Crochet: Keeping Fingers Busy

A girl can’t spend all her time behind a keyboard.  It’s just not healthy.  The day job puts me behind a computer for 8-10 hours five days a week and then writing books keeps me several more hours behind a keyboard.  There are times you just gotta take a break. But my problem is that I need to keep my fingers busy.  They’ve got to be doing something all the time for they get restless and bored… and that’s never a good thing.  During the past few years, I’ve gotten back into crochet.

I’ve always been a crafty person (grin), but then I grew up in a family of crafty women.  My mom made clothes for the kids in the family and patchwork quilts for new babies, which involved embroidery. My aunt also liked to make quilts and she crocheted.  My grandmother taught me to knit. My mom taught me to crochet, cross stitch, and embroider.  While I would still be considered a beginner to intermediate at all those things, I do like to create something pretty with my hands on occasion — particularly during the winter.

pumpkinThis year, I’ve been experimenting with new patterns.  I’ve made a few beanie hats that will likely be shipped to family up north since there isn’t much call for them in South Florida.  But I’ve recently started making some more random things.  I made a pumpkin that I thought turned out pretty darn cool.  It’s the first time I’ve made anything that required stuffing.  My husband has enjoyed throwing the pumpkin at people.

I also tried an apple but it didn’t take shape as I’d hoped.  It kind of looks like an appleapple but it also looks like an oversized strawberry, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but just not what I was aiming for. The food patterns were all part of a Thanksgiving cornucopia, which also includes squash, corn, and eggplant.  I am thinking of making all the various foods just for the fun of it.

snowmanBeing as it’s winter and Christmas is closing in, I switched gears to try to crochet a snowman. The first one turned out pretty good.  Right now, she’s just missing her hat, which I’m still working on. We have also purchased glue-on googly eyes, which I think will set the snowman off just right.

In fact, the snowman turned out so nice, my husband put in a request for one. I finished him Bengals snowmanlast night.  As you can see, he got a Cincinnati Bengals fan snowman. We are running this afternoon to get glue so we can affix his eyes in time for him to watch the game on Sunday. After I finish working on my food and the snowman series, I think I’m going to shift gears and get back to the zigzag afghan that I started last month.

holiday traditions

Holiday Traditions

People have a habit of establishing a variety of traditions over the holiday season. When I was living in Cincinnati, my family and I would always go to the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights and the beautiful displays at the Krohn Conservatory. And the icing on the cake was the Nutcracker performance by the Cincinnati Ballet.

Disney TreeMy husband and I are now Floridians, and we’re searching for new holiday traditions. We tried going to Walt Disney World before Christmas and discovered something very important: Don’t go on the last weekend before Christmas.  The park was PACKED.  I guess there are a lot of people  who would like to spend the holiday with Mickey Mouse and warm weather. We didn’t stick around until dark to see the lights but enjoyed the rides and the decorations for the first five hours — before the crowds became too insane.   But we’ll be back next year to see the Christmas parade and decorations; we’ll just be going in November rather than December.  We’re also planning to return in January when I’ve heard rumor that the park is at its slowest. Yeah, there’s benefits to owning an annual pass.

We’re also searching for some other traditions.  I am aiming to find another TomorrowlandNutcracker performance by the local ballet corp.  For me, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I’ve seen the dance of the sugarplum fairies.  I’ve also heard that Ft. Lauderdale has this parade of boats that are all lit with Christmas lights.

But some of my favorite holiday traditions are the small ones.  I love decorating the Christmas tree and seeing all the ornaments that I’ve collected over the years.  I love watching White Christmas for the first time each season and baking cookies. This year, I make peanut butter cookies and snickerdoodles with chocolate chips. They turned out pretty darn cool.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and a great start to the New Year.

Before You Write: Study What You Love

Recently, I’ve talked about avoiding writer’s block through plot outlines and then I told you a good way to make a plot outline.  Now I’m taking a step backward.  Well, a lot farther backward, before the plot outline.  You’re thinking of a book you want to write.  Maybe you’ve got a character in mind or just the conflict. Maybe you know only that you want to write a book in a specific genre such as a space opera or a Colonial American historical romance.

The point is: You’re in the planning stage.

You’re still figuring out who the characters are.  Why they are going on this journey?  Why do they care at all?

I’ve started toying with a new idea for a story, and I already know that it’s going to have a very long planning phase.  I’m going to create pages of character sketches, world essays and notes, and even more character backstory notes before I even start writing the book.

As I’m creating my characters and the world they will inhabit, I’m also going to take some time to dissect some of the stories and characters I’ve come to love during the past several years.  The point isn’t to replicate something else someone has done well but to understand why it worked, why it reached the audience, why you loved it in the first place.  Is there something you can learn from someone else’s success that you can apply to your own work?

Let’s look at a couple examples very quickly.

The Doctor

A few months ago, some friends introduced me to Doctor Who. After the first couple episodes, I thought it was cute and okay.  By the end of the first season, I was absolutely addicted. I’ve spent an insane amount of time crying at the episodes and the other small part of the time cheering.  They are full of whimsy and strangeness, where the unexpected regularly happens.

I’ve spent an insane amount of time trying to figure out why I love the series.  The stories are good, but not ground breaking.  All the characters are interesting.  I think it comes down to one thing.

  1. Whimsy vs. Profound

The writers of the plots have established an amazing balance when writing their scripts.  For the most part, the vast majority of the scripts and actions are exciting and whimsical.  Even when the characters are running for their lives, they maintain a happy sense of adventure.  But it all can’t be a carefree lark.  No, there must be the deep, profound moments, but they are used sparingly so that they don’t lose their impact.

If the script has 200 lines, then only 2 lines are deep and profound.  Sure, the Doctor can go on a rant about what is really important, but do you want to hear a rant?  How about 2 lines of earthshattering statement back-up with an action?  Which has a greater, more memorable impact on the viewer?

In one instance, the world we know has come apart in the most terrible way and a tearful Donna, a companion of the Doctor, is explaining how unimportant she is in the grand scheme of things.  It comes back to her almost constant refrain, “I’m just a temp.”

But Rose needs to say only one thing to reach the viewer. “Donna, you are the most important woman in the entire universe.”

And you cheer!  Why? Because that simple statement was matched with an action – the entire universe coming apart because of one very small decision Donna makes.  She is the most important woman in the entire universe.

Another moment, and possibly my most favorite:

“I’m burning up a star just to say good-bye to you.”

The Doctor loses someone dear to him, but he stubbornly won’t say those magical three words.  No, he manages to do and say something even better.  A man who treasures the beauty and life in all the universe destroys a star just to reach out to one person.  What’s more, for the rest of his life, you see him react when he hears of this woman, as if he is constantly reaching out and searching for a way to get her back.

Lesson learned: Instead of a rant or multiple rants, can you pare your key emotional or intellectual entreaty down to a paragraph?  Now, cut it down to 2 lines.  Or maybe just 1.  Now marry that 1-2 lines to an action.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I won’t say too much about this one because I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t see the movie yet.  I have actually seen it twice and I’m ready to go back again.  The storytelling followed a tried and true formula – that I will take apart on another day – that works very well.  What I want to focus on is the main character, the hero Peter Quill, Starlord.

I think what I liked about this hero is that he was unexpected in many ways.  Sure, he starts as the classic anti-hero, but in a lighter, less jaded version.  He was rough around the edges, but without being hard and cold.  There are 2 great words to describe this character:



Yes, they story is set in space and involves aliens, magical powers, and galaxies far, far away, but this main character remains easily relate-able through the entire story, making the viewer willing to follow him on this journey – even if you don’t understand what’s going on the whole time.

And being vulnerable, you understand his reluctance.  You understand his mistakes and bad decisions.  And in the end, you cheer when he learns, grows, and makes the right decisions.

Lesson learned: Your main character needs to be relate-able.  The reader needs to be able to see himself/herself in their shoes.  They will feel the character’s pain and joy.  They will follow your character into the dark woods, deep space, or down into the unlit basement.

Will I be able to easily work these lessons I’ve learned from two of my favorite shows into my next book?  I don’t know.  I certainly hope so.  These are the types of things that I’ll be keeping in the back of my mind as I write.

If you’re looking for some more awesome tips, check out these 22 Rules of Storytelling from Pixar.

Are Romance Novels a Bad Influence?

I was chatting with a friend recently and the subject of romance novels came up.  She asked whether I thought that romance novels were a bad influence on women and their expectations of finding a mate and love in general.  Now, my friend wasn’t being sarcastic or snarky.  She genuinely wanted to know my thoughts on the subject.  Heaven knows there’s been plenty in the press about the fact that romance novels are bad for a woman’s psyche.

Simply put, I think it’s a load of crap.

Now, I know I can’t leave it at that, so let me tell you why.

My argument makes one grand assumption – women are intelligent, logical, thinking creatures and they can intelligently, logically assess the world they live in and create relatively accurate expectations.

If you know a female that doesn’t fit that assumption, then maybe… my belief won’t apply, but let’s continue based on that assumption.

Romance novels are a great escape from the sometimes harsh, brutal, hard world that we live in.  On a day-to-day basis, we deal with bills, chores, deadlines, confrontation, disappointments, sickness, pain, sorrow — and that’s all before we get out the front door each day.  You turn on the news and you find people being bombs, displaced, murdered, evicted, and more.

The human psyche can tolerate only so much of that for so long.  There comes a point where you need to step away from reality and find a center of peace.  For a few hours, you need to get lost in someone else’s problems and joys.  Romance novels help with that.  (Funny enough, it can work the same way with urban fantasy, science-fiction, and fantasy novels.)

When we close a good book, we might give a little sigh and think it’s a damn shame that the world isn’t overrun with hot cowboys looking for love or sexy billionaires who are dying to  fly us off to Paris where they will propose before the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.  We understand that we haven’t invented the time machine yet that can take us back to a world of domineering yet sexy Scots in kilts or British Dukes looking for a bride that can help melt their cold heart.

After three years of marriage and years of romance novels, I think, if anything, I’m more attuned to romantic gestures now than if I hadn’t read romance novels.  In our go-go world of nonstop obligations and deadlines, it’s hard for two people to be romantic.  I fear that some of the impulsiveness is sucked out of the romance when you have to put it on a calendar.

I know that romance can’t always be these grand gestures that light up the sky and cost thousands of dollars.  Who has the money for that? I need new tires for my car!  No, romance is the small gesture.  It’s the proof that the person you love is paying attention when you randomly comment that you like or need something.  It’s considering the other’s person’s needs and planning for them.

My husband is the king of the small gesture.  Knowing that I was in for a rough day at work, he surprised me when I got home with Jell-O because he’d knew it would make me smile.  He’s danced with me in the aisle at Home Depot because one of my favorite songs was playing over their speaker system. And he wins me little stuffed animals from the claw machines.

I don’t need Paris.  I’ve got a man who doesn’t need to be asked to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.  I don’t need diamonds.   I’ve got a man who doesn’t complain about cleaning out the kitty litter box.

Romance novels don’t give me unrealistic expectations.  They give me escape and remind me that no matter how dark the world get, there’s still hope because humans can love.

And to cover all my bases: urban fantasy novels don’t make me wish I was a vampire. Fantasy novels don’t make me wish I had a dragon or that I will one day develop magical powers.  Science-fiction novels don’t make me long for a spaceship. And video games don’t make me violent.

So… if the world has gotten to you, go read a good book. You’ve earned a break. Just remember to take the time to appreciate the good things you’ve got in your life. Be smart.

Sunday hat