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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday's Focus: Writing A Crime Scene in a Story

Just recently, I read a mystery story by a new author, new to me and one only recently published. I was both horrified and amused by some of the descriptions of two different crime scenes in the book. Horrified because they indicated the author had not done research into police procedure and investigation, and amused because they were so wrong.

I don't write mysteries as a rule, but my husband and I spent four years in our county's Sheriff's Department as Deputies, and we learned from Academy education and real life experience what constitutes real police procedure and investigation. So I'm going to share some of that experience, in terms of what mystery/crime writers should and should not do.

**To begin with, very few police officers and sheriffs today carry revolvers. True, they are lightweight and fire easily. But revolvers only hold six bullets, as compared to fifteen or more in semi-automatic weapons, like Glocks or Barettas. Semi-automatic weapons have clips rather than single bullets, like revolvers.  Revolvers do NOT eject spent cartridges automatically, they have to be ejected by hand by rolling the cylinder, and then reloaded. If an officer is in a situation where the "bad guy" is shooting back, he certainly doesn't want to be able to only fire six shots, and then take the time to reload his weapon by manually inserting six bullets, one at a time.

** Handguns aren't carried with their 'safeties' on, and they always have a round in the chamber. An officer's gun is always carried at the ready-to-fire position. So please don't have your hero, if he is a law-enforcement officer, approaching a bad guy or a situation at the same time he is getting his safety off or racking a round into the chamber of his weapon. Simply not realistic.

** One of the things I found amusing about this story was one scene where the detective could "smell the cordite" in the room. Sorry, but unless your story takes place in the 1930s and early 1940s, this isn't possible. Cordite hasn't been used in handguns since WW II.

** As I learned in the Sheriff's Academy, officers are not told to "shoot to kill", as most people think even when not reading a mystery story. They are trained to aim at the center mass of the target, especially if it is to save a human life, their own or someone else's.

** Officers do not shoot at knees, arms, or legs to wound. If an officer must use his weapon to stop a suspect, as I said above, he aims for the center mass.

** Please do not have your investigating officer announce to one and all at the scene that the bullet wounds came from such-and-such a gun! They cannot do that just by looking at the wound. It takes the medical examiner or forensic team to determine what kind of weapon was used, and then usually only if they can find the spent cartridge.

And finally...please do not have the FBI "coming in and taking over the case." They don't do that! The FBI can be called in to assist the local agencies involved in a case, but only if they are requested by those authorities.

Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when it comes to procedure and investigation of a crime. But if you, as the author, are writing a mystery story, and you have one or more crime scenes where police detectives or Sheriffs are involved, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Find out what you are writing about, and how to write it, before you begin writing! It will be a much more fun experience in writing, and certainly a more enjoyable reading experience.

Now...having said that...of course we as fiction writers are allowed to twist and turn reality. But that reality must still be logical, it must have enough truth in it to allow the reader to accept it and get past the facts of the matter. So before you go with your twists and turns, learn the factual basics of law enforcement procedures and incorporate them into your story. Don't stretch unbelievability to the point where the reader simply doesn't accept it.

One final thought: the majority of police officers spend their entire career of 25 or 30 years in active duty, and never once have the need to put their weapons and fire.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday's Focus: On The Fourth of July

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 recreation. And 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 loud and spritely marching music will serenade our streets, followed by brilliantly decorated floats carrying beautiful young girls waving majestically to the crowds before them. Strong and 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 bands' instruments put away, the floats dismantled, and the horses bedded down, everyone will go to bed happy, full, and satisfied to wake up the next morning to "just another day."

Is that ALL the Fourth of July is? How many Americans remember just WHAT this day represents?

The year is 1775. 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, 1775, 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 nearby. 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, 1775, 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 be troops in the distance. He turned his horse and galloped away back toward 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 'round the world," as full blown hostilities began between British and American troops at that point.

On July 4, 1776, a draft of what was later adopted as the Official Declaration of Independence from Great Britian 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.

This 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 US, created and ruled by Britain to establish their priorities in the US, 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, Pennsylvannia, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

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

Until next time,
Happy Fourth of July!
That's a wrap.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday's Focus: Sleeping With The Enemy

Are you as an author sleeping with the enemy? This "enemy" is the villain in your story. Are you sleeping with him? If not, you probably don't know him too well, and if you don't know him at least as well as you know yourself, your story will be weak and unconpelling.

Why? Think about it for a minute. Would you accept a dinner invitation from Hannibal Lector? How about going on a cruise with Captain Ahab? Or maybe you'd like to spend the week-end with Voldemort?

What is so right (or wrong) about these villains? Well, you aren't going to forget any one of them any time soon, are you? No, I didn't think so.

Why not? Because two of these villains is a three-dimensional character. Each of these two has a strong history behind them, a history that enhances the character and makes them three-dimensional. Evil for evil's sake is dull and boring, and doesn't provide your reader with any believability. The villain whose only motivation is to do evil over and over again doesn't become real, because no one in real life is totally "good" or totally "evil." With one exception.

That exception is Lord Voldemort, because he is the exact opposite of what every good writer knows a villain should be. Voldemort IS the perfect example of someone who is totally evil. He has not one good or even slightly sympathic bone in his body. His one mission in life is to kill Harry Potter, which he began trying to do when Harry was a mere infant. I think the reason no one will ever forget Voldemort is simply because he is the epitomy of evil, some one who exists for the sole purpose of killing one specific person. He was born evil, he killed his mother, supposedly in childbirth, but as one author said, "Who is to say he wasn't planning on killing her during the nine months of his gestation?" However, he  will be remembered forever in literature simply because he puts the lie to everything I will say, most writers will say, about the villain having to be a three-dimentional character to be memorable.

What is your villain's motivation to do the bad things he does? Why does he put just about every obstacle imaginable in the way of your MC? The very best, the most memorable villain has a reason, a logic behind the things they do. To us, to the hero, this logic may be so faulty as to be unreal, but to the bad guy, it makes perfect sense.

No one is born evil. Er, well, with that one exception. But putting Voldemort aside, villains are born with the same qualities of life that heroes are: intelligent, honest, hard-working, sensitive, empathetic, capable of love and affection. So what happens to your villain to disconnect him from these qualities, and turn him into some kind of despicable person?

Do you remember Wuthering Heights? Remember Heathcliff? What makes him so memorable? His history. His background. He was abused as a child, was never allowed an education, was both despised and feared as much because he was racially different as because of his actions. Yet, even when he becomes a cruel man bent on revenge, the reader still feels drawn to him, still wants, in some small part of their heart, for him to find love. Why is that? Because he had a history. Because we can look into his heart and his mind, and see the reasons he became the villain he was. It was pure logic to him, to get back at those who had made his life a living hell, and we could understand that, no matter that we also hated him for what he did.

You don't want a sympathetic villain. You don't want him to be out-going and likeable. But you do want him to be credible and believable, and to be that kind of villain, he has to have a history. That history should portray him as an intelligent and complex person, who does what he does from a logic that, no matter how twisted it is, is perfectly sound to him, and understandable to us. How he bcomes devious, evil, and bent on destroying everything the hero loves, and quite possibly even the hero, comes from his history, his background, the things he endured growing up, the beliefs he had that were so different from those of the people around him.

Make your villain as compelling a character as your main character. Maybe even more so, but in a less-than-pleasant way. You need to know what he thinks, how he thinks, and why he thinks the way he does, and why this leads him to commit the treacherous acts that he does.

And to do that, you must sleep with the enemy.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday's Focus: Who Are The Heroes?

Today, June 6th, is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the landing of our American troops on the shores of Normandy, France, which was the beginning of the end to World War II and Hitler's empire.

This day has always meant something to me: my father fought in this war, my older brother died in this war, my ex-husband fought in this war, and my husband of 35 years fought in the Korean War. To me, all four of these men are heroes, as are ALL the men and women who have fought, died, or returned home from the wars we have been involved in.

At the same time, it makes me wonder just who are the heroes of today? So many times, sports stars from football, baseball, basketball, and the like are touted by the media as being "heroes." Really? What makes a football star a hero? I guess it depends upon your definition of who or what a "hero" really is...what makes that person a hero.

This is my definition: A hero is a person who willingly, and without a thought of him/herself, makes a personal sacrifice for the sake of someone else, known or unknown.

That is why every single member of our Armed Forces is a hero to me. Because each of these men and women have volunteered to sacrifice their own life, if necessary, in order to create safety for those of us left on the shores of the United States.

That is why each and every member of the First Responders on September 11, 2001, is a hero to me. They willingly and courageously risked their own lives, and many lost them, to save the lives of hundreds of people they didn't know.

So what makes a sports star a hero? Because they single-handedly won a game? Because they scored more points, more home runs, more field goals, than any other member of the team? So what? Where is the personal sacrifice in that? It's just a game where any member of the team could have done the same thing if he had the strenght/ability/opportunity to do so.

The media has called Captain Sullivan, the pilot of the plane that landed in the Hudson River, a hero. Yes, he displayed heroic qualities, but what personal sacrifice did he make to set Flight 1549 down safely in that river? He was concerned for the safety of his passengers and crew, and he performed a courageous act to save their lives, but at no time was he in any more danger than anyone else on that plane. He had the knowledge, the expertise, the ability, and the opportunity to save that plane and all aboard it, and he did so. He is a courageous man, a highly skilled pilot, but not a hero. At least, not in my book.

I have a hero in my family. My daughter-in-law, who has continued to work 40 hours a week at a grueling job as a Medical Assistant at our State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and then come home to spend the rest of every hour of every day taking care of my son, diagnosed almost 2 years ago with FrontalTemporal Lobe Dementia. Under no circumstances has she ever, for one minute, considered having him placed in a facility, in order to give herself more free time and a better kind of life. He is now in Hospice, in the last stages of this disease, soon to be totally bedridden, but because of her love for him, she sacrifices her own health...she has severe Rheumatoid Arthritis...and at times, even her own safety, in order to care for him. Is her life at risk? No, not at all. But she has willingly made many personal sacrifices to keep my son at home with her in order to take care of him. Is she a hero? You better believe it.

Who are the unsung heroes in our midst? How about the four teachers, school psychologist, and Principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who all died defending their students? How about six year old Jesse Lewis, who yelled "Run! to the kids in his class when the gunman rushed in but had to reload his weapon before he could begin shooting again. His first shot went into the head of Jesse, who had waited until everyone else was out the door before he turned to run. Too late.

What about all the grandparents today who are raising their grandchildren because their own kids have left the life of responsibility to drown in drugs, or alcohol, or are in prison for crimes they have committed? These people have made personal sacrifices, some have even had to return to work after enjoying years of retirement, just to raise, for the second time, kids. Of their kids. I could not do it. To me, those who do are heroes.

Where are the values of today's society, who heap praise upon praise for sports stars, celebrities, and other people of note, when they call these people who have done nothing "heroes?" As a society, have we fallen so low that a hero to us is nothing more than someone who has 715 homeruns, or is a celebrity leading an immature and often drug-filled life but who is held up by the media as being a "star?" These are the people our children are supposed to emulate, to be impressed by, to hold up as "heroes?" Not in my book.

Who are your heroes?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday's Focus: America's Homeless Children: Who Are They?

I live in a small town, and I just recently found out that even though it is small, we have SEVEN homeless shelters here. I thought, Do we really have that many homeless people here, in our own little town? That can't be.

Well, it isn't for the homeless just here. These shelters care for the homeless from "wherever", and unfortunately, many are children from infants all the way to teens. The sad thing about the teens, however, is that many are not with their own families. They are runaways, from all kinds of abuse and trauma in their own homes. They are runaways from nothing more than strict parents whose rules they don't want to abide by. And they are runaways from homeless families, where they have left to try and find a better life for themselves, and have failed. Miserably.

Who are these children? They come from all walks of life, all races, religions, and economic lifestyles. There are far too many families who have lost everything since the recession of 2008: jobs lost or downsided; mortgages gone unpaid so the home is lost; no work in sight; no help or benefits from former employers or from the government. In other countries, homeless children are displayed in the media in very graphic and brutal ways, because this is how they are handled. Here in the US, homelessness is underated, it is inconspicuous because no one...NO ONE...wants to talk about it, much less see these homeless children graphically displayed on national TV.

What is this called? Passive resistence? Subtle acceptance of this phenomenon but let's not talk about it and maybe it will go away?

It is the unrelenting silence about homeless children that screams out to us that, yes, we MUST talk about it, it is vital that we talk about it. Even more vital is that we do something about it. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

So let's talk about it, by thinking about the statistics that surround homeless children as opposed to those who are not homeless:
1. They are 4 times more likely to have severe respiratory problems.
2. They have 2 times as many ear infections
3. They have 5 times more gastrointestinal problems, due to hunger and near starvation.
4. They are 3 times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. I wonder why that is.
5. Of Homeless elementary school age children, only 21.5% of them are proficient in their age/class math; by high school, homeless kids have only 11.4% proficiency in math, and 14.6% in reading.
6. By age 12, 83% of homeless kids have witnessed, close up and personal, at least one serious violent crime, like murder, rape, physical assault, and suicide. Appoximately 80% of homeless/runaway kids, male and female, have been raped or sexually assaulted.

Are you shocked by now? I was, although not very surprised. And one other fact: did you know that US homeless children and teens are 17% more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in 25 other countries?

Homelessness results from a variety of factors, but poverty is the most prominent. The poverty level in the US for 2014 is $23,850 or less yearly for a family of four. In 2013, the US was ranked as having the 2nd highest child poverty rates in the world. That same year, 16.7 million children were living in food insecure households ( meaning they went hungry much of the time) or they were homeless.

We are "supposed" to be the wealthiest, most powerful, most well-developed country on this planet. Please explain to me why these statistics are here, and why, today, we still have 1.6 million homeless children?

Mahatma Gandhi said, "Poverty is the worst form of violence."

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

The list goes on, and we all know about it. But let's talk about these children who are homeless for no reasons of their own.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Monday's Musings on Sunday: Memorial Day, A Day for Memories

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. A day for memories, for prayers, for tributes to those who gave their lives so we could live.

Our flag flies at half-mast on Memorial Day. I grew up in a military family, and I married two military men...uh, not at the same time, however. Both fought in wars that this country involved itself in, one, WWII, not brought on by anything we did, the other, Korea, a war we probably should not have intruded upon. But both were out of the service by the time I married them.

My brother was twelve years older than I, and in his first year of college when he decided to enlist in the Air Force during WWII. I was just a little girl, but he was my hero and I was devastated when he left for the service. He signed up for four years, and came home only once during that time. That short leave was one of the happiest times of my life.

In April, 1945, he and his B-17 crew were awaiting rotation home when his best friend, also a pilot, received word from the Red Cross that he should come home immediately, as his wife had been severely injured in a car crash. My brother volunteered to take his friend's last flight, and when his crew heard about it, they all volunteered to fly with him. The mission was over Berlin. It was the last bombing raid before Germany's Hitler surrendered. That morning, fifty-two bombers went out. That afternoon, forty-seven came back. David's  plane, "Lil' Sis", was not one of the forty-seven.

Three days later, I was reading David's last letter to me when a car pulled up in front of our house. A major, a captain, and an Air Force Chaplain stepped out. I had grown up all over the world from one Army base to another, and I knew what that meant. My brother, my hero, was gone, and my life would never be the same.

Today, Richard will put up the flag, and tomorrow it will go to half-mast. For David, for my father, for my former husband, for all the friends we have lost over the years, some not military at all. It will fly at half-mast for my closest and dearest friend who died so very suddenly and unexpected just before Thanksgiving last year, and whose death once again changed my life. And that flag will fly at half-mast not just for us, but for all the men and women who have lost their lives fighting someone, something, that the United States has declared an "eminent danger" to the US...even when it possibly wasn't. It will fly in memory of, and as a tribute to, all those fallen heros.

Will your flag fly tomorrow? Will it be lowered to half-mast? If so, for whom will it fly?

Until next time, God Bless.
That's a wrap.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Friday's Focus on Saturday: Meeting an Antagonist

Welcome to behind the scenes of Cheers, Chocolate, and Other Disasters. This morning I have invited Celine Carroll to come visit, but frankly, I don't know if she will show up or not. She is the young lady who brings disaster after disaster raining down on AJ Devlin's head in the Cheers book. Celine is not a very nice girl...or is she? Mainly, she is an enigma that no one, least of all AJ, can figure out.  Uh oh...I hear a faint knock on the door. Perhaps she has come, after all. Let's open the door, and see.

Mikki: Good morning, Celine. I'm so glad you came. I really didn't know if you would or not.

Celine: walking in with her usual smirk: Why wouldn't I come? Did you think I would be afraid to answer your questions?

Mikki: Here, have a seat. No, I didn't think that. I did think you might consider an interview with your author somewhat beneath you, and not come for that reason.

Celine: sitting down with a flounce and looking around the room, then shrugging: Well, we'll see how it goes, and then I'll tell you if this is beneath me or not. So, fire away.

Mikki: smiling to keep from tearing her hair out: Celine, who are the people you are living with? You know, the ones you refer to as Mom and Dad, when you know your own parents are in prison?

Celine: I don't think that's any of your business. Besides, I've been sworn to secrecy.

Mikki: Oh, not my business, huh? Then suppose you tell me why they chose to bring you to West Haven, Colorado. That is a very long way from Chicago.

Celine: I wanted to meet AJ. Her father sent my parents to prison. I'm going to make her pay for that.

Mikki: But Celine, AJ knew nothing about your parents, or even that her father was involved in their trial. She still knows very little. Why are you seeking revenge on her?

Celine: Well, why not? Someone has to pay, and I can't get to her father. She's the next best thing. Besides, she is so much fun to make fun of. She thinks she has the perfect life, the perfect friends, but when I get through with her, she won't have anything left.

Mikki: You have already made trouble between AJ and her two best friends, Jaime and Julie. They are following you around like you were some kind of Pied Piper, and totally ignoring her. What more do you want?

Celine: Oh, Mikki, for an adult you are really out of it, aren't you. Taking her best friends away, and making all the kids at that stupid school like me and forget about her is nothing. It was just too easy. Just wait, I have more plans for your little miss AJ.

Mikki:  Let's forget about AJ for a minute and talk about you. You are older than AJ and her friends. Why are you in middle school? Why aren't you in high school where you belong?

Celine: giving me a disgusted look: Oh, for crap's sake, Mikki. AJ is in middle school, so why would I want to be in high school where I couldn't get to her? It was so easy for my "parents" to get a fake birth certificate for me, so my age would be incorrect. It was perfect for me to be in the same grade as AJ.

Mikki: Ah, yes, your "parents." Let's talk about them for a minute. I understand that AJ accidentally finds a room in your house that is loaded with all kinds of electronic equipment, as well as a number of telephones. What is that all about?

Celine: Well, since it won't do you any good to know this, I'll tell you. A little bit, that is. The people I live with are not the good little citizens that West Haven seems to be made up of. That is such a boring town! Anyway, they are involved with people who make things happen, that make life exciting. To tell the truth, I really don't know much about their business, but I do know that it is an extension of what my mother and father were into.

Mikki: But your parents were convicted of mob activity crimes. And now you are living with people just like them? How does that fit with you now living in West Haven? Why there and not still in Chicago?

Celine: with her usual smirk back on her face: These people gave me riding lessons, bought me all the right clothes, taught me how to speak as if I'd been living the rich life in New York. They changed me so that I could come here, and pretend to be the person AJ and Jaime and Julie think I am. When I'm through with AJ Devlin, her father will wish he'd never even heard of my parents.

Mikki: So, you're not through with your devilment of AJ. Tell me, Celine, is it true that you are some kind of evil omen, that everything that is happening to AJ right now is all your doing?

Celine: laughing without humor: Oh my, you give me too much credit! I'm an evil omen? Why, no, I'm just this girl with curly blonde hair and deep dimples. How can anyone think I am evil? Celine laughs again, but it seems sinister. How could I possibly bring so many disasters down upon poor little AJ all at one time? An evil omen? I like that, Mikki, I really do. But I have to go now, and leave you and your readers I really an evil omen?

Celine gets up before I can stop her, and saunters out the door, laughing loudly that sound is still ringing in my ears long after she is gone. The interview is obviously over, but I'm left wondering...just WHO is Celine Carroll?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday's Musing: Sticks and Stones...

We have all heard the old saying,"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

I don't know in what century that saying came about, or even from what planet it originated, but it certainly doesn't apply in any world I've ever known about. Words can be the most hurtful, the most deceitful, and the most powerful tool a human being of any age, sex, religion, creed, or color can have.

Everyone remembers "bullying" from the days of the school playground, when the bigger kid wanted the ball or the hula hoop or whatever somone else...someone smaller or younger...was playing with, so he or she just took it from that kid. Or how about the new kid in school, perhaps from an obviously lower "money" ( socio-economic) class, where the others tease and mock him or her because of the clothes he/she wears...or the accent, or the skin color, or maybe even the religion? Have you ever been in a high school situation, for example, where all the "cool" kids got into the top school organizations, became the cheerleaders or the sports heros, and totally ignored you because you weren't the same 'class' as they were?

That kind of bullying still exists today, of course. But now we have something called "psychological" or "emotional" bullying, and it is just as intense. No, that's wrong. It is far worse, because unfortunately, in many cases, it has led to the death by suicide of the young person it is directed against. It is also the kind of bullying that is often called "cyber-bullying", because of the Internet. Messages are sent to the victim by email, or most often, made very public and visible on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other places where kids gather on the Internet. Sometimes there are even websites devoted to the harrassment and embarrassment of the kid.

Emotional bullying is seen as:
  • Name calling
  • Teasing and mocking
  • Belittling
  • Threats
  • Being ignored or excluded from groups and former friends
  • Use of sarcasm
  • Telling lies about the person
  • Passing along things this person supposedly said about another but didn't
  • Humiliating the person
What effect does emotional bullying have on a child of any age? They can become shy and withdrawn, when before they have been happy and outgoing; they can become depressed, never wanting to go out and play or be with friends, always wanting to stay at home or in their own rooms; and in younger children, they can become bullies to their own siblings, taking out their own feelings of hurt on others.

In Teens, especially, there is a marked difference in their self-esteem; a noticable decline in their academic performance; and a definite change in their attitudes. Teens become sullen and hostile; refuse to have anything to do with parents, siblings, or friends; they choose to isolate themselves from everyone around them by staying at home, often even refusing to go to school, or pretending to go and then skipping out.  In time, they even often have thoughts of suicide, and unfortunately, many carry those thoughts out.

In my newest book, Cheers, Chocolate, and Other Disasters, my main character, AJ Devlin, deals with a kind of emotional/psychological bullying. I don't delve into the darkest effects of this kind of bullying, as I don't like to write "dark," but AJ is on the receiving end of several of the above named bullying efforts. How she deals with it, and the outcome, make this an intriguing book for girls ( and maybe their parents) aged 9 to 14. It is available from my publisher, MuseItUp:
and on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

For more information about emotional bullying, here are some good links:

Listen to your kids when they complain about being bullied, find out all you can about bullying in all of its phases, and most of all, LISTEN to your kids...and believe them!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday's Focus: Are You Building a Platform? If so, Why?

Have you ever stopped to realize all the demands that are being made on you, as an author/writer? How many times have you heard or read or been told that you "must" have a platform, and that you "must" build it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked-In, and heaven knows how many other "social networking" sites? How many times have "they" ( whoever they are) told you it's all about getting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and Barnes and Noble, and having 100s if not (preferably) 1000s of followers?

And speaking of "followers," did you know that there are people who are paid to be followers, and that if you have 100s and possibly even 1000s of followers, about 90% of them are paid to follow you? Sorry, but it's true. These are not people who think you are absolutely wonderful. They don't know you, don't want to know you, and could not care less about what you write or even if you write. All the care about is the money they get paid to follow people of every description on Facebook and Twitter.

But I digress. Times change, the publishing business has changed, and even the online world we must live in has also changed. Numbers no longer count. They don't represent how many books you have sold, or how many truly interested people are following you. They have just become cold, hard, meaningless numbers.

What does count is you interacting with real people. Sure, in today's world, those real people are usually on the Internet and may live half a world away from you. But if they are "real" they are truly interested in you and in your work, and you can tell this from the kinds of comments they leave on your blog ( which really IS a must-have), comments made about your posts on Facebook and Twitter. These are the people who have something in common with you, and who are the most likely to go out and buy your books.

But if you are like so many authors/writers today, you're not really concentrating on that. You are pushing like mad to "get the numbers" on your "Like" pages on Facebook or Twitter or Amazon. For what purpose? Do you really believe your 5000 followers ( one of my author friends claims to have this many) are going to buy your book, so at the end of the day, week, month, or year, you have sold 5000 books because of your Facebook followers? Dream on, my friend!

I personally have also been told I "must" do a blog tour, and "must" have a paid company put one together for me. Are you kidding me? First, I am not going to spend money for something like that, with no guarantee of ANY increased sales because of it. Second, those things are horribly time-consuming and exhausting. Some go on for 2 or 3 weeks, every single day, some for even a month. So when do I have say nothing about write? And who, may I ask, gets the money from this tour? well, the company does, of course. I think if you have a tour "host," this person also gets paid. But the people whose blogs you visit don't get paid, and aren't they the ones doing all the work? They have to review your books, write up interview questions, and often even set up give-aways, or figure out contests so you can give a few books as prizes, and so on. Where is the pay-off for them? For that matter, where is it for you? Do you really expect to make the 1000s of dollars from book sales that you probably were told to look forward to by the tour company? I think not.

Then there are the newsletters that you are supposed to do, to help in that platform you are building. Personally, I hate newletters. For one thing, they are often nothing but a marketing device to get me to buy the author's books, and if I already know the author, I either read or don't read his/her genre. If I read it, chances are i've already bought the book or have it on my list to buy, so i don't need a newsletter to push me. If I don't read that genre ( like Romance novels, for example), the newsletter is going to do nothing to encourage me.

For another thing, newsletters are very often nothing more than grocery list of what the author has been doing/writing/selling, and if I follow that person's blog, i already know all of that because it has been on the blog. If I don't follow the blog, it is usually because I don't care about the author on a personal level, so I don't care to read the blog, therefore I don't care to read the same stuff in a newsletter.
A personal opinion, but to me, newsletters are both annoying and a total waste of time.

So is there any good news about platforms? Yes, if you go about it in the right way. Interact with the people who leave comments on your blog, who respond to a post on Facebook or a 'tweet' on Twitter. Respond to every comment left on another blogger's blog when you have been interviewed. You can post about "freebies" or that your books are on sale for $.99, and then respond to anyone who asks about those posts.

You don't have to blog every day. Once or twice a week is sufficient, but make sure your posts have something to say, and if they generate comments, be sure to reply. If you DO want a blog tour, set it up with just a few friends who blog, or a few authors/writers who write in your genre, and have it go on for 5 to 7 days. Period. At the end, make sure you have replied to everyone on each day who has commented, and also, send a small gift of thanks to your blog hosts.

In short: overkill is a thing of the past. Having 1000s of followers is unnecessary and even a little stupid, since you are never ever going to be "known" by 2or 3 thousand people. Have a blog, post on Facebook and Twitter, or any of the other social media, but do it with reason. And do it FOR a reason, not just because some one said this is what you "HAVE" to do. Let people get to know a little about YOU as a person, as well as a writer, but never EVER put personal information out there, thinking it will add to "letting people know you." It WILL come back to bite you in the...well, you know.

Build your "platform" by being honest, compassionate, and true to yourself. Forget now and forever what "they" say to do. Remember,  in social media, as well as in life, a little goes a long way.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday's Focus: What Color Are You?

Several years ago, at a time in my life when hope for all things positive was low, I was asked a simple question: if you were a part of the rainbow, what color would you be? This was my answer:

I would be silver.

Silver is the color of the sky just before the dawn of a new day...the day where we give birth to new creativity.

Silver is the color of ribbons and satin bows and crinkly paper and sparkly thingys on birthday and wedding cakes, where happiness surrounds us and pain and sorrow are univited guests not allowed in.

Silver shimmers in the moonlight when two lovers take long walks into their future together.

Silver sparkles in the raindrops on the ground just as the clouds begin to lift and go their separate ways.

Sliver catches fire from the reflection of the sun as it beams down on the scorched earth below.

Silver dims and tarnishes from the tears that flow in a simple graveyard.

Silver is the color of my mare as she stands poised in flight, on the brink of life, on the edge of death. I miss her so much.

I would be silver.

What color would you be?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday's Focus: Phrases That Kill

Are you a murderer? Do you kill your story with phrases that should never have been written?

Let's get down to some serious business about the writing process. As writers, we all want to catch our readers' attention with words and phrases that will build up the tension, sound great, even look pretty as we write them. But very often, our narration gets so out of hand that the reader is going to throw down the book in disgust, and possibly, never pick up one of ours ever again.

Here are some examples of what I mean by phrases that kill:

Her eyes followed him as he stormed out of the house. I'm sure you've all read this, or something very similar. But what kind of image that does produce? A pair of long-lashed eyes bumping along behind him? Really?

What about this one: His eyes were consumed with passion. Wait a minute...the dictionary says "consumed" means to use something up in such a way that it cannot be recovered. I wonder how he handled being without his eyes once his passion was over? Then there's this one: He claimed he was telling the truth, but his eyes said otherwise. Did his eyes learn to talk as a baby at the same time he did? That should have been interesting for his parents.

She dropped her eyes in embarrassment. Excuse me? I surely hope she dropped them on something soft, like a bed or a thick carpet.

Here is one I read recently from a book by one of my favorite authors: Unseeing, he looked out at the sun setting over the ocean. If he can't see, how can he "look out" at anything?

Here are some more phrases that kill:
Her emerald eyes mesmerized him. What was the rest of her body doing?
Her smokey eyes blazed with fire.  I guess her eyes would be smokey if they were on fire.
Her sultry voice grated on me.  Why? are you a piece of cheese?
His voice came from a long distance.  Long distance? That must have really been hard on his throat.
His eyes caught and held hers. pair of eyes must have been running away to have been caught by another pair.
Her heart sang with happiness. What song was her heart singing? OR:
Her heart wept with despair.  One can only hope her heart had a big hankie. ( Both of these are writers' favorites, and one makes about as much sense as the other.)
I thought to myself.  Excuse me, but to whom else would you be thinking?

Enough all ready! The point is...these are the kinds of phrases we writers need to be on the look-out for. A lot of Romance Writers use phrases like the above, and some even more, uh, descriptive in sexual tones, but I won't go into those here. After all, I DO have kids looking at this blog sometimes!

Think about YOURSELF when you start to write something like the above: would your eyes be falling out on the bed, or running down the street after someone, or would they be on fire?  There are other ways to be expressive, to spark the reader's interest without using a body part as the subject
of a sentence. It just doesn't work.

You are a writer. You are creative. Find another way to say the same thing.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday's Focus: Fun, Fanciful, and Farcical Facts

Today I feel like doing something for fun. In my research over the years, I've run into all kinds of funny, weird, crazy, and even nonsensical "facts." So, just for the heck of it, here are some of them, in no particular order, and relating to nothing in general.

>> Americans purchase more than 20 million pounds of Candy Corn every Halloween season.
>>Uncopyrightable is the only English word with fifteen letters that does not repeat a letter.
>>The only English words that cannot be rhymed are orange, month, silver, and purple.
>>A Texan's ten-gallon hat only holds about six pints.
>>Ninety percent of the world's ice covers Antartica, but the continent is the driest place on earth. (with the exception of California this year.) The average percipitation is about two inches a year, and it has an absolute humidity lower than that of the Gobi Desert.
>>The only state in the US that has never had an earthquake is North Dakota.
>>The number of bones in the human body is 350 at birth, and 206 in adulthood. ??
>>The average office desk has over 400 times more bacteria than a toilet. !!!
>>The body pumps 2,000 gallons of blood 60,000 miles every day.
>>The US motto, In God We Trust, was not adopted until 1956.
>>San Francisco's cable cars are the only mobile National Monument.
>>The shortest war in history was between England and Zanzibar in 1896. It only lasted 38 minutes before Zanzibar surrendered.
>>"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" was written by a German musician, George Graff, who had never even visited Ireland.
>>Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to power a television for three hours; the same can, thrown away, will still be a can 500 years from now.
>>Rycycling one ton of paper saves: 17 trees; 6,953 gallons of water; 463 gallons of oil; 587 pounds of air pollution; 3.06 cubic yards of landfill; and 4,077 kilowatt hours of energy.
>>A hippopotamus can open its mouth wide enough to fit in a 4-foot person. They are the third largest land animal but can still outrun a human.
>>A cockroach can live up to nine days without its head. Yuck.
>>A Poison Arrow frog, indigenous to South American rainforests, contains enough poison to kill 2,200 people, although they are only one half inch in length.
>>Koala bear fingerprints are very similar to human fingerprints, as their fingers and toes have patterned ridges.
>>Contrary to popular opinion, a porcupine cannot "shoot" its quills. They rise up from the back and come out easily enough to embed themselves in predators...or nosy dogs who get too close.
>>Thomas Jefferson introduced brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant to America.
>>Coconut water can be used intravenously in emergency situtations to rehydrate a person, because it is sterile, has an ideal pH level, and is chemically similar to blood plasma.
>>Americans consume 75 to 100 acres of pizza each day, which is about 350 slices a second, and 40 slices per man, woman, and child, a year.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday's Focus: Foreshadowing: Do You Use It?

A hint of what is to come. That's another way of saying "foreshadowing." As writers, we know how important 'detail' is to our stories. But one detail is not the same as another detail. We have to be selective in what we say and how we say it. If we give importance to some small detail in our story, and then go on without ever going back to that detail, we are in trouble and our story is going to cause some definite unrest among our readers.

A favorite author of mine, Sandy Asher, once said, "If a character coughs in Act I, he'd better die of consumption by Act III." Why? Because if you give some kind of importance to a detail at one point in the story, and then never go back to it, never explain why it was important at that particular point, the reader is going to feel cheated. The detail will stick in his mind, and then leaving him wondering "why" is not going to win points and make friends. Or future readers.

Have you ever heard of the literary principal "Chekhov's Gun?" Chekhov was a Russian author who once said, "One must never put a loaded rifle on stage if no one is thinking of firing it." That suggests this scenario: Your MC and her boyfriend spend the weekend in a cabin out in the woods, trying to repair their relationship. As they come in, the boyfriend sees a rifle hanging above the fireplace. He stares at it for a moment, before turning back to the MC.

That is foreshadowing. it is a hint of what is to come. Or should be a hint of what is to come. If you as the writer allow his eyes to dwell on the rifle, but the weekend goes well and the two come home, more in love than ever, that is a wasted moment, a wasted detail that the reader is going to ask, "What was THAT all about?"

But: think about this: the boyfriend is unreasonably jealous, and the girl is tired of it. The weekend does not go well, and they continually fight. Finally, the boyfriend slams out of the cabin, gets in his car and drives off, leaving the girl behind...lying on the floor, bleeding. Then the rifle has become an important part of the story, and the small detail of the boy's eyes dwelling on that hanging rifle has meaning.

When you write about the details of a character or to give insight into the plot, you need to have some idea of why you are writing this. What is the importance of that detail? Is it going to have some kind of meaning later on in the story? Those details are going to stick in a discerning reader's mind, and make him ask, Where is this going? What's going to happen with that? If you don't follow through, and make those details have some kind of result in the plot or with the character, you are just leading your reader on for no good reason.

On the other hand...don't ever use phrases like "Little did she know what tomorrow would bring" or "They thought they were alone. They were wrong." These are "cliff-hangers", usually used at the end of a chapter to entice the reader to go on. ( Incidentally, the last phrase...they thought they were mine, from my current WIP, that, after reading through it, I had to go back and change.) But these phrases and many other like this, are "author-intrusive," meaning that it's only the author acting as the narrator who puts them there.  These phrases don't come from the character's POV, they come out of nowhere and do nothing but irritate the reader.

Foreshadowing is a great literary device, if it is used correctly. However, sometimes we use something that we think is foreshadowing, and it's not. For example, in my story, at the end of one chapter I used the "they thought they were alone. They were wrong." phrases as foreshadowing what came next. But as I started to think about it, I knew I had used those two sentences incorrectly. I went back and deleted them. So you know what I'm talking about, my MC and another character were racing through the woods, trying to avoid the police. They were being observed by another character but didn't know it. So I changed those two sentences to: Above them, the whirring of wings was unheard over the noise of their crashing through the underbrush.

That foreshadows what happens to them in the next chapter, even though it doesn't come until late in the chapter. At least, here the reader has an idea of something that is going to happen, because in previous chapters, this same character with wings has appeared.

The point is: we all give details about the plot, the characters, even the setting. Sometimes in narration, sometimes in dialogue. Write those details in well-chosen words that will give a hint of something to come, words that will create suspense, or that will give the reader information about the character that might not appear again until late in the story. Remember that the purpose of foreshadowing is to make the incidents or events that appear later on in the story meaningful and plausible. You don't want your reader to finish your book, and then feel like some important part of the story was ignored or left unfinished. Plant those foreshadowing details carefully, think them through first, and know where they are going to lead and how you are going to deal with them. Then you can be assured that your readers are going to be fully satisfied with your novel.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Friday's Focus: Subplots and Plot Threads

Most of my writing is pretty clear cut. Since I write mostly for "tweens" ( ages 10-13), there aren't many subplots, maybe one or two, but that's all.

In my new WIP, however, subplots abound. To the point that I've realized that some things need to be changed, rewritten entirely, or perhaps even eliminated. More work, and I haven't even finished the first draft. However, if I don't get those subplots under control, that first draft is going to be one major mess to edit and revise.

Subplots have always kind of defeated me, in that I've never been entirely sure just how to work them in and get them to the end of the story, all tied up in one nice, neat, and logically concluded package. Now, however, I've learned of a new way to think of subplots, and it's beginning to make more sense to me.

How is that? To think of your subplots as threads, instead of subplots. Think of a piece of clothing: the material is made up of threads, right? Each thread has a purpose, but the end result is a solid piece of material. Thus, each thread is singular and important, but eventually comes together and meets every other thread to form a whole piece. Of material, that is.

So, first of all, you have to identify your plot threads. This shouldn't be hard to do, because first of all, any time an event happens that makes the reader want to know "what happens next," that event becomes a thread. Let me give you an example from my WIP: Zahra is talking to Henri. That in itself is not an event, but when Henri hands a note ot Zahra and her face pales when she read it, that becomes a thread. And you as the writer must follow that thread to the end. What does the note say? Why does she turn pale when she reads it? What will happen next?

You need to go through your novel page by page to find those little things you have happening to your characters that don't really count as major issues. When they don't count as major, they still can become important to the story as threads...better known in the past as subplots.

The next thing to do is to count everything you think can be a thread. Events aren't the only things that can be counted as a thread. Suppose your MC is afraid of something happening or not happening: you can't just leave that up in the air, you have to work her fears, whatever they are, into the story and put them to rest, one way or another. Thus, you have another thread...or more, as the case may be, because her fears, or even her thoughts if they can have consequences, become threads. Each of these threads has a life of its own, a purpose, but in the end, it must come together with each of the other threads to combine into a whole. A whole and complete story, that is.

We already know that a simple, straightforeward story line is just that...simple, and usually uncomplicated. Great for a younger kid's book, but totally unacceptable for MG, YA, or adult books. If you are writing an adult book, multiple threads, as in 9, 10, 11, are fine, and intriguing...if you can keep them all straight, don't intertwine them together into a stranglehold, and can keep them going logicall until the conclusion of your story.

If you are writing MG/YA, you had better keep those threads to no more than 5 or 6, and make very sure that they all come together at the end, with no split ends flying around. Kids of any age HATE that, and probably won't ever pick up another book by you, just for that reason.

For all threads, but especially in adult writing where you might have 8 or 9 or even more, you must make sure each thread connects to your main plot.  If the note Henri gave to Zahra has no impact on the overall storyline, and it's just a little love note she wasn't expecting, so she tears it up and that's the end of that, it is not a thread because it doesn't connect to the overall story. However, this example comes from my WIP, and the note absolutely has something important to do with the story, so therefore it IS an independent thread. My problem, therefore, is to make sure I can weave this thread into the basic fabric of my story at the end, to become the complete "garment."

With all your threads, you must do just that: make sure they fit into the fabric of your story, and can be woven into the final design.

If you find you have 'threads' that go nowhere and connect with nothing, you must delete them. Yes, no matter how beautifully written they are, no matter how they glow as independent thoughts or events or even characters, you must kill your darlings off if they don't fit properly into your story. If these threads are fly-by-night wisps of fuzz, then GET RID OF THEM!!

When you ferret out all of these threads, you must understand which ones relate to one another, and will eventually interweave into the final fabric of your story. If they don't do this, they will eventually unravel, and you will have exposed threads hanging out of your completed storyline. Then it will be too late to snip them off.

Confusing? Not really. Substitute the word "subplot" if you must every where I've used thread.It still works. Well, maybe not as an anology for fabric, but no matter what words you use, the idea is still the same: continuity of plot lines, or threads, is very important to your story, and in the end, everything must come together logically so the conclusion of the story is understood, and nothing is left hanging out. Or fuzzy. Or flying around.

Now I must leave you, and go searching for all those threads in my WIP that I'm sure are VERY important to the overall storyline...or not.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday's Focus: Personal: Shattered Lives, Shattered Dreams

They stood huddled together, arms around each other for support, for love, for sharing. One man stood apart, looking at them. Strangely, tears were running down the pale cheeks of the group before him: wife, son, mother, stepfather.

The group had been there for a long time, standing at what seemed to be the edge of the world. They were looking up into the sky. A rainbow shimmered where the sky kissed the earth. It hovered for a while, bringing hope that fluttered back and forth like a fragile butterfly.

Now, the rainbow quivered, and sank below the horizon as black clouds filled the sky. Hope, like the butterfly, was gone.

The group turned, as one, and looked at the solitary man. He took a step forward into the long black tunnel that beckoned him. He smiled because he didn't know, didn't understand that the tunnel had no end, no return.

No cure. No treatment. Those words had pierced the hearts of these people for many months, as they waited patiently, hopefully, for new theories to come forth, new medicines to be discovered. None came. And the words continued to bounce back and forth, almost like a dodge ball game. Except this was no game, this was life. His life.

The man took another step into the tunnel. The group cried out to him, to no avail. Now, he did not know them, did not remember the life he once had. He stepped deeper into the tunnel, not knowing, not understanding this was a journey from which he would not return, and one that he would travel alone.

The journey is almost over. The tunnel has been long, dark, desolate. Those he will leave behind have nothing left now but their memories: the mother remembers  a small, laughing, inquisitive boy: the stepfather remembers a young man with an exciting future, the wife remembers a loving husband; and the son remembers a close and warm relationship with a loving father.

Shattered lives, shattered dreams.
My heart cries. He... is my son.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday's Focus: Finding Filler Phrases and Words

Since I just finished the final edits for my novel coming out in April, and am in the midst of editing my still-unfinished WIP, I thought I would talk a little about those pesky "filler words/phrases" that we all use, and shouldn't.

A filler phrase is the phrase you begin ( usually) a sentence with, that shows the reader what is going on. However, you are doing it through the eyes of the main character...again, usually.

When you use filler phrases, you are taking the reader out of the action of the story, and making her visualize what is happening, instead of showing her what is happening.

Let's talk about a few of these filler words:

1. to see:  I saw the truck run the red light, scattering pedestrians. Without "I saw:" The truck ran the red light, scattering pedestrians onto the sidewalks. You are in the action here, rather than trying to visualize it through someone else's mind.

2.  to hear: I heard the sound of glass shattering, and I knew someone had broken in downstairs. Here there are three different filler words in one sentence: I heard, the sound, and I knew. Without these filler words: The glass shattered, breaking the night's silence. Someone was downstairs.

3.  to realize: She realized there was no turning back, she had no choice but to continue on alone. Without "she realized:" There was no turning back, and no choice left but to continue on alone. However, in this sentence is also the phrase "there was", another of those You can do without phrases. So you could say, She had no choice left but to continue on alone, and do without the "no turning back" phrase.

4.  to seem or seem like:  It seemed like the class went on forever, and I noticed the professor never stopped talking long enough to answer a question.  Without "it seemed like" and "I noticed:" The class went on forever, and the professor never stopped talking long enough to answer a single question.

These are just a few of the filler words and phrases we all use in our writing, and should do without. Listed below are some filler words to watch out for. Add others that you have found to this list.

** to see
** to hear
** to touch
** to sound or sound like
** to realize
** to seem or seem like
** to be able to
** to look or look like or look for
** to feel or feel like
** to notice
** to decide
** to watch
** to listen to or listen for (This is sometimes necessary to the content of the sentence, but not always. Think of other ways to express your meaning before using it. Ex: She listened for his whistle, knowing it meant she was safe. His whistle came softly through the night air. She was safe.)

Remember that any and all tenses of these words count, too. We all use them, and think nothing of it, but if you go through your manuscript line by line, you'll find them. Once you do, try different ways of writing that sentence without using the phrase. You probably will be pleasantly surprised. I know I was, and I give all the credit to my line editor who found those fillers for me...and oh yes, a thousand or so "commas" that I didn't need!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.