Friday on THE MILLER FARM: Episode #1: ROOSTER RESCUERS

The Millers are Sara, my daughter, and her husband, Brian, who have a mini-farm at their home in Aggieland. For my non-Texan readers, that’s Bryan/College Station, Texas. That’s right, in their backyard, a chicken coop with nine “Easter Eggers,” a few Barred Rocks, a couple of Black Copper Marens, a few black and few gold sex links, some Bantams and  twenty-five American Game Birds. The rest are Barnyard Mutts. All give eggs that are truly delicious!

Part of their backyard also houses beehives. More about dealing with bees and fresh honey in future posts.

You’ll also find four miniature daschunds – Tucker, Bella, Sadie and Coco, one mixed breed dog name Marvin, and three teenager children—two girls and a boy, who wish to remain anonymous, on the Miller farm.

Sara, the chicken wrangler, writes such entertaining emails about life on the Miller Farm she should start her own blog. She won’t. That’s why – with her permission, I’ll be sharing the humor and fun of being a city farmer from her emails on Fridays.Today: ROOSTER RESCUERS  (my comments and additions in blue)

Yesterday afternoon I (aka Sara, chicken wrangler extraordinaire) went out to check on the chickens and gather eggs (what few eggs are being laid in this heat). (Texas, like a good part of the country, is experiencing unending days of triple digit tempearatures.)

One of our roosters was laying under the coop looking not so good. I tried to entice him out with bread but alas, he didn’t move. I grabbed him by the legs, an action which usually results in much fussing and flapping. However, he came out with nary a sound. I laid him by the water, hoping that he would perk up. After I checked all the other birds, he was still lying there and the other birds were starting to pick on him.

Being the rooster lover that I am, I could not tolerate that and gently carried him to the garage where I summoned Dr. Brian (her husband, who, btw, is NOT a veterinarian but a school psychologist). Drawing from all his vast avian veterinary experience, he proclaimed that the bird had heat exhaustion.

I carried him (the bird, not Dr. Brian) to the living room where he laid in front of the fan which I have been told is the best remedy for heat exhaustion in humans so it has to work for birds – right?

Throughout the evening Mr. Rooster laid still raising his head just often enough to let us know he was not quite dead yet. When it was time for the humans to retire, we decided he needed to be contained in case he had a miraculous recovery overnight.

I put him in a cage and went to bed feeling quite comforted by the fact that we were just like all our neighbors who had roosters sleeping in their living rooms.

The next morning Mr. Rooster was much more alert and holding his head up. I put some water in his cage which he promptly spilled all over. At this point, he was making such a mess I moved his cage to the front yard.

After caring for all the other chickens, I moved him back with his flock where he stepped out of the cage on his own. He hung out by the water for a while and when I last checked, Mr. Rooster was walking around pecking the ground as chickens are prone to do.

I would say we have successfully snatched a rooster from the jaws of death earning the title Rooster Rescuers.

Sara might be okay with a rooster in her house. I’m not sure I’d be willing to set up a rooster infirmary in my living room. Would you?

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One Lovely Blog – Never too late to say Thanks

My often neglected blog has been honored with a nomination for the One Lovely Blogger Award by my very good friend Forest and his human, Elaine Smothers (blogger and fellow WANAite). I’m awed to be considered lovely by anybody.

I did  a Google search for information on this award and found nothing of its origins. I did find lots of links to other bloggers who have earned the award and  choices for award badges here. The rules for accepting the award were easily located and involved nominations, thanks, and sharing.

  • Post the award badge. (not included with all explanations)
  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post (an obvious requirement)
  • Nominate 15 other blogs for this honor (the number varied)
  • Share seven little known facts about yourself. (the part we all like best)

So I begin my acceptance with a big thank you to Forest and Elaine for the OLB nomination.  Everyone should check out their blog at Wonder in the Wild. It’s one of my favorite blogs.

Here’s the badge I selected.

The hardest part of accepting any blogger award is choosing blogger nominees. OLB is no exception. There are so many worthy blogs and bloggers.

The fifteen bloggers I’m nominating have interesting, informative and fun blogs. Stop by their sites and meet them. I know you’ll enjoy exploring and learning about them.

  1. Alina at Illuminations
  2. Ben at Not One Sparrow
  3. Bethany at Write by Bethany
  4. Ciara at Finding Treasures in Dreams
  5. Ellen at To Beyond and Back
  6. Ginger at I am Blogger Hear Me Tweet
  7. J. D. at Living with the Muse
  8. Jane at Janie Carver 2011
  9. Jennifer  at MuseTracks
  10. Kat at Kat Jorgensen
  11. Linda at Soldier, Storyteller
  12. Megan at Sortacrunchy
  13. Melissa at Melissa Ohnoutka
  14. Patricia at Masks the Book
  15. SJ at Come Sit By My Fire

Now, the fun part: seven little known facts about me.

  1.  I decided I only like wildlife from afar after this fellow came to lunch last week and refused to leave until the Area Wildlife Manager Thorpe came to shoo him away. Mr. Bear was only two feet from my dining room window.
  2. I love my early morning water aerobics workouts.
  3. I won’t eat avocados  or guacamole.
  4. I love all Harry Chapin’s songs. Especially Flowers Are Red and Cat’s in the Cradle  If you’ve never heard the songs you can listen on Youtube: Flowers are Red and Cat’s in the Cradle 
  5. I finally read a Nicholas Sparks novel, Dear John. Loved it!
  6. I’ve lived in AL, CO, CT, MS, NC, NM, TN, TX, VA, and WV. Only six of the nifty fifty are on my bucket list of places to see. I’ll let you guess which six. Hint: all but one are close to Canada.

Not one to follow always follow the rules, I’m going to leave #7, the last final fact, for you to ask what would you like to know about me. One caveat: I won’t tell you my weight, my age, or my address!

So, dear blog reader, it’s your turn. What would you like to know? Or, which six states do you think I’ve never been to?

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Spellcheckers and Pullet Surprise Work

I ran across this poetic reminder not to rely on your spellchecker and had to share. The poem’s 225 words are faulty, although all are correctly spelled. The work is more than an exercise in homophonous humor. It’s a wonderful example of a computer spell checkers’ Cupertino Effect.

“Candidate for a Pullet Surprise” was composed in 1992 by Dr. Jerrold H. Zar, professor emeritus of biology and retired dean of the graduate school at Northern Illinois University.

If you read aloud, you get the full impact.

CANDIDATE FOR A PULLET SURPRISE

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it’s weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker’s
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we’re lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault’s with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word’s fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw’s are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

In March 2007, Mark Eckman provided additional information about his role in creating the spell-checker poem. Read his account here.

“Candidate for a Pullet Surprise” endures as a cautionary tale for all of us who place too much trust in our computer’s spell checker. How about you? Any “horror” tales with your spell checker?

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BS aka Backstory – Part 2

Last week I blogged about scattering smidgens of backstory throughout a story. I received an email from a reader who wanted further explanation about what backstory is. Not being a writer, she’d never heard the term.

 I love it when that happens, and I can pontificate. 

 

The simple answer: Like reunions where we connect with our past and our present, backstory connects the story world and our character’s past.

Writers understand what I mean. Readers still might need more explaining. 

According to David Morrell, NYT bestselling author of high action thrillers, all stories have two parts: backstory and front story. 

Front story covers the scenes on the page that are happening in the present and pressing forward. 

Backstory reflects the influences from the past, and a character’s past is the key to creating a story where motivation and stakes are credible.

 NOTE to any aspiring writers: You should have Morrell’s The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing on your craft bookshelf. Check it out here.

Now back to my explanation…

Backstory is made up of all the data of a character’s history. How he became who he is, and why he acts as he does and thinks as he thinks. It also reveals influences of an era, family history, and world events (such as wars) that affect the story and its inhabitants.

 Factors writers consider as they create characters include:

  •  Major childhood influences, traumas, events, and emotional wounds
  • Family birth order
  • Era and/or historical period/events that influenced him
  • Significant people in a character’s circle. If dead, how did he relate?

 USA bestselling author Pat Kay teaches that once a writer defines those factors, the next step in character development is to ask  questions like theseto dig deeper.

  1.  Who was the most significant person in his childhood?
  2. Which past relationship most influenced him?
  3. How did his last relationship end?
  4. Is his occupation what his parents or family hoped he would pursue?
  5. What happened in his past that will affect the plot?
  6. What regrets does a character have?
  7. What is his worst fear?
  8. What is the darkest secret or shame from his past?
  9. Which events from the past still influence him?
  10. What emotions will a character feel/display/hide when under pressure?
  11. What is a character’s central strength?
  12. What does a character want to change about himself?
  13. What are a character’s long-range goals?
  14. What one thing will a character NOT do?

I could go on and on with questions to ask about a character, but you get the picture. If you look at yourself and others in your family and think of their background, you will see that everyone is influenced by past experiences and way of life.

 Same is true of a story character. Writers employ various techniques to know their characters deeply. The more fully developed a character’s past the more three-dimensional characters appear on the page.

 Make sense, readers?

Writers, what techniques do you use to fashion your story’s characters?

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What my high school reunion taught me about writing BACKSTORY

Sitting at a table at my high school reunion recently, this thought struck me: “This is how backstory should work.”

Huh, you say. Let me explain.

I’ve know most of the people at my high school reunion more than half my life. I didn’t have to ask mundane questions to get to know them. When I looked in their faces, I saw not the wrinkles but teenagers I remembered from our school days.

We were (are) a close knit group, attending English class or studying for Algebra or cheering our Austin High School Maroon football team. We laughed about our Red Jacket (the drill team) adventures, relived football losses, groaned over teachers and relived our glory days on the yearbook and newspaper staff as reminisced.

I knew their past.

But what dawned on me was that what I remembered from those good ole days is only a small portion of their story. As we shared over the three day reunion, I learned of their triumphs, their heartaches, their success since we’d last been together.

Did I learn everything at once? No. Piece by piece they shared stories. Backstory came to light that had shaped who they were today.

Like all my high school friends, I know my characters. After all, I am creating them.

And like my friends who told their stories over the time we were together, that’s how I must reveal my character’s background–slowly as it relates to the story and character development.

This is where new writers often err in their opening scenes, revealing anything and everything that’s happened up to the time of the inciting incident.

There are times when a bit of backstory is necessary for the reader to grasp what’s going on and why it’s important. But, editors and agents agree a newly submitted manuscript with backstory dump in the beginning scenes is the biggest kiss of death for the work.

Writers, whether new or seasoned, must tread carefully when considering how much backstory to include. We should trust the reader’s intelligence to “get” what’s going on without providing lengthy backstory.

Think about it. Is it really necessary for the reader to know Mary has been married three times, each relationship ending badly, to “understand” why she’s looking for a good relationship. Usually, that kind of backstory, while indeed important, should be doled out later in the story and bit by bit.

A general rule is keep backstory either absent from the opening or only include as much as is absolutely necessary to set the scene for the inciting incident.

To quote Donald Maass, “no backstory in the first fifty pages.” And then, only to do one or more of these things:

1. Raise the stakes
2. Reveal motivations
3. Express innermost fears
4. Reveal obstacles

Easier said than done for most writers, including me.

I think of backstory as “BS.” Literally. I ask myself does the reader really need to know this in order to relate to my character? The answer is usually no!

Another way to think of backstory is as carefully placed clues to the mystery of the character and why they are the way they are. Hints to keep the reader turning the page.

Just as I discovered my old friends’ stories gradually, we writers need to let readers find backstory clues throughout the book until they’re brought all together to explain how and why the character changed or clarify whatever the character did.

What do you think about backstory dumps in the opening pages? Do you close the book or keep on reading?

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Secret Lives of Bookmarks

This makes me want to be a bookmark. How about you?

Thanks, Passive Guy for sharing.

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Vanishing Time, Scary Fires, and Happy Endings

One day I’m writing a blog post and it’s May. Suddenly it’s July 1st.

Where’d June go?

 Life was too busy to even notice, but I can tell you there was a whole lot of moving going on.  We helped our son and his family pack their home and move to Illinois. Then we packed and moved ourselves to Colorado for the summer and fall.

Did you notice the new porch on the blog banner?

 We’re here in our cool little piece of the Rio Grande National Forest.  

We brought two grandsons with us and they stayed for awhile. We had fun hiking  and touring the sites.

Then the boys went to their new home and wildfires erupted throughout Colorado.

We watched via local news as acres and acres of forest burned and hundreds of homes were destroyed. And wept for the people and the animals. Today those families are returning to what’s left of their homes.

The fires are still sad and scary, but thanks to some outstanding firefighters the big Waldo Canyon fire is under control. We’re praying the others will be controlled soon too.

Though we’re safe from forest wildfires for now – the nearest is 50 miles away over the Continental Divide, we’ve had some drama here on the front porch…

Three days ago a couple of summer folk here for the 4th of July stopped by the porch to ask if we had seen their two white Pekingese dogs. The dogs had gotten out of the cabin they rented. The owners couldn’t find them.

We’d only seen them walking with their owners the day before.

My heart broke for the owners and the dogs. I couldn’t imagine losing my four legged babies. Plus, there’s lions, tigers and bears in woods, you know.

We watched for the little white fur balls, but never saw them and feared they were gone forever.

Then today, as we sat on the porch, two kids stopped and asked if we were missing our dogs. Buster and Toby bounded to the fence to greet the kids so they knew we hadn’t.

They said two white dogs had come down off the mountain from the woods behind their grandmother’s place and they were keeping them until they could find the owners.

My dh and I looked at one another. The dogs had to belong to the couple. We lent the kids two leashes and told them where to find the couple. We didn’t know the cabin or house number, only the street.

Those two Good Samaritan  kids went door to door with the little dogs until they found the owners. When the young tween returned the leashes, I told her I would write about the good deed she and her brother had done.

I don’t think she believed me. But what better way to get back on the blogging track than with a happy ending story. I love happy endings.

What about you? Have you had any happy endings lately?

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