Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's In A Name?

Is there anyone out there who has never had to name a child, a pet, or some thing (hey, I know someone who names her computers, so…)?

For me, finding the right name for a character can be a challenge something like finding a wayward comma in a ten-thousand page manuscript. A name has to sound right, feel appropriate, work (whatever that means) for the character that I am sculpting. Sometimes a name works because of the meaning that it holds. That’s why I’ll often search out the meaning behind a name that I am considering.

To give you an idea of meanings behind names, here are a few examples taken ever so shamelessly from my novels:

Dylan means “like a lion” or “loyal.”

Lyon also means “lion.” [This isn’t much of a shocker.]

Sarah means “princess.” [I bow to all of you named Sarah.]

Tucker means “garment maker.” [How funny is this? ]

Philomena is Greek and means “friend of strength.”

Michael means “who resembles God.” [I have friends named Michael and I must say … no, never mind.]

Charles means “free man.”

Thomas means “twin.” [I would have bet money on Thomas meaning doubter or some such.]

Kind of interesting, right? If you agree, try an Internet search for the meaning of your favorite names.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Cynthia means “woman from Mount Kynthos.” B-o-r-i-n-g. Except that Kynthia was another name for Artemis, the goddess of the moon, a woman born on Mount Kynthos. Close enough. ; )

Monday, February 22, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction?

Sometimes life really is stranger than fiction, which makes me wonder if anyone would believe:

That the barista at a Starbucks I visited the other day laughed exactly like Pee-wee Herman. Even now I’m not sure if she was kidding around or if she really does laugh like Pee-wee. Enough said.

That a guy I once worked with really did return to the office after lunch with pigeon poop in his hair--almost every day of the week. Seriously. He kept shampoo in his desk drawer. This, I suppose, shouldn’t be surprising.

That while a friend of mine was waiting for a train, with her (sadly) deceased doggie in a suitcase (she lived in NYC and wanted to bury her beloved pup behind her parent’s house in Connecticut), some guy actually stole the suitcase and ran off. No joke.

That Clyde, a beloved cat in my family when I was growing up, used a toilet instead of a litter box. For the record: No one ever admitted to teaching kitty this trick. And really, how would anyone teach this to a cat? Please don’t email me about this if you actually know the answer.

That a promotion for Viagra was sent from my email account to EVERYONE in my address book. Without my consent, which I really hope is obvious. And, apparently, with my endorsement. Sometimes words are not enough.

I sometimes consider including such bits of real life in my writing. But then I wonder: Would anyone believe? Really?

Happy Monday.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Bad Day…

A bad day might begin with a coffee maker that gurgles and sputters and then spews boiling water all over the counter and floor, while brewing nothing. On a rotten day, this happens only minutes before an author needs to hit the road to drive to an early morning presentation.

A bad day might also include a cat throwing up on an author’s presentation, as well as on a batch of shiny, new bookmarks for both BUCK FEVER and DOG GONE. At least kitty doesn't read novels, so the hurl couldn’t possible be any sort of critical review… Right?

A bad day could get more frustrating if an author returns home to another mail delivery without an expected check or missing in action, overdue, important documents. On an especially cruddy day, an author might even think that mail consistently not being delivered to its destination is a wee bit funny, as in suspicious. Said author might wonder, briefly, if some mail delivery people have deep-seated issues with authors of novels for young readers.

A bad day might also include a manuscript that won’t play nice, revisions that refuse to gel, and a crashing computer or uncooperative copier. That’s about when the bad day turns into the “&*%@#”! day. That’s about when an author might drink tea (because there is no coffee) out of an Eeyore mug while relating to the wisdom and insights of a certain curmudgeonly donkey.

Happily, though, bad days end. Sometimes, they even lead to better days.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cabin Fever

It's mid-winter. Are you stuck inside too much? Is this starting to get really old? Are you experiencing one or more of the following symptoms? If so, you may be suffering from Cabin Fever.

Symptom number one: Your pets start to give you editorial advice and you’re pretty sure that they are speaking English. Even worse, though: Their suggestions are not half bad.

Symptom number two: You take time out of your very busy writing day to dig through the snow in the back yard to see if the grass underneath it is still a putrid, brownish-yellow. You are hoping, against all odds, for even one blade of something slightly green.

Symptom number three: You openly weep when the weather person uses a certain four-letter word. Again. S-n-o-w.

Symptom number four: You keep cracking open windows in your office just to hear outside sounds, like birds chirping, even thought the wind chill is twenty below zero. The gusts whipping within the office make typing sort of difficult.

Symptom number five: You swear that next year you WILL hibernate right after your Thanksgiving day dinner, deadlines or no deadlines. You never get enough sleep anyway. And really, you ate enough at Thanksgiving to last you until April.

Yes, it is mid-winter. For many, that means snarly weather (hello, snow) when being outside for more than five minutes is simply too unpleasant for words. Don’t lose hope: Spring is just around the corner.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How to Make the Most of a Big Snow (or use it as a big excuse)

A few thoughts on how to make the most of a big, fat snowstorm—meaning how to use it to score yourself some free time.

To begin with, always remember that lots of snow gives you a reason to skip errands. Hey, if you can’t get out of the driveway, you can’t get to the store, right? Heh, heh.

After that: Why not put off some of the household cleaning? I mean, what’s the point of breaking out that vacuum and mop if everyone (including the dog) keeps tracking in dirty snow, salt, and that assorted crumbly, non-definable stuff that falls off of boots? Don’t worry: it will all be there days later. Believe me.

Next: Why not use the over-abundance of accumulated flakes as a good reason to skip out on work, appointments, gym visits, and other stuff that gobbles up too much time. And you can do this guilt free, too, since offices and businesses and gyms tend to close if enough of the white stuff falls. Especially if people stop showing up for their appointments and reservations. Hint-hint.

Finally: Why waste time with excessive primping when the snow has been falling all night? Give the blow-dryer a day off, break out those old, comfy jeans (with the holes where?) and/or that shapeless sweater. Snuggle up with those clothes that should never go out in public again, but that still take up a special place in your heart and space at the bottom of some drawer.

Now, what to do with all of this yummy extra time? Ahh, there’s the real fun: I recommend hot chocolate, tea, or coffee (your choice) and a novel—whether writing it or reading it. Mmmmmm. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What to Read Next...

Okay all you readers out there: How do you decide which book to read when you are ready to dive into a new novel? If you are like me (and I suspect that you are, by the way), you probably have at least one shelf, pile, or list of “to read” books. And if you are like me, you probably have a hard time deciding which book to grab next.

I usually go for a book that is highly recommended first. Especially if the person recommending the novel gets wide-eyed and blathers something along the lines of “OMG, you have GOT to read this book immediately. It is the absolute best. I couldn’t put it down…” How does anyone turn away from that level of enthusiasm? How could a novel that comes with this kind of energy disappoint? Okay, there are a million ways that it could disappoint, but never mind that. Let's stay positive here.

If no one is drooling on the cover of a particular book, and I’m perusing solo, I will lean toward an award-winner. Writer me wants to know what makes a novel special enough to earn a bright and shiny cover sticker. As with recommended books, I am rarely disappointed by award winners. This probably makes me sheep-like (as in following the herd), but I’m fine with that.

Next, I’ll turn to reviews for guidance. Not necessarily “professional” reviews. I’d rather check out what people on have to say about a novel that I’m considering picking up. The opinions of other writers, teachers, librarians, and avid readers often sway me.

So, how do you decide which book to pick up? Am I missing some tried and true method of finding the next great read? Do tell!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Puppy Love

Anyone who has read DOG GONE has probably figured out that I love dogs. At least I hope this is obvious.

Anyway, the other day, I was settled in my favorite bookstore café, working on a new novel, totally immersed in my writing. Until this beautiful black Labrador Retriever and her person came strolling down an aisle beside me. Like most labs, this girl was grinning with her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, loving life. Adorable. The bright yellow doggie vest draped over her back announced that she was in training, which explained why she was allowed to be in the bookstore.

Like most Labradors that I know, the minute this dog caught me grinning like an idiot at her, she trotted toward me, tail wagging in overdrive. Guess who was no longer interested in her work in progress.

Thankfully, the very, very nice lady handler introduced Ms. Lovable Black Lab as Maggie, and gave me permission to pet Maggie. As it turns out, Maggie is part of a program called Puppies Behind Bars. She is being raised and trained by an inmate to be an explosive detection dog for law enforcement. Puppies Behind Bars also trains inmates to raise pups to become service dogs for the disabled, including veterans. On certain days, volunteers such as the very, very nice lady handler, take the dogs out into the world for extended training beyond what the inmates can do, given their incarceration. As I’m sure you can imagine, both the dogs and the inmates benefit from this program. Be still my heart.

If you love dogs, or just want to check out a really heart-warming website and organization, take a peek: www.puppiesbehindbars

Now, that's puppy love. : )

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dreamy Plots

I recently read about an author who said that his story arrived in a dream. Wow. Is it me, or is this amazing? This is not the first time that I’ve read or heard of a plot for a novel arriving, in total, via a dream. I suppose about the only thing that would stun me more is if a full-grown plot arrived on a writer’s doorstep, already typed and copyedited.

At this point I’d like to say, for the record, that I enjoy the process of spending months digging for a story, mining for the pieces to put together one at a time until they form a kind of chain that hopefully resembles a plot. Really, I do. Believe it or not, blood, sweat and tears works for me. If I didn’t love a hearty challenge, I wouldn’t write. Still, I can’t help wondering if I’m missing something.

Is there some sort of Santa-esque naughty-nice thing going on where the universe rewards certain writers who have been extra special, extra good? Or, is there something writers should do before sliding between the sheets to coax the Sandman into sprinkling the kind of magical sand that brings on spectacular plots in full? Shoot, I’d give that a go. Even if I didn’t wake up in love with the plot that came to me, it would probably beat the same ‘ol blah-blah-blah dreams every night. Don’t you agree?

Okay, tonight I’m going to leave a pad of paper and pen under my pillow. Or maybe my laptop. Hey, you never know.