Road Trip Rules…

So, I missed this week’s YA Highway road trip, sadly. I enjoyed catching up on the posts from everyone else regarding this question:

“This Week’s Topic is: In celebration of the release of Kristin Halbrook’s NOBODY BUT US (hooray!!) we’re asking: Zoe and Will set off on the road to seek a better life and encounter loads of drama on the way. What’s the most dramatic road trip you’ve ever been on?”

My first thought: the most dramatic? Like, life-and-death, flee-your-past, escape-your-deranged-ex sort of road trip? In that case, I don’t have an answer. I’ve never had the time, the money, the vehicle, or the drama to throw my life in the back seat of the car and drive off into the sunset. Growing up, our family vacations consisted of driving six hours to the nearest relatives and spending a weekend with them. Hardly the stuff of legend.

Even now, I travel frequently, making the six-hour drive back to my hometown fairly often…but that drive has become comfortably monochromatic, capable of being tossed onto the end of an 8 hour workday with little trouble. But, musing on this topic reminded me that surviving a few family trips and managing to mangle a few thousand miles into a weekend at one point led me to compile a few survival techniques for managing even the most dramatic of road trips (Totally untested theory, but it sounds good). So, for your amusement benefit:


1. Food. Always take food. And more food. If it means dumping the extra passenger in order to fit a cooler in, do it. Unless they volunteer to hold it on their lap.

2. The more the merrier. You can argue this with me all you want, but admit it: Christmas carols sung and shouted to the Great Smoky Mountains in the middle of June…you can try it alone, but cram nine people into a conversion van and then crank the windows down. Nothing can beat that.

3. Hold your breath in the tunnels.*

4. Bring your electronics. Like an ipod. And an ipod charger. And a phone charger. And a GPS. And a power cord. And a three-way outlet to plug it all in. Then make sure to bring a passenger to keep it all straight.

5. Oh, yeah, the GPS. SHE IS THE BEST. Yes, she might try to direct you into a cornfield. But at least you can blame it on an inanimate object rather than your inability to follow directions.

6. Pump & dump. Let’s clear this up right away, folks: when we stop for gas, we also use the restroom. Even if you don’t have to. You aren’t five. You go now, or you hold it until the needle drops.**

7. Find the mechanic in your life and feed him cookies. And then have him check the oil and tire pressure and fluids and all those lovely things that make the difference between enjoying a trip and wondering if you’re going to be walking home.

8. Don’t poo-poo the po-po.

9. Crying while driving is a terrible idea. Trust me. The same goes for other violent outbursts of emotion. You may want to blow off steam, but you can end up blowing a lot more. If your car is the best place for you to unwind, at least try to do it while the parking brake is on.

10. Try not to hype your destination. Our family vacations nearly always consisted of a half-a-day drive to the nearest relatives for the weekend. I was nearly graduated before we had a vehicle that could sustain something longer than a six-hour drive. We never had destinations of Disney World proportions, so we learned to start enjoying a trip from the moment we climbed in the car. Road trips don’t have to play second fiddle to wherever you want to get. The fun doesn’t start when you unpack the suitcase at the other end. It should begin the moment you toss the bags on the roof and hear that sewing-machine-of-an-engine rev its little bulk.

*Or, just find things to make it fun. Like slug-bug (Please claim immunity as the driver). Or counting windmills. Or taking those little scenic-turnout thingys. Honestly, you don’t actually have to hold your breath in tunnels, especially if it’s a long tunnel and you are the driver and you’re too busy staying alive because it’s a FREAKING TUNNEL AND WHAT HAPPENS IF SOMEBODY CRASHES AND I’M STILL WEARING MY SUNGLASSES AND THE SIGN TOLD ME NOT TO AND NOW I HAVE TO TAKE THEM OFF BUT WHAT HAPPENS IF I LET GO OF THE WHEEL I’M GONNA DIE…oh, hey, SUNSHINE!!

**I apologize in advance if you own a hybrid. For the record, they make diapers for adults, too.

And no, of course it isn’t going to turn out like you thought it would. Do they ever? You’re going to run out of gas and back up a toilet at a hotel and stop up the rain drips with kleenex and spill ranch dip all over your shorts and hit a deer and get pulled over and lose your a/c and drive in the dark and get flipped off and lose your sunglasses and fry your brakes and hate your passengers and spoil your food and have to relieve yourself under an overpass and wish you’d come alone and wish you weren’t alone. And it will be the most glorious and memorable and I-will-never-do-that-again experience you can have…until the next time. So enjoy it.

What are your survival tips for the road?


Tell The Truth Tuesday…

1. I hate talking on the phone.

2. I watched Minority Report and Total Recall for this first time this past weekend. The cities may be mostly CGI, but they are amazing.

3. The engine light on my car came on again, and the vehicle sounds like it has no muffler. So I finally called to schedule a repair. The engine light turned off ten minutes after I made the call.

4. The printer in my office randomly cycles on its own and freaks me out.

5. I’m renegotiating some of our utility contracts at work. 90% of this involves me pretending like I know what I’m talking about. (The other 10% is putting my John Hancock on whatever paperwork they send over.)

Check out my tumblr for this…with .gifs!

Getting past the A’s

“Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry.” — Bill Cosby

I have over a dozen stories/WIPs/scribbles/drool-on-the-page, most written during high school, that feature the lead and/or a main character whose name begins with “A”. Why? Because when I would look for a name, I started at the beginning. Of the alphabet.

I never got very far. I tried branching out, tried starting at the other end, but I couldn’t get away from it. I just liked “A” names!

Until I started actually trying to analyze the names beyond the fact that the spelling looked cool. Was I naming them that because I liked it, or because it was the right name for them? I realized that names should be age appropriate. I tried to get close to my characters by asking questions of the [fictional] friends/family/acquaintances around them. Did Mom still call him by his childhood nickname? Did she realize that he was grown up now? Was she named after her grandma? How did she feel when that grandma died last year? Do her closest friends call her the same name that her family does? Does he like the stigma/class association that his name comes with?

I realized that a name is a lot more than just a place-marker in an alphabetized list. A name is your title, your label, your demise, your cover, your true face, your past, your expectations…

And then another realization: a name can mean something to you that you never communicate to your reader. This isn’t a bad thing. There are hundreds of hours of research and backstory and scene-telling and all else that never makes it into the final draft. What matters is the understanding and the nuance that it gives to you to be able to write.

Maybe your readers will never know that Trish was named after her Grandma Patricia. But it’s the extra layer that reminds you of Trish’s close bond with her family. Maybe they won’t know that Elizabeth’s childhood nickname of “Liz” turned into taunts of “Lizzy, lousy, lazy” in middle school (Little Town On The Prairie, anyone?). But you know that she can’t stand the boy next door for calling her that “Liz”, even though he doesn’t know.

Maybe this is why writing can feel so selfish sometimes? Because it’s like we are sharing secrets with ourselves–one of those hundred little things that’s an in-joke with yours truly.

So, how do you choose your character names? What goes into the consideration of a name?

…Are you past the A’s?

As a postscript:

I’ve really enjoyed using some of the name lists online as a research base for many of my names. Here are a few…

Pros: The name entries are very detailed, with diminutive, feminine/masculine versions of the names, a detailed history, instant popularity stats by country, etc. The site also features many different name lists by meaning, ethnicity, color, theme. It also has popularity lists by year for many different countries.

Cons: The detailed histories/explanation behind the name aren’t very concise.

(For surnames, you can check out their related website:

Pros: Simple explanations, popularity lists, some name lists (including ethnicity ones).

Cons: Too simple? It doesn’t have all the detail level like behindthename does.

This isn’t a name generator. But this is a great place to learn about a name. For a stat geek like me: the rank, most common age, history for US births…I love it. It’s a good place to find alternates of a name you like, and also to check what age your name is currently associated with. You can do this for surnames, also.

What do you use to help you find names?

Road Trip Wednesday #165

This week’s RTW: “Good for a laugh: who is your favorite comedian or funny book and/or movie?”

Comedy…mmm…when I think funny, I usually think family. Growing up in a large family definitely taught me about comedy. The siblings would heartlessly slaughter a poorly-told joke, and it was a feat to get the whole table to roar. You had to learn how to make people laugh. It’s half the reason holidays are such a treat; with the family all together, we can pack enough in-jokes during Christmas to last the rest of the year.

But, in lieu of inviting you to a family meal, I guess I have to pick a favorite? Here are a few…




Okay, so this one is a little obscure. As much as I love some of the current-running strips, I had to include this European holdover from my dad’s childhood. For Latin and English puns, check out these Asterix/Obelix comics – the comedy is heavily language-based, and the humor has survived the translation from the original French.

Runners-up: Johnny Hart’s cavemen in B.C., and the indomitable Calvin and Hobbes




My mom read this book to us kids when we were younger, and the portrayal of a large family and the relating sibling/parent dynamic is accurately hilarious and touching at the same time.

Runner-up: Any of Phil Callaway’s books.




His Girl Friday

I loved this movie. So. Much. It features the epitome of rapid-fire dialogue, encouraging multiple viewings to catch it all.

Runner-up: Princess Bride. The script of this movie can be plagiarized to fit nearly every life scenario.



This one is also a little obscure. I can credit my grandparents for my introduction to Victor Borge; I would go over to their house and we’d watch their VHS tapes from the original public tv showings. These below are two of my favorite routines, although check out his piano-based comedy for a seamless combination of talent and humor.

Runners-up: Mark Lowry, Tim Hawkins, and Laurel & Hardy


So…who can get you into a good mood?

Tell The Truth Tuesday

1. I didn’t have class last night because it was a holiday. I should have been studying…but I wrote instead.

2. I hate coat shopping. Everything is too short in the sleeves.

3. I need to take my car in to get fixed–it drives like a dying sewing machine–but the service engine light turned off, so now I don’t want to because I don’t have an official excuse.

4.  I’m super excited for February to get here, mostly because my budget starts over for the month.

5. I have to drive three hours tonight. Whose idea was it to schedule eye appts and school classes in cities an hour apart? Oh, right, that was my idea. Genius.

Check out my tumblr for this with .gifs!


“Ambition is necessary to accomplishment. Without an ambition to gain an end, nothing would be done. Without an ambition to excel others and to surpass one’s self there would be no superior merit. To win anything, we must have the ambition to do so.
Ambition is a good servant but a bad master. So long as we control our ambition, it is good, but if there is danger of our being ruled by it, then I would say in the words of Shakespeare, `Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels.'”

From These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Road Trip Wednesday #164

YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday: 

Imagine you get to open your own bookstore. What would it look like? What kinds of books would you sell?

Wow, what a question! I’m going into this with the assumption that money is no object, the location is prime, and the market is infinite. Because my ideal bookstore isn’t just a hop-in-and-out sort of a place that survives on the target market doing what it’s supposed to do. My ideal is more of a tourist destination.

First, you need an old home. Tudor style is a plus, with lots of old wood and at least three staircases:

(from here)

The house inspiration came from a Supernatural episode featuring this beauty:


The inset is what it looked like in the Season 2, Episode 11 “Playthings”. I wish I could find photos of the inside.

But here’s what I imagine…

Once you enter,


You’ll have to pick up a map and then feel free to wander the halls to any number of rooms, themed according to genre. (Unfortunately, most of the pictures I could find showed old books…but imagine new releases included, also)





The books sold would be new and used, and people could bring old books to exchange.

After a day exploring, you could visit the restaurant/coffee shop, and we could sit down for coffee, surrounded by books…


I would want the house as much a place to explore as the books…


A place to spend the day relaxing and exploring and reading and loving books


All books would be welcome. The number of rooms means you could host signings and Austen parties and Inklings and whatnot. I could have my own private living space attached to the house, which means the bookstore is my library.

I’d want it all to be more than just a place to buy a good book, but a place to enjoy one, as well. A place to find new treasures, regardless of the packaging.

Not just a book store, but a book house.

What does your bookstore look like?