Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Look", It's a Hook for a Book!

My friend, and fellow Nebraska Writers Guild author, Brian Crouse,  invited me to post an few paragraphs of what I’m working on. The rules of this game say the word “look” has to be in the sample. 

I've been working on the novel adaptation of my script, "Modified Flight Plan," co-authored with my good friend and writing partner, triple-amputee pilot, Brian Thomas. I typed "look" into my search box, and the first section that came up is one of my favorite passages, a pivotal moment from early in the story, before Brian became an amputee.  Without further ado, here is an excerpt from "Modified Flight Plan," due out in 2013. 

Brian threw his book bag, keys, and motorcycle helmet, on the kitchen counter. Mom turned from the sink. Soapy water dripped from her hands as she reached for a towel. He knew the look on her face. Distant and sad. She knew something--and whatever it was, he most likely wouldn't like it. She picked up an envelope from the counter and handed it to him. Her voice caught. "I'm so sorry, honey."
His hands shook as he pulled the sheet of paper from the envelope. His ears rang and heat flushed into his face. "We regret to inform you that due to uncontrolled platelet counts related to your Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura, your medical certificate has been revoked. Please return any certificates to Federal Aviation Administration, Aerospace Medical Certification Division, AAM-300 , CAMI Building , 6500 S. MacArthur Blvd, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73169 "
He threw the paper on the counter, grabbed his helmet and keys, and stormed out the door. Somewhere his mind registered Mom's voice calling after him, but all he could think was he had to get out of there.
At first he just rode, not even mindful of where he was. Nothing but the growl of the engine, the vibration of the pavement beneath him, and the rhythmic swirl of wind as it whipped past him. Eventually, Brian found himself at the marina overlooking the wide sprawl of the upper Missouri river before it reached Gavin's Point Dam. He parked the bike and wandered out to sit. The cool breeze off the water brushed against his hair as he stared out over the water and surveyed the Nebraska bluffs on the other side.
The thought flashed across his mind that it wouldn't take much to let the rushing water pull him under and drown what remained of his soul. They can't take flying away from me. It was all that kept him going through the bleeding, the chemo, with all the horrible side effects. Knowing that for those precious few hours, he'd soar with the eagles. His dad was a pilot. So was his mom. His oldest brother, Dana, had left home for the Air Force when he was in second grade. It wasn't fair.
He absent-mindedly picked up a rock and tossed it a few times in his hands, then threw it as hard as he could into the river. His eyes stung with tears, but even alone, he refused to let them fall. Brian took in a deep breath. He knew where to go. The only place in the world he could go.
By the time he reached the Springfield Airport, darkness had already fallen. His headlight cut a deep cone into the moonless night. He slid the corrugated steel hangar door open and caressed the side of the plane as he approached the cockpit door. He reached inside, turned the master switch on and flipped a couple of switches on the dashboard. Behind him, the runway lights turned on, two long rows of white cutting the surrounding corn field in a swath. He walked out to the airstrip and sat in the center of the asphalt runway.
 He had no idea how long he'd been there, nothing but the gentle breeze rustling the cornstalks when something disturbed the air beside him. Dad patted his shoulder as he sat down beside him. His deep voice softened. "You can't keep a good pilot down."
Brian scoffed. "Tell that to the FAA."
Dad shook his head and laughed. "Not like I've ever known you to follow the rules."
"This time, I might have to."
Dad's big palm clapped his shoulder again. "You'll beat it. If anyone can find a way, it will be you."
"I’m cursed. We hoped one day I'd outgrow it, and I'd be normal. Now I’m older and things keep getting worse."

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from our upcoming book!  Now, head over to check out another friend, author Ron Heacock, who will share some of his upcoming book as well!  Ron is a man of many talents and artistic endeavors, and I can't wait to get a "look" at what he's working on!  If you'd like to share a "look" at your work in progress, join in, and post a link to your blog post in your comments below!  I'm "look"ing forward to seeing what you're working on, too. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

You want me to WHAT?!?!?

During November, I wrote the first draft of the book version of Modified Flight Plan, the true story of an amazing friend, triple-amputee pilot, Brian Thomas.  One thing I have learned telling his story--and just having him as a friend, is that you need to be prepared to find ways around the random road blocks life throws in your path. 

Case in point, Friday night, we were preparing for his very first television interview.  Wardrobe?  Check.  Reviewing script and book notes to prepare for interview?  Check.  Putting a spit-shine on the Cessna 205 he planned to take the reporter flying in the next morning?  Check.  Charging the hook that died while putting the spit-shine on the plane?  Check.  We had it covered...right?

Or something like that.  

Brian  mentioned he needed my help to sew the webbing on his wheelchair where it was tearing loose.  I have done some upholstery work in my time, and heck, I've sewn wedding dresses.  No problem.


I don't know what the heck they make wheelchair webbing out of, but that stuff must have some magical charm protecting it from needle penetration.  Good grief.  The material thickness should have whizzed right through my sewing machine.  HA!  Not even close.  I didn't even know my machine could lock up the way it did with the wheelchair webbing stuck with the needle buried in the bobbin channel.  Yeah, that was fun to try to get out without breaking my rather expensive embroidery-capable Brother sewing machine. 

Hand sew it.  

It's one simple straight seam, and I have heavy-duty thread, an upholstery needle, and a thimble.  What could possibly go wrong?

Uhhh huhh... I also did not know pushing a THICK needle through a magically impervious but deceptively thin sheet it fair to call it fabric?? could snap it right in half.  Well, huh. 
So here we sat, at nearly 11 pm, with a looming interview first thing in the morning, a disassembled wheelchair, and a CURSED piece of material I had no idea how to fix.  There aren't any urgent care centers for wheelchairs, I am fairly certain.
We both stared at the mess for a few minutes, and Brian grabbed the staple gun out of my (hot pink) tool bag.  "Staple it."

Say WHAT?!?

It's not like upholstering a couch, I don't have a wood frame to staple it TO. 

"Shoot the staples through the material, into the carpet, then bend the staples with your (hot pink) pliers." 

Why do I suspect this is not going to end well?  "Hey, we need to cancel the interview.  I inadvertently stapled Brian's wheelchair seat to my floor..."

Oh what the hell...  It wasn't like we had much for other options.  With great trepidation, I pulled the trigger and shot the staple through the dreaded wheelchair fabric and into the carpet.  Ka-pow.  Then I gently lifted the edges.  Low and behold, it pulled up cleanly.  I grabbed the pliers and bent the sharp ends over into a tight metal stitch.
This just might work. 

Ka-pow, ka-pow, ka-pow.  I managed to finish repairing the split seam without inflicting bodily damage to either of us, and Brian reassembled his wheelchair.  Whew.  I commented that he really should take the thing in and get a proper repair.  He reminded me of the screw he'd had in his tire since this summer (it's still in there)   and said his dad would be proud of his innovative repair idea.  I suspect the staples may be there a while.

Somehow, this is all fitting.  Brian's story is really one about finding creative ways around roadblocks--no matter what they may be.  If he wasn't truly an expert at doing this, he would be sitting at home collecting disability checks every month, and likely being miserable.  Instead, he was back at work six months to the day from his illness, and he soars with the eagles when he flies.

Besides... I was out of the good duct tape.

Monday, November 12, 2012

That Poem

I am not a poet.  This is important to know up front.  But, I have the utmost respect for those dedicated to the art form of weaving magical images with minimal words.  Today, the subject of the word "that" came up, and I cringed.  That is one of those overused kudzu words I hunt and destroy when I am editing.

Double-thats make me nearly convulse.

But, in the spirit of fun, I made it a point to come up with ways to use not only double-thats, triple-thats, and even a quadruple-that in phrases that actually make sense... and to make it more challenging, turn it into a poem.

It's November, so I am participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.  There are likely more uses of the word that in my draft than I want to think about... and I won't even look for them until December.  So, in the mean time, enjoy a plethora of the word THAT!

What is it that that that conveys,
That little word that causes editors such dismay,
That that that makes them gnash their teeth,
That that that emphasizes writing that is weak,
That that that needs to go away,
Highlight that that, hit delete and pray,
That that that that disappears,
Will save that editor grief, and that many tears.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Almost HERE... and I'm reading to get ready!

It's almost November... and that means NaNoWriMo time.  National Novel Writing Month, and adventure in living where the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  It's intense.  Plus, I am a Walmart manager.  Nothing much happens during November at Walmart, right? 

Stop laughing. 

I mean it. 

Writers read.  When I'm writing screenplays, I read movie scripts.  So, having just finished two scripts, I've read a lot of them, but not much prose.  To get back into the novel-writing mode, I decided to read the second book in The Passage series.  A nice little (698 page) tome set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the living dead...something of a cross between vampires and zombies... created by the US Army as an experimental weapon.  Funny how that never turns out the way they hope.

In any event, I do love some things that Justin Cronin does in his writing.  Take for example the following passage. 

More bodies lay near the hotel entrance. Not bodies, strictly speaking--more a zone of human body parts. A woman police officer eviscerated as she'd stepped from her cruiser. She rested with her back propped against the fender, her pistol still clutched in her hand, her chest opened like the flaps of a trench coat. A man in a shiny purple track suit, wearing enough gold around his neck to fill a pirate chest had been hurled upward, his torso lodging like a kite in the limbs of a maple tree; His bottom half had come to rest on the hood of a jewel-black Mercedes. The man's legs were crossed at the lower ankles as if the lower half of his body hadn't heard it was missing the rest. ---Justin Cronin, The Twelve. 

Great stuff. 


He brings these bit players onto the stage, and fully develops them in a few choice descriptions, then slides over them onto the next.  Yet, the image is left seared in the reader's memory.  An art, really.  A writer who pays attention to every character, without boring us with long, useless, backstory. 

That's why I read a LOT.  I find techniques I admire--and I emulate them!  I also look at the things that pull me out of a story.  Cronin has writing that makes me cringe, too.  He uses way too many passives, and cliché-ridden similes, like, "His brain felt as jumpy as corn in a hot pan."  Cringe-worthy.  You learn from other writers' bad habits too.   

I'm off to prep for NaNo.  Hope you'll join me. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Tao of Travel

I've always had a fascination with travel, yet never really understood what it was about making a journey that I was attracted to.  I think I may have figured part of it out.  I'm a writer.  I form new worlds simply by willing them to be.  My words breathe life into characters and places never imagined before.  Heady stuff. 

I think part of my love of traveling has to do with the suspension of reality that takes place during a trip.  Time doesn't even have the same definitions.  Everything is a new possibility, and I love it all. 
Writers are also readers, and really good writers read a lot.  I don't know how good a writer I am, but reading is like breathing for me.  Recently, I've found my always eclectic taste drawn to works with a somewhat more mystical and philosophical nature.  My imagination drawn to how I fit in the scheme of life and nature.
Traveling brings those connections closer to the surface.  It is easy to miss things when you are caught up in the mundane routines of daily life.  Things slip into simple repetitive motions.  It is like the cords that connect you to the universe fade and curl up inside. 

I'm one of those people who believe the journey is more important than the destination.  I've never been a rigid agenda-type traveler.  I know roughly where I want to go, and let Destiny take care of the rest. (I write the same way, for the most part)  I can't think of how many wonderful side-trips and amazing experiences I would have missed had I been compelled to stick to my initial plans.  Some of those are the moments where I have found myself closest to what I imagine Nirvana to be. 

 It's a bittersweet moment, when you head for home, whether it be from a weekend away, or a lengthy sojourn.  But, as the ribbons of Interstate contract and pull me closer, I have to wonder if it isn't precisely the contrast between the expanse of the unknown and the security of the routine that makes me complete.  It reminds me of The Wizard Of Oz.  How the brilliance of Oz only became evident against the harsh black and white of Kansas.  Part of me needs the grounding reality, as much as the other part longs for the bright blue horizon.  

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lucky Number Seven Meme

I was tagged not one, but TWICE for this, so I figured that meant I should play along.  Here's the idea.
1. Go to page 77 of your current manuscript/work-in-progress (MS/WIP).

2. Go to the seventh line of your MS/WIP.

3. Copy down the next seven lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they are written.

4. Tag seven writers and let them know.

So, this is from my current Work In Progress, "Walk Me Home."

Russ pulled off his warm up jacket.  He'd left his singlet sleeves down, and that exposed the tape around his chest.  Parts of it were coming lose, and one area showed a tinge of red.
            Cathy drew in a deep breath.  "You're bleeding.  We need to get you re-taped.  I've watched this guy.  He's tough, and he's ready.  You need to be careful."
            She went with him to the team's athletic trainer, and stood by as he replaced the tape on Russ's chest.  Her eyes stayed on his face, darting occasionally to his injuries, but she still offered him nothing but words of encouragement.  As the trainer finished, he pulled his singlet up and flexed his arms a few times to see how it felt.  Better.  Not great, but better.
            "You know," he gave her a sidelong glance and smiled, "today you have went out of your way to be nice to me.  I don't know that I want to get hurt so you'll always be like this, but it is a pleasant side effect."
            She laughed and stuck out her tongue at him, but she grasped his hand as they walked to the mat.  He looked at the clock.  All he needed to do was hang on for seven minutes.  All he wanted to do was get out the door with two wins one loss.  The referee called him to the table for instructions.  He was shocked to see both coaches and his final opponent meet him.  "You want to forfeit?"  Both coaches asked him at the same time.
            The absurdity of the situation struck Russ as funny, and he started to laugh.  One look at the mass of tape surrounding his chest told him it might be the wisest decision, but in that moment, he knew the only way he was going off the mat was after the final buzzer--or after a pin.

Now, for who I tag...
Mary Unger
Bev Teche
Bryce Marin
Emily Judd
Phyllicia Spidell
Torie Taibemal
Jenny Bates.  
Have fun!

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Kitchen Floor is Shiny, and that's Not Necessarily a Good Thing.

My kitchen floor is clean--and this is not a good thing.  You would think having a shiny kitchen floor would make me happy, and usually this would be a fair statement .  But, the path to cleanliness is often messy.  Let me elaborate.

I decided I was hungry for chile rellanos.  A lady I work with is from Brazil, and she makes fabulous rellanos.  Since it would most certainly be an abuse of my authority as a manager to cajole her into making them just because I am hungry for them, I decided to make them myself. 

So, I broiled, skinned, and cleaned the guts out of the poblano peppers, then stuffed them with cheese.  After they were battered, I went to fry them.  Now, this is where the fun comes in.  Since the divorce, I live in an apartment.  An apartment with a tiny galley kitchen.  A tiny galley kitchen that is about 3.7 inches from the fire alarm.  I swear, I can't boil water without the alarm going off.  So, any time I cook, I have a big plastic cutting board at the ready to go wave fan-like in front of the stupid thing to direct the non-existent smoke the other way.  (I think it must be hungry, and it is yelling at me for not offering it anything to eat)

In any event, I was standing in front of the stove, frying the rellanos and even though I KNOW the alarm is likely to go off, I jumped about a mile into the air when it did.  In the process, I knocked the handle of the skillet, and splashed hot oil onto the burner.  You know what happens when hot oil gets on the burner?  You got it... FIRE!  Now, I grew up cooking on an amazing gas stove, and if you watch any cooking shows, you know that chefs aren't fazed by a bit of flame.  (Funny side-note, the alarm was eerily silent while there were actual FLAMES in the kitchen.  Odd, huh?)  I went to move the skillet off the burner, and do something I should have done in the first place, put it on the back burner.  Splash.  More grease, this time, on the floor. 

I wiped up the worst of the grease, and it really did make the floor shine.  Shine=Slick.  So, imagine me trying to finish frying the rellanos and not fall down on a floor that now has now become a shiny oil-skating rink. I am still in Physical Therapy for a knee injury from a recent car accident, so this in itself was a challenge. 

I finally got the rellanos all fried, and safely into the oven to bake, and I surveyed the kitchen.  No wonder I roll my eyes when my daughter asks me why I don't like to cook for her.  Batter covered counter, including the handles on the sink, flecks of flour everywhere, poblano pepper skins in the sink, and an oil slick on the floor.  Not even going to mention what the stove top looked like, not much gives me nightmares, but that might. 

I am happy to say that the kitchen is now probably cleaner than it has been in a while.  I guess that's a good thing, but wow, that was a lot of work just for a chile rellano. 

After you're done laughing at my cooking mis-adventure, I'm sure your next question is "What about the chile rellanos?"  Here it is.  Not as good as Maria's, but not bad, either!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dating for Purses

I get into relationships with my purses.  I mean, serious, long-term relationships.  It starts with speed dating, which involves trolling the stores, comparing online sites, looking at fashion spreads...  

Like real speed dating, there are  some duds, and some you want to get to know more.  Once I've identified the potentials, I spend some time getting to know the creme of the crop.  You're going to potentially spend a lot of time with a purse, you need to bond with it.  Get to know it inside and out. 

Like human dates, every purse candidate will come with strengths and flaws.  You have to decide which ones are deal-breakers.  For me, deal-breakers are vinyl construction, lacking a zipper closure, icky straps, not enough pockets, and generally being ugly.  Oh, and ladies, back me up on this one--size matters.  There is a fine line between laughably too small, and painfully too large.  Like I said, it's a lot like dating.
Another thing that is a lot like dating?  If you snooze, you lose.  It is possible to find the perfect purse, and miss your opportunity because you hesitated too long.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, is as frustrating as showing up at a store, credit card in hand, to find out your potential soul-mate purse has been snatched up by some other purse-nabbing hussy.  

So, you might ask, what did I end up with?  Red leather, (matches my red leather briefcase) big enough to hold my stash of stuff for my upcoming trip to Los Angeles, nice straps and pretty hardware.  The print material inside was a bonus.  I love you my new shiny purse... at least for now.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Newton's Laws of Motion

Newton's Laws, and Yes, This About Writing!
                My formal educational background is not in writing--or any liberal art.  I spent my collegiate formation as a scientist.  Hard, cold facts, and immutable laws of  physics.  And, believe it or not, some of that science background has come in quite handy, and in more ways than you might imagine.  So, I am going to break down  Newton's Laws of Motion, and how I think they relate to writing.

                Rule #1: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

                There are two statements about this law that are important.  The first states that a body at rest will remain at rest until acted on by some force.  What this means is you will never, ever write anything unless you apply some force to the chair and start writing.  Thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, wondering about writing... nope.  You. Must. Write. 

                The second is that a body in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by another force.  So, great, you are writing.  Wonderful.  Words and ideas are making their way onto the page.  What force might cause that to cease?  In the physical world we live in, we usually will think of things like gravity, even air resistance.  Oh, I understand resistance in writing.  What things tend to get in the way of writing?  Work, family, chores... the list is endless.  Even more insidious are the forces of apathy.  Inner doubt.  That kind of resistance is sometimes even harder to overcome.  So, be aware of it when  writing starts taking a back seat.  Write anyway.  Make it a habit.  I have a sheet of paper on my writing board that is divided into 365 squares, each numbered.  Every day I write, I can mark through that day in red.  My goal is to fill that page with red marks by the end of the year.  An object in motion remaining in motion.

                Rule #2: The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors (as indicated by their symbols being displayed in slant bold font); in this law the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.

                Take a deep breath.  This isn't as complicated as it might seem, or at least not where writing is concerned.  Basically, Newton's Second Law says that acceleration is increased by force, and decreased by mass.  Okay, so let's consider mass as the size of the story.  A short story is perhaps easier to get in motion, and keep in motion, than, a novel the size of War and Peace.  But, the key here is that we are talking about acceleration.  So, the more force (butt glued to chair, writing) you apply, the faster it goes.  Yes, writing picks up speed the more you write!  You will get to know your characters, you will become more familiar with the world they inhabit, and your writing skills will grow.  I like this law--a lot!  It's like training to run a marathon.  The stronger your writing muscles become, the easier it is to finish the race.

                Rule #3: The mutual forces of action and reaction between two bodies are equal, opposite and collinear.

                Another way this Law is stated is; For every reaction, there is an equal and  opposite reaction.  Hmmm.  What does that mean for writing?  Oh, you are going to LOVE this one.  If you write long enough, things won't remain the same.  They change.  For example, you find yourself getting things like this.

And this:

                Well, that's it for my physics lesson today.  I am back to writing, because I want to accelerate towards other goals.  Like some of these. 

                Until next time, apply some glue to the chair, and get to work on some physics--I mean writing!