Saturday, March 27, 2010

What's In a Name?

I spend much time naming my characters in my stories. I often change names in the middle of writing a story thinking that a new name matches a character better. Is this a bad thing? I don't know, but I've heard all kinds of things about naming characters in stories - and every opinion is stated in such a way that makes me feel like I'm committing some unforgivable sin if I don't stay steadfast in my character names.

Let's face it, sometimes a name just doesn't fit a character once they've developed within a story as it did at the beginning. I've been working on the same stupid story for a number of years and was losing interest until I changed the first name of my main character. I began the story with the main character named "Magan." The first thing someone said to me about the name was: "I don't think that's how to spell that name." How did they know how I should spell the name? I became stubborn and kept the name just for spite.

Eventually though, the thought crept into my head that the person making the statement might have been, at least, partially correct. If a reader has issue with something as simple as a name, they may find it difficult to accept it and go on to read the story. I changed the main character's name to "Katherine" and doors began to open like street lights turning green in succession on a long street.

First, my character comes from a predominantly Irish-Catholic family, so it would make since that her name would be Katherine. With the name beginning in the letter "K" I was able to give her the nickname of "Kat." Her full name is Katherine Anne McKendry. See how I've already become comfortable with the name as I talk of her in present tense? The new name fits her developing personality better.

In another story I'm currently working on, the main character's name is "Azra" Someone in a critique group asked me, "isn't Azra a man's name? I responded with a no. The name Azra is very old dating back to Mesopotamian times. In Islamic culture, the name Azra means "Maiden" or "Virgin." I think it fit well since my main character in this story is a Succubus searching for love as mortals know it. Her hero's name is "Raif" meaning "protector of virtue" in the same culture.

I know that most readers would not pay that much attention to names but I do. It means something to me and helps me understand the personality or background of my named character. So, for those of you that might take an interest in this sort of thing, it might be good to consider your character's names carefully, and have fun with them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Own Call to Action

I've recently been impressed by an amateur writer. This person has developed three stories for children. I assume the age group for the stories to be 6-10 although I have very little experience with estimating age-appropriateness of a particular story. All three stories center around the same base characters with the introduction of a new character in each adventure.

Two things about this person's writing has left me perplexed and wondering what to do. First, the grammar in these stories is atrocious. I know that grammar is fixable, and I've actually contemplated trying to fix some of the more blatant mistakes and giving the work back to the author. The second issue is the story will need an illustrator.

I truly believe that this story is publishable and marketable. I am much more convinced then the author that they are on to something absolutely special here.

My question, posed to the masses, is two-fold. Should I make the changes and try to convince this person to seek publication? Anyone out there interested in illustrating on spec?

I've read more amateur stories than I care to admit and have not felt so sure in my heart about the marketability of a project before. Only thing is: I have no experience in children's stories except for those wonderful adventures I would read as a child. Any suggestions?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Small Town Wonders

There's just something about living in a small town that appeals to folks. Although right now I cannot think of what that might be.

My postings grew scarce lately because I had lost my Internet connection at home. Everything appeared to be working properly but, nonetheless, the connection was not being made. After trying numerous fixes, I called my local provider to seek help. The best answer they could give me is that, possibly, my modem was malfunctioning.

Just as I began contemplating buying a new modem, the connection miraculously began working again. Go figure. Small wonder never cease to amaze.

It's like this with many things in my little village. I often joke that the power goes out every time it rains, or someone blows out Birthday candles. And let's not even talk about the cat problem. I think I've already beat that subject to death.

Anyway, this is just a quick post to test the system since I'm back online now. Let the ranting continue!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Back in the Day

I overheard someone complaining about the quality of novels these days. It made me think about the quality of novels "back in the day" and ponder whether the quality has really gone or we've just moved on to new themes and formats.

The thought takes me back (again) to my childhood when I would listen to WKJR, our local radio station, on my handheld, single speaker, AM radio.

I know I'm about to blow some of your minds here, but there was a time before computers and CD's when we had to buy record albums. Remember those? they were pressed from a sheet of vinyl. In my hayday, one could choose to buy a single for the latest, most popular songs. For a long time, my sister and brother had a great collection of singles. I don't remember now why I didn't have a great collection - I might have been too cheap to buy them at the time.

Anyway, the point is this: At that tme, we thought we had reached the pinnacle of popular technology. It was a huge thing when we discovered FM radio. But, at this time, I was listening to AM and trying to sing along and learn all the lyrics.

Of course, the AM radio did not come across as clear as the satellite stuff available nowadays. for this reason, I was convinced (until only recently, I must admit) that I knew the lyrics to the song "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band.

I thought it went like this:

See the babies
who don't have enough to eat
Shoot the children
with no shoes on their feet
How's the people
Livin' in the streets
Oh, oh, there's a solution

The point here is that this is what we had with the technology available. I could never quite hear the words perfectly so I filled in the blanks with what I thought was real.
The same thing applies to the things we read.

Take, for instance, the famous book by George Orwell: 1984. It was a great story for its time but hardly a head wrenching subject now, since 1984 is long gone.

What about the movie: 2001, A Space Oddyssey, by Stanley Kubrick. A great movie and earily close to our lives today. The difference being that we are already living with this and no longer seem to care about computers controlling our lives.

The same concepts can be applied to the novels of today. Remember the wild popularity of the "Left Behind" series? Those novels really made people wonder.

Now we have 2012-another great story. But, what's going to happen in a couple years when we've lived through the times.

I think that the basic ideas in todays novels may be different, the quality has not changed. I know many great authors today that I find very pleasing to read. Whether these author's remain as interesting in years to come remains to be seen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bicycles and Bactine

The two seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I remember when I got my first bicycle. It was my Birthday and, although I cannot remember my age at the time, I remember the bike as if it were yesterday.

The bicycle was metallic orange with a matching vinyl banana seat. A tall chrome sissy bar held the seat along with extended chrome handlebars for additional coolness. The front tire was smaller than the back tire. The back tire was a big fat slick covered nicely with an equally fat chrome fender with a flare on the end.

My bicycle was the JC Penney model of the popular "Schwinn Stingray" minus the multiple speeds with the big gearshift along the center bar, right in the "nut crunching" zone. I don't think my parents could affort the actual Schwinn, and I was just as pleased with the JC Penney knock-off. I was a kid and don't think I would've known the difference.

Anyway, I don't think that we were so much poor as we were spirtitually challenged. By "spiritually challenged" I mean that between my Father's workplace and our home was the Wigwam Tavern. The place provided an insurmountable obstacle for my Father on a friday night because they would cash his paychecks as long as he stayed the night and drank his fill of the "spirits" they offered.

But, again, that's another story.

Anyway, I literally rode the wheels off that bike. I remember countless times pushing my bike up a steep hill only to turn the thing around and ride it to the bottom again with my whole body crouched below the extended handle bars in an attempt to break the land speed record. I spent numerous hours on that bike. It was my whole life between my "thinking I'm Grizzly Adams" phase and my latent discovery of girls and cars.

Because I rode the bike so much, I also spent countless hours fixing the bike. I sometimes fixed the bike even when it did not need fixing. I'm sure you all know that I mean, turning the bike upside down and testing the pedals and brakes. I think most folks call it "making ice cream."

How does bactine fit into all this? Enter my Grandma, the bactine queen. I know it's not a very nice name and I will apologize to my Grandma now for the slander, may she rest in peace. I can say this much. Bactine, although advertised as painless, stung only slightly less than Mercurochrome. Remember that stuff? It was like Hell in a bottle. The bottle even came with a handy little glass rod that would concentrate the hell onto one's wounds as it was rubbed in.

Even though I feared Bactine more than death, that fear did not stop me from trying my best to show off for my Grandma every time she would visit. On one such visit, I wanted to dazzle my Grandma with my daring in a death-defying jump over a new speedbump my father had installed in the driveway. The bump was actually for drainage but, nonetheless, it provided a perfect launching pad for my planned stunt.

In preparation for the stunt, I had removed my bike tires, put them back on, and tightened the chain and all the bolts on the bike. There was really no need for this maintenance but it seemed the right thing to do. Isn't that what Evil Knievel did? Oddly enough, I don't remember doing any real maintenance like lubricating the chain.

The moment had arrived. I had called everyone outside to view my moment of brilliance. I remember pushing my bike up our driveway because the hill was too steep to pedal a one-speed bike up, setting myself up, pausing for effect, and pushing off down the hill on a dead course for the speed bump.

I executed the jump perfectly, pushed off hard just as the front tire hit the small raised section of asphalt over the concrete driveway. Everything seemed to switch to slow-motion while I was in the air. I saw the astonished looks of my entire family, and most of all, my Grandma, as I sailed through the air, at least five feet above the ground. As I looked back out in front of my airborne bike in preparation for what should have been a spectacular landing, I noticed something ... odd.

The front tire of my bike was rolling along in front of my bike. It was about ten feet in front of my bike. I knew at that moment, the landing was not going to be pretty. I leaned back on my vinyl banana seat until my backside was pressed painfully against the sissy bar but it did no good.

The landing was, in fact, not pretty.

As soon as the front forks of my, now wheel-less bike hit the concrete, I was catapulted over the high, chopper-style handlebars and directly to the driveway below. I didn't even feel the pain until my body had come to a complete stop. Of course, in true young boy fashion, the first thing I did was check to see if anyone saw the terrible landing. Who was I kidding, they all saw it, and all my cool points were gone.

Then I saw something that scared me more than the loss of cool or even the bleeding raspberries I certainly had over the entire front of my body - my Grandma's hand was coming out of her purse and in it was a small spray can of Bactine. I shuffled to my feet and started pumping my legs as fast as I could, running from the Bactine queen. Running was a bad plan. everyone knew I would come home eventually. Grandma finally caught up to me and sprayed me down. That's when the crying began.

I never forgot that day. I never forgot that bicycle. But I forgave my Grandma before she was even done spraying me with that evil-in-a-can. Why? because I knew that she did what she did out of love.

So, sure, sometimes love hurts. But, it's better to be killed with kindness then to be uncared-for or unwanted. I still consider myself fortunate for having such a caring Grandma.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Getting Laid ... or is it Lain?

I was at a local writer’s group meeting last night and an interesting question surfaced (or is it enteresting. That’s a discussion for another day). One of my friends read some of their work and I immediately noticed they had used the word “laid” instead of “lay” in a sentence.

By way of example: “She went into the room and laid on the bed.”

I pointed out to this writer that the proper word was “lay” and a short discussion ensued, and I thought, “What the heck do I know?” The slightest argument made me falter in my understanding and I was no longer sure just how it all worked anymore.

I did a little research on the subject and thought I would provide this information for the world, whether y’all want it or not.

Let’s talk about all the words one might use and their meanings:

Lay-To set something down or to put in a resting position.

Lie-To rest or recline, esp. in a horizontal position.

I’ll start with these basic words in the present tense. Let me lay it on you like this. The word “Lay” implies that one lays “Something” down. The key word here is “something.” There is an object involved. Therefore, in the present tense, one cannot lay down; one can only lay something down.

Confusing as it may be, one might use the old nursery rhyme, “Now I lay me down to sleep …” I know what you’re thinking. The subject in this phrase is laying down but that doesn’t make sense. Look at it this way: The object that is being laid down in this phrase is “me.”

A better example can be found in the lyrics of a great song by Bon Jovi (you gotta know, I love eighties hair bands) of the song, “Lay Your Hands on Me.”

Lay your hands on me, lay your hands on me, lay your hands on me
I’m a fighter, I’m a poet, I’m a preacher
I’ve been to school and, baby, I’ve been the teacher …

It certainly seems that Jon Bon Jovi has been to school. These song lyrics demonstrate the proper use of the word “Lay” in the present tense.

If one wants to express “placing or putting something down” in the past tense the word “Laid” is used. The same word is used as a past participle. You can “Lay” your hands on me, and, afterwards you’ve “Laid” your hands on me, in which case, I can say I’ve had hands “Laid” on me. Either way, I’m ok with it.

Now, it’s going to get a little more difficult. I’m probably going to get a headache and have to lie down. See how that worked?

“Lie down, Sally,” Eric said.

To express this action in past tense, we would use the word “Lay.”

“What’s up with that?” you say.

Sounds strange, but if one wants to express that someone makes themselves horizontal, or in a
reclining position, write: “I’m going to lie down,” Sally said.
To express the same thing in past tense, write: The sun had come up hours ago, and Sally still Lay in the bed.

I know, I know, it seems strange to use the word the same word lay in past tense as you might in present tense. The different in the subject, or object. Remember that “Lay” in present is to set something down. “Lay” in the past tense is when someone has reclined.

Now, if someone has been reclined (past participle) one would have to use the word “Lain” to express this. For instance: Sally had lain in bed till the sun crept in from the corners of the curtains.

Is all this making sense yet?

Yea, I still have a hard time with it too. One place I like to go when faced with conundrums such as this, is the Grammar Girl. This is a website one can use to help answer perplexing questions like when to use Lay, Laid, Lie, or Lain.

By way of example, Grammar Girl even provides us with a handy little chart for use of the words.

All this being said, I would like you too ponder this:

Eric Clapton sang the song "Lay Down Sally" years ago. It was a great song-and still is ... but.

Well, heres the lyrics to the chorus:

Lay down Sally, and rest you in my arms
Don't you think you want someone to talk to?
Lay down Sally, no need to leave so soon
I've been trying all night long just to talk to you

Should these lyrics have been written to say "Lie down Sally?" I mean, is she lying down right now or did someone lay her down? or did she lay down?

Anyway, it doesn't matter. The song works and no one really cares if it is grammatically correct or not. The point here is, every rule has an exception.

Good writing and storytelling is key, grammar can be fixed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How Women Think

Right, like I would know that.

I'm not even certain about how I think most of the time. I know this much though. Over many years observing the female in the wild and in her natural habitat, I've been able to decifer some of their language.

Below are some of my thougts and observations on womanspeak. Of course, I could be entirely wrong about some or all of these interpretations as, it seems, each woman has her own unique language that only other women understand. I believe the language will never be fully understood, decifered, or codified.

First of all, and this is for all the young men out there, in a new relationship where they think might think they are still in charge. Got news for you gentlemen, you never were.

When a woman asks a man how she looks in something, she is not looking for an objective assessment of her ability to dress herself. She may not even be looking for an answer related to the question asked. Beware, this is a very dangerous trap.

You must avoid answering this question at any cost as there is no right answer. And don't even begin to think you've got it figured out and tell her she lools wonderful. She will smell your insincerity like a shark smells blood. Your best line of defense against this is to simply fake an obstruction in your throat and leave the room as if your hair were on fire.

Believe me, I've fallen into this trap many times. If the answer comes too quick or too slow, you've already lost. If you tell her she's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen, she will ask you how many others you've seen - the conversation can only go down hill from there.

And don't think that you are in anyway qualified to provide any statement about the fit or fashion of her clothing. She knows you have no fashion sense. And if you do, you're probably already in a relationship with another man and this will not change her expectations of the appropriate answer.

I have been made aware of my lack of fashion sense. I've always been very proud if I can fully dress myself with both socks matching. When I'm at the top of my game, I can usually even match a top and a bottom as long as they are both the same or contrasting colors.

When one is in an argument with a woman and she says "Fine" that means "Shut up, I'm right, and I'm done talking to you."

If a woman says "Do whatever you want" it DOES NOT mean to do whatever you want.

It means that she is done trying to convince you that she is right and you'd better re-think your needs or wants.

I have a whole notebook full of notes I've accumulated over the years. Problem is, the phrases I managed to decifer years ago no longer apply because "woman language" seems to change and increase in complexity over time.

I would like to add this for the few women out there that have not learned "man language" although I'm not sure there are any that weren't givin the keys to the "man kingdom" by the time they were thirteen years old.

When a man says "You look (smell) great (wonderful, beautiful, ravishing) he wants sex. Otherwise, he is hungry.

When a man asks how you're doing, please try and keep your answer to no more than one or two words such as "Fine" or "Good." the use of more than three words in your response or the use of words with more than two syllables will confuse the man. His eyes will gloss over and his hearing will fade.

I must caution you that the use of the word "Fine" at anytime may send the man into nervous fits or possibly epileptic seizure. Due the aforementioned knowledge (or confusion) to exactly what "Fine" means, some men's brains will simply overheat and shutdown any time this word is mentioned.

This is why you will seldom hear one man use the word "Fine" with another man.

I will have to continue this lesson later as my wife just asked me what I would like to do for dinner and I must weight my options, check the frig, and hope I can come up with the appropriate answer before bedtime.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Watching a Train Wreck

Come to our stripper club tonight where you can see thirty beautiful women -
and two ugly ones!

I heard this on the radio while driving down the highway. I know of this club. It's only few miles outside my town.

What amazed me about this radio advertisement is just how effective it was. I must confess, I wanted to go to that strip club. Why? It wasn't to see the thirty beautiful women. I'm old enough to have seen beautiful women. What peaked my interest was the two ugly ones. I was so curious, I wanted to make plans to go to this club and see if I could find the ugly dancers!

On a side note, I wonder if they tell the dancers which ones are considered the ugly ones. Do the ugly ones know who they are? They certainly must be aware of their commercial draw for the club.

This kind of reminds of that old cliche' "It's like watching a train wreck - you just can't look away."

What is it about the proverbial train wreck that grabs hold of our attention? Why is it that most folks just can't look away, even from something so morbid it makes them sick?

One word - Drama

We love drama. We watch it on television, see it at the movies, some of us even find it in our own lives. Oh hell, who am I kidding, we all have drama in our lives.

Where I like to find drama, outside of my own life, is in the books I read. Everyone likes to get to know a character in a book and then read about just how that character works their way through all the problems caused by the antagonist. Of course, we like to do this from the safety of our soft pillow in the corner, or any other place we can comfortably read.

Writers owe it to readers to provide them with a book full of drama. The writer must provide the reader with drama greater than in real life. And let me tell you, this is no easy task with all the drama in our world nowadays.

Most people associate drama with romance. I believe drama needs to be in all forms of writing - in every genre. Drama should fill the pages of a suspense novel, science fiction, or even a mystery in the same way one might see it in romance. The only difference being the method or vehicle for providing that drama.

This is an area I struggle with. In writing, I try to create a story that is plausible, believable. And, in doing so, I sometimes miss the opportunity to provide a story that goes beyond depicting life in fiction but creating a story larger than life.

So for all you writers out there struggling to provide your readers with a sense of drama as I do, just write it down. Let your imagination fly, and hold back just enough to make your readers wonder about those two ugly dancers. Make them want to see those ugly girls for themselves.

Provide them the train wreck and don't let them look away!

Mortality Sucks!

One of the things I often ponder is my own mortality. I'm amazed I've lived this long and should consider each day a blessing - but I don't.

Instead, like so many others, I'm sure, I simply abhor the passage of time. I become angry and frustrated of the things that I have not done or achieved over time instead of being thankful that I've been given the opportunity to do so much.

I wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Here it goes:

I've titled it wreched time, and it's not really a song. It's a poem, but bear with me here, it's very short.

Wretched Time

Oh, the life I've lived,
and at such cost
Time, as my enemy, stepping ahead of me
Reminding me of what I've done and what I've lost
Wretched time ticking my life away
Tomorrow's reality replacing the hopes of yesterday

Ok, so it's a little depressing. At least I'll always have sarcasm to fall on in order to hide an otherwise depressing situation.

Why all the stuff related to age? Well, today is my Birthday and I turn ....

Well, let's just say I've crested the hill between forty and fifty and am rapidly accelerating down the other side.

One of the things I am losing in my advancement of age is my hearing. Every year, it seems to get worse. My wife calls it "selective hearing loss." I suppose she could be right as I seem to have acquired the ability to "not hear" in those particular frequencies associated with my wife yelling at me.

I guess there are some things about getting older that are not so bad.