I feel as if a hearty “Welcome Back” is required with this post, but it would be for me! Thank you, faithful following of readers, for your patience during what is turning out to be an extremely busy time for me as I sort my way through the various steps of production for my novel, Realm.
What began as a little spark of an idea has become a big dream come true. I promised updates, so here’s where we are so far:
Metadata optimization is complete. I admit that a quick search on Google backed up by a discussion with the patient, brilliant team at BookBaby helped me understand exactly what metadata is as well as why it’s necessary that it be optimized. Once it’s available for purchase, my book will be easily found.
Interior Design Proof. Wow – BookBaby did an amazing job with the interior design of my novel. As I scrolled through the .pdf in the two-page layout view, I kept whispering to myself, “It’s a book . . . it’s a real book.” The title page and the first page of each chapter were just perfect, and seeing my work portrayed so professionally thrilled me to the point of happy dancing around my kitchen. There were a few tweaks that I requested, so as horrible as it sounds, I had to choose “reject proof” and shoot it back to BookBaby. I’m confident that the minor details will be ironed out quickly.
Cover Design Proof. This was a tear-inducing moment when everything I conveyed to BookBaby was made a reality on the cover of my book. The picture they provided included the spine and the back cover as well. Again, all I can say is, “Wow.” I requested a minor modification on one small section, which required the painful choice of “reject proof,” but still, I was extremely pleased with how BookBaby captured my vision for the cover.
So, as the Design Team goes back to work on a few things, I have turned my attention to marketing research. What a trip that has been sifting through the “dos and don’ts” and “run screaming” world of marketing.
Stay tuned for more exciting Realm updates, and as always, thank you for taking this journey with me.
I had never read Erma Bombeck until a literary agency’s query letter specifications required me to find comparable books. I Googled books about families with a strong humor element, wrote down the titles, and placed holds on them at my local library. I also visited Books-A-Million to find the titles my library didn’t own, and I read the book jacket flaps, the opening paragraphs, and random selections throughout the books. One novel in particular seemed like it was going to be close, but I just didn’t feel a connection with it. The comparison to my novel ended up being slim at best. I never finished reading it.
I went back to the drawing board (Google) and refined my search for comparable books. I wanted truly funny family situations, the kind to which a reader could relate and which would make him or her laugh out loud. What I didn’t want were books that pushed someone’s social, political, or religious agenda or books that praised deep-seated dysfunctions in need of therapy and medication. Whatever I did returned a better selection of titles that weren’t just new books and authors, but many classic humor writers, too.
And I discovered Erma Bombeck. I had heard about Mrs. Bombeck as a kid, and I’ve read snippets of her writing usually on refrigerator magnets or bookmarks. At first I worried that her writing would be considered too old or irrelevant to today’s family, or worse, today’s woman. After reading Family – The Ties That Bind…and Gag! I realized that Mrs. Bombeck’s humorous writing is every bit as relevant today as when it was first published.
What appealed to me about Mrs. Bombeck’s writing was that she blended her role as a wife and mother into that of her writing career. She used the years she wasn’t writing for a paycheck to gather material for the times when she could. She made sacrifices without sacrificing her family, and it paid off in fifteen books, a humor column that appeared in nine hundred newspapers throughout the world, and an eleven-year guest appearance on ABC’s Good Morning, America. Mrs. Bombeck held twelve honorary doctorates, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Committee for Women, and was repeatedly named to The World Almanac’s annual list of the twenty five Most Influential Women in America. Pretty impressive for a housewife.
Per Mrs. Bombeck:
Raising a family wasn’t something I put on my resume, but I have to ask myself, would I apply for the same job again?
It was hard work. It was a lot of crud detail. It was steady. Lord, it was steady. But in retrospect, no matter what deeds my life yielded…no matter how many books I had written marched in a row on a library shelf, no matter how many printed words of mine dangled under magnets on refrigerator doors, I had done something rather extraordinary with my life as a mother. For three decades, I had been a matriarch of my own family…bonding them together, waiting for stragglers to grow up, catch up, or make up, mending verbal fences, adding a little glue for cohesion here, patching a few harsh exchanges there, and daily dispensing a potion of love and loyalty to something bigger than all of us.
I cannot tell you how reassured I was to know that Mrs. Bombeck understood the importance of investing in her family. She understood that women aren’t defined by how much they earn or their status in life. She knew that the stay-at-home mother who didn’t make money doing what she did was every bit as important as the woman in the corporate boardroom pulling down millions.
Family – The Ties That Bind…and Gag! was a truly satisfying read, and I hope women today will realize that the greatest thing they can do for themselves is to selflessly serve others. The rewards are endless. Don’t believe me? Reread Erma Bombeck’s list of accomplishments above.
Recently, at my writer’s group, a fellow writer who is beginning her chosen art form told me that she was advised to not write above an eighth-grade level. I remember several seconds of stunned silence between us before I asked, “Who told you that?” Based on her troubled countenance, I don’t doubt that the horror of this suggestion came through in my tone. I’ve also been told that my facial expressions convey exactly what I’m thinking, so I hope I didn’t overwhelm the poor woman with my response. I wanted her to run screaming, just not from me. If I didn’t scare her off, I’ll make sure I soften my reactions when discussing such matters in the future.
Still, I am shocked that this type of bad advice is floating around writer’s groups. The last time I checked, there were still twelve grades a student in America needed to complete. Somebody please tell me if the progression of education stopped at grade eight. That would mean my child, currently a senior, has read nothing beyond an eighth-grade level for the past four years. That’s insane. Then again, I recall the small heart attack I experienced when I saw Stephenie Meyer’s The Host on the high school reading list. Which piece of classic literature found itself guillotined at the inclusion of that piece of tripe?
I have suspected for a long time that the art form of writing was under attack. My fellow writer’s comment confirmed this. So when did the dumbing down of American literature begin? I don’t know if I can actually pinpoint the precise moment it occurred, but I can tell you the moment I became aware of it. (And shame on me for not being more vigilant if it took place sooner.)
Dumbing down is the deliberate oversimplification of intellectual content within education, literature, cinema, news, video games, and culture in order to relate to those unable to assimilate more sophisticated information.
I remember the day I saw a t-shirt printed with the statement “underachiever and proud of it.” I had another moment, not quite as intense as that with my fellow writer, but one in which I was completely baffled. I could not fathom a person or society comprised of people who willingly settled for mediocrity in anything and a world in which one did the bare minimum to get by. There is no hope of success when one functions under such a principle.
And yet, this is exactly where we, as a society, have fallen twenty-five years later. It’s as if those who bullied the smart kids for hanging out at the library weren’t content to just harass their fellow students. They wouldn’t stop until the smart kids not only condoned but encouraged this stagnation of the intellect. If you don’t get on board—don’t hold yourself back from seeking knowledge or temper your drive and ambitions—you’ll be labeled a snob in the least and intolerant at the worst.
So again I ask: why this attack on art? Because art is dangerous. Art tells the truth. Artists are freethinkers who challenge the status quo. It was a novelist and playwright who said, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” A gold star to anyone who can tell me who said this. Here’s where the problem of proud underachiever comes in. The generation in which this concept became acceptable doesn’t care enough to find out who said the above-mentioned quote or what the quote even means. They are too lazy to want this information for themselves and are disdainful toward anyone who does. If it isn’t required of them in school, and based on the poor quality of curriculum in American schools I doubt that it is, they won’t reach out and grasp the knowledge.
That’s pathetic when you consider that we live in an era where knowledge is readily accessible. No more searching through the card catalog or plowing through large volumes of encyclopedias. You don’t even have to go to the library. Just ask Alexa, Cortana, or Google what you need to know from the comfort of your couch. Be sure to wait until the commercial or you’ll miss the best part of your favorite recorded TV show.
What troubles me about his indolent attitude is that it’s creeping backward and contaminating older generations. Hopefully it won’t pollute the writing of those already established and feeling pressured to churn out more or older writers just beginning to pursue their passion. As for me, I am personally committed to fighting this process of dumbing down by writing the best literature I can and by seeking to improve myself in every way. I am not afraid to compete, to go for the gold. After all, why run the race if I don’t intend to win?
I’ll most likely be among the first to die if America ever succumbs to an oppressive regime because we all know how much tyrants fear artists. But If I can leave behind a written work that the next generation, possibly the survivors, smuggle from home to home and hold up as an example of what they should strive for, then my art—my writing—will not have been in vain.
Full Moon Cats by AliceinParis (Shelagh Duffet) available on Etsy
You may not have known what it was called, so you couldn’t even Google the answer, but I’m here to tell you, friend, it is compound possession, also known as joint possession! That’s right; it’s that tricky little scenario that makes your fingers falter across the keyboard when you’re writing about two subjects in possession of something. Does each subject have an apostrophe and an S or does only the last subject in the group have the apostrophe and the S?
For instance: George and Mary’s cats are always escaping.
From this sentence, we can assume that George and Mary live together and are in possession of a herd of fugitive felines. The rest of the story would probably bear this out. But what if George and Mary are actually neighbors in possession of separate mobs of moggies who escape for midnight sessions of group yowling on the fence between their properties?
Then the sentence would look like this: George’s and Mary’s cats are always escaping.
Your decision will be based on whether or not the two subjects are in possession of shared items or separately owned items. You may be saying, “Yes, but George and Mary both owned cats, and since cats are the same thing, shouldn’t it always be like the first example?”
Consider this: George’s and Mary’s coats are in the front closet.
Clearly, George and Mary aren’t going to wear the same garment. They own separate coats. The same applies to their cats. Now if George and Mary could just contain their wayward beasts, the rest of the neighborhood could sleep in peace.
Today’s The Weight of Words focuses on words I’ve encountered while reading. Although I haven’t used them in my writing, I want to share them because 1.) There may come a day when I do use them, and 2.) They are too interesting to pass up. At first glance, you’ll probably think I’ve lost my mind when I tell you the words I want to share are diaper, peculiar, and buss. And no, that last one is not misspelled.
I had to visit the dictionary myself on the first one, and I almost laughed aloud when I read it in a novel about Italian architecture and art. Obviously, it had nothing to do with a garment worn by babies. This fact further spurred my interest because I am a huge fan of second and third definitions. Sure enough, whether used as a noun or verb, the second definition of diaper has to do with a repeating geometric pattern.
And then there is the word peculiar. Most people can’t seem to get past the first definition of strange, odd, or unusual. One place they love to show their knowledge of the word is in the verse from the KJV version of Deuteronomy 14:2 which states, “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.”
Then for less than kind reasons, they support their so-called command of English by pointing out Jewish holy days and traditions. News flash: every culture has events that may seem odd until you understand them. I suggest allowing your fingers to tiptoe down to the second definition of peculiar, which means belonging exclusively to, and you’ll see how much more sense Deuteronomy 14:2 makes especially when you consider the Jews’ history with El Shaddai.
So, let’s finish this post with a little buss ride! Bad joke, I know, but what a great word to use in your writing especially if you write historical fiction. I had to dig a little the first time I went looking for this word. I even asked a friend who reads classical literature extensively, but she couldn’t tell me either. Nothing came up right away, however, Google has caught up to our needs in the couple of years that have passed since I first sought a definition. This archaic, informal word can be used as a noun meaning a kiss or a verb meaning to kiss.
I enjoy sharing reviews for books, movies, and music in the section of my blog by the same title. Every now and then, I mention one that didn’t quite hit the mark in my opinion because I also enjoy generating discussion on the material especially if a follower disagrees with my review.
Such is the case with Pete Hamill’s novel, Tabloid City. I would never discourage anyone from reading this book because I allow people to come to their own conclusions but mostly because I’m hoping he or she will point out what I missed. Until then, I believe this novel would appeal solely to people who lived or are living in New York and/or are currently employed or retired journalists. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into those categories.
It’s not that I find New York and journalism boring, but the way both subjects were presented in Tabloid City did nothing to pique my interest regarding them. It’s not unusual for me to grab my phone while reading to Google something for reference even if it’s a subject with which I am familiar. Many of my favorite authors spur this kind of self-education in me, and I love it.
Let me also say that I adored Forever, North River, and Snow in August also by Pete Hamill, and that one mediocre book will not keep me from reading his other works. Still, I’m not sure what the author was thinking when he wrote this jargon-filled tale. I know he writes his passions into his works (New York and journalism), and while I can bestow an A for effort here, I cannot go much beyond a D- for the result.
Tabloid City is incredibly disjointed. It’s a scattering of stories that read like newspaper clippings replete with jagged backstory and each character’s knowledge of New York, other characters, events, etc. I kept searching for continuity in this laundry list of stories, something to tie them together or make me care for the characters. Slow going defines the novel until about page 104. The thin thread of a tale about a Muslim terrorist and his police officer father and another about the demise of newspapers and libraries saved the book; otherwise I’m left feeling that this was the framework for a better story handed off too soon.
Let me end on a positive note and encourage you to read the other three books by Pete Hamill I mentioned above. Also, I haven’t read the Sam Briscoe mystery/thriller trilogy written by Pete Hamill, but fans of the books will be happy to see Sam reappear in Tabloid City.
Several years ago while shelving AV material at the library where I used to work, I came across a CD titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions. What caught my eye, besides the unusual title, was Yo-Yo Ma on the cover. I was familiar with Yo-Yo Ma as a classically trained musician, but here he was featured on a CD devoted to music of a completely different genre. Without hesitation, I checked out the CD and couldn’t wait to listen to it on the drive home. What I heard started a love affair with a type of music I’d previously tiptoed around.
Probably what kept me from exploring this genre earlier was the fact that much of it was labeled Bluegrass. My opinion of Bluegrass included all things twangy and hick-i-fied. Yes, that is a word. What I discovered that day was something called Classical Crossover. Classical Crossover is a genre that hovers between classical and popular music, and is usually targeted at fans of both types of music. In the most common type of crossover, classically trained performers sing or play popular songs, folk music, show tunes, or holiday songs.
Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan also contributed to the CD’s eleven tracks of music based on English and Irish fiddle music that gave birth to what we know as Appalachian fiddle music. The closest I’d ever come to anything like it was the little bits of fiddle I’d heard in songs by Clannad and The Chieftains.
After listening to The Goat Rodeo Sessions, I went in search of other CDs by the same artists or those featuring similar music. I discovered Appalachian Waltz, Short Trip Home, Appalachian Journey, and Heartland: An Appalachian Anthology all of which are now in a playlist that became the soundtrack of my mind as I wrote my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. One song in particular, “Sliding Down” featuring Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and Mike Marshall, epitomized John Welles’s experience in the later years of his life.
By the time John lived in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, his life had taken so many downward turns that he believed he’d never dig himself out from under them. Yet through it all, he retained a shred of hope buried deep in his heart. “Sliding Down” is the musical representation of what John felt during those years: melancholy with a touch of optimism on the horizon that he was too afraid to reach for.
Other tracks from the above-listed CDs also played perfectly to the scenarios I wrote whether it was John as a boy on the family farm, as a student at the University of Maryland, during his relationship with the beautiful, enigmatic Garland, or the months following the D-Day Invasion. I don’t doubt that the music shaped what I wrote as if the songs were indeed a custom-made soundtrack. However, I finished writing over a year ago, so I haven’t accessed my Appalachian playlist in some time.
Last week, I had the opportunity to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. It had been over thirty years since I had done so as an Honors English student in high school, but thanks to one of my book clubs, we revisited the classic. During one scene, Scout mentioned that Atticus liked listening to fiddle music on the radio. Suddenly my forgotten playlist rushed back to my memory. A quick check on Google confirmed that the Appalachian Mountains extend as far south as northern Alabama. As I read, all my favorite pieces became the background music for Scout, Jem, Dill, and Atticus’s adventures, and I listened to my playlist for two days straight.
By the way, the term goat rodeo refers to a chaotic event where many things must go right for the situation to work, a reference to the unusual and challenging aspects of blending classical and bluegrass music. Yo-Yo Ma described a goat rodeo saying, “If there were forks in the road and each time there was a fork the right decision was made then you get to a goat rodeo.” In the case of The Secrets of Dr. John Welles and To Kill a Mockingbird, the right choices weren’t always made, but somehow life worked out for the majority of those involved. This fact further reinforces my belief that the music of Appalachia is truly the music of real life.
Sometimes, writing a blog post to share with all the world is like tap dancing on the stage alone when you took piano lessons: your mistakes will be obvious and glaring. Thankfully, Word catches the majority of them, but there are days when almighty Word isn’t enough. That’s when we turn to our Google search bar, right?
I’m going to extend myself some grace here and admit that I’ve gone back to correct mistakes I spotted after major editing, proofreading, and posting. With all that being said, what tripped me up most recently was another dual spelling. Word didn’t issue the customary red squiggles when I typed it, but I kept staring at my laptop because something didn’t look quite right. You have to love the contrary English language.
Today’s The Weight of Words focuses on plow vs. plough. Locale factors in to this one with American and Canadian speakers of English preferring plow as the spelling for the farm implement and the related verbs. Our British and Australian neighbors prefer plough. In either case, the word is pronounced the same. Although I do think it would be hilarious if plough was pronounced the same as rough.
I’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.