Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Tree in the Dark

The Present Tree

The house is quiet.  No television.  No music.  The children are asleep.  It’s also dark.  No night lights.  No bathroom light to keep you from stubbing your toes during those midnight wanderings.  All of the lights, that is, except one.  Well, more than one, really.  But, they’re all in one place, wrapped around a tree.  Our Christmas tree.

Last night all of the kids decorated it as part of our annual tree trimming party.  Another holiday tradition.  One of the rules is that however the children hang the ornaments that is where they remain until we take the tree down on New Year’s Day.  There’s no shuffling, no straightening, and, at times, it drives the girls’ sense of order off just a bit.  We instituted the “Pretty Tree” for that very reason about five years ago.  This tree, the “Present Tree,” is for the children.  And me.

I watched them put those ornaments on the tree.  Some were rushed, so the little hands with excited fingers could hurry back for another decoration.  It was almost as if they were having a contest to see who can put up the most of the odd Assortment of figures and globes.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Traditional Purchase

It was the heaviest storage tub I pulled out of the garage as we began the Christmas chaos at our house.  I almost needed Zac’s help carrying it inside, but let’s not tell him that.  He thinks he is too macho as it is.  I get enough “Your getting old, Pops” jokes, now.  We have about a dozen storage tubs reserved strictly for the Christmas season.  Each one is a hodge podge collection of indoor and outdoor decorations, trees, and ornaments.  Not this one.  This gray tub is filled with nothing but Christmas themed coffee mugs of every shape, size, and design.  There’s no way I’ll use them all between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and yet, I know I’ll buy another one this year.  I can’t help it.  It’s tradition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Broken Decorations

It never seems to fail.  Every year, I toss out a strand of lights.  A few bulbs go out and so half a string of lights are left in the dark and these days it’s cheaper to just go buy another box of lights, then to waste my time trying to find that one bulb that’s ruined it for all the other lights.  I don’t have the patience for it, first off, and second, I’d rather be writing about a guy fighting a strand of Christmas lights than actually doing it myself.

My dad would have done it.  He would spend hours switching bulbs around until he found the culprit that was delaying his holiday decorating.  His sense of satisfaction at having succeeded would glow brighter than the lights themselves.  Not me.  I wad them up, toss them in the trash, and send Zac to go buy another box.  I know some of you are saying it’s a waste of money, but it’s my money to waste, so stay out of it.  Besides, these are just lights and I’m not attached to them.  Therefore, I don’t hesitate; I just toss.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It’s Time for a New Tradition

Nathan and Christina opening gifts.
This year will be different, and to be honest, it has me in a bit of a confused funk.  Every year for the past twenty-four years, it has been the same.  Even with the kids at college, I knew they would be back for a few days across the Christmas holiday, and our traditional rituals would continue as they always had.  Once or twice, they’ve changed due to family squabbles with extended family, but our immediate little group remained steadfast.  They were always here, in their rooms or on a couch, but here, nevertheless.

In the past, we would have Christmas Eve dinner at Texas Roadhouse before driving around neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights and playing carols.  The next morning, Santa came no matter the age of the kids, and it was time for the opening of presents with what were empty stockings the night before now bursting with tiny goodies and presents crowding under the tree.  A few years ago, we added the tradition of opening one present apiece on Christmas Eve and Santa was reduced to just filling the stockings.  Now, however, some of those traditions have to go or be rearranged and it’s all the kids’ fault.  They grew older and moved out.  They got married.  They moved away.  Now, nothing is the same.  See?  It’s their fault, the brats.  They just didn’t consider the chaos their actions would cause me.  It was rude of them to grow up.

Monday, November 26, 2012

I Want to Be First!

Let the decorating begin!

My neighbors have pissed me off.  They don’t know it, of course.  They were just going about their business, doing things their way, and having fun getting into the spirit of things.  There was no law broken or Home Owner’s Association code violated, although next year, I think I’ll try to get an amendment passed, so this doesn’t happen again.  The girls think I’m silly, and quickly point it out to me, but I’m serious.  This is no laughing matter.

What did my neighbors do that has me so up in arms?  They put their Christmas lights up before I had a chance to get mine up.  I know!  You’d think they would understand that when it comes to decorating for Santa’s arrival, I am the Grand Marshall of outdoor decorations.  They are to follow my timetable and not rush things the way the department stores do by shoving Christmas down our throats while it’s still bikini weather outside.  Obviously, they didn’t get the memo that I had the girls attach to all the neighbors’ doors, and while we were sitting on the back porch enjoying a slice of pecan pie, the night was lit up with a burst of holiday light.  The girls ooo-ed and ahhh-ed.  I fumed.  It just wasn’t fair!  I’m to be first.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Not My Idea of Camping

Even Backyard Camping Is More Fun

It’s a week before Black Friday (for your balance of timelines, I wrote this last Saturday), which this year I am referring to as Blacker Thursday, and I just heard the news that people are already camping out in front of stores, ready to pounce the sales clerks the minute the doors open.  Seven days they will be sitting in that spot.  They will sleep there, eat there, and - well, hopefully, they won’t go to the bathroom there.  This is extreme.  Too extreme.

While I thought the people who got in line a day before the sales began were missing the point of Thanksgiving, I think these people need a mental check up.  How do you take a week of your life to sit in a chair and just wait?  Okay I can see me doing it just to escape for a bit since I love sitting and staring at nothing, but not for a whole week and not in front of a department store or even a book store.  What product is worth that type of insane commitment?  Did they use vacation time?  Take a leave of absence?  Do they even have a job to begin with?  If they don’t have a job, are they on welfare, and if they are they need to get out of the line and go get a job.  If they took vacation time for this madness, then their priorities are really skewed.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I’m Thankful for You

I know you may not believe it, but it’s true.  I really am thankful for you, and though I don’t say it often enough, I needed on this day of Thanksgiving to take a moment to tell you.  I am deeply grateful for the contribution, the impact, you have made on my life.  It really is because of you that I am who I am, doing what I am doing.

I know you’re reading this wondering, “Who in the world is he talking to?  He hasn’t given us a name.”  Yet, I did.  Did you read the title?  I’m thankful for you, the one reading this right now.

“But how do you know who’s reading your blog?  Are you using some sort of Big Brother software?”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

With a Thankful Heart

Surprise them with a Post-It Thank You

It’s more than just a special day of the year that started with the pilgrims and Indians over tables of abundant food.  It’s a day for giving thanks that life spared you for another year.  On November first, as is typical when we are reminded of this holiday, social media sites were full of “Today I am thankful for” statuses.  They will continue through till turkey day and even may continue for a couple of days after Thanksgiving has been devoured and the turkey deboned.  Then, it quickly goes from “I’m thankful” to “I want.”  Gratitude is replaced by greed and the focus of the world shifts.

I’m just as guilty.  I started my “Be Thankful” posts on the first day of the month and have faithfully made one every day hence, sometimes with a comedic twist so as not to get too mushy.  I mean well, and I am thankful.  Truly, I am.  It’s just that sometimes life becomes so busy that I forget to stop and show it.  My mind is onto the next project and adventure, and I neglect to savor the past, thanking those that made it possible.  I’m embarrassed by that admission, because I really do have quite a bit for which to be thankful.  I have a great family, fantastic friends and the ability to do what I love to do.  Not everyone can say that.  I am blessed beyond measure.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Blacker Thursday

I’ll be completely honest and say, I am not a big fan of this latest trend in retail.  My disdain has nothing to do with the loss of the tradition of rising early the morning after Thanksgiving, downing a cup of coffee while trying to ease the worst case of bed head ever into submission and slipping behind the wheel of my car before my eyes are even open.  I’ve done that for the past eleven years and while it’s fun to watch crazy people trying to save some money and fight over the current year’s trend, I don’t mind sleeping in that day.

No, this is about losing something much worse that I believe sends a terrible message to the generation in our elementary schools.  It says, we, as a people, cannot devote one day - one twenty-four hour period of time out of a 365 day year - and just enjoy being home with our family and giving thanks for what we already have.  We have to shorten that day so we can go out and argue with people for more stuff that we’ll just put in next year’s garage sale.  It really is a terrible thing to teach our children.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Tag

The Next Big Thing Blog Tag

Tag, you’re it!  And then, before I could tag anyone else, I was tagged again.  Bloggers and authors, Katie Oliver and Alyce Wilson, asked me to participate in The Next Big Thing blog tag and, as I had never participated in anything like it before, I was eager to see what would happen.  (Be sure to click on these awesome ladies’ names and visit their sites.  It’s well worth the trip.)  As I understand it, all I have to do is tag a few authors myself and answer ten questions about one of my works in progress.  I’m always eager to ramble about my writing, so I jumped right on board.

If you’re one of the authors I tagged, I hope you participate.  I’d hate to be the one that de-hopped the hop.  No one else will want to hop with me again!  At the end of my ten questions are your instructions should you choose to accept this mission and as an added feature I would welcome a chance to post your blog here at The Mess and introduce you to my readers. The offer goes to Katie and Alyce, as well, who allowed me the honor of participating.  I hope everyone says yes and readers, I hope you visit their pages.  These are some of the best writers I know.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Step Away from the Desk

Escaping the desk

I’ve been sitting at my desk typing for three hours.  Okay, well not for a straight three hours, because I’ve also done my Facebook check-in as well as my self-promotion tweets.  Still, I have been in the same position for those three hours.  Too long.  I know it’s too long because my back is screaming at me and my left elbow doesn’t want to straighten out.  When I go to stand, my knees seem to have forgotten they’re part of the process.  It’s not that I’m old; I’m just extremely inactive.  I will admit to the latter, but never the former, even when I reach 107.

I stand up and move around, stretching cramped muscles and aching body parts.  I know I have to sit back down and peck away at that keyboard, but every time I glance at that chair my insides groan in protest.  It’s not going to happen.  I start looking around for something else to do and decide to organize some old files or rewrite my notes for another manuscript.  Perhaps I’ll read in the name of research or play a game of Angry Birds or twenty.  Whatever it is I find to do, it’s not putting words on the screen, which is what I need to be doing.  My productivity for the day is shot.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Importance of Being Alone

Our home is more than just a busy house.  Quite often, it can be a crowded one, as well.  It almost always seems as if someone is there and something is going on.  Even when it’s quiet, it’s never really quiet.  Zac’s Xbox drains into the house from under his bedroom door, Dylan is popping in and out just to make sure we’re all still there, and the girls have taken up residence in one of the other rooms.  There are people everywhere!

Even with me working at home and the girls in offices, I still only get the house to myself one day a week, and usually Zac finds some way to barge in on it.  It is hard to find a quiet place in the house.  The bathroom won’t buy me peace and quiet, either, because no one hesitates to talk to you through the door. I have a recording of sound effects I play while in there, but even that doesn’t discourage the intrusion.

Of course, it’s not always people barging in on your day.  Most of the time it’s work, bills, and the pressure that comes with daily living.  Quite often it seems as if you’re being screamed at from every direction as so many things fight and claw for our attention.  Life comes at you hard and is fast paced.  You have to keep up or become left behind, and while that may have been an intriguing book series, it’s not how you want to wind up with your dreams and ambitions.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It’s Time to Press Pause

A beautiful sunrise

It’s a hectic pace, day after day.  The morning comes before the sun even peeks its golden eye over the horizon and you feel like you’re running from one thing to the next until you finally peel your clothes off and drop exhausted into your bed.  I know most days that’s how I feel.  There is carpooling, helping kids with homework, our own work, maintaining a house, kid’s activities, our own pursuits, and without our notice twenty-four hours is sucked up and we’re left drained and still behind.

Okay, perhaps your day isn’t that busy, but still you’re active building a life for your family and that comes with a certain set of pressures, especially if you run your own business.  Before we know it, the work week is over and the weekend has arrived.  However, with everything we cram into those two days, Saturday and Sunday fly by and without understanding how, Monday has crept back upon us.  Time just seems to accelerate and all too soon, what we plan on doing becomes what we should have done.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Interruption of Interaction

Heather and Chris hamming it up

I give up.  I mean, I was really looking forward to just a couple of hours of peace and quiet in order to finish the final chapter of Reaping the Harvest.  Even I didn’t know how Rhychard Bartlett was going to survive the battle with the dark elves, gargoyles, and Buttercup’s pimp and I was the one writing the story.  It should have been a quiet evening.  The girls were out shopping for the next week’s groceries, Zac was at work, and the eight-year old was in her room hanging Barbie Dolls while the girls from Monster High laughed in the background.  I grabbed a cup of coffee, slipped on my black fedora and snuck out to the solitude of the back porch.  After a brief glance around my personal world, our backyard, I took a deep breath and began to find out how Rhychard fared.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Counting Train Cars

One!  One Train Car!

It was a great game when I was growing up, even though technically it wasn’t a game; it was math.  Still, we did it with childlike excitement, shouting out the numbers and hoping for a lengthy train.  The boys did it, as well, growing up, and of course, I’d have to count along with them.  The interior of the car echoed with each number.  One!  Two! Three! By forty-five my ears were ringing.

As a child, the longer the train, the better it was.  It didn’t matter that it was an interruption to our day, our schedule.  We forgot about why we were in the car in the first place and lost ourselves in the counting, not even realizing it was similar to homework.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bring Down the Curtain

Close the curtain on unwanted drama

The scene is over and the curtain drops.  It won’t, however, stay down long before it’s raised again on another scene and the story continues.  A script is divided into acts and then even further into scenes, each with the purpose of pushing the story along until that final curtain call and then the show is over.  It is then up to those watching to determine whether it was worth sitting through or not.

Sometimes, something will go drastically wrong during a scene and the curtain will be dropped prematurely, keeping it from getting worse.  It could be technical difficulties that need to be fixed before the scene continues.  It could be an accident on stage or just a major blunder blowing the scene entirely.  The curtain falls to keep the story from becoming more of a catastrophe than it already is.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Cast of Characters

A crazy group if ever there was one
I actually liked her.  She was cute and bubbly and kept Edwin on his toes.  I had spent some time getting to know Regina Coldwell and she was an intriguing individual with strong viewpoints on life.  She was a great wife.  However, if Faith and Edwin were to explore their darker side, the wife had to go.  At first, because I had grown quite fond of her, I tried simply demoting her to girlfriend status.  Still, it wasn’t going to work and in Losing Faith, I had to keep Edwin single.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to use Regina in another story down the road.

It works that way in a writer’s world.  Some characters that you truly love just don’t fit with the story being told.  It works the opposite way, as well.  While working the revision of Reaping the Harvest, I needed a character to assist Rhychard in a few scenes.  In walked his best friend from high school, Trace Wheeler, a shaggy character who at thirty-two still lives with his widowed mother.  Furthermore, some characters who were to merely have bit parts wind up moving to the front of the show, becoming an integral part.  The hooker Rhychard saves in Reaping, Buttercup, becomes a crucial member of the cast and will even be in the sequel, The Lore Master.  What determines a character’s importance is the story that the author is trying to tell and how they will move the narrative forward.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Spotlight, Stage Right

Allow others to Soar

Every story has its main characters, those interesting people that you’re either rooting for or against.  It’s because of them that the narrative exists, at all.  The writer has spent a vast amount of time creating their histories, appearances, and an outline for their future that the author hopes they don’t usurp too much.  The story begins and from page one, they are center stage ready to shine even when they are struggling.

However, every once in awhile a secondary character steals the show, and for a time, all eyes are on them.  This just happened in my writing of Surrender.  The story belongs to Virginia Hart.  However, in this scene, her best friend, Jacklyn, steals the limelight and goes home with the guy.  Actually, she goes home with three guys, but you’ll have to buy the book when it comes out next year to find out why.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Improv Living

Working the rewrite

Yesterday, I wrote about how you were the one in charge of writing the script of your life.  It’s your story and you need to be the one who determines which direction it takes.  I also shared how while writing a scene from Surrender, Virginia Hart’s cheating husband, Pierce, appeared in the scene when he wasn’t even supposed to be in the book.  Suddenly, the scene was off the outline and with each scribble of my pen I had to improvise the rest of the chapter, following my character’s instincts over my thought out plan.

Life is the same way.  Something occurs that takes you off script and you find yourself having to improvise your next moves.  It doesn’t have to be anything major.  Perhaps an accident keeps you from taking a trip you had been planning or keeps you out of the big game.  It doesn’t change your life story, just a few upcoming scenes.  Frustrating it may be, but not life altering.  It requires a small amount of rewriting, but before you know it, you’re back into the main story without much wasted ink.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Write Your Own Script

Deep conversation about the script

It never fails.  I’ll spend a week or more outlining a storyline, determining what I want to happen in each chapter and with which characters.  I did this recently with Surrender, which will come out in 2013.  Virginia Hart is soon to be divorced from her cheating husband and the plan is for her to meet Jaron Towers, a member of the Society of Thorns, for some new adventures.  Virginia’s friend, Jacklyn, talks her into going to a night club so that she can meet a lawyer from her firm for some private practice.  It is here in my outline Virginia meets Jaron for the first time.  However, I guess Pierce, Virginia’s husband, isn’t giving up because out of the blue, he’s at the same night club with his eyes on his wife.  This is not how I planned it, but now I have to go with it.

Most writers will tell you that they run into the same conundrum.  When you give characters life, they decide they want to live, and not necessarily the way you had planned for them.  It becomes their story and they are going to tell it.  Your general plot may remain the same, but the details of the journey will alter due to who the characters become. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Feel the Refreshing Chill of Change

I am not giving up my porch

I know you know.  I know you’ve heard.  However, I can’t help but to say it again.  I. Love. These. Three. Months.

It’s more than just the holidays, the fancy outfits, and the decorations.  Those are just a few of the reasons I love these final three months of the year.  You can, of course, add to the list the closeness of family and gatherings of friends to make the season even cozier.  However, another reason is the weather.  I love chilly mornings and changing leaves.

I live in Florida, which means I don’t see an abundance of either.  Eleven months out of the year its shorts and flip flop weather.  You can stretch out on the beach in the skimpiest outfit and still be toasty warm.  The rest of the year it’s a little cool with only a handful of days downright freezing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Decorations Come Down

Taking down the decorations

The last trick-or-treater has left our yard.  The lights have been turned off and now the front yard, which has been aglow with ghoulish delights, is cast into utter darkness.  Not the scary kind, mind you, but rather the sad variety.  It’s the kind of darkness that announces the end of the celebration and the return to reality.  Oh, there’s candy still in the bowl, not counting the abundance brought home by the eight-year old, and the sugar rush will last for a few days, to be sure.  We’ll also see the Cleo de Nile costume more often since we won’t be protecting it from being ruined before she’s actually supposed to wear it.  It’ll go into the hamper of dress-up clothes to be pulled out and pranced around in when no one is looking and she can attend Monster High in her play.  But, everything else goes.

It’s the day after and already the memories and paraphernalia of the past month are being stacked on the kitchen table.  I’ll pull out the storage tubs a little later and everything will be wiped down and carefully tucked away until the girls allow me to pull it back out next October.  The house will be put back to normal and the yard will resemble just a yard.  That is until Thanksgiving.  Then the Christmas tubs will come out and our home will be usurped by the brightness of the holiday.