“My Mom is funnier than your Mom.”
Marion Campbell, Talentworks Agency, Los Angeles. 

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KILL YOUR DARLINGS

I am a published author, so that makes me an authority on writing things, doesn’t it? There are rules to follow. I try to follow them. One rule that has me flummoxed is the current ban on adverbs. You read that correctly. Correctly is an adverb. So how should I have said that just then? You read that with accuracy? Bah.

But since I plan to write more than one novel, and I am actually (another adverb) a third of the way through my next one, I thought I would share with you some of the no-nos in the author game. You know, so you will be a better critic in the future. But be kind in those Amazon reviews—some of them have been so harsh as to cause writers to contemplate becoming auto mechanics and cocktail waitresses instead. But I digress. You aren’t supposed to do that as a writer, either.

A cardinal rule of the writing business is “Show, don’t tell.” It took me about three years to understand what this really means. I am terrible at it. But the following are examples:

TELL: Audrey felt just sick about having to inform Robert that she couldn’t possibly marry him. After all, she still got cold shivers when she thought about Pierre. Pierre was the love of her life, and Audrey believed with all of her heart that he would return from that trip down the Amazon River to discover the cure for arthritis.

SHOW: Audrey woke, her pillow damp with her tears. She put her hand on her forehead, which throbbed from the dream that was so vivid. Pierre was rowing towards her, his eyes full of terror. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a giant boa constrictor reared out of the water, slithered onto Pierre’s tiny boat, and enveloped him in a twisting death grip. “Audrey, Audrey!” Pierre managed to cry, as the evil snake crushed the life out of him. Audrey picked up her cell phone and punched the “Robert” icon. “Hi, darling,” she said. “Oh yes, I will marry you!”

See? So much more literary.

Another writers’ tip is to use dialogue, not description. Readers tire of long passages full of poetic language, no matter how many hours the author spent painting the scene for them and being vivid. Nope. We would rather just move along. Let the characters move the plot, and really, we don’t actually care what color the leaves were on the trees that afternoon. For example:

DESCRIPTION: The sky darkened. The parched, mahogany leaves rattled in the sudden breeze. Flora felt the goosebumps rise on her arms, drawing the thin muslin wrap around her. Thunder rent the air with dissonant anger. Grant began to pack the picnic things into the basket, but not before the huge, cold drops began to fall. The sky took on a greenish hue as the lightning pierced the clouds. Grant seized the picnic basket in one hand and extended his other out to the frightened and shivering girl. As they hurtled toward the distant farm cottage, a thunderclap nearly knocked them down.

DIALOGUE:

“Shit, Flora, I think it’s going to rain! Hurry up and finish your sandwich. We need to get out of here!”

“Don’t be silly. It is just heat lightning. It happens all the time around here. Want a pickle?”

“For God’s sake, are you nuts? My cousin got struck by lightning three years ago at the golf course, and he has been a sniveling idiot ever since—you can stay as long as you want, but I am getting out of here.”

“You are overreacting, as usual. Wait! Damn! My Sierra Mist just blew over! You may be right. Look at the sky—it’s puke green…”

Which book would you rather read? I thought so. 

So you see, we authors don’t just jot down whatever comes into our heads. It’s a craft. Nay, an art form! We spend hours just sifting through our heads for the right word. We agonize over those adjectives, and we brutally eliminate those adverbs (oh, right—brutally is an adverb). We struggle with realistic dialogue.

Yup. So right now I have to get back to Flora, Pierre and Robert. Poor Pierre. That anaconda—or was it a boa constrictor—just sealed his fate, and tonight, Robert is going to get lucky…

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SUMMER HIATUS

I am taking a small hiatus to work on my newest book!

Here is a letter I got from a fan–what a thrill! If you would like to get a copy of Keep the Ends Loose, there is a link on the right! See you very soon! Molly

Hi Molly–Your debut novel was certainly worth waiting for.  I’m familiar with your essays which won Bombeck awards, and I’ve been reading/enjoying your weekly blog for several years now. So, I was expecting some interesting reading when I opened Keep the Ends Loose.  And I found it.

Miranda is a quirky and believable character.  In fact, all the characters that live inside the pages of the book are.  As startling as the secret is–the story is plausible and unpredictable.  Once the secret spills out it causes emotional mayhem for everyone in the family.  Miranda doesn’t know what to think about her mother anymore, and she feels that her dear father has been duped all these years.  She even feels sorry for her very confused brother who is devastated by the news.

The plot could make for a really dramatic soap opera, but in your hands it does not.  Instead it becomes one rather ordinary family’s adventure in doubt, betrayal, confusion, self discovery, and second chances with a bit of oddball humor thrown in.  You have given your readers a lot to think about and have entertained them along the way.

Most of my reading is non fiction, but I really enjoyed Keep the Ends Loose.

Best of luck with your new novel!

Carole Turner

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A NEW HOBBY

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When you are retired, every day seems like Saturday. This is great, but wait. When every day seems like Saturday, you can get bored. Because there isn’t anything left to do. You did it all when your kids were living with you. Soccer games: check. Horseshows: check. Swim meets: check. Picnics: check. Sunday drives: check, except the kids hated those.

So now, we sit on Saturday mornings, thinking of something that might be “fun” to do. We look in the paper for movies. Funny thing—neither of us is interested in seeing Magic Mike. So we cast around in the “local activities” section of the paper. Nada. Then, as if by magic or predestination, our sister-in-law calls. During the conversation, she mentions Letterboxing. Apparently, this is kind of like an internationally organized sort of scavenger hunt, where you go out into the wild and look for hidden boxes that have exciting stuff in them! You need a compass, a map, a rubber stamp, and a little notebook. Wow! Sounds so much fun!! www.letterboxing.org

We look for sites in Dayton. There is one just down the street! We get our equipment (see photo, above), douse ourselves with bug spray, and set out. I can barely contain my excitement!

HIM: Here is the cemetery. Look for the grave with the angel.

ME: All the graves have angels.

HIM: The one with the tear running down her cheek.

ME: A fly just bit me. OW! Another one! The bug spray isn’t working! OW! I hate this. This angel has a tear. How do we know that ALL the angels aren’t crying?

HIM: Twenty paces. Look for a bush that has red leaves.

ME: None of these bushes around here are red. Are we supposed to be doing this in the Fall? OW!

HIM: No. Wait. Turn left by the grave that has a picture Saint Frank on it. OW. I see what you mean about the flies.

ME: There was no Saint Frank. You are reading it wrong—give me those directions! Saint FRANCIS, you idiot!

HIM: Oh, here it is! There should be a hidden box somewhere inside this bush.

ME: This bush is green.

HIM: But it matches up with the clues. Look inside!

ME: Ok. It has thorns. OW. Oh, here’s the box!

HIM: SO, what is in it?

Here’s the thing. Inside the box was a tiny little book. People had written their initials in it and used rubber stamps. There was a rubber stamp in there, too, so you could stamp the little book you had to buy in order to participate in this whole exercise. Luckily, we didn’t have to buy a little book. I had one. We were supposed to buy a rubber stamp of our own, to put a stamp in the little book in the bushes. We didn’t bother to go to the store to get one. Good thing, because the book in the bushes was totally full. We couldn’t have put a stamp in it if we wanted to!

ME: That’s IT? No clues to another box? No prize? I thought there would be a prize. Or at least clues to another box, and that one would have a prize. There are no other clues??

HIM: I guess the whole thing is supposed to be an adventure. You know, finding the box.

ME: But they tell you where to find the box! And why do they say you need a compass? We didn’t need the compass! There has to be more to it than this! looks angrily down at the box.

HIM:   Give me the box (as if I am stupid)! Nothing. turning the box over Nope. turns box over again.

ME: Well this just sucks. looks angrily at husband.

HIM: My sister said this was fun.

ME: still looking angrily and with great disappointment at the little box.

HIM: We are supposed to put everything carefully back, for the next hunters.

ME: I think we should put a disclaimer in here. Something like This is not what it is cracked up to be. There should be prizes.

HIM: You can’t do that. It will spoil it for the others.

ME: The others? All those people who actually bought the rubber stamps and put them in the little book? Do you think that the others just really loved finding the bush that wasn’t red, and then stamping the little book? And then went home? They liked this a lot? With no prizes? Are we missing something? Are we jaded?

HIM:

ME: I see.

HIM: Do we have any calamine lotion at home?

Letterboxing. Somebody needs to tell them there should be prizes. I’m just saying.

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CONFIDENTIAL FROM THE KITCHEN

There is a new, fun trend. Weekly boxes. They are doing them for everyone. You can get them for your pets. Book lovers can get them. But I signed up for a kitchen one. One for people who have run out of ideas for dinner, and who hate to shop for ingredients. I am not going to name the company I signed up with, because they haven’t offered to pay me to shill for them. This is a shame, because I would love the money. However, since I am now a kitchen box veteran, I thought I would give a report.

The box comes on Friday. I has three meals in it. All are completely complete. You get cute little tiny bottles of, for example, mirin (I have no idea), and tiny little bags containing, for example, a single teaspoon of tamarind paste (again, no idea). So all you have to do is get the recipe sheet out, and follow the directions.

Here are some tips:

  • Read the directions thoroughly first. For example, if it says “save one cup of the pasta water after pasta is cooked,” it does you NO GOOD to read that right after you have drained ALL THE PASTA into the colander. Yelling “WAIT, WAIT, I NEED A CUP OF THAT!” as it runs down into the disposal and deep into the sewers of your Midwestern city–that won’t save it. Nor does using the F word six times successively. Good thing for chicken broth.
  • Those little cartons they send the eggs in? They won’t hold the eggs steady if you attempt to carry them across your kitchen. They made it all the way from the distribution center to your home intact, but once they make it inside the kitchen, they open up and deposit their contents on the linoleum.
  • You need your own olive oil.
  • See that there on your chest? Yes, THAT is why they suggest that you wear an apron while “sautéing.”
  • Apparently, lemon zest is now a necessity in every single decent recipe on earth.
  • Sugar snap peas have strings. Who knew?
  • Garlic has snapes. Again, who knew?
  • If it says, “stir gently,” it means “don’t even touch the stuff in the pan, because it will disintegrate if you do.”
  • “Use a non-stick pan if you have one” translates literally into “Go out and get a non-stick pan, you idiot, or you will need to deep fat fry everything to keep it  from adhering to your obsolete cast-iron skillet.”
  • “Serve immediately.” Who doesn’t serve immediately? Do some people plate up their dinners and then go to the movies?

I can tell you this. I am sticking with the box thing. Even the disasters have so far been tasty, even when the parmesan cheese refused to “incorporate completely” into the sauce. Luckily, over here in the heartland, we like globs of melted parmesan. And that mirin stuff is incredible.  

Next up, I am going to make strawberry jam for my baked Brie grilled cheese sandwiches. Good grief. And I can’t wait to find out what Inknut tastes like. Bon appetite, gang.

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TAKING A TIME OUT FROM JUDGING

There is a social media frenzy going on right now. I guess frenzies on social media are quite common, but right now, there are a lot of people getting very judgy about things. I am appointing myself as mother to everybody, and putting you all in time out. Let’s just simmer down!

First of all, Bruce Jenner is a very courageous person, and frankly, now that she is Caitlyn, I applaud her. She looks beautiful. Those of you who think it is a publicity stunt are certainly entitled to your opinion. But it seems to me that there are way easier ways to get publicity than changing your sexual identity surgically. So let’s all let Caitlyn be. I just wish I looked that good in an evening gown.

Then there is a woman who for some reason decided to change her racial identity. She used a lot of tanning products, curled her hair, and then became the head of the NAACP in Spokane. I have no idea why she did this. But once again, although it might be complicated and fraught with sociological issues, now is not the time to criticize the quality of her afro.

Free range parenting? Oh, boy. All I can say about that is I remember the first time I let my third-grader go to the park all by herself, and she ended up with a concussion, the emergency room, and a broken ankle. That certainly made me rethink free-ranging it. Now I worry whenever I see kids playing without any adults present. I have to restrain myself from threatening to call their parents or herding them home. Just saying.

There are some things that we can all get very righteous about, though. We can just judge, judge, and then judge some more. As a matter of fact, let’s just get nasty about

  • Pets or children left in hot cars
  • Animal abuse
  • School shootings
  • Terrorism
  • Racism
  • War

Those are inarguable. But here’s another list of things I feel perfectly judgy about

  • People who have snakes as pets
  • Manscaping
  • Stilettos—why on earth aren’t women refusing to wear these?
  • Tongue piercing
  • Why people think salmon is delicious
  • Everybody wearing earbuds all the time
  • Waiters who squat by the table and call you “you guys”
  • Tasting menus
  • Improper pronoun reference
  • Misspelled tattoos

I could go on and on. But I have a lot to do. They are tweeting about John Stamos getting a DUI. And Goat Selfies. This is OUTRAGEOUS.  Gotta go chime in!

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