You Keep Writing That Word…

images (3)Three little words that I see misused quite frequently are yea, yay, and yeah. Darn it, if they aren’t so similar that you may need to pause before employing one in your writing. Luckily for Tweeters and Facebookers everywhere, I’m here to help.

Yea – an archaic, formal, affirmative answer. Think King James Version of the Bible. I suspect this is rarely the word intended.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

Yay – an informal exclamation expressing triumph, encouragement, approval.

“Yay! You did it Robert!”

Yeah – an informal, casual variant of the word yes. I encounter this most often with teenagers.

“Yeah, pizza for dinner is cool with me.”

The Standards of Prose – Realistic or Ridiculous?

imagesWho gets to decide what makes something good? Or great? I’ve often asked this question about art, books, and movies especially after I’ve read a review.

Does a critic have to possess a degree in the field they are critiquing? Must they successfully produce vast quantities of work in said field before they qualify as worthy to deliver an opinion? Or does simply earning a lot of money doing what they enjoy make them an expert in the field? And, most importantly, do we listen without question when they cast their vote for yea or nay?

These questions have been on my mind as I edited the fourth draft of my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Admittedly, I have been (WARNING: cliché ahead) tying myself up in knots trying to predict what the agents I will query, the publishers they will solicit, and any potential readers may want out of my novel. Along the way, I may have even foolishly surrendered what I wanted from my book in my quest for perfection.

Recently, I tortured myself with chapter one rewrites until I met with my level-headed, best friend who talked me through my dilemma and put me back on track. Suddenly, writing was fun again.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a pea under the mattress of my brain, niggling me with doubts and fears. I reread the first lines, paragraphs, and pages of my favorite books, trying, without copying, to capture the essence of what made them great according to my perception of greatness.

About this time, I came across a brilliant essay written by Daniel Wallace titled Sentence Anxiety. Mr. Wallace eloquently stated exactly how I feel about the standards of prose to which writers must aspire if they want to be considered real writers and/or great writers. I enjoyed the entire essay, but I believe the following paragraph, my favorite, contains the spirit of the piece:

I suspect that most common readers — people who read novels but are not professionally connected to literature — simply don’t read like this. Not only do such readers lack the stylistic precision to tell actual bad writing from, say, Nabokov or Joyce amusing themselves with marginally overblown prose, such readers do not approach books with the professional reader’s exhaustion, his frantic need for newness. Few common readers, I humbly posit, read the opening pages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and cry, “Oh, God, not another school-based bildungsroman!”

After reading the complete article, I would love to hear your opinion on the subject.  In the meantime, I’m going to continue putting all of my efforts into creating my novel. My goal is to not only write good and great sentences, but to write an enjoyable novel that readers will find hard to put down, a book that they will recommend to their friends and family, and a story that will stay with them long after its conclusion.

Simple Fare, Shocking Secret

An invitation to dinner is a most coveted offer for a bachelor to receive. While many of them are experts at instant foods or eating out, single men rarely take the time to prepare a decent meal for themselves. It is no different for my protagonist, Dr. John Welles.

John grew up eating delicious food prepared by his stepmother, Collie, and later by his Aunt Prudence’s cook, Lucia. Unfortunately, their culinary skills never rubbed off on John. If not for the good food he eats at Bea Turner’s diner, John would probably lose a considerable amount of weight while living on his own in West Virginia.

During the snowbound winter of 1955, John accepts an invitation to dine with Rueben and Hannah Wise. The Wises own a small grocery store, and while they aren’t wealthy people, they provide a meal that is both simple and delightful. In addition to saving him from his own bachelor cooking, the Wises second, more important reason for inviting John to dinner completely catches him off his guard.

The following recipe for salmon patties is the one I had in mind as I wrote this scene. Salmon patties were cause for nose wrinkling when I was a 1422563010122child; I didn’t develop a taste for them until I became an adult. I do suggest making them when you can have the windows open or prepare them in a skillet that can be covered. Salmon patties are delicious, but they will leave a pungent, lingering aroma in your home for a couple of days!

Salmon Patties

1-14.75 oz. can of pink salmon, drained

½ cup crushed Ritz crackers

1 egg

1 T parsley

1 stalk of celery, minced

2 T onion, minced

Tabasco, several hearty shakes

Black pepper & Sea Salt to taste

Approx. 2 T Olive Oil

Approx. 2 T Butter

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl until well blended. If mixture is dry, add 1 tablespoon of half and half at a time until mixture forms a ball. Gently press out salmon patties on a cutting board using your hands. Be sure to keep the edges neat so patties won’t crumble while cooking.

Melt the butter in a skillet with the olive oil. When the skillet sizzles, add the salmon patties and cook on a high heat to set each side. Take care not to burn. Flip once to cook the other side. Patties should be nicely browned and lightly crisped. Serve immediately.

I’ll Take Theme for $1000, Alex

I'll Take ThemeThe continued editing of my novel has been an equally wonderful and painful experience. One of the points I wanted to make sure I had cinched up was my story’s theme. It was time to revisit one of my favorite posts by writing guru, K.M. Weiland. Then I realized that I should probably share this one in my Writing Toolbox.

What’s the Difference Between Your Story’s Theme and Its Message? posted on December 14, 2014, by K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors.

Nothing Minor About These Birds

Minor League Logo for Baltimore Orioles

Minor League Logo for Baltimore Orioles

You can’t live in Baltimore, Maryland, and not be an Orioles fan, right? My protagonist, John Welles, and his two best friends, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, certainly didn’t think so. Of course, in 1928, the Baltimore Orioles were in the International League, one of the top minor leagues of the time, but that fact didn’t deter John, Sam, and Claude from cheering on their favorite players.

Researching the Baltimore Orioles for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, proved to be interesting for a woman who never followed baseball in her life. I admit I took the easy road out when I chose a team located in the same city where my boys lived. The Orioles had been on my mind ever since I decided to set my story in Maryland, but I wasn’t sure how to work them in. The solution presented itself after writing a scene where the three friends had a major falling out.

During the first year of medical school, the situation between Claude and his father, J.D., truly began to unravel. Two years of pre-med bonded the boys, but their friendship was pushed to the limits by the stress at school as well as Claude’s unwillingness to admit what was happening at home. John and Sam were helpless as they watched Claude drift away.

While neither John nor Sam was aware of the truth, Sam assumed John knew more than he was letting on. The accusation was born of Sam’s frustration at not knowing how to help Claude. Strong words turned into a shoving match and then a full blown fist fight.

Without giving away the interesting details, I will tell you that the three friends eventually worked out their differences. Taking in an Orioles game was their first post-fight activity. Unfortunately, it was a small patch on a bigger problem that had yet to be resolved.

Thank you to Mr. Bill Stetka, Director, Orioles Alumni, for providing the names of players for my characters to follow. Mr. Stetka’s information led me to shortstop, Joe Boley, who became John’s favorite player. Sam followed the career of third baseman, Frederic ‘Fritz’ Maisel, and Claude’s favorite player was pitcher George Earnshaw. In addition to player information, Mr. Stetka supplied a brief but interesting history on the Orioles.

Thank you, also, to Bruce Markusen, senior researcher of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, for supplying information on the Orioles compiled from author James H. Bready’s book, The Home Team, as well as research conducted by the Orioles Public Relations Department.

Staring Down the Barrel of Chapter One

Staring Down the Barrel of Chapter OneI have heard that the first chapter of a novel is the most rewritten chapter of all. I have also heard this is because everything that we want our novel to be and everything that it should be comes spooling out of those first words, sentences, and paragraphs. If the groundwork for the rest of the book isn’t compellingly laid out for our potential readers, and if our readers aren’t hooked by our initial efforts, our novel is doomed. No pressure there.

For the past week, I have been staring at the pages of the first chapter in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Based on the paragraph above, you can probably guess what my current goal is. Still, I refuse to force my story into an outline or someone else’s expectations and/or opinions of what my novel, as a whole, should be. I will, however, accept advice that helps me tell my story the way I know it needs to be told.

Today, I’m stocking my Writing Toolbox with two pieces of writing advice relevant to my situation. The first comes from Jacob M. Appel’s March 29, 2011, post for Writer’s Digest, 10 Ways to Start Your Story Better. I’ll be employing a combination of Mr. Appel’s suggestions to refine the essence of my first chapter.

The second, more recent piece of writing advice is from K.M. Weiland, Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 38: Irrelevant Book Endings. I’m exploring the end of my novel to ensure that the beginning of my book set up my desired ending. If not, a chapter one rewrite and restructure may be in order.

Somewhere, an outliner is screaming, “You could have avoided this if you’d only outlined to begin with.” That may be true, but I enjoy exploring the rabbit trails too much. It’s where I often receive my next piece of writing inspiration, and I’m certainly not interested in turning off the creative supply outlet.

Peas, Glorious Peas!

My Great Aunt Edie, a classy lady who never ceases to amaze me, once told me a story about a trip she and my Great Uncle Bud took to Maryland to attend the Butler Family Reunion. The most interesting part of the story included her description of the breakfast menu.

1422562899611One morning, Aunt Edie, Uncle Bud, and the relatives with whom they were staying ate breakfast with close family friends. Their hosts served the usual breakfast fare, but my aunt was surprised to see pork chops, creamed peas, and bowls of other vegetables on the table. She mentioned this to my uncle.

He explained that the men had been up early and already completed a full day of work before she and my uncle woke up. After breakfast, the men would return to work, break for lunch, return to work again, and finally eat dinner well after dark when all the barn chores had been completed.

I recalled this story as I wrote the scene in which the family of John Welles celebrated his arrival with a huge breakfast. Although the birth of a new baby was exciting, it didn’t take precedence over the work that had to be done. Those not involved with bringing young John Welles into the world still had chores to complete.

Once my novel has been published, I’ll be interested to see if anyone comments on creamed peas for breakfast. Will readers find it odd or familiar? The following recipe is the one I had in mind as I wrote the celebration scene in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.


Creamed Peas

2 cups of frozen peas

1 T butter

1 T flour

½ cup of whole milk

black pepper, I use a mixture of black, white, green, and pink peppercorns

sea salt

1 t sugar, I use raw sugar

2 green onions (white and green portion), diced

Bring water to a boil in a three quart saucepan. Add the peas, reduce heat, and stir. Cook/defrost the peas for three to five minutes, until they begin to float. Drain the peas.

Melt the butter in the hot pan. Whisk in the flour until smooth, be sure to not burn the mixture. Add several grinds of cracked black pepper, salt to taste, and the sugar. Slowly pour in the milk and whisk over medium heat until thickened. Stir in the cooked, drained peas. Toss lightly and stir in the onions.

Handling Those Pesky Info Dumps

untitled (6)Recent comments from a beta reader generated concern regarding two passages in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. In her insightful critique, she tactfully suggested that the two aforementioned passages might come across as info dumps.

I realized this before I sent my novel out for the initial round of beta reading. The offending paragraphs were pared back considerably and again upon return. Still, a round-two reader thought them a bit excessive.

I decided to go in search of advice on how to handle info dumps and to discover whether or not they are the evil creatures we’ve been led to believe. The second part of this quest was in response to the fact that I’ve read brilliant fiction by well-known and new authors who info dumped to their heart’s content.

Author Jami Gold supplied the guidance I was looking for as well as a remedy in her blog post, Four Tips for Fixing the Infamous “Info Dump. What Ms. Gold suggested applies to all genres. I recommend using the tips as questions to ask yourself, then honestly answering them, to see if you truly wrote an info dump or not.

The questions and answers helped me to focus on what needed to be rewritten or left alone. Editing became much less daunting, and I didn’t feel as if I had to cut crucial information from my story. Thanks again to Jami Gold for helping to stock my Writing Toolbox.images

My Love Affair With Books

Bookcase of books I've already read.

Bookcase of books I’ve already read.

Long before I became a writer, I was a reader. I still am. I remember the exact moment my love affair with books began. My mother set the stage by taking me and my brother to the library and checking out the very best picture books. She always managed to find interesting stories combined with fabulous artwork. She read to us in a soft yet commanding voice, often in character, and her tone never condescended no matter how simple the story.

Mom further instilled my love of books when she started my own little library purchased from various book clubs listed in the back of children’s magazines. I still have my entire collection, and when I married, I inherited all of my husband’s childhood books. Score!

Newly acquired shelves to hold my growing collection.

Newly acquired shelves to hold my growing collection.

Still, it wasn’t until the third grade that I discovered for myself what a treasure a book truly is. My best friend at the time proposed a contest in which we would check out the same book during library time at school. Then we would race to see who could finish the book first. Our selection was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I trusted I would enjoy the book, but admittedly, my competitive side prompted me to read and win.

Determination to finish first meant that the book went with me to a sleepover at my cousins’ house. While all the other kids played football in the street, I stayed inside and read. In my defense, I wasn’t missing much; it was only football.

So many books, so little time.

So many books, so little time.

Something happened as I sat curled up on my aunt’s couch. The story opened up for me in a way that previous books never had. It’s not that I hadn’t read on my own prior to this or that other books weren’t as good. I remember the wonderful feeling I experienced when my imagination blended with visualizing the story in my head as I read the words on the page. Excitement almost distracted me when I realized how much I loved reading.

Envy vs. Jealousy

Envy vs. Jealousy

Today’s Weight of Words post serves to clarify the difference between envy and jealousy. Too many times to count, and yet I cringe every single time, I have seen these words used interchangeably.

The definition of envy is to want what someone else has and resenting them for having it. Perhaps your best friend shows up for lunch in the pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on for months. You want to be happy for her, but you’re more likely to feel envy. You want the shoes and, if pressed to admit, you dislike the fact that she owns them before you.

Jealously is the sensation you register when you think someone’s trying to take what’s yours. You’re at a party with your new sweetheart, and although you love the attention you’re receiving, you’re also insecure about the fact that so many people are flirting with your new love interest. You begin to wonder if they have the ability to take this person away from you. This fear of loss leads to jealousy.

Now, young writing padawans, go forth and use these words correctly.

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