The Fugitive

An email from National Novel Writing Month (NanoWriMo) was a stark reminder that my first novel manuscript sleeping in my computer like Rip Van Winkle has many of the basics, but the reader wants action and a conclusion. That reminded me of the original The Fugitive TV series from 1963 to 1967.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

“That was just a TV show,” some say. To viewers, it was much more. Dr. Richard Kimball (David Janssen), convicted of killing his wife, Helen, escaped when the train carrying him to prison wrecked short of the destination. I watched those weekly episodes—Kimball’s unfruitful search for the one-armed man who knew the truth—while pursued by Lt. Phillip Gerard (Barry Morse) who was determined to put Kimball in prison. After a while, I lost interest. Not because there was no tension. It was there. Not because there was no action or emotion. They were there too. My interest waned when I realized the chase continued without a solution.

After four years, producer Leonard Goldberg realized the same thing. Solving the mystery would terminate the series, but the viewers wanted resolution. In years that followed, this pattern of conflict, tension, and resolution would become the basic for movies and TV shows.

Like Dr. Kimball in The Fugitive, I’m hiding while trying to solve a mystery.  The IRS is sending a constable to arrest me. Microsoft “technicians” are warning me that my computer has been hacked. The same voice leaves messages when I don’t answer a dozen unknown calls a day with warnings that I’m paying too much for health insurance.

But unlike the dramatic ending in the last episode of The Fugitive when the one-armed man was apprehended and Dr. Kimball was freed, even my long-time registration with the Do-Not-Call center brings no relief from my adversaries. I’m hiding from the robo-cops while I revise my crime fiction novel that began as a NanNoWriMo contest in a long-ago November while Detective Morgan Madrid of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office can bring closure to my story.

 

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Reach Out, Touch Base, Get Back, and Other Jargon

Remember when “get back” and “touch base” were part of most business conversations?  “I’ll get back to you as soon as I touch base with my supervisor.” What did that mean?

I don’t know. I have to ask my boss.

“I touched base with him last night at the Top of the Mark.”

We talked about business for five minutes so I can deduct it as an expense.

Thankfully, get back has moved out of the spotlight and touch base has hit its last inning and retired with put it on the back burner.

But “reach out,” the new kid on the block, is even more annoying. “I just wanted to reach out to you about a business opportunity.”

I need money for my new venture.

Or, “I’m reaching out to let you know that we were not able to gather the needed quantity of signatures to have that proposition added to the California election ballot.”

The people we hired to get the signatures didn’t do their jobs.

How about this one? “I’ll reach out to him as soon as I can.” This is a brother to back burner.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines reach as a noun. That resource also confirms out is an adverb. It means away from. So why do we say “I reached out to . . .” when we mean toward?

These phrases create a quandary for wordsmiths. I’ll get back to you after I touch base with a couple of other editors and reach out to my circle of grammarians.

 

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Shades of Gray

I dream in color. Only once did I dream in black and white. The absence of color jolted me awake. I don’t remember the dream—only the starkness.

I climbed out of bed and bolted to the bathroom mirror. All I saw was a disheveled white hair above snowflakes splattered across gray pajamas. What happened to color? Then I noticed the red drawstring. Whew! I returned to bed and snuggled under a purple rose patterned comforter with the assurance that the only place absent of color was my dream.

My mother’s hair was called jet black in the twentieth century. Following present writing trends, I would have to call it coal, ebony, jet, licorice, onyx, or raven. When it grayed then lightened in her advanced age, it was would have been designated as salt and pepper before it turned white. Today, a wordsmith might describe the silvery strands as argent.

I imaged blogging about my her hair or my black and white dream using synonyms. Licorice and lily or licorice and magnolia sounded like a southern writer’s work-in-progress title. Blending licorice and snow gave me shudders. I searched for wider options. Licorice and pearl? Nope. Coal and oyster? Ugh! Raven and milk. Definitely not. Ink and ice. Not so bad, but still nondescript compared to a color palette created from my HP printer in less time than trying to remember the drab dream.

Writing, like dreams, needs color. I experimented with azure, sapphire, cobalt, or indigo for shades of blue. I splashed crimson, scarlet, ruby, carmine, and magenta as stronger shades of red. I daubed flecks of gold, flaxen, lemon, and mustard for yellow. I skipped Princely Purple aka Ultra Violet (yes, it’s two words), Pantone’s color of the year.

CMYK printers diminish the value of black by designating it as K, supposedly for key color.  Digging for truth during the California political campaigns is a good time to advocate for writers to join me in a revolution to return to plain color names like red and blue and yellow. Writing advisors may tell me how to shape my novels, but like my dream, all blog posts can’t be CMYK, PMS, or RGB. Some words are like shades of gray paint—rich, warm, soft, airy, wispy, or charcoal. Other words must be bold statements in black and white.

 

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Brussels Sprouts Duel

Brussels sprouts stumps me. Not what they are—I microwave the loose, fresh balls in a Pampered Chef steamer. A tip of the pan to drain the liquid through the perforated lid, a couple of grinds of Trader Joe’s Rainbow Peppercorns or sprinkles of dried Parmesan (don’t tell my cardiologist), and the sprouts go from microwave to the table in less than five minutes. The trouble came when the fresh, full stalks at Trader Joe’s beckoned me. I bought one without the slightest inkling of how to cook them in the natural state. At home, I left the stalk on the kitchen countertop and searched online for a recipe.

Most of the recipes capitalized the “B” in Brussels as though a proper noun like the city in Belgium where this vegetable was once said to originate. Microsoft Word spell check agreed with chefs—a red underline for any chef who dared spell the word with a lowercase “b.” I chose an easy oven recipe. While they cooked, I was plagued by the proper capitalization for the green knobs that dance in my head.

The green stalk waited while my inner editor led me to Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition. I hefted the 3-lb., 1144-page book to a comfortable reading level. A search of the 129-page index referenced Section 8.61. There it was—lowercased brussels sprouts. CMOS added a disclaimer,

Although some of the terms in this paragraph and the examples that follow are capitalized in Webster’s, Chicago prefers to lowercase them in their nonliteral use.

Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style duel over the use of capital B like Brussels, Belgium (literal), or lowercase “b” as in the vegetable (nonliteral). On my next grocery shopping trip, I skipped the sprouts and bought broccoli (lowercase “b”). It was great, ready in three minutes from the same Pampered Chef pan. And broccoli is packed with multiple vitamins that outduel the basic C and K in brussels sprouts.

P.S. Brussels sprouts, although a plural sound, takes a singular verb. That’s another editing puzzle.

Disclaimer: Neither Trader Joe’s nor Pampered Chef is aware of my blog unless an individual team member stumbles across it while searching for a recipe.

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On the Bench

A bench is defined as a long seat, a pew, or a worktable. It has a seat portion and may have a backrest. A pew, with or without arms, is a long bench with back support. A worktable is a surface to create or repair. When a person sits at a bench, the bench becomes a workstation. When a person sits on a bench, it’s a place of rest or time out. But when a judge sits on the bench, it means he’s been appointed to serve as a justice in a specific jurisdiction.

When bench shifts to an action verb, it takes on new meanings. If a player in sports has been benched, that means out of action from an accident, poor performance, or breaking the rules. Breaking the rules doesn’t disqualify a writer. That’s clear by reading bestselling novels. What about a writer who is out of action? If a physical time-out, the mind still churns with ideas for the next great novel. Benched for poor performance? That’s self-inflicted.

That happened to me. Writing blogs cure-alls said to take a break. If I can’t write, I am taking a break. Next, they suggested I sit in a quiet place to meditate and empty my thoughts. I tried that. My mind whirled with a to-do list. I moved on to writing prompts. “I’m sorry I missed our coffee date, but I . . .” That inspired several excuses but no story.

A second prompt, “You’re walking down a dark street when you realize you’re being followed. What do you do?” That produced a one-word story. Run! What if your assailant has a gun? I understand weapons, so that produced a longer narrative. Run faster.

I write short story memoirs. My kinfolk were farmhands—a few landowners, others paid laborers—until the mid-twentieth century. A few facts live on in marriage licenses, probates, real estate, and religious documents. Day-to-day survival crowded their lives with little time to leave a written legacy.  That provoked a question, “What would I write if I knew I only had a short time to live?”

I remember a conversation with my oldest sister after the oncologist numbered her days. When asked about her wishes for a memorial service, she said, “Skip the funeral. Go to lunch.”

Now there’s a writing prompt that moved me off the bench and back into action.

 

 

 

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Chasing Rabbit Trails

I checked my email before tackling revisions of my mystery novel in progress. I received a request from a genealogy group to be a speaker about identifying family photos from the mid-to-late 1800s. Before I chose an optional date, I checked to see if my PowerPoint file survived the transfer to my new computer last fall. I watched the full presentation. All there, but the majority of the photos were from a later period. Mysterious Mary, a name I had dubbed Mary Dragoo years before when I learned that she was buried in Alamo Cemetery, would be a perfect example of a working woman in the Antebellum and Victorian time periods.  I scrolled through my family photos. “No results” proved to be a minor sidetrack—the first rabbit trail of the day.

I left my computer long enough to review my handwritten notes from my visit to find her unmarked gravesite in Alamo Cemetery. Gone missing. Mysterious Mary continues to be elusive. Back at my computer, I looked for the article I wrote when I first discovered that she lived in Contra Costa County in the nineteenth century. No file. Sidetrack #2.

I emailed my twin, our family history researcher, about the missing photo.  I added more information. Sidetrack #3.

She sent me the picture jpg and my original Word article from 2007. I read it to refresh my memories of my original search for Mysterious Mary and her family. I stopped at the paragraph where I mentioned that Mary’s grandson and his spouse are buried in Roselawn Cemetery a couple of miles from me. I hadn’t visited either cemetery recently. Back online for a Find A Grave search. The Roselawn posting mentioned that the memorial manager, a direct descendant, has no information on the man’s wife. An easy challenge for me from memories of visiting her gravesite. I clicked the link to share that information with the manager. Sidetrack #4.

I received an error code. The memorial manager can’t be reached. I contacted Find A Grave with the details and requested webmaster intervention. Sidetrack #5.

Next step: Update my speaker bio to include previous presentations on U.S. Civil War and Victorian period costumes. My empty stomach growls—a signal for a timeout for lunch. Sidetrack #6.

From the table into the open living room, Green yarn of a hat I’m knitting beckons me to my easy chair for a break from research. Sidetrack #7.

Ah, seven, often referred to as the perfect number. The stately oak trees from my framed print of Oak Alley Plantation, first named Bon Séjour (pleasant sojourn), remind me that no journey is wasted. I hurry back to my computer to accept the invitation from the genealogy group. This time, I’ll stay away from rabbit trails.

 

 

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Debunking Family Tales

My twin and I have spent our lifetimes researching our family ancestry. We began in our grammar school days asking why we didn’t have grandparents like our friends. “They died,” my father said. When we wanted to know more about them, his answer was “Let sleeping dogs lie.” That ended the conversation.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

We pummeled Mother with questions. She believed she was French and Native American. She told me stories about her grandfather who was a medicine man. “He could make a sound like someone knocking on the door, but when I went to see, there was no one there,” my mother said. Then she talked about his magical powers. “He made a table walk. I saw it when I was a little girl.” I wasn’t surprised. Levitation seemed normal to me because I had recurring dreams where I rose and floated in the air twenty years before Sally Field and the Flying Nun TV series.

“When the gov’ment,” Mama’s tone emphasized the mispronunciation like a forbidden word, “wanted the Indians to sign the roll, my father wouldn’t sign up.” No matter how often she told this story, a sad look clouded her face. “He said they would move us far away like they did the others. That’s how them Indians from someplace else ended up on the reservation next to us.”

My favorite of Mama’s stories of how she was afraid when the Native Americans came to buy tobacco from her father. It must have been because he camouflaged his roots with his French surname. She could have done the same. Instead, she acknowledged her mixed blood in her teen years when she married an Englishman.

My twin and I traveled thousands of miles in our search to document our ancestry. We thumbed through books in public libraries and family history centers in a dozen states. We dug through courthouse records. We shivered in cemeteries—some shrouded in fog and others drenched in rain. We donned wide-brimmed hats and carried water bottles through burial grounds on blistering summer days. In 1990 we visited the headquarters of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma—the tribe our mother believed to be her heritage.  Disappointment overrode the anticipation as I read the pages of the Dawes Rolls. None of my direct ancestors had enrolled.

Back to the stories of my great-grandfather’s magical powers. Perhaps she said my grandfather—not hers— because her grandfathers died before her birth. And the reservation next door to my grandfather? History seems to establish those parcels as tribal lands long before. But these family stories continued to trickle down through the generations.

And then came DNA testing.

My twin and I submitted our test kits in late 2017. The results proved the majority of my heritage to be French and English as I anticipated. I stared at the minor percentages.

No Native American ancestry.

All my 22 chromosomes matched my twin’s results. But I knew that. Family stories said my mother had no prenatal care with any of her pregnancies that spanned 25 years. When her last delivery became complicated, one of my brothers went into town in search of a doctor. Meanwhile, my father’s sister, a midwife, assisted in the delivery of identical twins. When the physician arrived, his main chore was paperwork for two birth certificates. The women who witnessed the at-home delivery of mono-mono twins are dead, the stories buried with them. But FTDNA will retain the records of our exact chromosome match for 25 years.

Now that’s family history.

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