May
31
2010
31

A Stupendously Super Day

Right after Glenn left, the Wednesday before last, my phone stopped working. I could hear people talk, but they couldn’t hear me. Luckily I had equipment protection, so they gave me a brand, shiny new one, free and clear.

That was nice. And it relates to the wonderful day I had on Friday.

I got up early, excited to buy an air conditioner. My cat broke my favorite (and only) real-glass glass, but I was too excited to care.

I’d been forgetting to put our new plates on. That was bad. I was told this could negate my insurance, should I get into an accident, and that if I got pulled over, they could impound the car.

Those might have been exaggerations to inspire me to finally put the plates on the car. Which I did.

While I was wrangling with the rusted screws, Sprint Customer Survey called me for the fiftieth time to ask how my service was when I replaced my phone. (See? I told you it related!) I’d tried ignoring their rings, as you all know I only talk to my best friend, my niece and Glenn on the phone. But if I wanted them to stop calling me, it was clear the only way would be to accept the phone call.

So I grabbed my phone from the Jeep and replaced the license plates as I took the survey. I have short patience for these things, so after five questions I hung up and put the phone on the taillight while I worked a really tough screw.

Ohio license plates are made of metal, but South Dakota license plates, the new ones, are made of this bendy-plastic. Cheap, but shinier. Didn’t like, though.

Then I went to get my AC. $50 off! Woo-hoo! It’s portable, because that’s all that will work with our setup.

When I came home again, (two hours later because it’s 40 miles away) I realized I didn’t have my phone.

Yeah.

The taillight.

Not still there.

Go figure.

I installed and turned on my AC, then hit the road to retrace my steps to find my lost phone. I was shocked that I actually did find it. It was in the middle of the road, overheated in the sun, run over and warped.

It won’t close, now that it’s warped:

phone1

And you can totally tell it was run over several times and ground into the gravel road:

phone2

But it works!

So I drove on to find a health food store in Tucson that has all the fixings for the macrobiotic diet I did pre-Glenn. I’m trying to get the body here in shape for “The Back-up Plan,” so I need to avoid all the foods I’m allergic to, which is basically all the yummy food in the whole world.

By that time, it was mid-afternoon and 100 degrees out. I was soooooo happy to get home to my camper with AC.

Except my camper was 100 degrees, too. I futzed and sorta fixed it. By the time it finally cooled the camper down to 78 degrees, it was 80 degrees outside.

I was hot and bothered, and not in a good way.

Didn’t my dinner look great, though?

Salad

Um, yeah. If you mention ice cream, I’m not sure I’ll be able to forgive you.

I was glad to call it a day. As I was getting changed into my nightgown—would you believe it?—I stepped on a glass shard I’d missed that morning. Couldn’t get it out. Couldn’t find my tweezers. Had to hop to a neighboring RV to borrow tweezers. After bleeding and crying and soaking and pulling and tweezing for thirty minutes, I got it out and successfully made it to bed. (About the only successful thing I did that day.)

So what do you think? Don’t you think it’s Sprint’s fault that my phone is broken again? If they hadn’t been spamming me with phone calls I never asked for, I wouldn’t be in this situation!

And how was your weekend? Don’t you think it’s so weird to say, “Happy Memorial Day!”? How about “An Honorable Memorial Day!” instead?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags: , ,
May
28
2010
26

Wherein I Eat My Words

(Something I do so often, I now sigh inwardly when I hear myself say something, resigned that the words will later be stuffed down my throat.)

It’s hot, here. Remember how I’ve been saying that it only gets hot for a few hours in the afternoon and cold at night so there’s no point in me getting an air conditioner?

Yeah, no.

I about died today, it was so hot. I jumped in the pool, but long story short, it was too freezing to stay in, even though I was boiling hot. So in my wet swimsuit, I sprawled in my bed, poured a glass of water on myself, and sat there comatose.

(Don’t worry about all that water in my bed. It evaporated in ten minutes.)

I’d read about homemade air conditioners, but I didn’t have the copper tubing. So I did this:

ac

Oh? Those black blobs? I was too hot to redd up the camper, so I cleaned it with black paint in Gimp, to make you think my countertop was all clean and organized and I didn’t have clothes hanging all clutterly from a hook over the window.

The ice water stayed cold for several hours, surprisingly, and it did actually cool it down about fifteen degrees, I believe. Down to where I could think again, at least.

It didn’t help that I’d been in the sun for eight hours, driving with the top off the Jeep and hiking in the desert. It was 100. 100!

My cats, shall we say, were not at all pleased:

ChooChoo

IttleBittle

The other two were hidden somewhere, away from the heat.

So I called Mr. Moneymaker.

He reminded me that I’d said it was only a few hours of unbearable every day, and that I’d said I loved the heat, that it was no problem.

I said f*ck that.

So this afternoon I’m buying an AC. This camper will be a nice 68 degrees. Maybe 65 degrees. Maybe 60 degrees. I’m so hot, I want to be an ice cube.

I’m hoping the cool air will increase my productivity, which has been extremely sluggish. And I have to eat my words one more time, because I am DYING for three days of rain and cloudy skies and thunderstorms.

No rain until the monsoons in July, I hear.

Are you staying cool? I heard there was a hot spell out east, too!

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags: ,
May
26
2010
24

And There He Goes…

…off to Alaska again. I’ll be here, alone and sweating in the Arizona summer heat. Writing.

Speaking of writing, I’ve set myself to doing a bunch of non-fiction until I meet certain financial goals, and while I still find it interesting, I feel rather blocked when it comes to fiction. I’m not liking that. I’m feeling blocked about blogging, too.

Look at me whine.

*sigh*

Well, if this isn’t the most irritable blog post I’ve written in a long time.

*sits and tries to think of something to say*

You know what I miss? Having fun talking about craft. I used to talk and think about writing and how to write all the time. Now I don’t. What happened? It’s fun to talk shop!

I was looking over some of the stuff I wrote a year or two again, and I question whether I could write that well now. Is that silly? That’s silly. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.

I hope this is a phase that ends tonight.

How goes the writing with you?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing |
May
22
2010
16

But It Was Fun.

Tucson de Anza trailI went hiking on the De Anza Trail on Thursday. The De Anza Trail is 1,210 miles long and goes from Nogales, Arizona all the way to San Francisco. Juan Bautista De Anza, apparently, led 300 people along this route in the 1775-1776 Spanish Expedition. He also founded a Mission and Presidio in San Francisco, a Mission in Santa Clara and the Pueblo of San José. The group ended by settling in the San Francisco Bay area.

flowers

The full trail is not yet restored. They worked a bit on one section last fall, but I think we started at the end of the finished part, because the trail completely disappeared. Luckily, we were in a portion of desert where it’s almost impossible to get lost. We trekked southward, hoping to get to a little town, but at some point we were stuck hiking in washes and dried riverbeds.

An owl swooped by us here, but I didn’t have my camera out.

riverbed

We (a bit stupidly, I admit) decided to leave at two in the afternoon to make it to Tubac in time for friends to meet us for dinner. Hiking in 96 degree heat in the sun is tough. I had my reservations, but my hiking partner was an Arizonan, so I was thinking that maybe Arizonans are used to this weather, and that I should get used to it too, LOL.

We saw a beautiful golden coyote here. Why do I never have my camera up when I want a shot?

wash

Most of the time we were hiking in sand. I think I sunk four inches every step, then I had to lift my leg out. My hips are still sore, LOL. Good exercise, though.

I found the dried and cracked mud of the wash fascinating.

crackedmud

Near the end of our trip, we hiked for the freeway so we could be picked up. We’d hiked four hours, and we were starved. We saw this little guy on a log. What’s fascinating to me is that this lizard appeared like it was coated with fuzzy, black velour.

Not so in the picture. Weird.

lizard

So that was my adventure for the week. :-)

How was your week?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags: ,
May
18
2010
30

We Need A Word.

I’ve decided to make up a word. Okay, actually, I’ve decided to open up my blog for ideas on making up a word. In other words, I want you to make up a word.

It’s a word like jealous or envy, but with no negative connotations. It’s all positive. It means, “Wow, you lucky duck! That’s awesome. I’m totally thrilled you have X, couldn’t be happier that you have X. And I really want X, too.”

Frenvy? (Friend+envy?) Naw.

Thrilledvy?

Oh boy.

You can see why I’m eliciting your help.

Any ideas for this word we need?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings |
May
15
2010
7

Victor Frankl on People

“If we take man as he really is, we make him worse. But if we overestimate him… we promote him to what he really can be… If we take a man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Beautiful People | Tags:
May
13
2010
24

The Odd Elements of Creativity

The evidence doesn’t offer proof, but truthfully, I’m a security freak. So I found a security blanket: non-fiction writing. *chokes as I eat my words*

It’s a good gig, though: I only write when I want or need the money, and I can not write for as long as I want. I don’t have to scurry up work or query or pound down doors, which is big for me. I just pick and do what and when I want. They’re just tiny articles, 300-500 words, but on a lot of interesting topics.

The great thing is that this ups my income to meet my goals for the year, three months early. While Glenn’s income makes our life more comfortable, I no longer *need* it to survive. In my whole adult life, I’ve only been partially dependent on someone else’s income for eight months, and I didn’t like it.

Most importantly, I feel like I’ve “made it,” in that I get to stay on the road and live this lifestyle, and I don’t need to stress anymore about losing it.

But the nicest thing is that I’m looking forward to my fiction writing more. It becomes a treat, rather than a chore. I’m spending less time, but I’m being more creative while writing, because I don’t feel the pressure to write fast in order to pay the bills.

When my brain blows a fuse on non-fiction, I might spend a whole day on fiction. I have to confess that I’m adopting a pattern of every other day exclusively on fiction. When I start losing my creative edge, I switch to non-fiction.

When it comes to grinding words for money, I much prefer writing non-fiction than pounding out stuff for Pseudie. I feel like Pseudie and I just need a little break from each other for awhile.

But this new gig is sure cutting into my Facebook and blogging time. Not to mention I just took a gig playing piano a couple nights a week. And now that Glenn won’t be taking the car to the doctor every day, I’ll be gone a full day every week, hiking the desert. Well, two days, but one will be just for fun.

image OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG!!!! Guess what? LOOKEE! Over there! I mean, over there! <— It’s the cover for Bernita’s book! A Lillie St. Claire book! I’ve been waiting for it forever, ever since I first heard of Lillie St. Claire, years ago! How many years was it? Isn’t it the coolest?! Major SQUEEE!

How is it that one has an open schedule, and if you blink, you’re suddenly busy-busy? And do you have any odd things that increase your creativity?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: ,
May
12
2010
33

How to Beat a Lie Detector Test

Stephen Parrish is guest-blogging today! His book, The Tavernier Stones, is available now. You can read about it at www.stephenparrish.com. He’s giving away a real, one carat diamond to the first person who can find the image of one he’s hidden somewhere on the web; the contest is described at www.tavernierstones.com.

And today he’s here with us, to give us advice on tell our characters how to beat a lie detector test:

steveFirst of all, I don’t recommend you try, except for fun or research.  I’m writing this solely for authors who want to know enough about the subject to put a character through the paces.  Also, my experience comes from being in the chair, not from administering the test.  Most if not all polygraph technicians believe their tests are reliable, even infallible.  Most if not all polygraph technicians want to keep their jobs.

Your perp wants to get off the suspect list.  That won’t happen if he refuses to take the test.  Remember Scott Peterson?  When he refused, the whole country knew he was guilty, and investigators intensified their scrutiny.  Your perp is not only willing to take the test, he volunteers for it.  He convinces everyone involved¾the investigators, the victim’s family, your readers¾he’s got nothing to hide.

Yet he’s just blown someone’s brains out.  "Hook me up," he says.  "I’ll prove I wasn’t even there."  That’s your first plot point.

The Mechanism

Your perp will be seated in a chair and the technician will strap a blood pressure/pulse monitor to his upper arm, rubber tubes across his chest and abdomen, and electrodes to his fingertips.  The tubes (pneumographs) will measure his breathing.  The electrodes (galvanometers) will measure his sweat production; the more sweat, the less resistance to an electrical current being applied.

There are many different approaches to questioning, but you should keep things simple in your story.  In general the technician will ask control questions (What is your address?) and relevant questions (Where were you the night of the murder?)  The control questions allow the technician to establish a baseline, with which results of the relevant questions can be compared.

The Theory

When we lie we experience guilt and fear, which manifest themselves physiologically.  Our blood pressure and pulse rise, our breathing increases in frequency and decreases in volume, and we sweat.  We also twitch, sigh, grab the arms of the chair, and exhibit other signs of discomfort.

The first time I sat for a test, the technician showed me afterwards that my breathing rate had altered dramatically as I responded to one of the questions; in fact I had caught my breath for a second or two before answering.  I told him my answer was nevertheless truthful.  He administered the test again, and quite involuntarily I caught my breath again.  He judged me to be lying.

It was my first lesson in lie detection theory.  Because I happened to be telling the truth.

The Reality

Lies can in fact be detected by monitoring physiological reactions.  A common symptom is not being able to look someone in the eye.  Another is sudden involuntary movements; when interrogation tapes are rerun in slow motion, perps are often seen to twitch or make odd facial expressions that happen so fast they go unnoticed at regular speed.

However, we exhibit the same behavior when frightened, angry, jealous, etc.  Just because I catch my breath doesn’t mean I’m lying.  It just means something about the question, or my answer to it, bothers me.  It may also mean something wholly unrelated to the crime at hand occurs to me—a disturbing thought triggered by the question—and I react involuntarily to it.  It’s easy to play word association games when someone is interrogating you.  In my case, I objected to the question, and thought it was none of the technician’s business.

A polygraph cannot determine whether your perp is lying; it cannot read minds.  It can only register physiological reactions during questioning.  Reactions can be caused many phenomena other than deceit.

That’s what your perp uses to beat the test.

imageThe Hoax

Of course the polygraph technician knows everything I’ve just said.  And any of them who reads what follows will howl with indignation.  Fuck ‘em.  You need to get your perp off the hook, so he can kill again.

The technician will employ tricks.  He’ll tell your perp the test is infallible.  He’ll describe a subject he tested yesterday, or an hour ago, who thought he could beat the test and failed.  He’ll impress your perp with loads of gadgetry: how could all those wires not be doing their jobs?  He’ll ask your perp to tell an actual lie ("I was born in Transylvania") to verify that yes, indeed, the equipment is working properly.  He’ll accuse your perp of something he knows he didn’t do, to guage how he reacts while genuinely disputing an allegation.

It’s all mind tricks.  It’s all bullshit.  The technician can only measure your perp’s blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and sweat production (the latter of which seldom generates useful results).  And your perp knows that.  He knows that what the technician is ultimately after is a confession.  Unlike the test, a confession is admissible in court.

The Dodge

At the end of the test the technician will show your perp the results and point out the lies.  The average person, when lying, and when confronted with physical evidence of it, will cave in.  That’s why polygraphs are effective, and why government agencies like the CIA employ them routinely on their own people.  It goes without saying, then, that your perp must never confess to anything, no matter what evidence is presented; no matter how squiggly the lines appear on the graph.  Yet he can’t clam up.  That’s just as bad as refusing to submit in the first place.

Let’s say he molested a child.  (Yeah, I know, he was first accused of murder, but pretend the victim recovered.)  If it were me in the chair, any question about child molestation would be troublesome, because I have a child.  Any question about breaking and entering would be troublesome, because I was once robbed, and the experience made me feel violated.  And question about insider trading would be troublesome, because I’ve thought about doing it, and I feel guilty about that.  It takes preparation: your perp must predict every possible question that might cause a blip in the graph, and be ready to explain it.  Ironically, if he’s the one who committed the crime, that shouldn’t be a problem.  (He has to be fast on his feet as well, but you can be slow, because your manuscript isn’t due for another month.)

What your perp really wants, of course, is for no blip to appear at all.

The Evasion

Assume he’s going to have a physiological response to the question, "Are you telling the truth about where you were the night of the murder?"  (The victim nearly pulled through, but then took a turn for the worse.)  Your perp, because he’s a cold-blooded killer, will have much less of a reaction than Dudley Dooright.  Still, the graph will do that zig-zag thing it does, and he needs to flatten the zigs and zags.

First, he maintains a high level of anxiety throughout, by breathing more shallowly and rapidly than normal, by gripping and regripping the arms of the chair, by shifting his weight regularly.  If he goes too far the technician will admonish him and possibly report him as "uncooperative."  It has to be subtle.  Just enough to make him come across as high strung.

imageSecond, and this is the key, he must be prepared to subtly overreact during honest answers, to counter a natural tendency to relax.  If he catches his breath when he doesn’t like something, as I do, then he should catch his breath before answering every question, honestly or dishonestly, to obscure the difference.  Whatever he does when he lies, he does while telling the truth.  During at least one honest answer ("Are you telling the truth about your place of birth?") he should flinch ever so slightly.  And I’ll leave the reason why as a homework assignment.

It takes practice.  And experience.  Given a modicum of each, most people reading this post could do it.  Your perp certainly can; he’s been down this road before.

If you’re a crime writer I recommend you make an appointment with a local polygraph service and experience all this for yourself.  They’re in the yellow pages.  Just explain you’re doing research for a story, and provide the facts of the case, including story elements you know to be false.  Pretend you’re the perp.  And let me know how it goes.

Great guest post, huh? Now go buy his book, The Tavernier Stones. And watch Steve’s blog: there’s a killer Scrabble war going on that’s not to be missed. It’s intense. I’m scared to say who I’m rooting for. You?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Guest Posts | Tags:
May
10
2010
22

What Soothes You?

I like to organize things. It’s almost an obsession. Of course, nothing useful. If something should be organized, it’s likely I don’t have the compulsion. Maybe it’s because I have such difficulty organizing my mind, that if I can find something my brain can organize, it’s very relaxing.

Like if I play campground poker, where all the chips are worth a dime no matter the color, I still sort my chips by color. (No one else does.) Always white first on the right, then red, then blue, then green. The countertop is all messy, but if one thing is out of place in the refrigerator, I’ll drop everything to put it back in order.

What else? Playing Bach. I just love putting all those notes in order, making them nice and neat.

And this is so odd it’s embarrassing: I like to clean up html code. I spent a few hours doing it the other night and just had the most enjoyable time. It was an absolute blast. I felt like I was knitting. I think this week I’ll write a series on how to format a Kindle book.

I’m not sure why I know how to do this, when I have yet to have a book that I can put on Kindle myself. *sigh* Hopefully soon.

What soothes you?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings |
May
05
2010
46

Elmer, the World’s Largest Bug

I cry if I accidentally kill an ant. I get upset when Glenn kills a spider instead of carrying it outside. I don’t want to live with bugs, but I don’t want them dead.

However.

Last night, I walk into the bathroom, and the WORLD’S FREAKING LARGEST BUG is racing around the floor. After some screaming and crying, I go and get my camera. It’s HUGE.

(I had to show it to you.)

When I return, it’s running at speeds of ten miles per hour. I’m bouncing on my tiptoes, poised to dash away at any second, should the bug come toward my feet.

(You’ll understand why the pictures are blurry.)

The picture has been enlarged so the bug is at ACTUAL SIZE. Really. THIS IS HOW BIG THIS BUG WAS. Exactly. Precisely. No exaggeration. (The pic may be on the small side, actually.)

Elmer1

Is it three or four inches long on your screen? AS BIG AS YOUR HAND? Yes, that’s how big it was. Here’s another picture:

Elmer2

Do you SEE how long those LEGS ARE?! Arizona bugs are FREAKING HUGE. If one of those things gets in my camper I am packing up and leaving for Ohio.

You think I’m kidding.

I run and grab the owner, and he comes back with two brooms. I stand and cringe and cry and squeal in the hallway, and I hear about twenty bangs. TWENTY BANGS! Over and over! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

It’s finally dead.

The toilet flushes.

The shower turns on. He has to run the shower for FIVE MINUTES to get rid of the bug goo. Five minutes!

When I return to my camper and tell Glenn, he says, “You killed Elmer! I can’t believe you killed Elmer!”

Elmer?” I shriek. “You know this bug? Are you teasing me?”

“Yeah, he was in the men’s bathroom for a while, then the women’s, and back to the men’s. You haven’t seen Elmer before?”

I stare at him. I am speechless. It takes me fifty-seven seconds to say, “No. No. No, I have not seen Elmer before.”

“I can’t believe you killed Elmer,” he says.

I am still speechless. He thinks I am done with the conversation and rolls back over in bed.

He says again, “I can’t believe you killed Elmer.”

I finally cry, “I can’t believe you named a giant bug!” I’m thinking, Where is my protector? Isn’t he supposed to be the noble remover of all icky things? What happened to the code of chivalry?

“I didn’t name it,” he says. “Mr. and Mrs. X named it. You killed their Elmer. It’s been hanging out in the bathrooms for months.”

Okay, I’m a little sorry. Okay, I’m really sorry. Please forgive me. I don’t want to be a killer. It’s against my religion. But did you see the size of that thing? It was him or me!

Would you have killed Elmer? Do you know what Elmer is? AND WHY THE FRICK-FRACK WOULD SOMEONE NAME A GIANT BUG?????????????

Postscript: I’m told it might be a Palo Verde Borer Beetle. They can get up to six inches long and THEY FLY.

What do you think? Here’s a picture with some perspective, so you can see how HUGE it is:

image

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags: ,

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