Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Inspiration comes in many forms, mine required a cabinet

cream in pink and royal blue
So I am sitting at my kitchen table wondering what I am going to write this post about and feeling very uninspired.  I looked around, and well, inspiration was sitting right before my eyes. Maybe I had to look a little to the left, but it was right there.

A couple of years after my father passed away, my step-mother (essentially the only mother I have had) decided it was time to distribute the family china.  I sat there and realized I had been married nearly thirty years and not only did I not have a china cabinet, but I also owned just one piece of china, a nested tea set given to me by my Swedish grandmother for a wedding gift. 

My parents had two china cabinets and four sets of china from having both been married previously.  Additionally, they had each received sets from their own parents.  Suddenly I had a tea set and a 10-piece place setting plus various accouterments; the place settings were my mother's (she died when I was a baby), and the other was my grandmother's which had been given to my father when she was scaling down her quite sizable china collection. I had gone a long time without china and wasn't sure what I would do with them, perhaps leave them wrapped in tissue inside sturdy boxes.

My husband's solution was to take me looking for an appropriate display cabinet.  Nothing seemed to fit our taste nor our pocketbook which was not willing to stretch far for something we on our own would not have purchased.  We went to used furniture shops and then finally an antique shop where we found the right cabinet.  Once it and the china were brought together and placed in my kitchen, I learned what my unexpected possession was for.

pink ribbons and roses
Each day I have sat at the table drafting my second, third and now fourth book.  When I get stumped, I glance over at that piece of furniture, then through the curved glass doors of the hutch.  Those delicate cups, soup bowls and teapots always have something to share with me.  They provide glimpses of my mother and father as they selected the roses and ribbon pattern in cream and pink.  I imagine my father nodding at the one that made my mother's eyes fill with light.

Japanese tea
Or the tea set of Japanese porcelain glints beneath the shadow of the wood lattice. My grandmother was a solid Swedish lady who loved to make braided rugs, crochet, and knit.  Maybe it was the hand-painted cherry blossoms and ladies in kimonos which held her appreciation.  My grandfather died the year my husband and I married, and when she came to visit, she had her first opportunity to meet him.  She had suffered a stroke many years earlier and still struggled to speak.  I remember her puzzling out the means to say, "Good man," and she squeezed my hand.   Then from a box she pulled out that nested tea set and showed me how to properly display it.

My books don't have any tea sets in them, but they are filled with family love that is as delicate as china teacups bearing beautiful ladies in green kimonos and sweet bud roses on pink ribbons.

And that's my post.  Inspiration comes in many forms, and it is amazingly personal and can take up considerable room in one's life or kitchen.  What inspires you?  What gives you glimpses of the muse that feeds your writing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My life with dogs

Lovey - ready for any adventure

I have had several dogs in my life, all lovely ladies. Each has given me years of devotion, enthusiastic support, and a warm sympathetic shoulder.  This post honors the girls no longer with us along with the two that currently make our lives a delight.
KELLY: a standard red dachshund my father acquired at the local pound in Costa Mesa, California.  She was already grown and well-seasoned with experience around children or she would have run away upon entering a house with five kids under the age of seven and a quite settled cat.  All of us, including the cat, formed an instant attachment to her.  She endured being wrapped up to look like she was wearing a babushka, aka my baby brother's rather rangy blanket; carried about by my sisters and I with an arm wrapped about her upper torso and the rest dangling down to our knees; and numerous moves about the country (CA to MN to CA to PA to MA to NJ) all in less than four years). My strongest memory of that little lady occurred during a thunderstorm when I was eight.  The towering oak growing just outside our den was hit by lightening sending a twenty-foot-long, eight-inch in diameter limb to the ground where we normally kept our boat which had been moved to the backyard to undergo repairs (excellent timing for an engine update).  Our father was out on a date.  We spent the evening searching for Kelly.  It was a bit of a treasure hunt to us kids.  She'd been there in the den moments before the tree limb crashed to the ground.  We were moving to the upstairs to search further when our father arrived.  He kept telling us she would show herself when she was ready, but he followed us about on our search any way.  Found: Spare bedroom, armchair with skirting around the bottom, two white starred burgundy eyes reflected the flashlight we'd shown underneath it.  In that splash of light, those eyes wiggled and nearly sent us scurrying back down stairs.  My father caught us mid-scramble and checked under the chair to pull out Kelly who was fit to shake her bones out from inside her own skin.

She had style.
LADY:  a lab the color of milk chocolate who looked like a bear cub as a pup, pudgy, with hair that stood on end like fuzz.  She leaped off an overlook, by accident, of course.  She was jumping up to sit on the top of a low rock wall where my husband was standing looking down, and over she went, slipping due to the ice on the top.  She fell a good fifty feet and landed on the only section of dirt in a carved out rock ledge.  We  raced back to the house, located rope, a large side-open duffel bag and a warm blanket.  We skidded our way back through icy roads hoping she hadn't moved from the small ledge.  When we returned to the site, it had snowed in our absence of more than an hour.  (Yes, I should have stayed, but my husband was not about to leave me alone at an empty roadside overlook.)  We ran to the rock wall and looked over.  Neither of us could see any sign of her.  We screamed her name.  Imagine two people leaning over a wall yelling, "Lady! Hey, Lady."  Aw,  we can laugh now.  Suddenly, a small snow flurry appeared on the rock ledge below.  And there was our girl looking up at us. She was clearly stiff, cold and frightened.  We scrambled to tie off ropes and toss over the bag with its tether which I kept hold off, having nothing else to clutch as my husband preceded to repel down the cliff edge to get to her.  Mind you, he had never repelled in his life, but at 24 he felt fairly confident that day was not going to be his last.  She waited for him right up until she saw he intended to stuff her inside a bag and zipper it up.  She fought him with every fiber of her six-month-old canine body.  But she didn't know he was not going to waste his time nearly killing himself going down and then up a cliff without bringing back the spoils.  He won, then climbed back up.  I learned how to pray better that day.  Then the two of us pulled up the bag, unzipped it, pulled her out and wrapped her double in a blanket.  No broken bones, lots of little cuts and one sizable half moon slice in a foot that showed bone and tendons when lifted -- so stitches and a white bandage she was quite proud of was her only souvenir, that and a fear of heights.

Lovey - bathing beauty
LOVEY:  Lived to be fifteen years old, a deep chocolate Labrador, seventy-six pounds of solid rock.  She tangled with something in our back yard.  She had in a matter of two minutes managed to acquire a slice in her scalp that laid bare a good two inches of skull and two punctures in her chin.  I was about five months pregnant at the time and had college class to get to, but I hauled her off to the vet and left her sedated to get bandaged, and returned from class to pick her up.  The vet had found it necessary to shave the top of her round crown, trim tissue around the cut and stitch her up with fourteen stitches, fourteen very stiff, long black stitches which stood up from her head like a Mohawk haircut due to the tightness at which he had had to pulled the skin together. Her favorite activities were swimming, having shovelfuls of snow dumped on her while the driveway was cleared and running circles around my husband as he road his dirt bike.

Our girls today.
And now LACEY & CAGNEY:  One is a deep chocolate brown, nearly black Labrador, while the other is the palest of yellow labs.  They curl up like reverse image bookends, and we wonder if they choreograph their positioning.  The blonde loves the vet even though he is always treating her for allergies, while the other who hasn't a physical complaint to speak of acts like she is off to her death every time we go in for yearly shots.  She curls her toes so her steel-hard nails become ice skates then slips all over the vet's linoleum floor getting more and more out of control as she loses her balance and her grace while Cagney looks on as if to say, "Really, I can't take you anywhere."  Of course, this observation is coming from a Labrador that cannot traverse the back yard without checking for unfriendlies along every foot of the walkway.  Opposites, absolute opposites.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In search of the ideal timeline program

I have posted in the past about my search for my holy grail of keeping track of time travel in my novels, especially when the movement forward and back happens repeatedly.  My third book in the series is proving to be more complicated in movements than the second.  Mick and Em not only go back in time, but they find themselves making repeated jumps into the consecutive moments. And to make it more complicated, another character is moving back and forth as well as remaining stationary in No-time, yet still time is passing.  That does not sound clear in this simple writing, and it is more complicated when actually writing the story.

So I have selected and tried three different applications to keep track of time travel.  In this post I am going to evaluate these three based on the criteria of my ideal platform.

  1. A horizontal line on which I can assign dates (and create dates that don't yet exist) 
  2. Attach key points to them 
  3. Add little bubbles or boxes that connect to those points for summary or notes 
  4. Be able to close them up as I move along the timeline 
  5. Open them all up and see how it lays out.  
  6. Able to click on them and move them if I wish.  
  7. Have the program on my computer
  8. Print out the timeline
  9. Be capable of showing overlap of other novels, written and planned.
The three programs I have been working with are OneNote by Microsoft,  Timeline by The Timeline Authors available from SourceForge, and Padlet (formerly known as WallWisher) at

Using OneNote for keeping track of time travel events
OneNote as timeline
I have been using OneNote the longest and found it to have numerous qualities that have nothing to do with keeping track of a timeline.  It has proved extremely useful to me in other areas, namely keeping track of my research and publication information.  It has proved a fairly good "time" organizer though still not my ideal. Its proximity to all my other support materials is an important point though.  But that is not on my list of ideal qualities for a timeline. 
  • It does not provide a horizontal line or any line for that matter. But I can create a series of vertical boxes with time, setting and key plot points. (However, this is something any word processing program could do.)  
  • I can attach key points
  • I can add additional text boxes
  • These cannot be "closed"
  • Nor can they be "opened" at will
  • I can shuffle them about to reflect changes in the text
  • The program is on my computer and, in fact, came with the loaded programming.
  • I can print out my "timeline" easily without any format changes.  It looks the same on the computer desktop as it does in printed form.
  • It cannot overlap other timelines easily.  I could muscle it in, but it would be awfully awkward.
So out of the 9 ideals, it provides 5.  Score: 5/9

Timeline program for keeping track of past, current and future time
Timeline as timeline
The next timeline program I tried out was appropriately named Timeline.  I have only used it for about a week.

  • It does provide a horizontal line on which I can place time markers with my choice of dates, and it is not limited to history already lived. 
  • What is shown in the note is a title or short summary at best. 
  • It does provide secondary bubbles for additional information which can be fairly detailed.  A window pops up with several features, including attaching files and links.
  • The timeline itself can be stretched and squeezed, but the bubbles only appear when the cursor hovers over them. The timeline adjusts as the time is stretched or squeezed into a short time view.
  • The bubbles open as needed.
  • Movement of the events has proved problematic.   They can be easily adjusted along the line, but the notations also move unexpectedly to locations not intended.  Probably time and learned finesse will correct this, but the instructions are so limited that I spent a lot of time just trying everything to return a notation back to the spot I had it originally before it almost (clearly I had done something) spontaneously  moved.  Without clear instructions, trial and error rules the learning curve.
  • This is a freeware program, and I downloaded onto my computer without trouble.
  • The timeline can be printed out, but legibility was dependent upon how tightly they were scrunched or stretched out.  Could be a problem when scenes cover short amounts of time and the novel extends over a longer period of time.
  • Overlap of novel timelines is difficult.  I had to color code individuals to tell them apart and would have to do something similar for different books.  There are two features: categories and periods.  The descriptions of these was quite limited, so I am uncertain if it would be possible to designate categories as individual novels or if periods would be better.  When I tried using them, they appeared below the horizontal timeline and overlapped each other which interfered with the purpose I had determined I wanted to use them for.
Out of 9 ideals, it met  6 1/2.  Score: 6.5/9

Padlet as timetravel timeline
Padlet as timeline
I have made use of Padlet most recently and have spent about three days on it entering just the opening of book 1, the entirety of book 2 and the first five chapters of book 3.  Visually, it is the prettiest of the three with some interesting additions.  It feels the most like a wall of sticky notes, which is the manual ideal I wish I could do, but my husband has a sense of decor and sticky notes aren't fittin'.
  • Though it does not provide a built-in horizontal line, putting the little "stickies" in place just as I would on a wall created one easily.  I put my dates on the label of the sticky, but I could just as easily provide stickies as tiny markers at whatever interval I want.  I have added the option of several horizontals.  So book one as shown in the picture is furthest to the left with only two stickies at this time.  I plan to raise it up higher as the "wall' appears limitless in all directions.  Book two is next and is dropped lower.  Book three is two more steps down and because it has two plot lines occurring at the same time, it has two horizontal flow lines which will meet up later in the novel.
  • I can add additional information beneath the heading on the note. It has a red label at the top of the sticky and a secondary notes section beneath on the same sticky. The stickies can be lengthened horizontally or vertically.  I kept them fairly uniform in width and created a short hand summary format that covered the main points.
  • Rather than secondary bubbles, it does provide for inserted pictures (see my book covers), inserted internet media of any type (video, photo, doc, etc.) or use my computer camera to take a picture, bonuses not on my wish list.
  • You might say the sticky is the closed version.
  • A click on the note does bring up a full screen display of the note and attachments as well as means to post to Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, email and others.  Additionally, the wall itself can be stretched and shrunk with ease (especially so if you have a touch sensitive screen.)  Arrow keys move the view from note to note in the screen-sized view.
  • The stickies can be moved easily about the "wall."  If I could make a suggestion here, it would be to be able to move the notes in large groups rather than one at a time.  I have not found a means to do this, but perhaps that will come up.   The instructions do include sending requests for additional features.  So I will be asking for that one or instructions how to do it if it is already a feature.  The traditional drag and highlight has not worked.
  • This is not a downloadable program but is accessed and free at with login and password.   However, privacy settings are available making it public or completely private.
  • The file can be printed in pdf, csv or excel.  The printout does not look like the wall, but it has all the info that I have inserted.  Since I only added pictures of my covers, I cannot say what it does with other media links.
  • Overlapping of book is definitely practical and possible. I did it with three books and intend to do it with all seven.
How did this program fit my criteria?  Pretty well.  Of the 9 desired features, it had some version of 8.  Score: 8/9.

At this point, I prefer Padlet which to my knowledge is marketed more as an educational tool for students than for timeline creation, but it is highly adaptable, pretty, fun to use and it is so much like having a wall of sticky notes that I am looking forward to seeing how it continues to make keeping track of time travel plot points easy.

Let me know if you have found the perfect timeline program or if you see a criteria you would like me to apply to any one or more of these programs.

OneNote will continue to be my research and publications notes filing goto program.  It has been great with holding my notes for clothing over the centuries, cobbles stones, Boston Common, epidemics, etc. Keeping track of timeslines, .... nah.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Musing: If cars could fly...

Eyes open at all times
I have always been an advocate for the future of flying cars.  For many years my husband argued it was highly unlikely if not impossible.  In more recent years, he simply says it would be a nightmare.  So I am posting the positive and negatives of flying cars.  Feel free to add your two cents. I am curious which will outnumber the other.  As Shakespeare says, 'til my bad angle fires my good one out."


  • Unlimited direction:  Go anywhere simply by pointing your car in the direction of preference and pressing the pedal.
  • As the crow flies:  Forget about turning left and right.  Point A to point B will be the only concern.  Which way do I go, the only question.
  • Take in the View:  Imagine all the beauty of the drive.  Ladies, sorry, start wearing those bikini tops while you sunbathe.  There would be a need for wrap around windshields so that view would be BIG.
  • Talk about noise: What noise?  No road track rumble and rattle, just air foil silence.  And possibly a jet engine, but if you're fast enough, you can leave that behind, too.
  • More automation here we come:  Autopilot, auto-park, auto-liftoff,  auto-safety, auto-avoidance.
  • Faster, faster, faster - you get there faster.
  • Crossing the Border: Shucks, there will be no borders.  Head overseas, head across state, head north, south, what have you.  One can't put fences everywhere.
  • Good for your health:  no sharing air with carriers of the flu and other airborne illnesses.


  • Triple-sized rule book: Talk about student drivers.  Studying the handbook will be a two-year process and taking the TEST, yikes.
  • Going up?: Changing lanes means probably changing levels, and what does that mean?  Your not just looking left, right, front and back, but up and down.  Texting is a definite no, no.

  • More automation here we come:  What happens when it breaks or one of those pesky electrical problems no one can ever track down occurs?  Can't tell you how many cars my husband has installed toggle switches in to bypass various electrical issues.  Tough to steal our cars:  you have to know where all the switches are.
  • Phobias:  So you don't like heights?  How about giving control to an automaton.  How about all those cars flying just inches away, next door, overhead, below?  (Wrote a story about this: "A Good Argument," Gardens in the Cracks & Other Stories at Amazon and Smashwords.)
  • Color coding:  Blue, white, black, grey would be paint schemes that cars would not be allowed to have.  Probably dark brown, too; my chocolate lab is invisible in the dark faster than a black lab any day of the week.
  • What goes up must come down.  We're talking crash and burn.
  • The wallet: What is the cost?  What about insurance?
  • Teen factor:  What do they call that, barnstorming, buzzing their best friend's house?
  • Running out of gas: Don't let this happen on a date.
  • Looking under the hood:  Inspection takes all day.  "Honey, I am taking the car in for inspection -- be back tomorrow."
Want to add some more?  Maybe flying cars are not a good idea, but I bet someone will find ways to deal with these less desired features.  Tell me three times will come back into fashion.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Characterization, Star Trek and life challenges

Star Trek, Next Generation is one of my favorite shows, and my husband and I have been watching an episode every night while we eat dinner as we work our way through the seasons the show aired.  The early ones were still working on depth, characterization and purpose, but after the third year, the show got its legs under it.  I can view the same episode again and again and enjoy the interactions of characters that are distinctly different, driven by motivations individual and evolving.  What captures my attention most are the shows which focus on particular characters and their growth facing distressing or challenging situations.

Tonight we are watching the episode which has Captain Picard trying to understand why he left the ship.  As a second Picard arrives in a shuttle craft that is from six hours in the future, the original Picard wonders what would cause him to choose leaving the Enterprise when the result was the total destruction of the ship.  He is angry at the second Picard for leaving and surviving.  It causes him to question his integrity as a captain and his responsibility to his crew.

In the life of any individual, events take place which force one to evaluate, re-evaluate and respond to situations.  We question our choices based on our desires and attempt to see ourselves as truly as we can.  How we answer ourselves, how we evaluate our choices forces us to grow as people.  Characters we create must grow as well, question their choices based on their understanding of the reasons which caused them to select those choices.

This is the challenge I love to work on when I write.  It is also what causes me the most doubt.  It generates questions that I must answer if I want to understand what sort of growth is potentially possible in my characters.  Looking at characterization forces me to stay aware of the process of growth in my characters.

In the first book of my series, the main character Brent Garrett from the start was driven by his perception of his mother's expectations.  A part of me was always uncomfortable with this fact about him.  Why so driven by his mother's attempts to control and inspire his life choices?  He's a grown adult and should be past any dependency on what his mother wishes him to accomplish.  But that is only one part of his story just as our own lives are replete with challenges.  We don't get them one at a a time.  He doesn't either.  Still I had to examine my discomfort with his difficulties in order to understand his.

So when I look at my own life and consider the things that have driven my actions, I must confess that the loss of my mother when I was an infant played a strong factor in my wanting to emulate her.  And it had an even stronger influence on my efforts to make sure my father was proud of me.  At one point in my teenage life, I became aware that he gained me shortly before he lost his wife, my mother.  I did not stand a chance of replacing her.  I could only hope he would find my efforts to be the best I could adequate.

When I reached adulthood, I found that every time I visited my father, he attempted to place me back in a childhood role.  It wasn't until I had been married several years, spent numerous phone calls learning about his experience watching my mother die over a six month period while playing both father and mother to two small children that we grew beyond the loss together.  I hadn't seen him in four years, though we had talked on the phone regularly.  When I came to visit, it was to find he had suffered a heart attack while I was traveling the 1200 miles to get to my parents' home (he had remarried).  He was in the hospital and his perspective had gone through a tremendous change. 

The challenges I had gone through entering and growing in adulthood and his own brush with death had caused us both to change, to make new choices and to see ourselves and others in new ways.  So Brent had a perception of himself governed by his mother's expectations and desires for his "success."  Through book 1 and book 2 of my series Students of Jump, Brent reached adulthood and whether his mother was ready for him to grow beyond her wishes or not, he did.  Picard worked to understand the choices the second Picard made, and my father and I climbed over the wall that had divided us, interfering with our view of ourselves and our understanding of each other.

Yeah, that is what I like about writing -- seeing characters evolve as questions are generated and answered.  And evolving myself along the way.