Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Writing Tool

It is a juicy day in the Willamette Valley. Nonstop rain, clouds stuck in the tops of the Doug firs, lakes of water in parking lots that I thought were pancake flat. But a perfect excuse to hole up with a good book -- either a great read or the one you are writing.

I just learned about another writing "tool" via Story Fix, the blog maintained by Larry Brooks. He writes about and presents workshops on the Six Core Competencies and Story Architecture of novel writing. I found his sessions at the Willamette Writers Conferences to be life savers. So when he referenced another writing aid I had to check it out.

Randy Ingermanson has developed what he calls the Snowflake Method of organizing a novel.

Yes -- this is a fractal.

Ingermanson's method is the reverse of peeling an onion. Instead of removing layers, he adds layers in the process of developing and organizing his novels. Since adding layers to an onion isn't a particularly handy image, he instead uses the fractal.

The first step in the process is to write a one-sentence summary of your novel. He suggests striving for no more than 15 words. This is what many folks call "the elevator pitch." You know -- you're on the elevator with the agent/movie director of your dreams and you have only one or two floors to sell your story idea.

Step two in Ingermanson's process is to develop the single sentence into a full paragraph. In step three he moves on to the major characters about whom he writes a one-page summary.

Subsequent steps expand on previous efforts. Each step delves deeper into the story and the characters. By the time he begins drafting the novel, he knows his story characters inside and out, and has solved many problems of logic with the story progression.

Those with outline phobia will eschew these story development methods. However, both Brooks and Ingermanson suggest that planning up front avoids hundreds of pages of redrafts.

Having ground to a halt on Water Tribute with a case of "muddleinthemiddleitis," I am eager to try Ingermanson's Snowflake Method in combination with Brooks' Story Architecture.

With Water Tribute placed on the back burner (waaaay back), my imagination has been captivated by a different story idea. The working title is The Adventure of the Blood Stone (which will likely be changed to The Curse of the Blood Stone). I'm still doing world building research. I have a list of characters and some idea of the major plot points. I even drafted opening paragraphs when I was held captive in a waiting room one day. I've made a stab at the one-sentence story summary, but I think I need to have the setting firmly established before I begin moving around the characters in their story world.

I already know that writing a novel "by the seat of my pants" doesn't work for me. So I hope this additional tool will help me reach my goal.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Stills: Hats

This week's challenge was "hats." Given the weather forecast for much of the U.S. -- polar gear will be needed. But here in Oregon's Willamette Valley we primarily deal with wet stuff. Misty mizzle, drenching downpour, sideways saturation -- you name it, we get it.

So those of us who choose to venture out (or have no choice to remain warm and dry) require an arsenal of headwear.

These are my winter dog walking hats. My suede Kerrits cap helps keep up the hood of my waterproof Eddie Bauer jacket. The Outback fedora is waxed to repel moisture. Note the sheltie hair on the brim.

Barn hats. My FITS cap to hide "helmet hair," plus my waxed cotton Outback cap and hat for hiking to the back fence of the turnout pasture where Phantom manages to locate himself when I arrive on rainy days. My knit hat is stuffed in the backpack I carry to the barn full of horse treats and other necessities.

Retired "helmet hair" cap. This one took a tumble into Phantom's feed bucket one day. After thoroughly examining it he determined it had no nutritional value.

To see more head gear, visit Sunday Stills.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ruthless Christmas Party

Sunday was my first Christmas party with the new Barn Bunch. One of the boarders kindly opened her home to us and we enjoyed a variety of munchies and a potluck dinner. All to build up our energy in preparation for the White Elephant Gift Exchange.

Now, my previous barn held a gift exchange. Participants brought a wrapped gift -- generally something we'd want to keep ourselves. Once at the party we drew numbers at random and worked our way through them. Participants had the option to select a wrapped gift or steal a previously opened gift that he or she fancied. The participant whose gift was snatched then had the option to open a gift or steal one. Gifts could be stolen 2-3 times before they went off limits.

So I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the white elephant gift exchange, since the idea was to bring less-than-desirable gifts.

Well...the exchange started out the same. Wrapped gifts and drawn numbers. However, participants were required to select a wrapped gift when their numbers were drawn. Once they unwrapped their gift, they had 20 seconds to trade it for another opened gift. This began a trading frenzy as panicked participants tried to rid themselves of horrendous gifts before time ran out.

Some of the gifts were actually desirable and changed hands numerous times during the evening. On the other hand, the ho-hum serving platter, two-foot tall ceramic rooster, and garish 3-foot tall trophy were hard to move. It was pretty funny as folks scrambled to be rid of gifts foisted on them, or attempted to pitch interest in the item they were stuck with.

Really -- gift exchanges are not for sissies, regardless of the desirability of the items. So much for peace on earth! ;-)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sunday Stills: Holiday Decorations

'Tis the season!

Regrettably, we have some old family tree ornaments that are buried somewhere in the pile at the center of the garage, or stashed amid the boxes at the self-storage unit. However, there are certain elements that I like to have on our tree every year.

The dove always goes near the top.
We continue to hope for peace on earth.

The trombone in honor of my father.

The white rose with musical ribbon
in memory of my father and grandfather.

To see more holiday decorations, visit Sunday Stills.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Mennonite in a Little Black Dress"

Our book club met last night to discuss our latest read. Although we did have criticisms, in general we enjoyed the book.

I do not read memoirs. I'm an avid reader of fiction, and on occasion nonfiction. So I kept expecting the usual fiction plot points as I was reading which, of course, never arrived.

So -- author Rhoda Janzen was raised in California in a Mennonite family. She pursued an education, academic career, and marriage outside the Mennonite community. When her husband left her for a gay man that he'd met online, and following a devastating car accident, Ms. Janzen returned to her parent's home to recuperate. The memoir addresses how she adjusted to returning to the Mennonite culture as well as an examination of her childhood and failed marriage.

Ms. Janzen places much emphasis on being the outsider during her school years among her more "worldly" classmates. There were her plain, hand-me-down clothes and unusual lunches, not to mention forbidden activities such as watching television and dancing. However, none of us found her childhood to be that much different than our own. Ms. Janzen's oddly appearing and smelling lunches reminded me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Nia Vardalos brought Greek dishes to school. Any child from an ethnic, racial, or religious minority will feel like he or she doesn't fit in. Any child who wears hand-me-downs will cringe in ill-fitting outfits and yearn for new clothes. And one doesn't have to be Mennonite to miss out on the "social norms." In my own household during the 1950s we didn't have a television in the house until my teachers began giving assignments to watch certain programs (under the assumption that everyone had a TV). And every child/teenager is embarrassed by their parents at some point if not most of their youth.

Ms. Janzen's tone seemed contrived at the beginning of the book, as if she was straining for a flip, Sex and the City style of delivery. She also included some episodes regarding bodily functions and private parts that (with perhaps one exception) seemed totally unnecessary to us. At 43, the author seemed like she was still straining with adolescent rebellion against her upbringing. These particular episodes were used to illustrate the character of family members, but we suspected she could have had the same results with other examples.

As the book progressed, we learned the facts of Ms. Janzen's marriage. I was reminded of the appeals that I dealt with in my last job. The complainant described the situation and demanded a fix. I researched the incident to complete the facts and determine what, if anything, we could do for the person. Oh the details the complainants left out when filing their appeals!! My research often revealed that a sad story of ill advice was in reality an incident of laziness and/or stupidity.

We learned that Ms. Janzen had been dazzled by Nick's good looks and intellect. She was naive and, having come from a culture that was suspicious of higher education, she longed for someone who shared her academic pursuits. She knew Nick was bisexual before she married him (he'd been with a man before the woman who preceded Ms. Janzen). He was manic depressive and verbally abusive. He refused to take his medication, ruined them financially, and humiliated her in private while presenting the picture of a perfect match among their friends. In the end, despite Nick's horrible treatment of Rhoda, he left her.

Ms. Janzen stated she still would have married Nick if she could go back and do it over again. She loved him with all her heart. My personal feeling was that she loved the idea of Nick. Rhoda had grown up in a sheltered environment with little exposure to the "real world" and all the weirdness it contains. And the only examples she had of marriage were within the Mennonite community -- Rhoda had no idea that she could leave her dysfunctional marriage. I think she married the man she wanted Nick to be, not the man he was. Although he had his good points. But Rhoda withstood far more verbal abuse and financial ruin than she should have. Which only made her human -- since many of us remain with the familiar long after we should have left, since the unknown can be frightening.

In the end we believed Rhoda came to awareness and maturity to appreciate that her parents and brothers were the way they were meant to be. She was who she was because of her upbringing and the love and acceptance of her family. The pendulum had swung back to the center. Whether the offspring struggle to meet family expectations or rebel against them, life is a process of discovery to determine who we really are. There is no time limit for this process. The longing for that elusive something that will bring each of us fulfillment can continue throughout our lives.

Our next selection for the January book club meeting is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. It is a multi-generational mystery that travels between historical periods in Great Britain and Australia.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a...

...wet Christmas?

So -- we're heading north on I-5 through Portland in a torrential rain. There is standing water in the traffic lanes, foggy mists of water thrown up by the big rigs, and waves of water sheet the windshield when other drivers speed through huge puddles. I'm white-knuckle driving with thoughts of hydroplaning dancing in my head. The radio is tuned to K103 because they play Christmas songs all month up to the Big Day. During yet another holiday song about a lovely, snow white Christmas I comment to my mother as I turn up the fan on the defroster: "Ever notice they never sing about a wet, rainy Christmas?"

Ah, the lovely Pacific Northwet. Er, northwest. Makes it difficult to get into the holiday mood when you're slip slidin' away without a surf board.

Of course, when we did have a rare, record-breaking white Christmas a couple of years ago it pretty much brought everything to a standstill. On the wet side of the Cascades, that is. Everyone on the east side of the mountains gets their jollies watching us wetsiders maneuver (not!) in the snow and ice.

But those of us living in the temperate regions aren't the only ones feeling a little out of step with the whole white Christmas scenario. Palm trees and tropical breezes are also incongruous with Dickensian carolers wrapped up in mufflers.

Actually, Christmas Day in the Willamette Valley will likely be dry and mild. And green. We get by without the "traditional" white Christmas. After all, our wet winters produce a goodly portion of the world's Christmas trees.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sunday Stills: Pets

This is one of the reasons I refer to Indy as "the Fluffy Puppy." No further explanation required.

"What's with the camera?"

"Enough with the camera. Time for my evening nap."

To see other cherished pets, visit Sunday Stills.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Twilight" Twilight

It's official. I've given up on completing Twilight. I made it to page 276 and never picked it up again. I'm placing it in the donation box for the local library's resale store.

I just could not get involved with the characters. The writing left a lot to be desired (although I've managed to become absorbed by other books with less than stellar writing). And I grew increasingly concerned about the potential unhealthy relationship developing between Bella and Edward.

As someone who is attempting to write young adult (YA) fiction, I try to read what my target audience is reading within my genre (fantasy). Twilight was an obvious choice. However, I couldn't wade through it.

I think my problem was with Bella. I did not find her to be a compelling character. I could find no reason to care about her. J. K. Rowling's writing is less than perfect, and her later books in the Harry Potter series needed much more editing than her publishers thought they could implement. However, she created characters that the reader could care about. I could skim over corny adverbs to find out what happened next to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Bella -- not so much.

As Bella began to spend more time with Edward I saw what were to me red flags that warned of a potentially abusive relationship. The girl with low self-esteem allows herself to be controlled by the boy on whom she has a crush. What begins as flattering interest in her evolves into the boy's total control of every little thing she does, or is not allowed to do. I found the vampire aspect of the novel far less frightening than the potential for emotional abuse.

I'm not into vampire stories, anyway. Stephanie Meyer did not change my mind.

Monday, December 6, 2010


There's a reason it's called horsepower. Anyone who has worked with horses knows and respects their strength.

This morning Phantom was Hoovering hay from the aisle in front of his stall while I groomed him. He would ground tie without much wandering; however, Zorro's dinner bucket secured to the front of the opposite stall is just too tempting. So I usually do a quick release knot to tie Phantom's lead line through a piece of bailing twine at the front of his own stall. Over the years Trainer Julie has witnessed too many nasty incidents related to cross ties and therefore there are none in this barn. Twine is more forgiving should things go awry.

As is the norm with horses, all is peaceful until things explode.

Phantom managed to catch his lead line under the edge of his stall door while munching. When the line didn't give, he panicked and leapt backward. Crash, bang, clatter! Fortunately, I was not in the way of Phantom's attempted flight and Indy was tied up on the inside of the stall. When the dust settled we had a stall door askew, a panting horse, and a blue merle Sheltie that may be a shade grayer now.

Phantom seemed fine, though still a little white-eyed. He stopped immediately upon the release of his lead. Indy was shaking, but he was on the opposite side from all the activity. The door was intact, but the brackets holding the rail on which it slides were goners.

As horse events go, this was a mild one and over quickly. The door was repaired immediately (thanks, Juan!) and no one was hurt. But it was a reminder of how powerful horses are.

There's a reason that the energy produced by our mechanized vehicles is measured by the strength of horses.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sunday Stills: Potluck

Between appointments, errands, and wet weather I forgot about taking photos. And of course when the weather cleared for a gloriously sunny day, I didn't have a camera with me.

However, I did bring my little Kodak EasyShare C360 to the barn to document my saddle for insurance purposes.

Fortunately, this week's challenge was potluck -- Ed left us to our own devices. Just when I was thinking I wouldn't have anything to post, I remembered my saddle photos.

I selected this picture because I like the horse hair and indications of use captured in this shot. (Yeah, yeah...I know. I need to clean and condition my saddle more often.)

Jochen Schleese is not the maker of my dressage saddle; however, he did re-flock it to fit Phantom after I purchased it from my trainer. I had a Schleese jump saddle but sold it when it became apparent that I wouldn't have the finances for lessons and I acknowledged that I no longer had the resilient body required for jumping (horses do on occasion take a dislike to a fence and add flying lessons to the rider's schedule).

Visit Sunday Stills to see how others fulfilled this week's challenge.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sharing a Moment

Friendship is all about sharing moments. A recent Oprah show on couples makeovers reminded me of "The Kilt" episode.

I was at the mall with Karen and her college-age daughter Emily -- Karen and I met through work decades ago, and I've known Emily since she was a gleam in her parents' eyes. Anyway, as we were strolling along we encountered a man wearing a kilt. We all took note but said nothing. After all, this was "keep Portland weird" territory.

Not long afterwards we made a detour down a short hallway to use the restroom. When Emily and I were finished we stepped out into the hallway to await Karen. Who should emerge from the men's restroom opposite us but -- the man in the kilt. He returned to the main mall concourse and as soon as he turned the corner, Emily and I burst into laughter.

The mental image of the gentleman manipulating his kilt at the urinal had us in stitches. No words necessary. Friends sharing the same bizarre thoughts.

Friends are those people with whom you exchange a look and communicate so much without a single word uttered. A single work or phrase can return both of you back to that shared experience, no further explanation necessary.

'Tis the season to cherish those family, friends, and relations with whom we've shared so much.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Self Pics Follow-Up

This is the picture I would have preferred to post in response to last week's Sunday Stills challenge. But it was neither taken by me or with my camera.

My friend Emily was kind enough to pay us a visit to take some family portraits. Afterwards she accompanied me on Indy's afternoon walk. This picturesque bridge is located in a nearby park and made for one of my favorite photos. Please visit Shared Glory Photography to see more of Emily's work. She will be graduating in the spring with a BA in Art. A very talented young lady.

While you're at it -- do visit the blogger self portraits at Sunday Stills. Some very clever shots by shy writers. What fun to see the faces behind the blogs!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sunday Stills: Self Pics

I went to my archives for this one, taken in July with the computer camera. I put Indy in my lap for the photo and this is what I got.

I knew my iMac had a built-in camera, but I didn't pay much attention because I figured I would never use it. A year or more goes by and I realize, "Heh, I've got a camera on this thing. Wonder how I activate it?" So I poked around and discovered I could make videos as well as photos. Why I would want a video of me working at the computer, I don't know. But I did take a few photos that I instantly deleted.

It took the addition of the highly photogenic Fluffy Puppy to get a picture worth keeping.

So this is me with Indy in my loft lair where I dream up fantasy worlds.

Click on the link to check out other members of the Sunday Stills gang.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Our doctor calls my mother "The Bounce Back Kid." I am thankful for my mother's grit and determination that keeps her around and as active as she is.

I am thankful for family and friends.

My mother and I have a nice home and modest means.

I am grateful for the "fur people" who love me no matter what.

The list could go on, but those are the biggies.

It's so easy to grouse about life's irritations, but in the bigger picture -- we're fortunate that we're living in this era. Believe me, I've been researching past historical periods for my stories.

As I write this, the LBBs (little brown birds) are harassing the Stellar's jays that are infringing on their space. Now if the LBBs would locate the feeder I put out this past week, they could be thankful too.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sunday Stills: High Tech/Low Tech

High Tech represented by my laptop computer.
Low Tech represented by pen and paper.

I went for an unusual angle for this photo. Plus, I wanted to eliminate as much of the messy living room from the frame as possible. :-)

And I couldn't resist editing the next photo with a little high tech Photo Shop:

Visit Sunday Stills to see how others handled this week's challenge.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Club

Our most recent read was The Beekeeper's Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. It is the first book of her Mary Russell mystery series -- with Sherlock Holmes as a secondary character.

Regrettably, two of our members have bowed out of regular participation, but we will keep them apprised of our selections and they are welcome to join us whenever they wish. And another of our members is enjoying tropical climes for the next few months. *sigh* But we managed to have a lively discussion among those of us remaining.

I have to say, I'm not a fan of spin-off novels that give continued life to fictional characters or create adventures for now-deceased authors. So before I started The Beekeeper's Apprentice I went back to the original Holmes (I own the single volume complete collection -- doesn't everyone?) to refresh my memory of the brilliant curmudgeon. I reread A Study in Scarlet (shorter than I remembered), "A Scandal in Bohemia" (in which Holmes admires Irene Adler for her mind), "The Final Problem" (Holmes and Moriarity take a "fatal" plunge), and "His Last Bow, An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes" (from which King borrowed Practical Handbook of Bee Culture).

Ms. King coyly uses some Victorian devices throughout the book, including the editor's preface that sets up an old trunk full of Mary Russell's writings and miscellaneous objects. She follows this with an author's note purportedly written by Mary at age 90 in which she explains that her observations of Sherlock Holmes vary from those of Dr. Watson's famous writings. In the author interview included in my copy of the novel, Ms. King states she has revived Holmes as a supporting character to her protagonist, Mary Russell.

In so doing, Ms. King has an explanation of why her Holmes (as Mary Russell knows him) may not exactly match the Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle. Additionally, King's story begins in 1915, the year after "His Last Bow" in which Holmes is an undercover spy who disrupts a German spy ring on English soil. So we might believe that the Holmes of 1880s London has mellowed somewhat since retiring to the South Downs to live the life of a hermit among his bees and studies.

I have to admit I was a bit irritated with the Victorian conventions scattered throughout the book. Today's editors would say get rid of them and move on with the story. But they suit King's story, which pits a very modern Mary Russell (age 15 when the story opens) against the staunchly Victorian Holmes. World War I has forever changed the social landscape, and Mary is an embodiment of those changes.

We had to chuckle at our most recent book selections. Both feature tall, gawky, unmarried women in their late teens who pursue non-traditional lifestyles during World War I.

Melding with the Victorian contrivances was the rich vocabulary of the novel. Words of several syllables and multiple shades that aren't encountered in today's fast reads.

We particularly loved Mary's relationship with a young kidnap victim who displayed symptoms of what we now acknowledge as PTSD. Mary herself experienced a traumatic childhood event and she uses her hard-won wisdom to aid the rescued child through the difficult recovery period.

Holmes is a master of disguise and he instructs Mary in the art of deception. Through much of the book she wears boy's trousers (much more practical than the restrictive fashions of the time) and for most of their adventures she is disguised as a boy. We discussed Mary's self-loathing for her part in the untimely death of her family and her discomfort with her gangly female form. In hiding behind male clothing she was also hiding from herself.

We gave Ms. King credit for staying true to Conan Doyle's Holmes when Mary at last confesses the truth of her family's deadly accident. Holmes is bluntly honest but, like his affection for Watson, he is not put off by the flaws of his blossoming apprentice.

Which brings us to the relationship of tutor and apprentice. King does a masterly job of developing Mary's abilities as a detective as well as displaying Holmes' changing attitude toward the young woman that Mary becomes. Ms. King hints at changes to be further developed in the following books of the series. The chess games used throughout the novel illustrate the growing acuity of Mary's mind as the apprentice becomes the journeyman detective, as well as the evolution of the relationship between Holmes and Mary.

Like The Hearts of Horses, The Beekeeper's Apprentice places the reader in a period when women's roles were still restricted but on the cusp of dramatic change. Both heroines chafe against their expected social roles and we cheer them on.

Our favorite quote from the book: "Palestine, Israel, that most troubled of lands; robbed, raped, ravaged, revered for most of four millennia; beaten and colonised by Sargon's Akkadians in the third millennium B.C.E. and by Allenby's England in the Common Era's second millennium; holy to half the world, a narrow strip of marginally fertile soil whose every inch has felt the feet of conquering soldiers, a barren land whose only wealth lies in the children she had borne. Palestine." A provocative summation in a single sentence.

In a departure from fiction, our next book is Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, a memoir by Rhoda Janzen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sunday Stills: Coffee/Tea Cups

I begin each day with coffee from my Willamette Writers cup:

Taken before I added nonfat half & half.

Here's an artsy, PhotoShopped view:

To see how others partake of tea or coffee, visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, November 12, 2010

40th Anniversary

Yep, that's right. It's the 40th anniversary of the exploding whale. If you're not aware of this story -- where have you been?!

A very young Paul Linnman was sent to the Oregon coast to cover the story of a dead beached whale and the decision to blow it up into small pieces for sea gulls to eat and clean up. Because Oregon's beaches are considered public byways, the Highway Division was charged with removing the whale from the beach so it wouldn't become a public hazard. Although it sounded like a ho hum story, you know how guys are about explosions. So KATU (Portland's ABC affiliate) sent a young up-and-coming reporter and equally youthful cameraman to film and report on the story.

Little did those involved realize that the exploding whale would become a media sensation.

That dead whale was blown to smithereens, alright. Those who came to watch were sprayed with a fine mist of blood and blubber before the large chunks of blubber, some half the size of a car, descended upon them. Onlookers ran in all directions to avoid the onslaught. Car roofs were smashed and the beach was littered with the remains of the whale.

The story that was entertaining at the time has been revived periodically and spread world wide. Paul Linnman still receives requests to be interviewed about the exploding whale.

Click on the link to watch the 40-year-old story. It's still a hoot!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unsafe at Any Age?

Remember Unsafe at Any Speed? The book that condemned the Chevy Corvair as a deathtrap -- written back in the day when people didn't want nanny governments telling them they needed to buckle up.

Portland recently experienced a tragic traffic accident where an older driver (70+) hit two pedestrians, one a father pushing a stroller (pictured above) containing his toddler. The child stopped breathing at the site but was revived by two nurses who happened upon the accident. The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with police. Sadly, the child did not survive and Portlanders are saddened by the toddler's death.

Since the driver was "older" there has been the usual outcry that "old people" should automatically have their licenses revoked. Some think regular written and driven exams should be required for "elder" drivers to be re-licensed. No one seems to agree on the definition of "old."

Personally, my life has been endangered way more often by people under 65. Teenagers with their immature pre-frontal lobes, multi-tasking "soccer moms," men in the midst of their mid-life crisis, etc. Just walking the dog every day I observe suburbanites in their 30s-50s ignoring stop signs, cutting corners, and speeding through neighborhoods full of children and pets.

The point being -- it isn't just older drivers who pose a danger on the roads.

Sure, our reflexes slow with age. Our senses take a hit. Can't see as well at night, can't tell from which direction the sound of the siren is coming, and so forth. But I also observe that other (younger) drivers create situations that startle older drivers who may be slow to react. Tailgating, jockeying through traffic, cutting off other drivers, failure to turn on headlights in inclement weather, and on and on.

So is an alert and defensive driver of 65 with a stellar driving record more dangerous than an 18-year-old pumped up on hormones? More dangerous than the businessman fussing with paperwork on the passenger seat? The mother who keeps checking out her child in the back seat? The middle-aged man in the red muscle car?

Statistics indicate the very young and very old drivers cause the most accidents. But it only takes a fraction of one inattentive second by any driver or pedestrian for the worst to happen.

If we are going to crack down on older drivers to assure that they are safe, then we also need to make sure that they have readily available safe and affordable transportation when their licenses are revoked. I'm very fortunate that I'm in a position to drive my mother to all of her medical appointments and on her errands. I don't know who is going to chauffeur me when the time comes.

The hearts of Portlanders go out to everyone involved in the above accident. I can't imagine how the parents and family of the child are coping.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dumbing Down

So I'm doing some online research using Google to ask "How does ____?" Some of the links take me to blogs and discussion boards where individuals post their suggested answers.

Now, I don't know if these stellar examples of American usage of English reflect a lack of proofreading or a lack of knowledge. But in either case, they are pretty sad.

"there" used in place of "they're"
"witch" used in place of "which"
"hey" used in place of "hay"

The really amusing thing is, the fellow who used "there" instead of "they're" was calling someone else a dumb@#%.

I see similar mangling of the English language in the comments posted on the web pages of our local newspaper and television stations. Not only are these comments generally snarky and insulting, but they also reveal a lot of folks were snoozing during their English classes.

The above examples are the reason I get a chuckle every time someone recommends we adopt English as our official language. You understand, of course, that the suggestion is aimed at hispanic immigrants. But I find it amusing that the very people who demand that English become our official language don't use it correctly either!

So before we change all the signs in Chinatown to English, remove all Italian words from menus, and boycott Volkswagens & BMWs -- maybe a large portion of the populace needs to revisit their English classes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Inventing a Game

So...I am once again off on a tangent with my writing. I hit a rough spot in Water Tribute and while I let a solution percolate, I've been doing research and development on The Adventure of the Blood Stone. I had a chance to run my idea for this YA fantasy novel past Emily, my First Reader. She seemed to like the characters, setting, and situation.

I refuse to use dragons, vampires, or zombies in my novels. Dragons have been way overdone and I suspect vampires are quickly approaching saturation. However, as the agents and editors say, when a good dragon or vampire story comes along they'll buy it. I will not be the one to write it.

I have been mulling over a different mythological creature for a feature role in one of my stories. One rarely used in fantasy novels, and one that has potential for one heck of a fun game.

Which sent me online to research mounted games.

I'm not sure how Jo Rowling went about creating quidditch. I don't know if they play dodge ball in Great Britain, but quidditch has all the earmarks of hockey, keep away, and dodgeball -- on flying broomsticks.

I began my research with polo, but polocrosse better suits my story. It's already a combination of two sports (polo and lacrosse) created in Australia.

Then I discovered pato, a mounted game from Argentina (also known as horseball). I've got to work it into my invented game!

Most mounted games had their origins as methods to teach and maintain battle skills. I hope to use the game to reveal character, create tension between characters, and foreshadow a pivotal scene later in the story.

Some time ago I discovered Patricia C. Wrede's world building questions at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America web site. The questions work whether creating a sf/f world from scratch or recreating a historical setting. Under the "Arts and Entertainment" section she asks "What sports or pastimes are common?"

So here I am, wondering how quidditch was birthed, and attempting to devise my own rock 'em, sock 'em game.

How much fun is fiction?!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sunday Stills: Halloween

This scary Halloween sign appeared in our neighborhood:

I found this guy at the barn:

And this simple display is in the adjacent neighborhood:

To see more Halloween photos, visit Sunday Stills.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Internet Anonymity

Heaven knows why I signed up to post comments on the websites for our local newspaper and one of our TV network affiliates. I stupidly believed there might be some intelligent exchange about current events. An opportunity to clarify points or seek other viewpoints.

Instead, I've been saddened by the mean spirited tone of the majority of comments posted on these two sites.

Because the posts are anonymous, people believe they can insult and defame the subjects of the news story, the reporter who wrote the story, and everyone who posted an opinion contrary to their own.

Their posts also display poor grammar and even worse spelling.

And some show a frightening need for mental health intervention.

Sadly, too many of the comments parrot sound bites that offer simple solutions to extremely complicated issues. They blame the world's problems on the scapegoat du jour. Any attempt to address the complexity of the topic or situation is met with potty-mouth speculation about the author's parentage.

These commenters don't want to be educated about the subject. They only want to express their anger and frustration and, in the process, reveal their ignorance. They are the folks who've made up their minds and don't you dare confuse them with the facts.

With the anonymity offered by the Internet, these folks feel free to bully anyone and everyone who can think for her- or himself.

Too bad.

The commentary forums at news media web sites could be a place to intelligently exchange opinions and information about the subject matter. Instead, they are the soap box for small minds.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Stills: Fall Foliage

Grab the camera, leash, and dog to head out on one of our last glorious fall days to capture autumn colors.

Right now we're being doused with a series of very juicy, very windy storms. Seems that we're going to have to give in to the calendar.

To see gorgeous fall colors from elsewhere, visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Club Discussion

The October selection for our neighborhood book club was mine to recommend, so I suggested The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss. I had it on my bookshelf to read, it had received good reviews, there were adequate copies available in the library system, and none of us had read it before.

Martha Lesson arrives in fictional Elwha County, Oregon, during the winter of 1917. At nineteen she's left her home in Pendleton intending to become a horse gentler for ranches in the region. World War I is raging in Europe and young men are beginning to leave their ranching and farming jobs for the war. Martha is a shy, big-boned girl who is more comfortable in her batwing chaps and wide-brimmed hat than she is in a dress. She is one of many girls in that era who traveled from ranch to ranch to break horses in a quieter, gentler manner than the customary spirit-breaking bucking style practiced by most men.

Martha is hired on by George and Louise Bliss who recommend her to their neighbors. Soon Martha is gentling horses for several folks in the county. Once all the horses are trustworthy under the saddle she begins riding them on a circuit to finish their training. Martha would ride one horse and pony (lead) a second horse from one client's place to the next client's ranch. There she would change horses and move on to the next ranch with the second set of horses. She repeated this at each location until she was back at the Bliss ranch. To "sack out" the horses she tied fluttering and noisy objects to the saddles so the horses would become accustomed to strange sights and sounds.

As Martha makes her rounds the reader meets and becomes acquainted with several of the Elwha county families. Martha quietly becomes a part of the community, and the reader becomes invested in the lives of her friends and clients.

The beginning of novel establishes the setting and reveals Martha's character by describing her training methods. I was familiar with the terminology and practices, but realized the rest of the book club members might not know what a bosal, McClellan saddle, or fetlock were. So I brought some of my horse books to our discussion to provide illustrations. I'm afraid I may have spent too much time on a subject dear to my heart (horses) but, after all, horses and Martha's training methods were a major aspect of the book.

We all agreed that the story took off when Martha began riding the circuit with the green-broke horses. She was the link between the characters with whom we became attached. And the characters were compelling indeed as they battled the landscape, weather, accidents, illnesses, and the modernization of society.

One of the more heart wrenching stories was that of Tom Kandel's battle with cancer. Tom and Ruth's experience with his illness was portrayed so poignantly that we all admitted to needing tissues at its conclusion.

We learned a lot about the era that was still fairly innocent before World War I changed things forever. Cattlemen plowed under their grazing acreage to grow crops needed for the war effort in Europe. The altered landscape would later contribute to the Dust Bowl tragedy. Young men volunteered for the armed services with great patriotism only to die ignobly of dysentery in muddy trenches or return home with missing limbs or spirits broken by shell shock. We were reminded that anything and anyone with German connections became suspect during the war. Long-time friends were shunned by the community because they or their parents had emigrated from Germany. And we learned that millions of horses died in World War I.

The ending of the book intrigued us. An elderly Martha tells her granddaughter: "You know, honey, I guess we brought about the end of our cowboy dreams ourselves." Then Martha thought: "Here I am in my old age and just at the beginning of figuring out what that means, or what to do about it." We pretty much agreed that we imagined Martha as a white-haired environmental advocate.

In summary, we decided the book was a wonderful illustration that it takes all kinds to make a community. Good hearted people as well as undesirable neighbors. And Martha was the link that joined them all together in The Hearts of Horses.

The Hearts of Horses was a dramatic contrast to the roller coaster thriller with which we started our book club (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). But the pace of the book was appropriate to the setting and period in which the story was set. Ms. Gloss wrote from an omniscient third person viewpoint and on many occasions jumped from one character's viewpoint to another's within the same scene. I felt she could have done a little more showing and less telling on several occasions. But I willingly overlooked the minor irritants to become engrossed in the place, time, and characters. Not to mention the horses with their own individual quirks

Monday, October 18, 2010

Northwest Author Series: Susan Fletcher

Creating Fictional Worlds:
The Strange, Exotic or Unfamiliar

Susan Fletcher is the author of Alphabet of Dreams (2007 Oregon Book Award), Shadow Spinner, Walk Across the Sea, and the Dragon Chronicles series, of which Ancient, Strange, and Lovely was just released. She is a repeat speaker for the Northwest Author Series, and frequent workshop presenter at the Willamette Writers Conference.

Ms. Fletcher writes historical and fantasy novels for young adults, both of which require the creation of (add rimshot here) strange, exotic, or unfamiliar settings. When creating historical settings, she does extensive research to get the period right. However, to allow present day readers to cross the boundary into the past, the author must rely on her imagination to describe what it would be like to actually be present at that time and place. Similarly, when creating a magical and weird setting for a fantasy novel, a touch of reality makes it more accessible to the reader.

So -- when recreating a historical setting where horses were the primary means of transportation, consider the amount of manure all those horses would leave behind and the associated flies and odor. A sensory detail one doesn't get from the lovely images of a Merchant Ivory film.

When creating a whole new fantasy world, use real world settings that can be loosely translated into the mystical setting to provide the sensory details that will draw in the reader. For example, turning the regimens and traditions of real English public schools into Hogwarts.

To help the author develop the feeling of the historic or imaginary setting, Ms. Fletcher suggests using pictures, music, and maps. Whether the pictures are found in a travel book, a calendar, or an issue of National Geographic -- they can help the author create the atmosphere for the story. Similarly, music can inspire the mood and feeling of the period or location. Ms. Fletcher makes a playlist for her iPod and suggests movie soundtracks as an excellent source of music written to establish mood and setting. Maps assist the author in creating realistic terrain for a fantasy world or establish the genuine topography of an historical setting.

Ms. Fletcher conducts research for both historical and fantasy worlds using online search engines, libraries, book stores, reference librarians, and friends and family. She also opens herself to serendipity and enjoys prowling the library stacks as well as used book stores. One never knows what tidbit will be uncovered and perhaps change the whole direction of the story. Ms. Fletcher also suggests using experts to fill in knowledge gaps or to verify accuracy. She recommends contacting the expert after much of the research and/or writing has been done so as not to waste his or her time. Depending on the situation, you may ask the expert to review a specific scene, your entire manuscript, or request a demonstration of the activity required for a scene.

If possible, a visit to the location of your historical novel (or a setting similar to the world of your fantasy story) can expose the author to sensory details that one just can't get from a book. Ms. Fletcher went to Oregon Caves National Park and a lava tube in central Oregon to research cave dwellings for her dragons. She also had the opportunity to visit Iran to experience the setting for Alphabet of Dreams.

Of course, one of the problems of doing all this research to create a realistic setting for your novel is the desire to use it all. After all, we will find so many cool details that we want to share with the reader. Fantasy novels have the additional burden of describing a fantastical new world to the reader. This can all lead to the dreaded "Expository Lump." Also known as the "Information Dump."

There's nothing like lengthy paragraphs of detailed exposition to put a reader to sleep.

Instead, Ms. Fletcher advices we "grind it fine." Insert the details about the story world in small doses -- as needed for the reader to grasp the scene. Hook the reader first, then once he or she wants to know more about your interesting character and unfamiliar location you can insert the details a bit at a time. Exposition still may be needed, but you might be able to keep it brief and less frequent.

Consider inserting the gems of data in the midst of action. Keep your characters busy doing things typical of the time and place they occupy. It will make scenes more interesting and convey details about the world in which your characters live.

Imbed the information in the character's emotions. Take advantage of the character's (and reader's) curiosity. Change the reader's mind as the character learns more and amends his or her feelings. Filter the world you've created through the point of view character.

In summary, Ms. Fletcher advised us that the author can assist the reader in crossing the boundary into the imaginary world of our novel (historical or fantastic) by using action, emotion, and sensory detail.

By the way, Ms. Fletcher is currently researching Renaissance Venice and would be delighted to hear from experts on the subject as well as referrals to reference materials. She's following her own advice by letting others know what she's working on. :-)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sunday Stills: Cars

Comin' and Goin' on I-5
The car in the foreground is on a road that parallels I-5, so I was able to capture vehicles going every which way.

White Car and Red Leaves
I wasn't too happy with the majority of pictures I captured of traffic on I-5. Then on the walk back home with Indy I come across this scene. A few adjustments with Photoshop and ta da!

See how others met this week's challenge at Sunday Stills.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Biggest Sporting Event You Never Heard Of

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) are now history. Conducted at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, it was the first time that WEG has been held in the United States. In Europe, WEG is considered a major sporting event.

If you're not a horse person, this is probably news to you.

Like other "orphan sports," television coverage of equestrian competitions outside of racing is rare and difficult to locate. If you don't have cable or satellite TV, or even if you do but haven't paid extra for the horse-related channels, you get to view equestrian sports every four years during the Summer Olympics. It's not unlike being an avid fencer, yet a little less humiliating than being a curler (the butt of Winter Olympic jokes).

NBC squeezed in coverage of WEG between golf and football, and the Universal Sports Station offered additional free coverage plus more hours of live feed for those who subscribed to the service. Better broadcast coverage than the networks generally provide, but very scant for some of the events that might have interested the general viewership.

Reining, the cross country phase of eventing, and show jumping garnered the most coverage. NBC/Universal deigned to broadcast the top three dressage freestyle rides. Universal Sports did a live broadcast of the Top Four show jumpers -- a nail biter and display of the type of sportsmanship horse folks take for granted. But vaulting, combined driving, and para-dressage received cursory coverage at best.

I can appreciate that cross country as the same appeal to the general audience as grand prix and NASCAR racing. Viewers watch primarily for the inevitable crash. And reining is an American sport conducted in recognizable western wear with exciting spins, slides, and rollbacks. Show jumping is easy to understand -- jump higher and faster without knocking down anything.

However, I think the para-dressage riders would have offered inspiring human-interest stories as well as an appreciation for their phenomenal equestrian accomplishments.

NBC really dropped the ball on vaulting. It combines horses, Olympic-style gymnastics, and glittery apparel. Pretty girls and handsome guys demonstrating grace and athleticism. Think it's tough vaulting off a stationary horse in the Summer Olympics? Try a large warmblood at a canter!

If you find the cross country phase of eventing thrilling -- consider the excitement of driving four horses around and through obstacles! The spit and polish turnout of the dressage phase, the challenge of cross country, and the precision of the arena obstacle course -- combined driving has the potential to absorb the general viewer.

Sadly, it wasn't to be.

During WEG, I flipped through the sports section of the morning paper seeking any reference to WEG. As expected -- nothing. Not even a mention of the local rider who was long-listed to compete.


Yeah, yeah. I know. It's all about money. Beer, cola, snack food, and Viagra ads. Rolex, Ariat, and Cosequin can't compete against Old Spice.

So we equestrian-sports enthusiasts commiserate with curlers, badminton aficionados, fencers, and all the other followers of "orphan sports" while we grumble about the coverage (or lack thereof for the women) afforded beach volleyball.

Hey! Equestrians wear Spandex, too!