Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Product Placement - What Say You?

I have some very dear friends who are obsessed, a gross understatement, when it comes to product placement in either books or movies. Their opinion is that using real-life brand names in the middle of a novel, or showing real products in a movie, is nothing more than a commercial in the middle of the  entertainment. To a certain extent, I can see their point. But I beg to differ.

When I was writing Saving Jake and Jake Holdridge first introduced himself to me, there were several things about him that he told me right off the bat: he wore his hair long, he preferred an army green trench coat purchased at a thrift store over any other outerwear, he always wore high-tops, and his chosen drink -when he wasn't raiding his father's wine cellar- was Coke. And I named the brands in the book. I also used Denny's as a favorite dining spot, and mentioned Pop-Tarts as a breakfast of choice. Later on in the book, I used actual establishments, both stores and restaurants, up in Door County, Wisconsin for particular scenes in the story, but I had permission from all the owners to do so. The name brands, however, were a conscious choice on my part.

I don't mind seeing Nike shoes on a character's feet, or reading what he ate at McDonald's, or what soft drink is his favorite. I don't mind reading about it, either. Unlike my friends, I feel that using real-life brands gives the book or the movie a sense of reality. If I am reading a murder mystery and the detective is drinking an unnamed cola, or worse, an obviously fake cola, I am jolted right out of the story and back into the realization that I am reading a book about someone and not really sharing an adventure with that person. And the same holds true for me regarding movies. I like that sometimes the protagonist is eating Lay's Potato Chips or drinking something from Starbucks. For me, those products are a touchpoint of reality that allow me to stay in the moment instead of coming out of the fiction escape-zone completely.

And product placement is hardly new. When I was a kid, James Bond was specifically driving an Aston Martin and brandishing a Walther PPK. More recently, Inspector Morse had his Jaguar, and FBI special agent Pendergast had his beloved Les Baer handgun as his favorite weapon. 

So am I going to get pelted with tomatoes or does anyone else out there agree with me? Maybe product placement is free advertising for companies that may not need it. But hey, if eating at Denny's makes one of my random readers think of my book, you know what? I'll take it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing Schedules and questions

Do you have a writing schedule of books lined up to be written? I looked at the one I've begun and wonder if I'll ever finish. On that schedule are two YA stories begun years ago and it seems they want their story to be told but they're in line behind about ten others. The schedule I devise can sometimes be altered and at other times not.

Choosing to write in a variety of genres is difficult and sometimes leaves the head spinning. There are the stories that may never be told. Do you have stories that are a bare glimmer?

I've found a series of stories that will come to be told. Started as a series years ago. They are fantasies and can be read by anyone. I've the rights back to them and they are mainly short stories and ones that can be read by teens and by adults. They are romances and also coming into one's own. The premise is one that interested me and were inspired by a former cover done for the Jewels of Erda series. The picture was of a gem and one could see if you looked carefully two women inside a jewel. This was born Woman cast in Amber. The first story was a sort of coming of age story and of choices. I thought the stories were finished when I wrote the second. Woman Freed From Anger about a prince who as a child fell in love with the woman in the stone. Several more stories were born from this and when I decided to re-release the stories as a collection, I realized there were two more stories that needed to be told to complete the set.

Once again the order of the stories I was going to write changed. So some stories were pushed back.
Does this happen to you?

As our days are numbered, I wonder if I'll ever tell all the stories bottled up in my head will ever be told.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Playground Swings and Monkey Bars

Parents usually put up swing sets in their yards. Swinging back and forth is an easy way to amuse a child (though maybe not so much for those who have to keep pushing). A sign of growing up is when the child learns to push themselves, pumping the legs and pulling back on the swing’s chains in order to swing higher and faster. I remember trying to swing as high as I could, almost feeling as if I could fly.

Our summer cottage stood on a small rise of ground next to a massive oak tree. My father hung a tire swing from one of its branches and we were able to swing out over the front yard on it. At some point my older brother replaced the tire swing with one of the water ski ropes and we had a wonderful trapeze. All the neighborhood kids came to swing on that. The backyard swing set at home couldn't compare to that. So, when we were home, my sister and I moved on to the playground.

The playground in my neighborhood when I was growing up was at the end of my block. The swing set was enormous to my eyes, with several swings and even a couple of trapezes (ones I could sit on! And hang upside down from!). There were also the monkey bars, teeter-totters and merry-go-round. My sister and I spent many hours at the playground and on our own swing set, getting exercise before that term became popular. I wondered how many of the items my sister and I enjoyed still existed at modern day parks and playgrounds, so here is what I found in my town.

Monkey or climbing bars are still popular. I loved to climb trees, but branches had a habit of breaking. And twigs would get in the way or break off in your hair or clothing. The bars were sturdy and solid and placed at almost the right distance for swinging. There was only one set of monkey bars at my playground when I was growing up - you climbed up, swung across and climbed down. The modern sets allow for so many differences in height and approaches.
I hadn't seen the rings version of the monkey bars before, but with the popularity of gymnastics viewing at the Olympics, I shouldn't be surprised. This playground also had a very low balance beam for budding gymnasts.

I like the idea behind this spiderweb. I've also seen nets for climbing. Nowadays I see climbing walls in malls and school gyms.

Playground swings haven't changed much over the years, but the one great change I have noticed at public playgrounds is the addition of seats for infants and for disabled children.

Teeter totters and seesaws come in styles ranging from basic (two seats and a fulcrum), fanciful (with many sorts of animals) to downright odd.

Slides used to come in only two styles - high or low. Now there are spirals and they can also be connected to forts and towers, allowing for much more imaginative play.

The merry-go-round hasn't changed much from what I remembered. So, even if I was creating a playground in a futuristic world, I might still include this along with swings and slides and monkey bars.

What playground features do you remember? Have you come across many mentions of playgrounds in YA? Usually, if the character is nostalgic, there is a scene of the character coming across a playground and swinging briefly on a swing. Has that become almost a trope by now in books as it has in television?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Get-Up-And-Go Has Got Up and Went

As I tried to come up with a topic for today, my mind just took a holiday. Lately, I have trouble focusing. My life has changed drastically and it’s taking me awhile to focus on who I really am and what I want from my life. You’ve probably heard of the poem from the title of my post. The writer is Anonymous, although I think at this point it fits me to a tee. The poem has been attributed to several different people, but it seems the author prefers to stay anonymous. Whoever he/she is, I thank you.

The last lines sum up my thoughts. But, in spite of it all, I’m able to grin
And think of the places my getup has been!

Since I have nothing today, I’m going to share some links with you that I enjoy visiting. Happy Reading.

I Am a Reader Not a Writer:

Blazing Trailer Videos:

Query Tracker Blog:

YA Books Central:


There are many more, but this is enough for now. Maybe next time, I’ll be more creative. Oh, I should have good news about my Chicken Soup story and my MG story soon.

Tiger says this rain is going to make the grass grow. Time to mow. Yippee!

All for now.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Purging the Clutter

It's summer again, and that means 10 weeks of no work. Which is great, except for the fact there's no paycheck coming in. But it gives me the chance to sleep in (not), write (more than usual, but I'm not sitting and writing 8 hours a day) and clean. Yeah, well, I hate cleaning, like most people. Every summer, it seems, the house has become filled with the junk of the rest of the year that we were too busy to put away. It doesn't look like the picture above, thank goodness. But we haven't eaten a meal at our dining room table for probably eight months. And I HATE clutter. So I spend days every summer cleaning. I've discovered that some of the furniture I have that I didn't personally choose, like our end table we rescued from the curb, and the dining room set I bought from the previous owner of the house for a ridiculously low amount of money, are actually decent antiques. Huh.

This year I've decided to purge as well -- get rid of stuff we no longer need or use, and make room to breathe (or for more stuff, I haven't quite figured that out yet). 

It's quite cathartic, to rip everything out and clean and then put it all back, and decide what to get rid of and what to keep. But what to do with all that stuff. I'm not the person who throws away perfectly good stuff. I actually hate tossing good stuff. If it's usable and in good shape, someone else can make use of it. This year I discovered my local area yard sale Facebook pages. Yeah, right? What's that about? It's easy, really. Take a picture of your stuff, put it on the site with what it is and how much you want and how you want people to get it (porch pick up or meet locally). Then people say they're interested and you work out the details of how to make the exchange. Easy peasy. I've joined three, and I've sold a bunch of stuff on them, not for any great amount of money -- they're bargain hunter and yard sale sites, after all-- but I am glad to have the stuff in the hands of people who need it. Two things I sold because people were looking for them and I happened to have them and wasn't using them. The money, like I said, isn't great, but I'm putting everything I get toward our camping trip next week. Everything that doesn't sell will go to the local thrift store, and I will take the tax deduction for donating. 

And in the end, my little bungalow house will feel a little larger, and life a little more streamlined. I find it's better for thinking. Once the cleaning is done, I will have time to do some of the home improvement projects I have lined up. Which my husband is not as enthusiastic about as I am, for some reason... 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Courtesy, Jewelry and Strange Little Dogs

I am wondering what has happened to common courtesy these days. Mostly on the road. Is it that when people get into cars they suddenly become anonymous? They can do whatever they want to because the other person doesn't know them, can't usually see them through tinted windows. I have written before about horrible and inconsiderate drivers on the freeways, and it seems to be getting worse. People follow closely behind the car in front of them, at speeds well over the posted limit, which means that merging is a nightmare. There is just no place to go, unless you catch someone texting, and thereby going slower, or you find some kind soul who doesn't care that they are now one car length farther from their destination.

And parking lots? Oh my! I pick up my son two days a week at the park and ride and, if I had a dollar for every close encounter there, I would be a rich person. Most drivers seem to forget all about lanes in parking lots. They simply drive down the center. Which makes it Russian Roulette when you are turning a corner to the next level. Will there be an SUV in your path or not? And heaven forbid if you want to actually back out of your parking spot. No one going up or down the lane will wait for you - no matter how far out of the spot you have already pulled. I watched a car get hit by someone who was backing out and hit another car backing out. I heard what the insurance people said when they called me as a witness. "If you are more than halfway out of your spot, you have the right of way." Yup. That means those people who roar around you, or honk and gesture, are in the wrong. But I don't think they care. They are in a hurry and you are in their way.

I have also written in here about everyone being in a hurry these days. Just you try writing a check in line, or using cash. Way too slow for those behind you! You need to swipe, sign and scurry. And at Starbucks, you'd better have your Starbucks card on your phone and be ready to scan. Even their own cards take a second or two too long for some people in line.

Rant finished for the moment. Moving on....

I have not been writing lately. Lately, as in the past year. All of my creative juices are being filled with making jewelry for my upcoming craft shows. Or buying collectibles for my antique booth. In a lot of ways, making jewelry is like writing a book. You have to find the parts (characters), come up with the design (plot), and put together the final product. I do write, I guess, as I work, but it's only in my head and not anything that is an actual book.

And strange little dogs?
I have never had a dog that didn't try to take off your fingers when being offered food. But this one? He doesn't seem to like food. I have tried almost every brand of food out there - canned and dry - including cooking chicken breasts for him. He doesn't seem to care for eating from a bowl, and prefers the floor. Or, better yet, to have it a game, where you toss bits of food for him to run after. It reminds me of my oldest son in some way. No, I did not toss bits of food on the floor for him, but I had to engage in all sorts of "games" to get him to eat. He was underweight and eating was not something he cared about. Miss a feeding as a baby, and he would just go to sleep for another four hours until the next feeding. As he got older, he just wouldn't eat. Now? Now, he's an adult, and is very adventurous with his food choices. Which I find very interesting. But, back to the puppy. He is now a year old, and still a picky eater. I have had him checked out at the vet to make sure there are no underlying problems. It seems he is just not that interested in food. Of most any kind. So, all of you dog lovers and owners out there - any thoughts? Suggestions? Ideas? Games we can play?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Assigned Summer Reading

We started summer vacation two weeks ago, and my kids have been constantly busy since then. One of the things they are busy with is summer homework. Some of this homework comes in the form of assigned reading.

They complain heartily about this summer homework, and quite frankly, I'm right there with them. (These are not assignments that can be done in a day and gotten out of the way, these will take the summer to complete.) All school year they have to read what other people are telling them to read. They'd rather read things of their own choosing, maybe discover something new. But now, even during the summer there is hardly time for that.

I understand the purpose behind summer reading assignments, I really do. But the more you make reading seem like work the more you make it something that reluctant readers are going to resist even more. Eager readers will read regardless if something is assigned or not, so I'm assuming that, in general, summer reading assignments are aimed at kids who might not read otherwise.

Can you imagine if there were regular summer "art" assignments? (And I'm not talking for a specialized art school). Parents having to ask their child: did you draw a picture today? Remember you have to draw two today to make up for not doing one yesterday.

That would suck all the joy out of drawing for a kid who likes to draw, and would be painful and annoying for a child who doesn't like to draw. You want the kid to draw, turn off the TV for awhile every day and put crayons and paper in their path. They will draw. The same is true of reading. Stop making it work. Let it be fun. Let kids read what entertains them: maybe it's a comic book or a record book, or the sports pages, or endless biographies. But don't make it a chore. No one likes doing chores.

In the meantime, in my house, my son is enjoying the first of his books. My daughter however, while plodding through the first book, doesn't care for it. She rebels by reading Hemingway instead of her AP assignment. She tells me she loves FAREWELL TO ARMS, and can totally see how Hemingway ushered in a new style of writing, even though, it is still in the rough stages in his books.

See, it doesn't have to be an assignment for them to learn something.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

No More Goddesses

I'm excited to announce that my 3rd book, NO MORE GODDESSES, is now out!

Here's the blurb:

Getting a date shouldn’t be this hard.

Jordan Lake discovers an ancient bracelet in her grandmother's house and uncovers a family mystery that links her favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn, a romantic movie, and an aunt she never knew. Jordan hopes the bracelet will bring her love. Instead, it brings one nightmare after another, unleashing Hathor, the Egyptian love goddess, who decides it's fun to mess with the McKnight High School social scene.

Jordan holds the key to vanquish Hathor, but will she figure out what it is in time to save her school, one of her best friends, and get a date to the Valentine’s Day dance?

It's available at Amazon:

Barnes & Noble:

My publisher: Zumaya Publishing:

Also coming in August is my virtual book tour with a giveaway! Stay tuned for more!!!!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Movie Review - Despicable Me 2 (YAY!)

Despicable Me 2

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan, Elsie Kate Fisher, Dana Gaier, Moises Arias, Nasim Pedrad, Kristen Schaal, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, and more.

Directed by: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud Screenplay by: Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul Original Music by: Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams

Premise: Gru is approached by AVL, the Anti-Evil League, after an entire laboratory in the Arctic Circle is stolen. AVL wants his help in identifying whoever took it and retrieving the dangerous compound PX-41. At first having no interest, Gru changes his mind when Dr. Nefario leaves his employ. Plus it's also a great way to avoid his neighbor's and daughters' efforts to set him up with women to date. (Rated PG)


1) Acting - Total Thumbs Up: All the fun people and the great characters from "Despicable Me" are back! Steve Carrel is too much fun as Gru. And with the new emotional challenges he's presented with in this film, he excels even more. Kriten Wiig had been part of the last film as Miss Hattie, and she's back again, this time as Agen Lucy Wild, one of the members of AVL. Her voice acting range is great, so I can definitely see why they wanted her back. She's great as the super competent, yet overeager Agent Wild. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud also bring back their own voices for all the beloved minions in Gru's employ.

New to the Gruverse is Benjamin Bratt as Eduardo. He had to have had a blast playing the character because it shows. Though I have to say his chicken almost succeeded in upstaging him.

2) Animation - Total Thumbs Up: Illumination Entertainment's quality of animation is superb. The attention to even incidental detail adds a lot to the overall effect. Even more fun are the telltale angles and camera sweeps used in other types of films which they recreated for theirs to bring forth specific genre treatements. The very beginning of the film is a slow, winding shot of the Arctic tundra and the lab facility being hidden there. You'll forget you're about to watch a comedic animated film, and instead think you're about to watch a 007 spy thriller.

Visual gags abound. Not only do we get our fill of the minions and their antics, but the film is filled with other more subtle visual jokes and in-jokes, many from spy and science fiction films. Gru at the toupee shop trying to scan for trace elements of the missing PX-41 while keeping the shopkeeper unaware was crude but utterly hilarious. The scenes with the chicken were just too funny. (The chicken gets used in a hilarious in-joke from the movie "Alien" that was too hilarious) Not to be outdone, the minions do music parodies at the end of the film that will have parents in stitches.

The flashback to El Macho was so over the top it was fantastic. And wait untill you get a look at how to enter the secret lab! (And make sure to stay for the credits - minion mischief abounds as they hold auditions for the 2014 spin-off movie "Minions"!)

3) Plot/Story - Total Thumbs Up: The plot has several threads which interweave with the whole. On the one hand you have Gru trying to find a niche to further a career of some sort and support the girls, while also spending time with them and watching them grow. On another, the neighbor and the girls are trying to match Gru with someone to date, though unknown to them Gru has only had bad experiences in the dating arena. Add in the complication that Margo is getting old enough to notice boys herself, and Agnes wondering what it is to have a mother, and the story now has an explosive combination of themes to explore.

And yet there's more! Throw in a supervillain, an aggression increasing potion, and a mall full of suspects, and there's plenty to keep the kids and adults enraptured throughout. (The guacamole chip hat was awesome!)

4) Music - Total Thumbs Up: All the great themes from the original film are back! And they've also added new ones. It was obvious they had a lot of fun with music in this one. Especially the parodies.

Conclusion: "Despicable Me 2" was everything and more than we could have hoped for in a sequel. You'll keep replaying certain moments in your head, because they were just so much fun. Totally worth it!

Rating: 4.25 out of 5 (Hubby's Rating: Worth Full Price to See Again!)