How I Found My Voice

Voice is the distinction that makes your writing unique to you. When writing women’s fiction, it’s everything. Readers can forgive a lot, if you tell a story in that particular voice they have come to expect.

There are four authors that I have talked about before, reviewed their books, what I liked or didn’t like. They are (in alphabetical order), Elizabeth Berg, Jonathan Franzen, Scott Spencer and Anne Tyler. These are all authors of great fiction, women’s fiction or everyone’s fiction, and if presented with a paragraph from any of these authors’ writings, I believe I could tell you which of the four wrote it, because I’ve studied each one, and can recognize his/her voice.

Voice comes from that unique combination of environment, and time, and geographic location, along with a bazillion other things that make each writer different from the next. Add to that, the traits of each individual, how one might be introverted and a deep thinker, one might be gregarious and the life of the party, and varying degrees of each of those traits. One is artistic, one is pragmatic, one is a story teller, one is a good listener. One is beautiful, one is plain, one is brilliant, one is of average intelligence. On and on.

Add to that the difference in values over time, the changes in attitude, over the course of, say, the last fifty years. The generation of our parents (“our” being the baby boomer generation), from their constricted you-made-your-bed-now-lie-in-it values to our free love “me” generation. From before women’s lib to after. You can see how the voice of an older person might be way different from the voice of a person thirty years younger.

Each person’s unique experiences add to their voice: the dialects of their birthplaces, the way they were brought up, their education, friends, spouses, children, pets. Their attitudes and beliefs. When you think about that, how every person has a unique set of experiences and traits and environmental factors, then it’s safe to say that every person has a voice, and that voice is different from any other’s.

You just have to find it.

With practice, I believe writers find what works for them and what doesn’t. The first novel may not express it, the second may be a bit better, hopefully by the third, the writer can identify the sound that identifies his or her unique sound, without trying to mimic others. Their tone, cadence, rhythms, choice of words and expressions. Their politics, internal thoughts, hangups and peculiarisms.

I think I have identified mine. From my third novel Perigee Moon (I dropped the “The”), this is a paragraph about Abby, who has recently reconnected with Luke, and they have just had their first, wonderful weekend together, discovered they live within thirty miles of each other, and he has asked her for her contact information. And so she waits for him to call, because she is a product of her time. Who among us women of a certain age can’t remember that angst, waiting for a call that may or may not come?

Abby wishes she’d have asked Luke for his numbers too. It is 2011, after all and women are allowed to call men. She works outside in the garden for an hour or two each day, then goes inside. Maybe he’s called. She checks voicemail, checks caller id for a number which could be his. Monday goes by, then Tuesday. How long did he intend to wait? Maybe he’s had second thoughts, which was always the problem, people had second thoughts, decided no, that hadn’t really been such a good idea after all. By Wednesday, she decides, figures out, that he probably won’t call — if he’d been serious, surely he’d have done it by now — but still she hopes, and when the phone rings after dinner and caller id says “Private” she feels hopeless but answers it, just in case. It’s possible, people could be “Private” too, isn’t it? But it isn’t, it’s the Democrats asking for donations, time or money. No, no! She wants to yell at them. Leave me alone, just don’t ask me about this stuff right now, I can’t think about it. She feels like crying, she’s that disappointed. She pours a glass of red wine, lights several candles in the bathroom and soaks in the big tub until the water goes cold, so she lets some out and adds more hot, something she would never have done, under normal circumstances. Normally, she is conservative, about everything except politics. Conserving water, and heat, and gas, so she doesn’t consume  more than necessary. Recycle, recycle. Recycling is a way of life, preserve the earth, leave it in as good shape as possible, don’t be conspicuous in your consumption of anything.

My style would be longer complex sentences, that sometimes dart off in directions, as sometimes people’s thoughts do, mixed with shorter sentences. I wanted to show the internal conflict of Abby, and how she keeps hoping while feeling it’s pretty much hopeless. She thought he’d call right away, but since he hasn’t she thinks he probably didn’t feel about the weekend the way she did. The author’s voice (mine) comes out because these are things I have thought, and so I think it’s a good example of the disappointment, confusion, and a bit of politics thrown in, to describe Abby and what kind of person she is.

I liked this paragraph after I wrote it. It’s me, it’s my voice. If others don’t like it, that’s all right. People who read different genres may alternately think it’s too brittle, or too sappy. But I’m guessing there are a few who will like it. And that’s what I’m counting on.

10 Problems with Romance Novels

In my new book, The Perigee Moon, one of the characters will be a romance novelist. Mostly it’s for comic effect, but also the premise is that the author loves what she does, and only hopes to help a few romance-starved ladies be a bit happier because of her stories.

I wanted to research romance novels, and strangely couldn’t find any that were written in the 60s and 70s. Apparently these are out of print, and you can’t find them in the library, nor on Amazon. The only place I could find them was eBay.

Here are a few facts I found about romance novels when searching:

  • Many romance novels have the word “Love” in the title. I would guess upward of 40%. The word may also appear in regular  fiction, but not with the same frequency.
  • Romance novels are written according to a formula which must include conflict and sex. If it doesn’t have both, forget it, it will never be published. There are a minimum number of sex scenes allowed and a minimum of crisis points allowed.
  • Romance novels always have a Happy Ending.
  • There are sections at the library, specifically reserved for romance. A red heart on a pink background designates it at a  romance, at least at the library I visit.
  • Romance fiction is the largest share of the consumer market.
  • During economic downturns, the sale of romance novels goes up.
  • It has been identified that many women are addicted to reading romance novels, in the real sense, such that they neglect  their work, their families and ruin marriages.

While waiting for my decades-old romance novels to arrive, I researched a modern romance, thinking that it must be a lot like the older ones, but with more sex. I discovered I don’t really like them very much, at least the one I selected, which I did at random since there were about a billion to choose from.

And besides, an author can learn a lot about writing just from reading, not limited to what is liked but what is not liked. Here are a few things I noted while reading my chosen novel. I only got to Chapter Ten, I had had quite enough by then, and put sticky tabs on the pages where I noted some fun things to blog about.

Names and specifics have been changed to protect the identity of the novel.

1. Show vs Tell. Always, it is taught, show through narrative and dialogue what the character thinks. Don’t tell us. Here are a couple of examples of Telling Extraordinaire. This is common in romance novels in order to set up the conflict that must be there. That’s why romance novels don’t have to conform to the rules of other literature, because they are the soap operas of novels, and we know soaps are never subtle.

  • She shuddered as she felt the full force of feelings she thought she’d buried so deep she would never have to face them again.
  • He realized that he was standing at the bottom of the escalator, lost in memory, blocking other people from getting off…
  • Because he had walked away from her all those years ago, it had cut her too deeply, too completely, for her to risk passion again.
  • His intense nearly black eyes narrowed and he looked at her as though seeing her for the first time, hearing the wistfulness and sensitivity so unlike her usual manner.
  • She was the only woman whose mental and physical response to him had made him reach down to the deepest parts of himself, satisfying needs that were less tangible and more enduring than lust.

2. Overused back story. It’s always convenient for anyone who could have helped out or intervened in a situation in order to make it less  traumatic for the heroine, to disappear. In this case, our heroine is left without either parent at the same time she is left by the bad guy hero and has just learned she is pregnant.

Then her parents had stepped on the wrong airplane and died in the kind of crash that left little to be buried except her own childhood.

3. Lazy descriptions. Yet again, a beautiful woman. Not a subtle way to describe our heroine. It should have been much less obvious. Let’s ix-nay the grimace. And also the rainwater eyes. And who likes pixies anyway?

She grimaced. She didn’t need a mirror to know that she was small, slender, and appealing if you liked pixies. With her pale blond hair and rainwater eyes, she made great photo material….

 4. Too unrealistic. Here he is thinking thoughts that wouldn’t have been in anyone’s head as they contemplate death. He returns  to the story, so he obviously didn’t die, and would more likely have been thinking about how to get out of a rather, um, precarious situation.

When he’d hung head-down over a chasm, looking at his own grave two thousand feet below, it had been her face that came to him, her voice that he heard. He regretted losing her more than he’d ever admitted to himself until that moment, when it was too late.

5. Too convenient storyline. Obviously, the hero doesn’t know about the child, and the heroine isn’t about to tell him, so it’s just a little bit too easy that the kid just happens to be away for a week, thus allowing our hero to remain uninformed as to the existence of his offspring. And the “Oh wait! Now I remember!” is a bit of an eye-roller.

A quick glance at her watch told her that she still had plenty of time to pick up her daughter at the ranch, which served as a school bus stop. Then she remembered that Annie was spending the week with her closest friend, at the ranch.

6. Sappy metaphors, or putting to good use. The following is after the heroine has poured water on the seats of a  hot Jeep that has sat out in the Arizona (or some Southwestern state) sun in mid afternoon.

She wished she had something as useful to pour on her smoldering memories.

7. Typical sex scenes. Romance novels describe sex in more detail than other literary works, which allude to it (preferred) rather  than expound on it. It’s also common practice to use cute phrases for body parts like “button”. Romance novels are not explicit like erotica, but impart way too much information. We all know how it’s done, we don’t need it ‘splained. I especially like “pouting promise”. Ah, alliteration.

  • He’d kissed her then, a kiss that had narrowed the world to the heat and hunger of their joined mouths.
  • He wanted to pour himself into her, filling her until she overflowed and turned to him with her own need, her own demand that he be part of her until they were one and that one burned with an endless fire.
  • Finally, lured by the pouting promise of her breasts, he pulled his mouth away from hers.

8. Conflict that is too extravagant. The whole premise of this story is trumped up to make the differences between the couple so drastic there can’t possibly be a solution.

  • (Our heroine reflecting on the hero leaving years ago) Then he’d walked away without a backward look, never calling, never writing, tearing out her heart and leaving her to bleed in silence.
  • (Meanwhile this is what our hero is thinking) Emotion shook him, a fury he hadn’t felt since he’d discovered that she had aborted their baby.
  • Hate him. Hug him. Scream at him. Soothe the lines of exhaustion from his face. Take a piece of muddy rope and strangle him. Kiss him like the world was burning down around her.

 9. Dialogue that is unbelievable. This is said by another guy to our hero for the sole purpose of informing the reader that the hero is one smart guy! It’s the author’s attempt to show through dialogue I think, but it doesn’t ring true. No one would say this.

I’m a real fan. You’re the only writer I’ve ever found who was as accurate as he was exciting to read. The story you did on the discrepancies and order of precedence between drawings and specifications was nothing short of brilliant.

10. Men saying or thinking things that, in the real world, they never would.

My God! Did I hurt her so badly that she refused to trust anyone after me? Did she really mean it when she cried out her love in my arms?

I hope I do not offend any romance novel lovers with my critique. Likely, there are good and well, not so good, ones. The one depicted here is in the latter category.

What do you think about romance novels?


NaNoWriMo – Writing on a Deadline and The Snowflake Method

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) occurs every November, for the entire month. I’ve signed up for it, which doesn’t mean much really. No one is watching how much I produce, but the idea is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

It’s all about quantity not quality. Mostly, experts agree that it is good to first get the story down on paper without paying attention to editing or making sure it’s “pretty”. That comes later.

50,000 words is a novella length, most books are over 100,000 words in length. My two books were upwards of that, 138,000 for Whatever Happened To Lily? and 150,000 for Second Stories. These books would both be considered too long by industry standards. An agent wouldn’t even look at a manuscript over 110,000 words. That would be for a non-classic: a romance novel, a cozy mystery, chick lit, contemporary fiction. But, of course, if you’re Jonathan Franzen, or some other extremely successful author, there is no limitation on the number of words you are allowed.

My next book will be more than 110,000 words so I’m hoping to write even more than the 50,000 words recommended by NaNoWriMo. To help me do that, I’ve been using the Snowflake Method, and if I can get all my outlining done, and notes written by the end of October, I’m going to try to write 2,000 words (average) per day.

Taking out one day when I have to babysit for my six-year-old grandson, and Thanksgiving, when I will be cooking and/or eating, it leaves 28 days of writing. That’s 60,000 words in 28 days, or over 2,100 words per writing day. I’ve had days when I’ve written over 4,000 words, so I think it is doable.

The Snowflake method has worked out well. I haven’t blogged about it as I said I would, each step at a time, but thought I’d talk a bit about it and how it works. Randy Ingermanson, who developed the system is both a java programmer and an author so that works for me. It’s a thirteen tab application, Welcome, General Info, Author Info, Steps 1 through 9 and Proposal.

The first three tabs are general information about the book and the author, there are nine steps for creation of the outline of the novel, going from general to most detailed, and then a book proposal is generated based on the information entered.

Step 1 is the short summary or the “elevator pitch”. The premise is, if you were in an elevator with an agent or publisher and were asked, so, what’s your book about? You should be able to give him/her the spiel, before s/he (or you) reach the desired floor, such that the whole novel is summed up in one sentence. It should be less than 25 words, so you can memorize it.

Step 2 is the long summary which expands on the short summary, and is one paragraph in length, five sentences. This would be good for the description on Amazon, or for including in a website.

  • What the book is about
  • The first act, up to the first disaster
  • The first half of the second act, up to the second disaster
  • The second half of the second act, up to the third disaster
  • The third act, the resolution, and perhaps The Happy Ending

The word “disaster” can mean a lot of things depending on the genre of the book. In the case of women’s or contemporary fiction, it will be the major events, the crises, the realizations, the epiphanies. I constructed my novel in this fashion.

The third step is creating a list of characters and specifying how they interact, how they are related, why they are in the novel, and what their personal goals might be. Some are there to be a supporting character, some are the main characters, and some are there merely for comic effect. I identified thirteen characters, family and friends.

The fourth step goes back to story development, and the long description is written here. For each of the five sentences of the long summary, a paragraph is written. I found Steps 1, 2 and 4 to be very thought-provoking. Once these steps are completed, an author has a pretty good idea of how the story will be structured. This was all done in my head for my previous two novels, and I’m sure some good thoughts got lost in the brain chaos.

Back to characters, Step 5 is a synopsis of each of the characters defined in Step 3. What makes these characters act the way they do? What has happened to them, in their early lives, and later on? It’s a way of getting to know each of them. This is very important because each character needs to be consistent and well thought out, and not do or say anything that seems contradictory. This step is for the author, it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s an exercise to get you thinking about each person and what role he or she will play.

Step 6 is the long synopsis of the story, expanded from the long description. We started at one sentence, then to one paragraph, to one page, to now several pages of story description. Four steps in ever increasing detail. There are more specifics in the long synopsis, we can now see where the chapters, and then scenes might evolve from this.

Step 7 goes back to characters, and this is also for the author’s benefit, to more fully understand each one. There is a set of pre-defined questions to answer: physical descriptions, character descriptions, favorite things (color, music, books, etc.), and how each character will change, what are his or her epiphanies, values, goals. More “getting to know you”.

Step 8 takes the long synopsis and formats each sentence into a scene. These can be added to or deleted as necessary. A one-line description of every single scene in the novel. Great!

The final Step 9, expands on Step 8, and creates an empty space to fill in notes about each scene. These notes can then be used as the starting point for the actual writing, which will happen next. I’m in Step 9 now, and that’s what I want to finish up in the month of October. I’m always about goals, small and large, what I will accomplish by noon, what I will accomplish by 5:00, what I will accomplish by October 31. It doesn’t always work out but it helps to have them.

Here’s to NaNoWriMo and the Snowflake Method!

The 24 Most Annoying Phrases For 2011

The following is a list of the Most Annoying Words or Phrases of 2011 (according to me). This has been done many times, just Google “most annoying phrases 2011” to get the complete list of blogs and websites that have contributed to outing the phrases that make your teeth hurt.

I know. 2011 isn’t over yet, but I doubt much will change in the next three months.

The list is in descending order, like David Letterman’s Ten Reasons list, with the least offensive at the top.

  • Whatever – I think this is funny if said with the proper amount of disdain and sarcasm. But what is annoying is the Valley Girl version: what-EV-errr. That gets my eyes a-rolling.
  • I’m just sayin’ – This is also funny, though I don’t know why. We say it all the time around my house, and I doubt it will ever really annoy me enough to generate even a blink, let alone an eye roll. When someone tells you, for instance, that they think what you write is “vomit on the page”, but adds, “I’m just sayin’”, that somehow makes it better.
  • Not so much – This one isn’t too bad either, I’ve been known to say it myself, but now that it is on The List, I’m refraining from that. You lovin’ bowling? Not so much.
  • That’s a good question – This is said when the person to whom the question was directed, doesn’t know the answer. And the problem is, that person is supposed to know the answer. So he is in danger of seeming unprepared, but if he says “That’s a good question”, it makes the asker feel smart, and so takes the pressure off the answerer, who is probably not smart, or he’d have been better prepared.
  • No doubt – A meaningless phrase which is usually said when the person to whom the question or request or general statement is directed wants to get you out of his face. Example: “I would like you to leave me alone.” “No doubt.” What? Does that mean you will, in fact, leave me alone?
  • Don’t get me wrong – If you are requesting that I not get you wrong, then maybe you should rephrase whatever trivial blathering you are currently attempting, so there is no question as to your real meaning. You might be the dumass here.
  • Just kidding – Usually not. This is said after a cruel, or “honest” appraisal is made, and then the speaker feels guilty, as if he needs to tone it down some. Such as, “That color is awful on you. Just kidding.”
  • 110% – Look. There is no such thing as 110%. I know, when you are sucking up to the boss, it is tempting to say “I agree with you 110%” but you can, in fact, only agree with someone 100%. I believe 110% might belong in the Theory of Everything category, which mere mortals can’t understand anyway. And can you ever agree with someone 50%? Isn’t it a matter of I do, or I don’t?
  • Do you know what I mean? – Well, if you could speak the English language without saying “um” and/or “like” fifty times in one sentence, I might get your drift. But I got lost in a sea of babblespeak five minutes ago.
  • Shit happens – I never understood this one. Is this literal? Or does it mean, bad things happen? Whichever the case, I guess it’s an understatement.
  • I’ll be honest with you – You have been lying to me all along, but NOW you’re going to finally start being honest? Aren’t we lucky!
  • Going forward – Is there a better way to go? Backward? That sounds difficult.
  • So to speak – This generates a three quarter eye roll. I confess to not knowing why anyone would say this.
  • If you will – I won’t! Won’t! So don’t ask me if I will, because, no, I am not going to. This is said by pompous political pundits a lot. And the answer is always the same. No. We’re getting to the full eye roll section here.
  • Let’s not go there – Where are we not going? This is said in business settings, when someone has the audacity to bring up a negative reality that does not fit in with the solution that is currently being proposed. Let’s ignore it.
  • Gottcha – Gen X speak. Ah. Before, I was speaking a foreign language that you did not understand, but now you comprehend what I am trying to tell you.
  • Actually – Filler word that is meaningless. For some reason, this seems to be said by children a lot. “Actually, I have to go to the bathroom.” It’s kind of like “like”, said unconsciously without actually thinking about it. Oops.
  • It is what it is – Okay. “It is” equals “it is”. Can “It is” not equal “it is”? How can it not be what it is? This used to be funny, sort of a business speak shrug, as in, “Yeah, it sucks but we can’t do anything about it”.
  • Amazing / awesome – Getting to serious eye roll territory. Watch one of those awful Entertainment Tonight shows, or the Grammys, or the Oscars and try to count the number of times you hear the word “amazing”. It has no meaning, it doesn’t answer any questions. How do you feel about winning this here Grammy? It’s amazing. Oh, I see.
  • Have a nice day/afternoon/evening/weekend – I don’t know you, so please do not presume to tell me what kind of day to have. If I want to have a crappy day, I’ll have it. How many times have you been in a Target checkout line and the surly clerk tells you to “have a nice day”. No eye contact, no smile. It’s a matter of, I have to say this, according to Cashier Rule #3 but get out of here, it’s time for my break. And another thing, I have been told when I pay for lunch to “have a nice evening”. Wait a minute. Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? What about my afternoon? Don’t you care what kind of afternoon I have? How could you be so indifferent to me and what kind of afternoon I have, and only care about my evening? That’s just cold.
  • My bad! – Groan. Another Gen X saying. It’s your fault! Because of you, this thing/project/whatever is hopelessly screwed up. But saying “My bad” somehow acknowledges it without taking responsibility for it.
  • At the end of the day – I first heard this five years ago and it is still being said. Again, the counting thing. I have been in business meetings where it was said upwards of twenty times by the same person. Yes, it was kind of cute when the first person said it, but do you know how dumb it sounds to say it before every sentence? At the end of the day, we want to go forward with this. Puh-lease.
  • That being said, having said that – Someone, please tell me what the purpose of saying this could possibly be. People used to say “it goes without saying”. Which is confusing enough. So before you didn’t have to say it, now you have to tell someone that it has been said. What?
  • LOL – Number One, all time triple eye-roller. This is never spoken, but appears in text messages and emails. I text, “I am stuck in traffic, and I’m running out of gas, and there’s a guy behind me with a gun rack who keeps shaking his fist and ramming my bumper and I have to pee” and the response is “LOL”. People who respond with the lone LOL, should be sent to a Happy Place where they can’t hurt anyone.

Please feel free to vent! What’s your favorite, or maybe that’s least favorite, Most Annoying Phrase?

Shopping Trends – Changes in 50+ Years

A few scant decades ago, shopping was different than it is now. Back then we had semi-weekly visits from The Bread Man and The Milk Man. They brought us various consumables, produced locally but without storefronts to sell them.

We’d leave a note saying how many bottles of milk we wanted. I think that was all that was delivered. Milk. Whole milk with the cream in it, which rose to the top and got scooped off to use for coffee. There was no such thing as Half ‘n Half.

The Bread Man left mushy white bread which wasn’t too much different from the stuff they sell today. Sometimes we’d get sweet rolls, which were a special treat reserved for weekends.

We shopped at Pat Kayes Grocery, which was a small establishment on West State Street. There was a butcher shop in back and a few shelves of staples. Everyone knew your name when you went in, since there were lots of small grocery stores in the area and everyone had a favorite that they patronized.

Typical grocery stores in the ’50’s (Market Basket and A&P but, alas, no picture of Pat Kayes Grocery).

Here is what was known as a “Super” market in the 1950’s.

There were no coupons then, so customers were loyal and we went to Kayes for years, until The Big Grocery Store moved in. These were wonderful to us, with aisle after aisle of boxes and cans, and produce and meats, and freezers full of things we’d never seen. And big round automatic revolving conveyor belts that you put the items on. A cashier picked up each item and tap tapped in the price and put it on another belt to be moved to a guy who put the things in brown paper bags. Wow, that was progress.

Pat Kayes Grocery suffered for that and disappeared after trying to compete with The Big Grocery Store.

We visited The Cake Shop weekly too, and it lasted a bit longer than the Mom and Pop grocery stores. Baked goods of all kinds, cookies, cakes, pies, éclairs, lady fingers and coffee cake rings. Over the years we tried everything and loved it all. They used to give kids a chocolate chip cookie when their mothers made a purchase.

When you needed prescription drugs you went to a drugstore. Not a grocery store or any other kind of store. There was a pharmacy at the back, and revolving racks of drug store items in the middle, racks of magazines and newspapers in the front and along the side, a long counter where we bought flavored cokes (vanilla, cherry, chocolate) and root beer floats.

There was even a separate store for bras, girdles, and corsets. It was called Woodward Corset Shop and I went in there with my mother and grandmother sometimes when they bought those strange undergarments. I used to look up at the dummies wearing their brassieres (which were really big in those days) and girdles and none of them had any heads. They sat on poles or shelves. I figured they had no heads because if they did, they’d be embarrassed at being seen in their underwear.

Here’s Woodward’s to the right of the movie theater:

Shopping was a big deal back then. We got dressed up. We went from store to store, saw people we knew. It was social. The stores were open at 10:00 AM and closed at 9:00 PM. Closed on Sundays.

Through the sixties and seventies we saw larger department stores emerge, and the specialized dress shops and bra shops and hat shops disappeared. The Cake Shop went under, and of course Woodward Corset Shop did too. It was the age of The Big Department Store, and they sold a lot of good stuff and they had window displays and sometimes they had escalators! We no longer knew the people who waited on us, and it wasn’t quite as social any longer. We only talked to the people we were with.

This was our largest department store back then, Bradner’s.

In the eighties and nineties we saw the rise of K-Mart, and Wal-Mart and Target. Now The Big Department Stores are in trouble too, because many people would rather buy everything in one place. We never saw the same person twice at the checkout, and it was a rarity to run into anyone we knew.

Today, we still have department stores in malls but a lot of them have tanked. There are a few smaller places, like J Crew, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, but these all have the same merchandise, and it comes from China, or Taiwan, or Burma, or Bangladesh, or, well, you get the picture.

And we no longer dress up. Now we don’t care what we look like when we go out to a public place. Take a look at the website, which is devoted to pictures of people seen in Wal-Marts across the country.

I don’t personally see them, because it would take a natural disaster where Wal-Mart was the only store left standing for me to venture into one. But I trust that if you wanted to waste a lot of time in any Wal-Mart in any city, you could find pretty much the same sightings.

This is a sampling of shoppers at Wal-Mart.

You must have just come from the doctor’s office, right? I think you forgot something.

Whatever it was you were trying on in the dressing room with that saggy black halter top, well, you left it behind.

I know I like it when my outfit matches. I think the pink boots are a nice touch! No really. Everything about this offends me, right down to the blotchy hip tatt.

Sometimes, I’d like shopping to go back to the way it was back then, something to be anticipated. Now it’s just another thing to get done.

Gotta go to Wal-Mart. I need cheap work shoes, and a few Big Johnson tee shirts, and the latest romance novel, and Cheez Whiz is two for the price of one, and I could use some ammo.