Category Archives: Blogging

July 4 Celebration

My mother was afraid of deep water, a fear she transmitted to me early on. In spite of that, my married siblings insisted on celebrating Independence Day fishing from the banks of the San Joaquin River or picnicking beside a clear stream in the foothills. It was a break for adults to escape a mundane workday and for kids to have fun splashing in the water. Mama kept a watchful eye on me. If I ventured into water above my knees, she waded beside me and kept a firm grip on the back of my clothes. All that changed on July 4, 1954.

That morning, we dressed in our finest, buckled our polished shoes, and walked to church. My brother, Frank, and his family were there when we arrived. His youngest son, James Henry, sat in a far corner, arms folded across his chest, head down.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked Homer, his teen brother.

“He wanted to go to the river today, but Dad made us come to church.”

“Same for us,” I said. “Church comes first on Sundays. James should know that.”

“We always go to the river on his birthday, so coming to church today was bad enough. Then things got worse.” Homer looked toward James. “He’s nine today and he just found out that all this time we’ve been celebrating Independence Day on July 4, not his birthday.”

 

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BYOB forces crime fiction rewrites

BYOB, a term that once meant “Bring your own bottle,” your choice of favorite drink, to a house party has taken on a new definition in Alameda County, California. Effective May 1, 2017, the plastic bag ban for grocers and retail establishments that sell milk and bread has been expanded to include ALL (or as old timers in my young years used to say capital A double L) retailers that sell perishable or nonperishable goods including clothing, food, and personal items (retrieved from http://www.reusablebagsac.org/). Now BYOB means bring—or buy—your own bag.

For several years, shoppers have kept a stash of cloth or heavy-duty plastic bags in their automobiles or a silky-feel-good fold-able bag in pockets or purses for stores that sell perishable goods. A full month after this new BYOB became effective, shoppers still look perplexed at checkout when a hardware or department store employee says “Do you want to buy a bag?”

This new law is causing havoc for fiction writers with works in progress. Crime fiction will never be the same. Where the bad guy once snatched recent purchases, brands visible through thin plastic bags, now the writer has to tell what’s in the bag in a previous scene to make it worth stealing.

What about descriptions? In the original manuscript, the witness says, “He demanded the woman’s purse and jewelry and dropped them into a white plastic bag with the orange Home Depot label.” The investigator makes a note to look at security film from the nearest HD and sees the robber on film. The clerk knows the guy, a local. Arrest made.

In the revision, the witness says, “He stuffed the woman’s purse into a brown paper bag—you know, Officer—the generic kind you have to buy for a dime at checkout.” The investigator will be forced to pursue other questions like “Can you describe the suspect? What was he wearing? Which way did he go?”

Revisions to my manuscript will have to wait. I’m off to do a little shopping, cloth bags in hand, to save my dimes for publishing my first crime fiction novel.

 

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Creative Art

A quilter or seamstress invests in the machine best suited for her hobby. She has a sewing room stocked with shelves of materials, trims, and embellishments. A knitter has baskets of yarn, pattern books, needles, and accessories. Artists have easels, paints, and brushes. Most of these crafters have supplies they will never use.

A silhouette artist works with minimal materials. A person chances by. A smile or turn of the head alerts the artist. From a canvas of black paper, he captures the profile with clean, sharp blades. He creates curves and angles that detail the subject. The framed product becomes a visual treasure.

My sewing machine and serger sleep like Rip Van Winkle. My knitting baskets overflow with yarn, needles, and supplies. I’ve donated my colored pencils and construction paper to a charity.

I’m a writer. My hands are my tools. I mold the shape of a head, add a beard or mustache, and dress a dapper character. If the look isn’t pleasing, no need to rip out stitches, or change the canvas, or discard the paper. I can add a hat, shave the beard, and update the wardrobe—all with words that dance across my computer screen at the command of my fingertips.

Words

 

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Some, someone, somewhere

caution-642510__180Writing classes often emphasize more about omissions than inclusions. To-be verbs like am, is, are, was, and were top the list followed by –ly adverbs. The same instructors tell wannna-be authors to eliminate indefinite words like some, someone/somebody, somewhere and skip the menu details.

But wait! What about New York Times best-selling author Stuart Woods? Here’s his narration from Collateral Damage after more than fifty books published.

vegetables-pixabayStone Barrington, the protagonist, is looking for dinner ingredients.

  • Stone found some Italian sausages, some mushrooms, some broccoli rabe, and some garlic.
  • He ran some water into a pot…
  • He found some ziti in a cupboard…
  • Then he chopped some onion…

From another paragraph on the same page:

  • Stone had bid on some books but didn’t get them.

pasta-shrimp-pixabayThese writing examples make me hungry. I’m going to search the fridge for some leftovers. After I eat, I’ll edit my crime fiction to mention some angel hair pasta with some sautéed shrimp my protagonist is eating at home after losing someone she was tailing somewhere on her night watch when somebody got in her way and she lost sight of her mark.

Sherlock Holmes Statue -Edinburgh

Some detective she is. I’ll give her another chance to redeem herself somewhere after my next edits.

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Editing, Writing

Okay to ignore writing rules if you’re Lee Child

Start-screenI’m a freelance editor for individuals and independent publishers. My job is to pinpoint spelling, punctuation, grammar, incomplete sentences, and syntax errors, but the rules are always changing.

For example: Limit the use of anybody, just, like, only, some, and somebody. But or and, once forbidden as sentence starters, are now acceptable, but the author should avoid beginning with because, when, which or words ending in –ing. One more grammar rule: Don’t use incomplete sentence in narrative, only in dialogue. Don’t overuse commas.

Bookpages animatedWait a minute! I just read Night School, a Jack Reacher 2016 novel by #1 New York Times Bestselling author Lee Child. Here are random sentences from that prequel.

  • Reacher thought back, to the conversation in Garber’s office.
  • She drove, back to the place she had only just left.
  • Surprised, and a little quizzical.

Are those commas necessary in these three short sentences? What about the double-up of only and just? I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop on that last sentence.

How about these incomplete, single sentence paragraphs?

  • Twitching and writhing and wringing his hands. [Note: At least this is appropriate syntax]
  • Thinking.
  • Local gentleman, like himself.
  • Like an old black-and-white movie.
  • An inconvenient ratio.

Start-Finish-RoadWhy does Lee Child’s editor let him get away with these writing blunders? Not because he was born Jim Grant in England. Not because he hires a freelancer like me (Delacorte Press can afford top-quality editors). Not because the third-person narrator mimics Jack Reacher who doesn’t waste words. Because one thing an editor doesn’t change is the writer’s style.

P.S. Bestselling is now one word. Lee Child and his editors got that right. It’s possible that the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author blurb is the #1 reason basic editing rules don’t apply to Jack Reacher.

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Escaping Christmas Kitchen Duty

cooking-utensilsLong ago, pots and pans rattled in our kitchen on Christmas Eve. Pungent sage escaped the 11 x 13 inch rectangular glass Pyrex dish filled with dressing baking in the oven. Homemade pie crust snuggled inside a nine-inch round glass plate on the linoleum counter top. Crimped dough, pinched between Mama’s right thumb and forefinger, fluted the pie’s edge. Mincemeat filling rested in a bowl ready to be spooned into the crust. A baked lemon pie cooled and waited to be crowned with meringue on Christmas morning. Mama moved from one task to the next as smooth as a restaurant chef.

Pocket WatchChildhood memories are reminders of a homemade life. Everything from scratch from killing the chicken in the backyard, plucking and cleaning it in the kitchen early Christmas Eve to dipping flour from the tip-out bin for making rolls. Days of work for Christmas lunch (You may remember from previous postings that my father insisting on eating at 12 Noon by his pocket watch) followed by hand washing and drying dishes and sweeping the kitchen and dining room floors.

cheeseballMy own adult memories of baking banana bread, dredging chopped dried fruit for the annual fruitcake, and baking cornbread for southern-style dressing, and homemade cheese balls rolled in fresh-shelled, chopped pecans prepped the holiday scene. Labor-intense hours in the kitchen on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning remind me of those special days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Recent holiday memories are toil free. If invited to dine with others, I bring a relish plate of veggies and olives. If I decline the invitation as I did this year, Denny’s is my go-to place. My twin and I attended church then headed to the nearby restaurant. It was packed with families, even one group we knew, who escaped Christmas kitchen duty.

 

 

 

 

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Day of the Dead (Diá del Muerto)

flagsMy family chose the traditional May Memorial Day to visit the cemetery, but November 1 and 2, the Day of the Dead, are recognized by many Californians with memorials to those who have passed through this life.

My father died on the third day of November, “a day late, and a dollar short,” an idiom he often used with his personal twist on humor. On this eve of Diá del Muerto, I chose “Faded Blues,” a revised excerpt from Double Take, to share my memories from more than half-century ago with a twist my father would have appreciated.

Faded Blues – in Memory of John Ewing Carr, 1889 – 1953

ironing-board-pixabayMama was well respected for her excellent ironing skills. She did laundry for the most difficult to please customers in our neighborhood. Our home was not air conditioned but Mama made do. She set up the ironing board in the dining room where a breeze whispered through the screen door now and then. After she finished ironing for her customers, she sprinkled and ironed our starched church clothes—a dress for herself, dresses for the twins, and a white shirt for Papa.

Papa had a favorite faded blue shirt long before it was trendy. The old shirt sported the drop shoulder look. Cuffs of sleeves much too long were kept in place at the wrists by masculine black garters below his elbows. The soft shirt bloused over his belt, and dark pants made his slight frame appear taller than his 5 feet, 7-inch height. Mama disliked, perhaps hated, that blue shirt because it did not reflect her reputation of starched and ironed clothing. No matter how much she ironed that shirt, it was too supple to hold its shape.

Papa sometimes wore a white shirt to our local church on Sunday mornings if Mama insisted. Other times, he donned his favorite shirt no matter what church we visited or how ministers were expected to dress. Each time Papa wore that faded blue shirt, Mama frowned and mentioned the white dress shirt. He pretended not to hear. Mama never argued with Papa’s decisions about other things, but that soft blue shirt became her enemy. She pouted quietly each time he wore it.

gold-leavesOne November afternoon, Mama chose the stiff, freshly ironed white shirt hanging next to the limp, faded blue. One of her grandson’s standing near the closet said, “Oh, Grandma, let Grandpa wear his favorite blue shirt.”

Mama refused. She insisted that Papa must wear his dress shirt for this special event. She removed his aging black suit and the crisp white shirt from the closet. She placed a rolled blue tie, folded black dress socks, and undergarments in a small paper bag.

Tears cascaded from Mama’s dark brown eyes. She turned to her oldest son. “Be careful not to wrinkle the shirt on the way to the undertaker.”

 

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