April 5, 2006

Writers’ Group

Filed under: Pen to Paper — chapterhouse @ 7:09 am

Tomorrow is the planning meeting of a writers' group. I had wanted to join one for a long time – you know, a face-to-face one with real people instead of a virtual online group. So finally, I decided to start one! I've had a lot of help. One talented member set up a message board for us, and another one got email addresses together and sent out queries (oops, maybe "query" is a bad word?) to prospective members. The three of us have brainstormed some preliminary ideas, and tomorrow we'll get input from the full group. So far, we expect a total of seven people, including ourselves.

Question of the day: Why the heck did I do this just weeks before my alleged move* to North Carolina?
* As both of my regular readers know, this is the fifth "deal" we've had on selling our rent house. We are NOT packing another thing until the fat lady sings!


April 3, 2006

She Bad

Filed under: Pen to Paper — chapterhouse @ 7:47 pm

Three thousand words today. Um-hum. Fifty-five percent com-puh-leet! Uh-huh. She bad. That's right. She fine!

March 26, 2006

On The Run In Lampasas, Texas

Filed under: Pen to Paper — chapterhouse @ 8:52 am

Yesterday Tomcat and I took a road trip down to Lampasas for research on my novel, Gino's Law.
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The main character is on the run, having been framed for murder, and he hightails it from the Metroplex in a southerly direction, avoiding the Interstate. Specifically, I wanted to see what the soils* were like between Dallas and Stephenville, and Stephenville to Lampasas, plus take in the scenery and ambience of the place.  Boy, did we luck out, because ambience was all around us the whole live-long day!

This picture shows the chalky unpaved roads around there leading into the semi-arid landscape. The whole area is one big limestone deposit. The vegetation is mixed grasses, cacti, mesquite trees, liveoak trees, and … salt cedars.  The cedars are everywhere, and their scent is heavy on the breeze.

Last night I Googled the cedars and found that salt cedars are on a par with fire ants and cockroaches in that part of the State. They come from Asia, and were originally introduced as an ornamental plant in the early 19th century. I imagine that some Regency or Victorian-era lady thought these would look so nice next to the cacti in her yard, so she persuaded her husband to order them.

Big mistake. These trees have a very long tap root, which deprives the indigenous plants of water, choking them out. They cause the water table to get lower and lower, and even affect the water levels of the rivers, which in turn harms other species' habitats, like fish and turtles and so on.  Now, here's the scary part: the State of Texas has imported thousands of Asian salt-cedar beetles to devour these trees.  One shudders to think …

* In my part of the State, we have clay, which wrecks havoc with foundations, and also large areas of that fantastic super-rich black soil that will grow anything you put in it.  Traveling south to Stephenville, there are long stretches of iron-rich red soil, like on Mars (which may explain a lot, somehow…) Then, you get into limestone and gravel country where you can see these chalky roads. When you drive along these roads, the car throws up this fine white powder, which dusts the grasses and trees alongside. You can drive for miles on these things and suddenly come to a "Stop" sign where it intersects with another one. I mean, there's nothing out there but cactus, salt cedar, mesquite, oak, and buzzards, and here's a stop sign?!  Then we saw signs for school bus crossings. Oh. Okay. We're just city folk; we had no idea there were people out here!

Anyway, the trip was fun and we took lots of notes. All for sake of research, don't you know.

March 24, 2006

I’m Smokin’ Again

Filed under: Pen to Paper — chapterhouse @ 5:27 pm

NO, not cigarettes. I quit those almost nine years ago. Woulo! (That's a cajun word I recently ran across. It means the same as Woo-Hoo!)

The mystery novel is coming along great now. I've written 7,735 words since last Saturday! Woulo!

I'm close to halfway through.

Writing such a joy when it's flowing like this, and such a pain when it isn't. Ah, the agony and the ecstasy! Some people just start writing their books, which is what I did with the first one, The Earthquake Doll. It turned out to be a mess. I kept having to go back and make major changes because I'd be writing along, and suddenly the story would take a different direction, forcing changes to be made on stuff I'd already written. I did not have a clue about writing novels then. It wasn't until I took a course on Basics of Novel Writing, taught by Pooks, that I found out there's this thing called Structure! That's when I was finally happy with an EQ Doll rewrite.

More recently, I discovered that wonderful book, Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder, and it gives the beats – 15 of them – to the basic Structure. Wow!

The key, for me, is the prep work. Get the Structure down; then start writing. Creativity still has a free reign, and your characters can still "take over" and do magical things for your story. But, you won't be sweating blood over what the next basic scene will be. No more dead-ends. No more writer's block.

Besides, as Snyder points out in his book, doing the prep work takes time, and it is time that your subconscious takes great advantage of! When you sit down to write, you are Ready To Tell The Story, which is what it's all about.


March 23, 2006

The Best Horses

Filed under: Pen to Paper — chapterhouse @ 7:36 am

When I was a little girl my grandmother would spend the night with us once in a while, and we would share my room. The best part about that was when she'd tell me her "horse stories," and I'll tell you one here. But first, a bit about my grandmother. She was the eldest of 11 children. She went to college (!) and studied astronomy (!). She wrote poetry. Her specialty was what she called "Star Sonnets," where she combined her knowledge of astronomy with her poetic talent. She taught "elocution," which is called "speech" today. Here's a story I wrote about her stories, 23 years ago:

The Best Horses
All Rights Reserved

We were in our nightgowns. I remember her brushing her hair in front of the dresser where I kept my collection of ceramic horses. Nannie's hair was white and gold and hung down to her waist. She wore it up in a braided crown during the day, but took it down and brushed it out every night, 100 strokes, religiously.

I showed her my horses, especially the red one reared up with its hooves in the air, my favorite.

"That's not red; that's a sorrel, honey. My hair used to be just that color – just like yours is now* – and the boys at school used to tease me and call me 'sorrel-tail' because I wore it in a long straight ponytail."

"Why do they call our hair red and not sorrel?" I asked.

"Because when you're talking about people you say 'red,' but red horses are called sorrels. There's all kinds of names for colors of horses. There's daple, which is gray with white spots, and buckskin, that's light brown with a black tail and mane, and chestnut, which is like a sorrel only darker brown." She looked in the mirror and laughed. "Now, I'm a palomina-tail."

"How come you know so much about horses, Nannie?"

"My daddy used to raise horses."

"He did? Did you get to ride any?"

"Oh my, yes, all the time."

"Did you ever ride any sorrel horses?" I held up my favorite horse.

She patted it with the tip of her finger. "I remember one sorrel Daddy had. He was the biggest horse anybody had ever seen. Daddy wouldn't let any of us ride him because he was just 'too much horse.' Daddy sold him to Sheriff Pate – old 'Two-Gun Pate,' we called him, because he always wore a double holster with matching pistols. We kids were all scared to death of him, especially when he was atop that great big sorrel. He could look right down into your eyes and he'd know if you were telling tales or not. He made sure that all the kids were behaving themselves and not getting into any trouble."

She finished brushing her hair and then she brushed mine. She gathered my hair up into a ponytail and said, "Yes, you're a sorrel-tail, alright. And even a little wild, like I was at your age. But I think old Two-Gun Pate was right about one thing: sometimes the wildest colts make the best horses."
* red was my natural hair color.

March 22, 2006

Muse or Snooze

Filed under: Pen to Paper — chapterhouse @ 8:14 am

That muse-o-mine is so funny. Seems she does her best work after my head hits the pillow at night. Problem is, that's when I need to sleep. But noooooooooo. After an hour and a half of trying to get to sleep a couple of nights ago, I had to get up, turn Harriett* on, and start typing. And typing. Then, along about three o'clock in the morning, I'm laughing hysterically in a darkened room, in Harriett's glow, at something the muse has written.

I'm not complaining, though, because for a long time, I couldn't find my muse. She also apparently likes to play hide 'n seek. And catch-me-if-you-can.

This morning I am at my desk, trying to prime the pump by writing this bloglet, just to let the muse know that I'm ready to go to work. Unfortunately, I think she's still asleep.
* No, I haven't Caught The Gay; Harriett is the name of my cute little laptop. (Not Scruffybutt, the other cute little laptop.)

March 12, 2006

More Kinky Cat Saving

Filed under: Next Chapter,Pen to Paper,Political Chapter — chapterhouse @ 10:39 am

Some have asked me what the title, Save The Cat!, means. I hadn't the foggiest idea before I started reading the book. Here's the deal: Snyder gets down to the basics of good story-telling, and one absolutely necessary basic is an early "save-the-cat" scene. That meant that my Main Character should do something, very early in the story, that will demonstrate that hey, this is a decent guy (no matter what he does later on). He could, oh … save a cat, for example. 🙂

I did not have a save-the-cat scene in Gino's Law, but now I do. This makes so much sense, and gives readers (both of them) insight into Gino's true nature right away.

Here's something that amazes me about writing: your subconscious knows the story waaay before you do. I needed a save-the-cat scene, so I went back to the beginning to look for a good place for one. It needed to be plausible, and to fit naturally into the story. Hmmm. I already had a scene where Gino, a landlord, is talking to one of his tenants, named Brandye.

Let me back up here a moment. The house that "Gino" lives in is based on Maxwell House, the one I've been trying to sell so we can move to North Carolina!

The apartment that "Brandye" lives in, in my story, is actually — in real life — occupied by a lady who is a Hurricane Katrina survivor. Viola! "Gino's" save-the-cat moment is right there, and was right there all along! All I had to do was have "Brandye" be a Katrina survivor whom "Gino" had let live there rent-free for several months until she found a job and put some savings together!

I got to shake Kinky Friedman's hand last night. He was in Dallas for the day. First, he was Grand Marshal of the annual Greenville Avenue St. Patrick's Day parade (see his site for a picture of that, and yes, I know it isn't St. Paddy's Day yet, go figure), then he went to the Wine Therapist (don'tcha love that name?), where we were, to meet and greet, and then on to a fund-raiser, which we didn't attend because we're cheap. Hey, we did buy some memorabilia at the Wine Therapist, though!

Did you know that there's a Kinky Friedman action figure? That sez stuff in his very own actual voice? My favorite slogans are, "Why the Hell Not?" and "How Hard Could It Be?" (to be Texas governor.) Did you know they also have Kinky Friedman Salsa? And CDs? I love this guy. Talk about low key — he just walked into the Wine Therapist — no announcements, no fanfare, just came in with his trademark hat and cigar and started chatting with people, shaking hands, and autographing stuff. My friend Grace, the artist, brought her daughters with her, and the youngest one got her jeans autographed by Kinky!

It was such a hoot!

After that I, along with Pooks, Grace, the artist, and her daughters stampeded went next door to The Tipperary Inn because we heard that men in kilts were over there (poor Tomcat followed along.) But we didn't stay long, even for men in kilts, because the air conditioning was out. So, we had dinner at La Calle Dolce.

then i'm afraid i got a little tipsy when I made the mistake of ordering more more wine …

March 11, 2006

The Golden Cat Saves Kinky

Filed under: Pen to Paper,Political Chapter — chapterhouse @ 8:50 am

Whaaaaa? This post contains three different subjects, and the title, The Golden Cat Saves Kinky, ties them all together. Trust me.

First, if you are a writer, whether aspiring or published, whether you write screenplays or novels, you simply must read Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. This book boils it all down to the basics. Snyder is a screenwriter, and his book is for screenwriters. But I am an aspiring novelist, and the basics of storytelling, in whatever medium, still apply.

I'm only on page 47, and I've already learned three extremely important things:

(1) Start (preferably before you've written a word) with a good logline. This is the one-sentence description of what the book (or movie) is about. If you can't come up with a good logline, you don't have a good story yet. Try this with your own work and you'll see the truth of this.

(2) Your title is joined to the logline. It should also say what the book/movie is about. Think about what the title would look like on a book cover, or better yet, on a movie poster. For example, the first title for my work-in-progress was "Paradise Parkway." After coming up with the logline, the title had to be changed. It is now "Gino's Law" with a subtitle, "For Every Action, There's an Overreaction." That title and the subtitle imply all kinds of interesting things, don't they? Way better than "Paradise Parkway."

(3) There I was, thinking I was writing a "Whodunit" or even a "Whydunit," when the story I was really writing belonged in one of ten unique genres listed in Snyder's book: The [story of the] Golden Fleece. The Golden Fleece is all about the quest and how the hero is changed along the way.

Okay, I skipped ahead in the book and read his take on Midpoints. Snyder says that the story's Midpoint is just as important as the First and Second Turning Points. This helped me tremendously in plotting Act II of Gino's Law.

See? "The Golden Cat Saves" portion of the title makes sense now! That leaves us with the Kinky part. (To any perverts out there: stop slobbering already! Ew.)

Tonight we're going to actually see and meet Kinky Friedman, who's running for Governor of the State of Texas! He's on a petition drive to get on the November ballot. Tomcat and I Saved Ourselves For Kinky (didn't vote in the primaries) just so we will be eligible to sign the petition.

Kinky is a writer and singer (he founded The Texas Jewboys.) He is also a brilliant, witty, down-to-earth man who is fed up with both the Republican and Democratic Parties in Texas. We have a great tradition in this state — there are tons of Independent voters, myself included. In Texas, we do not have to register with any party if we do not wish to. I have voted for candidates of both of the major parties, although it's been a long time since I've voted Republican. How long? Since the Funda-mentals took it over in the Reagan era.

So there you have it: The Golden Cat Saves Kinky.
Thank you for your time.

March 10, 2006

Major Plot Twist

Filed under: Pen to Paper — chapterhouse @ 10:04 am

My writer friend Pooks suggested a great plot twist for the mystery novel I'm working on. Once again, Pooks, I am so grateful for your brilliance (she was the one who first said this bit-o-novel I had going would be a good mystery story.)

I got up at three o'clock yesterday morning to write that major plot twist scene, and I'm very pleased with it.

Now, if only I could have a major plot twist in my life, like getting Maxwell House sold so we can move to North Carolina!!!!

Just LOOK at what we're missing:

(btw, this was taken after Katrina hit, hence the high gas prices)
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March 6, 2006

Channeling, Or What?

Filed under: Pen to Paper — chapterhouse @ 2:20 pm

To the other writers out there (and if you have a blog and you're reading this, then you're a writer out there) —

I was organizing my notes for my mystery novel when I ran across a pink* sticky note I had written months ago. It read,

"What about ex-wife?"

That was in pencil. Underneath, in pen, was:

"She's in Italy."

I had jotted down the "What about ex-wife?" bit because I had decided not to bring the Main Character's ex into the story. So, what to do with her? I wanted her to be alive, but not to have to be brought in as a character witness for or against the MC. If that happened, then of course there would be interaction between the MC and his ex, so then I'd be writing scenes about a completely unnecessary character. Jotting the question down and setting aside the note for a while was a great way to let the matter percolate from one braincell to the other one. 🙂

Then sometime later, the answer came to me (or I channeled my muse, or whatever/however that happens), and I went back and wrote, "She's in Italy." The idea was that she had remarried and moved to Italy (which works great because the MC is of Italian descent, so the ex might as well have originally come from Italy.) Now, neither the defense nor the prosecution would think it's really necessary to try to subpoena her for the MC's trial. (Thanks to Judith, who lives in Rome, so that little tidbit was in one or the other of those braincells, because otherwise the poor ex-wife would probably be living in the middle of Baghdad or something.)

It just struck me funny when I saw that note with the question and answer, both in the same handwriting, but obviously written at two different times. Do you ever do stuff like that?

* A bit of esoterica here: In my system, pink sticky notes are for jotting down things I don't want to forget; purple are for brief synopses of scenes already written; and yellow are for scenes yet to be written. All of the notes go into my wonderful, adorable Moleskine notebook. Scenes can be rearranged easily, since they are all on sticky notes (thanks to Pooks for that idea!)

Pooks, by the way, has a Moleskine that she writes in. I mean, with ink, directly on the page! Those gorgeous, beautiful pages. I'm just not there yet.

And speaking of Moleskines, I saw some on the counter in my favorite book store, Barnes & Noble, and I asked the gal if she had ever bought one for herself. She said, "No, and I never will!" Well, why ever not? She said it was because the covers were "made from mole skins." Hahahahhaaaaaaaaaaa! I didn't actually laugh, but I did tell her that no, they're made from a water resistant fabric.

On the way out to the car, Tomcat and I died laughing because that lady probably thought all this time about those poor little moles, and the people working in Third-World sweatshops sewing all those tiny little mole pelts together!

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