Monday, January 31, 2011

The Drive-thru Dilemma

It seems, in our society, we've fallen under some kind of socio-ecomic reversal. I remember, as a young man, working in a couple of restaurants. I was seriously contemplating a career at McDonald's until I decided to leave town through military service.

One of the things we were taught in this establishment was, "the customer is always right." I was taught to give service with a smile, and refer all questions to a manager.

I don't know what has happened over the years, but now, it seems, customer service is no longer part of the fast food experience.

The other night, my wife and I decided to pick up some fast food on our way home from shopping. I pulled up to the drive-thru order speaker, and heard someone talking on the other end. I thought, "there must be some problem with the intercom," and said "Hello?"

"I said, JUST A MINUTE," came the response. Okay, maybe I did not hear the operator's first statement. Twenty-two years in the military and around the aviation field will do that to you. I immediately apologized, but inside, my blood was already starting to boil.

This statement was made by a young person working at a fast food restaurant. Why should I be apologizing for not hearing this person over the intercom-especially after their rude retort.

I began to open my mouth to give this rude person my opinion of their service, and was immediately shushed by my wife, so I sucked it up and placed my order, trying to speak very clearly and respond in good cheer, even when asked numerous times about what size drink and meal we wanted.

With all this said, we were still given the wrong order size at the window. We simply paid for the larger size and drove away, carefully checking the insides of our burgers for foreign substances.

This begs the question: what has happened to customer service? Why is it that we must subject ourselves to rude behavior at a fast food drive-thru for fear of receiving our order with bodily fluids inside?

I don't know, I'm just sayin'

By the way, here's a link to a funny drive-thru interaction found on YouTube.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Author Blog


Some of you may (or may not) know that I write some, uh, more adult, stories under a pen name. I just opened another blog dedicated to those stories. If you are interested or would like to follow me and my work under my pen name:  Ellison James, please go here.

On this blog, I will post story excerpts, news of upcoming stories, character profiles and special secret deals not found anywhere else. Take a look I think you will like, yes?

P.S. The picture listed above is a hint for an upcoming story featuring my character, Azra (yes, the succubus) influencing a historical event. Can you possibly guess what it could be? Who are these four beauties?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Horror of Homonyms


I was browsing around recently and found the above picture posted on Comedy Central's "Tosh.0" site. It's funny how homonyms get so many people in trouble. My only question is this:  If I find fifty dollars, will I have to use that money to get my car out of impound?


 And yes, I agree that those living within the United States should use English as the language of choice when in public or doing business. English is the international language of business, so it only makes sense. But, I would certainly expect that if a person is motivated to create a sign that might only serve to anger and inflame others, they would also be motivated enough to seek some form of education beyond 4th grade before doing so. Failure to adhere to basic rules of grammar and usage only result in the sign holder looking ... uh, ignorant.


Or what about the sign below. Doesn't a church pastor have to go to college? I guess the mistake could be justified by the fact that the word "family" is not in the possessive or plural form anyway.



And, just imagine the large number of people who've seen this sign, and then spent the rest of their lives with a gross misunderstanding of what a "toad" was.



I just bring all this up because I know that, just like everyday folks have trouble with word spelling of homonyms, super fantastic authors have the same problems. I've been completely derailed when reading a novel and found just one instance of the mistaking the spelling "There" for "Their" and I can only assume others do too.

That's why editing is so important when writing. I was so obsessive about proper editing that I used an editor for my novel after I performed my own editing eight times. My editor went through the manuscript a few times more finding numerous mistakes in spelling, word usage, tense, and movement at each look. I'm sure there are still some mistakes somewhere within the pages of my novel, but no glaring mistakes (I hope.) It's always best to seek the help of a qualified editor for your work, even if it is just your spouse or parent looking at your homework. Or, you can use "The Perfect Word" editing services and Tammy Parks like I did. Either way it's important to check your work so you look professional. I don't know. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Looking Dapper

I know this comes at a strange time, but most of my greatest revelations are like that. I was looking over my blog today and couldn't help noticing my faded old picture of me at least two years ago (I've aged since then, believe me) wearing my brown sport jacket, looking rather dapper, If I do say so myself.

I also began to realize that I must find a new picture to post. Problem is, I can't seem to find a camera that works right. If you notice in my profile picture that the lower part of my chin seems to be rather shortened, or missing even, that's the camera's fault. And, while I'm on the subject, that same camera seems to have made my nose appear rather large, I mean, it's really out there.

I know I don't look like that in real life. When I look at myself in the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning, I see someone more like that guy who played Jason Bourne in the Bourne series. What was his name anyway? I think it was Matt somebody.


Of course, in real life, I go back to looking alot more like my profile picture when I turn on the light.

I promise to update my profile picture soon with something a little more up-to-date. And I will, as soon as I can find a camera that takes better pictures, maybe something with built-in retouching.

I only have one current picture that I could post right now though, but it doesn't show my face. Unfortunately, it's a candid shot of me sneaking a late night snack. I'm standing naked, stretching to reach into a high cabinet in search of some cheese puffs. But, of course, the same camera was used to take this picture as all the others, and it has somehow distorted my butt to appear larger than it should.



Back to the drawing board, so to speak.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Recommendation

I know I do not normally review or recommend books on my blog. I don't know why, I guess I'm just lazy.

I recently had the opportunity to read a book from a new author. Now, this author is from the UK and her story, although fiction, highlights the inadequacies of the British justice system. Hmm, just like the American justice system-full of holes.

Anyway this is such a gripping story, I just have to recommend it for anyone who normally reads crime, suspense, mystery, or stories that pull at your heartstrings such as those by Nicholas Sparks.

How many of you have children? How many of you want to see your children protected? What would you do if your children were in danger and you found out the man responsible begged the justice system to put him away, but his request was overlooked?

I won't say any more for fear of creating a spoiler. Suffice it to say that you owe it to yourself to read this book. It will absolutely make you a fan of Saffina Desforges. It will make your heart sing and sink as it did mine. It will make you angry and sad at the same time. And, it will make you count the days until Saffina can write another story like this in her unique style.

You can find the book here:

Amazon (US)
Amazon (UK)
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords

Friday, January 14, 2011

Confusion


The picture above represents something I'm working on today. I've got to take the information from this electrical schematic (by the way, this is one of fifteen pages for this particular subsystem) and try to break it down into something we can easily explain to our new flight students.

A daunting task indeed. But you know, when you think about it. We, as writers, do the same thing for our readers.

This is one reason I like to outline. Sometimes a story can become so complex that something so simple as hair color, or mannerism can be missed. I just recently acquired an understanding of why people write out character profiles or interviews when working on a work of fiction.

I am one of those readers that takes my time, letting every page settle into my conciousness before going on. Because of this, I often run into small irregularities in the stories of my favorite authors. Of course, this sets me off and taints my ability to suspend disbelief for the rest of the story. I (as I believe most readers) pick up on small differences like a woman who has short bobbed hair in one scene and long flowing hair several scenes later.

So, as writers, we owe it to our readers to take the time and keep good notes so we can take the big picture (like the one above) and simplify just enough so that our readers can gain understanding of the story, while withholding just enough to make them think or throw them off their footing just a little once in awhile.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Weather and Mood

I live in the South and, although we have not been hit with the deep freeze and storms like the rest of the country, we've nonetheless, suffered through some dreary days lately.

Oddly enough, these dark gray days bring back a flood of memories from my youth. I grew up in the Northwest, Bremerton, Washington to be exact. Our winters were often gray and dreary, often with a light rain. What made it memorable was that our winters lasted nearly six months. But, when the sun was shining, the Northwest was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen -- then and now.

It is amazing how much weather affects mood, and a change in weather can often bring with it, a flood of memories and emotion.

Same holds true when reading.

Writers can affect or convey mood by using weather in their stories. How often have you read, or told a scary story beginning with "It was a dark and stormy night." There it is. You've just set the mood and tone of the story, prepared your reader or listener of what's to come by placing them into a specific time and with foreboding weather.

I like to use weather to increase tension, or place obstacles in the way of my protagonist. Yes, it all falls under that umbrella of "setting" but I've noticed many writers do not give weather enough wordplay.  So, to increase tension, heightened feelings, good or bad, and even provide a vehicle for character development, consider bringing weather into the mix. Consider this:

A car pulled to the side of the street about fifty feet from the apartment building. ... In the passenger seat, Lexi looked away from the red glow of the truck's taillights in front of them, and noted the time on her notepad.
Okay, the above is just an example (actually a short excerpt taken from my novel) with all reference to weather removed. Doesn't it seem like it is missing something? Below, I've added the references to weather and my character's reaction to this weather.

A car pulled to the side of the street about fifty feet from the apartment building. The windshield wipers beat furiously against the rain on the windshield. Inside, Joe moved a knob, blasting air through the defrost vents. The heavy rain and humidity made it almost futile to try to keep the window clear of fog. In the passenger seat, Lexi looked away from the red glow of the truck’s taillights in front of them, and noted the time on her notepad.
In the above example, the reader (hopefully) is drawn more into the story or setting of this scene because they feel what the characters feel. So, weather actually becomes part of the setting. The writer can also choose weather and make word choices that foster emotional responses in the reader.

The next thing you know, you'll have your reader emotionally invested in your story. Their feelings toward your characters will be cemented because they will feel as if they were right there with the character, seeing the sights, smelling the smells, and experiencing the weather in each scene.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

War Declared on Baggy Pants!

During the holidays, a strange thing happened one day. We were all hanging out in the house in the middle of the day when a jeep Cherokee pulled into the drive and a young man got out. He was all decked out in hip hop garb with an unformed baseball cap all cocked sideways on his head and a hooded sweat jacket that was so large it barely covered his underpants spilling forth over top of his low slung jeans that hung suspended below the crest of his buttocks, seemingly by some magical force -- because it, surely, was not his hips.

This young man came to our door and rang the doorbell. My rather large son answered the door, and the young man proceeded to weave some story about how he was on his way to a nearby town (not the town we live in) and realized he was nearly out of gas. This was apparently coupled with a simultaneous realization that he had no money. He asked us if we might have some money or spare change we might be willing to part with so he could drive to a gas station and put enough gas in his vehicle to make it to this nearby town, which was not ours.

Red flags immediately started popping up all in my head.

For those of you that know me personally, my thought processes need no further explanation. But for others, I must tell you that I am retired military. I was not always the loving teddy bear I am today and my past is riddled with suspect activities and bar fights over booze or women, or boozed up women ... well, you get the jist. My training and past activities in and around our military special operations community provided a kind of insight where I make quick evaluations of people by their mannerisms, speech and body language. Sometimes I get the red flags.

Anyway, these paragraphs were just to set up the reasoning or explanation of my original thoughts. On the face of it, I felt sorry for the poor lad, and wanting to start looking through my house for spare change, really I did. But several things weren't right. First, his dress gave me caution. Yes, I know this might be considered profiling but, when your house, family, and livelihood are involved, I could not care less whether others might think ill of me for profiling. If a person makes the effort to dress like a stereotypical thug wannabe, I must assume, they are a thug wannabe. Second, the whole time he was explaining his situation, expounding on the woes he recently suffered, he'd left his car running. Third, the nearest gas station was no more than a mile up the road -- and it was open.

Needless to say, I politely told him that we did not have any money we could give him at the time and offered him the suggestion of going to the gas station to ask for money because there, he would find others already pumping gas and, more than likely funded for such a purchase. That night, I activated nearly all of the security features of my home (did I mention the military? yeah, I got me some security) and loaded my shotgun, just in case.

Was I wrong in assuming the worst in this person merely on their dress? Were my thoughts prejudicial? Probably so. For that I am sorry. But I would rather be sorry than robbed, or dead.

Seems this profiling has gone national. Cities throughout the nation have recently been attempting to approve ordinances forbidding the wearing of baggy pants. And, it seems, people on both sides of the issue are preparing for all-out war.

The wearing of baggy pants has been a fad for quite some time. Not only should the pants be baggy, but, in keeping with the fad, they must be magically suspended below the crest of one's buttocks showing some name brand boxers that can either be worn normally, or worn low like the pants, exposing one's crack. I don't know if it is some kind of one-up-manship or what, but the pants have gotten lower over time and crack exposure increased.

While my personal preference is to wear pants the old-fashioned way, I am impressed at how one gets their pants to hang as if suspended magical by thin air with nothing to hold them up. I am also torn on whether the incorporating of city ordinances infringes upon one's constitutional right to wear clothes as they see fit.

There is the argument that this style of clothing is a hip hop trend originating from those incarcerated in prison who have had their belts taken to keep them from hanging themselves. Others originate this fad from prison as well, but state that the reason for letting one's pants hang below their butts is more sexual, in purpose. Kind of like that fad of not long ago of wearing one's clothing backwards. With just a little research, one will find that most prisons issue clothing to inmates that incorporate ties or elastic to keep the pants suspended at a reasonable level around their waist. Unfortunately, many prisoners have chosen to wear even these garments in their own fashion.

No matter your belief on the origins of this fad, it seems to me that parents would not want their children emulating trends originating from prison. I don't know, am I wrong to think this way. My objection to this style of clothing wear falls more on utilitarian function, rather than style. I just don't understand how one can go about their daily business when at least one hand is constantly occupied holding up oversize pants.

I suppose this is nothing new. The youth of our nation have been finding ways to be different from all those old fogies as far back as history has been recorded.

Drawing from my own youth, I'm sure we all remember bell bottoms and wide collars.

Many of the heroes of those days perpetrated the look. Remember the Carpenters? They were all about the bell bottom and wide collar fad, and they were adults. I know my sister remembers the Carpenters. I think she actually sang with them in the Seattle Center back in the early seventies. I believe it was on their song "sing."




And here's someone you might recognize. He prescribed to the wide collar thing and he seems to have done alright for himself.









And, I suppose it could be worse. We could all be stuck in some perpetual vortex of history where we all wear parachute pants and "Miami Vice" shirts.






What are your thoughts on the "baggy pants" fad. Is it just a fad? is it reasonable? Or, is it just plain stupid.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rethinking Blonde

We all like to make fun of blondes. It seems, blondes have been getting a bad rap throughout history. I have even fallen prey to those prejudicial thoughts about blondes, although I grew up, at least partially blonde for most of my life. I say partially blonde because my hair color has become darker over time. My driver's license still says blonde but my hair color is really brown now. I still get the blonde highlights in summer when I'm out in the sun. Some of the blonde is even lasting throughout the year-and by blonde, I mean REALLY blonde -- silvery-white, even.

You can see my profile picture over to the right, but for an indication of where my hair color came from, one might I refer to my high school picture from an earlier post. (left -- yes, that's me)

Yes, we all like to make fun of blondes, tell dumb blonde jokes, create funny audio clips about blondes using an Onstar product called "Blondstar" (ok, I'll admit that one is pretty funny.) But that kind of thinking is very prejudicial in it's nature.

The other night, I found myself falling prey to those prejudicial thoughts as I watched a pretty young blonde girl (my wife calls them "the pretty people") standing in front of us at the gym trying to run her identification card through a scanner. Problem was that the card did not have a magnetic strip, only a bar code. and she was trying to run it through the wrong machine. The scanner she needed was right there, standing in glory all big and bulbous on the counter.

After a few frustrating moments, I finally told her that it might be easier to just put her card in front of the infra-red bar code scanner. She did exactly as I had suggested and plastered her identification right up on the little red screen. Of course, the reader did not work. By now, a line was forming behind her, and my wife was starting to make funny huffing noises and tapping her feet on the floor so loud I think it might have been heard in the locker rooms.

My wife and I started to exchange looks and snicker under our breath at this woman's inherent stupidity. Looks are all we need now. It is a superpower developed over nearly twenty-five years of marriage. Oddly enough though, it only works when judging others in public. I still have not developed the ability to understand exactly what my wife means by what she says -- and yes, they are usually different.

So, it seemed, I was falling into the enticing abyss of prejudice.

To make a long story short ... I know, too late.

Anyway, the pretty young blonde girl finally gave up, or maybe we nudged her out of the way, however it happened, she gave up and sought out the help of the attendants at the front desk. The rest of us hurried through the line, flashing our cards up to the reader, wiggling them just a little as the scanner read each one in rapid succession.

My wife went in to her step aerobics class and I headed for the treadmill room with a thousand ill-perceived thoughts and blonde jokes running through my head.

Needless to say, I didn't make it far, as the treadmill proved much more complicated than I can remember a treadmill was. It was all computerized with connections and screens with icons that didn't explain anything.

I was still trying to figure out how to make the dadblasted thing go, when the dumb blonde walked into the room and found a treadmill in front of mine. After what seemed minutes of screen-tapping and grunts of frustration, she finally turned with a sour look on her face, quickly pushed on the touch-screen a few times, and got my treadmill going.

The workout went much better after that, and I was made to rethink my ill-thoughts of blondes as she not only proved smarter than I gave her credit for, she provided me motivation for the rest of my workout as I watched her gliding effortlessly on the treadmill in front of me.





I guess next time, I won't be so quick to judge.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year, New Announcement

Just wanted to announce that Eclectic Flash literary journal now has their "Best of 2010" anthology available here: The Best of 2010 is available at cost. http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/eclectic-flash-the-best-of-2010/14419666


You can buy it at cost, and also get an extra 25% off of that if you use the coupon code: winter305
Eclectic Flash is a small print literary journal helping authors publish flash fiction on a quarterly basis. They are a non-profit organization. Sales of their magazine and anthologies go toward operational expenses and building up a fund to offer market-rate pay for authors.

Of course, two of my flash fiction stories were featured in their September 2010 issue, and one of my stories is featured in their "Best of 2010" anthology.

Please help support this organization or, if you are a writer, submit some work to them. They are open to submissions right now.