Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Project 2019

Project Salsa: the Beginning

Growing flowers requires pretty much no preparation. Got seeds? Got soil? Got a pot? Combine and then pop that sucker in sunlight (and remember to water it every couple days,) and it’s good to go.

Growing vegetables is a bit more complicated. At least it is when I’m looking to produce a usable amount of vegetables rather than having the occasional handful of cherry tomatoes to snack on. Vegetables require research and planning. What kinds of plants will do well on my patio? How much space do they need? And how many plants should I plant to get a usable yield (so I can actually make salsa)?

My research has given me an idea of what I should be doing, and I’ve come up with a list of what I want to plant. The next step is figuring out planter sizes and how to best utilize my patio space. Other than the garlic (which probably should’ve been planted in the fall), nothing needs to be planted until late March, which means I have time to figure those things out. And that’s good because I’ll be planting a lot of different seeds.

Here’s a rough list of what I’ll be planting this spring:

  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Jalapenos
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Carrots
  • Strawberries
  • Pumpkins
  • Watermelon
  • Cantilope
  • Marigolds
  • Red Sunflowers
  • Wildflowers
  • Forget-Me-Nots

And all of that will hopefully fit on my itty, bitty patio. It’s … going to be an adventure.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Project 2019

Screw Resolutions. Here are My Goals for 2019

I’m changing things up for 2019: I’m not making resolutions; I’m making goals. This is part of my plan to get my shit together, writing and having-a-life-wise.

So what are my goals for the coming year? And why did I decide on them? I know you didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

Sew My First a Quilt
I inherited a sewing machine when my parents moved from Massachusetts to South Carolina. And up until about a couple weeks ago, it had sat in a box and on the shelf in my closet since August. The instructions make almost no sense and if not for YouTube, I would’ve never figured out how to thread the bobbin (or what the bobbin is even for). Searching for sewing projects on Pinterest led me to the magical world of quilting, and I decided that I had to make one. Even if it was just to say that I’d done it.

Write & Post Serial Fiction
The idea of posting a piece of serial fiction has been on my mind for years, but I’ve always talked myself out it for one reason or another. That’s going to change, though. I want to post more regularly on here, and this is a way to do that. At least for the duration of the serial. Plus I’m working on a short story that’ll lend itself to the format. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get into a groove and make serials a regular thing.

Make Salsa with Veggies from the Garden
Last year, I took a risk and planted vegetables on my patio. Certain ones–like tomatoes and carrots–did surprisingly well. That’s encouraged me to refine my container garden, improving on the plant spacing and growing more root vegetables. Plus I want to make a recipe using veggies that I’ve grown myself. I mean, there’re few things tastier than eating ripe tomatoes right off the vine. But there’s a level of self-sufficiency in cooking with vegetables that I’ve grown myself.

Finish the Voss 1st Draft
I didn’t write much during 2018: a couple short stories but no novels or novellas. That’s something I want to change. I want to get myself into a writing routine and to complete the first draft of a full-length novel. An idea–that I’ve dubbed Voss–has been floating around my head since I watched the first few seasons of The Curse of Oak Island over last summer. It’s basically a treasure-hunting story with a bit of Haunting of Hill House thrown in to amp up the creepiness.

Tackle an Ambitious Knitting Project
I got back into knitting last year, and the projects I’ve tackled have been confidence-boosters. My garter-stitch hats and the garter-stitch baby blanket for my SO’s new nephew have kept me busy. I want to step up my game, though, and knit a pattern that’s more difficult. Like something with purl stitches (I haven’t figured those out yet) or where I have to count rows.

Visit Somewhere New
This one is more of a tradition than a new goal. Every year since 2013, I’ve made it my mission to visit somewhere that I’d never been. It can be somewhere a plane ride away or as simple as checking out a new town. I already have a couple places in mind: Asheville, Carrowinds Amusement Park, and the beach at Myrtle Beach. It’ll ultimately come down to logistics. And to be honest, I might even go after this goal more than once.

Accountability is a big part of meeting goals, so I’ll be posting regularly about my progress on each of these. Do you have any goals for 2019? What are they?

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Exploding Dog Bed

Grace has settled into life in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. How do I know? Dog beds have started exploding.

At least “it exploded” was the excuse Grace gave for the tufts of brown stuffing all over the floor and her dog bed in tatters. She said that I had to believe her because she was the only witness (Sam was hanging with my dad at the time). Besides, she would never, ever, ever chew her bed. Lady Grace of Louisiana is much too good of a dog for that.

Posted in Books, Making It Up As I Go

The Pros & Cons of Reading on My Phone

There’s an old school Nook tucked between paperbacks my bookshelf; I can’t remember the last time I used it, and I’m pretty sure the battery is dead. I like it … though it’s not exactly the most convenient. Especially since the battery doesn’t hold a charge for long anymore. I’ve given thought to replacing it with a tablet of some kind, but that’s not in the budget right now.

So I decided to download the Kindle and Nook apps on my phone. After reading a handful of books on them, I’ve come to the conclusion that reading on my phone has both pros and cons.

Pro ~ It’s Convenient as Hell
My phone goes wherever I go. At the store? It’s in my pocket. Work? In my purse. At home? Probably within arm’s reach. That means instead of popping on Facebook or Twitter while I’m waiting for something or need to fill a bit of time, I can read. And there’s no need to make sure that I’ve packed a book or worry that said book hasn’t been bent and crushed by whatever else is in my bag. I just grab my phone, click on the app, and I can pick up right where I left off.

Con ~ I Can’t Hold the Book
Paperbacks and hardcovers have a certain feel to them. There’s the weight of all three hundred or four hundred pages; there’s the smooth feel of the cover and sometimes even the raised lettering; there are the lines of black text dimpled with the imperfections in the page; there’s even accidentally catching a glimpse of the last page and trying to figure out what those lines mean. That’s all missing with a reading app.

Pro & Con ~ So Many Books
I’ll admit that I haven’t read half of the books on my bookshelves. I happen across interesting-looking books for relatively cheap and bring them home. The difference with eBooks is that I don’t have to leave my couch to find a good deal. The positive side is that I can amass a plethora of books for a reasonable price. On the downside, I’m buying books faster than I can read them and now have a dozen books on my phone that I haven’t touched yet.

Ultimately, the convenience factor trumps all. I can read while lying in bed or while at my partner’s place or on my lunch break or while in a waiting room. All without needing to pack a book. I just need to remember my phone.

Posted in Doing the Thing, Making It Up As I Go

EXPLORE

Myrtle Beach never hit my list of places to visit, despite being bustling tourist destination four hours from my apartment. Come to think of it, that may be exactly why it was never on that list. Touristy can be fun. But I’d rather get my touristy-fix with a mouse in Florida.

Then my parents relocated this summer. To Myrtle Beach.

With two visits under my belt so far, I can say that I’m familiar with the traffic in Conway and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. I still haven’t hit the beach or the touristy destinations like the Hollywood Wax Museum and the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. I’m sure that I’ll check out those places (and document the visits extensively) on a future trip.

Here’s the thing about wanderlust: it hits me when I least expect it and doesn’t require venturing off to an exotic venue.

During my most recent visit to Myrtle Beach, I satisfied my wanderlust by exploring the Tangier Outlets. Seriously. I took a quick trip to Ollie’s and scoured the book section, finding nothing. I couldn’t just go back to my parents’ place, so I searched for nearby bookstores on my phone and found the Book Warehouse at the Tangier Outlets.

It took several minutes of wandering through the pathways lined with the Nike store, Justice, Dress Barn, As Seen On TV, and others before I spotted the bookstore. I ended up not finding anything. So I decided to keep exploring. I spotted (and managed to stay out of) a fudge store. I also found a kitchen store packed to the gills with more kitchen gadgets than I’d ever seen. I managed to leave the Outlets without buying anything. Somehow.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve quelled the desire to EXPLORE by simply wandering around stores. It’s a good reminder, though, that I don’t have to spend a lot of money to get my wanderlust fix. All it takes is to find somewhere that I’ve never been and simply explore.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Mama Deer

“Look at the mama and baby deer!” I said. “I’m going to get a picture after we park.”

My partner was driving us up the windy driveway to his place. He took his foot off the gas as he glanced over into the clearing.

“That’ll be tricky,” he said.

“Have some faith in me.”

He parked in front of the garage. “It’s not that I don’t have faith. It’s just that those deer are going to run as soon as you head down the driveway.”

“We’ll see about that.”

In retrospect, I was absurdly confident as I hiked down the driveway. Like I was a Disney princess headed off to meet my long-lost animal sidekicks, when the reality was that I’d never come face-to-face with wildlife bigger than a squirrel in my life.

The gravel driveway made it impossible to walk quietly, and Mama Deer had her sights on me before I even stepped off the path. Her twins stared as well.

“Hey there, sweetie.”

“Who are you?” Mama Deer flicked her ears to dislodge a bug before aiming them straight back at me.

“I only want to take a couple pictures.”

“Well, okay. But please don’t get any closer.”

“That’s fair,” I said.

I zoomed in as much as the phone camera would allow, snapping a couple pictures from between the trees.

“Mama, look at how high I can leap!” One of the twins vaulted towards the back of the clearing.

“Hey, I can leap high too!” The other twin bounced behind her brother.

“Don’t you two run away from me.”

Mama Deer bolted behind her babies and corralled them at the far end of the clearing. Her attention returned to me briefly before she began scolding her twins. I took the opportunity to head back to the driveway.

“I don’t care what your brother was doing. If he decided to jump out at Mr. Skunk and get sprayed, would you do it too?”

“Well, no. I don’t like the smell of Mr. Skunk’s spray.”

“Wait, Mr. Skunk is here? I want to see him.”

The fawn ran for the woods. His twin and mother took off in hot pursuit, leaving me alone on the driveway with my phone.

Posted in 5 Things, Making It Up As I Go, Writing

Five Things I Learned Writing “Scales”

I issued myself a challenge at the beginning of May: turn out a polished final draft of a short story by June 1st for an anthology call for submissions. And because I’m an overachiever when it comes to making things difficult for myself, I decided to write a cozy-type story, meaning limited blood and violence. So no car chases, no shootouts, and no zombies. (Note to self, figure out how to write a cozy mystery with zombies.)

The challenge taught me a lot about writing, and I wanted to share the five biggest lessons that I learned from trying to write and submit a short story in a month.

1. Find Conflict Outside Your (Writing) Comfort Zone

Because I decided early on that I didn’t want to write my typical A-team/Jack Reacher-type story where lives are on the line. I wanted something with a different kind of drama, the kind that could be happening next door and you’d be none the wiser until news crews show up on the front lawn. That isn’t the kind of drama I’m used to manufacturing for my characters and weaving into the plot.

I had to take a step back and ask myself what kind of conflict would compel the main character to act? She’s an expert in reptiles. What if she found and had to protect a reptile that’d been thought extinct for centuries? It took a bit longer to figure out how to make the tension and conflict something that would keep me on the edge of my seat. But I did it. And honestly, I liked how it turned out.

2. Pinterest is Worse than Quicksand, and You’re Better off Avoiding It while Writing

Hi there. I’m S.E., and I’m mildly addicted to Pinterest. It’s my go-to for recipes that may or may not work, the place where I can see hundreds of cute puppy pictures, and a knitting resource if I’m looking for a how-to or a knitting pattern. Occasionally, I’ll use it to give myself a visual reference for whatever character or place I’m creating.

I’ve yet to break myself of the habit of popping onto Pinterest while I’m working, and I usually justify the trip over to the website by telling myself that I need to know what something looks like. That’s exactly what happened when I was working on “Scales.” I was working on the scene where the formerly-extinct reptile shows up and decided that I need a visual. Simple enough, right? Well, I ended up knee-deep in knitting patterns for cryptozoological creatures like the Loch Ness Monster and dragons for a couple hours. It was time that should’ve been spent writing.

3. Worldbuilding is Tough; Stopping is Tougher

Most of my stories take place in the present day or in a world that’s pretty darn close to it. That’s because worldbuilding is not my strong suite. It’s a process that requires knowing things like how magic works, how the culture looks, and the general history of the civilization. You know. little things.

Building the universe in Scales was rough, and it still challenges me when I dive back into the story. The world itself is based upon a modern-day United States but with the addition of magic and cryptids. That didn’t strike me as being too difficult when I first started. Make the gargoyle doorknocker an enchanted sentry? Cute and great show of what’s normal. Have the roommate be a psychic? Hello opportunity for foreshadowing. But the problem arose with another question: where do I stop? Or better yet, how much magic is too much magic? Maybe there are Pegasuses and people carry umbrellas to avoid droppings. Or maybe witches and wizards run supermarkets and there’s been a rash of scandals involving magicked fruit. My head still spins thinking about the possibilities.

4. You May Fail (and that’s Okay)

Deadlines are my best friends as a writer. They compel me to sit down and write until the thing is done. Otherwise I’m likely to write a hundred words here and there, stretching what should be a month-long first draft process into three months (for short stories). Like I said before, I knew that turning out a finished story in a month was a tall order. But I felt confident.

A series of unexpected–but not unwelcome–circumstances meant that I’d finished the first draft and had gotten about 25% of the way through the first revision by the time June 1st rolled around. A small part of me was disappointed. But a far larger part understood that life has a habit of happening, and writing sometimes has to take a backseat. Like when I have to put in extra time at work because I’m taking time off for a convention. And when I meet and start dating my now significant other. I failed, yes. But sometimes such is life.

5. At the End of the Day, Keep Plugging

I’ve hit a point with Scales where I’m spinning my tires, not getting any traction with revisions. The biggest reason is that I don’t know what the story needs. Does it need to start somewhere different? Do I need to weave in a subplot that’ll ratchet up the tension? Or do I need to find a way to amplify the tension in the existing story arc?

I’m not sending Scales to the folder on my desktop that I’ve named “Graveyard.” There’s something about it and its main character that keep me circling back to it. The story just isn’t ready to be told yet. So I’m going to be patient and let the kinks work themselves out in the back of my mind until everything falls into place.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

I Live-Tweeted “The Bridgewater Triangle” Documentary

I happened upon a documentary called “The Bridgewater Triangle” on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago. The description –especially that the location was a stone’s throw from where I grew up–convinced me to hit play and start live-tweeting. Here are those tweets, occasional spelling mistakes and all.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

On Refilling the Creative Well

Life is a hectic right now. Not absurdly hectic where I don’t have time for breakfast or get home well past my bedtime. But it’s hit the criteria for a little hectic: going to class and doing associated homework; working full-time; navigating relationship with a significant other; keeping my garden alive; and writing. There’s also the routine things like cooking meals and grocery shopping and doing laundry that need to get done.

All of that combined was enough to short-circuit the creative part of my brain. It showed signs of sluggishness for a couple weeks. It balked when I tried to revise a short story, and it dug in its heels when I started a new blog post even though I have an idea ready to go. Then it finally decided that it’d had enough.

I’ve been through this situation before. Short-circuiting. Burning out.

The solution? Picking up a book.

For me as a writer, I work best when I strike a balance between the number of stories and books that I read and the number of ones that I right. A perfect situation mean spending an hour or so reading during the morning and then writing for a few hours between 9PM and midnight. However that routine doesn’t jive right now with the need to pay rent and buy food.

I need to achieve a semblance of balance between refilling the creative well and drawing from it. That means leaning more heavily on one than the other for a while. Forgoing reading for a few weeks while I use my spare time to write. Or letting my stories sit dormant while I spend three or four days plowing through a book. (My well is far easier to fill than deplete.)

So I picked up a book: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I barreled through it in and around the rest of my life over the course of four days. Now–not only am I itching to write a serial killer story–I can feel the creative part of my brain coming back online. It’s still in a fickle stage, more than happy to slip back into short-circuit mode if I push it too hard or work on projects that I’m not excited about.

But I’m back at it for now. Slowly working forward with the intention of pouring a book into my brain once a week to stave off burnout. It may happen, or it may not. Either way, I’m glad to be back in the saddle.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Drama King

There was a minor incident last fall involving my probably haunted porcelain figurines.

So what happened: I was figuring out what I wanted for dinner during the coming week and grabbed a cookbook off the shelf. Apparently the weight of that book was keeping all my recipe books upright. The right bookend topple over, sending books of crock-pot and five-ingredient recipes tumbling. One of them slammed into Phillip’s shoulder.

I watched–paralyzed–as he fell headfirst into the printer’s paper tray before landing face-first on the carpet. He lay there moaning for what felt like an hour, but was probably closer to then seconds, until I unstuck my feet from the floor and approached him.

Every possible, worst-case-scenario flashed through my mind. I pictured a fissure running from his neck all the way down to his thigh or his face crumbling outward the moment I picked him up or one of his arms being left on the floor (which shows how irrationally I was thinking because his arms are fused to his body).

He cussed me out as I picked him up.

“What wrong with you, woman? You nearly broke my face.”

I tuned him out while inspecting every inch of his blue and gray clothes for the smallest cracks. And I found none.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” he demanded

Relief flooded my voice when I finally answered.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean for that to happen. But at least you’re okay.”

“I am not okay,” he fumed. “I saw my life flash before my eyes, and I think I may have a concussion.”

I wanted so badly to say you don’t have a brain, so you can’t have a concussion, but I bit my tongue. I carefully placed him back on the shelf before weighing down the sides of the license plate bookends so that they didn’t topple over again. Phillip muttered angrily the whole time.

When I stepped back and took a look at the shelf as a whole, things didn’t look quite right.

Nothing was out of place. The cookbooks leaned left and right between the license plates; Phillip stood facing the front door; and Miss Georgia looked slightly to the right and into the living room.

No, Miss Georgia didn’t quite look right. She had a large white patch on her right side that wasn’t there before. It took a second before my brain got traction and put two-and-two together.

“Oh, shit.”

Her right arm lay on the printer table, between a Saint Bernard figure and a unicorn. It was a mostly clean break other than the jagged edge where the forearm had separated from the inner part of her elbow.

“Miss Georgia,” I said. “Are you okay?”

“I’m quite all right,” she said. “All I need is a bit of glue and time for it to set. Then I’ll be as good as new.”

“Are… are you sure?”

“Vocation-related… weren’t you a governess, Miss Georgia?”

“Quite sure. No need to worry about me, dear. I’ve spent my fair share of time recovering from vocation-related injuries.”
She offered a serene smile. “That was one of my professions before I retired.”

The subdued yet steely look in her eyes said that anymore questions would be brushed off with polite but firm avoidance.

So instead I dug through my tool bag until I found the heavy-duty-not-quite-Gorilla-glue. Miss Georgia remained pleasant through the whole procedure.

The same couldn’t be said for Phillip; he wouldn’t stop whining. More than six months later, he still glares at me when he thinks my back is turned. It’s far easier to give that to him than the alternative. Especially now that I have a stuffed koala in the house.