Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Keeps You Going?

Last week the RITA and Golden Heart finalists were announced. I'd like to congratulate everyone who finaled, especially Kieran Kramer, Paula Graves, Gwen Hernandez and Sharon Wray.

Contests can be a wonderful way for a writer's 'book of the heart' to find a home. Though luck and timing prevail, contests are a constant temptation on the end of a baited hook, which, when the rod is flicked and the reel thrown through cyberspace, entices writers out of their caves with promises of grandeur and hopes of advancing past the slush pile into an editor's or agent's heart. Seeing other writers final in contests can be motivating. But to many entrants, submitting to contests is a game of Russian roulette. What a writer gets out of a contest is the answer to an individual quest. It is the result of character, determination and perseverance.

For most, there will be no glory, no certificate of achievement or one-way ticket to an agent or editor's desk. If you're lucky, like I was last year when my entry, PIRATE BY NIGHT, finaled in the Georgian/Regency/Victorian category of the Romance Through the Ages contest, you're given a nod that you're on the right track.

This year, I'm happy to say I've finaled in the Romance Through the Ages contest again. The hero from my book, LOVE NEVER DIES, James Butler, finaled in the Legend Award category. Heroes out of all the entries in the contest are considered for this award. James, a 100 year old warlock charged with protecting an unseasoned witch and the talisman her ancestors have hidden for centuries, has been nominated for best hero. He's up against 6 other charismatic men, but the fact that the judges fell in love with James is very satisfying. The final results won't be announced until the Hearts Through History AGM in NYC, the end of June. In the meantime, I'm revising my entry and preparing it for the final round.

Every artist, no matter if they are a writer, painter, sculptor, love to needlepoint or garden, needs positive feedback. Contests can be that for many or they can be deflating. Everything depends upon your mindset.

I found a wonderful mantra from Jack M. Bickham and his book, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them). Put this on index cards and keep it handy or tape it near your computer for easy access when the world tries to break you down.

You CAN sell without an agent
Publishers ARE looking for new writers
Beginners DO break in every year
You DO NOT have to live in NYC to succeed
Your next story WILL BE better
Your luck IS NOT worse than most
Persistence WILL win out
The struggle IS worth making
You DO have enough talent
Anything you still need to know CAN BE learned
Tomorrow WILL look brighter.

(Jean and Stephanie will love this!) Bear Bryant said: "Don't give up at halftime. Concentrate on winning the second half."

Joe Paterno said: "The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital."

And here's my favorite, a great quote that taught me to send my babies into the world. "You have to send a ship out before your ship can come in."

What keeps you going?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fairy Tales

I was recently talking with a teen who was experiencing trouble in her love life--no surprise there, huh?  As we talked, I was reminded of something that I had said years ago, "I might never have been married if it hadn't been for that Beauty and the Beast."  I loved that fairy tale.  It was and still is my favorite, but  I believed the fairy tale, that love would conquer all.   

As romance writers and readers, we buy into the idea of fairy tales every time we write, buy, and read a romance book.  By their very definition they have a Happily Ever After; otherwise they are simply called fiction. 

Now let me declare loudly that I still believe in  Happily Ever After.  I just know now that it requires a LOT of hard work on the part of both parts of the couple and doesn't just happen like magic, but I don't want this in my romance books.   I will never, never, ever forget reading a "romance" book by a very famous romance author whose books I had read for years and it didn't have a Happily Ever After.  Twenty plus years later I still haven't read another book by this author.  I wanted the fairy tale!!  I love picking up a romance and being swept away.  That is probably one reason that I love the  Harlequin Presents line, such as those written by our friend the fabulous, Lynn Raye Harris.  They sweep me away to the glitzy world of playboy sheiks and millionaire princes!

How about you, do you love the fairy tale or do you prefer that your romance books be a bit more realistic?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Day Trip - Chickamauga.

...The horse snorted and strained against the reins as the young man led the frightened animal through the thick undergrowth of an old wood forest. Even though the leaves were turning and the air was crisp with the promise of fall, sweat ran down the man's back, creating an itch that he couldn't scratch, didn't dare scratch. His free hand clutched a rifle tightly while his eyes moved restlessly over the woods ahead, searching for the enemy. It was September 19, 1863, and he was in Georgia, a long way from Chambers County, Alabama, near a little creek called Chickamauga. Little did he know but he was about to be involved in the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War...

That's how I see the beginning of the battle at Chickamauga: a young man, my ancestor, afraid and a long way from home, facing an enemy he couldn't see and not knowing whether he would live to see the next day. On one of my infamous day trips to local attractions, my husband, my sister and I went to the Chickamauga National Military Park near Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. It's just off I-24 near Chattanooga, about two hours from my home. You need to plan a full day to even cover the high points of this five thousand acre park.

As you enter the park the first thing you see is a lovely old home made of limestone. This is the visitor's center and it is a very necessary stop. Inside, a movie introduces you to the two-day battle and its participants. Once you've seen it, I would suggest that you go across the hall to the museum. There are many interesting displays there but the one I loved the most was the huge collection of guns. These were all used in the battle and I was impressed at the magnitude of the collection - it must be worth a small fortune! (I know, grubby but those guns are in perfect shape and priceless.$$$)

After leaving the museum we stopped at the gift shop. It was full of books and maps - things which spoke to my book-lover heart. After talking to the shop volunteer about the best way to see the park, we settled on a book with a two-CD set by TravelBrains. The CDs, inserted in your car player, take you through the park, beginning with the start of the battle on September 19th at Reed's Bridge Road and ending at the final battle on Snodgrass Hill on September 20th. It does not follow the route the National Park sends you on but rather goes the route the soldiers followed, allowing you to get a better understanding of how the battle progressed. As I said before the battle took place over five thousand acres and a series of battlefields, nine in all. It's hard to understand the tactics and how it happened unless you take it in the order of the battle. Wear good shoes and carry a cooler - there are no convenience stores and the only bathroom is back at the visitor's center.

Although I find tactics and maneuvers of each army fascinating, I will not bore you with that information. According to Wikipedia, the Battle of Chickamauga marked the end of the Union offensive into Tennessee and northwestern Georgia. It was a resounding defeat for the Union. The Army of the Cumberland (Union) was commanded by Major General William Rosecrans. The Army of Tennessee (Confederates), commanded by Braxton Bragg, had one interesting officer, Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest and one calvary private under Forrest who was interesting to me - Cornelius Lafayette Cox, my great, great-grandfather. Private Cox was a member of Hilliard's Legion, an Alabama calvary unit which he joined in Montgomery at the ripe age of seventeen in December of 1862 according to Alabama muster documents. I believe he was actually sixteen at the time and had turned seventeen when Chickamauga took place.

As we wandered across the park, I stared at the thick undergrowth of some of the battlefields and wondered how teenagers, like Cornelius, had the courage to fight under such conditions. They fought in thick woods, filled with brambles and briars. The soldiers couldn't see past ten feet in front of them. Smoke and noise from cannons and gunfire confused them. No one really knew where he was going except maybe the standard bearer. I learned in most Civil War battles that this was the case - the soldiers on both sides simply followed their unit standard with no clue as to their direction or purpose in a battle. The standard bearer was always the target of the other side because it would create more confusion (My sister and I, being the smart-a***s we are, jokingly said "I don't want it, you take it." "NO I don't want it - You take it." Believe me, I wouldn't have taken the standard. I wouldn't have wanted that bulls-eye on my forehead). I also learned that calvary units did not fight on horseback. The men would dismount and fight. In most cases the calvary was used for reconnaissance and raiding. No glorious calvary charges like in the movies.

At Brock Field, we wandered across the open battlefield which had been a cornfield at the time of the battle. The Union and Confederates faced off less than a hundred yards from each other, a closeness which shocked me. These soldiers stood in regimented lines for two hours, firing at each other without pause. I cannot fathom the bravery of both sides to simply stand there and face gunfire while your comrades fell on each side of you.

My husband took this picture of me from where the Union forces were at Brock field. I was standing where the Confederate lines were placed. So you see, the distance wasn't that great.

Meet Private Miller who was shot between the eyes at Brock Field (notice the hole between his eyes). He took a lead ball and buck shot to the face but survived. His left eye dangling, he tried to put it back in. According to him, a Confederate who took pity on him, pointed him in the direction of his Yankee unit. He made it back to his unit and lived till old age (with a glass eye) as you can see from his picture. I just found this amazing.

After going through the entire battlefield, I wanted to see where Cornelius spent his time under Forrest. Looking at the Alabama units, we found where Hilliard's Legion was located and we headed to the spot. Throughout the park there are beautiful monuments placed by Northern and Southern units to commemorate their comrades.

I thought this one was particularly beautiful. The relief was made by Gorham (of silver fame).

At the area where Hilliard's Legion was located there stood a tall monument to the Alabama soldiers who fought and died there. My sister and I approached it and stood where our great, great grandfather had camped before the battle.

I felt for the young boy who must have been terrified but was committed to a cause. I believe he had more courage than I could ever have.

My sister and me at the monument. It appeared to be made of marble, probably from Sylacauga - such beautiful white marble.

For those of you who are of the Northern persuasion (my husband is a Yank), I am not arguing the right or the wrong of the Civil War by discussing this battle. It happened and is an integral part of my heritage. I cannot forget my ancestors who fought (I have others who fought at Gettysburg, Antietam and Fredericksburg). They joined the Confederacy and fought - as simple as that. I wanted to know about them, where they were and what they did. I am a part of them and, as their descendant, I owe them respect. I also want to learn the history of these battles. After all, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Twenty-seven thousand men died at Chickamauga - they all deserve to be remembered. They had families and descendants and would want it that way, regardless of which side they fought on.

Do you have any interesting sites I can visit? Tell me. I am sure my hubby would welcome them (battlefields can be boring to SOME people). Do you have any ancestors who fought in the Civil War? Tell me about them and the battles they fought in. I am currently on a crusade to visit all the battlefields my ancestors fought in so I might could look them up for you. Thanks for plowing through this - I know, except for me and Stephanie it is probably boring!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Writer Rules According to Jean

Some say writing is hard. I disagree. I think writing is incredibly easy. It's the easiest, most joyful thing I've ever done.

Now, selling—a different matter, entirely. That's hard. I find that rules help with hard things.

Before anyone gets the idea that I think I know more than I do or that I am preaching, these are rules I have for myself.

1. Do not wait for the muse. It's not coming because there is no such thing.

2. Do not blame writers' block. There is no such thing.

3. There is only putting your bottom in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. Do it.

4. Don't whine, if you ask someone for an opinion and they don't tell you what you want to hear.

5. Don't whine when you get a rejection, even if it is the one that wasn't fair, the one that hurt your feelings, the one that reminded you that you aren't as thick skinned as you think you are. If you must say, "Well, too bad for you. You could have had me!" say it to your animal or an empty room. It's not going to do you any good for the rest of the world to know how arrogant you really are.

6. Don't whine if you enter a contest and a judge gives you a three on grammar, even if you have never had so much as a point deducted for grammar in any other contest, even if she misspelled words in her comments. Just say, (to that same animal or empty room), "Bless her heart." Don't enter that contest again. They are not responsible and they just want your entry fee.

7. I'm going to stop and say here, just don't whine period. Dear God, I hate whining. If I hate whining, I have absolutely no tolerance for whiners unless they are under the age of three and are running a high temperature.

8. Don't sit around pondering your state of mind. It's a waste of time. Ponder your characters' states of mind. That's productive.

9. Don't roll your eyes when people start talking about story boards and collages. Some of your best friends story board and collage. It's their way. Remember they might want to roll their eyes because you think you must have 47 maps and floor plans, which you make Stephanie draw.

10 In fact, don't roll your eyes at all. People don't like it, even if it does feel good.

11. Don't write what you don't love. Even if you can do it, even if you can sell it, even if the public loves it and wants more—and those are big ifs—, you have gotten yourself a job you hate.

Everyone needs their own rules. What are some of yours?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reading and Other Adventures

Stephanie is reading Bride of Fortune by Harnett Kane. She is also testing at school and not having a whole lot of fun in the process.

Kathy is revising her manuscript for the contest she finaled in. She is also recovering from going to Cancun and having a bird eat her sweater.

Cheryl seems to be missing in action. It's been at least four hours since we've heard from her. How dare she have a life that doesn't include us?  (Cheryl informed Kathy that she is having Internet problems.)

I (Jean here) am reading Family be Mine by Tracy Kelleher. I have also booked flights for Stephanie, Kathy, and myself to New York. (Hurray!)  It's a long story why we can't make Cheryl go with us.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tests, Tests, Tests

Since my students have been testing this week in the much publicized "high stakes" tests, achievement has been on my mind.  As kids, there tons of ways to measure our achievement Sometimes we are measured against others, such as winning championships.  Other times, our efforts are evidenced in achievements such as making an honor roll.         
As adults, we also measure our achievement--the most obvious indicator being salary.   We often view people who are financially successful as "winners" in the game of life.  Perhaps we compare our homes or cars to those of others. There are no medals or honor rolls in adult achievement.   My students have worked really hard and were very successful on this morning's test. I try to teach them that if they work hard they will be successful. As writers we may feel successful when finish a manuscript, get an agent, or make a best sellers' list.

How do you measure success?
What makes you feel successful?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Odyssey & The Ecstasy: Vacation Woes

I'm seeing everything in brighter colors these days, thanks to a vacation trip to Mexico and Cancun. Upon my return home, the grass appears greener, spring blooming trees more vibrant, pollin on my car... more yellow and prevalent and irritating. Such is life back in the real world, where there are no waiters to see to my needs and respond, "It's my pleasure," whenever they help me in any way. Ah! Yes.

Good times! (Why are the good times always gone?)

Returning from vacation is a mysterious and odious odyssey, one I'm not eager to engage. My brain is still fixating on trying to understand everything in Spanish. Apparently, I haven't turned off the server that helped me speak 'un poccito espaniol'. After being taken by boat or bus to various excursions, I have no patience with cars blocking my path or darting out in front of me in order to drive as slow as the sap from the Yucatan Gum Tree. I'm now forced to hurry to work and back, led by an unseen hand into the daily grind like a child tempted but denied access to the candy near the cash register. Remember those days?

What does a vacation do for you? Does it clear out cobwebs threatening to clog up creative passions?

Why does it always seem one needs a vacation from vacation? This cannot be any more confusing to me than it is now. I'm slow to move, slow to care, slow to motivate. Why? I've got tons of e-mails and mail awaiting my attention. I always find something weird going on at work after I've been gone. I still haven't unpacked my suitcase, which means I most assuredly need to do laundry. (Of course, I would have done so before now but another member of my household beat me to it, and I've been waiting my turn.)

I'm so tired, I haven't downloaded my pictures onto my computer so that I can share them with you now. Suffice it to say, "I owe you!" Believe me, the wait will be worth it. But until then, I shall regale you with a few fanciful tales.

Snorkeling has not been one of my favorite things to do, ever since my honeymoon when I tried to swim over a shallow reef while waves crashed over me and the current pulled me backward. Quite scary. Add to that the fact that every breath expelled into the snorkel tube sounded like Michael Meyers hovering behind with a sickle while coral cut my skin beneath me. Let's just say panic set in fairly quickly and I didn't make it over to the colorful fish just beyond the reef in Hanauma Bay.

How do you live down a memory like that? You don't think about it. You don't fanastize about it. You don't ever snorkel again in order to prevent the same thing from happening.

Apparently, I'm not a quiter, because I vowed to champion this thing called 'snorkel' in Cancun. I not only conquered my fear of the dreaded breath of death echoing in my ears, I got pretty good at it and can proudly say I snorkeled in an underground river and in the Caribbean, along a reef! I'm so proud of this accomplishment! There is nothing like overcoming fear, no matter what that is.

So from odyssey to ecstasy I've traveled. I went out on a small speed boat without any dramamine and didn't get sick! I used 15 grade sunscreen and didn't fry! I tried new dishes, enjoyed a romantic dinner (Surf & Turf with champagne) on the beach with my hubby, drank Strawberry Daiquiris by the pool and on the beach, enjoyed a day at the spa, traveled to Chichen Itza for the second time, visited Xcaret and took awesome pictures of Mayan warriors and ruins (to be displayed on my next blog post), enjoyed reading my Nook, road the waves like a real pirate, got my picture taken with two macaws (a black/red one on my head and a green/yellow one cradled in my arms, which chewed a whole in my sweater and hubby wouldn't stop to let me buy the picture so my sweater suffered for nothing. Big pirate "Arrrr!"), learned of my Legend Award Final, and had an awesome 7 days that I'll never want to forget!

Of course, we won't go into my attempts to get out of the water and back onto the boat. All I have to say is: If at first you don't succeed... ;)

Have you overcome any fears lately?

What tips do you have to help me recover from vacation hangover?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Men ARE from Mars

Men! The banes of our existence and the loves of our lives. Such a dilemma- do we keep them or go about life without? I know, as writers, we all make idealized heroes who understand women, can automatically be exactly what every woman wants and are extremely good-looking. Who wants to read about real life? This is fiction after all...

I recently read "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus." The book came out in 1992 so yes I know I am late to the party. I wanted a better understanding of why we picture our heroes as the strong, silent type. Why can't the heroes be more attentive and supportive of the heroine? Having a sensitive male would be the death knell of a romance novel. THAT we all know. And have you ever asked yourself why? I mean, we all want our males to be supportive and say they understand. So why don't we write that? I had to figure this one out.

In the book, Dr. John Gray discusses the differences in how women and men perceive things, especially stress and conflict. On Mars, men go to their man-caves to solve their problems alone. On Venus, women get together and talk out their problems. Never shall the twain meet. I found that interesting because in thirty years of marriage I have never understood what hubby becomes silent and un-reactive when he has a problem. I have always wanted to talk it out, put it on the table, deal with it and move on. The mistake men make is not understanding that a woman will feel neglected while the man is in his cave solving the problems of the universe. Dr. Gray said that men should try to understand and be more respectful that this makes a woman feel unimportant (as well as her problems). Women, he says, should understand that by constantly questioning, like "What's wrong? Why aren't you talking?," puts the man in a defensive posture because he feels like she is criticizing and attacking him. So, I guess women should realize that men need their down-time to process problems while men should realize that women need to express theirs. A BIG dilemma if no one is talking (my opinion only).

Then how do we avoid arguments over this? The woman can accept that the man is withdrawing to solve the problem and she should be supportive of that. Dr. Gray said once the man finds the solution (aha!) he will be back, ready to discuss the problem at length. The man, however, must understand this within himself - that he can't solve her problem right then BUT when he gets back he will be able to give her all the attention and support she needs (and the talking). I guess that we, as women, must wait for it. While we are waiting, he suggested shopping, meditation...you get the picture (twiddle your thumbs and fume).

Applying this to romance writing, I had an epiphany: that is why we see our heroes as the strong silent type who never complain about their problems. What? you ask. Well, instinctively we know that men just aren't going to talk until they are ready. In our books we use that response to make our heroes more appealing. Our heroes will never sit down and discuss their problems over a good cup of herb tea. He withdraws, pulling away from the heroine. He goes off on some secret mission and all the while he is thinking about "Why do I love her? There's no future in it for us." Of course he tells the heroine all this before he leaves just to upset her (wink). What does she do? She runs to her faithful side-kick and talks the whole thing out finally deciding he's just a stupid man. But, wait for it, the hero, after thoroughly processing the problem, has come to a conclusion. He does love her and this can work. Now all he has to do is talk to her. The heroine takes him back with open arms, ready to love him and to talk (finally). The End.

So you see, we already have it figured out. Let the man run off to his cave to ponder. The woman will have it figured out long before him but he's just too stupid to know. When he finally figures out a solution we have a happy ending.. All neatly tied into a bow. I guess what I am saying is we are following human nature so the strong, silent type IS what we know whether we recognize it or not.

I really enjoyed this book. There is plenty of other information in it which gave me a lot of insight on motivation for my characters. It also explained a lot about the dynamics of relationships. I hardily recommend it if you are one of the last people on the planet (like me) who hasn't read it. If you already have, maybe pick it up again and browse through it. It is full of wonderful ideas for conflict.

Have you read the book? What's your opinion on the theories Dr. Gray has set forth? Are you like me, not so understanding of the silent type? Do you rant and rave about your problem until he gives up and turns off the television? Or do you let him have his quiet time and go off shopping? Does it frustrate you not to get your man to talk?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Would You Take Less?

Clearly I am not cut out to have a yard sale. Neither are my pals. We thought we were; we should be.

After all, back when we were active Junior League members, our big fund raiser was something called Bag-A-Bargain. Sure, there was a silent auction and kick-off party involved. There was some corporate sponsorship. But basically, it was one big yard sale held at the fairgrounds. We raised, on average, $50,000. a year. If memory serves, one year it was in the neighborhood of $70,000. Even if you have $30,000 worth of corporate sponsorship and $4000. worth of silent auction, that's still a lot of money from selling junk for six hours on a Saturday. The year Mrs. Classy was president, she contributed $10,000 worth of thrift and won $1,000. for being top Prize Girl. Being president, she did not take advantage of the perk of not having to actually put on that t-shirt and go to the fairgrounds, but she did buy herself some fabulous black pearls. I digress. It's my hobby.

Anyway, even after we (my pals and I) attained Sustainer Status (because Junior League is like Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave), Bag-A-Bargain went on, which afforded us the excellent opportunity to rid ourselves of stuff. Those sweet young girls would even price it for us and coo over us because we had, after all, crawled and clawed our way, dead tired and bone dry, to the coveted line that said SUSTAINER.

Then Bag-A-Bargain went away. They replaced it with an even better fundraiser, American Girl Fashion Show. Good on them but our junk was piling up. So I thought we should have a yard sale. Yep. It was my idea. We thought it would be even better if we used the money to help defray the cost of the beach house that Dr. Great Smile found for our upcoming frolic and sabbatical.

Cutest Girl in the World said we could have at her house and took over. ("I am in charge!" she said. "Listen to me!" We did. I love to have an idea and have someone else take it over. It is the best of all worlds.) She put the ad in the paper, got the permit, and directed me to bring Bloody Marys—with salt and olives. Heart Breaker Soul Shaker borrowed tables from her church. The rest of us cleaned out and priced our stuff. We even dug out our old Bag-A-Bargain t-shirts. I guess we thought they would bring us luck.

I left my house before the paper came; that's how early we got started. We were ready with our pasta makers (never out of the box), novelty mugs, bread machines, and Christmas decorations that had seemed a good idea at the time.

Not being the delusional sort, I certainly did not expect to make Bag-A-Bargain caliber money, but I thought people would want our treasures more than they did. Maybe we sold it too cheap and were all too prepared to take less.

We made $274. I figured, with the help of a rejected calculator that didn't sell, that would reduce everyone's part of the beach house rent by about $25.

We don't know where we went wrong, but we do know this: We are out of the yard sale business.

Have you ever had a yard sale? Do you go to them?

Friday, March 18, 2011


Stephanie is reading Harlequin Super Romance, Because of Jane by Lenora Worth

Jean is reading Super Romance, Promise to a Boy by Mary Brady

Kathy is reading When Harry Met Molly by Kieran Kramer

Okay, Listen Here

We have some great news! Kathy's manuscript
LOVE NEVER DIES finaled in the Legend category of the Romance Through the Ages contest So we will have an awards ceremony to attend at RWA conference in New York this summer.

Yea, Kathy! We are so proud.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring Break

I am very, very, very happy to report that I am on Spring Break this week.  It has been productive so far.  I have eaten 45,000 calories  in four meals with friends.  The visits have been GREAT!!! 

I have done some work for Romance Writers of America. I have read some blogs and written one. I have done some industry research.  Pantster and I have plotted on our work-in-progress.  All in all it has been nice to have a chance to relax and catch up on things like sleep, surfing the internet just for fun and visiting with folks I don't get to see often enough. 

 I am enjoying Spring Break as an adult much more than I ever did as a child which made me wonder about how others remember Spring Break in their childhood.  
What is your best Spring Break memory?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Sequel: I Can't Stand You but Come on in and Stay Awhile

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how I watch TV show with characters I hate. I mused over why I keep it up and decided that it was because I was committed. Upon reflection, I realized I have quit TV shows before and maybe I should quit these. I was going to do it, but found that I couldn't. I deserve no pity, not even from myself.

Then one night, while watching one of these hell shows, I had an epiphany. I now understand why I continue to watch.

This is what happened: This particular character is a grown woman, with teenage children, who has moved back in with her parents. Since the series began she has designed a shoe that did not go to production, bar tended, let her kids sass her, bar tended some more, broke the heart of a perfectly nice successful guy, apologized to her kids for causing them to sass her, slept with her daughter's fresh out of college English teacher, tried (and failed) to become the manager of the bar, and took up with a man who had the morals of an alley cat and no compunction about kicking her to the curb. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Well, week before the last, she remembered that she used to write songs. She locked herself in the guest house and wrote (in longhand) all night long. I assumed she was writing a song. But no. She said she didn't know what she had written, but it fulfilled her and made her happy. She took her messy pages to the before mentioned English teacher for critique. He read it and pronounced it brilliant. This thrilled her because everybody knows that all 22 year old English teachers are the best judges of everything--especially if you have a sexual history with them. Anyway, she still didn't know what she had written. He told her it was a play and she had to finish it because it was so dazzling, not to mention clean and crisp.

Somewhere along the way The Guy stopped the DVR. He knew I needed to rant. He is tuned into me that way. It's either (A.) because we are like those blue people with our pigtails all wound up together or (B.) because I was doing that thing where I close my eyes, grit my teeth, shake my head really fast, and do jazz hands in the air.

"Go on," he said. "Get it out."

"Oh, yeah! That happens all the time. Writers just sit down and start writing with no idea if they are writing a book, a play, a song, a travel guide, a speech, or a eulogy for the Easter Bunny. They still don't know when they get done, but that's okay because it fulfilled them. Plus, they have an adolescent English teacher who will jump off his skateboard and set them straight. I cannot believe the stupidity of this. And what makes it worse is a writer—one who is getting paid—wrote this down and gave it to that woman to memorize!"

And then it came to me why I watch. Unlike Kathy and Cheryl, the sweet girls on this blog, but exactly like the other demon spawn, Stephanie, I like to make fun of people. I'm not proud of it and I try really hard not to. (It wasn't always that way but we are talking about the here and the now.) I decided to stop making fun of people because it's mean and I have plenty of shortcomings myself that people could pay me back with.

So that's it: I need these fools on TV to make fun of. It like a former smoker's bag of hard candy--not really a good thing but better than the alternative.

Do you have a vice you have to distract yourself from?

(Or--a vice from which you must distract yourself? Any skateboarding English teacher will tell you that's really the correct way to say it. I used to have a skateboard. That was before I had an English degree. One is about as good as the other in terms of making someone into a writer.)

Anyway—tell us about that vice and how you distract yourself.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mardi Gras - Gulf Coast Style

Last week I had the pleasure of being down on the Gulf coast at Gulf Shores, Alabama for Mardi Gras. I know, the words Mardi Gras conjure images of New Orleans, drunks, and extreme parties but there are other celebrations on the coast that aren't so raucous. Most of the parades in other areas are more family-oriented and quite civilized. I lived in Mobile for years and attended quite a few parades. Mobile boasts some pretty good ones that rival those in New Orleans. I enjoyed it, catching beads and Moon Pies until a fellow lawyer on a float threw an entire box of Moon Pies at me, nearly rendering me unconscious. I went to parades thereafter with more trepidation.

According to Wikipedia, the term "Mardi Gras" is French for Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The tradition is a reference to the last night when people can eat rich, fatty foods before the Lenten Season. In other parts of the world, the season is also celebrated - like in Brazil where it's called Carnival and in the United Kingdom where it's called "Shrove Tuesday." A little history for Kathy is that Mardi Gras originated in Mobile, not New Orleans. In 1703 the French colonists in Mobile had just survived a nasty bout with yellow fever so they decided to celebrate. The men painted their faces and acted crazy for a few hours. They had so much fun that they decided to make it an annual event. Mardi Gras in Mobile was transformed into a parade in 1840 by a group known as the Cowbellian de Rakin Society. In 1857 the Mobile "mystics" travelled to New Orleans to help them set up Mardi Gras in the Crescent City. So, you see, Mobile is the true Mardi Gras, though less famous.

Mardi Gras was put on hold during The War of Northern Aggression because Mobile was occupied by Northern troops. In 1866, a man by the name of Joe Cain wanted to bring back the fun. He dressed himself in full Chickasaw Indian regalia, proclaimed himself Chief Stacabamorinico ( I have no clue what this means so don't ask me), climbed into a coal wagon with six other men and road around town. Mardi Gras was reborn. To this day, Mobile still celebrates Joe Cain Day which is a parade for the people. It's fun and a bit more rowdy than the regular Mardi Gras Crewes.

I should also point out that I previously mentioned "Moon Pies." Yes, in Alabama, they are tossed from the floats and are prized more than the lovely, ten-cent beads and doubloons. Prior to 1974, food was thrown from the floats. Most of the time it was Cracker Jacks because it was a cheap alternative to beads. But, people kept getting injured by the boxes so Mobile outlawed them as a throw in 1974. The Maids of Mirth decided to throw Moon Pies and a grand tradition was born. Moon Pies are made in Chattanooga and special ones are made especially for Mardi Gras. They are smaller and have purple, green and gold decorations on their packages. The flavors are also unique - chocolate, banana, coconut, orange, vanilla, strawberry and apple. Yes, I know but they are good. If the pies are not Moon Pies, you have to call them Mardi Gras pies and NOT Moon Pies. You must follow proper etiquette.

So, you see there are lots of things about Mardi Gras in Alabama of which we should be proud. We were the first and we still celebrate. Few people know about this and I thought I would share the parade I attended in Gulf Shores. It was at ten in the morning, attended mostly by families and was quite sedate. Except for that Yankee standing next to me who kept sticking his hand in front of my face, catching the beads that were thrown to me. I almost declared another Civil War when I tried to tell him about proper Mardi Gras decorum - You do not SNATCH beads from another person's hands and live to tell about it. Extreme violence can occur over plastic beads, especially the larger ones. He backed off and hid behind his wife from then on.

This was the first float by the fire department. I was amazed by the smoking house as it went through. You can see one guy in aqua was all aghast over it too.

If any of you have been to Gulf Shores then you know about Lamberts - The Home of Throwed Rolls. This was their float and they actually threw their famous rolls wrapped in celophane. I didn't catch one because the kids were snatching them too quickly. Which reminds me, the next time I go to a Mardi Gras Parade, I am renting a kid - they get more stuff.

The Crewe of Misfits. My kind of guys. They were wearing bicycle helmets with brooms attached on the top like Roman Soldiers.

And what parade on the Coast would be complete without Pirates? This guys was a bit older than what Kathy would have in her book but he was great. He threw me a big necklace (not one of the small ones he's holding in his hands) so I liked him.

The Pirate Ship. I thought Kathy would like this so I put it in. LOL

These guys were from an RV park. I just like the Showboat float. They also threw me a big handful of beads.

The Chamber of Commerce. I liked the float and thought it was very well done.

The King and Queen. Every Mardi Gras parade has to have them.

These were the veterans and they looked grand!

Another Chamber of Commerce Float. I can't remember what city, but it was one of the local communities. I liked the shrimp on front with the jester hat.

Lulu's Float. Lucy Buffet, Jimmy Buffet's sister, owns this restaurant. It's got great food, good live bands and a great atmosphere set on the Intercoastal Waterway. I love the place!

Now, if you have suffered through all these pictures, you deserve a prize. I am giving this lovely COCONUT purse away to some lucky commentator. It is actually a coconut, artfully decorated and with all the shiny, ten-cent appeal of Mardi Gras. I just had to buy it for the blog (the picture was taken on the balcony of my condo - great view!).

So have you ever been to a Mardi Gras, Carnival, Shrove Tuesday or such a celebration? Have you ever caught a Mardi Gras bead or, be still my heart, a Moon Pie? Share your stories with us!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Glitz, Grits, and Nothing

This is a photo journalistic type blog about my trip to the PACT Ball, which means it's about nothing and has no point. It's not that I don't have any ideas. I have several kicking around, including another one about rules. But it's what I wanted to blog about and, let's face it; a blog is the ultimate in self absorption. If they could type, all toddlers would blog.

And by the way, the PACT Ball benefits Parents and Children Together, a 33 year old child abuse prevention agency.

This is me before I left for the ball with Cheryl's wrap. She lent it to me. I would not go in her house and steal her goods—or if I did, I wouldn't publish pictures of myself using them on the World Wide Web. Or maybe I would. Someone who is stupid enough to steal from a former federal prosecutor is likely to do anything.

The Guy before we left home. I do love a man in a tux. He refuses to wear those shiny patent leather formal shoes. He says he has his own tux, he'll have his own shoes and they won't be glossy. I love him for that.

Cutest Girl In the World, Me, and Precious. It may look like CGITW and I love each other more than we love Precious but it's not true. Cutie Pie and I were just having a moment. Aren't they pretty? They let me hang with them because I will make them cheese grits.

See, we love her.Not sure what I had on my mind or what I was looking at. From the looks of things, nothing good.

These are my new friends. I haven't named them yet. Maybe I should hold a contest to name them. Mr. and Mrs. CGITW found them. They are fun. I love fun. Oh! That's it. Fun Girl and Fun Guy.

Mr. and Mrs. Precious. Except for The Guy, I've known Mr. Precious longer than anyone else at the table—about 30 years, give or take. I love him. What I love most about him is he brought me Precious.

Mr. and Mrs. Cutest Girl in the World. Note that Mr. Cutie Pie is wearing hounds-tooth tie and vest. With the exception of Cheryl's wrap, we were an all Bama Fan table.

Me and the Guy. Isn't he cute? His hair is a little messy, which I blame on his hard fought trip to the cash bar—that and he had to walk across the parking lot of the Country Club after he dropped me in front. And it was raining. As you may remember from a previous blog, The Guy will not use an umbrella because the thinks they aren't manly. But I like some messy blond hair. He does not let me hang with him because I will make him cheese grits. He will not eat grits unless I lie to him and tell him it's polenta. I have no excuse for my messy hair, unless it was that I had worn myself out annoying people.

The floral arrangement on our table. It was a short one. Half the tables had tall, half short.

This is a tall one. Year before last, we sat at a table with a tall one--except it was worse. It was taller and there were mirrors involved. I became convinced it was going to topple over and kill Mr. Classy and me. I've been talking about it ever since. Maybe that's why Mr. and Mrs. Classy didn't come to the ball this year. They say it was because they just didn't want to but I think I've made them fear the floral arrangements.

And as an aside. I love the girl at this table. Love her. Hi, sweetheart. I know you are reading this. I'm so glad that towering, tottering bouquet did not kill you.

Mr. and Mrs. Classy, for your viewing pleasure and since I mentioned them. They were home, safe from fauna and flora. I like how he is looking at her like he can't quite believe his luck.

Salad. I wish I had thought to take a picture of it before I dug in. It was beautiful There was lettuce and other stuff—I don't know what—all rolled up and placed artfully on those croutons.
Main course. Note the meat. The men wouldn't go without it. They put three on their plates. The Guy ate all of his and one of mine. He would not eat the Gouda grits. Everyone agreed my grits are better than these. I suspect Chef doesn't deal in Velveeta. I forgot to take a picture of dessert. Probably, I was talking.

The Guy and Precious. And that's all. After that, I forgot I had a camera.

Cheese Grits

This is how I make cheese grits. First off, forget that nonsense about having to use old fashioned, stone ground long cooking grits. About a decade ago, when grits became all tony, some southern chefs came out and said that no self respecting southerner would use quick grits. Well. I am southern and I have plenty of self respect, as did my mother. Quick grits is the way to go. (Not to be confused with instant grits. Don't do that.) Trust me on this. I tried the long cooking ones but there was no difference except in the cooking time, which was about nine times as long as I had patience.

Decide the amount of grits you need and put that much water in a pot. Add some chicken bouillon. Bring it to a boil and stir in a quarter of the amount of quick cooking grits as you have water. (Four cups of water and one cup of grits will yield four cups of grits. It takes about twice that to feed my book club girls at the beach because they eat them all day.)

Turn the heat to medium low, cover, and cook seven minutes. Stir it every once in a while. Remove from heat. Put in some butter. For our four cup example, I'd say about half a stick. Next, (Oh, this is so bad. I don't do it for everyday grits—only beach grits and bereavement grits.) thin it out with a little heavy cream. Not much. You don't want it soupy. For the four cups, about ¼ cup.

Okay, this is the part where you are just going to have to use your judgment because I don’t know how much cheese I use. I just add it and taste it until it's right. Start with some cubed Velveeta. Add some grated cheddar. That's the basics, but I like to also use some smoked cheese—mozzarella, Gouda, cheddar, whatever you have. A little Parmesan won't hurt it and, depending on your audience, some pepper jack and a spot hot sauce is not amiss.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Jean is reading (not sure how all this happened).:
The Accidental Billionaires
by Ben Mezrich
Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase
Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond

Stephanie is reading:Ruthless Game by Christine Feehan

Kathy is reading: The full request she is about to send out. Yea, Kathy!

Cheryl is reading: Relentless by Dean Kootnz

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Love Affair with Books

Many of you know that I am a teacher.  Most of you probably know that I teach reading.  What you may not know is that I LOVE to teach reading.
  I often think back to when I was a child and would "hide out" in books.  Oh, don't get me wrong, my childhood was a lovely safe fun place but books could take me places that weren't like the real world.

I could be with George Washington, fighting the British in the morning and with Trixie Belden, solving criminal high-jinks in the afternoon.  (Apparently I have always been a genre-hopper.)

Even as a very young child, I loved reading and going to the library. I bet I read every Little Bear book ever written.  He and his friends always had the most marvelous time.  I think that is one reason that I value friendship so much.  It isn't nearly as much fun to have an adventure all alone.

Almost every day, as a reading teacher, I attempt to give my students a peek into the wide world that books can bring to them.  I have hundreds of all sorts of books in my room and we read a LOT.  I give my students lots of lee-way in their book selections.  Their own interests drive the selection process--not that it is Accelerated Reader book or how many points is it worth!  I really can't talk about my feelings about the Accelerated Reader program on the World Wide Web, not even with tenure.   But the point is that for the most part, I manage to find books that interest all of my students. We talk about how males usually like non-fiction best and females usually want a fictional story, but that it is always good to try new things.  We have a book recommendation wall where they can suggest books they enjoyed to their classmates.  I do these things to try to create a love of reading  in my students.

I guess that someone, probably my mother, helped create that love in me.  I do know that re-reading books from my childhood are like visiting with old friends.

Did you love to read as a child?  Can you remember when your love affair with books began?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Journey of Fate

I recently went on a trip to Oklahoma, the state where I went to High School, college, where I met my hubby and got married, where my youngest daughter was born, and where my youngest son has been going to a particular Army school. During this trip, our family went sightseeing during my son's free time, through the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, a place teaming with wildlife, boasting Geronimo's gravesite, and the Holy City, where an audience can witness the full range of Jesus's life, birth to sacrifice, every Easter. The Wildlife Refuge also boasts one mountain, Mt. Scott. Of course, I wasn't pleased to drive up to the top of it as there are barely any guardrails, and the ones in existence are mountain rocks vertically buried into the side of the mountain. Hardly enough to stop an out-of-control car from plunging over the edge. But I digress...

So it was with reflection on the past and my eyes fully on the present, that I made this journey to see my son, and, through it, learned how far I've come as a writer. Yes! Yes! You knew it was coming. This post will relate to writing. You know how I am. ;)

Observe the early writer in all her glory, eager to face the hazards of the written word, ready to embrace the road to publication with nary a concern.

Resplendent with thick luxurious fur to keep her warm on long winter nights of endless writing, she's armed with horns to stave off the critics and those who laugh off her first drafts.

Oh, magnificent speciman! How valiant you appear!

It isn't long, however, before the harsh realities of writing, critiques, contest results and issues of self-worth reduce our valiant novice from magnificent Buffalo to reluctant Prairie Dog with an urge to dive into the nearest hole. The muse has unleashed a torrent of abuse. "You'll never get published." "You're characters are unsympathetic." "You will never be able to show your face in public again!"

Such is the life of a writer! Enter the coon stage...

Our lonely, troubled writer becomes nocturnal in her efforts to create the best written work since J.K. Rowling. She hides her precious gem from the world, building bridges all the while that will help her make it out of the dark. She attends conferences, takes online classes, doing everything she can to hastily but lovingly build the dam that will hold back the forces of fate and hate.

After a time of solitude, she emerges once more, only now she's developed a thickened skin. No more the frightened Prairie Dog or nocturnal Raccoon, she is now the Armadillo, able to roam during the day and contend with nightly visits by the muse. Here, our writer excels, often dreaming of the day when her tomes will resonate with editors and agents. Now, she can clearly see herself receiving The Call.

Yes! At last, our lovely writer has aged well. No longer hiding her talents, she ventures forth out of the tunnels to channel her strengths and pass them on via mentoring to the young and hopeful walking in her very shoes.

Oh! But the road to fame is littered with bull. And, even though our glorious writer has endured the worst of times, and the stenchest of fumes, she must now find a way to keep the barbs of ongoing criticism and angst from decimating her flesh.

From courageous Buffalo to Prairie Dog, Raccoon, Armadillo and back, our writer takes up her yoke, doing it all again, in order to win the day. Like one of the creatures on the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, life goes on. Our writer takes up her pen, taps on her computer, plots and brainstorms, living in and out of darkness for love of the written word. Stories are like nature. They come and go, some swiftly upon a storm, others gently like a soft rain or nurturing as the warmth of the sun. Though the process repeats itself over and over again, there is nothing finer than the knowledge that life, and the story, lives on.

There are plenty of dangers in the wild, rattle snakes, buzzards, copperheads, coyotes, and wolves. But there are dangers everywhere. Don't let your heart get caught in the vise of a snake.

I'm proud of my sons and my future son-in-law, who have commited their lives to serving our country. And I'm grateful for the time I recently got to spend with #3.

Are you a Buffalo, Prairie Dog, Raccoon, Armadillo or is the dung so pungent you can't tell the difference? Tell us what stage of life's journey you're in.