Memorial Day

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Thank you to all who have served their country and who are serving their country today. Dad was a D-Day veteran who considered his service to his country as one of the greatest things he did in his lifetime.

This Memorial weekend we should all take time to remember the men and women who protect the freedoms we hold dear. We should honor those who paid the ultimate price, and, if it is possible for you, please donate to the veteran organizations.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

Trivial Thursday: Dracula

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Yep, it was on this day, May 26, in 1897 that the novel Dracula went on sale in London. If Bram Stoker (given name Abraham) could only know how his vampire tale has morphed in the last couple of decades.

Instead of a Transylvanian vampire and English victims, we've had Lestat, the unforgettable vampire, and his sidekicks from the brain of Anne Rice; the comic Dracula played by George Hamilton for huge laughs in the movie Love At First Bite; Angel, the vampire with a soul on two television shows, both with a huge fan base; and a seemingly endless number of vampires in romance novels. Indeed, the vampire in romance seems to have been a bridge over which the undead crossed to the other literary genres. And it all began with Stoker who had published horror stories for over twenty years before Dracula saw the light of day, uh, perhaps not the best cliche since vampires burst into flame in sunlight. That sunlight allergy seems to be the only "rule" that most vampire stories follow.

London was primed for Stoker's novel because the horror genre, created almost entirely from European folk tales and legends, was very popular. The Gothic movement in the 18th century strengthened the genre so that it carried into the 19th century. Notable examples are Frankenstein, 1818, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886.

Stoker, born in Dublin, was bedridden the first seven years of his life, but later at the University of Dublin was an athlete. For a decade, he worked in civil service and wrote drama reviews. Later, he became the manager for an actor he admired, Sir Henry Irving, and stayed in that position for twenty-seven years.

Though he wrote several other novels before his death in London in 1912, Stoker never was able to equal the popularity of Dracula.

The vampire novel wears many labels today: alternative reality, urban contemporary, paranormal. etc. Whatever its called, it owes its origin to a man retelling a European folk tale 110 plus years ago.

Though it sounds rather incongruous, I'm forced to say, "Happy Birthday, Count Dracula."

Let the punishment fit the crime

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Healthcare insurance companies and their executives. Welcome to one of the rings of hell.

A reader sent an article to me about seven former executives of the defunct National Century Financial Enterprises who were indicted by a federal grand jury in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday. Associated Press Writer David Hammer wrote: "The indictment handed down ... alleges that the executives lied to investors about how their money was being used... conspired to conceal cash shortages by shuttling money among
various subsidiaries."

These men are charged with 60 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.

Since the collaps in 2002 of the Dublin, Ohio-based company, the FBI, IRS, U.S.P.S., and Immigration have been investigating. The former execs bilked investors all over the world out of more than $3 billion, and some health care companies filed for bankruptcy because of interrupted payments from National Century who had made loans to health care providers to bridge the gap between when patients were treated and
when payment was received from private insurance companies, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Needless to say there are a plethora of civil lawsuits against National Century. Some have been settled and others consolidated.

Of course the National Century founder Lance Poulsen, of Port Charlotte, Florida, has taken what I call the Schulz defense (Hogan's Heroes if you don't get the reference.) "I know nothing. I know nothing." He claims total innocence and will be vindicated blah blah blah. Kind of reminds me of that other comic duo Skillings and Lay.

This case is called "the biggest case you've never heard of" by Kathy Patrick, a lawyer for a group which includes the state of Arizona and a London bank who took a hit of more than half of the $3 billion.

Rising health costs is a serious problem in this country. Fracking crap like this is a contributing factor. Combine that with healthcare company officials reaping HUGE bonuses based on how many claims the company does NOT pay, and I tend to get pretty steamed. How much human suffering is behind every big bonus some health company exec gets?

In any event, I propose a constitutional amendment. "Let the punishment fit the crime."

These suckers at National Century, should they miraculously get convicted, should be sentenced to life in prison. Without possibility of parole and with INADEQUATE and INCOMPETENT medical care administered by a bunch of conscienceless executives whose salary and bonus is tied to how much they can keep from spending on healthcare for the former healthcare execs.

Life sucks

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Yeah. Sometimes it does. Without going into detail, let me just say that the last week has been "a fresh hell" every day as dear Ms. Parker was wont to say.

I am beset with problems of every variety. Checks mailed to pay bills were lost; packages never ordered were received; new medical insurance is practically useless and much worse than the last; family members are acting, well, as difficult if not impossible as always; children are having problems about which I can do nothing except offer advice which they don't take; my tennis elbow has resurfaced; and my damn back has screamed the return of muscle spasms.

I will endeavor to right my canoe and paddle on into the stream of life with a captivating epistle about the value of using life experience to enhance writing. (Purple prose anyone?)

But for now, life indeed doth sucketh.

SG-1 rides on

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I know you've probably heard me proclaim my adoration for the shows of SciFi. Battlestar Galactica and Stargate - both the SG-1 and Atlantis varieties. They are worthy of respect. On
Lee Goldberg's blog
, he had a link to a story about SG-1. This article SG-1 tells of their filming the 200th episode. That's amazing in television land, especially, the way shows are tried and cancelled almost quicker than you can change the channel with a remote.

I cook dinner every evening with the original SG-1 team. What's funny is I've passed my obsession on to my daughter and to my husband. No matter how many times we may have seen a particular episode, we still watch the reruns on SciFi. Great story telling, which to me is paramount, coupled with appealing characters, the other real necessity, and a mythology all its own makes for legions of loyal fans.

If you haven't watched before, give it a try, but be careful. You too may get hooked.

How to get unstuck

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Ever get stuck when you're writing? Whether it be a scene, a chapter, or the entire book, there are ways to get unstuck. Here are a few I use:

1. Make a list of as many things as you can think of that might happen in the particular circumstance that has you stymied. This works for action or even dialogue.

2. Just sit at the keyboard and make your problem a question you ask aloud and let your fingers fly. For example, why does Jennifer go down to the dark basement when she's scared of the dark? By asking the question aloud and letting your fingers fly without regard to typos, rethinking, etc., you turn off the internal editor.

3. Cluster a word as a way to chase down ideas and thoughts without being hampered by the technical aspects of "correct" writing. It's great for figuring out which way to go when you haven't a clue. I like this technique. Just write a word in a circle in the center of a blank piece of paper. Then draw lines from it like spokes on a wheel and write down whatever pops into your head. After a bit, you'll see a pattern develop. This will lead you in a specific direction of thought. When you sense this direction, write a paragraph or a page about it.

Sling Words out.

The thrill of backroads

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We're home from San Antonio. Great trip because we chose not to travel the twin ribbons of endless concrete cutting through a lifeless landscapa aka Interstate 10. Instead, on the way there we followed old highway 90, known since the conquistadors traveled from Florida to parts west as Old Spanish Trail. On the way home, we hopped off the interstate at Seguin and caught highway 90 Alternate.

Took lots of pictures of things that interest me like the water tower at Luling painted like a giant watermelon. Luling, a pretty town with many fresh produce and flower markets, have an annual watermelon festival complete with a Thump Queen. I snapped photos of a big golden moon rising over a landscape empty of just about everything but traveling cars. Old train overpasses and lots of water towers adorned with the names of small towns fell victim to my cam. I particularly liked the herd of longhorns we came across near Halletsville.

Tomorrow it's back to meeting word quotas each day. Mini vacations are nice, but, as always, it's good to be home.

TGIF

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Another gorgeous day here in southeast Texas, just a little over an hour away from the Gulf coast. Temp was about 68 this morning. Now it's about 80.

No writing this weekend other than stream of consciousness scribbles on a notepad as I ride shotgun while DH drives. We're off to the Alamo City. (That's San Antonio for those who aren't conversant with Texas history.)

Sling Words, suitcase in hand, and heading out the door.

Cheyenne Autumn

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It's Trivial Thursday today, an excuse for me to yada yada about anything.

I first "met" Mari Sandoz in the covers of her most famous book Cheyenne Autumn when I was not quite a teen.

Mari Sandoz wrote books that viewed Indians sympathetically which was very much against the prevailing attitude of her generation. She was born May 11, 1896, in Sheridan County, Nebraska. To say she had a difficult childhood is an understatement. Her tyrannical father vented his frustration and anger on his hapless wife and children.

When she was eleven, Old Jules, her father whom she wrote about after his death, beat her and locked her in a dark cellar when she won first prize and publication of one of her short stories. "Fiction was for hired girls," he shouted, averring that he would not tolerate its presence in his family. Years later, he told her, "You know I consider artists and writers the maggots of society."

Mari spoke only German when she was young. She learned English quickly and easily and used education to escape her bleak home life. Though she attended the University of Nebraska from 1922 to 1930, her attendance was inconsistent, and she never earned her degree. In 1950, the school gave her an honorary Doctor of Letters. Though she never graduated, she discovered that she liked the scholarly life. She passed the teachers' exam and taught school but eventually devoted her time to historical research and to writing.

She wrote nearly two dozen novels but is remembered more for her well-researched non-fiction. In 1935, she wrote Old Jules, her father's life story, which was received as "a bittersweet and moving history of homesteading on the Great Plains."

Even more acclaimed were her histories of the Plains Indians such as Crazy Horse, a biography of the great Sioux warrior who helped defeat Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Prior to that book, Crazy Horse was usually seen as a bloodthirsty murderer. Her biography portrayed him as noble and dedicated to his people and to retaining their traditional lands from white theft.

In 1953, Cheyenne Autumn, the book I read years later, was published. With her usual painstaking research, the book is still important today for its accurately detailed history of Indians. With its Indians characterized as appealing, even sympathetic, Cheyenne Autumn is an emotional condemantion of the brutal war waged by the United States to take away the land and the traditional ways of the Cheyenne.

Cheyenne Autumn made me cry. A movie was made by celebrated director John Ford in 1964 and was one of the first westerns to present the Indian in a different light. I never saw it because of two reasons: I didn't think it could hold a candle to the book, and I didn't think I could take the pain if it did.

Mari Sandoz's writings marked the beginning of a movement that changed how Americans viewed the history of settlement in the west. She suggested that Indians were not villains, but victims. Thankfully, she lived long enough to see more Americans accept her compassionate view of the native peoples of this country.

Like a true writer, she wrote up until her death from cancer in 1966.

If you haven't read Mari Sandoz before, do yourself a favor and find a copy of Cheyenne Autumn.

Invasion

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If you want to learn how to build characters, establish a pervading sense of fear, and tighten the tension until you nearly scream, watch Invasion. This sucker is one creepy television show. I find myself unable to stop watching it even though it pushes my scare button all the way through each episode. It's just something about it. Kudos to the writers.

I think you can learn a lot about writing by watching something well written. If you can separate your writer self from your viewer self, you can see how they introduce a character and layer on the motivation and back story. You can easily see the action/reaction, the scene and sequels from beginning to end.

Watch on!

Notes on viewpoint

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I'm cleaning out files again. I came across some notes I made when I first started writing fiction. I thought I'd elaborate on some of these notes because it's good material.

Today's topic is viewpoint, something a lot of writers struggle with when they are learning to write fiction.

I made these notes after digesting a couple of very good books. One was How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean R. Koontz, Copyright 1981, Writers Digest Books. Unfortunately, this book is out of print. I understand if you own a copy, you can ask a small fortune for it on Ebay.

The other was Writing Novels That Sell by Jack M. Bickham, copyright 1989, Fireside Book by Simon and Schuster. I think there was a second edition of this book published by Writers Digest Books some years back. You can probably find it by cruising the Internet book stores.

According to Jack Bickham, a story is "the formed record of a character testing conflict, told from a point of view." As for viewpoint, he says: "All fiction begins with the technique we call viewpoint."

This technique places the reader in the mind and heart of a person at the center of the story's action. It allows the reader to identify with the central character of your story - to imaginatively become that character.

Though when watching a movie, you see the action from several different eyes because the camera jumps around, you have to be careful not to do this in print because believability is harder to achieve in print than with the visual medium of movies because the picture is there for you to see on the screen. So the reader needs help to identify and believe. That is why viewpoint is so important.

Can you change viewpoint within a book. Of course, but you change because you have logically decided to do so. Not because you have simply run out of thoughts for your character.

To select the viewpoint character for your story, ask yourself these four questions:
1. Who will be at the center of the action
2. Who will have everything at risk
3. Whose struggle toward a goal is the fuel driving the story
4. Who will be moved, changed, by the outcome?

How do you establish viewpoint? By forcing your imagination to see everything from inside the viewpoint. The viewpoint character never sees his own face unless he's looking in a mirror. He cannot know what is going on inside anyone else. The best he can do is guess - which is the way we do it in real life.

The verb tense used conventionally in novels is past tense (I went for a walk). Why? Presumably because the story must have happened before the author could write about it.

There seem to be many books written in present tense now, but when I started to write fiction the only one I could think of was Rabbit Run by John Updike.

The great majority of first novels are written in first person for two reasons:
1. It's an easier grammatical form to handle since we communication with each other in our daily lives that way.
2. Many first novels are autobiographical to a great extent.

Most novels are narrated in third person.

How many different view points are there? Most people say there are five, those being First Person, Second Person, Third Person, Omniscient, and Modified Omniscient.

Purists say there are eight: First Person Protagonist, Third Person Protagonist, First Person Supporting Character, Third Person Supporting Character, First Person Minor Character, Third Person Minor Character, First Person Shifting, and Third Person Shifting.

Of course, there can be variations on the basics. Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in First Person using Restricted Omniscient. James Jones wrote From Here to Eternity in Third Person Unrestricted Omniscient. John LeCarre wrote The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in Third Person Restricted Omniscient.

The important thing to remember is to choose your viewpoint character and stay in that viewpoint unless there is a compelling reason to change. Beware of the literary sin known as "head hopping" in which each person who speaks also thinks, meaning viewpoint shifts back and forth as often as a dog wags its tail.

In other words, learn the rules first, then learn how to break them. Many romance novels are written with shifting viewpoint used in intense emotional scenes, such as lovemaking. When the viewpoint change is obvious and it works in that particular scene, don't be afraid to break the rules. But learn how to make those seamless viewpoint shifts that carry the reader along.

Contrived cliff hangers

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Title says it all. I watched Crossing Jordan tonight and cut it off about two thirds of the way through. This was the season finale so of course it had to have a cliffhanger ending.

Trouble with that concept is once you've done the "Jordan is suspected of murder blah blah blah" then to do it again as another cliffhanger finale is redundant. I mean, are we really going to think, "Oh, no. Jordan may go to jail when the series starts again in the fall."

To top it all off, the whole episode was so contrived that it was an insult to the audience's intelligence.

Well, can't rant any more. The power just went off. My battery backup is beeping like crazy. Checked out the front window, and it appears to be off all over the neighborhood.

Sling Words out.

Shopping for printers

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I've had two printers die within the last month. They lived longer than I expected. Since I just finished carting the last one out to the recycle/trash bin, I now must shop for a new one. I've already looked at the usual retail stores, but I found myself needing more info - like how much will it cost to operate the unit. This is one fact not listed among the page per minute and dpi ratings, but this is crucial information. The cost of a printer is more than what you pay for it. Too many of the really low cost printers will eat your lunch when it comes to replacing ink cartridges.

I found this great PC Mag site where you can read reviews of most of the popular machines out there. The best thing about the site is that it gives you the cost per page of operation.

I'm off to study the comparison charts I printed. Have a happy Saturday.

Sling Words out.

Earl Woods: Trivial Thursday isn't trivial today

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The passing of a remarkable man cannot be considered trivial. Earl Woods died yesterday. For those who may not know, Earl was the father of Tiger Woods.

I'm not even a golfer, but my husband is. He's one of Tiger's biggest fans. So I spend many Sunday afternoons on the couch with my DH watching the closing day of golf tournaments. I remember when Tiger Woods won the first Masters Tournament, and his dad engulfed him in a big bear hug. Both men cried.

I felt as if I knew Earl personally if for no other reason than the fact that I'm a parent and know the feeling of pride when one of my children achieves something remarkable.

I never knew much about Earl Woods, other than he had a great relationship with his son and was responsible for his son loving the game of golf. I read a couple of articles this morning about him and gained real appreciation for the man. He was remarkable for more things than siring the greatest golfer in the world.

Today, I feel as if someone I knew has left this world. Silly I guess, but I'm as sentimental as they come. More importantly, I believe the world lost a man who should have been held up as an example of fatherhood, of altruism. His legacy to the world is in his son and the foundations he helped create. His was a life well lived.

RIP, Earl Woods.

Cruising my hood, reading my peeps

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Today, I wanted to point you to some good blogs you might not have read before. Joe Konrath has a good blog on guns today. If you don't know much about guns, he gives some basic info.

Bill Crider talks about Bob Dylan's show on XM Radio.

Pod-dy Mouth has more info on the latest plagiarism scandal.

Lee Goldberg gives us the scoop on what's going on in the entertainment industry. Read his entry on the new television pilots.

Holly Lisle has some good info on how she uses her web site to promote herself.

Robert Gregory Browne got a new title for his book.

These are just a few of the ones I read each day. Yes, it's highly addictive, but if you can spare the time, there's a lot of good information on the net.

Favorite things about Texas spring

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If one is a purist and insists all entries to an author's blog should be writng related, then look at these pictures, use all five senses and write what a character, viewing these scenes, might think or feel.

Of course, I'm not a purist in any area. I'm posting these because, for me, they're the best part of springtime in Texas. The flowers are all blooming in my backyard with the exception of the bluebonnets which I saw in a yard over in Sugar Lakes.

Top is Easter Lily; below is Bottlebrush.


Top is Day Lily; below is Canna.


Top is Knockout Rose; below is our state flower, the Bluebonnet.