I Saw A School Bus in my Neighborhood Today

back-bus-education-159658It’s August 1st, y’all.

AUGUST FIRST.

I don’t even have kids in school anymore and still, I’m seriously annoyed at this rush back-to-school. And yes, I know, the kids got out on May 22nd in my neighborhood so it’s really the same amount of time for summer break as they’ve always had. But when I see a school bus on my street on AUGUST FIRST, it just doesn’t feel right. I mean, when did we all decide to give August the summer vacation shaft? It just sticks in my craw.

And speaking of things that stick in my craw, I have a post over at the Muffin today on Stick-in-My-Craw Character Flaws.

I’ve come up with three annoying character missteps, if you will, but I’m sure there are plenty more which I neglected to mention. These flaws are just the ones that cause various extreme reactions from me. Like screaming out loud at the publisher (Come on, Harper Collins, how did you ever spend money on this book?) or throwing the book (That’s the final straw *tosses book across the room* I refuse to read another word— *remembers that it’s a library book and goes to find tossed book*).

Or maybe I pound my head into the desk because I’ve found in my very own manuscript one of the character flaws I despise (and just listed in a post over at The Muffin). So I’m getting to work on revisions for August, just as soon as A. my head stops hurting and B. Libs quits barking at buses in my neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

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Books, Glorious (and Not So Glorious) Books

pexels-photo-264635Chances are pretty good that if you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. Books are glorious! But chances are also good that you’ve read a not-so-glorious book, one that left you scratching your head. As in “how did an agent, then an editor, THEN a whole acquisitions team at a major publishing house think this was good enough to publish?”

Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. I just finished a middle grade novel like this, and yes, I did finish it. I kept reading even though the protagonist was whiny and unlikable. I kept reading even though the plot was something I’d seen a hundred times before. I kept reading even though the other characters were mostly undeveloped and/or stereotypical. I kept reading to the whiny, predictable end.

There was a time when I would let a book like this get the better of me. I’d stew and sulk and possibly–I’m not saying I did this, I’m just saying maybe–throw the book across the room. But not any more. Now, I read those books from start to finish. Because I want to know the why. What did an agent, an editor, and a whole acquisitions team see that I’m not seeing? Why did a book get published?

And while I’m pondering, why are kids reading this book? Because this particular book had a ton of reviews–great reviews! (Except for one which funnily, listed just about everything that had annoyed me.)

Publishing is a subjective business in some ways, but more importantly, it’s a money-making business. So if a publisher sees dollar signs, it’s a book they’ll acquire, in spite of cardboard characters, tired plots, or a boring protagonist. My mission, when I’m reading so-so books, is to see why it sold.

And here’s what I’ve found again and again: concept trumps everything. There are some subjects ( plots) that middle schoolers are always going to read. And there are emotional concepts that are highly relatable to the middle schooler. If I can find that relatable concept in a tried-and-true yet fresh plot, I’m halfway to the shelf.

You can be, too, in whatever you write. But first, you gotta read a lot of books.

(P.S. You might want to check out the Great American Read for more glorious but also head-scratching books. I mean, Fifty Shades of Grey? Seriously? On the other hand, look how much money that book has made…so yeah. I rest my case. Feel free to share your strong opinions.)

 

 

Is It Hot Enough For You?

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So hot Libs won’t even mess with the squirrels.

I wish I could explain this opening line that one hears just about every day, twenty times a day, in the South once summer comes along. But for those of you who are NOT from the South or live here in the South, but are experiencing some pretty blistering hot weather these days, there’s a good chance you are hearing this question. So here are a couple of typical responses you can use:

He: Hot enough for you?

You: Hooeey! (Which is Southern for, “Heck, yeah!”)

OR

She: Hot enough for you?

You: Does a wild bear poop in the woods? (The old “answer a question with a question” gambit.)

So if you were outside enjoying hot 4th of July activities, you might’ve missed my “4 for the 4th” post over at The Muffin. I decided to toss out a few short ideas I’ve been thinking about because it was too hot for ruminating on a long idea. I’d be interested if you have any thoughts to share on any or all topics.

Oh! And I also had a Cathy C. Hall interview over at writer friend, Kathryn Schleich’s website. So it’s a bit longer but if you’re stuck inside due to the heat and want something to read, it’s kinda entertaining and there may be a writing tip or two.

And finally, if you are tempted to say something smart-alecky to “Hot enough for you?” like, “Nope, I could stand a few more degrees of heat and humidity!” then please don’t blame me when you get whacked upside the head. Because when it’s hot enough, people do not care at all for smart alecks, no matter where you are.

 

On Birds and Thoughts

afterglow-avian-backlit-556663Sometimes, being alone with my thoughts is pure heaven. I string out complicated story lines in my head, recalling weird names or characters so that I can…well, invent weird and interesting characters. I laugh out loud at crazy shenanigans I imagine but I can also get myself all worked up (which is code in the Hall House for crying) over a sad scene that plays out in my mind. Hours go by with just my constructive thoughts and it’s a fine thing.

But other times, being alone with my thoughts is hellish. I obsess over an imagined or real slight, building up a resentment. Or I let worry build into a whole giant thing over what may or may not even happen! Those negative thoughts play in a loop and I literally make myself miserable, possibly to the point of getting myself “all worked up.” And here’s the frustrating thing: I probably indulge in the unhealthy thoughts more than the creative, joyful ones.

And here’s another thing: I think many of us–maybe most of us–struggle with those kinds of thoughts. It’s part of the human condition. But I heard a quote the other day –and you know how I love my quotes– that smacked me upside the head.

“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”   

~ Martin Luther

Hearing those words, I began to imagine a bird building a nest in my hair. But I wouldn’t just sit there, would I? Nope, I’d shoo the birds away, waving my arms, maybe even shouting. And if that didn’t work, I’d move somewhere, far away from the birds.

But when I allow destructive thoughts to build a nest in my mind, what do I do? Why, I just hang out there, watching intently, maybe even handing over more thoughts with which to build a bigger and stronger nest. Instead of actively doing something to shoo the thoughts away!

It was an eye-opening moment for me, y’all, thinking about those birds. And I’ve had a few times, alone with my thoughts these past days, where I’ve had to shoo the birds away. So thank you, Martin Luther (who has lots more fine quotes). And may you, friends, find a way to shoo those negative thoughts out of your mind and build instead a joyful nest that keeps you safe and happy.

And P.S. Almost forgot! Juniorette Hall said I always write a post that’s a plug for my WOW! posts. And I do have a post up over at the Muffin–“The Beauty of a Blog”–but it has nothing to do with birds or thoughts or Martin Luther, so there. Um… it might be helpful to you if you’re an author, so I hope you’ll take a look. (And yes, I know that’s a plug but Juniorette Hall is not the boss of me.)

Photo by luizclas from Pexels

 

 

The Salt Water Cure

IMG_20171206_104403JUNE? What happened to May?

I have a suspicion what happened to May. The same thing that happens in June. These months are weighed down with a regular smorgasbord of sadness for me…My mom’s birthday is in May and she died just a week later. And Mother’s Day. And I try to stay busy, busy, busy. But then June comes along with reminders of Father’s Day and my dad’s birthday and Mister Man’s entirely inconvenient demise…

I came across this Isak Dinesen quote recently and it stopped me in my tracks:

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”

And so I finished up my deadlines, including this for the Muffin: Making Time for Time Off.

I’m where I need to be right now; I can smell the salt water from my porch. And there will probably be a few tears on Father’s Day, and I’ll sweat while taking care of hurricane damage. I may even sweat a bit over a manuscript revision.

Salt water will do its work while I work on the cure for what ails me. (Okay, I probably won’t sweat much, fixing stuff from the hurricane. But I’ll think about painting the flood damaged walls and whatnot and I think that counts.)