Monday, September 28, 2015

Critique Groups

Today I'm talking about critique groups. A funny thing happened on the way to the, no, actually it was in an email. ( Apologies to whoever the Greek God was who made that statement.) A friend asked me, "Why are you looking for a critique group? You are published. Four times published. What could a critique group tell you about writing that you don't already know?"

Ahem. Obviously, said friend is not a writer. I do not know everything there is to know about writing. Although...I do know a couple of people who are published and do think they know everything. Their books belie their knowledge.
On the other hand, my manuscripts are far from perfect. No matter how many times I edit and revise, they are far from perfect. If they were perfect, I wouldn't need to have them edited by an editor with my publisher, now would I?

 In 2008, I started a group myself. It was an online group, with seven other women writers who were spread all over the US, and one was in South Africa. We all worked really well together, although over time several dropped out and we replaced them with other writers. Then, last year I was really busy with my own editing, as well as some problems with the publisher I was with at that time, so I withdrew from my own group. It was time, for several reasons.

So now, I'm looking for a new group. So far, I've been invited to two new groups. One was about 5 weeks ago, and was pretty much a disaster. We met at Starbuck's for an hour, which was their habit, and it was fun to get to know a little about these 4 people. Then we went over to the library for the real meeting. Critiques? Well...I suppose you could call them that, with a little bit of imagination. Or maybe a LOT of imagination.

One lady to another lady: "Oh, I just love this story. You have so many wonderful metaphors mixed in it, like this one about the octopus and the congealed dancers. That is just so good!!!"
Say what? 'Octopus and congealed dancers?' Hmm...if you know anything about me, you have a pretty good idea of what I said in response.

Then there was the young girl who used the F-word in every sentence, no matter how benign the rest of the sentence was. When I told her editors probably would not like that at all, since there was no real reason for using that word so much, she politely shook her head, and said, "Well, that's the way this character talks, so it will be fine." Ohhhkay. That was only one of the ways she expressed her displeasure with my critique as we went along. That one pretty much didn't go so well.

Actually, none of them went well. These people did not want to be critiqued on plot, characterization, development of internal/external conflict, ( the lone man asked what I meant by internal conflict), dialogue...well, you get the picture. No one wanted to be told he or she needed work on anything. So, no more of that group.

The next group I was invited to met at one of the ladies' homes. Before I went, I sent them each a long email in which I told them a little about myself, and my writing and publishing history. Then I listed the 10 elements of writing that I critiqued on: plot, characterizations, etc. etc. etc. I wanted them to know ahead of time what I would be looking for, and commenting on. I figured I was giving them enough time to read it, think about their own writing, and then see if they still wanted me to come to the meeting. Apparently, they did, so I went.

Hmm...well, the same young girl with the F-word vocabulary was also there, but she had cleaned up the pages she wanted looked over. There was one youngish man, with kids he had to pick up from school in 2 hours...a single father?...don't know that for sure. The other lady ( yes, with me there are only 4, and that's not a good number for a critique group) had a story of 19 pages so far, and 9 1/2 of those were nothing but narration. No dialogue, no action, no nothing except "telling." When I mentioned that, as tactfully as possible, she told me that she had sent this story in to a contest with 4 agents as the judges, and none of the agents had anything to say about "telling." Obviously, none of the agents was an editor...or maybe not even agents? Anyway, neither this lady nor the gentleman nor the young lady had even the slightest notion what the concept of "show, don't tell" meant.

So now I am faced with a dilemma. I can continue to go back to this group, and spend my 2 1/2 hours with them twice a month trying to TEACH them how to write, and get little or nothing in return, as far as their "critiques" go, or I can once again go on the prowl for a new group.

My problem is: where do I look? I belong to the only writers/authors organization in my entire county...which is very small...and these are two of the groups that are touted on their website. So my choices are very limited.

What do you think at this point in your writing/publishing life about critique groups? Do you think you are beyond them? The major problem I have is that while I believe I can do better with having a group, I can't do better if the people there don't have the same level of expertise I have, or better yet, are above my level.  So far, these groups are far below me, and while that sounds very egotistical, it isn't. People who don't know how to use metaphors, and who don't know what the basic concept of "show don't tell" means, are not going to be of any help to me.
And I don't have the time to babysit them. I don't mean that to be harsh, it's just the way it is. Or as the kids say today...It is what it is.

Well, I'm still looking, and not holding out much hope. Most of the other groups in this organization are held 35 or more miles from me, and that's just too far. Maybe I'll try to form an online group again, but frankly, the idea of a face-to-face, one-on-one group really intrigues me, so I guess I'll just keep looking.

Are you in a critique group? If not, why not?

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thoughts on Life

I am sitting on the patio, caught up in  memories, at the moment all bad. It seems like so many things, big and small, have come our way since January 28th, of this year. The day my son died. It was almost like an omen, a bad one in some way. Jeff would have laughed at that, then gotten serious and said something like, "Mom, if I was going to be an omen for you, it sure wouldn't be a bad one." How true.

Still...about six weeks later, we have our last appointment with the orthopedic surgeon who had made such a serious error in judgment with my husband's surgery 2 years ago. He tells us at this appointment in March that, yes, the hip prosthesis has slipped again, his left leg is now 1 and 1/2 inches shorter than his right leg, but there's nothing he can do about it. With that remark, he leaves the room. Period. Doesn't say goodbye, kiss my foot, go know where...nothing. Just leaves. Both our lives have been changed drastically, Richard will be in a walker for the rest of his life, but this man doesn't even say "I'm sorry," he just leaves.

Three weeks later, we have to have our beloved African Grey parrot put to sleep. She had a stroke a year ago, and is now having small seizures. She can no longer talk...she had a fantastic vocabulary, would even answer questions you asked her...but now the time has come to send her over the Rainbow Bridge, where once again she could fly high and be without pain. We had her for over 20 years, from just 4 months old. I still cry when I look at her pictures.

Other little things keep coming up. Not drastic, but not good. I am looking at Jeff's picture and trying to keep the tears away. I keep hearing this little "tweet, tweet, tweet" in my head. I ignore it.

Suddenly this little bird hops on the table. He looks at me, then hops up on my laptop.
"Hey, hold on there. What are you doing on my computer? Get off, now!"

"No, I don't think so. I like it here. What are  all these little squares for that you have your fingers on?"

"Never mind. Get off. Where did you come from, anyway? And why am I talking to you? As to that, why are you talking at all?"

"Well, I kept trying to get your attention with my tweets. You were ignoring me, so I thought I'd better come out and talk to you."
"Look, I don't know who you are or why you are here. I am having a pity party, I am enjoying it, and I want you to go away. I can't have a pity party with something like you around."

"A pity party? My goodness, that's sounds awful. Why are you sad? You may as well answer me, because I'm not going away."

"Because my son died. Because I had to put my parrot to sleep. Because our lives have changed so much. Is that reason enough?"

"Well, yes it is. But why don't you think about the positives instead of the negatives? You know...the four books you have published. The fact that your husband is still on his feet and not in a wheelchair. The fact that he can still walk, now that he has his shoe lift. The fact that some people have asked you to help them edit their writings before they submit to a publisher. The fact that you have a contract for four more books. The fact that you are in relatively good health for such an old lady. The..."

"Just wait one minute, bird! What do you mean, 'such an old lady'? I am not old, I just have lived a long time."

"See? That's what I mean. That's a positive, isn't it? You don't consider yourself old, just that you have lived a long time. A very long time."

"All right, that's enough. Just shut up. I get the message. Now fly away, fly away home...or somewhere. Just quit bothering me. And don't...ugh! Couldn't you have waited to poop until you got to a tree? Now I've got to clean it up. Thanks a lot."

"Ha Ha. At least, I didn't do it on your computer. So long for now. The next time I tweet inside your head, you better listen to me, or I'll come visit again."

The bird is gone. I think  about what he said, and he's right. Time to stop whining, to start thinking about all that is good and right and positive in my life.

I don't think I am alone in this. "This" being getting caught up in the negatives, and not finding, not trying to find, the positives in our lives. Too many times our lives take a downward turn, and it takes a long time to start seeing the upside of what we have left. Maybe all of us need a 'little bird' to come along and give us a poke or two...or poop to clean jar us out of that pity party mood, and get back to life.

The above scenario happened back during the early summer. At the time, Jeff had been gone for only 4 months, Shadow for less than two, and it still seemed overwhelming. But I have learned to grieve in my own way, but still focus on the positives in my life. And there are many. Now the time has come to get busy with that new book...or books. I still can't make up my mind about writing the sequel to The Freedom Thief first, or the second book in the Beneath the Possum Belly trilogy.

About that little bird: I don't know where he came from. Sometimes my Muse runs off at the mouth, and takes different forms. But for whatever reason, he became a beacon that day, and shone a light down a path I had almost forgotten about, so I am grateful to him...or her...or... whatever. I sincerely hope that all of you have just that kind of "little bird" when the going gets tough, and you need to focus on the positive, instead of the negative. No matter how hard that might be.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Conflict Between Ebooks and Print Books

Most of us have ebook readers, the Amazon kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook,  an iPad, or whatever. I have a Kindle, and four or five years ago, when my husband gave me my first one, I was excited to be able to have  a cluster of my favorite, unread, books that I could even carry around with me. But over time, my excitement has greatly diminished. For one thing, Amazon keeps changing the Kindle, and mine started dying. No amount of battery charging, pleading or even saying a few unkind words would wake it up. To make a long story shorter, I've had three Kindles, and now never use it. I've always preferred print books, and always will. Maybe carrying around a couple hundred novels in my purse isn't such an important thing, after all.

But what has the ebook industry, which, admittedly, bloomed quickly and increased rapidly, done to children's reading and comprehension? Let's take a look at some of the recent statistics put out by Scholastic, the most important analyst of reading behaviors in children from preschool through high school.

In 2010, 32% of school age boys read for fun an average of 5 to 7 days a week. This was after-school reading, and weekend reading. In 2014, only 24% of school age boys read anything for fun, meaning not required as part of school studies, and seldom read on the weekends. This was reading ebooks and print books.

In 2010, only 24% of teens, boys and girls alike, from 15 to 17,  read for fun/entertainment, regardless of whether it was ebooks or print, and by 2014, that percentage was down to 14%.

It was found that the most powerful predictor of reading behavior was not based on the usage of computers, TV, video games, etc., but was based on: 1) whether they believed it was important to read; 2) whether they enjoyed reading; and 3) whether their parents were readers, and/or encouraged them to read. All three predictors were extremely low.

Another important point in this study was the Common Core Standards, which schools throughout the US are now required the follow. The CCS steers kids in all grades towards  reading NON-FICTION, and emphasizes that reading FICTION for fun is not important.

In 2012, the number of children in grades 5 through 12 preferring ebooks for reading outside of school assignments was 57%, but in 2014, that had dropped to 35 %.

What is driving this decline? Were there more ebooks out in 2010 - 2012, thus it was more of a novelty effect? The Kindle was new, the Nook was even newer. Ebooks are also much cheaper than print books, whether paperback or hard cover. It has always been easier and less expensive for parents to buy 2 or 3 ebooks, for the same price as one paperback. But is money the real issue, or is it something else?

The publishing industry is facing similar questions, as analysts discuss whether the rate of ebooks has already hit its peak, and if it is, will the slowing down of ebook sales force the industry to face some painful decisions.

But there is more to this question than sales, especially when it comes to kids. The comprehension level of children reading ebooks drops considerably when compared to reading print books. They are much more easily distracted, and therefore, understand much less of what they have read. Researchers used eye-tracking software to show that paper books are read slowly and comprehensively line by line, but when kids read ebooks, they are so easily distracted by the outside world, they have to go back and read the same lines or paragraphs over 2 and 3 times to obtain the same comprehension level.

Distraction is a big thing in ebooks, both for kids and for adults. After all, there is the signal for new incoming email, another signal for private messages from friends, still another for status updates, and so on. Even adults scored much lower in reading comprehension when reading an ebook against reading the same book in print.

Another problem was the matter of marking a page to remember something important from that page. With a print book, you grab a highlighter and mark the passage, or a pen to make comments in the margin, or as a last resort, you can ever dog-ear the page. None of those simple and easy methods apply with an ebook. First, you have to find the right tool to either highlight or make a comment, then you have to know, or learn, how to use that tool before you can properly apply it. By then, kids especially have often lost the page, and with no page numbers on an ebook, it takes a while to go back and find what you want to mark. Time has passed, kids and usually adults, too, have lost interest in whatever it was, and the page goes unmarked, and usually, unremembered.

So, what is the answer? If you have one, you'll probably earn millions! It is something for the publishing industry to ponder on, and eventually work out, but for this industry, the conflict remains monetary. For kids in school, it will always be a matter of learning, of concentration, of comprehension...all the most important elements in education. Reading for fun? That's important, too, and still remains an issue for parents and educators alike.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Importance of Research

How many times as a writer have you heard the phrase, "write what you know"? One of the main reasons for this line of thinking is that if you are familiar with something to its very core, you'll convey it more smoothly to the reader. Well, that's true, well and good, but what about writing historical stories?

As a writer, you have an implicit contract with your readers. They give you their time, attention, and their money. You promise to give them, in return, entertainment, information, and perhaps even a new idea or two. But as an historical writer, you have an additional promise, and that is to sweep your readers back in time and take them to a world they may not have known even existed.

To do this, you must know the world you are writing about inside and out. Every little detail in your story must be historically correct, and in order to do this, you must RESEARCH. Now, many beginning writers will say, "Well, this is fiction, after all. I don't need to know every little detail. I can make it up as I go along, and no one is going to know." Uh uh. Mark my words, someone is going to know.

No matter how far back in time and history you go, some of your readers are going to be well-versed in it. Galileo didn't carry around a kerosene lantern because kerosene didn't exist then. Benjamin Franklin didn't zip up his breeches because zippers hadn't been invented yet. Little things no one will notice? Wrong! It's the little details like this that will hurt you, turn your readers off, and lead you into the biggest bear trap facing writers of historical fiction--anachronism.

Your research should fall into three categories: historical events, subplots, and lifestyles. What events shaped the years you are interested in? Was it a catastrophic event like the Civil War? Was it the way women were thought of and treated in the 16th and 17th centuries? By all means, use the dramatic events of the era in the story, but don't forget to look for the more obscure events or a new perspective just coming to light in those days. They could add the drama and even mystery to your story that you are looking for.

Now look for the subplots that can add to your plot, or help you develop a major or even a new character. If you do your research properly, and really dig into the history of the era, you can find things like a law against tinkers in Ireland that could provide you with a whole new plot device. Finding an old photograph of a man with a pet bear in a gold camp could suggest a new character to develop, or perhaps give you an idea of a new depth to add to your main character . The point is, the more research you do, the deeper you dive into the morass of history, the more little details you will find that will add to your story, illuminate some aspect of the story, and add historical authenticity to it as well.

The most difficult and time-consuming area of research concerns the lifestyles of the people in the era you are writing about. This is also a most important area. How did people live in those days? How did they dress, men, women, and children? ( Don't forget about the zipper incident ! ) What modes of transportation did they use, what businesses were they in, how did they cook their food? What foods did they eat? Don't forget that refrigeration is a modern invention, and that cook stoves didn't exist the way they do today.

When it comes to this type of research, sit down and write out what your lifestyle is, in terms of eating, cooking, cleaning house, wearing clothes, working, getting from one place to another, and so on. These are the things you need to look for in your research, because they  are the important details of an historical story, so do your research extensively. Don't fall into that bear trap!

One more thing: speech. Dialogue is such an important part of any story, and you need to get the speech patterns of that era correct. Use the expressions people of that era used, but don't overdo it. People aren't going to talk like they do today, but at the same time, you don't want to have your characters speaking in so much regional dialect that readers can barely understand what they are saying. Be correct in the expressions and colloquialisms that people of past eras used, but don't over-burden your characters' dialogue with them.

Remember that every era has attitudes, philosophies, and activities that were specific to that day and time, so look upon your research as something that is necessary but can also be a treasure hunt that will give you color, excitement, and authenticity to your story.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Positive Side of Rejection

The "positive" side of rejection? Oh, I can hear you now! What is positive about rejection? Well, let me tell you a little story. At dinner one night, one of our companions was talking about her granddaughter, and how fantastic a basketball player she had been in high school. Now that she was in college, her basketball days were behind her. "Oh?" I asked. "She didn't want to be in sports in college?" Hmm, it wasn't that she didn't want to, it was that after winning game after game in high school, she couldn't seem to achieve that same star quality in college, so she considered herself a failure, and she quit. OH. She quit.

As writers. we fail a lot. Think about it. How many times do you think you have gotten that story just right, and you send it to your critique group. And it comes back with all kinds of suggestions: your characters are too one-dimensional; your narration concerning you settings is too long and too boring; you have too much telling and not enough showing. We've failed to produce the well-written manuscript that we thought we had. So, we try again. And again. Until finally, the critique group says YAY, submit that puppy!

So we submit. Again and again. We get enough rejection letters to paper our office. Well, those we actually get, that is. There are always those agents and editors that we wait on for a response of some kind for 8, 9 months, maybe 10, and still hear nothing. We have failed. Again and again and again.

Really? I don't think so. Failures quit. Writers don't. We just start writing, rewriting, editing, revising, again. And again. And again. Therefore, it stands to reason we are not failures. Because. Writers. Don't. Quit.

I've heard it said that the pathway to publication can be compared to today's freeways. What do you find on a busy freeway? Traffic. Road blocks because of traffic. Bumps in the road because of traffic. Signs telling you that this lane is closed, merge left...where all the traffic is to begin with. All of which leads to slowdowns and frustration. A lot of frustration. A lot of frustration is the major road sign leading to publication, because waiting and waiting and waiting some more, only to get a rejection or even, hear nothing, is the most frustrating and disappointing thing a writer can go through.

But we are writers, and we WILL become authors Because in order for us to succeed, we have to fail. It's the nature of the beast, and since we can't kill the beast, we learn to live with him, and learn from him.  We may have to feed him a lot more than we would like, but eventually, he's going to get full. And that's when we get that oh so treasured acceptance!

Writers have that personality trait known as sticttoitiveness...and yes, that's a real word. You can call it perserverance or whatever you want, but the point is, writers keep on writing in the face of failure, because we never call failure defeat. We learn as we go, that you cannot have success without failure, so in order to have one, we must accept the other.

General George Patton once said, "I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs, but by how high he bounces back when he hits obstacles." As writers, we're always hitting obstacles, but to finally be successful, we have to bounce back. And the higher we can bounce, the better we can write, and the sooner our success will come.

Here are a few success stories...AFTER their failures:

Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of NBA's Dallas Mavericks: his parents wanted him to have a "normal" job, so he tried carpentry, but he hated it; he became a short order cook, but he couldn't cook; he waited tables but couldn't open a bottle of wine without spilling it. He says, "I've learned it doesn't matter how many times you fail. You only have to be right once."
Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, made into movies: wrote the first Twilight book from a dream, and never intended to publish it until a friend encouraged her. Nine literary agents rejected her, One gave her a chance, and that led to EIGHT publishers fighting for the right to publish the book. Today she is reportedly worth $40 million.
Stephen King: his first book, Carrie, was rejected 30 times, and after the last rejection, he threw the book in the trash. His wife rescued it and insisted he keep on trying. He has sold more than 350 million copies of his books.
Vincent Van Gogh: only sold one painting in his lifetime, yet he painted more than 800. Today his most valued painting is worth $142.7 million.
John Grisham: took 3 years to write his first book, A Time to Kill, and it was rejected 28 times before he got a "yes." Today he has sold close to 300 million of his books.

If you don't try and fail, you aren't going to be able to try and succeed. And that's the "positive" side of rejection.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Those Little Reversals in Life

Isn't it remarkable that most of us go through life totally unaware of the reversals that happen to some along life's journey? What reversals, you ask? Well, let's talk about that.

Role reversal is the most important one that can happen to anyone in life. On a very personal note: my son grew up into a handsome man who married a wonderful girl, had an amazing son of his own, and who expected to always take care of them. But life interfered, as it does so often, and one day, his role in the family was reversed. His wife became the caretaker of him, and of the family, until his death in January, 2015. A role reversal of the saddest kind.

One day I was in the library, browsing among the stacks, when I heard a soft voice say,"No, Dad, that word is "running." You know the word 'run,' so just put 'ing' to it."

Another soft voice, much deeper, said, "He wa...was run...running too far..."
"No, Dad, not 'too far', but it is 'too fast.' Come on, let's try it again." The deep voice: "I don't know, honey, I don't think I'll ever learn again." The sentence was spoken in bits and pieces, with pain evident in each word.

I'm not usually a snoop, but that day I just had to be. I had to know what was going on. I stepped quietly around a couple of bookcases, and stopped. In front of me was a round table and four small chairs, those found in the section for young children. On one of the chairs, stooped over and barely sitting on it, was a tall, thin man with his face in his hands. Sitting next to him, but on the table, was a lovely young girl of about fourteen. Dark curly hair clustered on her shoulders, and her dark eyes were filled with tears. She sat with one small hand on the man's shoulder. "Dad, you will learn again. Look how far you've come this year. I won't let you stop learning until you can read all your own books again." He raised his head and smiled at her. His dark eyes mirrored hers, complete with the tears. He wiped his face with a handkerchief, and got up, slowly and painfully. He held his hand out to his daughter, and they carefully picked their way around the other tables to the checkout counter. He held a Beginning Reader's book in his hand.

I checked out behind them, and as I walked out, I saw the father pointing at various trees, cars, and even a rabbit who came scuttling by. He named them all for his daughter, and she was laughing and hugging him around the waist.

I drove off, with tears in my own eyes. Teacher in reverse: daughter teaching father, and in the same loving, patient way the father had once taught the daughter.

How wonderful. How remarkable. A reversal in life that could have been tragic, but instead, courage, patience, and love was all wrapped up in one beautiful, fourteen year old package.

Reversals in life. What remarkable thing have you seen lately?

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

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.