Friday, December 30, 2005


In case you actually read the comments on this blog and don't understand half of them, you have to go to Mike Snyder's blog to get the other part of the story. No guarantee that you'll actually understand then, either, but at least you'll get a bigger picture.

And on to the big news, crit partner and good friend Jenny Cary has finished the rewrite of The Patriarch, the first book in a series on the Crockett family. Great job, Jenny! I'm proud of you!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Writer's Imagination

As writers we want to cultivate our imaginations. There are lots of ways to do this. Nearly every book on writing and creativity can tell you how. I usually don’t have a problem in this area. My imagination can run wild at the drop of a hat. Sometimes this isn’t a good thing.

Like when Peter was having surgery on his foot. What if he has some heart defect we don’t know about? What if he throws a blood clot? What if the anesthesiologist didn’t get a good night sleep and gives Peter the wrong dose? Notice all of these scenarios pretty much end in Peter’s death? Not a good thing. I seriously had to rein my brain in while I was in the waiting room.

On the other hand, some situations just lend themselves to good musings, especially for a suspense writer. Like what happened to me about six weeks ago. I was taking my daughter to a specialist (she’s been having some hearing problems) in the middle of the valley, nearly an hour away.

I get on the freeway and they’re doing construction, the concrete K-rails blocking the right shoulder. The person in front of me abruptly changes lanes. I see why.

Someone’s tire, rim and all, is sitting in my lane. I can’t get over either direction. I hit it. Immediately a grinding noise comes from the back and the steering gets squirrelly. Luckily, the car doesn’t slew too far out of control. The K-rails end so I can pull to the shoulder.

After telling my daughter to stay belted in, I get out to see the damage. I expect to see the backend of the minivan disintegrated. Nope, just the back tire, a gash through the sidewall and split wheel cover. No way it can be repaired.

I get back in and call AAA but it’ll be 90 minutes. Her appointment is in 30. She can’t miss it. I look in the back. There’s the spare and the jack. Okay, looks like I’m changing the tire.

Of course I’m wearing nice clothes.

I get the tire and jack out, looking pointedly at the cars passing me on the freeway. Hello, helpless female here. Is chivalry dead? Okay, I’m not really helpless; I can change a tire. But I don’t want to. I really don’t want to mess up my clothes.

I sigh and resign myself to changing the tire. And while I’m doing this, I’m thinking, “Hmm, I’m very vulnerable here.” And I start wondering how I could use this. The villain could do something to cause the heroine’s tire to go flat, either through sabotage or by putting something in the road.

I get a couple lug nuts off as I mull this over. Then I look at the tire iron. It would be a great weapon. It’s got this little hinge on the end. It’s mostly straight, but the socket that fits on the lug nuts connects to the bar with a hinge. This is so you can get the lug nuts at any angle, but can only turn the bar 180 degrees without having to pull it back in the other direction.

So I’m thinking, okay. A villain does something so my heroine has a flat tire in a very inopportune place. Maybe she’s in a bad cell area. Then, when she’s bent over, changing the tire, with no method of escape other than on foot, he comes after her.

Aha, but she’s got the tire iron. She can swing it and that little hinge piece will work like the end of a whip, cracking him across the temple. Even if he brings his arm up to block her blow, she’ll still break his wrist. Either way, it works.

I’m contemplating this as the last lug nut pops free. Then, someone drives up. I’m wary. But I’ve got my tire iron. It’s a minivan, though, the same make as mine. Not sure too many criminal masterminds drive minivans.

The guy gets out.

I say, “Hey, I needed you here five minutes ago. Before I got the lug nuts off.”

He doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t think I’m funny.

Well, bummer. Anyhow, he gets the spare tire on, one of those mini tires that you’re not supposed to drive very fast or very far on. He’s also got a better tire iron in his car, the kind you can spin. So he gets the lug nuts back on faster. Five minutes and he’s done.

I thank him and we leave. I wipe my hands on the ubiquitous fast food napkins in my car. Aside from some grit in my sandals, I didn’t get dirty. My daughter makes her appointment, only five minutes late. And I have a nugget that might actually make its way into a book.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas, Arizona

Yes, there is a town called Christmas, Arizona. Or was. It’s a ghost town now. But when I ran across an article this week in the East Valley Tribune about this town, well, given that I’m a writer in Arizona with a degree in history, and it’s Christmas this week (okay, technically next week) I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about it. Dang, that’s a long sentence.

So, what does the Tiszai family do for fun? We drive 80 miles to find this.

What made it more interesting is that DPS pulled up as I was taking the picture. DPS is the Department of Public Safety, the Arizona equivalent of highway patrol or state troopers. Just as I was getting ready to explain what the heck I was doing—and trying to figure out how to make it sound, well, not crazy—he pulled away. I guess he just figured we were weird city folk. He’s right about the weird part anyway.

Okay, so now that I’ve piqued your interest, don’t you want to know why we drove out there? Do we need a reason?

Christmas is at the southern tip of the Dripping Springs Mountains. It was a mining town, founded in 1902 when a prospector named George Chittenden petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt to redraw the boundaries of the Apache reservation so this mine would be outside of reservation property. On Christmas Eve, Chittenden got the news that the president had issued an executive order doing just that. Chittenden staked his claim Christmas Day and named the town after it.

Christmas had its heyday in the 20s and 30s when nearly a thousand people called Christmas home, mostly making their living from the rich veins of copper running under the town. Copper was king, bringing in as much as $41.80 a pound (it’s around $2 now). The town even had real electricity, at least for an hour, every other day. The Christmas mine was making it all happen, producing 500 million pounds of ore during its lifetime.

Of course the post office was always a popular place this time of year when people from all over the United States would send their Christmas cards to get postmarked from Christmas, Arizona. The post office closed in 1935. But even until the 1950s, mail would still come looking for that holiday postmark. Of course it just got hauled to the un-festive town of Winkleman. Which we drove through, and frankly, it looks like it’s just one step away from being a ghost town itself.

Boring bibliographical stuff (if you’re interested):
“Yes, Arizona there was a Christmas: Mining town yields only memories these days,” by Barbara Yost, The Arizona Republic, Dec. 6, 2005

So have a very Merry Christmas, even if it’s not from Christmas, Arizona.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Okay, I’m taking this opportunity to brag a little on a couple of people, my two “mentees.”

Malia Spencer wrote a really neat paper comparing Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method with traditional rhetorical stages. It was a college-level final project for a rhetoric class at the University of Hawaii, and along with the illustrious Randy Ingermanson, she quoted me! She got a B and the professor had glowing things to say about it. Mostly due, I’m sure, to Malia’s writing and not so much to her quoting me. Though, I think it’s one of the few times I’ve seen myself quoted. Have to admit, it’s pretty cool. You can check it out here. Click on the links on the left to navigate the site. I’m specifically mentioned in the freshman and senior sections (yep, that was a blatant plug for me. Gotta take what I can get at this point.). Pretty nice to have someone say nice things about you publicly. Made me cry. Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t take much. Okay, enough blubbering. You can check out Malia’s blog here where this week she’s talking about some of the stuff she learned in her writing classes.

And, my other “mentee” Sabrina Butcher, just finished the first draft of her first book. I’m so proud! It’s a great thing to finish a book yourself. It’s still really cool to help someone else through the process. Both she and Malia have learned and grown so much, just since April. Unbelievable. I just kind of stand around and watch.

When I agreed to be a mentor, it wasn’t because I thought I had much to offer. I’m not published yet, I could be completely off-base with anything I say. I just remembered what it was like to decide to become a serious writer and have absolutely no clue how to go about it and to not know anyone who did. So, I figured I could share what I know, give my opinions (which are numerous) and be a listening ear. Didn’t expect to make two close friends.

And on the subject of bragging, I can proudly say that this year’s bragging rights for hiding/finding Christmas gifts goes to me. Usually Peter wins. I’ll do something stupid like leave a receipt out, or he’ll stumble over his gifts somewhere in the closet. And I never find what he gets for me, used to be because it was locked in the trunk of his car. Well, now he has a work truck and can’t do that, so I found my present today while I was looking for a video on top of a bookshelf. It was wrapped, but I have an idea what it was. If you’ve read the end of Witness, it’s from the same store Kyle buys Heather’s gift. Who knew my husband paid so much attention to my writing? And I managed to hide the receipts and wrap his presents without his finding them. So I swept the contest this year. Probably will be the only time that will happen.

And lucky you. You’ll get three posts from me this week. I’m hoping to post Friday or Saturday on the results of our road trip to Christmas, Arizona. Should be fun. Might even have pictures.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I'm Not Mrs. Incredible

I loved the fact that in the movie The Incredibles the superpower they gave to the mom was super elasticity. It seemed like such a mom thing, like juggling five things at once. I’ve been thinking a lot about stretching myself lately, doing it kicking and screaming. It’s easy to get to a point where you get comfortable, get in a groove, and then getting out of it is like breaking away from quick-setting cement. (And I know what I’m talking about. My last household project involved quick-setting cement that ended up setting too quickly. Yeah, we won’t talk about that.) Now, granted, Peter and I have spent the last three years living out of our comfort zone, so when things kind of mellowed out a bit the last six months, I was all for it. Yeah, guess God had other ideas.

I had planned to take December off from writing, thinking I needed a break. But after a couple of weeks, I find myself missing the creative stimulation. And, boy, you don’t want to be around my house when I’m in need of creative stimulation. I create, uh, let’s call them projects. And since my husband is still recovering from foot surgery and unable to bail me out of my creative endeavors, I had to find something less dangerous, or less messy, to do.

So a friend (yeah, you know who you are—you can out yourself in the comments if you want) suggested I write a short story. Now, I have completely dismissed the idea that I can write short stories. I don’t do anything short (remember that list of things I can’t do from the seven sevens?). The ones I wrote in college were terrible.

But the more I thought about the idea, the more I figured I should try it. Like in other areas of my life, my writing had found its groove. I’d found what I liked to write and stuck to it. Nothing wrong with that. However, one thing I liked about my writing classes in college was that they made me write what I didn’t want to, what I wasn’t comfortable doing. Since college—a distant memory—I haven’t forced myself to stretch, to write something I know will suck. To quite frankly, fail. Did I mention I hate to fail? So what the heck was I thinking in becoming a writer? Or a mom, for that matter?

The idea of writing just for fun, just playing around with characters and words without worrying about how it fits into the plot really appealed to me. I could plop my characters into a situation and see what happens. I could borrow characters (and animals) from my friends’ WIPs. Maybe I’d end up with nothing. But maybe, I’d get something I could use. Maybe my characters would do one of those weird and quirky things characters do that surprise you. Guess what? I found out Sarah wears contacts. Didn’t know that before today.

So I’ve written five pages. It’s not a short story. It’s not even a scene. But it’s a start. I’ve stretched just a little bit.

And it’s okay if it sucks.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Before we get to our regularly scheduled program, I have a brief announcement to make. Infuze Magazine is running a contest on their site for the best short stories of 2005. Not sure how much longer the poll is going to be up, but go on over and vote if you haven’t already. There are a lot of good short stories there. I think I’ve read nearly all of them. Of course I voted for Michael Snyder’s “My Name is Russell Fink.” Not just because he’s an awesome crit partner, but because it truly was the best story. So, spend an afternoon reading some really great short fiction, or, if you don’t have time, just take my word for which one’s the best ;)

Okay, the title of this post could be a slight exaggeration. Arizona doesn’t look a whole lot different around Christmas than it does in say, July. Just more lights on people’s houses. But because Dineen requested it, and I aim to please, here are some pictures of Arizona. And really, since this blog is called Sonoran Saga, y’all might want more of the Sonoran than the saga anyway.

This is Sedona, about two hours north of us. It's known for its red rocks and vortexes. Not sure what vortexes are, but New Agers seem to love them. If you can get past all the weird New Age stuff up there, it's a beautiful place and there are a lot of great hiking trails. These pictures were taken last January. Some friends of ours couldn't use their timeshare up there and kindly donated a night to us.

There had just been a huge rainstorm with a lot of flooding, so was darker, damper and colder than usual. Still, a lot of fun. And I discovered hiking is a great way to wear out my son. Sorry the pictures aren't better quality but I didn't want them to take forever to load.

This one I took about half an hour from our house. It's the backside of the Superstition Mountains, which I can see from my backyard. The Apache Trail is a really cool drive that goes behind the Superstition Mountains, meets up with the Salt River, and eventually ends up at the Roosevelt Dam. Parts of the scenery on the drive look like a miniature Grand Canyon.

Our house is looking more Christmas-y. We put up our tree this week. It’s fake but it’s the only kind we can have with our allergies and asthma. It’s a pre-lit one, and I have to say I really like not messing with the lights every year.

This is the first year my son is actually delighted with all the tiny ornaments instead of constantly undecorating them. Of course he also finds it’s a perfect cover for covert operations. I caught him low-crawling under it. “I gotta shoot the bad guys,” he says, firing away with the camel from the nativity scene as the gun.

“There’s no bad guys in the Christmas tree,” I tell him. “They’re not allowed. It’s against the rules.”

He seems to buy this, and he and his deadly camel head upstairs to the playroom. A few minutes later, he’s back downstairs and two of the wise men are engaged in mortal combat.

I’m glad this is the PlayMobile version of the nativity instead of the porcelain one on the mantel. And somehow, I’m thinking the Advent readings we’ve been doing aren’t quite hitting home with my four year old.

Did I mention I’m DONE with all my Christmas shopping? I still need to wrap presents, and I’m waiting for a shipment from Amazon, and have a few finishing touches on a couple of things, but all the crowd fighting is done. I can now relax and enjoy Christmas.

AND, I can tackle my to-be-read stack that’s threatening to topple over.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Tag, I'm It

Okay, thanks to Mike Synder , I've been tagged to play seven sevens. So here's my list. You know, doesn't thinking qualify as labor on the Sabbath? Okay, okay, we won't be legalistic here. Still, friends don't make friends think when they're tired. :) Consider that fair warning for whatever nonsense might follow.

Seven Things to Do Before I Die

1. Write a book I'm actually happy with (I'd love to say get published, but that's not something I can do)
2. Go to Europe
3. Go to the Holy Land
4. See my kids get married and have their own kids (now that would be justice)
5. Find time to finish all the projects I start
6. Learn to play another instrument
7. Tour the United States in an RV and see all the places I've only read about

Seven Things I Cannot Do

I cannot...
1. Give a short answer to a question (anyone who I e-mail can testify to this)
2. Stand still with my eyes closed without toppling over
3. Resist at least thinking a sarcastic remark when someone says something completely inane. And sometimes I utter it.
4. Go anywhere without a book
5. Sit still for any length of time
6. Jump out of a perfectly good airplane
7. Manage to NOT sing in the car. And sometimes the grocery store.

Seven Things that Attract Me to My Husband

1. His gorgeous eyes
2. His cute smile
3. He thinks I'm funny (both ha ha and the weird kind) and loves me anyway
4. He listens to me talk. For a really long time :)
5. He's a great father.
6. He reads my writing and actually has constructive things to say
7. He unconditionally supports my writing and does amazing things to make it happen

Seven Things I Say Most Often

1. Really
2. That's going to leave a bruise (on me, not my kids)
3. Get down from there.
4. Get out of the (cupboards, refrigerator, pantry, dog's bowl, cat box, toilet)
5. Leave your sister alone (can you tell I have a very active boy?)
6. This sucks
7. Good job.
8. Where's my Diet Coke? I need more Diet Coke. Are we out? Again?

Seven Books I Love

Okay this really isn't a fair question. It totally depends on what mood I'm in. Do I want something fun? Light? Serious? Scary? Something so well-written I'll give up ever being that good of a writer? Did I also mention I have a sieve for a brain? I can't remember what I read last week. Okay, how about I just make this a random list of books I like that I can remember off the top of my head? Did you see my answer about my inability to give a short answer?
1. The Anne of Green Gables series
2. Little Women
3. Anything Shakespeare (plays and sonnets)
4. Dee Henderson's O'Malley and Uncommon Heroes series
5. Terri Blackstock's Cape Refuge series
6. Peace Like a River
7. Okay, seems logical to put the Bible here, but to me that's kind of like saying I love oxygen and water. Pretty much a necessity. And probably a bunch of other books that if I'd just get up out of this chair and walk over to the bookshelves ... oh forget it.
* Ooh, almost forgot. It's not in print yet, but some of the best stuff I've read in a while. My Name is Russell Fink. Now what was the author's name? Hmm. Mike somebody? :)

Seven Movies I Would Watch Over and Over Again
By necessity, if I want to see a complete movie, I generally have to watch it over and over again because of the interruptions. I'm glad this question didn't say Seven Movies I HAVE Watched Over and Over Again, because they'd be mostly kids' movies. The background video to my life :)
1. Help! I can't even think of seven movies I like. And I don't generally like watching movies over again, though I do read books over again. Partly that brain-is-a-sieve thing. Partly cuz I don't get out much. Lots of sympathy here, please.
2. Okay, Ocean's Eleven was good. Didn't see the twist coming which is always a good thing.
3. Bourne Identity (nice plot)
4. Bourne Supremacy (Matt Damon's cute)
5. Merchant and Ivory films, mostly because I can't remember what happened in any of them outside of the fact that Helena Bonham Carter is in them and the costuming is good.
6. BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Do like that one a lot
7. Remains of the Day. Liked that a lot.

Seven People I Want to Join in Too

1. Jenny Cary
2. Diana Brandmeyer
3. Julie Lessman
4. Paula Moldenhauer
5. Peg Rose
6. Malia Spencer
7. Sabrina Butcher