I’ve Had It Up to Here So I’m Gonna Write About It

steph-up-to-here-1135x540

Source: Google Images/pinterest.com

As the saying goes (hence the title of this post), I’ve had up to HERE.

Enough Already

The war in Ukraine, Covid and its various affects on people and society (protests, “anti-vaxxers,” “vaxxers,” anti-maskers, fear-mongerers, lingering symptoms, community safety vs. individual rights, etc.), the lack of good paying jobs (despite what our government is crowing about, only low-paying retail/restaurant jobs are truly in abundance because nobody wants to work the crappy hours with rude customers who’ve been locked away in their homes for two years and have forgotten how to behave in public), the lack of affordable housing (having recently uprooted myself I’m experiencing this in a major way and it won’t resolve until I find a job where I earn what I’m worth which means I have to leave CA – and gladly, as I’ve already reserved my escape); the list goes on and on (as I could, trust me). I’m exhausted and frustrated with all of it.

Luckily, writing is a good outlet for those frustrations. 

So Tired…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older that the world’s busy-ness gets to me more easily. Maybe it’s because I’m artistic and sensitive and need more quiet in my life. Maybe it’s because our species seems to find immeasurable joy in violence and destruction, even if it brings about our own annihilation.

Lately, I find myself searching for feel-good movies instead of my usual action-driven films. I’m tired of the good guy/bad guy stories that repeat over and over (as if real life reflects that because it doesn’t). Perhaps I’m searching for a sense of inner quiet not found in outer society. Searching for that inner serenity that so many seek yet few rarely find. And it’s getting harder and harder (e.g., when I was 9, the global population was at ONLY 4 billion; life was slower, quieter, less crowded; no wonder I pine for “the good old days” – there were fewer of us).

…But There is a Way

Again, this is where writing can provide that much-needed inner peace and balance. Writing can be cathartic; driven by imagination and/or real life, stories abound. As writers, we can choose to reflect society and current events; we can choose to tell historical pieces (fiction or not) that help put our current lives in perspective; we can choose to shoot for the moon in fantastical stories of heroism laden with strong characters; we can choose to share pain and sadness, our characters weeping, surviving and overcoming great obstacles. We can choose.

Writing for ourselves (even if we’re just venting) and our readers (to inform and entertain) is what we do and how we find inner peace.

#writerslife #writersguild #writersdigest #fiction #nonfiction #authorsoninstagram #authorsontwitter #thewritinglife #writerblogger # #meditation #writersblog #wednesdaywisdom #literature #peaceandserenity

Whether the Weather is Important to Your Novel

First draft of book cover for Rescue on White Thunder

Today I read an interesting post from a fellow writer/author about using weather in our stories (thanks for the inspiration, Damyanti). That got me to thinking… about how every story needs atmosphere (figuratively and literally) and how weather can define a plot or reveal something about a character. And oddly enough, after reading Damyanti’s post and a couple articles on this subject, I realize that I don’t pay all that much attention to weather in some novels and I’m not sure why. (But now I will thanks to that post!)

“The setting of a story informs the mood, the attitude of the characters, and the presentation of the themes. One of the most important elements of the setting is the weather. In literature, weather plays many roles such as a plot device, a way to set the atmosphere, a symbol for cleansing or misery, and much more.”

Hannah Aster, Weather in Literature: Rain Is Never Just Rain, at https://www.shortform.com/blog/weather-in-literature/

My personal favorite is fire. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been transfixed by fire. It has a hypnotic quality about it whether it’s coming from your fireplace or blazing through a forest. I’m not a pyromaniac; I simply enjoy and respect fire for its beauty, danger and power as one of nature’s indomitable forces. Which is why I made it a running theme throughout both of my fiction novels (1 unpublished, 1 unfinished):

“Braddock and his team reached a grove of pine interspersed with hemlock and western red cedar above the trees burning to the southeast and dug as if their lives depended on it (because it did). The ground was still a bit hard from a cold winter and the digging was arduous. Fires spread quickly over a fresh, loose layer of humus covering the solid ground. Tree trunks caught fire one after the other as flames overran the surrounding brush and now-dead timbers toppled from last year’s big storm. The crackling roar of the fire amplified and they had to shout to hear each other. Braddock knew they would soon be forced to move to higher ground. Some of the firebreaks held but winds were increasing in strength and velocity, propelling fresh embers to other areas. More trees and small brush ignited, creating walls of flames that nearly licked the upper branches of the tall pines.”

– Rescue on White Thunder, 2012 (currently unpublished)

Fire in a story is a powerful motivator as it can often connote a life or death scenario: 

“Unaware of the situation below, Braddock scanned the perimeter. Flames were everywhere, from the pine needles and grass on the ground, to the upper branches of the trees. He hadn’t fought fires in a long time; but it’s something one never forgets, he reminded himself as he struggled to figure a way out. He had to find Annie – it was the one thing that drove him to do what he did next. He choked on the smoke so he grabbed a bandana from his pocket, poured water on it, and held it over his nose and mouth. Pockets of blackened earth began to appear as the fires burned the forest floor clear and Braddock saw their opportunity: a narrow stretch of burned over ground leading upwards between two patches still ablaze. 

He looked down at Smoke, “Think we can do this, boy?” 

Smoke looked at the tight space between the towers of flames; he winced and tried to wag his tail in support.”

– Rescue on White Thunder, 2012 (currently unpublished)

Just following this last quote from my first novel, another character (the second protagonist) used the smoke from the fire to hide in as he snuck up on antagonists. Like two birds with one stone, eh? Using a force like fire in a story ratchets up the action. It can make heroes out of likely or unlikely characters. Fire speaks to one’s primal fear of being trapped in a blaze (in a house, in the woods, etc.) and brings readers to the edges of their seats.

Weather, in short, can be the tie that binds a story together and bring it to an exciting or unexpected conclusion.

#thursdaytips #writingtips #writersdigest #authorsoninstagram #fires #wildfires #fridayfuntips #saturdaystories #fictionnovel #writingfiction #hotshots #firefighters #mountainrescue #howtobuildaplot #literati #mestengobooks 

Oh Pooh…On Copyrights

pooh1

Source: Google Images/goalcast.com

The Masters are Freed

This morning a bit of interesting news landed in my Inbox from Smithsonian Magazine. Creative works published in 1926 (authors, songwriters, playwrights, etc.) are, as of 01.01.2022, available and free to use as we please. No more copyright. That means a lot of artists’ works will enter the public domain this year. What does that mean for current writers, painters, movie makers and such? I cringe at the thought of someone turning a masterpiece like The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway into something unrecognizable.

For instance, The Great Gatsby entered the public domain last year and someone wrote a graphic novel adaptation. I haven’t read it so I don’t know how much the story was changed (time period, characters, etc.). What this does tell me is that original works, masterpieces dare I say, could end up as some sci-fi adventure or even anime – or worse. I worry that instead of coming up with something unique, poor replication and representation will ensue.

Then again, maybe not. 

Pooh On Public Domain

Writer Benjamin Hoff authored The Tao of Pooh and later The Te of Piglet based on the wonderful stories of A.A. Milne, author and creator of Winnie the Pooh. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both books. Because of copyright laws, Hoff agreed to pay the Milne estate thirty percent of the hardcover profits and forty percent of the paperback profits. If he wrote either book this year, he would pay nothing and reap all the benefits of a long-beloved classic. (Note: the cartoon films are still copyright protected because they’re owned by Disney.)

Which makes me wonder:

Will unencumbered profits become a motivating factor in rehashing old classics?

“The things that make me different are the things that make me.” — Winnie the Pooh

Not a Thief, Just Borrowing

Poems by Dorothy Parker and Langston Hughes are also now in the public domain. Sounds like a ripe opportunity for some people to plagiarize and they will be free to do it without consequences. Ethically speaking, I can’t imagine stealing a single line of poetry from the likes of T.S. Elliot or stories from the likes of John Muir or Henry Thoreau. It just doesn’t feel right. Can you imagine The Sound of Music or The Maltese Falcon revamped? Blasphemy!

Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic (well, I am an artist)…but the concern is all too real. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what happens when a classic meets a modern artist. Keeping my fingers crossed.

#aamilne #winniethepooh #ernesthemingway #dorothyparker #langstonhughes #publicdomain #copyrightlaws #taoofpooh #classicnovels

Will The Real Rudolph Please Shine His Nose…

Rudolph book cover

Source: NPR/Rauner Special Collections Library/Dartmouth College

I came across this NPR story some time ago on an IG post. What is Christmas without Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? How many of you know the real story of how he came about? Let me summarize…

The Real Story

It all began in 1939 (yes, that long ago and on the verge of WWII) when Montgomery Ward execs asked one of their ad men to come up with a story for MW’s children’s book, an annual holiday promotion. The ad man, Robert May, made a list of possible names before settling on Rudolph. So May, an aspiring novelist and known for his wit at parties, came up with a story of a reindeer underdog named Rudolph. His boss wasn’t very impressed but May, undaunted, went to a friend in MW’s art department to draw up some sketches to go with the story.

Names of Rudolph

Courtesy of NPR/Rauner Special Collections Library/Dartmouth College

Then something awful happened. May’s wife died of cancer. He was devastated but forged ahead, telling his boss that he “needed Rudolph now more than ever” after his boss offered to give the project to someone else. Rudolph was a big hit and copies sold around the country. But by now May was in deep financial straits from his wife’s medical bills and was trying support himself and his child on a copywriter’s salary.

The Big Hit

For reasons that remain unclear, the CEO of Montgomery Ward gave May the rights to Rudolph after WWII. May’s brother-in-law was a songwriter, so May enlisted him to write a jingle about Rudolph. Miraculously, it was loved and picked up by none other than the famous singing cowboy Gene Autry. As a result, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer sold over 25 million copies and was later picked up by Rankin/Bass, who made the stop animation film we all adore (I watch it every year).

If you’re curious, you can follow this link to the whole story, including reading the original book/story that was changed oh-so-slightly for the Rankin/Bass film:

https://www.npr.org/2013/12/25/256579598/writing-rudolph-the-original-red-nosed-manuscript

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, to one and all. Stay safe and healthy and prosperous wishes for the New Year.

#Christmas #Rudolphtherednosedreindeer #RankinBass #Christmastime #holidayseason #RobertLMay #holidayclassic #fictionwriters

Supporting Local Authors is Good for Business

A Reason to Go Local

I’m sure many of you watched the news about the devastating tornadoes, including the leveling of an Amazon warehouse in Illinois. Upon seeing the destroyed warehouse, one of my first thoughts, after concern for survivors, was “Oh man, lots of people will be angry about their Xmas packages not arriving on time.” Gifts and gotta-have-it-now items purchased online from other parts of the country, other parts of the world. It’s a “Xmas fever” that spreads around much of the world for a short season and repeats itself year to year.

Then it got me thinking…

For many years I’ve enjoyed shopping locally (I find more unique items this way) and these disastrous events have certainly emphasized my choice. I love supporting local businesses, especially those hit hard by the pandemic. You can go to a local bookstore or business and pick out the gifts yourself. I like the personal touch; I feel it gives the gift a greater meaning if I took the time to pick it out, take it home and wrap it.

Less Really Is More

Mass material consumerism has reached an all-time ‘low’, in my opinion. We have football stadium-sized warehouses where people toil under the digital gun (their movements are tracked and timed every minute of every day) to get your purchases to you ASAP. This harkens back to the factory laborers of the early twentieth century (with not much more labor protections, it seems). Complaints about late deliveries even though there’s a huge labor shortage (which some folks refuse to recognize), issues with availability of raw materials, etc., persist with no end in sight. Keeping your shopping local may decrease your purchase options but increases the opportunity to meet your neighbors and find unusual treasures.

Local Support Strengthens a Community

One way to resolve this global issue is to help our own community members thrive and supporting local authors is a good way to start.  Many towns and cities often have yearly events that introduce local authors to the community. I was one such fortunate author when I lived in New Mexico, where I published my first book (it even won an award!). What a wonderful way to meet readers and other writers and discover new stories.

While much of writers’ works have gone digital (eBooks, Audible, etc.), I feel it vital to support as many members of our local writing communities as possible. Small or local bookstores, libraries and cafes are often great places to meet local writers and authors via book readings or writing groups (professional, Meetup. etc.). Grab a cuppa and have a listen.

Show Your Local Library Some Love

Another wonderful way to support authors (both local and worldwide) is through your public library. I find them an amazing source of discovery and entertainment. This week I discovered a new Asian author, Gail Tsukiyama; I took home two of her books: The Language of Threads and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms. Libraries offer a wide variety of books from local authors to best-selling authors and everyone in between. And it’s a great place to review a book before going to the bookstore to make a purchase.

Post Script:

(Yes, large companies like Amazon provide jobs and help boost the U.S. economy (GDP); they may be, in some places, the only option for employment. That’s not the focus of this post and I continue to support buying locally so we can boost our local economies, which in turn will have a positive effect on the national GDP.)

#writersoffiction #supportyourlocalauthors #placergoldwriters #writersdigest #meetupgroups #poetry #buylocal

Holiday Memories: An Old-Fashioned Christmas

Xmas at Gramps circa 1976

Xmas at Gramps’, mid 70s: me, Gramps, Uncle Norman, Uncle Connie, my father

While cleaning out my computer files (see last post), I came across this paper I had written for an English Composition class back in ’93. Every time I read it my mind is flooded with wonderful childhood holiday memories. I want to share this with you and hope you have similar holiday memories.

An Old-Fashioned Christmas

Christmas at Nana and Gramps’ – this was the one bright spot of the frigid New England winter season. I’d always looked forward to that one day a year, when all of my mother’s family gathered to celebrate. It seemed like a hundred people were stuffed into that three-story Victorian house, when actually there were only around forty at a given time, since people came and went most of the day. Us kids just liked all the food and places to play and hide in that big, old house scented with roasted turkey and all its trimmings.

Gramps_Xmas early 80s his house

Gramps

I can remember as if it were yesterday: Upon arrival, we stepped into a small but clean hallway entrance, where it was ten degrees colder than the rest of the house because it wasn’t heated (neither were any of the bedrooms or the bathroom upstairs, for that matter). We were greeted by the warm face of my Nana or an aunt as the aromas of all-day cooking filled my nostrils. On a small antique wooden side table to the right of the main door rested a black vintage telephone dated from the 1940s; it was one of many items in the house from another time.

Opposite that table was a tall coat rack, where what seemed like hundreds of coats piled up toward the ceiling and finding yours at the end of the day was like searching for a needle in a haystack. From there we would disperse – the kids (me and my cousins) to the living room to play (they had no TV), women (mom and my aunts) to the kitchen, and the men (father and uncles) to the large adjoining dining room, where they would collapse into the same chairs as they did every year. Mom would head straight to the kitchen where she placed her famous California Eggnog Cake on the stove top. She would then help Nana and her sisters prepare the cold turkey and stuffing sandwiches and various pies/cakes to be served later as a light dinner/dessert.

My father and Uncle Connie would take their appointed seats in armchairs located at either end of the steam heater set below the expansive dining room window. Uncle Normand, one of my mother’s older brothers, stood nearby, injecting the occasional teasing remark that got everybody laughing. They all sat in the same chairs every year, regardless of what time they arrived – it was understood. The men laughed and talked and drank cheerily all night long. Gramps sat in his rocking chair on the opposite side of the room, by the kitchen door, listening to all the commotion, not uttering a word, just enjoying being surrounded by his large family.

Nana, Mom, and the rest of my aunts gathered in the kitchen, mulling over the leftovers of roast turkey, three different kinds of homemade stuffing, and various cakes and pies, all made from scratch. My personal favorites were mom’s California Walnut Eggnog Cake and Nana’s cinnamon pie, a decadent pie also known as “piquin” (pronounced pitch-you-anh) pie, made only from cinnamon, sugar and butter. Aunt Vic would be busy mixing and perfecting her fruit cup made of bananas, strawberries, and other fruits. She carefully monitored the servings – we were each allowed one small Dixie cupful and had to sneak into the kitchen when she wasn’t looking for seconds. 

My cousin Danielle and I picked through the huge bowl of fruit cup to find our favorites (mine were the bananas and strawberries). Later, around six o’clock, the cold turkey and stuffing sandwiches came out and we all ate until we thought we couldn’t eat another bite. Stomachs were bursting by the time my mother would start slicing her special Christmas cake. It was a sponge cake filled with fresh whipped cream, walnuts and brandy, topped with whipped cream and maraschino cherries. She made it only at Christmastime and we all made room for the measly slice she handed each of us. She would stand guard over it to make sure no one took more than one slice – there were too many mouths to feed.

Xmas with Dot Vic Audrey_early 70s

Aunts in the kitchen; Xmas circa 1970

While the adults were busy eating, my cousin Danielle and I would run off to the frosty hallway, find a spot on the stairs and for the next few hours, rummage through old family albums kept on a long side table beside the stairs. They contained pictures of family members we’d never known and pictures of my aunts and uncles throughout their lives before we came along. Ours was a past rich in history and ancestry and we were mesmerized by the old photos. (Mom’s family is so large I still joke that instead of having a family tree we have an orchard!)

Then came time to open presents. A small number of gifts were exchanged between my mother and her siblings, and the rest were given to us kids from our respective godparents or favorite aunt/uncle. My godmother always gave me socks. Every year. And they were some of the ugliest socks I’d ever seen. The only cool socks I ever got from her were the multicolored “toe socks” she gave me in the 70s when they were the “in” socks to wear. Some kids got toys. I always got socks – except for one year when I was in my late teens, she gave me a key chain with my name engraved on a silver medallion. I still have it.

Xmas in Nton c. 1964

Christmas at Nana and Gramps’ circa 1963

Afterwards, a bunch of us kids would head for Gramps’ small barbershop adjoining the dining room. All the vintage furnishings were intact, right down to the leather strap he used for sharpening his straight blades, and barber’s brushes and mugs he used for applying the fresh whipped shaving cream. Here we played in the stuffy but worn barber’s chair, bouncing up and down again and again, releasing air that made a whooshing sound every time we landed on the jagged tear in the center of the bulging black leather seat. There were old comic books in the magazine rack attached to the chair that we must’ve read a hundred times. Then it was back to the kitchen for one more helping of fruit cup before heading outside into six-foot snowdrifts to frolic until our snowsuits were wet and we were cold to the bone. The temperature was always twenty degrees colder at my grandparents’ house but the air seemed so much clearer and crisper up there.

Late into the night, after we had all filled ourselves with food and drink and fatigue filled our sleepy eyes, our parents would load us, the presents, and leftovers into the cars and head home, with yet another year of happy holiday memories at Nana and Gramps’.

Happy Holidays to one and all!

mistletoe1

#Christmas #family #holidaycelebration #shortstory #nonfiction #memoir

Like, Um, Well, You Know…Seriously, To Be Fair…

crutch words1

Source: Google Images

Grammar Still Rules

Grammar rules still apply to your writing and speaking and always will. Especially if you want to keep readers and listeners engaged.

Today I’m writing about a few of my pet peeves that have become far too prevalent in today’s writing and speaking. I’m talking about crutch words and fillers: like, well, you know, ah, um, uh, etc. 

My biggest issue with these overused words and space fillers is that they make the writer/speaker sound less intelligent, less able to think or speak quickly or clearly. Which equates to poor writing and speaking skills. And poor communication skills take away one’s credibility, which means people won’t read your books or listen to what you say. Is this how you want the world of readers and listeners to perceive you? 

Ditch the Crutches

While some crutch words and fillers are acceptable in written dialogue, they should be left out of interviews and other professional conversations. If you listen to podcasts, you know what I’m talking about; fillers and crutches take up way more space in a conversation. Listen to an interview, maybe even record it to your computer. Then edit out the fillers and crutches and listen to what remains – the actual conversation sounds quite different when it’s cleaned up. It’s more direct and to the point and it’s the same with writing. Remove the fillers and crutches (except when necessary in character dialogue) and you’ll find the reading succinct and clear. And credible.

“A” Interesting Peeve

Another of my pet peeves of late is the incorrect use of ‘a’ and ‘an.’ Far too often, even on the evening national news, I hear professionals using ‘a’ where ‘an’ is required.

Here’s the rule: if the word begins with a vowel or a consonant with a vowel sound like the h in hour or in abbreviations/acronyms such as MBA, use an. If the word begins with a consonant or consonant sound as in book or PTA, use a. I’m annoyed every time I hear phrases like “a airplane” or “a interested party” because the speakers come off as not very bright or particularly attentive to their grammar. Or they have lazy copyeditors!

Modify This

The next peeve on my list (which I swear grows with age) is the overuse and incorrect use of what are called vague modifiers. Vague modifiers are also crutch words and fillers and don’t belong in good writing or clear speeches: A lot, kind of, perhaps, truly, somewhat, quite, seemingly, suddenly, rather, fairly, etc.. There are more, but you get the idea. How often do you use these in your writing/speaking? Are you even conscious of whether you use these or not? Here is a link to a funny article on crutch words that “literally” made me laugh out loud.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of falling prey to the occasional crutch and filler. However, I have become more conscious of my spoken words as a result of doing a podcast last year. That, in turn, has made me more aware of written words and their impact.

Those Catholic grammar school nuns beat good English grammar into me and my classmates – quite literally, actually. To this day, I can’t finish a project and ‘turn it in’ (publish) unless it’s perfect.

Seriously. 😉

#grammarrules #thewritinglife #communicationskills #writeagoodstory #podcasting #Englishgrammar

Finding Peace in Chaos

Yin Yang with Light3 (3)

Universal Law

The Law of Unity of Opposites (theory of Yin and Yang) states that nothing in the Universe is totally Yin or totally Yang. Yin and Yang are in opposition and are interdependent – each is necessary for the other’s existence (The 5-Element Guide to Healing with Whole Foods, 2016). In our current situation, it’s necessary to find the Yin/peace within the Yang/chaos. With external avenues closed to so many (e.g., fitness centers, yoga and tai chi classes, meditations, etc.), going inward is our only salvation if we’re to survive this viral onslaught.

Finding Your Peace

All over Instagram (and other SM sites), people are gathering together in solidarity (and solitude) to find that peace. Meditation and other spiritual services are readily available online to help us maintain equilibrium. Another road inward is writing: expressing those emotions, telling those stories, that must be felt and heard. Out of chaos (erratic) comes peace (consistency), it’s the natural order of things. People all over the world are finding ways to cope and, hopefully, to survive.

The TCM View

Naturally, I can’t help but think how many will be affected so deeply that physical health becomes an issue at some point. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners know that emotional distress can contribute to the development of disease (imbalances). Learning to control emotions is a major step in preventing these imbalances. The Huang Di Nei Jing, also known as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic, the bible of TCM medicine, recognized that emotional and psychological factors are important causes of illness. The Nei Jing indicated that excessive emotions impair the internal organs of the human body: Anger hurts the liver, joy hurts the heart, brooding hurts the spleen, and melancholy hurts the lungsHence, the Nei Jing proposes regulating the emotions by keeping the heart calm and cheerful and the mind free of worries:

“Do not be weighed down by perplexing thoughts; strive to be calm and optimistic; be complacent; keep sound in body and mind.” 

Let It Out

In other words, get writing! Use your writing as a catharsis, if you will, to free yourself of pent up stress and emotions brought on by this viral pandemic.

After my mother died I wrote my first book, a creative nonfiction, in four and a half months. Tears and words poured out of me and by the time I was done writing the book, I was pretty much done grieving her death. Use this downtime wisely; don’t squander the opportunity to find your peace in the chaos, no matter what it is.

#coronavirus #findpeaceinchaos #Chinesemedicine #writing #storyteller #yinyang #meditation #yoga #acupressure #acupuncture #fictionwriters #

Below is a chart you can follow for applying acupressure to various points if you’re feeling stressed/depressed (please share it with as many people as possible):

Acupressure for Depression

Source: Acupuncture Media Works