The Yarnspinners

News of anthologies by Kim Cox, Elizabeth Delisi, Chris Grover, Elaine Hopper, Maureen McMahon, and Sheryl Hames Torres--The Yarnspinners!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fall, Or Get Off Me

What's your favorite season of the year? For many people, it's summer, because that's when they get their vacation. Iced tea, t-shirts and shorts, and long days lend an air of relaxation. Spring is a lovely season, bringing new leaves and flowers, warming temperatures, not to mention young love. And winter, of course, is the harbinger of many holidays, and when there's a newly-fallen coverlet of snow, the world looks like a picture postcard.

Not many people claim fall as their favorite season.

For school children, fall is the least favorite season, dredging up images of going back to school for another endless, tedious year of learning. My birthday is in September, so that mitigated the childhood dread of fall for me somewhat, but once the celebration was over, I wasn't crazy about the rest of the season.

Now, though, I love fall. Especially since I'm back in New England. There's something special about the sun on a New England fall day. It's brighter, sharper. It reflects off the scarlet and russet leaves, the white steeples of churches, the numerous ponds and rivers, and almost seems alive. Fall glitters, it sparkles. It's so full of beauty, it's hard not to let the tears flow. Fall is perfection.

Some of you may have caught the story on the ABC News a few nights back about how the fall Apparently, the leaves don't fall so much as they are pushed. The tree can't handle the weight of snow on all its leaves in the winter, so it shoves the leaves off in order to protect itself, in effect saying, "Get off me." In the news story, they suggested fall could more accurately be named the "Get Off Me" season of the year. That gave me a chuckle. ;-)

But--when I'm out in the beautiful New England fall, I want to soak it up, breathe it in, clutch it to me and wear it home. No way could I call fall "Get Off Me." I want it IN me! So I guess the closest I can get is, "Come On In."

How about you?


Monday, September 25, 2006

Cat People and Dog People by Maureen McMahon

Are you a cat person, or a dog person? Why is it cat people can be dog people, but dog people rarely want anything to do with cats?

Cats are independent. Dog people call cats ‘sneaky.’ They don’t like the idea cats can figure out how to get up on the kitchen counter while you’re not looking and make off with the entire fish you were preparing for dinner. They also don’t like the fact cats are nocturnal and can actually see pretty well in the dark. Fear of the unknown leads dog people to mistrust cats. “Will that damn cat decide my bare feet are prey on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night?” or “Why do cats have to terrorize their victims to death?”

Dog people are offended at the thought of a creature enjoying the torment of another. But cats don’t consider this one way or the other. To them, it’s just another wind-up toy to chase. If there’s a God, then God made them that way. Perhaps mice are really people who’ve terrorized others in a previous life and must now reap their just rewards. The next cute, furry mouse you see may, in fact, be the reincarnation of Hitler.

Dogs. Well, what can I say about dogs? They’re blissfully ignorant side-kicks who don’t really care about anything except their reproductive organs, where and how often they can urinate, food, a chewed, slimy rubber ball, and their unfounded adoration of two-legged creatures they don’t even understand. Most people say dogs aren’t sneaky. This may be because they make enough noise to alert an entire neighbourhood if they get up on the kitchen counter to steal the fish. What’s worse, if they do manage to grab the fish, they’ll end up having to be rushed to emergency before they choke to death on the bones. They’re not nocturnal, so if they try to chase your feet in the night, they’re libel to run into the wall instead. And they don’t terrorize their prey, they simply rip them to shreds or leave them maimed and wishing they were dead.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a cat person. That said, I do have (and love) dogs – but I don’t expect them to be as smart as cats. Cat’s can look after themselves. If they aren’t fed on time, they can find some small creature to eat. If they’re dirty, they give themselves a bath. A dog would starve to death or die of filth without us.

But whether you’re a dog or cat person, we all still have one thing in common: Having a furry friend to love when we get home makes life a lot more pleasant.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Motherhood by Maureen McMahon

Mothers down through the years have been lauded, applauded, pedestalled, crowned, sung of, painted, poemed and enshrined all in an attempt to show we recognize the enormity of their influence and responsibility. There is no pre-requisite for motherhood. One does not have to pass exams, or be of a certain ethnic background, religion, financial status or temperament. The only requirements for motherhood are those dictated by mother nature herself and even these are no longer hard and fast. Basically, the traditional requisites for becoming a mother are:
A. Be of the female sex.
B. Be reproductively mature.
C. Have had at least one sexual encounter with a male of the same species.
All of which can go without saying if one has:
D. Given birth.

Nowadays, however, many of these requirements have been adapted to our own needs. No longer is physical femaleness as important as MENTAL femaleness. There are thousands of mothers out there stuck in a male body! And as far as physically giving birth, well, many people find the whole process either too disgusting, too inconvenient or just plain impossible. These people can still attain motherhood through adoption, surrogacy or kidnapping. In the end, it all comes back to the fact that motherhood is a state of mind.

This is the universal link between all mothers, regardless of their individual personalities or conditions of life. Mothers all have one goal in life: Control.

In the beginning a mother must control her child simply for the child's well-being. The innocent little dears would certainly never survive without a mother's controlling influence. One would think, however, that once that child reaches adulthood the instinct to control would diminish. It doesn’t. Instead it merely assumes a new name: Manipulation.

Take the case of the 15 year old daughter going out with her friends wearing something her mother considers inappropriate. Mother can control this behaviour by saying: "You will not leave this house wearing THAT, my girl. Go up and change immediately!"

Then look at the same daughter 25 years later going out for her 20th wedding anniversary, once again wearing something mother doesn't approve of. Mother smiles sweetly and says: "Oh my, I thought those fashions went out of style years ago! DO have a good time, dear. Are you going somewhere dark?"

Mothers don’t acknowledge adulthood in their children. When Mom comes to visit her 40-something year old son, she will still covertly check his fingernails, hair, ears and underwear – if she can get her hands on them. Anything amiss will automatically be blamed on his wife, who obviously wasn't raised well enough to know how things should be done.

When Mom comes to visit her 40-something year old daughter, she mutters things like, "I see you've forgotten everything I taught you." or "In my day, we took pride in our work!" as she interferes in every facet of the household duties. Daughters and daughters-in-law apparently become threats to a mother's sense of autocracy. How dare they be able to cope with things differently? Sons, on the other hand, will always be pitied, clucked over, coddled and lovingly chastised for trying to manage independently. They can never pose a threat, for they were kept blissfully ignorant of anything remotely resembling domestic duties. We don't want to make sissies of them by having them do women's work!

Mothers learn to adapt their control messages to suit the age of their child. What once were out and out commands become subtle hints, martyrdom and/or reverse psychology as their child matures. Some key manipulative phrases are:
"When I was your age..."
"I'm just too old to argue with you."
"Your poor, dear father would roll over in his grave..."
"This is all the thanks I get after all the things I've done for you."
"I don't want to interfere dear, but..."
Mothers use their seniority like an atomic bomb – bringing it out as a last resort. There is nothing you can do to win your point once Mother starts dropping lines like:
"I've been around a lot longer than you."
"When you get to be my age..."
"You can't put an old head on young shoulders..."
"You young kids these days...!"
This seniority excuses any amount of tactless behaviour. Mother is the only person in the world who can say to you:
"When are you going to lose all that weight?" or
"That hair colour looks hideous with your complexion." or
"Ever since you married that horrible person, you've just let yourself go."

Mothers develop selective memories once they acquire grandchildren. You will be told things like:
"I was in labour for ten days with you and was out picking cotton on the eleventh!" or:
"When are you going to toilet train that child? All of you were out of diapers by the time you were five months old!" or:
"The trouble with your generation is you don't discipline your children. No wonder there's so much crime these days!"

Of course if you take exception to any of these statements Mother will simply say: "Don't argue with me. I've been on this earth a lot longer than you." So don't bother.
I suppose, if the truth be told, motherhood is a position that demands respect, and it’s not fair, and can be somewhat dangerous, to criticize too much. Luckily, after pondering all the annoying indiosyncracies that accompany motherhood, I feel I have a more open mind. I can look my own children straight in the eye and say:
"Despite the fact that I am your mother, I will hereafter try to approach every situation in a fair, unbiassed and calm manner, and if your rooms are not immaculate in one hour, I will set fire to them."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Love, Loss and Regret

I wanted to write something uplifting this time, but I couldn’t think of anything at the moment. What’s dwelling on my mind this week has been the loss of a loved one. The reason is there have been two women whom I work with that have lost their husbands, both in the last two weeks. One was very unexpected and the other, although her husband has been ill for some time, he was still quite young.

To me, it’s unbearable to even think of losing my husband or one of my children, but it happens. Ten years ago, it was unbearable to think of losing one of my parents. Since, I’ve lost both and still I’ve managed to carry on. Both, my parents and my husband’s parents lost a child during their lifetimes. My sister-in-law lost her husband, and I lost my brother from one tragic accident. I think I related to my sister-in-law’s feelings most at that time. As unbearable as it was to think of losing a husband, it was doubly unbearable to relate to my parents’ feelings. I remember them all going through the tragedies.

Misfortune happens to us all. When and where is out of our hands, the only way to deal with such heartache is with faith. Yes, faith. My faith in Jesus Christ helped me deal with the death of my brother in 1989, my mother in 1996 and my father in 1997, not to mention other family members not as close. There are still times I miss them. And there are things I can’t do. No, that’s not completely honest, it’s not that I can’t, it’s that I haven’t done them yet, not even after 10 or 17 years.

My brother was a wonderful man, a good man. I don’t think I ever saw anyone with as many people attending their funeral. There was standing room only in the large church where it was held. At visitation, there wasn’t time to even sit as the line out the door was so long that it took the entire two hours to get everyone through. Many loved him and I never even realized it. My brother was an engineer on the railroad for more than fifteen years; he was the superintendent of the Christian softball league and an ordained preacher.

David was a writer too, and a pretty good one. I feel bad that I never really read anything he wrote until after he passed. His articles on faith were published in our local newspaper. His wife’s sister found his writing (written by hand and some typed) and cassette tapings of his sermons while cleaning out the attic in the church he attended. She made copies for my parents and me. While I’ve read his articles, I still haven’t brought myself to listen to his sermons. Fear of how hearing his voice will affect me has stopped me from hearing his words.

My parents were also good people of strong faith. My mother was loving and honest. She would do anything to help anyone in need. But she also had a strong sense of right and wrong and of people, if they could be trusted or not. I never knew her to be wrong in that respect. Striving to be the best person she could be is what made her happiest. That and her family. My father on the other hand was much more relaxed and outgoing. He never met a stranger and his faith, like the other two, was also strong. I remember him studying his bible all the time. I regret tuning him out sometimes when he tried to talk to me about it. I remember stories of his childhood, exciting stories. His family moved a lot and he was always the new kid who had to defend himself against bullies. Being the youngest of eight children prepared him in protecting himself against who wanted to harm him. I can only remember living in three different houses growing up. And even with that, he kept us in the same school district, because he knew how hard he had it.

Dad had a lot of sayings. You know those as children we hated. Like the answer to the question why was always “because I said so.” And “if your friend jumped off a bridge would you?” But when you grew up, did you find yourself saying the same phrases you swore you’d never say? I know I have. There’s two phrases/quotes of wisdom he said I know I’ll never forget: “Never loan money that you can’t afford to be repaid.” and “Never charge to your credit card more than you can pay off in thirty days.” Living by these is much harder though.

There are videos of my parents at church that so far I haven’t watched. Again “fear” is what has stopped me, but I will watch them one day. Also my dad was talented. He taught himself to play the guitar and piano by ear, and he sang. I remember playing and replaying the Kenny Rogers song “Lucille” so that he could learn the words to it, play it and sing it. I have cassettes of him singing that I haven’t listened to either—same reason as before. My husband has listened to them. When country music changed though, he began listening to only gospel. He loved his music loud and he sometimes would play the guitar and sing when mom and I was interested in a movie infuriating us at times. But he loved to play and sing and show off.

My parents and my brother were all very giving people, financially and they gave their time to what they believed, and I only hope to be half as good as they were. I used to think it was only their bad habits and problems (not that they had many) I inherited. And I did get those, but I like to think I received their good abilities and habits too. I didn’t get daddy’s talent for music, that’s for sure, but whereas I can’t carry a tune, I have always had pretty good rhythm for dancing which doesn’t do me much good except every once and a while it offers me some exercise. I inherited my mother’s love of reading and watching the World Series, also of the Atlanta Braves. Actually both parents loved the Braves.

I think I’m a pretty good person and I love helping others when I can. My faith is strong. One day, I will listen to my brother’s sermons, watch my mom and dad on video and listen to my dad sing again, and I know that day will be soon. One of my greatest faults is putting off anything I deem unpleasant or upsetting.

Time is short, and I know that from my life’s experiences. So, it’s time to do the things I’ve been putting off. Besides the above, I need to redo my will, cancel AOL and give more of myself to others. I told my husband the other day that if we ever “won the lottery” even though I would quit my day job, I would like to volunteer my time to help the elderly and the sick in some way. My first thought was Mana Food Bank.

I guess the moral of this story is: Don’t put things off, even when you think they’re unpleasant or upsetting. And I hope this hasn’t depressed anyone. It’s just my thoughts for the last few weeks.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Slave to 21st Century Technology or Maybe I should get an offline life...

You know how people ask, "If you could live in any other time, which would it be?"

In the past, I'd given this a lot of thought. I adore everything Tudor, homes, clothing of the era, the political and religious rammifications that surrounded one man's libido, among countless other things. I eat it up! Did a term paper on old Henry and his women in high school that was a hundred pages long and had almost 2000 note cards and a 30-page bibliography. I got a hundred on it, but I'm pretty sure my instructor didn't read all the way through it--I've since found dreadful grammatical errors. What can I say? Commas have always been my bane.

There are other eras in history I find roughly romantic and wouldn't mind spending an hour or two exploring: The Flapper Era,
Pioneer Era, the first Fashion Week, sometime during Roosevelt's presidency in order to meet Eleanor.

Okay, all that changed Wednesday. I've decided I am truly a 21st Century Woman. I'm chained here and it's not pretty. Seems the Southern United States has gotten so used to drought that when it finally rains any significant amount, the South shuts down. Rain, a little thunder and my internet went out. Other things went out too that kept me virtually cut off from me, I am not a woman who does quiet well. My kids go to school and the radio AND TV come on...but being without the internet was the worst.

I knew that I spent a lot of time online...I'm a writer, so that goes without saying...but until I couldn't get online, I'd not realized just how dependent I am on the internet. I research. I contact friends. I get recipes. I check weather (eye roll).

Okay, there are phones, TVs and cookbooks. There are days I don't sign on at all. Days when my needlework deadlines are stricter than my writing deadlines. It wasn't as if I had nothing else to do. Hey, I have a husband, two kids and two furry creatures all living in my house with me. There's ALWAYS something to do. I could have worked on my pending needlework restoration. I didn't HAVE to sign on. But I COULDN'T sign on. Enter anxiety attack.

Now, okay, granted, I'm a card carrying conspiracy theory member, but I never considered myself to be paranoid in any way. But I just knew something important was happening that I didn't have access to, something that was going to be life altering. There was some weather occurance that wasn't showing up on cable...which by the way, along with cell, phone and power took turns fritzing out on me. And the cable company chickie said the ENTIRE SOUTHEASTERN UNITED STATES WAS WITHOUT INTERNET! Honey, that goes way beyond conspiracy! That's sabotage!

The cable company who shall from this moment forward be referred to as The Wicked and Uncaring A, couldn't tell me when it was going to be restored. "We hope sometime this week." Sometime this week, we HOPE??? No no no...not acceptable. Do you realize what's going on in my life?? I have a new crit group starting. I'm having a virtual Mary Kay online sleepover. I have two novellas coming out in the next month or so!!! I have to BLOG!!! I have my local news channel's weather radar on loop!!! I need my internet access, Cable Chickie! DO SOMETHING!!!!!

I was offered credit, and nothing more. How rude. How inconsiderate. I mean, come on, if it wasn't for me and others like me, they'd be working asking if I'd like fries! What has happened to human kindness?

But did I survive prior and during the War Games era? Didn't Matthew Broderick teach me anything about life and computers?

I was so depressed. I took a nap.

Funny, I'd forgotten what sleep felt like.

Til next week....

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Love Them Little Mouseys

Lately we've been involved in waging war.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard noises in the walls. Yup...mice. Well, I guess when you live in a house over a hundred years old, you have to expect mice. And really, I have nothing against them. But I'd like them to understand this is MY house; they need to get their own. Preferably outside, preferably far away. Because although they're adorable, they DO carry diseases, and they DO chew on insulation, wiring, and other vital parts of the house.

My husband said he'd set some traps. Right away I said, "Oh no, I want them out of our house but I don't want to kill them." He sighed and said he'd look around to see if we still had the Havahart mousetrap I bought several years ago, when mice were getting into the garage of a house we used to own.

Later, he came up from the basement, trap in hand. He held it up, looked at me seriously and opened his mouth to speak.

I cut him off. "Yes, I will set the trap and yes, I will check it every day, because I know your working hours won't allow it and all those little mouseys will die if left in the trap too long."

He looked astounded, opened and closed his mouth a few times, said "Okay, then," and left the room. ;-)

So every day, I've been going down to the basement to check the trap, releasing any mouseys I catch (I like to think of it as repatriating them to the woods across the street) and resetting the trap. Not as easy as it sounds, because the basement "door" is set flush into the laundry room floor. So first I have to move the cat's litter box, the vacuum cleaner, the birdseed, the mop, etc. off the door. Then I haul up on the heavy door by the little metal ring embedded in it and prop it open on the cat litter container. I turn on the light and either back down the stairs or limbo down, as there's not much head room. Then I slouch over to the trap as the "ceiling" of the basement is shorter than I am. If I catch somebody, I take him across the street and let him go, then rebait the trap with peanut butter and put everything back together for another 24 hours.

I've caught seven little mouseys as of today, and I hope and pray they're seven separate mice and it's not the same one I'm catching over and over! They're just adorable, with their brown fur, white tummies, round ears, big black eyes, and little pink feet. I'm glad we're not killing them, though I know we must be fighting a losing battle to keep them out of the house. But I like to think of it as storing up good karma to fight off the bad stuff that falls into everyone's life.

Why, you're probably asking, am I calling them "mouseys"?

It's because when I was in college, I remember a popular little cartoon that was on mugs, t-shirts, etc. It showed a cat playing a guitar and singing, and here's his song:

Love them little mouseys,
Mouseys what I love to eat.
Bite they tiny heads off,
Nibble on they tiny feet.

While I can't imagine a more disgusting meal, somehow the rhyme has stuck with me all these years. So to me, they'll always be mouseys. But I have a new rhyme:

Love them little mouseys,
Mouseys what I set free across the street.
Hope they don't come back here,
And nibble on my tiny feet!

What do you think?

Liz, the Mouse Whisperer

Wrong Turns Part II


I’m always fascinated in hearing how other writers transform an idea into a finished work, and after reading Liz and Maureen’s comments on my Tuesday blog, I started thinking about how, after years of trial and error, I’ve learned to do it.

When I first started to write back in the early 80’s, I met a HQ author, Elaine something, it’s so long ago I’ve forgotten her last name, but Elaine wrote great stories. She’d start off with a single sheet of paper and then keep taping on extra sheets, spread sheet style, until she had long, detailed plans that would put an engineer to shame. Her plans included character bios, character arcs, story graphs and every other little trick we’ve learned in writing class. And when she was finished, she went back, connected all the dots, and hey presto! her story was done to perfection—no saggy middles, no unanswered questions. (I just remembered—Elaine Stirling, back in the mid-80’s she wrote a great HQ Intrigue, Call After Midnight).

Elaine made the whole process look so darn simple, I gave it a try…and wound up with the worst mess imaginable. After that, I tried writing an outline—10/20 pages of this happens and then that happens. Another disaster because I was treating my characters like puppets and once I started the actual writing, I kept deviating from the plot--at least, I thought it was me until I realized it was my characters rebelling at being forced to do stuff they did not want to do. I then tried the start, middle and finish approach—to which my characters replied: okay, maybe, and ABSOLUTELY NOT.

For a short story, I don’t bother with outlines or lists. I know I have to wind it up within 10-20k, so I have a fairly good idea of where the story is headed and how I need to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. I don’t often take a wrong turn, but if I do, it’s usually not that difficult to fix. The problem I had with JUST ONE LOOK was because I’d added a subplot that kept growing and growing. The basic subplot is fine, but I kept getting these additional good ideas that I didn’t think through properly and thus wound up with a scene that didn’t work.

With a full length book, 100K+/-, I find keeping everything on track is not so easy. I start off with a main thread for the principal characters and a couple of minor ones for the supporting cast--my ideas usually come with a great opening scene that just drops into my head. I then do a couple of pages on where I think the story should go, do short character sketches, figure out the GMC and any back story, and complete any necessary research. By the time the opening scene is written, I have a loose idea what will happen next, but no clue at all how it will end because around the middle of every book, my characters unfailingly take over.

To combat this takeover, I make reminder lists about things that need to happen or not happen etc. etc. I’ve also discovered a marvelous little trick to keep everything heading in the right direction: At the end of the first third of the book and again at the end of the second third, I have a story conference with my characters to determine their respective states of mind. What they want or want not to happen; how they feel about the other characters, and so on and so on. It’s really quite illuminating once you start treating your characters as people rather than puppets.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Wrong Turns, Dead Ends and Brick Walls

Wrong Turns, Dead Ends and Brick Walls

I guess every writer has, at one time or another, no matter how perfectly they’ve plotted their story, wound up taking a wrong turn, or facing a dead end or a brick wall and asking themselves, “What happened? And where in heck do I go from here?”

It’s happened to me in the past, and will probably happen again in the future. Some people call it Writer’s Block, I call it “Taking A Wrong Turn”. True Writer’s Block is something else entirely.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing up a storm on a novella that is supposed to be finished and turned in by the end of October. I had about 12k words written and everything was moving along like a well-oiled machine. I was so pleased with myself, I began hanging out with dh and the kitties, watching TV and patting myself on the back—all I had to do was another 5-6k and I’d be finished well before Oct.31. No sweat.

At least that’s what I thought until yesterday morning when I read over what I’d written and discovered I’d gone so far off track I’d written the hero out of the book. With absolutely no way that I could see of getting him back in, there was I, facing a very blank brick wall with no idea which way to turn.

I don’t do a lot of detailed plotting for a short story. I know roughly where it’s headed, and then add and incorporate new twists etc. as I go along. Anyway, after thinking about my dilemma, I realized I would either have to come up with another idea for a brand new story, or fix what I had by dumping about half of what I’d written and starting again from the point where I’d suddenly got this “really great idea” for a plot twist.

It’s always hard to admit you’ve screwed up. It can even be harder to trash what you’ve written and start over. But since I know this is part of being a professional writer, this morning, I cut and pasted out the part where I took the wrong turn—I’m the cautious type, so I put this part in a new file of its own--just in case, decided the “really great idea” was probably one of the stupidest ideas I’d had in a long time, and started over in a whole new direction. The story is moving along perfectly now. The hero has to take a back seat temporarily, but it’s still his and the heroine’s story, and he’ll be back with guns blazing (only figuratively speaking, of course,) to rescue the heroine from the villain, so they can ride off into the sunset together.

Oh yes, I guess I should mention that “really great idea” has not only managed to weasel its way back into the new version of the story, it works even better now.

The story is called JUST ONE LOOK. It’s a contemporary erotica set in Provence, in the South of France, and will be published by Amber Quill--probably some time early next year.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Christmas in Oz by Maureen McMahon

The weather here is still pretty cold, even though it’s now officially Spring. I’ve lived in Australia for 24 years, and have become somewhat used to the odd switch in seasons. But Christmas is still not right. For 30 years I lived in Michigan, and winters were fraught with snow-drifts, ice, blizzards, freezing winds, road salt and all the other hazards of a northern climate. The perfect Christmas there included mounds of pristine snow covering the ground and tree limbs outside, with frosted windows, a toasty fire and a Christmas tree glittering with lights and ornaments inside. Under the tree there’d be all variety of winter gifts – mittens, boots, coats, sleds, ice-skates. There’d be warm drinks or eggnog, and always a sprig of mistletoe.

Here in southern Australia Christmas is very different. December is scorching – and usually dry. School holidays bring thousands of city-dwellers to the coast, to enjoy the sandy beaches and splash in the clear waters of the Southern Ocean. Department stores still have fake snow decorations and Santas in heavy red suits and long, white beards. It all seems incongruous considering the climate. Christmas dinner is often served on the patio, a barbecued ham, accompanied by a variety of salads, and the inevitable plum pudding or fruitcake. Gifts consist of summer things – beach towels, swim-fins, pool toys, tanning lotion. Fruit baskets abound. Christmas trees still twinkle with lights and ornaments, but seem oddly out of place considering all the greenery and flowers abloom outdoors.

I love Australia – the people are wonderful and the land is beautiful. But I can’t deny I occasionally miss a good old Michigan Christmas. Still, this year I’ll go for a dip in the pool before dinner and we’ll sit on the back deck and enjoy the summer breezes as we have our meal al fresco. Christmas isn’t just about the weather, I suppose – it’s about good company. I hope, wherever you are, you have a holiday filled with joy, contentment and the company of family and friends.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Safe or Paranoid?

My motto for life has always been, "Better safe than sorry." (And also, "It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick," but that's another story.) So yes, I'm the type who doesn't like to take chances. I prefer things to be safe.

I think it began with my mother. I remember as a child, dipping little plastic toy soldiers into a mud puddle, which inspired my mother to launch into a lecture on what to do if I ever found myself in quicksand. ("Float on your back." Yeah, right, like I'm going to fall into quicksand in Connecticut.) My mom was a great mom, but very cautious. I reached adulthood with nary a broken bone.

That carried over into my own mothering skills. "Don't climb that tree, you might fall out!" "Don't ride your bike on the street!" "Be careful with that glass, it's breakable!" I had the kids trained...if something broke, I yelled, "Don't move!" to keep them from impaling themselves on broken glass before I could get to them. My kids reached adulthood without any broken bones, too.

Now an empty nester, I still prefer caution above all else. Doors? Always locked at night, someone could break in and steal something. Why would a door have a lock on it, if it wasn't meant to be used? (My husband keeps telling me to leave the doors unlocked; he's hoping someone will break in and steal the dog.)

Candles? Never lit, they could start a fire. Stashed around the house, looking decorative and dusty, but never ever burned.

Handrail? Always clutched firmly when going up or down the stairs, otherwise I could fall and break something. Hey, that's what it's there for, right?

Because...once I got out from under my mother's sheltering wing, I did a few "crazy" things. And I did have a bicycle stolen from an unlocked basement. I did set my hair on fire once with a lit candle. And I did fall down the stairs when not holding the handrail, and broke my foot.

So you could say another of my mottos is, "Once bitten, twice shy." Hey, I'm not hopeless, I can be taught. ;-) It appears, as I should have known, Mom was right.

But this caution, a valuable life-preserving trait, can also be life-stifling. I'm afraid to fly. (Well, I always say, it's not the flying I fear. It's the plummeting.) I'm terrified of tornadoes. (So don't expect me to be a storm-chaser. I'm a storm-flee-er.) I'm too timid to ride a bike. (Hey, there's too much traffic, and the bike doesn't come with an airbag.)

My husband thinks I'm missing out on a lot in life by being so cautious. But I always counter with, I don't crave excitement and wild adventures. To me, going shopping for yarn or a new outfit is an adventure. Eating out is an adventure. Turning on the TV and finding my favorite movie is on is an adventure. Being cautious means it doesn't take much excitement to keep me happy. My home is my favorite place to be.

So, what about you? Are you a thrill-seeker or a risk-avoider? Why have you chosen the route you've taken? Would you change if you could? And, the most important question: anyone want an 11 year old dog who barks his brains out and is stupid but lovable? I'll leave the door unlocked. ;-)


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Greetings from the Sleep Deprived

Okay, all warring governments have it completely wrong. Sleep deprivation as means to garner essential information is completely illogical. Sleep deprivation is the key ingredient in the CRS disease. For those who aren't familiar with that ailment, the first two words are "Can't Remember..." and I'll leave the final initial to your imagination.

I am definitely a member of the sleep deprived, the utterly exhausted, a card carrying member of the CRS population. In the last week I've averaged about four hours sleep a that doesn't count the days before the New Orleans trip when I was trying to finish edits for Enigma, packing, and keeping family fed, clean, on track...when I got 6 hours sleep in 72. Which is probably the reason I'm so tired now. Usually I get up at 5:30am, go full-tilt until about 12:30-1am, go to bed, get up at 5:30 and get going again...M-F. I catch up on weekends. But this week, I'm falling asleep every time I get still.

Now, I managed five hours last night, awoke feeling like I had everything under control. By ten this morning I'd managed to get the hubby and kids up and off to work and school, picked up the held mail, finished the last of the laundry, taken the dog to the vet, made out the month's budget, paid all the local bills, and got groceries. I thought, "Okay, I'm on a roll...I can do my blog, eat lunch, do my last crit for the week and get to work on my chapter edits."

By 10am...then I remembered. I was supposed to be at a new crit group at 9 this morning...a new crit group we'd been planning to start for two months. Two months!!! Two months, and I lose a little sleep and poof! Right of my mind it goes! Then I was so upset, I completely floundered for an hour, ate a bacon sandwich and fell asleep. On the couch. With the alien cat on my chest...the same alien cat I left with my sister and who now has transformed into the "why aren't you holding me???" cat. Blog? No. Crit group? No. Crit finished? No. Anything else? NO! I didn't wake up until the middle of As the World Turns!!! (it wasn't Mattie, by the way. It was Eve. And Casey survived. Course Gwen and Will are still on iffy ground, but that'll work itself out as soon as someone runs Jade over with a train. ))That was 2:30.

So, here it is, 6pm, and my babies are home, homework is done, Himself is on his way home, crit group apology note written, have transferred Alien WAYHM cat to my daughter's arms, dinner on, and crit open and waiting.

All in all? Pretty much everything is right with the world...and I'm going to be in bed by 11...probably asleep by 11:05!

Hugs till next week when I hope to be more coherent.
Sher who doesn't believe in the word normal.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Racism, Prejudice & Bigotry - Alive and Thriving by Maureen McMahon

Last week I received one of those emails sent from one group of people to another that end up finding their way all around the globe. This one was in regard to a postage stamp the USPS is purportedly going to introduce. It had a Muslim symbol and the word “Greeting” at the bottom. The email ranted and raved in huge red letters – saying this stamp must not be allowed. It said that Muslims had killed thousands of Americans and to ‘honor’ them in any way would be to denigrate the loss of the many lives. It called on every recipient of the email to boycott the stamp, to show their hatred of Muslims.

Normally I’d just delete this sort of email, but this one made me very angry. Why should I hate all Muslims? Were ALL Muslims responsible for the terrorist attacks listed in this email? Could it be possible that there were some Muslims living their lives, raising their families and trying to survive on this planet just as me? Could it be there are Muslims, living in Western countries, who are trying to exist peacefully, yet are faced with generalized hatred of this sort daily? I questioned my ethics. I questioned my silence on this matter. Sure, it would be easy to simply delete the email and forget about it…cause no waves. But something in me made me hit the ‘reply-all’ button and voice my opinion:

“I don't believe ALL Muslims were responsible for the attacks mentioned - just as I don't believe all Americans were responsible for the war atrocities committed by certain U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, or that all Americans were responsible for the genocide of Native Americans in their own country, or that all Germans were responsible for the death camps, or that all Cambodians were responsible for the genocide there, etc. etc. Before we paint a race with one brush, we need to remember we are all citizens of the planet Earth, first and foremost. Some of these 'citizens' do evil things, some do good things, or simply trying to live their lives honorably, raise their families and be good neighbors. This sort of email is how we promote prejudicial thinking and cause even more terrorism and evil in the name of some warped sense of revenge.”

Well, the list my view of the email went to was far-flung and many – and I knew no one on it except the person who sent it to me. Opening a can of worms is an understatement. The next day my inbox was filled with emails regarding my stand on this matter. Some were in total agreement, but many accused me of a lack of patriotism, blindness, stupidity and other things not mentionable here. I was shocked and horrified. One particularly vitreous fellow – who had MD after his name – told me I was all of the above, and I should ‘remove my head from my ass.’ Another wrote to say he was glad someone said something. He said he’s worked at a Mexican mission for years, and the prejudice against Mexicans is appalling …but no one who hasn’t been there understands the conditions they live in.

I responded to the medical doctor’s rude and insulting email by saying I noticed he didn’t address any of the atrocities committed by the U.S. and Western countries. His reply? “The United States of America is one of the most moral countries on this planet.”

Well, that’s his opinion. My question is: What about the attempted genocide of Native Americans? What about the centuries of abuse and torture meted out to Black Americans? What about the rounding up of Japanese Americans during the war to be placed in camps? What about the bombings of innocent civilians in the Middle East? The list goes on and on.

I am a U.S. citizen and proud of it. I’m not, however, proud of everything the various U.S. governments throughout the years have done. I also don’t agree with a great many things that other governments or radical sects around the world do, or have done. But to blame an entire country and all its citizenry – to blame a race – is and always will be bigotry and prejudice.

Some of the emails I received asked me: “What would you do if your daughter came home and said she wanted to marry a Muslim?” Is this not reminiscent of the old question: “What would you do if your daughter wanted to marry a Negro?” or “What if your son wanted to marry an non-Catholic?”

Prejudice and intolerance is alive and thriving. It is evil – and evil breeds evil. The terrorist activities in the world are abhorrent, but let’s place blame squarely where it should be placed: On the perpetrators - NOT the race and NOT the country we believe these people are from. It’s time the silent masses of citizens in this world spoke out for peace and unity and a belief that we are all made from flesh and blood and all intrinsically the same. I’ve heard people say the horror that occurred on 9/11 helped to unify the world against terrorism. Did it? Or has it, instead, driven a greater wedge between East and West? Is this not exactly what terrorists want to do? The bigots and racists who are rife in every country are overriding the silent majority of fair-thinkers who wish only for peace on this planet. Please don’t promote racism by forwarding prejudicial emails. Speak out against them and become active in healing our planet.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Cover suggestions

Raise your hand if you're an author and you've ever had a book cover. Yes you.

Now raise your hand if you're a reader and have ever seen a book cover.

Have you ever thought what goes into making a book cover?

I only know the process from the author's end. Most publishers give us a cover request form in which we fill out the hero's and heroine's physical characteristics, a couple scenes from the book that we think would make for an exciting cover, and a synopsis and/or scene from the book.

Some publishers don't ask and some don't give specific questionnaires.

It's much harder to decide on the cover when two or more authors and stories are involved. Trying to make a cover specific, yet generic, enough, is tough. That's where our anthology group is at now for our next release.

It's a happy problem and one for which I feel blessed. What's the alternative? Not having our anthology published?

Our next anthology is a paranormal with lots of shivers. There are six stories some ranging from downright horror to sweet paranormal. Kinda hard to come up with an idea to span that.

So, does anyone have any cover ideas for us?

We were sort of thinking something dark and misty, but not Halloweenish. Rather vague, I know. This isn't a romance. In fact, my story has absolutely no love story and you'll see that my secret desire is to be the next Stephen King (well, Stephanie King).

Shoot away! No promises what we or our publisher will decide but our thanks for all shared ideas.