Category Archives: Writing

Tools of the Trade

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
― Stephen King

Stephen King is a prolific writer and gifted storyteller. I have to admit I’m partial to his earlier works. I find when talking about the tools of the trade, Stephen’s quote is essential.

The Thesaurus. Most writers will use one at some point in time in their writing life. I freely admit I will use one as the moon turns blue, but it’s not to search for the “right word.” I use it to break up word echoes within my writing. In writing fantasy, I have a sword – a blade. But within a page how many times do I want to write those two words? I may throw in weapon. I may change it to the type of sword (katana, broadsword, foil, rapier, scimitar…) or I may use the word “brand.

The thesaurus is sometimes used by writers who are not avid readers. I’ve found if you are an avid reader, you absorb the words you read and bolster your vocabulary.

The Dictionary. There is never a reason to use the wrong word. When I am reading a story and find someone has misued a word it dulls the experience and makes me call into question their experience and ability.

This goes beyond the “they’re”-“their”-“there” issue (which should never be an issue with someone who is looking to be a professional.) I am talking about someone who misuses words such as “irregardless.” It’s NOT a word people. You may mean irrespective or regardless. But irregardless is irresponsible. Use a dictionary. Look it up.

Books on Writing. There are good ones. There are bad ones. And I’m not going to give you recommendations (though I have read MANY) because what my needs from one of these types of books are may not be what your needs are.

These are books I do recommend for several reasons:
1) Subject Matter. If you have problems with plot, dialogue, characterization or world-building, there are books to address each of these issues. Advice in these areas aren’t gospel, but helpful if you are trying to figure out how to solve the problem you have.
2) Naming. Books regarding names are essential. Names have meanings and that subtle impact of the “right” name – including surnames makes all the difference in the world.
3) Story Starters. Don’t go nutso with these. However, one or two of these books are most excellent for breaking writer’s block, clearing the mind and finding new ideas.

There are some other considerations for writers – tools that can be helpful.

Every writer needs tools in his/her tool box.
Every writer needs tools in his/her tool box.

A small blank notebook. You never know when ideas / inspiration will strike. It’s helpful to be able to jot it down on a moment’s notice. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You just don’t want to have to look for receipts in a purse or use napkins or dollar bills to scribble your ideas on.

A voice recorder works equally as well for many people. Some smart phones these days have this feature. But if you don’t have either available, call yourself and leave a voice message. Don’t lose a good idea because you can’t write it down.

Writing Implement. For all that is good and pure and holy in the universe. I LOVE pens. I’m rather a pen kleptomaniac and have had to learn not to just snag someone’s writing utensil. With that said, a good pen or pencil is vital to any writer. It also corresponds nicely with the aforementioned notebook.

Computer / Software. I prefer to write on a computer using a standard word processing program. I also utilize a writing program for my novel needs. It rather depends on what I’m doing at that moment. There are many different types of software designed for writers and I have several I have used in the past. I’m currently trying out Scrivener. I’m not sure yet if I like it or not. We’ll see.

The publishing world has stepped into the digital age and truly, even if it’s an older computer. I believe that some sort of computer with a word processing program is a tool that cannot be overlooked.

I know much of this sounds like common sense, but sometimes we, the writers, lose our common sense when crafting our work and also forget to eat… which reminds me. I forgot breakfast again.

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The Superbowl, Halftime and Advertising

“The reason women don’t play football is because 11 of them would never wear the same outfit in public.”
Phyllis Diller 

It’s almost time for the Battle of the Titans… figuratively, not literally. In February the Superbowl will again be played.  It will be the first time the game will be played in a non-domed stadium as it will be in the Meadowlands (MetLife Stadium) in New Jersey. This also means that there will be two “host teams” (the Giants and the Jets) as they both play in the same stadium. As this is the first time the game will be held in a non-domed stadium, there is speculations there will be a winter storm / blizzard. Personally, I say, “Bring it on.” Come on folks. Wouldn’t that be just awesome – to have a Snow Bowl?  


And for those who watch the game for the Halftime Show… It’s Bruno Mars. 

I like Bruno, but logistically if it is snowing, it will be more interesting to see technically how that will go down.  I mean Bruno plays guitar and sings. It’s got to be harder to play a guitar with gloved/mittened hands and the cold definitely affects one’s vocal chords. But he has two platinum albums so I think he will be okay. 

And speaking of halftime shows. It’s been 10 years since Janet Jackson’s performance with Justin Timberlake and the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” took hold in pop culture. Her exposed breast during the half-time show almost caused the internet to explode. That bit was better than her actual performance. I believe she meant for it to boost her career, but ten years later, her brother still has more success and she is but a pale reflection with a Jackson name. Timberlake; however, walked away from the incident pretty much unscathed and has had a successful career. Ahhh… Nipplegate. Who will ever forget? 

Finally, let’s talk dough. Commercials for the SuperBowl are $4.0 million each for a mere :30 seconds nationally. That’s some serious moolah. I know a lot of folks watch the game for the ads rather than the game. I go back and forth from year to year – it depends on who is playing and if the ads are any good. This year (2013), in my opinion, the ads weren’t really worth the money. They kind of sucked.  

However, at this time there are some companies already announcing their plans to air ads in the SuperBowl:

Announced Super Bowl Advertisers for 2014:
Anheuser-Busch InBev
Dannon
Doritos
General Motors (Chevrolet)
GoDaddy
Hyundai
Intuit
Jaguar
Mars
Nestlé (Butterfinger)
Soda Stream
Wonderful Pistachios

Anheuser-Busch, Doritos and GoDaddy will probably have some of the best commercials during the game as they usually do. I’ll expect to see some Clydesdales, excessive cheese and Danica Patrick muscled up for starters. 

Rumor has it at least one of the car manufacturers has purchased a two minute commercial time slot. It should be interesting. I believe it will be Chrysler, who is not on the list above, but they have been making heavy national ad purchases lately and if I were to make a guess – it’s them. 

Dannon, Soda stream and Pistachios had better be new and creative otherwise that’s going to be some serious bank that’s just tossed out the window and could have been spent during the Olympics instead.  Now THAT is truly a marketing dream. 

Deliverance

Operation Overlord.

That was the code name for the allied invasion on France – one of the the largest amphibious military assaults in history. It began on June 6th and wasn’t an overnight victory. The battle lasted from June 1944 to August 1944, but in the end the Allies were liberated from Western Europe and Nazi Germany’s control.

It’s been almost 70 years ago since some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five different beaches on the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region.  Just before the assault, the Allied forces conducted a huge deception campaign to mislead the Nazi forces about the intended invasion target. They called it Operation Bodyguard. Months of planning went into this. It worked.

President Dwight Eisenhower was only a U.S. Army General at the time of the Normandy Invasion, but Supreme Commander over the Allied Forces. Think about it. Wow. He rallied his troops and spoke with members of the 101st Airborne paratroopers before the planes and gliders left. (Great photo of this moment btw.)  Paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines during the night when their friends and fellow soldiers assaulted the beaches at dawn. Soldiers braved the pounding surf, crossed the beaches and moved over the seawalls to face the enemy.  Finally the beachhead was secured and they continued on. Men were wounded. Men lost their lives. All in the name of Freedom.

Freedom. Seven letters with a meaning more powerful than most other words known to man.

June 6th, 1944.

As the greatest generation becomes fewer in number and history books become filled with “more important” things, this and future generations don’t /won’t understand the breadth and depth of this date in history.

It’s a date that NEEDS to be remembered.

Without this combined military effort, the world would be a different place.

It was a day of deliverance.

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.” 



It’s been a long weekend at the OK Corral.  I’m still battling this plague that has taken root and refuses to subside.  And with the assistance of the chilluns and my sweet hubby, I have achieved a long awaited goal: shaving down all four fur babies for the summer. Oy! With all of the fur, I’m pretty certain Cruella De Ville would have been pleased with the new coat. 

And speaking of getting the animals ready for another hot, dry summer here in the Panhandle.  I was watching part of a series tonight that intrigues the daylights out of me.  It’s “North America” on the Discovery Channel.  Tonight one of the sequences included the wild mustangs in the southwest US.  Amazing creatures running with their manes flowing behind them across the open land – wild and free.  

http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/north-america

Occasionally I sit and think what the US used to be like. Yes, we have all of the modern “conveniences and luxuries.” However, imagine what it was like for the settlers in their wagons or on horseback.  And before the dawn on email, was snail mail.  We joke about it today, but once upon a time it was the only way to communicate long conversations long distance. 

Pony Express stations were placed at intervals of about 10 miles (16 km) along the route [1], roughly the maximum distance a horse can travel at full gallop. The rider changed to a fresh horse at each station, taking only the mail pouch (called a mochila) with him. The mochila was thrown over the saddle and held in place by the weight of the rider sitting on it. Each corner had a cantina, or pocket. Bundles of mail were placed in these cantinas, which were padlocked for safety. The mochila could hold 20 pounds (10 kg) of mail along with the 20 pounds of material carried on the horse, allowing for a total of 165 pounds (75 kg) on the horse’s back. Riders, who could not weigh over 125 pounds, were changed about every 75–100 miles (120-160 km).

This makes me want to ask really important questions.  125 lbs? How many grown men weigh 125 lbs? Were these adults that ran the pony express? I don’t believe so. I found some information on the internet that indicates boys as young as 11 rode the Express.  Picture it… an 11 year old averaging 10 days on horseback through some of the roughest terrain on earth (From St. Louis to California.)  This totally dispels the notion I had in my head of a big rugged cowboy riding through the open range to get the mail to where it needed to go.  

I believe in many ways the Express was actually the precursor to horse racing.  Today’s jockeys weigh between 115 and 125 lbs, but many try to keep their weight about 110 lbs for the big races (the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.) They also have to be at least 16 years old. 


One of these days I’m going to go to the Pony Express Museum and check out the exhibits and maybe learn a little more about our history. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.  The museum is located at 914 Penn Street, St. Joseph, MO 64503 and also on the web at www.ponyexpress.org

From the Bookshelf…

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” 

– Marcus Tullius Cicero – 

I’m sitting here this afternoon sick as a dog. (Though I wonder what that expression really means.)  I didn’t feel like working on my book today because my concentration is shot to hell and the trips to the bathroom are frequent.  So, I did what any good writer does, I read.  I wanted to take a second though to catch you up on some of my more recent reads.

Because life has been a little stressful lately, comic relief is necessary.  So when I stumbled across “Girl Walks Into A Bar” by Rachel Dratch, I knew I was in for a treat. 


You may have seen her on Saturday Night Live. This former cast member put pen to paper and wrote a fabulously funny midlife memoir about dating and becoming a mother when she was 44 years old. 

She talks about her “high school methods” of birth control and breaking the news to her boyfriend.  I have to say, breaking that news isn’t a fun moment and her recollection of the story is totally relatable. 

I also got an “insiders” look at Hollywood and, just as I suspected, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. 

* * * 


Another great read with characters that spring off the page is “Gone: A Novel” by Cathi Hanauer. 


It’s a pretty quick read.  I got to see inside the minds of both the main characters, Eve and John.  The book is a modern take on marriage and finding one’s self.  I can’t say it’s the “best” book I have read, but it does show some of the trials and tribulations of marriage and family and coping. There were a couple of sagging parts and there were some nutrition / health related subplots that were a little weird for me and I can’t place my finger on “why.” Maybe it was the tone that was used? Maybe that’s just me. My only real concern was the ending appeared a little abrupt, but overall, it’s worth the read. 

* * * 

Finally, I’m reading an old / new favorite – “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling

I came in late on “Pottermania” and didn’t have the opportunity to read the books before seeing the movies. I know, I really should have been shot. 
However, my darling husband bought me the hardback boxed set for my birthday and I devoured them each at least two or three times. However I keep coming back to the last two – “…the Half-Blood Prince” and “Deathly Hallows.” 

It doesn’t matter how many times I read them, I find something new inside.  As a writer, I appreciate her pacing, turn of phrase or visualizations.  Quite remarkable and quite inspiring. 

For those who have NOT read any of the Potter books… for the love of all that is good in the world – do so. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. 
So as I take yet another break to head to the loo, I just wanted to pass on the latest  on the bookshelf / Nook and hope you enjoy the reads as much as I do.   If you’re reading something really good, please share. I want to know… What’s on your shelf? 

The First Fifty

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” 
~Mark Twain, letter to George Bainton, 1888

I am a writer.

I wrote my first story when I was seven years old.  It was a page long and not well written, but I knew then the power of the pencil and Big Chief tablet.  My father, the story-teller, seemed to like it and he tucked it away saved it for a rainy day.

When I was twelve, I began forming the idea for a story that was much longer and more detailed, but I didn’t have the life experience to emotionally connect to the characters. So the characters went on a vacation to Europe for a few years.

I tried to write the story again in high school, but I got “busy” with friends, social activities and writing of another form – journalism. I learned the craft of the who, what, where, when, why and how.  Pieces of craft started coming together and I discovered what I thought I knew, I didn’t really know. So I practiced writing for the school newspaper, song lyrics, poetry and other things that would expand not only my mind, but my style.

After high school came college and then “life.”  It’s trite, but life gets in the way of our plans. So, the Pulitzer in journalism, which I was sure I was going to win, went by the wayside and in its place came a husband, two beautiful children, a few dogs and an assortment of adventures that adulthood brings.

My characters though were growing tired of Europe. However, I wasn’t ready to bring them home, so I created a new bunch of characters and tried writing a story in a genre that was more mainstream and “accepted.”  I use the word accepted because at this point, I had my own demons to battle and I wanted to write a story my family would “approve” of.  It was a hard story to write. There was no emotional connection to the characters and frankly, the story fizzled in a big way. It’s still two-thirds done sitting in the attic collecting dust.

Because of more life changes and other events, I quit writing. I stopped journaling, stopped doodling poetry, and I stopped everything including reading. I went through a personal winter and the soils of my soul needed some time to just lay fallow for a while.  Several seasons later, seeds were planted when I started reading again.

A writer must read.  We get inspiration from what others have written.  You see, a writer is zipping along a good book and then BAM! A word, a turn of phrase, or something else catches our eye and the muse within plants a seed. Further reading waters and nurtures the seedling and before you know it, you have a field of ideas and you just have to harvest them.

After a long and barren winter, I would have to thank too many writers to list that inspired me to pick up the pen and write again. But gone was the notion I had to write to please anyone, but myself, my worst critic. 

My characters rejoiced. They finally came home from their long hiatus and I discovered something about them. They were well-rounded and flushed out from their adventures and living life abroad. They had matured and become more than I had ever dreamed of. Their story isn’t torture to write, it’s in a genre I love and most importantly, I finally found my “voice.”

The first fifty pages are done and some re-writes have already been completed. After all, being a writer doesn’t mean that you slop down some words on paper and submit them. You take what you have written, rewrite them until they are crisp and then rewrite them until they are razor sharp. As a friend told me once, “the writing is easy, the re-writing is a bitch.”

I wanted to share this achivement today because I didn’t know if this day would come. But in being true to myself, it has. I look forward to what the next pages have to offer, what my characters are going to do next and when I get to write the final words that will close out this novel.

Fifty down – a few hundred to go.

Today I realized…

I AM a writer.

Literary Censorship: (Bleep) It All

“There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.”
-Goethe

  

I was reading a news story earlier today about things that are going to be “banned” in various parts of the United States. These items ranged from hugging (cooties?) to milk (because we all know that will kill you), to bake sales and sweet treats (obviously we can no longer have fundraisers that contribute to the obesity epidemic) and the banning of a certain book for students in an advanced placement English class in California. (California? Land of the Liberal?)

The book in question was “The Bastard out of Carolina” written by Dorothy Allison and adapted into a film in 1996.  I haven’t read it, nor have I seen the film, and cannot say one way or the other if a book about an illegitimate teen pregnancy, abusive relationship(s), rape and dysfuncational families should be read by teenagers in school because I don’t know “how” it was written. (I only read the synopsis.) I can’t say I’m thrilled about the idea of my daughters reading it as “required reading,” but then again, I have to wonder if my parents were keen on me reading books from the non-exclusive once banned book list below.

  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (one of the all time favorite books of censors)
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  • A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
  • All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  • A Separate Peace, by John Knowles  

Most of these books I read in junior high or high school and learned much about writing from them. I also learned much about how the authors saw the world and I expanded not only my vocabulary, but my point of view. This is not to say that all of these books should be read by one so young. I didn’t realize that one of my favorite books, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, wasn’t meant to be a young adult book until the other day.

“I wrote ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huck Finn’ for adults exclusively, and it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean.” – Mark Twain –

I do believe that Mr. Twain has a valid point. The things we read and the things we see cannot be unread or unseen. Where is the point of demarcation between censorship and the “protection” our youth? I do not have the answer, nor does anyone else. It’s subjective.

I also cannot say that any of the books I have read as a child warped me beyond measure or maladjusted my thinking, but maybe I am one of the fortunate ones. But in considering this thought, shouldn’t there be books that realign or adjust our thinking?

I want to bring up two cases in point: “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.

According to the American Library Association, as recently as 2010, a parent requested her daughter not be required to read Anne Frank’s diary aloud. Initially, in a Virginia school district, it was reported that officials decided to stop assigning a version of Anne Frank’s diary, due to the complaint that the book includes sexual material and homosexual themes. “The director of instruction announced the edition published on the fiftieth anniversary of Frank’s death in a concentration camp will not be used in the future despite the fact the school system did not follow its own policy for handling complaints.” As a result, the gates of Hades opened and those remarks set of a rush of criticism online and brought international attention to the 7,600-student school system in Virginia. The ALA reported, “The superintendent said, however, that the book will remain a part of English classes, although it may be taught at a different grade level.”

I don’t really give a rat’s tail if there is sexual material or if there are homosexual themes in Anne Frank’s diary. What I do care about is this diary is an unfiltered view of the horrors of World War 2 and Nazi Germany. As they say, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Who better to learn it from than one who lived through the nightmare?

The ALA also reported Harper Challenged at North County High School in Glen Burnie, Md. in 2010 by a small group of parents who circulated a petition to have “Brave New World” removed from use by county schools over concerns about explicit sexual content. The 1932 novel depicts a dystopian future where science and technology have run amok resulting in a morally bankrupt society. (Tell me this doesn’t sound at all familiar.)  Retained on the list of approved materials that Seattle, Wash. high school teachers may use in their language arts curriculum (2011). A parent had complained that the book has a “high volume of racially offensive derogatory language and misinformation on Native Americans. In addition to the inaccurate imagery, and stereotype views, the text lacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society.
I actually found the arguments against “Brave New World” somewhat amusing. This book has been challenged since 1932 when it was banned in Ireland.  Other challenges on this book in the 1980’s led to this book being removed from classrooms in Miller, MO in1980 because it makes promiscuous sex “look like fun.” and  in Oklahoma in 1988 because of “the book’s language and moral content.”  Other complaints were characters showing “contempt for religion, marriage and family” in 2000 and in 2003 another complaint showed parents objected to “adult themes of sexuality,drugs and suicide” that appeared in the novel.

In today’s “politically correct” society, I chuckle because the complaints are NOT about the contempt of family values, but of “racially offensive derogatory language and misinformation on Native Americans, etc…” rounding out with the statemnt that there is no literary value relevant to “today’s contemporary multicultural society.

If they are pissed because of racially offensive language, then we might as well wipe out a LOT of American literature that used the N word (or other words), even though it was “acceptable” once upon a time. In fact, why don’t we just sterilize everything before it goes to print so as to eliminate any possible words that could elicit any kind of response from someone. Today, if someone reads a text that has the word “nigger” in it, it will evoke an emotional response and I think from a historical perspective, that is something that needs to be kept in play.

No literary value?

Who or what determines literary value?

Huxley’s work is genius. If you look at the fact it was written in 1931 and brilliantly depicts a dehumanized life in a futuristic totalitarian state, which is not too unsimilar to today’s times, I can see why someone would want you to think that there is no literary value to this novel.  There are eerie prophetic moments where he describes genetic engineering and biological / technological advancements that take man away from nature. Isn’t that what is going on?  Huxley was a man before his time – much like Jules Verne. Maybe these people are hiding their fear of the prophecy coming to pass behind their politically correct outrage over words written 80 years ago that no one has ever really complained about to the American Library Association.

The one thing of which I am certain: I will never condone the burning or the outright banning of books.  There are many books I will never read for many different reasons; however, to tell an author his point of view has no validity, his muse is mistaken and his writing has no worth is wrong. Sometimes we have to remember that people can be trusted with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values and our children are people too.