Monday, May 28, 2018

It's time to dust off the old blog. There's some crazy stuff going on out there these days and I might as well try to add my voice to the madness. Let's start off with the latest hot topic.

“That evil wretched Trump! How dare he rip children from the arms of their parents!”
If you’ve visited a social media site recently you’ve no doubt found this sentiment expressed repeatedly. It’s the latest cause of the moment. Let’s assume for a moment that these parents and children were Americans accused of breaking the law. How would they be treated? Would they be separated from their children? Oh, yeah. It happens every day here in the good old USA. Talk to the police, social service workers, foster care folks, etc. It’s a routine event here in America. If you’re accused of breaking the law and sent to prison awaiting trial, your children aren’t just turned loose on the street. If there was no relative available to care for the child, the child ends up in foster care. We don’t send the kids of parents accused of a crime to prison with their parents. That silly old Constitution limits the government’s ability to imprison American citizens and American children are citizens. Our prisons aren’t exactly ideal places to raise children. If you think they are, then you haven’t been in a prison lately.
So, if you’re an American citizen accused of committing a crime, the evil old government will rip your children away from your arms. Why should it be different for illegal immigrants? Why should they have more rights than Americans?
“But this is different! All they did was come here illegally to better provide for their family!” Hey, maybe the only reason a bank robber robbed a bank was to better provide for his/her family. That burglar the police caught making off with your jewelry? He was just doing it to make money, so he could provide for his family. It’s cruel to rip his children from his arms. Why’s it different?
“But they have a bus fitted with child seats just for transporting those children!” You’d rather they threw them into the back of a pickup truck? They’re children and you must transport them safely. ICE arrests tend to be made in clusters, so you end up with a lot of people detained at one time, including a lot of children. Ferrying each child individually would be more burdensome. We don’t transport each adult separately, nor do we transport each child separately. They are however transported safely.
“They’ve lost track of fifteen hundred kids! They don’t even know where they are!” Welcome to the reality of foster care. Kids have this annoying habit of running away from foster care homes. When they run away they tend not to leave forwarding addresses. That kind of defeats the whole purpose of running away. The kids are trying to get away and escape the system. They don’t tell the system where they’re going. That’s typically how you lose track of kids in the system.
“Some of those poor children have ended up in the hands of pedophiles!” True. As do some of the American kids put in foster care. Very few pedophiles advertise that they are pedophiles, so children can be placed in homes that are unsuitable. It happens. Unless you can develop a pedophile detector that’s a hundred percent reliable it will continue to happen.
People seem to have lost their minds lately. Hyperbole is the new norm and it’s getting more than a bit crazy. Nothing is really happening with the children of illegal immigrants that doesn’t happen everyday with American children. Having a child isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. We rip kids from the arms of American parents hundreds of times a day.
“Well, it’s wrong!” I’m not saying it’s the greatest thing, but if the parents break the law you can’t just ignore their lawbreaking. They’ve got to be held accountable and sadly, it’s the kids who often suffer. If all of those screaming about this situation opened their homes to foster kids and gave them warm loving homes to shelter them until they could be reunited with their parents, it would make the situation much better. Sadly, that won’t happen. This is now a political issue and common sense and logic don’t apply to political issues. 
“Those poor kids!” They don’t care about the kids. They care about the issue. They want to use it as a political bludgeon. If they cared about the children, they’d become foster parents and work to help the children. They could give them a safe home, a warm bed, a comfortable living, a good education. Most of the celebrities jumping on this issue could easily afford to take in five, ten or more foster children and take nothing from the states. They could give these children a life the kids could only dream of. But, they won’t. They don’t truly care about the kids. They care about using this as a divisive political issue. Welcome to America kids. You’re the latest pawns in a political battle. Have fun being in the middle of this insane tug of war.
As for the rest of us, we'll continue to get bombarded with the latest spin on this. No doubt the authorities will be accused of torturing children soon. "They're sticking them with needles!" Yeah, it's called a vaccination. Our foster care system is far from perfect, but the current hyperbole related to illegal immigrant children is really getting out of hand. I try to keep things in perspective and when you realize that what's happening with immigrant children is exactly what happens with American children whose parents are accused of committing a crime, it tends to balance things out a bit.

If you like this blog and want more of my common sense view on things, feel free to subscribe. If you think I'm an apologist for Trump, feel free to ignore it. Things are getting interesting with lots of investigations ongoing and some wrapping up, so I'll be posting a bit more frequently over the next few weeks/months. I try to keep things relatively spin free and in perspective and that's not something that's easy to find these days. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Super Bowl!!!

Super Bowl Sunday is almost here! Rumor has it that the Super Bowl commercials will be interrupted by occasional football plays and then a concert by Lady Gaga. Of course, most of us will be tuning in for the commercials. Sad to say there won't be any commercials nearly as entertaining as the ad created by my fictional WNLT AD Agency in my novel "The Campaign."

I've now taken "The Campaign" wide and made it available on nearly every platform. You can now buy it at Amazon, Google, Kobo, iBooks, and soon B&N. (Oddly enough I'd set it up through B&N almost a month ago and it was on their site, then it disappeared, so I'm redoing it there again. With any luck it'll stick around this time.)

For those who haven't read "The Campaign," shame on you! It was a semi-finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and won a Publisher's Weekly review of the draft that called it a "fun romp," a "charming tale" and a "winner." Unfortunately it wasn't 'the winner', but a winner.

In "The Campaign" we get a behind the scenes peek at what happens when a small ad agency creates a successful Super Bowl ad that lets them expand and grow their business. As they try to adjust to being successful, the folks at Sassi Sausage come to them wanting them to create a new Super Bowl ad campaign. Well, the influx of new work and the challenge of training their new workers has the creative side of the firm already vastly overworked and Sara Hackman, the somewhat ditzy but lovable lead ad writer, absolutely insists they can't take the contract. The business side insists they have to take the ad. Sara finally loses patience and exclaims, "If you think what we do is so easy, do it yourself!" To her shock and surprise the suits decide to do just that.

How hard can it be? They're all competent professionals who have been around advertising for years. They'll show those namby-pamby artistic types how ad creation should be done. Unfortunately things don't go quite so well for the suits. They have issues dealing with some of the more exotic personalities involved in making a commercial. Myrtle Perkins, the animal trainer they hire who has a star celebri-pig in Mr. Pinkie is a handful for them. Things go sadly downhill for the suits as they desperately try to finish their commercial in time for the Super Bowl.

It's a fun and easy read that should bring more than a few smiles to your face as you read it.

For those interested in the football game itself, I expect the Patriots to win, but I'm cheering for the Falcons. As a rule in the NFL, film study is crucial to prepare for an opponent. The one exception to that is the Patriots. If you study their game film you'll end up studying something you won't see in the game. Bill Belichick will always throw new stuff at you. The Falcons need to prepare for everything and ignore whatever the Patriots have shown on film so far. Belichick's defense is apt to assume a 4-3, 3-4, 5-2, 2-5 or some other exotic formation to try and confuse the Falcons' blockers. He may put just two defenders at the line of scrimmage or all eleven.

The Patriots typically win by confusing the opposing team more than by beating them in terms of being more talented. Bill Belichick will peruse the rule book for any loophole he can exploit. The Patriots only really have two great players. Tom Brady is great and Gronkowski (on the DL and not playing in the game) are their great players. Everyone else is a good to average player. So why do they win so much? Because they always show you stuff you haven't seen from them before.

So how can the Falcons beat the Patriots? The key to beat a Bill Belichick coached team is to focus on the basics. Your blockers need to know who to block no matter what formation the defense lines up in. Ignore the window dressing and focus on your talent beating their talent. The Falcons are the more talented team in my opinion. If they can focus on exploiting that advantage they can win. The more of a sandlot style of football you play, the better your chances of success.

On defense the Falcons have to focus on getting pressure on Tom Brady up the middle of the field. The Texans did that fairly well in the first half and Brady looked mortal. The Falcons best pass rusher is an edge rusher however and outside pressure really doesn't faze Brady. He'll just step up away from it without pressure in his face. They also have to glue their defenders to the Patriot receivers. A zone defense doesn't work against Brady. You've got to get your hands on his receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing. Use "A" gap blitzes, stunt your defensive linemen to try and get someone free up the middle, and glue your defenders to the receivers. If you can do that, you've got a shot at beating the Patriots.

It should be a good game to watch, but expect the unexpected is the rule when you play the Patriots. A team preparing to play them in the Super Bowl has to be ready for everything. They could have Tom Brady running the zone read offense if Belichick thinks the Falcons won't be prepared for it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"The sky is falling!!!"

With Trump's inauguration bearing down upon us, many are feeling as though the end of the world is near. There is a feeling of panic among many of the more liberal members of society, so this is a good time to remind people that we've been through much worse than anything Trump is likely to bring to us and we've survived.

 What we're seeing now is very similar to the reaction to Reagan's election way back in 1980. Oddly enough the world didn't end, we didn't end up in global nuclear holocaust, and by and large, we came out of that period in pretty good shape. There's no reason to assume we won't do the same this time.

"But, but, but, you don't understand! This time it's different!"

I'm now 58 years old and sad to say, I've seen many, many "the world is ending" scenarios play out only to find the world never ends. What I've adopted lately is what I like to call the British grandmother's approach to dealing with a perceived crisis. "Oh my, yes. That is something. Would you like a cup of tea?" "No, you don't understand! The world as we know it is ending!" "Yes, yes, but a good cup of tea will make it all seem better. Now you just sit there while I put the kettle on."

I was just sending an e-mail to a newer acquaintance about participating in the first Earth Day way back in 1970 and I looked up Earth Day online to be sure I had the date correct. There I found some of the predictions that were made back in 1970 that had people in a panic. Among the more dire was worldwide famine. That by 1995 75%-80% of the world's animal population would be extinct, 65 million Americans would starve to death in the 80's, pollution would block fifty percent of the sun's rays from reaching the Earth, and my favorite, that Earth was chilling sharply and that a new ice age was largely unavoidable. These predictions were all by reputable sources who were considered experts at the time.

That ice age prediction actually had some people (I believe including some politicians) calling for a series of man-made mountain ranges to the north of our large northern cities that would have sharp spines designed to break up the soon to be advancing glaciers as they came south, into smaller and smaller pieces so that by the time they reached the city the remnants would be easily removed. There were advocates demanding we start building those man-made mountains immediately, for the ice age was a near certainty and if we waited too long, we would run out of time. The price tag for these man-made mountains was astronomical which is probably why they never got built.

Around that time we also heard that the Gulf Stream was migrating north and that soon New Jersey would have Miami like weather as a result of that. One of my local newspapers so believed that to be true that in a farming column they advised nurserymen to consider saving space for orange and banana trees rather than replant with apple or peach trees. The last I checked it didn't feel like Miami outside.

For a while it was global warming. Had the predictions made back at the height of that period come true, I'd likely be typing this with water up to my knees right now. I'm happy to report I'm not. Recently it's been climate change. Well, when exactly has the climate been stable? Now it's Trump. 

The reality of life is that there's always some new disaster out there just waiting to pounce upon us. But guess what? The vast majority of the time the disaster never materializes and life goes on. The next time you turn on the TV and you see and hear people predicting disaster, turn off the TV, fix yourself a nice cup of tea and a cookie (or two) and relax.  Things are never as bad as many people want you to believe and there's nothing like a good cup of tea to make it all seem better. If history has shown us anything, it's that people are horrible at predicting the future. It doesn't matter how impressive their credentials are, or how loudly they scream, the most dire threats very, very seldom ever appear and worry does nothing to solve the problems. Now a good cup of tea on the other hand, that warms you, nourishes you, and makes everything seem better.

"But you don't understand! This time it's different! We've got to do something!" Yes, of course, let me go put the kettle on.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How does the mind of a writer work? Part 4.

And the writing continues. Yesterday I crossed the 12,000 word mark in the new story. I opted to change the way that Myrtle gets injured from stubbing her toe, to getting a sore elbow from helping Gayle and Pearl enclose their front porch. This change was done to make it clear that Myrtle is still physically strong and capable. I think it works. I could change it back later though.

So, what am I thinking now? I'm worried that I may be making Myrtle too mean to her son and daughter-in-law, so I'm working now to try and give her justification for how she feels. To some extent I'm doing this by telling more of the backstory of her relationship with her son and his relationship with Natalie (his wife.) In yesterday's writing I told how Natalie was ten years younger and lived a party girl lifestyle before dating James. They then moved in together six months into the relationship and Natalie got pregnant a few months later and her son had rushed into marriage with her. To Myrtle, Natalie is a gold digger who staked out her son and is milking him for his money. She thinks her son is being fooled by a pretty girl who doesn't really love him, but is using him. She's tried to open her son's eyes, but he refuses to believe it. That helps to explain the coolness in their relationship. Natalie also got an expensive gold necklace and bracelet from James for Mothers' Day, while Myrtle got a coffee maker, clock and smoke detector (all with hidden cameras.) I'm also showing more of the sweet, loving Myrtle that her neighbors know to try and balance her out better emotionally.

In today's writing I'm planning to build on where we ended yesterday. Yesterday we ended with James letting it slip that Natalie saw Myrtle with a sore elbow and looking a bit disheveled and thought she'd fallen. Myrtle then finds the hidden cameras with the help of Augie, Gayle and Pearl. Today we'll start seeing the plan to use those cameras to Myrtle's advantage. If you know someone is watching and listening to you and you have some general idea of when they're watching and listening, then you can use that to your advantage. Myrtle teams up with her neighbors in this effort and the group starts their campaign of shock and awe.

With the construction still under way at the girls' house, Myrtle invites them to have their weekly Saturday night poker party at her house (on camera) instead. She recruits Mrs. Buckley to join them and more or less drags her over. (Mrs. Buckley is a bit agoraphobic and a cat lady who almost never leaves her house.) There's a lot of drinking and pot smoking that goes on during these parties along with a lot of nudity, all of which shocks James and Natalie as they watch in awe.

Myrtle takes advantage of the cameras to leak secrets about both James and Natalie to the other one during their respective lunch hours which leads to some tension in their relationship that causes trouble for both of them.

I'm walking a bit of a tightrope in making Myrtle mean to her daughter-in-law, but not too mean. But, what is too mean? Her daughter-in-law was at least part of the decision to plant hidden cameras in Myrtle's house to spy on her and the two have a very frosty relationship before that. Do I make the daughter-in-law just a witch and a vile person, or do I keep her more human? Do I make her into the gold digger Myrtle thinks she is? I'll figure that out more and more as I write.

Monday, December 26, 2016

How does the mind of a writer work? Part Three.

The story is continuing to come into better and better focus each day. I've now crossed the six thousand word mark in the writing process and I'm pretty happy with those first six thousand words. I may do a few tweaks here and there, but overall I'm pretty happy with those first six thousand plus words.

The story is still more or less on the same track it was on. Myrtle is getting her spy cameras disguised as Mother's Day gifts. She'll still get the coffee maker and a clock for her living room, but I've moved away from the clock radio and more to a smoke alarm for the third hidden camera to be placed in her bedroom.

In the writing so far, we've had Myrtle head to the hospital and now discharged and sent back home where hr family is worried about her being alone and refusing to use any assistance. Shortly after getting back home her family can't contact her for several hours so her son rushes over only to find her coming out of a neighbor's house where she'd been visiting. Myrtle has her first visit from the visiting nurse and physical therapist who she largely dismisses.

So, now we've largely set the stage. The main characters have been introduced, their quirks and foibles have been hinted at and introduced. So the plan is to write the part today where the idea of planting hidden cameras in Myrtle's house comes up as a way to keep an eye on her and save James (her son) from having to run back and forth each time they can't make contact with her. In today's writing we'll have Natalie (James' wife) suggest using a nanny/granny cam to save them all stress and James ultimately agrees. He knows however that his mother will never agree to being on camera, so they decide to use hidden cameras without her knowledge.

I'll have James acquiring the cameras in today's writing, setting them up to work on Myrtle's wireless network, and positioning them so he can see her in her kitchen, bedroom, and living room. Depending on how the writing goes we may explore the first few issues James/Natalie see with Myrtle. They won't approve of the way she eats, they'll worry if she's drinking enough, they'll see her leave a pan on the stove and walk off without watching it and watch as the pan starts to smoke and call to prod her to go back into the kitchen to see the pan and take it off the burner before it catches fire. They'll watch her taking her pills and getting worried about how she takes them.

Their Myrtle TV channel will become a bit addictive to them as they spy on her whenever they get the chance. They'll be watching her in the morning as they get ready for work, then during their lunch breaks, then after they get home until Myrtle goes to bed. Now they've got to keep the cameras secret in order to know what Myrtle is doing, but she starts to get suspicious after stubbing her toe while fixing lunch for herself one day. The call from her daughter-in-law (who she's not overly fond of) asking if she's okay and getting very specific about her limping has Myrtle thinking that maybe, just maybe she's being spied on.

I'm now starting to work on tentative titles for the story. "Granny Cam" is one option. "The Granny Cam Saga" is another. "Spying on Granny" is another option. I'll likely go through a thousand options before I'm done. So that's it for today. It's time to get back to the writing. I'll be crossing the ten thousand word mark sometime this week, possibly today if the words flow easily.

Friday, December 23, 2016

How does the mind of a writer work? Part two.

Yesterday, I walked you through the stream of consciousness behind a new idea for a story as the idea formed and took shape in my head. If you haven't read that, then hop back and give it a read. It'll set up what I'm talking about in today's post. Then after posting yesterday's blog I put the first words on paper and put down a tick over two thousand words (2295 to be precise.) Today I'll give you a look at the first two pages of the story (533 words) and explain why I started the book there, and chat a bit more about the process. So, here are the first two pages of the new story as they were written yesterday. (I haven't edited them yet, so excuse any miscues. This was copied and pasted as it was written.)

Chapter One

Pearl Hatcher heard the siren of the ambulance approaching and raced to the front door to see where it would stop.
Her partner Gayle was right behind her.
“Where’s it stopping?” asked Gayle.
“I don’t know, it’s not here yet. Mrs. Harvey’s son’s car is in her driveway, so maybe there? Maybe she’s having some trouble?”
“Oh, I hope not. She’s a very nice lady.”
Pearl nodded her head in agreement.
Pearl and Gayle were the ‘new neighbors’ in this neighborhood despite moving in nearly thirty years ago after retiring from teaching. The rest of the residents had lived there fifty years or longer. There had been some initial confusion over a pair of somewhat flamboyant lesbians moving into this quiet neighborhood, but that initial confusion had given way to acceptance and a live and let live attitude.
The fact that Gayle was a very handy person who could fix just about anything helped smooth the transition. Pearl was an avid gardener with a huge vegetable garden and she freely distributed surplus crops to the neighbors which also helped smooth the transition.
“What’s her son’s name?” asked Pearl who always had a hard time with names.
“James. He’s named after his father who was also James, but everyone called him Hank.”
“He’s just come out and is waving his arms. The ambulance must be going there.”
“Oh, dear. I hope it isn’t anything too serious.”
The ambulance pulled to a stop in front of Myrtle Harvey’s house and the crew quickly emerged and grabbed their bags before disappearing into the house.
“How old is she now?” asked Pearl.
“I think she just turned eighty one.”
“Oh, so she’s not that old. That’s just a few years older than us.”
“We’re not exactly spring chickens any more. I hope she’s okay. Has her son been there long?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see him arrive.”
There were four small houses in this little neighborhood and the residents of three of them were now glued to the front windows and doors watching the ambulance that had pulled up and that signaled trouble for one of their own.
Inside the house at ten Garden Drive the ambulance crew was meeting some resistance from Myrtle Harvey.
“I’m fine, I tell you,” said Myrtle defiantly as the medic took her blood pressure one more time.
“Mom,” said her son. “You’re not fine. I came in and found you unconscious at the table. Your pulse and blood pressure are way too low. We’ve got to get you checked out at the hospital to figure out what’s going wrong.”
“I don’t want to go to the hospital. I’ll be fine if you’d all just leave me alone.”
Her son looked to the medic and asked, “Any idea what it could be?”

“I don’t think it’s anything too serious. Her EKG looks pretty good. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say it was medication related. She’s taking some pretty strong blood pressure medicine and it’s possible she took too strong of a dose. She might have taken two pills instead of one, or something along those lines. It’s pretty easy for people to get confused on medications.”

Okay, so that's how I've tentatively started the book. Bear in mind everything can and likely will change over time. If you were reading the book in the standard (for me anyway) six inch by nine inch paperback format that I use, you'd now have read the first two pages.

Why did I start the book there? I needed to introduce the characters and the setting while hopefully engaging the reader early. For those living in a major city hearing a siren is nothing. It's rare when you don't hear one, but for those who live in the country, or more rural areas, hearing a siren approach gets your attention. It means someone around you is in trouble and there aren't that many people around you, so it's a bit scarier. It's not the best hook I've ever used, but getting the reader wondering who the ambulance is for isn't a horrible way to start a story. (My personal favorite hook is the opening to my novel "Sara X.")

I want to show how close knit this little group of residents are and how they care for one another despite all being quite unique and different characters. In the other fifteen hundred plus words I wrote yesterday we meet the other two neighbors to give you a feel for them. I'll flesh them all out a bit more as I go on, but in those first two pages you've learned that there's a pair of older lesbians who are the new neighbors despite having now lived there thirty years. That tells you that the old neighbors lived there longer. This is a close knit, interconnected group.

And then we meet Mrytle. Mrytle (tentatively named after my grandmother Mrytle but names are easily changed later in the process) who is annoyed at all the fuss being made over her and just wants everyone to go away and leave her be. She could have early onset dementia of some sort, but it's very early on and most of the time she'll be sharp as a tack. She knows she gets a bit forgetful from time to time and that scares her, but she won't admit it. She loves her home and refuses to move out. She and her husband, now departed, moved in there over fifty years ago, they raised a family there, they've seen births, deaths, and the house is just filled with memories. She'd rather die there than move out. She's scared of losing control and will fight to the death to keep control.

Why didn't I start with Myrtle? It's hard to say really. I just didn't feel that starting with Myrtle was ideal. While this story does revolve around her, it also revolves around that small community of neighbors, so starting with a neighbor (or two) worried about their neighbors just felt right to me. I could have started anywhere, Myrtle could have been in the ambulance, in the ER, at home before the incident, or anywhere else, but this just felt like the right place to start. 

Right up front we meet the "new neighbors" who have lived there thirty years now. We learn they're a pair of lesbians and one of them is very handy and can fix anything (which makes her very popular in a neighborhood) and the other one is an avid gardener who shares her surplus with the neighbors. We feel their compassion and warmth towards Myrtle as they worry about her and hope she's okay.

A little farther on in the story they see Myrtle being loaded into the ambulance and are relieved that she looks fairly good. Gayle races out to talk to Myrtle's son as he prepares to follow the ambulance to the hospital and learns what she can from him. Then she gets hailed by Augie, their often nude, older male neighbor who's always lived alone in a very small house just filled with electronics and dominated by a huge Ham radio antenna. 

After Gayle tells him what she's learned she's flagged down by Mrs. Buckley who lives next door to Myrtle. Mrs. Buckley is a widow who largely replaced her departed husband with cats. She lives in an old mobile home with thirty or so cats and more coming all the time. When I finished writing yesterday Myrtle was being discharged from the hospital and was heading back home with her son and his wife. They were trying to convince her to accept their help in handling her medications and adapting to the aging process,but she's not overly receptive to the idea.

So, today I'll continue to flesh out the characters and the story. I'll have Mrytle return home and her neighbors stop by to check up on her and offer her assistance if she needs anything. She'll thank them but insist she's fine. She'll head next door to help me develop Mrs. Buckley's character a bit more. I'm going to have Mrs. Buckley suffering from a bit of agoraphobia. She hates to leave her little trailer and the cats and won't even go out for her mail. She's a very sweet, loving older woman, but life has been a bit harsh to her and largely broken her. Myrtle and the other neighbors look out for her and support her. (Later in the story Myrtle invites Gayle and Pearl to have one of their weekend parties at her house and she manages to drag Mrs. Buckley from her house to join them where some recreational marijuana combined with wine has a very interesting effect on both Myrtle and Mrs. Buckley. I'm not sure how I'll set that all up yet, but the scene lives in my head and if I can get what I'm seeing there down on paper it should be quite entertaining.

Before I start writing each day I read what I wrote the day before. I do whatever editing jumps off the page at me and then I start on the new day's writing. This 'edit as I go' approach works well for me. It helps me keep my characters consistent and by editing as I go I tend to avoid the big goofs. (Or so I like to tell myself.) And that's what I'm off to do now. It's be around 8:40 AM locally as I get started today and I'll write up to around eleven or eleven thirty, then quit for lunch, if not the day and let the ideas percolate in the old head a bit more. I should get another two to three thousand words down today, maybe more. The story is now largely formed in my head and simply needs to be fleshed out and put on paper.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How does the mind of a writer work?

People who know I write often ask me, "Where do you get your ideas?" And the truth of the matter is they just pop up. Over the next few days, weeks, months, years I will be describing in this blog an idea I just came up with this morning, how I got the idea, and my thought process as I write the story for however long it takes me to write the story.

How does the mind of a writer work? Well, if we assume it works at all, which may be generous in my case, it starts with something out of the blue. Earlier this morning for example I was reading an e-mail from an Aunt of mine (Hi, Aunt Barbara!) in which she related a story about her family being in a panic when they couldn't get in touch with her and thought something must have happened to her. (She keeps her cell phone turned off much of the time and was away from her landline, so they largely assumed the worst, despite her being quite fit and healthy.) In my reply to her I warned her to be careful of any gifts she gets from her children as the old nanny cams and doggy cams are now transitioning more and more to granny cams to keep an eye on older relatives, often without them knowing they're being watched. These cameras can be tied into a home's WiFi network and allow anyone with the password to monitor what's going on at the house.

Ding! That was the inspiration for the story I'll be writing over the next few days, weeks, months, whatever. I'm a big fan of the British comedies featuring a somewhat eccentric older woman. ("Keeping Mum" and "Saving Grace" being two of my favorites.) In my mind I could immediately see an older woman, living alone in her old house being spied on by her nervous children who think she should have someone keeping tabs on her. I'll have to set things up by having her getting into some sort of trouble first, forgetting to take her medications, getting confused about her medicines when a new pill is colored differently, or something along those lines. My main character (MC) will be an older woman, slightly on the ditzy/very early Alzheimer's side, but not too bad. She'll be living in an older neighborhood surrounded by older, somewhat eccentric neighbors. There will be an older man who forgets to wear clothes quite routinely and can often be found out mowing the grass naked. He's oddly enough a bit of an electronics buff however. (For those who know me from the QVC forums, think of him as an older, somewhat less sane hckynut.) A pair of older lesbians who have some fairly wild parties. And perhaps an older neighbor with thirty or more cats.

At the moment I'm writing this I'm about one hour from getting the initial germ of the idea so things aren't fleshed out terribly well. Our MC will have had an incident of some sort that scares her children (likely a son in the tech industry and his wife) and they beg her to give up her home and move to a safer place. (Senior center/nursing home.) She will absolutely refuse to do so. The family will be worried and unsure of what they can do. They beg her to get an emergency Life Alert type transmitter or keep her cell phone on her, but she refuses. She never needed any of that when she was younger and she's not about to use one now.  She loves her house, has something of a love/hate relationship with her neighbors, but generally loves them, and won't budge.

Her son then decides they need to be able to keep tabs on her somehow so he gives her some new appliances, a coffee maker, a clock radio, and a new clock, all of which have a hidden camera built-in. He's already wired her house for WiFi as she loves to read and uses an e-reader. So with these hidden cameras in place he's able to watch her in her bedroom (clock radio,) living room (clock,) and kitchen (coffee maker) without her being away she's being watched. It's a smallish house, so that lets him keep an eye on her pretty much wherever she goes. (Maybe he just hides the cameras in existing appliances instead of buying her new stuff? That might be a better way to go. Hmm. I'll have to think about that.)

Anyway, she returns home from the hospital for whatever reason she was in there (wrong medicines, a fall, whatever) and is unaware that she's now being monitored. She has a visiting nurse/home care nurse checking in on her every few days after her hospitalization which has her bristling at that intrusion, but she barely tolerates it. Then she stubs her toe and is limping around with a possibly broken toe and almost immediately afterwards gets a call from her daughter-in-law who'd been watching her on one of the hidden cameras. The daughter-in-law immediately asks if she's okay. Not wanting to go back into the hospital or admit to any trouble she assures her daughter-in-law that she's fine. The daughter-in-law asks if she's limping which she denies. The daughter-in-law then asks again if she isn't limping. "Why do you keep asking me that?" "I don't know, you just sound like you're limping" lies the daughter-in-law badly. The daughter-in-law knows immediately how stupid that lie sounds and tries to cover up, but the conversation soon ends and the MC is confused about that. How did her daughter-in-law know she was limping? The blinds were all closed, so none of her neighbors saw her.

She sees her older (often naked) male neighbor outside and goes to consult with him. He then tells her how nanny cams have now evolved into being granny cams and chances are her family has one or more of them in her house without her knowing it. He tells her it's likely plugged into her wireless network and that he'll help her find it, but first they have to disable her network. He disconnects her cable lead in wire from the grounding block so there's no signal going back and forth and then the pair go into the house. He asks her if they gave her anything new recently and she either tells him no, or points out the new items. (Probably the new items, it makes the story easier, finding a truly hidden hidden camera is pretty tough.) He takes the items down and examines them and finds the hidden cameras in them and shows them to her.

We're now about an hour and a half into the time from the first germ of this idea flashed into my head, so that gives you some idea of how my mind is working. As they're talking her phone rings and it's her son asking if everything is okay. (He's tried to check on her using the cameras and found the network down.) She assures him that everything is fine but that her cable is out and she's called the cable company and they're on their way to fix it. She then hangs up and knows what she wants to do. If they want to spy on her, then fine. Let them. She'll give them a show. She has her neighbor reconnect her cable line and she carries on as if the cameras aren't there, only now she decides to invent an imaginary friend to chat with and says some things to her son and daughter-in-law through the cameras that she'd never say directly to their face about how they're raising their own kids and their lifestyle. Perhaps musing to her imaginary friend (maybe a cat?) if she should tell her daughter-in-law about the time her son had that fling with another boy who's now a drag queen, and perhaps on another day musing whether she should tell her son how his wife flirts with a clerk in a local store whenever they shop there.

She then invites her lesbian neighbors, who hold a fairly wild strip poker part at their house most weekends to hold the party at her house this week as she'd love to partake. The son and daughter-in-law tune in to see what dear old mum is up to and find a group of sixty, seventy, eighty year old semi-clothed women playing poker and doing a wild striptease by the losers of each hand. One day she notices her sometimes naked neighbor out mowing his grass and invites him in and parks him in front of the coffee maker in his full nude grandeur as she makes him a nice lunch. (Does she plant a camera in their house to know when they're watching her and scheme accordingly? That could be interesting, but tricky. No, probably not since they could also monitor her on their smartphones. Perhaps she figures out the time they'll be watching, or sets them up to watch at certain times?) Her older cat lady neighbor  may be a medicinal marijuana user and the two get together to smoke a few joints from time to time, further shocking her children.

Now, how does the story end? Does something happen to her and the cameras save the day? Does she come clean on knowing the cameras were there and she was putting on an act? Do the children go to court using the granny cam footage to try and have her declared incompetent? (That could be good if one of her witnesses is her often nude neighbor who shows up for the hearing nude.) In fact I kind of like that approach the best. Not just him, but all of the neighbors show up for her defense. That could be the best ending.

Now, what will this story be? A novel? Novella? Short story? Perhaps a script for a movie or a play? I don't know. I'll have to find out how it develops as the writing goes on. It could evolve into any of them over time. But there you have it. It's been about two hours now since the very first germ of the idea formed and this is where things now stand. Soon I'll open up a blank page in my word processor and figure out where to start, likely setting the scene first. Perhaps an ambulance pulling up to the small house and the crew rushing inside to find the unconscious main character and her family who found her and called the ambulance? Of course, then comes the hard part, naming the characters. I'm kind of basing this in my mind on  my grandmothers old neighborhood with her neighbor Pearl, an odd older guy who would occasionally be outside naked named Augie. (I have no idea what Augie was short for.) That type of setting is pretty good for this story. A quiet little neighborhood on the outskirts of small town America.

So, you now know where I got this idea. How it's evolved in the first two hours of it's formation. What inspired it (the British comedies I love.) And some idea for how it will all play out. This is how the mind of a writer works. I may go days, weeks, months without an idea popping in, but then one does and bang! It's off to the races with it. In my head I can see the characters, I can see the settings, I can see the scenes. It's all there. Now comes the hard part, putting it on paper without losing too much of what I see, feel, hear, know. There's a good, funny, sweet, possibly heart warming story in there. There are no real villains or heroes, just a eccentric cast of characters who are all living their lives. All I've got to do now is capture them and get them down on paper.