regardless of the raw literary power he possessed. Yes, I believe he was a victim of the penal system, but he was also a person who, even at a young age, could not fit into society and live by its rules. What made anyone think that being released into society would make this man, who lived by the "code" of the prisons and who had killed a man in prison, able to live a "normal" life? Has any man or woman with a similar background ever been able to achieve a successful life on the outside when paroled?

Of course, I'll admit, I've lived long enough to freely own up to cynicism. I'm no expert of any kind, yet, I've always believed intensive therapy and education are two things that should be required for all prisoners. They don't need more gym equipment to pump up their muscles. They don't need cable television. They need to grow a conscience, but, sadly, that train left the station a long time ago.

Education and psychological counseling are two things that might help, but how do you retrain someone who has no sense of empathy? Sure seems like there are a lot of people out there now that fit that description.

It's a scary world we live in, ladies and gentlemen.

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Hackberry


Do hackberry trees grow other places than Texas and the South? If so, do you homeowners with hackberry trees find yourselves drowning in leaves in the fall?

Actually, I don't believe there is a month of the year that the hackberry isn't shedding something.

In the spring, these squiggly yellow pre-leaves come out. They fall. Then the seeds fall. The trees leaf out, but it takes little, like a quick rise in temp or a drop in rain, and the leaves rain down. Berries are produced. They fall when they're soft and make a mess on the soles of your shoes. Fall comes and the leaves yellow and start dropping again. Any remaining berries have turned into rock-hard nuggets. These get stuck in the treads of sneakers and engender a sharp pain in unwary bare feet. I guess winter is about the only time massive amounts of stuff aren't falling from the trees - if you don't count the twigs and small branches that winter storms send down.

In a previous home, some unintelligent person planted a hackberry tree next to a pool. By the time we bought the house, not knowing what the tree had in store for us, the tree was taller than the two-story French provincial. The tree shed into the pool every month of the year, clogging the automatic pool cleaner, the strainer basket, etc. I was thrilled to sell that house for that reason alone.

In my present home, I have two large hackberry trees in the yard. They're far enough from the house that I don't have to contend with their molting. The only one that is a mild nuisance is the one to the side of the driveway because there's always, well, crap from it on the drive, and in the winter bushels of leaves get blown under the porte cochere and pile up around the door. Since the tree also has lace aphids, a common nuisance for hackberry, one dares not park beneath the tree because sap from the tree, filtered through the aphids digestive system and excreted, makes a sticky mess on anything below it.

Arborists considere hackberry trees as attractive, tough, and almost disease-free. I've read that the wood of the hackberry tree is tough, with excellent resistance to breakage (I question that!). Supposedly hackberry wood of good quality is used for furniture, millwork and athletic equipment with lower grade material used for crating. They're supposed to be one of the most eco-friendly trees in North America because the fruit from them (those darn squishy berries which turn into hard nuggets) are relished by wildlife. The way the tree branches is such that nesting birds like them. When decayed, they even hold up well enough for owls and squirrels to move into them. (Gak! Don't get me started on the squirrel problem around here!)

Hackberries come in male and female variety. I think the one in front of my study window is a male because I don't see as much "droppage" from it, or maybe the large curving bed of Asian jasmine that surrounds it conceals its offerings. The one at the side of the driveway must be female - and a drama queen. It weeps all over the place every month of the year.

Here it is November, and I'm drowning in millions of small, thin hackberry leaves. They never seem to stop falling. I can look up at bare branches one day and think the driveway will now be clean. No more leaves tracked into the house. Hurrah! Then the next morning there will be mounds of mystery leaves. I think Mrs. Hackberry goes into secret leaf production each night in order to maintain her constant output.

Even so, I won't remove these trees because they have a saving grace. They do provide the most splendid filtered shade in the warm months - which here in Texas is just about every month.

Author's name obscured

Here at Sling Words, we're bothered by something and wonder if it's common practice at all WalMarts or if it's just the Wally Worlds near the Reeves hacienda. What's got us slinging angst this fine TGIF? The bar code/price sticker on books at WalMart.

The adhesive label which measures .75" by 2.25" is about the size of a return address label, like the Avery 5160 which I use. This label is slapped right across the top of the cover. Unless the author's name is in a point size equivalent to that used for The mega-sellers like King, Koontz or Roberts, the label does a great job of obscuring the author's name if the name is above the title. If the name is below the title, then the label on many books covers part of the title.

So if you're looking for a particular author's name or a specific title, you have to pull the book from the rack and look at the spine. After unracking about a dozen, this becomes more than a bit annoying. I worry that book buyers who are non-writers and are just looking for a good read they heard about may get exasperated and walk away empty-handed.

The book cover's title and author name should be easily seen. A reader shouldn't have to search for it. Good marketing strategy is always make it easy for buyers to find books, not harder.

I wonder if the other big retailers do this. I'll have to start checking Targets, etc. I also wonder if editors and cover artists are aware of this practice. If so, I think publishers should be asking jobbers to slap their in-house label over the barcode on the back of the book.

Sling Words out.

Bought a western novel today


After meeting western writer Jory Sherman, not in person that is, but by reading his blog, I've looked for his books each time I've gone shopping.

I can see virtual eyebrows everywhere shoot skyward in surprise at this statement because I'm not known as a huge fan of westerns. For this I apologize because the western is our country's only original genre. Mr. Sherman made this point in an entry when he began his blog and also in his most current entry.

So I thought I owed it to western writers, who, like western historical romance authors, are perceived as writing for a dying genre, to buy a western now and again as my small effort to help keep the genre alive.

The book I saw on the racks at Wally World today was The Vigilante with a great quote by Loren Estleman on the cover: "Jory Sherman is a national treasure." The cover of The Vigilante is the kind my husband will love. You see, he is a western fan (Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, Elmer Kelton, et al) though in recent years he hasn't had much time to read for entertainment. He'll be delighted when I finish the book and pass it on to him.

The back cover blurb is a story that could have been ripped from the headlines as they like to say on Law and Order.

"Taken by surprise by two thieves, the husband and wife who owned Del's Roadside Store were tortured until they revealed where they'd hidden the strongbox. Not satisfied with their ill-gotten gains, the robbers turned to murder...

Wiley Pope and Fritz Canby have a history of violent behavior, but they're the sons of two of the most respected - and wealthiest - families in the territory, and the law turns a blind eye to their misdeeds...

Lew Zane doesn't care about the law or the amount of money that tips the scales of justice. All he cares about is that his parents are dead, and their killers roam free. And if the law won't see justice done, then he will...."

And oh! The opening sentence is ... well, fantastic! (I started to say melodic and evotive, but I'm afraid that might scare any male readers away.)

So, we here at Sling Words urge you to rush out and buy this book. You won't regret it because not only will you be supporting an American genre as well as a Pulitzer-nominated author but also you'll get one heck of a good book.

Pass the word.

Neil Diamond lives


Wow! Does he ever. Rush out and get his new album. 12 Songs is available online or in stores today. I heard On To You this morning. It was the kind of song that pulled an emotional response from me. I paused in making my morning coffee and walked over to the television. Instead of the morning news, Neil was singing as guest artist on Today. I was amazed. Everyone had been predicting his new album would be something special, but I figured that was the usual media hype.

Guess what? It's not hype. Based on that one song, I knew I had to have the album. If you shop online, listen to bits of the other songs. You'll want it too.

Way to go, Neil. Well done.

Email scammers are scum of the earth

I'm filled with righteous anger. Normally, all the scam and spam emails do little more than irritate me because the delete button is very easy to use. This time though I received one supposedly from a soldier serving in Iraq who wants to offer me 60% of the 25 million he and another GI liberated.

Now, if you've used email longer than a nano second, you know these scams circle the globe in less time than it takes for a PC to become obsolete. We've all gotten the Nairobi letter etc., but what makes this particularly obnoxious to me is the sender posing as a US soldier.

I'm not naive enough to believe that all GIs are altruistic angels, but I've been around the military enough in my lifetime to believe that most are decent human beings. There are more of them serving in Iraq who believe they are sacrificing for a greater good. It doesn't matter if you believe that or not. They do, and I respect them for their sacrifices.

So, you scum of the earth, don't pick a soldier in an attempt to fleece incredibly naive people of their bucks. In doing so, you malign decent hard-working men and women who are serving their country.

This is real life, not some con man's version of Three Kings. For God's sake, why don't you people grow a conscience?

If you're afraid of snakes, don't look!


They grow 'em big in Texas!

Here's a pretty picture to start your day. If I knew the photographer, I'd certainly give credit for this pic. Couldn't you just see this on a postcard from Texas? Now all you PETA people etc., don't get on my back. I didn't kill this snake. I just received the picture via email from a photographer friend in OKC. This rattler was found recently at the old Turkey Creek gas plant located south of the Alibates Turnoff on Highway 136 south of Fritch, Texas, which is just north of Amarillo.

Yes, there really are rattlesnakes this big in Texas, and there are thousands of them if the annual Rattlesnake Roundup held at Sweetwater is any indication.

We give snakes their due respect and leave them alone, but sometimes snakes and humans interact. The result is never pretty whichever way the battle goes. This particular snake was 9 feet 1 inch long and weighed 97 pounds.

The picture was accompanied by a recipe for Fried Rattlesnake. You know how they say everything exotic tastes like chicken? Well, fried rattlesnake really does - greasy, stringy chicken. Yuk.

Sling Words out.

Judging books by their covers

Still catching up on my blog reading. Paul Guyot who writes Ink Slinger had an interesting blog entry on October 18 entitled Cover Me.

He gives the results from an informal survey he conducted each time he went to book stores. There was no rhyme or reason to which bookstore he visited nor what time or day of the week. Go to his blog to read the details.

The thing I found most interesting was the importance of the cover art in buying decisions. Even when customers looked for specific authors' books, if they didn't like the cover, they wouldn't purchase the book.

This is pretty disheartening when I think of the many good books I've read that have covers that make the author cringe with embarrassment. I'm thinking of a recent book by an author I know that had everything going for it--good story, catchy title, etc. Well, that is, everything except a good cover. The book died a quick, painful death, but the numbers will haunt the author forever.

What's an author to do? Very little unless you have cover approval which most don't. I guess that leaves prayer. Pray the artist and/or art director and/or editor in charge of such all have good taste and have actually read the book and gets it, including a vision of what will sell it.

I probably shouldn't do it, but here's one of my less appealing covers that was on a hardcover reprint of one of my romance novels. The story is a comedy of errors courtship with a very sexy twist, and the main characters are two extremely attractive doctors. My apologies to the artist who probably thought this cover art was splendid, but it doesn't portray anything remotely resembling the screwball comedy story or the physically appealing characters. When I saw the cover, my heart sank about as low as the numbers shown on the subsequent royalty statements.

Sling Words out.

Trick or treat



Smell my feet. Give me something good to eat. Wonder who created that little rhyme?

Speaking of smelling...wasn't it Ben Franklin who said fish and company smell after five days? Well, I've had company for five days. No smells are being emitted so we're safe there. I will admit though that I'm rather tired. It's hard work being the hostess with the mostest. Still, I'll miss them when they leave.

Back to work tomorrow.

I owe; I owe. It's off to work I go.

Sling Words out.

Rob Petrie lives

I've been behind on my blog reading so I cruised around my favorite sites and found where Lee Goldberg who writes A Writer's Life had posted a link to an interview he did with the fabulous Dick Van Dyke. The link is for the part of the interview where Mr. Van Dyke talks about his most recent series "Diagnosis Murder" as well as his history in television, but you can hear the whole interview as well.

I find Mr. Van Dyke charming and articulate. Since he's 80, we're always supposed to be surprised about that, but my grandfather lived to 100 and was just as charming and just as articulate until the day he died.

So here's a link if you want to listen to the interview. Many thanks to Lee Goldberg who writes the Diagnosis Murder mysteries and who seems pretty charming and articulate himself.

Dick Van Dyke interview.

Sling Words out.

Books, books, and more books

Fall brings with it the undeniable urge to clean out the clutter. Since I'm chained to my writing desk, I'm limited to the clutter in my study. Like most writers, I have this obsession with books. I buy a book and keep it until the end of time. That is, I used to do that, but moving three times in four years will make even the most ardent bibliophile question the wisdom of transporting few thousand books. So I cull each spring and fall.

Many erudite people have made insightful remarks about books. Here's one for the cynical crowd.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg said: There can hardly be a stranger commodity in the world than books. Printed by people who don't understand them; sold by people who don't understand them; bound, criticized and read by people who don't understand them; and now even written by people who don't understand them.

That's quite a commentary on the state of publishing, isn't it? The really interesting thing about this is that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who taught physics, mathematics, astronomy, and other subjects, was not talking about contemporary books and publishing because he was born in 1742.

Lichtenberg did research in many fields, geophysics, volcanology, meteorology, chemistry, astronomy, and mathematics to name a few, but he's remembered primarily for his work in physics. His only true scientific discovery though was related to electricity. In 1777, he found that discharges of static electricity formed patterns in bits of dust. Though these Lichtenberg figures were of no use to him at that time, they are the basic principle used in modern photocopying machines. Now, Lichtenberg figures, radial patterns formed when sharp, pointed conducting bodies at high voltage get close enough to insulators to discharge electrically, are being studied because they are fractals.

He is remembered for the thousands of pithy sayings he composed as much as for his contributions to science. Actually, I think he's remembered more for his creative witticisms since he's considered a mere footnote in scientific history.

In an odd way, I find it comforting that someone a few hundred years ago felt the way we writers often feel about what gets published. So when you get disgusted with what's being bought and sold, you're in good company.

Sling Words out.

Astros win!

Woo hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry I can't help myself.

I was at the game in 1986 when they won. Last night, I watched it on TV. I'm just so proud of Phil Garner and Jose Cruz and the rest of the coaching staff and the players.

Way to go, Astros!

Appointment week

I've been AWOL for several days while I've been making and keeping apointments. You know, those pesky checkups we, as intelligent, responsible humans, have to endure.

Yesterday was the allergist which I ended up postponing until next week. I decided, after detouring around two major grid lock jams on all eastbound roadways only to end up in another, that there was no way I could make a 9:30 appointment when I hadn't succeeded in getting five miles from home. Being the modern gal I am, I whipped out the cell, called and cancelled.

Today is dentist. Hope I have better luck in getting there. I'll be glad when I'm finished with these because it sure interrupts the writing day.

Sling Words out.

Tickle a writer's funny bone

You've probably seen this going around the email lists. I received it from several sources a while back. I was cleaning out my cyber files and was about to delete it, but I took a minute to read it again. It's still funny. So I decided to post it since some of you who read my blog aren't writers. This might give you a hint about how tough the writer's lot is.

PUBLISHING AND LIGHT BULBS

Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: I can't tell whether you mean 'change a light bulb' or 'have sex
in a light bulb'. Can we reword it to remove the ambiguity?

Q: How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one. But first they have to rewire the entire building.

Q: How many managing editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week!

Q: How many art directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Does it HAVE to be a light bulb?

Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: The last time this question was asked, it involved art directors. Is the difference intentional? Should one or the other instance be changed? It seems inconsistent.

Q: How many marketing directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: It isn't too late to make this neon instead, is it?

Q: How many proofreaders does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Proofreaders aren't supposed to change light bulbs. They should just query them.

Q: How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: But why do we have to CHANGE it?

Q: How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Three. One to screw it in, and two to hold down the author.

Q: How many booksellers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one, and they'll be glad to do it too, except no one shipped
them any.

Saturday at rest

I finally updated my website. Only 14 days late this time. I think I've caught a bad case of procrastination from my dh. I never used to procrastinate the way I do now. With him, it's genetic which explains our daughter's tendency. With me, I think I finally got tired of being the whip cracker in the household. The good news is that I'm a lot more laid back; the bad news is every fracking thing now falls by the wayside.

Anyway, I got the website updated, went for a ride with the top down, had lunch at Whataburger, the original Texas burger joint, and now I'm waiting for the Astros to beat the Cardinals tonight. (Please God!) Sorry if this offends any Cardinal fans out there, but a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do.

Sling Words out.

Lotto winner

Well, according to my email this morning, I've won six lottos. Wonder if that's some kind of record worthy of Guinness? All I have to do to claim my gazillions is send some money to these wonderful people who have my email address.

Now isn't that special?

Autumn still here

Wow, we've had five days of autumn. How sublime to be in the 70's instead of the 90's. This morning there's a lovely drizzle that makes it seem even more autumnal. So I gaze out the window often at the raindrops beading the broad-leaved agapanthas.

Nice day for writing.

Sling Words out.

Houston Astros win

Pardon me while I act insanely partial and scream like a maniac! Houston just beat Atlanta. 18 nail-biting innings, a record according to all the talking heads.

YEAHHHHHHHHHH!

Warning: rerun ahead

Life is too busy of late thus I find myself without time to sling a few words at you or even to update my web site. We're already five days into October and the task of web site update weighs heavy on my mind. Must get it done asap. So I'm going to excerpt an article I wrote a few years ago about book-related trivia.

I’m a trivia collector. I have file folders bursting with amusing items about authors, writing, and books. Of course, this means I occasionally (once a year!) must clean out the clutter. This process takes a while since I find myself reading and chuckling as I go along.

Some of these are so good they don’t deserve to be buried in a file folder or trashed so I thought I’d share some.

In the last seven years of his life, Thomas Hardy took no baths. (Yuk! I imagine everyone wanted him FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD!)

John Grisham received twenty-eight rejections for A TIME TO KILL.

Jonathan Swift went a full year without speaking to anyone.

David Cornwell is the real name of spy novelist John Le Carre.

Lord Byron set his hair in curlers at night.

Mary Higgins Clark had her first short story rejected forty times. (Of course that means there were at least forty markets for short fiction then!)

Charles Dickens detested being called Grandpa.

William Golding received twenty-one rejections for LORD OF THE FLIES.

Frank is the real first name of Mickey Spillane.

Pearl Buck received 14 rejections on THE GOOD EARTH.

George Bernard Shaw had his first five novels rejected.

Teodor Josef Konrad Korzeniowski is the real name of Joseph Conrad, author of HEART OF DARKNESS among others.

L. M. Olenhewitz is Jules Verne.

Marguerite Johnson is Maya Angelou.

Then there is the admiration authors have for other authors.

Harold Robbins on Ernest Hemingway: “Hemingway is a jerk.”

Tolstoy on Nietzsche: “Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal.”

Truman Capote had less than admiration for just about everyone so I won’t single out an individual for his caustic comments. Instead, I'll finish with what Kurt Vonnegut said: “I’d rather have written CHEERS than anything I’ve written.”

Got an interesting fact related to books? Send it to me via email, and I’ll add it to my collection.

My thoughts on SERENITY

Go see the movie. You won't be disappointed even if you haven't seen the series Firefly. Serenity is well written and well acted which is what I expected from Joss Whedon and the cast. I laughed. I cried. I sweated in suspense. Whedon didn't pull any punches, but I was surprised at the deaths of a couple of major characters. I won't say any more because I don't want to create a spoiler even though the trailers on TV do it all the time.

Get real

Look out! The Bill Gates email hoax is going around again. It's hard to believe anyone with a brain would believe Bill Gates will send $245.00 for each email sent to him.

Since this particular urban legend had died away, or so I thought, I wondered why it had started again. Is it naive people who live under rocks and who just got on the Internet who get wind of it and think, "Wow, I must send this to every man, woman, and child I know along with a request that they send it to every man, woman, etc."

I looked this one up at Urban Legends and saw it started making the rounds in September 1999. Guess it reactivated on its anniversary date.

There are many web sites devoted to debunking hoaxes. I just wish people would use at least a couple of their brain cells to check things out before forwarding.

The letters on my delete key are worn away.

Cranky Sling Words out.

Serenity


We, meaning DH and daughter, can hardly wait for the premiere of Serenity. I hope Joss's movie blows audiences away.

I know all of the fans of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly (also sci fic fans) will be buying tickets. I just hope the rest of the world does too because validation via box office dollars will mean more creative projects from talented Joss Whedon.

So go see Serenity. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cheer, you'll be on the edge of your seat in suspense. How do I know this? Because Joss and the actors are able to elicit all those emotions. They did it with Firefly, the ill-fated series that Fox doomed to failure with their lackadaisical scheduling and promotion. Based on the trailers I've seen, Serenity is a jewel of mixed genres--action, suspense, comedy, romance--with an appealing hero, a surprising kick butt martial artist, and great fight scenes.

Starts Friday. Sling Words out.

Genetic addiction to all things girly


I must have had one, a lobotomy that is, because I spent the day shoe shopping with my daughter. We were in the eat (junk), drink (caffeine), and be merry (while shopping) mode. The tally? Two pairs of shoes each. Despite other blogging writers who have managed to pare down to a couple of pairs of shoes, I freely admit my love of shoes and purses and clothes and jewelry. Oh my! It must be genetic because my daughter is cursed with the same affection.

What motivates you


I had an interesting conversation with my mom yesterday about fear. We were talking about Hurricane Rita and how frightening it must have been for those trying to evacuate who ran out of gas and were stranded on roadways with no gas, no water, no food, no air conditioning, and night falling.

They say only fear of the dark and fear of falling are genetically encoded in humans. All the other fears, we personally and individually create.

This photograph is of a sculpture created by my daughter Adina when she was a senior in high school and in advanced art. Adina, formerly a commercial artist who now teaches art in high school, selected fear as her focus that year. All art she created interpreted fear in some media. This sculpture won First in state (Texas).

I've often thought this sculpture is particularly illustrative of the destructive power of fear with its cruel, twisted spikes. If you bow to the power of Fear rather than fight it, fear will bore into your soul and eventually destroy you. Writers and other creative souls seem especially prone to fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of success, whatever you want to call your personal nemesis.

If you suffer from fear, no matter what that fear may be, act in the face of your fear, and you gain power over it instead of letting it rule over you and your life. When fear rules, you lose all that you might otherwise gain.

This is for you, Pat

More of Rita's misdeeds on Mayweather though it doesn't look as if any damage was done to the house itself.





Goodbye, Rita


This photo was the sky above my house last night around seven as seen from the front (west) side of my house.

This photo was taken a few minutes later from the back of my house (northeast corner) and shows the elderly pecan tree which was the source of my anxiety. You can see that's it's tall, but the photo does not show how truly huge the tree is. Its radius is probably 3-4 feet, and its height is 80-90 feet. It's a native pecan tree in an area called Pecan Grove, and it's probably one of the oldest trees in the area.

As most of you know, Rita made landfall at Camerone which is what I predicted a few days ago. So here where I live just southwest of Houston, we had only rain and wind. No damage except for small branches and a small to medium-size hackberry tree which split where the trunk forked. The broken part is lying across the fence and in the neighbor's back yard. Considering we have a multitude of trees, including the sickly hundred year old pecan, this is a miracle in itself.



I feel almost guilty in wanting a tee shirt that says "I survived Rita." With hurricanes, one person's relief is usually another person's misery. Bless those in east Texas and west Louisiana as well as poor old New Orleans who bore the brunt of Rita's force.

We'll start deconstructing the hurricane prep sometime later today. I won't even complain about all the work involved in preparing and in deconstructing. I'm just grateful.

Sling Words out.

Hurricane prep finished

We have done what we could with what we had to make the house ready for the storm.

1. Removed everything from the yard--even the tomato cages. It's all piled in the garage--pot plants, empty flower pots, hoses, garbage cans, etc. Pot plants to big to carry inside are snugged up against the foundation on the lee side of the house (the southwest).

2. A safe room on the southwest side of the house which happens to be our guest room is set up because we have a dying pecan tree that will be vulnerable to the wind. This tree is on the north side of the house and is about a hundred years old. If it goes during the night, we want to all be in the room farthest from it. If it goes, we figure the house will be a total loss. The tree is that big. We just want to be in a position to survive it since we won't see it coming.

3. The tornado room will be the bathroom next to the guest room. It can be closed off so no windows are in the room. It's on the interior of the house. We've placed a blanket and pillow for each person and our emergency bags. A box holding flashlights, digital camera, weather radio, an old AM transistor radio that has seen us through other storms, and extra batteries is in there too.

4. The patio furniture is in the kitchen.

5. Windows are taped. Some windows which are most vulnerable to the wind and wind-driven rain have been covered with plastic in case they break in an effort to protect the furnishings in those rooms.

6. Doors facing the wind side have been sealed on the outside with duct tape.

7. Oil lamps have been filled. Candles and matches placed in every room.

8. One emergency bag for each of us with medication, glasses, and a change of clothes are in the "safe" room.

9. Rolling file boxes are opened next to the file cabinets. If things get dicey, we'll fill these with emergency papers and hope we have the luxury of throwing them in our 4 wheel drive Tahoe if we have to abandon the house.

10. We've filled every pitcher and carafe with water and have three 6 gallon jerry cans also. This will be for drinking if we lose water. Every bathtub is filled. This is for bathing and flushing.

We fully expect to be without power for a few days if not a week. We've got 2 battery boosters for cars that have AC outlets. These will be used to run an electric skillet to cook or heat food. We also have an adaptor for the car that has an AC outlet so if worse comes to worse, we can crank up one of the vehicles, plug into the thingee and have power.

We have 2 refrigerators full of food and ice that we've been bagging for the last few days in addition to gallon zip bags we've filled with water and froze. We also have cases of drinks. Our neighbor across the street has stocked up on whiskey, beer, and wine along with 2 generators, 35 gallons of gas, and other necessities of life.

Everyone in our neighborhood is home. Where we live, there's a levee built around the whole subdivision, and every house is supposedly built to withstand 150 mph winds so just about everyone has stayed.

We have a battery op TV, decks of cards, Uno, and other games, books, etc. So we plan to make the best of a bad situation.

So that's it. Hope all of you make it through okay.

All that's left is praying and waiting.

Sling Words out.

Evacuation fiasco

Our daughter left this morning at 4:15, headed west from Houston area to San Antonio to stay with one of her brothers. By 11:45, she was less than 45 miles from home. She was down to half a tank of gas and was not even half way to San Antonio which meant of course she either had to refuel or turn around and return home. All gas stations along the way are out of gas.

We advised her to turn around and come back. Being a young woman traveling alone and running out of gas on I-10 is every bit as scary as a Category 5 hurricane out in the Gulf. In 40 minutes she was home. Exhausted, frazzled, and angry, but home.

At this point, Hurricane Rita is aiming more at the Louisiana coast than this part of the Texas coast. Additionally, it has weakened. I have a feeling this particular storm might go into Louisiana at Cameron or New Iberia. God knows, Cameron has been flattened more than once by a hurricane. The good news, if there is any, is that Cameron and the other small towns in the path could easily evacuate. Even the larger towns like Lake Charles aren't as large as Houston which is virtually impossible to evacuate as this exercise proves.

People from Houston have been on the road since the wee hours of the morning. Most haven't even reached the edge of town, and they're running out of gas. Other vehicles are overheating and breaking down for this and other reasons.

I just don't think there's any real way to evacuate a major metropolitan area. I don't care what emergency management says. The only way to do it is to head out as soon as evacuation becomes a possibility, no matter how remote. Unfortunately, most people can't do this. Our daughter is a teacher. Her school decided to cancel classes yesterday. However, by this time, the roads leading away from Houston were already parking lots, there'd already been a run on gas, water, batteries, food, plywood, and other necessities of surviving a storm or evacuating.

Yesterday it was 100 degrees here. Today, it's the same. The wind is negligible at this point. The sun is baking everything. We're digging in and plan to ride it out unless Rita shifts again. In which case, we'll lock up, jump in the four wheel drive Tahoe and head South with plans to make it to Victoria then head north to San Antonio.

Sling Words out.

Computers, hurricanes, and other problems

Gee, I've been kind of off line for about a week now due to technical difficulties. Now, I'm trying to back up files, load up the cars, and head for higher ground.

Unless things change, Hurricane Rita is dropping by for a visit. Hope everything is still standing when we return.

Be safe, Third Coast.

Sling Words out.

Deceptive art of writing fiction

As I said before, I'm rereading one of Jack Bickham's books on writing. I think I have all of his books, but this is one I particularly like. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes is pithy and easy to read. The chapters are two to three pages long. In an early chapter, Mr. Bickham said: "The writing of fiction is very deceptive. ...it looks easy until you try it."

As a writer with more than a few manuscripts, published and unpublished, behind me, I know this truth in every cell of my brain. This is why I always encourage those who tell me they're going to write a book when they have the time. I tell them to go for it. They may succeed.

If they've been particularly condescending in their assumption that free time is all that is needed to write successfully (of course, I'm thinking of one particular individual here), I stand a good chance of being greatly amused when I bump into them in the future. I've yet to hear anything but hemming and hawing from those who've actually tried to turn their idea into a book.

More is required than leisure time to successfully write. If you want to write, you must be willing to work hard. Writing is hard on the anatomy, the brain, and the emotions. I think it was Earl Nightingale who said: "There are no bargains at the counter of success. You must pay full price."

Make a Fool of Yourself

Written Wisdom

Quote of the Week (to be chanted when the fear of the blank page grips you.)

Out of the mouth of Cynthia Heimel: "When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap!"

Difficult decisions

Hello. My name is Joan. And I'm addicted to the Internet.

{sigh}

Now is the time that tries a writer's soul. If you're a writer, you know what time I mean. The time when it seems as if you'll never, ever, finish your work in progress. Yep. I'm there. So I've looked over my available time--the usual 24 hours we all have--and have kept a log for a week now in which I've tried to determine where those hours and my energy go.

The good news is I now know how much time I spend at my daily activities.

The bad news is that too much of my time is spent on the Net, keeping up with all the news on all the lists to which I'm subscribed. In the beginning, this was just a few lists. Now, it's more than two dozen. Even though I'm on digest, this takes a lot of time even though some lists don't post every day. They are balanced by the lists that have multiple digests each day. Even though I mostly lurk, I realize now that the lists and the blogs I read have taken over my free time as well as my writing time.

Sooooo.... I've made the difficult decision to back away from the web. I bit the bullet, notified some of the lists to send me private email if they needed me, and then I clicked NO MAIL on all my lists. I nearly broke out in a cold sweat thinking about mornings without dozens of emails and digests, but I did it anyway.

I'll keep up with this blog and let you know if this makes a significant difference in my writing output. So if you too have begun to suspect too much time is spent keeping up with the online writing community, I'll let you know if this is an improvement.

Sling Words out.

Onward and upward...sort of

In keeping with my desire to get back to nattering on about writing, I searched my brain this A.M. for something about which to natter and came up, well, blank.

So I'll take the easy way out and do a baby step toward that goal. Here's a quote I particularly like about writing which is, unfortunately, too true.

Out of the mouth of Fran Lebowitz: "If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass."

Gosh, if my diet only allowed me to have waffles and maple syrup for breakfast. I do make the absolute best Pecan Waffles, and I heat the maple syrup which makes the combo simply irresistible.

Sling Words out--going for a walk (since it's only 80F. this morning) to take my mind off waffles.

Relatives update

Had a list of 23 relatives to look for. Found one, my cousin Wilma, who with her family, is safe. Her brother and the other cousins haven't been heard from. None of the phones were working in the 601 area code. The search continues.

Thanks for all the emails and comments. I and my family appreciate your kind regards.

Tomorrow I'll get back to more writerly ramblings.

Sling Words out.

Looking for relatives

Today is devoted to more phone calls to locate about a dozen relatives who haven't been heard from since Katrina visited. These are cousins scattered across the Gulf Coast from LA to MS.

Sling Words out.

Help hurricane survivors

The Truth Laid Bare is trying to organize bloggers' donation efforts. They've asked bloggers to register their blog and write about disaster relief efforts so I've done that. There are many organizations ramping up to help with disaster relief so I've included a list of the major ones below.

If you want to read more about what bloggers are trying to do, then visit these links: Glenn's roundup post at Instapundit, Technorati flood aid, and Hurricane Katrina.

Places where you can find out how you can help, what is needed, and how to donate.

American Red Cross

America's Second Harvest

Catholic Charities

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort

Episcopal Relief

Lakewood Church/Joel Osteen working with other Houston area churches and Houston Mayor Bill White to raise the $5 million needed to feed several thousand refugees who will be living in the AstroDome for a month.

Lutheran Disaster Response

Presbyterian Disaster Relief

Salation Army

Soldiers' Angels Katrina Relief

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief

United Jewish Communities

United Methodist Church Relief

For helping pets or livestock:

Humane Society

Noah's Wish

Donate please

My family in Louisiana is all right, but we haven't been able to find out about relatives in Mississippi yet.

The storm damage is overwhelming in terms of human suffering. Please, if you can donate money, blood, food, bottled water, diapers, or whatever, do so. Then a month from now, do it again. The need for these contributions will be ongoing.

It would be "nice" if other countries would send aid in some way. I know some of you are in foreign countries since I seem to have a lot of readers in northern Europe. If you are a citizen of a foreign country, please email your government and urge them to help.

Sling Words out.

A life well lived




I've known only one person in my entire life who never spoke an unkind word to others and who truly lived by the Golden Rule: doing unto others as she wished they would do unto her. She believed devoutly in Jesus Christ and in reincarnation and saw no incongruity in those twin beliefs. I never heard her utter a swear word or act or speak in anger. Not when her husband didn't support her talent or desires. Not when she ended up divorced after more than thirty years of marriage. Not when her divorce settlement wasn't honored. Not when other people, thinking her weak, took advantage of her. No matter what life hurled at her, she never complained. She smiled serenely and lived in a state of grace unknown to most people.

This remarkable woman was Frances Smith Reeves. If she'd been born later in the twentieth century, I think she'd have become a renowned artist of the realist school. As it was, born in the early thirties in a small Texas town where women weren't expected to "become" anything other than wives and mothers, she did as was predictable, marrying while still in her teens and producing three children, my husband being her middle child. Yet, in her soul, she sensed there was something more for which she was fated. Throughout her life, she tried to fulfill her potential and find her destiny.

As a child, her talent was undeniable, but there was little opportunity though her parents always admired her work and encouraged her. There were no other artists in west Texas where she grew up and attended school. She had no chance to develop her talent or to learn how to make art a career. Everything she learned, she learned by reading and experimenting. By the time she was thirteen, she started painting and never stopped until she left this earth.

The two paintings I photographed tonight to share with you are some of her work. I apologize for my paltry photographic skills that don't do the oil paintings justice.

We all hear that you should live each day as if it were your last. Frances Smith Reeves, the beloved mother of my husband, did that every day of her life. In the end, she died with dignity and grace--just as she had lived.

In 2003, Frances suddenly fell ill and was taken to the emergency room. By the end of that horrible day, she'd received the diagnosis that she had pancreatic cancer and had mere weeks to live. My husband and I, three of our children, and my brother-in-law traveled to be with her. We were all devastated and couldn't imagine life without her in it. Frances was calmer than any of her children and their spouses and her grandchildren. She said she'd had a good life and had no regrets. We battled guilt and regret that we couldn't stay with her as we returned to our respective homes.

Daily, we who loved her called and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to cram a lifetime of love into those phone conversations--without breaking into tears. She was far stronger and more composed than any of us.

August 29, today, would have been her birthday. In 2003, she made it to her birthday, but on September 26, less than two months after diagnosis, she lost her brief, agonizing battle with pancreatic cancer.

If one believes in reincarnation, then it's easy to believe that Frances was an old soul, evolved higher than most mortals. If this is true, then her next life should be filled with happiness from all the good karma she built up. If one believes in Jesus Christ, then it's easy to know that Frances has found her reward in Heaven. Perhaps Frances was right in her belief in both. If so, there is no doubt she has found her soul to be doubly blessed. But we miss her.

Wherever you are, Frances, you live on in our hearts.

Hurricanes I have known

If you are in New Orleans or the Atchafalaya Basin area and you are reading this, for the love of God, leave!

I grew up in Louisiana so I know a little about hurricanes. The first one I remember was Hurricane Audrey when I was in elementary school. New Iberia was hit hard. We had no electricity for more than a week. Our television antenna was the only one still attached to a roof on Weeks Street, a fact my dad was particularly proud of. I can remember my dad went out to try to find milk and other food but couldn't get through the streets because of all the fallen trees. I don't think Audrey was considered a major storm in the grand scheme of things but it did a number on Louisiana.

Through the years, there were other storms. We usually rode them out. Don't ask me why, but evacuation wasn't even discussed. On two occasions, we did leave, driving to the northern part of the state to stay with relatives. I don't remember the name of the hurricane that hit those two times, but I do remember seeing the photographs in the newspapers. The pictures seemed like war-ravaged battlefields with nothing but rubble strewn across what once was a town.

When I was in my twenties, I said farewell to hurricanes and headed to the Far East where I was introduced to typhoons. I was a young military wife whose husband flew with the planes they evacuated when typhoons threatened. Since we lived on Okinawa, right in the middle of Typhoon Alley, this happened frequently. Of course, wives and children didn't get evacuated. We stayed behind to ride out the storms as best we could.

On Okinawa where I lived nearly six years, there were wooden and cardboard box shanties on the hillsides and a scattering of traditional Okinawan wooden houses, but most of the buildings, houses and businesses, in the civilian community and on base were made of concrete blocks with solid concrete slab roofs and steel doors. Windows and doors were equipped with shutters, thick slabs of wood or rolling steel shutters on businesses. When typhoons approached, we all knew what to do so eventually we took our safety for granted.

The first typhoon I went through was a horror. Nearly eight solid hours of shrieking wind, pounding rain, and anything left loose flying into the steel doors. The noise was unnerving as less sturdy buildings disintegrated and became shrapnel that pounded our steel door all night long.

Six years later though, after innumerable typhoons, a storm was an occasion for a typhoon party. It was nothing to see people down on the seawall below my house which perched on a cliff above the East China Sea. Partiers leapt from the wall and raced the waves bounding over the huge wall. I too was guilty of venturing out just to see what was going on. Being cooped up for hours on end makes you kind of stir crazy, especially when you're by yourself. So visiting with other wives and walking around and taking pictures during the storm had become commonplace to me. Often, I'd even ventured down to the sea wall, a ribbon of concrete bordered on each side by giant chunks of coral much taller than my five feet one inch height.

After one such storm, I walked down to the sea wall to observe the ocean, one of my favorite activities. A chill came over me as I noticed the huge coral boulders had been tossed about like a child's toys, scattered like rough marbles over the flat plain between the street and the sea wall. That was the last time I took a storm for granted.

Since then, I've lived on the Texas Gulf Coast, and I've never forgotten what wind, rain, and a storm surge can do. I've suffered flooding by tropical storms--lost a breakfast room one year and about ten years later a Chevy Blazer. I've had to drive flooded streets with water up to my wheel wells but made it through. I've boarded up for "small" hurricanes (category 3 and below) that changed direction at the last minute. A false alarm is a reason to say a prayer of thanksgiving.

To this day, I keep hurricane supplies (weather radio, batteries, candles, water, and food) at the ready. And I will never, ever, ignore a call to evacuate my home. Houses and furnishings can be replaced, but people can't. Trite, yes, but some people seem to forget that important fact.

Tonight as evacuees pour into the churches being used as shelters in the town in northeast Louisiana where my mother lives, I pray all of my many relatives, indeed, everyone in the state, will be safe.

God bless and keep you.

Scamming writers

I understand there's something in a recent Publishers Weekly where a company says they will publish your book for $899.00 and give you 5 copies of the book. There are actually some writers so desperate to get published that they plan on doing this.

Please, please, visit the web site of mystery author Nancy Martin and read what she has to say about schemes like this that target writers.

In the real world of writing and publishing, writers do not pay to get their books published. They GET paid. Remember that.

Sling Words out.

To a writer's good health

We here at Sling Words do not pretend to be any kind of health professional. Like most writers, sitting in front of a computer is our primary physical activity on any given day. As we all know, this can lead to big bottoms and big cholesterol numbers.

Just read anecdotal evidence about the cholesterol lowering effect of cinnamon in Joe and Teresa Graedon's People's Pharmacy column. It's easy too. Have a bowl of healthy cereal (like soy flakes or oatmeal or something without sugar and tons of artificial stuff) sprinkled with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon for breakfast each day. In some people, the cinnamon may cause heartburn so if you're prone to that condition take care. Otherwise, enjoy the spice with your cereal. It may help your battle for good health.

Sling Words out.

Best revenge is to dance well

Here's something a little different. I'm vindicated. To me, and apparently a lot others, the Dancing With the Stars finale seemed to be a fixed deal, a blatant planned-in-advance-who-was-to-win. ABC seems to have received a huge volume of protest from viewers and critics thus the dance-off to be broadcast during Premiere Week will now determine the "true" winner.

Previously, cute little Kelly Monaco of soap opera fame and her brooding partner, professional ballroom dancer Alex Mazo, were declared winners by the less than credible judges even though John O'Hurley and his partner Charlotte Jorgensen clearly blew them out of the water with a charming, romantic, skillful display.

I'm sure Monaco will have been practicing in order to keep the tacky trophy she won. (Surely ABC could have found someone to design a better looking trophy! That thing they awarded looks like a composite of thrift shop trophies cobbled together.)

Sling Words cha-cha-ing out.

Joe Konrath and the Fast Print Chronicles

Oh, this one is a screamer. I first read about this on Lee Goldberg's A Writer's Life. This is a rolling on the floor, laughing a certain part of your anatomy off, side-splitter.

If you're a writer, you know about the controversy of the self-published book situation. For those who aren't writers, suffice it to say that companies, many of them well-known, have sprung up and offer anyone with a computer and a few hundred bucks the opportunity to become a published author. Now, does it mean anything to have your book accepted by one of these companies for publication? Does it make one a "real" author in the traditional sense of the word? Read on and make your own decision.

Mystery author Joe Konrath decided to follow through on an email he received from one of these companies. He proposed a book to them called I Hopi I'll Walk Again, a mystery starring a paraplegic half Native American, half Jewish detective who might also be gay.

Read Fast Print Chronicles. At least, you'll laugh. At most, you may decide to save your money if you'd thought of going this route to see your book in print.

Vote for Quills writing awards

Voting for The Quills Awards is now open. In case you haven't heard about these awards that honor excellence in writing and publishing, the web site tells all about them. The cool thing is that consumers, meaning readers, are included in the voting process.

The Quills will honor winners in more than fifteen different categories and will be broadcast by NBC in the fall.

It's easy to vote, and the web site has all the instructions.

Vote now.

Dude! A magazine for you

On my web site newsletter, I included a humor bit that I received some protest emails about from men. The humor was one of those jokes poking fun of the testosterone-half of the population from the standpoint of a woman.

So as a peace offering, here's some news for the sensitive, under-appreciated sex. That's men in case we're not clear on that. *g*

MAKE is a new magazine for those who can answer yes to these questions:
1. Do you think it's cool to make a cannon that can shoot a potato a few hundred yards?
2. Do you think it's cool to put a motor on a shopping cart and clock it?
3. Do you think it's cool to hook up your couch to a device that would make it shake whenever there's an explosion the television show you're watching?

Peter Carlson
(link is to a heart-rending article he wrote about Terry Rodgers, an American serviceman wounded in Iraq) in his Washington Post article on the new magazine asked these questions. I agree with him. If you can answer yes to one or more of these qustions, then you are probably the target audience for whom the publisher is looking.

Actually, this magazine sounds as if it was created for all those who watched MacGyver when they were kids. You know, "take a popsicle stick, a bobby pin, a voided ticket to a Rolling Stones concert, etc. and you have - a seismograph!

Ho hum.

You know, I'm fairly interested in technology and have more than a casual case of do-it-yourself-itis; however, I don't think I'll be a charter subscriber. But don't let me stop you.

Hey, don't point that potato cannon my way!