Making Whoopee and Little Black Books

I’m a distractible adult.

I wasn’t a distractible child, but things change.

I blame the Internet. Open it to check one thing, and I’m lost for hours.

It’s like a dictionary. You know how it is: you look up ablative and right below it you see ablative absolute, and before you can close the book, you see abhenry and abraham’s bosom, and before you know it you’re on zedonk and zyzzyvas. It’s the Ice Age equivalent of web surfing.

Today the dictionary and the web got together and here I am writing a post.

I opened my email (the first mistake ) and there was my daily post from with the word of the day. I usually skip those. Sometimes I already know the word; sometimes I just don’t want to get hooked. Today’s word is messan–interesting enough to check out but surely not interesting enough to lead to disaster.

It turns out that messan, a noun, is Scottisha lap dog; small pet dog. The accompanying photo implies it’s a cute lap dog.

That’s good: a new word for my personal lexicon.

But–next mistake–scrolling down the page, I found a link to “Superb Owl and Other Copyright Loopholes.” Click bait. And then “Words (and Phrases) That Will Show Your Age.” Couldn’t resist that. Click.

Words that show my age: fuddy-duddy; web surfing; Dear John letter; How’s tricks?; Davenport and Chesterfield; long-distance call; VCR and videotape; little black book; wet-blanket; making whoopee; Rolodex™; Pet Rock™; mood ring; “Just one more thing”; “The thrill of victory (and the agony of defeat)”; “Up your nose with a rubber hose”; Fotomat; Walkman; Pigpen, you got your ears on?; “Good night, John Boy.”

Instead of saying, “Hahaha, I’m not old enough to remember that,” I have to admit I knew all of them without looking them up, but I don’t use them all. When I was a child, I heard some from older people. Wet-blanket was in general usage (until I read the article, I thought it still was). My mother explained Dear John letter, and, having lived through World War II, said it was a pretty awful thing to send to a soldier overseas. She also explained little black book, which I probably first heard on television; I don’t think I knew anyone who had one.

How’s tricks? also came from television, but I never heard it elsewhere. I guess fuddy-duddy came from television, too, or maybe my mom said it once or twice, but just to be amusing. Most of the adults I knew were over forty and immune to television language.

Back then, most long-distance calls were made after 9:00 p.m., when the rates went down. They were usually from my grandmother in Dallas, and were pre-arranged by letter so we knew when to expect them. The line crackled, and speakers on both ends had to repeat a lot. An un-prearranged call after nine, long-distance or not, meant bad news, or, sometimes, a new baby.

In Fentress, there was an unspoken rule that no calls were made after nine except in exceptional circumstances. The only mention of the rule occurred when my high school English teacher asked if it was a rule or just a tradition her family observed.

Fentress residents made many long-distance calls; the only town that wasn’t long-distance was Prairie Lea, the same size as Fentress, two miles away.

I refused to initiate all such calls because I was too shy to talk to a live operator. At eleven, I had a baptism of fire. I’d gone with my piano teacher and her other students to a dog show in Austin, and when we returned to her house in Martindale, I had to call my mother, seven miles away, to come for me. I was embarrassed to tell Miss Louise that I avoided operators.

I called my mother because, except for calls from long-distance family, my father rarely used the telephone. He wore a hearing aid, the kind worn in a harness against the chest, and often had to ask people to repeat. He left a job because it required frequent long-distance calls, often from high-ranking military personnel relaying sensitive information. A misunderstanding could have resulted in an airplane going down. He was also embarrassed to ask them to say things a second time.

While we were visiting his aunt one evening, her four-year-old granddaughter crawled into his lap and asked about the button  in his ear and the attached wire. He gave the usual explanation–“It’s my telephone”–and let her feel case under his shirt. A few minutes later the aunt’s telephone rang and the child turned to him and said, “Is that yours?” She looked so pleased, and so hopeful, it was a shame to disappoint her.

But back to words and phrases.

“Making Whoopee” was the title of a song I heard sung by Julie London when I was ten. She sang it slowly, in that smoky voice that was hers alone, on an LP (another word I remember) my cousin had standing in a record rack. The cover had a green background and showed Julie in profile from just below the shoulders, red hair flowing down, her face turned toward the camera. She wore a skinny strapless dress positioned so low that it made my mother say, “My goodness.” I would have simply died to wear a dress like that.

Twelve years later, Julie was a regular on TV’s Emergency! wearing a nurse’s uniform complete with cap. After the LP cover, that was such a come-down for her, and for me, a memory tarnished. She deserved better.

I began this post for a specific purpose but so far haven’t fulfilled it, but I must leave the rest for another day. I recently vowed to write posts of no more than five hundred words, and this already tops nine hundred.

Long-distance calls distracted me.


baptism of firenoun; the first time a soldier faces battle; any severe ordeal that tests one’s endurance.

From Wikipedia, the origin of the phrase:

“The phrase baptism by fire or baptism of fire is a phrase originating from the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11.

“Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptizeyou with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” King James Version 1611

“The phrase also occurs in Luke 3:16 and it might be taken as a reference to the fiery trial of faith which endures suffering and purifies the faithful who look upon God’s glory and are transformed, not consumed (Mark 10:38, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 4:12). See also Dante’s Purgatory 27:10-15.”

Note: Nothing about telephones.


trunk call – noun; (mainly Brit); a long-distance telephone call


ablative absolute – noun, Latin Grammar.  a construction not dependent upon any other part of the sentence, consisting of a noun and a participle, noun and adjective, or two nouns, in which both members are the ablative case, as Latin viā factā “the road having been made.”

No, No, NaNo or, Just Do It

NaNoWriMo –National Novel Writing Month–the month* in which participants vow to write a 50,000-word novel–and some of them do–began yesterday.

The goal–if you want to reach 50,000 words and win NaNoWriMo (which from this point on will be called NaNo), you need to write an average of 1667 words a day.

I’ve registered for NaNo–there’s a website–at least three times, maybe four. Unfortunately, every year, as soon as I signed on, I became claustrophobic and began to hyperventilate. Mentally, not physically, but mentally is bad enough. There was something about having to write a novel in a month that made me feel the walls were closing in, as if I had to do something I didn’t want to do, as if someone were forcing me to write that novel in a month. No one was forcing me, but seeming can feel a lot like being.

Eugène Delacroix (1834): Hamlet, I, 2 - The qu...
Eugène Delacroix (1834): Hamlet, I, 2 – The queen consoles Hamlet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain. {{PD-Art}}

For example, consider what Hamlet** says to his mother the first time we see them together. He’s been going around wearing customary suits of inky black day after day, and suspiring all over the palace, and although his mother knows he’s grieving for his dead father, she says everybody does that at one time or another, and asks why he seems so much more miserable than others in the same situation.

He answers,

“Seems,” madam? Nay, it is; I know not “seems.”

In other words, this isn’t put on, he’s genuinely perturbed. Of course, there’s more to it than he lets on: After his father died, before the funeral baked meats, like the casseroles and tuna sandwiches the neighbors brought in, had been consumed, his mother went and married her husband’s brother, who doesn’t have much to recommend him. That would make any prince suspire. And Hamlet must be irritated that his mother is so clueless. She asks a silly question, and he sasses her. “Nay, it is; I know not “seems,” is, in modern terms, something like, Well, d’oh.

Anyway, back to NaNo. The mere act of registering gives me a serious case of the fantods.

David Garrick in Hamlet, I, 4
David Garrick in Hamlet, I, 4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain. {{PD-Art}}

Hamlet could have addressed his fantods by confronting his mother and his uncle and asking  straight out what in the world they thought they were doing, but instead he takes the passive-aggressive route and pretends he’s unhinged.

I, on the other hand, have, every year, faced my dilemma head on: I’ve dropped out. No novel, no problem.


This year, however, I’m confronting it by plowing on through. I shall, and I will, write 50,000 words by November 30. I’ll go from beginning to middle to end, I’ll  submit my scrambled manuscript through the NaNo website, and I’ll win.

On the basis of my experience, both past and present, I’ve come up with some helpful hints I’m happy to share:

  1. After you register for NaNo, be proactive. Fill out your profile. You don’t have to use your real name. Title your book. It doesn’t matter what, just name it and record it on the website. Join a community. Then write a synopsis. If you don’t have a plot, wing it. Nobody’s going to read it, and it might end up working out. Complete these steps and you’ll receive badges. I got one for filling out my profile, one for joining my community (I told them where I live), and one for “creating” my novel. I take issue with that creating business, but if it makes them happy to think so…
  2. Badges make you feel better, so award yourself some for personal achievement. I gave myself a Plantser badge, because I usually have to write for a while before my characters tell me what they want to do (flying by the seat of my pants, or pantsing), but then, once things get going, I come up with a rudimentary framework (plotting). Plotter + pantser = Plantser. I also gave myself a Rebel badge to declare myself a NaNo Rebel!, state my belief “that rules are meant to be broken,” and admit that on November 1, I’ll “start writing anything but a brand new novel.” I could not have phrased that better myself. Plantser and Rebel might seem contradictory, but who cares.
  3. Relax. Getting all het up won’t help. By Thanksgiving you’ll be so antsy your family will make you take your plate and eat out on the porch.

Now for the Don’ts:

  1. On November 1, don’t let a podiatrist operate on your foot. It won’t hurt, but it’ll take a chunk out of your day that you should spend working on your novel.
  2. On November 1, don’t have two meetings, even if they promise to be interesting and you want to go. See #1 regarding chunks.
  3. On November 1, when you want to quit, don’t. If you feel the queasies coming on, follow Eloise’s lead: Say, “Pooh pooh to you,”***  and get over it. (Eloise and Hamlet’s mother have a lot in common.)
  4. Don’t schedule the Sisters in Crime chapter newsletter you edit (and write) to post on November 1. Before you post, you’ll have to tweak, and you’ll tweak everything, even things that don’t need tweaking, and you’ll add content, and it’s already too long, and it’ll be 9:00 p. m. before you press Publish.
  5. Don’t download the trial version of Scrivener**** that’s available to every NaNo participant. Even if you’ve used it before, you won’t remember how it works, because it’s big and complicated, and you don’t need it right now anyway, you can get it later, and MS Word is sufficient, and if you have Scrivener, you’ll open it and work out how to color code, and then you’ll spend the rest of November color coding everything from plot points to red herrings to subplots to your cats, if you can figure out how (blue for Ernest’s gray coat, much of which currently adorns my sweats, and rust for William’s elegant cream tabbiness).
  6. On November 2, don’t open your email. Don’t open Facebook. For goodness’ sake, don’t open your blog. Opening your blog will lead to writing a post, any post, because you’ll do everything in your power, even write, to get out of making up 1667 words, which by now have increased to 3334 words because you had surgery and two meetings and a newsletter on November 1. Email might not pose a problem– it depends on how popular you are–but Facebook will take you directly to Candy Crush and you’ll be lost. (Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, and Candy Crush Jelly Saga, all of which you sneered at during the years sanity prevailed.)
Screen shot of Scrivener; ready open a new project

There are other d0’s and don’ts, but I’m too tired to remember what they are. Except for the one about getting enough sleep. Last night, I didn’t. A nap is inevitable, but there goes another chunk of writing time.

Anyway, that’s my take on NaNoWriMo. Contrary to the what you’ve read here, I have a positive attitude. I’m going to make it.

Because I want to call myself a winner. I want to experience the satisfaction of a job well done. I want to finish a novel so I can go back to short stories where I belong. I want to be a winner. I want a tee-shirt.

But above all, I want Scrivener. I want Scrivener when I create, plot, organize, research, file, write, revise, prepare a final document. I want to join the legions who say Scrivener is the greatest gift to writers since the eraser. I want the 50% discount on Scrivener that winning will earn me.

But above all else, I want Scrivener so I can color code. 



* A man invented NaNoWriMo. We know this because it takes place in November.

** For a quotation, an example, a whatever, go to Hamlet. Hamlet and Mark Twain. Everything you need is there.

*** I think Eloise says “Pooh pooh to you.” Somebody says it.

****Scrivener is a sponsor of National Novel Writing Month.


I’ve now written about 1370 words. Only 1964 to go before midnight and I’ll be caught up. Blog posts don’t normally count, but if your main character participates in NaNoWriMo and writes a blog, they do.