Mowing and Murder

A swath of wildflowers between a pond and old barn.

I left most of the wildflowers for butterflies and other pollinators.

Mowing is pretty boring, and I have a lot to mow. So sometimes I think about stories while I spend hours on the mower.

I’m also a sucker for the wildlife on my property. So my mowing/plotting sessions go a lot like this:

So what if she opens the door and finds a body? Maybe he’s been dead for a long — Move, little snake! Get away from the mower! — okay, so anyway, he was probably tortured before — hang on, lemme wait for this vole to get clear — so, tortured, and so there’s this traumatic issue with everything she imagines — oh, are you butterflies using these wildflowers? I guess they don’t have to be cut, after all.

I’ve heard some people say they’re disturbed by things written by people they know, like they can’t believe someone they know could imagine such things. But writing violence or horror doesn’t really predict violent or horrible behavior. I’ll eviscerate a fictional character, but when I saw a rabbit running into the field I was mowing instead of away from it, I deduced a nest of bunnies hidden somewhere and didn’t mow there for another two weeks. Most writers I know are like that — ruthless in fiction, but in reality such softies. Continue reading

Story Ideas from Life

ghostly hands translucent over keyboardSo, where do story ideas come from? For many writers, it’s stuff like this.

I live in the middle of acreage, surrounded by fields. No one could possibly reach our wi-fi, but it’s encrypted anyway. A thunderstorm darkened the sky and knocked out the power, so in the dim light I turned on my phone’s mobile hotspot to quickly save the blog post I was working on.

Alone in my house, thunder rolling, I glanced down at the phone screen and saw, “Two connected users.”

SPOILER: I’m okay, and there was no internet ghost or wi-fi burglar in my house. It turned out the tablet I’d used for notes at the weekend’s conference was still powered on and open to wi-fi. But it’s a good start for a story, you think?

Ask the Author and S’Mores

The water was a lot of dead algae and also a thick pancake batter-like sludgy foam. Yech.

The water was a lot of dead algae and also (not pictured) a thick pancake batter-like sludgy foam. Yech.

So, I missed the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold conference last weekend, and I feel pretty bad about that. I’ve been to the Colorado Gold only once, last year, but I really enjoyed the people I met there and the conference sessions themselves.

We should maybe rethink some of our environmental stewardship choices.

Dead fish everywhere. We should maybe rethink some of our environmental stewardship choices.

But I did get to spend a weekend at another (non-writing) event with friends, being eaten by mosquitos beside the highly questionable waters of Maumee Bay and Lake Erie, so that was some consolation. The tap water was officially safe again, but the lake water, not so much. I’ll let you know if the pollution-affected mutant mosquito bites turn out to have imbued me with superpowers. We can always hope. Continue reading

The TASTE of Montgomery County, a tasty fundraiser

Every year the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum hosts this fundraiser designed especially for people who like to eat. Like me. This was only my second year to attend, but wow, I wished I’d brought a couple of extra stomachs.

The TASTE features a lineup of nearly 20 local restaurants and caterers bringing their A-game to the study grounds. For very reasonable prices, you can buy little (and not so little) samples of fabulous foods. And by “reasonable,” I mean nothing costs more than $4, lots of items are $1, and many of those big-ticket items could be meals in themselves, if you didn’t need to save room to sample everything else. Continue reading

I Walk a Lonely Road: my new treadmill desk

English: 2009 ESPN Zone Chicago Ultimate Couch...

2009 ESPN Zone Chicago Ultimate Couch Potato Contestant – Steve Janowski (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, it turns out that sitting on your butt for long periods of time, like writers do, is really bad for you.

This should be one of those no-brainer things — sedentary lifestyles are bad, this isn’t news — but it really came home to me when I realized that since I became a published author and started really taking my writing seriously, I’ve gained almost 20 pounds. Ouch.

Time to take back my life! Continue reading

Vintage Books Are Art

A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript,...

A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I respect books. I hate to see books damaged, even — especially — in the name of decor. At a decorators’ show house recently, my sister, mother, and I looked in horror at shelf art made of cut up books. “Oh, thank goodness,” my sister soon identified, “they’re just Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.”

Walking through a decorating fair using vintage books and paper as disposable materials makes my blood run dark. The current trend of tearing up old books to get aged or interesting paper is infuriating and wholly unnecessary. My mother has decorated her bathroom with delightful antique book illustrations, everything from Sinbad to Sherlock Holmes, all color-copied from the originals for a neat aesthetic with no damage. Continue reading

How I Survived the Arctic Blast and Beyond

“A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.”
— Charles Dudley Warner, Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, August 27, 1897 (often attributed to Mark Twain but probably mistakenly)

English: "Besides disrupting transportati...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s said that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. While I can’t agree wholly — I’m from the midwest, and no clothing in the world will save you from a tornado — I agree with the sentiment that a little preparation goes a long way toward making one safe and comfortable.

Continue reading

The Angels of West Baden

Inside the atrium at the West Baden Springs Hotel.

Inside the atrium at the West Baden Springs Hotel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may not have heard of the West Baden hotel, which is a shame. It was built in the town of West Baden Springs, near the better-known today French Lick, and was a luxury hotel to offer the wealthy leisure and access to the natural phenomena of the area — mineral springs considered medicinal.

Today’s travelogue is a bit different, since while I’ve visited West Baden, this isn’t that trip. It’s just the necessary backdrop. Continue reading

The Joys of Research – Truth or Dare

Party 1950s Style

(Photo credit: NinaZed)

Being a writer means you get to look up all kinds of wacky stuff and pretend it’s valid work.

While researching for a story, I learned that the party game we call “Truth or Dare” is actually centuries old even in its current form. In fact, per some sources, it might be literally ancient, tracing back to ancient Greece.

Which just goes to show that people have been shameless and fearless — or drunk — for a really long time.

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Beware of Writers

English: Beware of Bull Beware of Bull on publ...

This photo is not directly relevant to being cautious of writers. It’s just great on its own. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve said that people just passing through a hotel hosting a writers’ convention must be frequently alarmed. For example, I was sitting in the hall at my last such conference and overheard someone pleading for ideas on how to dispose of a body. “I tried burying it, but that didn’t work,” he said, “and I’ve thought about acid in a tub but it didn’t seem likely to clean up well. Can you help?”
Continue reading