Literary Crushes – Who is Yours?

Enough time has gone by, that I’m treating myself to another Scott Spencer novel, although this time I am not quite so enamored. The title is “Willing”, and it is about a man who goes on a sex tour to a few relatively obscure foreign countries, and is paid a rather handsome sum to write a book about it. I’m guessing that such an assignment might not be unappealing to a number of male writers.

I think, to read Mr. Spencer, one must not be sexually squeamish, as there is something in every one to send a few shock waves. But the way he talks about such things, so naturally, I can’t help but get a picture of the kind of person Mr. Spencer might be. I’m guessing, the quiet, introspective type, much like Jonathon Franzen, that the outward persona does not match the man inside.

My author friend Benison O’Reilly coined a term (at least I think she is responsible for it, so I am giving her due honors here), “literary crush” and mine is on Mr. Spencer. Hers is on Mr. Franzen. But that is not to say I haven’t had literary crushes on women too, and two of them are Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg, who write in a way in which I could only hope to come close.

I would have to use the term “envious” when it comes to these three authors. It’s what I would want for myself, to write in such a way. Recently, I read an interesting post which examined the difference between “jealousy” and “envy”. Jealousy is when you want what another person has and you attack it in a negative way, the I-am-just-as-good-as-that-writer so poor me, why am I consistently ignored and kicked around? Envy is when you see what good things others have done, and want the same for yourself, but in a positive way, it allows you to strive for more, for better writing, for lovelier sentences, for better hooks and dialogue and characters, by seeing the good in others.

Back to Willing, Mr. Spencer breaks a lot of rules with this one. There is not one quotation mark in the whole novel. The dialogue is intermixed with the narrative. We are told in the How To books to put each person’s dialogue in a separate paragraph. Nope, he doesn’t do that either. So we have dialogue, which we aren’t always sure really is dialogue, and two or more people speaking in the same paragraph, so we aren’t always sure who is doing the talking. But somehow it works. There are pages with hardly any whitespace, another faux pas. Lack of whitespace makes readers weary, shorter paragraphs and single lines mix it up visually and the reader is less intimidated by droning on and on, so they say.

I am only two thirds through the book, and I have only found a couple of sexual reference that might be construed as troubling, even though one would think there would be more, given the subject. But I have found (so far) six editing errors, five which were duplicate words or wrongly phrased such that I knew it was   unintentional, and one punctuation error. I always feel a little compensated when I find errors in the works of “real authors” (if I dare use that term), as if – see, we are all fallible!

So, even if this is not my favorite of his novels, the writing is still all there, superb, funny, gripping descriptions of characters (of which there are a great number). Take this description of himself, on the first page, written in first person POV:

Physically, I was of the type no longer commonly minted, a large serious face, a little heavier than necessary, broad shoulders, sturdy legs, hair and eyes the color of a lunch bag.

Gives you a pretty good idea, right? I especially loved the reference to a lunch bag.

Or this description of someone encountered at one of the stops:

One was a heavyset guy with a shaved head who looked like the world’s most enormous baby, with a nose like a knuckle and dark little eyes the size of watermelon seeds.

The book is crammed with stuff like this. On every page, there are great thoughts and descriptions. This author understands people, he gets it so right. Humorous, witty, and insightful.

And yes, I am envious.

Writing a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

There are several blog posts about using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for developing novels. I thought about doing yet another post on it, but maybe in a little more detail than some of the other bloggers, as I develop my storyline and characters for The Perigee Moon. Step by step. This will be the first, and Step 1.

You can tell by the diagram that it starts out very general and is refined over time, until the whole novel is conceptualized and the writing of that first draft becomes easier, and it is more unlikely that there will be unwanted gaps or errors or inconsistencies with characters or storyline.

This is the first time I’ve used this methodology. I bought the Fiction Writing for Dummies book (also by Randy Ingermanson). An aside here, who came up with the phrase “for Dummies” anyway? I don’t think a person who wants to write a novel but doesn’t know how to go about it, is necessarily a “dummy”. I wonder if there is a book called “Rocket Science for Dummies” or “Brain Surgery for Dummies”. But from a marketing perspective, it sure works, I have a lot of these books, Quicken 2011 for Dummies, Unix for Dummies, Excel for Dummies, Photoshop for Dummies, to name a few. The characteristic yellow and black cover for every Dummy book makes it instantly recognizable and the common formatting of the interior is kind of soothing to me. I know what to expect, and the books are usually tinged with humor, or at least a valiant attempt at humor.

The Snowflake Method is used in Mr. Ingermanson’s software called Snowflake Pro, and I’m using it and it is easy to understand. By that I mean the software is easy to understand, what you need to do to design your novel isn’t necessarily.

In the beginning, I witnessed the full moon in February of this year while on Clearwater Beach. The full moon, over the water, with a few clouds that would temporarily obstruct the moon, or part of it, or where you could see part or all of it shining through, was breathtaking. I took pictures of it and a story idea started.

Sometimes that stuff happens to me, I looked at that moon and just let my mind take me wherever it wanted to go and a novel idea (pun intended) was birthed.

The Perigee Moon was in March, so back in Ohio, I took pictures of that, with the moon through the trees on the exact night of the full moon. I think I have the cover designed already and the title is set, although I also like February Moon. Even though the actual Perigee moon happened in March, I doubt anyone will care about that detail, to point out that the month is off by one.

I started using the software and have completed Step 1.

Step 1: Summarize your storyline in one sentence. This isn’t easy to do, but is a valuable exercise. It should be no more than 25 words, closer to 15 is better. I got mine down to 19. In the beginning, I thought it would be the story of a guy who is in a bad marriage, and how he finds a new relationship and the problems he encounters along the way. And it is still about that, but upon dissecting the character, Luke, I discovered a lot more about him. That it’s not just the marriage, but his whole lifestyle that he wants to alter. The corporate job, the commercialization, the fact that you can drive for twenty minutes and not see anything that isn’t ugly.

Remember Bonnie in Second Stories, who laments what America has turned into by describing gas stations and fast food restaurants? It’s like that, only a whole book about it, more or less, and his marriage and his job, how nothing in his life seems right. Classical mid-life crisis stuff, only on a grander scale, as he contemplates turning into a minimalist. And I expanded it even further to include the notion that he wants to be more spiritual, he wants to grow things, understand what he’s only touched on before. He desires serenity, he wants to contemplate, explore ideas, read, learn, experiment. And he wants to give up his day job to do it.

This sounds heavy, and parts of it will be, but I hope to make this book funny, with hints of sarcastic humor which I do pretty well I think (shameless non-humility). I know a bit about big corporations, and dead end jobs, and the desire to do something else. Along the way, there will be the breakup of a long-standing relationship, and the start of a new one, and family issues to take care of, and a bit of suspense, as some psychotic behavior is observed from the woman who no longer wants Luke, but doesn’t want anyone else to have him.

Here’s the final summary sentence:

One man’s struggle to cast the urban corporate lifestyle behind him and pursue a life of serenity through spirituality.

Editing and re-editing

Is everyone on vacation? It’s been a rough week, as far as blog readers go. I can see how many readers there are! I’m watching you and I’m not feeling the joy right now. It’s times like these I think, why bother? My post is late this week too, due to a family emergency.

And furthermore, and as an aside, I travelled to Rochester, New York Monday (the afore-mentioned emergency) and had lunch in a Cracker Barrel (don’t ask, it’s because this particular restaurant chain is the only one where you can get “greens” yet greens are never ordered by the person who insists we must stop at Cracker Barrel). There we were at the Cracker Barrel and I discovered that they had Halloween decorations out, complete with eerily laughing brooms which skimmed magically across the floor. Just what everyone needs, right? Brooms that travel by themselves?

But the point is, on July 18th we are subjected to Halloween crap? If I’m not mistaken, it’s over three months until we will need any of it, if “need” is the operational word here.

When we were at the front counter paying the bill, the Cracker Barrel lady tried to push candy on us.

“Three for the price of two!” she promised.

“Well, I see you have your Halloween stuff out already,” I said, ignoring the candy offer.

“Oh, yes,” she said, as if this were a good thing.

And I, being in a not-good frame of mind, said, “You know that is exactly what I hate about your place here. I can’t stand it that you have this stuff out so early.”

Ignoring my obvious disdain, she said, “Our Thanksgiving display is out too, over there.” She pointed to an area on the other side of the store. The “store” by the way, could be the subject of a whole other blog, but a talking broom that skims the floor is a clue as to the quality of the merchandise sold there.

I said, “You know, it’s July and I’m pretty sure I’m not ready to think about Thanksgiving. When does the Christmas stuff come out, anyway?” (I may have said something a little worse than “stuff”, I’m not sure, but remember, I was in a crappy mood.)

“The last week in July,” she announced, and I think she was kind of proud about that, as if, we can SO compete with the big time – the box stores and Macy’s and even J.C. Penney and Sears!

Whatever.

Here’s the real blog content now:

A few months back a friend of mine commented that when she searched for my books on Amazon, they don’t both come up under Lynn Schneider, but Whatever Happened to Lily? the print version, comes up only under Lynette. So searching for books under the author name of Lynn Schneider does not bring up everything, which is two print versions and two kindle versions, but one print and two kindle versions. Not good.

Way back when, without properly thinking it through, I listed the author name as “Lynette” then decided I wanted to change it to Lynn. But too late, the author name is listed as Lynette. I asked CreateSpace about this and they informed me that that I’d have to rerelease the book because the author name can’t be changed.

The kindle versions are not an issue. These are easily changed.

I’m going to rerelease both the print and kindle versions of the novel, but first I thought I’d edit it again, to see if it could still stand up to my newly acquired writing standards. This is what I found.

I found a lot of overused, duplicate, unnecessary words. I tend to use words like “that”, “so”, and “just” way too much. These words are “throwaway words”. Many times they can be eliminated. For instance, take this sentence:

I had known what it would likely say, that my wife looked nice, that my daughter was beautiful and that I looked wonderful. And she did say all that and more, that she had cried when she saw it, that it had likely been a mistake to ask to see it, because it had upset her more than she would have thought possible.

I count way too many “thats”, in fact there are six of them. Some of these are superfluous. Here is the correction:

I had known what it would likely say, that my wife looked nice, my daughter was beautiful and I looked wonderful. And she did say all that and more. She had cried when she saw it, and it had likely been a mistake to ask to see it, because it had upset her more than she would have thought possible.

Take this sentence: He thought that he might go back inside. The “that” is not needed. He thought he might go back inside.

Sometimes “that” is needed, but 75% of the time it’s not. So I always have to edit for “that”.

Other words I overuse (especially in dialogue) are “just” and “so”. I’m not sure why, but I tend to use these words ad nauseum and must edit them out.

For example:

“So, I was just walking by your house and saw that the light was on in your room, so I figured that it would be okay for me to ring your doorbell.”

This can (and should) be edited, unless for some reason, all those extraneous words seem necessary in order to make the point, that the character is kind of clueless.

“I was walking by your house and saw the light was on in your room, and figured it would be okay for me to ring your doorbell.”

The corrected sentence gets rid of a couple of occurrences of “so” and “that” and a “just”.

Another thing I noticed and which I wanted to fix, is inappropriate punctuation after sentences that contain dialogue.

“That has nothing to do with me,” she shut the refrigerator with a thump.

Incorrect!

If dialog is followed by an attribution (she said, for example), it can be thus:

“That has nothing to do with me,” she said and she shut the refrigerator with a thump.

Or:

“That has nothing to do with me.” She shut the refrigerator with a thump.

But really, I wanted to edit the character, Jay. The more I thought about it, the more I believed he was a crude jerk, when he goes for a run in order to “decide” whether he should continue his cyber-relationship with Lily or not. What a weasel. He runs and thinks about how his marriage sucks and how it’s not really his fault, that it’s Nan’s fault – blah, blah. Meh. He needs to own it. He is the one who wanted it, he decided to do it, he needs to be responsible for his decisions without blaming others. Here is the new passage:

As I ran, I thought about my marriage to Nan. It had been on a gradual decline and I couldn’t say when it had first begun, but I wondered if now that Grace was gone, there really wasn’t a reason for us to be together any longer, as she had suggested. She was tired of the whole situation, of me, and my feelings for Lily.

[Seems like he is telling himself what he wants to hear in the above paragraph.]

If I were honest with myself I would have to admit that I loved her, but not like I’d loved Lily. She seemed unapproachable to me now. No matter what I said or did, I couldn’t get past the wall she had built up between us. She didn’t want me now. I had a role in it too, of course, with what was happening between Lily and me. I tried to tell myself it was Nan who was solely responsible, but I knew it wasn’t so.

[He’s being honest with himself, aren’t we lucky? She’d (Nan) had built up a wall. With good reason, and he’s starting to feel like he might have done some things to affect their situation. Wow. How very perceptive.]

My chest hurt, and I had to stop. I felt bad, shaking and nauseous. I wondered if I had overdone it, was I having some sort of attack? A heart attack maybe? I had never entertained the possibility that such a thing could happen. I was healthy, a runner. Look at my father, still vital in his eighties. But something felt twisted, and I sank down onto the sand.

[My male characters all tend to have physical issues, chest pains and the like, when they get upset.]

My breathing slowed and I felt better and realized it must have been some kind of panic attack, that the combination of the run and my delusions about myself had thrown me into.

[An aha moment, he’s realized he has delusions about himself.]

Because it had nothing to do with Nan. It wasn’t my perceived notion that my marriage was going sour that would make it okay to establish some sort of relationship with Lily. It was me. I was solely responsible for it, I wanted it. I didn’t have the strength to not want it. I wanted to know Lily again. I wanted to have something with her. I couldn’t stop it. I was a weak, horrible person. I knew that. But I couldn’t stop it.

[Finally. He acknowledges what the reader already knows. The author wanted him to come across as a very sympathetic character, but blaming others for his actions doesn’t work. He will still be a nice guy in the readers’ eyes, I think, but with imperfections and real-life temptations and decisions to make.]

By the time I reached home, I’d made my decision what to do about Lily and I needed to tell Nan what had happened.

My male characters aren’t alpha males, like in romance novels. One of my good friends told me she thought I did women characters better and my male characters were a little “wussy”. I’d like to think Jay isn’t wussy, but he’s no alpha male.

I don’t believe in alpha males. I don’t think there are any, but if there is a sliding scale between alpha and wussy, Jay falls somewhere in between.

The above are some of the things I needed to do to my novel to (I hope) improve it. I hadn’t read it in a long time, more than a year, and I found I still liked it, but there were a few things I wanted to change about it to make it even better.

Stuff That Has to be Cut Out of a Novel – Part 3

I have a closeted penchant for bluegrass music. As such, I felt the need to devote a chapter to it, in my novel, Second Stories. Some turn up their noses at bluegrass and say “but it’s so whi-iii-ney!” That’s precisely why I like it. I like the whine, and the close harmony.

I am a fan of the Dixie Chicks, may they rest in peace (as a group) because there is speculation that they have broken up and the sisters, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, remain as the Dixie Chicks and Natalie Maines is out. Back when Ms. Maines was their lead singer, they released an album, Taking the Long Way, and there was a song on that CD that moved me called Silent House. It was written for Natalie’s grandmother who had Alzheimer’s and the message is, I will remember so you can forget.

I thought about that and decided to interview my father about some things I feared he’d forget and I’d never know what he knew unless I asked him while he could still remember. I sat him down, and typed as fast as I could while he talked, about his experiences in World War II.

The story of my Dad’s experience is immortalized in the final Alice chapter that was cut from the book. Clint is the veteran in the story, and his wife has died, and his kids decided he needed to be put into Assisted Living. He is unhappy there, and wants Alice to marry him. Not that it’s a great love affair, but Alice is a young woman at 81 (he’s 90, it’s all relative), and he believes it to be mutually beneficial, since Alice is a widow. None of this is relative to my father, it’s the specifics of the war experience that are his story.

Alice turns down the proposal, of course. Lydia, (wife of Geo, the depressed guy who makes up his own reality and believes it) learns of the marriage proposal and she and her sister-in-law decide that Alice is a “one man woman”. Lydia thinks about that, and it is one of the many reasons she makes the decision to stay with her undeserving husband of forty years.

I thought the story of Alice and Clint added something to the novel, but the editor said out with it. So out it went.


My father was drafted into the army, which was the norm. He was working in the oil fields, single, uneducated. He was drafted so he could be cannon fodder, basically. One of the guys who risks everything and there’s a 50/50 chance you will live through it. You either will or you won’t. 50/50.

The things he told me gave me the shivers, and especially so when I realized that but for his probably being just plain lucky, I might not be here. He was born lucky, I think. Many of the things he’s done in his life have turned out well, when it could have been very different.

He was in the Battle of the Bulge, and never knew, from day to day, if he’d be shot by the Germans. He slept in foxholes filled with water. He woke one morning to see a church maybe 100 yards away, completely destroyed, that had been standing when he fell into the exhausted sleep only a soldier can describe, the night before. It had been bombed while he slept, and it never woke him, he was that tired.

These stories never surfaced before, not when we were kids or afterwards. He didn’t talk about it, and if I hadn’t asked him about it a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t know about any of it. I asked him if he had nightmares, or flashbacks about it. I figured something that traumatic must have caused a lot of sleepless nights.

“No,” he said. “I put it behind me. I didn’t think about it.”

He didn’t think about it. Can people really do that? I think some can. He grew up poor, lived through the depression, and was “raised like a barn cat”. You survived. You did what you had to do. That’s exactly what he did. He did what he had to, and when it was over with, he didn’t think about it. He went on with his life, he got married, raised a family, started a business. He became someone, someone he’d always wanted to be. A business man. A family man. Someone the people in town all knew.

It’s hard for me to comprehend this. How can anyone forget? I think it’s possible for some, and maybe more men of that generation could do it than of ours, but the horrors of war are lost on us civilians, we can only imagine how terrible it is. I guess I’m glad he could forget about what happened back then, and the close calls he had, but I still wonder about it. And know he’ll soon forget forever. I’m glad I asked him about that part of his life. And now that I have done that, I have the memory so he doesn’t have to remember it. Like the Silent House song,

And I will try to connect
All the pieces you left
I will carry it on
And let you forget

Click here to be redirected to Veteran’s Day

Treadmill 101

I’ve started a cardio fitness program and have been using the treadmill nearly every day. I do this for 40 minutes, the first 5 is a warm up, 30 at top speed, and the last 5 a cool down. Treadmilling has never been my favorite activity but recently it has become a lot more enjoyable and I thought I’d share my thoughts. So today is one of those “and a little more” days, because this post has little to do with writing, except maybe practice in writing a hopefully educational post.

Never mind what I looked like before. This is what I look like now.

Isn’t that great? So short a time and what an improvement!

Don’t believe that? Well, okay.

The success one has at a treadmill cardio program is directly proportional to the quality of his or her diversion. Anyone who thinks they will keep up with it without benefit of 1) nice scenery, 2) television, or 3) music, is bound for failure. Two of these diversions are nice to have, although one will usually be enough and 2 and 3 are mutually exclusive. I do not have the benefit of nice scenery, and television doesn’t do it for me, so I am a #3 person.

As such, I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my iPod Treadmill Playlist and I thought I’d share it. Keep in mind, this is a beginner regimen, so my MPH might not be as fast as a more experienced exerciser. I start my warm up at 2.0 MPH and increase it on the whole minute up to 3.2 MPH at the 5 minute mark. That’s 2.0, 2,2, 2.5, 2.8, 3.0 and 3.2 MPH. I have a playlist that is approximately 42 minutes in length and it will be good for 3.2 – 3.5 MPH at least. After that, I may need to make adjustments.

I have found the group ZZ Top to be the best, for general, medium stride beat-thomping music. Consistently excellent for walking in time. Every second song on my playlist is a ZZ Top song. Here is the playlist, in order, with comments.

1. Proud Mary (CCR) – This plays during the beginning of the warm up. It isn’t noteworthy for it’s ability to get the walker pumped up, but good to get going. A pleasant diversion to the start of what seems an insurmountable 40 minutes.

2. Gimme All Your Lovin’ (ZZ Top) – Now the warm up is about half way through, the MPH increased enough to walk exactly in time with this very upbeat piece. By the end of the song, I’m at maximum speed, and still I can walk in time with the beat.

3. Old Time Rock & Roll (Ron Dante) – Now we’re at about six minutes and this song is a medley of Old Time Rock & Roll and Mony, Mony. The first part is fast, I have to really speed up, take small steps, I’m almost at a half jog here. Mony slows it down just enough that I’m back to a fast walk. This one makes me want to almost march, it’s very uplifting.

4. Sharp Dressed Man (ZZ Top) – A great song. I wish I could more adequately describe music here, but the pulsating beat in this is enough to keep anyone going. And the funny lyrics, “every girl crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man”. This song is over before I know it, and by now I realize I’m not keeping an eye on the timer every 20 seconds, I’m just enjoying ZZ Top and how my walking is exactly timed with the music. (“Yeah, Baby!”)

5. Crumblin’ Down (John Mellencamp) – Another #1 excellent treadmill song. Long stride, I’m walking along (going nowhere) arms swinging, having fun. And the walls come tumblin’ down! Great, great song.

6. Doubleback (ZZ Top) – This one is not my favorite ZZ Top song but the worst song in this list is still great. After #5, I’m ready to just stride out for awhile, take it easy before the next onslaught. This one allows me to do that.

7. King’s Highway (Tom Petty) – This speeds me up. I’m almost running again, because my steps have become so short in order to keep up with it. I can feel it in the back of my thighs and my butt.

8. Give It Up (ZZ Top) – This one has a great beginning. After #7, again, I’m glad to lengthen my stride and chill to this (yet again) excellent rock and roll song. The beat pulsates, I’m getting heated up, I’m loving it.

9. She’s Not There (The Zombies) – This is a really old sixties song. It doesn’t start out too well, so I stumble trying to find the rhythm for a bit, then on the chorus it speeds up and I find it and it’s great. Repeats three times. Slower, faster, fast. It’s a good addition to the playlist.

10. Gun Love (ZZ Top) – Starts out pretty well, same beat that allows me not to think too much about adjusting my steps. I love the lyrics of this one, “Playin’ Russian roulette but she’ll load all six”.

11. Makin’ Some Noise (Tom Petty) – This may be the weakest link in the playlist. It’s too fast for this portion of the workout, because now it’s cool down time. I usually just give up here and listen. This one might be replaced at a future date.

12. La Grange (ZZ Top) – This is good cool down tune. Funny lyrics, “They’ve got a lot of nice girlsa”. But usually the 40 minutes is up before this one finishes anyway.

The warm up and top speed songs are the most important to my workout. By the time 35 minutes have gone by, I could listen to anything.

So, if anyone actually gets much out of this post, please let me know. And also, if anyone has any good selections that I could try, I’d be interested to hear about them. Maybe there’s some even better than what I’ve listed here.

When It Doesn’t Belong in Your Book, Make It a Short Story

Earlier this year, I blogged about stuff that needs to be cut out of a novel. If it doesn’t contribute to the story, out with it. And the offshoot stuff about Alice and her grief, her widowhood and eventual recovery, while interesting, did not really have anything to do with the storyline of Second Stories. I was told to cut three chapters about Alice. I posted the first chapter, entitled “Alice“, and now I’ve edited the second chapter that didn’t make the cut.

Alice is Geo’s mother. Geo is a really screwed up character. Alice didn’t know how screwed up her son was, because he wouldn’t have allowed her to know, and people just didn’t talk about depression back then, in the sixties. We can’t blame Alice for that, it’s just the way it evolved. Perhaps she might have been more vigilant, but she didn’t know what to look for. We can excuse her for that.

Alice is a good person, what’s not to like about her? She is a good wife, and a good mother (with the exception noted above), and she’s even a good mother-in-law to Lydia, who is married to the above-mentioned screwed up character. Alice does what she thinks is right, and has an unremarkable yet happy life, and goes down life’s highway until her husband gets sick suddenly and dies within six weeks of his diagnosis.

Like many of us, Alice doesn’t think too deeply about things, she’s more concerned with whether the weather will hold for her weekly trip to the grocery store. She’s sees what happens around her but it strangely doesn’t seem real to her. And when family members died, she was much younger. Oh. Yes, Grandpa died. He was eighty-something. Oh, well, then. People die when they get to that age.

Unless a person dies at a young age, or maybe in an accident at a less than young age but still not old age, at some point we all examine our own mortality and the light comes on. Hey, we’re going to actually die one day. When George died, that was Alice’s wakeup call. She was grief-stricken at the loss of her husband, but more that she hadn’t been able to do anything for him. She hadn’t had the education, or the time, to think about death, so she could discuss it with him.

Alice could have withered into a comfortable widowhood but she made a choice not to do that. She chose to do for others what she couldn’t do for George, and become a hospice volunteer so that she might help some people who are at the end of their lives. I could probably write a book about Alice and her hospice adventures. But here is one of them, her very first hospice experience.

Click here to be redirected to White Place

ABNA Winners and The Incredible Shrinking Man

Firstly, I was 0 for 2 in my ABNA winner predictions. The winner in the General Fiction category was East of Denver and in the Young Adult Fiction category, Spookygirl. So, even though I did say I picked Dog Christ narrowly over East of Denver, and Spookygirl would have been my second choice, still 0 for 2. Bummer.

Posting early this week, as an experiment to see if I can generate any more traffic in the middle of the week rather than on the weekend. If so, I’ll change my posting schedule. Now that I am Retired, (capital “R”), I can do that.

One of the people I follow on Twitter is Roger Ebert. He is a very good writer, and is straight forward about his condition and how it affects his life. He has a way of writing that is clear, unpretentious, and sometimes so beautiful and honest, it is very touching. He can also be mildly obscene and funny too. His blog today was called the Incredible Shrinking Man, and dealt with the fact that sometimes, well, almost always, we shrink as we get older, and he has lost about 2 ½ inches of his height.

The post was littered with pictures from the film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, filmed in 1957 and starring Grant Williams and April Kent. This is one of those movies that has always stuck with me, a true horror film, so unbelievably scary it makes my heart pound even now thinking how afraid I was when I watched it back then. Here is a snippet from the movie – Viewer discretion advised!

Scott Carey (who is 6 ft 1 in) is on a boat with his wife, Louise, when he is surrounded by a peculiar mist, which turns out to be an atomic waste fog. Louise is below deck, rustling up some “refreshments”. Wasn’t that always the way in the 50’s? The womenfolk providing the vittles, while the guy stayed above board? But in this case, Louise is the clear winner, because she avoids the mist.

Six months later, Scott notices his shirts seem too big. He suspects it must be a dry cleaner malfunction at first and doesn’t think much of it. But he continues to get shorter, and lose weight, until he can no longer deny it. He’s shrinking. He is told that all of his cells are shrinking and there is no cure, he will always be the size he now is (about three foot tall at this point) but is given an antidote, which may halt it and seems to work. But the antidote stops working after awhile and he continues to shrink.

He sells his story to the media, and so becomes a curiosity, with reporters lurking in the front lawn day after day. Finally, he lives in a doll house, and is accosted by the family cat, gets chased into the basement where he has to fight a spider to the death. In the end, he crawls through a square in a screen and the ending narrative says, basically, I may be small, but I still matter.

This movie is effective because many scenes start with a shot of Scott, and then pans away so you see him in relation to other people, furniture, etc. and you see how much smaller he’s become since the last scene. It’s shocking, done that way. The movie is funny in that 50’s way we laugh at now, but this movie is one that I have never forgotten, probably because it scared me so much when I was a little kid.

It’s a great piece of film noir, I just had to share it. Movies have come a long way, but this one still has impact, and, in fact, has a bit of a cult appeal. Even watching the sample here, made me feel the way I did back then. Scary!

This brought to mind other movies I had watched at The Haven Theater in Olean, New York, with my grandmother. I can remember snippets of some of them but not enough that I can Google to find out what the actual titles were.

One I’ve never forgotten starred a dark-haired actress, and she was evil and an alcoholic. There was also a lovely blonde woman (Doris Day maybe?) in the film and the Evil Brunette and the Good Blonde (oh, isn’t that always the way), are in love with the same man, and when the EB learns the man has chosen the GB, she throws something and it overturns a candle, starts a fire and the house burns down and she dies (I think). But GB’s house is right next door and I think it’s called The Pink Palace. It burns too. Does anyone remember this movie?

ABNA – Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a contest sponsored by Amazon in conjunction with Penguin USA each year to discover the next best-selling author. In two categories, General Fiction and Young Adult, it is open to 10,000 entrants, 5,000 in each category. There are several stages of elimination, which go from February until June.

Each applicant submits a pitch letter, an excerpt and the full manuscript. The judges read the pitch letters first and they pick the best of the lot. You have to pitch your novel, as if you were pitching an agent. I never get past this point, because I hate writing pitch letters, and I’m no good at it and it shows. After the pitch letters have all been read, they pick 2,000 entrants to continue.

Second, they read the excerpts and 500 quarter-finalists are selected. Third, the whole manuscript is then read and 100 semi-finalists are announced. At that point, industry professionals read these 100 manuscripts and select the top 3 finalists in each category. Readers can now read the excerpts and vote for their favorite.

I like to watch the progress of the contest, and visit the forums frequented by the authors who have entered and read the comments of those who get to stay in and those who are eliminated. I’d like to try this contest again, maybe in February 2012.

There are six finalists, three in General and three in Young Adult. I read my first one today, called East of Denver by Gregory Hill. His is the first I’ve read, but Wow! I hope the others can compare to this one, I loved it. It’s quick, it sets the hook, it’s funny, and it looks like a great read, although it is kind of a sad, hopeless story in parts. I doubt it will be the most uplifting of tales, but that’s okay.

It starts with the story of a cat, who didn’t live with the main character, but in the same vicinity. An independent, unnamed cat eventually done in by, the main character (also unnamed, at least in the section that I read) suspects are evil children with time on their hands. The cat succumbs and the main character takes the dead cat to his father’s farm to bury it.

Dad’s senile. This is a direct quote, after Dad says some funny things. The main character buries the cat, with his father’s help, and realizes that his dad can no longer live alone. He moves in with his dad.

The author reminded me of E. L. Doctorow, who wrote Ragtime, among others. Short choppy sentences that are complete thoughts in themselves. Interesting sentences that make you want to get to the next one. Here are the first few of the novel:

I was driving from Denver to the farm with a dead cat in the back seat of my car. She was a stray I used to feed off my back step. She slept outside. She walked in the rain. Once, after a blizzard, she spend a month trapped in the sewers where she survived by eating baby raccoons.

To me, that’s a pretty good hook sentence. A dead cat?

And I liked this too:

I didn’t mind cats but I hate cat-lovers. I loved this cat.

I know I’ll read this book when it becomes available. It’s funny and sad at the same time. It promises to be a winner, no matter if Mr. Hill wins the contest or not.

Next week, I’ll have at least one more entry to review. And I’ll keep you posted on who wins!

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) For Your New Blog or Website

Once your blog or website is established, how do you generate traffic to it?

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, and more will come, as I get better at SEO. I thought I’d publish this in a learn-as-I-go mode, so anyone who is just starting out can take advantage of what I’ve learned. I’m a beginner too, and I’ve been interested in this topic – Search Engines and how they work – and have done some research. If you need further information, there are hundreds of blogs and articles about it, but I found very few that weren’t over my head.

The first thing I discovered is, you can’t rush it. Search Engines take their own sweet time getting to know you, that is, your site or blog. They will not be forced or manipulated into recognizing you before they are good and ready. But once they’ve crawled around a few times and see your site, they’ll start to recognize you and examine your content.

Make your titles, descriptions and keywords relevant to your content. Keywords aren’t as important as they used to be, but they’re still helpful. Your pages should have titles which match what people are searching for. Put the most important words first. I chose “SEO (Search Engine Optimization) For Your New Blog or Website” for the title of this post, because “SEO” is what most people will probably search for, and if not, they’ll spell it out – “Search Engine Optimization”. I might have liked to call it “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about SEO” but that puts the important part too far back in the title. Get it out there. One, two. SEO and Search Engine Optimization. That’s what this is about. But the whole title will be displayed, so I hope people who are beginners, like me, will see the “For Your New Blog or Website” part, and think “that’s for me” and click on it.

You can’t fool Mr. Search Engine. Years ago, you could, by establishing hundreds of keywords, and they didn’t even have to have anything to do with your content. That’s why back then sometimes you’d search for the most innocent of topics and porn sites would appear. That didn’t last too long, and once you’ve been banned by Mr. Search Engine, you’re pretty much finished with that site. There’s no way to redeem yourself. You’re banned, banished, and you have to start over.

I have no idea how they do this, but the web crawlers examine your pages, and what is on those pages, and they will know if you’re trying to pull a fast one. So don’t do it. But if it crawls over your site and decide it likes what it sees, it will store information about your site that will be used when users search for topics that it thinks are related.

So your content is ready, and you have a good title and an accurate description and a few keywords, and you’ve waited the allotted amount of time. You can now start searching to see how your site fares. Of course, it’s a chicken-and-egg thing because the more people who visit your site, the better your statistics will be, and the more Mr. Search Engine will love your stuff. So it’s a slow process, and patience is absolutely required here. There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed it up, or guarantee first page prominence. It’s out of your hands.

I, personally, am not burning up the airwaves with the number of hits I’ve had on either my website or my blog. Depending upon a number of other things (i.e. the weather, my mood, whether it is a full moon or not), I alternately stomp around and slam doors and say to myself, Screw This. Other days, I shrug and think, oh well, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. Everyone says it won’t be overnight. I have never been a particularly patient person, so this second alternative is sometimes a challenge, but I’ve become a bit better at the patience thing, at least as far as blogging is concerned.

One interesting thing I’ve noted is the blog post I did called “Design Your Own Book Cover”, has been my top read post. I can see statistics at WordPress.com, which is where my blog is hosted. I can’t see who is clicking, but I know for any given day, what blog posts were read, and how the posts themselves were reached. And one really helpful thing is that if my blog was reached because it was searched for and clicked on via a search engine, they tell me what search criteria was entered.

So it’s interesting but I see some very strange search criteria used. Here are the top search criteria used which directed people to the Design Your Own Book Cover post:

Black book covers with flowers
Black background designs for photo-editing
Design your own book cover
Sun shining clouds
Cover book
Black design page background book spine
Special background roses

I used both Google and Yahoo search engines, and searched for all these terms. I went through 10 pages of results for each. I don’t know about you, but I rarely navigate off the first page when I search for something. I figure if it isn’t on the first page, it can’t be anything I’m looking for. So after going through all of these search terms, only one – “design your own book cover” – actually showed up for me. It showed up on page 1 (Yay !!!) on Yahoo and page 6 on Google.

How did these people ever get to my site based on these other search criteria? I confess, I can’t answer it. I’m still researching. But what it did show me, was that “Design Your Own Book Cover” worked.

I think probably people don’t care what my views are on euphemisms, and clichés, and corporate buzzwords. What they are looking for is something that will help them, or answer some questions. So I should probably stick to that.

Picking the right titles and keywords: I have always titled my genre “Baby Boomer Fiction”. I figured that was a good, meaningful description, so I used that as my title, and as keywords. I googled “Baby Boomer Fiction” and, whoa, I’m on Page 1 for both Google and Yahoo. That’s got to be good!

Not so fast. I then heard about a cool tool called Google Ad Keywords. You enter keywords to see how many searches there actually were for those keywords. Look at this!

Gah! No one has searched for baby boomer fiction. Not one search. No wonder my blog and website come up on the first page, there is no competition, because no one else is using these keywords. And the reason no one is using them is because no one is searching for them!

So I checked results for different, closely related keywords.


These are the results:
It appears “books about baby boomers” is being searched for a decent number of times and when I see the list of topics that is returned, I think it is appropriate for my books. I have updated my blog and website titles and keywords accordingly. We’ll see. I’ll have to wait until the engines crawl again, and get my updates, to determine if it made any difference.

I’ll be monitoring these changes closely. And I’ll be sure to let you know!

I’d like to hear from you.

A Nicer Word for Euphemism

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.

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)

You aren’t poor, you are economically disadvantaged.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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?