Friday, March 29, 2013

Another Book about a House

In "A World Elsewhere," by Wayne Johnston, he tells the story of a quirky, but lovable character who goes by  the name of Landish Druken. He is a sealer's son, sent from Newfoundland to Princeton. There he meets up with the son of the wealthiest family in America. Johnston chooses the fictional name Vanderluyden to describe the young titan; it  is a nod to Edith Wharton who described New York's  reigning family as a holdover from the original Dutch colonialists, who sat atop New York society in a “celestial twilight.”

After an unceremonious end to his Princeton days, young Landish is destined to be tossed about on the winds of fate. Adopting an orphan boy to raise on his own and destitute from having both a drinking and writing problem (he burns every page) he ends up back in Newfoundland as an outcast until reaching out to “Van” who has, by this time, created the famed estate known as Biltmore House.

The house is so vast that Wayne Johnston describes it in segments, wings of the castle, to which Landish and his son are relegated. Rare invitations to Van's library and the journey it takes for them to get there, give you the impression of the size and scope of the place.

The book was gifted to me by my sister Mary, at Christmas. Following a family tradition going back God only knows how long, we give books that, not only we have enjoyed, but ones that tie back to other times and experiences in our lives. My sister explained that, like Wayne Johnston, she was awed, enthralled and wowed by a visit to Biltmore in the presence of our mother, the late Dorothea Smythe.  An Interior Designer, and with a nod to her French ancestry, our mother had a love of finery and beauty that knew no bounds. Naturally, she raved over every room of this beautiful estate and pointed out one exquisite choice after another, as they drifted along through the tour.  Brilliant interiors made her happy and in my mind's eye I can imagine her face lighting up at every turn.

Jan Aertsen Van der Bilt came over from Holland in 1650. It was Cornelius Vanderbilt who lived from 1794-1877, who amassed the great fortune by building railroads. His son, William Henry carried on creating enormous wealth. His son, George Washington Vanderbilt created the estate at Ashland. 
Being a book lover, he shunned New York society in favor of entertaining guests at home.

Beyond the physical description of Bitlmore House, I truly enjoyed Wayne Johnston's engaging  play on words, peppering the novel throughout.  Describing a skit composed at Princeton, entitled “Parodies Lost,” here is one example:

“Alfred Lord Tennyson became Well-Fed lard Venison.  A rotund and burstingly buxom Mary Shelley was carried onstage by Frankenstein. Rudyard Kipling, Rhubarb Nibbling...” and so on.

As I laughed out loud and smiled to myself throughout the book, I also found the story touching and moving. Once finished, I called my sister to thank her for the gift. Reading this book, I felt as if I had been transported to,  “A World Elsewhere.” Now, I too, long to visit Biltmore, and if I get there, let it be in spring when I may see the gardens in their full glory. If not, I have my imagination, and hosts of pictures online for my enjoyment.

 Living in America's finest house, George liked to read and be taken away to foreign lands and faraway climes. I suspect he sat in a comfy chair in front of a blazing fire. When he looked up though, and took a walk to a nearby window, just imagine what went through his mind. I suspect that not even Rhubarb Nibbling could have done Biltmore justice.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Contradictions of Home

 We are very pleased to offer a guest post today by our friend, Jenni Gate.

Intro: Jen Gate

Jenni Gate has worked as a paralegal, a mediator, a small business consultant, and a writer. Born in Libya and raised throughout Africa and Asia, Jenni’s upbringing as a global nomad provided a unique perspective on life. As a child, she lived in Libya, Nigeria, the Congo, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the Washington DC area. As an adult, she has lived in Alaska, England, and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Her published work includes several articles for a monthly business magazine in Alaska and a local interest magazine in Idaho. She has written several award-winning memoir pieces for writing contests. Jenni currently writes non-fiction, memoir, and fiction, drawing upon her global experiences. New adventures abound. To read more about her adventures around the world, visit her at Nomad Trails and Tales.

By Jenni Gate
Growing up among different cultures creates contradictions in our adult lives that we find ourselves dealing with for the rest of our lives. This is true as we try to determine our identities, in coming to terms with personality issues, in transitions, in finding meaning for our experiences, and especially when we try to define what or where is "home."
An average person who grows up in one place for their whole childhood knows who he or she is. He has a strong sense of identity in the place where he spent his childhood. Even if she moved house within a town or city, she can define herself by the geographical boundaries. Someone who is born and raised in a small town identifies so closely with that town that even if she moves away long into adulthood, that place is still home in her heart. There is pride of home, often a deep love for the way of life in which one was raised, and broad, intimate knowledge of the traditions and cultures of home.
When we grow up moving from place to place, culture to culture, we call many places home. We hold diverse realms of cultures, traditions, and social norms within us. When we move from place to place, we are always trying to gauge what the social norms are, learning new traditions, adopting cultures, even new languages. We may feel that we can fit in anywhere, but we never really fit in. We miss the depth and breadth of knowledge a local person has of the culture of a place. Our parents may be able to go home, to a place that nurtured them in childhood, established moral boundaries, set social norms and cultural practices and traditions, but as children who grow up exchanging whole worlds with the sound of a jet engine, we carry a tormenting ideal of home within us that we may never find.
Although it may seem obvious, in practical, real-life experience, this feeling of being out of step or at odds with the particularities of a place is a living contradiction. When we return to our passport countries, we may not have a sense of place to return to. We may look like we belong, so the expectations are the same as for a local person. But in reality, we are hidden immigrants, unfamiliar with the norms, expectations, cultures and traditions of a place. Many of us feel rootless and restless for the remainder of our lives as a result. Some can't wait to pick a place to call home and settle in.
Long into our adulthood, regardless whether we feel settled or rootless, we cringe when anyone asks where we're from. How do we explain that we are from many places, that we have called many places home? How do we choose just one place to be from? Is it where we felt the most accepted? Is it where we just began to set down roots when a parent’s job was transferred or a civil war forced an evacuation? Is it where our friends bonded with us during a coup or war with a closeness we have never felt again? How do we explain that even when we look like we belong, we may be foreign in every other way? If we have parents of different ethnic backgrounds, it becomes even more complicated to explain.
For me, defining home is extremely complicated and contradictory. I feel like an outsider looking in. When I lived in a small town, the provincialism of the townspeople was apparent in every gesture, every comment, every question, and I felt like a complete foreigner at times. Even though I felt love for my country, I also felt split loyalties during international crises, and it was impossible for many of my new friends to understand.
Having lived in many places that are no longer safe to travel to, it has been important for me to read as much as possible about many of the places I have called home. Sometimes I've learned more about a place after leaving it than I did when I lived there. I've had my heart broken when places I once called home become embroiled in war, when they suffer natural disasters or famine. How, in those times, do we describe the sense of helplessness that comes over us that there is little we can do to help the people of a place we once loved?
We hold many homes in our hearts, many cultures, many traditions, many ways of being. We hold places in our hearts that we can never return to. We hold the memories of friendships, of heartaches, of happiness particular to a place. We may never fully belong, but we adapt, we empathize with others, we try to make sense of the contradictions, we struggle with our shifting identities, and eventually we create a sense of home within ourselves.
How do you define "home"? What does it mean to you? Do you have a strong sense of identity because of the homes you've internalized, or is identity a fluid concept, something you change and adapt with every new location?

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Writer's House

We have heard Charlie Rose interview many writers over the years. He often asks the author to describe his, or her environment. Many readers imagine that the place is somehow part of the inspiration, as if the house gives up the words, and the author just has to keep pace with the ideas. Given to magical thinking, as far back as I can remember, starting with trying to mimic Mary Martin in Peter Pan, and believing I could fly, I am not so sure that the home of any artist does not play a huge part in the creation. In any house in which I have lived, I first walked around trying to imagine where I would put my desk. In my current home, the former owner had set up a sewing counter, complete with drawers underneath, situated by a window facing the lake. In what had been a sun room when our home was built in the twenties, I was immediately drawn in.  I papered my study in blue and white stripes and then ordered a favorite pansy print from Laura Ashley. With my study all set up and ready to go, we put the computer in and soon found that everyone liked it. The kids played games and did their homework there and so it wasn't long before I moved the whole operation to a cozy nook in our bedroom. Over the years, I would come in and find someone sitting there too, but eventually, I reclaimed my initial idea.

My study has a comfortable chair and a sofa, as I sometimes lie down to think. It is a welcoming spot and cheery, as it gets the morning light. Windows on three sides and an alcove in the wall holding books, make it cozy. A corner cabinet has shelves with framed needlework pieces I have done over the years, tea cups and saucers, and  a picture of my beloved sister, Victoria Rose Smythe,  in her hacking jacket, atop her favorite horse called Sir Stafford. Pictures of my grandparents, my children and my mother and father, group shots from weddings, oh, its all here. My great aunt's tea wagon holds my mother's china birds; its as fine a nest as any writer would ever want.

We have reached a time in life when it is time to scale down and move on. It will all have to be recreated. Just as a novel begins with a blank page, a home starts with other peoples paint choices, counter tops and old carpets. The creative process begins anew. I have no doubt that my next writing space will be as charming as this one and that wherever I put it, the ideas will flow. Some writer's like to be closed into a small nook with the drapes drawn and the distractions down to the limit. As for me, I can recall writing with a sleeping baby in a carrier on top of my kitchen table. Virginia Woolf's oft quoted statement of women needing "A Room of One's Own,” hit a cord, because it is almost impossible to achieve! The days when I took to my bed with a cold, often had my husband stretched out reading, a cat and two children up there on the bed with us and the dog curled up on the floor at the side. I would have my computer on a breakfast tray, still trying to get my thoughts down while asking everyone if there was any other place they would rather be. When they would all chime in with, “No,” I considered myself lucky.

Campers like to linger at the their favorite campsite with the last cup of their morning beverage in hand. Striking the tent and dousing the fire, brings it all to a close. The canoes are then loaded, the journey beckons and the point is rounded; we set off into the great unknown.

From Listen to the Salutation to the Dawn, I am reminded of these words: “For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision, but today, well spent, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well therefore to this day.”

Pictured above is the view from my study.  My home where I raised my children and wrote two books, will enter a new era, just as we set off on another adventure. This place will always remain with me in my mind, and I will always love it and think of it as my house of dreams. As the future beckons and as we begin another chapter in our lives, the one constant is my cherished Idaho and my beloved Lake Coeur d' Alene. I look forward to knowing it more deeply and more fully.

Friday, March 22, 2013


    After Bible study today I stopped by  Post Falls  library to return one book, renew another,   and browse the shelves for anything else  that might catch my interest.   I   put two books on hold - Jack 1939, recommended by my friend Patty,   the other, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jona Jonasson , this one  my darling young cousin (actually my first cousin once removed - cousin Kim Cooney's  daughter)  listed as a favorite on Goodreads.   Rachel commented the story was hilarious  with a touch of Forrest Gump. Fun read.  I must say, the title grabbed me right away, and am looking forward to  reading  about the hundred year old man  who climbs out his window, and   what happens to him  next .

   One of the books I came home with is  The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and HER MOTHER by Eve LaPlante.  Because Alcott's Little Women remains a favorite of mine, I'm always interested in reading about this famed author and the influence that shaped her writing talent.  The  second book I checked out was  on the 'New Non-Fiction" shelf, She Matters A Life in Friendships.  This book  drew  my attention because as a writer,  it's a subject that interests me, and  know it's a topic  I could write; One about   the beauty and importance  of  girlfriends throughout  my life , and the special place they hold. From my youngest days when my childhood friend, Linda Mattix  and I played with our dolls for hour upon hour, rode bikes, went to the park, swimming pool, and  Saturday matinee together.  The memories she and I  hold in common can never be broken.  I think of my best  pals from high school , all  so very dear. To this day, we continue to  learn and laugh together. My brother's first love, Patty who became my cherished  friend , too, and remains close to my heart. And Phyllis, my friend and  mentor,  we've been  pals  like  ( Heckle & Jeckle)  since my first  days at the newspaper in 1971.

   I think also of dear women  friends  throughout my adult years, some mother's of my son's friends, some  friends of my mother, others  fellow church members, and writer friends -  each one adding  to the joy of my  being, and helping me grow as a person, to become a better me.

  This is what the library offers us, books on every theme and  topic - biographies of authors, artists, anthropologists; Stories about friendships,  family dynasties, financiers. Poets  and  politicians - saints and scholars. The library is the perfect place not only for those who like to read, but  for writers, too. Like one who is thirsty going to the well, the library can quench your thirst for ideas about writing , and reading.

   Libraries also feature displays, and offer events and presentations about  a variety of subjects to interest the community.  The other day I received an email from fellow blogger, Jennifer Rova reminding me about Coeur d Alene Public Library's annual writing contest.  This contest has always drawn many entries.  Writers age 6 to adult  can submit up to two entries  of fiction, two nonfiction prose (no poetry).  Entries are due March 31.  For more information  visit  or contact David Townsend   

   While the internet and e - readers are extremely useful and wonderful ( I use both), our public libraries also provide a world of wonder, whether reading for pleasure,  academics or seeking knowledge on any subject.

 Visit your local library soon  ! You'll be sure to  find a treasure of people and places to read about ,  both  past and present.




Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Our Town & Other Plays


I often hear from friends about a new work of fiction, non-fiction, mystery they recommend me reading,  but very seldom about a drama or play.  Regarding plays,  I think it safe to say many folks   enjoy going to the theater to see a play performed, but  not many choose to read one. Why this is I don't know. Playwrights choose interesting themes to write about, provide dialogue and plot to captivate one's attention.

Although I've  never written a play, I would like to, and  have found drama  an interesting genre from the time I was a freshman at Bell High School and enrolled in Drama class.  I still   have  a few  books of Plays on my shelf today,   Sixteen Famous American Plays, Twenty-Five Best Plays of the Modern American Theater,  and the Complete Plays of Lillian Hellman,  that include plays I like very much - Life With Father, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and The Women My favorite among them is  Thornton Wilder's Our Town. 

Perhaps one reason Wilder's Our Town ranks high with me is because from the time I was a little girl I remember my darling  Grandmother Cooney talking about my dad having a major part  in his high school production of Our Town, playing  the role of stage manger. Maybe it's because it sounds so much like  the small town of Council Bluffs, Iowa where  my mother and dad grew up . Or maybe,  my own small town of Bell, California where neighbors knew each other well.  Each day very much the same, just as it was in Wilder's fictitious Grover's Corner, but every day precious ... only in later years do those living there realize how precious those simple moments were, and how they helped to shape who they were, and form the memories they share.

Thinking back on studies, I am reminded the playwright often gives only a skeletal description of a a character ; A  key to reading and understanding a  play is to use the stage directions and the dialogue  to help 'see' the play in your mind.  You might ask youself :

*How does this scene look ?
*What might this character look like?
*How might this character dress , walk, talk and gesture?

Be sure to listen, question, connect:; Whom does this character remind me of? When did something similar happen to me?  How would I respond?

And respond: How does this make me feel ? What's interesting about this?  I like this character because...

The play Our Town stresses the  ties that bind and  importance of relationships - the meaning of routine and every day living - small happenings, and ordinary events.  It's easy for me to relate to those sweet years of my youth, but also the routine my husband and  family now share.  And  to those no  longer   here..

Just like a novel, plays provide setting, plot and dialogue. While books are divided into chapters, plays are divided into acts and scenes, which indicate a change in location or the passage of time.

*Note - some reference from Glencoe Literature The Reader's Choice copyright 2002

Monday, March 18, 2013

Persuasive Writing


  Most of us have  received a letter at least  once in our lifetime from mother, dad, grandparent,  sister  brother, or friend trying to persuade us to act in a certain way, to choose a certain path, to reach toward  a higher goal.

     I recall such a letter   from a  cherished family friend , written to me  when  I was nineteen years old and  going through a difficult time. 
    Dear Kath,  I wanted to give you something really special, but I've looked in all the stores and could find nothing to really show you just what your friendship means to me, so I decided  to share a gift God once gave to me.
   One night when I was really down and filled with fear, I tried to pray, but fear had such a strong hold on me it stood like a wall between myself and God, so in my total despair I just kept saying, God ! God ! God ! Then I felt the stillness of His presence as He did for me what I didn't have the strength to do ,  and the feeling of His presence dissolved the wall between us. His answer  was so simple it made me feel almost silly, He said, 'If you will ask for protection I will teach you how to be careful , so ask and learn. God has blessed us supremely, not because we are smart, but because even in our ignorance we've still learned  to love with our heart, and although your life and mine are very different, our hearts have beat in tune and our minds have thought together.  Trust and believe, God is near.  Love, Denise

    I find Denise's letter a  good example of persuasive writing,  not only did her words  lift my spirit, and give  encouragement, but also helped persuade me to a   commitment to prayer , and trust in the Lord by sharing her own heartfelt personal experience. 

     While  letters are a good avenue for persuasive writing, there are also  hundreds of  self-help books, political essays, and how to books that  have been written. All to help persuade  how one thinks,  and their  way of doing things. 

     When choosing to write persuasive writing,  one should know the audience you're trying to reach, and focus on your readers' needs. In researching persuasive writing I found  these helpful tips outlined in  a contemporary textbook ( Glencoe Literature The Reader's Choice) :

1. What problem will you help readers avoid?
2. What lessons are you going to pass along?
3. What benefit will readers gain?
4. What are your qualifications?

 State your advice:

1. What exactly should readers do?

Convince readers that your advice is good:

1. What reason do you have for giving it?
2. What facts support your reason?
3. What personal experiences support it ?
    The same textbook states,  In any persuasive writing, a sound argument combines a worthwhile position with solid support. As you draft, keep the following questions  in mind : Has the advice you're giving actually worked for you ? Can you reasonably expect it to work for your readers ? Are there pitfalls or potential problems that readers should know about? Are special skills required ? 

    Next provide evidence to show that your advice will benefit others. Evidence usually includes facts, statistics, and expert opinions, but personal experience may provide the  strongest , most convincing sup-port. 

    The following elements can strengthen your persuasive style:

* Strong, active verbs
* Nouns and modifiers with connotations to create positive feelings for your argument, and make your  
   position clear

     Other examples of persuasive writing are newspaper editorials, reports, speeches, advertisements, and reviews.

     The two main types of arguments in writing to persuade are logical and emotional. Logical arguments  use facts and evidence to persuade while emotional arguments use the feelings of the author and reader to persuade.  Three  great persuasive speech topics are found in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address, Winston Churchill's Blood, Work and Sweat speech, and Martin Luther King's I've Got a Dream speech.  All three use anaphora, which is the repetition of a phrase . before the start of sentences. This can be a rhetorical tool employed throughout the entire speech. For instance, King say, "Now is the time" four times, and "I possess a dream" eight times. Churchill repeats victory several times and Lincoln uses the phrases, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground".  Using this style,the writer stirs up emotion and makes portions of the speech unforgettable.  A lofty goal for all writers - to make the words we write, the story we  tell, our persuasion unforgettable.

*** Kathleen Parker writes for the Washington Post and provides her persuasive writing skills in a  commentary published yesterday  Sunday, March 17, 2013 titled  Myopic Media Missed the Vatican's Message.   To read visit


Friday, March 15, 2013

The Confusion Over Quotations Marks and Periods~Blame It on Noah Webster

Do you every wonder why we spell it color not colour, favor not favour, judgment not judgement, odor not odour, apologize not apologise? Do you wonder why Americans put the quotation marks outside the periods not inside like seems logical to me? Want to know why we use double quotation marks [“ ”] when the British use singles [‘ ’]? It is all due to lexicographer Noah Webster (1758-1843).

Webster had two reasons for changing British English into American English: his poor education and belief that America should be different from England. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut and was educated at public schools. He called his teachers in elementary school the “dregs of humanity” (in Britain they would use single quotation marks here) and the learning conditions deplorable. After graduating from Yale University, he taught school for a while and found he could not make a living at it; he also thought the teaching materials were horrible. He studied law under Oliver Ellsworth, later the Chief Justice of U.S. Supreme Court. Opening a law office in the midst of the Revolutionary War, Webster soon realized he could not make a living at practicing law either. Much to our advantage and confusion, he became a lexicographer (from Greek meaning "words" and "to write" i.e., a writer of dictionaries). 

As a young adult during the Revolutionary War, Webster became a strong advocate of the more liberal Federalists instead of the conservative Republicans. He felt that America should shrug off the trappings of the English aristocracy for a society that was for everyman. He felt the new nation had to drop the cultural and speech habits of England for a more relaxed approach to life. He wrote hundreds of essays and newspaper articles advocating the American life.

Paramount to the success of this endeavor (not endeavour), he set about changing grammar, punctuation and spelling. Webster was triumphant in most of his promotions. He is responsible for Americans spelling words without the “u” e.g.,* color and favor and using “-ize” instead of “-ise.” The latter went along with his attempt to change words to reflect their more phonetic sounds. Some examples of words that failed to catch on are: yung, reeding, masheen and tung but theater and plow did. He thought it made more sense to use double quotation marks to indicate written conversation leaving single quotation marks for other uses. He decided periods should logically (really?) be put inside double quotation marks. Type setters of old quickly adapted Webster's use of periods inside double quotation marks because it kept the tiny "." from falling over which is why my spell and grammar checker must be British. It tries to correct me when I put them inside. It irritates me because I agree with the British that periods belong on the outside. For no obvious explicable reason, sources say that British writers and publishers are slowly converting to our use of quotation marks. I say, “Harrumph”. 

In order to earn a living, Webster started a school for children of wealthy New Yorkers. This seems dichotomous to his principles but a fellow does what a fellow has to do. Because his education was so poor and unable to find acceptable teaching materials and books for children, he expounded the American spirit of entrepreneurship and wrote his own. For over 100 years, Webster's books on grammar, reading and spelling were used successfully to teach American children. Commonly called The Blue-back Speller, it sold 77 million copies. Every American child had access to these learning tools, not just the aristocratic families. From the profits of the sale of these books, a half-cent royalty per copy, Webster was able to dedicate eighteen years of his life to writing the first dictionary of American words, An Compendious Dictionary of the English Language published in 1806. Incidentally, trying to protect his work from plagiarism led to the first copyright laws in the United States in 1790. Reports vary on the number of words in the book but do agree that thousands of them had never been published before including skunk, squash and moccasin. 

An American Dictionary of the English Language and thereafter popularly known as Webster's Unabridged, was published in 1828 by Merriam Publishers later to become Merriam-Webster as it is known today. Webster and Mirriam Publishing produced a second edition. He died on May 28,1843 days after compiling another revision. He is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven Connecticut. He was 84 years old. You may visit Webster's house, now a fine museum, 227 Main St., Hartford, CT. An excellent resource for further study of Noah Webster's profound impact on shaping American and American English, is The Forgotten Founding Father Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture, by Joshua Kendall, G.P Putnam's Sons, 2001.

So, are hats off to Noah Webster? Understanding the political fervor (not fevour) at the time, I can understand his reasoning on the spelling but continue to have doubts about those quotation marks. What do you think?

*British English does not use a comma after e.g.
Please note: the many resources I consulted had conflicting titles of his books and dates of publication.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"It was a dark and stormy night.." Plagiarism and You
“Two weeks after disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer publicly apologized for the “frailties” and “weaknesses” that led to his firing from The New Yorker and withdrawal of his bestselling book Imagine, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), publisher of all three of Lehrer’s books, has decided it will no longer offer for sale his second book, How We Decide. After an internal review uncovered significant problems with the book, the publisher is “taking How We Decide off-sale” and has “no plans to reissue it in the future,” HMH senior vice president Bruce Nichols said in an email.” ( 3/1/13)

“…in recent years as several search engines have come online for the express purpose of tracking duplicate images. Though, most notably, this has included Tineye, other search engines, including Google, have gotten in on the act as well.
Now, a Firefox extension, Who Stole My Pictures (WSMP), is aiming at making all of those search engines available at one convenient place, your right click menu, thus making it trivial to search for plagiarism of your images or duplicates of any image you find online.” (

   It was a dark and stormy night when I sat down to write a column about plagiarism. Actually, it was not Charles Schultz and Snoopy who first uttered these now famous first seven words but Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), British playwright, poet and novelist. He also wrote, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, “the great unwashed” and “pursuit of the almighty dollar.” To avoid the charge of plagiarism, I should have written, “It was a dark and stormy night” (Edward George Bulwer-Lyttonn)

   Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work, ideas, thoughts, opinions, theories, statistics, facts, drawings, or paraphrasing the same. There are 5 common forms of plagiarisms: 
1.    Duplicating another’s words or phrases, etc. without identifying the speaker or author, or not using quotation marks.
2.    Same as #1 except including quotation marks.
3.    Using another’s ideas by paraphrasing them without noting sources.
4.    Submit, enter or sell as your own work by merely rearranging words and/or phrases without footnotes.
5.    Intentional or unintentional, ignorance of the law is no defense.

   The devil is in the details, however. According to copyright laws established in 1989, works are now protected with or without the copyright symbol; they are considered intellectual property. As long as the material can be shown to belong to someone other than you, even though altered but similar to the original form, without acknowledgement, it is considered plagiarism. Copyright laws do not protect facts considered “common knowledge.” Common knowledge is defined loosely as information generally known or known by a large group of people, e.g., Roosevelt was the author of the New Deal. Copyright laws can be in effect up to 75 years after the death of the author. There are many variants of the length depending upon how old the work is and who owns the copyright.

  Another gray area is “public domain.” This often, but not always, means intellectual property that “belongs” to the public and can therefore be used freely. There are variations of law depending on copyright laws in different countries as well as patents and trademarks. It is best to check with an attorney. (Disclaimer: this author does not represent the material in the essay to be thought of as legal knowledge or advice under any terms. 

   The punishments are of varying degrees often depending upon the venue and the amount of material copied. The greater the amount of material copied the greater the punishment can be.  Most cases are considered misdemeanors bringing fines between $100 and $50,000 and can be accompanied by up to one year in jail. Generally, your offense is considered a felony if you earn more than about $2,500. The punishment could be upwards of $250,000 and ten years jail time. In a business situation, the punishment is usually not of the prosecutorial kind (unless sued by the original author.) It takes the form of a demotion, denial of promotions, monetary fine or firing. In the academic world, the punishment is often meted out by the professor which can result in a failing grade, failing the course or, under the auspices of the dean’s office, expulsion from the college or university. The easy use of the Internet has increased the instances of plagiarism many fold in all venues.

    There are a few ways to protect yourself from prosecution of plagiarism. First, avoid plagiarizing by understanding what constitutes plagiarism. When taking notes from various sources for your writing, clearly identify anything that is not in the public domain or not in your original words and thoughts. Keep all your notes, electronic, recorded and penned, in several backups in various venues; back up your computer file each time under a different name, e.g., essay plagerism-1, essay plagerism-2, etc. This will give you a paper and time trail to strengthen your case should you be charged or you wish to charge someone else with plagiarism.

 Check the style manuals for the organization for which you are writing as to how to format your written word. APA is the American Psychological Association used primarily in liberal arts settings, ACS (American Chemical Association) for writing in the science field, AP and Chicago styles for general writing. Publishing houses and business often have in house guidelines they wish authors to follow. Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, began his book, “It was the best of times…” If you fail to properly credit your sources in your writing, it could easily become, “…the worst of times.” 


Monday, March 11, 2013

Can Men and Women Write Protagonists of The Opposite Sex?

Can an author maintain suspension of belief when writing main characters of the opposite sex? There is an ongoing debate with many facets to both sides of the argument.

Our notion of story telling between sexes is genderized. Can you as a writer understand the differences between the sexes? How do you portray your opposite sex main character as real? Can you write your characters realistically enough using the appropriate language, gestures, habits, interests, and motivations to make him or her believable? The common stereotype is that a male protagonist acts and moves but does not show much emotion. Female characters show emotion and need to know the motivations behind actions. How do you do that? By studying the differences between the sexes.

First: we know that the two sexes are different and we need to understand a lot about the differences. Recommended resources for learning are For Women Only: What You Need to Know about The Inner Lives of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn. For men, read the web site Over Thinking It It gives a plethora of examples of how to direct your female characters. Characters are people first and gender second. What happens to your story if you switch the sex of the protagonist is another exercise in learning. See more interesting web sites listed at the end.

Second, women have a slight edge when it comes to writing male characters because women read more books written by men than men read books written by women. More male authors are published and especially, reviewed so we are more aware of popular books. Women buy 80% of books sold. Women read more fiction than men. Men tend to not read books written by women or books with female main characters. Women read books with either a male or a female principles.

Third, women are more observant than men. (Yes, men observe but it is mostly at physical characteristics.)

Fourth, stereotypes are hard to get around. Male characters are perceived as people of action and they show little emotion. They are usually in positions of power and wealth or not totally down and out and homeless. They are not prone to conversations. Women are normally shown as physically weak but attractive, either dumb or shrewd in business matters, a CEO or a waitress, and too emotional in at least one aspect of their lives. They delve into motivations behind people's actions and words and over think situations. They talk more with both sexes.

Many years ago Oprah Winfrey had four women dress as men for portions of every day for two weeks then report back what happened and how they felt. All four said they felt safer dressed as a man walking into bars, restaurants and parking lots. All related they like being looked first in the face rather than their chests or legs. They appreciated the freedom of simple conversations which usually centered around sports or work not personal things. As men, they approached women with more empathy and more carefully than they had experienced. All four said it was liberating and they liked the experience.

My son-in-law participated in a fund-raiser for cancer called "Walk A Mile in Her Shoes." Guys solicited pledges then dressed up in skirts, put on make-up and most importantly high heels. They had to walk a mile to earn the pledges of money. He said, "Never again! And I will not ask my wife to wear high heels when we go out 'because she looks so sexy.'" He thought lipstick felt slimy, the earrings hurt and he felt vulnerable in high heels. In both these stories of swapping gender roles, the participants learned a great deal about the opposite sex.

There are tips for writing a main character of a difference sex. One source stated that approaching the writing with anxiety made it more difficult to write. An editor suggested you write a story that you like then re-write and fill in details that make your main person more believable. Use your mind's eye to view his or her actions in view of what you know about the different sexes. Check your story to see that it is balanced and that your character is behaving in character entirely. Another suggestion was to use an editor of the opposite sex as yourself. Another said to have a person of the opposite sex read your story zeroing in on the mannerisms, words, action, speech patterns and thoughts of the leading character.

Books written by females with a male as the main character:
Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling whose editor had her use her initials because he didn't think boys would buy and read these stories if they knew they were written by a woman.
Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel wrote about Oliver Cromwell
The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand with Harry Roark
Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
Frankenstein, Marry Shelley
Room, Emma Donoghue from the viewpoint of a seven year old boy

Books written by males with a female main character:
No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
Girl with A Dragon Tattoo, Steig Larrson
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Equal Rights, Terry Prachett
Rosemary's Baby, Ira Levinson
Memoirs of A Geisha, Arthur Golden

Check out these web sites----
Physical Differences Between Men and Women Type in the title in search section of blog (No, it's not what you're thinking) type in search section "human gender differences"
Do Men and Woman Have Different Brains?
Understanding The Difference Between Men And Women type in "Men vs. women: Why the work divide matters, 1/10/13

QUESTIONS: Does it make a difference to you if a man or a woman writes a book? Does the genre make a difference about the author and the main character?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Writerly Encouragement from Madeleine L'Engle

Who remembers reading A Wrinkle in Time when they were  young . . . or maybe not so young? 2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of this young-adult classic, which I find hard to believe. Of course, I also find it hard to believe that I am of similar vintage, so there you go.

A Wrinkle in Time was groundbreaking in its day, the first in a quintet of novels in which the late Madeleine L'Engle skillfully blended theology, physics, appealing characters, and marvelous storytelling. One wouldn't think that theology and physics would snare YA readers' attention, which only goes to show that one should never estimate the power of a well written story, or the quirky tastes of young adults.

I've long been a fan of L'Engle's writing, especially A Circle of Quiet, her memoir about living out in the country, and Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage. I heard her speak at a conference once and felt that I was in the presence of greatness--although she would quickly scoff at any such notion, being a warm, down-to-earth mortal just like any other writer. Well, maybe not just like any other writer. But she made it clear that she's been where many of us have been . . . unpublished, unrecognized, and wondering if writing is worth all the angst but compelled to keep writing nonetheless.

As with so many novels that break new ground, the path to publication of A Wrinkle in Time was no picnic. I felt greatly encouraged when I ran across the following passage in L'Engle's classic book about the creative process, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art:

"I started writing A Wrinkle in Time at the end of a decade of nothing but rejection slips. I had accepted myself as a failure as a writer, at least a failure in the world's eyes I was writing because I had to.

"Now I get a lot of absolutely marvelous letters, affirming letters. The only way that I can live with this is I answer them, put my answer in the mail, and forget them. Otherwise I could easily begin to take myself too seriously. And that would be death to creativity."

I'll always be grateful to Madeleine L'Engle for her shimmering stories and thoughtful insights into the writer's life.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writing and the Ikea Effect

Lately I've stumbled across a psychological phenomenon dubbed the "Ikea Effect," after the mammoth home-goods retailer known for its unassembled DIY furniture. (For those less handy with nuts and bolts, a more apt term might be "Put It Together Yourself," or PITY. Ask me how I know.)

From what I can glean, the Ikea Effect has two themes:

1. We don't put effort into things because we love them; we love them because we put effort into them.


2. We value more highly those things we've had a hand in creating.

Thus, the theory goes, while we may admire the display model of that Swedish Modern coffee table on the sales floor, we love the one in our living room even more because we put it together ourselves. Further, we love it more than our neighbor's identical coffee table, because ours is the product of our own two hands.

First, the good news. Research shows that working with our hands is good for us, mentally and physically. There is much satisfaction to be gained from building something ourselves, a truth we sometimes forget in our convenience-centered world where instant gratification is king. And who doesn't want to be pleased with the results of a project they've slaved over?

The Ikea Effect is good news for writers, too. By definition and by nature, we love to create things out of words, with the page as our canvas, grammar as our paintbrush and words as our palette. We may not charge out of the gate with great enthusiasm for a particular writing project, but as our muscles warm up and we apply some effort, it begins to grow on us. It becomes ours; we take ownership of it. Several sweat-stained pages later, we cross the finish line and understand our work to be the Best Story Ever Written.

Or not.

And therein lies the bad news. Starry-eyed over our prowess with a screwdriver, we may pronounce our coffee table perfect, while a visitor observes a precarious lean, poised to slide a martini glass straight to the carpet. Likewise, we mustn't let the Ikea Effect lull us into thinking that the thing which we've written ourselves is beyond revision, just because it flowed from our keyboard. This is where objective criticism comes in--an editor, a critique group, a first reader who's willing to speak the truth. Because a story published before its time leads to awkwardness all around. And, like a crooked coffee table, everything looks better with some polish.

Have you observed the Ikea Effect in action, in writing or in life?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Writing about Violence: How Much is Too Much?

Recently I sat in a public forum where the topic turned to persecution around the world. The leader started reading an extremely graphic, blow-by-blow account of torture of a man and his young son in a country where followers of a particular religion are persecuted. It went on and on, and I finally had to leave the room, an emotional wreck. I felt almost physically assaulted. Later some people agreed with me that the description of torture was too graphic for a public forum. Others felt that the importance of telling the truth trumped any individuals personal squeamishness on the topic.

Now, I know that I have an unusually vivid imagination, especially where violence and torture are concerned. If I see or hear graphic violence, the images haunt me for days, interrupting my sleep and  affecting my ability to concentrate on other things. I can't sit through a lot of movies, for example. When they say, "Not for children or more sensitive viewers," they mean me. I read the reviews beforehand not for opinions, but for descriptions of the violence, the more specific the better. "This movie contains scenes of a beheading" is of more use to me than any number of stars or thumbs-up. Reassurances of "it's only a movie" don't placate me because (a) somewhere, sometime, it happened to somebody in real life and (b) I'm horrified by what the human mind can think up to do to other humans, even if it's "just pretend," which of course the torturing of prisoners is not. I get upset and depressed, while others around me calmly munch their popcorn.

I also have to be cautious what I watch on the news. When I read news magazines, I turn the page with caution, wary of what I might see. Once certain images are in my head, I can't get them out. Because I have a vivid imagination, the simple statement "they were tortured and killed" goes a long way toward horrifying me. I do not need detail after endless detail.

Back to the forum I mentioned above, I don't want the whole group to have to ratchet down to my admittedly unusual level of squeamishness about violence. I don't expect to be wrapped in bubble wrap, insulated from all unpleasantness. But I think the leader should have at least given some warning, like "this next part is graphic, so if you want to leave the room, you can." Or "A man and his son were tortured and killed. I have a detailed account here which is too graphic to read out loud, but if any of you would like a copy to read for yourselves, see me after class." Is that reasonable? Or should I essentially suck it up?

Later the incident got me to thinking, as most things do, about writing. As writers we are told to be vivid and specific in our descriptions, to make the story come alive for our readers. I get that, and most of the time, I totally agree. But how much is too much?

I imagine the answer is different for everyone. As U. S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, "I know it when I see it."

What degree of detail about violence do you feel is appropriate to share in a novel? As a reader, have you ever set a novel aside because of disturbing depictions of violence, but later picked it up again because the story was so compelling? Do you ever feel that a novel was made better because of detailed descriptions of violence? Would your answer be different if the book wasn't a novel, but a nonfiction account?

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Power of Slang

Slang, the informal words and phrases in common usage, is essential to setting the era and creating tone in your writing.  Knowing the correct terms for the time period enables a writer to construct realistic settings, create authentic characters and strengthen their credibility as a writer.

I am currently reading a novel set in the 1920s-era recently completed by fellow blogger Jenny Leo. From the first paragraph, Jenny’s characters spring to life amid the chaos and excitement of The Roaring Twenties in 20th century America. Obviously, Jenny did her homework.

Creating a world in correct historical context demands herculean effort.  In order to create that world for her readers – to make it real – Jenny thoroughly investigated the “who, what, when, where, why and how,” of life during the 1920s.  She learned how they addressed one another and the fashion of the day.  She researched what type of transportation folks used, what foods they ate, their customs, what games and entertainment they enjoyed, who was famous, world events, and how folks in 1920s Chicago talked – their slang.

Writers today are lucky to have the Internet at hand.  It is a phenomenal research tool.  Just type in most any phrase or question and websites pop up by the thousands, if not millions.  The only downside is getting lost in the overwhelming amount of background information you'll discover.  Past that bugaboo, researching on the Internet is like a treasure hunt – you never know what you’ll find.     

Just type in “slang of the 1920s,” and over one million sites pop up, compiled by enthusiasts and historians of every degree.  As with every era, dozens of terms came into use during the Roaring Twenties.  While some of these terms disappeared through the years, others remain in common use today.  With a little investigation, you’ll discover the perfect words to add spice and authenticity to your work.    

1920s slang still in use:
Baloney - nonsense! 
Cat's Meow (Cat’s pajamas) - something splendid or stylish
Corked, tanked, primed, jazzed, plastered, embalmed,  or lit – drunk.
Dead soldier - an empty beer bottle 
Glad rags - "going out on the town" clothes 
Piker - (1) a cheapskate (2) a coward
Putting on the Ritz - for the Ritz Hotel in Paris; doing something in high style         
Wet Blanket - a solemn person, a killjoy
What's eating you? - what's wrong
You slay me - that's funny

1920s slang that disappeared through time:
Applesauce- an expletive same as horsefeathers; as in "Ah applesauce!"
Bank's Closed - no kissing or making out - i.e. - "Sorry, Mac, the bank's closed." 
Bee's Knees - an extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate
Breezer - a convertible car 
Butt me - I'll take a cigarette 
Flivver - a Model T; after 1928, could mean any old broken down car 
Mrs. Grundy - a priggish or extremely tight-laced person
"Now you're on the trolley!" - now you've got it, now you're right
Spifflicated, corked, scrooched, zozzled, owled, ossified or fried to the hat - drunk
Struggle Buggy - the backseat of a car. A parent's worst nightmare.

Hmm ... 1920s: struggle buggy; 1970s: shaggin’ wagon – some things never change – but you still have to know the correct terminology or you will lose your reader. 

One helpful website I found,, is, like, totally awesome.  Just click on “History by Decades,” and you’ll find a cultural history for New Slang Words for every decade from 1650 to the present.  It's groovy, man!  Other lists include: Events, Who’s ‘In’, Who Died, Bad Guys, What’s ‘In’, Entertainment, Music, Literature, Art, Fashion & Beauty, Media, Money, Religion, and Science.  I promise, it's wicked cool.  

Although the Internet is fast and vast, don’t forget other resources including personal interviews; books on the subject of slang; or books, movies, newspapers, and magazines from each era.  A trip to the library will undoubtedly benefit your research.  Some libraries have special local history and/or genealogical sections where older works are housed.  Some museums also allow research of their archived material, but most require an appointment, so be sure to check first before you head out. 

And don’t forget to take a new look at those old "fact" books you still have sitting on your shelves.  One of my favorites: “Dr. Chase’s RECIPES of INFORMATION for EVERYBODY: Enlarged and Improved by R. A. Beal.  The title page reads: An invaluable collection of about eight hundred Practical Recipes For: Merchants, Grocers, Saloon-Keepers, Physicians, Druggists, Tanners, Shoemakers, Harness Makers, Painters, Jewelers, Blacksmiths, Tinners, Gunsmiths, Farriers, Barbers, Bakers, Dyers, Renovators, Farmers, and Families Generally.

From recipes for making Sham-Champagne – A Purely Temperance Drink, to How to Cure the Vapors, this tattered tome of home remedies offers a peek into the life of real people living in the 1880s; and invaluable terminology for a writer.

One word of warning, don’t trust your memory too far.  You may have lived through the early 1980s, but do you really remember what year home computers became popular or whether or not anyone had cell phones back then?  What television shows were popular, what movies, what bands were playing and what were the big stories of the day?  Trusting your memory may be a shortcut to a mistake that could have been avoided.  

Now let’s have some fun.  In what decade would the following sentences have been said?  Try to figure out the correct decade yourself, but if you have trouble, try the Internet for the answer.  Good luck, and May the Force Be With You. (1977)

Hey, don’t have a cow, man.  It’s a bummer that your foxy mama freaked out.  Chill.   

If you want to be a hep cat, the next time you flap your lips, use some of these slang terms, and you will be cooking with gas.