Sunday, July 27, 2008

Last minute bits and pieces

What I'm reading: No One Lives Forever, by Jordan Dane

What I'm writing: Chapter 12, scene 2

News to share: All my titles are now available at All Romance eBooks. This should help with one-stop shopping for anyone who (myself included) doesn't like having to go through all the payment information at multiple sites. My Cerridwen romantic suspense novels and my Wild Rose Press short stories are all listed here.

And -- last night I got an email telling me What's in a Name? is a finalist in the Heart of the Rockies Aspen Gold contest. Thank goodness for postage on line, because they need two more copies of the book right away, and we'll be gone before the Post Office opens on Monday.

I totally blanked out on my vacation when I set dates for my website contest. I've extended the deadline to August 15th, so pop over and enter.

I don't think the writing is going to progress much while I'm gone, but I'm loading the ms onto my flash drive in case I find some free time. I'm hoping to use the time in Oregon to get more background information--terrain, flora, fauna, etc. And I'll pick the brain of my retired BIL for law enforcement details.

I'll be back on August 11th. If I have time to post updates while I'm away, I definitely will, so please check in.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Character Names

I've been reading the ARC of When Danger Calls. It's a different kind of reading, and requires a totally different mindset. It's not the same kind of editing I do with my critique groups, because at this point, it's strictly a 'typo or glaring error' read. It's hard not to want to make it better. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with any of my books. There's always something I think could be improved. Finding minutiae is tedious. I keep reading the 'story' and have to stop, go back, and read the 'words'.

The first error I caught also reinforced my character-naming approach. Coming up with appropriate names is always a challenge. And, as one professor pointed out in a workshop, it should sound like the character's parents named them, not the author. At a conference, a speaker warned everyone to watch out for too many characters with similar sounding names, or names starting with the same initials. He also said that the initials of your protagonists should be the only characters with those letters. After I wrote a paragraph with Langley and Laughlin talking about Lalone, I realized I needed to keep better track. I created a spreadsheet with two columns of the alphabet, one for first names and one for last names. As I named a character, I'd put the names in the appropriate slots. This let me see if I was fixating on a particular letter. If it was a major character, I used a colored font as a warning to avoid using that letter for anyone else with a 'speaking' role.

As a reader, I tend to "see" the entire name based on the beginning. So when I read a book where there was a Mike, a Mack, and a Mick, I was easily confused. For me, I can differentiate more easily between Jack and Mack than Mike and Mick. But having all the characters with one syllable, 4 letter names isn't easy for the reader. Do others read the way I do? See only the beginning of words? Apparently so.

I created a make-believe high-end security firm with a secret covert-ops side that can go where Uncle Sam can't. (Let's me avoid dealing with military regulations, the government, etc.). The company is called Blackthorne, Inc. The head guy is Horace Blackthorne. Before the ARCs are printed, the manuscript has been through at least 4 sets of edits with at least two editors. So, when I start reading my ARC (which is a cool thrill because it's a bound book), what do I see? The first time we meet the boss, he's Horace Blackstone. I went back and checked all my edited versions of the manuscript. It was there from the first round. Nobody caught it. My hypothesis is that they read names the way I do—and if it started with "Black" they didn't see the rest.

At least I caught it before the book goes to print. Otherwise, I'd probably be chasing down the books in stores and libraries and penciling in the right name.

I'm off to San Francisco at the crack of dawn Monday. Back to packing!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gearing up for RWA

What I'm reading: Pointe and Shoot by Natalie M. Roberts

What I'm writing: Chapter 12

I leave in a few days for the annual national conference of Romance Writers of America in San Francisco. I'm looking forward to being surrounded by hundreds of people who also hear voices but aren't forced to live in padded rooms. I'm looking forward to cooler weather. I'm looking forward to meeting my agent face to face. I'm looking forward to seeing all those 'names on spines', and listening to their words of wisdom.

I'm looking forward to the behind the scenes tour of Customs & Immigration. I'm looking forward to the Death by Chocolate party where they'll announce the winners of the Daphne du Maurier contest. It's been an honor to have been nominated. Seriously. My book is with a small press, and a primarily e-publisher to boot. So hanging with names like Brenda Novak is just plain amazing. I even did the unimaginable – bought new shoes. I'm looking forward to seeing my brother, even if it's only for an afternoon. He's already made the restaurant reservations. And, after the conference, I'm looking forward to a week of decompression in Oregon with DH's sister and her husband. Since my current WIP is set in Oregon, it's a research trip, too.

What I'm not looking forward to: Packing. It's like packing for two trips. RWA tends to be wardrobe intensive, with meetings, award ceremonies, as well as all day in workshops. Then, staying with relatives in Salem requires an entirely different set of clothes. Laid back, casual. With the airline restrictions on luggage these days, it'll be a challenge to get everything I need into the requisite suitcases. And there are all the 'promotional extras' to cram in there somewhere. Although my contributions won't be making the return trip, normally the giveaways I collect equal or exceed what I leave behind. Thank goodness for my eBookwise. I can fill it with enough reading material so I don't need to haul books.

Then there are all the 'leaving home' details to remember. Cancel mail, paper. Have neighbor alerted to watch the house for things left in the driveway or on the porch. Change all my email groups to no mail or special notices. Make sure I've got all the necessities, which puts me right back to packing, because if I don't have it, there's not much time to run out and get it. I should make a list, of course. But I never got around to making a list for a month in Africa; two weeks on the west coast shouldn't be that hard.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cell phone sniffing dogs

I mentioned in a previous post that cell phones were the hot commodity in prisons. A comment about using dogs to sniff them suggested I check with Mr. Malinowski. I did, and he was kind enough to send a copy of the article.

Here's the

Thanks again to David Malinowski for providing it.

Crimimal Thinking Bibliography - UPDATED

I should have included these yesterday --
Criminal Thinking References:

The Myth of the Out of Character Crime
Inside the Criminal Mind
The Criminal Personality Volume I – A Profile for Change
The Criminal Personality Volume II – The Change Process
The Criminal Personality Volume III – The Drug User
Straight Talk About Criminals – Understanding and Treating Antisocial Behavior

By Stanton E. Samenow, Phd.

Shortly after posting this, I received an email from David Malinowski. I'd mentioned the cell-phone sniffing dogs mentioned by a commenter in a previous post. (And, in a 'small world moment, a friend of his who's a writer in Chicago just happened to see my blog and told him about it. )

Mr. Malinowski provided an article on dogs that can sniff out cell phones. I'll try to figure out how to upload and post it -- no promises how long it might take, so check back! (anyone who's a regular at this blog knows that technology and I have 'issues').

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Inside the Criminal Mind: Criminal Thinking, Part 5

To Change a Criminal: Corrective Thinking

Change is only possible when a criminal makes a choice to change.

When does a person change? When they are ready, and not a moment sooner.
The objective is to teach criminals to live without injuring others
Note: this comes right back to Malinowski's opening statement about concern for victims.

Corrective Thinking means:

Strict standards
No "feel good" stuff
No shortcuts
No rewards for doing what is expected – "Until your desperation factor exceeds your embarrassment factor, you are not a candidate for transformation."

Remember: Criminals Think Differently!

Change is a 4-letter world
W – O – R – K

The Change Process:
The most important part of the change process must be conducted in the community.

It is a pipe dream to release criminals from institutions and expect them to function responsibly without guidance in a world for which they are not equipped.

To change one hard-core criminal means saving society from an incalculable injury.

Some parting bits and pieces…

The number one fear of the hard core criminal is fear of the dark, of being alone. When they're alone, they're bored, and forced to face who they really are.

Malinowski also spoke of sex offenders. The sex offender isn't necessarily as big a threat to the general population as the media suggests. 90% of child molesters are family, or known to the child. That means only 10% are "strangers"or "predators"

Sex offenders have a very low (5.3%) recidivism rate, in some part because of the strict protocols of registering, etc.

As an aside: Malinowski pointed out he lives on a cul-de-sac of 5 homes, one of which holds a family with 2 daughters. While he understands that the mother would like to know if there are sexual predators in the neighborhood (and again, remember the actual "predators" are rare – only 10% of sexual offenders), Malinowski would rather know if the guy who lives behind him has ever been arrested for breaking and entering. There's no registry for other crimes.

Lee's comment yesterday about not sharing personal information with inmates is another point Malinowski made—my examples showed how valuable even the most trivial-seeming piece of information can be. In my first post, I mentioned that staff should never have family pictures in their offices, as this is just one more piece of information the inmates will 'collect'.

For a closer look at how the inmates are always on the 'con', check this site.

Prison 'myths' we've learned from watching movies and television: (Note, these facts are from the Florida prison system, and may not be the same elsewhere.)

There's no air conditioning. As I type this at 6:30 pm, it's 87 degrees outside. There's also no heat, although in Florida, that's not going to be a comfort problem nearly as many days of the year as the hot days. Summer lasts about 8 months here.

The law library in a Florida prison is about half a wall in size, and most of the books are out of date.

There's no fancy gym. In fact, due to budget cuts, even the weight stacks might no longer be available. Hot prisoners with no way to burn off steam?

Meals. They get three minutes (yes, THREE) to eat. No talking.

There are no computers. No Internet access. Phone calls are regulated.

You know all those movie and television scenes where the inmate has a visitor? Well, the visitors are patted down very extensively before entering the room. Did you know the prisoners are strip searched before and after they leave that room? Every time. So if it's an all day visit, there's a morning and an afternoon session. That's 4 strip searches.

The hottest commodity at the moment: cell phones. They appear as if by magic, it seems. Recently, due to a fluke, one smuggling scheme was uncovered. It seems a major book chain sends surplus books to prisons. Per regulation, each book is individually shrink wrapped, boxed, and shipped via carrier (I think he said UPS, but I'm not sure – doesn't really matter). They're offloaded and sent to the prison library. One day, a receiving clerk had a little more time than usual, and instead of sending the cartons directly to the library, she opened them to look at the books. As she lifted them out, she saw three copies of one title. But they didn't feel to be the same weight. She opened them and found one of them contained three cell phones. Someone on the inside had arranged with someone at the book store to smuggle in the phones. They can't black out the prison for cell signals, though, because that's how the corrections officers (they don't call them guards anymore) communicate.

I hope you've found these posts interesting and informative. I got my ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of When Danger Calls yesterday and will have to read them for errors. It's tedious and time consuming, and a totally different kind of read. But so cool to get the story as a "book" for the first time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Inside the Criminal Mind: Criminal Thinking, Part 4

What I'm reading: The Drifter by Susan Wiggs

What I'm writing: Chapter 11, scene 2

Back to Criminal Thinking

Some more statistics …

In a typical prison population:

20% are "scared straight" by the experience and won't be back
20% are "hard core" and will never change, no matter what
30% are still doing crime while they're incarcerated
30% want to change but don't know how.

The last group has the best chance for the requisite "deep change", but according to Malinowski, the last two groups tend to flip flop, often influenced by the other two.

More interesting tidbits: Picture two women standing around talking, holding purses. An addict will look at them and see money to buy drugs. A criminal will think, "They have MY money."

Criminals want power and control, regardless of what form it might take. They're observant.

Malinowski drove a truck. Parking for the prison is some distance away, so it's a long walk to the entrance. He drove the truck on his first visit to a prison, but the next time, he used his wife's car. When he was inside, an inmate said, "Where's your truck?" He had observed the original vehicle, but in this case, didn't see Malinowski get out of the other car. Yet he knew he'd driven something different.

Likewise, he used to wear a straw hat, more so the guards would be ready to unlock the gate than because he was a hat person. He didn't wear it inside. The first time he showed up without it, an inmate asked about it, which means these folks find ways to know everyone's comings and goings. It's not like they can sit in the parlor and watch the world go by. Word gets around.

Another time he walked down a corridor carrying a briefcase and a video cassette. He entered a room, put the video on the table for the next day, and left. Probably took less time than it did to type this. Later, an inmate asked what was on the video. They watch, they notice, because any detail might be useful.

Malinowski spoke of an assignment he gave to his class relatively early in his career. At the time, he used the large flip-charts in his classroom. An inmate came up after class and proposed an elaboration on the assignment, complete with diagrams and charts. He asked for a piece of paper so he could do a presentation. Mr. M, as they call him, agreed and tore of a sheet. The inmate then asked for one more, in case he messed up. All very polite, very eager. Mr. M gave him the second sheet.

The next day, that inmate didn't show up. Instead, he sent someone else to demonstrate his plan, saying inmate #1 had been transferred. The inmate brought one of the sheets of paper, complete with diagrams, etc. BUT, inmate #1 knew he was being transferred. Knew darn well he would never be going to the next class. However, he had Power, because he had scammed two sheets of paper (and if you recall, those old flip charts are BIG). There are countless uses for paper, not the least of which is turning it into a weapon.

Looks like it's going to take at least one more day to finish. Please come back!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Weekend hiatus

I will be back on Monday with the continuation of my Criminal Thinking series. If you haven't read it yet, it's information I gleaned from a fascinating presentation given by David Malinowski of the Florida Department of Corrections.

Meanwhile, you can check my website and enter my July contest for some South African souvenirs.

Or visit my Red Room page.

Or read a good book. I have a few of mine I could suggest. First chapters are all available on my website.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Inside the Criminal Mind: Criminal Thinking, Part 2

What I'm writing: Chapter 10

A brief recap: Malinowski defines "criminal" as someone who lives a lifestyle of crime. To a criminal, the usual boundaries of authority don't apply.

In his presentation, Malinowski also stressed the difference between cause and influence. For example, poverty does not cause crime, but it definitely influences it. For Malinowski, the personal motivation that gives meaning to his job stems from his belief that a criminal has three basic choices.

1. Continue the life of crime. This will result in the criminal returning to prison, dying on the streets, or dying in prison.
2. Suicide. Not a recommendation but nonetheless, still a 'choice'. Fear keeps most criminals from suicide.
3. Change. Must be deep change. Without deep change, there is only slow death, so change becomes a "life vs. death" choice.
His goal is to help offenders see the need for change, and to give them the tools they need to effect it.

A quick statistic: 97% of incarcerated people get out of prison. (Often many times,) Only 3% die in prison, either by the death penalty, of natural causes, or at the hand of other prisoners. In the Florida system, there are 100,000 inmates, and 129,000 who are out "under supervision."

Malinowski suggested that the next time you go to eat at a restaurant like Denny's, or Applebees, or TGI Friday's, you take a look around the back. Are there bicycles parked there? Odds are good that these belong to people who are recently out of prison, perhaps on a work release program. Since they can't hold a driver's license, they'll bike to work.

He told us of receiving a phone call (by law, they're required to answer all telephone calls from prisoners so they can't claim they tried to get in touch with them but couldn't reach them) from a recently released inmate. He went on and on about how he'd gotten with the program, had a place to live (girlfriend), checked in with a parole officer, and had a job lined up (graphic artist) that would pay him $1700. Malinowski didn't recall the name, so he looked it up in the prison computer system. The guy had been arrested 22 times, and had been in prison 5 times. He was calling because he needed $80 to rent the airbrush equipment so he could do the job and get paid, and to him, the easiest and fastest way to the money was to call the instructor of the Life Skills class.

One side note – why the picture of the binder clips? The stacks of class handouts were fastened with these clips. After unclipping them to pass them out, David's colleague automatically hooked the clips together and put them in his pocket, whereas we would probably just leave them on the table. Why? Because if you remove the prongs from the clip, they'll unlock a pair of handcuffs.

Along those lines, Nike once manufactures some elite shoes with chrome tips on the laces (anyone know the correct term for those tips? I did, which was my moment of fame in the class) which also were perfect for unlocking cuffs.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Inside the Criminal Mind: Criminal Thinking, Part 1

Last night's class on "Inside the Criminal Mind" was fascinating and crammed full of information—much more than I can cover here, and definitely not in a single post. So, this may turn out to be a series. I took fast and furious notes, and the speaker provided handouts, but I'll say right up front that these are the facts as I understand them, and there might be places where I'm not spot-on. These are the facts and opinions as our speaker presented them, not necessarily mine. However, he's the expert, and most of what he said made perfect sense to me. As always, one can't make broad generalizations, and there are always exceptions. Feel free to ask questions.

Our speaker was David Malinowski, the Regional Transition Coordinator for the Florida Dept. of Corrections. He became interested in the field of criminal thinking after realizing that traditional approaches with education did not work in a prison classroom.

Anyone incarcerated in the Florida prison system is required to go through a course from the Transitional Life Skills Center, within 6 months of release to help transition them into the "responsible" world, which is the way Mr. Malinowski refers to what most of us consider the "outside" or the "free world." The class was designed to address myths and mistakes often made when dealing with a criminal population and what is required for true change to take place.

First, he spoke of sympathy for the victims, who get lost in the system. He referred to the need for the offenders (another term he uses) to understand that whatever they did hurts people. His goal is to lead them toward change, but change has to come from the offender. Nobody can force change on someone else.

If one can make a generalization, it's that the criminal mind works on the "rules don't apply to me" foundation.

According to Malinowski, Criminal Thinking is erroneous thinking that comes automatically out of fear, like a reflex, or is a reaction.

Thinking leads to Feeling leads to Behavior. Criminals live out of their feelings. They don't move past it to cognitive behavior.

We've all been cut off in traffic. We react emotionally at first (although if you live where I do, the tourist population with it's "I need to turn left here, and it doesn't matter that I'm in the right hand lane" style of driving tends to become commonplace enough so that natives are aware of it, look out for it, and let it slide).

Although those who are not desensitized to idiot drivers can curb their immediate reaction to do something to the driver of the car. As responsible thinkers, we might hit the horn or flip the bird, but we don't normally crash into his car or shoot him.

He went on to give three basic reasons for crime: Power, Control, and Excitement. And three areas of crime: Property, Assault, and Sex.

To a criminal thinker, information is power. They will collect facts which may or may not be useful at the time. But if they know something about you, that gives them power. Those working in the system don't (or shouldn't) keep family photos in their offices.

He gave one interesting example. If you or I (assuming you're not a criminal thinker—I can speak only for myself here!) stand in a classroom doorway for 15 seconds and look around, we're likely to notice things like gender and racial mix of the group, the instructor, who's looking at the instructor, etc. When the offender stands in the doorway, he's noticing who's got an open purse, the keys on someone's desk, who's got cigarettes, and even the classroom roster on the instructors computer screen.

The criminal sees his behavior as normal. He's probably done it dozens of times without being caught. There are probably very few real "first time offenders" in prison. They're there because it was the first time they were caught.

I think that's all for today. Check back tomorrow, and I'll continue.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday Wanderings

What I'm writing: Chapter 9, scene 2.

Today, it's a trip to the dentist, another round of waiting for the cable guy (which will be an exercise in futility because the ghosting is intermittent and I know everything will be fine when he finally shows up, but after the inside guy said the problem was outside, and the outside guy said the problem was inside, I'm reaching the tooth-gnashing, hair pulling stage).

This evening, our Civilian Police Academy Alumni group will be having a presentation on "Inside the Criminal Mind." I'll try to summarize what I learn either tomorrow or Friday.

And since the theme of late has been writing 'short', it was another one of those synchronous moments when today's Writing Quote of the Day addressed the same topic:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

~William Strunk

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Plotter or Pantser?

What I'm reading: Killing Floor, by Lee Child

What I'm writing: Chapter 9

On my blog route this morning, one friend posed a familiar question: Are you a plotter or a pantser? I tried to answer within the confines of a blog comment, but it got me thinking.

I had hit a writing slump not long ago. I attributed a lot of it to the fact that my own life was going through some changes as I phased out my part-time day job. Yes, tying up all the loose ends was time consuming. But the real slowdown in writing, I think, was because I really didn't understand the scene I was writing. This was the first face to face confrontational meet between hero and heroine. I hadn't plotted it out well, so the writing was laborious. My sketchy "they meet and are stuck with each other" had to be fleshed out, and I had to do it in such a way that it made sense. Almost a week was spent on that chapter. I addressed some of this in my post last Wednesday.

Can I plot a 100,000 word novel in advance? No. I think what Suzanne Brockmann has said about her writing process, how she has character arcs for her huge cast of characters planned out over seven books at a time. I'm sure she would have known what kind of a phone her hero had and why before she started the book. I rarely know what's going to happen in the next chapter.

But, as I've discovered, until I do, meeting a word count goal becomes a chore instead of a joy. Writing is work, however, and it's hard work. You can't not show up simply because you don't feel inspired. If the muse isn't there, you have to go out and find her and chain her to her chair.

Overall, I guess I'm a pantser who plots in short spurts.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Short Stories, Part 2

What I'm reading: Queen of Babble gets Hitched, by Meg Cabot

What I'm writing: Chapter 8

I thought I'd share the second page of my handout from the short story workshop, with more quotes about the craft. If you missed the first page, it was Friday's post. Any favorites?

"I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances."
~John Steinbeck

“I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”
~ William Faulkner

"Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short”
~ Henry David Thoreau

"I'm sorry this letter is so long, but I did not have time to make it shorter."
~Blaise Pascal (often attributed to Mark Twain)

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip."
~Elmore Leonard

"Short stories are designed to deliver their impact in as few pages as possible. A tremendous amount is left out, and a good short story writer learns to include only the most essential information."
~Orson Scott Card

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.
~Thomas Jefferson

"You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money's in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed."
~Larry Niven

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday quiz

Yesterday's workshop seemed to go well, although I'm not stopping work on my WIP to write another short story. I've been meeting my 1000 words a day minimum, and feel good about moving forward.

I don't normally do the quiz thing, but I saw a 'what book are you?' during my blog-hopping this morning, and since I'm trying to stick with my M-F "real" posting, I figured a Sunday post where I'm not creating anything new might be fun. At least this test was short, and it didn't have the usual questions designed for the 30-something set that leave me scratching my head.

You're Jurassic Park!

by Michael Crichton

You combine all the elements of a mad scientist, a brash philosopher, a humble researcher, and a money-hungry attracter of tourists. With all these features,you could build something monumental or get chased around by your own demons. Probably both, in fact. A movie based on your life would make millions, and spawn at least two sequels that wouldn't be very good. Be very careful around islands.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Short Stories

What I'm writing: Chapter 7, short story writing notes

Although I've published half a dozen short stories, I've never felt totally in control of the process. Having to sit down and figure out "how to write a short story" makes me wonder why I volunteered to be part of the panel in the first place. But it's been interesting looking at things in hindsight. I've got my handouts printed and ready to go. I'm almost done with my speaker notes which should help keep me on track. But, as far as how I write a short story--I have to quote one of my writer buddies who's always saying, "It's organic. You just know."

Kurt Vonnegut had some interesting things to say about short stories in his collection, Bagombo Snuff Box. And who am I to argue with a master?

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My July Contest

My second summer contest is underway. I thought I'd give a peek at what the winner will receive. These are all trinkets I picked up on my trip to South Africa.

There's a "cute" refrigerator magnet, a tea-light candle and a Butterfly Art Mosaic.
From the back of the picture:

"This collage is made from real butterflies. After a natural death (having lived approximately 48 hours). They have been specially selected and treated. Rendering them everlasting and unalterable in all climates."

(Note -- I'm quoting directly, although my internal editor is screaming to fix the punctuation!) Details on how to enter are on my website.

You might have to dig a bit for the answer, but I can't make it all that easy, considering the prizes, now, can I?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wednesday Wanderings

What I'm reading: Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais

What I'm writing: Workshop notes, newsletter articles.

After spending FAR TOO LONG getting an email setup on my cell phone (even the cell phone store manager didn't understand why things weren't working), I'm now down to the camera issues. No matter what, the pictures are blurred. Had to join yet another forum group to try to get answers. Started utilizing some of the vacated bookshelf space. Only problem is that when your books are already stacked three deep. things don't look to different when you're done. And I'm never sure of the best way to organize them, because if I put them on the shelves by author, which is logical, I have to reorganize every time I add new books to their proper spots. But, headway is being made.

I had one of those "dang-it" moments while I was writing--a realization that my setup for putting my hero out of communication range might not work because I've already established him as a techno-junkie. Unlike Dalton, my previous book's hero, Fozzie definitely would want to have the latest tech gear. I had to stop and figure out why he wouldn't have the best possible cell phone, one that would ensure he was never out of range. He'd probably have a satellite phone. This meant researching cell phones and satellite phones, learning about high-orbit and low-orbit satellites in the process.

I did discover some drawbacks to the satellite phones--you still need a line of sight to the sky, and the connections are much slower. That might put a hitch in his ability to get immediate communication, but I didn't want to have to deal with geography every time I wanted a call delayed. While it's fine to write what's possible, if you stretch things too far, readers get annoyed. Can't have these coincidental 'bad connection' situations happening or it starts becoming author intrusion.

What I did find that will work (I hope) is that the cost of these satellite phones is prohibitive for your Average Joe Consumer, my protagonist included. All I had to do was add a quick grumble that he couldn't afford the kind of equipment he used on the job, and I could move forward again.
Of course, by the time this book might hit a book store shelf, it's likely that the cell phone technology will be advanced enough so dead zones are a thing of the past--but I can't write what might happen. I can only plod along with what's available during the time frame of the book.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Technology and Me

I admit to learning how to type on a manual typewriter. I remember rotary phones. I remember phone prefixes that were words, not numbers, and 4 digit phone numbers. I remember life when if you had a television, the console it resided in was a major piece of furniture, although the set itself was very small.

I thought computers were nifty gadgets. We started with an Apple ii, back when the debate was Apple, Atari, or Tandy. We got an answering machine. A VCR (which I learned how to program without difficulty, thankyouverymuch). And when I found myself having to drive on deserted roads at wee hours of the morn, or late at night, I got a cell phone for security. It was about the size of a tv remote and lived in the car for emergencies.

While we have yet to do the Wii thing, we did have Pong and Space Invaders and Pac Man. I'm happy with my 500 versions of solitaire and some Mah Johngg. I have two iPods--almost the original and the 1 inch shuffle. I know how to shop on line. Heck, I maintain my own website and have mastered about 1/4 of what this blogger account can do.

So, when I tried to move along with the times, I was surprised to find it so stressful. First, the cable box fiasco, covered in an earlier post. I finally told the guy to move the box to the other television, where my husband is now discovered all the reasons I didn't like it, especially since we're not ready to pay for a DVR system. It's got a kazillion channels. You can program 'favorites' so the remote won't scroll through all 300 of them, won't scroll backward. On all our other systems, you told the remote which channels were worth showing, and the rest were relegated to 'manual only' (and for the record, hubby is the only male on the planet who didn't put the sports channels into his list). No more. And you can't tape one show and watch another unless you upgrade. Not paying money to do something I've always been able to do.

Last night, I decide to tape a show so I could go to bed and read...BUT...the cable guy apparently didn't put everything back the way he found it, so I couldn't run anything from the VCR to the television, no matter how many times I went through the setup menu.

And then there's the new cell phone. It took several HOURS to get the computer to recognize it existed, and I'm still not sure it synced everything. I have yet to get it to send a single email, although the guy at the store said it was all set up (and since the phone has a camera, why not use the email to send pictures to myself so I can post them here?) Getting the phone to take a clear picture is something else I haven't mastered. Once I got the computer and the phone to talk to each other, I could transfer the picture I took last Thursday at the command center. It's not too sharp, but that's because it was in a dark room and I was shooting a wall of television monitors. I've added it to yesterday's post.

Today, I'm going back to the cell phone store and let them explain email to me. Again. It's not that I see a great need for emailing via phone, but it's part of the package and it bugs the heck out of me that I can't figure out how to make it work.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Post Weekend Regrouping

What I'm reading: finished Name Withheld, by J.A. Jance; reading Size 12 isn't Fat by Meg Cabot and Breach of Duty by J.A. Jance.

What I'm writing - Chapter 6, scene 2

I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday weekend. Statistically, the 4th is the most dangerous night to be on the road, followed by the 5th, mostly because there's no 'official' time for the holiday. People are out all weekend, celebrating and leaving a good number of gray cells at home.

I finished my contest entry judging. I hope my comments come across as constructive. I also have my preliminary notes for this Saturday's workshop on short stories.

Thursday night we went to the FHP offices to provide food for the "Wolf Pack" DUI saturation. Rather than a massive checkpoint where they stop every car passing through a specific point, they had 70 officers from a broad range of agencies out on the roads. Since I'd already done a ride along on a 'normal' patrol, I let others take the spots in cars and stuck around the center, watching the variety of folks they arrested.

Local election campaigning has gotten into full swing. The city police chief showed up along with her husband who is running for County Sheriff. A city commissioner candidate arrived in full campaign mode, in full camera-ready war paint, striding across the parking lot, shoving her hand with all the bling and the inch-long claws out for handshakes, thanking every one for coming. Of course, nobody had the slightest clue who the heck she was, and I know the volunteer standing next to me didn't appreciate having her arthritic hand grasped. However, unlike the checkpoints, the media didn't pay this event any particular attention. I'm sure she was disappointed.

I also got to see inside the mobile breath analysis van with the two breathalysers. For the evidence to stand up in court, there are strict protocols that must be followed. They even have special 'inversion' electrical outlets to make sure there aren't any fluctuations in the current that might give an unreliable reading. It's not mandatory for someone to take the test, but if they refuse, it's an automatic 12 month suspension of their license.

The arrestees ranged from the happy-go-lucky to the belligerent. One could barely walk and three officers had to supervise a trip to the men's room for him. Later, he was carted away in an ambulance when he complained of chest pains. Opinion was, anything to avoid a night in jail, although they'd do a blood test at the hospital and get his blood alcohol level anyway.

We also got a tour of the command center where they monitor a kazillion cameras pointed out along the highways. The entire back wall was nothing but tv monitors (although I'm sure tv isn't the right term anymore). All but one were focused on traffic; a center screen was tuned to an Indy Car race. The other half of the room was the phone center where the dispatchers take calls and assign troopers. If I could figure out how to get my new cell phone to talk to my computer, I'd be able to see if the picture I took was worth posting here.

(It took hours, but I finally got the picture off my phone and onto my computer!)

Friday night, since we'd had hardly any sleep the 'night' before, we had a quiet evening, watching the next Harry Potter movie and drinking one of the celebratory bottles of champagne.

I'm also happy to report that Saturday afternoon we schlepped the cartons of paperwork from my job to the storage unit, so I am DONE. I'm canceling the email I used for that part of my life, and have changed the business phone number as well.

Sunday, pretty much the entire day was spent watching Nadal and Federer. We finally got around to the obligatory grilling (salmon) and watermelon to make sure we weren't struck down by lightning for not observing the holiday in a proper fashion.

Today -- getting back to routine, and trying to put the 'writing' office files in order. Time to start thinking about RWA Nationals at the end of the month.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Windows and Waiting

Well, my office is still a disaster area, I'm still working on contest evaluations, and I'm still watching Wimbledon. Tonight, the Sheriff's Office is doing a DUI saturation. Unlike the previous checkpoints, this will just be increased patrols, but there's a command post set up at the FHP office, and the alumni will be keeping the LEO's fed.

I can't decide if it would be better to 'start from scratch' on the office thing. Go through all my stacks of papers, make lots of neatly organized file folder labels, take everything that's already on shelves down and find new places for everything. Well, actually I have 'decided' because of course that's the smart thing to do. But it's also so daunting. And I'm excellent at procrastinating those daunting tasks.

However, right now I'm stuck home in one of those 'service call windows.' You know, "Someone will be there between 8 and 11." After we got our new cable box, nothing works the way it used to. I called for instructions, and all I got was, " should be able to do that, but I can't find any directions to tell you how. We'll send a technician out."

I never had trouble programming my old VCR. I don't watch a lot of tv, but there are times when the few shows I want to watch are on at the same time. I've always taped one and watched the other. No can do on this new box--at least not without someone coming up and showing me. What I fear will be, "oh, the service you've got doesn't include that feature; you'll have to pay $XX more a month." Which I see no reason to do. My old system worked fine, I don't watch enough television to justify paying more. Sure, my picture might not be as crisp and clear as it could be, but it's only a television show. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Odds and Ends

First: There's a new contest for July on my website. Caitlin was the winner of my June contest, and her prize will be in the mail today.

I have reclaimed the "sitting room" as part of the house! Of course all the overflow is now piled in my office until I find the motivation to reorganize all the shelves. The recycling bins will be overflowing for the next few weeks, I'm sure. But I'm exciting to have a "writing" office.

To 'celebrate' retirement, I actually cooked a meal, and we ate together at the table. I'd bought a bottle of champagne, but decided to wait until the holiday weekend to drink it. Hubby stopped at the store on his way home with another bottle (and ice cream, which we DID have!)

I've mentioned I'm hooked on the Tennis Grand Slams. What I'm not hooked on is the commercials. When a show is on the air for hours at a time over a two week period, there are going to be lots of commercials. I only wish the sponsors had the money to make a wider variety. I'll never be able to listen to "Let the Sunshine In" again without gritting my teeth. At least in this final week, the matches are alternating between ESPN2 and NBC. I can tell which channel I'm on by the different commercials.

As for writing ... Fozzie and Torie are hibernating while I put together my portion of a panel on short story writing for my RWA chapter and do the required critiques for the contest I'm judging.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A one week feature spot at The Red Room

What I'm reading: Tempting Evil, by Allison Brennan

What I'm working on: contest entry evaluations.

Last night I received an email from The Red Room that they wanted to feature Finding Sarah's review from Romance Reader at Heart on their "Best Review" slot on their home page. It's up for a week, and I hope you'll take a peek, and browse the site. And while you're there, pop over to my author page and poke around.

That being said, in accordance with my usual collisions with Murphy's Law, the Red Room site is having trouble this morning and is very slow to load. I hope it'll be fixed soon, or that you're very patient. I'm assuming they'll fix it before my week of 'fame and glory' is over.

Same thing happened when I got the Romance Studio review for Hidden Fire -- that's when they were changing servers, so anyone looking for me (or anyone else on that site, to be fair), got a 'page not found' error.

Today, officially, I'm "retired" from my day job. I emailed my final invoice to the outgoing president,, he approved it, and told the treasurer to cut my check.

I spent half of yesterday getting the membership roster in the format the publisher wants it to take over membership duties, and they said it looked good. I killed any links to me on the website.

I've packed up the postage meter, filled three large storage boxes with binders, files, and goodness-knows-what-else to be placed in storage. All my questions about what to keep and what to trash went unanswered, so everything will be crammed in that 5x5 room. I wonder what will happen when they say they need something. I mean, I don't work for them, right? So what makes them think I'll go back and find what they want? I asked them to whom I should send the keys. Haven't heard back on that one.

I've tried to get the incoming president to give me a forwarding address for the local PO Box. No response on that one, either. Why would he think I'm going to drive to the Post Office, check the box, and mail the contents to the new staff? There's no "office" -- the board is made up of people from all over the planet.

Meanwhile, I have space in my office that can be filled with writing stuff. And I have a LOT of writing stuff.