Tag Archive | the importance of details

Disproving Stereotypes

neanderthalHave you ever met a Neanderthal?

Now ladies, I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve been in a bar, and a big, burly, hairy creature comes up to you and wants to drag you out to the dance floor by your hair, you would say, “yes, I have met one,” right?

Well, that’s not the kind of wannabee Neanderthal I’m talking about. I’m talking about something REAL.

You know I watch the Science Channel a lot, so today’s lesson is going to be about the disappearance of Neanderthal man. It has always been a mystery to why homo sapiens flourished, but the Neanderthals disappeared. Neanderthals weren’t wiped out by a meteorite like the dinosaurs,  nor did they die in a plague. They just sort of disappeared. Common thought was Neanderthals were too stupid to survive, and that homo sapiens hunted them down. Guess what? “THEY” were wrong!

When the homo sapiens left Africa, they went out into all parts of the world.  They populated the world as we know it. The Neanderthals population, on the other had, was a much smaller population. They, too, lived in many parts of the world, but the sheer numbers of homo sapiens overtook the neanderthals–and not by force–it was love that brought them together! That’s right, Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens “got it on” together, athe gene pool of the neanderthals was absorbed. That’s right, the two species interbred, and through this interbreeding homo sapiens absorbed the Neanderthals. Yup, that’s right. Scientists have proven that our  hairy ancestors are part of all of us.

How did they prove this?  Simple. DNA.

Well, maybe not so simple. It actually took five years for scientists to unravel Neanderthal DNA . Then they then compared it with human DNA from different parts of the world. What they found was strands of Neanderthal DNA is within human genes! Holy caveman, batman!

Now,  it’s not a big percentage — from 1% to 3%, but it is there. And the highest concentration of Neanderthal DNA appears in people descending from Europe ancestors, more specifically, the Tuscan area in northern Italy.

Scientists also have discovered other things about this lost race. They know Neanderthals made sophisticate cutting tools. They also developed a tar-like substance to hold the stone points on their spears. And they had to have had language to be able to coordinate their hunting teams.

So, I guess the moral to this story is, never judge a person by their suspected ancestry. At the end of the day, stereotypes just aren’t worth the effort it takes to create them.

Last Chance for Fixes

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Yesterday I missed writing my blog because I had to anchor my big butt in my writing chair to proofread FINDING GESSLER for one last time before it goes to press. This is a necessary step because my publishing house doesn’t provide editing or proofreading. so the responsibility falls on the author. After the book has been formatted to go to press, the author is given 48 hours to comb through the text one last time to make last chance corrections. I always feel a lot of pressure at this stage because it’s my last shot to look good in the eyes of my readers.

This time I thought there would be less to “fix” in the 419 pages because I had added one more layer off scrutiny to my team. Linda is a wonderful proofreader, so I thought between me, Heidi (my editor) and Linda I would breeze through the manuscript and find very few things to change. Not so. I still found missing words and wrong word endings–two of my most notorious errors in my prose–to the tune of 4 pages of corrections. Damn! And because the manuscript is sent in a PDF file, I had to make a spreadsheet designating the page number, paragraph number, line number, prose to be fixed, and how it should read to indicate to the publisher where the errors were. It’s a very tedious process, and it took me from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. to get it done. (I did allow time out for potty breaks and lunch and dinner.)

As much as I dislike this part of the process, I know it is so important. In many ways, I wish I could take another whack at my first novel because now I see many things that got missed or could have been better. Maybe someday that will happen if we do a second printing.

In my writing classes, I try to impress upon my students that we all make the same kind of errors over and over again, and they should analyze their writing and spelling errors to uncover what their personal shortcomings are. Knowing your weaknesses is a strength. But like many of my words of wisdom,  more often than not, my tips fall on deaf ears. The fact that the students don’t heed my warnings maybe do to the fact that most of them are not writers. They are struggling to get down a paragraph and be satisfied with their first draft. They don’t believe me that writing is a process. They just want to endure the pain once, get the assignment in, and get out of the class as fast as they can.

So, now that I’ve confessed to you my weaknesses, it’s only fair that you share your writing traps. After all, they say misery loves company.

The Writing & Cooking Connection

cook (1)I have always loved to cook. I still do. I don’t collect cookbooks. I don’t even collect recipes, although I have been known to go on the Internet and check ingredients for a particular dish when I get stuck.  But basically, I just cook. I love blending ingredients to see how they come out in the end.

I’ve come to realize that cooking is a lot like writing. You have to do it or you’ll starve.

Oh, it’s great fun to read recipes and watch cooking shows on television. It is part of becoming a good cook, just like reading other authors is part of becoming a good writers. It is at this stage we learn techniques and tips on how to make our creations in the kitchen come to fruition. But at the end of the day, unless you actually go into the kitchen, take out a bowl and a spoon (or other necessary utensils) nothing will ever happen. Right?

The secret to a good meal is to make something mundane–like hamburger for instance–into something extraordinary–like a spicy meatball that melts in your mouth. The same is true for writing. You start with an everyday occurrence and turn it into an extraordinary event in your story. Along the way, you have to add the right ingredients and cook it properly to have a story come alive, just like a perfect meatball.

But once the meatballs are cooked are you finished? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never eaten just one meatball. Do you serve it alone?  Not likely. You will probably want put it into a sauce and combine both with spaghetti. This is where the plot thickens.

Now you have to make the sauce. A REAL cook doesn’t open a jar of sauce, she/he makes it from blanched and seeded tomatoes, garlic, onion, oregano or basil, salt and pepper–and here’s a secret —a little bit of sugar.  Shhhhh–I didn’t just tell you that.

After your sauce cooks down to the right consistency, you add the meatballs, while in another pot you’re cooking the pasta until it is el dente. When it is the right time, you put all the ingredients together.

 

Your meal will finally be complete with a salad, a good red wine, and some crusty garlic bread. Perhaps you’ll serve your masterpiece on everyday dishes or your good china because company is joining you. The trick to serving a memorable meal is getting it all on the table at the same time. This, my friends, takes practice.  It’s more than knowing what ingredients to combine, and at what temperatures they should be cooked, it is also knowing how to get all the ingredients on the table at the same time, so you can serve your guests with grace.

It’s the same for writing. You have to know how and where to begin, what elements of your characters are important in your story, how to weave them together and serve them up to your readers, so they will salivate at the sheer fragrance of what is coming. You keep them turning pages, so they can get to the end you have set up for them. And like a good meal, a great book is something they will want to remember for a very long time.

Both good cooking and good writing only come when they are practiced. It takes so much more than reading recipes to become a good cook, and it takes more than reading great author’s to becoming a good writer. Both require doing. Both require confidence, patience and practice. And both are satisfied when you hear that the meal or the book was great.

Happy writing everyone!  Mangia, too!

spaghetti dinner (1)

Fitting A Character Into a Preordained Box

StephaniaAt this point, my problematic character who’ve I have mentioned before, is happy. She’s maneuvered herself into a comfortable place in her life, with the exception of becoming a mother. She’s not nuts about that. She has had the baby and then  handed him to his father, saying, “Here. I’ve done my part. He’s your’s now.” Then she merrily goes off to work.

As a Mom who wanted to stay-at-home with my children, Stephania’s actions have been hard for me to swallow.  I know there are many children who suffer at the hands of mothers who didn’t want them, but writing about such a woman takes every ounce of imagination I’ve got. Stephania is a mystery to me. What do you do with a character like that?

I’ll tell you what–I’ve stopped writing. I needed a break from her and her cruel ways. I work at making her vulnerable, so the reader will have some empathy for her, but she’s really got a black heart. Sometimes I really wish I wasn’t such a goodie-two-shoes so I could write her more easily.

Another problem with this novel is it is a prequel. That means I know where this book needs to ends. So, weaving details and getting the timeline right is important. You’d think writing what came before would be easier, but this is the most difficult undertaking I’ve done so far. Pieces have to fit properly, so I set the stage for the next book (that came first). Are you confused yet?

Unlike my other novels, I’m finding I have to plot this one, and I’m not sure if that is a good thing. Usually I give my characters free rein and let them do what they have to do. But this one is different. This time I’m dictating what Stephania must accomplish, and she’s not keen about what I have in mind.

So, the going is slow. I write when Stephania is cooperating with me, and in the meantime, I continue to create other characters that are more willing to work with me. In the end, I will win this battle. I just hope the book is doesn’t show the struggle.

Let me know if you have ever come across a character that you really didn’t like and tell me what you did about it. Oh, and thanks for reading.

Barb

 

Photos and the Lost Past

clutterThe weather has once again marooned Ken and I in the house. During the last 12 hours, we’ve had about three inches of rain. South of here in Chicago, they’ve had closer to five inches. We’ve even had rumbles of thunder and a few lightning flashes. Where monsoons are prevalent, people would wonder why I’m even mentioning this fact. But here, where I live, it is more likely to have a foot of snow than two inches of rain. But this post is not about the weather, really. I just had to whine a little about getting cheated out of Spring this year.

Being stuck in the house so often by the curse of weather, I’ve developed strategies to help the time pass. Like cleaning. Every once in awhile, I get the itch to pick up clutter. I hate to do hardcore cleaning, but clutter drives me nuts. With that said, I decided a rainy day was a good time to pick up a pile of stuff that had been sitting on the floor of the spare bedroom for months. And guess what I found? I came across a whole pile of amazing old photographs.

I don’t know why these photos were in boxes and envelopes instead of albums, but there they were. Perhaps they were the outtakes–you know, they weren’t deemed good enough to make an album. Or perhaps they were doubles of photos that did get into albums.  Or maybe when I got them, I never had the time to put them into an album. But no matter, there they were, and it was time to do something with them. The first step was to look at them. Amazingly, I remembered the exact moment when the photo was taken. I could tell you the event and the approximate time they had been snapped, and some of these pictures date back to when I was 11 years old! I don’t have to tell you, that was a LONG  TIME AGO!

One by one, the photos showed me how rich my life has been. I saw my Girl Scout leaders and girl pals. I witnessed the 10th anniversary of my 8th grade graduation picnic. Then there were the rare photos of my Dad and ALL of his eight siblings at a family picnic. I think it’s the only picture that exists where all eight of them are together. Then there were pictures of my little girls playing in the bathtub with their boats and other toys. There were lots of photos of the first days of school taken by the same tree. Then there were pictures of family Christmases at different locations for both Ken’s family and mine, too. There was a picture of the night when Ken and I met for the first time.

As you might imagine, it was a lovely journey. But instead of cleaning out clutter, I spent much of the day going down memory lane. The question is now what do I do with them? That’s probably why this pile of photos was staged for a decision in the first place. I just CAN’T throw them out.

Digital photography is great in many ways–especially when it involves tangible clutter. But viewing digital pictures is an entirely different experience.  Finding a file of digital picture is not as emotional as unearthing a box of old photos. There’s something about touching them and remembering why and when the photos were taken. I think as a person gets older, it’s fun to see you were young and carefree as a child, teenager, young adult and then as a young parent. Most photographs capture the happy times. At least I NEVER take photos of the hard times or the sad times or the painful times. My photos show a joyful journey and a personal history.

So, the next time you are cleaning out your clutter, beware of those unexpected elements that can derail you from our original intent. And if you’re  as lucky as I was yesterday to find lost memories, enjoy!

Barb

A REAL Thing

girls and cokeI usually don’t pay attention to television commercials. In my mind, they are just a necessary evil so folks can watch free TV. To fight back, I have my computer resting on my lap, while the unending 30-second sales pitches past before my eyes. But this morning it was different.

A Coke commercial came on, and it immediately took me back to my teen years. I don’t know why I paid attention to this one; I’ve seen hundreds of Coke commercials, but this one featured a GLASS BOTTLE of Coke. The sixteen ounce variety. The kind I drank down at Debbie’s house from the time I was thirteen.

It was a time in my life when my father had fallen into illness, and my mother did her best to keep things quiet for him. The mantra at our house was, “SHHHHH, get out of here. Your father doesn’t feel good.” So, off to Debbie’s I would go, by foot or by Schwinn.

Debbie’s Mom always bought Coke because Debbie’s Dad drank nothing else. At the time, the beverage only came in 16 oz. glass, refundable bottles. The carton of eight bottles weighed about 50 pounds, I swear. But Debbie and I never minded lugging the sweet beverage into the house on grocery day because we knew afterward we would be treated for our assistance. The Coke carton sat in the back hall; it never made it to the refrigerator because the clunky bottles took so much space. So, every time I would visit the Johnson’s, I’d have to walk past the carton that always made my mouth water. You see, my mother never bought Coke. I think she thought it was an evil concoction. She said they cleaned car carburetors with the stuff.

I remember sitting in Debbie’s bed, legs crossed with a tall Tupperware tumbler filled to the brim with ice cubes, opening the tall bottle with a “church key” (that’s a bottle opener for you youngsters), and then pouring the dark, sweet, soda of the gods over the  ice. We’d sit silently while the Coke spilled over the ice, producing a crackling and a fizzing sound that we listened to like a sermon on Sunday. Then came the first sip, when we’d put our lips to the plastic glass and savor the cold sweetness of the special summer soda. In the privacy of her bedroom, Debbie and I would sit for hours, talking about girl stuff while we tried to make our sixteen ounces of Coke last as long as it could.

The biggest change since then–besides growing older–(Did I tell you Debbie’s a grandma?) has been the glass bottles have been replaced by cans and plastic containers. The Coca Cola Company has also developed different varieties to appease the dieters and thrill seekers (Lime Coke, come on!). But the REAL THING is still the the only soda on the planet as far as I’m concerned. I’m just glad we don’t have to carry those heavy glass bottles any more.

 

Taxing Times

frustrated writerIt’s tax time. I always put off filing until the first week of April, because in my situation is almost comical to file in the first place. But, I went onto the Turbo-Tax website yesterday, filled out the information that was required and happily learned I have a refund coming both from federal and state. Yeah!

The only problem is, the IRS won’t accept my return because they cannot verify my identity. They will not give me an e-PIN number, and won’t accept my AGI from last year. So, I fixed what I thought was wrong and tried again, only to have the damn thing bounce back yet again. Now, I find myself in this electronic looping nightmare. I have two choices, hopefully get an IRS rep on the phone to help me, or I can file by mail.

I wouldn’t mind filing by mail, but I can’t print the forms because my printer has run out of ink, which means before I can do anything, I have to go the office supply store and buy new printer cartridges. The good news is the sun is shining, so after lunch I will venture out to get what I need and then try again with the IRS and Turbo Tax.

It just seems everything nowadays doesn’t go as I anticipate. I have also been going ’round and ’round with the mortgage company. They  escrow my insurance premium in my monthly mortgage payment, but yet they didn’t pay the bill — so the insurance company is taking withdraws from my bank account. So far, this hasn’t been resolved, either.

Don’t get me wrong — I love technology and shortcuts, but when they don’t work the way they are supposed to work, they are twice as hard to fix than when we used paper and pen.

So say a prayer to the electronic gods for me and wish me luck. I know I’ll need it.

Barb

 

Celebrate the Good Times!

celebrate

 

Happy Sunday Everyone!

Ken and I had a good week, part of which was celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary. It was a glorious day, sunny, above freezing and best of all, Ken felt well. We drove across town to one of our favorite restaurants, held hands across the table, toasted ourselves with a very rare cocktail (we don’t have them often), and enjoyed a lovely early dinner. We hoped we would have a day like this, but just in case, I had a Plan B in place if our celebration would have to take place at home. With MS in the house, we never know what the day will bring.

But Ken felt stronger than he had in a long time. In fact, he felt strong enough to walk with his walker from the car into the restaurant. With going in and going out, he walked about the length of a city block. That’s like running a 5K for someone else. But, again I had a Plan B in place — before we left, I put the wheelchair in the back of the car.

We were so delighted with the outing, we wanted to do a dance of joy in the parking lot.

If you read my post “Changing Identities” from yesterday, you know I blew off  substituted a caretaker workshop for an shopping trip with my friend. Because I followed my intuition and did what I wanted to do, that couple of hours doing “girl” stuff lifted me up. When I got home, I had energy I hadn’t had for a long time. I even joyously cleaned a couple of kitchen drawers to make room for the new set of knives I had just purchased. And after that, I happily tackled the bathroom floor with the new mop I had just bought at Big Lots.

Yeah, these things are so mundane you are probably wondering why I’m writing about them. But life happens in events like this for all of us. We diminish these truly great events—like going out for a meal with our spouse or going on a utilitarian shopping trip to Big Lots and having a hot dog for lunch at Sam’s Club with a friend–because we’re waiting for a truly great event to celebrate.

If I’ve learned anything by walking this MS journey with Ken, it is the fact we need to celebrate everyday thing–like when he can walk down the hall without having to hold on. Or celebrating a new recipe,  which turns out perfect. We celebrate every little thing we can because if we wait the BIG event or even a holiday, we’d miss out on a lot of fun.

So, don’t wait to celebrate. Do it everyday. Make a party out of it being Tuesday, or Wednesday! Don’t wait for life to bring you something special because you’ll surely miss out on the bigger share of your life.

Research and Yet Another Time Change

colorful libraryIn case you didn’t notice, I took the day off yesterday. Usually on Sunday, I post a short story. (I really hope you knew that.),  but I slept in and decided after changing ALL of the clocks, I was just too pooped to bother.

I hate time changes. (You probably remember my Soap Box tirade I did on the subject last time we did this nonsense.) Isn’t hard to fathom why a change of one hour can change such havoc? My equilibrium is completely thrown off. In the Spring, I’m always an hour late and in the Fall, I’m always an hour early. It drives me bonkers.

On top of that, the warm temperatures of 40+ degrees has brought RAIN and his buddy FOG with him. Yesterday, we had the lights on until about noon. Today will be the same; that is until later this afternoon. The weatherman on the television has just said it will cool off  later and bring snow showers –Yuck! I know, I know, I’m whining about weather again. Sorry. On top of the weather, it’s Monday. That’s a depressing combination, you have to admit.

So, what to do today? Write. What else?

I’ve gotten to a section of my novel  STEPHANIA COMES TO AMERICA where I have to go and research again,  so I’ll be reading, taking notes and collecting different accounts of California in 1915. Yes,, I did say California. I can’t tell you why because that would give the story away. The California connection comes toward the end of the story and then I can go back to the manuscript and take it to the finale.

Unfortunately traveling into the past isn’t as fun as traveling in the present. Life 100 years ago WAS VERY different than what goes on today, so jumping on a plane wouldn’t work. Instead of escaping this dreary weather, I’ll be basking in the dusty stacks at the library, or I’ll  let my fingers do the walking through the Internet. The trip isn’t exotic or even fun; it’s a necessary part of bringing my readers along with the trip my characters are taking.

So, wherever you are, I certainly hope you’re spending your Monday basking in the sunshine. It has to be visible somewhere on this planet. 🙂

The Next WIP – STEPHANIA COMES TO AMERICA

Over the weekend I read several blogs about character development. Doing this reinforced my belief that without strong characters, the story will be flat. No one will care. No one will identify with the big picture because you forgot about the most important element–A STRONG CHARACTER who carries the story.

And as I’ve said before, it’s the small details that resonate their humanity. How they look, feel, think, react, and respond are key. Then there’s the surroundings they live in and how they are perceived by others characters.

Since sending off FINDING GESSLER, I’ve become totally immersed in STEPHANIA COMES TO AMERICA–the next novel I  plan for publication in about six months. So once again, I must face Stephania.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know the trouble this character, Stephania, has consistently given, She’s beautiful and willful. She likes getting her own way. She’s selfish and scheming. In a word, she’s a bitch. Stephania

But I can’t write her as a one-dimensional character, so I have been looking for ways to make her vulnerable  I’ve searched for ways for readers to feel empathy toward her, even though she does outrageous things. And that my friends, hasn’t been the easiest thing  to do.

I finally realized the problem lies with me. Because I’m a “What you see is what you get” person, and I’ve never put on a false face to do anything, come hell or high water. I don’t understand Stephania. She’s not in my “wheelhouse.”  Even my vivid imagination has failed me.

So after working on this book for almost a year now, I was pleasantly surprised recently when I had a breakthrough. I let Stephania take control. I stopped driving her and let her take me on the journey she must travel. And it’s working. She’s finally in my head, creating herself as she must. I even had a friend interview me as Stephania  and discovered I know her better than I ever thought I did.

So, hopefully Stephania is not just pulling my leg and letting me take a peek at her right now. I’m praying she doesn’t turn off and tune out in the coming months just to frustrate me further. After all, she could do such a thing; it’s part of her nature. Remember, she is a bitch.