Better Water Wise than Ground Foolish

I wish I could call myself a wise woman, but the closest I can get is the effort I’m putting into being water wise this summer.

Being in the middle of one of the worst droughts in Texas history has brought out some odd behaviors. People water their front yards during their designated days of the week, and then set timers to water under cover of darkness — or, worse, brazenly water the back yard during the day, mistakenly thinking no one can see them. Others, like my neighbors, water 24/7 to try without trying to hide this, rationalizing that it’s okay to do this because it’s a personal well and thus is not covered by the water restrictions enacted just over the city limits.

I must seem very odd to them. I do not water my grass at all. (Which must be why there is none found in my yard right now, or much of my pasture.) Usually this works out all right, because Nature does her wonderful thing with the rain clouds and the grass (and my neighborhood) is happy. Right now though, with just under five inches of rain at our place since last October, it is becoming quite clear that we are not going to achieve balance between keeping our farm alive and being conservative with our water use.

Currently at our place, talk over the fence with the neighbors generally starts with a “Howdeedoo” and progresses rapidly to, “Did you hear they got rain over in Tomball?” Or, worse, “Did anyone get the forecasted rain?” Underlying these conversations is the quiet desperate feeling about the water table level in the aquifer under our feet and how that relates to the depth of our well pump.

Those neighbors who water 24/7? Not considered smart right now, because we’re all much more concerned with having running water than whether there’s grass in the field.

Conservation measures:

Don’t water landscaping just because it’s pretty.

Use soaker hoses rather than areal spraying. (Less water loss due to evaporation before the water hits the dirt.)

Water during the cooler hours of the day. (Ditto above.)

Use water from dish washing to water beloved landscape plants. (Check what kind of dish soap you’re using and try a mild form that is biodegradable.)

Flush less often. Seriously, low flow toilets only save so much water. If you flush ever other time rather than every time you’ve doubled your water savings.

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.

Ditto while you shampoo your hair or soap up in the shower.

Don’t install a backyard pool — use the neighborhood one instead. This provides a social outlet as well as a place to exercise and cool off.

Help keep my well flowing — be water-wise. My family and my critters thank you.

The Great Divide

I am in the middle of several big life changes. Some of these are welcome — and expected. Some are neither. I am going from Mother of Dependent Children to Mother of Adult Children. (Our youngest just graduated from college.) My husband has actually uttered the word ‘retirement’, so I might be transitioning from Self-Employed Writer At Home Alone to Writer Looking for a Quiet Place to Work. Our parents are getting older (and wiser) as we creep across middle age and I have to recognize one day (May it be far, far away!) I will be one rung closer to being The Matriarch.

 

Some days it’s easier to think about my own personal life transitions than to craft a good transition from one scene to another, or even to wake up my character in the morning.

 

However, to make it all the way through a manuscript, one must segue from beginning hook through the muddled middle to satisfying end. Writing transitions can take several forms. If you are looking for transitional words or phrases, here’s a great site with helpful hints on that topic. I’m talking about transitioning between scenes.

 

The Shuffle:

“Doran needed some caffeine in the worst possible way. There was no way she would be able to face the meeting that morning without some stiff fortification. She tossed back the covers, threw her feet over the edge of the bed and managed to stand on both feet. She glared in the general direction of the kitchen, wishing for the first time that she had someone living with her who would start the pot brewing rather than having to do it herself. Stumbling into the shower, she braced one hand on the wall and turned on the hot water. The alarm went off again before the hot water even began spouting, so Doran steeled herself and stepped under the needle sharp spray of the cold water.

Doran continued stumbling to her closet, then her car, then into the office…yadayadayada…”

OK, you get the idea. I needed to wake Doran up and get her out the door to that important early meeting. My prose met her (Or was it my?) lack of mental acuity and hit shuffle mode pretty quick, getting nowhere fast. Some days it’s the hardest thing to get your character across the room without becoming a complete bore.

Since the purpose of this scene was to wake Doran up and get her ready for that all important meeting, The Shuffle slowed us down–– not putting us in the middle of the action.

Here are two other ways that work better.

Full Steam Ahead:

“Van Morrison was all about Crazy Love when Doran’s fingers finally slammed the off button on her clock radio. She squinted at the digital readout, trying to figure out why she’d set the alarm for five a.m.

“Botheration!” she exclaimed, throwing back the covers and vaulting out of bed. She shed clothes on the way to the shower, where she stepped in, scrubbed down, and shut off the water long before the water had warmed to a human temperature.

Ten minutes later, briefcase in hand, Doran pulled the door closed behind her.

Twisting the key in the ignition, she focused in on the clock on the dashboard. She breathed a sigh of relief as she backed out of the garage. She’d have enough time to hit the coffee shop drive-through and still make it to the meeting on time.”

Don’t you agree that this one works so much better than the first?

Dead Halt:

“Putting her head down, Doran closed her eyes.

*

*

The next morning Doran arrived at the meeting on time, even if it Fred called it for such an unholy hour of the morning. The good thing about only having enough time for a cold shower before she arrived was that she was awake enough to take on the questions she knew were coming.”

This transition is a complete blank in the middle. I stop with one set of actions and the next set are clearly happening in another place or time. I left off the part about her getting up because then I could move right into the action in the meeting. With this kind of transition, you use a series of hard returns in the middle to show the reader that Time Has Passed. (I used stars in place of the hard return so that you could tell that I meant to do that…)

 

If anyone has another favorite way to move their characters through the empty space between scenes, share!

 

Happy Writing.

Writing that Makes Sense – Part 5 – Taste

Where better than a coffee shop to write about the sense of taste? Well — perhaps a bakery, or French Cafe, or ice-cream shop — but here I am and here I will stay until I complete my word count for the day.

Taste and Smell intertwine to the point where you literally cannot taste without being able to smell. A lovely friend, Barbara Burnett Smith, author of the Purple Sage mystery series, lost her sense of smell and said that things that used to excite her to eat lost much of their flavor. If you lose your appetite when you have a cold, it could be because you’ve lost the ability to smell just how wonderful your mom’s chicken soup is.

So, Taste. What about the very thought of putting luscious berries, velvety chocolate, and grill-seared steak on the tongue makes us salivate? It’s the memory of the taste involved — and the social surroundings in which we experienced those tastes. While many of us adore chocolate, some find the taste bitter or remember well the migraine brought on by the midnight-dark chocolate they thought to enjoy. Each person brings their own memories to your pages, so the mention of something that evokes Taste can elicit very different responses from each reader.

According to the Thinkquest website the sense of Taste is the weakest of the senses. I personally disagree, but perhaps that is because so many of my social gatherings involve food preparation and the enjoyment of sharing our baking and cooking with friends and family. Those memories put the sense of taste up a notch in my mind.

While insects can taste with their feet(!), we humans have to rely on our mouths. Over 100,000 taste buds cover our tongues, sending signals to our brain to let us know what’s on the menu. When I was young, I wouldn’t touch green beans with a ten foot pole, insisting that I was allergic to them. I may not have been allergic, but I may well have been reacting to the strong taste of the vegetable. When we’re born, we have taste buds on the roof of our mouth as well as our tongues, leading us to be “surrounded” by the taste of whatever we’ve taken a bite of. Thus, the fact that I now eat beans with great enjoyment isn’t because of a medical breakthrough, but because I’ve lost some of my taste buds along life’s highway. My Uncle Ed, 96 years young, but with a failing appetite, loves his sweets. The sweet receptors are the last to go, so keep ice cream on the shopping list!

Salt and Sweet receptors reside on the tip of your tongue, leading those to be the first Taste you sense. Bitter is at the back of the tongue — perhaps the source of the term aftertaste? Sour resides at the sides. The middle of the tongue is pretty barren for receptors, so that’s where I’d put any pills before that great gulp of water washes them down the hatch.

Some taste vocab: Creamy, Delicious, Oily, Bland, Disgusting, Sweet, Sour, Spicy, Light, Heavy, Sinful, Horrid, Metallic…and so forth.

Happy writing — and tasting!

Payoff!

There is no better reason to garden than my supper this evening.

Spaghetti squash, just off the vine.
24 small yellow pear tomatoes, halved. (A fraction of what I picked today.)
three cloves of garlic (dug out of hydrator from spring harvest)
bell pepper (Picked this afternoon.)
salt and pepper to taste (Grocery store)

 

Cook squash in 375 degree oven for an hour.

While the squash is cooking is a good time to clean out your fridge, or sort the garlic to pull out your starts for the garden…or sit down with a glass of wine and finally read the paper…

 

When you have ten minutes left on the squash:

Saute garlic in oils of your choice. (I use Texas-grown olive oil from the farmer’s market.)

Add bell pepper and chopped tomatoes. (I used the yellow pear tomatoes because I have a bazillion of them — yes, I am bragging!)

Saute until tomatoes begin to collapse.

Top with chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Oh, and for dessert?

 

Why Garden?

Photo of Wind Chimes
Gaga Kate's Wind Chimes

Gardening appeals to every sense. It invigorates you mentally and physically. Gardens provide soothing vistas to look at, yummy food to eat, and habitat for animals, birds and insects. Why on earth wouldn’t you garden?

Just the sensory stimulations is worth spending time outside — or at the very least, inside with a potted plant. Touch any plant and it provides you with an instant and visceral response. I love to run my fingers over the velvety petals of the Belinda’s Dream rose in my back yard, even though I have to squeeze past the Red Yucca to do it. (Warning, Red Yucca is sharp and pointy when it pokes you in the calf!)

Visual texture is akin to touch. The adorable fuzziness of the Lamb’s Ear invites you to stoop and rub a leaf between your fingers. My neighbor’s cat finds it a comfortable bed on which to curl up for a mid-afternoon nap.

Color abounds in the garden, even when it’s limited to shades of green. Celendon…Chartreuse… Forest… Fern… Emerald… Grass… Pea… Pine…Sea Green… Shamrock… Kelly…Mint…Teal…Grey-Green…Olive. Notice how many shades of green are named for plants? Yep, many of them are — with good reason. Plants, landscaping, vegetables all touch us in more than one way — and thus stick with us.

I love to watch the ripple of tall grass under the wind’s caress. It’s almost as if you can see the old man with his lips pursed as he blows the waves along the ground. Tulips bob their heads, trees whisper, and the birds and insects swoop and dive in the currents. The wind chimes Paul’s grandmother used to ring to call her grandsons to dinner tinkle happily on the edge of the porch. Plants may not have voices to sing with, but there is plenty of sound to inspire.

Nothing smells quite like Night Blooming Cerius, which I may have just misspelled in the worst possible way, but that’s what happens after an evening on the porch next to this plant. It gets you drunker than champagne in nothing flat. Intensely sweet, I’ve had guests actually close the windows in the Casita Sin Gatos because it was keeping them awake at night. Paul and I were clearing out the onion bed this morning and I brushed up against the fennel in the next row. Heaven on earth, so I picked some to have with my lunch. The sharp licorice taste of Fennel brings out the sweet flavor of the tomato in salad.

I did something that may have been brilliant or it may have been the silliest thought I’ve had all year. I planted asparagus in the side garden, along the path from the garage to the back gate. It is taking over, so I feel justified when I bend down, brush aside some of the mature fronds and find a spear just ripe for the picking. Crunchy nutty-tasting snack!

Sorry, have to go now. I’ve inspired myself into a walk in the woods, where I am planning a shade garden.

Happy Gardening!

Expositioning Yourself

I am learning so much from my new critique groups. Yup, as in plural, like three.

Why on earth am I in three critique groups? Well, they all bring something alive for me during the session, be it one person’s flare for similes, another’s dead reckoning of grammar, or, the fact that they write far better than I ever will — but I’m hoping that some of their polish will rub off on me!

During one recent critique, I told a woman that she was using too much exposition. Well ouch! Be careful what you say in critique. She took it really well, but confessed that although she’d heard that before, she still didn’t recognize an exposition when it hit her in the face. I then was truly embarrassed not to be able to define the darn thing. Exposition is like good art; I know it when I see it.

No? Too lazy an answer? I thought so too, so out I went in search of the Great Exposition Explanation.

From Dictionary.com:

Exposition: ex·po·si·tion noun ˌek-spə-ˈzi-shən

1: a setting forth of the meaning or purpose (as of a writing)
2a : discourse or an example of it designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand
b (1) : the first part of a musical composition in sonata form in which the thematic material of the movement is presented (2) : the opening section of a fugue
3: a public exhibition or show
— ex·po·si·tion·al adjective
See exposition defined for English-language learners »
See exposition defined for kids »
Examples of EXPOSITION

The subject requires some exposition.
a clear exposition of his ideas
the great Paris Exposition of 1899
This is not an easy book, and the reader may find the layers of detail challenging. There are long expositions of the knotty tangles of monarchical lineage, and the necessary chronicle of historical events occasionally consumes the novel’s narrative drive. —Lucy Lethbridge, Commonweal, 23 Oct. 2009
[+]more

And of course it was the last line that nailed the definition for me. “Knotty tangles, necessary chronicle…occasionally consumes the novel’s narrative drive.” Yup. That’s Exposition for you.

So how do you turn exposition into descriptive wonderment?

Take the following.

Tad was twelve. Nan is nine. Tad is older than Nan. Nan likes popsicles. Tad used to get secret popsicles from his father.

And then (to borrow from my previous post) reimagine it so that you show, not tell and…

Tad leaned over Nan’s shoulder. He swiped one finger along the edge of her popsicle to catch the drip before it hit her fingers.

“Hey,” Nan protested. “You got twelve-year-old cooties all over my treat.”

“Well, it’s better than having sticky baby fingers.” He wiped his sticky hand on the back of his sister’s Disney on Ice t-shirt.

“Moooooooom!” Nan squealed.

He didn’t like popsicles as much now as he did when he was five.  Dad used to sneak one to him to coax him into quietness while Nan was taking her nap. They tasted even better because Mom didn’t know, and Nan didn’t get any. Dad stopped bribing Tad when Nan was two and stopped taking naps.

Well, Mom still didn’t know. She was always at work, and Dad did the grocery shopping. Tad went over, opened the freezer and pulled out the last red popsicle. Tearing open the package, he took a bite off the tip and savored the cold tang as it blasted his tongue. He guessed they were still pretty good.

Happy Writing!

Reimagine

At our SCBWI meeting this month, three Houston SCBWI writers, Vonna Carter, Millie Martin and  Lynne Kelly Hoenig discussed a Darcy Pattison seminar they had attended on rewriting their books.

Interestingly enough, the spin that this seminar put on their revision was using a ton of wonderfully useful exercises to evaluate their manuscript. (It sounded so wonderful in fact, that I have my reserve-my-space e-mail already written and timed to go out on the day registration opens for the Houston SCBWI-sponsored seminar later this year.) But even better than the tales of revising and camaraderie was one of the things one of our speakers said that caught my imagination.

She used the term ‘re-imagine’ in place of ‘revision’.

This word opened up a whole new line of thinking about my work-in-progress. Instead of having to re-do, I can step back, walk around the piece a bit, see how it looks from a distance, and then put my imagination to work again to strengthen the work a bit more.

Learning how to write for a Middle Grade audience has been daunting. Not only does a twelve-year-old think differently than an adult, everything is different, right down to the line of sight from which a twelve-year-old sees the world.

I started the story in third person. Finished it that way too. Mistake number one. Third person isn’t as popular with that age group because it’s harder to connect with.

Rewrote the story in first person. This improved the story tremendously, but…not enough. I was deep into the characters and the emotional investment that six months of working on the book gives me. Second mistake: no perspective.

I struggled both times to make it through the middle of the book to a happy ending. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out why that pesky middle section was so darn hard. Third mistake! In the process of writing the book, I’d fallen in love with what I’d written and couldn’t see past the work I’d already put into it to identify the problem myself. It took an insightful critique by Abby Ranger from Hyperion to give me the Eureka! moment necessary to identify the deficit in the manuscript. The problem I’d set for my character to solve wasn’t a strong enough problem to carry the book.

Ms. Ranger had the distance (and skill) to re-imagine “what if” my Suzie faced a bigger problem. “What if” the problem was bigger and badder than the financial one I’d set for Suzie and “what if” she was able to find a strength that moved her twelve-year-old self from ordinary to extraordinary.

Poof! As soon as I left the meeting, I too began to re-imagine the story. What if Suzie’s financial trouble was because her mother was in trouble. What if…Mom’s job was gone because her place of work burned down? What if…Suzie and her friends found out who really set the fires?What if…the person setting the fires was close to Suzie and discovering who it was could hurt everyone? What if…Suzie’s journey to clear her mom brought her closer to being independent, but also confirmed her love for family and friends?

Ah, ha! Re-imagining this story has brought me another boatload of work to do — but it’s work I’m happy to have because it will make this story stronger, better, something I’ll be proud of having written and closer to being something that will sell.

Fingers crossed…at least when I’m not typing madly away.

Pachy-what?

My mother planted pachysandra outside the side door of our house in Louisville. There are two varieties I’ve found available, pachysandra procumbens, native to the Alleghanies — the kind you want to plant — and pachysandra terminalis, which is a lovely plant but which can be invasive if it escapes your beds.

Ours was in a straight bed, one that followed the foundation of our house, and the pachysandra was the first thing that actually grew there for longer than ten minutes. The window to the coal cellar lived smack in the middle of that wall, so the amount of accumulated charcoal was tremendous. (I guess this belies the black earth theory of my previous post!)

I used to love the feathery leaves, dancing to who-knows-what tune as I’d skip out the door to school, or a friend’s house, or up to The Loop for a carton of milk for supper. There were some decorative rocks in the bed with the plants, and occasionally we’d rearrange them like furniture for a different look.

Rabbits nested in our pachysandra after I left home. I got the most exquisite letter from my father  during my freshman year in college detailing the young rabbit’s initial forays into the world outside those leaves. Twitching noses and tentative hops disturbed the foliage, then suddenly, there they were, shooting across the sparse grass under the dogwood where anyone could see them.

It’s a funny thing when your prosaic, way-more-intelligent-than-most father gets all poetic on you. I wasn’t sure where that letter came from, but he followed this with more romanticized musings, all based on things he noticed in the natural world. Animals, plants, weather, stars all equally informed his writing.

Life’s pretty darn short — Go out and plant something — and let the poetic bloom.

Pachy-what?

My mother planted pachysandra outside the side door of our house in Louisville. There are two varieties I’ve found available, pachysandra procumbens, native to the Alleghanies — the kind you want to plant — and pachysandra terminalis, which is a lovely plant but which can be invasive if it escapes your beds.

Ours was in a straight bed, one that followed the foundation of our house, and the pachysandra was the first thing that actually grew there for longer than ten minutes. The window to the coal cellar lived smack in the middle of that wall, so the amount of accumulated charcoal was tremendous. (I guess this belies the black earth theory of my previous post!)

I used to love the feathery leaves, dancing to who-knows-what tune as I’d skip out the door to school, or a friend’s house, or up to The Loop for a carton of milk for supper. There were some decorative rocks in the bed with the plants, and occasionally we’d rearrange them like furniture for a different look.

Rabbits nested in our pachysandra after I left home. I got the most exquisite letter from my father  during my freshman year in college detailing the young rabbit’s initial forays into the world outside those leaves. Twitching noses and tentative hops disturbed the foliage, then suddenly, there they were, shooting across the sparse grass under the dogwood where anyone could see them.

It’s a funny thing when your prosaic, way-more-intelligent-than-most father gets all poetic on you. I wasn’t sure where that letter came from, but he followed this with more romanticized musings, all based on things he noticed in the natural world. Animals, plants, weather, stars all equally informed his writing.

Life’s pretty darn short — Go out and plant something — and let the poetic bloom.