September 17 2016

Animal Adventures

Yesterday we started a two week stint of cat sitting. We have been a cat-less household for many years now and I actually find I like it that way. Earlier in the summer, our daughter cat sat for a friend of hers from college who was getting married and needed someone to take care of the cat while they were on their honeymoon. The whole idea made me nervous. Sounds silly, I know because we had cats for over twenty years and that was mostly fine. Having had a variety of cats during our years as a cat-owning household, I know for a fact that while most cats are wonderful pets, not all are. You never know, until it is too late, and you have made the commitment, whether you have an angel cat or a cat hellion on your hands. 

The cat we had here in the early summer was a cute little tiger cat named Moxie. She was a sweety and quickly put me at ease. She was very quiet and usually came quickly when we called for her. She got along great with Bruce, the black bunny, who has been part of our household for the last five years. We often found her in the master bedroom by choice hanging out with Bruce. Yes, the bunny has the master bedroom all to himself at our house, but that is a story for another day. 

The cat who came to stay yesterday came to us in a bad mood because he didn’t like being caught and put into a cat-carrier apparently. So he came in howling, which reminded me of every single time we ever had to take any of our cats to the vet. They seemed to know that they would not like where we were taking them and howled the entire time they were in the carrier and the car. This is why we always had a vet very close to home.

He settled down finally and the howling stopped. As the two of us were alone in the house, I realized that the cat, Pope, was a very vocal cat. He meowed almost constantly. I’m not used to that. In my experience a cat meows when it is in distress, so a happy cat is a quiet cat. That was reinforced by our great experience with Moxie sitting earlier, so it must be true, right? 

I don’t know this cat well at all yet, but I had to chase him off my desk three times last night while I was trying to work, then found he had jumped up on furniture in my bedroom this morning. I don’t like having cats walking on anything I wouldn’t be sitting my butt on, you know? I’m ok with cats being on chairs, sofas and beds, but stay off the dressers, desks, counters and tables please. In my experience, cats who jump up on desks, dressers and such will also jump up on kitchen counters and dinner tables. I realized that I don’t miss having to worry about closing the toilet lids so the cat can’t drink the blue water or keeping the basement door closed to cut down on the trouble the cat could get into. I don’t miss worrying about whether there is a cat getting into food left on the kitchen counters while we are eating in the dining room. I like knowing that if I wipe the counters they are still clean when I come back to them and nothing has been walking across them while I wasn’t looking. 

So, we will have to see how it goes having this cat in the house for the next couple of weeks while his owners are on an out-of-the-country honeymoon.

The good thing about cat-sitting is it gets the hubby and adult daughter a cat fix without having the long-term commitment actually owning a cat would entail. The pets we currently own, a bunny, a snapping turtle and numerous tropical fish, can be left alone for a week to ten days without having to have someone come in and look after them, and as we get older and want to travel, that is a definite bonus. (710 words)

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September 12 2016

​Beautiful, but not Functional

Today I am writing from a king bed room inside the Baymont Inn & Suites in Alsip, Illinois. We stayed the night last night. We got a good rate and didn’t have to pay for parking and they had a free shuttle hubby could take to Midway Airport so he could catch the train into downtown Chicago. When we got here, it was obvious they were remodeling and had already finished the lobby areas. We got up to our room on the third floor with all our luggage. It took about ten tries between the two key cards we were issued before we were able to get into our room. No problem we will let them know as we leave for dinner. We told the nice lady at the front desk and she made us two new key cards, no problem. The new keys had the same problem but we were able to get in after a few tries again finally after dinner.

We had settled into our room and realized that while the room looks very pretty, fresh and clean, the chairs are not at all comfortable to sit in. The “easy” chair had a nice chunky footstool and the cool little table perfect for a laptop computer tucked under the footstool. I thought it would be great. At first I sat down and it was ok, but quickly realized the table wasn’t able to get near enough to the chair to actually use for a laptop until I lifted the right front leg of the chair and slip the corner of the table base under it. That seemed to solve the problem well enough. The foot stool was quite functional and might have actually been the more comfortable seating option. Hubby complained about the desk chair but I didn’t get a chance to use it until today and when I sat down it leaned back right away. I finally found the lever that keeps it from leaning back and it is now tolerable. It is not however cushioned in any way, not is it particularly comfortable to lean back against the back of it. It is functional and at least the correct approximate height needed for the desk provided.

When I finally gave up and went to bed last night, I realized quickly that this bed is NOTHING like the sleep number bed we have at home. This bed is hard as a rock and not at all comfortable. I know given the bed we finally splurged on at home, this will an issue when we stay the night away from home. But come on, this is not Bedrock and I am not Wilma Flintstone. I, at least, have some padding on my bones. Not that it helped.

Hubby took the first shower so he could grab breakfast and catch his train into downtown. He said the water pressure was lacking and he never complains about things like that. The room we are in is obviously one of the newly remodeled ones. Everything looks spiffy and clean. The shower is brand new. The shower head looks fine. The water does not come out of it straight ahead like you might expect, but barely makes it out at all before heading straight for the shower floor. The pressure is so weak, I doubt you would even need to close the slide shower door. The water never gets close to that far away from the shower head. If this were a tub/shower we would at least have the option of washing our hair while bent over the side, but the water only comes out of the shower head and even at the full-on position the water was very weak indeed. Usually we have this trouble in cabins in state parks where they just need to replace the limed up shower heads or clean them in vinegar for a while. This was a brand new shower head. It didn’t even have more than one setting, which is normally my way of dealing with lack of water pressure. There is usually one setting that puts out more water than then rest. Nope. This hotel remodel was done with simplicity in mind. The choice you have is to stay or go.

I don’t blame the hotel staff for this, they didn’t pick the beds, chairs and shower heads. They probably have never even been allowed to test them, so they don’t know. Does one complain about this sort of thing? Would it do any good? I mean they just spent all this money on remodeling and I doubt they would pull the chairs and replace them with something more comfortable. The shower head might be fine with tons of water pressure behind it. No, I blame the designers who decided this was a good chair design. The interior decorators who planned what to buy for these hotel rooms, the hotel chain who gave them their budget constraints or OKed the purchase of these uncomfortable beds and chairs in the first place are also to blame. Maybe we should even blame the plumbers who installed the shower heads, just because water comes out doesn’t mean it works right. If they were trying to be green and save water, they could have used less to flush the toilets.

OK, so enough about who is to blame. We came, we saw and we gave them a try. Will we stay here again? Not if I can help it.

The staff was very nice, the breakfast was adequate, but lousy showers and hard uncomfortable beds are too much to overlook. I have a choice, and would not choose to stay in this particular Baymont Inn & Suites again. I would still give others a try, but not this one. I give them 2 stars out of 5 for reasonable rates, friendly staff and cleanliness. Beautiful, but not user friendly or functional in my opinion. 

September 9 2016

Creating Characters

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I get my characters from real life. Sometimes they are loosely based on an actual person I have met and admired. Most of the time my characters are a compilation of characteristics of many different people I have come across in my life. I may take the looks from one person and add in the personality of another person with the odd quirks from someone completely different from either of the two people the character is based on. Sometimes my characters are based more on ideal people than actual people. I imagine a person I would like to meet and how that person would behave in a given situation.
I had the idea for the Crafty Ladies Club and wanted them to all be in the 45 to 70 year old age range. I wanted them to all have different crafting specialties, so I began making a list of the various types of crafting they might be good at. At first, they were listed as Crafty Lady #1, Crafty Lady #2 and so on. Then, I wasn’t sure how to make them realistic. I remembered a co-worker who was creepy accurate with describing a person he had just met based on learning their zodiac sign. He had apparently made a study of how various zodiac signs interacted with each other and how they behaved. I witnessed him telling a woman she likely had a shoe collection that would make Imelda Marcos jealous. He told her that she behaved like this or that and her eyes got as round as saucers and she was shocked how accurate his guesses about her were. He went on to tell her that she likely had a good friend who was a particular zodiac sign and that she had trouble getting along with another zodiac sign. She thought he was psychic or something. So, remembering that, I decided that I had come up with twelve character that I needed to know more about, so I assigned the twelve zodiac signs to them to make sure I had variety in my characters. I studied a sheet listing the signs and a few characteristics about each one and decided which craft or job a person with that zodiac sign would be best suited to. Some were very easy to match up and others were harder, but I really liked having a little guide to help me create each character and decide how he or she would act.
I have heard of authors who use the personality types for their characters. There are numerous websites and tests you can take either as yourself or as one of your characters. One site to help explain the sixteen personality types is https://www.16personalities.com/personality-types. It can help you to get to know your characters better by answering the questions on the test as though you were that character. I have taken the test a few times at different times, but have never used it to help me with story writing or character development.
Now, I have no idea if this is an original idea I came up with or not. I’m not sure if it was a good or bad idea but it was a place to start and at the time I really had no idea how to do it any differently or better. My characters went through most of the first draft of the first book in the series with names like The Sheriff, Deputy One, Female Deputy, Store Keeper and that sort of name. They were place holders. One time, my main character’s late husband went through most of the book being called Hubby and with me having no idea what sort of job he had, but knowing it needed to be a decent office type job that paid well enough for his wife not to have to work. I think I was so afraid of picking the wrong name and occupation for him that I just kept putting it off and thinking about it.
I don’t really create character profiles, but I do try to carefully record in a character sheet each detail about that person as I write it into the story to keep myself from having trouble remembering what I have written about them later.
When I come across a person that I think would make a good character, I try to write what ever I know about them on an index card or scrap of paper so I can add it to a character list I have in a document in my computer. One time I was perusing the forums on the NaNoWriMo.org website and found a place where NaNos could offer themselves up as characters for others to use in their writing. They would give as many details as they felt were needed and that they felt comfortable putting out there for the world. I found several that I thought I could use, so I copied the details down for later use. Most of these people just wanted to be told if they were used as the basis of a character and be given the chance to read all about their fictionalized selves if they were used. This was extremely interesting because many of the “characters” had details listed that I wouldn’t have thought of or have put together in the same person.
So, what about you? Are you a character? Would you want someone to fictionalize you? Where do you get the characters for your writing from? Do you write about the real people in your life, your family members or maybe the strangers you see at the mall? I have been known to sit in crowded public places watching the people and trying to imagine what they do for a living, what their relationship to the person they are with is or what sorts of trouble they have seen in their lives. Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to take photos of them so I could describe them better later on . Have you ever looked at the photos at peopleofwalmart.com? I have often wondered how those photos get taken without someone getting suspicious or angry about their privacy being invaded. Heck for all I know the photographer (and I use that term very loosely) walked up to the person and asked if they would mind having their picture taken. From what I have seen there, that scenario is entirely possible. I’ve thought of using some of those photos as inspiration for characters, but then talk myself out of it because they would never be believable characters. But then again, they are already real people, so I supposed there is no reason they wouldn’t make believable characters. Maybe I am just not imaginative enough to create the right setting and story for them to appear in.

September 1 2016

My Writer’s ToolBox

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No matter what task you plan to do, you must first gather the necessary tools to get the job done. Some would say all a writer needs is pen and paper, but I would have to disagree. I almost never write with pen and paper unless making a grocery list. Since I don’t really count grocery lists as writing, perhaps I should tell you about my writer’s toolbox and what tools I consider necessary to get the job done.

The most important tool for me is my computer. I currently use a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 as my portable computer. I chose it for the portability of it and the fact that is was not merely a tablet (though it can function as one). It is a full-fledged computer capable of running any computer software that I could run on a Windows desktop computer. It is very portable, and much lighter than any laptop I have used in the past. The battery life is so much better than any laptop anyone I know is using. While they must plug in to use their laptops for more than a few minutes, I can watch an entire movie without plugging in or write for hours. I rarely have to carry a cord with me unless I am traveling or going to a write-in for more than four hours, and even then I usually just put the cords in a zip-top bag and leave it in the car as a backup. It has a detachable keyboard that closes to protect it and thus acts as a cover. Oh, and my favorite thing about the keyboard, besides the fact that it comes in purple, is that the keyboard can be back-lit so I can type in the backseat of a darkened car or in a dimly lit bar. One less excuse not to write, right? Anyway, it took me a while to choose this laptop/tablet, but I am still happy with my choice even three years later. If it died tomorrow, I would replace it with whatever the latest version of the Surface Pro was at that time.

After the computer, my next most important and useful tool would have to be Scrivener. Scrivener is the most amazing writing software ever in my humble opinion. It helps me to stay focused and organized. You can learn all about it at https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php and if you want to try it before you buy it for $40 (for the Windows version) they have a free 30 days of use trial. That is not 30 days in a row, but thirty days of actually opening the software. I will be the first to admit that Scrivener can be a tad daunting to get familiar with, but there are tons of helpful tutorials on YouTube to help you learn the tips and tricks. My favorite tutorials are those by The Scrivener Coach, Joseph Michael. Scrivener can help you outline, research, write and publish. It can do so much more than I know how to do with it. I learn new ways to use it all the time.

I also find that using bluetooth headphones for writing while out in public to be essential. Gotta love the no cords thing and they can connect with either my phone or my computer. I actually have two pairs one that is a tiny set of earbuds and another that is much larger (less portable) but does a better job of blocking out the noise around me while listening to music.

Another important tool for me is music. I keep a decent selection on my phone and have a playlist without words for writing, because sometimes hearing words while I am writing is distracting. It is amazing how the speed of the music helps me write faster. One of the best songs to help get me to write fast is Dueling Banjos, because when the tempo picks up, I write faster, and this song keeps getting faster and faster. There is a huge variety of songs in my writing playlist and the only rule is, no words in that list
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Another tool in my Writer’s Toolbox is other writers. I have joined several groups that meet with varying frequency and purposes. One group gets together weekly to write. We have writing sprints where everyone is quiet and focused on writing for a set amount of time and then in between sprints we catch up on life events, talk about our novels and what we are struggling with, ideas for new projects and any difficulties we are having with our current work in progress. They are a fun group and sometimes that meeting time is the only writing I get done during the week.

I also need a Word Count Tracker of some sort because I am nerdy like that and need to see that I have made progress. I created a really cool one in Excel 5that is open on my computer almost all the time. I also share one that someone else created on Google Docs where we can check in and see how each member of the group is doing. The important thing about any word count tracker is remembering to actually use it.

I also include various writing craft books in my tool box. I don’t usually buy them, but rather check them out of the library and read the parts that pertain to whatever issue is causing me trouble at that time. I do have a few I have bought on my Nook and Kindle accounts, but I find that while I love to read fiction books in electronic format, I find that non-fiction books I prefer to read in the paper form.

While I don’t always carry my entire tool box around with me, I need all of my tools to write. Please let me know what you favorite writing craft books are. I would also love to know what is in YOUR writer’s tool box. (1,006 words)


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