Safety nets

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I’m not afraid of mice or snakes. I’m not timid about eating at restaurants alone or going to the movies by myself. I can come through a public speaking experience relatively intact, and I can face a tornado or a raging editor with aplomb. But there is one thing that scares me to death – writing without an outline.

“Outline” is a two-syllable swear word for many people, but to me that word means security. Direction. A beacon in the night. Even if I deviate from it, which I almost always do, my safety net comforts me. When I have one in place, I know I will never become totally lost in a morass of random words. Whatever happens in the course of my story, I can always go back to my outline and find my way home.

To me, not using an outline is like shooting an arrow into the air and hoping it hits some target somewhere. Flying blind through the fog, hoping to find an airport. That being said, outlines give me security but they don’t give me freedom. I envy those free spirits who can go wherever their creative powers take them and end up with a magnificent, well-written piece of work. That is something that I cannot do, it’s simply not in my nature. Having an outline is as important to me as it is for other people not to be limited by one.

So, give me my outlines, no matter how far away I might wander from them! And don’t make fun of me or pity me, I just can’t help it. It’s in my DNA.

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Embarrassing Confessions

It’s Embarrassing Confessions time:

  1. I don’t always have good taste in TV shows. I love shows like Modern Marvels and X-Files, and I was gripped by Lost fever just like everyone else I knew. But I also like Gilligan’s Island. As an adult comedy show GI is hopelessly ridiculous. However, if you watch it from the standpoint of “children playing they are lost on a deserted island,” then the show works perfectly. Try it once, you’ll see what I mean.
  2. I don’t have a sophisticated palate. When I was a child I would pick and eat white clover blossoms (yes, I washed them first). I would go into the garden and pick a mess of mustard greens and boil them up for a snack, or I would munch raw potato sticks dipped in mayo (mmmm!). In early summer I would shuck the wings off ripe maple seeds and fry the seed heads up in an iron pan with a little salt, like parched corn (double mmmm!). My adult taste isn’t much better. One of my favorite comfort foods is hamburger and chopped onions fried in a pan with lots of salt and black pepper until it turns into little dry crispy bits. High-end food items like balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta cheese are wasted on me, sorry!
  3. I really like…wait for it…drum roll…watching heavy earth-moving and construction equipment. Not driving it, although I would if I could, but watching them at work. There is something about these machines that hypnotizes me, a sort of nonthinking, meditative activity. If I were wealthy I would buy a backhoe, a front-end loader, or a repaving machine, hire someone to run it, and sit on my comfortable patio for hours watching it do its thing. I often drive out of my way to pass spots where I know construction or pipe laying is taking place, especially during rush hour, because the slower traffic gives me more time to watch. I do searches on YouTube for bucket wheel excavators and walking drag lines. Sometimes I download and save the videos.

Here is a cool YouTube video (not mine). I like that the natural sounds are left in rather than adding a music track, and those demolition shears at the beginning are one of my favorite pieces of equipment:

Before summer ends and the snow starts to fly, seek out some construction or demolition site and watch that wonderful metallic feast of precision movement. As any gourmet chef would say, enjoy!

 

 

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New release: The Retrievers anthology

I’m excited about the release of my new anthology on Kindle:

The Retrievers: Strange Tales of the Supernatural

TheRetrievers_Kindle

 

I’ve waited a long time to see my stories in print, and it feels so good!

 

 

 

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Night Life

night sky

— photograph from Desktop Nexus

The other day at work I was going about my daily tasks, humming a cheerful, aimless tune. I was cheerful because it was late afternoon and my shift had just started.

“You’re one of those night people, aren’t you?” a co-worker remarked to me disdainfully. Poor thing, I knew by the way she said “night person” that it was supposed to be mildly insulting, but I forgave her. I could see she was more than ready to go home, and I knew from past conversations how the rest of her day would go. She would eat an early supper, watch the six o’clock news and a few sitcoms, and be snugly in bed by nine.

Night person? Who, me?

Hell, yes. The Mistress of Midnight, the Queen of Darkness, the Angel of Moonrise, that’s me, and I’m not even a vampire. I just act like one.

The main advantage to being a night person is being out of sync with the rest of the world. I love being awake and aware while the rest of the world is fast asleep. I see and hear things that day people miss, like that huge raccoon who lives under my neighbor’s porch rooting through my other neighbor’s trash cans. I see someone’s daughter’s late-night date drop her off in the parking lot of the apartment house across the street. I see the moon rise and set, I hear the distant drone of midnight traffic and the sleepy twittering of a sparrow that has waked too early.

Nighttime is the time when everything rests and goes unconscious except for me. Not that I sit and stare out the window all night long, or watch three-hour blocks of I Love Lucy – the evening hours are too precious to waste in that manner. Instead, I create and dream without intrusion from the outside world. I find peace in the midst of a city-sea of people, and I feel an unspoken kinship with every other night person who is awake and conscious at that time.

The main drawback to being a night person is being out of sync with the rest of the world. Waking up before 8 a.m. feels like the middle of the night to me. When my family is just falling into bed I am getting my second wind. As my friends drop out one by one to hit the hay, I am just hitting my stride. Because I have a day job, most of the time I force myself to go to bed like a decent human being at a decent hour and stare at the insides of my eyelids before falling into an unhappy doze. Once in a while, though, I become absorbed in a DVD, a book, or an interesting reddit thread and lose track of time. Suddenly it will be 3:30 in the morning, and I have to rise at 6. Staying up late isn’t the problem here. The problem is that the rest of the world demands that I am up and functioning at a reasonable level far, far too early. It’s the rest of the world that’s out of kilter, not me…

But I don’t want to change the world. I prefer to keep my status as Queen of Darkness. I love to gaze out my window at those one or two lone lit windows along a darkened street and know that inside is a fellow ruler of the night. Are you?

 

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Mmmmm good!

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I am going to take a break this month. Instead of a short article, I would like to offer you a recipe I am planning to include in my upcoming low carb cookbook. It’s easy, inexpensive, and delicious:

SHREDDED SPICY BEEF

one 4-5 lb. chuck roast

1 c. salsa (I use Pace medium heat)

1 envelope taco seasoning (I use Ortega)

one large onion, sliced

optional: one green bell pepper, chopped; 1-2 cloves garlic, minced

Place the sliced onions in a layer on the bottom of the crockpot.  Place the roast upon the onion layer. Combine the salsa and taco seasoning, pour over the roast. Cover and cook on High for six hours. Shred the meat with two forks and heat another half hour to blend the flavors. Put into a serving dish. If desired, garnish with sliced green olives and slices of American cheese in a nice pattern. Use the meat to fill low carb burritos, taco shells, or lettuce wraps, or eat in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream on top.

I have not frozen this recipe myself, but I think it might freeze well. I also think it would be delicious using chicken.

(Disclaimer: I am not advertising for Pace, Ortega, or Rival! It’s just a photo.)

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February is the Cruellest Month

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THIS POST APPEARS OUT OF SEASON, BUT UNFORTUNATELY IT’S STILL RELEVANT…COME ON, SPRINGTIME!

I love winter. The soft white winter dawns, the sunny, icy hard-like-a-diamond winter days, the winter twilights with deep blue shadows shading into night, all evoke for me feelings of peace and wonder at the beauty of nature. I love winter — but not all of it. My most hated aspect of winter, really the only part I hate except for sudden ice storms, can be described with that falsely cheerful euphemism The Weather Channel uses to describe the most dangerous condition of the season – “wintry mix.” Not a tasty bridge mix of chocolate-covered nuts and candy, “wintry mix” refers to that dangerous mixture of ice, sleet, snow, and rain that seems to strike during every February just when spring fever rises. That is why, out of all the months in the year, I hate February the most.

February is neither full-on winter nor early spring. February brings alternating freezes and thaws, clear streets and dangerous black ice when the temperatures plunge after dark. February offers the hope of warmer weather by melting most of the snow on the ground, giving us one or two balmy springlike days, and then reneging on its own promise by slamming down a snowstorm which dumps more precipitation on our heads than an arctic blizzard in January. February is slipping and sliding pedestrians, fender benders in the streets, shoppers falling down and potatoes and cans of soda rolling over grocery store parking lots.

After one deceptively warm period last February, I had the memorable experience of being temporarily trapped inside my car. It had rained that day, but after dark the temperature dipped below freezing and the parking lot of my apartment building was coated with a thin, invisible layer of black ice. I had safely negotiated the slippery streets and parked in my usual spot, only to find that I could not stand up on the asphalt to get out of my car! This February, after two nice, deceptively warm days in a row (Lies! It’s all lies!) I thought I would prevent that by scattering salt and sand around my car just before the next round of “wintry mix.” When I finished patting myself on the back for my canny foresight, I realized that I had, in essence, sprinkled a magical protective ring of salt around my car to protect me from evil (and embarrassment).

I enjoy December and the ethereal loveliness of the first snow. I am sentimental about white Christmases. I even admire the huge killer icicles dangling from the eaves of the apartment building next door to mine, which apparently doesn’t have enough insulation in their attic to prevent them from forming. But I never, ever wax poetic about the one aspect of wintertime which makes me long for springtime and summer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only good thing that icy, slushy February brings to the seasonal table is that it feels so great when it’s over.

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Venus on the Beach, With Ball

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Some people lead busy, active lives. Their idea of a vacation might be resting, reading, or dozing on the beach. Other people whose lives are scheduled, routine, and sedentary might choose a vacation filled with plenty of things to do and places to see. But my idea of a vacation is a rest from thinking.

Like many people, I work with words all day and sometimes all evening. Reading, writing, editing, revising, and communicating with others constantly engages my full set of verbal skills. My idea of a rest – a genuine, complete rest – is to quiet that part of my brain that deals with all that verbal traffic. I picture the perfect getaway for my mind, my cerebrum swinging in a brain-sized hammock on the sand, an iced drink beside it on a little table (it would necessarily have to raise that glass by psychokinesis, because no arms, but…). My brain would lazily swing back and forth, back and forth, chewing a piece of mental gum and occasionally blowing a sticky bubble, enjoying its respite from books, the Internet, and email. It would be feeling and not thinking, which it did on my most recent trip to our local museum.

At that time there was a special exhibit I was eager to see. One weekend I did so, taking my brain along for the ride, making sure its seatbelt was duly fastened and that I had admission tickets for both of us. The following Monday I related my trip to one of my co-workers, who was aghast that I hadn’t rented a pair of headphones to accompany my walk through the exhibit. I explained to her that I’d gone there not to learn or to think but to feel, but she didn’t understand. Why go to a museum in order not to learn? But I had, and I’m not sorry. I and my brain had gone on an emotional road trip, had come back refreshed, and life was good again.

Photography is another nonverbal activity which refreshes me. Through images, it expresses emotions and thoughts on a deeper level than any set of words ever could. When I am on a photographing expedition I use my brain in an entirely new way than I do in my daily life. I look at angles, lighting and shadows, and groupings, expressing through various arrangements of those elements what I feel about what I see through my view finder. When I come away from a successful “hunt” with my trophies, I feel as rested and relaxed as many people would feel returning from a trip to the Bahamas.

No matter what I do with my off time, when I (and my brain) switch back from resting to reading, writing, and the Internet again, I realize how much I have missed these things and that my vagabond self is returning to the place I truly belong.

 

 

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