Thursday, July 30, 2015

Truth in Imagination

I write for kids, aged 10 to about 16 or 17. Some of my short stories and books are for Middle Grade kids, and some are for teens. I was recently asked if, while I was teaching, I got a lot of ideas for these stories from the kids themselves. Hmm. Well, no, not really. Other than a couple of years working with sexually and physically abused children, I taught at the university level, so my students were juniors, seniors, and grad students. Yeah, there were a lot of stories there, but not exactly the kind you'd want kids in middle school to read about!

I've always wanted to create a world of imagination for kids, but one in which they could find some measure of truth, something that would ring true just for them. I want to write stories that spark the child's imagination, but also those in which the child can find a Truth. A truth about friendships, relationships, family life, the environment, nature, or maybe nothing more than a truth about this specific child and his or her  life.

Let's look at this a different way: when you were reading a story as a kid, and it really interested and excited you, didn't you get lost in that story? Didn't you, even for a short while, imagine yourself as the hero or heroine? Did any of those stories ever make you realize something about real life? If so, isn't that a kind of "truth in imagination?"

Several years ago, I published a short story about a young boy who, after his parents' divorce, had to go live with his father on a horse ranch. The boy hated it. He hated the horses because he was afraid of them. One night during a bad storm, the father had to go into town to get a vet for a newborn foal. He told his son that he was counting on him to get out to the pasture and keep the foal alive until he could get back with the vet. What would the boy do? Would he stay in the house, frightened of both the storm and the mare and her foal, or would he make himself go out to the pasture and take care of the foal? To a young boy reading this story, wouldn't he put himself in the character's place, and wonder what HE would do in the same situation? Would he go outside into the storm and brave an upset mare and her foal? If he did, how would he try to keep the foal alive until Dad got back? And if he simply was too scared to go outside at all, how would he feel about betraying the trust his father had put in him? How would he feel if the foal actually died before the vet could get there? The boy reads on. He finds out what the boy character did, and then he asks himself, "Is this what I would have done?"

The story sparks the imagination. It does more than that. It leaves a measure of truth in the reader's mind for him to figure out for himself. Is that young boy learning something from this story? Is he learning, or at least, thinking about what can happen in real life, and how that might affect him? I never intend to "teach" in the pedantic sense of that word, but I always hope I put a grain of truth into an imaginative story, and that the reader will pick up on it.

Truth in Imagination is just a concept, but in every story I've ever written, and in the three books I've had published, I have always tried to instill that concept and keep it alive and well. What about you? Have you thought about what you write, and how it will affect the child or adult you write for? Even if you have never thought of "truth in imagination" in so many words, don't you put into the imagination that makes up your stories just a little bit of truth somewhere?

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Memories of Things Past

I must be getting very nostalgic in my old age. I was putting some old pictures away in a scrap book and came across a picture of the girl I used to call my "Chinese daughter." She was Chinese, and as a kid from the age of 8 until high school graduation, she and my daughter were inseperable, which meant she practically lived at my house. She had three sisters, one older, two younger, and they all lived with their Chinese father. Her American mother came and went in their lives, and most of that time she was gone.

Anyway, this all brought back some really funny memories. One was of a vacation that I took the girls on to Canada. My son was in college and working in the summer, and didn't want to go on a two week trip with "all girls." My husband was busy, also, so the three of us took off.

Everything was fun and games until we got to Seattle. I had booked all our rooms ahead of time, and in what I thought were some great hotels. Hmm. The room I had booked was for three people. Well, it did have three beds, all lined up like in an Army barracks. ( Growing up as an "Army brat", I was quite familiar with barracks.)

The problem was, in order to get to the third bed, you had to literally climb over the first two. Guess who got that one. There was a closet in the far corner, opposite that infamous third bed, but in order to open the closet door, you had to push the bed out of the way. In order to do that, you had to open the room door, push the first bed sideways out the door, push the second bed over to where the first bed had been, push the third bed out of the way, and then open the closet door. So okay, we didn't need the closet after all.

There was one window. Opposite the third bed, of course. I opened it, and tried to stick my head out to see whatever "sights" there were. Only I could have easily bumped my nose against the brick wall of the building next to us. So much for the "sights." Below was an alley. As to fresh air, that was a matter of opinion. If you didn't object to the smell of over-cooked Chinese food and burnt cooking oil, I guess you could call it "fresh" air. We kept the window closed.

Then there was the bathroom. Which, for a change, you could actually open the door to without moving all the beds. I walked in to take a shower and began laughing hysterically. It seems that the bathroom floor sank in the middle of the small room by about six inches. I thought for sure I was going to slip right through and land naked in the lobby below. When the girls got me calmed down enough for me to actually step into the shower...which was in the bathtub, and that's another story...I started in again. It seems the shower "curtain" was one of these folding screen things that did NOT stretch out to shelter the entire tub when one is taking a shower. Instead, it slid from one end of the tub to the other, but never opened up at all. So there was a space of about four inches that was contained by this so-called curtain.

I finally stopped laughing, said "oh well," and turned the faucet on for the shower, and waited for the water to come out. And waited. And waited. When it finally turned on, it was full force, turning from hot to cold with no help from me, and getting both me and the bathroom floor completely wet. That was the shortest shower on the face of the planet.  When I stepped out, it was into about six inches of water right into the hole in the floor.

We did have a good dinner that wasn't Chinese and it wasn't at the hotel. On the way up to our room, the bellboy accompanied us in the elevator. Bellboy ? Maybe in the 19th century he had been a boy. The girls named him Iago. He was really creepy, and he was always right there, in front of our door. Before we went to bed, we pushed the one and only small dresser up against the door. We left that hotel very early the next morning, and didn't breath a sigh of relief until we were miles away!

Canada is wonderful, beautiful, and full of fresh air! All three of us fell in love with Vancouver. Oh, and our hotel was beautiful, the room was huge, we had three beds we could actually walk between, a big closet we could open, AND no holes in the bathroom floor!

That first night, the girls wanted Mexican food. Really? Mexican food in Canada? Well, okay. We found a Mexican restaurant and it was really pretty. Bright colors, good smells, Mexican music playing softly ( that was a change), and lots of people. We breathed in the smells, smiled at each other, and blithely ordered chicken tacos, rice, beans, and tortillas. Now...we live in California, where Mexican food is practically a staple of our diets. I've also lived in Mexico, so I know something about GOOD Mexican food.

Our dinner was served. Hmm. The rice was coucous, not real rice, and none of us like coucous. The beans were some kind of red bean, but they looked like they were ready to hop off the table. They weren't all smooshed up like real Mexican beans are supposed to be. And there was no cheese melted on top. We just looked at each other, and I said, "Well, I'm sure the tacos will be good." Oh wow. I'm sure the chicken was at least twenty years old when they killed it. If it was even chicken. I didn't want to mention my doubts to two teen age girls, however. You know what hysteria does to a crowded room. At least, there was some lettuce in the tacos, but the rest of the filling was either corn or something that closely resembled corn. To this day, I wouldn't swear to it.

My daughter took one bite of her taco and I thought she was going to spit corn...or whatever...all over the room. At the same time, my Chinese daughter took a bite, and promptly choked. She finally got some sips of soda down, and was all right. Good thing, as I was about to do the Heimlick manouever on her. The girls looked at me in a questioning kind of horror, so I quickly said, "Okay, don't make a big deal of this. I'll pay the check, and we'll go find some hamburgers." They were out the door before I'd picked up my purse.

Before leaving, I took a quick peek under the red-checkered napkin that covered the...tortillas.  I was glad neither of them had looked.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Words That Kill A Story

Writing is all about words. As writers, we're always looking for the best way to express ourselves. We want to use the most descriptive words we can to make our story interesting, exciting, moving, inspiring, funny, or suspenseful. But sometimes, we just go overboard.

We all know about those extraneous words that we should not be using, the ones we should cut the very first thing when we edit. Words like 'that,' 'then,' 'but', 'well,' 'and', and so on. Like the italicized word above...that. Wouldn't you have understood what I was saying if I had written: We all know about those extraneous words we should not be using...Of course you would. So 'that' is completely unnecessary in the sentence.

But it's not just "extraneous" words we shouldn't be using in our writing. There are phrases writers use all the time which simply don't make sense. How many of you have read something like this: Her eyes followed him as he stormed out of the house. What kind of image does that produce? A pair of long-lashed eyes bumping along the walk? Umm...really? In this sentence, there are two such images. "...he stormed out of the house."  In my writer's mind, I can see him creating hailstorms and thunder clouds as he leaves. Is this the image you really want your readers to have?

How about: Her eyes were consumed with passion. The dictionary says "consume" means to use something up in such a way it cannot be recovered. I wonder what this lady did without her eyes when her passion was over? Then there is: He claimed he was telling the truth, but his eyes said otherwise. Do you suppose his eyes learned to talk when he did? That should have been interesting for his parents. Or: She dropped her eyes in embarrassment. Poor thing! I hope she dropped them on something soft, like a bed or a thick carpet.

Here is a favorite of mine, because I've seen it in so many books: Unseeing, he looked out at the setting sun.  Uh, how can he "look" at anything if he can't see?

Some more favorites: Her emerald eyes mesmerized him. What was the rest of her body doing?
His smoky eyes blazed with fire. I guess they would be smoky if they were on fire. do eyes catch on fire??
Her sultry voice grated on me.  Why? Are you a piece of cheese?
His voice came from a long distance. That must have been very hard on his throat. And where was the rest of his body?
His eyes caught and held hers. pair of eyes must have been running away to have been caught by another pair. Come on! Really?
Her heart sang with happiness. A very old favorite because it has been used so much. What song was her heart singing, do you suppose?
I thought to myself. Excuse me? Who else would you be thinking to?

All right, enough already. The point is, when we are editing our work, these are the kinds of words and phrases that need to be eliminated. Think about yourself before you write something: would your eyes drop down on the carpet just because you might be embarrassed about something? Would they be on fire, or chasing another pair of eyes down the street? I don't think so.

You don't want to use a body part of any kind, inside or outside of your body, to be the subject of your sentence. It just doesn't work.

I know, I know. This is fiction we're talking about. And these are phrases we read and write all the time. Usually we don't give them a second thought, but we should. These are cliches. Using a body part to express an emotion...for example, her heart sang with so outdated. It's the kind of thing you read when you read an old time romance novel, which are full of cliches. So be careful in your edits, and if you have written something using a body part...eyes, heart, voice, a the subject of your sentence, rewrite it. Think about all the ways in which you can say the same thing, most probably much better, without using that specific part of your ( her, his) body. Don't give an editor or an agent the opportunity to consider you an amateur.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The First Amendment, Social Media, and Blogs

To Americans, the First Amendment to the US Constitution is probably the most important one of all. That amendment grants us the freedom of speech, the freedom to say whatever we want to way, whenever we want to say it. It carries over into the freedom to write whatever we want to write. With a certain exception, and that is, if what we write is libelous against someone, then that is illegal. But most people don't go that far.

In recent years, social media has become one of the most important parts of our lives, in terms of keeping in touch with friends and family, and allowing Internet strangers to get to know us, and we to know them. But social media has also become a battle ground of discrimination, politics, religion, and perhaps worst of all, bullying.

What does the First Amendment have to do with social media? Aren't we all granted the right to say what we want , when we want, and wherever we want? What so many people don't seem to understand, and most of all, the kids who use this media so viciously, is that with "Rights" comes that other "R" word, "Responsibility." No matter what opinions we have about politics, religion, and people of other ethnic and racial groups, we have the Responsibility to keep our written thoughts  civil. Yet, every day there is something posted on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media spots that is full of hate and self-righteous indignation about something or someone who doesn't agree with that person.

The worst of these is the KIDS and their vicious bullying of another child or teen. How many times do we read in the papers or watch on the TV news about a kid who has killed him/herself because of the extreme bullying on the Internet by both her friends, class mates, and even other kids who don't even know her but are stirred up by others' remarks? They have NO sense of responsibility. But you know what? These kids are not to blame. Their parents are. Their parents who have not taught them the meaning of being responsible for what they say and do; parents who don't monitor what their children/teens are saying and doing on the Internet; parents who have in many instances disengaged from raising their kids, and have turned that responsibility over to others.

Then there are blogs. We all have blogs. You're reading one right now. How much does the First Amendment have to do with what we write on our blogs? Because we are on the Internet, a blog has no expectation of privacy, so anyone can read what we write, either by design, or because someone is just messing around on the Internet and finds a blog by mistake. Aren't we guaranteed the right to speak freely on our blogs? Can't we write about our thoughts, our opinions, anything we think or feel, on our own blogs?

Well, yes. And no. A blog is public. Everything is out in the open for the entire world to see, regardless of whether we want it to be that way or not. We can't expect our most private thoughts, if we post them, to remain private. How we write, the way we say something, is also protected by the First Amendment. it? What about the politically extremist blogs, do they have the right to spew out their racially charged expletives, their lies, their vicious and venomous remarks?

Unfortunately, that answer is yes. The First Amendment even covers that kind of offensiveness. The point is...this amendment gives us the right to say whatever we want to say, wherever we want to say it. But once again, with Rights comes Responsibility. There are so many blogs today, right along with Social Media, that abuse this right to the nth degree. Most of them do so intentionally. Just like the kids that use the Internet, both social media sites and their own blogs/websites, to carry out the intense and vicious bullying that all too often ends in the death of the one who is being bullied.

How far can a blog far will Social Media be allowed to go...before the First Amendment will no longer protect it? Or, in this country, where Freedom of Speech is the FIRST freedom we espouse, will that amendment never recant that freedom, no matter how radical or extreme...or lethal...the speech, written or spoken, becomes? Where do Rights end, and Responsibility begin?

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The 4th of July, 2015

Today is the Fourth of July. A happy day of celebration for most Americans; a holiday where most workers are paid to take a day of rest and relaxation. It is a day of fun, festivity, barbeques, and parades. The laughter of children will ring out over this entire country, and millions of flags displaying our colors of red, white, and blue will fly high in the breezes. Bands with spritely marching music will serenade our streets, followed by brilliantly decorated floats carrying beautiful young girls who will wave majestically to the crowds lining the streets. Handsome horses, their tack and saddles covered in bright ribbons and streamers, will prance down those same streets, occasionally leaving behind little gifts to remind people they were there.

When the parades are over, people will leave quickly to go to the barbeques they are having with friends, family, and neighbors. Millions of hot dogs will be gobbled down this day; thousands of pounds of potato salad will be eaten, and millions of bottles of beer and soda pop will be drunk. When the barbeques are over, the band instruments put away, the floats dismantled, and the horses bedded down, everyone will go to bed happy, full, and satisfied to greet the next morning as "just another day."

Is that ALL the Fourth of July means? How many Americans remember just WHAT this day really represents? How many teach their children that this day is more than fun and food?

The year is 1776. The British Domination of the Thirteen Original Colonies of the United States was becoming unbearable. British armies were being amassed throughout the countryside. British navies hovered off-shore.

On March 23rd, 1776, Patrick Henry stood before the House of Commons and delivered his famous and impassioned speech about fighting for freedom before every man, woman, and child should lay supine upon the floor with a British soldier standing by. His last words of that speech should NEVER be forgotten by any American anywhere:

I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

On April 18th, 1776, Paul Revere, not a fighter but a man of humble upbringing, a silversmith and an artist, was riding his horse about 11 o'clock at night towards Cambridge, when he was briefly accosted by two British soldiers. He saw what he believed, correctly, to be troops in the distance. He turned his horse and galloped back towards Lexington and Colonel John Hancock. Shortly before midnight, he burst into their camp with the news that the British were camped near Cambridge, and he believed them to be on the march towards Lexington.

The story that he came galloping down the road shouting, "The British are coming, the British are coming" is an historical myth.

It is true that shortly after that night, there was a confrontation between British and American troops near Lexington, where at one point they simply seemed to stand and stare at each other, rather than fighting. Then a single shot rang out. History has it that no one seems to know if it was a British or an American who fired that shot, but it has become known as "the shot heard around the world," as full blown hostilities began between British and American troops at that point.

On July 4th, 1776, a draft of what was later adopted as the Official Declaration of Independence from Great Britain was read by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote it. The most famous words of that Declaration are as follows, and should be taught in our schools and remembered by every American now and in the future:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The declaration was not signed by anyone on that specific day, except for John Hancock, who signed his name with such a flourish that it was 5 inches long, and has become an informal synonym for "signature."

The original thirteen colonies of the United States, created and ruled by Britain to establish their priorities in the United States, signed that Declaration of Independence and officially declared themselves free and above the domination of Great Britain and her King. These colonies were the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

As Americans, let us truly remember just what the Fourth of July stands for, the sacrifices made in order for us to celebrate this day, and let us bring forth our happiness NOT just for the local barbeque and parade, but because, thanks to our Forefathers, we have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Today is the 9th of April, 2015, and I have been away from this blog since last July. I make no excuses for that, except that I do apologize for not explaining earlier.

My son's decline into the terrible brain disease, FrontalTemporal Lobe Dementia, became much worse over the summer. Hospice was already working with him and my daughter-in-law, and I helped out every week. Between trying to continue writing, trying to straighten out problems with my former publisher, helping to take care of Jeff, and trying NOT to neglect my husband and my home, posting to the blog seemed then to be the most unnecessary part of my life. So I let it go.

Jeff passed away on the 28th of January, this year. Trying to get on with our lives, trying to cope with a death we had known was coming for almost 3 years, has been a daily, and many times, an hourly struggle. That struggle has not ceased, but it is beginning to lessen just a bit.

I now have a new publisher, and am very happy about that. I have two books out by this publisher, one already in print, another one due out about the end of this month. And I have a 4th book in the hands of an editor, with whom I'm working now.

So...I think I'm back! Posting is still a time-consuming effort, but I'm going to try to post at least once a week, and twice if I possibly can.

I've changed my blog a little, and as usual ( for me) I've run into problems. I'm the most technically challenged person I know when it comes to dealing with blogs or websites...which is why I don't have a website...and I've suddenly lost all my followers. Of course, after being gone for so long, I've probably lost most of them anyway, but now I've lost the "gadget" that allows people to follow me...or for me to see who they are. Plus I now have two "gadgets" on the blog that don't have anything in them...just the word gadget. It just defeats me, so guess I'll be taking my laptop into the Geeks in the next day or so.

Thanks for stopping by...hopefully, you stopped by LOL...and I'll be back next week with a real post.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thursday's Thoughts: Social Media Fakes: Do You Know About Them?

I've been seeing a lot of people on Facebook and Twitter lately who have numerous "likes" and "followers." "Numerous" meaning in the 100s or even 1000s. Really? A newly published author has 5,000 followers in just a few months' time? More than 3,000 "likes" on her author page? Who is she kidding? Well, a lot of people, apparently.

A few days ago, I read a very interesting and enlightning article by David Horowitz, a prominent consumer advocate, about all the FAKES on Social Media sites. Yep, Facebook and Twitter especially.

It seems that you can buy your Facebook and Twitter "likes" and "followers" from any number of organizations who care nothing about their fraudulent business practice. The FCC  (Federal Trade Commission) is actively seeking out this growing global marketplace, but without much success. As soon as they close one down, another pops up, primarily because there are no real guidelines in place, at the moment, regarding this kind of unethical marketing.

Unfortunately, in today's world, honesty and ethics are words in few peoples' vocabularies any more, and it's all about "clout," "value", and "visibility." The growing marketing concern today is all about visibility...the more visibility you have, the more valuable your product...supposedly...and the more money you're going to make, because more people are going to be impressed and therefore run to buy your product, watch your movie, or buy your albums and your books. Thus, "value" and "visibility" take the place of honesty and integrity, and it all comes down to How Many Likes and Followers Do You Have.

The business of selling likes and followers is apparently quite lucrative, primarily because the  business people, celebrities, singers, and authors buying these things are not at all interested in the fact that they are duping the public.

What do you think when you go to, let's say, an author's page on Facebook, and see she/he has several thousand followers and almost as many likes. Does that make you think, WOW! this author must be fabulous! I'm going right out and buy his/her book! WHY would you think that? You know nothing about this person, and nothing about the book. So why would you think she/he is so very great, and her/his book must even top Harry Potter or Twilight? Well, of course, he or she must be absolutely awesome, otherwise, there wouldn't be so many followers and likes on this page.

Oh, really? Did you know that you can BUY 500 followers on Twitter for just $5? So 5,000 followers is only going to cost this author $50. Five thousand "likes" on Facebook only costs, according to one company, $54.99. It's a steal.

Yes, it IS a steal. It is duplicitous and deceitful. It is a business practice, both for seller and buyer, that is completely lacking in integrity and ethics. If that type of behavior doesn't bother you, then be my guest...close in on those pages and revel in someone who "really" has that kind of "following" and page "likes." Buy the product or the book or whatever. Just be aware of the fact that you are also contributing to the practice of deceit and duplicity.

If, on the other hand, that kind of behavior is reprehensible to you, as it is to me, then stay away from those Facebook and Twitter pages, and go buy a book or a product from someone whose pages represent honesty and integrity.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.