Thursday, July 29, 2010

Eat, Pray, Live, Laugh

I haven't read the book Eat, Pray, Love, and I'm not knowledgeable about the author who wrote it. So it's not fair for me to say it looks like the story of a spoiled little rich... *a'hem* grown woman whose boyfriend broke up with her so she took this amazing trip to the Far East.

Plus that would reveal an unpleasant, green-eyed attitude I try to resist... ;o)

The movie trailers do make me think about food, though.

I was in Baton Rouge last weekend, and I have to confess. Growing up in south Louisiana, *I* was very spoiled. I had no idea that the fact that any schmo off the street can whip up a delicious dinner for you at the drop of a hat was unique.

It's not that hard. Just take three ingredients--OK, four: butter (or olive oil), onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Add anything to that with some tomatoes and a touch of cayenne pepper, and it always comes out right.

Looking back, all the good times in the 30 years I lived there centered around big, delicious meals. A high school friend recently asked me if I was homesick. LTM: always.

But there are problems back home. The schools have changed, the population has changed since Katrina, and I think when you live somewhere and have a golden time there, moving back to recapture it... well, it never really works out, does it?

JRM and I had this conversation about Indy a while back. As many happy memories as we have of being there, it's not the same now either.

So life moves on.

You live places, you share a lot of laughs with people you love. You stay connected (hopefully--I know I'll get some feedback on that right now...)

Also while we were in Baton Rouge, my youngest daughter turned seven.

My dad and I were charged with getting her cake, which we did. She wanted a big cookie with purple icing that said "Happy Birthday, Laura!"

I tried to prepare her--we hadn't actually planned this (I have a big party planned for both daughters next week), so we might not be able to find that exact thing...

And then we did. We found exactly what she wanted.

Then I got sidetracked looking at something, Dad tried to help me, and he dropped the cake. Naturally, it landed upside down.

For a moment we stood there staring at it, stunned until we carefully picked it up and...

The nice thing about cookie cakes is if you drop them just right, they don't break. This one only had a little smudged icing that was easily fixed.

And then I started to giggle... Before long we were absolutely cracking up. We laughed the whole way home, and all day whenever I thought about my poor dad's face right after the cake hit the floor I chuckled again.

Anyone who doesn't know my dad won't understand that he's always been a tad on the klutzy side... (it's where I get it from!) And my daughter's named for him, so she tends to be his little sidekick.

I don't know about you guys, but it's been a tough year. And I don't get a trip to India to make it all better... or some semi-hunky French dude.

But I'm happy that looking back, there's no way I can feel sorry for myself (or be sour-grapesey with the author of EPL).

Lately I've been praying all the time. And I'm trying not to be selfish with it. I pray you see the ways you're so blessed and lucky, too.

Have a great weekend, reader friends! Book review Monday~

Monday, July 26, 2010

When characters find you

One of the fun things about writing for the newspaper is getting to talk to so many different people and ask them all about their lives, etc., without it being weird or stalkerish.

All of my interview subjects are interesting, but occasionally, I'll get someone whose personality or world view is so unique. Naturally, my little writer's brain is all fired up by the end.

For example, I interviewed this lady once who said she moved from Colorado to Biloxi (Mississippi) one summer in a black car with no air conditioning.

What a great image! I've never been to Colorado, but I can imagine it's nowhere near as hot as the almost 100-degree temps and 100-plus humidity Biloxi gets in the summer. Not to mention the topography...

Even more, I think about the car with no air conditioning, the young woman "running away from home," the 20 year-old adventure seeker. It wasn't her car, she said. She moved with a friend and eventually made her way to New Orleans.

Another time I interviewed a local farmer who was receiving an award. He has more than 600 acres that he's worked since the early 1970s.

This man was so interesting to talk to. He told me his first job was at the local dairy until one day he decided to start his own place. He said looking back it was a bold move.

At 19, he'd married his sweetheart, and when he left his job at the dairy, the (very) young couple had four kids. He put them all to work and now theirs is one of the biggest farms in this area. One of his sons is gradually transitioning to run the place, following in his father's footsteps.

I asked him what it was about farming he loved, and he told me it was the hard work, the connection with the land, working with the animals, growing his own food.

He's currently raising grass-fed cattle, and he was very knowledgeable about organic farming and methods.

He was so thoughtful. He said farming was hard, sometimes heartbreaking work. He said, "You go to bed disgusted and then wake up the next morning optimistic again."

Then he laughed.

It's tough to write for my "day job" and then attempt to be a novelist in my break. But what a lucky gig.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How Drama influenced my writing career

So we were talking about many things...
  • Woody Harrelson reportedly called Bill Murray's "800" number to ask if he'd be in Kingpin. Murray called back and asked Harrelson to fax pages to some random Kinko's in Manhattan.
  • Upon hearing "Just Dance" for the first time, JRM: Laura Branigan called. She wants her voice back. LTM: No, she's gonna hit. She's pulling in everybody.
  • What do YA boys read? Who are the authors targeting HS males?
And then we got on the subject of Improv. Tart says Jason didn't mean you had to be good at Improv to be a good writer. She said it was simply a writing exercise.

Weight lifting for writers.

I read and write these days with two little ones hanging off me, so it's possible I took Jason's post the wrong way. Sorry, Jason.

I'm relieved you don't have to be good at Improv to be a good writer, and it seems I'm not alone in that. But while most commenters claim to be awful at acting, I think writers use The Method all the time.

When I was growing up, I spent three weeks of (almost) every summer at Kueta-T Camp for Girls in the woods of Norwood, La. I also spent about a week on my birthday with my grandparents in the woods of Liberty, Miss.

I loved camp (see"Harmony," March), but I remember feeling like I was literally dying on my grandparent visits. (Drama?)

Not because I didn't love my g'rents--I did very much! I just felt like in those woods time stood still. It was so quiet. There was a distinct smell, and they got one TV station. And I think it was CBS.

A few weekends ago we were at my grandparents' old place. My parents live there now and have completely refurbished the house. I went and stood out on the porch and looked out into the dark woods.

It still smelled like earth and moldering leaves. And it was slightly cool. The woods were hilly, and I thought about the natural springs scattered all throughout them. I thought about sneaking off as a child and running around, imagining I was on an adventure. Sometimes my feet would slide out from under me and I'd sit down on the side of a hill. Wet butt.

It was so quiet. There might've been a bird chirping. I took a deep breath and felt... calm. Peaceful? Nostalgic definitely. I said the following words: I miss this.

I sit here and think about that feeling, and it puts me in a very distinct mood for a story--both reactions.

On the other hand, I can tell I'm writing a really good scene if I'm feeling what the character is feeling, whether it's fear, joy, frustration, love...

A few times readers have stopped me about a feature in the paper and said, "I cried when I read that." I'll tell them I believe it--I cried when I wrote it.

Now, isn't that using The Method? I can act!


Hey, it's not too late to jump over to Holly's blog and submit one page of anything (query, synopsis, first page of finished MS, WiP) for peer review next week.

The more people who participate, the more we all benefit. She'll post one per day for feedback. See the logo, top right, or click here: Community Critique Party.

Have a great weekend, reader-friends~

Monday, July 19, 2010

Not a Night at the Improv

I've been thinking about many things...
  • Bill Murray's "800" number (you leave a message and if he's interested in working with you, he calls you back),
  • Lady Gaga = couture Madonna. (Yes?),
  • How boring I found Eclipse the movie (not the book), yet so many people are "going to see it again"...  (!) (really?)
Some fellow bloggers recently posted about using music to get into the spirit of their WiPs (Works in Progress). A few even gave their playlists for those WiPs--good stuff!

You all know I love music lyrics and the emotion of instrumentation. But for some reason, I haven't used the music technique since Book 3. No clue why.

Two posts I did find very helpful recently were about using the five senses to develop 1-Setting (Wordplay) and 2-Makeout scenes (Oasis for YA). I'll be paying more attention to that going forward.

LTM: Use more than one sense...

Then I read a post over on the Burrow about how you have to be good at Improv to be a good writer.


Sorry, Jason. I'm going to have to disagree with you there. Not to be *itchy, but because I just have to if I'm going to keep writing.

You see, I took an improv class in HS, and I was a Freak of Nature in it: I simultaneously sucked AND blew...

Then I worked at the television station (WAFB-9, CBS affiliate) in Baton Rouge, and you know those little tag parts where the reporter will give his or her comment on the story right there on the spot? Well, they film those right there--improvisationally.

When I went with the reporters to tape those, the camera guys would usually be super sweet and film a few shots of me doing a tag to use in my video resume for when I interviewed to be a reporter...

I'll just say it: I was AWFUL at them.

If any of you watch 30 Rock, the scene where Liz Lemon is filming the promo for her book? That was me. Take 589...

I remember this one camera guy was so patient. I can't remember his name (of course), but he was skinny and wore glasses and reminded me of another friend of mine Chad... Anyway, notChad was my hero.

I don't know why, but the minute he'd say "Go," I would forget how to smile like a human, wave like a human, talk like a human... I was seriously retarded, and I apologize for my use of the R-word. It's simply the truth...

But I could write the heck out of a news story. I could also read the heck out of a teleprompter. The one-story anchor spot we filmed of me looked like something off the evening news--it was freaky.

So I'm not going with the whole "you have to be great at improv to be a great writer" argument. I'm sorry, I just cannot allow that to be true. My apologies to the Burrow. You know I love you guys.

Actually, I've found that lately, since school's been out and I've only been getting snippets of time to write, I've become a very Method writer. I mean, if we're sticking with the acting analogies and all.

This post is getting long, so I'll make this the Intro. Part 1, if you will. Come back Thursday, and I'll elaborate on how this little writer uses The Method to get into the mood of a scene or the spirit of a book.

Look out K.M.! I might do a v-log next~

If any of you writers out there don't follow K.M. Weiland's amazingly helpful blog "Wordplay," you should. I swear she catches me every time I'm needing a light bulb.

I'll be over here stumped, thinking "how do I do this" or "why does that matter," and her little acoustic guitar will start playing... in walks K.M.: "When I'm stuck there or wondering why that matters, here's what I do..." 

Check her out. (That's a link to her blog, kids.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Kidseye View

It's one of those mornings where the sky's a bit overcast and the bugs--I think they're cicadas--make that sound that starts soft and then grows very loud, then tapers off and goes soft again. The air's all hot and heavy. It's like living in one of those jungle movies--Papillon or Bridge on the River Kwai.

Catherine and I went to see Airbender last night. It wasn't so bad, but it was a let-down for me. My primary response was that I don't know how anyone who hasn't seen the show as many times as we have (the girls watch it constantly) has any idea what's going on or why.

My almost eight year-old daughter loved it. She was bouncing in her seat, calling out the names when her favorite characters appeared, and then she talked about it the whole way home. She would give it an A+++. THAT made it a great movie for me.

It also made me remember how I responded to movies at her age. I wasn't so judgmental about how skillfully the acting was done or how true it was to the original story or how real the special effects looked. If I saw characters I liked doing cool stuff, I was happy.

We walked out of the theater and the moon was that little crescent with Venus at two o'clock. It was gorgeous. Even Catherine exclaimed when she saw it.

As we drove back to our house, the sky flashed white with heat lightening the whole way. Catherine sat in the back gazing out the window at the sky. Every now and then she'd say, "Look, Mommy!" or "Did you see that?"

I wished I could pull the car over and just sit out somewhere and watch it with her. I also mentally noted that as small as our little town is, there's not a lot of places to pull off the road and just stare up at the heat lightening.

We were driving on U.S. 31. JRM told me once that you can take that road all the way to Indianapolis where it becomes Meridian Street.

I remembered driving on Meridian many times in Indy with her in a car seat less than a year old. She liked the Dixie Chicks, and she'd cry when I had to stop at red lights.

Time's passing fast, but so much never changes. Last night I glanced in the rearview mirror occasionally at her little strawberry head and remembered when I used to sit in the window staring at the heat lightening.

I always thought it was pretty cool, too.


Earlier this week, Katie (a.k.a., Creepy Query Girl) gave several bloggers and me awards at her BLOscars. I had two responses. The first from the Monkees: "I'm proud, and a little bit humbled..." the second from Sally Field: "You like me! You really like me!"

Since I'm the guerilla comment lady, I took the supportive commenter award:

And a big THANK YOU! to Katie. It was both unexpected and encouraging and I appreciate you very much~

Monday, July 12, 2010

Book review - Harsh Pink & a CONTEST for charity!

I've gotten a lot of feedback that folks are really diggin the book reviews I've posted, so I'll keep those going periodically as I finish books you (or your kids) might find interesting.

(I just realized it might also be helpful if I put the title of the books in my blog titles so you can see what all's been covered--Hello! Must go back and do that...)

So I just finished Harsh Pink by Melody Carlson, and I have to 'fess up, I thought it was pretty good!

I expected this to be one of those true "homework" books (nobody falls in love in it; even worse, it's an "issue" book). But Carlson's characters are solid and her tale is well-told.

Harsh Pink is another of the inspirational YA novels I've read in my efforts to learn more about this market. Here's the cover:

It's #12, the last, of Carlson's True Colors series. Each book deals with a different "teen issue," and in this case, it was mean girls.

Harsh Pink opens with main character Reagan moving to a new school and inadvertently bouncing the most popular girl there from the varsity cheerleader squad. Sort of.

Apparently, Miss Popular blew off practicing for tryouts, and there's also the sophomore, former JV captain who made the squad.

So Reagan's one of two new cheerleaders Miss Popular, as first alternate, takes aim at getting off the squad. Ultimately, Reagan gets pulled into Miss Popular's circle and former JV captain becomes the target of MP's stunts.

What I liked about Harsh Pink is the way Carlson demonstrates both the power of one popular person over the actions of many (weaker) others, and the pressure to conform when that popular person chooses to take you under her wing.

The timing of my reading this book couldn't have been better because JRM and I had just been discussing our own daughters and how they're growing up and how soon they'll be dealing with other girls, mean girls, etc.

I shared with JRM my concern that our oldest really cares about what her friends think and being cool and how she's perceived by others... Our youngest tends to be more like me--You wanna play with me? Be fun and grab a spot in the sandpile. You're in.

At the same time, while I tended to be loose when it came to friends and excluding others as a child/teen, the encounters I remember most painfully were the times I stood by and watched while others were targeted.

I think we all recall how kid politics worked. And Carlson captures those dynamics beautifully in Harsh Pink. Reagan's a sympathetic character. She's not the one pulling the pranks or leaving people out, but she often stands by and watches the events unfold--it's not her deal, right? But the book isn't preachy. It's well-done.

At times, I found the writing a bit repetitive and there wasn't a lot going on outside the mean girl dynamic, but at 210 pages, that's OK. And knowing there's a tragedy by book's end keeps the tension high.

Shew! The teenage years are tough. I applaud Carlson for tackling this thorny subject, and I give Harsh Pink a B+.

I encourage my teen followers to give it a read--especially if you're in the position of victim or the one feeling pressured to conform. It's got some good insights. Heck, even if you're not a teen it has some good insights.

If anyone else has read other books in this series, I'd love to hear your recommendations! Otherwise, read on, reader friends and mean people *stink*~

**CONTEST! It's ON! If you're a writer, you don't want to miss this one--win a phone call w/an agent, page critiques, and more. If you're not a writer, there's free books and other prizes galore!

And by participating, you'll be helping establish communities and provide clean water to people in Ghana through Joy 2 the World. Check it out at this link: Candyland contest. It's fun and easy to enter. Contest ends July 31~

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thoughts from the (writing) cave

Similar to Postcards from the Edge...

It's my last child-free week of the summer, and I've been trying to make the most of it. I now have two WIPs, and I have to admit, I'm starting to wonder about the source of all this creative energy.

Are you there, God? It's me, LTM...

I did a "Get to Know" feature on a chiropractor yesterday for the paper. He specializes in upper cervical injuries and their effect on the brain stem.

Since my current novel going out was inspired by my own neck injury (which flared up right before I started writing and persisted throughout), I'm thinking now I can never have it addressed...

Yes, that's crazy, but those baseball players have some crazier superstitions. At least I wash my clothes.

Moving along, I ask you, if you can read two books at once, is it possible to write two books at once?

WIP #2 technically originated on a family visit to Ruston (La.) last year. JRM and I were joking about all the town names in Mississippi as we passed them, and I said I was going to write a story about Prentiss Puckett (two towns in south Miss.) and her adventures with her dog Cato (another town) and her friend D'Lo (yep) and they'd all live on Dabb Creek (that's another one).

On the way home after the fourth Monday, JRM and I revisited my story of Prentiss, and I added a love interest (of course) Jackson Edwards--guess where we were in Miss. at that point--and his nemesis Gallatin Street. I also added a brother Braxton for Prentiss and a best friend Flora Magee.

JRM really wants me to write a science fiction book, so I said this would be my SciFi novel. Because how unexpected is that?

So I've spent the last three days fleshing out the characters and I have a rough idea of where the humans are going, I only have one problem...

The science fiction portion of the story.

Yes, you may LOL! But through brainstorming with my SciFi loving husband, and I mean LOVE-ing, I've actually got some good ideas on that front as well.

So who knows. It's just an exercise, and it might end up being total garbage. It might not, but I wouldn't put any true SF writers on alert.

The most likely result will be one of my stories set in unusual, science fiction-ey circumstances. Perhaps that's more post-apocalyptic.

As for WIP #1, the first five of which I ran through the Yalitchat critique group--an excellent resource, btw--I've had to make notes and hold it.

The main character in that book is in such a dark place. It's hard to get in her head when happy things like my birthday, the fourth of July, socializing with out of town guests, etc., are happening.

I am not complaining. I love happy things. I just see how my joy leaks into the character, and it's inconsistent with her voice. Basically, it takes more effort (and rereading) to find her again.

But I think that's another good one. It's a very emotional story, and I see the arc for that character so clearly.

Oh, to have all the time in the world to write! (says the drama queen)

Back in the cave with me. Have a great week-end, reader-friends! Book review on Monday~

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cups of (literary) tea & our WINNER!

I'm not much of a tea drinker. I wish I was because it sounds so refined and elegant.

I mentioned in a previous post that my first boss when I was an editor at LSU was from England, and she observed a strict tea time every day.

She taught me so many little niceties. Not going to rehash--that's all in my "Spring is Springing" (March 9) post.

Anyway, so I've been thinking about books and genre and what appeals to different readers and what doesn't. Of course, I'm also thinking about agents...

The other night I looked at JRM and me sitting up in bed reading. He was holding a block of wood entitled TRUMAN. I was clutching my shiny copy of Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Being naturally curious, I leaned over to him.

LTM: What's Truman doing?
JRM: They're making the atomic bomb.
LTM: Sounds.... interesting. (Yik!)
JRM: What do you think it says about humanity that we've had the bomb for 60 years and it hasn't been used.
LTM: We love our children.

Personally, that sort of reading doesn't relax me. I start wondering if I'm getting credit for the course. But to JRM it is fascinating...

I boarded this train of thought because I need a critique partner. (One of those non-relative, husband or friend types.) And I was pondering if it's really necessary for him/her to prefer the genre you write in. I think it is, but could I be wrong?

I recently "met" a fellow blogger who's writing fantasy books. This very imaginative (and good!) writer suggested I read his WIP, but I had to come clean--I think I'd be a terrible helper with fantasy fiction. (The true kind, I mean. The kind JRM devours.)

I felt bad. But I think my answer was correct. I've tried many times to read fantasy, and I always follow the same pattern: my mind starts to wander and I get lost (you really have to pay attention to fantasy). Then I'm faced with having to start over, and instead I just put the book down and grab a good-ole escapist YA romance.

(Not genre romance, mind you. I get the itch if I can feel the formula in a book I'm reading.)

But maybe that wasn't the right answer. Maybe having a critique partner who's not a big fan of the genre in which you write would make him/her more likely to catch problems...

I don't know.

Last weekend we hosted two of JRM's old law school buddies who are serious fantasy fans. I asked them what it is about the genre that appeals to them. Is it the descriptions? The worlds? The literary devices (e.g., time travel, quests, magic). They couldn't really say.

I don't think anybody can. That's like saying why you prefer chocolate over vanilla.

At the very least I like knowing there's a genre for everyone.

Mine's more the love story-anything genre, although I have to admit an aversion to creatures. LOTR was not my bag, baby. Sorry. So the love story-anything without creatures genre.

JRM: There are no creatures in The Dragonriders of Pern.
LTM: Do the dragonriders fall in love?

That's all for today, kids. I hope you all had a super 4th! I'm actually on the road headed back home, so let's all thank Flower the cat for today's post.

Read on, readies~

Contest WINNER! Random number generator pulled the Number 2 out of the hat this a.m., and the lovely and talented HOLLY DODSON is the winner of our fun little book contest.

This is so appropriate since Holly reviews books on her blog, "Super Mom Writes," which I encourage you all to scurry over and check out right now (click on the name). Yay, Holly, and yay everyone who played. It was fun meeting new book lovers and "hearing" your thoughts.