Me from A to Z

My friend Sally posted this exercise on her blog, and I loved it. Soon I’ll be doing interviews, so I figure this was a way of dipping my toe into soul-baring waters. Or just to have fun. If you like this, maybe you’ll want to try your own.

Me from A to Z

Age: 49. But in cat years, I’m a mere child.
Bed Size: King. Which is not as great as it’s cracked up to be. And king sheets cost more.
Chore You Hate:  Waxing anything.
Dogs:  Can’t have one right now, which makes me sad. But if I could have one, he or she would be cuddly, toilet-trained, shed-proof, antibacterial, and would whip up a mean margarita.
Essential Start of Your Day:  Slow, deep breathing before I get out of bed. It helps relax my muscles and get more oxygen into my body, to help wake me up.
Favorite Color: I’m a purple person.
Gold or Silver:  Bronze. There’s less pressure when you come in third.
Height: 5’3-1/2″
Instruments You Play(ed):  Piano, recorder, and two or three chords on the guitar, but I’ve forgotten it all. Everyone else in my family got the music gene.
Job Title: Ghostwriter. Author. Typo hunter. Finder of Husband’s inhaler. Schedule coordinator.
Kids:  What? I was supposed to have kids? I didn’t see that in the contract.
Live:  In my head most of the time.
Mom’s Name: Brenda. Or just, you know, mom. She answers to both.
Nicknames:  They were horrible. Kids are mean. And very creative.
Overnight Hospital Stays:  Ask me again after a few of Spot’s margaritas.
Pet Peeve:  Inappropriate cell phone use.  You know, to keep a table level or scrape your windshield. That really pisses me off.
Quote From a Movie: “Some days you win. Some days you lose. Some days it rains.” (Bull Durham)
Right or Left-Handed: Left
Siblings:  Two biological brothers. Six step brothers and one stepsister. So you can pretty much torment me all you want–I can take it.
Time You Wake Up:  Whenever the drugs wear off.
Underwear:   Not right now, but usually.
Veggie You Dislike:  Lima beans. Yuck. Okra. Yuckier.
What Makes You Run Late: Husband doing laps around the house making sure he hasn’t forgotten anything, and turning down thermostats.
X-Rays You Have Had:  Right thumb, broken at 9 when a bunk bed ladder fell on it while I was trying to get a recalcitrant cat out from under the bed. Karma’s a bitch. Left middle finger, after unfortunate encounter with an X-acto knife. The knife won. Entire spine, at one point or another, and dental x-rays.
Yummy Food You Make: Lentil soup! I’ve been making this recipe since I was a starving, broke college student because it’s cheap, nutritious and filling. And it goes great with cornbread. I will never touch another packet of Ramen noodles, but I can eat lentil soup every day.
Zoo Animal You Like Best:  Penguins! I’m not thrilled that any animal is in a zoo, but these little guys have stolen my heart. What does it mean the penguin is my totem animal?

If you don’t want to try this yourself, just try picking one letter and answering that question in the comments below.

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A Brief Bit of Career Advice For Anthony Weiner

Boy, working in Congress these days is hard! The hours can be long, it’s got a high turnover rate and you have to read lots of stuff (well, at least hire people to read stuff for you), but it’s got a totally rad gym where you can take partially-naked pictures of yourself to send to strangers. Now another of its brethren finds itself caught red-handed then pink-slipped. And unfortunately, the only jobs Weiner has ever had were in politics. Unless he wants to take up Larry Flynt on his offer or nab that gig with Entourage, he may need some career coaching. Until he can worm his way back into his constituent’s and Nancy Pelosi’s hearts, perhaps he might want to take one of these interim positions uniquely suited to his particular skills:

1. Underwear model. At least we know he wears some.
2. Photographer’s assistant. He’s already an amateur set dresser.
3. Social media consultant. Many a Police Department has called upon the consulting services of an ex-con to help catch bad guys. Weiner could tour colleges, professional sports teams, and other government entities, scaring them straight with his tales of social media gone awry.
4. United Nations Ambassador to France. Because over there they seem to care less about the manner in which you conduct your private parts.
5. Cast member of Hair. Already accustomed to public nudity.
6. Fitness coach. Hey, Richard Simmons isn’t getting any younger.

Have any other suggestions for our newest member of the “I’ve Been Debriefed By Congress” Club?

How to Heighten the Tension In Your Novel

Your novel’s protagonist has a goal. It could be as simple as bouncing back from heartache or as complex as saving the world from an evil genius and his army of giant, irradiated Madagascar hissing cockroaches. But if your character achieves his or her goals too quickly or too easily, it will make for pretty boring reading, and mire you in that dreaded dead zone of a manuscript: the sagging middle. Here’s how you can raise the stakes and heighten the tension:

1.  Toss in a good, old-fashioned monkey wrench. Imagine your protagonist is a bored kindergarten teacher who teams up with her father, a retired detective, to solve mysteries on her summer break. She agrees to meet a potential source in a dicey neighborhood. But she gets lost. Yes, she has a high-tech GPS gizmo that will help her find the address in a trice, but how much fun would it be if everything went according to plan? Have her leave it in her father’s car. Or break it. How else could she meet that sort-of creepy guy on the corner who gives her directions and ends up being an undercover cop who saves her life?

2.  Let things go terribly wrong. It’s hard, I know, to see any pain befall your beloved protagonist or secondary actors. But adversity can build character. Does the kindergarten teacher quit the case because someone tosses a brick through her window, poisons her dog, or tries to shoot her or her father? Or does this just double her resolve to see justice done?

3. Add a few unintended consequences. The kindergarten teacher’s mother, hating the whole idea of her daughter traipsing off to God-knows-what dangers with her obsessed husband, and worried sick when it’s one in the morning and she hasn’t returned, drives off into the night to find her. She makes an inquiry to the wrong person at a seedy bar. The bad guys kidnap her to force the kindergarten teacher off their tails. Okay…now what is our fearless detective to do?

4. Always ask, “What if?” Mom is no slouch. She tries to escape from the bad guys, using the lock-picking skills she developed while a student at a very unusual boarding school for girls. What if she gets out of the shed in which she’d been held prisoner, only to overhear the bad guys planning their next heist? They desperately lack a safe-cracker. What if she goes rogue and joins them? What does she have to do to convince them she’s on their side?

5. Let a character hit bottom. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A woman is like a tea bag–you never know how strong she is until gets in hot water.” In our kindergarten teacher’s story, perhaps all looks lost. Her mother has gone to the dark side. Her father is drinking again. And someone just blew up her car, broke into her apartment and rearranged all of the jars in her spice rack. As she’s calling the police, she hears footsteps. She turns to see a man with a gun. It’s her ex-husband, a sketchy dude, but the love of her life. He assaults her, steals her purse and takes off, leaving her bloodied on the living room floor. Now what? Okay, she’s allowed to brush away a few tears (she’s only human), but a strong protagonist in a situation like this will rise to the occasion. She’ll solve the mystery. She’ll give that bastard what he deserves and clear her mother’s name. Then she can collapse, perhaps in the arms of her now-sober father, and gather her strength for the sequel.

How’s your middle these days? A little soft? How do you raise the stakes for your characters?