Category Archives: Writing

Front Porch Friends

Once upon a time, long ago, and back when are reminiscent of days shared with family and friends. Long before social media favorites and cable TV, downtime didn’t mean a blank computer screen or dropped cell phone calls. Air-conditioned homes were rare. Evenings were a time to relax on the front porch, wave at neighbors on their evening walk, and sip ice tea from tall glasses. Memories of aluminum ice trays, telephone party lines, pedal pushers, and Bermuda shorts bring back lazy summers when kids rode bikes in the street while Mom or Dad cranked the handle of an ice cream maker on the front porch.

Shelter in Place during the coronavirus has shifted connections with family and friends to technology. Social distancing keeps us from meeting in person, so traffic congestion has dwindled to the easy flow of the 1950s. Segways, skateboards, scooters, and bikes traverse quiet streets and vacant parking lots. Warm weather has arrived. People are walking more. This time will be captured in future stories from the economic impact and slow recovery to evenings when we waved at neighbors from our front porches, patios, and balconies. If you hesitate when you walk by, you might see laptops or journals.

Gone are traditional openings. Words scrawled on the page or dancing across the screen begin with phrases like . . . Another day of Shelter in Place . . . During the coronavirus pandemic . . . or COVID-19 continues to _____ [fill in the blank].  If you squint at my laptop screen, you’ll see my fingers fly across the screen to begin my next blog post.

Another day of Shelter in Place . . .

My hands hover over the keyboard, but no words follow. Excuse me. I’ll be right back.  Perhaps a glass of tea will inspire me.

 

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Search and Replace

Larry Tesler (Lawrence Gordon Tesler) died on February 16, 2020. I didn’t know Larry, but he gave me several gifts I cannot live without.

Larry worked for Xerox many years ago creating computer commands to make life easier. Cut and paste, Larry’s brainchild, is easier to use now than when it was new. Copy and paste is similar, but the original text stays in place. Need to repeat a sentence, a paragraph, or a section of text elsewhere? Copy and paste it from one location to another, even from one document to another. My first experience with that feature took multiple keyboard commands. Then, Doug Engelbart invented the mouse. Someone in our office added a tail and a mustache and painted eyes on that rectangle chunk. I preferred keyboard commands until I realized a plain device, minus the enhancements, made my work easier. Now, if my manuscript doesn’t flow like I want, or I need to shift a character’s dialogue or actions, I highlight the text and drag it to the new location.

Larry gave the computer world the “Search” feature. All I need to do is click the “Find” icon, type the word, and enter. When I change a character’s name, the dual-action “Search and Replace” is a writer’s friend. Larry also created the full “Find and Replace” feature. Type the unwanted word in Find, type the new word in Replace, click Replace All. Shazam! Out with the old, in with the new.

Wouldn’t it be great if every time one of my crime fiction characters doesn’t do what I want, I could Search and Replace and add a different action? A few clicks could help Captain Rojas temper feisty Morgan Madrid or add motivation to Sergeant O’Sullivan.

Alas, even Larry Tesler didn’t have a solution for these two fictional characters.

 

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Not Worth His Salt

I shook the saltbox. Almost empty. I tore out the metal tab, cut the light cardboard to the edges, and shook the last granules into a pot of soup. A quick taste begged for more flavor. I  checked my revolving rack of spices and chose thyme. Another taste proved that herb to be an excellent substitute.

While the soup simmered, I revisited scenes from Next of Kin, my crime fiction novel in progress where one character measures another’s performance with salt.

He’s not worth his salt.

Most readers will understand that this saying means the job performance of the disparaged person is below the paycheck level. But what does salt have to do with money?

Salt, once used as currency, has long been associated with pay. Medical researchers and scientists say too little or too much salt can be harmful; the cook has to strike the perfect balance.

Madrid, a career-driven detective is too salty. She riles Sergeant O’Sullivan whose goal is a light-crime day with a stop for pie and coffee at Sonny’s Diner. He needs more flavor. Captain Rojas, the district commander, is tasked with finding a balance to keep the peace at the Ironwood District of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and appease the community during the homicide investigation that throws them all in the soup. Perhaps he will be just the thyme I need to cook up a potful of flavorful characters.

 

Public Getty Image

 

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Book Lovers Choice

One hour before posting time, I had not typed the first word of today’s blog. I scanned my memory for topics. Family stories? Writing humor? A second peek at my crime fiction characters? In this week of valentines, flowers, and chocolates, nothing seemed to fit. Then, a wall of books popped in my mind, a picture as clear as if I were standing nearby as I have dozens of times. Not a library or a bookstore. This is a smart part of blogger Lani Longshore’s book collection.

Courtesy of Lani Longshore

 

The only books in my childhood home were the Bible, Farmer’s Almanac, and the Sears catalog. Perhaps that’s why I fell in love with books at the Chowchilla Branch of the Madera County Library in the first grade. Years have sailed by faster than a nonstop flight across the U.S. I’ve downsized from a home to an apartment about twice the area of a jet’s first-class cabin. That prompted a serious reduction in my book collection.

My love of reading continues. eBooks are ideal for some readers, but the screen is dark on my Kindle Fire. I sit in my recliner, eating chocolates, and reading a  printed book from the Livermore Library.

 

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Writing Possibility

Part of writing is not so much that you’re actually going to write something every day, but what you should have, or need to have, is the possibility, which means the time and space set aside—as if you were going to have someone come to tea.

Alice Walker

Writing possibility. What if I invited my characters from my crime fiction book to tea?

The RSVPs arrived, most by the envelope provided, one by verbal acknowledgment. The evening before, I pulled out the extensions on my antique Duncan Phyfe dining table and set out my Royal Albert Old Country Roses tea service for eight. The next day, I put fresh flowers on the table and waited for my guests to arrive in the early afternoon.

Detective Morgan Madrid, the main character, was first to ring my doorbell. She was dressed in a yellow silk shirt, black pants, and blazer. I glanced at her feet. At least she wasn’t wearing her work boots.

Sergeant Gavin O’Sullivan blustered in with his usual roughness. In full uniform with his holstered service weapon, he said, “I’ve gotta eat in a hurry and go straight to work.” That told me he didn’t know the difference between a light tea and high tea. He stood next to Morgan, opposite personalities working together at the local Ironwood District of Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. “You gonna have that murder investigation update on my desk this afternoon?” he asked Morgan. I turned at the sound of the doorbell, but I imagined the look on her face.

I greeted Captain Luis Rojas and Marge and Judge Jeremiah Willoughby and Kathryn, all attired as though invited to tea with the queen. Why can’t all my characters be like them?

I ushered the six to the table set for eight. “Thank you all for coming today,” I said. “Sheriff Jameson can’t be with us, but he sends his regards. Please be seated. Let’s talk about your roles in Next of Kin while we partake of this light repast.”

Sorry Alice, but the tea didn’t work. O’Sullivan looked relieved when he got an emergency call. “Next time,” he said on the way out the door, “why don’t we go to Sonny’s Diner where Miss Phoebe can grill up my order and add a slice of coconut cream pie?”

Great Idea, Sergeant. Next time I’ll skip the tea and flowers and meet my characters for breakfast in Sonny’s bustling atmosphere. Maybe the smell of strong coffee mingled with bacon will encourage them to work together to solve the murder on Judge Willoughby’s Rocking-W Ranch.

 

 

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Beyond The End

My novel critique groups gathered for our annual January brainstorming workshop. With almost an hour each, the six of us—one member joined us by Skype—presented our individual 2020 writing agendas. Cell phones on silent except for lunch and short breaks kept us focused. Well, maybe one brief distraction when aromas wafted from the kitchen near lunchtime. All six members are authors, earning that designation by publications in short-story contests and anthologies. Five, including me, have published at least one book. My first two were nonfiction.

Even with that experience, getting beyond THE END in my first fiction novel has been like a soap opera. Do you remember the longest-running soap? (Cheat sheet: The Guiding Light) Every radio broadcast ended with a cliffhanger followed by “Stay tuned.”  Today’s workshop prompted me to reevaluate my word of the year.  Revisit doesn’t fit my 2020 goals.

I chose a new word of the year.

 

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Word of the Year 2020

I greeted this new year by reflecting on past accomplishments and shortcomings. Determined not to make a new year’s resolution, I looked for a motivational word to focus on the positive in 2020. An online quiz analyzed my responses to ten questions and gave me a list of words. None were inspirational or motivational, so I consulted the dictionary.

Purpose seems like a solid word for 2020. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines purpose as “something set up as an object or end to be attained.” Secondary definitions include determination. Another solid word. Then I considered my novel. That triggered hindsight as a possibility because hindsight is 20/20. It makes no mistakes. Merriam-Webster lists the phrase as twenty-twenty hindsight, but the definition is clear.

The full knowledge and complete understanding that one has about an event only after it has happened.

A head-turner but not motivational because I would be looking over my shoulder instead of focusing on the future of this book.

That shifted my focus from revising my crime fiction draft manuscript to revisiting my characters. I think of revisit as having tea or lunch with an old friend at a table near the restaurant fireplace on a cold winter day. We’ll chat about the good times, but things that we wish had been different are sure to surface in the conversation. That’s the difference in revisiting a friend and revisiting my manuscript.

My friend and I can’t change the past. My novel characters and I can.

 

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One in a Million

Merriam-Webster describes one in a million as a declaration of praise for an outstanding person. Today, I am part of a different definition of one in 500 million.

There are more than 500 million blogs worldwide.

Here, there, everywhere with more added daily. Or perhaps I should say hourly. So, welcome to an overloaded internet. Does that recognize a blogger like me? More like a full military about-face command the opposite direction.

The average bloggers invest 3.5 hours creating a blog post.

That’s almost 1,300 hours a year. I drafted five crime fiction novels in less time than that.

 More than 50% of bloggers are between the ages of 21 and 35.

Well, that explains the time. Either these bloggers work from home or they still live at home where someone else does the shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Approximately 7% of bloggers are above age 50.

Maybe not one in a million yet, but I’m climbing higher every day.

 

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Skipping NaNoWriMo

Skipping rope was a favorite pastime in my growing-up years. It wasn’t really skipping—more like hopping up and staying in the air until the rope passed under my feet. I conquered the double rope twist. Then considered a child’s game, now physical trainers say skipping rope is a full-body workout.

Later, skipping turned a corner and became skipping breakfast, or at a minimum toast and coffee, while I battled an hour-long commute to work.

Skipping returned when I read a heartwarming story when I detoured from reading mystery novels and bought the hardback of Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, first published in November 2001. In that novel, a couple disgruntled with the hustle and bustle of Christmas chose to get away from it all with a cruise instead of facing the hurdles of the hectic season.

That story of shifting perspectives, and the encouragement of my writing class instructor, lured me like a fish to the bait in 2009. What better exercise than writing my first mystery during National Novel Writing Month?

That exercise channeled my inner creativity. I jumped from the safety of nonfiction into the world of writing crime fiction. Words flew from my fingertips to the screen and formed the first sentences when the clock on my computer showed midnight on October 31st. I hopped through the required 1,667 daily word count that first night with coffee and chocolate to keep me alert. That win ended with a generic certificate for my first 50,000-word novel before November 30, 2009.

Tonight, ten years later, I’m skipping NaNoWriMo, a/k/a Nano in favor of thirty days revising that first, still unpublished, novel. Maybe tomorrow I’ll buy a skipping rope. I’ll need the exercise.

 

Disclaimer: I skipped pulling out my stored box of Christmas decorations to photograph my personal Skipping Christmas and used an Amazon link instead.

 

Published, Violet’s Vibes blog, Thursday, October 31, 2019

Photos: Skip rope, computer keyboard, Skipping Christmas, John Grisham, NaNo Winner 2009

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Downsizing

Downsizing, usually associated with the sale of a large home when moving to a smaller residence for empty nesters, has become a common word in Northern California. But how many people downsize without moving?

I’m a member of a nonprofit writing group that chose to host a yard sale this week. Aha! My opportunity to unclutter. Small things, once valuable but no longer used, hid in corners and top shelves. I bagged those, but I didn’t stop there.

Do I need that hexagon-shaped end table that hides more stuff inside? What about that new pair of athletic shoes I’ve never worn? Books? I sorted hard copy and softcover books that hugged a sturdy five-tier shelf oak shelf as though an umbilical cord poured life into the words. I sorted into keep, donate, and trash stacks. When I finished sorting, I realized that I didn’t need a six-footer to house the remaining books. I tugged a folding bookshelf that I couldn’t part with away from the wall and carried a few books at a time to their downsized home.

Then, I passed judgment on two heavy-duty oak lateral files that had been my combo storage and dressers for more than a dozen years. I determined to oust one. That decision soon led to a greater examination. Why not donate both to the yard sale along with the bookcase and the end table?

Great idea, I decided. But how does one transport heavy furniture to a yard sale? I contacted another member who was donating a small piece of furniture. “Who’s delivering for you?” became the most relevant question of the day.

Two musclemen—a requirement for this job—hoisted the furniture, one item at a time, and left bare spaces. The removal went smoother than a surgical extraction of an unwanted wisdom tooth.  Well, except for one thing. The perfect replacement dresser on Craigslist sold while I waited for a reply from the owner. So my downsizing created a new problem. While I continue my search for the perfect size dresser, everything from those four drawers is crammed into my bedroom closet.

Inconvenient. A synonym for downsizing.

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