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Brevity

Day 5:
You discover a letter on a path that affects you deeply. Today, write about this encounter. And your twist? Be as succinct as possible.

***

English: The path across Burstock Down Deeply ...

English: The path across Burstock Down Deeply entrenched, under a canopy of very old trees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) ["The path across Burstock Down" by Roger Cornfoot is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

This morning I found a letter lying beside the path. It contents affected me deeply.

Forgive me–tears blur my sight and fall onto the paper, causing the ink to run. I can write no more.

 

*****

More Writing 101 posts:

Thoughts and Happenings

Idle and Bored

Love Always, Sarah

Plus:

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Rosemary

Day 4: The Serial Killer
“Today, write about a loss. The twist: make this the first post in a three-post series.”

  *****

I’ve removed this post from public view for two reasons. First, I don’t like to put my fiction on display while it’s in draft stage, and “Rosemary” was a (very) first draft. When I started writing it, several hours before posting, I didn’t know how the story would turn out. I still don’t. If I were to continue, what’s written here might not even make it into the final version.

Second, most editors won’t accept for publication anything that’s appeared on the Internet. So if I finished the story, there would be no market for it.

A professor told me years ago not to put too much energy into an exercise. Writing 101 is worthwhile, but it is an exercise. So I shall tweak the rules to fit my needs. If “Rosemary” returns, and anyone wants to read, I’ll let you know where to find her.

 

 

 

cropped-im-writing-header-1.jpg


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Wailing and Gnashing and Girdles and Teeth

“And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” ~ Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

There was wailing and gnashing of teeth today at Writers Who Write.

Now, it’s too early for a digression, but I shall digress. Writing that first sentence, I wondered whether anything besides teeth can be gnashed. So, although everyone says not to research while you’re writing, I googled gnash and found this:

  1. To grind or strike (the teeth, for example) together
  2. To bite (something) by grinding the teeth

I would have searched further for confirmation but was distracted by these words, in  large blue font, about two inches above the definitions:

Wisdom Teeth Removal

English: Atlantic Ocean (Jul. 28, 2003) -- Lt....

English: Atlantic Ocean (Jul. 28, 2003) — Lt. Cmdr. Al Parulis (left), the ship’s oral surgeon, aided by Dental Technician 2nd Class C.J. Garrison, applies gauze to a patient’s wisdom tooth during oral surgery in dental spaces aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Reagan is currently underway off the coast of Virginia conducting Flight Deck Certifications. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Kyle L. O’Neill. (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which reminded me of a certain unhappy experience in the office of an oral surgeon in Seguin in 1976, and the effect it still has on my life today. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that if a doctor ever slices one of your arteries and then looks down at you and says, “Do you have high blood pressure?” in an accusing tone, as if it’s your fault that protracted hemorrhaging is messing up his schedule (and you’re only twenty-five and skinny to boot but, under present conditions, who wouldn’t have high blood pressure?) and you want to say, “Don’t you have a cuff in this office?” but can’t–in short, if this should happen to you, do not, under any circumstances, politely refrain from coughing. And afterward, when your mother and your cousin are dragging you from the operating room, do not offer to pay for having the doctor’s nice, starched, formerly white coat laundered.

Well, anyway. To clear my mind of the old insult, I scrolled down the page and found two references:  a line from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:

They danced to the popular Revolution song, keeping a ferocious time that was like a gnashing of teeth in unison.

And one from Homer’s Collection of Hesiod, Homer and Homerica:

Two serpents hung down at their girdles with heads curved forward: their tongues were flickering, and their teeth gnashing with fury, and their eyes glaring fiercely.

And the combination of the two reminded me of a description of Madame Defarge:

English: A photograph of an engraving in The W...

English: A photograph of an engraving in The Writings of Charles Dickens volume 20, A Tale of Two Cities, titled “The Sea rises”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instantly Madame Defarge’s knife was in her girdle, the drum was beating in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and the Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing from house to house, rousing the women.

That’s my favorite line from ATOTC, not because of its poetry, but because when I read it aloud to my freshman English students, they became still and silent (for the first time that year), and their eyes widened, and their lips formed grim lines, and I knew my politest students were suppressing laughter, doing their best not to be wild things just because they’d heard that a character had a knife in her girdle. The word was funny enough without the knife. Goodness knows what they’d have looked like if Madame had had two serpents in her girdle.

Pin-up photo of Jane Russell for the Sep. 21, ...

Pin-up photo of Jane Russell for the Sep. 21, 1945 issue of Yank, the Army Weekly, a weekly U.S. Army magazine fully staffed by enlisted men. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That was the spring of 1984, when teenagers remembered girdle commercials on television.

Jane Russell at the 16th Annual MovieGuide Fai...

Jane Russell at the 16th Annual MovieGuide Faith and Values Awards Gala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I took pity and explained the difference between Madame Defarge’s girdle and Jane Russell’s girdle. They began to breathe again. I tucked the moment away to recall at times when I needed a laugh.

When I got into the girdle part of this piece, I realized I needed to confirm when various commercials were aired. I didn’t want to say the Playtex 18 Hour Girdle was advertised in 1980 when it was really the I Can’t Believe It’s a Girdle. During my research, I learned quite a lot about foundation garments. The most arresting fact was that “[t]he Playtex brand completely disappeared from Australia in 1984.” I didn’t take time to find out why, but I have this image of the entire inventory vanishing while picnicking at Hanging Rock.

At the Hanging Rock Mt. Macedon

At the Hanging Rock Mt. Macedon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also learned that Playtex was once owned by Sara Lee. That must have been the most mutually beneficial arrangement in the history of American retail. First sell them pastries, then sell them girdles. A win-win situation, on the corporate side at least.

In the midst of all this, an event of monumental importance occurred. With an episode of Lou Grant playing in the background, I heard a character portrayed by Laraine Day tell Billie how she had hidden her identity when she moved from Hollywood to housewifery: “I wore specs and took off my girdle.”

Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”

There I was, blissfully meandering from wailing to teeth to Dickens to Homer to girdles, when up popped another girdle. As if it were planned. Julia Cameron is right. There’s something to be said for relaxing and opening oneself to the universe.

But back to the wailing and gnashing. At Writers Who Write, a twice-weekly work group, I was absorbed in tweaking a short story when the manuscript disappeared and a new screen appeared bearing the message from my Chromebook’s Googledocs: Whoops! That shouldn’t have happened.

No, indeed it should not.

I filled out the requisite form, explaining what had happened: I pressed Enter, or maybe the ” key, or maybe both Enter and the ” key at the same time, and the next thing I saw was Whoops!

A piano

A piano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t mention that I pressed the Whatever key with a certain amount of flair, as if I were following my piano teacher’s instruction to Let the piano breathe!

When I was twelve, I was too much concerned with correctness–and preventing stress to my ears–to let my fingers stray too far from the keys, but on the laptop and the Chromebook, I am a veritable Liberace. Googledocs, however, likes correctness.

When I checked about an hour ago, the manuscript was still lost in cyberspace. But I’m easy. If the universe can provide a girdle, coming up with a lost manuscript should be no stretch at all.

###

Image of Jane Russell at the 16th Annual Faith and Values Awards Gala By Credit to lukeford.net (permission statement at en:User:Tabercil/Luke Ford permission)
CC BY-SA 2.5

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Talking Turkey and Cooking Goose

In the previous episode, Kaye George, author of the Immy Duckworthy, PI mystery series, had just suggested members of Austin Mystery Writers publish an anthology of short stories. Her proposal sent me into paroxysms of insecurity and doubt: could I write two stories of acceptable quality in the time allotted? Or would I embarrass myself and slink away, ostracized from the group, never to plot again?

Scrambled eggs in the microwave

Scrambled eggs in the microwave (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, the rest of the story:

The burning questions posed in She Cannot Get Away have been answered, in part. I can write at least one story in the time allotted me. I’ve already done so. Almost.

As with every project, the key is to start early. I started two years ago. In a retreat workshop sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas, I wrote a fragment beginning with the following sentence:

The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the eggs she was about to scramble, I took the eggs away from her and called a family conference.

Some readers have seen that sentence before. They may be sick of it. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it, fizzing over what comes next. My critique group suggested it’s the beginning of a novel, but I don’t think the situation has the necessary elasticity. In my hands, a novel starting with four siblings plotting to “put Mama out of her misery” could end up reading like the story board of a Road Runner cartoon: Children drop a metaphorical anvil off a bridge, miss Mama by a hair, light the fuse on a stick of dynamite, miss Mama by a hair, find themselves hoist with their own petard. Over and over for three hundred pages.

Greater Roadrunner with a lizard

Greater Roadrunner with a lizard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare, given the same situation, would no doubt have come up with something fresh and original. But Shakespeare didn’t see as many Warner Brothers cartoons as I have. If he had, his creative faculty might have been warped, too.

Well. On July 4 of this year, I posted here that I was optimistic about the chances of getting a story out of the ground glass. Today I report that the two-year-old fragment is now part of a short story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. At our meeting last week, Austin Mystery Writers gave it their approval. Except for one thing. And I knew before a word was said exactly what it would be.

“But nobody died,” said Kaye.

I said I knew that.

“But it’s a murder mystery,” said Gale. “Somebody has to die.”

The three critique partners sitting  the other side of the table nodded.  In unison.

“I was going for subtlety,” I said. “It’s a death of the spirit.”

They stared at me. I stared back.

“But somebody really has to die,” said Kaye.

And then five people said they didn’t understand the last line. I had written the entire story so I could use that line, and no one understood what it meant.

Peasant girl (Batyukov)

Peasant girl (Batyukov) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I continued to stare. A string of pejoratives ran through my brain, notably philistines, peasants, and bourgeoisie. Finally I spoke.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then my friends began throwing out ideas for endings they preferred to mine, in each of which someone died. I sighed repeatedly and said things like, Yeahhhh, and Okayyyy, and I guessss…

People who tell inconvenient truths are so irritating. Especially when they gang up on you.

We moved on to discuss someone else’s submission. We chatted a while. We gathered our books and papers and parted.

I didn’t mention they were correct: The ending as written was weak. It fell flat. When I walked into the meeting, I already knew it was wrong. And I knew they wouldn’t let me get away with it.

Thirty minutes later, I sat across town in a writing work group, staring at my laptop monitor and thinking, Kaye gave me the perfect ending. All the suggestions were good, but hers works on multiple levels. It’s so right. Why didn’t I think of it myself?

Oh, who cares about why. What matters is that Kaye thought of it, and that she and four other writers talked turkey and made me listen.

If they hadn’t–and if I hadn’t–I’d have had a bigger problem than the embarrassment of

Turkey presentation for Thanksgiving, 11/18/1969

Turkey presentation for Thanksgiving, 11/18/1969 (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

not turning in a story for the anthology. I’d have faced the humiliation of turning in a story whose last line four highly literate women couldn’t decipher.

Critique groups meet a variety of needs: for inspiration, encouragement, advice, mentoring, ideas, retreats, gossip…and for talking turkey. Carefully. Kindly. Intelligently. Honestly. Firmly. Timely.

I owe Austin Mystery Writers–big time. Because I’m convinced that if they hadn’t talked turkey to me, my literary goose would have thoroughly cooked.

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(Okay, guys, what do you have to say about that ending?)


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ROW80 11.16 & Racking Up Cats

Cats, Kitten

Image via Wikipedia

Kaye George gave me a kick in the pants.

Exactly what I needed.

She sent me the link to Written? Kitten!, an app which provides positive reinforcement at 100-word intervals.* (Or 200, 500, or 1000, for writers who don’t like cats as much as I do.)

Several weeks ago, I downloaded Write or Die, an app supplying negative reinforcement. The writer sets a target word count, and if, at the end of twenty-five minutes, he comes up short, something bad happens. Bad ranges from gentle mode to electric shock.

I logged out before suffering consequences.

The Written? Kitten! designers must have sat in on the same lecture I heard in my first education class: Negative reinforcement promotes negative results. For positive results, use positive reinforcement.

When the pigeon pecks the lever, give him food.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtfQlkGwE2U

When the writer writes 100 words, give her a kitten. (I would say, Give him a kitten, but I suspect kittens are more of a girl thing.)

I’m composing this post on Written? Kitten! So far, I’ve earned one, a cute grey tiger with a white bib. He lives in Croatia.

And here’s–Kitten #2: an adult, a fluffy gray tiger with green eyes and a wicked expression.

I suppose I could prattle on, musing on operant conditioning and racking up cats, but I won’t. My own children have awakened for their evening snack plus wrestling match, and they’ve saved me a ring-side seat.

***

* At one kitten per 100 words, a NaNoWriMo winner would get 500 cats.

*****

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#ROW80 11.13, NaNo, & Viral Accord

Ampersand in plain and italics.

Image via Wikipedia

NaNoWriMo / ROW80 update:

I’ve been working on Molly but haven’t been averaging the 1667 words per day required to reach the target by the end of November.

According to the NaNo stats page, at my current rate, I’ll reach 50,000 words on September 28, 2015.

But there is hope—if I write 2,753 words each and every day for the rest of the month.

Is it possible to write 2,753 words in one day? Of course. Call it a blog post and I’ll write twice that.

*

Sick of staring at Times New Roman, I switched to Accord SF.

Now MS Word 2007 asserts it independence by saving Accord SF in italics. The italics icon on the toolbar, however, isn’t highlighted, and no amount of clicking or unclicking it affects the text. Nothing affects the text. It’s in italics and it’s going to stay that way.

I think the dysfunction is related to repeated crashing of blog documents several weeks ago. I saved in Accord SF but after each crash reopened to italicized Accord SF. Why italics have leaked over into text documents, I cannot say.

If anyone can shed light on this case, please feel free. In the interim, and probably forever, I’ll be using Open Office, which I like better anyway.

Except for blog posts. I don’t have time or patience to read the OO instructions. And Word blog format is on its best behavior.

*

They say the secret to winning NaNoWriMo is Never Delete.

That’s not my way. I revise as I go. Like this:

Word word word word word word word Delete delete delete Different word different word different word Word word Delete Different word…

It’s slow, but my OCD feels comfortable with it.

NaNo, however, despises it.

NaNo likes something like the following:

Word word word word Wrong word Right word Word word word word Wrong word Wrong word Wrong word Right word Right word Wrong word…

Which just drives me up the wall.

*

I saved. Word crashed. I reopened to italics.

What it will look like when it’s published to WordPress I won’t try to predict.

Just once, I would like to live through a day in which I don’t have to eat my words, my hat, or a large portion of crow.



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Cow Swapping

Jersey cow in western United States. Whitney m...

Image via Wikipedia

Ever have one of those days when you have a zillion things to do, but you can’t get them done?

Because you start one thing, but then you think you should be doing another thing, so you start that, but you remember you need to do something else?

So you stop starting anything at all?

And the next day, you face the same tangle, except worse, because another zillion things have piled up on top of yesterday’s zillion, and now you’re even more overwhelmed and hopeless?

And then one day, the Mt. Everest of multi-zillions topples over and flattens you?

And you lie under there all squashed and miserable, wallowing in the knowledge that all you have to show for the past year is the unframed honorable mention certificate they sent you from the national Bejeweled contest, senior citizen division?

Neither have I.

Because I am not merely efficient. I am effective.

That’s Franklin-Covey language. I picked it up in the Franklin-Covey seminar where I learned how to use my Franklin planner. (Covey hadn’t joined up when I went to seminar.)

I learned to use not only that Franklin planner, but each succeeding Franklin planner: the black one with the zipper, the teal one with the zipper, the little red one with the clasp. There might have been others.

Two were later stolen. I left them in a tote bag on the front seat of my car, and while I slept, certain parties (“I know exactly who it was,” said the constable, “but we’ll never prove it.”) smashed a window and made off with the bag. They also got a can of asparagus and a couple of tins of sardines.

That was in August, the first day of in-service. I called the insurance company. I called the school and said I would be along as soon as the deputy had dusted for prints.

My prints, as it turned out. No others. But that made no difference. When juvenile offenders, both alleged and convicted, have completed their respective judicial processes, their fingerprint records are destroyed.

The deputy shared that information. Up to that point, I’d been calm and resigned, but on learning the fingerprint fact, I expressed righteous indignation. At length.

In my father’s day, the boys around town celebrated Halloween by turning over outhouses. People expected their outhouses to be turned over. The next day, they stood them up again.

My uncle once swapped Mr. Langley’s and Mr. Mercer’s milk cows. On November 1, Mr. Langley and Mercer went out with their milk buckets, found alien Jerseys, laughed, and walked them back to their rightful barns. No cows were harmed. They might not even have noticed they were waking up in the wrong bedrooms. Bovines aren’t famous for their powers of observation.

But that’s kid stuff. Breaking into a car and trying to hotwire it is not the same as swapping cows. (Franklin planners were just the consolation prize.) Nor is burglarizing a house several blocks north (one new television set) or stealing a cell phone and tools from an electrician’s van around the corner from me.

A childish prank shouldn’t cloud anyone’s future. But it is my considered opinion that the second time a juvenile ends up in court, his fingerprints should be kept on file. Just in case.

Oh, never mind.

After the dusting, I scraped glass out of the driver’s seat, draped it with towels (deputies do not clean up after themselves), and proceeded to commute. I met the superintendent coming out of the general convocation. He expressed amazement at my calm demeanor. I said if he wanted to see fireworks, I’d be glad to explain about fingerprints.

Well. This started as a lament over mental paralysis, and it’s ended up as a nostalgic tour through the good old days of cow swapping, plus a diatribe on the juvenile justice system.

Back to the present. There are books to be written, blogs to be read, comments to be replied to, software to be learned, and a sink to be blessed. Franklin-Covey would tell me to make a list, prioritize, and get busy. They would tell me to use a Franklin planner for listing and prioritizing, of course, but somewhere along the line I discovered a sticky note would suffice.

So, Dear Readers, I’m off to find a sticky-note and scale–effectively–Mt. Everest.


*

Image by Tlarson at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons




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#ROW80 10/3 Goals

Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle 1848,...

Image via Wikipedia

Round 4 of A Round of Words in 80 Days begins today with a statement of goals. Here are mine:

  1. Write 1000 words a day (excluding blog posts and HotShots!)
  2. Keep a daily record of activities related to writing
  3. Don’t volunteer for or join anything else

Those are the official goals. If I were listing Vague, Airy, Sure- Would-Be-Nice goals, I would include Finish the draft of the novel.

If I completed the draft by the end of ROW80, I could give it to myself for Christmas.

It’s just what I’ve always wanted.

To see what other ROW80 participants are working on, click here

*****

Image: Osborne House Christmas Tree illustration in Godey’s Lady’s Book,” December 1850.



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Day 29: W. F. Ward, Confectioner, 1958

Out on the porch it’s August,
But it’s cool inside and dim, one bulb suspending from a cord.
A slim brunette holding a bottle of Royal Crown Cola
Smiles down from above the mirror.
In the back, where it’s dark and you’ve never been,
Sit two small, dusty tables and four delicate chairs.
Once, flappers and their beaus
Sipped sodas there and flirted,
But now they’re ghosts.
Behind the marble counter stands Dick Ward,
Eighty years old to your seven, and deaf, and wiry as the chairs,
Blue eyes dancing.
“Chocolate, please,” you say.
He leans down, tilts his head.
“What?”
You stand on tiptoe, breathe deep, shout.
“Chocolate!”
Of course, it’s just a game, because
He knew before he asked.
He dives down, disappears into the marble, rises with a cone,
Huge, double-dipped,
And proffers it.
You hand him your nickel.
“Thank you.”
As you turn to leave, Mr. Perry shuffles in.
“Bugler!” he rasps,
And as Dick reaches for the tobacco
You know that’s wrong,
Because your grandfather smokes Bull Durham,
And anyway,
How could anyone pass up chocolate?

~~~~~~~~~~

“W. F. Ward, Confectioner, 1958″ first appeared in the 2008 issue of True Words Anthology, a publication of Story Circle Network.

“A Time of Warmer Weather” by Pranavian, via flickr.com, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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