Thursday, September 26, 2013

Animals, again. Last week cute baby animals. This week, animals on the verge of extinction.

It’s not just snares, traps and machine guns anymore. Now it’s poison. 
On twitter, @Nmichaelross posted a link to an article in the Guardian reporting that poachers in Zimbabwe poisoned waterholes with cyanide.

80 elephants were killed. For their tusks. The ivory used to make trinkets.
Elephants whose herds once roamed Africa now face extinction.
So do rhinos.

 Rhino horn, made of keratin, the same substance found in fingernails, hair and feathers, is incorrectly thought to have medicinal value. Rhino horn, its value driven by demand in increasingly prosperous Southeast Asia, is now worth more than gold and cocaine.
The big cats—lions, tigers, leopards—hunted for trophies or for their pelts also face extinction.

On World Rhino Day, bestselling author Sibel Hodge wrote about the devastation here. Her novel, The See-Through Leopard, inspired by the slaughter, is a thrilling story set in Africa about the almost-magical healing powers of an orphaned leopard cub.
Kindle  |  Kindle UK  |  Nook

Zuri, also set in Africa and inspired by articles about poaching, is a love story about an orphaned baby rhino.
Kindle  |  Kindle UK  |  Nook

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cute baby animals. Are there any baby animals that aren't cute?

Two cute baby elephants

One cute baby elephant

Cute baby panda

Cute baby pig
Cute baby seal, a little bedraggled looking

Cute baby rhino and mom

Cute baby rhino and mom
Chic baby rhino in red blanket with friend
Want to read more about a cute baby rhino?
Kindle  |  Nook

For more about World Rhino Day, the horrors of poaching and the threat of rhino extinction,  please see Sibel Hodge's  blog.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A woman, a babe, a bitch, a nutcase, a holy terror (not necessarily in that order).

Here they are:
  • Clarice Starling, the FBI agent in Silence of the Lambs (played by Jodie Foster in the film), must face her fears—and Hannibal Lector—to solve the identity of a serial killer but she has no personal life that we know of.  She's a nun, FBI-style, and she doesn’t give up until the case is solved.
  • Jane Tennison, the DI in television’s Prime Suspect, played by Hellen Mirren, is a “woman of a certain age” as they say in France. Her love life is on the gritty side, she drinks too much, she can be flinty—not flirtatious. The men she works with give her a hard time and she isn’t shy about pushing back.
  • Carrie Mathison, the bi-polar CIA agent in Homeland, who has sex with the suspected terrorist. Carrie is also “single,  childless, moody, and she refuses to fit in.”
  • Maya, The young CIA officer, played by Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, is tough-minded, focused and willing to contradict senior officers in her quest to find the al Qaeda terrorist, Osama bin Laden.
  • Nurse Ratched, in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Wikipedia describes her like this: “the ward is run by steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients.”
  • Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, cuts off her favorite writer’s foot with an axe and cauterizes the wound with a blowtorch. Played by  Cathy Bates in the movie, Annie is the unforgettable, over-the-top “difficult” woman in Stephen King’s bestseller, Misery.
  • Riley, as played by Sigourney Weaver, is the warrant officer in Alien. She is courageous, authoritative and has no personal life that we know of. She’s a sci-fi heroine who must rely on her own guts, brains and fearlessness.
  • Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper with no first name in Rebecca, is dedicated to her dead employer, the first Mrs. Maxim de Winter. She is intimidating, manipulative and willing to drive the second Mrs. DeWinter to suicide.
  • Glenn Close, the murderous seductress in Fatal Attraction lives alone, has no family that we are aware of and is psychopathically determined to get what she wants.
  • Judi Dench as M is the head of MI6. She is blunt, unmarried as far as we know although in one scene it is clear she is sleeping with a male companion. She is James Bond’s boss and does not flinch from bossing him around and dressing him down for his recklessness.  
So what does the tough, determined, bossy, or downright crazy woman offer the reader—or the writer?

  • Shock: The “difficult” female character can—and will—do the shocking, the unexpected and, as a consequence, will give your story an immediate jolt of energy. She is the character who doesn’t fit the mold. She is the boss (M), the beginner (Clarice Starling), the domestic employee (Mrs. Danvers).
  • Sizzle:  The “difficult” female character will live in the “wrong” neighborhood, drink too much, have sex with the “wrong” partners—all good ways to add sizzle and wow! plot twists.
  • Stock car races:  She will not take her niece or nephew to Disney World but to a stock car race one day, to the ballet the next and teach him or her how to run a bulldozer, how to roast the perfect chicken and how to rob a bank. 
  • Drama:  She will most likely not be a secretary or a dress designer but a (believable) nuclear physicist,  petroleum engineer or cat burglar. If she is a secretary or dress designer, it’s because she’s got a dramatic secret that will give your fiction a buzz.
  • Rescue:  She will never do the expected or the conventional: she will not give up a career or a promotion for Mr. Right. She will not fall madly in love, swoon into someone’s arms and make irrational choices although she might be an excellent and loyal lover. She can be stubborn, pathological, repellent but she can be the larger-than-life character who will come to your rescue.

So, Ruth, what did she ever do for you?

A holy terror named Chessie Tillman bailed me out of a dead end in Brainwashed, a thriller that takes place in the sour, paranoid 1970’s of Watergate and Vietnam. Because the book is a political thriller, I needed a politician and I had one. I thought. Except he was so stupefyingly boring he brought the plot, the book—and me—to a dead halt.

I fretted and stewed. Bitched and complained. I couldn’t figure out what happened next or who did what to whom. Color me one very very unhappy writer.  Then, popping out from the murk of my unhappiness, along came Chessie.

Senator Chessie Tillman’s parents wanted a boy. What they got was her. She was short, dumpy, and dressed like a rag picker. She smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, swore like a sailor. She had been married three times, each husband richer and more handsome than the one before.  
A roof-rattling orator and take-no-prisoners arm-twister, Chessie Tillman had mowed down men twice her size. In a series of headline-making speeches, she expressed the nation’s disgust with the sleazy goings-on of the Watergate scandal. In Senate hearings she faced down the beribboned generals who were bullshitting the public about the alleged “progress” being made in the high-body-count, vastly expensive, and increasingly pointless war in Vietnam. 
She was blunt, fearless, and had a big mouth. When something bothered her, she didn’t give up and she didn’t give in. America had never seen a politician like her. Right now, sitting behind the desk in her shambles of an office in the Senate office building, she had a new bug up her ass.”

Lesson learned: When in deep doo-doo, don't forget the woman, the chick, the babe, the nutcase, the bitch. She can—and will—come to your rescue.

Question asked: If you're a reader, what over-the-top female characters do you recall most vividly? If you're a writer, has an over-the-top female character ever come to the rescue?

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rules for renegades: good housekeeping for writers.

Are you drowning in a sea of ugly clutter? Is your kitchen a dingy mess? And what about those annoying dust bunnies under the sofa? 

You know: when the plot mystifies even the author, when a character has all the charm and allure of a dead flounder, when verbs are passive, nouns meh and adjectives rust in the front yard. 

Take a hike/go to the gym/get on your bike. Or, God forbid, do the dishes, take out the garbage or get out the vacuum cleaner. Bottom line: get away from your desk and move. I’ve told my DH at least a million times that a body in motion is a mind in motion. (Who says living with a writer isn’t one thrill after another?)

 Coffee? For me, it’s tea. Freshly brewed Darjeeling, Assam, Keemun or Green Jasmine delivers a mild hit of caffeine. Leaving my desk, going into the kitchen, warming the teapot, boiling the water, measuring the tea, waiting for it to brew—often breaks the oh-shit-now-what? cycle. 

Switch to a pad and pen if you write on your computer. Or, if you write longhand, vice versa. Slowing down or speeding up makes a difference. At least it does for me.

Talk the problem out with someone. In my case, my DH (lucky man). Very often, it’s not what he says. It’s what I say. Turns out I had the solution all along; I just didn’t know it.

Read. Sports writers are great at describing  action. (Good verbs on the sports page.) Fashion magazines, style blogs and catalogs are filled with inspiring descriptions of clothing. Beauty and grooming sites focus on looks. The business pages are a source for occupations and careers. The tabs are an endless wellspring of sex and scandal. Niche magazines or blogs—bass fishing, ice climbing, stamp collecting, arctic biology—can jar you out of your impasse.

Blurb the book that’s giving you grief. Sometimes I get lost in the trees and need to step back and see the forest again. Writing the blurb is a way to re-focus.

Procrastinate. Seriously. Take a nap. Or a shower. Knit or crochet. Build a model airplane. Pull weeds in the garden. Try a new recipe. Go to a party. Watch a movie. Go to a concert or the ballet or a baseball game. Sometimes you get ahead of yourself and just need a little time (procrastination)  to catch up.

Kill your darlings—not. Every time I start a new book, I open a file called “To Be Used?” Whenever I wonder if a darling should be killed, I park it here so I haven’t actually killed my darling, just put him/her into the literary equivalent of a medically-induced coma. You never know when a darling is going to come to the rescue.

Hit the delete button. When your prose is lumpy and clumpy, when the plot grinds to a halt, when whatever can go wrong has gone wrong, don’t spend time/waste energy trying to fix the problem. Just cut that sucker and paste it in your “To Be Used?” file and continue. Either it will die a slow death in there or else the solution will pop into your head later. Either way, it’s a win-win.

Indulge. Booze, wine, chocolate have been tried and found guilty of putting that inner scold/second-guesser in its place and unleashing the imagination. Just don’t get so loaded you can’t read your notes the next day or so fat you can’t waddle to your computer. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Go back to work and give it another try. It’s gonna be OK. Really.

Buy one of my books. Because you never know where your next great idea will come from. ;-)