Friday, August 25, 2017

Call Me Ishmael

Thought for the day:  I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific. [Lily Tomlin]

[image from Morguefile]

No, of course, my name isn't Ishmael, but talk about a name that's known by most readers all over the world, right? Susan, on the other hand, is pretty darned generic. In fact, the last time I checked, a Google search turned up thirteen people named Susan Swiderski. Sheesh, talk about making a gal feel unique, eh?

It's been kinda fun picking and re-vamping some of my old blog posts. Hopefully, I didn't give you guys too many boogers. Just a few more, and then the summer re-runs will come to an end.

Today's oldie but not-a-booger originally appeared in June 2011 as The Name Game. I hope you enjoy it.


Thought for the day:  It was a matter of destiny: the streaker's name was Seymour Cheeks.

Gildersleeve, Gildersleeve, wherefore art thou, Gildersleeve?

The fair Juliet declared, What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Easy for her to say. Do you think she would've been half as cavalier about the irrelevance of a name if she'd been saddled with an onerous moniker like Bertha or Broomhilda? And I ask you, could even the great Shakespeare himself have waxed poetic about a damsel in distress if her name were Boobs Galore? (Sincere apologies to any readers named Bertha, Broomhilda, or Boobs.)

Gertrude Stein said, A rose is a rose is a rose, and even good ol' Popeye said, I yam what I yam. If things ARE what they ARE, does it really matter a rat's derriere what you choose to CALL them?

Well, yeah. I think so.

Would a bouquet of roses bestow the same romantic connotation if they were called ... fartflowers? Or suppose that lovely bunch of mums your beloved gave you were called ...  ugly mamas?

Ahhhh ... Smell the Fartflowers!
True, the name or description of an object can't actually alter its essential substance, but it can ... and does ... alter our perception of it. Intellectually, we may adhere to the adage, Never judge a book by its cover, but in reality, we tend to do just that.

Consider this:

You're exhausted, and judging by the crowd in the doctor's anteroom, a long wait stretches in front of you. Standing on your aching feet is not an attractive option, and there are only two empty seats in the room. One is beside a shabbily-dressed old gentleman with shaggy hair and scruffy beard, who is slumped in his chair, muttering to himself. The other is next to a clean-cut, GQ-looking young man, who looks right at you and smiles. (Or for you men, a shapely young woman with a sexy smile.) Where would you sit? Not gonna pull any made-up statistics out of my (ahem) ear, but where do you think most people would sit?

It's human nature. And understanding that tidbit of human nature puts potential power into our hot little pen-holding hands. When a writer (or speaker) understands the basic concept of perception, he can use it to his advantage and manipulate the crap out of it. 

Take the example of the waiting room. Before a writer brings that poor unsuspecting foot-sore patient into that room, suppose he fleshes out the people sitting beside those empty chairs. Suppose the shabby-looking fellow is a sweet, gentle, lonely soul who's grieving deeply for his wife, and Mr. G.Q. (or Ms. Luscious) is an evil Jeffrey Daumer wannabe. How's that going to change the reader's response when the innocent newcomer considers sitting beside the Daumer copycat?

Titles, names, and appearances DO matter. All of them evoke involuntary psychological  responses, and when we have an active awareness and anticipation of those responses, we wield some control over them through the power of our words. A great book title has the potential to attract a casual browser. Ditto a great-looking cover. Character names carry a certain weight. Names can be perceived as weak, strong, silly, or whatever. Descriptions can be used to reinforce a stereotype, or to mask something shocking and unexpected. Subtle nuances of word choice evoke a huge difference in both perception and reaction.  

Or not. On one hand, I think word choice and title choice can make a big difference. But on the other, if the following book titles have been published (and they have!) maybe titles don't matter at all. Consider:

Beats exploding, I suppose.
Okeydoke, then.

About a master debater?

The only game our cats play is hide and go sleep.

the perfect gift for the grandkids?

guess you have to be Catholic first, right?

  The author's name should be Lucy Bowels.


there's a reason it's a lost art

um, why bother?

stool softener helps

no comment

not cuddly anymore, huh?

And here's some more actual book titles to consider:
  • The Pop-Up Book of Phobias
  • Scouts in Bondage
  • Be Bold With Bananas
  • 101 Uses for Tampon Applicators
  • Suture Self   (Now, I LIKE this one!)
  • How to Make Love While Conscious
  • Up Sh*t Creek: a collection of horrifying true wilderness toilet misadventures
  • The History of Sh*t
  • First You Take a Leek
  • The Romance of Proctology
  • Heave Ho: My Little Green Book of Seasickness
  • More Balls Than Hands  (ahem ... about juggling)
  • Postmortem Collectibles
  • Knitting With Dog Hair
  • Last Chance at Love: Terminal Romances
  • The Book of Lesbian Horse Stories
  • Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank and Other Words of Delicate Southern Wisdom
And finally, my own personal favorite:
  • Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Good-Bye

How about you? Do you think titles matter? Come across any doozies lately?

                       Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What's Your Hurry?

Thought for the day:  Calvin: Today for show and tell, I've brought a tiny miracle of nature: a single snowflake! I think we might all learn a lesson from how this utterly unique and exquisite crystal turns into an ordinary, boring molecule of water just like every other one when you bring it into the classroom. And now, while the analogy sinks in, I will be leaving you drips and going outside. [Bill Watterman]

I think maybe one of the reasons so many people loved the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes so much is the unique and hilarious way Calvin's mind worked. His antics made us laugh, but there was always a grain of truth in his little-boy philosophies.

Like when he compared himself to a snowflake. Works for me. We are all unique in some way, but one other thing we all share with snowflakes is in the end, we all eventually melt. Our finite lifespan isn't cause for despair, though. On the contrary. I see it as all the more reason to squeeze as much meaning out of each day as we can.

The following post originally appeared in April, 2011 as Dashing Through Life. Here it is again, with some gentle editing. I hope y'all enjoy it. (Yes, I'm still editing and rewriting... and may be for a looooong long time. I wish editing a book took as much time as editing a blog post...)


Thought for the day:  I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.  Maya Angelou

It'd be a lot easier if life were laid out like a marked highway, wouldn't it? All we'd have to do is keep our eye on that center line and follow the road straight to our final destination. No guesswork involved. No tough decisions. Why, there'd even be signs to warn us of the bumpy patches ahead, and of the dips we're likely to encounter.

And just think! If we doze off and start to wander off-track, by golly, there'd be signs to tell us:

Just think how many divorces could have been avoided!

But, in truth, life would be rather boring if it were all laid out for us. Where's the spirit of adventure in that? Even though I'm directionally challenged, I love exploring those little dirt roads in life.

Years ago, my husband and I spent several unforgettable getaway weekends at a mountain cabin with some very dear friends. Like me, Smarticus also likes to venture off the beaten path. Thankfully, he has an uncanny sense of direction to go with it, so as long as I stick with him, I'll always find my way home again. Our friends, on the other hand, preferred the safety of the paved road and the well-worn path. One day, while the four of us were tromping along a trail through the woods, I heard the distant sound of water. Natch, I got all excited and took off through the woods. And natch, so did my husband. Our friends stayed glued to the marked trail at first, but quickly decided it was scarier to stay behind than it'd be to follow us. We encountered a multitude of large trees, downed and tangled, so we climbed over them. Ran into brambles galore, but we kept going. But as we climbed through and over the obstacles, the sound of water got louder and louder, until we finally emerged into a sun-lit clearing. It was worth every single scratch and bug bite we'd endured and every bead of sweat we'd perspired. For there we were, beside a small, secluded waterfall.

And we would've missed that beautiful moment if we hadn't been willing to take the scenic path. The detour. It's wonderful to have a clear destination in mind, but the trip is so much more enjoyable if we learn to enjoy the scenery along the way. Children insist on becoming adults, and you'll only have one shot at enjoying their childhoods. Our parents grow old and die, and then there's no time left to chat with them on the phone or to stop in for a visit. Our friends pass away, or move away, or simply leave our lives. Shouldn't we enjoy them while we can? I originally planned on calling my blog Never2Late. That very much reflects my optimistic viewpoint of life, but the unpleasant truth is ... sometimes, it IS too late.

Sorry! I've gotta dash!
Hurry, hurry, hurry. No time to stop and chat. No time to listen to the response after you ask someone how they're doing. Gotta dash, gotta dash.

I want to leave you with another thought about our mad dash through life.

The Dash is an inspirational poem that was written in 1996 by Linda Ellis, and her words have inspired millions of people all over the world. She writes about that little line, that simple dash on a tombstone that represents the real story of a lifetme, that defines who we are beyond a simple beginning and end date, and touches, simply and succinctly, on what's truly important in life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

How about you? Are you strictly goal-oriented, or do you enjoy life's surprising detours? Whichever category you fall into, I hope you'll always try to carpe  the hell out of each diem. Let's enjoy our dash, shall we?

                              Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Deja Vu to the Max

Thought for the day: Life is an ongoing project. If you think you've already arrived, you may no longer strive. [author unknown]

Hi-ya. Yep, I'm still editing. I'm so slow, I make tortoises look like speed demons. So, continuing with my lazy ass  summer of reruns, today's post originally appeared in August, 2011, as Gotta Get it Right the First Time. I hope you enjoy it.

Thought for the day:  Make each day your masterpiece.

Did you ever hear of a turritopsis nutricula? (And if you did, I am REALLY impressed!) This creature is also known as the immortal jellyfish. Immortal, because as far as scientists know, this jellyfish lives . . .  forever. Once it matures and reproduces sexually, it reverts to its juvenile state and starts the whole maturation process all over again. There doesn't appear to be a limit as to how many times the process can be repeated, either. So it's an endless cycle. Cool, huh? Kinda like the movie Groundhog Day, only this critter keeps reliving its entire existence instead of a single day.

We people don't have that luxury. As far as we know, this isn't just a dress rehearsal. We don't get any do-overs, and we don't get to experience things all over again for the first time. So we've gotta do the best we can with what we've got. Now. We can't keep putting things off until tomorrow, because we may not have a tomorrow. How many times have you heard someone say when something happens, then they're gonna do so-and-so? If we allow our lives to be so tied up in the uncertainties of when and then, we're giving our here and now the smelly end of the stick. So, I say, let's all toss that smelly stick and carpe the hell out of the diem.

Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.   [Ruth Ann Schabacker]

So, would you like to go back to your juvenile days again? Go through the whole maturation stuff all over again? Some things might be fun to revisit, but as for me ... one trek through adolescence was more than enough. Being an old broad ain't half bad.

Before I go grab hold of my day with both hands, I'll leave you with a few signs. Nah, not signs like woo-oo-oo kinda weirdo stuff. Signs . . . real signs. Hopefully, signs that will make you smile.

(Thanks, Bill!)

And a fine, TOO?

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. And, hey! Carpe that diem, y'all!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Walking Our Pet Peeves (in the Tinkling Rain)

Thought for the day:  I had a friend who believed in me, and I didn't have the heart to let him down. [Abraham Lincoln]

We all need somebody to believe in us, no matter which paths we choose to take in life. For writers, finding that support is as easy as going HERE and joining the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Members of this fine gourp, founded by ninja writer Alex Cavanaugh, share an IWSG post the first Wednesday of every month, which is... today.

Since I'm still knee-deep in editing, rather than write a new post before answering the question of the month, I'm gonna share a largely ignored one from June, 2011, originally titled Secrets to Spinning an Original Tale. I was a newbie blogger back then, so you could say this old post still has the tags on it... never been worn.


Thought for the day:  If you can't win 'em over with facts, dazzle 'em with malarkey.  

[image courtesy of Morguefile]
Ever catch any of Judge Judy's shows on TV? She's a little bit of a thing in a lace-collared robe who peers over the top of her bench like Kilroy while banging her gavel, wagging her finger and screeching at the people appearing before her. She's feisty and funny as all get-out at times, but I've seen enough snippets of her in action to know I sure as heck wouldn't want to face her in court. I can imagine how that would go. She'd be screeching, "Button your mouth, you old bag! I'm not interested in what you think! Just tell me exactly what happened." And she'd probably laugh me right out of the courtroom if I tried to explain my trips into fantasy by telling her I'm a writer. But I ask you, don't writers have a certain latitude when it comes to spinning our tales? Hmmmmph. Not to Judge Judy, because that lady has a built-in Malarkey-o-Meter the size of Montana.

I dunno. There's something about her that rubs me the wrong way. Strident? Oh yeah, but it isn't that. And did I happen to mention she screeches? That's a real nerve-grater, for sure, but it isn't that, either. She's just too darned ... how shall I put this? She's too doggone judgmental! I mean, who made HER the judge of all she sees? Oh. Yeah. (ahem) Never mind.

Anyway, Judge Judy wrote a book with one of the best titles of all time. It's called, Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining. Priceless, isn't it? Or maybe worth, say, sixty-four thousand dollars, anyway.

And the sixty-four thousand dollar question for the day is : HOW do we writers make our readers believe we're tinkling rain??? HOW do we make the implausible plausible, the insurmountable surmountable, and the outrageous the norm? To find the answer, let's take a gander at the gurus of garbage, those writers with unsurpassed skills in turning tripe into something that passes for truth. I have no names for these people, but believe me, their skills are vast. I'm talking about those nameless instigators who post something on the Internet and then sit back with smirks on their faces while their post turns viral and essentially morphs from fabrication into fact.

WOW.  How can WE harness those skills? I suggest to you ...

Three simple steps:

  • Include a smattering of verifiable facts in your writing. It'll demonstrate how smart you are, and establish you as an authority.
  • Write with confidence and authority. In fact, if you demonstrate ample confidence and authority, you don't have to concern yourself with facts at all.
  • Never be afraid to address hot-button topics. In fact, embrace them, baby. Any segment of society with a strong enough bias about any given topic will gladly believe whatever you tell them, as long as it reinforces the beliefs and hatreds they already harbor. As for facts? Pffffft. Don't need 'em. When readers go all Judge Judy on a topic, they're in danger of developing a serious medical condition known as psychosclerosis. Otherwise known as hardening of the attitude, this is not a fatal condition, but has been known to kill conversations and end relationships. (So, how'd I do with that one? Make your malarkey-o-meter tingle?)

OK, so we're not really interested in manipulating the minds of our readers, but you gotta admit, it's downright phenomenal how successful others have become at doing just that, thanks to the viral potential of the Internet. For some reason,  people who wouldn't dream of turning to the National Enquirer as a source for the latest news have no problem believing an article they find on Wikipedia or within a zillion-times forwarded email they receive from a friend. (Would you believe a new error-laden fourth grade social studies textbook entitled Our Virginia, Past and Present had to be recalled earlier this year because the writer of said textbook gleaned her erroneous "facts" from the Internet?)

Seems to me, we should all learn, not necessarily to be Judge Judy-ish, but at least to learn to take the things we read with a grain of salt. But oh, what we write... now that's another story. We don't WANT our readers to reach for the salt shaker. We want to spin locations, characters, and stories that are so well-seasoned and believable, no extra salt is ever needed. How can we do that? Let's backtrack to those three steps:

  • By all means, weave verifiable facts into your story. Unless you're creating a fantasy world that defies our laws of physics, it's best not to buck science. Two examples where writers tried to do just that: In one book, the good guy electrocuted the bad guy by tossing an old capacitor (that he'd been carrying in his pocket for decades) into the sink while the bad guy was washing his hands. WOOP! WOOP! WOOP! Ain't gonna happen. In the second case, the damsel in distress successfully prevents her pursuers from following her by removing the valve stems from the tires of their car ... and thereby flattening the tires! More WOOP! WOOP! 
  • Writing with confidence and authority is always a good bet, even if you have to fake it. (Also known as flying with the eagles when we feel like a chicken on the inside.)
  • And finally, the hot-button topics. Well, that's up to you. Some excellent books have been written about some of these topics, and they've been written with great sensitivity and intelligence. And I already know that all of you have sensitivity and intelligence out the wazoo, right? Now, I'm no Judge Judy, but if you DO tackle one of these hot potatoes, please rely on verifiable facts, okay?

After all, too much salt isn't good for anyone.

Okay, now for the question of the month: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

I'll just address the reading side of this question, because I honestly can't think of any writing or editing peeves. (Probably because I'm in the driver's seat when it comes to those areas, while as a reader, I'm locked in the back while somebody else does the driving.)

Anyhow, the number one thing that makes me want to throw a book across the room while screaming like a banshee is (insert drum roll here) cliffhanger endings. ARRRRRRGH!!! It's absolutely infuriating to purchase a book and invest the time in reading it only to be cheated out of a proper ending simply because the writer wants to manipulate readers into buying the next book. (or books) I get it. Series are hot, but please, please, please provide a resolution of some sort at the end of each book. Aim for readers' satisfaction, not frustration.

#2 I also wish writers would ix-nay the unnecessary repetition. Really, I got the point the first time... there's no reason to tell me fifty more times that the chick has blue eyes with long eyelashes. (or whatever) Beating issues to death by repeating them over and over is insulting to readers' intelligence.

#3 Based on the earlier part of this post, it should come as no surprise that blatant errors and an absence of common logic annoy the stuffing out of me, too.

Like everybody else, misspellings and grammatical errors stick in my craw, too, but the three issues already highlighted are at the top of any reading pet peeve list for me. How about you?

                                Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.