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Rated: 13+ · Book · Opinion · #1254599
Exploring the future through the present. One day at a time.

I hope I stay within budget

My website: http://www.almarquardt.com
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August 15, 2016 at 10:48am
August 15, 2016 at 10:48am
Dang. I haven't written an entry in over a month? Where did the time go?

I'd like to say I've been busy. I suppose in many ways I have, but I've also wasted a lot of time, too.

Mostly I haven't written an entry, because my mind has been focused on polishing three manuscripts, and preparing "one-sheets" (basically a back-cover blurb of a manuscript with an author's bio and other information). To my surprise, I'm done with them all. Not that I expected not to finish, but that I would finish with more than a week to spare before I head to the ACFW conference in Nashville. As good as I am at procrastinating, I shouldn't be done this early. Now I don't know what to do with myself.

I know what I should do: Write a few short stories and see if there are magazines that will take them. That'll take research, and a lot of reading. Not a bad way to spend my time versus getting all anxious for the conference.

I have an appointment with a publisher and a literary agent to pitch my novels to. On the one hand, I'm hopeful, but on the other, I'm not. I've pitched before with no results, so if history is my guide, my chances of making a positive impression are low. I'm trying to convince myself that I'm going for the comradery of other writers -- struggling in many of the same ways I am -- and to attend classes to learn more about writing, marketing, etc. Plus I get to spend five days in an upscale hotel built next to the Country Music Hall of Fame (not a huge fan of country music, but I'll still find it interesting if I have the time to see it). If I gain interest in my novels, all the better. I've gone to other conferences with the hope of a sale as my main reason of going, and ended up a few tears short of devastation. I'm not going to do that to myself again.

The last time I went to a conference (back in 2010), I wrote an entry at the end of every day to keep everyone updated, and so I won't forget. I am, after all, getting a bit up there in age. I don't remember things as well as I used to. I may do the same again.

My biggest worry is taking the plane. It's not that I fear flying. I actually enjoy it (although I hate going through security), but my biggest pet-peeve is being late. For anything. Few things get me angry, but being late is near the top of the list. I am placing my trust in an airline and two planes to get me to the conference on time (I am going a day early, just in case, but one still never knows). I don't like having to relinquish control like that. But I either fly, or drive cross-country for two days one way by myself. My flight is also with Delta, and in case you don't know, they had severe flight issues last week that resulted in hundreds of delays and cancellations. That it'll happen again next week worries me some.

Then again!

Back in 2010 I set a "fleece before the Lord," which means I asked for a specific sign for a specific question I needed an answer to. My son was two at the time, and I was really happy and content with my life. I was writing little with the exception of my blog, and I was okay with that.

I started to wonder if God wanted me to pursue publishing my books, or if I should continue to live my life as it was, writing only as a hobby.

At that time, I had just purchased an annual membership to ACFW, and I received an email describing their Genesis Contest. Contestants submit the first fifteen pages of their manuscript along with a short synopsis. It then goes through a few rounds, and winners are revealed at the annual conference.

I told God that I would submit my novel, and that if I made the finals, I would know he wanted me to continue. As most of you know, I not only made the finals, but I won in my chosen category.

Do I think God is leading me to this conference? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Even so, whatever happens, I need to trust that God is in control. If there are issues with my flights, so be it. If not, even better. Worse case, I'll have to cancel everything, and hopefully get some of my money back after paying all my late cancellation fees.
July 14, 2016 at 9:55am
July 14, 2016 at 9:55am
I'm not into giving bullet-point advice, because life is often too complex to narrow certain solutions down to a list that, "If you go through these five steps, you will be rich within six months!" Etc., etc.

That said, I do believe a person should do three things each day:

1. Learn something new.
2. Do at least one good deed.
3. Do something silly, and make sure other people know about it.

Three is important, because I think we take ourselves too seriously. We need to laugh at ourselves at times, because it keeps us humble.

At 8:07am this morning, I did a doozy of a silly (and actually qualifies as a stupid). I put a breakfast sandwich in the microwave, and when I returned, I noticed the microwave was still running. I thought someone had removed my sandwich and was cooking their own, but after looking around the kitchen, I couldn't find my sandwich anywhere.

Then I smelled it.


I opened the microwave and out billowed a cloud of smoke, and the originally white paper towel wrapped around the sandwich turned a not-so-lovely brown. I threw the burning hot coal of a sandwich into the sink and turned on the cold water. It sizzled and steam and more smoke filled the sink. Which soon filled the kitchen.

Either the smoke and smell wafted throughout the building, or it has permanently permeated into my skin and nostrils. Now almost 40 minutes later, I can still smell my burnt-to-a-crisp breakfast sandwich.

Turns out, I had accidentally set the microwave to ten minutes instead of one. If I hadn't gone back into the kitchen after six minutes, I might have set the microwave on fire. Good thing I caught it when I did, because I wouldn't want to tell my boss how I burnt down his building.

So that's my silly act of the day, although it might also qualify for the stupid act of the week, month, even year.
July 1, 2016 at 12:16pm
July 1, 2016 at 12:16pm
I noticed I hadn't written an entry in two weeks, so I figured I should write something.

Except I can't really think of anything. Certainly nothing funny, interesting, scary or otherwise.

So what is one to do except write about how I have nothing to write about?

How boring is that?

Instead, I am going to do a copy and paste of some of my favorite Tweets.

Just so you know, some are political in nature. Consider yourself warned.

I wish I had telekinesis so I wouldn't have to get up from my chair to grab the TV remote.

Liberal logic: Criminals want to follow the law, but we simply haven't passed enough, or the right laws. Once we do, they'll be good.

Parenting is 10% planning and 90% frazzled, terrified and instantaneous reaction.

We live in a society where victimhood is the new heroism, and real heroes are considered monsters and/or criminals.

The worst part of finishing the first book in a series is waiting for the next book to come out.

The future is frightening, because it's unknown. But God knows, and is in control. That should be enough for us to quit worrying about it.

"Sometimes we lose things even when we're organized." Timeless wisdom from my 8-year-old son.

I want people to read my writing, not because I'm white, a woman, a mother, or a Christian. I want to be read 'cuz I'm a damn good writer.

I told my son, "A day will come when my very existence will embarrass you." He was genuinely shocked and refused to believe it. He'll learn.

The most important and long-lasting lessons I've learned have come from my failures, not my successes.

I don't like to swear, but there are days when I'm surrounded by such stupidity, I want to scream the kind of profanity that will melt paint.

For too many on the Left, George Orwell's 1984 isn't a novel. It's a how-to manual.

Never confuse silence with approval. Sometimes a person doesn't have all the facts, so to speak too soon is to prove one's own ignorance.

If you don't want an honest answer, don't ask the question.

One of my weaknesses is impatience. I want to know a lot of things, but I don't want to take the time required to learn it.

Complain all you want about how God does things, but since he created the universe and all that's in it, he has the right to make the rules.

The truth may set you free, but not before breaking all your bones, ripping out your guts, and setting you on fire until only ash remains.

If you want compassion, be compassionate.
If you want respect, be respectful.
If you want to be heard, listen.

A profound truth I discovered as I grow older:
Smile more. Your face sags less.

June 17, 2016 at 11:37am
June 17, 2016 at 11:37am
I volunteer a lot at my church, mostly for the Kid's Ministry. We have a check in/out system for the kids. I help print name tags for the kids, and stickers for parents with a corresponding code that I compare when the parents pick up their children after church services. Parents like it, because they can be assured their kids won't run off and get lost, or in the case of divorced parents, they don't have to worry about their ex-husband or wife taking their children without them knowing.

My church hosted VBS (Vacation Bible School), and for the last three years, I helped with registration and check in/out. This year, however, they were short on group leaders, so they asked me to be a leader for elementary-aged kids from 1st-5th grade. I ended up with seven kids, two boys and five girls. Volunteers must have been really short, because while most groups had a high-school age helper, not me. Trying to herd seven kids, and make sure they pay attention, it was enough to exhaust this little old lady.

Just remembering their names was enough to stress me out, especially since some were so similar: Kenley, Kinley, Avery, Harper, Bella, Ben and Grant. I finally got all of them straight yesterday -- the last day of VBS.

And because they had (naturally) such short attention spans, I admittedly got frustrated a few times. I forgot more than once that the children's parents raise them differently from me, and that I should have been more aware and sensitive.

For instance, yesterday during the outdoor games, my group got extremely wet (they had to place a wet sponge on their head, and walk a certain distance without touching the sponge, otherwise they'd have to start over). Because it was so hot, my group was more interested in pouring water over their heads and on each other than actually playing the game.

As such, when we re-entered the air-conditioned building, they complained quite vociferously about how cold they were. I had very little sympathy for them. They did, after all, get themselves wet.

My youngest girl, Bella, finally told me to call her mom to get her dry clothes. I told her at first that it would take a while, and she would probably be dry by the time her mom arrived. If she were my daughter, I'd tell her to suck it up, honestly. But seeing she was near tears, I had someone call her mom. Luckily, her grandmother lived close, so she came by within five minutes, and Bella was a dry, happy girl the rest of the night.

Since I have only one child, and him being so easy-going and independent, by the second day of VBS, I felt ill-equipped and over my head in trying to take care of seven children of different ages and wildly different personalities. Because of that, I don't think I gave them the best experience of VBS that they could have had. And because they ran a little rough-shod over me, my group distracted the other groups enough that they, too, didn't have the best experience they could -- and should -- have had.

Come next year, if they need me as a group leader again (and I sincerely hope they don't), I may either decline or tell them I will need a helper. Based on this experience, I will (hopefully) do a better job, but at the same time, maybe not. I'm old and set in my ways. I fear I will forget that not every child is like my son, and not every parent parents the way I do. That's not fair to the other children at all, especially since I'm supposed to be there for them, not for me.

Add my VBS fatigue to the fact we had a severe thunderstorm with pea to nickel sized hail at four this morning, and a neighbor who let her dogs out at 5:45am to let them bark for a half-an-hour makes me one grumpy lady. I feel like a puddle of goo -- hence the need for a mop.
June 15, 2016 at 12:00pm
June 15, 2016 at 12:00pm
While it may sound odd, I really do hate when I finish a book or story. Sure, there's always a sense of accomplishment, but after that, I feel a bit sad that it's over. After spending so much quality time writing, when it's done, I have to ask myself, "Now what?"

The same thing happened when the blog contest ended. I still want to write entries, but write about what, exactly?

I'm a thief, but writing -- especially blogs -- requires a bit of thievery. A thievery of ideas.

For instance, I noticed a few bloggers writing entries using the following prompt:

Write about a scent you remember from your childhood. What aroma brings back pleasant memories when you smell it?

When I think about memories tied to smells, only one comes to mind.

First I’ll start off with an excerpt from http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/smell3.htm... written by Sarah Dowdey:

A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people's moods and even affect their work performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain's limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the "emotional brain," smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.

The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren't for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory -- associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. Chlorine might call up a specific pool-related memory or simply make you feel content. Lilies might agitate you without your knowing why. This is part of the reason why not everyone likes the same smells.

Makes sense, because my husband doesn’t mind the smell of skunks, whereas me, I’ll plug my nose and move away as fast as I can, thank you very much.

Now for my own pleasant memory.

There is only one smell that brings back strong memories of my mom. It’s not what you would think, either. It’s not a particular food that she made all the time, nor is it a perfume or soap.

It’s Hoppe’s No.9.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s a cleaning solvent made to clean firearms.

I didn’t realize how strongly it brought back memories of Mom until I smelled it while my husband was cleaning one of his firearms. I couldn’t help but laugh at the realization, because other than my sister, I doubt anyone remembers their mother based on the aroma of gun-cleaning solution.

Now for the why.

My mom liked her firearms, and she had a fair selection of mostly revolvers. She kept all her cleaning gear inside an old suitcase made out of 7-Up cans. My sister has it now.

Every six months or so, whether my mom had used her firearms or not, she would bring them and the suitcase out, and clean them in the living room. I remember watching her, asking what each part of the firearm was, and why she cleaned each part the way she did. She even let me help a few times, and for a long time afterward, my hands would smell of a combination of Hoppe’s No.9 and gunpowder. Good times. Great memories.

My question for you is, what smell brings back memories of your mother?
June 13, 2016 at 3:43pm
June 13, 2016 at 3:43pm
Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I like to brag. Who doesn't?

Remember how I said we writers are a sensitive bunch? It's a door that swings two ways.

Sure we go all blubbery when our writing is criticized, but the door swings to the other direction and slams into the wall when we receive praise, too.

For instance, when I found out yours truly won this installment of "Invalid Item (perhaps you'll notice the new cyan AwardIcon shining brightly next to my title. If not, look!), my first reaction was total surprise (more on that in a second), but another part said something like this:

"I won! I won! Go me! I'm so awesome. I'm better than everyone else! In your face! Ha!

Okay, maybe that's a little over the top for me (not really).

Truth is, I didn't expect to make it past the second round. I read all the other competitors' entries, and they were truly outstanding (I didn't envy lazymarionette having to judge them all).

I've won a few contests, but winning this one means a bit more than others. Not much more, mind you, but enough for me to question as to why.

Two reasons.

1). The competition. Who I came up against are all outstanding writers. That's not a complaint, because they forced me to work harder on mine.

2) It was hard! Coming up with an entry for a specific prompt can be intimidating. All those questions kept parading through my mind about how I would answer the prompts in a timely manner, and if I could write entries simultaneously entertaining and informative. I know my writing can sometimes appear both pragmatic and preachy, and I have been accused more than once of trying to make people look stupid so I can appear smarter. It's not true (at least not on purpose), but I can see (usually after the fact) how my words can seem that way.

At least with this particular contest, I managed to avoid "nose-in-the-air-I'm-better-than-you" entries.

I watched a movie the other day about Mother Theresa called "The Letters." It was about her life, but it also focused on letters she wrote to Father Celeste van Exem (played by Max von Sydow). In the letters she expressed a deep loneliness because she believed God had abandoned her.

The movie also pointed out how she unwaveringly refused praise for her accomplishments. She told everyone who tried to compliment her that she was God's instrument, and only he deserved the credit. I don't remember the exact quote, but when a reporter tried to interview her, she grabbed his pencil and said, "I am like this pencil. Do you praise the pencil for writing?"

I couldn't help but wonder if that constant refusal played a part in her loneliness.

Regardless of how small our accomplishments might seem to ourselves and to others, we still need recognition for them. No one can work in a vacuum. If we never receive acknowledgement for a job well-done, what's the incentive to continue? Wouldn't we at one point think we're wasting our time and want to quit? I know I would.

So to be recognized for writing a few good entries, that's something that'll keep me writing in this blog for a long time to come. Lucky you (read that with a hefty dose of sarcasm).

Whether or not I'll continue to write "quality" entries -- well -- that's actually a guarantee. Notice how I didn't place "good" or "excellent" in front of "quality?" That's because I know I'll write a few bad quality entries, and no one can accuse me of lying.
June 10, 2016 at 5:26pm
June 10, 2016 at 5:26pm
For the final round of "Invalid Item I am to respond to two quotes:

“Blogging is to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.” ~ Andrew Sullivan

Years ago, I met another writer at a writers conference (strange, that. Meeting a writer at a writers conference? How does that happen?). She wrote non-fiction, and had several chapters started, but all the feedback she received from publishers and agents was the same: her writing was too stilted and legalistic. The main reason was because she wrote legal papers all day, and she struggled with making her writing more personable.

I told her the surest way to cure it was to start her own blog.

My reasoning was exactly what the quote above states (although my explanation wasn’t nearly as concise). I noticed after a few months, her writing changed, and opened up to the point her natural bubbly and hilarious personality popped off the page (figuratively speaking). She’s gone on to other things now, so I can’t link her blog. Otherwise you could see what I mean.

Writing a blog helps us find our voice, and the best part is, no one (or at least very few) care if we use the wrong word, if our sentence structure is – odd, or that we use a different font for every paragraph. That’s why I named my blog “My Writing Sandbox.” It’s here where I play and discover new things about the world, others around me, and even myself.

Simply put, when it comes to writing a blog, there are literally no rules. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

When I first started writing as a teenager, I wrote for the singular goal of publishing novels. It’s been a dream for literally the last 30 years. While I have a few articles and short stories under my authorship belt, I’ve not succeeded in fulfilling that life-long dream of seeing my novels on bookstore shelves.

After writing a blog for a few years on WdC, and the near instantaneous reaction I received, I put my novel-publishing dream on hold. I didn’t mind. In fact, I considered giving it up completely – but why I didn't is another story for another time.

Writing and reading other people’s blogs, however, I had no desire or intention to quit. There’s something organic, almost earthy about it. Just as Andrew described, we don’t have to worry about grammar or spelling (although me being on the edge of OCD, I’s gots to). We can also be more of ourselves in our blog, versus writing an article for a magazine, for instance. Magazine editors, agents, et al, have certain expectations, whereas blog readers don’t – except that blogs be somewhat interesting, or thought-provoking.

When people respond to what we write, how can that not stroke our egos a bit? As I’m sure most of you know, writers need a lot of ego stroking. We’re a sensitive bunch. At least for me, the smallest criticism can send me into a spiral of “woe-is-me” whether it be my writing, or the fact I have a booger on my nose. It’s really kind of sad in a pathetic sort of way. But if ever I need to give my ego a lift, I write a blog entry. Most of the time it helps.

Which segues me into the next quote:

“Social media is not a fad because it’s human.” ~ Gary Vaynerchuk

We all want to be heard. We all want people to engage with us in whatever we have to say, and we want it now. We are social creatures, because to avoid all interaction with others inevitably leads to insanity. I believe Gary is right; social media is here to stay, because it feeds our need to be seen and heard, and it boosts our self-esteem when people respond positively and instantaneously. Like me, I bet you check Facebook, Twitter or other sites to see how many people liked, shared or responded to your posts. I am so guilty of that, it’s sickening.

As with our humanity, there are darker sides to social media, too, not the least of which has resulted in some suicides because of online bullying. But that’s a subject also for another time.

Have you ever engaged in a conversation with someone where all they did was talk, and they never stop to listen? Social media takes that annoying trait and explodes it a hundred-fold. I know. I’ve done it. So busy talking, whether it be on Twitter or Facebook, I’ve not stopped to listen. Granted it’s hard not to, because how does one interrupt someone else on Facebook?

This is part of the reason I kicked myself off of Facebook for a year. Well, mostly. I keep an author page where I post my blog entries, and see if there are any family invites I need to be aware of. But I don’t post any opinions, or share stories about my day-to-day life. Nor do I take the time to read other people’s posts.

I decided to stay off Facebook when I did mostly because of the election season. It’s one of the nastiest I’ve seen, and I choose to avoid it. Politics is so inherently divisive, and because I do have strong opinions, I want to keep my mouth shut and not further alienate or infuriate my friends and family. They don’t piss me off, either, because I don’t take the time to see theirs.

Since I left Facebook back on December 1, 2015, I finished three novels, writing well over 150,000 words (I’m in editing phase now). Even better, I now have more time to spend with my friends and family here at home, face-to-face.

So, yes, social media is here to stay, but like with many other things in life, moderation is the key to making sure we don’t let social media be our only outlet of expression and interaction with others.

There I go, going all motherly on you by warning of the dangers of too much social media. Sorry. I’m a mom. I can’t help it.

I want to cry now, because my own mom was right. She threatened that I would grow up to be exactly like her, and I did. Dang it.

June 7, 2016 at 11:58am
June 7, 2016 at 11:58am
Looks like I made it to another round of the contest – by the skin of my teeth, I’m sure.

For this round, I’m to answer the following question:

What is your number one rule for other writers? How has this influenced your own writing?

I read a lot, and I mean a lot of books on writing. Some I’ve read more than once. My bookshelves are full of them, and some are better than others (both bookshelves and books).

My top four (in no particular order):

1. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King
2. Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. And E.B. White
3. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
4. On Writing by Stephen King

The problem with reading so many books on writing – and this is especially frustrating for new writers – is some advice can be contradictory. There are so many factors involved, and writing is so darned subjective, each writer must decide for him/herself which advice to follow and which to ignore.

Because of writing’s subjectivity, I’ll bet your list of favorite writing books is different from mine. Part of it is due to you and me writing in different genres. For instance, you could write non-fiction, literary, or children’s books, while I concentrate mostly on adult sci-fi and fantasy.

All that said, however, there is one rule I try to keep in the back of my mind as I write.

It’s two simple sentences that I gleaned from On Writing by Stephen King. I read his book well over ten years ago, and although I forgot most everything else he wrote about, this little piece of advice stuck with me.


It may be a bit paraphrased (because I’m too lazy to flip through hundreds of pages to find it):

“Never lie to your readers. They can always tell.”

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Why would anyone lie to their readers? This is especially true for non-fiction. On the other hand, how does one not lie when writing fiction? Isn’t it by definition made up, or false?

Made up, yes. False? No.

So what does King mean, then?

Have you ever read a book when a character did something completely out of character, or the writer used Deus ex Machina (in case you don’t know, the phrase means “a person or thing that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” [per Mirriam-Webster.com]) either too many times, or in such a way as to make you go, “Impossible!” and throw the book across the room.

It’s happened to me more times than I can remember (in books, and in movies and television shows), and each time I felt a sense of betrayal. I had been lied to, and all because the writer either couldn’t find a better solution, or was too lazy to find one. It’s also the one thing I keep in the back of my mind as I write, and I suddenly find my characters in an impossible situation. I force myself to stop and think about how they’re going to get through it without making the characters do something they normally wouldn’t do, or bring in Deus ex Machina.

For instance, in a recent story, my protagonist tried to fight off an assassin. The assassin shot him, and at one point the protagonist lost his own weapon. I could have awoken another character that the assassin knocked unconscious, but that would have ignored biology – and that particular action has been done to the point of dull and unoriginal. He could have found another weapon nearby that wasn’t previously mentioned, or some other character could have simply walked in and reacted quickly enough to kill the assassin. Remembering King’s advice, I stopped and stared at that evil little cursor winking at me for at least ten minutes before I found a solution that worked, and seemed plausible.

By avoiding such writerly laziness (which is my biggest weakness other than coffee and chocolate), that particular scene ended up so much more interesting. At least I think it did . . .

I could give even more advice, such as read, read, read, read – and read some more, both in your chosen genre and out of it, both fiction and non-fiction. I could also tell you to not consider the old advice, “write about what you know,” and instead “write about what you want to know," but I won't – even though I just did.

All in all, it boils down to this:

Respect the reader.

We writers have chosen to study, weep, and bleed into a skill that is completely subjective, and our successes and failures are ultimately decided by our readers. If we don’t have the utmost respect for them, we may as well quit right now, because we will see nothing but frustration and heartbreak.

After all, while in many ways we write for ourselves, we strive to find as many readers as we can who will laugh, cry, hate, fall in love, and every emotion in between as much as we and our characters do. We can’t do that if we don’t respect them.
June 5, 2016 at 2:30pm
June 5, 2016 at 2:30pm
Second Round for "Invalid Item"   by A Guest Visitor :

Write about your greatest struggle so far writing or otherwise. You can choose whichever form you want: short story, poem, creative nonfiction, etc.

When I first saw the question, my brain went into overload. Like every other human, my list of struggles is so long, to pick one is near impossible. It seems we are born, live, and die with struggle.

There's a quote from the movie "The Matrix." I don't have it exact but to paraphrase one of the "agents" as he talked to Neo: "We tried creating the perfect world for you. No struggles, death or disease, but you kept waking up, because you could never believe in a perfect world. We lost entire crops."

I also think that since we live almost daily with struggles, we can't imagine what Heaven will be like.

The one that I choose for this particular entry isn't my greatest struggle, but it's certainly one of my more recent ones.

Call it a slight case of mid-life crisis.

My hair is graying, certain parts aren't -- shall we say -- as perky as they once were. I have arthritic knees and now elbows. Last year I graduated to bifocals. I'm finding myself saying "What?" more often than I used to, and I can't remember anything unless I write it down or tell my phone to beep me a reminder of an appointment or meeting.

Every day I gain a greater sense of my inevitable mortality.

I see younger folks with better health, figure and energy than I do, and I can't help but mourn the loss of my youth. I look in the mirror and think, "Yuck. I'm old, fat and saggy. How ugly and worthless am I?"

Like it or not, I determine some of my self worth based on how I look. I would love to lose a few (or 40) pounds, but it gets more difficult the older I get. My brain tells me that looks don't matter. My son still adores me and smiles whenever he sees me. My husband still thinks, and calls me beautiful. They don't care that I'm all squishy. Why do I refuse to see me through their eyes?

During church today, my pastor mentioned a recent scientific journal where scientists have discovered that so-called negativity such as anger, frustration cling to our neurons like Velcro. Positive emotions and thoughts, on the other hand, slide off our neurons like Teflon. If true, my brain is no different from anyone else's. I often see the positive in most every circumstance, but it also takes a lot of mental rigor to get me to that point. Afterward, I need a nap.

In other words, we have to work on optimism, and we have to work on embracing the fact that we are flawed creatures, but nonetheless loveable and beautiful in spite of -- or even sometimes because of -- those flaws.

So I'm getting old. So no young stud is going to turn his head and think, "Whoa. She's hot." That same young stud, however, may still smile and take down a grocery item from a shelf because I can't reach it. He will treat me kindly and with respect because I am his elder (they still do that, believe it or not. I've seen and experienced it).

My brain is convinced that even though there may be fewer days ahead of me than behind, I still have today, and I must not squander it. I am still worthy of being loved no matter what my age or how much loose skin waddles underneath my arms.

Convincing my heart, that's the real struggle.
June 2, 2016 at 7:42pm
June 2, 2016 at 7:42pm
My first entry for "Invalid Item"   by A Guest Visitor :

What is originality and what is plagiarism? As writers we experience a fine line between the two. Most ideas have been done, but if we take our own original take on them, are they new? Sometimes we find inspiration or influence from other authors; it is how we grow as writers. How do you deal with this dilemma in your own writing?

The other day I complained to a friend how reading as much as I do has constrained me when it comes to starting a new story. Every time I think I have a great idea, I remember a book or story that tackled it already.

"It's been done already," is a phrase I oft repeat, and it's downright depressing.

I can also point out certain ideas in my current stories that have come from other books and even television shows. Does that make me a plagiarist?

First, let's consider the definition of plagiarism (according to the Oxford Dictionary):

the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.

On the surface, yes, I have plagiarized other writers.

According to Wikipedia, however:

Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation of them as one's own original work. The idea remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules. The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement.

Plagiarism is considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics. It is subject to sanctions like penalties, suspension, and even expulsion. Recently, cases of 'extreme plagiarism' have been identified in academia.

Plagiarism is not in itself a crime, but can constitute copyright infringement. In academia and industry, it is a serious ethical offense. Plagiarism and copyright infringement overlap to a considerable extent, but they are not equivalent concepts, and many types of plagiarism do not constitute copyright infringement, which is defined by copyright law and may be adjudicated by courts. Plagiarism is not defined or punished by law, but rather by institutions (including professional associations, educational institutions, and commercial entities, such as publishing companies).

The Bible even addresses this difficulty in the Book of Ecclesiastes (verse 1:9):

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

All in all, a certain amount of plagiarism can't be avoided in anything we write. A large percentage of what we know and learn originated from someone else.

What we have to do as writers is try to make whatever idea, concept or thought we find from someone else, and put our own unique spin on it.

For instance, one idea I copied pertains to mental telepathy. Some of what the telepaths in my stories are capable of, and what their limitations are I stole (although I prefer "borrowed") from the television series "Babylon 5". I could claim the rest is all from me, but if I searched every book, story, and television show I've seen with telepaths, I'll bet what I thought was unique, I subconsciously took from those stories.

My world and my telepathic characters, on the other hand, are different enough from "Babylon 5," I believe only true fans of the show will see the similarity between the two. I doubt they'll contact the owners of the show and convince them to sue me for plagiarism, though. If anything, they might consider it a compliment - the whole "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" kind of thing.

As the Wikipedia article states, I am certainly in an ethical gray area if taken to plagiarism's literal definition to the extreme, but I don't use the ideas to subvert or otherwise harm the "Babylon 5" writers, or to claim their work as my own.

That's really all plagiarism is. It's not using other people's ideas and thoughts to create something different or unique, but to take something someone else has done or written in entirety and claim it as my own.

As for the rest, if you want to borrow my words and my ideas to mix in with your own, you have my permission. I'd be flattered if you did.

Then again, I'm not making any money with my writing, either . . .

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