Fair Use or Copyright Infringement

AllRightsReservedThe other day, a fellow Boomer Lit author tweeted about using song lyrics in novels and since this is a subject that I am interested in (because I like to, or would like to, quote lyrics) I decided to read it. It was very clear and well-written so thank you very much to Anne R Allen and Michael Murphy for compiling this informational blog post.

Since I was getting ready to send the first of three novels back up to Smashwords, after finding little punctuation errors and some issues with chapter breaks, I decided to get rid of all my quoted song lyrics so that became part of my editing process too.

I am not sure about quoting song lyrics, especially older songs, but I do know that anything before 1923 is pretty much in the public domain. And I also know that it is perfectly fine to quote the titles of songs because titles can’t be copyrighted, Just the lyrics.

There is a way around this, though, which is to describe the lyrics but not quote them directly. I am not an expert on Fair Use but I don’t think anyone can complain about that, so I removed all quoted lyrics from Second Stories.

I had quoted some from Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, which was an integral part of the story. All of the lyrics of this song are beautiful and it was hard to pick just part of that song to quote. I want very much to put them in but no, they’re out.

Lydia had told Geo how she felt about the Billy Joel song when they’d heard it performed one night by a tinkly piano player in a bar. This is what she said about it:

“I love this song,” she said. “Billy Joel did this.”

“I don’t remember it.”

“The lyrics are sweet, that you may be imperfect but I love you anyway and I wouldn’t want you to change because if you changed, then you wouldn’t be you, the one I love. It’s a song a man could sing to a woman, but not the other way around. The lyrics wouldn’t work, woman to man.”

“Why not?”

“Because women change to accommodate men. He’s telling her not to, because he wants her the way she is, but that isn’t usually the case. That’s why it’s such a romantic song. Because it doesn’t work that way in real life. It’s bullshit.”

Later on, when he is very desperate to win her back, and avert the divorce that is surely coming, he remembers what she said and makes a CD with that song recorded over and over. I so wanted to quote those lyrics.

But I described them instead:

She listened to the familiar lyrics, which she knew by heart, and thought yes, it was a very sweet gesture on his part. But to think the song could be considered  meaningful in any way with respect to their particular relationship was far from the truth. That she shouldn’t change, that she shouldn’t think he would want her to change, that he would love her in the hard times as well as the good times. None of that was true in their situation, and so a lot of the memories he might have hoped would be stirred in her, weren’t. Still, she had to acknowledge, it was a gift he had made for her, and he had made it with thoughts of her and what she might like, and she would accept it for what it was. Nothing more.

It is my understanding that this is acceptable to do and will not violate any copyright laws. If anyone knows otherwise, I would be grateful if we can start a conversation about it. It seems to be very nebulous, about whether it okay or not and what is Fair Use and what is not. Though it is always wiser to err on the side of safety, I think quoting the actual lyrics would be preferable, and more meaningful to the story.

Just for reference, here is a YouTube of Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are. Funny that I can include that with no problem but I can’t quote the lyrics in a novel.

I think this may be my favorite song of all time, which is why I wanted to incorporate it into the story.

12 Things Not To “Like” About Facebook

This post might offend some Facebook users so, true to my wimpy, introverted nature, I won’t post a link to this post from my personal Facebook page. After all, I don’t really harbor any latent death wishes. I will only post it on my Books page since most likely the people who have “liked” that page will forgive my rants, given that you’ve more or less volunteered for it.

Facebook was a good idea in the beginning. Now it’s pretty much tripe. I still look at it, but I rarely comment on anything, and I am not guilty of posting any of the types of things exampled below. I wouldn’t do it, because I very much believe that NOTHING any of my “friends” post about their personal religious beliefs or political sentiments will ever affect how I feel about those same subjects, so I wouldn’t think the reverse would be true.

Speaking of “friends”, that’s kind of a bump-up in the amount of affection I feel for upwards of 75% of the Facebook personalities I am currently connected to. If I were able to recognize even 10% (a generous percentage) of my Facebook friends if I met them head-on in the frozen food aisle, that would be happily surprising.  

That’s not to say I don’t have genuine friends on Facebook and I have marked them as such. But I’ve been gathering info from all the statuses and links so I can blast away at Facebook in this post.

Not all of the 12 are friend-related grievances. Some are just Facebook being what it is, a big colossal waste of time. Not to mention, every Facebook user is in mortal danger of having his or her equilibrium thrown into a spin cycle with flashing blue to pink ads or things that move.

Is that picture of the woman with beet juice on her face moving or am I having a seizure here? Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have combined that goat’s milk with the Happy Hour Sake at Ed’s Sushi Shack last night.

Here’s the list of twelve (and there are probably fifty more):

The “You’re a Winner” flashing banner. This is the blue/pink thing I was talking about. I have won a free Walmart gift card? Somehow I doubt that. And besides, I avoid Walmark like I would a mosquito wearing a West Nile Virus Alert ID bracelet.

This is not a joke! The fact that you have to say that this is “not a joke”, is a joke. What is it about this that is NOT a joke?  I am the 100,000th visitor of the day so I can claim my “prize”? Funny, I have seen that same thing before. How can I be the 100,000th visitor on one day and then again a day later? I don’t get the math here.

Girls online. Well, look at these tarty little Eastern European girls. Warning! They are VERY attracted to westernized men. I am pretty sure I listed my gender as female. I am also pretty sure these fluties would not appeal to lesbians. So assuming these two things, that NO female is interested in flirting with or dating these Eastern European girls, why would you show me this ad? Get with the program, Facebook. It’s not rocket science.

Games. Now, I’m sure there is probably a way to prevent this type of post from appearing. Some setting somewhere. But the real problem is I don’t care enough to investigate it in order to figure out where that is. Do we really have to see this stuff? No, I don’t have any space helmets! And when did we start playing Cityville? I thought we were playing Farmville! Oh wait, the Industrial Revolution must have happened.

Horoscopes. Ah. If only I cared about your Virgo horoscope. Not being a Virgo, and not even giving the teeniest of sh*ts about my own horoscope, I certainly don’t care about yours. But wait. It says “Everything you’ve been working towards is likely to be positively received… “ If only I’d been a Virgo! I hold my parents directly responsible for the misalignment of my astrological future endeavors. However, I believe the key word in the horoscope here is “likely”.

“This person supports” with the arrow pointing at the supporter’s Facebook profile pic. I think some PhotoShopping is in order. How about a little text change here. “This person supports The Ritualistic Sacrifice and Blood-letting of Small Animals.”

Challenges. The above is a nice sentiment. But I refuse to do this just because you Double Dog Dare me to. Sure, Mattel should make the Hope doll. But will they? No. Because it probably wouldn’t make economic sense. So maybe your time could be better spent by writing directly to Mattel if you feel strongly about this subject? I’m just playin’ devil’s advocate here.

Really annoying posters. Speakig of the devil. Oh my. This is offensive on so many levels. First of all, how do you know this kid feels that way? Did you ask him? Did you get his permission to use his image on this poster? Aren’t you kinda playing with fire here? What if this lovely urchin turns out to be an agnostic? He might sue you when he grows up, and you know? That would, like totally serve you right.

Requests to get you to copy and post as a status.  Another nice sentiment. And love the little heart things. The more the better! But no, I’m afraid I can’t do this. Why? Because it is phony and disingenuous? Well, that’s a start. It’s kind of like those billboards you see with the lone Bible verse on it. I always wonder who put that there, who paid for it, and what do they hope to accomplish? I feel the same about this. Of course everyone feels this way about cancer. No need to cheese it up.

Horrific political sentiments. This is further proof that some people are plain mean-spirited, nasty and will say and post anything. This is just vile. It’s stupid and insulting. Want to find a good way to get about half of your “friends” to un-friend you? Post this. The woman who did it got the old hover, unfriend, click from me. Not that she probably cares. And she was after all, not in the 10% that I would recognize in the frozen food aisle.

Unrecognizable pictures of nasty people. Who is this kindly looking gentleman? He looks like a nice man. WAIT! That’s Rush Limbaugh. No fair posting pictures that make him look like a regular guy so that nobody even recognize him. I bet someone just told him his prescription for Oxycontin is ready at Walgreen’s.

Religion-R-Us. Ta-da! The most irritating, disgusting of all — requests that you “friend” Jesus. I made this lovely collage because I couldn’t decide which image was worse. You know how Evangelicals always scoff and titter when someone spots the image of the Virgin Mary in a tortilla shell? This is right down that same religious-nuttery street. To me, this borders on sacrilege. Get your priorities straight. Don’t mix Facebook with your version of religion, whatever that is.

Well, there you have it! Twelve reasons. Do you need any more? Do you have any more?

My apologies that this post went well beyond the 800 word limit. Sometimes I just can’t shut up. 

Photo of 3D Man (sans sign text) courtesy of freedigitalprints.net

All other photos are screen shots from my personal Facebook page.

Three Deceptive Food Labels That I Found in Ten Minutes

Without much difficulty, make that without any difficulty, you can find examples of stupid food labels that are nothing more than deceptive advertising, euphemisms designed to make you think you are eating better, healthier foods, when clearly you’re not.

I do not eat two of these foods but do fancy a nut or two once in a while. Sometimes questionable items end up in one’s pantry though and one has no memory of how they came to be there. When there are children around, unhealthy stuff has a way of sneaking in. One would think the way we protect our kids nowadays, we’d protect them from eating junk but, alas, I guess the protection stops at the nearest Burger King.

Triscuit Rosemary & Olive Oil Crackers – Kids would never eat these. This is grownup junk food. These crackers are so flavorful with artificial ingredients that they completely disguise the taste of the cheese, which is the only way crackers should be eaten anyway. Everyone thinks Triscuits are good for you, and contain fiber, which they do, but they also are loaded with fat, carbs and sodium. But the fun part is the claim on the front of the box: NATURAL FLAVOR WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVOR. What is the natural flavor and what is the “other” natural flavor? Sounds like a good letter to Nabisco, to ask that question.

Kirkland Extra Fancy Mixed Nuts – Nuts are good for you, a good source of protein, unless you have some digestional issues like diverticulitis. My question here is the application of the “extra fancy” description. Are nuts fancy? What exactly makes these nuts fancy? Is it their shape that makes them fancy? Their size? Their color? And once one has determined why these nuts are fancy, what exactly makes them “extra” fancy? This is a great puzzle to me.

Aunt Jemima Butter Rich Syrup – Note that the word “syrup” is in small letters and the “butter rich” is in big yellow letters. I would not eat this particular food but for those who would, there are a few issues here that need some discussion. This looks suspiciously like something that should not be consumed by anyone who is not a grizzly bear. It looks scary, even to the untrained eye, in its artificiality. But wait! Our fears are assuaged because in small letters it says “Natural Butter Flavor With Other Natural Flavors – Contains No Butter”. Yes, I know it’s hard to see that on the picture here, but it really says that. I am not making it up. This opens up a crapload of questions, so I needed to put them in a list.

  1. Are the letters yellow because that’s the color of butter?
  2. When people put syrup on pancakes, they usually also use butter, so is this extra butter?
  3. Should we not put real butter on our pancakes if we are using Aunt Jemima Butter Rich Syrup and would that be too much butter?
  4. What is Natural Butter Flavor?
  5. What are Other Natural Flavors?
  6. Is Natural Butter Flavor also an Other Natural Flavor?
  7. How can there be Natural Butter Flavor if there is No Butter?
  8. Do we really need butter in syrup anyway? Shouldn’t syrup just be, well, syrup?

These are three items I found with hardly any searching. There are others, probably even funnier than these. Yet it’s kind of sad to think consumers can be fooled by these kinds of phrases which are designed by experts in marketing and the English language (and probably psychology) to dupe the public.

Watch your labels, and better yet, try to buy things that don’t have labels. Things like fresh vegetables and fruit. And if they have labels, it’s a lot better if the ingredients are pronouncable. Stuff that ends in “acetate” or “oxide” or “phosphate” should probably be bypassed. Other questionable ingredients contain the word “gum” and anytime you see “natural flavorings” be concerned, be very concerned.

So, how about commenting about your favorite misleading food label? I’d like to hear about it.


20 Examples of Great Euphemisms

A euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague term for one considered to be harsh, blunt, or offensive”. Sometimes called doublespeak, a euphemism is a word or phrase which pretends to communicate but doesn’t. It makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unnatural seem natural, the unpleasant seem attractive, or at least tolerable. It is language which avoids, shifts or denies responsibility. It conceals or prevents thought.

Doublespeak was one of the central themes of George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, although he didn’t use that term, instead he used the terms “doublethink” and “newspeak”.

Here are some particularly amusing examples, except where downright offensive.

1. If you are offered a career change or an early retirement opportunity, a career or employee transition, or you are being involuntarily separated, or if personnel is being realigned or there is a surplus reduction in personnel, or the staff is being re-engineered or right sized, or if there is a workforce imbalance correction then: You’re fired!

(Cartoon by Kipper Williams)

2. You aren’t poor, you are economically disadvantaged.

3. You aren’t broke, you have temporary negative cash flow.

4. You do not live in a slum but in substandard housing, or in an economically depressed neighborhood, or culturally deprived environment.

5. If you are managing company stakeholders, that means you are lobbying, which is really the same as bribing.

6. When you get an unwanted phone call just as you are sitting down to dinner from a representative of the Republican party (and you are a Democrat) or vice versa, this is called a courtesy call. Only courtesy has nothing to do with it, it’s just freaking annoying.

7. In light of the recent demise of Osama bin Laden, several politicians have stressed that it was the enhanced interrogation methods which caused the informants to squeal and give up the nickname of the courier, which we then followed around until he led us to the compound of OBL. This is one of my personal favorites, not the process it refers to of course, but the absolute ludicrousness of this particular phrase. The ultimate of euphemism. It’s torture, folks! Torture, and you can’t sugarcoat it, and you can’t make it sound nice. Torture.

8. Since we’ve been involved in two wars for ten years, stuff happens, stuff that we don’t want to happen. When you come into a country and break it, for a variety of good reasons, you might cause some collateral damage, which are really deaths of civilians. Women and children and old people. Accidental death. Accidental – but you can’t quite escape the “death” part.

9. When a geographical area is neutralized or depopulated that means the CIA killed people, just because.

10. On a lighter note, intelligent ventilation points, when speaking of a garment are – armholes!

11. You’re not buying a used car, you are purchasing a pre-enjoyed or pre-loved vehicle.

12. If you are a bank, bad, crappy debts are non- or under-performing assets.

13. Ah, genuine imitation leather. That new car smell. But really, it’s cheesy vinyl. 100% virgin cheesy vinyl.

14. If you want a raise and you deserve a raise, but there’s no money or the company just doesn’t want to do it, you might get an uptitle instead, which is a fancy name for what you already are. Uptitles are fancy job names given in lieu of monetary compensation. An example: Assistant Supervisor of Things Beginning with the Letter “A”.

15. Watch out if the company you work for says it is levering up, it means they are spending money they don’t have. See “uptitle” above.

16. If you say you committed terminological inexactitude, or you relayed misinformation, misspoke or were economical with the truth, well that means you just told a whopper. A bold-faced lie.

17. If you are a politician in Arizona, people who run across the border are illegal aliens, unless they are employing these same people to tend to their children or flower gardens, then they are known as undocumented workers.

18. We consume adult beverages which are booze drinks, beer and wine and hard stuff. Adults also drink things like water, coffee and tea but these aren’t called adult beverages, just beverages. There’s adult entertainment too, and we know what that means. So attaching the adjective “adult” to a noun, must mean the same as “sleazy” or “bad for you”.

19. If you get rejected for a job because you are partially proficient, that means you are just plain unqualified. This happens a lot to the middle class, as they attempt to find employment in other areas because the areas in which they used to work no longer exist. See my prior post about corporate buzzwords for the explanation of Outsourcing. But don’t despair because you are probably totally proficient to be a greeter at Wal-Mart.

20. Here’s the one that really hurts. When you’re called postmenopausal, or mature, or senior – that means you’re old.

What is your favorite euphemism?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Search Terms

Every day I check my blog stats. Okay, make that several times a day. They tell you how many hits your blog had, not who, just how many. Here they are, and I am happy to say they have continued in an upward, positive trend since February 2011.

Here are blog stats from January through October, 2011:

I seem to be getting a lot of traffic from search engines, but when I checked the search engine terms used to find my blog, many times I couldn’t figure out how it ever ended up on the first page or pages of search results produced from the particular input criteria.

While I am very pleased to think that my SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques, which include pertinent keywords, accurate titles and labeled images, appear to be generating traffic, sometimes I confess, it’s a real head-scratcher to understand how it works, based on the content of my blogs. Here are some of the most bizarre:

  • wally moon – Who is Wally Moon anyway? Any relation to Perigee?
  • little kid on a treadmill – All you little children, stay away from treadmills. You don’t need these until you’re older – much older.
  • beer background design – This does not sound like a good background picture to me but maybe on a Beer For Dummies book it would be.
  • punctuation takes a vacation what is bothering mr wright – Racking my brain for whatever would be in any post I have ever written that would cause a blog about writing women’s fiction to appear using these search terms. Punctuation? Vacation?
  • dental photography black background – Dental photography? Keep this away from me, please.
  • kitap kapak tasarımı – Is this Pig Latin?
  • chains black background – Whenever I see “chains” I get suspicious.
  • spine flower – Probably wanted to find information about tattoos?
  • uneducated successful businessman – This might be an oxymoron, oh wait, probably not.
  • can’t find romance novel about memory loss and love – No? Bummer. Neither can I.
  • mild indirect – This seems bland to me, should I take warning from this?
  • why i don’t feel creative – Wow, neither do I. Welcome to the Let’s Suck at Creativity Club.
  • desain sampul buku – More Pig Latin, with a Mid-eastern flair?
  • soap liquid background – Cleanliness is next to, um, I forget.
  • toast treadmill walker – Let’s see, first you have your toast, then you get on the treadmill, then you need a walker. It’s all I can figure.

I doubt that the individuals using these search terms are interested in a blog site dedicated to baby boomer issues and women’s fiction but you never know where you might find readers, so I’ll take it as a good sign that the stats are improving.

It puzzles me, how search engines work. I can’t imagine that they can search through every piece of information on the internet, examine the content of each one, and deliver a results list at the speed they do, but maybe that’s exactly how it works. I know that many of the terms used above were not in my titles, nor were they in the body of the posts. Apparently, greater computer minds than mine ever was are at work here.

And the really odd part is, when I search for these terms, I don’t see my blog in the results list returned. So what search engine are these folks using? I researched this very issue, and came up with a few blogs that addressed the subject, but none of them provided a good answer. They mostly said, your results could be located on page N (insert really big number here) but that some people actually go deep into many pages while searching.  I find that hard to believe. If it doesn’t show up on the first page, I seldom go any farther. But maybe.

And I still don’t understand “kitap kapak tasarımı”.   

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 Thesaurus.com 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?


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?

Secret to a Happy Marriage in the 50’s – The Mixmaster

All you needed in the fifties was The Mixmaster and all your marital problems go by the wayside. So it would seem. She lived happily ever after, because she had The Sunbeam Mixmaster. If only I’d known that!

I’ve been dwelling on Blog Stats this week. I’ve also looked at the “Freshly Pressed” blogs, which are picked by WordPress to appear on their home page. Once your blog is selected, it will receive greater amounts of traffic by virtue of it being there. To have this great honor bestowed upon my blog would be a gift from the BlogGod.

This week, one of the Freshly Pressed blogs was Life in the Boomer Lane, A Guide to Life After 50. It’s a very funny blog. Click here to view.

It listed the recommendations in the following categories from AARP and then added more:

  • What Not to Wear
  • Things Never to Do
  • Words to Ax
  • What to Do at Least Once

It is very funny, and very true. But it started me thinking about my Boomer life and, I think I might have been unloading the dishwasher when it occurred to me how very different kitchens are today, than they were in, say, 1956 when I was, well younger.

We had a typical kitchen back then, broken up by four doors and two windows.

The first wall had the two windows and there was a sink between them, one of those white things that hung on the wall with the plumbing showing underneath. The sink part always had one of those three-cornered garbage collector things sitting in the corner, and there was a drainboard next to it.

The second wall was without either doors or windows and along that wall were floor to ceiling cupboards.

The third wall was for the refrigerator. I guess back then, it was better than an “icebox” where you had to buy ice, but not much. Remember those tiny little freezers and how they got all coated up with that hard white ice stuff and you have to “defrost” it every week? And that always had to be scheduled before you went shopping for groceries.

And the fourth wall was for the stove, one of those monstrosities with the double ovens and that was all that fit on that wall.

Forget your stone countertops. As I remember it, there was only the Formica kitchen table to use as a work area.

And also forget small appliances. There was a toaster, a pancake griddle and The Sunbeam Mixmaster! Here it is, in all its high tech splendor.

And here it is again, but wait! How’d she get those cool green bowls? Our bowls were white. Everything was white in those days.

I loved the Mixmaster. Many cakes were beat up in that thing, and frosting, and cookie dough, with beaters to fight over to lick. That was the good part of food in the 1950’s. The desserts were great.

But the rest of the food wasn’t. An example of what wasn’t so great back then:

  • Pear salad – This was a summer substitute for a vegetable. It consisted of one half canned pear, sitting on one piece of iceberg lettuce, topped with a maraschino cherry. (Do you really want to think about maraschino cherries and how they get to be that color? I didn’t think so.)
  • Lime jello with shredded carrots – Whoever thought up this combination? Does anyone even eat jello anymore? Although you never really “ate” it, it was more like you sucked it into your esophagus. Sometimes it would have pineapple added. That was good. Sometimes it would have walnuts added. That was bad. Something about that crunch and slippery jello didn’t sit right with me. Sometimes it would have a dollop of mayonnaise on it. Blechh. And, we were one of those “Miracle Whip” families. That stuff is just gross.
  • Fruit cocktail – In a pinch, instead of the above two delicacies, this canned concoction was substituted. Do they still sell this? The stuff where every single fruit looks and tastes the same?
  • Sweet potatoes with marshmallows – This was a special treat, at Thanksgiving usually. Some sort of candied mushed up sweet potatoes, whipped up (in The Mixmaster) with butter and brown sugar and topped with those smaller sized marshmallows, the kind that got stale after twenty minutes. And sometimes, it would appear with those colored minis. What fun! Pink and blue and yellow things on top! But the color combination, the pastel with earthy orangey, was visually upsetting.
  • Chipped beef on toast – This is an abomination. A terrible thing to do to children. This is what you got when your parents were going out to dinner but still had to feed you.
  • Creamed chicken on biscuits – This was where a few cans of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup mixed with milk are placed in the big yellow bowl (remember those nesting bowls, the largest was yellow, then green, then red, then blue but the last two might have been reversed). The biscuits were placed on top of the soup and baked in the oven. The biscuits were always soggy, because they sat in that soup too long.
  • Goulash – This was a combination of four things, hamburger, ½ teaspoon diced onions cut up until they liquefied, tomato sauce, elbow macaroni. There might have been a little salt and pepper in there too. Baked in the big yellow bowl.
  • Chef Boyardee Pizza – This was a pizza “kit”. It consisted of some flour stuff that was mixed with water and formed dough, which you pressed onto a cookie sheet. Pour the Chef’s pizza sauce on and top with the Chef’s parmesan cheese. Talk about a boring pizza. But back then it was delicious. We weren’t creative enough to imagine anything else on it.

There’s more, but these stand out in my memory. Got any cool fifties recipes to share?

The Cliché Finder

I submitted an entry for the Fourth Annual Life Lessons Essay contest from Real Simple magazine, which is about the only mag I read. I like the format of it, the non-busy pages, the photography, the good ideas.

The rules for submission are, maximum of 1,500 words and you are given a topic to write about. As I was preparing to send off my entry, I reread the website and there is a section with helpful suggestions, and one is “don’t use clichés”. I did an earlier post on clichés. Not too unusual, many blogs have done the same thing. Clichés are a drag. I can really spot them now, and unless they are deliberate, or twisted in some way, I tend to quit reading when I find one.

It occurred to me that a really neat idea would be to develop a little webpage which a user could paste his text into and check that text against a database of common clichés. But wait! It has already been done. The Cliché Finder will check your writing and highlight offending phrases. Of course, who knows how current, or comprehensive that database is? How often is it updated? Anyway, it’s a good idea.

This is what happened when I clicked the button:

An  Unhandled Exception. As an ex-IT person, I can tell you this is not a good thing. This is sloppy programming. Obviously it didn’t like something about my text but instead of telling me what was wrong, it just croaked. I experimented to find out what the problem was. I put in one paragraph and it worked. I put in the next paragraph and it didn’t work.

The difference? It did not like the apostrophe in a contraction. Don’t, wouldn’t, can’t, didn’t, etc. Really? That seems pretty basic and is something the programmer should fix. Also, further down, I noticed it didn’t like quotes either. So the phrase “back home” (quotes included) caused it to blow up. There could be other things that offend the Cliché Finder too, but I didn’t spot them.

If this happens, I wonder how good the tool is. But it is a very good idea. Maybe some sort of interactive site where users could comment on what problems were found, and also add entries to the database as needed.

And guess what? My entry did not point out any clichés, when I removed all the apostrophes and quote marks. Cool.