Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Our pumpkins are ready
Ninjy the Hamster is costumed.
He's going as a....Ninja.
Sorry about the blurry photo quality but it's not easy to photograph a hamster in a tube sock.
The moon is spooky and full.
Tonight we'll be headed here and...
Here. So...if Zeus and a Glampire stop by your door,
Be sure to say hello to Child #1 and #2.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Meet the Green-Eyed Monster

There are so many directions to go with this post and I haven't even had a cup of coffee yet.

Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is probably the Halloween monster who hits closest to home. There's the possibility, the teeniest smidgen of a chance, the smallest probability that I might be moody.

And yes, it does have an impact on my writing; the predictable one where one week I think I'm an uber-talented word goddess and the next week I wonder how I've managed to hookwink so many people into thinking I'm a bonafide authoress.

Jekyllian, writing-based mood swings aren't anything out of the ordinary. I've read enough writer blogs to know they're kind of the norm.

Lately, however, the blogosphere has been on fire with posts about jealousy.

Are you jealous when a friend gets an agent/publishing contract/film deal/new car/guest spot on Dancing with the Stars. If you know me at all, you know the last item on that list would bring on a full attack from the green-eyed monster, but that's beside the point. What I'm trying to say is the list can be as long or short as you choose to make it.

When it comes to writing I've noticed other people's skill, the amazing, transformative, hardwork, but worth it books and well-earned success that follows for those writers, doesn't fill me with green-eyed envy. In fact, it's just the opposite.

Those books have the power to swoop me straight out of a case of the Mean Reds where my Mr. Hyde monster is running loose and causing havoc. Their beautiful words don't leave any room for envy because I'm too complete with inspiration.

Conversely, bad writing can have the opposite effect, make me listless, irritable and snappy; exhibiting multiple monsterlike symptoms. Which is why sometimes, the best book I can find is truly the best medicine.

“Even while writing his book, he had become painfully aware how little he knew his own planet while attempting to piece together another one from jagged bits filched from deranged brains.”
Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
See what I mean? Inspiring enough to chase away even the most deranged green-eyed Mr. Hyde.

P.S. It was very tempting to take this post in the direction inspired by my tweenage daughter who is currently closeted in my office howling about the inequity of homework on the weekend. As I write this she's screaming at spellcheck. "I DID NOT SPELL THAT WRONG!!" The full Dr. Hyde transformation has taken place.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Freddy Krueger Moments

1 , 2, Freddy's coming for you,
3, 4, lock your door,
5, 6, grab your crucifix,
7, 8, better stay up late,
9, 10, never sleep again

I'm going to be upfront about this. It's been years since I've watched Nightmare on Elm Street. I had to go read the IMDB summary just to make sure I had all the facts straight.

Did you know Freddy haunts the children because he was murdered by their parents? You probably did! I, however, had forgotten that crucial piece of plotting in this Halloween classic.

Freddy's been at the forefront of conversation in the Garth household lately because a neighbor has an enormous Freddy Kreuger attached to a telephone pole as part of the front yard extravaganza that I refer to as their Halloween nativity scene. The kids thought it was a witch and I offhandedly corrected them, only to be peppered with a brutal and rapid-fire spray of follow-up questions.

But the real reason I'm talking about our manicure-challenged friend today is because last night I woke up from a terrifying dream. After I reassured myself that it was only a dream, I realized it was also a cool concept for a novel. I committed it to 2 a.m. memory then went back to sleep mulling over the main characters' names.

In the bright light of morning I thought about the idea again. Was the concept as perfect as it had seemed at 2 a.m.? I wasn't sure. I tend to be suspicious of those half-conscious lightbulb moments. Ideas and inspiration are cheap, it's the mining process in the form of hours at the keyboard that turns them into gold.

The question remains.

Will I be writing a novel about Isabel and Imogen Adams, twins who perceive changes in our world that are hidden to others. Then when Imogen disappears Isabel must confront the source of the changes in order to recover her sister? It's not really my genre. First of all, it seems like a kid's book. Second of all, in my mind it's also a horror/suspense book. I'm pretty sure there's not a huge market for kiddie horror/suspense.

Isobel and Imogen Adams; classic examples of my Freddy Krueger moments. At 2 a.m. they seemed inspired, but by the sane light of day I think they should probably be relegated to the blood-filled bathtub in my neighbor's Halloween nativity scene. 

Do you have any Freddy Krueger Moments?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spook Dinner

Halloween is almost upon us and the focus of today's post is on something fun.

Last weekend my daughter attended a Spook Dinner hosted by a friend who has boundless creativity and a gift for entertaining that would make Martha Stewart jealous. Six girls (and their mothers) were invited and presented with this menu.

The girls were instructed to order their four course dinner from the menu. Three ones, three twos, three threes and three fours. The only rule was each girl had to complete her menu and give it to her waitress before anything would be served.
But, if you look at the close up of the menu you'll see it wasn't entirely clear what they were ordering. For Child #1's first course, she ordered a Jack the Ripper, a Grave Digger and a Spooky Spider Egg. She received a knife, a spoon and a hard-boiled egg decorated with olive spiders.
Some girls ordered Moldy Rat Brains, Mummy Wrap and Harvest Rot with Sweet Corn, only to receive cooked cauliflower, a napkin and a pumpkin bar. There was lots of giggling and swapping of Spooky Spider Eggs for Moldy Rat Brains. In between courses we abandoned the dining room to the girls and took over the kitchen where we enjoyed some delicious Witches Brew.

Don't worry, the girls were served the Witchette version. Next year, the girls are hoping to find some other lucky group of younger girls and reenact another Spook Dinner where they are the waitresses in on the spooky secret. Which makes me suspect a new Halloween tradition has been borne. Now who would like a Crispy Creature in Werewolf Drool?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Karmic Monsters

I've read a lot about Karma lately.

It goes by a lot of names. Kismet, fate, aura, vibrations in the universe and what comes around goes around.

In this month of October black cats, ghoulies, ghosts and other creepy monsters, Karma seems like the kind of monster that can go either way. It also seems like the monster most people are likely to run into, whether you believe in it or not.

I guess I just gave away my Karmic leanings.

Karma strikes me as an idea that makes amazing use of human selfishness. If you want good things to come your way, be good to others.

In the context of writing and social media, I don't think that means retweeting other people's tweets or writing meaningless positive reviews about work you haven't read and have no plans to read. I also don't think it means hitting like on Google Plus and Facebook posts at random.

In my opinion, Karma is earned only if it's genuine. If you love a writer's book, tell them. If you see something amusing/interesting/thought-provoking on Twitter, retweet it. They key belongs to you. I guess I'm giving the same advice I remember reading in Seventeen Magazine when I was fifteen. Be yourself, honest and real, and good things will come your way.

If Karma does exist, my guess is the reverse side, the vicious back end, works just like the front end. If you don't love someone's work, behavior, or anything else, don't take it upon yourself to announce that fact to the world. Smear campaigns are not attractive, nor are they an efficient use of time. Jumping up and down and screaming is the adult version of a tantrum. Vendettas and revenge are only captivating in stories.

As for me, I'll be avoiding both black cats and walking under ladders.

I'll continue knocking on wood and following the excellent advice of Seventeen Magazine in hopes that maybe, just maybe, I'll meet that perfect, cute bit of Karma. If I'm lucky it'll ask one of my books out on the date that pushes them straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. 

Now that's dreamy!

Friday, October 19, 2012

An American Werewolf in Writerland

Writers and werewolves, we both come out when the moon is full and growl when things aren't going our way.

Oh wait, maybe only the last half of that sentence is true.

I confess to being a bit of a writer werewolf. There's nothing like a day of bad or difficult writing to make me bite the nearest victim. I've also been known to snarl when interrupted in the middle of a stretch of amazingly good writing.

Just ask Child #1 or 2. They'll be happy to verify the foregoing statement having experienced it multiple times. They might even show you their scars.

As writers, are we all moody, our snarls governed not by the moon but by the success or failure of our storylines? Maybe it's human nature to become rabid when work is difficult or in the face of multiple interruptions.

"Mom, have you seen my snap-on bracelet. Honey, can you sign these papers? Mom, some guy at the door wants to talk to you about storm drains."

These are the things of daily life that turn my eyes from green to glow-in-the dark red.

Like most werewolves, I have no desire to go from rational human to blood-thirsty hound. I fight my impulses to snarl, snap and growl. Deep breathing work wonders, so does exercise and finding reasons to laugh. When all else fails I retreat to a corner and gnaw on a bone until the full moon turns back into a sliver.

Do you exhibit werewolf-like tendencies? If so, how do you cage your growly beast?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ghost Stories

I have only one good ghost story and it's enough to make me believe in wispy souls who refuse to cross over until they get whatever they want, sort of like the angsty teenage version of the dead.

Now, let's just hope the ghosts in my neighborhood don't Halloween haunt me in retribution for comparing them to recalcitrant kids, ages 13 and over. And someday, I promise, I'll tell my ghost story. But today I'm going to talk about a different kind of ghost story.

What happens when you start a story and then it gives up the ghost, goes kaput with all the finesse of a bike tire slowly losing its air.

Most of my ghost stories don't do anything other than haunt my hard drive, but some of them, the ones I've made up for the kids in lieu of a traditional bedtime story, have taken on an ill-fated life of their own.

Last summer I created a story about a mother with four sons who were each given impossible tasks to complete before they could accompany her on a difficult journey. After we finished the third son's task of singing a beautiful song without ever opening his mouth, I lost interest.

The kids, however, did not. "Please mom," they begged. "What happens, what are they going to do on their quest."

"That was a vacation story," I told them, hoping that would buy me enough time so that they would a) forget it or b) I'd get reinspired to tell it, but sadly neither of those things came to pass.

"Time to finish the four sons and queen mother story," my daughter announced on our next vacation.

I tried to think of some way to wiggle out of it and failed. In fact the whole story was a failure since I ended it by saying something like "The mother was very proud of her sons and they all went home and had dinner together."

"Really?" said my daughter, a critic at age ten. "That's it. That's kind of a bad ending."

"I agree," I said. (Remember, NEVER argue with critics) "But I just gave up the ghost."

"Hmmm," she said, eyebrows knitted together, deciding if she was going to let me off that easily.

Fortunately for everyone she decided to give me a pass and demanded an actual ghost story, in lieu of the sad little unfinished stories floating around in my brain.

And so I complied. Happy endings all around!

Do you have ghost stories? Real or writerly. In the spirit of October share them below :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tie Me Up

Silly readers!

I hope you weren't expecting another kink-inspired Mommy Porn post, although that particular post did get lots of hits. I think, however, that had more to do with the 50 Shades references than my skill with words. And, despite the Christmas decorations on display at Target, it's still October and I'm still in monster mode.

Today I'm going to talk about my mean Mummy Monster. The one that ties my brain up in tight little knots and leaves me wondering whether I'm really cut out for this writing gig.

There are two kinds of Mummy Madness. The first one is the kind where I'm writing along and then, as though my brains have brakes and someone else is driving them, everything comes screeching to a halt while I try to find the word I want. Seriously! It's like fishing around in a drawer filled to the brim with things that are almost, but not quite, what I want. Let's see, was it untenable, untoward, untouchable, untethered.  Arrgh!!

The second kind of mental bondage that can leave me feeling Mummy Bound is the necessity of following the internal rules of the story. Depending on what you're writing, internal consistency can pose a challenge that has the potential to leave you feeling entombed.

Somedays, I feel like my books are a corn maze where I write myself into a dead end, turn around, back track, do a circle and wind up in exactly the same place.

Of course, outlining would probably help with this problem, but then I'd never experience the incredible euphoria that comes from seeing the big exit sign and knowing I managed to get there all by myself. 

And then of course, sometimes being Mummy Bound isn't a bad thing at all. The best kind of Mummyness comes on those days when the words flow at a steady 65 mph and the route is clear for miles, sort of the way I imagine it would be to drive through Nebraska. On those days, there's nothing more comforting than being wrapped up in a big Mummy Monster of cozy words.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Invisible Man

This is monster month and I've been focusing on some of the meanest writer monsters. Today I'm going to switch gears and talk about a good monster.

The Invisible Man doesn't seem like a monster, but if he's good enough to be included in The Hotel Transylvania, he's good enough for this blog.

It just so happens we have a serious case of Invisible Man-itis. Child #2 has a mysterious friend named Leo Lyon (every part of me loves the Freudian nature of the last name, not to mention the double Lion reference).

Child #2 "met" Leo Lyon at a camp he attended several years ago. Since that time he and Leo have kept in close contact through email correspondance that is always deleted moments after it has been read.

Leo Lyon lives in Washington, D.C. His parents are fabulously wealthy spies. Leo's mother is pretty, but not as pretty as me and his dad is smart, but not as smart as Child #2's.

The Lyon's reside in a twelve story mansion with nine hamsters, six cats and ten dogs. Leo has an older sister named Ella. Both Leo and Ella are the smartest kids in their unspecified Washington, D.C. neighborhood. For this reason they attend "grown-up science school" and are experts in almost every subject that comes up at our dinner table. They are also the owners of an experimental vehicle that turns into a boat or an airplane and have been to the moon.

Some parents might discourage their children's invisible friend, but the writer in me just can't bear to put the kebash on Child #2's creativity and thorough attention to plot holes.

"Why didn't I ever meet Leo Lyon's mother?" I asked one day.

"She came on the day you didn't drive car pool." His response was immediate, no wavering at all.

"How did you email each other before you had an email account?" asked his sister.

"I sneaked and used mom's when she wasn't looking," he explained.

And so it goes. Leo's life is colorful, full of robots, riches and sporting triumphs. Ours, slightly less so.

Child #1 and I have taken to sharing a secret smile whenever we are regaled with stories about the ever fabulous Leo and Ella. We know Leo Lyon is as real as Santa Claus, but that doesn't stop us from enjoying the Lyon family exploits.

And isn't that the point of the "Invisible Men" most of us create. Writers create, spin yarns, therapize their issues and, if we do it right, we manage to entertain in the process. The difference between fact and fiction, well, hopefully we'll get that sorted out before we set Child #2 and his Lyin' Lions loose on the world at large.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Zombie Brain

I know the title to this post isn't technically correct.

Zombie's don't actually have zombie brains, at least I don't think they do. They want to eat live brains, right? I must confess I'm not entirely up to date on the Zombie Rulebook.

However, as I write this post I am suffering from a case of Zombie Brain. At my house it's a regular and reoccuring affliction that presents in a multitude of ways.

Right now it's presenting as a small boy screaming from his bedroom, "You promised, YOU promised, YOU PROMISED you'd help me build this Lego set."

 If my current case of Zombie Brain was serious, I might lock myself in the bathroom and pretend not to hear the screams of perceived injustice. Since today's case is mild I first explained that promising to help and DROPPING EVERYTHING to help are two different things...then I locked myself in the bathroom.

That's parental Zombie Brain, but I really wanted to talk about writer's Zombie Brain.

There have been days when I've written thousands of words which have Persephone, the heroine of both Losing Beauty and Losing Hope (to be released at the end of this month) engaging in grocery shopping.

"Persey looked at the apples piled in geometrical patterns. Should she buy Granny Smith or Honey Crisp? She leaned over and breathed in the scent of Autumn trips to pumpkin patches while trying to ignore the creaking wheel of her shopping cart."

See, classic Zombie Brain writing, which is another way of saying I didn't know what to write about that day, which is another way of saying writer's block.

If your mind is paralyzed, stopped dead in its tracks by a bad case of Zombie Brain, it's not such a bad thing to write about the mundane details of your MC's life.

At least you're writing.

And the best news about Zombie Brain is it's easily treated. Reread, highlight, delete and those boring, irrelevant passages are excised as though they never existed.

Now, if only I could come up with a quick and easy fix for parental Zombie Brain that didn't require a door with a working lock.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Have you ever had a monster good idea? The kind that comes when you wake up from deep sleep and your fingers are itchy to sit down and start writing RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

And then, as you start writing, fingers flying fast over keyboard, you have the odd feeling the idea wasn't as solid as you thought when you awoke inspired and full of fresh energy.

In fact, as you re-read your work, you begin to suspect  your fingers have been temporarily possessed by the FrankenWriter because everything you wrote seems far less fresh and original than you'd thought.

You might discover you've sewn together a left arm from Stuart Little, a leg from Little House on the Praire. The head, you'll realize, is that of Percy Jackson, Medusalike with a thousand snaking plots slowly turning your brain into stone.

As you study it, you'll realize with all the horror resserved for monsters like FrankenWriting, you've thrown in a dash of the Hobbit and pinch of Harry Potter (hello elderly wizard character Gandalf meets Dumbledore).

Your heroine might be Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangled with a werecat and a 50 Shades of Gray kink-obsessed zombie.

I know! It's a frightening prospect. Especially for your main character.

What's the best protection against FrankenWriting? It's not garlic, holy water or staying in after dark behind tightly locked doors.

It might be found in writing groups, unbiased (although the lawyer in me struggles with how to properly verify that word) readers or the all-important marination of time.

Personally, I find time to be the truest test of my own words. Can I read them without cringing? Is the story a compilation of other ideas sewn together with string and electrical wiring that makes my hair stand on end during a re-reading?

Sometimes those are reliable methods for discovering FrankenWriting and sometimes they're not. I'm always desperate for open to discovering new methods. So please, in the spirit of keeping us all safe from the Frankenbeast disguised behind a mask of the written word, tell me yours!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

They Want to Suck Your Blood

Vampires, love them, malign them, but don't ignore them.

There are the famous vampires. The literal ones; Lestat, Dracula and, of course, Edward. And then the metaphorical vampires. I find the metaphorical vampires far more frightening than anything I've read in print or seen on a screen.

The MVs, not to be confused with MVPs, are all those things and people that suck, not our blood, but our energy and will to keep doing whatever it is we hold dear. In my case that's writing. In your case it might be something different.

Metaphorical vampire moments can come disguised as an off-hand comment. "Oh, are you still doing that writing thing?"

They can be guilt-based. "Volunteerism is the wind beneath this organization's wings and we couldn't do it without your help."

They can be need-based. "I've been feeling so lonely. My therapist says I should make an effort to get out more, but I can't stand the thought of going anywhere by myself."

Or they can be heavy hitters, clueless yet insistent. "Boy, you look like you're working hard. So, what are you working on? Isn't this a beautiful fall we're having. What do you think of the Knicks/Ducks/Giants/Beavers/Yankees? (I just exhausted my knowledge of sports and teams right there) Have you heard about that new ballot measure?"

All of these MVs have genuine needs. Their goal isn't to stop my writerly work, drag it down, halting it dead with their sharp teeth. But sometimes, that's what happens.

It takes discipline to let the off-hand comment go, put reins on the guilt I feel when I don't step up to the volunteer plate. I struggle to balance when to be available for the friend in need and how to politely rebuff the chatty stranger who views an empty seat at my side as an invitation to sit down and talk.

I'm not metaphorical vampire-proof, but I'm getting better. I've discovered energy, like blood, is a renewable resource. Even so, after my family is packed off to school and work for the day, I give first dibs on that resource to my writing. Then, when I hit my magic number of words the metaphorical vampires are free to drink every drop that's left behind.

How do you deal with the metaphorical vampires in your life?

Monday, October 1, 2012

What's Your Monster?

It's October and the theme almost writes itself.

 Monsters, big and small.

Many of the monsters I talk about this month will be traditional creepsters in writing guise. Writers all struggle with demons.

A fact well-evidence by the success of my blogger friend Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group.

I enjoy reading about other writer's insecurities. There's something sweater-in-autumn cozy about the reassurance of knowing you're not alone. All those other writers, slogging away at their keyboard, late at night, during the day or in the quiet hours of pre-dawn, experience the same doubts.There are ups followed by downs, followed by hills and brief valleys. It's cyclical, almost as predictable as the seasons.

So this is my month of creepy-crawlies, both writerly and not so much. Instead of a once a month Insecure Writer's Support Group post it will be a full on blitz. I'm getting ready to purge my demons, expose them to their core. Maybe with enough sunlight, they'll shrivel up and blow away.

Or maybe I'll discover some new ones.

Which might not be an entirely bad thing. Because, honestly, who wants an angst-free, Pollyanna sunshine writer who produces happy pamphlets of joy.

Well, maybe there's a place for that. One thing I've learned as a writer is there are as many kinds of stories as there are people.

Personally, I like my stories to veer toward things dark and creeping with a side of spiders and a dash of vampire. But we'll talk about that later, after all, we have all month.