Thursday, June 30, 2011

7 Life Lessons From a Bulldog

After reading 10 Things I've Learned About Writing by Walking My Dog on the Tartan Ink blog, I was inspired to write down some things I learned growing up with my dog Spike. You'll see, he was really smart.

Other than the obvious "When someone's trying to take your toy, clamp down and don't let go no matter what," here are a few other lessons from Spike:

Spike's "school picture"
1. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't succeed. Dogs can't climb trees, but Spike didn't now that. When I was playing in the tree house and Spike wanted up there, pretty soon I'd see him climbing up. I'm not sure why he wanted up there so badly, since he'd just sit there while I played spaceship or Nancy Drew, but that's what he wanted, so he found a way. You may have to work harder than others who seem to achieve their goals faster and with less effort (like cats), but you can get there.

2. But accept help when you need it. He wasn't able to climb down the tree, so someone would have to carry him down. He knew he'd fall if he tried it himself. Don't try to be so independent that you hurtle to the ground and land on your face.

3. People can tell you're not being sincere. If Spike wanted sympathy, he'd start this fake panting thing like he was suddenly exhausted. Be authentic in everything you do, so you'll never have to hear, "Cut it out, faker. You've been chewing on a rubber hot dog and napping all day."

Just look at the joy on his face. You can't fake that.
4. Be optimistic, but accept that there will be storms. When Spike saw rain out the front door, he'd turn around and run to the back door to see if it was raining out there too. Then he'd go hide under the bed. It's good to hope for the best, but we're all going to have things happen that make us want to crawl under the bed sometimes.

5. We can see you. He also hid when it was bath time. He wasn't hard to find, since we could see his butt sticking out from under the bed. Be yourself, but be aware that people can see what you're doing and that the Internet is a public place. Don't show your butt. Figuratively speaking. Also literally speaking.

5. Celebrate the small things. If Spike heard the word "walk," he'd grab his leash and dance around with it until we could catch him and put the leash on him to go out. He'd do quite a dance if given a piece of bacon, too. Be sure to stop and do the bacon dance.

6. Take care of your friends. Spike knew how to comfort someone who needed it. Especially my sister Lisa, who's the youngest. Like if she was crying because someone told her that her name used to be Gruselda and that our parents found her in the street, for example, Spike would go sit next to her and lick her face. (I can't believe he took her side. That was pretty damn funny.) You don't have to crawl onto your friends' laps and lick their faces, but you get the idea. Take care of each other, and reach out to someone who needs a friend.

7. Take naps. No explanation needed.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

That's What (S)he said: Weekly Round-Up

I was planning on doing a post this week about all the awesome book covers that Apocalypsies members have been able to share lately, but Kimberly Sabatini did it so well that I'll just point everyone to her post! It's so exciting to see everyone's covers. (And I just got my first email from my editor last week about what kinds of book covers I like, so hopefully I'll see some cover art soon!)

I've done a couple of posts about Twitter--a tweetorial and one about lists--but I'm always finding things I didn't know. Galleycat had an article this week about the best times to post on Twitter, and I found some of it surprising, like that weekends are a good time to tweet. I don't usually tweet much on the weekends because it seems like Twitter's pretty slow then.

And in "News I find really weird and amusing," Anthony Weiner isn't the only one getting in trouble for sexting lately--even the Amish are getting in on the action. I can't help wondering what would bring about the shunning first--sending the naughty messages or sending them via cell phone. Am I wrong to be sort of impressed that an Amish guy figured out how to obtain and use a camera phone? Now I'm dying to see a bumper sticker that reads, "If this buggy's a-rockin', don't ye come a-knockin'."

Speaking of bumper stickers, I saw this one a few days ago:

Well, good to know they're not eating a cheeseburger inside the giant SUV.

And speaking of cows, here's a really smart one leading a bovine Great Escape:

For my weekly posts I'll start including some book recommendations. It seems like every day lately I've been reading a real book, an e-book, and listening to an audiobook in the car. Earlier this year I wrote about wanting to listen to more audiobooks, and I've found that they're a great way for me to catch up on some books I hadn't read when they were first released. (I'm not cleaning my house more often like I'd predicted, though.) Now I'm listening to Pretties, the second book in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. Last week I listened to Elizabeth Scott's Something, Maybe, and loved that one too--nicely flawed characters in a story I didn't want to end. Loaded on the Kindle app on the iPhone now is P.J. Hoover's fabulous novel Solstice, (Persephone in a global warming crisis). Favorites I've read in book form lately are Ashes by Ilsa Bick and The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab (who should give workshops on how to pick the best words to create the perfect image.) Those books aren't out just yet, but look for them when they're released later this year.

And how do you like my adorable new blog banner? The custom banner was an item I won in the Help Write Now auction, from Jessica of Urraca Studios. I keep looking at it like it's a new baby.

Have a great week, everyone!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

You're Not From Around Here, Are You?

Being from Texas means you sometimes have to explain things other people don't understand.

Like that armadillos are ususally seen like this:

...because this is how they react when they're frightened. Like by an oncoming car, for example:

Some things here don't need much explanation because they're found in other southern states too, like rabid high school football fans or chicken-fried steak. But I haven't met anyone outside of Texas who understands what homecoming mums are.

They're hard to describe, really. Yes, they're like giant corsages, but they're much more than that. They have lots of...stuff on them. Imagine rolling around in glue before pillaging a craft store. That's sort of what you look like wearing a mum. If it's a good one, I mean.

The young adult novel, REASONS FOR LEAVING, I've been working on takes place in a suburb of Houston, during most of a school year. I realized after writing the first draft that I'd said nothing about homecoming. That wouldn't do. I had to have homecoming. And homecoming means mums. Because they are hard to describe to those who haven't seen them, I emailed my agent with some pictures from my daughter's homecoming to let her know, "Here's what I'm talking about."

If you look closely, you can see that there are chrysanthemums in those arrangements somewhere. The girls wear these to school on Friday and to the homecoming game on Friday night. Attaching one of these with a corsage pin would just tear your shirt right off of you, so they're worn with ribbon harnesses like giant necklaces. But the girls aren't the only ones lugging around steroid-laced flower arrangements:

Yep, those are guys. They often use ribbon harnesses too--their mums are attached to garters they wear around their arms, but the arrangements have become so elaborate they'd slip off from the weight of them, landing on the floor in a heap of ribbons, plastic footballs, and teddy bears adorned with blinking lights. And no one wants to see that.

So, now you know what mums are! The challenge in the story will be describing them in a way that will be clear to readers unfamiliar with the tradition, without going on so much that the description seems unnatural or boring.

Any of you have something like that in a manuscript you've written--something that's perfectly clear to you, but that people outside of your state or area just don't get? How did you describe it so it seemed like a natural part of your story, and not like info dump stuck in there for the benefit of the reader?

There's deep-fried Mountain Dew in the novel too, but of course that makes perfect sense.

Monday, June 20, 2011

All I Really Needed To Know I Learned From Elephants

Elephants have always been my favorite animal, but when I was doing research for CHAINED I learned a lot of cool things about them I didn't know before.

This weekend I went to the Houston Zoo's Elephant Open House. I'd gone to the event before, but I always love getting a closer look at the elephants and watching how they interact with one another.

They seem to be really smart, so here are some lessons from the elephants!

Don't try to do it all yourself
Elephants are very protective of their calves, but they aren't frazzled moms trying to take care of everything alone. All the elephants in the herd help take care of the babies.

New baby elephant at Chester Zoo

Be loyal to your friends
Hapoor Dam Meet & Greet
Elephants develop lifelong friendships, and even remember friends they haven't seen for years. And your friends don't have to look like you, right? I think Maximus the Elephant Dog gets as much attention as the elephants do during the open house events. And when Bella the dog was recovering from a spinal cord injury in the office of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennesee, her buddy Tarra hung around outside the office the whole time instead of wandering around the grounds as usual.

...and remember those who came before you
I find this fascinating--elephants are really interested in the bones of other elephants. If they come across elephant bones they'll often pick them up or touch them with their trunks. Researchers have given elephants the bones of other animals to see if they'll respond the same way, but they show interest in only the elephant bones. I'd love to know what they're thinking!

Discovery News

Eat what you'd like, but get plenty of exercise
Asian elephants in the wild eat about 650 pounds of food a day, but they're working for it by walking around almost all day long. Of course, food is readily available the zoo, so they don't have to go around looking for it. The Houston zoo elephants have a pretty big yard to walk around in (soon to be a much bigger yard), but since they're not walking for miles and miles each day, they eat about 100 pounds of food. (But somehow poop 150 pounds).

Make that long-distance call
Elephants use infrasonic communication to talk to elephants who are far away. Some of the sounds they make are too low for us to hear, but an elephant a couple of miles away will respond to these sounds that they hear or feel with their feet.

Take time out for yourself
Here's a lesson from the bulls, really. The female elephants stick together in a herd, but the male elephants keep to themselves most of the time. You don't have to run off to the jungle and live on leaves, but I think it's good to take a little time away from everyone and have some quiet time alone.

African bull elephant
Wear sunscreen
After a bath, an elephant usually rolls around in the dirt. It seems counterproductive, but they know what they're doing--the dirt protects them from bug bites and acts as a sunscreen. Plus, it looks like a lot of fun, which as elephants know, is also important.

Bath time joy
Speaking of bath time, here's a video I made of Tess and her daughter Tupelo at the open house. Remember to get plenty of water, everyone--it's hot out there!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Twitter Lists: How To Follow a Buttload of People If You Want To

Hi people! It's been a couple weeks since I've blogged because I've been in a bit of a revision cave-- but now the edits are done! Got the email today letting me know that CHAINED is off to the copyeditor. I'm also recovering from revision arm (like tennis elbow, but dorkier), so I'm limiting my computer time for now, but wanted to take a break from the heating pad and the happy dance to do a blog post about Twitter lists.

Before that, I'll point you to this Twitter tutorial I did in case you're fairly new to Twitter or haven't used it much and would like some help getting started.

I follow a bunch of people on Twitter, and some folks wonder how I follow so many. I've even had a problem lately with Twitter capping the limit-- I can't have more than 2000 people until I get over 2000 followers myself. But I'm able to organize my followers and actually follow a lot more than 2000 by using Twitter lists.

Of course I don't see every tweet of all those 2000+ people, but I like to follow back most people who follow me if they're writers, book people, otherwise funny or entertaining, and not naked or creepy.

But that means the list gets pretty long. If you find your following list is getting too unwieldy, break it up into smaller lists if you haven't yet. At the top of your page, click the "Lists" tab:

From there you can create a new list and decide whether you want it to be public or private. If you don't mind everyone seeing who's on your list and following along too, make it public, but if you have something like "My favorite people" or "People I follow but don't like very much," for example, you can opt to make those private to avoid any hurt feelings. Look at all the people you're following and click the little person-looking icon to add them to a list (or more than one list).

Now, when you select that list from the drop-down menu, only the tweets of the people on that list will show up.

You can also add someone to a list from their profile. Again, click on the little person, then "Add to list:"

You can add someone to a list whether you're following them or not; this is what will allow you to "follow" more people than you're officially following. They won't show up in your regular timeline, but their tweets will show up on that list just like anyone else's.

One thing I did when I found I was getting close to Twitter's new 2000-follower limit was to unfollow all the celebrities I'd been following in order to save space. I didn't want to unfollow my writer friends or people I know in real life, but it's not like Neil Patrick Harris would be offended that I unfollowed him. When I unfollowed them, I added them to a new "celebs" list I created. I did the same thing for news organizations: unfollowed, then put them on a list.

Since I use Tweetdeck, I can add a new column for each list (by clicking the plus sign at the top left). So now I always see the columns for the people I follow:

And, if I scroll across the page, I see the columns of people I'm not following but have on lists:

The users there show up just the same as the users I'm really following. (That last one is my "People I want to follow" list, where I add people I do want to follow when I'm able to.)

You can add as many columns as you want to make your following list more manageable or to thwart Twitter's follow limit. Mwoohoohoohahaha!

For more cool Twitter things, see this article, 6 Little Know, Highly Useful Features of I thought I was so Twitter-smart, but I only knew the one about changing your Twitter name.

Now I'd better sign off before I add blogger injury to my revision arm.