Objection & the #ROW80 Report

We begin with a question:

Before airing tonight’s Inspector Lewis mystery, PBS issued the usual disclaimer, something like, This program contains material that some viewers might consider objectionable. Viewer discretion is advised.

Now. Every program contains something potentially objectionable. Objection is a matter of choice. (Why doesn’t the same disclaimer run before afternoon soap operas and tacky prime time reality shows? I choose to object to their content.)

It’s reasonable to warn parents about content they might not want their children to see, I suppose. Some PBS programming does fall into the PG range. Some people might not want their children to see as many murder victims as Robbie Lewis does. At times, I wish a firm hand had turned off the television before I saw the bisected woman in the first episode of The Tunnel.

Portrait of Jane Austen
Portrait of Jane Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the same disclaimer ran when Masterpiece Theatre presented a series of adaptations of Jane Austen novels. What could be considered objectionable about Jane Austen novels? 

Well, anyway, that’s one of the questions bouncing around my brain, taking up space that would be better occupied by more pressing concerns. Anyone who has an answer is welcome to leave a comment.

But first take note: They’re boring is not an answer. It’s not even accurate. Jane Austen is not boring. Attempts to change my mind are futile.


Now for #ROW80. The past couple of weeks haven’t been conducive to doing anything, productive or not. I didn’t dust, organize, or shred. But the most important item is behind me.

The July 27 Buffet

  1. ♫♫♫ Complete the edit the AMW story for its (I hope) last major critique
    I reversed the tampering, re-edited the story. When Kaye George sent her critique, excellent as usual, she added, “OK, stop fiddling with it, OK?” OK. After the other critiques are in. Next stop, the independent editor. 
  2. Draft the second half of the story “Texas Boss” and submit to AMW for critique
    Brahman Baby.
    “Brahman Baby” by Lea Maimone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    I wrote several hundred words in a doctor’s waiting room, then two days later realized that I’ve left no place for the incident that gave me the idea for the story in the first place. I can insert it–I hope. But if I can’t make it work, I’ll have to leave it out, which comes under the heading of Kill Your Darlings. I would prefer not to.
  3. Finish a very rough draft of “Thank You, Mr. Poe”
  4. By September 5th, read at least ten of the books on my 20 Books of Summer 2016 list. (The list appears at Writing Wranglers and Warriors.)
    I finished Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover and began Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing
  5. ‼Post #ROW80 reports on Sundays and Wednesdays.
    I’ve already dropped Sundays. This is the Wednesday report, late. The upside: If I’d reported on Wednesday, I’d have had nothing to say about #2.
  6. Visit three new #ROW80 blogs a day
  7. ?Take three naps a week
    I napped. Don’t know when or how often, but I napped. The question: Is it acceptable to count naps I took because I couldn’t stay awake?
  8. Go to bed at by 11:00 p.m. /  9. Cook at least one decent meal for David / 10. Dust the piano. / 11. Get rid of ten things a day / 12. Collect and organize books / 13. Shred



Carrying on:

August 7 Buffet

  1. Eat no refined sugar. Eat a minimum of carbohydrates, including starchy vegetables and fruit. (I ate an ungodly amount of sugar over the weekend; had a reason but let things get out of hand; in other words, went crazy). A PET scan is scheduled for Wednesday, and, for the most accurate results, I need to be as sugar-free as possible. Bottom line, I hope I didn’t run up my blood sugar. Shouldn’t have but you never know. Cancer cells like sugar.
  2. Finish critiques of remaining AMW stories and return to writers
  3. Write post for August 15 AMW blog
  4. Write post for August 16 Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog
  5.  Continue drafting the second half of the story “Texas Boss.” Revise enough to submit to AMW for critique
  6. Finish a very rough draft of “Thank You, Mr. Poe”
  7. By September 5th, read at least ten of the books on my 20 Books of Summer 2016 list. (The list appears below.)
  8. Post #ROW80 reports on Sundays and Wednesdays.
  9. Visit three new #ROW80 blogs a day
  10. Take three naps a week
  11. Go to bed at by 11:00 p.m. /  12. Cook at least one decent meal for David / 13. Dust the piano. / 14. Get rid of ten things a day / 15. Collect and organize books / 16. Shred


20 Books of Summer Buffet

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My thoughts on Anne Tyler appear here.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Saw it, liked the cover, bought it. Serendipity.

√The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
Loved it. Allende tells more than shows and makes it work.

Homegoing - Gyasi - Amazon 51s13capmsL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Homegoing by Yaa Gyassi

Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning by Sol Steinmetz

White Heat: The Friendship Between Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith

Dr. Wortle’s School by Anthony Trollope

Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen

The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley


A Round of Words in 80 Days (#ROW80) is the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

To see what other #ROW80 participants are up to, click here. Or begin with the list below.

A.E. Browne

writing what i can when i

Weaver of Words

Lila Leigh Hunter

Harpwriter’s Blog

A Book a Day

shanjeniah’s Lovely Chaos

ReGi McClain

The Writerly Reader

Sammy PJ Writes

Denise D. Young



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The Stand-Up

Jane Austen at a PUB? Yes!
Maddie Shrewsday, Kate’s fourteen-year-old daughter, speculates on what Jane did there.
Prepare to be enlightened. And to LAUGH.

Kate Shrewsday

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 19.02.11

She’s a stand-up, and she’s only 14.

So we’re driving down to Winchester on one of our Saturday afternoon jaunts, and I come off the soulless M3 motorway to take the old carriage way. The road the postal carriages would have taken to get post to the south and south west. The route the stagecoaches flew along moving visitors from one big house to the next.

And I am doing that thing mothers do where they repeat ad infinitum the litany of landmarks on a road; those that have personal significance (ah, that’s where our car broke down in 1989; that’s the Little Chef where I left my handbag and never went back to get it) and those which have a greater, more elevated place in history.

“Look, darling,” I gesture expansively over the steering wheel, “you see that pub?”

It is labelled ‘The Wheatsheaf’ and it’s a member of…

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Poof! Happened and So Did Phooey!

Mr. Frank Churchill did not come. ~ Jane Austen, Emma


Emma was not at this time in a state of spirits to care really

about Mr. Frank Churchill’s not coming… ~ Jane Austen, Emma


Remember what I said about the furniture and assorted stuff in my living room maybe going Poof! and disappearing?

A couple of things did.

The recliner, for one. David, who normally sits beside it, got a long look at it head-on and asked whether we should dispose of it immediately, before getting a replacement.

Oh, my, yes.

Poof! It disappeared.

The chair was a good and faithful servant, but it should have departed about the same time George W. Bush did.

The search for adequate lumbar support that followed lasted the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday,  and it wasn’t pretty. I despaired of being able to get out of bed the next day without a forklift. But I could and did. And the living room looked better. And that was a good thing.

Tuesday night, after listening to considerable moaning and groaning on my part, David asked whether we should shop for a chair Wednesday instead of waiting until Friday, and we did, and bought the one I’d coveted ever since I first tried it out, about four years ago, and he assembled it and the accompanying footstool, and, after I’d tried to poison us all by spraying the cushions with Scotchgard (I’m waiting for people who know me well to say, “Why did you get beige?”), in an inadequately ventilated space (It was raining), things turned out pretty well. I stopped moaning and groaning and concentrated on keeping Ernest from making biscuits on the nubbly fabric.

So far he hasn’t expressed much interest in sitting there. He’s tried it only once. After about fifteen seconds he moved to the nearby rocking chair. Relocation was possibly due to the rocker’s new green seat cushion, purchased during our shopping trip–it matches his eyes–but I like to think he responded to my schoolteacher glare.

William, who does not respond to schoolteacher glares, in the new IKEA bathtub
William, who does not respond to schoolteacher glares, enjoying the lumbar support of the new IKEA bathtub

As to the other item that went Poof!–it didn’t exactly disappear, because it was never here in the first place.

Like Mr. Frank Churchill, the carpet cleaner, who was scheduled for “sometime after 9:00 a.m.,” did not come.

Unlike Emma, I did care really that the carpet cleaner did not come. I waited for him almost as long as Emma waited for Mr. Frank Churchill.

And I waited with a backache.

Well. It seems the carpet cleaner canceled because of the rain. That was sensible.

But somehow, through no fault of his, I didn’t get word until my ability to extend immediate forgiveness had passed the point of no return. Too little sleep compounded by the mother of all backaches propelled me in the direction of the most convenient scapegoat, and the carpet cleaner was first in line.

So file that part of the day under Phooey!

As soon as my new chair was ready for occupancy, however, sanity returned and unconditional forgiveness reigned supreme. I am once again a veritable Pollyanna, spreading gladness to all I meet.

Which is another good thing, because the carpet cleaner is scheduled to come next Monday “sometime after 9:00 a.m.”

William resting on an old blanket covering the new IKEA footstool
William resting on an old blanket covering the new IKEA footstool



What follows is a repost from January 2011. It’s one of my rants. And it’s worse than I remembered it. It’s an example of what happens when I write instead of withdrawing to a funk hole to get over it. (If you don’t know what in the world I’m talking about, see the previous post.)

14th Amendment of the United States Constituti...
14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, page 2. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I began a post about the proposed cuts to library funding now before the Texas Legislature. A 99% reduction to state funding to school libraries. Elimination of state funding for public library TexShare databases. Elimination of funding for K-12 data bases. Elimination of state funding for direct aid to public libraries.

I was a librarian when the Legislature–headed by pro-education Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock–put a chunk of money into school libraries. K-12 databases. A state-wide union catalog. A system of public school interlibrary loan. Later came the Loan Star Libraries program–the first time funds flowed directly from the State of Texas to individual public libraries. That money paid for summer reading programs, new books and media, conference registrations…Now it’s all on the table…Cities, counties, school districts are facing deep cuts of their own…Many won’t be able to pick up the increased costs…There’s talk of $25 million a year for ten years for a  Formula 1 racetrack…

By paragraph five, I’d written myself into a tizzy. I saved and rummaged through the files for something without emotional significance.

I found the lie, lay, lay lecture. I wrote it for fun, as an offering to my paralegal study group. I posted it.

Tonight I began a post about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement that the U. S. Constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the basis or gender or sexual orientation: The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, applied to former slaves, and so the word person as it is used there does not refer to women. The first clause reads as follows:

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

As I wrote about the logical conclusion that the Constitution does not prohibit depriving women of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, and that it does not prohibit denying women the equal protection of the laws…And wondered whether the Justice would, if push came to shove, follow the precedent set in 1971, when a unanimous Court held that the 14th Amendment does apply to women…I became a little testy. A little cross. A little agitated.

In other words, I’d written myself into another tizzy.

But I don’t have another ready-made piece suitable for posting. So I’m telling the truth about the process.

I learned a long time ago not to write when angry, irritated, agitated, tizzied. The result is never worth reading. The meaning comes through, but so do several other things, none of them impressive.

A critic–I think it was Ellen Moers, but since I read the comment in 1982, I can’t say for sure–compared Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte in the following way:

Austen is detached. She doesn’t betray her emotions in her fiction. She doesn’t intrude into her characters’ points of view.

Bronte doesn’t contain herself so well. When Jane Eyre, for example, speaks about the differences in the lives of men and women, her voice veers off–suddenly it’s Charlotte Bronte’s voice we hear, not Jane’s, and it’s Charlotte’s anger. And the anger poses a distraction.

Again, it’s been thirty years since I read that assessment, but I think it’s true. The principle applies to other types of writing as well.

Anger addles the brain. Words pour out in tangles. To the writer, the result sounds high-minded and righteously indignant when it’s really over-wrought and poorly reasoned and sometimes downright silly.

The tizzy-laden paragraphs above are longer than I intended. I got started and didn’t stop. At least one of them should have a violin playing in the background.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on with me.

If you care to read more about the library situation, links to articles appear below. Be sure to read the one from the Guardian.

And did you see the story about the community in England that checked out every single book in the library to protest impending cuts? Amazing.

Times are hard, and we can’t have everything we want. But surely libraries are as important as racetracks and pro football.

And no matter what anyone says, I think women are persons.

The Formula

Elizabeth tells her father that Darcy was resp...
Image via Wikipedia

Should I or shouldn’t I?

Tell, that is.

Experts advise against it. When you tell people you’re writing a novel, they reply.

“You still haven’t finished that thing?”

“Why is it taking so long?”

“How much longer are you going to have to work on it?”

“You need to just get busy and write it.”

The questions above fall into the category called Irritating. But the questioners don’t know any better. They’re not familiar with the writing process, they don’t know the difficulties of getting an agent, they don’t know how competitive the market is, especially as we transition into the digital age.

There’s another category of questions that, while unsettling, might be classified as Helpful.

For example, when a writer friend told an acquaintance she was working on a mystery, the acquaintance said, “Well, there’s a formula for that, isn’t there?”

Yes, there is a formula. No, you don’t just make up some new characters and fill in the blanks. No, it doesn’t make the writing any easier.

No–and here’s the answer to the real question–a formula doesn’t make the writing any less worthy of respect.

On the topic of the formula, please take note of the following:

Shakespeare wrote his tragedies according to a formula: five acts, technical climax at the midpoint of Act III, dramatic climax at end of Act V, protagonist with tragic flaw that causes his undoing, etc., etc., etc. He used similar formulas for comedies and histories. His sonnets comprised fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, rime scheme (ababcdcdefef), tied up with a couplet (gg) at the end.

Jane Austen used a formula: Darcy’s first proposal (and subsequent withdrawal of proposal) comes at the exact midpoint of Pride and Prejudice. Open the book to the proposal, and you get half the pages on the left and the other half on the right. It marks the point at which Elizabeth both realizes her folly and loses control of the action.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote according to formula and also wrote an essay explaining the formula.

Aristotle mentioned something about a formula. Writers check out his rules to make certain they have all their bases covered.

From the uninitiated, a formula may elicit sneers.

But Writers, even the Great Unpublished, are proud of the formula, and proud of the company we keep.

Sores on the tops of the horses

Writing about his college years, James Thurber tells the story of Haskins, an agriculture student who takes up journalism, “possibly on the ground that when farming went to hell he could fall back on newspaper work.”

Haskins is assigned the animal husbandry beat, which comprises cows, sheep, and over two hundred horses.

Unfortunately, he is shy and doesn’t know how to use a typewriter. He writes slowly, and his stories are dull.

One day Haskins’ editor assigns him to bring in news from the horse pavilion. Haskins later comes back saying he has a story.

The editor, hoping for something more interesting than he’s been getting, says, “Well, start it off snappily.”

A couple of hours later, Haskins turns in a paper that starts with the following sentence:

“Who has noticed the sores on the tops of the horses in the animal husbandry building?”

That’s the other reason I’m not a journalist: When it comes to writing leads, I’m several steps behind Haskins.

Under most circumstances,  I wouldn’t care. I don’t make my living working for a newspaper.

But a lead sentence corresponds in at least one way to the first line of a short story or novel. They both catch the reader’s attention, draw him into the text, make him want to read on.

And there’s this novel I’m working on. And this short story…

And, like Haskins, I’ve heard from some of my critique partners that my first lines leave something to be desired.

After some thought and a brief cooling-off period, I’ve forgiven them and admitted they might be right.

The sad thing is that before my abject humiliation, I never paid much attention to first lines. The sadder thing is that I can quote so many.

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom noticed it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her.

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken near the elbow.

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.

All children, except one, grow up.

Well, I have broken the toilet.

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.

I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed.

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.

They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.

And so on. With all those lines suspended in my brain, you’d think I’d have caught onto why I remember them. And why they’re important.

Here’s the way it works.

A bookstore browser sees a book on the shelf. If the writer is lucky, it sits face out. He takes the volume down, looks at the front cover, the back cover, the first paragraph…and then either buys it or walks away.

And the whole process happens in under ten seconds.

The first line of a novel can make the difference between a sale and a return. Between another advance and a canceled contract.

There’s a lot riding on Scarlett O’Hara not being beautiful. And our not knowing Huck Finn. And what happened when the lights went off.

How does one get to be that good?

The same way one gets to Carnegie Hall, I guess.

Practice. Practice.


And blog blog blog.

Because my concern isn’t just for novels and money and fame. I’d also like the gentle readers who land on To write… to linger longer than the first sentence.


And please discount the business about money and fame. Unless you’re Tom Clancy or Stephen King, those aren’t really part of the package. But they sound good, so I throw them in.


Sorry about that linger longer. Against some things there is no defense.

Day 30: The Kiss


I was twenty-eight, living in a small town in Texas with my parents, teaching English, and working toward admission to the Guinness Book as The 20th Century’s Least Socially Active Female, when a former neighbor dropped by to ask a favor: Her co-worker was worried that his son—a nice but shy young man—would take up with some scarlet woman and be ruined.

Could she give her friend my number?

Her reasoning was transparent. She knew my reputation (nice and shy), and believed the adage that English teachers reproduce by budding. The boy would be safe with me.

Well, why not?

The next day, he called. Larry Weinert.

“Weinert,” said my mother. “Some Weinert children used to throw rocks at my car every morning when I worked at Harper Seed.”

At a preliminary meeting at the old store in Staples, halfway between our homes—he was nice, shy, and careful—he asked me to a movie.

Saturday evening, my parents hid. Larry arrived. He boosted me into his pickup. (Whatever happened to running boards?)

He turned the key in the ignition. Something under the hood exploded.

We sat on the sofa while the engine cooled off or dried out or did whatever it had to do before it would start. Larry ran his palm through his burr cut. “Man, this is awful.”

I said car trouble did not matter. Having read Boy Dates Girl when I was eleven, I knew the duty of a blind datee is to make the blind dator comfortable.

I wanted this to go well. I was co-dependent.

About ten miles down the road, however, co-dependency ebbed.

“There’s a dance over in Laubach tonight,” he said. “Want to skip the movie and go there instead?”

A dance would mean three things: first, dancing, and I didn’t (I’d never learned); and second, drinking, and I wouldn’t, but he would, and he wouldn’t name a designated driver, which could be a problem if the truck started again; and third, talking.

Number Three was already giving us trouble. Larry spoke in paragraphs of one syllable.

The only small-talk I could muster was, “Did you ever throw rocks at a black 1946 Pontiac traveling in the direction of Martindale?” and that seemed best left unsaid.

Fortunately, his malfunctioning muffler filled the void.

A dance, I thought, would require me to be sociable; a movie would justify silence. Anyway, an evening of film might allow me to say, sincerely, that I’d enjoyed myself.

So I used excuse Number One.

Downtown Seguin, Texas, at night in the late ‘70s was almost deserted. We parked in a graveled lot across from the theater. When I slid out of the truck, Larry grabbed me around the waist and clamped me to his side.

This was more familiarity than I’d expected to encounter so early in the evening, or, in fact, in the entire relationship.

I set a rapid pace—sort of a three-legged goose step—and marched him inside. I hoped I appeared eager to see the movie. I also hoped I could dislodge his hand from my person.

I couldn’t. Once seated, he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and kept it there for the duration.

The next two hours did not trip by on rosy wings. I was mired in the Slough of Despond.

I wanted my body back.

I wanted a Jane Austen novel.

I wanted my mother.

We exited the theater silently; the movie had provided no topics. But Larry was an optimist.

“Want to stop and see how the dance is going?”

I said I still didn’t know how to dance. Again, the roar of the engine camouflaged twenty miles of silence.

Finally, we pulled up in front of my house and he turned off the engine.

“Would you like to go out again?” He was desperate.

Caught off guard, I blurted, “I guess you’ll just have to call and see.” That wasn’t kind, but it was better than what I was thinking.

He leaned toward me.

“How about a kiss?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Co-dependent no more, I opened the door, scrambled to the ground, and headed for sanctuary.

“Do you want me to walk you to the door?”

I don’t remember what I said, except that I managed the thank-you-for-a-lovely-evening part. I hadn’t read my grandmother’s Emily Post’s Blue Book of Social Correctness, copyright 1940, in its entirety, for nothing.

I got inside as fast as possible and closed the door behind me.

I’d kicked off my shoes and was making a Hemingway sandwich when my mother walked in, dressed in robe and slippers. She was laughing. Her bedroom windows had been open.

“Did he ask if you wanted him to walk you to the door?”

“It was a reasonable question,” I said, “considering what led up to it.” I scooped a spoonful of Jif out of the jar. “I’m too old for this.”

“No, you’re not.”

As usual, Mother was right.

In fact, I would be twenty years older when I found myself standing under a light on Lavaca Street in Austin, kissing, with (relative) abandon, a man who told me he’d read all the novels of Anthony Trollope. And who on our first date took me to the Harry Ransom Center to see Elisabet Ney’s Lady Macbeth. And who writes funny flash fiction from one-word prompts. And who asked me to marry him.

And who cannot dance.

I don’t know what happened to Larry. He was a nice man.

I hope he found a nice girl—actually, I hope he found a scarlet woman, if that’s what he wanted—to hug-dance with him to country-western music, and fill his silences with words he wanted to hear, and kiss him goodnight without his having to ask.


“The Kiss” first appeared in the 2008 True Words Anthology Online Supplement, a publication of Story Circle Network.