Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Can I Get a Re-Do?

Hope everyone had a nice relaxing Memorial Day Weekend! I would have if it weren't for an uninvited visitor named ISAAC. I hate rude visitors. Hmph!

Before Isaac blew into the Gulf, I was all set to start revising my new novel based on some awesome feedback from my agent's amazing assistant. But as they say, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." Actually, hurricanes are what happen when you're making other plans. ;) Instead of having five days over two weekends where I'd be free to brainstorm and type my fingers to nubs, I worked them to the bone prepping the house for the storm, and then cleaning up after it.

Now, I was one of the lucky ones who had a generator, so while I technically could have gotten some writing done, I was a leetle-beet preoccupied. You know, watching the bathroom ceiling come down and picking up shingles and debris from my yard. Normal hurricane stuff. In fact, we were lucky we were there to move all the stuff out of the bathroom and two adjacent rooms (still in boxes from our recent move) before the leaks got too serious. I live right near the Mississippi River, so no worry about flooding, but the wind that came from that direction tore the shingles off a good quarter of the roof, and blew one of our 8x8 wooden fence gates right off the hinges. Makes me glad I'm only renting, lol!

Now I'm back to work and busier than ever, and I can't help but think of how much work the me that lives in a alternate reality where Isaac petered out over Florida got done over Memorial Day Weekend. Lucky girl!

But dwelling on alternate reality me's amazing luck will get me nowhere. I've really got to put some solid work into this manuscript over the next two weeks if I want to get everything done in time to get it to my crit group later this month as promised. Which is fine, I guess, since I won't be tempted to finishing unpacking, anyway. I guess there's a silver lining, after all!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Soulless... In a Theater Near You?

Ack! I know I haven't been posting and I'm sorry, but I had to share this awesome news from Publisher's Marketplace:

NYT bestselling author Gail Carriger's SOULLESS, a humorous Jane Austen-style steampunk fantasy about an avowed spinster who, being soulless, can negate supernatural ability and is thus shunned by London's society vampires until one rudely attacks her, upsetting the social balance and revealing a dark cult, to Parallel Films with screenwriter Ted Elliot (Pirates of The Caribbean and Shrek) attached, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency, Michael Cendejas of Lynn Pleshette Agency, and Wayne Alexander of ANLF.

That's right, folks! Film rights to SOULLESS have been sold! For reals! I loved this book and can't wait to hear more about a film adaptation. I know that doesn't guarantee it'll be made into a movie, but with a screenwriter attached, that's a good sign. I just hope the movie can match the amazing imagery in my head! ;)

Anyone else love this book, or am I the only one? I kind of have a bit of an author-crush on Gail Carriger, to be quite honest. I mean, who wouldn't after reading this author bio?:

Ms. Carriger writes steampunk urbane fantasy comedies of manners to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She now resides in the Colonies, surrounded by a harem of shoes, where she insists on tea imported directly from London and cats that pee into toilets. She is fond of teeny tiny hats and tropical fruit. Her Parasol Protectorate books are all New York Times Bestsellers.

Yay! I can't wait!

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Ain't Got it Right...

But I got it written! Yes, folks, I have finished my rough draft of SKIN! (synopsis pending)

It was a slippery sucker—the ending kept changing on me, the theme just wouldn't cooperate, and the main character kept hounding me to wrap things up. But I pulled most of my loose ends together, sat my butt on the couch with headphones in, and tapped laptop keys with a vengeance until I had an ending!

I'm never happy with my first ending, so it'll probably change, but that's just the denouement. My final conflict is completely wrapped up in a way that satisfies me (for now), and I'm sensing the emergence of a theme. All in all, I'm excited to get back to work on it. But not just yet.

Now that I'm finished, I'm going to try to relax, crit a few manuscript I've been promising to do for weeks, read some books (got any recommendations?)... and do a hell of a lot more research before I get to editing.

I know that if I try to jump back in and start editing now, my eyes will just skip over the words, too familiar with them to see what changes they need. Like when my husband gets in the car and looks in the rear view, and asks me why I didn't tell him he needs a haircut. I'm just too close to see the changes, or what to do to make things better.

I'll probably only wait a week or two with this manuscript, then start editing. But this one is shorter than the last novel I had on submission by about 30,000 words, and I made myself do fewer full read-throughs while I was drafting, so I'm not as familiar with the text as I will be on the third or fourth draft. *sigh* I've got a lot of work ahead of me, so I'm going to enjoy it.

How long do you all let your first drafts simmer? Does that vary? I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Endings are HARD!!1!

I'm actually closing in on finishing my final conflict (for serious this time), which explains why I haven't posted in nearly a month!

Except to tell the truth, I haven't done much actual TYPING lately. *ducks tomatoes*

I've still been working, I swear!! I've been brainstorming up a storm over here!

Endings are HARD. I want everything to wrap up neatly—poetically, even—so I need some time to think about it. I mean, I barely thought of how it was going to end the entire time I was drafting. It's strange having to decide what happens at the end while you're actually writing it. My plotter tendencies have always saved me from having to do this in the past: usually I'm writing toward an ending that I've more or less plotted to death while I'm writing the rest on the novel.

Now this method has its advantages: easier to lay in things like foreshadowing and subtle reinforcements of theme. While writing the current WIP, theme has honestly been the last thing on my mind, so I'll have to go back now that I've figured it out. But I'll have to be careful I'm not being too heavy-handed and preachy. Ugh.

Of course, not knowing the ending has its advantages, too. I want to know how it ends so badly that I'm writing much faster than usual. It was only three months ago that I came back from my vacation in Puerto Rico and sent my first few chapters in to my agent's assistant. Crazy, I know, I can't believe it either! I know some people could have written three times as much as I did in three months, but I'm very happy with my progress.

Do you have an inkling of your ending before you start? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tell the Truth Tuesday: Great Moments in D'Oh!

A funny thing happens with my brain sometimes. It manages to think of the most inappropriate things first. It's a blessing and a curse, really.

Like when I'm drafting my WIP, and I need to think of a good name for a Storyville bordello. No, I say to myself, there's no time to think of a good name, the perfect name. Just throw something lame in there as a stand-in, a temporary place holder.

Okay, myself says to I. Will do!

The name that spurts from my lazy-ass brain to my fingertips to the keys: The Spotted Cat. A great name for a nightclub. Not the best name for a whorehouse. Ew.

This has been your daily dose of D'Oh! You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Psuedo-Plotting

I'm stuck.

I've been pantsing like mad to the main conflict, but now that I'm here, I have no idea how to resolve it. *sigh*

What do you pantsers do in this situation? Sit and wait for inspiration to strike? I'm going to have to do some major notebook plotting/brainstorming at this point, but I'm surprised at how stuck I am.

Here's the thing—I usually have some idea of how the final conflict is going to happen before I start writing, which is what I write toward. It also means that I am thinking of how to resolve that conflict while I am writing the rest of the book, so by the time I get to that point, I know exactly what to do and how. Which can come sometimes lead to the plot and characters seeming contrived. And no one wants that.

Writing with minimal plotting, on the other hand, has helped me to develop more depth in my characters. Instead of doing what I say to lead the plot from point A to point Z, they are basically doing whatever they want most, since I'm not getting in the way of their motivations. I've come to realize I need to strike a balance between plotting and pantsing, but maybe a tiny bit more plotting would be good. :)

Lest ye think I've been sailing without a compass, rudder or sails, I HAVE been using a Nine-Step Plotting method that I read about a few years about in a QueryTracker blog post. It's more or less like separating the parts into three acts, then three acts within those three acts, and provides enough of a vague outline that it keeps the action moving forward, but you don't have to plan actual events to plug into the steps, you can simply write toward them. You can write it in a list, or keep it in a cube! You can write out a long description or just the headings to remind you. It's very versatile!

1. Triggering Event

This is the inciting incident, the moment that sets the story into momentum. While this can be an event that happens in the past, even long before the birth of the main characters, it's best if the inciting incident is on page one.

2. Characterization

Here is where we get to know the main characters. No, no, no, not through use of infodumps and/or telling backstory. Because you've set up the inciting incident on page one, the reader will be able to enjoy getting to know your characters through their actions, in the way they react to step one.

3. First Major Turning Point

Often called the "key moment", this is when your protagonist reveals to the reader how invested he or she is in resolving the conflict. But more should happen at this stage than just the protagonist's decision. It's not just chance that Box 3 touches Box 6 below it: Box 3 may introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the events in Box 6.

4. Exposition

More cube-fun-goodness! This box should be meaty, juicy, and raise as many questions as it answers. It should also relate to points both before and after it within the manuscript. Relating to Box 1, here's where you delve into the incidents surrounding the triggering event. In relation to Box 7, you should use this part of the novel to foreshadow your protagonist's "darkest hour". Box 4 should "reveal a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that contributes to the dark times ahead."

5. Connect the Dots

No sagging middles here! In order to support its own weight, Box 5 must connect to all the boxes around it. Box 5 should refer back to elements introduced in Boxes 2 and 4, giving the impression that the mc will win the day... until they get to Box 6. Mwah-hah-hah! But the most important relationship Box 5 has is with Box 8. No one is going to believe the revelation the protag has in 8 to save the day unless it is hinted at, foreshadowed, in the middle.

6. Negative Turning Point 

I call this one, simply, All Hell Breaks Loose. Reference what you've done in Box 3 to intensify the conflict, and keep your focus. Notice what box sits below this one? Pretend it doesn't exist for now and put your characters through HELL!

7. Antagonist Wins

At least, the antagonist takes the advantage, let's say. Now, the protagonist must react to this defeat. How they keep their hero-cool in the face of certain doom depends upon the characterization you've established in the above Box 4. And how this leads them to the events of Box 8.

8. Revelation

Here is where the protagonist overcomes the obstacles of Boxes 6 and 7 via the device introduced in Box 5. Put simply, the hero triumphs over the antagonist only because of those flaws or character quirks you've introduced earlier. The key is to introduce these quirks in a casual way, or in some way that at first seems to cause the character grief or angst.

9. Protagonist Wins

Huzzah! The negative turning point in Box 6 is rectified while the character's resolve from Box 8 is brought into full bloom. And the loose ends are tied up here, too. Whether that leads to a happily ever after, or something more open-ended, you need to tie up most of the plot-lines to your reader's satisfaction. Unless, of course, you're going for a series. :)
You may be noticing that you can plug nearly any movie, book, play or even some video games into this module for examples: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Great Expectations... The amount of prose each writer devotes to the squares may differ, but the elements are nearly always used in this order for the greatest impact. Hope this helps you as much as it has helped me!

How do you plot? If you're a pantser, how do you stay on the right path?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Pantsing by the Seat of my Write!

Morning, y'all! It's another beautiful day here in the Crescent City. And it makes me so happy to be able to write another WIP Wednesday post! It's been... a million years since my last WIP Wednesday post. I know, I just looked it up.

So I'm closing in on 40K words and the end is in sight! The road is littered with spare prose and talking heads, but that will be a job for draft two. The thing about pantsing, I need to underwrite. Unless I'm struck by a marvelously suitable turn of phrase while I'm typing, I wind up reverting to a lot of short-hand "stage cue" type tags (lots of he says, she says, and people turning around) that are basically placeholders for better writing once I have the plot figured out. I think if I was trying to do both at the same time,  my head would explode!

But yes, it's working pretty well for me, since I'll wind up writing about five hundred words, go back and realize there's been a lot of talking, and then suddenly make something catch fire (not literally. except that once when it was.) and see how the mc is going to react. I've learned a lot about her this way, actually.

Other than that, I solemnly swear that I am only doing research when absolutely necessary at this point. I mean, I did one big glut before I started, but I'm limiting my research to stuff I can't. Write. Without. Knowing. And I'm keeping a list in my notebook of topics I need to research while I'm letting my first draft stew:

electricity, plumbing, etc in poor areas of FQ
prevalence of automobiles
Charity Hospital layout pre 1930s
medical training
segregation in church/public transportation/workforce/theaters/Spanish Fort

The fun thing about my day-job is that I have access to a lot of digital copies of photographs, but to anyone writing a historical novel set in New Orleans, an excellent resource is the Louisiana Digital Library, or, the LOUISdl. Over twenty local institutions, including LSU, LSM and THNOC, contribute to this database, so make this your first stop, not Wikipedia, lol!

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to come across this little beauty:

It's like a blue book, but printed by the madam of the "World-Famous" Mahogany Hall, with pictures and descriptions of all the girls, c.1906. Segregation laws prohibited white prostitutes and prostitutes of color from working in the same building. Mahogany Hall was one of the most famous houses where a (white) man could go to find a prostitute of color—the legendary quadroon and octoroon girls for which New Orleans was so renowned. Part of the reason had to be its location on Basin Street, right on the railroad line. Convenient, non?

I'll leave you with one last image of the girls inside this guidebook, but in my opinion, one of the most interesting things about this book are the period turns of phrase, sayings that seem old and tired now, but at the time were en vogue.

"-Nuff sed." :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Writing Like a Rock Star!

Is what I've been doing since my last post. Hello? Is anyone there? I don't blame you for abandoning me. I've had to abandon y'all, as it turns out, in order to get anything accomplished.

But things have indeed been accomplished. As of 10:30 last night, I have completed 30,000 words of my new project, tentatively called SKIN. I don't want to say too much about it yet, but it is a historical mystery with a hint of the paranormal. Anyone want to guess where it's set? I'll give you three chances.

That's right.

New Orleans.

Turn of the century New Orleans was a most interesting city. About 1911, when my story takes place, parts of the city were glowing with electric lights, shining with clean water and new plumbing, and other parts of the city were being pumped dry for expansion.

Older parts of the city, like the French Quarter (which was known as Frenchtown at the time) were not always getting the modern updates, particularly the older tenements and poorer cottages. There was a huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots—sound familiar?—and Jim Crow laws were dividing up the population like never before.

Storyville had been in operation for nearly fifteen years, and Jazz, though the term was not yet in use, was being played in the finest "sporting" houses. Carnival second-line groups like the Babydolls had just been formed, as well as social aid and pleasure clubs like Zulu. All in all, it was a tumultuous time to be alive, which is something I want to demonstrate in my novel.

But this post will have to be enough to reassure you all that I am still here, since I am going to have to make myself scarce if I want to write another 30K words in a month. In case anyone is interested, I have been pantsing this time around. I don't know how this is all going to come together, I have no specific conflict resolution in mind. I still don't even know exactly "who-dunnit". Which is helping me get the words down quickly, and helping me keep the mystery alive.

What is that mystery, you ask? Well, you're going to have to stay tuned if you want to find out! ;)

Hope everyone has a fun and safe weekend!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Romancing the Reader (Repost from March 2010)

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to our writing.

I'm weaker with character development and dialogue than I am with setting description and plot twists. I know what I need to work on, but sometimes knowing feels like it's only like a sixteenth of the battle. Maybe less.

Here's the eternal question: How do we get the story in our heads to match up with the story on the page?

It turns out I've had to do a lot of scene by scene work, determining exactly what's happening in each scene. I'm realizing that I'm sacrificing characterization for the sake of plot and word count in many places, and that ain't good.

Who cares what happens in my story if my characters aren't alive? Well, you know, alive in the mind of the reader and all that jazz. So I've been trying to analyze what I enjoy about the characters in the books I've been reading recently.

Alexia Tarabotti from Carriger's Soulless didn't have to do much to earn my sympathy--sure, she had to kill a vampire, keeping her wits about her, but it was the fact that she'd escaped the confines of a stuffy party in search of a dessert cart that really won me over. The more I learned about her (not only is she lacking a soul, a secret she can keep from her family, but not supernatural creatures, she's also suffering from the unfortunate malady of being half-Italian ;D) the more I wanted her to get exactly what she wanted--even if she didn't know she wanted it yet.

It's all well and good to analyze, but putting this characterization into practice is much more difficult for me. One writing book I read (which one? really they're all a blur at this point) said that nearly every line of your manuscript should be pulling double, or even triple, duty.

For example: Dialogue should enhance character development as well as advance the plot. Narrative in a first person pov should do the same.

During my next round of revisions, I'm going to be ruthless with my writing. I'll have to make sure every line is pulling it's weight, or if there's a different way to say the same thing that will add to another aspect of the story, adding realism and affecting the reader in an emotional way.

Difficult as it is to read my own work as if I don't know the story, I'm trying to see it with fresh eyes this time around. Hopefully, I'll be able to add an extra dimension of detail and emotion to the story that was lacking before!

How do y'all tackle characterization? Does it come naturally, or is it like dragging a basketball-sized lead weight through a swamp in the dark with no shoes on? Cause that's how it feels for me sometimes. ;)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From the Atlantic Ocean to the Scorpio Sea and Back

Oh, Puerto Rico! (sung to the tune of Oh, Yoko) I love you so!

So much I almost didn't want to come back, especially sunburnt and peeling and having to go to work. :( The weather was beautiful, the people nice, but it was the sea (okay, it was the ocean) that made me want to stay forever.

I filled up my whole memory card with pictures of white-capped waves and breakers and sand and sun. The sound of waves filled our whole little beach house. Every night at high tide it would grow so loud I thought the waves would knock the place down, so relentlessly did they bash against the ocean-side wall. Leaving nothing in the morning to show for it but sand.


Hours would pass by where I did nothing but stare at the water, not thinking, barely breathing, just... being. My time belonged to no one but myself, so for once I didn't feel like it was a waste of time just watching the water and being.

Nature is full of destructive beauty, and nothing expresses that truth more effortlessly than the sea.

Many houses near our rental looked as if they hadn't been occupied in years, maybe even decades. With such neglect as that, some of them have begun to be swallowed up by the insatiable appetite of the Atlantic. 

Here's the thing about the destructive nature of beauty; it can attack when you least expect it, despite the warnings. Exhibit A: The Scorpio Races

I started to read Stiefvater's fourth novel while sitting on the back porch, staring at the waves, so it didn't take long to be transported to the island of Thisby in late October despite the balmy temps of Puerto Rico. I had no idea that this book would be as powerful and destructive as the sea, and as beautiful to boot. Powerful and beautiful are sentiments about a book I'm sure you can understand, but destructive? Only to my self-esteem, I assure you. ;)

Reading the book was only destructive because I let it damage me. I convinced myself I could never write this well, could never add this much intensity and urgency to my own writing. Could never make readers care as much about my own novels as I did for this one.

And then, like the tide receding into the sea, the feeling disappeared. Maybe it had something to do with the amazing rejuvenating powers of the ocean, or maybe just that I couldn't allow myself to wallow on my long overdue vacation, but I kicked myself out of the funk I was in and let the book I was reading inspire me, instead. That's when I saw them in the water...

The capaill uisce. Can't you see them, right there? The water-horses of legend. Or are they Peter S. Beagle's unicorns? Or Poseidon's sea-horses? Maybe there really are mermaids, selkies, and sea-monsters. The world is three-quarters water, after all. The undiscovered country, so to speak. There very well could be a whole race of Atlantean beings who know better than to show themselves to us humans.

Why not? It's big enough? In fact, it's that sheer might, that dauntless energy that helped me put things into perspective on my vacation. 

How about you? Do you see the capaill uisce? Or is there something else swimming around in the ocean of your imagination?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Long Overdue...

No, not library books. I mean my long overdue vacation is almost here! YAY!

I think it was 2010 that my hubby and I went to Austin with some friends, but before that, our last vacation (sans family members) was our honeymoon waaaay back in 2002 (which didn't count because we just got a hotel room in the resort town where I went to high school. NOT a vacation.)

But by this time on Friday, I will be on a plane bound for Puerto Rico for a whole week! We've rented a cute little beach house and will (hopefully) be picking up a car we reserved at the airport, so we'll be able to drive all over the island once we're sick of just lying in the sun and swimming all day. ;) I'm so excited!

I'm still trying to decide what I need to bring with me: my trusty notebook, of course, my laptop for the plane, my nook for reading in direct sunlight, lol... Oh, and my phone charger since I always seem to forget to pack that stupid thing. I even bought new beach towels!

I'm sure I'll forget something, though. Like the time I went to see my mom in upstate New York and forgot to pack socks. D'oh!

What's the most important thing you ever forgot to pack? Any funny vacation stories you'd like to share?

Don't worry, I won't forget my towel! *

*obscure Hitchhiker reference made slightly less obscure after a stellar performance by Mos Def as Ford Prefect. People saw that movie, right?    

Friday, March 2, 2012

Connecting with Characters

So last night I'm watching this new show called AWAKE, which had an awesomely amazing premise, and I was super excited about it. There will be no spoilers here since I only watched the first few minutes. Any guesses as to why I stopped watching? (hint: refer to post title, please :P)

You guessed it! I couldn't connect with the main character. Let me tell you why:

From the commercials leading up to the air of the pilot, I had a few preconceived notions as to how the show's premise would be delivered, the plot being that after a car accident, a man has lost a member of his family, and his brain has made up a realistic dreamworld in which his other family member (wife or son?) is still alive. But he has no idea which reality is REAL. Sounds compelling, non?

Well, silly me, I THOUGHT that the story in the pilot would unfold in a linear manner, that we the viewer would be with the main character as he discovers that he doesn't know which reality is real, whether it's his wife or his son that's dead. Instead, we see the car accident, his son's funeral with his wife, and when he wakes up the next morning, the wife is gone, yet the son is still alive. And the main character HAS NO REACTION TO THIS CRAZINESS! We are to believe he's been through this before, that he's been living with it since the accident. Wah-WAH.

Now, I understand that this is the pilot episode and that they probably wanted to get right to the action, but I think the writers missed out on a lot of character development and intimacy by not showing the actual moment the mc realizes what's going on. That he's living two lives, but only one of them is real (Although I swear to God if the guy wakes up from a coma at the end of the series and discovers his wife and kid are BOTH alive, I'll scream!).

We weren't allowed a chance to grieve with the main character, or to see how he reacts to such a frustrating situation, we're just thrust into this dual-reality, with two therapists (both of whom assure the mc that he's awake in their sessions, of course) and two partners at work.

And then it turns into a police procedural with a slight twist.

But that "slight twist" wasn't enough to compel me to keep watching, not on its own merit. Now, if I'd sympathized more with the mc, been in his shoes when he was devastated, shocked, feeling any kind of emotion other that the numbness of grief, I probably would have kept watching even though cop shows aren't my cuppa.

What do you all think? Did anyone else watch? Can you think of a better way to introduce the premise rather than the straight up "telling" the show used?

I'd love to hear it!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Juggling Acts

Lately I've been doing so much juggling, I may as well run away to join the circus! But this was mostly juggling my writing, my day-job, my family and friend obligations. Now I've tossed an extra ball (or perhaps a running chainsaw) into the mix!

I've got a half written wip I've been (very slowly) working on, and a Shiny New Idea that my agent sees a lot of promise in, and I'm going to try to work on both of them at the same time. O_o!

While that may not sound like a big deal to some of you, my normal workflow has been to only start on the Shiny New Idea when I've finished a first draft of a Not-so-Shiny Old Idea. I've never worked on two rough drafts simultaneously before, mostly in the interest of getting things finished.

And while my main focus for some time now has been my "aetherpunk", my SNI is completely different. Both are first person povs set in the past, but that's where the similarities end. I'm worried that it will be difficult for me to switch back and forth without losing momentum.

Then again, having my agent be much more aware of my progress on this SNI will probably be a great motivator. I won't be able to spin my wheels and procrastinate as much when I have, not a deadline, per se, but someone who is expecting to see results in a timely manner. Deadlines are good for me, actually. They keep me in line, and keep me honest.

Do any of y'all work two rough drafts at the same time? How do you keep the creative juices flowing for both works? Any tips on staying motivated when you find you enjoy writing one over the other? I'd love to hear them!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happy Mardi Gras! And the Winner Is...

Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to get excited about Mardi Gras this year (and now that my husband twisted his ankle, it's gonna be a pretty tame one for both of us regardless) but I drove by some parade floats on the way to work this morning and that Mardi Gras Madness just ticked on in my brain. It was like a little mini-memory of the commotion, the raucous crowds, the music, the smell of smoke and food and horse manure...

I wish I could distill that into a box of carnival for my winner (sans manure), but I hope she'll settle for some beads and coffee and hot sauce and stuff. ;) And that winner is...

Shannon O'Donnell!

Congrats! Send me your snail-mail address asap, and I'll try to get it out today!

Mardi Gras is February 3rd next year, so look out for this contest mid-January 2013.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's/Villain-Loving Blog Chain Day!

Happy Overly Commercialized and Capitalized Upon Excuse to do things you should be doing anyway for the people you care about Day!

All right, I'll stop hating on Valentine's Day. It's just that my husband and I just don't celebrate it. The chocolate in those heart-shaped boxes never tastes good, and as cute as they are, conversation hearts might as well be made of chalk. (Not to mention that we're usually broke or busy due to Mardi Gras around this time of the year. Priorities, you know.) Our anniversary is in April, which is when we like to do something special, on OUR DAY, not one we're sharing with hundreds of other couples, sitting crammed elbow to elbow next to other mushy two-tops in restaurants with sickeningly romantic dessert specials for two written in pink on the specials board.

Which puts me right on track for Amparo's blog chain post:

Since Valentine's Day is around the corner, I think it's only appropriate to pay homage to those we love. But instead of our better halves, family members, and friends, this blog chain will be all about loving the haters: write a love letter to your favorite literary villain/villain-ish character. It can be short, long, serious, funny. You can use song lyrics or poems instead. Choice is totally yours :)

See what Michelle had to say on the subject here, and don't forget to check out Margie's post tomorrow!

If I were an arch villain, maybe I could figure out a way to destroy Valentine's Day. But I'll need help.

Dear Grand High Witch of England,

I know that if anyone can help me with my troubles, it's you. I mean, you single-handedly conceived of a plot to turn all the children of the world into mice, so I know you can help destroy Valentine's Day forever, too. I don't mean to gush, but you scared the ever loving daylights out of me when you were a kid, with those evil purple eyes and your magnificently bald scalp.

Together, I know we can sweep the shelves of those nasty Conversation hearts, wither the flowers in their bouquets, and erase all the dinner reservations in the world!! I mean, only a witch as delightfully devilish as yourself would be played by Angelica Huston in the film. ;)

Get back to me soon, I'm hatching a devious plan, but it will only be possible with your help.


PS, Don't forget to enter my Mardi Gras Giveaway!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It's Carnival Time!

Get your feather boas on and grab your favorite er... soda. It's Carnival Time! Krewe du Vieux was Saturday, officially kicking off carnival. Eh la bas!

The thing is... Mardi Gras just won't be the same this year. You see, my very good friends recently bought a cute little house near the bayou, which is great for them. Perfect for walking their dog, and right near the park.

But they moved off of Saint Charles Avenue, away from the parade route. They have some wacky former-neighbors who will still let us use their bathroom, but this is the first time in seven years we won't be making a big deal about Mardi Gras.

No more smoked pig and giant crawfish boils, or late nights hanging out on their porch facing the Avenue, watching people stream toward and stagger away from the Quarter. No more cramming shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers to fight over bits of shiny plastic and fluff. No more spending hundreds of dollars on food and drinks and supplies, of reeking of barbeque smoke all weekend. Of being so exhausted by Monday I need to stay home Tuesday just to recuperate. Lord, I need to rest just thinking of it. *fans self*

This year we're debating leaving town for the big weekend, but that doesn't mean YOU can't have Mardi Gras in your own town this year!

All you have to do is comment below and you'll be entered to win an awesome Carnival Prize package of beads, krewe throws and assorted N'awlins goodies. It's pretty sweet, if I do say so myself.

For additional entries:
Blog post +3
Tweet (up to five times for +5 entries) +1
Sidebar +2
Recommend me a good book to read instead of partying all weekend +1

For a grand possible total of 12 entries (i think. you math types can feel free to correct me)

I'll draw a winner on the morning of Friday the 17th, so check back here to see if you've won! And Happy Mardi Gras!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blog Chain: Snippets of Me

Kate, who like me, is inspired by the photos and quotes and memes people post online, started this blog chain with a fun topic:

Post pictures, songs, movie clips, poems, or novel excerpts that make you feel. Feel what, you ask? Feel anything. Happy. Sad. Angry. Nostalgic. Hopeful. Hopeless. Jealous. Joyful. 

I have read in several different places that YA novelist John Green said of his latest novel, The Fault In Our Stars that he wants to make his readers "Feel All The Things." I would love that someone could go through this blog chain and through what we all choose to post have that same Feel All The Things feeling.

Cool, huh? Michelle M's post is here, and Margie will post after me. Now, here come the feelings in a nostalgic tidal wave of unicorns...

"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea..."

The Hideaway I long to read this amazing book again in...

The hideaway I can afford (sans fireplace, gold teapot and pricey bolsters)...

Thinking of that makes me a little sad. But not as teary-eyed as this makes me:
"Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.

Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love."

Even sadder...

And now, to turn your frown upside-down (not mine, but my sweet Greynell looked just like this once upon a time):
Another childhood favorite (without the drawings of Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl's work just wouldn't be as memorable for me):

Just for snarfs (and to boldly speak the harsh, rubberized truth):

To be fair, I need to counter that with this:

I suppose that includes Crocs. Hmph. ;)

Finally, just in case you were wondering what tea you should be drinking (since tea always makes me feel joyful)...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Streamlined... Well, A Little, Anyway

Lately I've been focusing on streamlining my life. Sort of a New Year's Resolution, only I can't call it that or it won't get done.

Anyway, I've noticed that little steps lead to lots of saved time in the long run. Over the years, I've frittered away more time than I can imagine, just trying to navigate the blogs I follow.

I use the Blogger Dashboard, which is great, but makes it difficult to find a particular blog... well, it does when you discover you're trying to scroll through 360+ blogs. O_o? Being the time waster that I am, I figured it would be interesting to see just how many blogs I could drop, for one reason or another. (anything to procrastinate to keep from writing, right? :P )

So I clicked on manage followed blogs, and systematically, and with the judicious help of extra internet tabs, discovered that many of the blogs no longer existed. Yes, I was as surprised as you are. At least a dozen of them were just gone.

Another large chunk hadn't posted since the third quarter of 2011, and posted sporadically before that. If it was a blogger I had no rapport with, had never exchanged emails or couldn't remember any of their previous posts, I unfollowed.

Another reason I unfollowed certain blogs was that they were now invite only, so in the interest of time and ruthless streamlining, I hit unfollow. I didn't remember any exchanges I'd had with any of these bloggers, so I just didn't sweat it.

By the time I'd finished the alphabet (Wish I would have realized that my blog would be lumped with the T's instead of the L's when I named it. Duh.), I was down to 315. So some 50 blogs were just clogging up my reader, when I only really regularly read about a hundred. Not a huge number, but close to a sixth of the blogs I was reading, which seems like a lot more.

Now if I could only apply this streamlining to the rest of my life. Need to start using my phone to remind me of things, like I always swear I'm going to do (like blog-chain posts). Or maybe change my outgoing voicemail message to something with my voice, instead of that scary computer lady reading my phone number back to you. But first, maybe I'd better clear off the huge pile of mail that's accumulated on my desk. It's mostly junk mail, anyway. ;) Baby steps.

What about y'all? Have you done anything to help streamline your life lately? Even if it's only a little thing? They do add up!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Blog Chain: The Spaces we Remember

This Blog Chain post was started by Jon, who asked...

Imagine the home(s) where you grew up, and start drawing a floor plan. As you draw, memories will surface. Grab onto one of those memories and tell us a story.

You see, the thing is, we moved around a lot when I was a kid. Like, every three years. So my homes were always different, but somehow, always the same. Army housing all starts to look alike after a while. But the school I went to when I lived in Germany was an old building with a ton of twists and turns and a huge, romantic library. A building that always pops up in my imagination when I'm reading, and sometimes when I'm writing. Its halls have doubled for Hogwarts, stood in for myriad halls and castles from Elizabethan England to Middle Earth.
Halloween was the best, when the teachers and parents would create a haunted house that sprawled throughout the library and down a high-ceilinged hall. My mother and I were both vampires on the year that most colors my memories. Somehow cheap polyester spiderwebs and black plastic had transformed my school into an unrecognizable house of horrors, with scary music and floating wisps of smoke. I held my mother's hand tighter, despite how strange it felt in the white gloves she was wearing. Bats, rats, snakes, all closed in around us.

Something moved in the shadows and something huge and black lunged toward us. A man with a white face and a shiny black cape. I screamed, and hid my face in my mothers arms and she laughed and told me not to be afraid. Then she carried me all the way through the haunted house and no one else bothered us. I thought she was invincible, and nothing could harm her. I was six. ;)

See what space Christine posted about before me, and what Margie posts next!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Five Pentacle Review: A Million Suns, by Beth Revis

I know, I know, the last book I reviewed also got five pentacles. What can I say? I've been reading a lot of fabulous books lately. And A Million Suns, the second book in the Across the Universe trilogy, is no exception.

Without giving anything away for anyone who hasn't read it or Across the Universe, this book was everything I hoped it would be, and more. Between the fast paced chapters, the tantalizing ending, and a plot thicker than Southern gravy, it was unputdownable. I finished it in a matter of hours, and now I feel like if I don't find out what happens next I'll die!

Throughout the story you're constantly second-guessing what you know—or think you know—based on the clues Amy and Elder discover. Clues left predominantly by the last person they would expect to help them. And the last person they trust. If you cared about the characters at all in Across the Universe, you'll grow to love them even more in A Million Suns. I know I did. So much so that I had to email Beth and tell her how much I enjoyed reading it. Yeah, I'm a shameless fangirl like that. ;)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can't Blog...

Reading A Million Suns. ;)