Research Sucks! (You In)

I know this is a really geeky thing to say, but when I was in college and had to write essays and term papers, it was the fun part of class.  I realize for most of the world this is not the case, but it’s really in the perspective of how you look at it.  I approach my research like I’m solving a Nancy Drew mystery.

For my U.S. History class I had to write the obligatory term papers on the Civil War.  Everyone had to, but I relished it.  It may help that my parents were history buffs and I grew up with war memorabilia from the Civil War, World War I and my dad’s memorabilia from World War II.

There are several historic Civil War sites in our area and Herculaneum, Missouri played an essential part in the Civil War.  Lead shot for cannonballs was produced at the Herculaneum shot tower for the Civil War.  First paper covered –  I received an A and comments about such a remote reference that played a significant part of history.  Whatever, I grew up there!  Second term paper had to be about one of the battles.   Never fear, junior sleuth Ellie (maiden name used) Mack was hot on the trail with a vivid imagination.

While many of my class mates chose Gettysburg, and Harper’s Ferry I chose the Battle of Antietam, it was also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg in the South.  Near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland and Antietam Creek, it was the first major battle in the Civil War to take place on Union soil.  The main distinction of Antietam was that it was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with approximately 23,000 casualties.

For a brief description of the battle, if you happen to be interested go to Wikipedia and read the summary of Antietam. I”m not going to go into that detail because that’s not my main point.  My point is, the strategy and drama that led to that day, and took place during September 17th, was far more exciting than the works of fiction that I was reading at the time. The term paper I turned in was filled with fantastic detail of the strategy, and the facts that despite the Union army’s greater numbers they were outwitted by General Robert E. Lee.  My retelling of the horror on the battlefield was filled with graphic sensory details.  I received another A, but the instructor commented that I shouldn’t have been as detailed in my descriptions.  It left him feeling ill.

Shouldn’t an essay on the horrors of war leave you feeling a bit green?  Shouldn’t it turn your stomach that 23,000 people died violent deaths, many lingering for days?  War is never a pretty thing and the politics that lead to the deaths of brave soldiers is an insidious evil.  Most of these young men were under the age of 19.  I suppose it was a good thing that I wasn’t required to make a political statement on my views.

Why in the world am I bringing this stuff up? Research.

Back then I did it because I had to for my term papers.  When I worked for the Defense department, I did it for national security.  Talk about some paper chases  – I could tell you some tales about that, but then I’d have to kill you.  Best if we don’t go there.  Now here’s the shocker, for years I’ve done it for pleasure.

What? What kind of sick puppy am I anyway?  I know it seems weird but that’s part of the magical mystery in being a writer.  I have volumes on all things medieval. I have a complete set of World War II books covering everything from weaponry, aircraft, personal accounts, and detailed historical accounts of battles and military strategies.

Here in St. Louis they just had their annual super used book sale.  I love this day, I come home with as many books as I can possibly find.  OH, the kids and hubs get a few as well.  I buy books the way other women buy clothes.

Herbal remedies come in handy for medieval medical practices.  Celtic mythology is very helpful in understanding medieval society.  Tomes on history, and geography help with place names and locations.  Even if you are making up your town name, it’s good to know a bit about the region where you’re planning on founding your town.  Remember, the devil is in the details and if you have your details wrong, smart readers will know that you cut corners on your research.

There is one downside to research though, that I will admit.  I can get lost in a library for hours.  I get sucked into the internet web of easily accessible fun facts that are available with a simple click.  Research can easily propel you into a vortex known as a disruption in the space-time continuum.  Somewhere, you entered a time portal for a few minutes and came out on the other side hours later.

When I open my books on medieval weaponry and warfare, somewhere between the covers  is one of these portals.  I flip a few pages and the next thing I know hours have passed.  It happens and it’s very real.  Just ask any writer, and however sheepish the answer, even if they hem-haw around for a while they’ll eventually admit to being sucked into these idp’s –  Inter-dimentional portals.  You have just enetered the Research Zone.

And you thought the Twilight Zone was scary.



Rockin’ It!

Yesterdays post of Vampires! was cathartic for me.  I’m ecstatic at the feedback I’ve received.  It’s a great feeling to know that there are other people dealing with the same issues, and satisfying to hear that they’ve dealt with the same things.

It’s always a hard decision to cut someone  off even if they are detrimental to your own success.  It was a move that needed to be made and even though I felt guilty for doing it, it was cleansing almost instantaneously.  It cleared the cobwebs and dust out of those cluttered corners of my mind, allowing me to focus once again on my passion – my writing.

I started slow, I had to get re-aquainted with my heroine and hero.  I’d been preoccupied and neglecting them due to my vampire relationship.  I made apologies, reconnected and gave them my undivided attention.  It was awkward for the first twenty minutes.  I was feeling doubtful, uncomfortable, like the employee that got promoted then demoted back to the original position.

I had to walk away for a bit.  In fact, I took it outdoors to a park.  A fruit slushy, a notebook and a couple of pens – different colors of course, and I was ready for the self talk.  I think the fresh air really helped clear my mind. I began jotting down notes, which led to more notes.  My thoughts began to link together, like a crocheted afghan.

Let me explain:  weaving combines many threads laced together.  Crocheting has one thread that builds upon itself, interlocking  each row onto the next, building precepts upon precepts, until the final project is a warm fuzzy blanket with intricate details. It’s also similar to a Celtic design that is a continuous design, showing no beginning or end but flows together  in a delightful design.

I had one ear bud in listening to some tunage, while I could still hear my surroundings.

Stronger by Kelly Clarkson played. Determinate by Lemonade Mouth was followed by Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravits and some Aerosmith.  I made some more notes, a giddiness coming over me at the simplistic yet seemingly complex story line created a picture in my head.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot  put some steel in my heroine’s spine. Skillet, Linkin Park, and  Evanescence contributed in cheering me forward.  But when Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart started belting out Kick It Out; suddenly all pistons were firing and the gears were meshing. I was rockin’ it!  OK, well the groups were rockin’ the music and their music was rockin’ my muse. The eighties music brought back memories of fun times and a lighter outlook on life.   I glanced at my phone for the time, then flipped through my pages of notes.  I had twelve pages of hand written notes, laced with circles doodles, arrows, numbers linking points and underlined passages. It was now time to pick up the kids and go home to carry on with family life until I could rendezvous with my laptop.

Excitement buzzed in my ear – no wait that was a wasp.  Excitement coursed through my veins, my fingers itching to tap the keys, I gathered my things and walked back to my car.

It was a couple of hours later when I got to sit down with my laptop and put the pieces together in my story.  The words flowed from my brain through my fingers over my keyboard in  a magical way.  I was in the zone!  I haven’t been in the zone like that for nearly a month.  Everything was coming together, the words, the characters, the sensory descriptions; all of them cooperating as the scene built to a symphonic crescendo, chiming the climax like that last note that rings through the concert hall.

A perfect moment when the doubts and the “head gremlins” were silenced.  I was breathing in short little pants, as my fingers stilled, allowing my eyes to skim the words I’d just composed.  I had rocked it!  Fist pump!!

It’s times like this when I know that I know I’m a writer, and that one day I will achieve the success in my writing. I will achieve my dreams.


Confessions of A Killer

Springtime! The garden departments are overflowing with a variety of plant  starts. From twenty varieties of tomatoes to flowers of every shade; a paradise  of flora awaits.

I’m drawn like a moth to a flame. The scent of peat mixed with the delicate  fragrance of flower blossoms create a euphoria that I’m unable to resist.

I drool over begonias, loading them into a plastic tray. My heart races at  the vibrant pinks of Dianthus. Beads of sweat dot my upper lip as I brush my  hands over the supposedly hardy geraniums. Giddiness overwhelms rational thought  as I load multiple trays of beautiful starts into my cart.

Then, it happens. I never intend for it to, it just does.

Once home my true nature manifests. I am a cold-blooded plant killer – yes, a  plant sadist. I try every year to make appealing arrangements like my neighbors.  The outcome is always the same: They end up dead.

If they require full sun, they end up in shade. If they require shade, they  get the full sun. If they require little water, I drown them. Those requiring lots  of water shrivel immediately.

I spend hundreds of dollars to buy plants that will beautify our home, only  to end up with dull lifeless carcasses. The remains of previous victims are  scattered across our back patio as harbingers of the new plants eventual fate.  My conscious efforts to nurture them are overruled by unconscious murderous  tendencies.

If you could hear their little voices, there would be tiny little screams  from my cart. I try – honestly, I do – to make them thrive. It only gives them  false hope, putting off their inevitable fate. Eventually, they die. Not a quick  death, but rather a slow tortuous agonizing demise.

Some people have a green thumb, mine’s black. The black thumb of death. I  can’t seem to stop. I’ve killed cactus, ferns, various flowers, and even a  mother-in-laws-tongue. Someone told me they would never die, even if you  neglected them forever. It took a while, but I killed them.

Ironically, I can grow a vegetable garden. If I can get them in the ground,  they stand a fair chance of survival. But then there are the horn worms, aphids,  and squash bugs vying for their lives. Eventually, the stress wears them down,  and they surrender to the gaping maw of death that taunts their very  existence.

My husband spotted the trays in the shopping cart and pleaded to stop the  senseless brutality; to give the poor plants a chance and put them back. I  conceded when I spotted two bright pink azalea bushes that were beckoning.

I needed something to replace the dead viburnum at the end of the driveway.  As I placed the trays back on the shelves, they seemed to be drooping. Maybe it  was just my imagination.

As we paid the cashier, my husband asked if she could hear the screaming.

Oh,  the horror!


Spring Is In The Air

Most people think spring has finally arrived when they can shed their coats,  and go bare-armed outdoors. The appearance of skin on other parts becomes  prevalent as well. Others think when the forsythia is yellow it is definitely  spring. I want to let you know of an absolutely definite way to determine that  yes, spring has arrived.

It’s not the jonquils, although they are up. It’s not the forsythia, although  they are beautiful. It’s not the “peepers” heavenly chirping after the long hard  winter. It’s not even the calendar date of the vernal equinox — the “official”  start of spring. My absolute fail-safe method involves the sense of smell. Spring has most definitely arrived. The anticipation is killing you so I’ll cut  to the chase.

The skunks are on the move. That’s right, it’s skunk mating season. I can’t  go a mile without running across the remains of some poor massacred skunk in  amorous pursuit of a female. The sad bit is he probably never got to finish the  job. While the grass is greening and the trees are budding, the skunks are  stinking up the place.

In the Disney classic, “Bambi”, Owl makes the observation of Flower the  skunk, Thumper and eventually Bambi, that they were “twitter-pated.” It had  nothing to do with Facebook or tweeting, it was a coined word for “love is in  the air.” In the case of Flower, Pepe le Pew, and all other skunks, love must  involve stink.

Pheromones are the chemicals responsible for the attraction of one to  another. My personal preferences run more along the lines of Irish Spring and  Aramis. Deer can scent a female for miles. Dogs instantly know when  there’s a female in heat within a five-mile radius. Our sense of smell isn’t  quite so refined. This is why we have drug sniffing dogs not humans. Although  some people try, but that’s a different thing entirely.

It’s true that you can often smell the B.O. of an individual three aisles  over in the grocery store, but I am repulsed not attracted to it. This leads us  to the next season, summer. Ever notice the volume of stink from sweaty people  increases exponentially?

But I digress from my point of the numerous skunks killed on our roadways.  Spring is a time for new adventure. Every day becomes potentially dangerous. A  simple drive in the fresh country air can become a lethal toxic assault on your  olfactory senses. These little guys have saved up all winter, and it’s some  potent stuff. It brings tears to my eyes; tears of pain that is.


Branson bound!

In the old days it would be wagons ho!  I’m very excited to be going to Branson.  Today’s blog will be brief, I’m on a time crunch here.

I made the decision to do this for myself.  That is a huge thing for me, being a mom I haven’t really done much for myself in ages.  It feels scary, and exciting all at the same time.  This is one of those “here be dragons” areas for me.

I’m tackling my Brave New World with a certain degree of apprehension.  This is such a strange feeling for me to step out in an area for myself.  I feel guilty for being selfish, and at same time thrilled like I’m being naughty.  Conflicted much?  Yeah, I am.

It’s usually the small things that make or break us.  The devil’s in the details.  A small step for many, but a huge step for me to do something for myself.  I’m not one that goes to get mani-pedis.  I get a haircut when I really have to have one, and have been known to let it go way too long before taking care of it.  Looks a little wild some times, and people often interpret it that I’m a wild-child.  Well, maybe I am in ways.  In this rediscovery of myself it feels like I’m being a little wild.  I know, going to Branson isn’t a wild thing, but this is a monumental step for me.  I’m not taking my kids or the husband , but rather going on my own.

I’m not a codependent, I’ve just sidelined myself for many years.  Getting back in the game is scary.  An unknown – the dragonlands.  So it’s not so much about Branson, but rather stepping out into new things.  I have friends and family that do this sort of thing all the time, I just haven’t .  Until now.

It’s easier to face a live audience for me than to do this.  Fear of public speaking is higher than the fear of death in over 50% of the population.  Oh well, I always knew I was a little odd.  I’ve never taken the well-traveled road.  No, it’s the scenic byways and the shortcut through the woods, the gravel roads and footpaths for me.  It’s always an adventure!

So this is not about travel but rather exploration.  Exploring my horizons, my boundaries, my self-imposed limitations.  I’m going boldly where I’ve not allowed myself to go before!

I’ll be sure to take pictures of Branson – post tornado.  Photography is NOT my forte, so I don’t know if I’ll have any worth sharing.  For great photography check out PHOTOBOTOS!  They rock!  For anyone looking for a job or a different job check out my friend’s book.  It’s currently #4 on Amazon!

Thanks for stopping by and sharing my transformations.