Monthly Archives: January 2015

So there’s this Magical Medicine Show…now what?

One can work in one’s peignoir

The lovely people at National Novel Writing Month are pushing a new thing, or at least a thing I don’t remember them being as pushy about in previous years. Now that we’ve all written a novel, they’re all about making it good. And because I’m into the whole “Show Your Work” movement, you get to read about how I’m going about making it good.

NaNoWriMo works for me because of the combination of deadlines and the group solidarity. In the past, I either haven’t had a novel with any potential, or I didn’t want to go through the scary, scary revision process all on my own. Luckily, one of my writing peeps, KatherineWriting is leading an editing path as an activity of our local writing group, The Writing Journey. She’s all about deadlines and group solidarity. This past week, those of us who are participating received an email with this request from her:
Please post a brief blurb about what you’re planning to do for the Editing Path. (Often it helps people achieve their goals if they write them down.)

  • Where are you starting? It doesn’t have to be chapter one.
  • What do you intend to do first? Quick overview changes, detailed line by line, or ?
  • How much do you hope to get done in February? How many chapters per week?

Here are my answers.

Where am I starting?

Pretty close to the beginning. I spent December and the beginning of January going through the novel I drafted in November of 2012 and November of 2013. I smooshed the two drafts together and attempted to remove extraneous character, scenes, etc. I’ve been looking at the first section with mixed feelings of dismay and delight, mucking around in it a bit. Time to stick a fork in it and move on.

What am I doing first?

I’d like to get it to pass the sniff test—making sure it doesn’t stink. Shall I count the ways in which it might stink? That will take too long. The least painful way to ease in will probably be to:

  1. Fill in the blanks. I have some bracketed and/or highlighted text which might denote a missing character name, location or some specific research detail. So fix those bits.   
  2. Make sure I buy the character motivations. I remember a few of them as needing work.   
  3. Remove overwriting and redundancies. Repetitive redundancies. You know, where you say things more than once even though the reader got it the first time.
  4. If I have any time after that, I’d like to fill in specific sensory details. More showing, less telling. Not so much white room syndrome. All that good stuff.

How much do I hope to get done in February?

I would dearly love to get the novel in good enough shape to share with beta readers (alpha readers?) by the beginning of March. Or by March 14 at the latest. It’s not exactly in chapters, more like scenes or sections. A March 1 deadline would mean about one section (averaging 4500 words) per day; I’m not sure I can do that in three hours, let alone one. I may or may not have the damned thing* ready by May. Though of course if I feel I’m on the right track, I can always start sharing chapters before I’m all the way through. That’s probably what I’ll end up doing. If you like being of service to your fellow man (or woman in this case) watch this space for requests for beta readers.

*Sorry. I didn’t mean “damned thing.” I meant “my wonderful, exciting novel about which I’m passionate.”

What we saw, heard, felt, smelled and tasted on our winter vacation


I don’t know about anyone you guys, but it takes me forever to get back on schedule after going on vacation. It might help if I didn’t always take a gazillion pictures which I then have to sort through (tossing most), apply Photoshop magic to the rest, and only then make available to those who have expressed an interest.

Fear not; if you don’t want to see any more vacation pictures, we’re done! If you do want more, I’m including links to the albums on Flickr.

  • Here are about 40 shots of central Florida scenery
  • Here are about 80 shots we took at Universal, which is mostly Harry Potter stuff, but has a few shots of the Blues Brothers Show and other areas
  • Here are about 60 shots from Disney World

So. Here’s where I use my words to try to convey the sensory delights of Florida. Aside from things to see (some of which are captured in my photo albums), there are also things to hear, feel, smell, and taste.


  • Tired red flowers…and glorious red flowers (like those pictured above)
  • Chartreuse and red foliage
  • Palms, both tall and bushy
  • The model timeshare unit they showed us, with decor from this century…unlike the unit we stayed in.
  • Faux aged wood and stone at the pristine theme parks
  • Pretend settings in general: a New York street with the Blues Brothers (or reasonable facsimiles thereof); Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade; a supposed antiquities museum where you can buy faux Egyptian goods; Thunder Mountain “mine train” which is really a roller coaster
  • So many swimming pools!
  • A long, long beach
  • Dunes
  • Little black-eyed Susans nestled in the sand
  • Gray skies
  • Bright sun


  • The drunk guy in the airport elevator. Our first clue to his inebriation was his slow, overly dramatic reaction to the request that he move over a bit so our luggage cart would fit. Then he yelled at us to come back so he could continue fighting with us.
  • A “90-minute” time share pitch that lasted more like 3 hours; the snappily dressed young men—Faisal and Neph—who faked friendliness and interest in us so they could sell us a time share at Westgate Lakes. It didn’t work.
  • Traffic on the interstate
  • The loudest housekeeping staff ever, banging and shouting at 8 a.m.
  • Improbably cheerful confectionary shop workers
  • Rolling waves at Cocoa Beach


  • Fighting strong current on the lake (in a paddleboat)
  • Aluminum-framed sliding glass doors to the screened balcony. So hard to open and close!
  • Warm paraffin during a pedicure
  • The scrape of exfoliating scrub on my legs
  • Misty drizzle
  • Gully washing rain
  • Cold water and the grit of drying sand as you rub it off your feet
  • Soft sand
  • The overhead scorch of the dragon’s breath at Gringotts
  • Chilly, misty breezes
  • Warm sun
  • The scary elevator that arrived on the top floor, bounced and banged around for several excruciatingly long seconds before finally opening its doors and allowing escape
  • Bicycling on twisting, bewildering “roads” around the resort


  • The drunk guy in the airport elevator. Seriously, the alcohol emanated from his pores!
  • Asphalt
  • The ocean
  • Warm paraffin during a pedicure
  • Butterbeer (a butterscotch soda) at Harry Potter world/ Universal Studios


  • Fat Tire amber ale – strong, with a clean finish
  • A lovely white bordeaux and the best spinach goat cheese quiche ever at Le Cafe de Paris in Orlando
  • Cucumber-lemon water
  • Fortescue’s sticky toffee pudding ice cream: caramel deliciousness
  • Potato leek soup at Three Broomsticks: smooth and mildly aromatic
  • Spring green salad with red and golden beets, walnuts, chèvre, dried fruit and apples
  • Apple caramel cheesecake
  • Fizzing Whizbees, which are much like having a milky chocolate soda in solid form
  • Chocolate Frogs, which actually taste only faintly of chocolate, but at least included a trading card of Rowena Ravenclaw
  • Grateful Dead wine, berry-flavored and full-bodied, with some tannin

Answers to the geography quiz

According to BK, the state of the first picture was:

Domestic Peace

And the state of the second was

Blissful Tranquility

Though if you guessed Illinois and Florida, you’d also be correct.

Here are a few more Florida pictures:

Palms near Portofino Bay
Portofino waterfront – Universal resort
Gringotts dragon – Universal Studios
Shorebirds at Cocoa Beach
Captain Jack Sparrow at Disney World

To come: links to the photo albums on Flickr.

Habits, revisited


It’s that time of year again. Okay, it’s about two weeks after that time of year. But, hey! If you were going to make New Year’s resolutions, you’ve already made them and have some sense of how well they’re working out for you.

I don’t make ’em, or not exactly. I do try to find behaviors that work well for me and to eliminate bad ones. I don’t limit that strategy to once a year, though. I do find myself thinking, come January, what’s worked out for me. Lately I’ve had encouraging success with adding new, good behavior, though I’m a bit iffy on getting rid of ones that are less positive. Ah well, each of us special little snowflakes is a work-in-progress.

Regarding habit change, I’ve mentioned books and web sites on this blog that I’ve found helpful. If you’re interested, here are a few links:

Here’s one I haven’t mentioned before. A guy named Drew Hendricks lists 6 things you should do when you first get up in the morning. I’ve been following most of his suggestions for the last 2-3 months, and I think he may be on to something.

At any rate, I’ve developed a few habits well enough to be convinced of their efficacy. What do I mean by that? I mean I’m writing more. I’m also accomplishing more of my non-writing tasks. So, huzzah!

In case you’re interested, here are some habits that work for me:

  • A morning routine which is my own variation of Drew Hendricks’ suggestions:
    1- No screen time for 15 minutes,
    2- Drinking room temperature water first thing; also holding off on coffee for half an hour,
    3- Getting out of bed in such a way that I don’t hurt myself,
    4- Setting three (and no more than three!) feasible goals for the day,
    5- Stretching, and
    6- Meditating. Yes! Meditating! I couldn’t seem to stick to it for the longest time, but I’ve worked up to doing it 15 minutes every morning. Who knows, one of these days I may add an evening session as well.
  • Exercise 4-6 days a week. Mens sana in corpore sano, after all.
  • Writing. I may not write fiction or a blog post daily, but at the very least I make a journal entry. Every day.
  • Making the bed.

That last one surprises even me. I used to think only martinets or uncreative people or other judgmental sticks-in-the-mud worried about making their beds. After all, you’re just going to mess it up again, right? However, I have reconsidered. I’ve heard bed-making referred to as a cornerstone habit. That means it’s one of those habits (exercise is another one) that leads to other good habits. For me, it makes it unlikely that I’ll climb back in and/or stay in my pjs all day.

So those are my positive habits, the ones that help me get things done and generally feel like a worthwhile member of society. Most days.

What works for you? I’d love to read about it in the comments.

Tea at the Drake, Take 2

After tea–Danny, Lori, Cookie, Cookie Jr., and Sis
I’m the one in the white box

We had tea at the Drake again this year.

Last year, photographers wandered through the Palm Court, taking pictures if people wanted them, but they weren’t there this year. Resourcefully, we took our own pictures with our handy smart phones. I took the one above, and Sis took the rest.

Cookie and Cookie Jr., looking lovely as always
Danny, perusing the tea caddy

I didn’t understand why they gave us only five of each item on the tea caddy when there were six of us. For some things, this didn’t matter; not everyone wanted a cucumber sandwich, for example. However, everyone wanted a scone and a swan-shaped cream puff.

Fabulous puff, right?

So, while we may try a different tea venue next year, it looks like holiday tea is becoming a tradition. Lori and Danny both like it and we like to make them happy.

Pericles at Chicago Shakespeare

Pericles suffered through a lot of shipwrecks

Usually when we see Shakespeare, we have some idea what to expect. Because of my past life as a theatre person, I rarely see an unfamiliar Shakespeare play in production. Either we’ve already seen a particular play (often multiple productions of it, in fact), or I’ve at least read it. However, Pericles, Prince of Tyre is one of those plays you almost never see in production for several reasons. First, it’s not considered one of Shakespeare’s best. Also, most people believe Shakespeare was not the sole author. A skeezy guy named George Wilkins is often credited with the first 9 scenes and Shakespeare with the last 13 or 14. Whenever I studied Shakespeare, it was one of those plays everyone turned up their nose at, so I never even read it.

Because we didn’t know quite what we’d let ourselves in for, and because we were there early enough, we decided to take advantage of one of the great features of Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier, the preamble. About an hour before many of the matinee performances, you can hear a lecture about the play you’re about to see; Stephen Bennett from Roosevelt University was the lecturer we heard, and he was excellent.

A good preamble helps place the play in context within Shakespeare’s canon, and the presenting scholar will also talk about the director’s production choices. The director, David Bell, who has a resumé as long as your arm, has wanted to direct Pericles practically forever. Bennett sketched out  some of the liberties Bell took with the script. The main change was doing away with the John Gower character, who was a historic figure (poet and a buddy of Chaucer’s) but not someone most modern audience members would have a clue about. Gower’s speeches were split among various members of the ensemble. For my money, Bell’s adaptation worked beautifully.

Like other Shakespeare “problem plays”, notably my favorite, The Winter’s Tale, there are plot holes you could drive a truck through. That kind of thing doesn’t bother me the way it does many theatregoers. It gave me the opportunity to wisecrack, Mystery Science Theater style. My favorite comments (delivered to Cookie, sotto voce) included: “Kidnapped by pirates is good.” and “She’s only mostly dead.”

Also, I think it would be an interesting experiment to take one of these less-loved Shakespeare plays and try to reimagine it in novel form, maybe explaining the plot holes. I’m mulling the idea over for an upcoming project.

Anyway, if you live in the Chicago area and  this post has piqued your interest, Pericles is still at Navy Pier until January 18, 2015.

2014 in review plus scoreboard update

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s some of what the aforementioned WordPress monkeys told me:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

I also promised a scoreboard update. On December 30, 2014, I looked around and noticed this:

I have made a total of six submissions. Pitiful. I have a total of zero acceptances and six rejections, putting me and the publishing universe in a dead heat. Time to pull out one last-ditch effort, to end 2014 as a winner!

My submissions scoreboard now looks like this:

December 31, 2014 — 8 p.m.
Submissions: 8   Acceptances: 0   Rejections: 6

I spent Wednesday afternoon finding a couple of markets for two out of three of my poor little orphan stories. Still need to shop out the last one, but at least I’m ahead for the year.

Hope you had a wonderful holiday season and will have a happy, healthy, prosperous 2015!