Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

My mom stumbled upon some of my old school work a few weeks ago. Included in a small writing packet I'd done for English class was, as timing would have it, a Halloween limerick. It's not dated, though some accompanying papers were from 1991, when I was in the sixth grade.

*ahem*

I love to go trick-or-treating,
My family calls it a meeting.
We all gather 'round,
Sit down on the ground,
And suddenly we all are eating.

Oy. I wonder if way back then I had any suspicion of the journey I'd one day take as a writer. I've come a long way, baby.

So Happy Halloween! Wherever this evening takes you, be safe and have fun.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Picture's Worth

*This is post 200 for Something She Wrote*
Thank you for your readership!



What do you see in this picture?


Sure, its outward appearance is overwhelming. It stirs, if I'm to be honest, a little bit of pity and a whole lot of sorrow in me.

But you know what else I see?

I see, perhaps, a young boy who lives inside. And his circumstance does not define his potential. He is one who, despite the start he's been given, will persevere. He'll understand what hard work and determination mean. He'll learn to respect others and their situations, he'll seek humility, and he'll strive to make his dreams happen. He'll succeed.

He'll break the cycle.

Can you take a harrowing picture and make it, with mere words, into something uplifting? Consider it a challenge. If you accept, post a picture and your vision on your own blog, and let me know you've done so.

PS. I still have half-dozen or so prompts I've not used. If no one cares either way, I'll only do them if/when a stirring comes. But if you were particularly fond of yours and would really like to see me write a piece of flash fiction with it, let me know in today's comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dear Mr. President

A bit of a break from the norm... (double bonus points if you can name what that line is from)

This video is meant to neither reflect my beliefs one way or another, nor point a finger at any one president, but Pink's song is both relevant and poignant. I have to share it. I think she asks some questions we could ask of any in such a powerful position. Not to mention, she's just an incredibly talented singer/songwriter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Which Is It?

ETA: I blew it. It's Tuesday, and I missed Stuff and Things. First time in months! Too late now, though, so on to today's post...

Does writing beget laziness, or does laziness beget writing?

It was yesterday (see previous post) that, when I was over-extending some under-used muscles and excreting a fair amount of elbow grease, this question came to mind. It was because I couldn't stop the internal whining...

Oh, why is this my job?

Does anyone understand how difficult this is?

I just want to be downstairs with my computer!

And then I thought...

What the heck is wrong with me?

I should be grateful for the chance to do such work. I should be thankful I'm physically capable of putting such effort into a project, and that I'll be able to reap the rewards later. I should welcome the chance to do something different, to make a change. Instead of complain about the energy I have to expend.

Really, I do projects like this so very infrequently. I can't remember the last time I worked so hard (motherhood aside). Am I lazy? Perhaps in some ways.

But writing calls for stillness. For sitting and being sedentary. It's what I'm used to; it's the level of energy I'm comfortable putting out. It's not draining or difficult - in a physical way - to write, other than your average sore tushie or crick in the neck.

So that made me wonder... Have I become lazy and sedentary because I'm drawn to the writer's life... or does the writer's life appeal to me because I'm lazy and sedentary? How do you think it works? Is it different for everyone?



*BIG thanks to my sister-in-law, who spent a good part of the day looking after the kidlets. I so appreciate it, Sara. Singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to entertain the girls is possible from a 16-foot scaffolding... but it gets old... Thanks for playing with the girls while I worked. You rock!

Monday, October 27, 2008

From Writer to Acrobat

My writerly tasks have been put on hold for the next week or so (though I'll still try to post here each day), as I take to the duties of a manual laborer: We've a new deadline by which to complete painting in our living room.

Why? Because our carpet guy will be unavailable for the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. And since we don't want to wait until after the holiday for carpet installation, we're busting hump to get everything ready by the 8th. Eep! That's not far away!

It seems like so little time because we have a lot of wallspace in the living room - some of which the contractor is still taping, mudding and sanding, and most of which still has to be primed first. We also have to sand, clean, and poly-urethane all the exposed beams. I suppose it's most overwhelming because there really is no we... misterwrites is still working six days a week (12+ hours each), which means he's unable to help... and it'll just be me. (We're not willing to pay the contractor for the work we could just as easily do.)

Oh, I'll make it happen. What's that saying about eating an elephant one bite at a time? That's how I'm approaching this; one task at a time.

I worked on the beams yesterday. Here's me at the peak of our living room - thus my new title of "acrobat" - on the scaffolding, almost sixteen feet in the air (talk about a deer in headlights... and what's with the hair?) :


Here's the view down, from where I was perched:


Sure, I'd MUCH rather be at my computer, writing. But I'm bankin' on the fact that, in the long run, it will all be worth it...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fall is All Around

I'm one who has a hard time picking a favorite season, but fall may well be in the front-running.




This last week has been amazing, full of beauty and nostalgia. The cool, crisp days combined with changing leaves and rich aromas make for a warm existence. I want to bustle around and make my home clean and cozy, where the air is filled with potential.


How does fall make you feel?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Christians Who Write

My post two days ago, about my WIP, stirred a good conversation (in its comments) about content for Christian writers. How far do we take our faith in our works? Are we, as believers, meant or even obligated to share Christian messages and themes with our readers? Always?

Rachel pointed me to the paraphrase of a great C.S. Lewis quote: "We don’t need more Christian writers. We need more great writers who are Christian." (An online article related to this can be found here. And find Lewis' full explanation of this thought here - scroll down to the second content box.)

I have to say that as a writer who has struggled with how much faith-related content to include in fiction, this quote really resounds with me.

I've sometimes second-guessed myself - with my writing, that is. My faith is a large part of who I am, and it's not something I want to leave by the wayside in my writing. But if I were to include it, how would I do so? My way is not to push myself or my beliefs on anyone else, and I certainly don't want to be caught sermonizing. I struggle with knowing how much such content is smooth and warm and digestible, as opposed to forced and off-putting.

So the comments my readers posted the other day, put together with Lewis' quote, have helped me put my thoughts into better perspective. I think that, while it's important what we write (for instance, I write wholesome stuff, not horror or erotic, etc.), it's more important who we are as authors behind the writing. It's important how we represent ourselves to the platform and readership we build, don't you think?

Just as God has given everyone a talent - some sing, some sew, some work with wood, some heal with medicine - shouldn't it apply that He's made a place for all those talents? And to dissect it further, wouldn't it stand to reason there are varying places for all writing Christians? That He wants us to fill as many niches as we can?

So tell me what you think? I'm eager to get some feedback!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's In a Name?

Last night it occured to me, I don't know why, that not everyone may know how my name is pronounced. And I'd like to think it's pertinent, should I one day be published.

Both my first and last names are pretty easy, I've always thought, though I've had awhile to get used to them. Especially my first...

I've been called John-uh. Jane-uh. And even Yawna. But it's just plain ol' Jan-uh. Like Jana, just not as naked. It's Scandinavian, which I bet my parents didn't know when they picked it. Story has it (at least at one point, I'll have to ask if it was a fib), I was to be named Valerie until some friends of my parents "took" it for their newborn. So in looking for a new moniker they stumbled upon Jan, whom my big sister liked from the Brady Bunch, but gave it a twist. I'm glad they did, because I sure don't look like a Jan. Janna (even with my spelling variation) is the female form of John, which means "God is gracious." Indeed He is. And I think that's pretty cool.

My last name, Qualman, is a bit trickier. It's German and, though misterwrites may be pulling my finger, I'm told it means Dungeonmaster. Neat, eh? Even if not, there aren't too many around whose name starts with that funny lookin' Q... Many struggle over pronunciation, but it's easy - there's no bird, no quail. It's pronounced Kwallman, simply put.

Nicetameetcha.

What about you? Do people mess up your name? And is there any special meaning behind your moniker?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Working on the WIP

I'm pleased I've been able to put some effort into my Work In Progress of late. Though it's still sporadic, and not nearly as much time as I'd like, I'm making headway.

For awhile there I was discouraged; I wasn't sure I liked the direction the story was heading. It just didn't feel right. You see, I thought the main character's wife was going to abandon him, leading to issues and events that would severely test his Christian faith. But I was struggling with writing her character. I couldn't see her playing out in my head, or figure out how to make her scenario believable.

And then it hit me I was handling the plot wrong. Abandonment isn't the way to go, because it delves into issues I don't want to handle. I just can't wrap my head around them, explore them deeply enough to write about them well.

But what I can do is create a "perfect" marriage and family life between the main character and his wife (and their young daughter) . . . and then alter it drastically by an accidental death. Now we're talking. I can write this with emotion and articulation. I'm excited about the challenge of endearing the reader to the wife... and causing them to feel the same heartbreak my main character will after her death, helping them understand the test of faith when his life is in shambles...

I've decided on the working title Life After Death.

Such a shift in plot meant I had to scrap the work I'd done previously, though it only accumulated to three chapters. I did save the good stuff in another file, should the characterizations come in handy another time... but I started rewriting from the beginning last week, and I'm pleased with my progress. The picture is clearer, the way seems to be paved. Here I go!

How about your WIP? What are you working on right now, this week?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday's Stuff and Things

For today it's really just one stuff and thing... I have pictures! Keep in mind, we still have to trim everything out (it will all be solid redwood, to match the exposed beams) and touch up some spots on the walls.

My desk will go in the corner, straight ahead. It'll face the pitched ceiling (it's an A-frame house), but I'll have a view over the balcony into the living room below. You can see it's still unpainted drywall out past the balcony; it will be painted the same colors (the ceiling is a few shades lighter), so the brown flows consistently throughout the house.



And here's my reading space! (Incidentally, my chair has already been placed because the truth came out... misterwrites is not a fan and wanted it out of his sight...) I have an antique floor lamp I'll work in somewhere, and need to find an ottoman. I plan to run a short-in-height but long-in-length bookshelf along the balcony wall, which will keep all my beloved books and some decor.



I have to explain, it's not that I'm merely excited to have my own space, it's that we've waited for more than two years for our serious overhauls to come to fruition...


We bought this house in April '06. At that point, though the house was forty years old, it was in dire need of not only updates, but fundamental renovations. See, it was a kit house, built in the '60s as a vacation home here at the lake. The basic structure was put up, but without any insulation. And though many interior walls were constructed with solid redwood paneling (it was overkill, really), other walls were never finished - meaning that when we moved in there were exposed studs here and there. Permanent carpeting was never installed, rather, the previous owners had tossed several swatches of remnants throughout the house. All those were removed when we bought the house, and we've since lived with subfloor in much of the house.


Our renovations began with our daughters' shared room, because we knew we needed to get them into a place and routine of their own. We had to tear down the paneling, put in insulation and drywall (ceiling included), then paint and carpet. Here it is before...



Here it is after (though this pic is right at two years old)...



Next we tackled the basement, which was an unfinished space before. We decided we could finish that entire level, thus making it family space, an office, and a guest room - which hubby and I would sleep in as work was done on the main level and loft/master bedroom. Basement before...




Basement after, from different angle (it's been finished out even more since this pic was taken, like there's now a built-in bookshelf where you see the vacuum to the left, etc.)...




The loft with master bedroom and balcony was a space we've yet to occupy, save for storage. It was the same as the girls' room: paneled walls, no insulation, subfloor, and completely exposed to the very peak of the roof (above the cross beams). We've made massive improvements and are so close to moving in! Here it is before...




And now...




And you saw balcony pictures at the beginning of this post. It was a small, rickety, virtually unusable space before. We extended it by 4-feet (from one beam to the next), doubling the size, and reinforcing it in the meantime. Now it's usable space (yay!) that looks down into our new living room. It's going to be fabulous!

Our living room has undergone quite a transformation, too. Just as we extended the balcony by four feet, so we did with the entire front wall. The original was - this should come as no surprise - not insulated, very flexible, and had a bad door and windows. By shifting the wall further outside to the next beam, we created more living space, and were able to start over with a sound, efficient wall, and pick new windows and doors. Before, from the balcony...






And now... though we're not done entirely, our progress is a lot further along than this picture shows...



The bathrooms (3 total) are being completely gutted and reconfigured, as will the kitchen, which will be our very last project.

Wow, I'm exhausted just telling you about it all. (Changes to the OUTSIDE of the house will have to be another post, another time.) But it's been on my mind for awhile now, and I wanted to share our story.

We were blessed with this house. Around the time we decided to buy, we drove around this lake, looking for land to build on. This "For Sale Buy Owner," an obvious fixer-upper, appealed to us; we saw its amazing potential, loved its lay and land. We called the listed number... and of all things heard our pastor's wife's voice on the machine! We found out she was helping family friends with the sale of the house. Many blessings and months later, the house - an amazing bargain - became ours, and we've not looked back since. What a journey it's been.

Thanks for following along. It's been fun sharing the pictures and details. And here's to an almost done house!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Brownie, Anyone?

Picking up where I left off with prompts, I've come to Angie's. Her suggestion was this:

It was, simply put, the worst day of my life. But then the mailman came in the late afternoon and...


…lo and behold, he had chocolate. Chocolate! Who doesn’t love chocolate? Maybe my cursed day would turn around yet.

“Heh’s some fudgy brahnies mah mam made. He’p yo’self,” he said.

Really, it was exciting. How many mail carriers barrel around with sweets in tow? And how had he known I’d need a pick-me-up at three p.m.? It was too good to be true, I thought. But when I eyed his weathered and wrinkled face, I saw goodness and honesty. He really was sharing his treat with me.

I hesitated in the doorway for what seemed minutes, suspended between a sudden ravenous hunger and ladylike decorum. Before I could stop it, my hand involuntarily reached for the daisy-patterned, chipped plate, my fingers closing around a square of yummy goodness. Heaven in my mouth!

It was as I eyed a second brownie that my throat began to feel funny, tight. And then the dizziness came, at which point I braced myself against the door jamb.

Looking to the man for help, I saw his kind face distort into an evil grimace.

“It’s really too bad, lady,” he said, all traces of his endearing accent gone, “ ‘cuz you shouldn’t’a ate a brownie.”

He pushed passed me, lurching for the table in my foyer. I tried to scream, to claw at his back, but he snatched my purse from its home before bounding back across the threshold.

He took off down my front path, throwing one last comment over his shoulder.

“It really was too bad.”

And the world went black.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

An Evening Out... That Made Me Appeciate My In

It was a night of food and laughter, fun and atmosphere and, of all things, writerly thoughts and inspirations...

It began as the descent of eight sassy, giggly women upon Texas Roadhouse. Salads, steaks, onion blossoms and baked sweet potatoes soon covered the table. Easy conversation was traded much like the food; satisfaction came with divulgence and indulgence.

After eating, we decided against a movie: You can't very easily gab and trade secrets at the theater. So, up for social ambience and adventure, we took our party to a country line-dancing bar. After all, what says fun like the Boot Scootin' Boogie? (Shh... don't tell anybody... but I can think of a few things...)

We danced very little, instead telling stories and people-watching. We staved off the friendly advances of a middle-aged cowboy and the barmaids offering shots, and watched a man whip himself silly with elaborate turns. We found ourselves endeared by two "grannies," one of whom may someday make it into my fiction, who scooted as well as the rest of 'em. (I couldn't help conjuring the one woman's "story": to my mind she was a one-time heart patient who discovered line-dancing to be great and fun exercise; something to keep her heart healthy and joyful.)

As I watched a few women dance with no inhibitions - totally caught up in the music and movement of their bodies, not caring about anything but the happiness dancing gave them - I realized we all have our element. I'm completely out of mine in places like that; I'm too shy and self-conscious to enjoy myself in an open and social way. But I could liken what those women were feeling, how at ease they were, with my experiences in the writing world. That's my element, the one that beckons to me. Writing is a solitary world, an immediate world I so crave, but one that allows networking through the filter of the internet. I can be my true self with words and creation, socializing through an online shield that bolsters my confidence. While I occasionally enjoy a bar setting for a change of pace and scene (and that people-watching thing), it's nice to, at the end of the night, know where I best fit.

What's your element? Where do you best fit?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is It Friday Yet? Oh, Wait...

Well, I did intend to post another prompt today, but didn't have a chance to finish the one I was working on yesterday. Chores, painting, and last minute tasks before carpet (it does come Saturday morning!) kept me hopping, and today will be more of the same. That is, until I drop the kids with the babysitter and meet with some girlfriends for dinner and a movie. So excited! This type of thing happens rarely, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Do you have anything exciting going on today or tonight?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Time and Balance

Some days it seems I can't get anything accomplished. On those days I just can't coordinate the hours to meet my family's demands or do the tasks that endlessly mock me (laundry, anyone?), and forget about time to myself, or sitting down to write anything worthwhile. My whole day will seem stunted and sporadic and out of control. Out of balance. I hate that.

Other days I think, Wow! I've got twenty-four hours! Look at all this time! And I spend it wisely. It unfolds smoothly, with one task leading into the next, and I get so much done. I'm balanced. And at peace, when nothing ruffles my feathers.

Productive days like that lead me to wonder if I'm just lazy on the unproductive days. Is it a mindset? Is it related to mood and hormones? Is it lack of motivation?

Sure, my routine is set, and I try to follow it. But so many factors go into a day and its progress, from things I control (like pushing the snooze button one too many times) to things I don't (a last minute request from a friend or family member, or a problem with a service or product). Some days I can fly by the seat of my pants to take it as it comes [too many clich├ęs there?], other days I feel so dogged and discouraged, like I'm inadequate and incapable.

Do you have days at both ends of the specturm? To what do you attribute them?
How do you work through it? How do you come to terms with the fact that not everyday is perfect, and make the ones that are seemingly perfect count for more?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Something To Think On

I still have more prompts, if you guys are willing to read 'em, but I'm going to space them out. I'll do the rest here and there, so as not to burn you (or me) out. Deal? Another will appear in a day or so...

For today, I'm keeping it simple.

I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird a few months ago. Most of it, anyway. I actually read the last couple chapters the other night - non-fiction is like that for me; I read it in spurts. Though silly me didn't pull out a highlighter until the last chapter, she said a lot that resounded with me. One of the best things was this, and I'll let it speak for itself...

Don't underestimate this gift of finding a place in the writing world: if you really work at describing creatively on paper the truth as you understand it, as you have experienced it, with the people or material who are in you, who are asking that you help them get written, you will come to a secret feeling of honor...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday's Stuff and Things


LOVE this picture!
*
I spent a large part of yesterday priming and painting our loft. It looks so great, and I'm pretty sure our carpet will be laid come Saturday... which means I could move in to and decorate both my bedroom AND my writing/reading nook by this time next week. I've been waiting for this for a long time and I can't wait!
*
Last week I decided I wasn't happy with my start on Novel 2. A (big) aspect of the plot was leaving me unenthused, and I couldn't stop drawing parallels between the main character and someone I know in real life - which wasn't a good thing. I spent the weekend debating whether I needed to toss it out completely or set it aside for awhile, but ultimately decided the root story is one that needs telling (in short, a man's faith is tested when his world is turned upside-down). So I made a fat tweak, got some great input from misterwrites, and am prepared to get some work done this week. Wahoo.
*
Last Tuesday the newspaper in which my humor column appears came in the mail. But yet my column was nowhere to be found. I'm near certain it was an oversight, but I can't be sure because my editor has yet to respond to my inquiry. Normally I'd be quick to let assumptions carry me away, but she frequently travels for her job and can't check in, so I'm trying to be patient. I'd sure like to know where my column is, though...
*
I've started my Christmas list, which includes a flash drive and several books, including Kimmi's debut, The Unbreakable Child. You can preorder it if you like... just follow one of the links on her blog. Best of luck with everything Kimmi!
What's goin' on your Christmas list this year?
Anything happening for you this fine Tuesday?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Don't Look Now... It's A Prompt

Hakan Tendell gave me this prompt:

You're on a mission to Mars together with twelve men and eleven other women. Your mission is to establish a colony on Mars, but you're only halfway to Mars when most of the crew have gone mad because of various reasons, and you've lost contact with Houston.

Here's the deal...

In sixth grade science there was this project. I was supposed to, using a 2-liter bottle, create a model of a space station that would endure life. I had to figure out the logistics for food supply, water and oxygen, entertainment, the whole gamut. How would people work? Provide for themselves? Exist?

That was one of the hardest projects I ever did.

My brain works no better at creating a scenario mid-way to Mars. An astronaut I'm not, and I'm afraid I don't have the right skill-set to pretend I am.

So sorry, Hakan. I realize this gives me a failing grade...

Incidentally, I'm not opposed to cheating! Anyone want to do this prompt for me? You want it, it's yours. ;)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Misterwrites: An Introduction

Thank you all so much for humoring me with these prompts the last week. I've so enjoyed doing them - and love the amazing feedback! - but I don't want to tire you of them. So, though I'll get back to my list on Monday (if you've noticed, I don't typically post on Sundays, which are church and family days for us), I'm taking a break from the exercise today.

*

Don't you always, after meeting someone and getting to know them a bit, wonder about their spouse? What's that person look like? What's their personality? I know I'm always curious in such a way. That said, I thought I'd introduce you to my husband, aka misterwrites, in a way more extensive than mentioning him in passing.


This is Mike. He's the oldest of seven kids and is, quite possibly, one of the smartest people I know. He's a jack-of-all-trades; one who has soaked up knowledge in so many areas he's like a very human, very beefy, sponge (which explains his abnormally large head...). He's confident and at ease with any circumstance, with any person. He loves baked goods and back rubs, and can't fall asleep without the t.v. on. He ruins more pairs of jeans than any man I know, and he recently made himself sick on Red Lobster's all-you-can-eat shrimp - but is ready for more. He loves teaching our daughters about nature and the world, and likes canoeing the lake by himself. Mike's not one to enjoy my (frequent) ramblings, and isn't nearly as sensitive as I think he should be, what with a wife and two girls. He must always be active and productive, works hard, and dreams of living in the mountains of Colorado, where he could turn his avid hobby of skiing into a lifestyle. Jesus is his hero, and he consults his Father in everything. He frustrates me like no other, and is frustrated by me as with no other. I still misunderstand him sometimes, even after eleven years together, but I know him like no other. He's pretty cool, I have to admit, looks good with a goatee, and I'm pleased to introduce him as my husband.

How about you? Care to introduce your spouse? Or tell us, if you're single, who your ideal mate would be?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Back to Prompts

...As for the prompts my readers and friends gave me here, I've made it to Janet's suggestion. She gave me: The Limit (fiction).



Jake's drive home through rush hour consisted of second-guesses and cursed words. He couldn't believe how the day had gone, what with the loss of one case and the fallout with a client over another. Jake's superior wouldn't be happy.

He should have handled things differently. Should have approached things in a more delicate manner. He had to quit screwing up, or he'd not have any cases at all.

Stress knots formed in the back of his neck as he sat at the stoplight, his mind rehashing the day. He could feel tension settling into that spot, that same spot as always, right above his eye. It'd be a miracle if Jake didn't wind up with a migraine.

Just then a smooth voice flowed from the car's speakers, cutting through Jake's thoughts. It was familiar, one he'd heard many times over the years; accompanied by mellow guitars, soft drums.

"Man, I love the Eagles," he mused aloud, twisting the volume knob. "Dudes rocked."

He focused on the strains of music, on the sound of bassist Randy Meisner's vocals. So soothing. And such a sad song, about being lonely and without love. Made a guy feel like he didn't have it so bad after all.

Jake felt the stress of the day begin to melt away. An amazing song can do that, you know; help you lose yourself, forget about whatever's on your mind.

And then he sang along...

"So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time..."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Simply Aghast

I'm interrupting my writerly blog - and my prompt exercises (which will continue with Janet's suggestion of "The Limit" tomorrow) - to share an article. You may have seen this yesterday; I found it on Yahoo.

Let me preface what you'll be reading by telling you I have a three-year-old daughter, one I would never allow to go through such activity. Nor would our country subject her to such things. AMAZING, the difference between cultures and beliefs.

Nepal appoints 3-year-old as new living goddess
By YUVRAJ ACHARYA, Associated Press Writer Tue Oct 7, 9:59 AM ET


KATMANDU, Nepal - Hindu and Buddhist priests chanted sacred hymns and cascaded flowers and grains of rice over a 3-year-old girl who was appointed a living goddess in Nepal on Tuesday.

Wrapped in red silk and adorned with red flowers in her hair, Matani Shakya received approval from the priests and President Ram Baran Yadav in a centuries-old tradition with deep ties to Nepal's monarchy, which was abolished in May.

The new "kumari" or living goddess, was carried from her parents' home to an ancient palatial temple in the heart of the Nepali capital, Katmandu, where she will live until she reaches puberty and loses her divine status.

She will be worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists as an incarnation of the powerful Hindu deity Taleju.

A panel of judges conducted a series of ancient ceremonies to select the goddess from several 2- to 4-year-old girls who are all members of the impoverished Shakya goldsmith caste.

The judges read the candidates' horoscopes and check each one for physical imperfections. The living goddess must have perfect hair, eyes, teeth and skin with no scars, and should not be afraid of the dark.

As a final test, the living goddess must spend a night alone in a room among the heads of ritually slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear.

Having passed all the tests, the child will stay in almost complete isolation at the temple, and will be allowed to return to her family only at the onset of menstruation when a new goddess will be named to replace her.

"I feel a bit sad, but since my child has become a living goddess I feel proud," said her father Pratap Man Shakya.

During her time as a goddess, she will always wear red, pin up her hair in topknots, and have a "third eye" painted on her forehead.

Devotees touch the girls' feet with their foreheads, the highest sign of respect among Hindus in Nepal. During religious festivals the goddesses are wheeled around on a chariot pulled by devotees.

Critics say the tradition violates both international and Nepalese laws on child rights. The girls often struggle to readjust to normal lives after they return home.

Nepalese folklore holds that men who marry a former kumari will die young, and so many girls remain unmarried and face a life of hardship.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday's Stuff and Things

To continue with the prompts I’ve been working on… Marian (welcome to Something She Wrote!) gave me this one:

A plain wooden box, with hinges. Across the lid are carved the words DO NOT OPEN.



She found it among her great-aunt’s old things in the attic. She’d been digging for that elusive file of important estate paperwork, but when her hand grazed the small mahogany box, the document search was forgotten.

“Interesting,” she said aloud, her otherwise-meek voice filling the large space. “And quite mysterious, to boot.”

She traced the hand-carved words DO NOT OPEN with her forefinger.

So should she, or shouldn’t she?

“Of course I should. Who finds an amazing old box and doesn’t open it?”

Following a firm nod of her head, she used her thumbs to crack the lid. Realizing she’d closed her eyes against the anticipation, as if worried over what she would find, she laughed at herself.

A look at the now-open box revealed a ring – a diamond solitaire, dainty and held atop a tarnished setting – and a small creased and yellowed strip of paper. Her hands trembled as she smoothed the handwritten note.



My dearest Arabelle,
By now you’ve learned of my demise, and I only wish it could have been some other way. It’s with sorrow for our future lost, our love forgotten, that I leave this token of my love. Wear it always, and know of my deepest devotion to you.
Love always,
Earnest

She gasped as her heart wrenched over the words written to her aunt so long ago. Her mind spun. Who was Earnest? Did great-uncle Bernard know about him? And to what demise was the note referring?

How she wished there was someone to ask, someone to answer her questions…

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Second Prompt

From the prompts I asked my readers to give me, is this one from Turkey Lurkey:

You are riding home from school in a school bus. You look out of the window and notice something very odd. A two headed cow. Something else appears... a tractor floating five feet in the air. What happens next?



The vinyl was sticky under my bare, sweaty legs. Oh, how I wished a cool breeze would gust through my open window, there at the back of the bus. It seemed I was stuck in a pocket of stale, humid air.

Ignoring the chattering voices around me, I placed my forehead against the cool glass of the window, hoping for a respite from the heat. My gaze fell on the passing cattle field, and I began counting the heifers in twos. Two... four... six...

Something caught my eye.

"What?" I whispered to my reflection.

I leaned as close to the window as I could, nose pressing against the glass, and squinted my near-sighted eyes.

"I don't believe it," I said to no one but myself. "That cow has two heads."

I knew it was possible; I'd seen pictures, heard stories. But never had I seen one with my own eyes. I wondered if the farmer knew. He should be calling the news station. Maybe I'd call the news station. I'd tell them--

Wait. "What the... ?"

I rubbed my eyes, sure they were playing tricks on me. But when I looked to the field once more, it was still there. An old John Deere - hovering mid-air. No driver. No explanation. But there it hung, as if suspended by unseen cables.

Maybe the heat's worse than I think, I thought, swiping at my wet brow with the back of my hand.

I craned my neck, keeping my eyes on the tractor as the bus drove on.

"Samantha?"

A deep voice interrupted my thoughts. But I couldn't make my head turn, to find the voice. Too fascinated by the things I'd just seen.

I felt the shaking of my shoulder. "Sam? Sam, wake up."

The motion gave me a jolt, and I realized the bus driver was standing over me.

"You fell asleep," Bus Driver Bob said. "You're home now."

A disbelieving look out the window proved him right; I was looking down the length of my gravel driveway, at the end of which sat my house, waiting.

"Sorry," I mumbled in a groggy voice. I gathered my things and shuffled from the bus, trying to shake remnants of the surreal dream from my mind...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The First of Prompts

Yesterday I asked my readers to supply me with writing prompts. I've gotten several good ones (feel free to add your own if you've not yet had the chance), and look forward to the exercises. I thought I'd get started and, so as not to pick and choose unfairly, I'll just take 'em down the line.

The first was from Barbara, whose prompt was: "You're Never Too Old For Koolaid." And so here we go...



Timmy is nervous, and his tummy won’t stop flip-floppin’ around. It’s because he’s never been to the nursing home before. But Mama said he could come this time, and so here he is, standing outside Grandpa Charlie’s room. 2-0-8, the plastic plaque says.

In one hanging hand Timmy holds Buster, his worn and loved teddy bear; in the other, his Spiderman thermos, full of Kool-Aid.

“Come on, Timmy,” calls Mama from inside the room.

Timmy follows her voice, listening to the quiet squeak squeak his right shoe makes as he crosses the linoleum.

When he sees Grandpa Charlie sitting upright in a rocking chair, looking just like he always has, Timmy feels a grin spread across his face. His feet pick up speed, and before he knows it he’s standing at Grandpa’s side.

“Timothy, my boy!” Grandpa says, reaching for a hug. “I’m so happy you came to see me today!”

Timmy, always shy, returns Grandpa’s hug but says nothing.

“And what do we have here?”

Timmy holds Buster aloft, letting Grandpa get a good look, then drops the thermos into the spotted, arthritic hands.

“Is this what I think it is?” asks Grandpa, a bushy eyebrow raised high.

Timmy nods, a proud look upon his face. “I helped Mama make it.”

“Grape?”

The boy nods again and, when Grandpa can’t grasp the lid between his bent and awkward fingers, Timmy twists the cap open.

“We can share,” says Timmy. He pours some into the lid-turned-cup, careful not to spill, and offers it to Grandpa. “Just like we always do.”


Saturday, October 4, 2008

I'll Take a Prompt, Please

In the last few weeks I've discovered how much I enjoy writing prompts. That is, when you take the one-word or sentence suggestion from someone and write something about it.

I first followed a prompt here, coming up with a short fiction piece called Shayna's Secret. That particular exercise was a lot of fun, and I got great feedback.

And earlier this week, Angie Ledbetter posted a picture on her blog. In the picture was a brightly painted bus and, if you looked closely at the sign, you could see its destination was a cemetary. Angie called her readers to write a plot blurb about that bus, or the people on that bus, and why they may be going to the cemetary. She considered it a contest, and I found out today I share the trophy with a few others. Thanks, Angie! It was another exercise I really enjoyed. Here's my blurb...


She knew the bus ride was significant, for it represented her transportation between two lives. The destination awaiting her, the cemetery, meant the end of one life, the beginning of another. She’d say goodbye to the woman she used to be, there, at the small headstone engraved with her given name. And there she’d take on her new name, embrace her new self, begin the new life she had no choice but to live...


So it's now that I want to ask my readers for more prompts. Do you have any ideas you'd like to see me flesh out? Give me a word or phrase, or a sentence, and I'll do my best to come up with something. I only ask that you keep in mind what you already know about me, and keep your requests wholesome and clean (scary or offbeat is okay). Depending on the response, I may not be able to use all the prompts, but I'll span them over the course of several days.


So. Have any good ones for me?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Destination

What thoughts go through your mind as you view this picture? Do you notice how the clouds stretch so far past the horizon you can't see the end of them? Is it the contrast of the open blue sky with the green cattle fields that catches your eye?



When I drove this road yesterday, and took this picture, I thought about how similar it is to my writing career...

I'm on this path, right? There's an ultimate destination, and it's beautiful I suspect, even though I can't quite see it yet.

I guess I'm headed the right direction, though I can't be sure. What if I find out I've taken a wrong turn somewhere? What if things - things I don't want a part of - await me over the crest of that hill? What if there are dips and turns or rocky patches? What if there's a road block? What if popping that hill lands me on a difficult stretch, and I struggle to navigate it?

Well, I won't know unless I drive on and find out, will I? I can't stop short of my goal just because I fear the unknown. And turning around and back-tracking isn't an option for me.

So I'll continue in my forward motion and know that even if I get waylaid ahead, it won't stop me. I'll keep going, stubbornly if I have to, and make the journey happen. I'll take it easy over the rocks or slow down around the curve - or take a detour if need be. But persistence will get me where I want to go.

I'll get there.

Do you feel the same about your destination?


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Come On, Join the Party!

It's the online launch of Karen Dionne's debut novel, Freezing Point! (Click here to see my official review.)

Starting yesterday and running through tomorrow, the party is open to anyone with interest. As Karen herself said, "Feel free to forward this invitation to others. This is the Internet - we have plenty of room!"

But before we head to Karen's for the party, here's the press release for more information. Enjoy!

A Web 2.0 Book Launch

An innovative thriller author throws a new kind of party...

In a YouTube world, it’s becoming ever more difficult for authors to grab and hold readers’ attention. To a Web 2.0 generation accustomed to tag clouds, wikis and widgets, authors’ static text-and-images-only websites are as outdated as Fred Flintstone’s writing tablets.

“Authors naturally think in terms of words,” says Karen Dionne, whose debut thriller Freezing Point about an environmental disaster in Antarctica releases October 2 from Berkley. “But on the Internet, we’re not limited to text. Today’s Internet is very visual, very interactive.”

Savvy authors are taking a page from the digital age and posting book trailers to their websites. Dionne is going them one better. With help from renowned thriller authors David Morrell, Lee Child, James Rollins, Gayle Lynds, Douglas Preston, and John Lescroart, Dionne is throwing an online book launch party where family, friends, and fans can mingle and win prizes – and catch the buzz about her new novel in the process.

As co-founder of Backspace, an Internet-based writers organization with hundreds of members in a dozen countries, Dionne knew only a handful of friends would be able to attend her book launch no matter where it was held. So she set out to recreate the traditional launch party experience on the Web.

Entertainment for the October 1 - 3 event includes video welcomes from bestselling thriller authors, a reading by a professional voice actress who’s also a New York Times author, standup comedy from one of her author friends – even testimony from a medical doctor regarding the science behind the story’s premise. There are door prizes: a boxed set of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” series on DVD, bottles of genuine iceberg water, and Penguin Gear from her publisher. And because a book launch party wouldn’t be complete without, well, books, two independent booksellers are making signed copies available.

“Writers shouldn’t be afraid of the Internet,” says Dionne. “We’re creative people. We can figure out how to use the Internet to spread the word about our books in new and exciting ways.”

Compared to a real-world book launch, Dionne says her online party has definite advantages. “Where else but on the Internet could my mom hang out with Lee Child?” There’s no limit to the guest list, work schedules and time zones don’t even factor, and perhaps best of all, Dionne’s guests can attend wearing their pajamas.

Visit Karen Dionne’s book launch party at www.freezingpointlaunchparty.com.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Two-Fold Blessing

Terri Tiffany posted about Living Your Miracle today, and asked her readers if, in essence, they're following their dream and living their blessings to their fullest potential. Her words, which are always profound and inspirational, got me thinking in depth about just that.

I recognize how blessed I am to be able to stay home with our daughters. From the time we married, I knew that's what I would eventually want - and misterwrites agreed. That he felt the same was a blessing in and of itself, because I don't know how many men take that traditional stance today, but that he continues to support this mutual decision we made so long ago is awesome.

And what's even cooler? That I get to pursue this thing called writing all-the-while.

To my mind, these two aspects of my life fit so well together. Not only am I able to focus on my kids without the stress of a full-time job outside the home, but my care for them creates so much creative opportunity. Our bond, our interactions, all those day-to-day things I get to witness firsthand - it all goes into the files of my mind. But not just my memory banks, where I treasure the things that make up my life as a mother. It also affects my writer's brain, gives me fodder and experience to draw from when it comes to creating on paper. So much of writing is about emotion and inflection, communication and interaction, and all those things are HUGE in my world as a mom.

I love how I can see connections, how it all ties together. I am truly blessed.

How about you? Do you live your blessings and follow your dreams? Are they connected?