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Last August, I was out mowing the lawn, tooling around on my little John Deere lawn tractor and grooving along with some of my favorite tunes, alphabetically arranged (hey, it’s how my mp3 player sorted them). I’d just gotten into the Cs when the Barenaked Ladies’ “Call and Answer” came on.
As the singer’s plaintive vocals began, I found myself overhearing a snippet of conversation between two of the characters who live in my head. And it wasn’t pleasant. Apparently, the couple who’d just gotten married in my (at the time) soon-to-be-released third novel, The Unintended Hero, had experienced serious marital difficulties, and were already on the other side of their breakup.
That can’t be right, I thought. They’re so good together!
Little by little, other priorities filled my head and Marc and Marie’s heart-wrenching breakup fled my memory banks.
But in the past few days, as I’ve worked more on the sixth book in the series – I tend not to write in order – what’s unfolding is exactly what I’d dreaded so many months ago: It seems the S.S. Lindemeyr has run aground. Marc and Marie are in serious marital trouble; they’ll end up separated… perhaps even divorced.
And I’m heartbroken.
Theirs is a love story that was years in the making. Sweet, shy Marc had been enamored with his best friend’s successful, confident, worldly sister since the night they met at a radio-station function in December of 1982. Nearly a decade passed before Marc found the courage to ask Marie out. After a brief courtship, marriage and babies followed. All seemed rosy… but things aren’t always how they seem, and you never know what curve balls life will throw your way.
The other day, I told my husband, “Marc and Marie are having problems.” Ordinarily he’d have said, “Who?” But I’ve been reading The Unintended Hero aloud to him, so he knew enough to reply, “That’s too bad,” as if he actually meant it.
Just the night before, we’d gotten to where Marc tells Gary (his best friend/co-worker), “Marrying that sister of yours was – no lie – the best thing I’ve ever done.” I told myself aloud, “I’ve got to make sure he remembers that.”
A non-writer friend offered a “simple” solution: Just write it differently, so they don’t break up. Gee, why didn’t I think of that? I wish it were that easy. These headstrong characters have been with me for decades, so I know what they’re capable of. And what Marc and Marie seem to be capable of is unfathomable to me.
This morning I cried as I wrote the scene where Marc returns Gary’s grandfather’s wedding ring to Gary (he said he doesn’t feel he can, in good conscience, keep it). I only hope Marc and Marie can figure out some way to repair their faltering marriage before it’s too late.
What are your thoughts? Is it ever “too late” for characters to turn things around? What about in real life? Is a relationship ever beyond salvaging?
I spent a good part of this week composing my talk on character development for the upcoming Women in Publishing Summit 2021, March 1-8. It’ll be recorded, so I have to submit it by the end of this month.
Technology and I have never really been close friends, but words… ah, words! They’re my best pals. And you’d think after forty-plus years of penning fiction (and publishing three novels in the past five years) I’d know a thing or three about character development, and have plenty to say about the topic. Well, it’s true… but somehow the words didn’t seem to want to organize themselves into any coherent fashion.
That’s why I had to employ some finesse, a little persuasion, a bit of ignoring the darn thing ’til I was good and ready to look that Word document squarely in its blinking little cursor and tackle it head on.
After cannibalizing a similar talk I delivered a year or so ago during a local Author Day event (no sense reinventing the wheel, right?), I pared the remains down, saved it as a new document and – voila! – I had the skeleton of a new presentation. And no, it isn’t plagiarism if it was your own work to begin with; it’s called revision.
The information was good. But the presentation itself seemed a little… what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, yeah – bland. More than that, it was lackluster. Having been trapped in innumerable seemingly endless meetings in my life, I realize few things are worse than a ghastly presentation that drones on for thirty minutes. I certainly don’t want to be that presenter.
So I reached for a few of my favorite tools from my arsenal: humor and personality. And I spiffed that puppy up the best I could. And when I conducted a practice run yesterday, during a session with my life coach, I’m relieved to report she chuckled in all the right places.
Afterward, I did some polishing, added a few examples to my 53-item character-development survey and tweaked my slides. I even deleted a handful of slides to streamline things. And I think I’m almost ready for another go at it. But if you’ve ever put together a presentation, you understand it’s exhausting, trying to be simultaneously informative and entertaining. I think I need a nap. Preferably on a beach somewhere warm… but I’ll settle for my own cozy bed. So if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear my pillow calling.
As we step into a bright, shiny new year, I thought it’d be fun not only to gleefully toss 2020 onto the trash heap (and perhaps take a blowtorch to it), but to take a fresh look at how we human express ourselves. There are many ways to communicate, but for now, let’s take a gander at a few differences between audible and written communication.
English has never been described as an easy language to learn. In fact, had it not been my primary language, I’m not sure I ever would have mastered it – there are just too many exceptions to every rule. For instance, so many words are spelled with similar configurations of letters that sound nothing alike: Consider through, rough, bough & though. Four words, all ending in -ough, with four decidedly different pronunciations. What’s up with that?
Other words are spelled exactly the same, with different pronunciations and meanings. But just so heads everywhere don’t go flying off in all directions, I’ll illustrate this point using a bit of levity. How do you know whether that guy you’re talking to is a chemist or a Teamster? Ask him to pronounce “unionized.” Three syllables, he’s a Teamster; four, he’s a chemist.
That joke would fall flat if it were spoken. Then again, several gags only make sense in writing. Like my personal favorite visual joke (which, admittedly, has an audible component): What’s this?
I R I
R R I R
I R I R R
R I I R I R
Mull it over. I’ll give you the answer later. For now, let’s discuss acronyms in writing, specifically, in dialogue. A current editing client’s main character is given to sputtering “WTF!” (followed by a full line of dialogue) periodically. Now, as everyone knows, “WTF” stands for “weally tewiffic firetwuck.” Okay, so I kid.
It’s not reasonable to believe any character would speak an acronym (except, say, NATO, NASCAR or CDC) – especially given that exclaiming, “Double-you tee eff!” requires several more syllables than actually saying the three words that acronym represents. And given the potty mouth on said author’s main character, I don’t buy that he doesn’t wish to offend the reader’s (let alone his editor’s) sensibilities.
The same could be said of “OMG.” It works fine in text messages, but not so much in books. In my own writing, whenever a character is having an OMG moment, I tend to spell it out as “Omigod!” because that expression is usually uttered as a single word.
You might not think twice about a friend texting you: “OMG! I can’t believe that guy cut me off in traffic! WTF is up with that?!” But you’d wonder about his sanity if he said aloud, “Oh em gee! Did you see that?! Double-you tee eff is his problem?” Then again, you might wonder why he’s texting at all while driving. But that’s another post entirely. Don’t get me started, okay? Suffice to say some acronyms are best left to the realm of text communication and not in other written forms – especially not dialogue.
I’m glad we got that cleared up. Now we can safely turn our attention to those New Year’s resolutions. I’m making a concerted effort not to leave things unfinished. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some chocolate to finish. And if you’ve got a New Year’s resolution you’d care to share, please post it in the comments.
Oh yeah, speaking of not leaving things unfinished… I promised you an answer to my question. It’s a pirate eye chart. Go ahead, scroll back up and read the letters aloud. I’ll wait.
For now, I’ll leave you with this final thought about things that wouldn’t work if spoken aloud: My coworker retired last week. Now who’s going to ork my cows?
Apologies in advance, but December must be the month for silly song parodies. And if you know me, you know I can never resist a good song parody.
It seems Christmas songs somehow lend themselves to amusing renditions. Nearly 30 years ago, comedian Bob Rivers released an album entitled Twisted Christmas. In addition to “The Chimney Song,” it contained such notably demented parodies as “The 12 Pains of Christmas” (a send-up of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” lamenting everything from stringing lights to writing out Christmas cards and visits from the in-laws), “We Wish You Weren’t Living With Us” (parodying “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” about the joys of having family staying for the holidays), and the cross-dressing classic “Walkin’ Round in Women’s Underwear” (a creepy little ditty sung to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”).
And, given my “Dad Caught Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” post a couple weeks back, you can understand why I contend some songs lend themselves to amusing renditions. “Feliz Navidad” is no exception.
We’ve probably all heard Jose Feliciano’s familiar tune a thousand times or more; ASCAP has even declared it one of the 25 most played and recorded Christmas songs in the world. Since it was first recorded in 1970, “Feliz Navidad” has become a staple of Christmas-music offerings on radio stations everywhere. But if you’ve somehow managed to avoid ever having heard it, you can listen to it here. And below is the entirety of the original lyrics:
Prospero Año y felicidad.
I want to wish you a Merry Christmas
I want to wish you a Merry Christmas
I want to wish you a Merry Christmas
From the bottom of my heart.
That’s it. Just two sets of lyrics – four lines in Spanish and four in English, sung over and over until . Simple. Straightforward. Sung over and over until you want to kick a reindeer. Or jam Jose Feliciano’s guitar down his throat.
Yet, never content to leave well enough alone, I noodled around with the lyrics until I devised my own parody version: “Police Navidad.” Feel free to sing along, won’t you?
Miranda warning, that’s what you got.
You have the right to remain silent.
The things you say may be used against you.
You are entitled to a lawyer
Provided at no charge.
Repeat ad infinitum, or until the music stops. Or ’til all the reindeer have been kicked.
Of course, now that infernal earworm will be with you all day. Sorry ’bout that. No, really, I feel terrible about it. Really awful. But rest assured, even if my culpability for your earworm hadn’t done it, my reindeer-kicking recommendations would surely have secured my place on Santa’s naughty list for 2021.
And in case you were wondering, Bob Rivers also parodied “Feliz Navidad.” His version is entitled “Police Stop My Car” and is about being stopped for DUI. Which, of course, is no laughing matter. So whatever you’re doing this season, DON’T drink and drive.
Be safe this holiday season and have a wonderful new year!
There’s an old saying that goes a little like this: “You teach best what you most need to learn.” If that’s so (and I believe it is), I suppose I’ll be learning a thing or three about character development in the coming month.
I’ve been invited to participate in the 2021 Women in Publishing Summit. It’s a week-long virtual writing & publishing conference geared toward women in early March. The half-hour video presentation I’ll be giving focuses on character development. It’s a presentation I’ve done several times before… only now I’ve got a whole new perspective on my topic: I had a new character crop up three months ago and I’m in the process of fleshing him out. Granted, he won’t show up in the Sheldon Family Saga for another two books, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, right?
James Griffin is the slightly younger half brother of Gary Sheldon (the protagonist from Glimpse of Emerald, book one in the Sheldon Family Saga). I know a few things about him – most notably his parentage, which I’ll keep protected for now – but there are so many other things I’ve yet to uncover. I’m guessing these details will surface as I learn more about James and about his background.
For the past week or so, I’ve fallen asleep hearing conversations between Gary and James in my head… and I’ve been enjoying their interactions immensely. While they’ve just recently met, there’s already a terrific bond and a wonderful family dynamic developing! But, again, it’s still early in James’ development and I’m still in discovery mode.
So, as I’m preparing my talk (which is scheduled for day three of the event, but due to be uploaded by the end of January), I’ll be paying particular attention to the things I’m teaching in that session – including the list of 50 questions you should be able to answer about each of your characters.
I’ve never done a video presentation, so if you’ve got suggestions for me as I prepare to record my session, I’d love to hear them. Please comment below. Thanks!
This blog has traditionally focused on issues of proofreading and editing, but sometimes we all need to take a detour into amusement. So let me tell you a story.
Many years ago, during Sister Teresita’s freshman English class, I heard voices discussing the price of broccoli. My efforts to get them to hush proved only temporarily successful; they returned during Earth Science class… and again the next day, and the day after that. Those voices belonged to Gary Sheldon and Michaela Conwaye, and their discussion about broccoli – their meet cute – may be found on page 128 of Glimpse of Emerald, the first book in the Sheldon Family Saga.
I’ve come to rely on my characters’ voices, and I even keep a pen and notepad by my bed; however, I don’t let them make unreasonable demands. And by “unreasonable demands,” I mean I no longer let Gary wake me from a deep sleep and drag me to my computer, to act as his personal secretary. The last time that happened, the result was this song parody he refused to admit ownership of. He insisted I ascribe songwriting credit to his alter ego. (His reasoning? “I do a family-friendly radio show. I can’t be associated with that!“)
“Dad Caught Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
(from the demented mind of Johnny Mayhem):
Dad caught Mommy kissing Santa Claus
When he came home from the office late last night.
He caught them in the act,
Silhouetted by a lamp.
I heard Dad snarl, “I never knew my wife was such a tramp.”
Then I heard Daddy cursing Santa Claus.
The names he called him gave me such a fright!
Then much to my chagrin,
He socked Santa on the chin
For taking liberties with Mom last night.
Boy, was Daddy mad at Santa Claus!
In a jealous rage, he climbed up on the roof.
Blitzen kicked him with a hoof,
And Vixen knocked him for a loop;
Dad slipped and fell and landed in a pile of reindeer poop.
Then I watched Dad slide off the roof last night;
It really wasn’t such a lovely sight.
It was a twenty-two foot drop,
And then he landed with a plop…
All ’cause Santa scored with Mom last night.
Dad’s expecting coal from Santa Claus –
The only gift he’s gonna get this year.
He’s not getting his new Ford
Mustang or that nifty sword…
Or the stuff that he’s been wanting from Montgom’ry Ward.
Oh, Daddy’s really mad at Santa Claus;
His heart is pounding with a mighty force.
He’s been looking pretty ill,
And popping brightly colored pills.
And I think he’s even talking divorce.
Mom got snookered by old Santa Claus
I heard her mutter that she’s feeling used.
Yeah, she was really pissed
’Cause when she and Santa kissed,
He’d warned her if she didn’t, she’d be on his Naughty List.
So Mommy stooped to smooching Santa Claus
In an effort to appease that nasty elf.
She said the letch slipped her the tongue,
And he smelled like reindeer dung…
So she may just sleigh old Santa herself!
If you’re a writer, what’s the most bizarre thing a character has ever demanded of you?
We’re three weeks away from Christmas and it’s officially time for every radio station in the United States to start including the obligatory Christmas song in its music rotation every few hours. Then, in another week or so, they’ll be featured a couple times an hour. Then several each hour… and before you know it, we’ll be inundated with Christmas music until we’re so sick of “Last Christmas,” “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” that we’re ready to barf – and at the stroke of midnight on December 26, it magically happens: We won’t hear another note of Christmas music until Thanksgiving weekend 2021.
Don’t let that cynical rant fool you. I’m a sucker for Christmas music. Always have been. I grew up listening to Andy Williams and Perry Como and Bing Crosby (and to tell you the truth, “Last Christmas,” “All I Want for Christmas is You” and all the insipid remakes of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” set my teeth on edge). If pressed to identify my favorite Christmas song, I’d have to admit it’s Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” – which is about as much a Christmas song as The Princess Bride is a Christmas movie (by virtue of the Santa Claus art project hanging in the grandson’s bedroom).
But one Christmas song in particular has always perplexed me. It’s “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Not so much the song itself, but the intro. Of course you know how it goes. Practically everyone over the age of three knows how it goes: “You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?”
My question is, If Rudolph is the most famous reindeer, why in the name of all that is small and furry do they feel the need to ask whether we recall him? Isn’t it a foregone conclusion we’d recall the “most famous reindeer of all”?
Perhaps it’s one of those rhetorical questions posed by know-it-all songsters who want to make the rest of us feel like nincompoops if we don’t automatically bob our heads in agreement that we certainly do recall the most famous reindeer of all.
This is one of the things that lingers about in the dark and squishy recesses of my brain this time of year, the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night, humming the ubiquitous Christmas songs that ramble aimlessly through my cranium.
Rudolph notwithstanding, I do hope you’re able to sleep tonight. If you have trouble sleeping, you can always try counting reindeer (they’re trendier, after all, than sheep). Spoiler alert: I’m given to understand there are ten of them – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph and Olive.
“Who’s Olive?” you ask.
Why, she’s the other reindeer. You know… the one who used to laugh and call him names. Please don’t make me sing it for you.
This is the time of year when folks start thinking about what they’re grateful for… those often include family, friends, a reasonably steady income, a safe place to call home and perhaps an animal or two.
That’s great, but what about the rest of the year? Do those things escape your focus in, say, the middle of April? How about half past July?
Some years back, I began to embrace throughout the year what I’d heard termed “an attitude of gratitude,” grateful reflection on everyday things we tend to take for granted. This year in particular, I’m grateful for the gift of my health (due in no small measure to my wonderful doctor and her team at Physicians’ Associates).
Sure, I’ve spent the last decade or so slowly falling apart, starting with a “slightly deranged” kneecap, a partially torn rotator cuff, a cancer diagnosis, cracked ribs (that bronchitis can be a bear!), a broken hand, a handful of surgeries, another cancer scare and other medical issues. But I’m largely intact and still fully ambulatory (thanks to the wonderful folks at Tier 1 this past month).
I’m profoundly grateful for the dear friends we’ve made since we moved to Tennessee. My greatest fear when we left Connecticut in 2013 was that we wouldn’t make any new friends and everyone here would hate us. Go ahead and laugh if you want, but that was the one thing that terrified me about packing up everything we owned and moving halfway across the country.
Despite those fears, we’ve met some wonderful folks – some at the wellness-center pool (we jokingly call ourselves the Soggy Buns ladies), some through my work in the news department at a local radio station, others through a variety of creative outlets and still more through church (and, by extension, choir and the Knights of Columbus). Among our cohorts, my husband is by far the baby – he’s a good 20 to 25 years younger than some of our dearest friends – but that hasn’t seemed to matter. I’ve come to realize friendship doesn’t recognize age.
I’m grateful for the advanced technology that enables us to stay in regular contact with our far-off friends and family. Calls, texts, emails, Skype and Zoom chats have made the miles irrelevant.
I’m also grateful for my faith – which has carried me through many a rough patch in my life – and for the ability to practice that faith when so many around the world are denied that opportunity.
And I don’t want to neglect saying I’m grateful for my editing clients – new clients, longtime clients, referrals… all of them. They’re the heart of what I do for a living, not to mention a big part of why I love what I do!
So, as we fling open our refrigerator doors to munch on turkey, stuffing and other copious Thanksgiving leftovers this weekend, I want to know: What is it you’re grateful for?
Sometimes life takes us in odd directions, and things – even some important things – can fall by the wayside as other things take precedence. Alas, that’s kind of what happened here. I’ve gotten so caught up in all that life has thrown my way (good and otherwise), I’ve let this communication avenue languish.
However, as we prepare to bid a relieved farewell to 2020 (a.k.a. the year from hell that wouldn’t end), I’m going to make a concerted effort to pay more attention to my blog writing. Okay, stop snickering! I mean it.
That said, you’re going to notice some changes around here. For starters, consistency. I’m planning at least one blog post per week. It could be about some aspect of editing. It might be about writing. Perhaps it’ll be a rant of some sort. It might even be a favorite recipe. I’m not sure what day it’ll be. I just know I need to incorporate more consistency in this blog.
Another change you’ll notice is the addition of guest bloggers. Yes, I’m going to relinquish my death grip on the Persnickety Proofreader blog and allow other voices – and no, not just the ones in my head! – to have a place here. These will be actual, honest-to-goodness, real-life people.
You may be wondering, what changed? The answer is simple: I did. This year I’ve been working with a life coach (Christina M. Eder of Guest Star Coaching) who has been a remarkable force for good in my life! That’s all I’ll say for now, because otherwise I could go on about her all day.
As we used to say in radio, “Stay tuned.”
I didn’t want today to get away without wishing you and yours a Happy Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day observances have long been bittersweet for me because in late summer of 1997, I suffered an ectopic pregnancy and lost my itty bitty baby – and, as it turns out, my only chance at motherhood. Then, in 2015, Mom passed away from Alzheimer’s. So, Mother’s Day that year was kind of a double whammy for me. What made it bearable, however, was the thought that Mom was getting to spend her first Mother’s Day with her granddaughter.
Today I was really missing Mom. This was my fourth Mother’s Day without her… and it was the most difficult one so far. I woke up missing her… and then all morning I was beset by little things that triggered memories.
Memories are strange things. They crop up at odd moments – and for the most unusual reasons.
When a butterfly crossed our path this afternoon, it reminded me of the time Mom and I were heading home after going out to dinner one Thursday night (because Dad worked late on Thursdays and we decided we didn’t want whatever it was that was in the fridge). We noticed a hot-air balloon with a great big butterfly on it flying low overhead… so we decided to follow it. It eventually landed on the golf course. And oddly enough, it had been Mom’s idea to chase it.
Songs are big memory triggers.
My local Kroger occasionally plays Vaughn Monroe’s “Ballerina”; Mom and I both loved that song. And I always thought he had the most magnificent voice! Go on, give it a listen and judge for yourself.
Or I’ll hear one of the songs she would call and ask me to play when she’d listen to me on the air at work (like “Life in a Northern Town” from the Dream Academy; Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”; “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra; “Lotta Love” from Nicolette Larson… or even “Penny Lane” by the Beatles). Those are the songs that generally bring a smile.
Then there are the songs attached to memories of Mom that make me laugh out loud. One morning in 1974, over breakfast, Steve Miller’s “The Joker” came on the radio. At the part where he sings, “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker,” my sister Áve and I, being of tender age and having no frame of reference for that particular term, asked, “Mom? What’s a midnight toker?” Not surprisingly, she had no earthly idea. And we had no clue until years later how truly hilarious it was that we’d asked her that!
Another time, in the mid ’80s, Áve and I were listening to WFCS, the radio station at nearby Central Connecticut State University. “Never Say Never” from Romeo Void was blaring from the little radio on the kitchen counter. Mom happened to wander in just when the chorus came on and we were singing along, “I might like you better if we slept together…” She made her infamous “Mom lips” (a dead giveaway of her utter displeasure) and muttered, “Oh, that’s just nice!” and left the room. I won’t even tell you what she said when she heard the Rolling Stones’ “She’s So Cold.”
But music isn’t the only memory trigger.
Mom was big into words. She was a terrific writer – and a fun storyteller. And she used to write some of the best letters I’ve ever received. She used to write me letters all the time while I was away at college.
This morning, on our way to church, something triggered a memory about those letters. She’d write two or three times a week, usually during her lunch break, typed on the clunky old electric typewriter at her desk in her office at the City of New Britain’s City Improvement Commission. When she and Dad came back from a 25th-anniversary trip to Italy, she wrote extensively about that. But mostly, she’d tell me what was going on at home or at work, or she’d regale me with the latest antics of Rehab – a cranky old stray she and her coworkers adopted. He wasn’t the nicest cat (a far cry from our dear Scruffy at home), and he had a penchant for sleeping in open file cabinets and getting black fur all over the files, but Rehab did manage to keep most of the rodents at bay in that drafty old City Hall building.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but those letters were as much for her benefit as mine. I was the last of her brood to leave the nest and she was probably really missing having someone there when she got home after work… not that she missed the loud music and the phone being tied up all the time. But it gave her a connection to her youngest kid. And it was nice to open up my mailbox in the student-center mailroom to find a small envelope with my name and address neatly typed and the New Britain postmark and return address.
Yep, memories surely are tricky things. Some are wonderful; others not so much. They sneak up on you at the most unexpected times and, if you’re not careful, will burn a hole in your heart. If you’re lucky, though, they’ll warm a small cozy place in there and leave you with a smile.
What are some of your favorite Mom memories? And what triggers those memories?