Friday, March 9, 2012


Today, I’m expanding the blog a bit to include a recipe courtesy of my brother, Barry.
Instant Treasure (without losing an eye)
One 5 dollar bill
One bank teller person
One sense of adventure
Directions:  Make haste to a financial institution in your neighborhood. Hand your 5 dollar bill to the bank teller person and say, “I would like 500 pennies.” Smile. You can add an “Arrrgh” if you wish. When the bank teller person hands over those rolls, you may feel the urge to swashbuckle. I suggest you save that for later. Sail home and check out what you’ve got – and blimey, you’ve got 500 chances to find some valuable stuff!
Voila – treasure!
The last time my son did this, he found two Lincoln wheat pennies (1941 & 1946) and a dime with low self esteem (alas, he was worth so much more than the chumps he hung out with).
Now this recipe also comes with bonus features that are mighty handy if you’re a writer person. I call them Instant Stories. Sure, sure, the pennies might be worth more than face value, but the stories in your hot little hands are priceless – and they can run the gamut from historical to hysterical.
To access these features, preheat your brain to “simmer”. Then take another look at your loot.
For example, think about my son’s wheat-backs from 1941, the year the U.S. entered WWII, and 1946, the year after The War ended – Shiver me timbers, there are so many world events between the mintings of two bits of metal! And just where have those pennies been all this time? Were they ever worn in loafers? Could one have been held by JFK? Martin Luther King? How many gumballs did they purchase in their lifetimes? How many times were they “lucky” finds? Were they ever employed by the Tooth Fairy? Did a kid ever swallow one of them? Okay, maybe you don’t want to think about that one.

PROMPT: Your weekend assignment, should you choose to accept it – go get yourself some treasure without the risk of scallywags or swordplay. Plunder the stories! Paint maps of faraway islands! And if you really want to engage in a swordfight or two, I’m certainly not going to stop you.
And by the way, if you’re doubtful that you’ll find anything particularly valuable – note that one wild author and coin guy, Scott A. Travers, intentionally dropped rare pennies into circulation in 1997, 2002, and 2006. His last drop included a penny worth $1000 (yep, one thousand dollars!). Now THAT find would make a pretty great story, don’t you think? A penny for your thoughts…

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What do you know?

Ranking right up there with “Show Don’t Tell” is another author adage – “Write What You Know”.
And I know a little bit about chess tournaments. In fact, our family adventure last weekend involved one of these fun-filled occasions.
If you have never been to a chess competition, prepare to be enlightened. Unlike other “sporting” contests, the parents at chess tournaments are a pretty quiet bunch.
For example, you will never hear –
“Fork his rook, Johnny! Use the FORK!”
 “Woot! Who’s taking out your son with a Bugayev Attack? MY daughter – that’s who!”
“That’s right, Timmy – B-slap his queen!”
Trust me, you would NEVER hear this.
But it’s not because we are an especially well-mannered crowd – it’s because we never get to see any of the action. As our children are herded off to compete in the school cafeteria, we are confined to the gym – for roughly 37 hours. Okay, that’s an exaggeration – we are confined for only 9 hours, but trust me, it feels like 37.
And from the amount of time I’ve logged in various gyms, I know one thing FOR SURE. Our nation’s schools work very hard to save our tax dollars. How do I know this? Because they do not heat their buildings on weekends… Woe to the unprepared. If you wish to attend a chess event, be sure to dress warmly – as in, wear something you would consider appropriate for a stint at Everest Base Camp.
But what is even tougher to handle than the frostbite, is witnessing so much lost parental potential. Often, when I walk through those gym doors at 7:45 AM, I hang my head and sigh. Here we are – a group of strangers thrown together for the next 37 hours. We could be having one heck of a Texas Hold ‘em tourney. We could be playing Twister. We could be belting out “New York, New York” on a Karaoke machine. But no. Instead, we simply spread our collective frigid misery all over the gym floor.
Last Saturday was no different. I took my book to a corner and huddled in my mukluks.
Next time I’m taking Twister.
PROMPT: So, what do you know? I’m sure there’s something you know a lot about, and this is great fodder for writing. Do you have a particular skill? Give it to one of your book’s characters, and it will add authenticity to your work. For those in the visual arts – is there a place you know well? What about a feeling? Could you render those in stone or watercolor, perhaps? Show what you know. Create. Create. Create. You know the drill.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Show Don’t Tell

Just for the record, my tibia did not break from a fall off a soapbox. It broke when it got in the way of love. Puppy love.
My dog loves to show off for a guy named Jackson. Who can blame her? He’s got good breeding and comes from a long line of shepherds, so you’ll never see him in an unemployment queue. Anyway, her preferred method of showing off for her “boyfriend” is running full tilt around the house. This is where the tibia part comes in. One day I took a step outside and was, shall we say, “love struck”.
From my place on the ground and the position of my leg, the ER suddenly seemed like a good idea. And that’s when the fun began.
“How did the injury occur?” asked the intake person.
“My dog ran into me,” I winced.
“Your dog ran into you?”
“Your dog ran into you.” It was a statement this time, and her left eyebrow was raised just a little. At that moment I was pretty sure that someone would soon be riffling through my file to check whether I was a frequent flyer on a drug seeking mission.
In the exam room I answered the question again.
Your dog ran into you?” You could almost hear the eye roll of Medical Person 1. She left the room.
“She weighs 83 pounds!” I called out to no one in particular.
“Her dog ran into her” made the rounds.
“So, your dog ran into you,” Medical Person 2 said flatly, when she appeared at my bedside. “Gee, it doesn’t look very swollen.” Then the poking and prodding commenced. I bit my lip, and when she was through, I peeled myself off the ceiling.
I refused to cry. But I did lament to my family that I didn’t know how I would possibly be able to do all the things I do in my little world, if this leg thing turned out to be something serious. Never one to miss a creative opportunity, my daughter whipped out her sketch book, and in no time flat she had plans for a designer cast complete with vacuum cleaner attachments. I still have the picture. It may come in handy someday…But I digress.
Did you know that x-rays have super powers? Sure, they can see through skin and muscle, but did you know that they can also change personalities?
“We’re not going to touch that anymore, Honey,” said Medical Person 2, when she returned.
“Can I get you some pain meds?” asked Medical Person 1. “An extra pillow… anything?”
Turns out, my tibia was cracked in two places. It was the kind of break that only occurs when a leg is bent sideways. That is, when your own femur (that’s the big bone in the top of your leg) comes down and cracks into the top of your own tibia. The x-ray showed it all. And showing makes all the difference in the medical world.
Showing makes all the difference in the writing world, as well.
In fact, “Show Don’t Tell” is the mantra often repeated by top dogs in the profession. But very few of them explain exactly what it means. And so, because I am your friend, I’ve tried to do that in my little slice-of-life episode. If you read it again, you may note that I never told you that I was in pain. Instead, I winced, bit my lip, and peeled myself off of the ceiling. That’s showing. Now you know.

PROMPT: Show me the money! Show the pain, joy, anger, and bliss in your writing. If your character is anxious, I want to feel the sweat on his palms and see the tremor in his finger tips. Make his mouth so dry that I need to fetch myself a glass of water. Show. Show. Show. If you’re an artist, you already know how to show, so maybe you can show me some broken things. We’ve covered legs – what about hearts, promises, or vows? So much to show, so little time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Crow Wisdom

The crow does not know
That he is not beautiful
That he cannot sing

There’s a crow in the tree outside my window. He is preening with pride and cawing with conviction. He has Mick Jagger swagger and audacity in spades. He takes one look at the double negatives tucked within my haiku and says, “You got that right, Sugar.”

He knows he is beautiful.
He takes his rightful place in the choir.
And he does not give a biscuit what people think of his art.

Nor should you.
Often when we attempt a creative act, we run smack into fear. Fear that our art will not be good enough. Fear that we are not good enough. Fear of what others may think.
But here’s the rub. That kind of fear isn’t real. He’s a man with no fashion sense on a stick in a field – his grubby straw hands just get in the way of what you are meant to do.
And you are meant to do something wonderful.
I know without a doubt that everyone is here to create some amazing something.
How do I know? Place your hand on your chest. Do you feel that thumping? Some folks will try to tell you that that is your heart driving blood through your veins. Yeah, I know all about their “theories”. I say it’s something different.
I say what you’re feeling is the amazing something inside of you that wants to be created. That special something with the soul of a crow – beating its wings against a cage made of bone. It knows it is beautiful. It knows it can sing… or write… or paint – you name it, it knows. And it does not give a biscuit what you think other people will think if you set it free.
Set it free!
Okay, now I’ll climb down off my soapbox before I break a tibia.

PROMPT: Do it.

Monday, March 5, 2012


2008 was a BIG year for a lot of people. For me, it was the year that I was first prescribed bifocal lenses. And while Bono can wear them and still be cool, let me tell you, they did nothing for me. Actually, that’s a lie. They did do something for me… something other people seemed to notice.
It started with those furtive, sidelong glances and quickly escalated to whispers. The whispers grew to shout-outs whenever I wore my hair up. Apparently, I had a doppelganger, and she was (gasp)… Sarah Palin.
Let me interject here that I personally don’t think I look like S.P. To me I look like, well, me. After all, I’ve been waking up with the same face for decades. But that doesn’t matter when it comes to those strange twists in the space-time continuum, and so… back to 2008.
As you can imagine, that year was a “giddy” time. As the months progressed, it didn’t matter whether my hair was up or down – folks were having fun with me. Even my own father joked, “Gee, I don’t remember being in Alaska back then!” Thanks, Dad. That is NOT something I want to think about.
Anyway… my relief was ENORMOUS when Obama was elected. After all, I had fretted for months that I’d be called up for active duty as a stand-in double – and maybe have to take a bullet for the new V.P. (I still shudder) Oh, joy of joys that this strange life hiccup would end with the failure of the McCain campaign.
But no. Those Sarah moments still happen, and I must admit that the experience has changed me a bit – I catch myself saying things like “You betcha” and “I can see Canada from my house!” (yes, I can). But, thankfully the condition hasn’t progressed to those annoying nervous winking tics or “thumbs up” signs. For the most part, I am polite about it all. I smile and have chatty conversations with strangers where we all enjoy the joke… on me. However, there are a few people from the past year that I wish to address individually:
·         To the folks in Mt. Vernon who paid for my lunch and left the nice note – I am so sorry that you shelled out cash for the wrong person. I feel a little guilty about it, but the burger was delicious. By the way, I really have enjoyed my stay here in Washington… for the last 20 years.
·         To the guy desperately calling, “Sarah! Sarah!” as I made my way to baggage claim in the Phoenix airport last fall –Sorry, sometimes I just choose to ignore. This was one of those times.
·         To the x-ray technician who thought it would be hilarious to call my husband “Todd” – This one would have been a real knee slapper, but my tibia was cracked in two places at the time. Trust me, it’s funny now. “Todd” and I are busting a gut over it.
And so to avoid any future confusion, ill-spent cash, or awkward moments, I’d like to make a brief public service announcement –

If you see this woman in grocery stores, airports, fuel stations, coffee shops, zoos, libraries, restaurants, etc. – she is NOT Sarah Palin. Thank you.
PROMPT: Have you ever been mistaken for someone else? What if someone thought you were an ex-con, a supermodel, or a political candidate widely believed to be a few fries short of a Happy Meal? Are you a twin? What if you were? Think about Disney’s Parent Trap and have fun with the possibilities. If you’re an artist, what does doppelganger bring to mind? If nothing, I’d say go with painting “pears”. Are we gonna have fun with this? You BETCHA!