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He Just Might Be Growing Up.

When B was around eighteen months old, he was every mother’s dream.

He cleaned up after himself.

Now, I can’t remember whether it was because I asked him to, or whether I’d asked him to often enough that one day, it just clicked and he started putting up his toys when he was through playing with them.

Either way, he would put them on the shelf, where they belonged, promptly and without fuss.

This went on for a long time. Many, many days.

About thirty of them.

And then, all of a sudden, the wiring in his brain changed and from then on, it was like pulling teeth to get him to pick up his toys. Forget them being put in any sort of reasonable order. I had to resign myself with being satisfied with them being off the floor and furniture, and being contented with having remained sane enough that I didn’t have to check myself into the nuthouse after a bout of nagging him to clean up.

He’s twelve now, and for the past year and a bit the only “toy” he’s really been interested in has been his computer. He alternates between attending YouTube University and improving his eye-hand coordination, visual acuity, and attention to detail via digital manipulation.

Otherwise known as playing video games.

So his toys have been, for the most part, gathering dust. Still, the few times in the past few months he’s taken something off a shelf, he hasn’t been inclined to put it up.

Until recently. The other day, I witnessed a shocking event. B was playing with my foot roller (which I have kept because I convinced myself that one day, I am going to start using it again). He was whipping it around like it was some sort of weapon. A few minutes later, deciding he’d had enough pretend sword fighting, he set the foot roller back on the book shelf.

Yes, that’s where the foot roller lives. I had too much clutter in a certain spot in the bathroom, so I decided the foot roller had to go elsewhere. So I did the sensible, logical thing and stuck it on an a space on a book shelf just big enough for the foot roller. Because the shelf, containing a variety of books, notebooks, and multiple-pocket folders – plus a couple of decorative boxes – wasn’t cluttered enough.

But I digress. B put the thing away without being asked, instead of leaving it on the floor or table or everywhere else where it doesn’t belong.

I wished I’d been making a video.

The very next day, he opened one of the millions of boxes that arrive at our door every year. He did so the way he always does, using the scissors that lives in the top drawer of the kitchen utility cart. Invariably, I’ve had to nag him to put the scissors up when he was done with them, because invariably, he’d leave them on the floor.

Guess what he did the other day, instead?

Yep. He put them back where they belong. Without me having to say a word. Or even give him one of those “mommy looks.”

Somebody should have been making a video of me being knocked down with a feather.

I’m not getting too excited. It may be just another month-long fad. It may be that he is only capable of remembering to pick up after himself every ten and a half years.

Or, my baby may be growing up.

In the meantime, I need to get my camcorder ready the next time he takes something off a shelf or out of a drawer. Just to have proof that he does, indeed, know how to clean up after himself.

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I Did It.

I did it. I finally did it.

Guess what I did. Give up?

Here’s a hint: it’s something that women my age typically have a hard time doing. It’s worse than trying to pull a camel through the eye of a needle. It’s like…it’s like…trying to pass off a Sumo wrestler as an anorexic.

(As a former anorexic, I’m allowed to make that joke. For all you P.C. readers out there.)

So, have you guessed the hard thing that I did yet? No?

All right, here it is:

I stuck to a decision.

I haven’t had any problems making a decision during the past few years. I’ve made plenty.

Like these:

I’m going to delete my YouTube channel. I’m going to get serious with my YouTube channel. I’m going to write four novels a year. I’m never going to write another novel again in my life. I’m going to write and record my own music. What? Who am I kidding?

But a couple of weeks ago, I made a decision and stuck to it. Wait for it…

The decision

I’m going to be a novelist.

“Uh, yeah, Emily, newsflash, you have nine novels for sale in the Kindle store.”

See, that’s the thing. Writing a few novels doesn’t make you a novelist. Just like having a few yard sales doesn’t make you a business guru.

Deciding that you’re going to create a career out of writing novels is what makes you a novelist.

Seeing novel-writing as a business is what makes you a novelist.

I mean, makes me a novelist. Unless you have a novel-writing career, and then, well, it’s you, too. Let’s start a club!

Changes

You will notice that I’ve made a few changes to this blog, a couple of them only in the past couple of days. The obvious one is the header. A professional author must have a professional-looking website, yes?

Then there is the sign-up form in the sidebar.

It’s not the first time I’ve ever had a sign-up form on a blog. Not the first time I’ve tried to build an e-mail list. But it is the first time I have no doubts that this time, I’m going to stick with it. I’m going to build an e-mail list of stark-raving-mad fans of my fiction.

Because everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY with any clout in the arena of selling books – including many Indie-published authors like myself – says that an e-mail list is the number one marketing tool that an author must have.

Other changes? I wrote an “About” page and published a “Contact” page. (PSST! I can practically guarantee that my About page is much more entertaining than the About page of any other author. So go read it!)

Just like a modern novelist should have on their website.

I want to publicly thank Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells of the “Writing Excuses” podcast, as well as Jim Rubart and Thomas Umstattd, Jr. of the “Novel Marketing” podcast for inadvertently giving me the kick in the rear that I needed to start getting serious about God’s call on my life.

And for facilitating a great miracle: a woman in perimenopause actually made a decision, and stuck to it!

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Back in the days of the Great Depression and World War Two, people learned to be super-frugal. They were admonished to wear things out, do without, and fix things.

But sometimes, things break and they can’t be fixed. At least, not so that they will maintain their original purpose.

Such was the case with the first two chapters of my latest novel in the “Pine Mountain Estates” series.

Based on the advice from this writing podcast episode, I completed the most thorough outline I ever had before putting pen to paper.

A-hem, fingers to keyboard.

I was stoked (that’s ‘80s lingo for “excited” if you’re under the age of thirty-five and don’t tell me “thank you” for defining it for you because then I’ll feel old and then I’ll have to lie down and take a nap because that’s what old people do and then I won’t finish my novel and then the world will be really sad).

Um, what was I saying? Oh, yes, I was gung-ho to start my latest novel. I got the prologue written, then started on the first chapter. Finished it, went on to the second chapter.

Didn’t finish it. Something wasn’t right. So I thought about it a little, went back to the first chapter, and rewrote large portions of it. Ditto for the second chapter.

A-a-annd…still something wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Frustrated, I set it aside. Stared at my outline. Maybe the whole plot was wrong. Maybe I just wasn’t supposed to be writing this story.

AARGH!!

Two days of trying not to think about it, and the answer came: the story was fine. The characters? No problem. Where was the problem? I was trying to write a scene that the book didn’t need, in fact which was dragging the whole beginning of the book – despite the fast-paced, interesting prologue.

Solution?

I trashed the first chapter and a half. And started the story with the next scene I had planned.

BOOM! Success.

I couldn’t fix the first couple of chapters that I had planned for the book. They were unfixable, because they weren’t supposed to be part of the story.

I am now 7100 words into the novel (as of 2-9-19), a little less than 10% finished. Yay!

I’m stoked.

P.S. – Do you see a run-on sentence in the above article? Quote it in the comments section, and I will give you an A+ on today’s English assignment.

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An Unfortunate Argument

The following short story is, unfortunately, based on real-life events. I may have taken a few liberties in assuming the thoughts, words, and actions of the main characters. Since I did not actually witness the tragic event.

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“I have a treat for the rats! Who wants a treat?”

Yes! Just like clockwork. I got up on all fours, stretched, and poked my head out from under the nest I had built underneath the shed.

Which the humans seemed to have built especially for me.

Being a rat, I’m one of the most clever animals in the forest. Per my intelligence, I know they didn’t exactly build the shed just for me. But instead of placing the bottom of the structure right against the ground, they built it so that there were several inches of space between the ground and the bottom of the shed, which is the perfect height for a packrat like me. And so I think they had my species in mind when they constructed the little building. That they wanted to help us out by providing us with a safe dwelling.

Also per my intelligence, I had trained the female human who lives near me to feed me her kitchen scraps.

And those words called into the front opening of my home let me know that she had not forgotten me that day.

Used to be that to collect goodies such as apple cores, pieces of carrot, fruit tea bags, and butternut squash seeds, I’d have to traipse from my nest under the cozy shed all the way to this pile of trash several yards away. And I’d have to do it in the middle of the night, when owls, coyotes, and bobcats wander around looking for a tasty bit of meat.

My relatives have often been that tasty bit. Though, being Florida woodrats and therefore on the large side of the rat spectrum, the bobcats tend to leave us alone.

Be that as it may, I never liked having to expose myself in such a way to get to the snacks that the wasteful humans leave.

And so, I trained the lady to leave her tasty bits right outside my home. How did I do it, you ask? Easy. One day when I heard footsteps going by the shed, I poked my head out just long enough for the person to see me. As I ducked my head back in, I heard the person – who turned out to be the lady – say, “Jerry, there are rats under the shed again!”

Now, my relatives tell me that such words when spoken by humans are usually spoken with dismay or disgust. Not so for this female human. For some reason, her words sounded glad, almost excited.

And starting with that day, I began to hear her voice by my front door, announcing the arrival of “treats.” Now, generally speaking I like to sleep during the day. But being the clever creature that I am, I knew that if I wanted to train her to continue to leave the tasty morsels at my door, I would have to rouse myself whenever she called and go retrieve them.

So it happened this day. She called out to me, I counted to ten, and then I went to the front door to see what she had left that day.

Ooo, my favorite! Baked butternut squash skin with some seeds and squash. There were also three date pits, and apple core, and one fruit tea bag. I had it all pulled under the shed and near my nest in a manner of two minutes.

It was almost too good to be true.

I ate to my heart’s content, and when I was full, laid down to rest again. Of course the treats weren’t quite enough to fill me up for an entire day and night, so I would still have to go out and forage for a little while that night.

A few hours later, I woke up, yawned and stretched, and waddled to the front door. As I did, I heard the sound of munching. I stopped and sniffed. Apple. Oh, that’s right, I’d left one piece of apple near the hole for later.

And now…someone else was eating it!

I got angry. But being smart, I knew not to just march on out and confront the thief. First, I had to figure out what manner of thief I was dealing with.

My sharp sense of smell had it figured out in no time flat: a skunk. While skunks are not known for attaching large rats such as myself, I knew that they nevertheless had to be approached as cautiously as I would have to approach a cat.

I shuffled to the front opening of my home, and cleared my throat. “Excuse me, but I believe that’s my apple core you’re eating.”

No reply.

I tapped my left front paw on the ground. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you.” The smooth voice sounded unrepentant. “And did you never hear that one shouldn’t speak with food in one’s mouth?”

“I’ve never heard anything of the kind.”

“Hmmph.” My vision is bad, but at that moment I could see the skunk’s nose come close to my own. “Of course you haven’t. Rats are such a vulgar bunch.”

I took a deep breath, trying to hold my temper. I knew I had to at least remain civil, or risk dire consequences. “Just so you know, from now on if you see a piece of food at my door, it’s mine. The female human who lives around here gives all her kitchen scraps to me.”

“Is that a fact?” The skunk shoved her nose into mine.

Startled, I backed away as her eyes appeared before mine. “Oh, my, this looks like a nice place to live. How rude of you not to tell anyone else about it.”

At that, she poked the claws from both her front paws into the dirt and began to dig.

“Wha – what are you doing?”

She laughed. “Why, moving in with you, of course!”

Instinct kicked in. I leaped forward and bit her on the nose. 

She shrieked, yanked her head out of the hole, and whipped around so fast with her tail in the air that I barely had time to realize what was coming. Her instinct had kicked in.

“NO-O-O-O!” I began scuttling backward, but it was too late. A stream of nasty, burning liquid squirted me. I leaped out of the way as quickly as I could, bashing my head against the bottom of the shed, but the stream kept coming.

I won’t horrify you with the gruesome details of how the next few days proceeded. Suffice to say that rats lick themselves in order to keep themselves clean. I wanted to run to the human’s house and beg for a bath, but three things stopped me. First, I had no idea where their house was. Second, being a wild rat I couldn’t trust them. Third, the humans didn’t like the stench anymore than I did.

I found this out the next day when the human came to the shed early in the morning. “Eew, skunk!” And then she said a lot of words I’d never heard her say before as she stomped around above me for about five seconds. Then I heard her open the shed door again, but not close it.

Despite the stench, she continued to come and give me treats. But after a few days, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to find a new place to live. That night I moved out of my cozy, warm house and sought shelter under a brush pile that wasn’t too far away, but far enough away that the skunk stench hadn’t touched it.

The next day, I heard the lady calling. “I have treats for the rats! Who wants a treat?”

I wanted to come out and show her my new home, but I didn’t dare. It was daylight, and instinct made me think that I couldn’t be sure she wasn’t hungry for roasted rat. I think she was as sad about my move-out as I was, because I heard to say to one of the other humans that she missed the rat. I, at least, could still find the treats piled up in the woods as long as I got there before the raccoons did.

My new home isn’t nearly as nice as my old one, but I’ve learned an important lesson. If you’re going to argue with a skunk, do it far, far away from your home.

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He…He’s ALIVE!

When we went to Minnesota this past Christmas, we thought it would be fun to go see Mary Poppins Returns.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and are planning to, you may not want to read this post.

On the other hand, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, and are planning to…well, let’s just say that the general rule of thumb for sequels not being so great was true for this one.

Moving right along…B and I had both seen the movie trailer while watching YouTube. We liked what we saw. The trailer did its job in deceiving persuading us that the movie would be really entertaining.

There isn’t a decent movie theater within two hours of where we live, and I thought watching a matinee would be a good excuse to get us out of the hotel room for a while. (It was late December, in Minnesota. Read: too cold to spend much time outside.)

So we went. We watched it. I spent half the time comparing it to the original, and it came up short every time.

Hey, cut me some slack. I’m almost forty-nine years old and watched Mary Poppins on T.V. every year for like a decade. So I’m a little bit biased.

And I’m a little bit off track. Moving right along…

Despite my disappointment in the movie, one of the last scenes in the movie caught my attention like a skunk with its tail raised.

No, wrong metaphor. It wasn’t a bad thing. Caught my attention like…hmm…let’s see…like a…nope, not that one; this blog is rated PG…caught my attention like…like a chocolate-cherry smoothie in a tall, sweating glass when it’s 100 degrees outside and I haven’t eaten for days.

Okay, that’s wrong, too. It wasn’t that superb of a surprise.

Let’s leave it at that the scene caught my attention. It was when the owner of the bank, Mr. Dawes, Jr., came out and declared that he was taking it back over from his unscrupulous nephew.

Time to back up. You may recall that in the original movie, Dick Van Dyke played the character Burt. You may also possibly know that Dick Van Dyke also played the elderly owner of the bank, Mr. Dawes, Sr.

So, I’m watching this old guy come out from some back room, and he looks – and sounds – exactly like the elderly owner of the bank from Mary Poppins. My eyes widen.

I turn to J and whisper, “If I didn’t know that Dick Van Dyke was dead, I’d swear that was him!”

I was thinking they had found a really good impersonator to play that role.

I scrutinized the guy, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t Dick Van Dyke.

Because Dick Van Dyke was dead, right?

The movie was over a few minutes later, and as J and Be stood and began to walk toward the theater exit, I made a last-second decision. I was going to watch the actor credits. Just to make sure.

Even though I knew he was dead.

The credits began to scroll, and I fixated on the screen like it was the last piece of chocolate left on earth. (Now, THAT’S a good metaphor!)

And then, there it was.

“Mr. Dawes, Jr.———–Dick Van Dyke”

Oh.

Oh!

It was a “knock me down with a feather” moment.

I practically ran out of the theater to catch up with J, and excitedly told him, “He’s not dead! It was Dick Van Dyke playing the old banker!” (And this time, he didn’t have to wear a ton of makeup to look old.)

J looked at me like, “Um, okay. Glad you’ll be able to go to sleep tonight.”

I just might be the drama queen of the family.

So, Van Dyke wasn’t – isn’t, as of this post – dead. Well, why should he be? Angela Lansbury was in the movie, too, and she’s about the same age.

Here’s my theory about why I thought he might be dead: I had it in my head that when Michael Jackson died, a bunch of other celebrities died within the same month. It was actually within the same six-month period, but Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon having died the same day as, or two days before, Michael, I got it stuck in my head that all these deaths occurred within a few weeks of each other.

And because I was raising a wild preschooler at the time, I couldn’t remember exactly who all they were.

And since good ol’ Dick was old, somehow I got it into my head that he had passed on.

When I told my mom of my discovery later that day, she looked at me funny and said, “Of course he’s still alive!”

She would know. She actually reads the newspaper.

Hmm. Maybe it’s time I start glancing over headlines online once in a while. Would definitely help with developing stories for my novels.

Then again, if I became a know-it-all, I wouldn’t have the fun of being surprised by things like people being alive who I thought were dead. 

Like Dick Van Dyke. He’s alive. And probably thrilled that I’ve cleared up those nasty rumors about his demise going around in my head.

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