How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words

How Reading Taught Me To Misspell WordsI’ve read so many books during my life that I’ve started to misspell words. I’ll give you a minute to think about that.

I didn’t pay attention to which books were written by English authors and which by American authors. There must have been a time when my selections were top heavy with Brits because I started dropping a U into words that Microsoft Word kept underling, claiming that a U didn’t belong in said word. When it happened with the word color, well, that one seemed rather obvious.

Then came a day when Word underlined realise. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I kept re-reading the sentence for grammar and content to make sure it wasn’t a fragment, etc., etc. But wait, the underline was red, squiggly, and mocking. What in the world was wrong with this word?

I deleted it, retyped it, and again the ugly red squiggles popped up. It was time to resort to the good ole Google search bar. When the first article to pop up was titled Realise vs. Realize, I had a sneaky suspicion of the mistake I’d made. I was having my own private British Invasion.

According to Grammarist.com:

Realise and realize are different spellings of the same word, and both are used to varying degrees throughout the English-speaking world. Realize is the preferred spelling in American and Canadian English, and realise is preferred outside North America. The spelling distinction extends to all derivatives of the verb, including realised/realized, realising/realizing, and realisation/realization.

None of this may seem relevant to a writer, but on the off chance your writing includes a letter composed by someone born and raised outside of North America, think how smart you’ll look to your editor when you spell realize with an S.

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories

F. Scott Fitzgerald The Short StoriesAnyone who knows me knows I adore reading. And for those who don’t know me, it won’t take much time spent in my presence, whether in real life or via social media, to discover this. Recently, I’ve been reading the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I assigned this task to myself as part of the research for my new novel. My goal was to gain a better understanding of Fitzgerald through his writing first, and then I would tackle books of literary commentary as well as biographies of the man, the author, and his life.

I’m not sure where to begin with my review of Fitzgerald’s short stories because I must admit it isn’t favorable in the least. I must also confess my amazement that he earned the money he did during the era in which he wrote. This is especially astounding considering how small the payment is among literary journals today. According to the Dollar Times inflation calculator, four thousand dollars for “At Your Age” in 1929 would be like earning $55, 327.48 in 2016. The section notes prior to the story state this was his “top story price.” I interpret that as price per story and not salary for the year. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but either way, Fitzgerald was simply not that good an author.

If you read one short story, you’ve read them all and his novels as well. Beautiful, indifferent debutantes who pick up and drop men like they’re choosing and discarding shoes; rich ambitious fellas, possibly a football hero, who undoubtedly attended/will attend either Princeton, Yale or Harvard; a sprinkling of drunks, some hopeless, some loveable; endless comparisons between the North and the South or America and Europe; and the ambitious pursuit of money, fame, and power over, and over, and over again. The most unforgivable crime Fitzgerald committed in this reader’s eyes was to cannibalize his own short stories for the sake of his novels. Worse was the fact that his agent, editors, and publishers allowed him to get away with this.

Ridiculous and cliché are the two words that came to mind the most as I read Fitzgerald. The scenarios portrayed were outlandish and unbelievable, and I’m not counting “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” when I say this. Why anyone, even fictional, would tolerate the behavior depicted among the characters is beyond me. I tried to keep in mind that attitudes and actions were different in the 20s and 30s, but my opinion of the situation often deteriorated to how stupid can one person be and how much longer before he/she quits putting up with this garbage? Perhaps this was common behavior among the rich and lovesick back then. I honestly couldn’t say.

None of Fitzgerald’s stories were memorable. As I looked back through the book, I tried to recall the storylines and characters by the title alone, but ended up cheating and reading the section notes. The only exception was “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and that was because it had been made into a movie. So, I’m left wondering who decides what makes a piece of literature a classic. The death of the author, the passing of time, the payment received, popularity with the audience at the time of publication, being made into a movie, or some combination thereof? I shudder to think how the last four delineators will make classics of some of the drivel being produced today.

I don’t know what percentage of readers would stand with me in my assessment of Fitzgerald’s writing. Hopefully, I’ll find the commentaries and biographies more interesting. From what I already know about him, I believe if he had consumed less alcohol and been more content to hone his craft than pursue fame and fortune, he would have moved beyond his narrow world, experienced life to a greater degree, and found something new to write about. In the end, I’ll give Fitzgerald credit for leaving writers a good lesson even though he failed to learn it himself.

Bovine Fashion

Bovine FashionSeveral years ago, I believe it was around the time our son was still a baby, I learned that a new size had been created for women:  Size O. That’s amazing for two reasons. One, I’m pretty sure zero isn’t a size. In fact, zero is nothing. Two, I’ve been living among Americans all my life; I’ve seen how we eat. Who the heck is in need of Size O? I admit I may be incorrect about the date of invention of this stupidity. It may have occurred when I regained some weight when our son was eight, but whenever it took place, I remember it stood out to me because anything having to do with extra weight was a sore point for me.

I changed my initial impression when I realized that this was a brilliant piece of marketing, genius even. A little shifting of the numbers by clothes manufacturers and clothing designers could make a small percentage of women on the planet feel like the goddesses they believed themselves to be. Can you imagine the thrill of discovering you were now a Size O? The trickledown effect would be priceless as women sporting bigger sizes discovered they could wear a smaller size. Thank You God and Jenny Craig.

But wait, what about the plus-sized gal? Her clothing sizes didn’t seem to benefit from Size O. She was still segregated to the other side of the store, barred from the cute and darling world of Size O by a wall of clothing and mirrors. Oh sure, there were breaks in the wall where she could wander over to scan the jewelry, scarves, sunglasses, and shoes, but even her lingerie was kept in check by a plus-sized prejudice.

Our full-figured gal didn’t have to wait very long for the fashion gurus to re-emerge from their drawing boards with an even bigger piece of stupidity. Their intentions were good. So good that Satan was able to re-pave major portions of the Highway to Hell that receives much foot traffic from politicians. But I digress.

Picture this: I’m shopping in the plus-sized department, excited that I’m reaching the lower numbers as I shed weight, when I encountered a brand new clothing size.

“What is this?” I asked the young, thin, chipper sales clerk. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on the tag in the shirt I held.

“Oh, that’s our new size.”

“What is it? It looks like a word.”

“Oh, that’s OX.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“OX.”

I stared for a few incredulous seconds before I held the tag up and showed her. I spoke slowly to make sure she understood.

“Do you see that word right there?”

“Uh…”

“Do you really think I’m going to feel better about myself having the word ox in my clothing?”

“Well, it’s a new size. Really. It’s smaller than X.”

“That’s funny, because X used to fit me just fine. You do realize the only thing that has occurred is a shifting of sizes?”

The poor child looked at me blankly. And truly, I didn’t mean to take it out on her. I guess I just wanted a little respect and better selections for full-figured women everywhere. Not insults to my intelligence in the form of OX.

Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

PoisonSusan Fromberg Schaeffer’s novel, Poison, is a brilliant work of fiction; it is how all novels should be written. Poison explores the themes of love, greed, desire, human strengths and weaknesses, peoples’ perceptions of each other, and how we are molded by these perceptions. The author allows us inside the heads of a wide cast of characters and gives the reader the opportunity to decide who is good or bad, right or wrong. You’ll find yourself comparing the characters to your own friends and family all the while claiming, “I would never act like that.” The stream of consciousness style gives the reader the delicious, wicked sensation of reading someone’s private correspondence or diary. The letters between several characters heightens the experience.

Ms. Schaeffer employs the scenario of a death and a will like a bomb to set off a series of explosive events. It’s a situation many readers will find familiar. Like watching a slow-motion train wreck, one cannot turn away from reading the disastrous accounts of the characters’ lives. Your allegiances will shift throughout the book.

Poison is not a beach read. It is not for readers who want to plow through a book or those who want to be told everything up front with lots of action and a singular POV. But if you are willing to allow the story to unfold, the characters to develop and evolve, Poison will prove to be incredibly satisfying. I truly believe the novel will appeal to the intelligent reader whose mind can juggle multiple POVs, information given out of chronological order, and backstory appearing right up to the conclusion. It may sound like utter chaos, but I found Poison to be remarkably well-structured, one of the best works of literary fiction I’ve ever read.

Bea’s Diner-Open For Business

In the summer of 1948, Dr. John Welles is the newest resident in Addison-on-Gauley, West Virginia. He’s still reeling from his brief experience during World War II, the effects of which will haunt him for many years, and seeks refuge in the small town tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. His role as the new doctor provides the perfect camouflage for the emotional scars he carries and allows him to hide behind his mask of professionalism. Only one person in the town can’t be fooled.

Bea's DinerBea Turner, the voluptuous, cigarette smoking diner owner, takes a fancy to John which he returns in kind. They become close during his initial trip into town, an event that makes John the butt of an unexpected joke, and their relationship grows through many hardships and trials. Their love for each other is recognized in town as something akin to marriage. They alone believe they’ve kept their liaison under the radar.

The sassy restauranteur serves John a bacon sandwich and tomato soup for lunch during his first visit. He doesn’t enjoy the meal surrounded by the more gossipy members of the town, but having Bea in his presence eases the awkwardness. The biggest surprise comes at the end of lunch when somehow John gets stuck with the entire check.

Bacon sandwiches are easy to make and don’t require a recipe. Two slices of your favorite bread toasted to your desired darkness, add as many slices of cooked bacon as you prefer, top with lettuce, tomato, and mayo—Viola! Bacon sandwich. I’m sure there are people who choose other condiments, vegetables, dressing, relishes, and those who leave off everything except the bacon. Really, the humble bacon sandwich is a matter of preference.

As for the tomato soup, while the majority of the items on Bea Turner’s menu are homemade, one place she cuts corners is by using good ole Campbell’s Tomato Soup. She is, after all, the only employee in her own restaurant.

I’ll not enter the debate on the sodium levels in canned soups and how Campbell’s added high fructose corn syrup to their soup to appease the American sweet tooth. I’d like to believe that during the summer of 1948, when John visited Bea’s diner, the soup was wholesome and tasty and the can wasn’t lined with bisphenol-A.

As recently as 2012, Campbell’s Tomato Soup still ranked as one of the top ten selling dry grocery items in U.S. grocery markets. It’s fairly healthy, too, for canned, modern industrial food. No fat, no cholesterol, no fake colors or flavors, laced with minerals, iron and Vitamin C. A two-serving can is only 270 calories before adding a bacon sandwich as a side.

There are organic choices on the market now as well as lower-sodium varieties and those made without high fructose corn syrup. Whichever option you choose, remember to add a tasty bacon sandwich, or the traditional grilled cheese, and enjoy your meal.

When Life Gives You Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons 3In June of 1920, Prudence Welles Mayfield picked up her nephew, John, to take him to Baltimore to live with her.   The event proved to be a difficult time for her and her sister-in-law, Collie Mercer Welles.

Collie, the midwife who delivered John, raised him from the day he was born when his mother died due to complications from childbirth. She knew the opportunity to live and attend school in Baltimore would be one she could never provide for her youngest child, but the thought of letting him go broke her heart. For Prudence, anxiety came from her insecurities about parenting her nephew when she had absolutely no experience. A dose of guilt also plagued her because she alone knew her intentions weren’t as altruistic as they appeared on the surface.

When Life Gives You Lemons 1The two women were never close and barely tolerated each other at best. The only thing they had in common was their deep, abiding love for John. They would never let him see them quarrel over his upbringing. And yet, a gentle tug of war went on just below the surface as they vied for John’s affections. Collie’s last ditch effort to lure her young son back to his family and life on the farm was the simple picnic she sent with Prudence and John for the trip to Baltimore. She hoped her good cooking, the favorite dishes John grew up eating, would produce a change of heart in the boy. Included with the meal was a Mason jar of lemonade, sweet and chilled, the perfect taste memory that would hopefully send John fleeing from his rich aunt and back into Collie’s waiting hug.

My own memories of lemonade began with that made by my Aunt Ann for family picnics. I remember she served it in a large brown crock; such an unusual container for a kid who grew up with Country Time Lemonade drink mix and Tupperware pitchers. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted Aunt Ann’s lemonade, lightly sweet and refreshing, as delicious as any food item on the picnic table at our family gathering.

The following recipe is the one that I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. It’s every bit as wonderful as what my Aunt Ann made, and I hope you and your family will enjoy it.

Homemade Lemonade

6 – 8 large lemons, enough for 1 c of juice

1 c sugar, I use raw

1 c water

8 c water

Squeeze enough lemons for one cup of juice and set aside. Cut remaining lemons into slices to float on the lemonade. Mix the sugar and one cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is heated through. Do not boil or scorch. Allow the sugar syrup to cool completely.  Raw sugar will produce a darker syrup and a deeper yellow lemonade, but it absolutely will not alter the flavor.

To prepare the lemonade, pour the lemon juice in a large glass bowl or crock, stir in the cooled sugar syrup and the 8 c of water. Float lemon slices on the surface. Stir thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

For individual servings, fill glasses with ice and a slice of lemon. Ladle the lemonade over this and serve.  For a pitcher or beverage dispenser, fill the container with ice layered with lemon slices, pour the lemonade over this, and serve.  The ice will melt into the lemonade and dilute the tangy/sweet mixture to the perfect flavor.

When Life Gives You Lemons 2

Everything Is Just Peachy

IMG_20160704_095721821Ah, the humble peach: sweet and juicy and the pride of Georgia. This year while perusing Facebook, I came across a post announcing the arrival of The Peach Truck. I would have passed right by it because there are stands all over our area selling peaches except that this truck was stopping at two well-known garden centers in the area. For some reason, that seemed incredibly important to me. If a truck loaded with peaches would announce its arrival at places with which I was familiar, I should probably check it out. Besides, I love peaches and the price per pound was phenomenal.

So, twenty-five pounds of peaches later, I had to come up with a way to use them. I must admit, the reason for my purchase had to do with a scene from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, during which the midwife, Collie Mercer, served a humongous celebratory breakfast in honor of my protagonist’s birth. For whatever reason, I chose to have her serve canned peaches. I was probably thinking they would be extra special for breakfast and somewhat dessert like. Of course, in keeping with my posts for Edible Fiction, I have been preparing the foods from my novel and sharing the recipes on my blog. I have never in my life canned peaches. In fact, I’ve never canned anything.

IMG_20160704_103204029Thankfully, my mother canned when I was a child. I remember all-day canning sessions of tomatoes, pickles, corn relish, and applesauce. She used a pressure canner, but my darling husband, William, supplied me with a water bath canner which was much less intimidating to a novice such as me. My best friend, Emily, provided all the canning jars I would need. I picked up new lids and rings, and I was ready to can.

The best part is that even if you don’t have a brilliant, experienced mother to fall back on, The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers detailed instructions for canning, drying, freezing, smoking, curing, and pickling foods. One simply cannot go wrong by accessing the wealth of knowledge provided here. Useful charts and step by step processes will guide you through preparation, various methods, quantities, etc. I direct you to this site in lieu of a recipe because you may choose to make larger batches than I did. One thing I will warn you though: canning is addictive. I’m already making plans for next year’s batch of peaches as well as other fruits and veg to can throughout the year.

Everything Is Just Peachy

The Party’s Over

RegretDrake wished he had taken his Mom’s suggestion to wear a warmer coat. He didn’t know how long they’d be standing here while the cop gave them sobriety tests which they all ended up failing spectacularly. Devon and Tony couldn’t quit shivering beside him, and he wondered if it was from cold or fear.

He didn’t know how the cop couldn’t be cold in short sleeves. This guy wasn’t even shivering, no goosebumps on his brawny arms. Just cool and collected, so polite as he questioned the three of them about where they were coming from, what they had been doing. He sounded like Drake’s dad discussing his job at the dinner table in an even voice without much inflection, like the buddy he ran into earlier at the convenience store when he purchased that twelve pack of beer. Not at all condescending.

With hands jammed into his pockets, shoulders rounded, Drake answered yes, sir, and no, sir, with the thin veneer of false compliance barely concealing the resentment in his voice, the scowl on his face. He should be back at the party, but that idiot Tony had volunteered them to make a beer run. The party where the girl with the long mane of thick, black hair had stood beside him all night, bumping his arm every time she sipped her drink. He had wanted to rake his fingers through her hair, pull it back into a ponytail, and give it a gentle tug. The memory made him smile, and he snorted a laugh through his nose. Tony elbowed him in the side and hissed, “Quit it, man. You’re gonna piss this guy off.”

But his resentment wasn’t directed toward the cop who pulled them over for erratic driving. He just didn’t like the guilt lodged between his shoulders like an ax blade. Guilt ruined fun, and that’s all they’d been doing. Having fun. You want something to make you feel like you’ve done a good job, something to talk about at roll call tomorrow? Go check out what’s happening three blocks down, two blocks over. That’s the place to make the real bust. The place they just came from. The house where the dark-haired girl who nodded and smiled when Drake refused the joint was probably already dancing with someone else. The house with white lines on the glass coffee table.

Still, he can’t blame the cop for doing his job. Of course, he could have chosen to be a furniture mover based on the size of his biceps. One of those guys who lifts refrigerators and wardrobes by himself, strapped to his back, and not a single grunt as he walked up or down stairs. Weren’t cops supposed to be soft in the middle from driving around all day, eating doughnuts? Drake should be able to outrun this guy in his black, laced up boots that looked slightly military and weren’t meant for running like the cross trainers Drake wore. He could sprint away from this cop like a cheetah running from a wombat. Out distance him in nothing flat.

But then the cheetah would grow tired after the initial burst of speed. He would hear the steady beat of the wombat’s boots behind him closing the distance, each methodical step brining the wombat closer to the spent cheetah. Like an endurance runner. Drake shuddered, and the bright idea to run was squashed like a lightning bug in the hands of a devious five year-old. Yeah, this cop probably ran marathons.

Drake shook his head because he knew they’d messed up and were in serious, serious trouble. Something cold and wet hit his face; something more than mist but less than rain. The damp seeped into his clothes, and regret drew his chin down to his chest. Drake’s eyes stung and he wasn’t having fun anymore. He wanted to go home. He wanted the lead weight on his diaphragm that made it hard to breathe to disappear. His mouth tasted sour.

The soft glow of headlights fuzzed by the condensation reminded him of the cotton balls his mother used to remove her makeup. His mother. Drake wondered if the officer would let him call his mother so she could bring him a warmer coat.

~~~~~

Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the picture.

%d bloggers like this: