“Whether musing on her metabolism or the potential of a dead body in a car parked out on the street too long, Molly Campbell has a voice that cracks us up and reminds us of dear old mom.”
2girlsonabench.com 

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IT NEVER GETS ANY EASIER

I  am writing a second novel. I naturally thought that since I have written one already, this second one would be just like falling off a log.

That was a delusion! Books that people enjoy reading have to have plots. Action. Conflicts. Resolutions. Imagery. Interesting characters.

I am not very good with plots. Forget the imagery. You know how some writers can wax lyrically about the dust on a windowsill? All I can come up with is “the windowsill was dusty.” Conflicts aren’t my problem–all I have to do is think about my favorite soap opera for those. Characters? I’m good there.

So this is my excuse for the brevity of this post. I have to finish this manuscript and get it off to my publisher by the beginning of October. I have to get cracking.

Did I mention that I am not that great at plotting?

GOTTA GO.

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DOG DAYS

I looked up the definition of “dog days.” We are in them right now. This term describes the end of summer, when humidity is high and the temperature is scorching.

My husband and I are apparently of different species. He must not have sweat glands. He has never worn deodorant in his life, and he smells just fine. I, on the other hand, can work up a healthy sweat on a moderately hot day by just walking outside to take out the trash. And that eco-friendly deodorant from the bee people? It is great for the planet, but ineffectual under my arms. So I must, simply must, have the AC on!

This causes a few issues for my husband, who wears sweatshirts, long pants and socks inside our air conditioned house all summer, simply because I keep the thermostat set at what I think is a perfectly reasonable 72 degrees.

Another thing. Salads. I was raised to eat salads for dinner in the summer. Cooling. Light. Topped with a little protein—cottage cheese, chicken, or tuna. A hard boiled egg cut up on the side. Yum. My husband eats the salad, but then looks around and says, “Where is the entrée?” When told over and over that the salad IS the entrée, he looks dejected.

Sleeping in the summer is also a problem for us. I need air blowing on me at all times. Luckily, we have a ceiling fan over our bed. Once again, as I lie spread out, enjoying the breeze on my bare limbs (shorty pjs, people), my husband puts on his flannel pj pants, a long sleeved t shirt, and gets into bed, pulling the covers up around his shoulders so that only his face is showing.

Outside. I don’t go there. I am puzzled by all the people on the househunting shows that want “outdoor living space.” Why? It is either too hot out there, too buggy out there, too cold out there, or it is raining. As far as I am concerned, the great outdoors is best experienced via a window.

Is it hot in here, or is it just me?

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GIRLFRIENDS

Dearest Siri,

Now that we are BFFs, I just can’t tell you how much I love and admire you. You are so wise about so many things. I can ask you where to get sports bras at a discount. I mean, really. And I will never  again not know where the nearest Starbucks is. Whew.

We do need to talk, though. It’s about my husband. I think he is smitten, and I wish you would quit chatting with him so much. He doesn’t really need directions to anywhere—he was an Eagle Scout, for God’s sake, and he can read maps.

And what’s with this Q and A about state capitals? Flirting, plain and simple. And I really resent your giving him all of these French words—he thinks he is fluent, and your helping him to say “Do you know the lyrics to Heartbreak Hotel?” in Francais is just exacerbating the annoyance factor.

I do have to hand it to you, though. Without you, we would never have found that little out-of-the-way bistro in South Carolina by the beach. And thank God you knew where we could get disposable diapers that weekend in Des Moines when we were babysitting.

Oh, and one more thing: If you could just mention to my husband that he should pay more attention to trimming the nostril hairs? I would really appreciate this, because he listens to you. You know, you could just throw that in to your next conversation—I know he isn’t going out into the garage every evening to sit in his car to meditate.

Until next time I need directions to the Outlet Mall, Molly

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TINY LIVING

There are now about ten television “reality” shows devoted to people who have somehow taken it into their heads to move out of their perfectly sane and normal lifestyles involving three bedrooms and two baths into what are cutely referred to as “tiny houses.” A tiny house by definition is a structure of 500 square feet or less.

These folks are to be applauded on the one hand for wanting to live with less. Less electricity, less land, less pollution, less overall carbon footprints. So I have to hand it to them for that. And, of course, there are millions of people on this planet who are forced by circumstances to live in tiny spaces. So I am discussing this whole thing from an admittedly first-world, privileged perspective.

But all that said, I have to wonder how these couples/families fare after they have lived “tiny” for awhile. I  know I have some hang-ups about this. First off, the bathroom. In a tiny house, there is usually only room for one. In tiny homes, doors are often left out, due to space concerns. So everybody in the house hears the tinkling. And the odors—I can’t even. So tiny dwellers have to deal with all of that. And when company comes over and squeezes in for dinner? A little embarrassing, especially if the hosts serve kale.

I have to be the one to point out this “emperor’s new clothes” observation: sex. I wonder how on couples “couple” in a tiny house, with the children located in that open ladder-loft just across the way. Do they get under a blanket and try to be very, very quiet? Or do they go into the woods? Or do they just agree to go to a motel on a frequent basis, leaving the kids at grandma’s?

And speaking of lofts: ladders. How do those work in the middle of the night, when nature calls one to the composting toilet? You are on your knees up there (because you can’t stand up in those lofts), crawling over your sleeping spouse, then over to the edge of the loft. You look down at the ladder, which goes straight down. You can’t go down it head first. So somehow you have to turn completely around (on your hands and knees, remember) so that you can back down the ladder. In the middle of the night. Kids do this in treehouses, but they are agile, and it is broad daylight. If you live in a tiny house, you have to do this every single night.

I could go on like this all day. But just one more little observation: two burner stovetops. All the tiny houses have two burner stovetops. Well, occasionally a woman with foresight insists on a full sized stove, but of course, that calls for a compromise somewhere else—you want a stove, then no sofa. So people in tiny houses can have fried chicken and mashed potatoes, but no peas. Or yes, you can make scrambled eggs and hash browns, but no bacon. Because that tiny little microwave? Forget it. All it is big enough for is heating up your coffee water. Because of course, there is no room on that one foot square of countertop for a coffee pot.

One more thing. If you live in a tiny house, not having sex, and eating minimal meals, you might get irritable. But just bottle that all up inside, because there is absolutely no room for discord in a tiny house. Well, the discord, yes. But the aftermath? When you want to just GET AWAY from your spouse because you can’t stand to look at that asinine face for one more minute? There is only one option:

Sit on that composting toilet, pull the flimsy shower curtain around yourself, and sulk. But only until your partner has to pee.

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KILL YOUR DARLINGS

I am a published author, so that makes me an authority on writing things, doesn’t it? There are rules to follow. I try to follow them. One rule that has me flummoxed is the current ban on adverbs. You read that correctly. Correctly is an adverb. So how should I have said that just then? You read that with accuracy? Bah.

But since I plan to write more than one novel, and I am actually (another adverb) a third of the way through my next one, I thought I would share with you some of the no-nos in the author game. You know, so you will be a better critic in the future. But be kind in those Amazon reviews—some of them have been so harsh as to cause writers to contemplate becoming auto mechanics and cocktail waitresses instead. But I digress. You aren’t supposed to do that as a writer, either.

A cardinal rule of the writing business is “Show, don’t tell.” It took me about three years to understand what this really means. I am terrible at it. But the following are examples:

TELL: Audrey felt just sick about having to inform Robert that she couldn’t possibly marry him. After all, she still got cold shivers when she thought about Pierre. Pierre was the love of her life, and Audrey believed with all of her heart that he would return from that trip down the Amazon River to discover the cure for arthritis.

SHOW: Audrey woke, her pillow damp with her tears. She put her hand on her forehead, which throbbed from the dream that was so vivid. Pierre was rowing towards her, his eyes full of terror. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a giant boa constrictor reared out of the water, slithered onto Pierre’s tiny boat, and enveloped him in a twisting death grip. “Audrey, Audrey!” Pierre managed to cry, as the evil snake crushed the life out of him. Audrey picked up her cell phone and punched the “Robert” icon. “Hi, darling,” she said. “Oh yes, I will marry you!”

See? So much more literary.

Another writers’ tip is to use dialogue, not description. Readers tire of long passages full of poetic language, no matter how many hours the author spent painting the scene for them and being vivid. Nope. We would rather just move along. Let the characters move the plot, and really, we don’t actually care what color the leaves were on the trees that afternoon. For example:

DESCRIPTION: The sky darkened. The parched, mahogany leaves rattled in the sudden breeze. Flora felt the goosebumps rise on her arms, drawing the thin muslin wrap around her. Thunder rent the air with dissonant anger. Grant began to pack the picnic things into the basket, but not before the huge, cold drops began to fall. The sky took on a greenish hue as the lightning pierced the clouds. Grant seized the picnic basket in one hand and extended his other out to the frightened and shivering girl. As they hurtled toward the distant farm cottage, a thunderclap nearly knocked them down.

DIALOGUE:

“Shit, Flora, I think it’s going to rain! Hurry up and finish your sandwich. We need to get out of here!”

“Don’t be silly. It is just heat lightning. It happens all the time around here. Want a pickle?”

“For God’s sake, are you nuts? My cousin got struck by lightning three years ago at the golf course, and he has been a sniveling idiot ever since—you can stay as long as you want, but I am getting out of here.”

“You are overreacting, as usual. Wait! Damn! My Sierra Mist just blew over! You may be right. Look at the sky—it’s puke green…”

Which book would you rather read? I thought so. 

So you see, we authors don’t just jot down whatever comes into our heads. It’s a craft. Nay, an art form! We spend hours just sifting through our heads for the right word. We agonize over those adjectives, and we brutally eliminate those adverbs (oh, right—brutally is an adverb). We struggle with realistic dialogue.

Yup. So right now I have to get back to Flora, Pierre and Robert. Poor Pierre. That anaconda—or was it a boa constrictor—just sealed his fate, and tonight, Robert is going to get lucky…

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