Category Archives: Writing

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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Imagination and Inspiration

The opportunities of man are limited only by his imagination. But so few have imagination that there are ten thousand fiddlers to one composer.

~Charles F. Kettering, 1876-1958

Mr. Kettering was an American engineer, patent holder, and businessman, yet painter Howard Behrens quoted Kettering’s thoughts on inspiration.

In Lani Longshore’s blog post, Cityscape in Felt, she credited a Howard Behrens San Francisco cityscape painting as her needlework inspiration.

A framed Bellagio Promenade painting hangs above my sofa. I glance at it while I read or knit in my Lazy Boy chair. It has soothed me often, but it’s never inspired me to write—until now.

Paintings are collectibles—even more valuable if signed. The serenity of Promenade caught my eye while browsing in a resale shop. The oversized matted and framed serigraph under glass fills the wall above my sofa with prominence—no need for additional eye catchers. It hung above the couch for years before I noticed “Behrens” in black in the lower right corner. Wait! This is a famous artist.  This could be a collectible.

But mine isn’t canvas, so I gave it no more thought until a duplicate calmed me as I sat paper gowned, waiting in a medical exam room. The frame was more elegant than mine. The title and author’s name in bold black three-inch letters beneath the scene was a declaration not on my print, but the signature was the same. Later, at home, Lani’s blog inspired me to postpone knitting and write.

One of the Google icons for International Women’s Day features knitting. After I post this blog, I’ll relax with knitting while I seek inspiration from my Behrens’ print to spin a yarn with words. 

 

 

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To Do List

My mother went about her daily chores of cooking, housecleaning, feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, vegetable gardening, and sewing during the day. In leisure evenings after her chores were finished, she crocheted and read her Bible—her favorite pastimes. She created meals without a cookbook or printed recipes. She crocheted intricate patterns and made rag rugs by looking at a project completed by others. The one thing never seen in her hand was a To-Do list.

My father carried a notebook in his work shirt pocket and a stub pencil in the special slot next to it. He made lists and documented his work tasks and accomplishments. Everything from earnings as a gardener and weighing his filled cotton sack at the hanging scales. He listed everything from paid utility bills to grocery shopping. Nothing escaped that tiny notebook. While Mama crocheted in the evenings and listened to the Chuck Wagon Gang or the Carter Family singing gospel tunes, he sat at the kitchen table and transferred information from his pocket notebook into a sturdy ledger. He moistened the tip of his indelible pencil and wrote everything in purple ink. Then he joined Mama in the living room in time to hear a preacher broadcasting from the comfort of Rosarita Beach in Baja California who always ended with a plea for money to keep him on the air.

In my early working days, I made project lists with deadlines and dates accomplished. Then office computerization made that chore easier. At home, I continued making grocery lists but opted for adding events to my personal computer Outlook calendar. Years later I stopped making lists except for grocery shopping, relying on my memory.

In December, I returned to a daily handwritten To-Do List to practice for the New Year. I’ve accomplished more in the first three days of 2018 than I could have imagined. I still keep events, medical appointments, and other important information on my computer. This year, I’ve added a pocket calendar and softcover ledger to my purse. My father would be proud of my efforts, but no doubt he would be puzzled when I shred my printed receipts for groceries and other routine purchases and trust online sources to record the dates and amounts instead of writing them in my journal. He might question blog, an unknown word in his lifetime.

If I complain that my novel writing hasn’t improved with the To-Do book, I can imagine him saying, “Girl, it is not on your list.”

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Apparitions – Ghost Riders or Ghostwriters

“Riders in the Sky” was written and recorded by Stan Jones accompanied by the Death Valley Rangers  (Mercury 1949). Jones, the composer, drifted away, shrouded by ghostly cowboys floating into obscurity when Vaughn Monroe’s RCA recording became more popular.

Ghostwriters (GW) are another secret veiled by the clouds. Their roles vary. Sometimes a GW  interviews a person about specific events and shapes them into a blob of words that eventually becomes an inspirational book. Sometimes the ghostwriter begins with another person’s notes or ideas and whittles them into a memoir or self-help book. Sometimes a ghostwriter cuts and clips a poorly written fiction manuscript and embellishes it until it gleams like a cowboy’s silver belt buckle. That—and payment—are his reward because the published book wears the name of the fictitious writer.

“But that’s cheating,” you say.

The ghostwriter says it’s payment for work similar to writing a technical report, or create advertising copy while freelancing or salaried by a company. I say it’s like picking cotton.

 

Property of Violet Carr Moore

My father approved of producing without bragging rights. We picked cotton for pennies per pound. Father carried the stuffed ten-foot canvas cotton sacks over his shoulder to the hanging scales. He penciled the weight in a notebook, deposited it back into the pocket of his work shirt, and hoisted the bag onto his shoulder again. He climbed a wooden ladder resting against a wire-sided trailer and emptied the sack onto puffy fiber from other laborers. The owner towed the overstuffed trailer to a gin where it was baled with cotton from other farmers. The gin sold the bales to a textile maker which produced bolts of fabric with their brand printed in the selvage (My father would have said selvedge, the  British spelling, but he had no interest in sewing—that was woman’s work.) My mother bought yardage from the local Five and Dime and made my clothes. From the remnants, she pieced quilts. The cotton we picked in it’s refined stage clothed and warmed us.

Today, I salute Donald Bain (March 6, 1935 – October 26, 2017), the ghostwriter of the “Murder She Wrote” novels accredited to Jessica Fletcher, the Margaret Truman Capital Crime series, and many other ghostwritten books. In 2003, he published Lights Out with his name embellished above the title on the front cover. That brought Mr. Bain out of anonymity into the spotlight. Now he receives recognition as the original books are republished with his name on the covers, but there may be a few still clothed in secrecy, like the cotton my family picked that wore another name.

Yi-pi-yi-ay, yi-pi-yi-o!

 

 

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Type-ins for Writers

Type-ins are the newest writing frenzy according to Associated Press News (AP) . Writers, poets, and typewriter enthusiasts gather to click keys and roll out paper originals. Could this no-screen craze be the next eye-saver?

Mr. Clyde Quick, my high school typing teacher, agreed. He insisted that his students focus on an oversized keyboard poster centered above the chalkboard to learn touch typing. “Look up,” was his first mantra. His second was, “Keep your hands on the home row.”

My hands hovered above the keyboard of a manual Underwood desk typewriter, left index fingertip touching the “F” key and right index finger on “J,” ready for “Begin.” Later, when the tests were timed for Word per Minute (WPM) achievement awards, Mr. Quick held his stopwatch high and added a little frenzy to the race with “Go!”

Now and then I was fortunate enough to grab a seat behind a manual Royal —much smoother touch than the Underwood.  One morning, two new typewriters, one Royal and one Underwood, shined atop the table in the last row, strategically placed to avoid tripping over the cords plugged into a nearby electrical wall socket. The typewriters weren’t assigned, so the athletic sprinters beat me to those seats most of the time. One day, with an admonition from Mr. Quick to let every student have a chance, it was my turn on the Royal with green keys. No extra pressure for the pinkies to produce a clean, even text. The short return carriage lever made right margin end-of-the-line faster. I fell in love with my first taste of technology. Returning to the stiff manual typewriter was difficult, but it had a side benefit. The electric typewriters were off-limits for achievement tests. I was one of the few who received the coveted 60 WPM level with no errors on a manual Underwood.

Long after my school days, I bought a portable Smith Corona, then upgraded to a full-size IBM Selectric. I was fascinated with the interchangeable typeball fonts and added several to my collection. The Selectric self-correcting feature was fabulous. I pressed a special backspace key, and the letter lifted off the printed page, ready for the correct keystroke.

Thanks to Mr. Quick’s fairness and my few sessions on that electric Royal typewriter, I embraced technology. Now, decades later, I’ve abandoned paper markups to edit on screen with Microsoft Word tracking feature. I delete, insert, or move text and add side comments to the author with soft clicks.

I still follow Mr. Quick’s advice and keep my fingers on the home row of my Dell laptop. His advice to “Look Up” means keep my eyes on the screen.

 

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