Let the Games Begin

The family is here for Christmas--let the games begin.

Note: Not head games; real games, the kind you can win.

What better way to spend time together with family than by smearing them into the ground with your superior game-playing skills? Here are the games that will be played in the Haworth house: You Don't Know Jack, Yahtzee, and Scrabble.

You Don't Know Jack
is a computer trivia game that feels like a live action game show. I AM THE UNDISPUTED CHAMPION. People I've beaten include one of my brothers, my mom, my sister, my sister's friend, and my husband. My husband thinks I win because I'm faster than he is, but really it's cuz I'm smarter. I win every time I play. I AM THE CROWNED VICTOR and no one even comes close. At the start of the game, players must enter their names; everyone else enters their given name. I enter W-I-N-N-E-R. I figure that saves everyone a little time at the end.

Yahtzee--what can I say? We love this game. It was my dad's favorite. We love to rattle the dice and jar non-playing visitors with the noise.

Scrabble--You're talking serious stuff here, folks. Long before I was even thought of, my mom and dad stayed up many late nights with my grandma playing Scrabble. Grandma had only a sixth grade education, but she'd win with words like c-a-t. Somehow she always hit the specials.

I do not always win at Scrabble, but I like to make my opponents think I do. Again, I list my name as "Winner." Others are intimidated by the fact that I own a regular board and a travel board as well. (You do not want to get caught without your Scrabble board.) I employ the power of the Challenge, something your less hearty players will not do; they think they're in it just for the fun. My brothers and sister and I know better: we play to win, and we play cutthroat. We are equally as good and my trash talk doesn't work with them because we've all got the same mom.

In any case, the gang's all here (except for you, little bro). Let the games begin! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Trees that Decorate Themselves

In Florida, we don't get snow or those other elements that let you know it's Christmas time, but we do have trees that hang their own ornaments:

Orange trees--edible ornaments!





Ilex holly--don't the berries look like little tomatoes?


I don't know what this one is called, but I made a psychedic version of it, too!


New Brian Regan!

Today, I used the remainder of last year's Amazon.com gift certificate to buy presents and one thing for myself--the Brian Regan Live CD. The playlist includes his Flipper bit, something I had to have. I just can't say enough good things about Mr. Regan.

Hey, Brian! Danette Haworth loves you! (In a comedian-audience member sort of way.)

Here's the latest clip added to YouTube.

Battle of the Bands: Bruce Springsteen VS Jackson 5 performing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

Vote in the comments!

Bruce Springsteen--THE BOSS!


Jackson 5

Writing News, Bugs, and Lizards

In writing news, Fandangle Magazine published my poem, "Home is Not Too Far," which was inspired by my windshield wipers. Click here and scroll to page nine to read it. Also, the copyedited manuscript for Violet Raines is scheduled to arrive on my doorstep by Friday! I cannot believe how fast this process is going--it's like dog years.

In other news, I'm on my way to a big box shopping center. I only hope I don't have Ello's experience. She's doing well; the bruises have almost faded.

While decorating, we opened one of our boxes to discover tiny black bugs creeping among my favorite decorations. This is the box that holds most of my snowmen, the Christmas plaque (which is made of fabric), and the silk poinsettia topiary I like to put by the stairs. My husband thinks we should spray a bunch of paper towels with bug spray, put it in the box, and seal it tightly.

It's a good idea, but we've got natural solutions right here in the house--a lizard (a gecko like on those Geico commercials but not cute and not Australian) lives in my computer room, and a different one was last seen Tuesday under the Christmas tree at 11 a.m. I tried to catch them, but they were too smart for my paper cup trap. I say we open the bug box of decorations and let the lizards do their job.

My Mother Killed Someone

The story that originally appeared here was a bit too somber for the season! But what happened was this: My mom told the second-grade me there was no Santa. Grief was quickly followed by indignation that my sister had been filling the stockings for years.

I should have been onto the whole thing by that last bit of evidence--my stocking always had way too many nuts in it and not nearly enough candy.

Hear Me Roar!

Stephen Parrish has named me (among others) for the Roar for Powerful Words award from The Shameless Lions Writing Circle. Thank you, Stephen. I consider it an honor to have not only the award, but visitors who leave their funny and clever comments.

As part of the award, I am to name five others bloggers who write powerful words, but like Stephen, I feel five is an awfully small number. Without further ado, the next winners of A Roar for Powerful Words are: Courtney Summers, Virginia Lee: I Ain't Dead Yet, Linda (Just Like the Nut), Mary Witzl, Brenda's Page, Ello, (Kathleen) A Thoughtful Life, Sheri (Goading the Pen), Linda (Jumbled Ramblings), Cate (The Poisoned Apple), and Angela Mackintosh and the blogging team at WOW! Women on Writing. Church Lady, Stephen, and Charles Gramlich receive honorary lions since they've already received their badges of honor. Visit The Shameless Lions Writing Circle to get your award.

The Latest News: I've Been Tagged!

No, not toe-tagged. Though that would be interesting, because that would mean I was writing from the grave. Nope, I've been tagged by Rachel to provide five random things about myself. Here we go!

1. In high school, I was an assistant manager at a fast food and as such, I got free food. I drank one milkshake of each of their four flavors every single day I worked. I gained fifteen pounds that summer.

2. I sat on David Cassidy's lap in the 1990s. I hung the photo on my bulletin board at work and told everyone he was my boyfriend.

3. When I saw Brian Regan this September, I made my husband hang outside the stage door with me until Brian came out. Brian gave me a hug, signed my program, and let me take a picture with him. It's all here.

4. In junior high, I signed up for the play just to get out of classes. I was the turkey.

5. I played drums starting in fourth grade. My career ended in eighth grade when I was constantly relegated to the bass drum or the cymbals, while the boys got to play the snares. I'd lost interest by that time, anyway--my drumroll was rather staccato, and those 10 lb cymbals were awfully hard to hold ("Hold them UP, Danette!) at football games.

In other news, my little mommy is leaving earlier than expected--she and new hubby have found houses on Florida's west coast they like. So, she leaves in the morning, but if all goes well, it'll then just be a two hour drive instead of that 24 hour drive to Michigan!

Hmm, almost forgot . . . who to tag, who to tag? So many victims friends to choose from. TAG! You're it: Courtney, Church Lady, Ello, Charles Gramlich, and Stephen Parrish. You'll still be my friends, right?

Violet Raines, Van Won't Start, Shopping (Yuck), and Garage Sales!

The revisions on Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning have been accepted and the manuscript is now in copyediting! How exciting! Other bloggers have recently posted about seeing their cover art for the first time. I can't wait to see mine. It'll be interesting to view another person's interpretation, or what they feel best represents the book. Things are moving along!

In other news, my van would not start today. I feel well-versed in certain mechanical problems such as alternators, CV boots, and brake pads. I don't know how to fix them, but I know what they sound like, thanks to the cars I owned during my singlehood. When I called my husband and described the problem, he said alternator, which was exactly what I had diagnosed. Ha!

I plan to shop over the Internet today. I haven't started my shopping yet, can you believe it? Decorating, yes; shopping, no. Don't tell anyone, but I don't like going to the mall. Aack! There! I've said it! I hate shopping. And even over the Internet, it can take hours trying to review similar products and get customer reviews (since you aren't actually handling the item). But such is my assignment today.

The other big news is that my little mommy is in town! I have loaded up on one dollar bills and quarters so we can hit the garage sales this Friday. (She leaves Friday night.) No one beats my mom at a garage sale; click here to read about the master at work.

Sneezing and Driving Don't Mix

"Sneezing," I said, having just sneezed, "is dangerous." I adjusted the rear view mirror so I could talk with her directly. "Remember we read that it's impossible to sneeze without closing your eyes?"

She nodded.

"That makes sneezing a hazardous activity to do while driving."

"Not for a person with no eyelids," she said.

Ah, good point. Good point indeed.

Funny, Weird, or Scary Signs #2

We camped near here.

Resolutions

I'm not waiting till New Year's to make my resolutions. I already know what I need to do:

1. Eat right.
2. Sleep right.
3. Exercise right.

If I do all these, I think everything else will pretty much fall into place. Also, unlike most people, I'm not planning to stick to this forever--one week would be good enough. I figure if the one week goes well, I could try it again for a second week. Today I had a healthy breakfast, so guess what? I've already started! Just six and three quarters of a day to go!

Road Rage, In Which I See a Man Spit on Another Man

It was just a simple traffic error at a four-way stop: The van in front of me pulled out a little when it was really the silver car's turn to make a left in front of him. The van stopped, allowing Silver Car to go, but Silver Car was mad. Silver Car blocked the intersection, stopping right in front of VanMan. For a moment, we all sat there. And then we sat there and sat there and sat there.

VanMan started jerking his shoulders and chopping the air with his hands. This was sign language for Hello, my good man! I believe it might be prudent for you to move your automotive unit from the intersection and allow the good people of Orlando to drive through. Okay, that's the British version. I'm not allowed to use the words he really meant.

Silver Car did not like the sign language. The driver's door opened, and a short older man with furious eyebrows came out yelling. Again, I'm not allowed to use those words, but I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.

He stalked around the car up to VanMan's window and got right in his face. VanMan buzzed his window down. I know VanMan was a little shaken, because even though he was yelling back, he recoiled from SilverMan.

SilverMan had white hair and was small, but he looked powerfully built. He was not feeble. He kept yelling at VanMan. He started to walk away, then he turned around and spit right at VanMan.

As he walked to his car, he glanced at me. I suddenly realized I had my hands to my mouth and my eyes were wide and shocked. His eyes shone with anger. I was like No! Do not look at the woman in the gold van. She didn't even honk at you!

SilverMan hopped back into his car and sped off, with VanMan right on his tail. I just happened to be going the same way, and I saw that VanMan was now on his cell phone. Was he reporting this guy for battery? I don't know, but it was a good performance in any case.

At one point, they slowed down and pulled over to the side. I thought they were going to duke it out, but no--Silver Car went straight, and VanMan turned left.

It was quite an exciting drive.

Just Me and Cheese, Tidbits from the Grocery Store

Writers are often advised to sit in malls or other public places and eavesdrop--you know, get a feel for what real people say, maybe even write some of it down.

Here's what I overheard at the grocery store:

Man: Just me and cheese, that is my desire. Me and cheese.

* * * * *

Man: C'mere! Look at all this yogurt! They have cherry, strawberry, banana--you can have any flavor you want.

Kid: I want this one.

Woman: No! You'll just waste money.

* * * * *

Kid: Mo-om! He scratched me.

Woman: What is the rule? What is the rule?

* * * * *

Woman: Horseradish and mayo . . . horseradish and mayo. [Okay, this one was me. I tend to recite my list out loud once I've relinquished my mind to the grocery store zone.]

* * * * *

Kid: Hey, Mommy--

Woman: I'm not buying that.

* * * * *

Man: We spent Thanksgiving at my mom's. She did the cookin' and I did the peelin' the potatoes.

* * * * *

Man: Paper or plastic?

Dolly Parton's Here! (In the Sidebar, Anyway)

Dolly Parton is performing "Sleigh Bells Ring" in Summer Friend's Clip of the Week. Just scroll down a little. I couldn't find any live versions that also had good sound quality, so just imagine the perky Dolly Parton as she moves us into the Christmas spirit.

Other news:
For those of you who may have lost sleep over this, the Battle of the Bands is over--The Monkees won.

Also, I tried to make it snow on Summer Friend and ended up zeroing out my blog! Can you say "insta-stress"? The template I'd downloaded couldn't be uploaded and I spent a very long time rebuilding it.

But I'm back. Regular posts resuming tomorrow.

Black Friday, Green Thursday

Don't look for me at the mall. I will not be there.

Green Thursday is not a Gore-inspired phrase--it describes me yesterday. I was sick! I never made it to the Thanksgiving table, which was out of town. Sleep was the balm that soothed, and I awoke just in time to catch MY FAVORITE HITCHCOCK MOVIE, Rear Window.

It's been years since I've seen that film. Who knew Jimmy could be such a charming rogue? The only thing I didn't like, which I hadn't noticed before, was when Grace Kelly's character was being thrashed by Raymond Burr and she calls out "Jeff!" "Jeff," and instead of returning her shout, LB Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) backs his wheelchair to hide in the darkness. I know his leg is broken and all, but I would have liked to see him make some kind of attempt to help her, maybe shout back and fall out of the wheelchair as he tries to get up. (I know he called the police, but that was before the thrashing began.) BTW, the cast on his left leg supposedly jumps to his right leg halfway through the movie. I never caught the switch.

Then I watched Mean Girls. Tina Fey is such a good writer and I like how loyal she is to all her SNL comrades. One thing I noticed about Mean Girls is that even though it's a contemporary film (2004), technology played no part in it. Nobody was texting. Nobody was emailing. Nobody was using cell phones. Surely one compromising picture would have been snapped via cell phone in all that meanness. (There were two three-way calls, but I wouldn't call that new technology.)

I have to conclude that Ms. Fey left technology out on purpose. Perhaps she did so to prevent the movie from becoming dated--technology moves faster than fashion. Maybe viewers are more lifted out by old-fashioned technology than they are by plaid pants.

How much technology is safe to include if you want your story to have a long shelf life? That's a hard question. Even texting lingo has changed over the years. What's your opinion?

Tidbits from Sunday's Paper

So I've just now sat down with yesterday's paper. Here's the news:

The Off Key Krooners are looking for volunteers. Finally! A musical group who would appreciate my talents.

People with bigger noses do not have superior smelling abilities. I'm sure we can all rest easier knowing this important controversy has reached its end.

The paper is running a read-along using the book The Cricket in Times Square. Who can resist that title? I've got to get this book.

More dog books on the scene--one sounds a bit like Marley and promises to be just as heart wrenching: Good Dog. Stay by Anna Quindlen.

A woman is being sued over comments she made in her blog.

I'm innocent, I tell ya! It wasn't me, it was some other blogger, yeah, I ain't no stoolie, I won't snitch.

Be careful, my cyberspace friends. But if they do throw you in the pokey, contact me immediately--I know how to bake cakes with files inside.

HEAD, the 1968 Movie Featuring The Monkees, and Battle of the Bands

I recently watched Head, the 1968 movie featuring the Monkees. Man, talk about weird! The movie is comprised of vignettes strung together in an odd way that makes sense and leads to the ending. Jack Nicholson cowrote the screen play. This movie is not for everyone--there are clear drug references and the fragments give the movie a weird, dreamlike quality. For me, the movie was strange and literary. I'm still thinking about it.

If you like all things sixties/seventies, if vintage is you, if you use words like dig and groovy, this movie is for you. Head intrigued me enough to Google it. When the movie first came out in 1968, it failed, but it has a strong cult following, even now. Proof: Cameron Crowe used the Porpoise Song to close Vanilla Sky, the 2001 movie featuring Tom Cruise. The Porpoise Song also closes Head.

Check out the Porpoise Song in my new sidebar feature: Clip of the Week (scroll down a little). But before you go, please leave a comment and vote in Summer Friend's first ever Battle of the Bands: The Monkees VS Smash Mouth, performing "I'm a Believer."

The Monkees


Smash Mouth

Important News from People Magazine

I generally don't comment on news, but I saw a piece on my Yahoo! page that I simply couldn't ignore. This breaking news story arrested my attention--I even watched the video. Maybe you did, too.

People has announced their list for Sexiest Man Alive! I was glad to see my man Johnny Depp on board and Brad Pitt, too, not to mention the world's biggest sweetheart, John Stamos, but where was Owen Wilson? Where was Adrian Paul of Highlander fame? I feel an injurious oversight has occurred over there in the People offices.

Maybe they want to give Owen a paparazzi break, but how could anyone compose such a list without placing Adrian Paul in the top five? His character, Duncan MacLeod, is half of one of my top favorite TV couples: Duncan and Tessa, and Jesse and Becky (Full House). In fact, I had hoped Adrian (yes, we're on a first name basis) would snag the coveted James Bond role (which went to Daniel Craig). He's so perfect for that type of role: elegant, good-looking, English, and he's an excellent swordsman. Plus, if he'd been given that role, I would finally be able to attend action movies.

If it were up to me, and husbands were excluded, I'd give the crown back to Johnny Depp. I loved Gilbert Grape and Edward Scissorhands and Dead Man and the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Runners up would be Adrian Paul, Brad Pitt, John Stamos, and Owen Wilson. In that order.

And that's the news.

Nonverbal Cues, and Why I Don't Play Poker

After weeks of subsisting on energy drinks and rice cakes, my body's been craving fresh fruit or vegetables, maybe even a tomato, which I hate, but that's how strong the craving's been.

I lucked out tonight, pulling into a fast food joint that I didn't know had salads. Pre-made, but still, Gorgonzola, cranberries, sunflower seeds, and vinaigrette--what else do you need? Maybe one of those corn bread rolls. I love corn bread.

Leaning toward the cashier, I asked, "How much--"

"The corn bread comes with the salad," he said.

My jaw dropped. This guy was a mind reader. "How did you know I was going to ask that?"

He laughed. "You kept looking at the pan!"

Nonverbal cue! Body language!

Let me rewrite the last part of the scene:

I lucked out tonight, pulling into a fast food joint that I didn't know had salads. Pre-made, but still, Gorgonzola, cranberries, sunflower seeds, and vinaigrette--what else do you need? Maybe one of those corn bread rolls. I love cornbread.

I tilted my head, searching the pan for the biggest roll. Then a different server moved in and swiped the last few. Oh man! The pan was empty.

It's way to early to run out, I thought. They have to make more. I looked up and scanned the menu to see how much a roll cost. Corn bread . . . corn bread . . . corn bread--couldn't find it.

Leaning toward the cashier, I asked, "How much--"

"The corn bread comes with the salad," he said.

My jaw dropped. This guy was a mind reader. "How did you know I was going to ask that?"

He laughed. "You kept looking at the pan!"

Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve (in this case, my stomach)! This fast food worker reminded me once again of the power of nonverbal cues. It's amazing how much we reveal without uttering a word. We can lend this sort of impact to our characters, make them real actors, not just talking heads.

In any case, I always give myself away. I blush easily and startle with a big shake and a Whoop! Don't even ask me to play poker. I know better.

Wax Paper Kazoo, and You Can Too!

I made the mistake this morning of introducing the low technology kazoo: wax paper held against one's lips.

Me: So here's how you do you it. [Holds wax paper to lips.]
Ooooooooooo!

Him: Let me try! [Takes the piece I hold out to him.]
Oooooooooo! [Rattle, rattle]

Me: Hahahahaha!

Him: OOOOOOOOOOOO!

Me: Haha!

Him: Oooooooooooooo! [Dances around kitchen.] OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Me:

Him: [Prancing like a sprite.] OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Me: Maybe you should go in the other room and do that.

Him: [Hears only a Charlie Brown teacher voice. Keeps leaping around kitchen.]

Me: May you should--

Him: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Me: [Eyes jingle in head. Picks up wax paper.]
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I Snag An Interview With A Big Celebrity's Posse

I snagged this interview some years ago when I was in college and fulfilling a journalism requirement. Here's the 411:

How Now Brown Cow?

The biggest celebrity at recent fairs in Central Florida did not speak to anyone or sign autographs.

Elsie the Cow, Borden’s 850-pound public relations mascot, had her own booth at the Central Florida Fair and the Winn Dixie Festival of Foods, both held last March in Orlando.

At the Festival of Foods, people stopped when they saw her. Some argued whether she was real or not, and others said they didn’t know cows had horns.

“A lot of kids like to touch her,” Lewis Rayburn, Elsie’s handler, said. “Lots of old-timers who’ve all milked cows like to see her.”

Although many people smile when they see her, Rayburn said he is often reprimanded by animal lovers who think Elsie’s life is cruel.

They needn’t worry.

“She lives a penthouse life,” Rayburn said.

Elsie is bathed and soaped down everyday, according to Rayburn. Her hooves are painted with black shoe polish and her horns sanded and painted with clear lacquer. She wears a golden chain around her horns, travels in an air-conditioned trailer, and takes about two month off each year.

Her home is in Columbus, Ohio, but she spends winters at a private farm in Orlando. Rayburn said Elsie likes to pass her time on the farm walking in pastures, getting dirty, and acting like a regular cow.

But don’t get the idea that Elsie is a cow of leisure. According to Rayburn, Elsie makes more than 300 appearances a year—visiting hospitals, walking in parades, and appearing at fairs and festivals.

During her Orlando appearances, Elsie stood or sat quietly in a lace canopy stall as passers-by admired her.

There’s only one thing Rayburn doesn’t really enjoy about working with Elsie.

“I usually catch it with a bucket or a shovel,” he said.

“Then I spray Lysol.”

My HDR and TV are Almost Restored! Sunday Night TV (Spoiler Alert!)

My television and HDR have been down for several weeks. I’ve barely missed them. In fact, during the day, I haven’t missed them at all, my rule against daytime TV being such that it is.

But I’ve missed three weeks’ of Saturday Night Live, Desperate Housewives, and America’s Next Top Model. It’s been horrible. At night, I’ve been doing housework instead of sitting on the couch with ice cream and entertainment. This is not my idea of a good evening (although I will say the laundry is caught up).

I finally got the big idea to catch up on these shows through their websites. NBC doesn’t provide full episodes of SNL, and the CW site didn’t stream well for me, but I did get all caught up on my Desperate Housewives Saturday and wouldn’t you know it—serendipity! Live TV worked Sunday night!

With great joy, I scooped my ice cream and moved to the couch, ready to be entertained. Instead, my housewives made me cry. [Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!] When Lynette found out she didn’t have cancer, she walked out to the back yard in shock. Just as she looked upward and you could feel that sense of unburdening, she spotted the dead animal in her yard. Dead from the poison she left out. (I really did like the symbolism earlier with the air rifle.) I couldn’t tell if the animal was the possum or a dog—my screen colors are not quite right. In the same episode, Bree’s daughter gave up her baby. Excellent acting, Joy Lauren (Danielle).

So then I watched Brothers and Sisters. I do not normally watch this show (it's good, BTW), but my TV is in the condition where one must actually rise from the couch, walk across the living room and manually—manually!—change the channel. I wanted to watch something funny but I didn’t feel like getting up. [Spoiler alert!] Calista Flockhart’s character had a miscarriage.

Ah, man! Not the note I wished to go to bed on. I will be so glad when my HDR is fixed and I can get comedy on demand. I’m hoping everything will be working by Thursday so I can watch 30 Rock live. If the next episode is as good as the ones on the website, I’ll be adding it to my HDR.

Death and Resurrection: The Plastic Pink Flamingo

Although real pink flamingos aren’t indigenous to Florida, I’m pretty sure the plastic ones are. When I first moved to the Sunshine State, plastic pink flamingos graced many yards, always in multiples of two (being sold only in pairs). I thought they were kind of funny. I liked their pink color. I bought a pair.

Union Products, the company that manufactured these popular birds, ceased the PPF production on this day in 2006. But don’t reach for your tissues—HMC International has purchased the copyright and original plastic molds, and the Plastic Pink Flamingo shall rise once again (or at least be stuck in ground on its metal wicket legs).

We Have a Space Issue

In Georgia, they do not consistently dot their is, but the ts are always crossed (see photos). In Florida, we have a space and caps issue:

Texas Bull Rope, Lights Out, No Holds Barred Grammar Answers!

Thank you to the brave souls who posted their answers to the first ever Texas Bull Rope, Lights Out, No Holds Barred Grammar Challenge. Church Lady, decaf, Jerry, ello, Courtney, Stella, Angela, and Charles entered the ring with great boldness and power. To all of you: You are as witty as you are smart!

And now, without further ado--the answers!


1. What is a gerund?

A gerund is a noun made of the ing form of a verb: Eating donuts is healthy!

2. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. The dog wagged it’s tail.
b. The dog wagged its tail.
The correct answer is b. The first answer is incorrect because it’s always means it is.

3. What is the correct format for a three point ellipsis?
The correct format for a three point ellipsis is space, point, space, point, space, point, space and then the next word. For example, “I don’t . . . I can’t . . . I won’t love you!


4. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. Between you and I, she really could do better than him.
b. Between you and me, she really could do better than him.
The correct answer is b. Trust me. Or check this link.

5. Give an example of the future perfect progressive tense.
Okay, I cheated on this one! I knew those tenses had some really compounded terms, so I looked for the most compounded, confounding tense I could find. Here’s an example of the future perfect progressive tense: By midnight, I will have been surfing the ’net for seven hours.

6. Choose the error free sentence:
a. John has twin sisters. His sister, Elizabeth, is a model.
b. John has twin sisters. His sister Elizabeth is a model.
The correct answer is b. Because John has two sisters, Elizabeth is a restrictive appositive--you wouldn’t know which sister the narrator was talking about unless Elizabeth was named. It's considered necessary information and is therefore not set off by commas.

7. What is the subjunctive mood?
Ah, the subjunctive mood--my favorite! It’s basically a fancy term for an if statement: I would have a clean house if I weren’t a writer. The subjunctive mood includes forms that state something other than the reality: We wish he were normal.

8. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. John has twin sisters. Elizabeth is the prettiest one.
b. John has twin sisters. Elizabeth is the prettier one.
The correct answer is b. When comparing only two, use –er; three or more, use –est.

9. The following sentence has an error. What is it?
After vomiting, check the child's temperature.
Dangling modifier! After the child vomits, check the child’s temperature.

10. I should of thought of a harder question for number ten. What do you think?
I should have thought of a harder question for number ten.

The Texas Bull Rope, Lights Out, No Holds Barred Grammar Challenge

Sharpen your pencils and close your books. This is a test. Please close that CMS, and I see you back there with your dictionary. Close it. Do not text each other with the answers or I will confiscate all electronics in the room.

Sniff the ditto, then begin.

Incomplete exams are acceptable. Answers will appear in a later post. (Spit out that gum, Billy.)


1. What is a gerund?

2. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. The dog wagged it’s tail.
b. The dog wagged its tail.

3. What is the correct format for a three point ellipsis?

4. Choose the error-free sentence:

a. Between you and I, she really could do better than him.
b. Between you and me, she really could do better than him.

5. Give an example of the future perfect progressive tense.

6. Choose the error free sentence:
a. John has twin sisters. His sister, Elizabeth, is a model.
b. John has twin sisters. His sister Elizabeth is a model.

7. What is the subjunctive mood?

8. Choose the error-free sentence:
a. John has twin sisters. Elizabeth is the prettiest one.
b. John has twin sisters. Elizabeth is the prettier one.

9. The following sentence has an error. What is it?

After vomiting, check the child's temperature.

10. I should of thought of a harder question for number ten. What do you think?

Spot the Error(s) #5


I had a friend who used to say, "Good enough for government work."

Interview With Courtney Summers Regarding her YA Novel, Cracked Up To Be

Today we have the privilege of speaking with Courtney Summers, author of the upcoming YA novel CRACKED UP TO BE and blogger extraordinaire. Courtney’s debut novel takes a familiar concept and turns it upside down. Here’s the blurb from Publishers Marketplace:

Courtney Summers's CRACKED UP TO BE, in which the popular girl decides to quit being popular and find herself but her friends work hard to stop her making "a big mistake," to Sara Goodman at St. Martin's, by Amy Tipton at FinePrint Literary Management (World English)

DH: Welcome to the blog, Courtney, and big-time congratulations with balloons and chocolate cake! Your blog post on the sale was full of excitement and humility (and I love your grandma!). But there’s so much more we want to know. Let’s get started!

How did you get the idea for CRACKED UP TO BE?

Courtney: Thank you so much! I'm really excited about all of this, but I have to disclaimer my answers by letting your readers know I've never been interviewed before. :)

I got the idea for CRACKED UP TO BE by asking myself a lot of questions about identity and perceptions. I was really interested in writing a character that struggled with and bucked the expectations projected on her based on where she fell on the social ladder. After that came all the fun of figuring out why she was struggling and why she wanted to buck them . . . so that's how it all started!

DH: I love your spin on the popularity issue. Your main character is intriguing. What’s her name and how did you come up with it?

Courtney: Her name is Parker. It came to me like snap, which was really lucky as it doesn't usually happen for me that way--and it probably never will again! I'm used to searching through name after name after name, waiting to feel a “click.” That can sometimes take hours. Or days.

DH: Yes, and when you’ve hit upon the right element, you just know it. Speaking of elements, you live in Canada; where is your story set and how did you choose that setting?

Courtney: The story is set in a fictional town in America--it just seemed to fit. I must admit that settings are usually pretty static in my novels anyway, as opposed to novels where they play a larger role. Once I've established where everything's happening, it's like, "Okay! Moving on..."

DH: How much of yourself is in your characters?

Courtney: Very little, I think. I hope! I have fun trying to shape characters that are as far removed from me as possible for a variety of reasons, the most important being that I'm tragically boring. I also love trying to understand the motivations of a person that, in real life, I might not understand (or want to).

DH: I like that concept. It reminds me of watching people in the mall or on the street and making up histories for them. You must get ideas all the time. How do you latch onto an executable story?

Courtney: I wish I knew! Every idea that turns into a novel is sometimes preceded by several that . . . don't. It drives me crazy! I'll get 50 pages into something that'll fall to pieces spectacularly and I'll be like, cries. I never see it coming until it happens, either. So I spend a lot of time writing with one hand and crossing my fingers with the other. Sometimes I write desperate letters to my ideas:
Dear idea,
PLEASE become a fully realized novel.
Love, Courtney

DH: It’s so hard when an idea or a full-fledged story doesn’t work out! But once you have locked onto an idea, what is your writing process?

To view this interview in its entirety, click here.

Walker BFYR Bought My Book!

OMG! Yesterday, Firebrand agent, my Firebrand agent (wow!), Ted Malawer struck a deal with Stacy Cantor of Walker BFYR for my middle-grade novel, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning. I'm ecstatic! Athrill, cool crazy, delirious, euphoric--I looked these up in the thesaurus and they all apply. (Cool and crazy had a comma between them, but I like cool crazy better.)

I had signed up for a critique at this summer's SCBWI workshop, and I received Stacy as my reviewer. Talk about a divine appointment! She immediately connected with the novel and suggested I submit it to her at Walker. I didn't send it to her right away because I had chapters out for paid critiques, but after a month passed and the critiques hadn't come back yet, I'm like, Forget it! I've got to send it to her!

I carefully prepared my submission package, suffering secretly from signature stress syndrome and mailed it from Florida to New York by regular mail. Two days later, Stacy emailed me. She wanted more! I still hadn't received those critiques--everything was moving so fast! I sent her the manuscript and queried a few, very select, agents. Then Ted Malawer popped into Verla Kay's website and described his likes and dislikes. I thought Hey, he might like my book! And he might like my other manuscript, too. I liked that he described himself as an editorial agent and that he liked books that made him laugh, but if a submission could make him cry, even better. I queried him immediately.

Meanwhile, Stacy and I traded emails. I couldn't believe how perfect her suggestions were and how they fit with my vision for the book. Before I knew it, VIOLET RAINES was going to acquisitions and then Stacy said We're interested! and I was like I've got to get a hold of Ted! So of course my phone went on the fritz, the second line went down, my cell phone ran out of minutes and Ted didn't get my emails. I COULD NOT SLEEP FOR DAYS until Nadia Cornier called and said Ted had been very sick and was actually getting blood work done right at that moment. She was funny and nice, not scary like how I thought an agent might be.

Not much later, my cell phone rang. It was Ted! I still can't believe he rose from his sickbed to call me! We talked for a long time. It was wonderful! In that conversation and the ones that have followed, he's given me a real education on how all of this works. Such a patient guy--my questions are so newbie!

I really feel my book is in the hands of people who love it.

Here's the blurb from PM:

18 October, 2007
Childrens: Middle grade
Danette Haworth's debut VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, about a vivacious eleven-year-old whose life changes drastically when a new girl moves to her backwoods Florida town, to Stacy Cantor at Walker, on an exclusive submission, for publication in Fall 2008, by Ted Malawer at Firebrand Literary.

I'm happy and so grateful to Stacy and Ted for their vision and belief in VIOLET RAINES. I'm happy for my fellow writer, Courtney Summers, who recently sold her YA book. Courtney, I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to copy you and say THANK YOU in a loud voice! THANK YOU, LORD! And THANK YOU to my husband and sister for believing in my work and reading it twice, to my mom who loved it, and to my beautiful dad who, when he still walked this earth, read a little piece I wrote and said, "If I could write like this, I wouldn't do anything else."

In the words of Mary Katherine Gallagher, my feelings can best be expressed by a musical number:

Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden?

When I was in fourth grade, my new best friend, CK, told me she’d read every single Nancy Drew book in the series. I was impressed and mentioned this to my sister. Big mistake. She copied my friend and checked out a couple of Nancy Drew books from the library and loved them. Next thing I knew, she was working her way through the series, one book at a time.

Well, that was it. No reading Nancy Drew for me—I wasn’t going to be like my sister. No way! Even though my sister is older, my mother bought us the same outfits at the same time and we had to wear them on the same days. We had the same haircut. Even when we weren’t dressed alike, people stopped us at the playground to ask if we were twins.

No, there’d be no Nancy Drew for me. I had to find my own sleuth. That’s how I discovered Trixie Belden. Here are the first few sentences from book one: “Oh, Moms,” Trixie moaned, running her hands through her short, sandy curls. “I’ll just die if I don’t have a horse.”

Oh, my gosh! Trixie wanted a horse; I wanted a horse! We were the same! Trixie instantly became the It girl for me. Trixie met that girl Honey who owned horses. In fifth grade, I groomed horses on weekends for my school librarian. Trixie wore jeans and went outside a lot, and even though she was older than me (she was thirteen), she seemed like a real girl, like someone I could be friends with.

I’m whispering now because I don’t want Trixie to hear this: I did sneak a few reads of Nancy Drew, but I didn’t like it. At eighteen, Nancy was too old and too sure of herself. She could doctor people up, skin dive, trick locks open—how did she know all this stuff? Trixie was more like me, discovering things along the way.

In recent weeks, I’ve read the first few Nancy Drew books. My gosh! These books are good—something is always happening. There is no down time in a Nancy Drew book. I like Nancy, shh! And I think it’s funny how each book references Nancy’s past mysteries by title and foretells the next mystery by book title.

I’ve also taken another look at Trixie and I’ll tell you what—Trixie is still my It girl. And I still want my own horse.

Meg Ryan Would Not Be Pleased

Want to see what celebrity you look like? Click here, upload your photo, and be prepared for the results.

I wondered how correct my casting of Hugh Grant as Herman Munster was (see earlier post), so I ran Herman's picture through the database.

Hugh wasn't even on the list! Myfacerecognition-celebrity matches posted Magic Johnson as the celebrity who most resembled Herman. John Travolta, Dr. Phil, and Matt Dillon were on the list, too. But the most surprising Herman Munster look-alike was Meg Ryan, who appeared on the list above Matt Dillon!

So Meg, think about it. Men have traditionally played the best monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, and Hannibal Lecter--even King Kong and Godzilla were male. The time is now, Meg! Break this field open for women. Hermione Munster. Herman Megster.

Go for it, girl!

I'm Mad at a Couple of Writers

I can't believe they'd even do this to me. Anyone, EVERYONE, who knows me knows how much trouble I have with sleep. I am a classic insomniac--the sleep doctor said so. Why would anyone do anything to destroy what little sleep I get?

The perpetrators: Fiona Neill and Sara Zarr. Ms. Neill has written an intelligent mommy-lit novel--think Desperate Housewives (without the murders) meets Sex in the City. The writing is quick and witty. Lucy, the main character, doesn't bore me with how cute her kids are or rant about her husband or any of those other things that real people bore me with. I could be friends with Lucy. That's why I can't put Slummy Mummy down. It's smart fun.

Sara Zarr made me stay up past 2 a.m. on a school night with Story of a Girl. Sara, how could you do this to me? It was almost midnight; I was going to read only one chapter, but no, your writing was too real and too tight for me to put down. It wasn't even like I was reading a book; the reading was effortless. I don't remember turning the pages. I just remember looking at the clock after closing the back cover.

Excellent stories. Amazing writers! (Fiona, Sara, you owe me some ZZZs.)

Harry, Herman, and Hugh

I watched Harry and the Hendersons last night for the first time. What an intense beginning! Dark and full of shadows, then poor Harry gets hit by the Hendersons' car! And then Dad comes out to shoot him. The filmmakers caught me by surprise when, after being loaded up as roadkill atop the car, Harry slips down, pounds the windshield and roars. Great start!

The intensity goes down several notches after that and never quite makes it back up there. One thing that ruined it for me was that Harry was a bit too simpering. A little public vulnerability is okay, and private vulnerability is even better, but I felt the hangdog expression was overdone. I would've liked to have seen more playfulness or childlike behavior from Harry--that would have made him seem innocent. Instead, he goes from roaring and baring his teeth to cooing like a tribble or looking pitiable.

When it comes to lovable giants, no one beats Herman Munster. I mean, look at the guy. He's over seven feet tall, he's green (or blue), and he's got bolts in his neck. The funny thing about Herman is that as formidable as he is, he's immature and slightly effeminate but he's also a loyal family man and a reliable worker. He even takes a lunch box to work, so he's thrifty as well. You gotta love him.

Fred Gwynne played Herman to the hilt. I'm not sure anyone could fill his shoes. However, if I were casting a remake, here's who I would put in those size 26C boots: Hugh Grant. Yes, Hugh Grant. Think about it--his thin lips, his foppish mannerisms--he's perfect! He'd even put a new spin on the character--British Herman. I'd tune in for that, wouldn't you?

Breakfast Patrol, in which I Am Not As Sneaky As I Thought

He didn't want the oatmeal, scrambled eggs, or other healthy items I offered.

"I want a donut," he said.

I put my hand on my hip. "Well, you can't have a donut for breakfast."

"Why not?" he asked. "You do."

Busted!

Wildlife Week: In Which I Encounter Wildlife Where It's Not Supposed to Be Today's Post: You Will Not Believe Your Eyes!


Oh, man, I still can’t believe it. I thought it was a sonic boom. You know, you live in Florida you get used to hearing that twin boom, with the space shuttle landing and all, but I didn’t have time to reason it out before I heard the next one. The huge cypress tree I stood by shook; bushes rattled nearby, and squirrels fell off branches all around me. Boom! Another tremor shot up my legs from the ground.

What the . . .

Dinosaur!

I screamed but no sound came out. The camera fell from my hands. The dinosaur waded through the river, craning his neck to and fro. I knew what he was after. I knew what he wanted. And I remembered what Church Lady and Christy Lenzi told me. I grabbed my camera and ran into the muck.

“Right here!” I yelled. I twisted my watch and directed a sun beam into his eyes.

He stopped. Without moving his head, he slid his eye and looked straight at me.

“Yeah, that’s right,” I yelled, thumping my chest. “Grade A Beef! Come on!” I flicked my hand like Keanu Reeves. “Come on!” My heart was almost busting through my chest, but I repeated my mantra: I must enter the animal’s space, and he mine. This was the photo op of a lifetime.

He swooped his neck down and faced me. My heart pounded so hard it was breaking my ribs. The dinosaur smelled like an old aquarium. His nostrils were each as big as boulders. This was it—my final moment. I raised the camera. Then, like a wine connoisseur, he sniffed me, almost ripping the hair off my head.

He swung back up and lumbered through the river. About twenty yards down, he stopped and nibbled off some treetops.

Ah, brontosaurus. I nodded to myself. The friendly vegan. I ran through the trees and fired off this shot before he disappeared.

I’ve been to the local university, the veterinarians, and the science museum. They all think my husband Photoshopped the dinosaur into the picture. “But look at the reflection in the water!” I argued. “Look at the scale!” I tried to convince them to bring equipment and look for footprints in the riverbed, but they said words like mental and loony.

No one believed me. One guy even showed me how he Photoshopped himself into a picture with Lindsay Lohan. But the light in the photo reflected differently on him than on Lindsay. His picture’s obviously a fake.

I’ve been back to the river; everything looks the same. There’s no trace of the dinosaur, no proof that he was ever there. Nothing.

Except for this picture.

Wildlife Week: In Which I Encounter Wildlife Where It's Not Supposed To Be Today's Post: Bear!


He looks tiny in this photo, but he was much bigger in real life.

So I'm looking through a barrel on the third hole at a miniature golf place in Tennessee when the people above me shout, "Bear! Bear!"

I'm like yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, really. We'd just hiked the Appalachian Trail and didn't see so much as a squirrel. I bend down to line up my shot; I aim to win. But these people are ruining my concentration with all their shouting. Do they not know the rules of golf? We shake our heads. The only way to shut them up is to check it out. We run up there and OMG! there's a bear! He's hard to see because he's far away, hanging back in the darkness. I can't believe I'm looking at a real, live bear who is not in a cage.

He doesn't do anything exciting, and after a few minutes, everyone returns to putting their colorful balls through mazes and tunnels. I'm still at the third hole when a crowd of people stampede down from above. "That bear! He came down! He's in the golf course!"

I grab B's camera and scramble up to the first hole. There he is. The light spills over him, he's beautiful. Please notice, dear readers--there's nothing between me and the bear except an open walkway! And I'm the only steak human now standing at par one. B's camera is confusing. I don't know how to zoom or focus; somehow I fire off the shot. Then, the bear lifts the trash can with his jaws and slams it down. Awesome. Literally. When I can move, I back out of there.

Eventually, the bear moves on and so do we. Everyone else shouts their score to me; I write the numbers in a daze. I still I can't believe I saw that bear. At par eight, we hear some dogs barking on the other side of the hill. The sound echoes into the night.

Wildlife Week: In Which I Encounter Wildlife Where It's Not Supposed To Be Today's Post: The Crane Family!



Sandhill cranes--they walk around like they own the place. They meander down the street, using the sidewalk at times, looking around while holding their heads aloft. They stand four feet tall.

I'm a little scared of them.

Wildlife Week: In Which I Encounter Wildlife Where It's Not Supposed To Be Today's Post: Masked Robbers at Night!


My husband walked past these baby raccoons on his way to retrieve the hose. "S," I called in a voice I hoped blended into the night. He walked past them again without even seeing them, but they saw him. A third raccoon leaped off the birdfeeder and shot into the woods.

I had the camera by this time, but the birdfeeder was too tall for me to get the straight-on shot I wanted. I handed the camera to S and directed.

Wildlife Week: In Which I Encounter Wildlife Where It's Not Supposed To Be Today's Post: Rattlesnake!


Q: Why did the rattlesnake cross the road?
A: To get to the other side.

I'm outside enjoying the breezy 90 degree weather when I see something shimmy on the road. Snake! He's slithered out of S's yard and he's undulating to mine.

"Get back! Get back!" I shout to the seven or eight kids in my driveway; this only brings them closer. "GET BACK!"

I dash into the house, grab my camera, and run past the kids, who are now crouching at the end of the driveway watching the snake serpentine toward them.

"GET BACK!" I shriek as I move closer to the snake. "GET BACK! DON'T MOVE!" Even the snake obeys. I try to play it safe, using distance and telephoto, but then I realize the photo will be blurry should I later zoom in and crop. If I want a close up, I actually have to be close up.

I move in. I'm about five feet away, maybe three, I don't know--it's a rattlesnake, measuring units are not relevant to me at the moment. I snap off about five pictures, whooping and screaming the whole time because as I raise the camera, I lose him in the frame and I think he's moved closer to me, but he hasn't. He's still there, holding his pose--head up, rattle up. I believe my shrieking has convinced him I am a predator.

I take one more shot, then I'm out of there. The snake doesn't move. Neither of us believes we are safe. I make all the kids go into my garage and later, I escort each one home. No one's getting bit on my watch.

This is a pygmy rattlesnake.

I Met Brian Regan Last Night!

Brian Regan is my favorite comedian. Look him up on YouTube, click here for my favorite new bit, or visit my sidebar--this guy is hilarious! We saw him in Tampa last night and after the show, I asked an usher how I could meet Brian.

Usher: Go out this door; take a left. When you get to the street, take another left, and when you get to the next street, take a left again. He'll come out under the canopy--that's the stage door.

Me: Okay, so just--

Usher: Basically, just go around the building until you see the stage door.

Me: So that's where he goes to meet his fans?

Usher: Well, it's the stage door. He's got to come out sometime.

Talk about feeling like a stalker. And yet . . . here I am with Brian!





Brian! Brian! You're my comedy-hero! You're so funny! I've watched all your specials and Letterman appearances and I search YouTube for you and you make me laugh all the time and WOW! you're so great, thank you, thank you for making me laugh at the end of my day, you don't even know me, but you contribute to my life by bringing me the gift of humor. Please never stop and please take care of yourself so you can keep sharing this gift and please come back to Florida because I missed you in June.

Okay, I didn't really say all that, but I wanted to.

Yay Brian!

I Used to Have a Clean House, But Now I Am a Writer

My house used to be very clean; I needed it that way for some reason. Now only my office is clean. Stacks of papers and folders are geometrically arranged on my desk. My pen lies just so. Webster's and Roget's are within reach but not in the way.

The rest of the house is falling apart.

I feel it takes a person of great talent and discipline to let the house get to the point I now find mine in. I could beat anyone at Jenga--one look at my laundry pile will prove that. The hamper sits against the wall. I know just how to add to it without making it tumble. I try to keep up my husband's laundry since he actually has to face people. But I don't iron. If that de-wrinkling spray doesn't do it, oh well.

At times, my house is very dusty. I once used my husband's black socks to dust; the results were quite revealing. I think a black sock test would be more effective than a white glove test. Note: Dust is mostly human skin cells and dessicated corpses of dust mites. That's gross!

Trash cans, see laundry above.

My house will never be as clean as my mother's house was, back when I was a kid and was forced to clean baseboards every Saturday. But I have two completed novels and more than a few short stories to show for my household neglect. That's a pretty good trade-off. And I'm willing to eat from paper plates if it will allow me to tweak one more chapter. There's always a household shortcut; there are no shortcuts to good writing.

The Carpal Tunnel Club: Are You a Member?

Writers corner the market on carpal tunnel syndrome--or so we think.

My membership is in good standing. My forearm (especially the right side) hurts from the elbow to the wrist. The splint and elbow band help, but even in my sleep my arm aches. I've tried different keyboards, mouse positions, etc., but I still haven't found what I'm looking for. (Hey! That sounds familiar.)

While surfing the net last night (thus ensuring my membership in The Carpal Tunnel Club), I discovered that people in other vocations suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. According to this Wikipedia entry, U2 drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. has experienced pain throughout most of his career--he even uses specially designed drumsticks.

Cake decorators suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. So do pizza makers, waterskiers, and hairstylists.

My research stopped there; my hand was hurting. But I discovered the club was not as exclusive as I had originally thought. And if Larry can do it, so can I! Buck up, writers! We're all suffering for our art!

Using Artifacts in a Scene: 3:10 to Yuma as an Example

I recently saw 3:10 to Yuma, the new western starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Excellent film. Without going on about the good-looking leads, I'll get right to the literary point. (Spoiler alert.)

Conversation drives a scene. But it's really the foreground of a picture. To make the picture full, we must sketch in the white space. An easy way to do this is to describe facial expressions and character movement, but a subtle way of doing it is to use the artifacts in the scene in a meaningful way.

I'm using a movie to demonstrate this point, but the same technique can be used in writing. Russell Crowe's character, Ben Wade, sketches all the time (one of those character devices used to flesh out the villain). Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a rancher whose last chance at saving his land is by delivering Wade alive to the 3:10 prison train to Yuma and collecting the reward. Dan Evans is established early on as passive. His barn is burned and he doesn't retaliate, even though he saw the men who burned it. His son is full of disrespect for the father he sees as spineless.

There is a point in the movie in which Wade and Evans sit alone in a hotel room, waiting for the train. The other bounty hunters have dropped out or been killed. Wade offers Evans $1000 to let him escape; given what we've seen Wade do to the other bounty hunters, this is a generous offer.

Time creeps toward the crisis: Will Evans take the easy way out? After all, the money is actually all he needs. And we've seen him take the easy way out before. Or will Evans strike a new path for himself? We've seen glimpses of the man he could be.

As they sit in tense silence, Wade sketches. Revealed later, the sketch is of Dan Evans as he kept vigil from the hotel window. But here's the important part: Wade drew the sketch on the only paper available--a title page in the Bible. When we see the sketch, we also see the words New Testament. This is a great example of using an artifact in the scene to further character/plot development. The sketch appearing on the New Testament points to the moment when Dan Evans becomes a new man--he will not sit back, he will not remain passive, he will not take the easy way out. He leaves the old Dan behind and rises up, bold and committed. This is his new testament.

I'd like to point out that the book Wade held was far too thick to be just a New Testament, unless they produced large print Bibles back then. Using the New Testament was a deliberate choice made by the film makers.

We can make this kind of choice in our writing. Our characters are surrounded by artifacts. Use those artifacts to reflect the story--it's a deft touch and delivers great impact.

A Million Little Pieces: My Weekend

Word choice is so important. This post is not choppy--it's stream of consciousness. Here are the bits and pieces of my weekend:

I didn't feel like making an appointment at the salon, so I hacked my own hair. When I picked up my sister for church, she said, "Wow! Your hair looks really good today."

The new TV season starts soon! Parts of it have already started. I liked it better when I was a kid and all the new seasons started the exact same week. TV Guide would have a special edition introducing the new shows and making recommendations. It was exciting. Today's new season is so staggered, you really have no idea when you favorite show is going to start again.

Shows my HDR is set to record: Saturday Night Live (new episodes and old reruns), Desperate Housewives, and an open record for anything involving Bono and U2.

An alligator lives in a pond I pass every day. I know because I've seen him. But I did not see him today.

That's all folks. I start my new WIP this week.

Nerd, Dorks, Dr. Seuss, and I got an A+

Did you know that Dr. Seuss is credited with inventing the word nerd? I didn't know this; I discovered it last night while perusing my dictionary, something I like to do. (I think it was Steven Wright who said he reads the dictionary because he figures all the books he wants to read are in there.) Standard advice for writers is to avoid using slang because it becomes dated; remember when everyone was saying, "She's a Betty, she's a Veronica"? Then there's that really dated stuff like groovy, outta sight, and far out (or "farm out," as my friend K. likes to say). Watch The Brady Bunch and you'll hear all of these.

Some words resist the sands of time. I feel safe using the word "cool," which has been in use since at least the 1930s. Other words with staying power: dork (1967), uptight (1934), jock (1963), and nerd (1951).

Nerds have excellent characteristics, according to all the dictionaries I read this morning. They are intellectual, possess above-average IQs, and are single-minded and accomplished at technical and scientific pursuits--who wouldn't want to be a nerd? How did this word come to mean an awkward person, a socially inept dork--a loser? I picture a guy with thick black glasses; you probably see the same guy, he's such a stereotype.

In any case, when I read the etymology of nerd, I mistakenly thought it referred to my favorite book from the Cat in the Hat line, Put Me In the Zoo. I loved this book when I was a kid. In second grade, I wrote a passionate book report lauding the pathos and conflict in the story. I even illustrated my report:



Now I know what you're all thinking: How can I get Danette to illustrate all my books? Well, my friends, I hung up my drawing sticks after a serious mishap involving off-brand crayons. (You know what I'm talking about--when your mom thinks you won't notice the difference and she buys those store brand crayons and it's like drawing with candles--all wax, no color.)

Going back to the book report, here's what the teacher wrote:



Second grade, people! (And did you notice my really good cursive?) I have a single-minded pursuit--writing. I love it. I am a nerd. And I am not ashamed.

September 11th: We Have Not Forgotten

We will never forget those who perished on this day, nor will we forget the soldiers who've given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of this country. This YouTube video is not for young children.



In this world you will have trouble. But take heart--I have overcome the world. ....Jesus Christ John 16:33, NIV

Interview With a Middle-Grade Audience: Three Sixth-Grade Girls Talk Books

I'm very happy to welcome today’s guests, three sixth-grade girls who’ve agreed to talk with me about books. This trio includes A/B students, honor roll recipients and gifted students. One of them read more than a hundred books over the summer just because she wanted to. To keep things safe, and because it’s fun, the girls have picked nom de plumes for this interview.

Want to know more about your middle-grade audience? Let’s get started!

DH: Good morning, girls! Thanks so much for letting me interview you. I know you have a lot to say, so we’ll dive right in. Summer’s over [girls groan], and you’re back in school. Has your reading teacher assigned any books to read?

VMKgirl: Touching Spirit Bear.

Nancy Drew: Yeah, all the sixth graders have to read it.

DH: What do you think of it so far? [Spoiler alert]

VMKgirl: It seems good, but it’s kind of gross. Cole smashed Peter’s head on the sidewalk. But it made me want to find out what would happen to him, if he’s all right.

Nymphadora Tonks: It makes me feel bad; it’s like, disturbing. I had a nightmare about it—way too detailed.

Nancy Drew: [Nods.] Disgusting! All his bones are broken and they left him on this island and he’s hungry so he eats a live mouse. [Shudders.] And drinks mud.

DH: Touching Spirit Bear was assigned to you; would you have picked this book up on your own?

VMKgirl: NO! The boy does bad things—he steals, hurts people [shakes head]—it’s just bad.

Nymphadora Tonks: If I had a choice, I’d put this book down right now.

Nancy Drew: No, I wouldn’t pick it out.

DH: Schools assign credits for state reading lists and AR lists. When you go to the library, do you look for only books you can get credit for?

VMKgirl: I look for my favorite books and I get one from the list—that way I’m getting a little of both.

Nymphadora Tonks: I pick out anything I want, just depends on my mood. It doesn’t have to be on the list or not.

Nancy Drew: I usually pick out ten or eleven books and read them in a week. But if I see a Sunshine State book and if it looks good, I’ll check it out.

Nymphadora Tonks: Yes, if I see one, I’ll pick it up because I can always put it down later! [Laughs.]

DH: How do you hear about a good book?

VMKgirl: Friends. Like if the teacher asks if anyone has read any good books.

Nymphadora Tonks: [Eyes brighten.] All the Harry Potter books are good!

Nancy Drew: Friends, like I see what other people are reading, or you hear about it from your mother.

DH: When you go to the library, what makes you pull a book off the shelf?

To read this interview in its entirety, click here.

Funny, Weird, or Scary Signs


And on the same property:

Queries, and The Artist Formerly Known as Danette Haworth

I've drafted the perfect query letter. Strong hook, interesting characters, good synopsis. The query is professional, and I believe I can hear the voice and tone of the novel coming out in the letter. Several rounds of critiques have chiseled the letter to perfection. I'm pleased with it.

I print the letter and inspect it—any ink smudges? Any of those black dots that are really dead bugs from when the paper was being pressed? Strands of hair? Dust? Particles of any kind? Did the letter print at a straight angle on the paper? I exhale. Everything has come through perfectly.

I whip out my pen and sign my name. Oh no! My letters are too skinny! The editor or agent will think I'm narrow-minded, closed-up, filled with inhibitions. I print a new letter and sign with a flourish. Too fancy—who do I think I am? I hit print and sign again, taking my time. This one's no good either; it's a schoolgirl signature—too loopy. I'm getting hot, now. Literally. I feel moist all over and my face is full of heat. It must be SSS—signature stress syndrome. I print one more letter and try for a signature somewhere between skinny and schoolgirl; I hope my signature says I'm serious and intelligent but kicky and fun, too.

Recently, I discovered something that could potentially take care of the whole SSS business for me. Here's my name in Japanese:



I'm thinking about signing all my queries with it.

Cows

Behind my sister's house is a pasture shadowed by tall oaks and orange trees. We sit at her table and enjoy this view. Cows graze by; they are lumbering and thoughtful, these big, gentle creatures. Ironically, a slaughterhouse sits on the same street not half a mile away.

I do not like to think of this, not even as I eat my hamburger and stare out my sister's windows.

Insomnia, But Not For Long

I woke up at 3:44 this morning and was unable to return to my dreams. Alert and focused, I could have executed any scientific or mathematical problem set before me. I gave up on sleep and trudged downstairs, checked email (none), set up a couple shows to record on my HDR, and ate an Entenmanns' Rich Frosted Donut. It was after five before I went back to bed and slipped in and out of that weird quasi-sleep. Maybe I should have stayed awake. I feel more tired now than I did at 3:44.

But the end is near--I visited the sleep doctor this week. It's just wonderful to visit doctors; after all, they're really the only ones interested in listening to your tale of woe. Sometimes I think I'll forget something so I type it all up into a little story.

Sleep Doctor asked me about my sleeping history. It goes something like this: shared a room all my life with sister and couldn't sleep if I even heard her breathing; rented a house with sis and bros--the bros stayed up all night, clanging pots in the kitchen, watching COPS, and slamming doors; married a man who snores and has his own sleeping problems. Then I described all the little strategies I use to encourage sleep.

The doctor shook his head in sympathy. "You are an insomniac," he said. "Classic insomniac." He didn't give me a handout like the other doctor did: Keep your room dark. Go to bed at the same time every night. Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only. He gave me a prescription. "Just use it when you need it," he said. "You will not become a drug addict or a junkie. I don't believe you'll be killing people for pills."

And I won't. And soon, the red cracks in my eyes and the purple eye-bags underneath will fade, cognizant thinking will be restored, and my box of donuts will last longer.