"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Writing Game

The Writing Game—A Board Game for All Ages

The game you must be crazy to play
Select a genre game piece. 
YA, Fantasy, Romance and Mystery writers must share the board with poets.
The game continues until all players are broke or decide to quit.
The game is played in no particular order. Players who skip a step are disqualified.
 Roll dice and move the corresponding number of spaces.
No limit to the number of times you can go around the board. Go until you’re exhausted.
No whining. 


Buy writing books, courses, supplies. (Pay $500 to the bank.)
Buy books in your genre. (Pay $200 to the bank. Give up 8 hours for each book.)
Join a critique group. (Advance 1 space for each chapter you share.)
Gain 5 pounds from sitting at the computer. (Trade places with slowest player.)
Play Solitaire for mental stimulation. (Lose 1 turn for each hour you play.)
Spill wine on keyboard. (Pay bank $50.)
Buy business cards and letterhead. (Pay bank $35.)
Hire web assistant to create Website and Blog. She flakes. (Pay GoDaddy $400.)
Create Twitter, Author Facebook Account. (Trade places with fastest player.)
Create a headshot. (Pay bank $150 if not taken with your smartphone.)
Create Chimpmail newsletter from your entire email list. (Too busy to play. Skip turn.)
Submit to a publication. (Pay bank $59 for Writer’s Market.)
Collect first rejection notice. (All players must halt game for a wine break.)
Chimpmail suspends your account for too many complaints. (Return to Start.)
Join one or more writing organizations. (Pay bank $65 for each membership.)
Computer konks out. Replenish supplies. (Pay bank $100 for toner and paper.)
Enter writing contest(s). (Pay bank $50 for each.)
Non-writer friends replace you with someone more normal. (Lose a turn.)
Attend your organization’s Annual Conference. (Pay bank $1,000 for associated costs.)
Have breakfast with hung-over guy at conference who turns out to be an agent or publisher. (Spend $40 on Mimosas.)
Collect business cards from folks you meet at the conference. (Take extra turn.)
Win honorable mention in conference writing contest. (Pay bank $40 for stickers.)
Relatives offer unskilled critique of your manuscript at holiday party. (Lose 2 turns.)
Serve on the Board of your writing organization. (Take a Pat-on-the-Back Card.)
Shoe box overflows with rejection notices. (Collect $10 from each player for wine.)
Paste tearsheets and contest credits in a scrapbook to be found when you are dead. (Move ahead as many spaces as you want. You deserve it.)
Substantive editor suggests a complete rewrite. (Pay the bank $400-$700.)
Teach writing workshop to 3 people at your Rec Department. (Collect $150 from bank.)
Judge middle school writing competition. Give a speech. (Priceless.)
Sign with an agent (Pay bank $160 for dinner/bar tab to celebrate.)
Agent queries six publishing houses, gets six rejections. ($80 bar tab to drown your sorrows. Drunk, you decide to go it alone.)
Sign book contract with the publisher you met at breakfast during your conference. (Collect a 4-figure advance.)
Dedicate your book to all the people who helped you. (Draw a “Get out of Jail” card.)
Spend your advance on a marketing campaign for your book. (Move ahead ten spaces.)
IRS considers your writing a hobby. (Lose a turn.)
Realize how writing has changed your life. (Collect $1,000. Use Get Out Of Jail Card.)
Help a novice writer over the finish line. (In this game, everyone wins.)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Holy Cow! Six Weeks of the HCG 500-Calorie Diet?

Winter brought its usual dilemma. The months dragged while I sat at the computer thinking about what I would cook for dinner. Normally I succumb to my “Oregon Five,” the five pounds I manage to gain while sunlight is absent and I’m sitting in a funk.

But this year I challenged myself to accomplish what I anticipated would be a grueling bootcamp, six-week stint of semi-starvation, an HCG diet with its 500 per day calorie requirement. A protein, three cups of veggies that one normally trims off for the chickens and a piece of fruit from a limited list. An eyedropper filled with hormones that come from pregnant women. Best not to dwell on that part. I had passed up the diet when two friends suggested it, but when Rob, my health food naturalist guru pressed the information into my hand, I finally took the bait. I needed a plan and this offered one. I bought the little bottle, took the fifteen pages of tips and headed home.

The diet demanded little of me in terms of choices beyond a protein, three cups of veggies and a fruit for each meal. Since I am at heart a skeptic and I want to hang on to all the muscle tone I still possess, and since our hens had started laying again, I cheated and had three eggs a week, which made everything easier. Three times each week I sautéed a mound of beet greens in a skillet, added a beaten egg and some green onions, bell pepper or whatever, and called it an omelet, even though the egg was scarcely detectable in all the greenery. But it met the criteria and took away the hunger, for which I was grateful.

I began to appreciate food in a new way. Each meal was a celebration.  I set the table with fresh flowers, a cloth napkin and my favorite dishes. I obsessed over each bite, making tiny cuts and chewing twenty times.
 Since most of hunger is actually dehydration, I drank quarts of herbal tea sweetened with Stevia. Afternoons I saved half of my orange to enjoy with my slim tea. In the evenings I saved my dinner apple, peeled and cut into thin slices for TV time.

I made it through my six weeks, and I lost weight. Not 30 pounds like the diet hinted that I might, but half that. My body incinerated fat cells 24 hours a day. My husband took great enjoyment in my progress, which was lovely.Hopefully I didn’t lose too many brain cells or muscle tone. In the early weeks I managed a respectable number of minutes on my exercise bike each day and managed to make it to the gym. In the later weeks I had the energy of a sloth.  I think I swam and tread-milled a few times, but maybe that was hallucination. In the last week I sat under a blanket and watched my dust bunnies dance.

 A word of warning—the plan suggested that one should cease all medications, with physician’s approval. Of course I skipped this step, anticipating that my doctor would try to talk me out of my course. I ceased taking my thyroid pill for two weeks before I came to my senses, but I got busted when my annual physical came around in the middle of the diet and my lab test revealed lower levels. When I confessed, my doctor said I had sabotaged my weight loss.

 The take-away lesson from all of this is a new relationship with food. Sugar isn’t worth it, and bread seems unnecessary. There are entire aisles in the market that I don’t have to walk down. I shop with a smirk of superiority when I see what other fatties are buying. One night I allowed myself two cups of plain popcorn and ate kernel by kernel like thin girls in movies when they are talking to a boy and don’t want to get yuck in their teeth. I eat my grapefruit, segment by segment, while voicing attributions about the sweetness of the fruit and my gratefulness for each bite. When I eat a boiled egg, I set it in an egg cup, crack the top and dip my spoon into the yoke, fully present to the miracle I am experiencing.

I used to scoff whenever a diet ad came on TV because I didn’t need advice about how to eat. It’s not like I gorge on potato chips and moon pies. But a 500-calorie diet made me rethink portion control. Early on, I dropped a handful of shrimp into a skillet to stream. Curious, I read the package and had to pluck seven back out when I realized my idea of a serving was roughly double the allowable portion. Now I read labels for everything and I am almost always over-portion.

I drink copious amounts of herbal tea to chase away the hunger beast, but I do love my teatime snack. Today I planned to eat something chocolate. When the hour arrived, I reached into a bag of dark chocolate chips and counted out exactly 16—the serving size on the package. I scattered them onto a white saucer and made them last all afternoon. 

In ten weeks I’m going back on the HCG program again. But that will be the last time. I agree that sudden weight loss isn’t a good thing. HCG Dangers It’s just that the diet works for me, and that’s a compelling argument. Until then you’ll find me sitting at the breakfast table, dipping toast spears into my coddled egg.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Be Kind, Rewind

On my nightstand is a stack of books that I have committed to read. Most I paid full price for—those are the ones at the bottom of the stack. The ARCS (advance reader copies) that other authors send, requesting a review, always go on the top. I don’t read a lot of famous authors. Most of my books I purchased at conferences or through my local bookstore, even Amazon, to help authors realize their dream. I’m not always interested in the topic or the writing level, but when spending 8 hours of my life seems worthwhile, it is karma revisited. My next book will be out soon and others will return the favor.

I try to be prompt, not one of those people who request an advance copy and then don’t read it. I’m sorry to say, those people unleash in me the pain of a maimed dog. On the other hand, the simple tap of the “share” button on Facebook for a book event or launch is an act of affirmation that cements relationships.

The process of grinding out a novel is tedious, lonely and beset with waves of doubt and self-loathing that flattens the writer’s tush and wears out office chairs. In case another simile is needed: the writing process is like swimming alone in a deep pool at night. We’re swimming blind. By the time the book finds a publisher, we need another body in the pool, a lifeline, a light illuminating the surface—anything helps.

That’s where the critique comes in. The first review is breathtaking. We read it and it’s as though we’re reading about someone else’s work, someone brilliant and deserving. But sure enough, the title is the one we submitted to a publisher two years earlier. Then the second review pops up and suddenly our readers have found us! Publishers pay attention. Bookbuyers and librarians google reviews to see how the stars line up. Five, four, three--things start to get gnarly at three. A one-star review makes authors crazy.   

What a reader says is important. When they say a book is suitable for YA as well as adults, this is good information. When they say the end surprised them, or they wanted to cry for the main character, this is very good. Reviewers don’t need to give an analysis of the use of simile and metaphor. Readers want to know if the book delivers. At least I do.

Be kind. Rewind. That's what we used to say, back in the day of VHS and track tapes. Today's advice should be, Be kind, Review. Writing a review can be addictive. Just go to your favorite book site on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Click on the line of stars. Find where it says, “Leave a Review” and start writing. Be as fair as possible. Click if you find someone else’s review helpful. Be part of the process. And don’t forget the “little author.” If a book already has 350 reviews, try leaving one for a newly-released book. You can start with mine. Maria Ines


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Diary of a Power Outage

Day One:

9:35 P.M. The power fails, plunging the house into darkness.

I rush to the window and look out to be sure that none of my neighbors have power. Not that I want them to suffer, but there’s safety in misery. They don’t, so I relax. I try to remember where I put the emergency box with the candles, butane lighter, flashlights and spare batteries. By the time I find it my husband has used his smart phone to find his flashlight and he’s tossing another log onto the fire. It blazes light into the living room.

I stand there, staring stupidly at the light switch as if it is all a mistake. Later, I shut off all the lights I can remember having turned on, and head for bed. After all, what else can one do without electricity? Rhetorical question. Google shows the most popular month for births is August, so probably lots of power outage babies—so technically I’ve answered my own question.  

Day Two:

I awaken to an incredibly quiet house. No blue lights, no blinking numbers, no alarms to tell me to wake up, to drink my coffee, to shut the refrigerator door. This stillness produces panic, frustration and an immediate desire to finish any of a dozen projects I’ve been putting off. I make a silent vow that if the power comes back on, I will: 1) Sort out my mother-in-law’s memorabilia trunks that have been sitting in a corner since her death several years ago. 2) Wash the windows inside and out, despite the snow. 3) Clean the garage.

But no deal. I pull on layers of clothing to compensate for the lack of heat and prepare for the worst.

I cobble together a breakfast that features dry cereal and milk. Steve places a bagel into the toaster oven and stares dumbly when it doesn’t work. I pull a mandarin orange from a bowl and let Steve have the lone boiled egg.  

We take a walk around the farm to see the snowfall, Back home we strategize and make a list. We assign bathrooms. I get the one closest to the heat. As the day progresses, I realize how many things I have to be grateful for. For starters, a power unit in our Dodge pickup that charges cell phones and Tablets while the truck is off. A hardline phone that never fails us. Drop-dead beautiful snowfall. A freezer full of venison and wild turkey. Milk in the refrigerator. A husband who gets going when the going gets tough.

After checking on our elderly neighbors, we make a quick run to town for supplies and a hot meal at Applebees, and arrive home with plenty of daylight left. We restock the woodpile outside the living room door. I melt snow and wash the dishes. This is starting to be fun.  

I find the emergency radio and enough D batteries that I am able to listen to PBS, always comforting, while I gather Christmas ornament tubs so that I can undecorate the tree after the sun goes down (a deliciously tactile experience, touching favorite ornaments and wrapping them.) By the time I light the Kerosene lamp, Steve has a small generator running to recharge the freezer, with an extension cord dedicated to a lamp. He plans to carry the generator across the snow to the pumphouse at midnight, to power the floodlight that keeps the pipes from freezing until he gets around to insulating them. Something tells me he’ll do that carpentry project soon. 

In the early evening the fire is crackling and the room is alive and cozy with unspoken thoughts. Steve sits beside me, reading while the generator outside purrs power to the lamp. Not really roughing it, but enough of a change to shake up the routine. Someone pinch me. I could do this for another day or two.     
After re-reading Christmas cards and taking the tree down, I make woodstove chocolate pudding. Yum. The ancient hard line phone rings. It’s my sister, who asks if I’m busy. Heck no. We have a long conversation in the semi-darkness and it seems like I am a better listener with no distractions. Later, bedtime comes with reluctance. The day has been delightful.

Day Three:

I open the door to a world blasted white with new snow. Filled with purpose, I shift into survival mode and scoop white stuff into tubs to replenish the tanks in the toilets. Life is good. We pile the refrigerator contents into an ice chest and burrow it in a snowbank. Later we discover that a critter has taken off with the bacon. We find the packaging discarded near the creek. If the culprit is our new four-month-old puppy, we should have the evidence soon enough.  

It’s strange how small details become noticeable in silence—like when you notice the middle child more when his big brothers aren’t around commanding all the attention. I rediscover my exercise bike and peddle five miles. I haul the Indian rugs outside and pound them, something I’ve meant to do for ages. We move the refrigerator and sweep behind it. Breakfast is an improvement: packets of gourmet instant coffee I’ve been meaning to use, GF pumpkin muffins, a Christmas gift, and eggs boiled on the wood stove. Lunch will be a picnic of cold cuts and chips in the living room while we watch the fire. After that it’s time for our afternoon trek down the lane to get the mail and newspaper.

After the walk I smile with anticipation. Soon it will be dark and we can do it all over again.

But wait—what is that commotion? Blue lights, beeping, flashing lights. I feel assaulted. Noise and confusion as the lights come on and the power grid resumes its grip on all that we hold dear. The TV reboots and some inane movie with guns blasting invades our peace. I shut it off. We decide to pile into the Jeep and take a drive to Galice, to see the snow pack along the Rogue River.

Now it’s night again. And I’m back on the computer and my husband is watching TV. All it would take is to shut it off again. But we don’t. You know we won’t. We’re modern.