Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Flying Flags

by Bethany Maines

I had to laugh when I read Debra Goldstein’s post yesterday about football being “only a game”.  I live in Washington State, which, in case you’re living in a hole, is home of the Seahawks, contenders the upcoming football high-holy day – the Super Bowl.  Although, even when living in a hole, I’m fairly certain that you probably felt the Beast Quake or possibly Richard Sherman dropped by to tell you how awesome he is, and then probably stuck around to make pointedly blunt statements about the corruption in the NFL.  Football may be only game, but tis the season for every football fan everywhere to lose their dang minds.

As I’m only an occasional football watcher I find most of the fan-actions a bit mystifying.  Twelfth man flags decorate every building, a local tattoo parlor is offering a 12’s tattoo special and last game against the Packers the Seattle City Council banned cheese from the premises.  Like Debra, I say, “But it’s only a game!”  Not that I say that very loudly – my husband would glare at me. 

But also like Debra, I identify with the way fans pour over every detail, dissect plays, and watch every report on the subject.  A fan, no matter the subject, wants to know all about the thing they love.  So I don’t wave a twelfth man flag, but the books on my shelf tell their own tales (pun intended).  Anyone visiting my house knows where I stand on the topic of Lord of the Rings (pro) and the work of cover artist Thomas Canty (also pro) and Tintin (highly pro). I don’t have any tattoos, but I can quote The Walrus and The Carpenter – it’s tattooed on my brain.  And as for cheese… no, sorry, I have nothing there. Cheese is never banned at my house and neither are books. 

Am I the only “12th Man” uber book fan out there?  What “flags” are flying on your bookshelf?

Friday, January 23, 2015

It's Only a Game by Debra H. Goldstein

It’s Only a Game by Debra H. Goldstein

My husband’s blood runs Crimson.  Nick Saban’s signed picture hangs in a prominent place in his man cave, which doubles as my den since we downsized. Signed University of Alabama footballs and Bear Bryant memorabilia also grace the room’s shelves.

Just as he deems these men to be G-ds, my husband religiously attends games or is glued to the television screen cheering his team on or bemoaning bad umpire calls. If the Alabama team wins, he takes pleasure in another week of bragging rights, but if, as they did on New Year’s Day, they get blown out of the water, he mutters for a few minutes and then philosophically notes, “It’s Only a Game.”

Many of our friends will be in mourning until next year’s football season.  They still spend hours dissecting the bad plays or interceptions that “lost the game.” They talk about how difficult it is to be a “marked” team because of having had a high ranking throughout the season.  Their sorrow will be tempered by verbally analyzing critical plays at parties and watching DVR’d games to relive the high moments of the season.

There are other people in our state who mourn in a more aggressive manner.  Newspaper stories of fights prompted by insults, stealing of mascots, and destruction of property are commonplace. Why?  After all, “It’s Only a Game.”

As a Johnny-come-lately to the writing world, I am in awe of many writers.  Their books are on display on my upstairs bookshelves, much as Nick Saban mementos are downstairs.  Throughout the years their works entertained, educated, and engaged me. Now, as I have met many, my respect for their repeated generosity and kindnesses to other writers constantly grows, especially while watching each struggle with juggling time to write, marketing and selling enough books to get another contract, handling today’s social media demands, and living balanced lives.  The reality is that most don’t “win” every day, but the successful ones handle their losses in a similar manner.  Rather than dwelling on the set-back or sabotaging their competition, they understand the defeat of the moment reflects that “It’s Only a Game.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Where Do Story Ideas Come From - Part Two by Debra H. Goldstein

Where Do Story Ideas Come From – Part Two – by Debra H. Goldstein

The question most asked after whether I miss my former job is how do I get the ideas for my stories and books? For me, inspiration comes from research, dreams, observing human behavior, contest or submission prompts or out of the air.  In my previous Stiletto Gang blog, I traced the evolution of one of my favorite short stories, Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief! from the research stage to its February 2014 publication in the Mardi Gras Murder short story anthology.

Contests and open submission calls often stipulate a phrase or thematic concept that must be used. The problem is that with everyone entering or submitting writing to the same prompt, many of the stories will incorporate the identical ideas.  Again, I strive to find an unusual twist or idea.  For Mardi Gras Murder, I knew most people would consider writing about Krewe activities and parades or New Orleans charm, but I kept researching until I found information about the secretive Mardi Gras Indians and their parades.  That research led to Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief!

The open submission call for The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem required The Killer Wore Cranberry is a well-established series, I knew many writers would be competing for the few open slots.  My first decision was to find a food item fewer people would focus on.  I picked greens because I could find a way to work them into a murder; they reflected the South, where I wanted to set the story; and they felt funny to me.  Once I had the food item, I had to have people do something with it.
tying the story to Thanksgiving and using a food item.  Because the publisher wasn’t going to run all turkey stories and

I was stumped and then I remembered that Thanksgiving weekend often is used for weddings because families already are together.  Having officiated at Thanksgiving weddings and attended several (our extended family has a propensity to them), I concentrated on the guest behavior and interaction I had observed at these various functions. Taken out of context, each wedding had its own humor.  The more ideas coming from my brainstorming, I realized I would have to limit my remembered incidents to avoid overwhelming the story I was writing.  The result:  Thanksgiving in Moderation.

The key for me is to take the seed of an idea and find the odd twist.  For example, Grandma’s Garden was written for a short story contest that had a rain falling prompt.  Although I incorporated some rain, I ended up using an analogy between tears and rain and contrasting regular gardening with growing flowers in window boxes.  The story, Early Frost, features two characters attending a football game.  It is a short short story that fully addresses the rivalry of Alabama-Auburn football, but has a twist that brings in an unexpected concept.  Both stories grew out of experiences – rain at the beach, attending football games, but imagination took the tale far beyond the original idea.

Sometimes my impetus is a suggested name.  My next book, Should Have Played Poker, was prompted by wanting to incorporate the name of the first person to ever buy one of my future characters at a charity auction.  I was so tickled by her generosity and wisdom to buy my character that I wanted to put her name in a book rather than a short story.

Ideas come from all different avenues.  Most recently, a friend came up to me and said, “I have the perfect idea for your next story or book.”  Usually, when I hear these words, I run the other way, but this one was different.  He suggested, “Take the extra banana.”  No more than that, but it just might end up in a short story because it tickled my fancy.  That’s the magic of writing – becoming engaged in an idea.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Love/Hate Relationship with Oscar by Marilyn Meredith

I've been watching the TV broadcast of the Academy Awards since the first time they came on TV in glorious black and white.

My father worked for Paramount Studios while I was growing up and he had little respect for most of the movie actors. Despite that, our family went to the movies every Friday night to see a double feature.

As a kid I collected movie star photos and autographs. The best place to get them was at radio shows and catching the stars in the parking lot behind the theater where the broadcasts were made.

Things I remember about some of the earlier Academy Award shows (in no particular oder):

Edith Head almost always won for best costume design.

When the guy streaked across the stage at the Oscars--and charming David Niven handled it in elegant stride.

The  many times Bob Hope was the announcer.

(In my opinion, no one does it as well these days as those old timers.)

When Jack Palance did one-handed push-ups.

When Marlon Brando didn't show up for his Oscar, sending an Indian woman in his place.

I saw these all, but only remember Sally Fields, "You love me, you really love me."

And here's the nominees for best picture for this year.


I've only seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, and didn't much like it. Hope to see the others.

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette · Laura Dern · Keira Knightley · Emma Stone · Meryl Streep

I didn't see most of these performances--except for Keira Knightleys and Meryl Streep's in Into the Woods. Of course Meryl was wonderful--but I think the movie itself lacked something.

I usually catch-up on all the nominated movies eventually. Netflix makes it easy to do.

Through the years I've often been disappointed in who and what movie actually wins the Oscar--but who cares what I think? 

So, folks, what are your feelings about the Academy Awards and he nominees for this year?