Mr. Romantic

DJ Marcussen

marcussen family wedding photo

Hubby and I just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary together.  We celebrated by painting the kitchen window and front door (one of those shades of white).

As of this post, it’s already been two days since our anniversary, which means I can no longer remember whether we even went out to dinner or anything.  We may have had Taco Bell.

Friends and family wished us a happy anniversary on FB, and we were tagged in one of our wedding photos which showed up online.  (That’s me in my Kelly green wedding dress.)

All in all, it was more fanfare than I usually think to give to our anniversary.

It’s not that I’m not happy with Hubby.  I am.  Very.  I think we have true love.

People tell me I’m lucky to have a husband like him and I think they’re right.  He is, after all:  handsome, friendly, kind…

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Stuck In The Middle With You – or – I Would Wash My Hands But I Can’t

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As I write this, Hubby, Sylvester (our one hundred pound dog), and I are crammed into an 8 by 5 foot square space, surrounded by all manner of home furnishings and separated from the rest of our house by a three foot baby gate across the entryway.  For all practical purposes, we are all crated together like the animals we are.

I know we’re animals… if I had any doubts of that, they were removed after several hours of our enforced bonding.  (Quick prayer:  Thank you God for my husband’s job, which removes him from these premises five days a week!)

To make matters worse, a big storm blew in this morning, so there was no going outside.  It seems to have passed now, but it’s hot, muggy, and full of mosquitoes out there.

  • Hubby:  “The sun looks like it’s coming out again.  Maybe I can go walk around outside.”
  • Me:  “Sure, why don’t you do that?”
  • Hubby:  “Or I could wash my car.”
  • Me:  “That sounds good.”
  • Hubby:  “Or I could sit right here.”

And drive me crazy!

Why are we in this situation?  Because half of our house flooded two months ago and this week is the big push for the teams of different tradesmen to co-ordinate their efforts and complete all the re-construction.

All the stuff from the half of the house that flooded is shoved into every nook and cranny of the half that didn’t.  We have pathways to the bathroom and bedroom.  The kitchen table is at the foot of our bed, loaded down with pots and pans, and assorted contents of the cabinets that used to be in the kitchen.

The kitchen itself is just a gutted shell, with plumbing pipes sticking up through the sides of the floor.  The bathroom sink adorns the path through the living room.  Chairs are piled on top of each other and reach almost to the ceiling.

(The phone rings.  It’s my Hubby’s boss, asking him if he can come in today and work extra time.)

  • Hubby:  “Oh I would if I could, but I have construction going on today in the house and I really need to be here.”  He hangs up.
  • Me:  “You can go in today if you need to honey.  We’ll be okay here.”
  • Hubby:  “No, no.  I need to stay home today with you and Sylvester and keep track of things.”
  • Me:  “I know, babe.  But seriously, if you want to go you can.  I’m sure Sylvester and I can hold down the fort just fine.”
  • Hubby:  “Nope.  Any other week I would, but not today.”

He gives me a big smile.

Crap.  I inwardly sigh and go back to trying to write.

We have a place in mind to go take a quick shower tonight, but this morning the work crews started early and – except for the toilet – we have no water.  Besides, it wouldn’t matter much if the water was turned on, because we have no sinks.  No stove.  No refrigerator.  Nothing.  Just empty shells in part of our house and everything we own crammed everywhere else.

So I poured some bottled water into two plastic cups and we used those to brush our teeth with.  Then we partly filled a mixing bowl with more bottled water so Hubby could shave.

We can’t leave.  The homeowner has to be here.  There are contractors and subcontractors and layers of tradesmen that all report to different people.  Communication on who is doing what gets fuzzy.  Every day problems come up and it’s clear one or both of us has to be here to monitor the situation.  Besides, I’m not comfortable leaving my dog here alone.  What if one of them moves the baby gate and he gets out through an open door?  Or steps on a nail?

Hubby:  “I think I’ll call my mom.”  He dials her phone number and yells at her through the phone (she’s hard of hearing).  Periodically, he gets up and walks around the contractors, checking on things.  Later, he says, “I think I’ll call my brother.”

Listening to someone’s phone conversations when they are across the room from you, or even across the table, is totally different than listening to them when they are sitting a foot from your chair.

Hubby is home today and tomorrow.  Then he has to go back to work.  Oh, blessed day.  Meanwhile, I keep trying to write, while my husband and dog are both antsy and acting like the caged animals that we are.

I give Sylvester a couple of Benadryl.  The vet said I could give them to him when his skin allergies flare up, but this time, it’s really for me, not for him.  They calm him down and make him sleepy.  Something we could all use him to be right now.

The office we are in is my place of work.  I have no problem with being confined here as I normally spend several hours a day writing at my desk anyway.  I do, however, really miss not being able to get up and walk around the house every so often.  I like to take Sylvester out periodically, get a drink, and stretch my legs before settling back and working some more.

I saw this construction as a chance to concentrate and get some major story writing done, while the crews worked.  Instead, I’ve reverted to grousing in this post.  I hadn’t counted on rainstorms, back-ordered lumber delivery’s, contractor squabbles, and Hubby being here with me part of the week.  “The world’s job is to stop us from writing.” (How to become a lean, mean, writing MACHINE).

He gets up, moves the baby gate and sets it back up to keep Sylvester in the room.  Then he heads down the trail toward the bathroom.  A few minutes later and he’s back.

“I would wash my hands, but I can’t,” he says.  Right.  No water.

“Come on.”  I grab the bottled water and Hubby follows me outside, where I pour water over his hands while he rubs them together.  He shakes his hands free of droplets and we head back inside the house, where we dodge construction and search for a towel from the piles in the rooms.  We don’t know where anything is anymore.

After a while, Hubby can’t stand the confinement.  Plus, the sun is now out and so he leaves to go for a walk outside.  I, meanwhile, am finally interruption free enough to finish this post.  There’s a space where he has left, and both Sylvester and I are sighing with relief to have even a couple more feet between us.

Then it’s just me, typing away, and my trusty dog lying by my side.  If it weren’t for the constant banging of hammers or whine of a drill, it would feel almost normal again.

Last night, when Hubby and I crawled over a box to get onto the bed, I was too tired to read my devotional.  It’s been that way for a few days.  I decide that -now – while Hubby was out walking, this would be a good time to read the days message.  It might help calm the waters here a bit.

It read:  “Trust ME in the midst of a messy day.  Your inner calm… need not be shaken by what is going on around you.”  I stare at the words on the page, amazed at what I am reading.  “When you start to feel stressed, detach yourself from the disturbances around you.  Instead of desperately striving to maintain order and control in your little world, relax and remember that circumstances cannot touch My Peace.” *

How does God do that?  How does He work it so that a writer, from half way around the world, wrote words many years ago, that God then used to give to me, almost like it was written for this situation, exactly on the day that He knew I would read it and need it the most?

Hubby just walked back into our crated space.  “Did I tell you about what Jeremy (name changed here) did at work the other day?”

“No,”  I say.  “Tell me more.”

I’ve decided to take God’s message to heart… about relaxing and not trying to control the chaos around me.  So I quickly finish and save this post, and settle back to the sound of pounding, power tools, and the sweet sound of Hubby’s voice.  The stories can wait.

 

*  Taken from Jesus Calling, © 2004, 2011 Sarah Young

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Who Is The Kumquat Thief?

Ha! Funny story. The picture tells the story, just look at that sneaky face.

DJ Marcussen

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The bitter cold and weak light of an Illinois winter make growing a kumquat tree outdoors an impossibility.  Indoors, it’s not easy either.  Especially if there’s a thief in your house.

If you’ve ever tasted a kumquat, you’d know why I grew one.

I fell in love with the fruit when I traveled to Florida one year, and a relative of mine picked one off the kumquat tree he had growing in his yard.  He handed it to me and instructed “eat the whole fruit, skin and all.”

It was instant love at first bite.  Unfortunately, despite the wonderful sweet/sour taste of the fresh fruit, there’s not a lot of kumquat shipping going on.

I don’t get it.  You can buy Florida oranges, Texas grapefruit, Costa Rican pineapples, Honduran bananas, kiwis from New Zealand, and Mexican avocados.  But try and find kumquats at your local grocer.  It’s a rare…

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What Happened To The Cat?

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I recently read a James Patterson book named Mistress.  It was one of the best books I’ve read in months.  You know the type of book I mean… the one you snap at your husband over because he’s dared to interrupt you – AGAIN – after you asked him nicely to just let you read!

The kind of book you carry with you everywhere you go, so you can read it in snatches, while the Starbucks guy brews your tea or you stand in line at the checkout.

Mistress is the first James Patterson book I’ve ever read.  Am I the only person who can say that?  He’s written an unbelievable number of books (I looked it up).  Clearly I’ve been missing out, and I intend to remedy that situation soon.

But first, I have to mention the cat.  I have to mention the cat because – great as the book was – I actually laid awake one night, mad as hell… about the cat!

You see, written in amongst the political intrigue and dangerous liaisons, there is a scene where the main character (Ben) slits the yellow tape of a crime scene and enters the apartment of his dead friend, to search for evidence.

Ben doesn’t find evidence.  But he does find his friends cat (Cinnamon), which has been left there, abandoned and terribly hungry.  The poor thing is a nervous wreck, writes Patterson.  Has anyone been feeding her?  So Ben finds some cat food in the pantry and the starving cat ‘goes to town on the food‘.

Ben then leaves, hops on his motorcycle, and we’re off to the next scene… abandoning the cat once again.

Since Ben’s friend has been dead for some time now, we’ve already attended the funeral, met the family, and been engrossed in this novel long enough for the bad guys to score their second murder.  We’re a good quarter of the way through this book when Ben breaks into that apartment and finds the cat.  Friends of the deceased are few, or caught up in the conspiracy.  No landlord or neighbors are mentioned so it seems likely no one is coming to rescue the cat.

Cinnamon’s on her own.

We’re left wondering… did Cinnamon starve to death?  Was the toilet seat left up so she could at least get water?  Did she become too weak to even utter pitiful meows that might be heard by a neighbor if the walls were thin enough?

The apartment had been crawling with cops and the CIA on the night the murder took place.  Any one of them could’ve removed the cat.  Or Cinnamon could’ve run out in all the commotion.  (Better for her to be on the streets where she at least had a fighting chance, than to starve to death alone, locked in an apartment.)

Or one of the family of the deceased could’ve come and picked her up.  A concerned neighbor.  The landlord.  A friend.  Anybody??

There are countless ways that cat could NOT be there when Ben broke in, and the reader would’ve accepted her absence without question, understanding a crime scene left empty.  Patterson didn’t have to write any explanation whatsoever for Cinnamon’s absence.

Discovering and feeding the cat took all of two short paragraphs.  It didn’t change the purpose or meaning of the scene.  Not one bit.  The cat never comes up again in the rest of the book.

So why did Patterson have to mention the cat?  This may seem a silly thing to obsess over, but I have a point here.

As writers, we change the storyline, cut and paste, edit, delete whole sections and start all over again.  So many times we lose count.  It can’t be helped.  It’s part of the process.  Rarely does a book get published from a first draft.  Details get lost in the shuffle and – sometimes – details that worked in a previous draft don’t work in a later version.  If they’re not caught, they leave unanswered questions.  Like abandoned cats.

The authors themselves forget the very words they wrote in a previous chapter.  When you’ve written and revised 30 chapters over a period of many months, it’s easy to get confused.  During a proofread of a book I wrote, I once discovered that I described my main character as having blue eyes in one chapter, and brown eyes several chapters later.  It happens.

That’s a pretty big detail to screw up but I’m not alone in this.  I’ve proofread similar mistakes in other’s manuscripts.  I even remember one book – already published – where the main characters name changed!  Two thirds of the way through the story she went from “Marianne” to “Marilyn”.  (In case you’re wondering, that book was published by a large, well respected traditional publishing house.  Mistakes like that aren’t confined to self-publishing.)

But these details are important.  Like the cat.  I wasn’t mad at Ben for not having the good sense to drop the cat off somewhere on his way to the scene (although it did make him look callous); he was, after all, just a written character.  No, I was mad at Patterson.

It’s doubtful Patterson intended his character to look callous.  He or someone else just forgot to fix that detail.  Yet it’s those details that define your character, reveal their moral attributes, and differentiate the good guys from the bad.

Those details are important.

And we all know (or should know) that you never, ever have the good character hurt, abuse, kill, or abandon a child or a pet.  Only the bad character does that, and even then it’s edgy.  There’s a reason the baby or dog survives the blast in movies, while scores of adults get blown to bits.

Editing those details is the biggest reason for prejudice against self-published books.  It’s why traditional houses are considered “quality publishing” and the other has a reputation of “poor quality”.  In the past, this reputation was earned by careless self-publishers, who didn’t have access to hiring outside editors.  That’s gradually changing as more and more self-pub’s offer editorial services and the two forms of publishing are meshing together. (Why Self Publishers Are A Traditional Publishers Best Friend)  But as writers, we need to be vigilant in this area.

If you publish the traditional way, don’t sit back and relax and expect the publishing house to carry all the proofreading load.  Remember, they work on reduced budgets now, and they’re not infallible (as Patterson’s book is an example of).

If you self-publish and proofreading is not your forte, then you need to find help… fellow writers, family and friends, or hired professionals.

We’re human.  Our proofreaders are human.  Mistakes will happen.  (If you look close enough, doubtless mine will come to light.)  But do not spend all that time writing your book and then be lax on ‘cleaning it up’.  Especially in today’s environment, more than ever, first impressions can make the difference between a loyal following, catching the interest of a professional pub., or being labeled as a sloppy writer.  Labels, by definition, stick with a person a long time.  They are difficult to change.

Patterson doesn’t have to worry.  He’s made his name.  One lone cat detail isn’t going to break him.  But most of us aren’t Patterson.  We’re (insert your name), and nobody knows who we are yet.

Be sure that when they do, they remember your story, and NOT the cat.

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Now Hear This: Drink Up!

The caffeine in me has me being productive today, so thought I’d share this blog post with all our CAWG readers. Cheers!

DJ Marcussen

I knew there was a reason I loved coffee!  A new report has come to light!  According to an August 7, 2014 report in Clinicalnews.org, caffeine intake is associated with a lower incidence of tinnitus.  (Say what?)  According to this article, “Researchers observe that women with a higher intake of caffeine had a lower incidence of unexplained ear ringing.”

If you know me personally, then you know this is pretty funny coming from me.  But I’m not laughing (as I turn up the volume on my hearing aids to hear the good news).  Uh-uh.  Coffee is serious business.

coffee

Not only is coffee good for your ears, but apparently it’s good for the rest of what ails you too:

“A study tracking the health and coffee consumption of more than 400,000 older adults for 13 years, and published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that…

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How to Tell if Your Story is On Target—What is Your Book About in ONE Sentence?

Do you have trouble telling an agent, IN ONE SENTENCE, what your book is about? Here are some helpful tips and suggestions.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

You missed…. You missed….

This past weekend, I indulged a little and we went to TWO movies. First, date night with Hubby. We saw Maleficient and it was AWESOME. Sunday, we wanted to take The Spawn to X-Men, but there wasn’t a convenient showing so we settled for the new Spiderman movie, or as I like to call it…The Movie That Would NOT END.

No spoiler alerts here other than save your money and go see Maleficient. The Spiderman movie was dreadful. I kept checking my watch.

The only saving grace is that Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey were really likable people. But the movie dragged on…and on…and yes, ON.

Characters are important. I don’t buy into the notion of character-driven or plot-driven stories. We need both. No one cares about the plot if we don’t care about the people. Conversely, we can care about the people, but PLOT is the crucible…

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The Pink Bluebell – A Garden Fable

Plant In The Sun

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Fancy noticed them whispering, and tried to ignore it.  Still, she couldn’t help but overhear some of the comments.

“It just scorches me how she’s bringing down our property values,” said the bluebell behind the windmill.

“She’s the wrong color to be living here.  She must know she doesn’t belong,” said a gangly bluebell by the fence.

Fancy tried to make herself seem as inconspicuous as possible, bending her pastel pink head to one side to reduce her size.

“Stop slouching,” admonished Petal, her best friend who grew right beside her.

“Easy for you to say,” replied Fancy.

Petal sighed a flutter in the breeze, but didn’t answer.  She was tall and strong and had the sweetest scent in town, a fact which made her the envy of all who knew her.

Fancy, on the other leaf, didn’t have much scent.  This wasn’t unusual for her kind, she knew many…

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