Monday, December 31, 2012

Back to Duty

So I'm headed back on duty Saturday.  Haven't worn boots in nearly six months and had to find a seamstress who would hem pants and sew on new rank in less than 48 hours. 

But it's about time.  I generally get restless and ready for action at the five-month mark. 

Ten years of active duty and I never thought I would become a Reservist.  After becoming a Reservist, I never thought I'd enjoy all the time. 

The time off has given me so much more time for my family and other interests - like writing - and discovering what is truly important to me.  I love my career and I love my family.  There can be a balance and I'm determined to find it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Time Off

I'm taking some time off.  Since I'm finally off crutches and walking in a boot, I'm going to travel.   I'll be helping my brother move from Texas to South Carolina, which is awesome because I get to watch Alabama football with my sister and other extended family. 

Later in the month, I'm headed to Birmingham for my grandfather's surprise 80th birthday party.  We're gonna hold a quick promotion ceremony for me too.  So, that will be a good time.

Finally, for Thanksgiving, the hubs is frying up a turkey.  Our first meat meal since deciding to go plant-based back in April.  Can't wait for leftover, cold turkey sandwiches!

The Christmas season promises to be super busy as well, so I'm signing off until the New Year.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Stand Down for Veteran Homeless

One in Four Homeless are Veterans.

National Novel Writing Month is in full swing. I'm a little over 11,000 words into the second novel of a romantic spy trilogy that deals with Veteran issues.  This particular one, Shelter, explores Veteran Homelessness.  

Stand Downs are one part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to provide services to homeless veterans.  They are collaborative events, coordinated between local VAs, other government agencies, and community agencies who serve the homeless.  

Stand Downs provide services to homeless Veterans such as food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment.  

In November, Chicago, San Antonio, Binghamton and Fort Worth are holding Stand Downs.  If you wish to be a part of a Stand Down, the contacts are below.  If you wish to contribute to the VFW, please use the donate link to the left.

Nov 9     Chicago                     POC:  Jeanne Douglas 708-383-3225
Nov 9     San Antonio              POC:  Jerry Rangel 210-616-9915
Nov 13   Binghamton, NY        POC:   Adam Ormsby 315-425-4428 
Nov 14,  Fort Worth                 POC:  Linda Saucedo 214-927-4501

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo & Veterans - Starts Today

National Novel Writing Month starts today -- one novel, 50000 words in 30 days.  And one of my buddies has already written 2500 words!  I've written 25.  Yep, that's it.  
At the last minute, I decided to write a different novel than the one I planned -- this one is the second of a trilogy and is a romantic thriller dealing with Veteran homelessness and unemployment.   But I'm determined.  Vague plotline is done.  Working on outline and will have first scene done before midnight.  Then maybe I can knock out the second right after midnight.  

Either way, I'll finish this one in 30 days.  So, happy writing and good luck to the 100K+ other writers out there trying to accomplish the same thing!

Oh, and for my novel this month I'm collecting donations for the VFW and a little elementary school in Tennessee.  If I don't finish the novel, I match the funds.  If I do, I'll end up matching anyway but the competition is motivating.  Those who donate win the chance at a NYTimes Bestseller or an Amazon Kindle so please play along.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What's the best start to your day?

How about with a herd of deer watching you frantically push buttons on your phone camera to take a shot at them?

As we rush out to the garage this morning, I go about my normal routine of running to the car, jerking open the door, shoving the key in the ignition, all the while yelling at Tornado (my sweet but glacially slow-moving 5th grader) to grab her crap and GET IN THE CAR before we're late!

She saunters out with her daily, universe-sized smile, not a care in the world, and her arms loaded with bags, bunnies and bowl of oatmeal (yes, she eats in the car when she's late), and then exclaims, "Mommy look!"

Our suburbia neighborhood tends to see wildlife from time to time because we are so close to the Rocky Mountains.  We have lots of rabbits and red fox, the occasional bear and once a year, I see deer.  This morning was our annual visit by the herd, so close I could smell the earth on their hides.

When I look up with one leg in the car and one still dangling on the carport, I gasp and reach for my phone, which of course gets tangled up in my fingers.  I push buttons and repush and flounder out of the car.  

Finally, I just stop.  

The daddy deer paused in our driveway and eyeballed me, and as the head of the household paused, so did the rest of the family.  Their deep brown eyes take in the whirlwind of morning rush.  Their amusement obvious in their observation.  Suddenly, time stopped and the sunrise warmed my face.  Simultaneously, the brown noses of four deer shake their heads and then meander toward the backyard.  Straight out of Northern Exposure.

As a bunny bounced behind the deer and Tornado's smile got even bigger, I knew today was going to be a good day.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

GO Team

Finding out about the death of a spouse or other loved one is agonizing.  I know.  I lost my father when he was very young.  Already older and on my own with my own family, his loss, while agonizing, was not the loss of my way of life.  But what if you are the dependent of a military service member?  When you are told of his or her death, you've not only lost a member of your family, but you have now also lost the life you lead.  

The military is pretty clinical about how it deals with death notification.  There is a prepared and required speech from the commander.  There is a chaplain immediately available, the assignment of a casualty assistance officer, and a couple of other spouses to take care of business immediately following the notification.

A GO team is usually two women who follow the chaplain into the house of a woman just told about her husband's death in Afghanistan.  Of course, the spouse could be a man but generally it is not.  

So what happens after all the food is gone?  Or after the passing of six months and now the spouse is required to move off post, away from her friends?  And in moving off post, now the children must move to a new school -- again.

From a new member of our critique group comes the story of a military widow struggling not only through the five stages of grief, but also the stages of Army separation.  I've only read the first 15 pages but I can tell this is going to be an incredibly powerful story.

Do everyday Americans need to read it?  Yes.  Because everyday Americans who want to "support the troops" need to understand it includes the troop's family.  And that family needs to be able to move on from one of the hardest moments of their lives.

If you want to know more about supporting troops, please see the links to the left.

Monday, October 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo for VFW & Education

Wanna help me support Veterans and Education?  

How about win a NY Times Bestseller or a Kindle?

National Novel Writing Month is coming up -- 30 days to write a novel -- and I've decided:

  • To write the second in a series of romantic thrillers on Veterans, and; 
  • To dedicate my novel to two of my favorite causes: the VFW and Education.  
For each dollar someone donates, I'll put his/her name in the hat and at the beginning of December, I'll draw 5 names -- each for a NY Times Bestseller.  Then, the person who donates the most money will win the Kindle.

Money can be donated the entire month of November to keep me motivated to finish the novel.  I'll donate the proceeds to the VFW and the Woodland Park Elementary School in Sparta, Tennessee.  Why?  

EDUCATION -- my parents live in a small, rural and frankly, economically poor county in Tennessee. While my husband and I were deployed to Afghanistan last year, our daughter stayed with them and attended Woodland Park Elementary School in Sparta, city population around 4800.

From the principal to the teachers to the students and parents, they were just wonderful to her.  Everyone made her feel part of the community and accepted her so much that when we return home, her play dates and visits take up most of the date book.  What a wonderful experience that gave her lifelong friends!

For their kindness, I want to help them for helping us during a tough time for our family.

VFW -- is one of the leading organizations for advocacy of Veterans.  The first VFW I ever went to was in Songtan City, South Korea, right outside the Osan Air Base gate.  A man, easily a hundred years old smoking a stogie and driving a cadillac, signed me up.  This man was a WWII and Korean War Veteran with a wonderful personality and a goal to show the benefits of VFW membership by active duty.

Recently the VFW is pushing for more benefits for Women Veterans -- rightfully so when women make up more than 20% of the force and have distinctively different medical needs from men.  Additionally, they spotlight homeless and unemployed Veterans (with rates as high as 24%) as well advocating more resources for those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (1 in 5 military service members suffer from PTSD).

The last eleven years has torn apart individuals and families, and I have seen some ugly things.  The price of war has been these selfless people and their wives, fathers, brothers, mothers, husbands and especially, children.  Because we as a nation ask volunteers to go to war for us, I wholeheartedly support this incredible organization that volunteers for them. 

I hope you join me in this endeavor!  To support, please click Google Wallet and don't forget to sign up to follow my blog.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Making Your Characters Scream

Don't you love a protagonist who isn't afraid to deliver a gut blow?  To scream in a situation where you yourself may just walk away to avoid it?  Readers love head-on and multidimensional characters ... if they are too perfect or too evil, they are not real.  Think about your favorite character and your favorite villain.  What makes you love him?  What makes you hate her?  What makes you sympathize with both of them?

Traditionally your good girl would love to dance naked in the rain or your bad boy loves his momma.  There is a quality in them making them more human and more likable.

To help you to that with your own characters, start by looking at your main character and ask yourself these questions:

1- What does he want most in the world?  What else does he want that is diabolically opposed to the original want?  

2- What is her best trait?  Her worst?  

3- In a tense situation, what is his normal reaction?  What is the opposite of that?

4- What is something she would NEVER think, do or say?  

Once you've answered all these questions and truly had that conversation with your character, have it with another character.   Then have each of those characters at one point or another, or several points, exhibit the trait that is out of balance with his normal reaction or desire.   Do it with all the main characters and your novel will be richer than it was before.  Readers love a character who isn't afraid to say or do the thing we all think of later.

(I'd like to attribute some of this to Donald Maas and Writing the Breakout Novel ... and thank him for helping me expand my characters.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Who is Jacqueline Marshall?

The newest partner of Sweet Gypsy Books is also the daughter of senatorial candidate Paul Marshall Jr as well as a Veteran's advocate.   I sat down with her today to discuss her background and her future.

Q1:  Ms Marshall, news travels fast in a small town and we're wondering what brought you back to Sweet Gypsy after being gone for so long.
A1:  News does travel fast down here (*smiles).  It's true I left Alabama right after college.  Adventure called me from an early age.  It probably started with playing hide-and-seek right here on the lake in Sweet Gypsy.  When I met my husband Charlie at (the University of) Alabama, it was like looking in a mirror and finding my inner soul, my partner for life.  As soon as we threw our graduation caps in the air, he took my hand and away we went.  The Army provided just the adventure we were looking for.  (pauses and looks at her wedding ring).  But like all good adventure stories, ours had to end.  When it did, I needed my home.   Home is the best medicine. So, I'm back. 

Q3:  Would you like to tell me how your marriage ended?
A1:  For more than ten years, our country has been at war but that war has affected less than 5% of the population.  Unfortunately, that 5% has endured a nasty burden, and I've seen it have a very ugly effect on some people. Families have been torn apart.  Strong, proud service members have been reduced to shrunken images of dejection and inconsequence.  My husband is a prime example.   Charlie deployed six times over ten years.  Each time was at least a year, and two or three were for 18 months.  Each deployment changed him.  He became more withdrawn, yet explosively angry.  Not the sweet, fun guy I knew.  Not the one who laughed at everything.  After the last deployment, he became violent.  

Q3: And that's when you left?
A3: Not at first.  I truly didn't understand he was physically abusing me and our daughter, who was seven at the time.  After the first time he hit me, he was probably as shocked as I was and couldn't stop apologizing.  But one day, I was cleaning up the dinner dishes and watching Olivia play with her dolls. The cast on her arm was bright pink.  For some reason, the color screamed at me. It was then I realized I wasn't protecting her; I wasn't doing my job as her mother.

Q4: I know this is tough to talk about, but thank you for sharing your story with us.  Why don't we move on to a lighter topic.  What are your goals now that you're back?
A4:  (*laughs) Sure.  Well, I'm finishing up my prolonged exposure therapy, which I recommend to anyone who has been through an awful experience.  Honestly, it has been a godsend because it forced me to look at what happened and through repetition, gave me freedom from it.  So, talking to folks about prolonged exposure is one goal.  

Another is to help my father with his senatorial campaign.  As a retired Marine, Veterans hold a special place for him. Together I think we can bring a bold awareness to Veteran's issues and hopefully more support.

And lastly, as the new managing partner at Sweet Gypsy Books, I'd like to bring books into the lives of children.  Veterans from my support group at the VA are helping me put together a children's authorfest.  It's a way for me to marry two issues I'm passionate about -- reading and Veterans.

(Jackie Marshall is the newest citizen of Sweet Gypsy Springs, Alabama, and we thank her for taking the time to interview with her author today).

Monday, October 8, 2012

What's in a Name?

This week I've been thinking a lot about names, particularly as a writer and developing a good brand.  My platform is writing on Veteran's issues.  I feel strongly about the need for folks to understand what Veterans face and how they can help.  Since Romance and Spy Thrillers are my two favorite genre, I combine them and create a story to entertain and hopefully, educate.

So, what's in a name?  Does HazelnutLive sound like a platform that discusses the deep problems of Veterans in a fun and entertaining way?  Since this used to be just a place for me to write whatever I wanted, the name was fine.  Now, though I'm not so sure.

Since the majority of my Facebook friends are people I served with, I went on and asked for name ideas.  Tons came my way -- from the quirky and cool jargon to the unmentionable in polite company.  Interestingly, most of the jargon I've found to have a negative connotation.  Even when saying "outstanding" or "interesting," there is a certain amount of sarcasm accompanying it.  But I'd rather the name have a more positive, kick ass vibe to them.  My favorites after one day are below, let me know what you think:

1- Sierra Hotel:  in military lingo, that means Shit Hot

2- Bravo Zulu: in naval terms, it means Good Job

3- Easy Day: in special ops terms -- "Of course we can" or "No Problem, why are we even talking about it?"

4- Check Your Six: aviation talk for watch your back

5- Go Pound Sand:  response to indicate you aren't going to do whatever you were just told to do

6- Point Blank Range: where you don't want to be 

7- Kickin' in Doors: making stuff happen

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Denver Debate

I love politics.  Really.  The West Wing?  My favorite show for 7 years.   For the record I am a registered Republican but have not always voted that way.  But here's the thing, I am not thrilled with my current choices of presidential candidates.  So unexcited that two months ago, my mother was lecturing me on my decision to support a Libertarian third-party candidate.  A vote for the other guy and all that.

Fundamentally I disagree with how the Democrats want to run government.  Being from Alabama, I'm proud of my southern heritage that is staunchly sided with state's rights (which also includes small government, low taxes & a big military -- you know, walk softly but carry an armored tank division).  But I am in awe of the blatant ninny-ness of the Republicans.  Really old GOP, you can't let the new guys play?  You gonna take your toys and go home?  Ridiculous.  And a great way to split the vote so the other party wins,  *hand clapping* that brilliant strategy from Colorado.

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, regardless of the good in it, and there is lots of good in it, offends me because it denies me the liberty to choose for myself.  On the other hand, I watched the president makes decisions in Afghanistan that were as ballsy as any President Bush would have made.  What he has done to advance the cause of Veterans is also impressive.  In the last four years, when I applied for a civilian position with the US Air Force, of which I am a 10-year Veteran, I couldn't make the list -- even for jobs I once held on active duty.  With the VEOA and VRA, I'm showing up on lists right and left.  This has been the story with lots of folks I know -- an great effort to lessen the Veteran joblessness rate of well over 15%.
Governor Romney's jaunt through Europe and Israel this summer made me cringe with embarrassment. I'm not sure what makes you ready to be a diplomat but I would have thought the CEO of a major international corporation could do better.  On the good side, I firmly believe that a business man has better prospects for changing the economy than a lawyer.  Then again, I'm not totally convinced he'll implement policies to help folks like you and me. 

All that being said, the debates last night showed a prepared Mitt Romney who did articulate a plan.  Not really a detailed plan but enough of a plan with enough statistics and data to show he knows what the heck he's talking about if the topic is the economy.  And face it, with unemployment at 8% and in some counties in Alabama, it's above 20%, no one cares about social issues when they can't put food in their bellies or the bellies of their children.

And the most defining thing for the debates last night was the clarity with which  Mitt Romney wants to be president and how President Obama is shocked by that.    Mind's not changed yet but at least I have something to think about.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Creating a Writer's Platform

This week I'm thinking about writer's platforms and how to build one.   You don't have to be an expert on anything other than your book to have a platform.  It is simply what you care enough to write about and how to market it.

My books deal with Veterans issues wrapped in a suspenseful romance novel.  First book, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Second book,  Veteran homelessness.  Third book, Women Veterans.  So my platform handles Veterans Issues.

Bob Mayer spoke at the Sangria Summit for Military Writers a couple of weeks ago and said, frankly, he gave up his traditional book deal because he was doing all the writing and the marketing and all the profit was going to a publisher.  Now, he's an indie, still does his own writing and marketing but gets to keep a majority of the profit.  The bottom line is that in today's super-saturated fiction world, writers will have to market their work.

So, here is a platform plan -- hopefully it can help other writers with theirs.

SOCIAL MEDIA - this is a given.  For now I concentrate on the top three with a couple others thrown in when I have time.  The thing is to not waste all your time on social media because then you aren't writing.  Set a schedule -- I like Mondays and Thursdays -- and that's it.

     1- GET ON TWITTER, follow other writers and readers and those in your field.  But only follow those who engage.  Social media is "social" and if your followers aren't commenting, following or retweeting, then they aren't going to help you get your stuff out there.  The same is true for you.  It's a give-give game.  I really like Molly Greene's take on building Twitter (click here).

     2- FIRE UP FACEBOOK.  Until you have a book out, you can use your personal account and create a Group to project all your ideas, news, and information.  Again, this doesn't have to be just about your writing, it can also include whatever you are writing about.  If it's spy thrillers, start loading up on quirky, interesting international news.  If it's romance at a cupcake factory, help the local bakery advertise.

     3- BLOG. If you are a writer and you produce a book, you will be asked about your blog and you will be asked to guest blog.  This is another way agents, editors and publishers see you are getting out there.  What to blog about?  The same thing you tweet, Facebook and write about.  Writing, of course and because you love it.  But also what you are writing about.  Is your book about a child with autism.  Start blogging about autism.  Is it about a girl who can't stay out of antique shops?  Tweet about antiquing.  The thing about a blog is that it can change with each book.  The tie that binds is you the author.  (Blogger and Wordpress are the two most common blog sites)

     4- OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA.  Google+ is up and coming and a cross between Twitter and Facebook.  Goodreads is Facebook for readers.

     5- KEEP IT ALL ORGANIZED WITH A DASHBOARD.  I use Hootsuite to help me.  It lets you monitor up to five social media feeds for free.  This way you don't have to visit every single social media site, just this one.  You can pick and choose which feeds to upload.  This is a must if you are going to have more than a couple of sites.

VISIT AND TALKS - this is truly dependent on what you are writing.  Because I write about Veterans Issues, meeting with Veterans groups makes sense.  But here are other ideas:

     1- RESTAURANTS -- If you are writing a book with an Italian restaurant in it, head to your favorite and take pics, post them up and write about why you like it.  Call it a restaurant review.  Owners love free advertising.

     2- SCHOOLS/CHURCHES -- If there is a moral anywhere in your book, talk to kids about it OR talk to their teachers OR a women's/men's group at church about it (depending on genre).

     3- BOOK CLUBS -- If you aren't already in one, get in one because the more you participate, the more likely they will be to read your book.  Once they read it, word of mouth is key!

     4- CIVIC CLUBS - like the Rotary.  Whatever issues you are dealing with in your book is probably something the local civic group either has dealt with or will.  Give them a reason to talk about your book.  The VFW and the American Legion want to hear about your war memoir but so do regular Americans who want to support the cause (whatever the cause is).

     5- LIBRARY - Local libraries are always looking for authors to talk about books.  Become best friends with your librarian.

     6- MOVERS AND SHAKERS - Are you writing about a powerful CEO who seduces women for fun?  How about talking to a group of powerful CEOs?  Or young college graduates?  You get the idea.

     7- THEME PARTIES - Hold a book progress party.  One chapter done?  Invite 5 or so friends over for a party and let them read it for a quick beta test.   Full draft done?  Same thing but send them the entire manuscript.  Food is always a good excuse to get together and chat about books.

No matter what outlet you choose, be creative.  Anything can be talked about at any time to anyone.  Groups tend to be pretty open to discussions and newcomers.  Try anything and if it works, try it again.  I wish you lots of luck as you build your platform!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Procrastination Bug Bit Me - Now I'm Biting Back!

When writing was a hobby I could punch out anything at anytime - poems, short stories, long stories, anthologies, whatever.  But when I decided to take it on full-time, all of a sudden that stupid dung beetle (aka procrastination) writhed into my life and bit me.

He crawled on my keyboard, slithered on my outline, stole my notes and creeped his way into every conversation I had with my main characters.

I'd really like him to take a permanent vacation.

So I went searching for the Eradicator – something, anything to help me get rid of the pest.  I’ve jotted down a few of these tools in the hopes that maybe they can help you too, sweep that bug from your life.

Tool 1- Kitchen Timer -- am I writing or am I trolling the Internet?

Tool 2- Word Count -- do I have a word count goal or am I cleaning out the fridge today?

Tool 3- Page Count – how about a page count goal or is this organizing-the-office day?

Tool 4- Scenes -- do I want to finish one scene or two, or maybe I’d rather watch TV for more "research" ideas?

Tool 5- Time of Day -- do I write at the exact same time every single day or do I keep filling that space with essentials like alphabetizing my book collection?

Tool 6- Favorite Place -- do I write in the same place every day (well-lit, uncluttered and mine) or is it filled with bills, homework or other fun stuff?

For me, the best tool has been to create a habit that works.  Experts say two weeks of the same thing at the same time and you’ll have that habit down.  I’m on day 10 – wish me luck!

Do you have favorite techniques for staying on task and fulfilling the dream of a completed, well-edited, ready-to-go manuscript?  Please share!

The sketch is from my good friend Chris Watt, please see more of his illustrations at

Monday, September 24, 2012

Veterans Benefits

*DISCLAIMER* A Veteran Benefit Rant

So I was researching some Veterans benefits information for a friend.  Two years ago I found out that Iraq and Afghanistan war Veterans were entitled to 5 years of medical care at the VA (and the only reason I knew this was because I worked at the VA).  When I went through the transition program before leaving active duty, there was NO mention of it.
Today, I read this benefit still applies but to two separate groups of Veterans.  If a Veteran left active duty after 2003, he or she can still apply for medical benefits as long as 5 years has not passed.  BUT, if a Veteran left active duty before 2003 and still hasn't registered, he or she can't get the benefit.  

Excuse me but is the war over?  Did I miss the huge welcome home parades and congressional announcements that we have ended the war in Afghanistan?  Has the unemployment rate for war Veterans dropped below 15%?

At what point do we as a nation realize that Veterans are entitled to these benefits because they sacrifice their lives at the request of their government?  And at what point do Americans realize that without an all-volunteer military, the draft will be implemented because somebody has to ensure the United States of America is the fiercest military on the planet?

Here's something else too.  If you think Veterans are only sacrificing their lives, think again.  Their families suffer, their friends suffer and they suffer.  War is not pretty.  It is not glory.  It is not adventure.  It is ugly.  And I have seen too many families ripped apart in the last eleven years.  Those families and their Veterans deserve every single benefit this nation can give them.

So, Congress, when are you going to extend the deadline to register for 5 years of medical coverage for Veterans to whenever they can get an appointment at the VA or even better, to whenever they can get a person to pick up the phone at the VA to make an appointment?  Because here's the other funny thing, of the 11 years worth of Veterans I know, NONE of them knew they were entitled to free medical coverage.

What a travesty during a time of major unemployment, ever-increasing medical insurance and oh yeah, ongoing war.

For more on Veteran Benefits, please see the Veteran Benefits link at the VA.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ever been to war?

I have.  It is nothing like the movies and I've not even been in combat.  

After nine years of begging and pleading, my career field finally let me go.  I thought, great now I can get it out of my system.

Boy, have I never been more wrong.  

I grew up on stories of my grandfather fighting in the Pacific with the 3rd Marines.  His FOUR brothers were in Normandy and another brother taught pilots how to fly the hump with the Flying Tigers (two are in the US Air Force Museum and one is in Arlington).  My family can trace its war history back to the Revolution and they still own the 648 acres given to them for fighting. 

Those stories drove me through childhood and since I was 14 I knew I'd join the military.  After an unfortunate knee injury, the only option I had was the Air Force and I happily went.  Now, 11 years later and after my first "war" deployment, the only thing I can tell you about war is that it's a drug.

Yes, a drug.  I figured one trip and I'd be good.  Nope.  One trip and all I think about is going back.
A lot of guilt goes into that feeling also since I'm a wife and mother.  But I have found a writer who can articulate this better than anyone else.  Antonio Salinas wrote a war memoir that dares to tell the truth -- that war is one of the most terrifying yet intoxicating experiences on the planet for so many reasons.

Read it.  And you might understand why a wounded Marine wants to get back in the fight or why a Navy Seal returns year after year.  Or why a mother is riddled with guilt for wanting to serve her country.

Antonio, Thank you for explaining what I can't.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sangria Summit

A writers conference for military folks -- awesome idea!

Veterans have stories to tell and some of them are hard stories to tell but still need to be written down and shared with the masses.

Today, folks don't even think about the fact that we still have thousands of service members in Afghanistan and Africa fighting terrorists.  Normally people don't think about this until one is dead.  While I understand daily life must go on, it is a shame.

The difference between this war and previous wars of the 20th century is the lack of conscription.  This war was fought completely with volunteers and no American was asked to support.  No matter your political perspective, I believe that when the nation is at war, it should be fought by everyone or no one.

For those who won't actually pick up a weapon, there are so many ways to serve.  Volunteer at the VA or the VFW or the American Legion or on a base near you.  Educate yourself on the programs offered to Veterans so you can help them find them.

One of the most astounding things to me is the lack of knowledge of benefits.  I talked with two Veterans last week, both recently returned from Afghanistan.  Neither knew they were entitled to five years of medical coverage at the VA - FIVE years and one of them just lost his medical insurance.

Simple things like that can save the life of a service member who simply wanted the honor of serving his country.

So a big thank you to the organizers of the Sangria Summit last week.  What an amazing way to help Veterans tell their story!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Want out of the slush pile?

Top 5 Reasons Agents Stop Reading (this is from Anita Mumm of Kristin Nelson Literary Agency)

1- Story starts in wrong place (confused about where the action is)

2- Too much set up or data dumping in the beginning

3- No sign of the main conflict (where's this going?  Seems to me this ties in with the first one)

4- Story isn't big enough (this isn't about word count but rather stakes.  Are they high enough?)

5- Mechanic mistakes (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc... It smacks of rough draft.  BTW, Chicago Manual Style is the preferred writing guide)

Foundations of Fiction (why an editor will reject a manuscripts -- this is from Peter Kenftlberg of Kensington Press)

1- POV issues (no head hopping)

2- Tense issues (be consistent)

3- Conflict (it isn't evident right from the beginning)

4- Static characters (they need to change from the beginning to the end -- did they learn anything?  how did they grow?  why can't they go back to the way it was?)

5- Plot (what is the goal or motivation to do something - STAKES need to be high)

6- Pacing (don't have it bogged down in emotion, scene setting or description)

7- Info Dump (lots of background or set up; be careful with this in dialogue as well)

8- Dialogue (use contractions!  characters refer to each other by name too often)

9- Cliched opening (wakes from dream, looks in mirror, in a car)

10 - Mechanics (punctuation, grammar, spelling, voice (how does the voice differ from other books?)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Writers Conference Keynotes

Jodi Thomas, 3 time RITA award winner and Romance Writer Hall of Famer, gave an absolutely inspiring and hilarious keynote this weekend.

Best quotes:
"If you are a writer, you need to realize you are not normal."

"The longer I write, the harder it is to be around normal people.  I was at a cocktail party where this woman was telling me about picking out new carpet.  Before she was done, I was plotting her death."

"The day you stop taking critiques is the day you'll be as good as you'll ever be."

"Writers are like drunks.  First we start out doing it socially, then we're in denial, then we lock ourselves in the closet to do it.  Writers conferences are like AA for us."

"Creativity is the black gold of the future."

Best advice:

"Triumph comes through perseverance."  She saw this in a cemetery after being rejected for all six categories she entered in a contest.

"Be proud of what you write."

"Be honest.  Be nice.  Believe in yourself."

"Always deliver when you say you'll deliver."

"Never walk anywhere you wouldn't go in your Sunday shoes."  In other words, don't write because a genre is hot.  Write because you believe it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Critique Sessions

I'm attending the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference in Denver tomorrow and the first session is a critique group with an editor. Each of us received a copy of the other members' first ten pages a couple of weeks ago. Feedback is critical for me to understand where the major issues are in my work, so I assume other writers feel it is critical as well. Here is the process I use to critique, hopefully you'll find it helpful.

 1- Read it through twice.
This is merely to get a feel for the story and a feel for the writing style.

 2- Simple proofread.
 During the second read, focus on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, consistent verb tense and basic mechanics are distracting. This is a relatively easy thing to help fix.

 3- Plot flow.
In a macro sense, analyze all the scenes for organization, clarity and flow. If something doesn't make sense or requires a reread to understand it, then make a note.

 4- Dialogue.
The dialogue needs to sound natural. I love the term "conversation hijacking." The more writers observe everyday conversation and read other authors, the more likely the dialogue isn't cheesy.

 5- Word choice.
 This is almost like line editing. Every single word of each sentence needs to be effective.

 6- Point of View.
Maintaining a consistent point of view (POV) allows the reader to dive into the book without distraction.

Monday, September 3, 2012

DNC This Week & Informed Voting

Democratic National Convention starts tomorrow. I'm not really excited about it but then I'm also not a Democrat and fundamentally disagree with them on just about everything. However, I think that uninformed voters completely wreck the system. So to Charlotte I go and just to help make it interesting, I'll tweet it. Should be good times listening to folks talk about giving the money of hard workers to those on welfare. But I'm not biased or anything.


Revising is excruciating but it is where the real work gets done. Stephen King says to get the story on paper. Then let it sit before revising. Joe Lansdale says he writes a scene and then immediately edits is 6 or 7 times and it's finished. I think the process of writing is as individual as the writer. I'm not a plotter or a pantser but a mix of the two. I meticulously plot out the novel and change as the characters get on the paper. Currently, I know without looking at my plot board or character sketches or outlines that I have three scenes in terrible need of work. So I should probably get to work -- I'm pushing a deadline for the conference this weekend!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Republican National Convention

DISCLAIMER: I am a registered Republican and have voted in every presidential election since Ross Perot split the vote in 1992. My mother chastised me when I told her I was voting for an obscure Libertarian from New Mexico as a protest against the mainstream candidates. So as a peace offering, I decided to watch the Republican National Convention. Well, Ann Romney was a sweetie and I can see how mothers and wives would just love her. New Jersey Gov Chris Christie totally disappointed me. I've seen him give some awesome, fiery speeches. This was not it. John McCain's speech sounded a lot like the Bush Administration but elections are not won on foreign policy. And Condi Rice probably gave the RNC more credibility in her 10 minutes than any other speaker. Ryan's speech was exciting and I like his iPod choices but even I knew some of it was a stretch. Romney sounded like the same ole guy he's always sounded like. Look, the bottom line for me is that the RNC seems to think that newbies have a place and should be put in it. They don't recognize the validity of the American people exercising their right to elect someone who is not mainstream. The catastrophe of the Republicans here in Colorado demonstrate the bigger picture. Because the GOP did not like the Tea Party backed Republican who won the state primary for the governorship, they backed their own guy. Split the vote and elected the Democrat. Any idiot who attended even a day of 8th grade civics could have called this one. So, sorry Mom. I'm still liking my Libertarian because at least his party understands that when the American people vote, they do it for a reason. In this race, however, it is the first time any optimism I may have had about the political process in the US is in the gutter. Neither side tells the truth and the only thing they both agree on is how to get re-elected. In its current state, nothing our elected "leaders" do will change the nearly 9% unemployment or the $4T deficit or the exploded federal government. Until they learn they work for the American people, I'm voting my conscious regardless of who's elected. The whole process is disgusting. By the way, yes, I'm watching the DNC next week. Just to compare and I'm sure I'll be blasting them by Thursday. Happy Politics!

Monday, August 27, 2012

School Starting

School started today and I'm already missing Little Miss during the day. Now that she's off, I'm coming up with stuff to do. Finishing my novel is at the top of my list. The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference is coming up in Denver next month and I need to get working on my critiques for the editor's group. If I don't get on a schedule too, I'm gonna go nuts!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Medal of Honor Stands Up

Medal of Honor Recipient Dakota Meyer is releasing a new book at the end of September. “Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War.”
It details his time during the Battle of Ganjgal in Kunar Province in Afghanistan. And he lets loose. Blasting Army officers who repeatedly denied pleas for artillery.
I can believe this happened.
With my own military experience, I'm appalled that the best military in the world is full of spineless, sycophants who seemingly only care about their next rank. And for what? More money? A better assignment?
What those "leaders" fail to understand is in reality we in the field worship those who actually take a stand and make a decision.
Unfortunately, we are inundated with bullies and those unwilling to do the right thing.
Mr Meyer, thank you for taking a stand and doing the right thing. I'm sorry you felt you had no choice but to pull that trigger and I thank God there were no bullets.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Line in the Sand - Chapter Two

The sound of her fist beating over and over echoed off the concrete walls. One fist, turn and then the back of another. Kick to the ribs, spin and kick to the kidneys.

Six months had passed since the fight with Charlie but even now, she envisioned his face on the bag. As it swung back at her, she slammed an uppercut to jaw and then a right, another right, another right and finally a left.
Serves. Him. Right.

Exhausted she grabbed the thick, heavy canvas bag hanging from the ceiling and held on. Her lungs racked against her chest, so she swung her head down and panted. Sweat poured down the front of her tank top. Tears burned her eyes and her nose dripped. Her muscles screamed. Guess that means it was a good session, she thought.

She wasn’t sure she could make it over to the water fountain just yet so she just kept her head down and gulped air as fast as she could. Buzzing overhead from a very small and very ineffective ceiling fan hummed in her ears.

Slowly, very slowly, she began to see straight again and her lungs stopped threatening to take out a rib.

When her leg started to shake, she kicked it out directly behind her.

“Oomph,” came a deep sound.

Swinging around to the sound of the voice, she was mortified to find a sandy-haired man in gyms shorts and a t-shirt bent over clutching his stomach.

“Oh my god! Are you OK?”

The stranger’s hand came up with its index finger pointing up and he nodded his head.

“Are you sure? Let me get you some water,” she said in a panic.

“No, no, I’m fine. It’s a good way to start a workout,” he said and stood up just enough to put his hands on his knees.

She scowled when his eyes scanned her from head to toe.

“It’s also not every day I get kicked in the stomach by a pretty girl at the gym.” He grinned. “I’m Ed. Nice to meet you.”

She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.

“Jackie,” she said and glanced at her bag. Roughly two steps away. An easy enough distance to grab her knife if she needed it. “Do you always try to pick up chicks from behind?”

“Only when I’m at the gym.” He laughed and offered his hand.

Finally relenting, she smiled and put her hand in his and instantly regretted it. Her heart slammed into her chest as his fingers closed around hers in a slimy handshake. He was pretty big. She knew the heat creeping through her gut was a fight response but deep in there was a warmer feeling -- one melting her need to kick his ass. She hadn’t felt this tug in a long time, the pleasure of knowing she was attractive to a man.

Ridiculous, she thought. Letting go of his hand, she grabbed a bottle of water from the bench and tossed it to him. As she watched him drink, she wiped a towel across her face, neck and pushed her hair from her forehead and took him in. His stocky build said baseball but his polished look and demeanor said money. His chest reflected obvious hours lifting weights.

“So what’s your routine?” She yielded and then rushed to clarify. “In the gym.”

He finally stood up and he was tall, at least six and a half feet.

“Nothing much.” He took ginger steps over to the water fountain. Putting his bottle under the stream, he looked at her. “Flipping tires, running with sand bags, pull-ups. You know, the usual.”

“Crossfit?” She shoved her towel in her bag and grabbed another bottle of water.

“Yep. You?” He walked back over to her.

“I do a little Crossfit but mostly it’s Kempo.” She picked up her dry tennis shoes and sat on the far end of the bench to switch them out, and to put a little distance between them. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Street karate. Very cool. Are you here often?”

“Only when I want to get away from people,” she said.

He put his hands up, palm out. “Gotcha,” he said. “So, I won’t be picking you up here at the gym.”

“I appreciate that.” She smiled at him.

“How about I pick you up at home instead? For dinner maybe? Tomorrow night?”

“Oh,” she hesitated and her heart beat harder and her head felt a little light. This conversation was probably the longest she’d had in months with someone who wasn’t family. Most of her time was spent at home on the lake, away from anyone who could provide her address to Charlie. Ed seemed nice enough and was certainly easy on the eyes but she was not ready to take that risk. Besides, she’d never filed the divorce papers.

The slamming of the gym door had them both looking up, and she thought she saw a small flicker of annoyance on his face. A tall, lithe blond wearing baggy, paint-splattered overalls glided across the gym floor toward them.

“Stacey,” she said and secretly thanked the universe.

She stood up, put her workout shoes in the bag and zipped it shut.

“Hello gym people. Why you spend time here obviously trying to kill yourself, I’ll never understand,” she said and her ponytail swung behind her. “I see Alabama’s most eligible congressman has joined you today,” she said and Jackie watched her give Ed a quick hug.

“Creating master pieces of art boring you today Stace?” Jackie scooped up her bag and slung in over her shoulder.

“Touchy,” Stacey said. “Nope, just needed a break.”

A month after her father moved them to Sweet Gypsy Springs, Alabama, in the tenth grade, Jackie rear-ended Stacey’s brand-new, bright green Volkswagen Beetle. Since she had swerved to miss Ben Robertson’s cat, giving Stacey an excuse to visit the star quarterback, all was forgiven and they’d been best friends ever since. She’d even been in love with Stacey’s brother Brody for a summer.

Stacey was now a famous, modern art painter and Mrs. Ben Robertson. And Brody, a fledging writer, was off finding himself in Key West.

“I didn’t know she had found a workout partner and Ed, you certainly make a good one,” said Stacey.

“We’re not partners,” she said.

“Yet,” Ed said and flashed a sly grin at Jackie. “Not to worry, though, I’m working on it.”

“You’re a devil. Always have been,” she said. “Why don’t you work on it at my house Saturday night? I already have Ed’s RSVP from his assistant. But Jackie, I haven’t heard from you, and your sisters are driving me crazy.”

“They drive everyone crazy,” she said and hoped this little exchange would end soon.

“And since I’m hosting a fundraiser for your daddy this weekend,” she began, ignoring Jackie’s retort. “Your attendance will keep them off my back and just as importantly, yours too.”

Her family had given her a lot of space since she moved back to town in December. Now that her father’s race for senate was heating up, though, there were ever-increasing and not-so-subtle hints for her to become more involved. Apparently, it did not bode well for a senatorial candidate to have a recluse for a daughter. But large crowds strangled her and so far she had been able to avoid all campaign events.

“Honey, it’s a small group. Only about 50 people.” she said with compassion that was palpable. “ And I’ll be there with you and you can rip off the proverbial gossip band-aid,” she said in a whisper.

If she didn’t go, she knew her sisters would unleash. The town had little else to gossip and speculate about since her arrival after Christmas and prancing through this party could at least begin to put some of that to rest. Besides, she was getting a little tired of being alone and Stacey and Ben lived on the next door. If she wanted to leave early, it would be as simple as walking the worn connecting path through the woods.

She nodded at Stacey, then dug out her sunglasses and put them on.

“Seems that it worked out for us to get together after all,” said Ed. “Should I bring the punching bag?”

“Only if you need me to flatten you again,” she said and walked out of the gym.

“I’m pretty sure you’ve already done that.” She heard him whisper but kept walking.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer Writing Deadlines - Unrealistic!

I had a deadline of 1 July to finish my novel. I didn't make it.

For writers, I am a firm believer in self-imposed deadlines or we will make up every excuse in the world not to sit our butts in the chair and write. For me, it is certain conferences and contests throughout the year. My Writing Year runs April to April, coinciding with the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, cause it's my fav.

But this year, I did not make my first deadline and I attribute that to the exorbitant amount of time I've been able to spend with my daughter. It's the first summer I have ever taken off work. The whole summer!

So, I took our 11-year-old and hit the road.

First on a cross-country trip visiting Graceland, then boating with my brother on some lake outside of Dallas, painting the stars at the children's museum in Amarillo, and three full days of fun in Santa Fe. That took up the first week of June. Camps of all variety took up the rest of June.

July was spent in California. We got our free beach towels at the Padres game and watched Charlie Sheen throw out the first pitch. Thanks Wild Thing!
The zoo nearly took my legs and fed them to the alligators, but pics with the pandas were just too cute to pass up. Temple time with an old friend was a wonderful respite and an eye-opener in Buddhism for him. Couple that with down time in LA with my mother-in-law and I was well-rested for the second half of summer.

Mid-summer found us in Orlando and our view of the ocean kept us on the beach during the day and on our balcony during the evening with the Olympics playing in the background. SeaWorld had us pretty busy on the weekend.

Now in August, we are finally back from Florida and are learning how to bake vegan. She is less enthused than I but that's only until she tastes the finished product. After which, she drags all her neighborhood friends over for an afternoon snack of the yummy treats she just made.

All of that being said, I did finally finish the novel in mid-July and am in the rewrite phase, a phase I consider akin to a daily workout. Can't get motivated to go but love it when I get there. And with school just days away, I have no doubt the manuscript will be finished in time for the Rocky Mountain Writer's Conference in September.

I'm only a few weeks behind but when my excuse gives me a relationship worth millions and a zillion story ideas, who can complain?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chapter One - Line in the Sand

Jackie didn’t enjoy the thought of prison. Then again, not all prisons are defined by the penal code.

She watched her fingers slide over the silver of the blade. It glinted in the moonlight, spotlighting her as if she were being hunted.

Maybe prison wouldn’t be too bad. She could start a sewing class like Martha Stewart, except she couldn’t sew.

Looking down at the knife again, she lifted it and flipped it in the air. Spinning in a full circle, she caught it with the opposite hand, then jabbed it straight out, piercing the wind’s heart.

Maybe she wouldn’t need the knife. An ugly laugh burst out at the thought. No, she would need it. She looked up past their bedroom window at the moon and acknowledged the red halo. Its bad omen fit her mood.

Charlie was up there in bed. Probably reading some crap about war and Middle Eastern terrorists. The office bookshelves overflowed with the garbage. And since his last stint in Iraq, he couldn’t seem to get enough of it.

There was a time when she was so in love with him. But she couldn’t remember it.

She pricked her forefinger with the knife as she turned it in slow circles. Leaning against the wood rail of the deck, she pushed her sweaty red hair away from her face.

It was hot, Texas hot, even for Christmas. No snow here. No seasons much either. Not that it mattered. There was only one season inside their home, and it was dead winter.

She turned toward the door. Eyes with dark circles stared back at her through the window. She looked old. Tired. Ironically, the circles would probably disappear after a week in prison, she thought.

She patted her back pocket to make sure her car keys were still there and then yanked open door. She had no intention of going to prison. He was going to say yes. Her daughter depended on it. She depended on it and whether or not he agreed was irrelevant. Tonight, she would have her say.

Her feet slid across the carpet and up the stairs. God gave her a push when the butterflies nearly choked her to a standstill at the landing on the second floor. There was no backing out. That little girl needed her to do this. And she would. No more anger. No more impatience. No more bruises. It was over.


His goofy smiled winked at her from a picture on the wall. His fingers splayed wide, in sharp contrast to its recent fists. She remembered the silly dance he’d performed, his arms out side, when she took this photo.

She ducked into the hall bathroom and the vomit hit the sink. Pausing, she took the time to breathe. Slow, deliberate, deep breaths.

Prison was a small sacrifice. Let’s go, she told herself.

She grabbed the towel, swiped her mouth and walked down the hallway, passing photo after photo from their family albums.

One was of Charlie with his infantry squad in Iraq. The Night Ravens they called themselves. None of them smiled and all wore the battle-weary look after months of war. Ignoring them, she pushed open the bedroom door.

She hated that stupid big, black hardbound book resting in his hands. His calm hands flipped the page, and for a minute he appeared to be the sweet man she married. Not drop dead gorgeous by Hollywood standards but a handsome man nonetheless. She used to love to stroke that chiseled chin and kiss his sharp nose.

But she knew somewhere inside that man was another. An angry, aggressive man plagued with nightmares and unseen threats.
The Army officer she knew had already checked the doors and windows of the house three times before going to bed. She knew he would be up three more times before morning to check again.

The Smith & Wesson 45 was under the bed loaded with an 8-round clip. A Louisville Slugger leaned against the wall near his pillow.

Her puny knife was no match, she thought, faltering for a second.

He looked up and she smiled weakly at him. She folded the knife under her hand against her arm, hoping he couldn’t see it. He went back to his book.

“I’m filing for divorce.” Her voice carried through the room.

He laughed and didn’t even bother to look up. Jerk.

“Charlie, I’m filing for divorce.”

His grey eyes wisped over her face and settled on her. Her heart lurched.

No matter what, the girl she used to be still loved him. But, damn her.

The binder of his hardbound book creaked as he closed it. On the bedside table, the ancient clock ticked. She had never noticed it was so loud.

It rang louder and louder. He put the book on the heirloom table and looked at her again.

She froze. The time had come.

Charlie slung the covers back and walked over to her. She flinched but kept her feet still. He was so close she could feel him and she tilted her head back to see his face.

She fingered the knife in her hand.

“No,” he said. “You aren’t.”


The back of his hand pounded across her cheek.

Blood squirted. The smell filled her nose. She tasted acid on her tongue. Her stomach tightened and her chest hurt.
Damn, but his arm was fast. Fear burned down her spine. Through the haze, she chanted to herself. Maddie. Maddie. Maddie.

Pulse racing and goose bumps flaring, she swung the knife from behind her back and aimed at his heart. But she was too slow. His forearm blocked the stab and the knife fell to the floor. He grabbed a fist full of her hair and jerked her back. With his other fist, he pounded his knuckles into her face and her cheekbone cracked. She fell to the floor but managed to stay crouched on her feet. His hands squeezed into her long hair.

Dear God Jackie, don’t cower, the words screamed in her head. A year of martial arts classes and he doesn’t know about them. Let them work.

Intertwining her fingers, she pinned her hands on top of his, pressing them into her skull.
When he pulled back for another punch, she spun around, stood up and kicked him square in the groin. He let go of her and clutched between his legs.
His roar deafened her but she kept going.
With him bent over, she turned her fist up and jerked her arm with as much power as she could and connected with his jaw. He fell on the floor, writhing and spewing all manner of insults. For good measure, she kicked him again.

Jackie turned and flew through the hallway and down the stairs. The bags she packed were already in the car.

Hearing the thuds of feet upstairs, she increased speed and snatched open the door to the garage. Her finger punched the garage door opener on the wall and its creaking sound climbed insanely slow upward.

Fumbling with her keys, she opened the silver Mercedes, jumped into the driver’s seat and slammed the door. Watching the stupid garage door opening in her side windows, she started the car. Go you damn door, she shouted to herself.

When she finally was able to hit reverse, Charlie staggered out of the house toward the car. He pounded on the hood, screaming.


Barely missing the rising door, she screeched into their cul-de-sac with him stumbling after her. The steering wheel spun through her fingers. The car jerked in the right direction. Slamming into drive, she floored the gas and never looked back. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

Well, at least she wasn’t headed to prison.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Little Rock to Dallas

I thank the publishing gods for giving us audio books and I thank the igods for giving us iTune movies. Those two things kept Caiden and I occupied while driving in excruciating Texas heat for 2 more hours than we thought it would take. It's pretty amazing how fast a six hour drive can go by while engaged with the Hunger Games.

But once at the lake in Frisco, it was smooth sailing. Caiden swam off the dock with John for a bit and the view from our living room is all lake all the time.

John, my brother, is up from San Antonio. I figure it's been at least 2 and a half years since I've seen him so this has been lots of fun. We went tooling out on the lake today with the resident pontoon and Caiden did some swimming. When I jumped in I felt the cold of the Titanic in my lungs and through my hyperventilating, I felt goosebumps all over my body. But the 111-degree heat of later in the day rid my skin of all those pesky things.

We made it to the Southfork Ranch, of the TV show Dallas fame after a quick stop at the Chinese Cultural Center (which was closed and rather shack looking).

But what is the most important thing to do while cross country tripping? Staying out of the blessed heat that I swear the sun reserves just for Texas and maybe Death Valley.

And while we could have picked any number of museums and indoor activity places, we chose an old standby. Movies. Pirates Band of Misfits was a nice way to beat the heat followed by fruit drinks at the smoothie store.

Tomorrow, it's off to Amarillo.

Best part of the day for Caiden: Uncle John & the movie; except Uncle John needs to get off his iPhone (haha!)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nashville to Little Rock via Graceland

After a frantic chase to locate my cell phone and iPod (Mom, thanks for finding them under the bed and meeting me at Shell with them), we were off about an hour behind a thinly veiled schedule.

To grab some snacks, we stopped at Trader Joe's in Nashville and then settled in for the long road to Memphis. Caiden watched Thumbelina and Barbie videos; I listened to the Hunger Games on audio iPod (which is what drove the frantic search in the first place -- thanks Suzanne Collins also for giving me reason to look for it). I finished it by the time we pulled into a local vegan cafe in Memphis on Young Street. "Vegan" in this case meant "fake meat" cafe but it worked. Caiden had me make a deal with her though. For every vegan restaurant I pick, she gets to pick a sufficiently carnivore one. We shook on it.

Graceland the mansion is very cool but that's it ... the tour is a cattle herd and doesn't give you the time to really enjoy the house or the grounds and no way was I paying more and more money to see the extra 5 or 6 or 7 exhibits. Crazy nickel and dime location. But it was a stop on the trip worth the $40 for a couple of hours of walking around. I do not recommend anything but the basic tour. You'll get the idea.

Then on to Little Rock for a quick pass through and stay at a local Holiday Inn on the West side of the city. This will be the only time we stay at a hotel. I'm looking forward to the lake tomorrow.

Only two stops for gas today ... roughly $100 total. Not too bad. I'm guessing this trip will cost us about $1500. I'm keeping track.

Well, down for the count. Here's to a long night's sleep!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Travel Blog?

I'm heading out tomorrow with my 11-year-old daughter ... Middle Tennessee to Colorado Springs via Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas, Amarillo and Santa Fe ... in the family Nissan Pathfinder.

Really looking forward to Graceland, the lake, museums and roller coasters!

Spent today packing up four bins, three suitcases, several shopping bags and a cooler. Also, transporting herbs from my mom's garden.

Starting at 0'dark thirty ... off to sleep now.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Beware the Smokers at the DMV

I need a new driver's license. So I rolled up to the DMV fifteen minutes before opening today. Since there were others waiting in their cars, I decided to mosey on up and wait by the door.
First in line. In and out, right?

Well, it is the DMV -- a government run racket that prides itself on nonexistent customer service, wait times of at least 90 minutes and overcrowded seating areas. It's as if one person isn't allowed to fill out paperwork, present alternate forms of identification and write out a check by themselves. In Podunk, Tennessee, it takes Momma, Sister and Bubba.
That being the case, I thought I was sitting pretty at being the first in line.

My problem started with an overweight smoker who probably was an All-State linebacker in high school. He was puffing away and slurping up coffee as we all stood outside under overcast skies. The American Flag had wrapped itself around the pole, like it had no energy to flap anymore. Probably sick of the guy's smoke.

But anyway, this guy was doing what I would normally consider a pretty innocuous and habitual thing to do in the sticks while waiting for government doors to open. Smoking and drinking.

When he turned toward me, however, I saw a bulge under his t-shirt, at the waist band of his generous-sized khakis. This wasn't just any bulge. It looked like he shoved a Sherman tank in there. Why he bothered to cover it with a t-shirt is beyond me.

I stared and stared and of course tried to do it subtly so he wouldn't think I was staring. But, through my trained and highly sharpened eye for such things, I saw what appeared to be the muzzle of a 9mm Glock -- that's a semi-automatic pistol -- aiming for where he probably wouldn't want it to hit.

That pistol makes up 65% of the hand gun market. So it's pretty common.
What's not common is the semi-concealment of it at the DMV.

I decided to get my driver's license tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Interview with a Wanna-Be

Q- So, how did you get started writing?
A- With a pencil and a pack of wide-ruled paper. Dad kept my first novel. I wrote it when I was 8.

Q- Why didn't you start your writing as a career after college?
A- Because you can't make any money at it.

Q- Why do it now?
A- Cause if I wait any longer, I'll die. Seriously, at some point in our lives we look in the mirror and realize that if we don't go after what we really want, then we'll never do it. We'll always do the safe thing and what our parents want but does that make us happy? Happy isn't about money; it's about fulfillment. Writing makes me feel whole. If I can make a difference with it also, then that makes it all the better.

Q- What do you hope to accomplish?
A- Words on paper Man, words on paper. No, really, I think we should all chase dreams because we love them not because they'll make us money. We should work to live not live to work.

Q- What are you working on now?
A- A romance between an abused woman and her former husband's college friend. The crux of the novel is about trauma therapy that helps rape and abuse victims but also those with post traumatic stress disorder. I don't put a lot of stock in therapy, per se, but I do think Prolonged Exposure Therapy is one of the most effective out there. It's evidence-based which means there are studies to show it works. I've seen Vietnam Veterans who've been through it finally be able to eat in a crowded restaurant without their backs to the wall. It's amazing. If I can get anyone to this therapy through my book, then I'll feel like I actually made a difference in the world.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Old Women & Cameras

My mother thinks she's old. Of course I've been hearing that since I was a kid. Her mantra is "I'm too old to learn that." The irony is that the woman went to law school in her mid-forties when she went, so obviously she can learn new things.

Today's lesson was in a new digital camera. Strange buttons. Weird slots. Crazy clicks. Twenty minutes of video instead of stills.

But now a whole new set of action photos that she couldn't get with her old disposable job.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Food, Inc

Ok, let's be real.  I tried to be a vegetarian in college cause all the cool, hippie kids were doing it.  I managed to rid my diet of all meat except chicken.  Then pregnancy came along and I read somewhere that red meat assisted with brain development in the fetus and broke my sabbatical.  There is not much doubt that wherever I read that was sponsored by the beef industry. 
Now, years later, it's time to try veggie again.  Not really for any PETA loving reason but more for a fat reason.  I grew up down South where the nation's largest and most diabetic people live.  There are also astronomical rates of heart disease, high cholesterol and cancer.  Since all of those run in the family, it was time for a change. 
The first thing was research.  My buddy Liz had me watch "Forks over Knives" -- a documentary about the benefits of plant-based eating.  Medical doctors  who grew up on dairy farms build an incredible database of facts showing plant-based diets can actually reverse all those diseases and take folks off their overpriced medication. Good nudge there.  Although my sister's response was that while the information was compelling, she would wait until she got sick before she switched up her diet.  Oh well, this is also the same girl that one year went on the lemonade diet and the next read a book that told her to fill up on McDonald's to get her chemical levels even. 
So anyway, Hubs and I took two weeks to eat veggie.  No meat, no seafood, no dairy.  The hardest part for me was the cheese and eggs. 
Then we decided that cold turkey really wasn't our thing and we could eat some fish.  And we needed to do more research.  Enter "Food, Inc." 
Now, I've seen farms.  Big farms.  Slaughter farms.  It's all rather disgusting and degrading but growing up down South, it's normal.  We eat meat and folks, it really doesn't come from cellophane-packaged boxes in the meat section of the grocery.  But the info in this film gave us another nudge.  It's amazing the little power we actually have over our own food.
But now Hubs and I own a juicer (which I love because it has only four parts to clean) and a Vitamix Blender (an incredibly expensive indulgence but totally worth it), and eat more fruits and veggies than ever.  The smoothies are so yummy and so filling that I'm not nearly as up and down on my blood sugar and don't feel bloated after I eat.
It's amazing too the amount of energy I have.  Used to I was always complaining of being tired.  Now I'm up all day running around with no need for a nap.
Guess all the cool, hippie kids were right.  Now I just need to learn to play that guitar that's been sitting in the corner with the dream catcher and the burks for the past ten years and I'm all set!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Colorado to Tennessee - Again

So I'm driving in my fourth cross country trip in the past year.  This is only the second one with the Hubs.  We decided to do something different this time and skip St Louis and take on Cape Girardeau.  Now that's a cute little, college town on the Mississippi River.  We really didn't see Southeastern Missouri State University but then again, we didn't have to.  The locals whipped up the collegiate spirit with flags, posters, bumper stickers and what not and it's not even a season for athletics.  Actually, school just let out.  But just the same, what all that hoopla represents is a tight knit group and a friendly place to hang out for lunch.  A Cajun place downtown on Main by the river served up some nice alligator, crawfish etoufee and gumbo.  Hubs went for the bread pudding and scarfed it right up.  After stretching our legs, it was back in the car for the second half of our 13-hour day.  Since he was driving and I was nursing a really full stomach, it was easy enough to curl up with my pillow and nap it out -- all the way to Nashville.