Down and Dirty

I finished my planting yesterday morning. Applause, please.

Thank you very much!

Actually, I finished planting the flowers and veggies I bought Friday. However, my new garden plot is still 2/3 empty, so when the ground’s dried out from last night’s rain, I’ve got to get more plants. I plan to visit The Tomato Man’s Daughter in Tulsa, and also to pick up some more cucumber plants (two of mine broke in the wind) and maybe, since I have so much room, some cantaloupes and more flowers.

Working outside is probably the best thing I can do for my muse. Whenever I get stuck on a plot point, I head for the lawn mower. If my characters aren’t doing what I want, it’s the chain saw. When I just need to get rid of a little tension and rejuvenate, digging/planting/weeding will do it. And on those occasions when I’m sick to death of the publishing biz, raking leaves will make me fall in love with it all over again. (So does 100-degree weather!)

The one thing I DON’T like about spring planting is the crowds. When I went to Riddles’ Friday morning for my plants, they were so busy that there was a guy directing traffic. When I made stops at WalMart, Atwoods, Home Depot and Lowe’s on Saturday, I had to park in the back of beyond and hike a mile or two to the garden center. People were in my way everywhere — all kinds of people except employees who could answer my questions, LOL.

(I always got a kick out of those Home Depot commercials where the people walk into the store and every department has bright, smiling, knowledgeable employees just waiting to help them. It seems like virtually every employee I find in Home Depot says the same thing: “This isn’t my department. I’m just filling in.” I only go there when I know exactly what I want and the only help I need is in carrying it. If I’ve got questions, I go to Lowe’s.)

But for the moment, I’m happy. My tomatoes, peppers and cukes are in the ground, along with my purslane, zinnias, marigolds, African daisies and other flowers whose pots lacked name tags but I bought them anyway. My nails are chipped, my knees are aching, and it took forever to get all the windblown grit out of my eyes, but I have planted, and that gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

Now, if only everything grows . . .

Mommy, Where Do Stories Come From?

It always starts with this feeling, this sort of low-voltage electricity near my tailbone that just hums along beneath my skin and along my nerves until it reaches my fingers. Once the inspiration hits, I have no choice, I must go write something!

The inspiration to write, to create a story from thin air, often comes from the strangest places. At this time of year it often begins with the sight of a dogwood tree in bloom. Their blossoms remind me of lace on a wedding dress. That naturally turns my thoughts to romance, and then to writing. Sometimes it’s fun to go to the mall, sit and watch the people walking by. It’s fun to metaphorically mix and match the people walking by into the most unlikely couples.

I once had a creative writing teacher who told me when she needed inspiration she would go to a cemetery, the older the better, then wander between the graves. She’d imagine the lives lived, the history witnessed; then become inspired to write.

I have a passion for music. I can’t play worth a darn and I can’t carry a tune in the proverbial bucket. But I appreciate those who can. However, I really admire songwriters. I am often inspired by the lyrics to songs. Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the Patti Page classic, Faded Love? Oh, there’s at least one story in that song. What about Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain? And you can easily fishbone at least four or five stories from Nickleback’s Photograph or The Beatles The Long and Winding Road.

I live on thirty acres in rural Oklahoma. Just near the eastern edge of our property stands an old, gnarled oak tree. In the fall, the western sun gilds the tree at sunset. In the winter, the tree stands naked and bare. In spring, the oak shelters the blooming dogwoods and redbuds. And the summer, it stands tall, silent, and mysterious in its age. One day several years ago, my son and daughter were out using a metal detector near the tree. Near one of its exposed roots, they found a rusted spur buried six inches below the surface. Just a spur and nothing else.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many stories I have woven in my head about the rusted spur.

So tell me, what inspires you?


It was once mentioned that any topic could be used for a blog post, that it could be about what was going on in our lives. Here goes:

My father will be 82 this August. He’s always been the one that I’ve turned to for advice and comfort when something was bothering me. Besides being my father he is also my friend as we have interests in common. But now that relationship is changing. His mind is being destroyed by senile dementia. He is aware that this is happening and it is tearing me up to watch him try to adjust.

I’ve been told that there is medication that can slow this down but he refuses to go to a doctor for this or for any other reason. So am trying to figure out what to do next. I just contacted my sister and she is going to come out in a month to see if she can talk him into seeing a doctor.

Anyway, this is where I am in life right now and one of the reasons I have been such a negligent blogger. I can’t hope for this to change because it won’t. I can hope that I adjust to this so that I can continue with my WIP.

Claude Mary

Moods Revisited…

In the past few months, my father has been having more trouble in walking.  Sunday, he fell twice; my brother David and Daddy’s neighbor got him up the first time, but the second time, the fire department had to come out…again.  When I saw Daddy after work on Sunday, he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day because he’d been afraid to walk into the kitchen.  He did make it to the bathroom, but he can’t stand long enough to drink water from the sink and he can’t carry a glass of water with his walker.

 David and I have been doing what we can to keep him at home, but now, even Daddy admits he can no longer live alone.  While it saddens me he has to lose his independence, I have to admit, I’m also relieved he will be safe.  We’re going to admit him to an assisted living home in the Broken Arrow area.  Daddy will have full imput on where he goes, but the one we’re leaning towards will let him be in a private space with his own things around him.  Best of all, my social butterfly dad will have a whole new group of ladies to charm with his hand-kissing ways.

The main reason I bring this up is that I always feared that when this time came, my brother and I wouldn’t be able to work together.  But we have.  Somehow, somewhere along the way to adulthood,  David and I “lost” each other as brother and sister.  I don’t know if it’s because we finally matured or because the moon is in the right quarter, but in this project we can finally work together.  I suspect it’s because we both love Daddy and want the best for him.  And because, despite all things, we ARE family.

I’ve been reading a new author, or at least, a new author for me…Kristin Hannah.  Remember a few weeks ago when we discussed how moods can affect what we read or write?  In this instance, what I’m reading is affecting my mood during the difficult time.  For those of you who have never read Hannah, she writes these wonderful stories about dysfunctional families who find redemption through learning to love again.  She makes you laugh.  (“Let’s not drink our own bathwater, shall we?  It’s one of the things that separates us from the lesser primates.  Like men.” )  She makes you cry.  But most of all she makes you believe in families and love.

And right now, she’s making it so much easier for me to take care of my Daddy.

Now A Word From Our Sponsors

One of the numerous jobs I’ve held was selling air time for a small McAlester radio station. It was the first time I’d ever had a business card. Below the station call letters was my new name, and ‘Account Executive.’ Wow, I was so impressed to have a title. A glorified way to state: Sales person. Like calling a stay at home mom—or wife—a ‘Domestic Engineer.’

But having that card did make me feel good about what I was doing since I’d never had a job like this one. Moving from Houston, where the lights never go out to life in a small Oklahoma town where the sidewalks used to rollup promptly at 5, and knowing no one, how was I going to make any sales? God works mysteriously as this was the best way to acclimate into a new situation. And for life farther down the road.

When I did sell an ad, aka spot, I had to write the copy, get it approved by the station and the client. What I could have never guessed was I was good with the ad copy, and cutting the commercials. Every word had to count, especially when you’ve only got 30 seconds, or 15. The same can be said with writing where every word has a purpose. My best ad was a Dolly Parton imitation “Here you come again…” but I can’t remember what business it was for.

I watch television commercials with the same critical eye. There are some I love, and most. I hate. Do you remember the Taster’s Choice coffee commercials with the couple? I thought the chemistry between them was great.

I like a continuing story or commercials that tell a story.  A  new favorite is the California cows. Does that make me rush out and buy only California cheese? Nope, sorry. I’m too cheap for that. The E*Trade baby usually makes me stop because I think that baby is just darling! Do I use E*Trade? Ha!

IMHO, the best ads have been “Feelin’ Lucky?” for an Oklahoma casino–I think.  The ad that begins in the hospital where the man’s face is bandaged and hillbilly relatives are crowded around his bed makes me hoot every time. The catch is that they aren’t his family. (If any of you remember these, please comment!)

Next are the cowboys, all banged up and bandaged, being interviewed after a hard day of rounding up ‘short hairs’ — Cats!  This was a great commercial–it aired first on Superbowl Sunday, but can you name who the sponsor was? I’ll give the answer later if you don’t know.

Commercials I mute immediately are the ones that are so loud, or so obnoxious. I’ll spare the guilty.  And companies who use saturation advertising. Attention ad people, that’s a certain turnoff for me.

What makes or breaks a commercial for you?

How Much Hype is Too Much?

I’m reading a book (between taxes, physical therapy, hubby stuff, etc.).  The author has been publishing for years, but this is my first experience with her. She has a big following of avid fans at a site where I hang out, and they wait for each new book with giddy anticipation, finish it with great satisfaction and start counting the days to her next release.

After months of listening to them rave, and being unable to find the books in the local stores (we have, count ’em, two stores to pick from), I went online over the weekend and downloaded her latest title. It was the first book I ever downloaded, and it was an experience worthy of its own whine. (Let’s just say it took nearly two hours and the downloading of three other programs before I could get to a simple pdf copy of the book.)

I was so excited when I opened the book and started reading. After all, according to the fans on the site, this author, with this book in particular, is the best thing to ever hit the publishing world. They couldn’t say enough fabulous things about her and it. I was in for a great, great treat.

Except . . . the book isn’t so great. It’s nicely written. The characters appear to be nice people, though I can’t say that I’ve really gotten to know them. The setting is nicely done. It’s just all . . . nice. Not at all what I expected.

I’m not saying it’s a bad book at all. We all have different tastes; we all look for different things in books. This book connected with a lot of people. And the funny thing is, I might have been one of them if the hype hadn’t been so big. (And if it had fallen into my hands without so much hassle.) But it was a lot of hassle to get and I expected so much based on what I’d heard, that I think it was almost inevitable that I’d be disappointed.

It happened again last week with the new TV show, “Southland.” If you’ve watched NBC for five minutes any time in the past month, you’ve seen at least two commercials for the show that filled “ER’s” slot. (Okay, so I’m exaggerating. It was probably only one commercial every five minutes.) The network hyped the show as the “ER” of police dramas and quoted critic after critic about how fabulous it was. I actually made a point of being available when it came on. And I knew within twenty minutes that I wouldn’t be back for episode 2 unless there are drastic changes.

It’s not that it’s a <em>bad</em> show. It’s just not living up to its billing. If it had been treated as just another new show, I might have been willing to watch it long enough to get to know the characters (because the emphasis is clearly on the characters and not the police work). But they told me it was going to be super-duper-best-new-show-ever, and because it isn’t, I’m not willing to give it the chance I would have otherwise.

Do you pay attention to hype? Are you more tolerant when it’s nothing but hype with no substance to back it up, or do you expect them to live up to their advertising?

Cliches–Right or Wrong?

Sandee’s post is a hard one to follow, but she really inspired me to write THE END on my wip. But getting there is no easy feat as I’d rather be on my feet rather than my butt. I’m running scared. So I thought it might be fun to ‘break ‘a writing rule: Never use cliches! Or cliche characters.

Cliches are cliches for a reason. As contest judges reading entries, have you ever howled at the use of cliches or the so obvious avoidence? It was a dark and stormy night…..

What cliches do you love to  hate?  Let us all have a laugh on this tax day.

Heart shaped face with eyes too large is one of mine!

Happy Easter

This Holy week has been one of God’s gifts–His Son who died and rose again, the sun whose warmth has coaxed the flowers to bloom, and the people who celebrate this most special of celebrations. After church services many of you will be together with family enjoying delicious dinners, have Easter egg hunts for the little ones or baskets for the older kids.

I decorate my house for the seasons and holidays–can’t help it, I grew up helping my mother do the same thing. The one year I tried to stop, both DH & DD complained! Since they help if I ask, it’s really no big deal. The dogs cringe–they know better than to hide–when I pull out the bunny ears for pictures. But I also bring out the books I used to read to my babies when they were small.

One of my favorite books, and it was one of Amy’s too, is  The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes, by DuBose Heyward, illustrations by Majorie Flack. This has been one of the best gifts my sister has ever given Amy. I didn’t know who DuBose Heyward was until I googled him. He and his wife wrote Porgy, which was later adapted for Broadway as Porgy and Bess, as well as many other books, plays and lyrics.

The Country Bunny with her 21 children goes to Old Grandfather at the palace of Easter Eggs to apply for the job of the 5th Easter Bunny. The point of the story is that just because you’re a woman with kids doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your dreams. The copyright is in 1939! I truly believe that this is a must have book for every little girl.

What are some of your favorite Easter memories? cool-chloe

Nothing to do with Writing

I know this isn’t my day to post, and what I have to blog about isn’t about writing. It’s bragging, so please forgive me. I had the great good fortune to have my daughter stay for two nights. Even though she’s 23 and doesn’t need me, the fact that she asked me to take her to the dentist — I ran errands while she had the work done — made ME feel wanted. 

But more than just being able to have her home safe in her own room, being able to cook her breakfast, buy her new favorite foods, and make a delicious pot of baked potato soup for dinner last night, were the conversations we shared. She has grown into a wonderful woman, and I don’t take much credit for that as she’s done the hard work on her own. Also she’s a wonderful friend, not only to me but to those she brings into her life. She’s compassionate and will be the kind of person you want if you get sick. She is someone who will make a difference in this world. She is a true heroine in my eyes. 

This morning right before she left for her ER shift, she gave me some of the best validation I could ever have.  I have made a lot of mistakes, missteps, and wrong turns. Finding out that your kids don’t hate you because of them is great. Being a mother has been my greatest accomplishment.  Those of you with adult children have already experienced this. Those of you with young children, your time will come. Don’t rush or wish away today because before you can turn around, your babies will be grown.  To those who don’t have kids, you never know how many lives you touch.

Ya’ll Come

I learned the power of dialect from a fifth grade English assignment. I spent my first ten years in a small town outside of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. In that town of less than 1,000, everyone body knew everybody and everybody was related to everybody…at least it seemed that way. There were two churches in town, the First Baptist Church and the Bethel Baptist Church. The First Baptists all knew the Bethel Baptists were going to Hell and the Bethel Baptists all knew the First Baptists were going to Hell. But since everybody was related to everybody or knew everybody, at least nobody would be goin’ there alone. Life pretty much revolved around church, fishin’ and stock car racin’. There was only one show on TV worth watchin’, Gunsmoke, and there were only two kinds of music, Country and Gospel.

When I was ten, my family moved to St. Louis. Culture shock wasn’t a phrase I’d heard back in fifth grade. But it was a phrase I lived the first year in St. Louis. The entire student body of my new elementary school was larger than my Arkansas hometown! I had a lot to learn, startin’ with the way I talked. I didn’t know I had an accent until the kids at my new school told me I had one. They said I sounded “weird.” But I had no idea what they meant. To my ears, they talked funny. Where I came from everybody talked like me. What was wrong with “Warshington D.C.” and “warshin’” your clothes? Hey, it’s a “creek” not a “crek”. Where I came from only stuck-up snobs said “You all.” Everybody else said “ya’ll.”

Needless to say my first few weeks of school were miserable…until we began to study dialects. As part of our English studies, our fifth grade teacher taught us about the different regional dialects in the U.S. Then to drive home her point, or to see if we were payin’ attention, she gave us a writin’ assignment. We were to write a short story, usin’ dialect then we had to read it to the class. My grandfather attended the seminary at Harvard. My father had gone to college. Just because I was from the South and sounded “weird” and the only opera I’d ever listened to was the Grand Ol’ didn’t mean I was from an illiterate family. But like Minnie Pearl, I saw this writin’ assignment as the chance to use humor and Southern Charm to win over new friends.

The short story I wrote was mish mash of “Gone With the Wind”, “Romeo and Juliet” and the Jimmy Stewart movie “Shenandoah”. It was set durin’ the Civil War and was about two star-crossed lovers: Reginald J.T. Waterbottom and MaryLou Matilda Jenkins. (Already I was writin’ romances.) When it was my turn to read my short story, I laid that southern accent on thick and heavy. And I got the reaction I wanted…I had ‘em rollin’ in the aisles. Even the boys. My teacher’s mascara ran so bad, she looked like Alice Cooper had done her make-up.

My story was a hit. So much so, that I was invited to read it to the other fifth grade classes. In one of those classes, was another “new” girl in school. She was from Tennessee. Later that day we met up on the playground. As we swang from the monkey bars, we decided that we didn’t talk funny, the rest of the world did. We also decided Davey Jones of the Monkeys was the cutest boy on Earth. I made lots of new friends that day, includin’ Miss Tennessee. And the boys found out that I knew a little somethin’ about fishin’ and cars. So as one boy told me, “You still sound weird. But you’re okay.”

I’ve never forgotten the lesson learned from that English assignment…the power of language and dialect. It says so much about us, who we are and where we come from. It builds bridges and helps us cross them. Over the years, I’ve lost my accent. But when I need to charm someone, I can still pull it out and use it. When I whant to. Ya’ll come back now, ya’ll hear.