Hello Future, how are you?

You know, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m used to electronics being smarter than I am. It was hard to accept at first that the kids (including my grandkids) could work there TV/cable remote far better than I could, and forget me figuring out how to hook up something crazy, like, you know, a DVR back in the olden days, before there was streaming (which I have not quite yet figured out how to make it work on my wifi-ready TV)(need a g-kid over here, stat)… But you know, I kinda got used to it. It’s bad when appliances have so many bells and whistles and computer gizmos that it’s talking to you when you’re trying to do stuff, saying things like, “Look, Stupid, push the BIG triangle button, the one that looks like a “play” button on a DVD player.” “But…but… you’re a washing machine. “Play” doesn’t seem like the right word.” “Do you want your clothes washed or not?”

At any rate, after arguing with the appliances for most of the weekend, I’m getting kinda used to not having a clue, but I really really really draw the freaking line when the new make-up mirror is smarter than I am. I bought this small make-up mirror and thought it was one of those touch-activated things, where I could touch anywhere on the stand and it turned on. It worked like that the first couple of times, but then it would just go off, randomly. I made sure it was charged (it charges with a USB). I looked all over that goober trying to find some sort of switch and it would come on when I held it, and then go off again. Randomly. Sometimes when I set it down, sometimes while holding it. Then I noticed this little red sort of reflector mirror… you know, the kind of glass you see or taillights. I thought maybe it was the button, and if I touched it, it came on, but as soon as I moved my hand off the button, it went off. I was going to return that sucker, certain it was broken, when I leaned in to look at something else on the counter and the light went on. I hadn’t touched it. I leaned back, it went off. Forward… on. Back… off. Forward to the side… off. (Why no, I did not read the instructions. Does anyone actually read the instructions?)

My mirror apparently has a freaking infra red proximity alert that tells it when I’m leaning in to use it and that turns it on. Lean back, it goes off.

Look, Universe, I’m okay with the computers being smarter, and I’m not thrilled, but I can live with the appliances being smarter, but when you start making the mirrors smarter, that’s just getting a bit ridiculous, you know? Pretty soon, gadgets and gizmos and now even simple things like mirrors are going to take over the world, and they don’t need AI to do it… they’ll just need some kindergartners.

If you need me, I’ll just be over here on the porch, in my rocking chair, gumming my food and shaking my old lady fist at the world.

The KINGSMAN — a film review — wherein I proceed to rant…

 

So yesterday, some of our anniversary plans were abandoned when it started raining all day, and we decided to go to a movie. We picked randomly, glancing at one trailer online, and thought we were going to watch a sort of funny, maybe a little over-the-top James Bond-ish (wait… is that redundant?) film starring Colin Firth. Because, you know, *Colin Firth* and my husband was willing to put up with it.

The first third (or so) of the movie, I kinda kept waiting for the movie to start, and then by the middle of the movie, I started wondering what drugs they had put into my drink and pizza (this is the place where you can order meals with your film)… because said film was making less and less sense, and by the last third, my jaw had very literally dropped and I turned (several times) to my husband and asked, “Did they just say (or do) what I think they just said? (or did?)” and he would nod, his jaw equally dropped.

If 007 and The Boondocks Saints (which I liked) had had a baby, fed it constant drugs and violence, and it grew up with zero regard for any human life whatsoever, and didn’t even bother to pretend to engage your empathy, it would be the film Kingsman.

The carnage alone… I just. I… no.

This was one of the most singularly stupid films I think I have ever paid money to view, and I really really want my money and those hours back. And just for the record, the stupid, and I do mean entirely *stupid* little princess subplot/resolution at the end made me want to break the filmmakers arms off and beat them with the bloody ends.

If you ever liked Colin Firth in anything and don’t want that so entirely ruined for you for the rest of your life, you will run and hide from this hideous excuse for… well, I can’t even figure out what they were doing, except letting Colin Firth prove that he can do action scenes.

Mardi Gras and beyond…

I cannot believe I haven’t updated since Christmas. Geeeeeeez, it’s been busy around here.

There was Mardi Gras in all its abundance. I rode in the Nyx parade and had an absolute blast, then walked in the St. Ann parade Mardi Gras day–really wonderful experience. I loved all of the costumes and the camaraderie, and joy.

Since then, I’ve been busy finishing up the final details of the new, very dark book, coming out toward the end of May (I think….). People who have subscribed to my newsletter will get a free novella and the first look at the cover for the book, as well as the opening chapter. (Subscribe by clicking the button in the footer, then filling out your email and name. You will be sent an email to confirm your subscription, and you must click that to finish up the process.)

Meanwhile, here’s a couple of Mardi Gras shots. I’m working on two new books, one dark, one light (with Jenny Crusie), as well as more photos, plus the remodel-the-building saga continues. I’m not sure that one will ever be done.

Court-Jester

 

 

Carnival-Badass-Woman2

When In Doubt, Throw Hard Candy [aka, The Santa From Hell]

(I’ve been asked, as a Christmas tradition, to re-post this story.)

When the kids were little — I think Jake was three and Luke was seven — Christmas felt like it was going to be slim. Make that downright anorexic. So I was looking for a way to bring a little fun into the season, something that wouldn’t cost much.

I had a brilliant idea. (I should come with a warning label: If brilliant idea occurs, step way-the-hell back for your own safety.)

Anyway. The idea was to have someone play Santa at our house for a pre-Christmas visit. We’d invite all the neighbor kids and their parents and each family would bring a gift for their child ahead of time. I’d hide the gifts away and squirrel them to our Santa, who would come in the house with lots of Ho Ho Hos and joy and jovial warmth and after regaling the kids with whatever it is Santas regale kids with, he’d give out the presents. There would be hot chocolate and apple cider, a beautifully lit Christmas tree in the background. Maybe even singing, if the kids wanted to sing. We would be so sappy, Hallmark would sue. Or throw up, but whatever, it was going to be great.

When I write it out like that, it sounds like a very nice day, doesn’t it? It really does seem normal and sane and I should have known that in my world, “normal” and “sane” do not apply.

It progressed innocently enough… I invited all of the neighbors, who loved the idea, especially since it was a fairly tight season for everyone. The “gifts” to the kids were held to a very low budget, so everything was fair and equal. There was a tree, decorations, lights, apple cider and hot chocolate, brownies, cookies, you name it for a sugar fix, someone was going to bring it. All I needed was a Santa.

Finding someone with a Santa suit wasn’t quite as easy as I had expected; most of the people who have them are booked for all of December, and it was two weeks before Christmas and looking a little bleak. And forget getting one of those guys for free. Like I was crazy for thinking this was the season of giving or something. Of course, the kids already knew that Santa was going to come to our house for our party, the specific date was set, so there was no going back at that point. (Could you look a bunch of 3 to 7 year olds in the face and tell them Santa wasn’t showing up? If so, here’s your application to Mercenaries-R-Us and Osama’s on line two.) So. Had to find a Santa. Was getting a little scared as the day approached and there was no Santa to be had.

Then a member of our family, who we still speak to even after this event, suggested a certain older friend-of-the-family. I had met this FOtF several times, and he’s a little… erm… warped. He is very very sweet, but also sort of odd, disjointed, but in a quasi-live-in-a-fog sort of way.Jovial, though, he had down pat. He had the rotund belly, the jolly round cheeks, the perfect Santa nose. The thing that worried me was that he was incredibly bashful. And when he did speak, he was extremely quiet. I couldn’t remember him putting together two whole sentences in a row, unless you call smiling and nodding a lot “sentences,” but at this point, I figured, what could it hurt?

Now, in retrospect, I understand why the heroine always goes down into the dark basement when she’s heard a noise, there’s a serial killer known to be in her neighborhood, someone who’d been stalking her and had keys made to her house, and yet she goes anyway, armed with only a pony-tail clasp and Malibu Barbie lipstick. She was thinking what could it hurt?

Our house was tiny, so the plan was for me to hide the bag of toys at our back door for Santa to grab, then he’d go around and come in the front door, where everyone was gathered in the living / dining room area. Tree lit? Check. Apple cider? Check. Hot chocolate? Check. Sugar high toddlers on the ceiling? Check. So many people packed in there, we were going to need pregnancy tests soon? Check.

But no Santa.

An hour goes by. The kids get higher and rowdier and the adults get fidgety and gossipy and God only knows how many families we managed to break up on that one night. Meanwhile, Jake (three) wandered off to the kitchen. I could see him (very very tiny house) from the dining room, when we heard a noise outside. A distinctive ‘HO HO HO” noise. At last.

Everyone turned expectantly toward the front door. I didn’t want Jake to miss this, so I ran into the kitchen to scoop him up, when suddenly, the back door BURST open with Jake not a foot away from it, and in bound Santa, HO HO HOing at the TOP OF HIS LUNGS, and RUNNING, people. RUNNING. There was NO ROOM TO RUN so Jake turned away from this screaming giant red monster and beelined it back to the living room, which meant he went OVER me, over a few other people standing in the way and did Santa stop? No, no he did not. Santa ran smack over me, over a few other innocent bystanders, and to top it off, the whole running time? He was throwing candy. Hard candy. And I don’t mean “lightly tossing it to the cute little four-year-old standing there with her jaw open in abject fear….” No. I mean hurling it, 95mph over the plate there, Babe, pinging parents, knocking out a couple of random elementary kids and everyone started dodging and diving for cover and did he STOP? No. No he did not. He kept whizzing that candy and HO HO HOing and running (now in circles in the living room) and kids were screaming, Jake was crying, Luke was hiding, I was still on the floor in total shock, and when he did stop, finally (I think Carl tripped him), he started with the presents. Not a single jolly word did this man speak. He pulled out presents, asked the kid’s name, and the really smart kids hid behind their parents, because he HURLED the gifts at their heads. Hurled. I’m not kidding you.

By this point, there was hot chocolate and apple cider everywhere, there were a couple of wet spots on the sofa I didn’t want to identify, most of the kids were wailing and trying to climb their nearest parent and on top of everything else, Santa had managed to drop one of the kid’s presents outside… though I had the presence of mind to realize what had happened and I had a stand-by gift ready (in case one of the parents forgot) and so that was solved. When he finished slinging the last present, did he SIT DOWN and calmly tell lovely stories to the kids to keep them from growing up to be SERIAL KILLERS?

No. No he did not.

He started up again with the running and HO HO HOing and throwing even MORE CANDY. You’d think the man was on a float and we were thirty feet away, and when he finally finished careening over a couple of kids who hadn’t been trampled on the first go-round, he sprinted to the back door and ran out into the night.

The back door slammed and the whole house hushed for a moment in stunned silence. Parents looked at me like I should be locked up, and those were the nice polite expressions, comparatively speaking. Then the shrieking began, and the confusion (toys had been dropped and stomped on by Santa on his way out) and there was just no way to rescue it. I’ve never seen a bunch of people leave a party faster in my life.

But I tell you what. Whenever someone would say to those kids, even years later, that they “better be good because Santa was watching”… man, they’d straighten right the hell up. And I don’t think a single one of them touched hard candy for years.

(Just to wrap up… I thought the Santa would have realized how badly things had gone, but the next time we saw him and his wife, he was back in bashful, quiet mode and his wife told us that he’d reportedly had an absolutely delightful time, that it had been one of the best Santa/parties he’d ever attended. And he sat there and smiled and nodded.)

Writing: Creating the visual world of your story.

As some of you may know, Jenny and I are collaborating on a project, and we’ve been writing crazy volumes (for us) on the story itself, which followed fast on the heels of an insane amount of world-building emails that probably would amount to the volume of another entire book–and that world-building took place in about a six-week frame of time.

This entire process has been an absolute blast. Jenny’s been blogging about a lot of the discovery process we’ve gone through. We’re in discovery draft mode right now, and in one of the discussions on her first scene, the idea of how to build out the world visually came up.

We have a different approach to creating visuals, and different reasons why to do something  (or not do it), and I want to emphasize here that there is no one right way.

Jenny swears she’s not visual, and I wouldn’t have believed her, because she creates the most phenomenal collages for her books, and she’s done one for ours. Trust me, the photos do not do them justice. I had a serious choked-up/tears-in-my-eyes feeling when I saw ours in person, because it really felt like our world, and captured the nature and the couples beautifully. Her first drafts, though, don’t have many scene descriptors, and mine have way too many. At some point, we’ll likely balance somewhere toward the middle because she’ll add some, just so her characters aren’t floating in space, and I’ll pare down to the essentials.

I’ve always been hyper visual–I remember everything in a room I’ve walked through long after I’m out of it; I’ll remember faces (not names), and places, but what I seem to zero on the most is mood/setting/details. Part of that stems from having painted for many years (oils)… or maybe the oils were the result of the hyper-visual bombardment I felt, the need to anchor the world. I started doing photography (that’s a link to my photo gallery) in high school the first time the year-book staff let me use a camera, and I picked it back up recently (which I blogged about here).

But getting that world built on the page without drowning the reader in non-essential detail… that gets tricky. It’s tricky for any book, really, because you want the reader to see the world, feel it, hear it, smell it, taste it, but you don’t want to ever ever ever stop the story with a dissertation on the room they’re in.

There’s more to the solution of this conundrum than simple brevity. Anyone can put one or two adjectives, or one sentence of a description, but it doesn’t necessarily build the world.

So how to do that, without dragging it down?

Continue reading Writing: Creating the visual world of your story.

NYC trip

When Tamar and I were walking around NYC last week, we made a stop at an amazing gelato place (um, Tamar will have to post where it is)… and as we’re standing in there, she’s taste testing all of these wonderfully exotic flavors… you know, things with fruit flavors and strange concoctions that fall into the category of NOT CHOCOLATE. So the clerk/woman turns to me and asks what I’d like to try, and I don’t even need to try anything, I tell her. Just give me the chocolaty-ist chocolate she had and then she asked, “Do you want dark chocolate? Or *really* dark chocolate?” And my head exploded. I went for the dark chocolate because the dark-dark chocolate would’ve probably been like crack and the headlines would read, “New Orleans Woman Takes Gelato Store Hostage, Demands All The Dark Dark Chocolate In The Whole World.” 

Then she asked me if I wanted to put something ON the chocolate or mix something else IN the chocolate, and I was all, YOU DON’T TOUCH THE CHOCOLATE WITH OTHER STUFF. Except chocolate sprinkles or syrup, which she did not have.

And I think I’m being perfectly normal, and I look over at Tamar’s amused expression and realized I may have been showing my Southern a little too much.

I’m going to try to start posting and cross-posting over here several times a week, so hold onto your hats, this may turn out to be a real blog.

Meanwhile, here’s one shot of our walkabout:

Early-morning-read-in-the-park-for-web

Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk

I met up Saturday night with a group formed from the Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk — which has apparently been an annual event for a little while now, and I hadn’t realized it. There was a really great group meet-up in the Quarter–met some terrific people. I had to leave early for a family thing, but I hope to get to meet up with more of them, soon, as it was really fascinating not only seeing the Quarter from others’ eyes, but how it got me out of the way I normally shoot and helped me see things I hadn’t thought to shoot before. Like the one below, which turned out to be my favorite of the night.

 

diner low res

The Arcanum experience

After my only brother died, almost two years ago, I felt like I lost my voice. My creativity with words suffered and dried up to driftwood. While I slowly picked up the pieces again and pasted them together, it was painful. I did it because he’d wanted me to, he’d gotten frustrated with me toward the end of his illness that I couldn’t write, but he’d understood, too, why I couldn’t, and he asked me to keep trying. The story I was writing was a brutally dark story completely unlike what I’d written before, (which will come out sometime next year, I think). When I’d started writing it, it was about a woman whose brother was dying, and she had to do something very specific, or he’d die… and if she did do that specific thing, she would die. It was her life, or his, and she chose his. What I hadn’t realized at that time was that my brother was very ill; he hadn’t been diagnosed yet, and as I wrote that first draft, so much of what he was going through made it into the story, in subliminal ways that I didn’t see. Even later, after he was diagnosed, I couldn’t see the similarities, because I hadn’t grasped yet what was going on, what the real story was beneath my determined attitude about the story.

You see, I was absolutely certain he would live. Absolutely. Certain.

I had to be, for him. He needed that positive force to go through the bone marrow transplant, which is far more harrowing than anyone can ever explain to you.

When he beat the rare cancer, and beat the other illnesses surrounding the transplant, and was told he’d go home, that he was cured, I didn’t know we’d lose him 12 days later to a brain infection. And as it happened, as it spiraled out of control, it killed me that I couldn’t rewrite that ending. I couldn’t fix that world with an edit, a re-do. I couldn’t toss out that draft and find another way to tell his story, his real story, and rewrite his ending to a happily-ever-after.

Words. They fled. I pushed and tugged them into the rewrite of the dark story, because I’d promised him I would, but I don’t know that I would have been able to continue if I hadn’t picked the camera back up and started taking photos again after so many years without touching it.

Photos were my way back. I cannot imagine how I’d have gotten through these last two years, missing him, feeling the grief of having to be the one to make the final decisions for him, decisions I never, ever, dreamed I’d really have to make, because my stories? They have happy endings, dammit. So the photos gave me a way to look at the world, and edit what I saw into something akin to art. The more photos I took, though, the more I was aware that I wasn’t taking quality images. I was having to work so hard in post production to get them to look decent, and I am pleased that people liked them, but I knew I was creating much more work on myself by not starting off with a photo of good quality. It’s stunning the difference that can make, but if you don’t know what mistakes you’re making, you don’t really know how to fix it. I downloaded a ton of classes and tutorials, learned what I could, but I needed feedback from other photographers, and unlike being an author, and having friends who could give me feedback, I didn’t really know any other photographers here who were open to questions, and willing to mentor.

I applied for an apprentice position with The Arcanum, a new mentor/apprentice style online photography school. I greatly admired Trey Ratcliff’s photos, and had even taken a couple of his courses (very affordable), but I wasn’t really growing, and I had that itch, finally, to improve. That feeling that this was the artistic catalyst I needed. I have to tell you, I was a little stunned to have been chosen so early in the process of the school by teacher A. D. Wheeler. I remember taking a look at his website when I got the invitation, thinking, “Wow,” and accepting immediately.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Andy’s (A.D.) is not only an excellent teacher, but he’s got a knack for choosing people with different skills, so we’re all learning from each other, helping each other through our critique process. But beyond that, they’re all just damned good people. It comes across, immediately, in the warmth and encouragement, and in the feeling that they genuinely want to help–and be helped. There’s a camaraderie fostered throughout The Arcanum, and frankly, I’m impressed with how they’ve managed it across the board–and it really does seem like it’s an across-the-board sort of positive attitude. I think it has, in large part, to do with the leadership of Trey, Peter Giordano, and (I think) Curtis Simmons… but mostly, it’s our teacher’s tone and nurturing that has set such a comfortable learning atmosphere. I love that we all had to start with the basics, and improve from there. Some are going to go pretty quickly through those levels, because they already have mastered those levels, but I have to tell you, there hasn’t been a single person–even the super experienced ones–who didn’t have things they could improve on, even at the basic levels.

It reminds me of my brother, as he went through the levels of his karate. Mike was a 5th degree blackbelt, and in superhuman shape (a reason the doctors think he made it as long as he had–his cancer was so rare, and so difficult to beat, that they were stunned he was still alive even a few days after entering the hospital with what we all thought was a mere staph infection). Mike had a school (which I am very proud to see has continued on with his black belt students teaching in his place), and in that school, he believed in constant practice of fundamentals, and not rushing to get to the next level until you’d mastered the one you were at. It’s always nice to hang a plaque on the wall, or look at a ribbon touting a win, or a promotion, but the bottom line was: could you do the tasks of that level, every time, consistently well? It used to drive me absolutely batshit to try to practice karate with him. I didn’t want to do all of the sit-ups and push-ups and repeating the katas over and over and over and JUSTLETMEPUNCHSOMETHING. (grin) I couldn’t even understand why on earth he’d even want to do that every day, much less teach others every day to do the same basics, over and over and over.

Now? I get it. I just had to find the thing that I was passionate about. (I’m passionate about two things–the writing, and the photography, which are two different ways to tell a story.) I’m thrilled to do the basics, to learn in baby steps, to go out and shoot and repeat those baby steps over and over and improve. I can see the improvement. Let me show you:

 

Here’s the best shot of the old car that is rusting in the back yard of a couple we know. I had plenty of time that day to take as many photos as I wanted, and I had a pretty decent camera, but this is the best I could get.

Old car

 

After going through a few beginner levels of The Arcanum, (and some practice in the intervening two years), here’s the shot I was able to get this past Labor Day. I had very little time–we’d been invited for a party, which is going on just past the back of the car–I cloned out some guests and other distractions. Plus, I was losing the light, as we’d been invited over for 6 and with the garage that blocked the light, I was losing all the light by 6:30. I had just a few minutes to set up and grab the bracketed shots. But this time, I understood more about what angle to get, what I needed to have in order to process a decent photo. Here’s the result:

Barbara's old car

 

The irony is, the more I’m improving on the photography side, the easier the words are coming back to me on the writing side. I’ve got two projects up and writing–one in the draft stage, one that’s a collaboration with women I greatly admire. I’ve got the dark book finished and polished and there are editors circling, so we’ll see what happens to it. And I’ve found my creativity again–I have so many things I want to write, and so many photos I want to take, I’m grateful for every minute I am able to practice both.

Thanks to The Arcanum, I feel like I’m back in the saddle again, doing the things I was meant to do. I know my brother would be beaming right now, so happy for me, so proud.

He would still want me to tell you to be bold. He’d want me to tell you to grab the opportunities you have and run with them. Dream big. Live loud. And never quit learning. It’s never too late to start.

Pirate’s Alley — oil technique

I’m playing with various techniques within Photoshop. This is a relatively easy one — I took this shot July 20, pretty early in the morning. When I loaded it into the computer, I HDR’d it with Photomatix Pro 5, then popped it into Photoshop and fixed the necessary lens corrections. (When you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens, you can end up with a distortion where the buildings all lean toward the center. There’s a simple fix in Photoshop to straight up the buildings and compensate for that lens distortion. The downside is that you can fix one thing a little too much and it’ll make something else look out-of-whack. I could probably still futz with this a bit and maybe be a little happier with the angles.) Once I had the final image, I debated changing the sky to something more dramatic; I decided against it for now because I think it would take away from the rest of the scene too much. Finally, I futzed with the oil painting filters a little, to give it that feel of a painting, instead of a pure photo. I could have pushed that effect a lot harder, or gone with a really splotchier water color effect–all easy to do in Photoshop, but for now, I’m happy with this.

 

Pirate's alley ground perspective oil painting for web