Wednesday, August 25, 2010

RT: Funny Pain (Oxymoron?)

  1. Notice how many TV shows are now some type of competition? I don’t watch many of them—mainly because I don’t want to HAVE to watch. And you HAVE to watch to see who gets booted off next. Survivor I have loved. I am a people watcher (I suppose all writers are or should be) and I love to see how the people interact. To me it’s more about the relationships instead of the competing. It’s also interesting to me to see how America reacts to the contestants. Sometimes not the way I think they will. But I think the physical competitions are becoming too dangerous, and the result could be someone getting hurt or killed. A couple of people have already had some close calls. It makes me nervous. That’s one reason I don’t like to watch football. In almost every game I’ve ever seen, someone gets hurt. If the challenges keep going in that direction, I will definitely quit watching Survivor. Pain is not fun for me to watch—most of the time.  
  2. Speaking of pain—an anonymous agent has a blog that’s hilarious. Excerpts from query letters are posted with snide comments from the agent. Funny for us who are not being made fun of. But what if I were to see something I had written on that blog—would I find it so funny then? Of course, no names are used. It reminds me of WipeOut. If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically people falling down after being hit by various objects. Funny to watch it happen to someone else—not so funny when it happens to us.
  3. I did laugh at my husband's pain, although I tried hard not to. He had a cramp in his leg and had the bright idea of lying down and letting me help stretch his leg out. But he then got a cramp in the other leg. He hobbled around the house screeching in pain for a good ten minutes. It was funny. (to me)
  4. One of the comments I read in response to the agent blog said we needed to learn to laugh at ourselves—otherwise, we’d blow our brains out. Yep, we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously. But we’re not merely laughing at ourselves. We’re making fun of others. Is that something we want to do?
  5. I watched Everybody Loves Raymond, but I refused to watch Home Improvement. Why, you might ask? Because ELR made fun of everyone—Ray, his wife, his mother, his mother-in-law, etc. HI made fun of the husband-father figure. His wife, in most episodes, was the sane, kind, intelligent one. If we’re going to make fun of people, let’s make it an equal opportunity sport.
  6. If we are more intelligent, better looking, athletic, etc. than someone else, does that give us the right to laugh at others? Can’t we nearly always find (I almost left out the word “nearly,” but I suppose there has to be someone in the world at the top of the heap) someone who is better than we are? So . . . . don't we need to practice the Golden Rule?
  7. Still, Carl hobbling, the agent’s blog and WipeOut were/are hilarious. Hopefully, the people involved are laughing along with me. Pain is sometimes fun for me to watch. (Does that make me a bad person?)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mother’s Memories: Shoes and Sacks

Once a year my mother’s family made a trip to Dozier, an all day affair, to get a new pair of shoes (along with other supplies). The shoes were bought at least one size too large since they had to last the entire year. Cotton would be stuffed in the toe of the shoes to begin with. Of course, the shoes couldn’t and didn’t last intact for an entire year. The soles would come loose and flap as they walked to school. My mother’s father would glue old tire rubber on the soles. It wouldn’t be long before the tire rubber had worked loose.

When possible, the children didn’t wear shoes. That was usually from early spring to fall. My aunt enjoyed the mud squishing through her toes after a spring rain. Ground itch often followed. (Ground itch is when the larvae of hookworms penetrate the skin.)

In the summer, the hot sun heated the ground to such an extent that they had to have some protection for their feet. Their mother made them cloth shoes out of “guano sacks.” Guano are bird or bat droppings and farmers bought the fertilizer in burlap sacks. When the sacks were emptied of their droppings, they were washed and used for a variety of things. Besides cloth shoes, the sacks were also used to make bath towels, slacks and bedspreads. Can you imagine sleeping under a bedspread that once held bat droppings?

penguin guano

I couldn’t find a picture of an old guano sack such as my mother’s family used, but this one is similar.






Flour came in sacks of a softer material (cotton) and were also used in a variety of ways. Handkerchiefs, dishrags, baby clothes, underwear and even dresses were made from the sacks. Vintage Robin Hood 100 Lb Flour Sack Durum SemolinaThe girls in my mother’s family did not have store-bought underwear until they were in high school.

The companies caught on that farmers’ wives were using their sacks for clothing and other purposes. They began selling flour, sugar and even feed in printed material.

Recycling was the rage—out of necessity!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Anxiety and the ACFW Conference

Anxiety is building. I’m going to the ACFW Conference next month. Carl’s going with me to hold my hand, so that will help. Lots to stress over. For one, we’ll be flying and I have to figure out how to pack. I haven’t flown in a long time and I know lots of things have changed. Also I have an eighty-seven-year-old mother I help take care of, so I do have a concern about the plane crashing.

And there’s lots of scary things lurking at the conference—things called editors and agents. Even published writers scare me. Even unpublished writers. And there’s lots of things I have to remember—one sheets, business cards, elevator pitches, how to speak a coherent sentence.

And while working on my one-sheet, I discovered I wasn’t finished with my book. Now I have even more pressure because I wanted to be completely finished with the book before I went to the conference.
And I’m an “older” first-time attendee. Surely, most first-timers will be much younger than me.

Stressed-out? Kind of. But someone said something and it made me stop and think. She said, “Use this as an opportunity to bless others.” I’ve been making this all about me, me, me and it needs to be all about God.
What is the motivation for my writing? I truly think, because God is a creative God and he created us in his image, that drive to create is inherent in all of us. I know some say they’re not creative. Not true. Almost everyone creates every single day. If you dress your child in certain clothes, you are creating! If you change up a recipe because you love cayenne pepper, you’re creating! If you wear makeup, you’re creating! If you style your hair, you’re creating! If you were not creative, you would wear the clothes someone else chose for you, you would cook and eat the same food every day, etc., etc. Some people choose not to use their creativity (hiding their “talents” in the ground!), but that does not mean they’re not creative.

Okay, so let’s see. God gave me this drive to create. Therefore, I should do his will and create. It’s not about me—it’s to please him. He will give me the strength to use my creativity in the way he wants me to. I have to do the footwork. (Or should I say the gluteus maximus work—behind in chair and write!) If I do, he will bless me. And God put us here to serve others. I should approach my writing by bowing to his will. This means to use my writing in such a way that it will help others.

In the case of going to the conference, I can be friendly and supportive to others—even to the scary agents and editors. I can prepare myself to the best of my ability. But if I fall on my face, if I drip food all over my clothes, if my slippery, Teflon-coated sieve of a brain spews out the wrong words—that will be okay. Perhaps that will mean my work is not quite ready. Nothing to stress over because God will be in control.

As he always is!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The “Woman”

My mother tells a story that happened when she was around fourteen, around 1937. She was raised near the Friendship Community and no one in that area had electricity at the time. (Electricity did not come to rural Covington County until the 1940s.) Her grandfather, however, had a radio that ran on batteries. These were lead acid batteries that had to be recharged, similar to the car batteries of today. Every Saturday night mother’s family made a trek to Grandpa’s to listen to the Grand Ole Opry. The younger kids played in the front room while the adults and older “young’ns” gathered around the radio in the back. They kept the door closed between the rooms. On this particular Saturday night, the younger kids played quietly in the front room. Suddenly, they began screaming, clawing the walls and banging on the door. When the adults finally got the door open, many of the children were in hysterics. According to them, a woman had opened the front door. Not just any woman, but a woman with long fingernails and long hair hanging loose around her face.The men immediately set out to search the area but found nothing.

The next day word came that one of their relatives had died in childbirth. Many believe the woman at the door was either the relative’s ghost or a predictor of her death. My mother was in the back room and didn’t see the apparition. But my aunt did. Whatever she saw, it terrified her. She still remembers it vividly to this day.

If it had simply been a woman, why did she open their front door without knocking? Why had she stood there without speaking? Why had the men not been able to find her? Why couldn’t the children open the door? What was it about the woman that threw them into such a panic? Why did she look “different” than the other women living in that area?  At that time, the women with long hair kept it pulled back and pinned. With farm work, fingernails had to be kept short.

Hmm . . . I’m not saying it was a ghost. But it does make a good ghost story!

Monday, August 9, 2010

One Sheet

I’ve been working on the one sheet for Thundersnow off and on for several days (STOP IT, Sheila!). Someone is going to have to hide my computer from me to get me to stop. I’ve got to get back to revising the manuscript (START IT, Sheila!).

But rather a strange thing has been happening. As I’ve been working on the one sheet, the book has been changing before my eyes. For instance, I gave Sarah Jane the nickname “Jay” and I thought the father could call her “Blue Jay” because her eyes are the color of a blue jay. I’ve never envisioned her eyes as blue before. (My mother’s eyes are sky blue and this book is based on her life, but Sarah Jane is not my mother.) And I found a beautiful verse in Ezekiel I decided to put on the one sheet about a cedar tree. I’ll incorporate the verse somewhere in the book.

And it’s weird because I have a scene with a cedar tree at the very end of the book but had forgotten about it. It’s funny how things start coming together when you begin writing—whatever it is you’re writing, even the one sheet. I thought too of the verse in Mark 4 where Jesus says the mustard seed grows into a plant “with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

My daughter-in-law, Leigh, helped me with the one sheet. (Thanks, Leigh!) I want the one sheet to be perfect, but I know nothing is ever perfect. (STOP TRYING TO MAKE IT PERFECT, Sheila!) But it’s been fun working on it. (STOP WORKING ON IT. YOU HAVE OTHER THINGS TO DO, Sheila!) I shouldn’t be writing this post. (THEN STOP IT, Sheila!) I really need to work on the manuscript. (START IT, Sheila!) Something seems to be telling me to. Off to work!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Thinking . . . .

Things have quieted down a bit. As many of you know, I’ve been keeping my grandkids since last Saturday. The two oldest went home with their mom yesterday, but I still have the baby, Trace. He’s taking a nap and so is my husband. I don’t know how long the quiet will last and I don’t do well if anyone tries to hurry me. People who know me know I am slow. I walk slowly, I talk slowly and I think slowly. I’m not good at repartee. Well, I might be good if I could repartee in slow motion. But then, it wouldn’t be repartee, would it?
I think my thought processes are especially slow today because I haven’t been oiling my brain. Mother Teresa said: To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it. I haven’t been studying God’s word—I haven’t been putting the oil in. It’s true that I’ve been reading snippets here and there, but I haven’t studied God’s word in a deep, meaningful way. Carl and I had gotten into a routine of reading a chapter of the Bible for a week from at least two different translations. Usually I would read something that ignited a spark leading to my post for the day. Carl’s headaches and dealing with the grandkids got us out of our habit. Hopefully next week will be less stressful and we can reestablish our routine.
On my other blog, Sheraly Farm, I have a post for the August blog chain for The topic we chose was: “Where do we get our writing ideas from?” I said that ultimately our ideas come from God. Sometimes, though, I’m afraid some writers, even Christian ones, could be getting their ideas from Satan. To keep out thoughts and writings godly we must dwell on God’s word. Paul said:
 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
Put into practice—and that includes writing. If we as Christians are trying to write without studying God’s word and learning of him, we could very well be writing words inspired by Satan. A sobering thought. We (Christian writers) must take the time to dig deeply into God’s word. Only then will we be able to think as we should and have the God of peace with us.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Flow of Ideas

I’m starting off our CW blog chain this month. (Why did I sign up to be first?!!) Our topic this month is about where we get our ideas from. Ideas, of course, are all around us. I just have to pick up pen and write down my observations. The hard part is organizing them into a coherent story. The first book I wrote was fairly easy since it’s based on my mother’s life growing up during the depression. That’s where the events came from in Thundersnow

I am also inspired by other writers. Years ago I wrote what I consider my best poem after watching The Glass Menagerie on TV.  I don’t think I could have written it without the feeling of deep loneliness and longing being brought to the surface by Tennessee Williams.

Characters , too, come from a variety of sources. Many of my characters are based loosely on people I know. Or they might be a composite of several people. Since I’ve started writing more or less full time now, I’m more observant of people. The other day I met a lady with curly blonde hair walking a curly-haired blonde dog. The dog wore a dress—and we’re in the middle of an intense heat wave.  I was invited into her home, and,  just as the dog had been adorned with something useless, so was her house. Every corner. Every inch of space. Dolls dressed in frilly dresses. Ornate nick-nacks. Ruffled pillows on the couch (and lots of them). So much stuff that I felt smothered. Perhaps one day she will show up as a character in one of my books.

Sometimes its impossible to base a character on a real person, because they come across as unbelievable. An early critiquer for Thundersnow told me the mother was too mean. No mother would pull up  her daughter’s dress in public. Well, I beg to differ. I have seen it happen. Hello?? Do we not know some mothers abuse their children? Sad, but true.

Another example: a friend told me stories of his wife, if written as fiction, just wouldn’t fly. Just one example, she threw her husband through a glass coffee table. Who would believe that? But our job as writers is to make our fiction “true.” And that means making our fiction touch a universal chord that our readers see as being true. So, many times, I have to base my characters on toned-down versions of people I have known. In other words, to turn the real into fiction to make it more real. (Clear as mud, right?)

Also for character development, it has helped me to learn a little psychology. One light-bulb moment came when I discovered the four personality types known for thousands of years. Originally these four were called choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic. It’s amazing how well people fit into one of these personality types. This has really simplified the process for me and helped me see why we feel someone is acting “out of character.”

So it boils down to this: my ideas come from stories I’ve heard, books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen and people I’ve known. The source ultimately is God. He has given me my brain, my curiosity and my deep interest in people to use to observe his creation.  We often sing:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

And it would be equally true to say:

Praise God, from whom all ideas flow.

He created the universe and, by creating man in his image, gave us a measure of that creativeness!

(And, if you would like to read the first chapter, click here: Thundersnow)