Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Greek Fountain Dance

Several days ago, this post made some of you quite curious as to what the heck I meant by posting that I'd been wearing a toga and spitting water on my colleagues, so I thought I'd give you photos to help you understand.
Last week was our annual teacher talent show.  True, a few of the teachers actually display REAL talent, like those teachers who play the guitar well, for example.  But most kids don't really want to see the teachers do something serious well; they want entertainment.  So most of us do funny skits -- and the kids love it.
One year, I got a male teacher to dress up as Tiny Tim and lip synch "Tip Toe Through The Tulips" while faking the use of my ukelele while a few of us female teachers did a very silly dance with plastic tulips.  Another year, the librarian helped me make a video parody of "Friday" using teachers to act out the horrendous video.
This year, I was going to do a take on Steve Martin's famous "King Tut" skit, but only 4 of us volunteered, and then the drama teacher begged me to drop it so she could have my people for The Fountain Dance.  I agreed.
So, there were six of us, walking slowly out onto the stage to Enya's "Only Time," and wearing very serious expressions.  We were carrying plastic water carafes.
We went through several serious-looking poses, then solemnly held our water up to the gods-- and took a mouthful.  The next series of poses, we all did as "fountains," spitting the water all over each other.

The fourth of this pose-and-spit series was where we all imitated a Rainbird sprinkler system.
The kids received all this even better than expected -- especially in the first assembly, where they shrieked with laughter.
Then we picked up our water and moved solemnly to the audience.  At this point, in first assembly, there were howls, and kids in the front rows got up and ran to the aisles.  The kids of second assembly were more resigned to their damp fates and merely attempted the duck-and-cover method of escape.

Overall, ours was probably the favorite act of the whole assembly--- except among the members of stage crew, who had to do the mopping.

(The photos were taken with my camera by the school's yearbook editor.  I did the cropping, etc.)

UPDATE:  Wait!  There's more!  Now with VIDEO!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cozy Cliches

I read a LOT of mysteries.  I always tend to think of myself as a fantasy/paranormal type of gal, but every time I tally up how many books I've read per genre per year, mysteries come out on top.
And many of those mysteries are cozies.
A cozy mystery is along the lines of Agatha Christie, not too violent, short, often meant to appeal to women.  But the more cozies I read, the more I'm convinced there's an unwritten list of rules to be followed.
1) Nearly every cozy has a female protagonist, occasionally a senior citizen of the Miss Marple variety, but usually age 30-something.
2) Said female protagonist must have been either divorced or dumped by a man before the first book in the series begins so that she is romantically free.
3) She must not be conventionally pretty or aware of her "natural" beauty, yet nearly every man her age stares at her on the street.  She may not diet; sometimes she is a bit chubby (translation: she wears a size 8 instead of a size 2); she eats.  But men go crazy for her anyway.
4) She must have at least 2 guys who are truly after her, and she must have trouble deciding between them.  Often these guys are the traditional love triangle, with one being a bit of a "bad boy," or at least unexpected: he's younger, he's from a mafia family, he's a rock star, he's a biker dude, he has a questionable reputation.
5) She must be personally acquainted with at least one cop: he's usually one of the boyfriends, but occasionally he's her dad or her neighbor.  If she's a senior citizen, then he's her son or nephew.
6) The protagonist likes to think of herself as strong and independent, but she is constantly needing to be rescued by the two boyfriends and/or the cop.  Also, the men she knows will treat her as something that must be protected and taken care of, and she will find this endearing and/or romantic instead of nauseating.
7) She must have a best friend, usually another single female (her Bess and George, so to speak), but a gay guy works also.  This friend cannot be a romantic distraction to the men who are after the protagonist.  The protagonist depends on this friend for a job and/or to figure everything out.  Again, the protagonist  thinks of herself as independent, but she's always very dependent on the friend.
8) The protagonist must live in a small town where everyone gossips about everyone else.  This is how she gets her information.
9) The protagonist may not be an actual detective or police officer, and she must be warned off/threatened off the case by the official forces of the law at least once or twice during each case.
10) The protagonist must work freelance or in a small business in the small town.  She may never work in a large corporation or office or have a job that demands a certain schedule.
11) The job is usually the theme for the book.  Cozies must have a craft or cooking theme of some kind, and "extras" are often included at the end: recipes, craft instructions, homemaking tips.
12) The climax of the plot will usually involve the protagonist going off to find the villain alone --- making some crucial and stupid mistake, such as leaving her cellphone in the car or walking down a deserted street at 2:00 AM -- and it will require her life to be in danger so she can be rescued by one of the men in love with her and/or by the cops.

That's about it.
They're not great literature, but I'm rather addicted to them.  Unfortunately, many of them are really poorly written, with dangling modifiers, characters that are built up as important then never seen again, and gaping plot holes.  But I usually read them anyway.  They're sort of like comic books for middle-aged women.
If I can ever get myself through my 4 current writing projects, I think I ought to try a cozy.  Just to be a rebel, I think I'll make the protagonist a teenager.  Or maybe I'll make her a school teacher and give lesson plans as the extras!  Funny!
Either way, you can bet your booty that no protagonist of mine is going to wait around to be rescued.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Yet Another Reason Why You Should Fact Check

So, according to this

I should ignore the 600 years of documented family history that I have on file.
You see, I can trace my Germanic roots back 600 years and my Celtic roots back 400 years, and it's very likely that I could have some Roman ancestry mixed in there somewhere that I just haven't gone back far enough to find yet.  However, based on the shape of my foot and this chart, I'm a mix of Egyptian and Greek.
Of course, also based on this chart, Asia and 90% of Africa don't exist.  And, if we assume that Polynesians and South Americans with native heritage are genetically Asian, that rules out a LOT of people.  Like, two full continents of people.
The chart also assumes that Slavs = Germanic, which is true linguistically, but I'm not sure about genetics.

Also, based on this chart, only people of Roman descent make good ballet dancers.

The Mystery Of The Loaf

Yesterday, someone placed a large loaf of bread, commercially baked and wrapped, in between my front door and my storm door, squishing it a bit to get the door closed.  There was no note or flyer of any kind, and the bread is not a brand I recognize.
I called the 2 or 3 people I know who might possibly have dropped off an extra loaf of bread for no apparent reason, but everyone was just as mystified as I.
I have no clue.
And because I have no clue, I don't dare use the bread, as there are too many weirdos in this world -- and too many nasty 8th graders who wouldn't be above putting something awful in a loaf of bread.
Nor do I dare give it away, for fear of the same.
So, if someone really did leave bread as a "nice" thing to do, I hope they contact me today.  Otherwise, the bread is going to be dumped into the yard waste recycling bin and will be wasted.
(Seriously, other than someone who is desperately hungry, would anyone today eat food left by an unknown source?  Just too risky.)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Quote of the Day: Robert Kirby On Mormon Music

Robert Kirby, a humorist for the Salt Lake Tribune, is one of my favorite writers.
This quote is from his recent column about the relative "weirdness" of church worship.  He was comparing the music at a non-LDS service he attended to what Mormons consider "normal."

The quote:
"As a Mormon, I was more accustomed to hymns of a low moaning sort, like badly wounded zombies set to music."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Things I Have Learned From My First Set Of Beta Readers For Nerissa MacKay

One of my WsIP, The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay, is at the beta reading stage.  Thus, I got 4 copies from createspace, and fixed up 3 of them with special pens and a few instructions for my junior high school readers.  Then I let them at it, with up to 4 kids reading each copy of the book at different times during the day and color-coding their responses.
I expected to learn their thoughts on how real some of the minor characters sounded and for them to help me make improvements.  I expected them to tell me which parts seemed skimpy or vague.  I'm getting none of this.
Instead, what I have learned so far is this:

1) This book is not geared toward 7th graders, as I had thought.  Even though the protagonist is 14, which, following the YA rule, means the intended audience should be 12-ish, and even though the book is written in the same style as the Half-Vampire books, the 7th graders aren't getting it.  They don't get that the narrator is imperfect and slightly neurotic.  They don't get why there's a playlist for every chapter.  They don't get the connection between her clothes, her music, her sense of self, and her teen angst.
2) The 9th graders, however, DO get what's going on.  And they think it's funny.
3) Text speak is no longer used.  Kids can't even read the text speak I used, which was based on what kids used 2 years ago when I started the book.  Okay.  Easy fix there.
4) No one is paying any attention to the secondary characters.  And they are sympathizing with the antagonists far too much.  I must make the antagonists more hatable.

Apparently, I'm going to have to get some adult beta readers to go over this for help on those dang minor characters.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Only In A Junior High School.....

So, part of my day involved running around in a toga and spitting water on my colleagues.
Betcha your job is nowhere near as interesting as mine is..... :D

UPDATE:  You asked for it; you got it.
Photo post.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Martin Willoughby Reviews Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire for The British Fantasy Society

Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire. Book Review

Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire by Lisa Shafer
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, p/b, £6.37
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby
This is a novel aimed at the young adult market, but shouldn’t be disregarded by adults.  Why?  It’s good fun.
Eric is a half-vampire.  His mum’s normal while his dad’s a vampire who skipped off when he’d impregnated Eric’s mother.  Since then, Eric and his mother have had to move several times after he’d bitten various kids, and spends part of his life every week taking a syringe to sheep and cows to get some blood.
Being a half-vampire means he has ‘gifts’, such as being able to calm people and animals by talking in a calm voice, sending them to sleep occasionally, and telekinesis.  The last of them comes as a great surprise to him.  He has a wheelchair-bound friend called Joseph and has the hots for a girl called Kacey.  Well not quite the hots, but they do get on well.
Yes, it’s full of teen-angst and drama (it’s aimed at them remember), such as how do you kiss a girl without sucking her blood at the same time (something he manages) and ‘am I gay’.  What lifts this out of the ordinary is Eric’s attitude.  Think Harry Dresden as a youngster, lose the bad language and the killing and you’re there.
Eric’s mum travels a lot for her job and leaves him alone for several days at a time, but as he’s a half-vampire, sensible and strong for his age she doesn’t worry too much.  One trip, she takes him to Edinburgh where he meets his dad…and wishes he hadn’t.  His dad turns out to be a drug-addict and the blood Eric sucks leaves him feeling sick for a day or two.  On the plus side, he gets to meet another vampire, one his mum fancies, and some acolytes who are happy to let him drink some of their blood. When he returns home, all hell breaks loose: well alright, I’ve exaggerated a little, but he does end up in a serious fight with someone who’s trying to kill him.
The one thing that kept me reading this book was Eric.  He doesn’t need much blood, nor does any vampire for that matter, and he explains his need to be indoors as a case of Porphyria.  Garlic?  Loves it.  Crosses?  Only when playing football, not that he does play football, but…well you get the idea.  In short he’s a normal kid that most adults and children would recognise.
I enjoyed the book and found it an entertaining read. I’ll leave the final few words to my 11 year old son: “Dad, can you keep reading that to me. It’s so funny.”

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fang Marks -- And Other Hazards Of Springtime

It's that time again.
Hot weather is coming.  My grass is already drying out.  Yuck.
Today, Dad and I tackled one of the most depressing tasks of spring: turning on the sprinkler system.  Back in the manual days, this was no big deal.  It meant wrestling the huge sprinkler key onto the tiny lever some 10 feet down a hole and turning the key.
Nowadays, however, with the "improvements" of an automated system, it means that some new electrical problem will occur every year.  Usually, one of the stupid little valves will refuse to shut off.  Last year, the control box gave up the ghost and had to be replaced.
And this year?  The Return of the Rat.
In the autumn of 2011, as I was opening the valves to winterize the sprinkling system, I found a rat in the backyard valve-cover box.  He'd made a nest of dead leaves and acorns and looked majorly pissed off at me when I ripped the roof (lid) suddenly off his home.  In fact, I had to poke him with the screwdriver to get him to leave.  I spent 20 minutes with a bandana over my face and leather gloves on, digging out his nest.  I then put DeCon out everywhere and hoped Mr. Rat would eat it and crawl under some bush and die.
I was very pleased last autumn to find the sprinkler box empty.  But that little bugger fooled me and moved in AFTER I'd shut everything down.
So today, while there was no rat in the box, there was a nest.  AND the little vermin had chewed through a wire and gnawed off one of the plastic screws, making it so we couldn't shut off that valve.  This means, of course, that the whole system must be shut down in order to keep it from running continually.  Groan.
Oh, and it also meant another 20 minutes with a bandana and gloves, digging out a nest.  Gross.
But this is not all.
No, as I was moving the large sprinkler key out of the corner of the garage, I accidentally hooked the handle against a manual edger hanging on the wall, and the tool came crashing down onto my arm.  Since an edger has "teeth," I was "bitten" on the right forearm.  Due to the triangular shape of the "teeth," it truly looks like something with fangs has chomped into me.  In fact, Dad's first thought when I showed him was that the rat had bitten me (although the marks are an inch apart, so that would've been ONE BIG rat).
So, the day is now over.  My sprinklers do not yet work (no surprises there; it's never easy), as we have to replace parts and wires.  I have extra laundry to do, washing all the clothes and towels from the rat nest clean up.  I had to buy new garden gloves (too risky to keep the old ones after that).  I may have been exposed to hanta virus and tetanus.  And, my arm looks like I've been spending some time with my own half-vampire creation, Eric.
This is why I dread the yearly job of readying the sprinkler system for summer.