Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolution Solution

Everyone makes New Year's resolutions, because it's the one promise you don't feel guilty about when you break it. I've made tons of resolutions over the years, and one topped the list each time: lose weight. In 2008, I didn't make that resolution, and I've lost nearly fifty pounds. I'm healthier than I have been in years.

So while I made a resolution a few days ago to turn in my work before the deadline and keep my editors from going prematurely gray, 2009 may be the year of the anti-resolution for me. Either way, I'll try to be nicer to both of my wonderful editors.

As for goals, I intend to keep losing weight. Writing more and selling more are in the mix, too. And hey, if there's some peace, love and happiness, throw that in the cart as well.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Clutching Your Marbles: Keeping Sane As A Writer

Working at home may be one of the best perks in a writer’s life, but many aren’t prepared for the inevitable solitude. Even if you have a family whizzing past every day, you are still missing out on social interaction. Gossiping, complaining, or just discussing events with other grown-ups are a vital part of everyday life and something we all took for granted back when we had day jobs. That feeling of isolation, especially if you don’t have many friends that understand what you do for a living, can unstring your mental tennis racket, and have you talking to the wallpaper in short order, and unduly affecting your productivity. Having a network of friends, either in real life or cyberspace, is invaluable for perspective, feedback and inspiration. Here are a few tips to vent that inner steam and find a few buddies, before the wallpaper starts chatting back.

Join a network. There are so many social networking sites out there: MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, just to name a few. My new favorite is Plurk, which tracks your mini-conversations through a timeline, and is easy to use; you can chat as much as you like, then drop it into the background, and catch up when you take a break. For me, Plurk most closely replicates the kind of quick, easy conversation found in an office environment, without all the office drama and politics. MySpace and Facebook have more users, giving a lonely author more chances to connect with like-minded friends, and LinkedIn is an excellent resource for mixing business with a touch of pleasure, allowing you to upload your professional resume and qualifications, and adding friends to your own circle of talent. Most social media sites have a healthy number of friendly, helpful writers online, and I haven’t seen a site yet that turned away a newbie. There's also excellent communities for writers in Second Life as well.

Find a forum. The communication isn’t as instant as social networking sites, but joining an online forum can really open up your world. My writing consciousness has expanded threefold after finding an online bulletin board; I’ve learned so much in the last year and met writers in every genre, from erotic horror to television screenwriters and more. Forums can also be useful in answering those everyday questions, from formatting issues to keeping records and invoicing. Often, writers will share leads on the latest news in publishing, or new markets that haven’t hit the magazines yet. Some boards even have FAQ files for new writers, and special threads, or discussions, to answer newbie questions. Instead of quick chats, a forum allows longer, more in-depth discussions to occur, letting all participants join in with opinions, experiences and advice.

Attend a conference. Let’s admit it; many people don’t understand the day-to-day job of a writer. As writers, we live in our own heads, and get paid for the words we pull out on a daily basis. We wonder about strange things, and ask weird questions. Every conference I attend, I overhear this phrase: “It’s so wonderful to talk to someone who doesn’t think I’m crazy!” Even if you can only go to one conference a year, a weekend of talking face-to-face with other writers can last you for months. Conferences are also great for meeting folks who write in your genre, from magazine writing to fiction to creative non-fiction and more. As a magazine writer surrounded by a region rich with western and romance authors, I’m always thrilled to find another freelancer whenever I travel to a conference. Finding someone who understands your niche’s particular quirks can be mind-saving. Also, don’t make my mistake when I first started venturing out to writers conferences; I was so shy, I sat in the back for every talk, then left immediately afterward so I wouldn’t seem awkward. While the seminars and workshops are definitely worth the price of admission, it’s the social events that provide lasting connections with your fellow wordsmiths. Attend a banquet, or just pal up for lunch or an after-hours get-together, and you’ll get twice the reward for your conference dollar.

Get with the group. A well-balanced writers group can be an excellent way to improve your craft and talk shop; many groups have social time either before or after the official get-together, and some alternate critique nights with informational meetings. A writers group is more structured than online networking, so it’s very important to find one that fits you. Great groups offer a nice mix of mentors and newbies, give constructive criticism to help you grow as a writer, and let each member have a chance to shine. While it’s easiest to join an existing group, you can also start your own writing group: there are several handy books and websites on the subject, including the Writer Groups Starter Kit at, which is targeted toward college students, but has some very useful—and free-- worksheets and handouts available for download.

Open a book. If you still need some real-world contact but a writing group isn’t for you, consider joining a book club. You’ll meet interesting, literate people, enjoy a good book every so often, and you’ll learn more about readers and their tastes. You’ll also read works you wouldn’t normally choose for yourself, which could open your eyes to new inspirations.

Do some good. Volunteering for a few hours each week is the best way to get completely out of your own head and focus on helping someone else. Whether you take on a day at the local food bank or a few hours sorting treasures at the hospital guild thrift shop, you’ll find good-hearted people who don’t care about your writer issues; they are just glad you’re there. Since part of your brain is always working, you’ll also likely find some amazing, uplifting stories to write about later.

Make a date. We’ve all heard of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, and her soul-saving creativity technique, the artist date, where you take a day off and explore what inspires you. Instead of taking a day to focus on yourself, think up some questions and head out with new purpose. Ask the supermarket checkout lady about her family (provided there’s no one behind you in line, of course), or tell the librarian that you love her new bracelet/outfit/hairdo. Once, I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I complimented a girl on the lovely shade of blue in her arm tattoo. Her smile bloomed like a spring flower, and we spent five minutes talking about art. It isn’t in-depth conversation, but you’ll be amazed at the effect it has on the other person; everyone loves to be asked about themselves, and making them feel better will boost you, too. You may even forge some new friendships along the way.

While the writing life may solitary in nature, it doesn’t have to be a lonely existence. Just having someone to cheer when you receive an acceptance or pat you on the back when the rejections come in will keep you focused and productive. Whether you choose the company of other authors, or seek out new friends, you’ll reap the benefits in both your career and private life.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The story of Simon

Although we can make some some jaw-dropping stories, only one writer could create the amazing yet true story of Simon, and that's because she grew him in her belly. Simon is the preemie gladiator son of Mysti, and right now he's fighting for his life. His family is traveling between states to be with their plucky bundle of joy, and need some financial help to offset the staggering expenses. Those of us on Absolute Write and Plurk are trying to get the message out, so please visit Supporting Simon, learn his story and give if you can. If you can't, then do a blog post about him, so the word spreads. Simon was our little internet pal before he was even born, and it would be gratifying if bloggers, writers and friends came together to help.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Inspirational surplus

I saw a truck go past yesterday marked "Christian Book Outlet and Inspirational Surplus." Although that last part had a completely different meaning, those two words grabbed the keys, gassed up my imagination, and roared off.

I love the thought of inspirational surplus, a warehouse full of ideas, notions and wild theories. In my mind, it looks like the final scene of Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, managed by Dr. Seuss characters and hobbits. Tiny nuggets of inspiration spark in my brain all day long, especially when I go outside in the big, wide world. I obey the laws of writerdom and keep a notebook and pen with me, because snippets of conversation, fluttering brochures, and tiny acts of human nature constantly keep me entertained. Sometimes they end up being articles, essays or blog posts. Other times, they just feed the fire of my fancy.

Either way, it's so much livelier and positive than "I have an overactive imagination and too many ideas." Instead, I'm going to say, "I enjoy inspirational surplus."

Hope you have a bit of inspirational surplus in your day, too.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Holding Back the Years

I Googled myself the other day (hey, now, I was fully-dressed) and discovered a piece of myself I had completely forgotten: my LiveJournal blog. I went through the entries, from 2002 to 2005, and was amazed at how damned optimistic I was then. I also listened to a lot of music, because the sountrack from 'Chicago' was featured heavily for a couple of months. Deb Ng says that 'Online is Forever,' and it's very true, but this time I was thankful. I was always looking forward to something back then, and it nearly feels like reading someone else's words. How did I become so sarcastic, cynical and old in just a few years? Maybe it's too much life experience, or too few movie soundtracks in my life. In any case, it points out to me that this new digital generation won't be looking through yearbooks and photo albums in the years ahead, but old blogs and social media sites. It's only a matter of time before someone starts up a business searching and archiving all your online moments, condensing your life into one convenient DVD. When that business pops up, give this jaded ol' broad a cut of the profits, will ya?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Raccoon House Party

(A post done by special request, for Amy!)

People in the city often believe that life in the country is serene and peaceful. In truth, it’s more like Animal House, with real animals; I fully expect, any day now, to see possums wearing togas and chugging the homemade beer I threw out. In the myth of rural life, the silence is punctuated only by the gentle warbles of songbirds during the day; in reality, there’s three crows shrieking Vaudeville-era jokes in the tree above my kitchen, then trash-talking some nearby bluejays who are stealing bits of dog food right out from the bowl. In autumn, it’s turkeys gone wild, complete with gobbling calls of “Lift your feathers!”

At night, though, is when the real action happens. Every dog on the Psychic Howler Network passes news up and down the valley; my own personal Woof Blitzer announces the arrival of an armadillo in the yard, a statement that is discussed thoroughly by the panel at large.

But things really became interesting the year we installed a motion-sensing security light. At first, we set it on sensitive, which caused the cats to suffer from Britney Spears-like attacks of paparazzi blindness. After submitting Fluffy and Mr. Whiskers to rehab, we dialed the sensor down a few notches.

Enter the raccoons. With just one hairy bandit, the light went off occasionally like an overcharged firefly. As more began passing through the yard, the security light hit disco-ball speed night after night, and all that was missing was the thump-thump of an ear-splitting dance mix. My proudest wifely moment was seeing my husband out on the porch at 2 a.m., waving a broom at a gang of chittering teenage raccoons and yelling, “Get off my lawn!”

By the next day, the light was disassembled, and the dogs were left out of their pen to chase the juvenile delinquents at their leisure. The cats also recovered, although they refuse to give interviews. Life became slightly quieter, and we no longer needed those sunglasses past dusk. But I like to think that somewhere, a squirrel DJ is setting up in an old barn while raccoons hold up their glow sticks, and rock to the sounds of the night.

Biting the hand that hungers you

I saw a paying blog opportunity at Freelance Writing Jobs this week; apparently, a well-known health magazine is looking for bloggers on the topic, and I wondered, does all my failure count as experience?

I have been on diet after diet in my adult life. The Atkins diet (which worked for a while, but made me really cranky), the diet where you eat mini-meals throughout the day, and, most recently, the South Beach diet, which allowed me to lose a little water weight, but also made me snap on day 6 of phase one. While I haven’t tried the Paleo diet (eating like hunter/gatherers), I do have a male friend on it. The main problem with diets in general is this: I’m so obsessed with what I can and can’t have, so I’m thinking about food constantly. “Can I have carrots? Can I have sprouts? Do I have to eat celery with tuna on it? What happens if I eat a Big Mac and fries? I don’t want a tiny square of dark chocolate, I don’t like dark chocolate, I don’t even care for any chocolate that much. I want a Twinkie!” And so on.

With all these diet plans and books, I was doomed to fail. With the South Beach diet, I was eating stuff I don’t like, plus I believe that sugarless gum should never be listed on a meal plan. That’s silly. With Atkins, the emphasis is on protein, which is good for my blood sugar, but I naturally prefer a less meaty existence. I’ll eat steak maybe once a year, turkey’s okay, can I have my Boca burger or tofu stir-fry now please?

What I have finally learned, after years of starving myself then pigging out again, is to listen to my own body. If left to my own devices, I eat fairly simply, and I’ve finally learned portion control. I could use more veggies, but who couldn’t, really? I love to walk, and will start walking more when the weather cools down. I also learned a trick years ago about treats: I don’t buy boxes of donuts or other goodies; if I want something decadent, I’ll buy it single-serving size at the market, indulge, then go on, remembering to not do that too often.

I feel like a hardened veteran of the food wars, not likely to turn my head over the latest fad. Eat less, sure, but eat foods you like, and move around more.

Hmmm. Maybe I will apply, after all.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Three freelancing myths

I see a lot of newbies swish in and out of the writing forums, asking the same questions over and over, then getting frustrated when their concerns aren’t immediately met with soft, encouraging words and a handful of easy-to-score, high-paying markets thrust into their palm. Some are willing to listen to the voice of experience, others, not so much. These three myths are a common theme among new freelancers, and are harder to extinguish than the urban legend of receiving free beer through e-mail forwards.

It’s fast money. Oops, excuse me, I just laughed so hard that milk came out my nose. In the big picture, freelancing may seem fast compared to the evolution of dinosaurs into chickens, but it won’t be faster than the due date of your electric bill. Sorry. It can take months between query, assignment, rewrite, acceptance, invoice, payment and publication. Need a speedy turnaround? Find some local clients who need press releases, newsletters and other writing products. In my experience, the process goes faster when you’re working with a local business. Sometimes I would get paid the same day I submitted my invoice; in other instances, it took a couple of weeks.

All you need is an idea and a keyboard. In theory, yes. But you also need information. A big chunk of freelancing is research, so get started now. Locate a copy of Writer’s Market and read the articles up front. There’s a lot of valuable info in there, from how to write a query letter to determining what you should charge. Also, check out writing sites like Absolute Write, which are worth their weight in cyber-gold. AW’s freelancing forum has a collection of stickies at the top of the page representing lifetimes of experience.

Big markets are easy to crack. I once had a client who asked me, “If you send this press release to Reader’s Digest, what issue will it be in?” It’s tough to crack the top markets—that’s why they are the top markets. Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Parade, Smithsonian etc., are staffed by very busy, very talented people. It takes a lot of time and effort to get their attention, and many writers spend years doing the rejection-query waltz with editors.

Again, think global, write local. Start out with regional pubs, get some clips, and climb the first few rungs of the ladder. We’ve all heard about the exceptions; people who claim, “On my first day, I wrote an article, sent it to Reader’s Digest, and they bought it!” These people suffer mysterious aches and pains throughout life, because the rest of us stick pins in their voodoo-doll likenesses. Most freelancers work very hard for each new level of accomplishment. It’s not a walk in the park, but if you do your job right, you could touch a few hearts and change a few lives with your words; if you’re very lucky and dedicated, you could even make a living at it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Quirk work

I’ve been tagged with a meme by Jen from Creatif; the subject is quirky behavior, so naturally it took me a week to narrow the field to six unspectacular personal quirks. The next six victims are listed at the bottom, so be sure to check them out as well, so you can feel better about your own weirdness.

1. Quark quirk: I love astronomy, adore star-gazing, and watch the NASA channel whenever possible. But I cannot get the hang of recognizing constellations. The entire night sky could be flipping me the bird, for all I know.

2. Quirk-a-licious: For me, the best meals and snacks have both soft and crunchy textures. One of my favorite snacks is dipping a banana into fake bacon bits, bite by bite. Mmmm, sweet and soy bacon-y.

3. Plurk quirk: Social networking on sites like MySpace and Facebook is not my cup of digital tea, but I’ve just joined Plurk, and I really like it. It’s like the ADD-afflicted love child of chatrooms and forums. I also like the imaginary verbs that rule the Plurkdom; ‘I’m Plurking now, and I just friended you.’

4. Sssshhhh-quiet quirk: I have weird reading habits. Over the past holiday weekend, I read the May/June issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Betty & Veronica Digest #185 (oh, that Archie!), the latest issue of Mental Floss, and I started reading two books: Doctor Who: Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole and The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus by Joshua Kendall.

5. Quirk rock: I hate ear buds. Although I do own a small knock-off MP3 player, I don’t use ear buds with it. Many years ago, I worked at a chicken-processing plant, and was required to wear ear plugs every day, which gives you an uncomfortable feeling of someone walking behind you constantly with their fingers in your ears. Give me those old-school, big-ass Princess Leia stereo headphones any day. Even better, just ditch the headphones and turn up the music until the windows rattle.

6. Kirk quirk: Sorry, Picard just talks too much. I like my starship captains in action with their shirts torn, their muscles ripped, and a smart-ass quip whipped out at the perfect time.

And now, the next six quirkmasters. I tag Melanie at What Am I Doing In Mexico? (ooh, hot Mexican quirks!) ; Donna at Fantastical Imagination (just imagine the quirk possibilities, plus her blog has a new home, and everyone should drop by); Rosemerry at Blue Cherrie (I'd love to hear about quirky dishes or recipes!); Erika at Musings from the Mitten (she always comes up with cool stuff); Skyraven at Skyravensays and Dawn at Anything that Pays (both ladies have great blogs!) If anyone else wants to join in on the meme, consider yourself tagged, and let me know so I can read it!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day of remembrance

This is a day of remembrance for me. As of today, my dad’s been gone for 32 years. He was so young when he died, younger than I am now. I was eight years old when he passed, and it’s hard to remember his face other than the way he appeared in photos. I do remember experiences, though: hearing him and my mom talk as I napped in front of the box fan, feeling that my world was safe and happy; his odd sense of humor, which I have definitely inherited; riding with him to pick up a Sunday newspaper, and perhaps receive a special treat of Twinkies to share on the ride back. I remember the walks we took down country roads, and how hard he worked to take care of us until he was too sick to move. He worked blue-collar jobs, never getting to follow his own dreams, but he was around to see my first words in print—a poem about tigers in the school newspaper. I know he would be so thrilled to see me achieving my dream as a writer. So I’ll take some time today, as I do every year, to remember him, and be grateful for all the things he taught me while he was here.

Thanks, Dad, for some swell memories. No matter how old I get, I'll still miss you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Isolation holiday

Some authors dream of squirreling themselves away at a writers colony, engulfed in peace and quiet so they can finish their Amazing Epic Work. Others take the advice of magazines and try to carve out mini-retreats by unplugging phone lines and hiding in the closet with a laptop and a water bottle. That’s just not my style; it feels too much like a deadline. I prefer an isolation holiday, a summer vacation for ideas.

If anyone has ever watched Brent Butt in the Canadian comedy ‘Corner Gas,’ then you know about the true ‘staycation,’ not the one touted by the media as the answer to a downer summer economy. In one episode, Brent packs a cooler, takes a lawn chair across the road, and spends his vacation imagining he’s going to all kinds of exotic lands. He even mails real postcards, a nice touch for a tropical escape that’s all in his head.

His getaway is similar to what I do every summer: when work slacks off, as it does in June and July, I usually take a week or two and mentally get away from everyone and everything. I stock up on books, music and cool treats and just float off in my own little world. I don’t write unless I really, really want to, but I keep a notebook nearby for ideas. Of course, I still have to do the necessary things, like laundry and cooking dinner and paying bills, but I get back to my staycation as soon as possible, bobbing along in a wonderful, stress-free frame of mind. I think of it as walking zen meditation with a groovy 1970s soundtrack. And I take time to enjoy, without guilt, a skill I excelled in when I was much younger: daydreaming.

Each year, the isolation holiday pays off. Last year, I had ideas for three novels sketched out, now works-in-progress. So far this year, I’m working on a short story, after the plot grew from seedling to bouncy ripe fruit in just a couple of days. My break from reality is always my most creative time, with no deadlines, no pressure, no inner critic, just the pure enjoyment of the written word and the endless possibilities of a loosed imagination.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Up, up and away!

Usually when I take time off from writing, I just stare at the wall, or worse, the internet. But last weekend, my hubby decided to spare me from a day of wall-watching and LOLcats by taking me to an RC fly-in, an event that was actually fun. I thought remote controlled planes were usually tiny, plastic and neon-colored, mainly because of the ones I've seen in the toy aisle. But these weren't toys, not by a long shot. Each one was incredibly detailed, and many had their own tiny pilot mannequins inside. This particular fly-in was mainly WWII replica planes, a thrill for my History Channel-loving husband.

A couple from Oklahoma brought several planes to fly, including one amazing reproduction of the Spirit of St. Louis. The plane had a Charles Lindbergh pilot inside, along with incredible historic details like a bag lunch, and an itty bitty housefly that apparently annoyed Lindbergh during his record-making flight. The plane was also outfitted with a sound chip, and when the plane dipped over the crowd, we could hear a clip of Jimmy Stewart's voice from the Spirit of St. Louis movie yelling, "Which way is Ireland?"

The best thing? With this air show, a crash wouldn't take out most of the parking lot. All in all, a nice way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon. And one more cool experience to store in the writer's toolbox.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pass the ramen noodles with pride

Along with paper and pens, cheap food like SPAM, instant mac n’ cheese and ramen noodles have long been basic staples of existence for the struggling writer. For all those scribes who can still taste the charcoal and ham goodness of their last fried SPAM sandwich, rejoice! We are in style now, thanks to a tanking economy, rising food costs and stratospheric gas prices. Sales of the canned meat are rising fast, along with the cheapest food in the pantry, ramen noodles, and that summer essential, hot dogs, especially the on-sale variety that come so cheap, you don’t even dare read the nutrition label.

I’ve noticed in the last few weeks that cans of tuna fish and the Wal-Mart house brand of macaroni and cheese have been selling fast. Next up on the kitchen top ten: beans and rice. Just wait until the soccer moms discover you can make veggie burgers out of them!

It will be a nice feeling to no longer feel guilty about the cheap food in my shopping basket. In fact, all writers can finally bask in the glory of being chic. We’re not cheap, we’re frugal! And we’re fed, without depending on government cheese.

So take the spotlight, and share a few of those recipes you’ve cooked up over the years. Tell a neighbor how to make your tasty cornbread tuna pie, or talk authoritatively about the difference between SPAM and the lower-cost option, Treet (just as tasty, and half the price!) at family get-togethers. Share the wisdom of the $3.32 Creamy Chicken Bowl (two packages of chicken-flavored ramen noodles, one can of white chicken chunks, one can of cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup, your choice) which feeds up to four people.

They may have laughed at you at the academy, but who’s the stylish evil genius with a fully belly now? Bwah-hah-hah-ha!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

'Ed Wood' of poetry finally gets his due

It's bad enough to hear crickets at your poetry reading, but dodging food flying at your head? That's a whole new level of suffering for your art. So somewhere, hopefully, the spirit of the Scottish man declared the 'World's Worst Poet' is smiling as a small book of his poems goes up for auction. William McGonagall received scathing reviews of his work, had food thrown at him during readings, then died penniless in 1902 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

But now, McGonagall's dismal stylings are in vogue, and a re-issue of his compiled works, including his brave attempt at a play, was released two years ago. Apparently, being declared the world's worst brings its own notoriety, because a collection of 35 poems is expected to fetch 6,500 in English pounds, or just over $12,000. A pretty sweet payday for the 'Tayside Tragedian,' as he was known back in the day.

Maybe there's hope for us all. I'd rather be remembered with a campy, kitchy vibe than be forgotten completely. Heck, that's what I'm working for now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Superheroes and supercells

It’s a saying we hear a lot in the Ozarks: “If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.” That time can safely be cut in half during the spring and summer months, when tornadoes crank up like mad mosquitoes, biting down on selected towns throughout the region. For the last few weeks, we’ve had storm predictions just about every other day, so the hubby and I took our chances and headed out to the nearest Cineplex, about an hour away. We don’t go out to the movies much anymore, but ‘Iron Man’ was too much of a temptation, and who can beat $4 matinee prices?

Since the movie wasn’t being shown at our usual fave theater in northwest Arkansas, we went south to the nearest college town to see it, a decision we would appreciate later in the day. It started raining as we headed into the theater, and we could even hear the downpour in the cocooned environment of Cine-pod 14, one of many screening rooms that now form the modern movie multi-plex. I was soon distracted from the weather by a series of too-loud car commercials, goofy reminders to turn off your phone, gag your baby and otherwise keep quiet, and bad trailers for movies I wouldn’t even rent from Netflix. (Other than Indy 4, which looks promising.) By the time the opening scenes of the featured flick started up, I was so grateful that I would have loved it even if Robert Downey, Jr. just walked around encased in Reynolds Wrap, saving kittens from trees. But the movie was amazing, and it flowed so well. This was the first movie in years that I didn’t feel the urge to look down at my watch, the acting was wonderful, Downey was perfect, and the special effects were seamless.

After we popped out of our movie pod, we noticed that the sun was shining and the rain had moved on. I was relaxed and stress-free after the movie, so we kicked around town a little, perusing bookstores, office supply stores, and other fetish outlets known to writers. As we left the last one, though, the sky had turned dark again. The radio announcers were throwing around fun phrases like ‘tornado warning’ and ‘supercell,’ the usual confidence-building forecasts of spring. We decided to take the southern route home, since the really bad stuff was happening north of us, and away we went. As we sped homeward, the sky became increasingly moody, and the radio announcers were discussing funnel clouds spotted on the ground, just a few miles from our usual fave theater. There, storm sirens were piercing the air, and a school roof was being peeled away. We were just in a bad thunderstorm, hoping to get home before everything hit. As we listened to the ongoing news stream, I kept my eyes locked on a singular patch of blue sky in the storm clouds, a patch that seemed to ride with us. For some silly reason, it made me feel better.

Due to road construction, we ended up too far south, out of the storms, and realized they had time to pass over. For the next twenty minutes or so, we laughed at ourselves, getting lost on roads we knew from childhood, singing along with the radio, and dispelling our own weather-related stress. When we were approximately ten miles from home, another tornado warning was issued, this time for our area. Cop cars zipped past us, looking for funnel clouds. We realized, too late, that we were bolting headlong into a huge green wall of tornado weather. It was raining so hard, I don’t know how my hubby could see the road, but he drove brilliantly. I did notice that he kept looking off to the left, but I was already nervous and watching for flying cows. Finally, we discovered the other side of the storm and drove home. During that last mile, he told me why he had been glancing to the side. He spotted a funnel cloud coming down from the sky, keeping pace with us for a while, but there was no place we could have stopped to get off the road.

I told him he was right to not share that info with me at the time, as it would have been difficult for him to drive with me perched on his head like a cartoon cat.

We arrived home, safe and sound, but I don’t plan on leaving this little valley for a week.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Poetry as Freelance Inspiration

Deadlines and commitments….what to leave in, what to leave out…

Bob Seger, Against the Wind

I’m wrapping up National Poetry Month with some tips on how poetry can not only relieve stress, but also inspire one of the hardest-working writerly types: the freelancer. A freelance writer’s day is filled with deadlines, marketing, queries, article ideas, research, and perhaps a little writing squeezed in between. A lot of freelancers I know make their living by service pieces, articles or web content that has a specific goal. While we can write a standard piece in a lively way or admire a well-turned phrase, there isn’t a wide amount of wiggle room in most of what we do. Since I started in poetry and grew into freelance writing, I’ve developed a few tricks to keep the creative side fresh and improve my overall work.

  1. Headline haiku. I’ve been working for hours, I’m on a tight deadline, and my frazzled brain has completely lost the main thread of a project. I want to step away from my computer for a few minutes, but I don’t want to lose my train of thought. So I go outside, or sit by the window and watch the birds swoop down and snatch up kibble from the dog dish; while I’m away from the work, my mind takes all the info that’s trying to shoulder through a thin door, and lines it up, haiku-style.

Historic, urban

Iowa fills nation’s plate;

American charm.

As I’ve just proved, the haiku doesn’t have to be good, it just helps organize the thoughts. For my own use, charts, lists and bullet points aren’t nearly as effective as this poetic tack.

2. Take a project further. Several years ago, I was hired by a local non-profit to visit the local rest home and interview a few people about their lives. It was an amazing day, filled with stories of loss, love and wisdom. After I wrote up the individual profiles, I still couldn’t get a few of those open, friendly folks and their stories out of my mind, so I wrote a poem about each of them. The one that still sticks with me was about a man who couldn’t remember his own son’s name or where he was, but recounted his experiences in depth about homesteading in Alaska, including one eventful day when bears smelled breakfast cooking and broke the cabin door down while he and his wife hid upstairs. He remembered that he had won an award once for his work in teaching drama, and began pulling out all these newspaper clips from his life. The poems I wrote from that day were worth more to me than the check I received, and I started interviewing other elderly neighbors and relatives, distilling their stories to one life—or even one moment—caught in a single poem.

3. Outdoor spot poetry. If you’re looking for the perfect activity on an autumn artist date, try this: pack a few colored markers in your pocket and head out to a local park. As you relax and feel your creativity twanging back into shape, take out a marker and scribble a quick poem on a leaf or a bit of tree bark, then let the wind whisk it away. (Yes, you should use water-based markers, but I’m not the pen police.) The feeling of watching your words lifting up with the breeze and becoming part of nature is liberating. Plus, you’ll occasionally get someone shuffling through autumn leaves and discovering your poem. I always hope it’s a pleasant surprise, but either way, it’s still a great method to boost your energy levels and relieve that deadline stress.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Big Hairy Deal

I’ve never been pregnant, but I’ve always had long hair. As an observer of one and a participant of the other, I can tell you that both conditions make people touchy-feely. When my mother was pregnant with my younger brother, folks discovered their inner Buddhist and had to rub her belly. Me, they pet like a Shetland pony. Yes, even now, when I’m no longer young and cute, total strangers come up to me, comment on my hair, then stroke it like I’m the main attraction in a petting zoo. Sometimes they ask, most times they don’t; I half-expect to be offered a cracker afterwards. I’ve grown used to the attention, but if anyone is with me when this happens, their jaws drop.

My hair is beyond waist-long, but doesn’t reach my knees yet; it’s very thick, yet somewhat fine, and I keep it braided most of the time, which fascinates people. Even braided, it nearly reaches my waist. Combs? Ha! I’ve broken brushes in it, and lost a curling iron in its depths some years ago. Since I often wear a bandanna over the braids, people have asked if it was a wig. (Uh, no.) Some petters have pleaded with me to never cut it, even though they themselves have short hair, which makes me feel a bit like a spotted owl: you don’t want one in your own house, but you feel good just knowing it exists somewhere.

“It’s so pretty and long, why don’t you wear it down?” some people ask. Because with one stiff breeze, I have more knots than a Boy Scout camping trip. Plus, I’m always sitting on it accidentally, shutting it in doors, and experiencing other humorous but painful mishaps. Don’t get me wrong, I do love my long hair. It does that wonderful mermaid shimmy when I swim, and I could whip someone with the braids if I really wanted. I wouldn’t keep it around if I didn’t enjoy it.

But now it will be someone else’s to enjoy.

Yes, I cut it yesterday, with the help of my scissor-wielding husband. The ponytail is 26 inches long, not counting the little bit above the rubber band. I haven’t decided which charity to send it to, Locks of Love or Pantene Beautiful Lengths. I have a couple of days to decide, because the silly thing isn’t dry yet; another fact of long hair. If I get enough feedback in one direction or another, that's where the big hairy deal will go, so let me know what you think!

Until then, I'm going outside. The sun is shining, there's a nice, strong breeze, and I have some Mary Tyler Moore-style hair flipping to do.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Teeming Tags: TMI Day!

Jen at Creatif tagged me with a meme several days ago, and Amy at Mind Over Mullis got me the other day, so I'm teeming with tags, and tag-teaming to move along the memes! It's TMI Day here at plaidearthworm, but I hope at least I'm weird enough to be entertaining.

Seven random or interesting facts:

I’m a state-certified hospitality instructor. In fact, I took the extra course and can teach other people how to be hospitality instructors. If you had a tourism business and rude and/or clueless employees, I’m the one you called after five customers stormed out because the desk clerk couldn’t interrupt her hourly phone conversation with her boyfriend long enough to check people into their rooms. Yeah, I have a lot of material saved up for the novel.

I am a Southern girl. Do not stand between me and strawberry shortcake, homemade biscuits and gravy, or fried bologna sandwiches with flat cheese. You have been warned.

Qapla! I’m a Klingon.
I used to dress in full leather regalia, bumpyhead and all, then go to conventions or march in parades. (In the pic, I'm on the left of our club's Klingon Bug of Prey.) Our group even adopted a section of highway for a couple of years. There’s no greater freedom for a shy person than to stride into a Burger King in full makeup and costume, then order a Whopper with a side of gagh.

As the wife of a magician
, I know how most of your favorite illusions are done. And I’m not telling. Neener, neener.

AmyDoodle confessed that her secret crush was Captain Jack Sparrow. Mine is Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood. Ah, John Barrowman in all his hunky, alien-busting glory, sporting a trenchcoat, a swagger, and a piercing gaze that makes you forget your own name; that’s why I wear a name tag at home on Saturday nights, about 8 p.m.

I’ve never been on a vacation
. The closest I’ve been is in high school, when I went on a school trip to New Orleans, and once my hubby and I spent about a day and a half in St. Louis. I grew up very, very poor, and understood that family vacations were for rich people, not folks like us. Now, it’s a combination of no spare funds, having too many animals to take care of, and not being able to get away from work. Rather funny when I realize that most of my writing income comes from business travel articles.

When it comes to video games
, I’m happy in the last couple of decades. Don’t give me Guitar Hero or Gears of War; but if you have a copy of Leather Goddesses of Phobos or Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, let me know. Text-based adventures like those, or sly games like Al Lowe’s Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail are my choice every time.

And as a TMI bonus:

1) If you could live for a month in one world or time period from a novel you’ve read, which would you choose?

Discworld. No doubt about it.

2) If you could be one character from a comic book or fiction series, who would it be?

Hmmm, tough choice, because I’d love to spend a month as Nanny Ogg, but in a comic book world, I could have gravity-defying ta-tas like Witchblade. Ooh, better, a member of FemForce. They had all the moves, without the heavy lifting of defeating criminals constantly.

3) Where (in the real world) is your dream vacation spot?

Cleveland. Yes, I said it. Never been there, but I’ve researched it so much for articles this year, I think I’ve fallen for Ohio. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, tons of cool museums, great food, Corner Alley. Add a side trip to Toledo so I can see a Mud Hen game, and I’m a happy girl.

4) Name a celebrity or TV personality whom you would like to have lunch with.

Ew, really? Most of them are so full of themselves, and I don’t suffer ego cases well; I once sprained my forehead from excessive eye-rolling. But it could be interesting to have lunch with Craig Ferguson; he’s funny, smart, and I have a few questions about his writing style.

If you're still reading after all that, congrats. You get a coveted TMI Meme Survivor Award. And now, I'd like to tag Rebecca at Writer's Roundabout, Rick at Rickwrite, Dawn at Anything That Pays, and Karen at Write Now. If you've been tagged, feel free to pick either meme you wish. Taggee's choice!

Bwah-hah-hahahahaha! I'm free of the memes!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Poetry for Fun and Profit

Hey kids! Would you like to earn dozens, even hundreds, of dollars per year? How about achieving fame and prestige with your 8th grade English teacher? It can all be yours with the amazing universe of poetry.

While poetry won’t score you the Golden ATM Code of your dreams, it can provide a nice little side income, especially during those inevitable times in a writer’s life when both the cupboard and the wallet are empty. Personally, writing poetry for profit kept me in touch with the Muse until I could quit the day job and jump into freelance writing full time. Below are a few of the ‘markets’ that I relied on during my professional poet phase.

Family events. I once worked with a lady who gave each of her sons’ brides a beautiful keepsake doll as a wedding present, and wanted a unique poem for each occasion. She would tell me essentially what she wanted to say to her new daughters-in-law, and I wrote a poem to go with each doll. She was a great customer, and I occasionally had lunch money until she married off all her boys. While weddings were a great gig, you can also do this for baby showers, graduations, anniversaries and other noteworthy moments in family life. Sometimes you’re a ghostwriter, or, more correctly, ghostpoet, but other times you can sign your name and become part of a treasured family heirloom.

Holidays. Ever been broke and wrote poems for your family members as Christmas or birthday gifts? Yeah, me too. (If you said no, don’t worry. With rising gas prices and the economy, poetry may be your go-to strategy this December.) While you may not charge immediate family for custom poems, you can charge other people’s families without guilt. While word-of-mouth is often your best advertising, try a small ad in the local newspaper for various holiday seasons, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day. If you’re a quick poet, advertise just a week beforehand, so desperate shoppers (guys who forgot) will jump on the chance to have a personalized poem in time for the big day.

Festivals and public events. I first read about this idea in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, but it’s something I’ve never actually tried, because I’m not good with crowds, performance art, or thinking on my feet. But if you feel ready for the challenge, get yourself a booth at the next fair or festival, and offer on-the-spot poems. It’s a novelty, just like taking home a caricature, except with more feeling, unless, of course, you’re writing a poem about the person fishing, driving a sports car, or playing soccer. At one time, I had planned to try this, and figured that you could use ‘templates,’ or basic poems you had written previously, and fill in the essential info in the moment. If anyone is brave enough to go for it, let me know how it works out.

Granted, writing poetry to order isn't for everyone; your customers usually like their poems to rhyme, and follow a basic 'roses are red' form. If your artistic notions cringe at the thought of such pedestrian material, then this really isn't for you. Plus, there is a business aspect to think about, from setting rates to poem length and presentation. I never made more than the IRS-allowed hobby amount, but I had great fun, and met some interesting people. Poetry for profit won't get you published in magazines, but it is excellent practice, and you get a chance to make folks happy, one line at a time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Poet? Know it! Rhyme? Every time.

Poetry: It gave you rhyming power to tease each other on the playground, helped you express all that teenage angst, and, if you were a guy without a guitar, probably got you laid in college. Now it’s time to give something back, to rehearse, feed the culture with sonnet and verse. Why? Because April is National Poetry Month, a great reason to celebrate the shiny pebbles and itchy grit we rip from our souls and lay out on paper.

Even if you’re not a writer, you probably know a few poems, perhaps some Frost or Kilmer caught in the cobwebs of your brain during your school years, or a rather catchy, well-worn limerick involving a young lady and the destination of Nantucket. But the poetic world is so much larger, and April is a perfect time to explore. The official website at is chock-full of great ideas, or you can go off on your own to discover the quiet, meaningful words of Basho, the visceral punch of Amiri Baraka, or the quirky wit of T.S. Eliot.

If you do feel inspired, take on the daily poetry challenge at Writer Digest’s Poetic Asides blog, or join NaPoWriMo on the forums. And check back here frequently, because I've succumbed to a spell of overgeekiness, and have several posts lined up on how to incorporate poetry into your freelance world, for both fun and profit.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Heigh-ho, White-out, away!

I've always dreamed of becoming a vigilante, correcting wrongs and making things right. I would call myself the Masked Editor, and would attack public signs everywhere, stripping away misplaced apostrophes and telling the motel owners up the road that, no, there are not two 'i's in Jacuzzi. I've even created a novel character that fulfills my dream, making the world a better place to read.

Now I discover that someone has actually stepped up and pulled on the thong of truthiness: the Typo Eradication Advancement League is currently cruising the nation, fixing bad grammar and spelling on signs throughout the country, and saving countless writers and English teachers from daily brain aneurysms. The league of four team members post their successes--and failures--on their blog, and the founding member, Jeff Deck, was featured recently on NPR.

While the windmills may be too many to conquer, I'm glad to see a few wily Quixotes out there, living the dream and ticking off business owners across this great land.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fabulous? I'll take it

Tomorrow I will be 40 years old. It doesn't seem possible to me; I feel like I'm sixteen on the inside, and I've just been playing grown-up. My mom says the same thing when her birthday rolls around each year. But tomorrow, older people will say I'm still a kid, and younger folks will be amazed that I can still feed myself. (What? You're not on MySpace or FaceBook? Duuude.)

But reaching the big 4-0 means I have officially earned the right to wax poetically about 8-track tapes, record players, television with only three stations, safety-free playgrounds, and school handouts with smudged purple printing from the mimeograph machine. It means telling whippersnappers about being five years old, and my mother sitting me down in front of the television to watch Nixon's resignation speech, saying, 'This is history. Remember this.' And I do. I also remember watching President Carter deal with the hostage situation, and wondering if the world was coming to an end. Or staying up late on a Saturday night to watch an Elvis movie, and always falling asleep before the credits rolled. Or when Pong was the next big thing, but it couldn't compare to a sunny day outside during summer vacation. Writing that first poem. Winning that first contest. Getting that first clip. Roller rinks, disco queens, parachute pants, poodle perms, my off-the-shoulder Flashdance-style sweatshirt that had to be left on the shoulder during school hours, freezing during the winter in my first apartment, having a Buddhist nun come along and pay the heating bill when we couldn't--so many memories for such a short span of time. And a few questions along the way, such as:

When did the music of my teen years start turning up on classic radio?

Why am I now afraid of sneezing or belly-laughing in public when I'm not close to a bathroom?

Why did I hate my body so much when I was a size 6? Why am I more confident now looking like the Goddess of Willendorf?

When did booties and thongs quit relating to the feet, moving higher up?

Isn't there more between the life stages of getting caught without undies and wearing purple?

As for that last one, I intend to find out.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hook, Line and Reader

Although I can't remember the exact words, the feeling that sentence evoked stayed with me for years.

"Elaine's life was shrinking around her, like a polyester blouse in a hot dryer."

The article came out years ago, in one of those Sunday supplement papers like Parade or USA Weekend, and it told the story of a woman whose fear of leaving her house became worse and worse until she got help. Funny, I don't really remember how the story ended, because that first image, that hook, was so vivid for me. I'm a very fickle reader, but if you throw a good hook my way, you've got me for at least a few pages just out of respect.

Not just for fiction, a great hook can be used in articles, poems, anywhere you want to command attention. When done well, it grabs your reader by the lapels, yanks them in and gives them no choice; they simply must know what comes next. A great writer can have many hooks in a story, like the incomparable fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who kept me hooked with this line after the first section in his novel Thud:

On this day in 1802, the painter Methodia Rascal woke up in the night because the sounds of warfare were coming from a drawer in his bedside table. Again.

I suppose my penchant for hooks is why I love the contest at That First Line. The deadline is approaching fast, so if you have a talent for gripping first sentences, go for it.

Now that I've shared a couple of my faves, what are some of your favorite hooks?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

*headdesk* Create custom animated gifs at!

This is Cinnamon. He is vividly illustrating my frustration this week. For the last few days, real life has been sticking its sneaky head into my writing time, and work that should take one day is taking two or three. Grrrr. That's when I become especially vulnerable to distraction, like waiting for Cinnamon to fall asleep in a faceplant, then grabbing the camera.

Now that Cinnamon has had his few minutes of fame, I'm going back to work, and perhaps I'll get finished before Daylight Savings Time starts in March. ;)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sat. Surf & Turf: Crafty Creativity

I make my living with words: writing, researching and reading. When I’m not at the computer, I’m thinking about query ideas, the perfect hook, blog entries. Words buzz through my mind like a psychedelic ant farm. When I’m ‘off the clock,’ I do crossword puzzles and play games like Bookworm to keep my mind sharp. And, no, I don’t do those number games in the newspaper, because I am literally the monkey looking at a math problem. I do one Sudoku a year, referred to euphemistically as ‘my taxes.’

That’s why, when my brain is near overload, I head for something arty or crafty. Nothing in depth, mind you, because I am the person who has stitched numerous mutant skirts to my leg in the pursuit of sewing. But I do enjoy simple crafts, something I can do in a day. I like thinking in colors rather than syllables for a while. That’s why I like Creativity Portal; it’s a great site filled with projects from easy kid stuff (my specialty) to in-depth art ideas. There’s also a lot of writing prompts and wordplay as well, when the muse needs an imagination break, but I mainly go for cute things like the Valentine bug project. It’s adorable, useless, and completely stress-reducing. My bug looks less cute than the professional ones pictured; but, hey, he has character. He’ll be alone on Bug Prom Night, but he has character.

Hobby Lobby is my shrine of arty stuff offline; they have easy projects you can just pick up and do, and just wandering the aisles crams my head with tons of neat ideas for lost afternoons. Throw in a few packages of watercolor markers, some blank note cards, bookmarks, glue and little jewelry bits, and I’m a happy camper. I love creating blocky, abstract designs just for the fun of it, playing with different hues and shapes. None of it will ever see the light of day, although if you know me long enough, you’ll probably get a birthday card in the mail that looks like the proud work of a 10-year-old. Ah, yes, that’s a good day’s play.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Requiem for a writer

As writers, we explore the depths of our light and dark sides, searching for universal truths and hoping for common bonds with our readers. On occasion, it’s hard to pull back from that darkness, which is why studies show so many writers and poets suffer from depression. And sometimes, the light goes out while you’re slogging through the night of your own soul; famously, as with Ernest Hemingway or Sylvia Plath, or quietly, anonymously, as with Lynn VonDemfange. She took her own life last week, and while people mourn and ask why, fellow explorers of the inner sanctum will understand her next-to-last act: she wrote her own obituary, a very writerly thing to do. Really, what writer wouldn’t want control over the final public words summing up their experiences, accomplishments, and legacy?

Looking at the list of professional achievements she left behind, one might hope to gain that much success. She had edited magazines, including a stint at Country Home, worked for Hallmark Cards, and wrote her own column for a while at the local paper.

But sometimes, the bylines aren’t enough. I only knew her by the words she wrote, the honest opinions she gave. I didn’t know her personal story or her pain, but I do know that she was a talented writer, and no matter what anyone says, we can always use more. The world is a little less literate without her.

So, thinking of Lynn, put down your pencils sometime this weekend, hug the ones you love, go out into the sun or the snow or the rain, and enjoy life. If you find that you can’t enjoy life anymore, seek help and find your way back to the brightness. We’re writers, and we should create grand tragedies from our imagination, not become one in reality.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Just a few years ago, I thought successful writers had their work published in hard copy, either in a magazine or by a large, corporate book publisher. I had this strange food chain pushed into my head by other writers and professionals. On top were the bestselling book authors, lots of money but no respect; then the literary book authors, lots of respect but no money; and finally, the writers who churned out articles for magazines and journals. Some money, definitely no respect. Anything else, and you simply weren't a real writer trying to make a real living.

I tried to accept the fact that my dream was to be the low man on this whacked-out totem pole.

Slowly, I started getting involved in online writing communities. They were invaluable resources, and I networked with small fish and big fish. Within the last 18 months, I've jumped into the online writing scene with both feet, and I've learned so much. I've made friends and contacts of people those traditional minds could never accept. There's thousands of talented writers out there, and they write website content, newsletters, press releases, short stories, fanzines, fortune cookies, online magazines, quizzes, e-books, greeting cards, POD books, cell phone novelizations, bumper stickers, blogs, crossword puzzles, cereal boxes, horoscopes, screenplays and so much more. Most of them mix and match from the list, but they all work hard to make a living with words.

Thanks to Absolute Write, Freelance Writing Gigs, Funds for Writers, and so many other great sites, I've discovered that the food chain is actually a straight line packed with wordsmiths of all stripes. (There's always humor writers twisting around at either end, because they can never resist a straight line.)

I realize that I fall somewhere in the middle, and while I enjoy writing for magazines, it's pretty cool to sample from the rest of the list now and again. But my perspective has changed. A writer is someone who gets paid for their words, whether it's an information portal, an erotic newsletter, a television show, or a blogging gig. It's such a relief to tear down the totem pole and share experiences with so many great people. All writers deserve respect. Next time I see one of those people who push the old-school frame on me, I'll remind them of that. Online, my circle has expanded, and I'm loving the stretch marks on my brain.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Saturday Surf n' Turf

Even vegetarians can enjoy Saturday Surf n' Turf, because it has nothing to do with food, which is a rare event for me. The SST is a new feature I'm trying out on the blog; it will highlight one link to a great website, and one brick-and-mortar site, be it retail, attraction, or just something cool in the physical world. Knowing my redneck hippie chick self, I can say right now that it won't be a weekly feature, but I'll try to get an SST up every couple of weeks. Ready? Here we go! has always been one of my favorite sites for great tips on better living. I now swear by the blueberry-almond oatmeal combo featured in their fast, healthy breakfast post. But yesterday, I found another really helpful post, Top 30 Tips for Staying Productive and Sane While Working from Home. Some of these tips I've seen before, but others, like 'Don't go back to work when you're finished,' and 'Don't work an eight-hour day,' really helped me to put things in perspective. I can't separate my work space and living space right now, since my computer is temporarily in the living room, but a lot of the common sense listed made me re-think my daily routine. Whether I'll be any saner than normal remains to be seen, since all writers have their own little box of crazy they dip into every day for motivation.

Today's turf site is one of my favorite stores on the planet: Vintage Stock. It can't take the place of locally owned comic book stores, but my area VS store has a great selection of fun stuff sacred to Gen X, Y and the rest of the alphabet. From RPG supplies to trading cards, DVDs to LPs, plus cool collectibles, Vintage Stock rocks my never-grow-up heart. I don't expect to get a Wii anytime soon, but I can get games for my Nintendo 64, like Mario Kart 64 and Scooby-Doo, so I'm happy.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Getting in the new year groove

I admit it, I haven't cracked open that 2008 Procrastinator's Calendar yet, but the new year is here anyway. There have been some wonderful articles on the web about getting organized and prepared for the new year, and I recommend every one of them. Get those receipts in order, breathe deep and cough for the tax man, and re-discover what color your desk is under all those magazines and sticky notes: all excellent suggestions. I do, however, have a few tips of my own to kick off the new year:

1. Indulge yourself. It's a new year, why not enjoy something new to spur that winter-weary muse? Go all out for a new computer if you can, but even if you can't afford something that big just yet, drop by Dollar Tree for a bright, colorful journal you can use as an idea book, a little bulletin board to keep those assignments straight (or at least to post a 'Hang in there, kitty' picture until the assignment start rolling in) or some fresh pens and pencils. Really want to kick it up a notch and boost that self-esteem? Vistaprint now offers pens with your business name printed right on the barrel, and if you get their free offers in your email, a single pen will cost just a few bucks for shipping. A cheap thrill, perhaps, but nothing beats looking down at your lovely writing instrument and seeing your own name above the word 'writer.'

2. Start a Woo-hoo folder. This is one folder you should never clean out, no matter how many years have rolled past. The recipe for a perfect Woo-hoo folder: take one colorful folder, or draw your own design on a plain manila folder. Stuff with things that make you go Woo-hoo! A nice note from an editor (one page in mine is from an editor who told me, 'I barely had to touch your article, it made my day!'), positive forum comments, even encouraging rejections. When that bad day comes along, the day when everything goes wrong and you wonder about being a writer at all, pull out the Woo-hoo folder and realize that there are more good moments than bad.

3. Print out the USPS holiday calendar. Yes, this tip is more practical than the first two, but it's one I swear by each year. In fact, I delayed this post until they had the new calendar up at Paypal may be a wonder in the modern writer's life, but the good old U.S. Mail still plays a part occasionally in getting paid and sending out queries; don't drive yourself crazy wondering if the mail will run on Washington's birthday, Feb. 22 (yes) or President's Day, Feb. 18 (no). I also print out postage rates and keep them next to my little old-school postal scale, but I used to work in a mailroom, so I'm a bit geeky like that.

With both the creative and logical sides set, I'm ready for the new year. Heck, I might even write something down in my new calendar. Before March.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Meow to the Roar

The wonderful, uber-talented Jenn Hollowell tagged me with A Roar for Powerful Words Award and meme; like any award, there's some work to be done before I can rest on my furry laurels, namely, list three things that are necessary to create good, powerful writing. I've given this a lot of thought over the past week (which is why I didn't post sooner, honestly!) and here are my contributions:

Listen to your little voice. Ever heard that little voice in your head that says, "Hey, this would make a great story!" and just ignore it because you're not confident enough, experienced enough, or just don't have enough right stuff? Ignore your 'enough' switch, and listen to the little voice. If something appeals to you, tackle it with gusto. Learn what you need to know to make the piece work smoothly. Passion for a project often translates into passion on the page, and your inner voice knows that. It also knows that your inner editor needs a good butt-kicking most of the time, that you shouldn't eat chocolate-drizzled pretzels before bedtime, and that the chances of crazed hawks attacking the mailman and flying off with your check are nearly nonexistent. Pretty smart cookie, that little voice.

Make sure your words get their beauty sleep. Write when you're passionate, definitely, but remember to catch a glimpse of those sentences in the cool daylight, after the beer goggles have dropped away. If that essay or article is still good-lookin' in the morning, then you're in good shape. More likely, you'll see some tweaking that needs to be done, some changes that need to be made. Always try to give yourself at least a day to step away from the project, so you can read it with fresh eyes, because powerful writing comes from both passion and reflection.

Roll with the punches. What makes writing powerful is a person's ability to relate to it. Not all works catch everyone by the heart; what moves you may not move someone else. Your stuff will get rejected, scoffed at, snarked upon and generally pierced by the stiletto heels of the world. Eh, it happens. Remember to not take that personally, if possible. But, occasionally, someone will leave you a comment, or come up to you after a seminar, or e-mail you after an article has come out to tell you how much your words touched them. That's the payoff for good and powerful writing.

And now that I've fulfilled my duties as Lion Queen, I give this mantle of writership to Rebecca at WritersRoundabout, April Aragam, Joanna at Life in the Middle, Dawn at Anything that Pays, and Quirky Jessi. For those newly anointed, here are the rules: Link back to the person who tagged you. List three things that you believe make writing good and powerful. Tag five more sages of blog wisdom, and let them know in their comments that they are the new chosen ones.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

It's crowded in here

It’s interesting how other writers have an effect on my life; tonight I realized just how my favorite blogs are subtly directing the brain cells in the back of my headroom.

Tonight, for instance, I watched the sad, touching movie ‘Ikiru,’ a 1952 Japanese pic with English subtitles about a city hall worker who tries to truly experience life before he dies of stomach cancer. Viewed through the time of post-war Japan, it’s uplifting in its own way. Japanese culture has been on my mind since I discovered Kappa no He, a wonderful blog that details Japanese life in delicious, tiny bits. After that, the remote landed on a paintball mockumentary called ‘Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story.’ I partly blame Dawn at It Had to Be Said for this, because I think of her paintball tank while watching this, and thinking how much better the movie could be if she and her tank ran through it.

I’ve started checking out old Erma Bombeck books from the library again, because I can’t get enough of reincarnated Erma, er, Amy, over at Mind Over Mullis. I’m thinking of sending her some very potent vitamins so she can post three times a day. Dave Barry should be polishing this woman’s shiny tiara with his Pulitzer, because she’s going to rack up fame and fortune soon.

Whenever I watch or read something about sassy women, I head over to Confessions of A Fat Chick to see if Jen’s posted about it. Right after the premiere of ‘How to Look Good Naked,’ a great show with Carson from Queer Eye about body image, I rushed over to Jen’s blog for her thoughts.

While writing a meeting travel article about Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill this weekend, I heard Virginia Lee in the back of my mind saying, ‘Make us look good, hon.’ Her fiction always leaves my jaw on the floor, and she has redefined the Southern soul for me.

Rebecca at Writer’s RoundAbout is my online reality check; when I believe I’ve examined a topic from every angle, she always surprises me by posting something unique and helpful. I loved her recent waterfall of ideas post, and I realized that my own waterfall of ideas more likely resembles a dog hiking his leg over a small tree.

There are so many others, like Karen’s amazing Be the Change blog, and I always have to know what Melanie’s up to in Mexico, another blog that fulfills the armchair travel researcher in me. There are so many others that I read frequently as well; it's a wonder that I get any work done at all, really. If I didn't list someone, don't feel bad, because I really do have a terrible memory. Even now, I'm thinking about Joanna's comic blog, Wordsmith and Wordsmyth, and how they deserve some linkage, too. All these viewpoints widen my own horizons, and make life more interesting. Thanks, everyone!