Sunday, September 28, 2014

How to Confuse Readers

While on a trip to Whistler and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada last week, I read several books. The one that interested me the most was Cheryl Strayed's autobiography Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Never have I been so full of conflict about a book. If I do not care for a book, I put it down. I did not care for this book but was challenged to find out why.

The writing was both bad and good. The main character had a few likable traits but mostly I did not care for her and her choices. She related parts of her life experiences, real or not, that were foreign and distasteful to me. I disliked her language and morals. I disliked her family. I found it hard to believe that she went on a 1,100 mile long trek along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which runs from the Mexican border to Washington state, is rugged, and traverses through some serious wilderness areas. It was especially hard to read knowing it was written 17 years after she did the summer long hike. She based her recollections on her journal which she never mentioned writing.

I was not of the demographic for this book: young 20 year old somethings who were looking for  answers and adventure without actually working for either. So why did I read this long book? I kept hoping for a major change in the author because she finally took charge of her life instead of letting serendipity and dumb choices rule her life. Was she ever going to learn? And if so, what was she going to learn?

Most of the book was driven by her inability to accept the tragic death from cancer of her young mother, aged 45; Cheryl was in her early 20's when this happened. I am sure she was devastated but never possessed the skills or support system to be able to work through this challenge. She says she was able to understand it by the end of the hike. Hmm.

Strayed, an illogical made up legal name, took on a solo hike without any preparation except some wrong advice from a outfitters store and an old copy of someone else's experience hiking the PCT. She did not practice before hand, packed her back pack the night before she started the hike without knowing how to use many of the items she tried to carry. She had not broken in her hiking boots and was woefully unprepared for what life always hands you: unexpected often dangerous situations.

Again I wondered why I read this book. Strayed used metaphors poorly, left the reader hanging on some precipitous literary overhangs and with questions about the veracity of her sentences. BUT...she kept my interest through out. I kept expecting her daily struggles to be more interesting. I wanted her to learn some things along the way. I kept hoping for both. Instead, Stayed returned again and again to flashbacks to explain her present circumstances as if they were an excuse for her poor choices. Doing heroin for months on end, assessing every man for his potential for sex (should I ask him or will he ask me?), and marital and familial infidelity all were big events in her life. Unlike other readers, I did not mind the flashbacks as disabling to the concentration of the reader. She was able to move the story along seamlessly through them. Her days were monotonous with she wrote each line using the same description ad nauseum of how stinky and dirty she was, how her toenails were black and falling off and how often she laid in her tent at night wanting to read but not being able to. Yet I kept reading.

If I could understand the reasons for my reading this tome, I would write a best seller about an unsympathetic person who spends her days making poor choices and not bathing. It will be about a woman who professes to have read great literature but then has no intelligence to prepare to hike along miles of rugged desert territory. I will meet people along the way but distance myself from then because "I vont to be alone!" but never uses the time alone to think through her the reasons for her past choices or plan for a more stable future.

If we writers could let go of what we have learned about writing and try some absurd plot, maybe we too would be famous. Obviously there are points I did not understand about Strayed's writing. She has written several other successful books which I will not read.

I should have known I would not like this book when I realized it was an Oprah 2 book club choice. I never like the books Oprah chooses. This book is a national best seller and an about to be released movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

Have you read books you did not like and not because your book club was going to discuss them next week? Why did you do so? What compels us, especially writers who should know better, to read a book where we do not care for the main character or believe in the supposed veracity of the tale?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Murder Mystery Party: Update

by Jennifer Lamont Leo

For the last few months I've been writing my first audience-participation-style murder mystery. I thought you might be interested in getting an update on how it's going. (See previous posts here and here.)

To recap, the event is a fund-raising dinner in support of a local history museum. We (I and my brainstorming museum friends) have set the mystery our town in the 1920s, featuring real characters from local history (like a schoolteacher, an actress, and a pair of sisters who owned a shop for ladies), mixed with characters that are purely fictional but represent "types" of the era--i.e., a train conductor, a journalist, a Pinkerton agent, etc.

In addition to a 13-member core cast, every audience member will be assigned a historical persona to portray. Since not every guest will be equally enthusiastic about playing "let's pretend," I've made these characters peripheral to the main story. If a guest is assigned to play, say, Oscar the German butcher, he may choose to come all decked out in a bloodstained apron with a thick accent straight from Bavaria, or he may completely ignore it. The choice is his and won't affect the main mystery one way or another (in my opinion, it will be infinitely more fun to play along--but, of course, I'm biased).

Here's how I and my crack team of brainstormers put this thing together. After deciding on the setting (time and place), we chose the crime--in this case a murder, but it could have been a theft or kidnapping or other evil deed. Next we decided on the victim, the perpetrator(s), the motive(s), and the method of dispatch.

Once we had the main story thread sketched out, we started sifting in false clues and red herrings. Who else in the cast of characters might have had a motive for killing this particular victim? What evidence could be found to make others look suspicious, but ultimately be found innocent? Most important (since we want the audience to actually be able to solve the crime), are there enough clues that an astute observer could figure out the solution, but not so many that the solution is obvious from the beginning?

While my team and I are working on the story (they're helping brainstorm, I'm doing the actual writing), others have been busily finding a venue, planning the food and decorations, and working out the evening's logistics.

This should be very fun! I'll continue keep you posted on our progress. If you have questions about the process, let me know in the comments. In the meantime, if you happen to find yourself in North Idaho on November 13, there could be a murder weapon with your name on it!

Friday, September 19, 2014

An Introduction to Fabulous Idaho Writer - Joan Opyr

I just “discovered” a writer whose writing is funny and irreverent; thoughtful, provoking, and unique beyond belief … and she lives in Idaho. Joan Opyr is the author of three award-winning books, Idaho Code, From Hell to Breakfast, and Shaken and Stirred. In addition to her Idaho series, she is working on a “Southern family chicklit gothic,” completing nursing school, and raising a family.

Idaho Code Amazon Book Description
Idaho Code is a funny book about love, family, and the freedom you can find in a state that values individuality more than common sense.

Small-town Idaho, where everyone knows your business, is no place for a baby dyke to go looking for love. Especially when murder and homophobia are stalking the streets. For Wilhelmina “Bil” Hardy, trapped in the coils of her eccentric family and off-the-wall friends, neither the course of true love nor amateur sleuthing runs smooth. Mistaken identity, misunderstandings, and mysteries galore take Bil to places she’s never dreamed of visiting.

Quote from Shaken and Stirred
Sometimes, I think my story is about addiction and adultery. Other times, I think it’s about bad luck with the Avon lady. And not just one – one I could chalk up to chance. Two rotten Avon ladies feel more like a curse.
Interview with Australian author and writer, Jesse Blackadder
Q. If you were a book, what would it be and why? 
I wish I were Beowulf, but in fact I am Thud! By Terry Pratchett. Why? Because at the heart of that book is an abiding sense of the painful unfairness of the world combined with an obligation to make that world better. And it’s really, really funny. Plus, trolls, dwarves, a Nelson Mandela made out of diamonds, and a bitter, recovering alcoholic cop who keeps on trying.

Joan Opyr Biography– Bywater Books
Joan Opry was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of a professional ballerina and a damn Yankee. She has a BA and MA from North Carolina State, finished the course work for a PhD at Ohio State, and is finishing a BS in Nursing at Lewis-Clark State College. Her goal is to be a middle-aged woman who can’t seem to settle. She is the author of three novels, each of which won a Golden Crown Literary Society Award. Two were Lambda finalists. Her most recent novel, Shaken and Stirred, won an Independent Publishing Award.

Her books, published by Bywater Books, are available on Amazon.
Maybe I’m more like an anthropologist — a funny anthropologist. It’s like Margaret Mead and E. F. Benson had a baby and then dropped her on her head. - Joan Opyr

Opyr Blog
Opyr also writes on her blog, The Hell You Say: Musings – okay, ranting – from the author of Idaho Code and From Hell to Breakfast. Her unique writer’s voice comes through loud and clear in her posts, which are crammed full of humor and wit and that ever-elusive item for most of those who write – quotable text. This is one author you need to check out ... she's fabulous ... and I'm not just prejudiced by the fact that she rides a motorcycle, although I hope to meet her some day on the road less traveled.    

The Writing Process or We Want the Funk
Post by Joan Opyr
June 9, 2014

I’ve been tagged by the fab and groovy Andi Marquette in a writing process blog hop. There are four questions. Here are my four (or more) answers.

Q. What are you working on?

Right now? The NCLEX. I just graduated from nursing school, and I sit for the boards later this month. I’m one of those writers who needs a day job, not only because writing has not thus far made me rich but because I need a lot of human interaction and excitement to feed my imagination. I can’t just shut myself up in a room and write. Some writers are like cerastium — they grow like mad in stony ground. I’m more like a rose bush. I require constant feeding, pruning, and spraying for aphids.

That said, I am working on a couple of projects. One is a third and final book in my Idaho series, a sequel to Idaho Code and From Hell to Breakfast, called, tentatively, Wish in One Hand. I feel that there’s more to be said about Bil and Sylvie and about the evolution of lesbian life in Idaho. I started work on Idaho Code in 1994. Twenty years have passed since then, and it’s been eight years since the book was published. We will soon have marriage equality here. Times have changed both in the state and in the nation since my characters were fighting anti-gay propositions like Proposition One. I’m not sure we even dreamt of same-sex marriage back then. It seemed amazing enough that we had Ellen or Ross’ ex-wife and her girlfriend on Friends.

My other project is Southern family chicklit Gothic. It’s about five sisters growing up in the Great Depression. There’s a major character in the novel who’s lesbian, but the book isn’t lesbian-focused. I’m not consciously trying for a crossover. I no longer care if my books are pigeonholed as lesfic; I write what I want to read. But this is a bigger story, I think, and I’m trying to get into the heads of characters with whom I don’t have a lot in common, apart from being Southern and a woman. I don’t have a title for this one yet. Perhaps Look Homeward, Hell’s Angel.

That was a joke, y’all.

Q. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

That’s a tricky one. My books are funny, but so are a lot of other books. I write funny mysteries, but that’s nothing new. I write funny dysfunctional families, but Amy and David Sedaris have raised the bar so high on that front that I hesitate to mention it. What’s more, the Sedaris siblings are, like me, from North Carolina. I think I hate them. They’re sucking up all of my oxygen.

Perhaps what distinguishes my writing is that my humor is broad but also weirdly erudite. Or maybe I mean dilettantish. I have a mind full of trivia. I began my educational career as a medievalist. My role model as a writer is Chaucer. I think my goal has always been to write a Canterbury Tales featuring gay people. As Chaucer may already have done that with The Pardoner, there might be nothing unique in this, either. Damn it.

Q. Why do you write what you do?

Because I want to read it. I write books for me, for my friends, for my family. I write books about people who interest me or make me laugh.

Q. How does your writing process work?

At the moment, it works like a 1968 Volkswagen with no heat, a broken gas gauge, and windows that won’t roll down. When I’m in the groove, it purrs along like that Maserati in Joe Walsh's Life's Been Good. I’m either feast or famine. When I write, I write. I sit down and type until the story is out. I wrote my third novel, Shaken and Stirred, in two weeks — meaning the first draft, that is. I spent another year editing it. I’ve heard many times that the art of writing is in the editing, but unless you’ve got a draft to work with, art is not possible. If I can just get it out, I know I can get it right. Well, nearly right. I’m never entirely happy with the finished product. I think if I were, I’d stop. No more books. Time to lie down and die.

Need more specifics? I do write to music. In fact, I make up a soundtrack that I think will suit the mood of the story. Once I have my main characters, I put together five or six hours of music that I think they’d enjoy. Sometimes, certain songs or pieces of music appear multiple times. Back in 1994, when I was working on Idaho Code, I made mix tapes using CDs and a dual cassette deck. And so now you know that I am 105.

What else? I eavesdrop. I go to the mall, to Jiffy Lube, to my doctor’s waiting room, and I listen. I don't record, even though my iPhone would let me do that. I take notes. I listen for patterns of speech, figures of speech, idiosyncrasies of expression and, always, funny stories. People are so interesting, especially when they have no idea they’re being observed. I want to say that I feel like Jane Goodall, but someone might get the idea that I think of other people as chimps, and that’s not right. That is deeply wrong. Most of the time. Maybe I’m more like an anthropologist — a funny anthropologist. It’s like Margaret Mead and E. F. Benson had a baby and then dropped her on her head.

One final confession: Moleskines and fountain pens. I compose on a computer, but I take my notes in Moleskines and I write with a Parker Vector fountain pen in blue-black ink. It’s a habit, it’s a superstition, it helps get me in the mood. Some writers drink. Others sleep around.  I like beautiful notebooks and smooth pens. I’m a writer with a happy liver and a happy marriage.

"Hilarious Spoof" doesn't begin to cover it
From Hell to Breakfast Amazon Book Review
by Jill Kuraitis

This masterpiece in the genre of Small-town Lesbian Ranch Vietnamese Pawnshop Murder Mysteries is even funnier than Opyr's first book, Idaho Code.

Hang onto a notebook to keep track of the wonderful characters and their various nicknames, be ready for coffee-spitting while you read, and consider reading it aloud to someone - it's even funnier that way, especially if you can do accents.

The descriptions and characters are so vivid you will being seeing it as a movie by the end of the first chapter.  Good book!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Writing Inspiration from Turkeys and Other Living Things

In a recent post, "Freelancers: Where do you get your ideas?" fellow blogger Jennifer Lamont Leo listed suggestions for finding writing inspiration. I'm lucky in that ideas come running down the long, curving driveway to my house each morning ... my turkeys.  I just watched a squirrel play with one young family of turkeys.  The squirrel scared the younger ones and enjoyed making them run, chasing one after another.  But the tables turned and the mature turkeys put him on the run.

 Watching nature at play in my front yard on a beautiful September morning.  What fun!  Then I remembered that turkey hunting season is another September tradition ... a tradition of which I am not fond.  I wrote the following column for The Spokesman Review in October of 2007.  I hope you enjoy reading about my feathered friends and recognize the natural writing opportunities that surround you no matter where you live.

North Idaho Garden Art

I prefer my turkey alive and well, thank you.

Where did all the turkeys come from this year?  It seems like North Idaho, from the Canadian border to the Palouse, is being overrun. All summer we have had to dodge slow-moving groups of turkeys on the road in front of our house. They are everywhere. A small flock slowed me down when I went to visit a friend on the other side of the mountain recently, and we’ve seen dozens of turkeys alongside the roads and in the woods during our summer rides.

For years, we’ve enjoyed our feathered visitors, but this year they have become a nuisance. Flocks of 10 to 50 turkeys visit our house several times a day, slowly pecking their way across our yard, leaving little presents in the grass, and nesting in my garden.

So, when I heard it was hunting season, I thought, “Thank goodness!” And, I understood when the Idaho Department of Fish and Game responded to reports of high turkey populations and earlier landowner complaints, by extending the length of turkey hunting season this year and increasing the limit from two to five, with properly purchased “special unit” turkey tags.

But then I saw how serious these hunters were. They geared up for opening day on Sept. 15. They sighted in their guns, stocked up on ammunition, and bought those extra tags. They scoped out their area, double-checked their licenses, and gassed up their rigs. There were legions of them – all heading for the hills (my hill) in their camouflage-colored shirts, pants, jackets, bib overalls, boots, hats, and gloves. Some are just readying themselves for their big game hunts by taking out a few turkeys, while others are avid bird hunters.

With great hearing, amazing eyesight, and a 270-degree range of vision, turkeys aren’t easy targets. But they are vulnerable if they run into any of these gun-toting enthusiasts. They even have to watch out for bow hunters. These guys arm themselves with compound bows (often camo, of course), and
barbed arrows that would scare the turkeys to death if they just saw the lethal-looking things, let alone got shot by one of them.

That started me thinking about my turkeys. I find their awkward gait endearing as they run down our driveway, and their calls keep me company while I garden. I like to watch a stately group of nine toms I call the “Graybeards,” and I’ve enjoyed watching one harried hen carefully herd her babies around all summer.

The other day, my husband had to shoo one curious gobbler out of his shop, and not too long ago we spotted a turkey in an apple tree just about 20 feet from our house. Turkeys are thought to be dumb, but this turkey balanced shakily on a small branch, then pecked at apples until he made them fall ... to the waiting turkeys below, who, well, gobbled them up.

Then I started thinking about all turkeys.

Did you know they have scouts: dependable, loyal turkeys who watch for trouble while the others eat? Did you know they sleep in trees at night, or can fly up to 55 miles per hour for short distances?
In fact, they are quite amazing birds. Did you know they can run up to 25 mph? It makes me wonder how the one with the crippled foot seems to keep up with the others – do they wait for him? Then there’s that brilliant one that fed the others – what about him? He must be a turkey genius – maybe a turkey Einstein. 

Just thinking about him made me realize, I don’t think it’s fair that hunters sit quietly in a turkey blind and use turkey calls to call in an intelligent bird like this, or any other unsuspecting family of turkeys, just out for an evening stroll. I don’t think it’s fair there are hunters out there, just waiting for the chance to kill my favorite North Idaho gobblers.

So, I guess I don’t really mind dodging those turkeys in the road, or those droppings in my front yard, after all. And to all you hunters out there, please don’t shoot my turkeys.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cliches Are Good for the Soul

Cliche: a phrase, word, or idea, that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse.
I know, I know, every writing expert admonishes writers NOT to use cliches. They are said to be the mark of a lazy writer. They are characteristic of inexperienced and/or unoriginal writers.

Well, I may not be a writing expert, but I am a reading expert and I've discovered that I'm as happy as a clam when I read a cliche every now and then. For me, they're as comfortable as an old shoe and as welcome as an old friend.

I find them to be deceptively simple, instantly recognizable phrases that are usually the most economical way to say what needs to be said. They add clarity, depth, and a little bit of charm to the words I read.

Why should writers be asked to waste time reinventing the wheel? Why spend hours searching for the perfect, witty words to say something when somebody came up with the perfect, witty way to say it eons ago?

For heaven's sake, these phrases have stood the test of time and proven they are the cream of the crop. Can you even imagine writing a phrase so perfectly constructed that it becomes common usage? I can't.

Isn't this discrimination? There are as many quotes in today's literature as there are Chins in a Chinese phone book, but you never hear of them making critics foam at the mouth like they do when they encounter a cliche.

Writers use quotes to give depth and reinforcement to their work, just like cliches. It's like the pot calling the kettle black, and I don't get the difference. Quotes are just cliches with acknowledgements. Maybe if I start enclosing my cliches with quotation marks, they won't rub my critics the wrong way.

And that's not all. There are proverbs, sayings, witticisms, anecdotes, and euphemisms. None of them seem to drive the experts nuts like cliches do. It's discrimination, any way you look at it.

Searching online I noticed one expert article after another entitled, "Avoiding Cliches Like the Plague." What the heck? It's okay for them, but not for us? I did, however, find one particularly witty cliche-critic who did practice what he preached. His title? "Avoid Cliches Like Erectile Dysfunction." Really?  How far does one have to go to create a catchy new phrase?

Despite all the negative hype, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for those of us who admire the familiar brevity of a cliche. Banding together on the Internet, cliche lovers offer a scintilla of hope that cliches might one day become a tad more welcome than a skunk at a yard party.

Cliche: Little facets of the truth.  
One of those cliche-admirers, Steve Lautenschlager, began an online list of cliches, which he called "...little facets of the truth." As his list of cliches grew, he discovered that "other people were oddly, strangely, obsessively, perversely, intrigued by cliches as well."

Glad to know I'm not alone.

If you are looking for a cliche (for whatever nefarious reason) be sure to browse through these websites:

My favorite cliche: as happy as a clam. (Just makes me feel good.)

My least favorite cliche:  no-brainer. (Because it's DUMB. Even thinking it's a no-brainer takes a brain.)

Favorite cliche quote: Not all my cliches are original. - Football Coach Chuck Knox

CHALLENGE: How many cliches in the above post? Do you have a favorite cliche? Least favorite?

DEDICATION: The above post is dedicated to Jennifer Lamont Leo, who strives to understand my addiction, but who is also rumored to be planning a cliche intervention for me.

NOTE: This is an updated repost from 2/14/2011.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Guest Post from Brenda Drake

We are pleased to offer this guest post. Good luck to all brave participants.


#PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 140 character pitch for their completed manuscripts. Have several variations of your Twitter pitch available. Twitter may not let you tweet the same pitch over within the same hour. The pitch must include the hashtag #PitMad and the category (#YA, #MG, #A, #NA, #PB and #NF) in the tweet. The “#” is important to include. It will sort the categories to make it easier for the agents/publishers.
For more information about Twitter Pitching visit this post by agent Carly Watters here.
#YA = Young Adult
#MG = Middle Grade
#A = Adult
#NA = New Adult
#PB = Picture Book
#CB = Chapter Book
#NF = Non-fiction
#WF = Woman’s Fiction
#SFF = Science Fiction and Fantasy
#R = Romance
The rules are simple. Everyone is welcome to pitch. All genres/categories are welcomed. Must be completed and polished manuscripts. You can pitch more than one manuscript. Throughout the day tweet your pitch. Try not to do it too much (rule of thumb is twice per hour per manuscript). When you see an industry professional on the feed, tweet it once. Make sure to include the hashtag #PitMad and your genre/category (if you can fit it).
The agents/publishers will tweet their submission preferences and favorite your tweet if they want to see more. If you get a favorite from an agent or publisher, follow their submission preference and send them their request as soon as you can. They should have tweeted what they want you to send, so check their twitter feed for that information. If they haven’t listed it, follow their submission guidelines on their websites. Make sure to put “PitMad Request: TITLE” in the subject line of your email when sending your request.
Don’t tweet agents and publishers directly unless they tweet you first.
Don’t favorite friends tweets. The agents will be requesting by favoriting tweets. so let’s keep that for requests. You can RT your friends to show your support.
Please keep in mind, we never know what agents or publishers will be on the hashtag, so make sure you research each requesting agent or publisher. You do not have to send requests to those requesting if you don’t want to work with them.
If you can’t be there, you can always schedule your tweets by using Tweetdeck or some other application that schedules tweets.
And finally, be nice and courteous to each other, and especially to the industry professionals. We’ve had some success stories come out of our previous #PitMads and we’d hate to have it canceled due to abuse. If you do see abuse, please report it to Twitter or notify one of the hosts of the event. Thank you!

Here’s the dates for our upcoming quarterly #PitMad events:
September 9, 2014
December 4, 2014
March 11, 2015
June 4, 2015
September 10, 2015
December 4, 2015
#PitMad starts at 8AM and ends at 8PM (EST or EDT, which is New York time).

About Me

I write young adult and middle grade novels. I'm represented by Peter Knapp at Park Literary. Look for my debut young adult novel, LIBRARY JUMPE

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In One Book

Do you read to be entertained, to be edified, or to expand your horizons? I suppose most of us would answer all of the above. Some writers can do all three in one book. That goes triple for John Irving. Starting with The World According to Garp that won the National Book Award in 1980, I have been a fascinated and loyal reader of his work. The character driven stories and complicated yet subtle plot-lines have always appealed to me.

In One Person is our selection for The Best Food Ever Book Club this month. The story centers around a young man's desires, as he comes of age in Favorite River Academy. Sexuality is a complex subject, and the protagonist is confused as to whether his preferences are settled or remain in flux. The theme of tolerance runs through the novel from start to finish, making us question our beliefs, and our rigid limitations, as we follow Billy's journey. Through high school and into maturity, Billy Abbot is an endearing character.

When authors speak of their work, you will often hear these words. "I wanted to explore..." It is a great achievement to go from that statement to a fully fleshed out novel where the reader is then put into a position of questioning their thoughts on the matter. Hence, the fodder for a great discussion.

John Irving says,

"Billy is not me. He comes from my imagining what I might have been like if I'd acted on my earliest impulses as a young teenager. Most of us don't ever act on our earliest sexual imaginings. In fact, most of us would rather forget them-not me. I think our sympathy comes, in part, from our ability to remember our feelings-to be honest about what we felt like doing."

Irving states that he writes from the perspective of emotional and psychological truths. He writes having envisioned the ending first. The fully complex architecture of his novels is something I can absorb viscerally, but cannot quite identify. I feel it, but I cannot see the scaffolding. In other words, I don't know how he does it. That is fine by me. He is the man behind the curtain, a man I admire, and a man who sets my imagination on quite a journey. He will have a new book coming out soon. Stay tuned...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Moonlit Swims in September

The beauty of North Idaho astounds me. After a glorious summer full of hot days and fun filled nights, the region outdoes itself in the month of September.

During the years we raised our children in the city of Coeur d' Alene, we spent many happy days on Sander's Beach. When the school year began, the beach became empty except for a few happy Mom's who would go down to enjoy some solitude and peace. We are blessed here in North Idaho with a full month of lovely weather where the lake remains warm. Gone are the summer folks, and the lake is now incredibly quiet.

Last night we took a boat ride, enjoying the setting sun and the rising moon. Jumping in for a swim in the fading light, I felt full of glee. I thought about the month of September, and how beautiful it is in many places in the world.

September is a month full of vim and vigor. I still get excited over the idea of fall fashions, new pens and notebooks, of getting down to brass tacks, of starting new projects, but I also have my remaining dock days to cherish. I took full advantage today. The water is seventy- four degrees which enabled me to swim to the next dock via a long slow crawl stroke. As I swung my head to inhale, I faced an unbroken shoreline. In the distance I heard the sound of a boat engine. It amazed me how easily I recalled the sound. Having grown up around antique boats in Muskoka, Ontario, I remembered the put,put, put, the steady drone of a steam engine.  Scanning the horizon, I saw it- a gorgeous little craft from circa 1915, with white sides and striped canopy.

I thought about movies, books, and ideas centered around September. Is it a great time to clean closets, make dentist appointments and trim our hedges? Yes, it is, but for me, it is a time to linger, a time to get in my kayak and revel in the remaining heat, a time to savor each crisp morning and every bright sunset. It is a time to bask in all the region has to offer. North Idaho is never more beautiful than it is right now.

From Tom Jones:

"Try To Remember"

Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when you were a tender and callow fellow,
Try to remember and if you remember the follow.

Try to remember when life was so tender
that no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender that
dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender that
love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Deep in December it's nice to remember
although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
without the hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
the fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow.

Friday, September 5, 2014

International Writing Conferences

Is your muse visiting Peru while you are stuck in Moscow, Denver, Phoenix, Inverness or Sydney? Here is a partial list of upcoming writing conferences. There are conferences for writers held in many cities and areas around the world throughout the year.  Google 'writing seminars', 'writing workshops', or 'writing conferences' and be overwhelmed with the possibilities. Most are held in the warmer months of each region. Several of them combine writing seminars with sightseeing in the host country.

September 19-29, 2014 

workshops, lectures, classes
September 21-27, 2014

October 3-14, 2014

Guatemala—11/9-16, 14
Slovenia Oct. 5-12
December 7-20, 2014 

February 11-15, 2015 

December 7-20, 2014 

February 11-15, 2015 

February 13 - March 7, 2015 

March 22-28, 2015 
workshops, panels, touring 

This writer does not endorse nor have specific knowledge of any of these conferences, retreats or seminars. Please research each one before registering.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Uh oh....plagiarism


Plagiarism is passing off as your own someone else’s work, ideas, thoughts, opinions, theories, statistics, facts, drawings, or paraphrasing the same. Recently several journalists and politicians were caught plagiarizing. Doris Kearns Goodwin, a well-known Pulitzer Prize winner, historian and political commentator was found to have plagiarized portions of her book about the Fitzgeralds and Kennedys. Other books she authored have also come under criticism. She admitted to some of it saying  “that she had an understanding that citations would not be required for all references, and that extensive footnotes already existed. Many doubted her claims, and she was forced to resign from the Pulitzer Prize board.” []   

Jane Goodall, internationally known primatologist, was proved to have plagiarized many sections of her book Seeds of Hope. Jonah Rehrer who was a science and technical writer for the NYT was accused of falsifying quotes as well as general plagiarism. Freed Zakaria, CNN commentator and editor at Time magazine was ultimately reinstated after he was accused of plagiarizing his own work! He failed to note that the lines in one article in TIME had been published in another magazine.

Joe Biden withdrew from the presidential race in 1988 after it was found that he plagiarized a paper in law school. He was also found to have copied for his campaign speeches without noting from British politician Neil Kinnock. Rand Paul has been caught plagiarizing in one of his books. Vladimir Putin is accused of lifting several passages of his economic dissertation from a text book written by two University of Pittsburgh teachers. Alex Haley, Barack Obama, George Harrison and many video game authors have been accused and/or charged with plagiarism.

 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.een accused of plagiarism.
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.

The punishments are of varying degrees often depending upon the venue and the amount of material copied. It seems to also depend upon your status in your field and your sponsoring company. Authors writing for well-known magazines or newspapers sometimes seem to be able to slide past legal reprisals, as do some financially lucrative authors. The publishers protect their popular writers. For the rest of us, 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 from the book or article with the plagiarism. 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 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.”

(Disclaimer: this author does not represent the material in the essay to be thought of as legal knowledge or advice under any terms or conditions.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Simile is Like A...really hard thing to write


A  simile is a literary device that shows the comparison between two different things. It uses the words "like" or "as" and is therefore a direct comparison. "Ben is as wise as an owl" says that someone or something is as wise as an owl. An owl is traditionally thought of in literature as being intelligent. "Agile as a monkey" is another example of a simile.

The challenge to a writer is to think of similes that are not cliches and to compare the two things you want. A good simile makes it easier to understand your text because it draws a visual picture. The reader can use several of his senses to interpret what you mean. Often he can visualize your image (oceans and spilled water, pumpkins and an orange sunset). Sometimes the reader can smell your simile. There is a children's book whose title is My Dog Smells Like Dirty Socks that illustrates that the reader uses his sense of smell to relate to what you are comparing.

A trite simile makes you sound lazy and is boring to the reader. "Her temper is like a volcano." "...hungry as a lion," "...eyes as big as dinner plates. Often a simile is funny:"Her new hire was as useful as a chocolate teapot."  

Recently I read two books where the authors had a remarkable talent for writing similes. The first book is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

"The people in Berlin believed in them [the German army] like a nun believes in God. (pg. 102)
"Blood that had spread across the table thickens like cooling wax." (338)
"The Pyrenees gleam. A pitted moon stands on their crests as if impaled." (349)
"...veins that climb in Volkheimer's arm like vines." (152)
"Her skin was as pale as cream and as thin as a blade of grass." (137)
"When he stand up his knees crack like twigs." ((158)
"von Rumple climbs the ladder, his weight like a rag on the rungs." (201)
" easy as trying to pick feathers out of molasses." (126)
"Sleep falls over the child like a shadow."

The second book was a summer beach read by Elin Hilderbrandt.

"...plans falling together as neatly as bricks in a garden path."
"She was perpetually moving like a girl on amphetamines."
"Snoring like the old man who bumped his head..."

Many songs have similes. "It's A Hard Day's Night" by the Beetles. Bob Dylan's "Like a rolling stone" and Jon Bon Jovi's "My heart is like an open highway".

You will be in good company if your simile is as good as Shakespeare's:

"All the world's a stage
And all men and women are merely players,
They have their exits and their entrances."

Put your imagination to work and think up good similes. It will enhance your writing, make the reader smile, cry or shake his head and an editor think he has a new best seller on his desk.