Friday, May 22, 2015

Travels With Corinne: Journey To Central America

from Jacqueline

If you hadn’t guessed already, this has been a bit of a challenging year for me thus far.  A collarbone injury that refuses to heal, my prolonged bout of severe bronchitis, and having to cancel half my book tour.  There’s more, though I won’t bore you with the details.  But there was a light on the horizon – an adventure planned last November with my friend Corinne, when I thought I would have a healed collar bone in double-quick time, no chest infections or any other illness, no problems with my mother (who needs high risk hip replacement surgery), and nothing to get in the way of my book tour. You remember the saying about how to make God laugh by telling him your plans?  I’ll remember that next time I look ahead at the year and start slotting in this and that with a sense of abandon, playing fast and loose with Fate.  In March, when I complained to my doctor that I had to get rid of the bronchitis quickly, as I had a book tour to finish, plus a trip to England to see my mother ... and a trip to Costa Rica, she looked at me in disbelief and said, “You’re not going anywhere until I say you can!”

The seeds for our expedition were sown many, many years ago, when Corinne and I were in our early twenties. Confirmed travel buddies, we always said we would do a big trip when we hit the big 6-0, which was then the official retirement age for women in the UK – fat chance of being able to retire at 60 now!  Funny how those years whipped by – it was last October when Corinne emailed to say, “When are we going, and where are we going?”  And we set to planning, with one problem to overcome – everywhere we wanted to go demanded either a very long journey for me, or a very long journey for Corinne, who lives in Harrogate, England.  New Zealand, South Africa, India … every exotic country on the planet came up for consideration and was deemed too much for one of us. Then Corinne said, “How about Costa Rica?”  We checked flight times, and – on paper – it seemed that she would only have a couple of hours more travel time than me.  At last, were off to the races! 

 Let’s start with a confession – I am addicted to what I might call “travel porn.”  I subscribe to about four travel magazines, and I am a sucker for a travel memoir. I buy books about places I want to go, and I keep a file of articles on places that interest me.  I pulled out my clutch of papers on Costa Rica, and identified a travel company I thought would fit the bill, Costa Rica Expeditions.  Corinne looked them up on and agreed – they were first class.  All I will say at this point is that Gustavo, our travel planner at Costa Rica Expeditions, has the patience of a saint – graciously dealing with two women, one in the north of England, and one in California, who would email him every couple of days asking if this change could be made, or that outing added to the mix.   Gustavo put together a really exciting trip for us, and soon the day of departure whipped around.  My doctor said, “OK, you can go – but don’t get sick.”

If you haven’t gathered this before, in previous Travels With Corinne posts, it doesn’t take much to kick start fits of giggles when we get together.  My 'plane landed a half hour before Corinne’s, so I was waiting for her when she came through the arrivals hall, and her first question was, “I think I need some colons!”  I started to laugh.  “How about some commas as a side order?” I replied – and that was it, we were off!  The stage for our adventure had been set – this was going to be a lot of fun!  (The currency in Costa Rica should be pronounced “col-on-es” and should not sound like either a part of human plumbing system, or punctuation).

We used American $$$ anyway.

I know many readers will have already visited Costa Rica, so I won’t bore you with the sort of things you can read in any travel magazine, but I want to write about those elements that really struck me during our visit, and some of our highlights. 

Our first day in the country was spent in San Jose, the capital, where we made our way from our lovely old hotel, the Hotel Grano de Oro, into the center of the city. 

We set off for a walk on our first morning, and within one block came across what looked like a street party – I guess it was, and it seemed like a regular Sunday event. The street was sealed off from traffic for several blocks to allow families to come together and enjoy a day out.  One group of kids was playing street hockey using those Styrofoam noodles and a ball, and they were having a blast!  Another group were skateboarding through a series of obstacles put up to test their expertise, and with everyone waiting his or her turn to show off their skills.  And on the next block, the BMXers were getting pretty serious about being the best – it was like being at a rodeo for kids on bikes.  Mothers, fathers, families stood and watched, chatted and shared in the fun – and not one of those youngsters was toting a cellphone or some other distracting piece of electronic equipment (and believe me, it’s all readily available in CR).

And here’s something else I noticed as we walked along – Corinne observed the same thing – that babies under the age of about a year or so were not put in strollers, or strapped to a parent so that they were facing outwards to look at every stranger walking towards them, rather they were carried in their mother’s arms, swaddled in a shawl and held close to the heart.  There was something comforting about that, as if the child were deeply cherished, and even amid the throng, would feel the mother’s (or grandmother’s) arms around him/her. I liked that - it was as if the weight of the child were nothing loving arms could not bear. 

This is one of several statues of what I guess you could call "earth mother" women around the city.  I wish I knew what inspired them - I would love to think it was the close, affectionate mothering of the women with their children.

The next morning began with the part of the tour I was secretly dreading; a flight on a small aircraft from San Jose to Tortuguero on CR’s Caribbean coast.  

You know how I feel about flying – not my favorite thing, which is pretty rich coming from someone who was a flight attendant in earlier years.  That’s when Corinne and I met, becoming flatmates, good friends, and travel companions.  But my love of travel overrides my fears – fortunately.  Yet Corinne could not wait to get into the aircraft, and bagged the front seat next to the pilot immediately. That would be the pilot who appeared as if he had been playing truant from high school to fly us to Tortuguero.  I looked suspiciously at the 5-seater Cessna (including the intrepid aviator), noting the two seats behind the pilot and Corinne, then the small seat tucked into the rear, right in front of the tail.  I gauged the weight of the two other passengers waiting to board, and I thought – with good reason, I might add – “Oh, here it comes.”  Let me first tell you something about me and 'planes – I like to sit as close to the front as possible.   Even my publisher’s publicist knows that I will put up with pretty much everything that might be thrown at me on a book tour in terms of travel, but seat me anywhere beyond about one third of the way down the 'plane, and I might just take myself onto another flight.   And I prefer a window seat, not so I can look out, but so I can close my eyes and burrow down.  I looked at the pilot and said, “I don’t like sitting at the back.”  He regarded me with pleading eyes.  He said nothing, as if he knew I’d understood what was needed.  I held up my hands in resignation.  “I know,” I said.  “You want me in that little seat so the load and trim of the aircraft is within legal limits don’t you?”  “Yes, I really do,” he said. “Or we will never get off the ground.” 

That's Corinne, having leapt into the seat next to the pilot.

As we taxied down the runway I was wondering how I would get out of that thing if we needed to a) abort take-off,  b) crash land on terra firma, or c) crash in the sea.  I figured my plan would be to whack out the window, climb over passenger #3 having shoved him into passenger #4, and either swim or run.  Corinne could get herself out for nabbing that front seat before me!  I must admit, I also took some nice photos – I realized that if I didn’t look out the window, I would have to look at the joins in the metal inside the Cessna, and they sort of moved a bit. 

Thankfully, we soon landed in Tortuguero to be greeted by guides from the Tortuga Lodge, which was situated across the river. They walked towards us with umbrellas (yes, it was raining, a happy sight for someone from drought-stricken California, not so much for a lass from the north of England), then helped us board a small boat to take us to the Lodge, where we were met by a waiter bearing a tray glasses filled with the most delicious blend of fresh fruit juices I have ever tasted.  Ah, now we were in the Costa Rica we had come to see.  Now the adventure would truly begin.   Now we would need the insect repellent.

Next week:  On toucans, teaching English in the village school, a walking tree, lunch with the iguana and white-water rafting to the Pacuare Lodge.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What’s a Southern writer, anyway?

Guest blogger Cathy Pickens

Jim asked an interesting question: “What’s a Southern novelist, anyway?” 

Does that mean a novelist from the South?  Someone who grew up there?  Or can it include those
who have moved to the South and embraced it as their own?

And heck, what’s the South?  Got to answer that before you can say who is really from there.

Does “the South” include Florida, which was too hot before the advent of air-conditioning for anyone to wear hoop-skirted dresses?  And which has a huge population of people who definitely do not have Southern drawls.

What about Texas?  True, as with South Carolina and other states, Texans at one point tried to be their own separate country.  And while they like their conservative politics and love their guns, they’re also proud of their cowboys and barbeque beef brisket and understandably see little need to “be Southern.”  They are, after all, Texans.

What about the people who’ve moved south and claim it as their soul home, the place they were meant to be before some cosmic oversight misdirected the place of their birth? 

[Note: This cannot include the people who move here and proceed to tell us (1) how they did it back home, (2) how much better that was, and (3) why we should change.  Categorically, they don’t belong and should go home immediately.  As Southern comedian Lewis Grizzard famously said, “Delta is ready when you are.”  Sadly, will they recognize themselves in this description?  Unlikely.]

Does being Southern mean loving guns, eating squirrel, cringing at fake Southern accents in Hollywood movies and TV shows, competing in tobacco-spitting-for-distance contests, and going barefoot (either by choice or by poverty)?  I can give you names for each of those examples—as well as names of true Southerners who are the exact opposite.

Does being Southern mean we keep our crazy people on the front porch instead of in the attic?  [Might be onto something here … had family and neighbors that occasionally checked into the mental hospital for a little rest, back in the day.]

For me personally, my Southern bona fides are solid: my family has lived in South Carolina for 300 years.  (As I’m fond of saying, we don’t go far.)  My current home in Charlotte, North Carolina (which sits on the border with South Carolina) is as far north as anyone will let me go.  People say I have an accent, though I don’t know what they’re talking about.  So I’m sure all that has affected what I choose to write.  But is that what defines “Southern writer”?

Does being a Southern writer mean knowing Pat Conroy?  [He and I were in Highlands a few summers ago, working on our novels.  Of course, he didn’t know I was there.  But we were breathing the same air.]
Is it the strength of religion?  The strength of family?  Is it the food (mostly fried)?  Is it the proximity to nature (or the killing thereof, everything from hunting and fishing to logging to strip mining to that more recent phenomenon: mowing down acres to plant shopping centers)?  Is it a history of both extreme wealth and extreme poverty?

Plenty of other regions of the country can boast these attributes.  So that can’t be it …

Maybe it’s the red mud?  [Three of my nephews seem to think so.  See photo.]

Or is it our penchant for storytelling?  Maybe.  We tell and hear stories at home, at church, in the bleachers at the summer softball games, at the local meat-and-three restaurant, while fishing, even at WalMart.  I’ve had strangers walk up to me at the checkout line and start telling me their life stories or showing me their scar tissue.  All the things we love—family, food, church, home, WalMart—seem to involve stories.  And we cherish them, just as we cherish our crazy people.

What does it mean to be a Southern writer?  For me, it means that one day, I may be the crazy cat lady of my neighborhood, wandering the streets at dusk, talking to myself.  And people will let me.  I hope I’m smiling (unlike a couple of other angry-talking, crazy street-wandering women I’ve known).  And I’ve got to get a cat first.  At least one.

But I also get to listen carefully for the stories that fill the air around me.  Can’t say if that’s what makes a Southern writer—though it does seem to be fairly potent air, given our literary history.  I’ll settle for that as a definition—a Southern writer loves where she is, listens carefully, and tries to pass the stories along.

If you want to breathe some Southern literary air, come to the South Carolina Book Festival [] May 15 – 17, Columbia, SC.  It’s free.  It’s fun.  Jim Born and I will be there, along with loads of other writers—some you’ve heard of, some you’ll be discovering for the first time.

Then you can decide for yourself what it means to be a Southern writer.

Bio: Cathy’s first mystery, SOUTHERN FRIED, won St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic Award for Best Traditional Mystery.  In her other lives, Cathy has been a lawyer and business professor at Queens University of Charlotte, former president of Sisters in Crime, on the MWA national board, and president of the regional Forensic Medicine Program.  She now consults with businesses and artists on developing their own creative process.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

James O. Born

Today I'm on my way to Columbia, South Carolina for the South Carolina Book Festival.  My biggest assignment is on Friday afternoon when I teach a two hour class on "How to Write a Novel". I've taught the class before in Columbia and else where.  My blogs over the past 18 months have helped me put my thoughts into a better focus.

Nex week we will continue our look at different genres as we explore southern fiction with Cathy Pickens.  I met Cathy at this very book festival many years ago.  She made the error of laughing at my stupid jokes and now I follow her around like a dog.  It doesn't hurt that her husband, Bob, is an expert on college football.

Just thought I'd catch everyone up and give a little preview of next week.

I have been very impressed with our guest bloggers so far.

What are some of the genres you'd like to see discussed?

Leave a comment or email mail me.

Here's the SCBF listing.  This way it looks like the blog is a little longer.

Have a great Thursday.


Friday, May 15, 2015
1:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Faculty: James O. Born
Carolina Meeting Room A
Or call 803-771-2477 to reserve a space.
The class will deal with general concepts of writing fiction. From idea to publication, this class looks at the elements each writer should consider as he or she prepares for the arduous journey of self discovery and trials of doubt and rejection as a story develops. The class will offer a simple guide to structuring a novel, developing characters and creating suspense.   Thriller writer James O. Born shares his first hand experience and lessons he learned the hard way.  Learn tips such as the easiest way to plot out a story and ways of making a word processor work for you while starting the Great American Novel.
James O. Born is a graduate of Florida State University and received a Master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in Psychology.
Born started his career in police work as a US Drug Agent (DEA) and was part of the late 1990’s Miami drug war. He then moved on to become a Special Agent with the elite Florida Department of Law Enforcement, working undercover and spending eleven years on the agency’s Special Operation’s Team (also called SWAT).
Born has taken his career in law enforcement and love of writing and blended it into a new life as a novelist. After advising numerous writers and TV shows on realism, Born spent years working on a novel of his own. In 2004, Putnam published his first novel, Walking Money. Of all the attention garnered by the novel, Born is most proud that one of his literary heroes, W.E.B. Griffin, picked Walking Money as one of his all-time favorite beach books.
The darkly comic series continued with Escape Clause, which won the gold medal in the inaugural Florida Book Award in 2007. In 2009, he won the Barry Award for short fiction at the International Mystery Writer’s Conference in Indianapolis.
In 2014, Born coauthored the popular Border War with TV commentator Lou Dobbs. His current series is a realistic view of police k-9s. The first novel in the series Scent of Murder, due for release in April of 2015, follows the pursuit of a serial kidnapper and showcases police service dogs.
Each novel strives to bring realism and entertainment together for fans of crime fiction.
Born has delivered talks to a number professional writing organizations as well as taught writing at conferences across the country. He has written articles for magazines and newspapers. In 2009, he was chosen as one of Florida’s 21 most intriguing people by Florida Monthly Magazine.
Born has also received a proclamation from the Senate of South Carolina for his efforts to advance literacy.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Legal Thrillers

Robert Dugoni

Bob is a lawyer and a bestselling author.  His first in the Tracy Crosswhite series was released November 1, 2014 by Thomas and Mercer and became a #1 bestselling title on Amazon, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.  .-Jim Born

I recently attended Left Coast Crime in Portland and was asked, “What makes a good legal thriller?”
            I responded, “Take out the word ‘legal’. What makes a good thriller? In fact, take out the word thriller. What makes a good book?”
The answer, Tension.
Stephen King advocates tension on every page, which, of course, is easier said than done. It’s sort of like the writer’s proverb, “Show, don’t tell.”  Really? Are you really going to write a 400 page novel without doing any telling?  Not possible, in my humble opinion. If you try, you’ll have 400 pages of metaphors and similes, most not very good.
Tension is a tricky thing. Too often I read manuscripts in which the writer has interpreted tension to mean, action. So the writer ends up with a manuscript that is filled with action on every page. This can be as monotonous as the book that has no action at all. In other words, action without tension is boring. It’s also exhausting for the reader. They don’t have time to catch their breath. More importantly, they don’t have time to care about the character’s well-being. The reader expects the protagonist to survive. Where do you go after your protagonist has climbed along the outside of a moving plane, parachuted 5,000 feet using a blanket, and survived shark infested waters?
So here’s my tip for creating tension. It doesn’t start with the plot. It starts with the character. First, if the writer doesn’t take the time to create a living, breathing character on the page that the reader cares about, then all the action scenes in the world won’t matter because the reader isn’t invested in the character’s life. They don’t care.
Think of these two scenarios.  A friend calls you up to tell you that a college friend you haven’t seen in thirty years passed away. You may feel some regret, some sorrow, some nostalgia, but probably not much pain.  Now a friend calls you up and tells you that your college roommate and best friend passed away. That pain is real, deep and pervasive. Why? Because you have invested in that friend’s life. You know his or her spouse and kids. You have the same friends. You vacation together and know all of his or her quirks and wonderful qualities. You cared about that person. You have to make the reader care about your character in some way so that the reader cares whether your character survives the ordeal you will put them through. When you do that, then the action scenes create tension because the reader anxiously wants the protagonist to be okay and come out the side perhaps injured, but still alive.
Try something less morbid. You’re watching March Madness. Two basketball teams from schools you are not affiliated with are playing. How much do you care who wins or loses?  Now you’re watching your alma mater in what is the biggest game in school history. You live and breathe Stanford Cardinal sports. Are you watching the game? Is your leg shaking? Are you biting your nails? Yelling at the referees? Why? Because you’re invested. You want the reader to be just as invested in your protagonist. 
Second, make the character care about their own well-being. I call this giving the character self-regard. This is often overlooked by writers. Think about the books where the action hero really doesn’t seem to take note of the fact that he is doing dangerous things or that people out there are trying to kill him.  He just goes from one bad situation to the next with seemingly little concern. If the character has no self-regard, then it’s hard for the reader to care. So give your character those quiet moments before the battle and then after the battle or before and after a particularly difficult conversation with someone to reflect on the dangers inherent in what they are about to do (physically and/or emotionally), or just survived.

It is in those moments that the reader gets the chance to care about the character and when that happens, you are primed to create a nail-biter of a novel.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not Your Mother’s Romance Novel, or…

Cynthia Thomason

We’ve come a long way, baby

Many of us are old enough to remember the beginnings of the romance novel as a popular genre in American literature. Although romance novels have been around for centuries – just pick up a copy of Jane Austin or the Bronte sisters –  the notion of romance as top selling fiction is a recent one. In the 1970s the “Avon Ladies” began the trend and included such greats as Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey, and Rosemary Rogers. Those were the days of “bodice ripper” covers, pirates and captives, older men with virginal heroines to conquer, and the concept of no means yes. These books sold well, almost as if contemporary women had been waiting for fiction to titillate their senses and validate their need for recognition as sensual beings.

But what about the lady who read these books on the bus? Was she embarrassed by the cover of the book she’d chosen? Did she have the novel hidden in one of those cute flowery cotton book covers? Did she hide her novel behind the pages of Life Magazine? Did she hide the book from her husband and children? Yes, she often did.

But times have changed folks. Today’s romance authors are lawyers, university professors, savvy retirees. And their heroines are no longer virgins, repressed maidens, teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Today’s heroines are pilots, ship captains, explorers, real estate execs, almost any occupation you can think of. Heroines in historical romance fiction are educated, willful, brave, and verbally equal to their male counterparts. And guess what? They like sex! Thank goodness!

Today’s romance novels appear in several sub-genres, enough to satisfy any taste and reading level. Romantic suspense, intrigue, comedy, chick lit, inspirational, or blazing hot – the boy meets girl plot can leave the reader crying into a hanky or turning her light on through the night. And no longer are the plots just simple “catch a rich guy” or “tame the cowboy” themes. Today’s heroines suffer through divorce and battle breast cancer and weight gain. Their children become ill, they experience deep regret and redemption. The stories are full and meaty and true to life. Again, thank goodness!

Marketing departments at major publishers have recognized these trends and have kept pace. Book covers today are often comprised of inanimate objects. Heroes and heroines are most often clothed and resemble the boy and girl next door, though maybe slightly better looking than that gangly guy with braces. So write on, romancers. There is a genre for you and the plot is waiting. Just remember that happy ending. Some things never change.

Cynthia Thomason is an award winning, bestselling author who is active in the Florida Romance Writers.  She started writing in the mid 90's and have since published more than two dozen books in the romance and mystery genres.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When It Comes to Science Fiction: It’s All or Nothing

Warren Hammond

The year was 2001. I’d just finished my first novel, a hybrid of scien
ce fiction and detective noir, and I was in the early stages of seeking an agent to represent me. As a newbie author, I knew my chances of success were low, but I felt I’d written a pretty good book and, as they say, no matter how many rejections you tally, it only takes one yes.
What I didn’t know, however, was how my book fit into the greater publishing world. Taking inspiration from some of the greats like Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, I’d really written a hardboiled crime novel. But instead of setting my story in 1930s or 1940s Los Angeles, I’d set it on a distant colony world in the far future. Great idea, right?
Unconventional though it was, the idea of a SF/noir hybrid wasn’t exactly unheard of either. The most notable success was probably the 1982 classic film Blade Runner. Lucky for me, an agent saw some potential in my work and decided to call me.
That was my first big break. I was on the phone with a real live New York literary agent! Sadly, though, he’d called to tell me why he was not going to represent me. The book had issues. One, it was too long. Two, it had too much talk and not enough action. Three, it wasn’t science fictional enough!
The third one surprised me. I thought I’d done a nice job of walking the tightrope between crime novel and science-fiction novel. But as he explained, even if a novel is only one-percent science fiction, it’s science fiction. Mystery publishers weren’t going to touch it. If we were going to sell it, it would have to be a science-fiction publisher, and the book would be shelved in the science-fiction section of book stores.
He liked my characters, he liked my plot (most of it anyway), and he liked the hyper-noir world I’d built, but if I wanted to get this book published, I’d have to satisfy the expectations of the science-fiction audience. Mostly male. Mostly young. And mostly geeky. To sell it I’d need, and I quote, “More lasers, phasers, or shmasers.”
So with my inner geek fully engaged, I rewrote. And when I sent in my second draft almost a year later, it was received with an offer of representation. This novel became the first in the KOP trilogy (KOP, EX-KOP, and KOP KILLER), published by Tor Books.
It’s fourteen years later, and some of the rules have changed. Urban fantasy became a thing. Same for steampunk and cli-fi. Mash-ups have become more common. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that writers and readers have to meet somewhere, and that somewhere is called the marketplace.

I’ve been fortunate to land contracts despite my habit of blurring the boundaries of genre (my newest is an SF/spy novel), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been flexible. Know your vision and stick to it. But be coachable; you have to be to succeed in this industry. Yeah, I know those last two sentences might sound contradictory, but trust me, they’re not.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Water Witch

from Jacqueline

 I have become a water witch.  Frankly, I believe it was a pledge I had to take as a resident of one of the most water compromised states in the USA. I wish I had a magic wand to bring on some serious, consistent rain across this continent’s parched lands, but I don’t.  No one does.  There is no magic wand, no silver bullet, and it is very, very serious. If you live here and you didn’t know that already, then your head is in the fast deepening sand.  If you are not taking personal measures to conserve water and play your part as a member of a community that needs everyone on board, then you’re in denial.

When my brother – a landscape gardener who originally trained with the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Trust in the UK – first came to live in the USA, he was stunned at the overwatering here in sunny CA. Even though his professional experience until that point had been in the UK, at that time southern England was experiencing its own drought (inadequate rainfall for years, plus the ground was so hard the typical English light drizzle could not impact the water table at all), so he understood the fundamentals of drought tolerant landscape management.  He would tie little notes on trees in LA. “You are killing this tree with over-watering.”  I remember twenty-five years ago he said to me, “Lawns are one of the biggest threats to California – why try to have an English country garden in a desert?”  But there you go – people like their lawns.  I have one, though I am letting it die. Why should I have a lawn when it’s on the cards that we’ll be scrambling for a few glasses of the clear cool stuff to whet our whistles before too long? 

But back to being a water witch. My mantra regarding water is, “Don’t let it go down the drain.”  You may think my measures are over-the-top, but this is just the beginning.  I am on a quest to reduce my water consumption and conserve water to the nth degree.  When I told a friend about my efforts, he said, “Well, up here in the Bay Area we don't have to worry, our reservoirs are 96% full.”  I said, “At the moment.” Summer is all over the place and it’s only April, so with evaporation, increased watering, and the fact that so many people are just hoping the drought will go away, that 96% full will be down to a puddle before you can say, “Turn that hose off!”

 So what is this water witch doing?

I invested in a water barrel for the garden.  It’s a nice one, faux wood, with a stand and a spigot, and though I have yet to get it linked up to the gutter (got to remain hopeful), there is an opening at the top with a filter.  I popped an “organic” mosquito killer in there, and that water barrel is there for my “gray” water, which comes from two main sources – the bucket in the shower, which minimizes water going down the drain, and the water from washing dishes.  Sometimes that water is used immediately for the garden and sometimes it goes into the barrel. And you would be surprised how it mounts up, ready to use for my garden, instead of a hose, which I refuse to use again anyway.  And when they start to ration water one day, or when there are standpipes in the street, at least I will have a few gallons set aside for flushing the loo! ( I am sure I don’t have to repeat the old mantra about when to flush and not to flush, not in polite company, anyway).

I have a timer in the shower, limiting myself to two minutes.  I think that's plenty.

I do not run the water to brush my teeth – in fact, this is an old one. I don’t think anyone does that any more anyway.

I am getting one of those devices that loops water around back into the system while you are waiting for hot water to come through. Even though I save that water anyway, it seems sensible not to risk wasting it in the first place.

Although I am not new to trying to act upon my concerns for the environment, my status as water witch is somewhat recent, so I know there’s much more I can do, and I know people out there have more water-saving ideas up their sleeves – so feel free to share yours. I will be the first to take them on board. We are in this together – for better or for worse, and it seems it is going to get worse, so best we become kin when it comes to water conservation.

That thing there should be a huge no-no right now. They break anyway, so let's ditch 'em.  I know how vulnerable they are because I once worked for a sprinkler-fixing company. Yep, the things you never knew about people!

I believe not using dishwashers could bring a whole generation of kids back to the all-important truly hated chore of clearing the table and doing the dishes.  Then wiping them dry and putting them away – and then taking the dishwater outside and using it on the roses and shrubs instead of having to irrigate with the hose. 

By the way, my mother always puts her used dishwater on the roses – keeps aphids at bay, and her roses are always just gorgeous.

I never run the washing machine unless it is absolutely full, and even then I wonder what I could have washed by hand, just to save some water. Oh, and here in CA – what the heck are we doing with dryers? OK, so who loves ironing?  But with all that sunshine, save energy (and therefore water) by drying outside. I have a clothes airer which is great for drying the laundry, and I live by my friend Corinne’s old mantra about wearing wrinkled clothing, “Oh the creases will come out with the heat of your body.” 

It must have been about 15 or so years ago, I was in England visiting my parents during a drought. Increased house building in the south-east, together with insufficient rainfall had led to a serious situation.  I hadn’t quite grasped this fact, and having borrowed my parents’ car, I thought it was looking a bit dusty when I brought it back, so I dragged out the hose to give it a wash. In an instant my mother came running out of the house, yelling at me to stop.  “That's a £400 fine if the inspectors are driving round and see you doing that!”  What?  Yes, it was so bad, there were local hot lines to report water wastage, and you absolutely would receive a visit and if caught, that was you, £400 worse off.  The threat worked. People did not waste water. Now I come to think of it, perhaps I’m a water witch because my father was something of a wizard when it came to water conservation, even before it was necessary.

He linked the washing machine and all drains from the bathtub and every sink to a central sort of outlet that whooshed waste water right across the lawns and into another receptacle. It wasn’t pretty – a bit mad-scientist, to tell you the truth – but it did the trick.  I was really impressed.  My efforts pale beside such ingenuity.

 Now, do you live in a water-compromised region?  And what are you doing to conserve water?  I’m really open to new ideas, as I build my water-witch resume.

Let's not take this for granted ...

And by the way, this little piece is meant as no disrespect to real water-diviners, who are often known as "water witches."