Piece Me Together

images-1I’m the proverbial chicken without a head—running thither and yon, trying to catch up while I’m on semester break everything that has fallen behind. Do I have too many directions, activities, pursuits—hats? Sometimes I feel like a mosaic. Fit the pieces together and I might be surprised to find—me.

The following is a poem by Sonia Milton read in our Autobiographical Writing class at Rianda House this past semester. Apparently I’m not the only fragmented soul wishing for time and cohesion. I hope you enjoy it!

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Slices

I live in the slices
Segmented blocks of time and space
That come in-between the interactions
Actually, I get a lot done in my slices,
It’s part of the waiting
Waiting for someone: Hal, Lauren, Peter
          To show up
                       Finish
                              Be ready
                                            Call
Come over
         Meet with me
                  Demand of me…
And I must be ready.
All the edges cleaned up
Starched and available
All the crumbs swept up, even if under the rug
READY
Heaven forbid I’m caught up in
               my own life
                            my own process
                                       my own becoming
And caught off-guard
What if someone catches me at THAT?
What if someone else SEES?
What if I see?
I want the whole orange, the entire pie, the whole loaf
Ah, now that would be a wonderful piece of time!
I would
                breathe fully
                            stretch completely
                                           sigh contentedly
I would have room to read the entire book, fantasize an entire dream
I would have room and time to be ME

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Sonya Milton grew up in New York and Miami and has lived in Napa Valley 20 years. She’s particularly interested in the inner journey and has written her memoirs intermittently over the past couple of decades. Partly retired, she spends time with her 4-year-old great nephew and making lunch for her husband.

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I Am Providence

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My reading tastes might be described as eclectic but I must confess that I’m pitiably deficient in horror. I do read mysteries and grabbed Nick Mamatas’s I Am Providence when he offered me the ARC to read and review. It turns out the actual mystery plays second to the social predisposition of the group that makes the murder possible. The story is about pulp fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft and his oddball group of contemporary fans: obsessive, insecure, small-minded, and generally weird. It’s told with a droll wit, biting at times, and often laugh-out-loud funny. I remember some of these characters from the last fan conference I attended!

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Alternating chapters, Mamatas tells the story in two points of view. Panossian, the victim, muses on his life, his writing, and H.P. Lovecraft, delivering insight into the Lovecraftian world and his own nature. Panossian’s observations on writers, fans and conferences had me either hooting or feeling a little sick when they hit too close.

 

A narrator chronicles the action from the point of view of Colleen Danzig, the recently acclaimed horror writer, who isn’t “exactly nervous” to attend her first Summer Tentactular, the annual Lovecraft convention held in Lovecraft’s hometown, Providence, Rhode Island. Colleen isn’t sure what to expect, but finds the other writers in the bar, recognizable by the way they “clutched at their drinks with a special sort of desperation. . .” and meets the eccentric group including Panossian, who she’s rooming with during the con. He’s the author of a literary mash-up, which has insinuated him into the fringes of the Lovecraftian community.

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Colleen attends the opening ceremonies, the private themed parties and the midnight visit to Lovecraft’s grave, “A veritable ‘who’s that?’ of horror fiction.” Back at the room Panossian shows her a book, Arkham, bound with the author’s skin. That’s the last Colleen sees of him until she identifies his body at the morgue, his face flayed of skin.

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It’s gruesome but worse, none of the other convention goers care. Other than a bunch of police poking about, the Summer Tentacular continues unabated—even when the next victim is found in the forest where the gang has gone to see if they can discover the burial site of Lovecraft’s cat.

 

No one is allowed to leave the hotel and most of the con-goers are questioned. Colleen is compelled to solve the murder despite that two of the inner circle have been taken into custody. Her investigation may end badly.

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From his drawer at the morgue, Panossian narrates, except he’s in the dark regarding who killed him. He’s alarmed: He hears what’s going on yet can’t speak or move. He’s ready for oblivion. He thought reading Lovecraft would have prepared him for it. “If fiction is a way of inducing an organism to remember experiences it never had, then reading Lovecraft is crucial for understanding the futility of life and the screaming horror of death. . .” He spends a lot of time with unraveling thoughts about Colleen, his relationship to the Lovecraftians and Lovecraft’s work.

 

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H.P. Lovecraft

By the end of the book, Mamatas has spun a new Lovecraft story. I Am Providence is dark and disturbing enough to make Lovecraft proud, but it is also a tongue in cheek romp into a zany subculture. Mamatas’s erudition in the world of Lovecraft shines with his cultivated vocabulary and edgy syntax. I plain enjoyed how his thoughts flowed across the tentacled pages, and have come away with knowledge of H.P. Lovecraft and his work. Did you know in 2005 he was awarded the status of classic American writer with the publication of Tales, a collection of his weird fiction stories?

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If you’re like me and can’t pronounce Cthulhu, don’t worry! I Am Providence is accessible to anyone who loves a thought provoking read, a good laugh, and a look into another world. Oh, and the mystery is great—you won’t see the killer coming. (Hint: it isn’t one of the Elder Gods.)

 Congratulations to Nick Mamatas—I Am Providence has published today!

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Nick Mamatas just might be the new Providence.

Nick Mamatas is the author of six and a half novels, including The Last Weekend (PS Publishing), Love is the Law (Dark Horse), The Damned Highway with Brian Keene (Dark Horse), Bullettime (CZP), Sensation (PM Press), Under My Roof (Counterpoint/Soft Skull), and Move Under Ground (Night Shade/Prime). His latest collection is The Nickronomicon, from Innsmouth Free Press. His novels have been translated into German, Italian, and Greek. Nick is also an anthologist and editor of short fiction: with Masumi Washington he co-edited the Locus Award-nominated The Future Is Japanese (Haikasoru), and with Ellen Datlow he co-edited the Bram Stoker Award-winning Haunted Legends (Tor Books). Nick’s own short fiction has appeared in genre publications such as Asimov’s Science Fiction and Tor.com, lit journals including New Haven Review and subTERRAIN, and anthologies such as Hint Fiction and Best American Mystery Stories 2013. His fiction and editorial work has been nominated for the Bram Stoker award five times, the Hugo Award twice, the World Fantasy Award twice, and the Shirley Jackson, International Horror Guild, and Locus Awards. His writing guide Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life (Apex Publications) has been excerpted in The Writer, and he has also published two joke/reference books: Insults Every Man Should Know and Quotes Every Man Should Know (Quirk Books).
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Saturday Morning Heroes

I love TV. I always have. Since the early 1950s when Dad wanted to sleep-in on Saturday morning and I learned to turn on our very modern black and white set topped with rabbit ears, I’ve been following favorite shows. Now we have On-Demand and Netflix so we can sleep-in too, but back in the 50s millions of us spent Saturday morning glued to the tube.
     This week join guest blogger, Nathaniel Robert Winters, in a flash memoir of his Saturday morning Westerns. Look for his latest book Not Quite Koshernot quite a memoir but a unique blend of non-fictional prose, poetry and even fiction that parallels reality. Nathaniel is the author of 10 books and can be found on Amazon.com.
 

Saturday Morning Heroes

When I was an eight-year-old, my heroes appeared like clockwork every Saturday morning on the black and white, rabbit eared way-back machine. My grandfather and I occupied ourselves for three hours of Western justice:  lessons as important as any at school, church or temple.
    
Grandpa Abe, a refugee of Eastern injustice, found sanctuary in the old West. We started with the Cisco Kid—yes there was a Mexican hero on 50’s TV, but no black heroes. My elementary age mind did not deal in gray-area moral issues yet. Good and evil was black and white. The hero always won, the bad guy was captured or shot without bleeding and the girl was always saved, all in a half hour show complete with Tony the Tiger Frosted Flakes commercials.
    
Next came the Lone Ranger with his good Indian partner Tonto. Even Indians could be good guys on Saturday mornings. Long before the Beatles, my favorite tune was The William Tell Overture that ended with “High ho Silver, away.”
    
Rin Tin Tin followed the Lone Ranger and marked the start of my love affair with dogs. Before I ever had a dog, the TV German Shepard, who was a member of the Western U.S. Army, saved the day and showed me the value of having a canine best friend.
    
We moved into the twentieth century with Roy Rogers, who could drive a jeep as well as ride his horse while singing with his wife Dale Evans. He could play a guitar and a six shooter.
    
The morning ended with a modern day western pilot, Sky King, with his lovely, often imperiled, niece Penny. No worries, she would get into trouble but never was she really in jeopardy. Remember, on Saturday morning in the late 50’s all the girls were saved, all the bad guys went to jail and all my heroes would ride off into the Western sunset.
    
I so enjoyed those idyllic  black and white  shows while eating Frosted Flakes with my dad’s Ellis Island immigrant father. His reality would come soon enough, taking my genuine hero grandfather to his final sunset.
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Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

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RULES FOR COMMA USAGE

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The Guide to Grammar and Writing

 

The Guide to Grammar and Writing is sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation, a nonprofit 501 c-3 organization that supports scholarships, faculty development, and curriculum innovation. If you feel we have provided something of value and wish to show your appreciation, you can assist the College and its students with a tax-deductible contribution.

For more about giving to Capital, write to CCC Foundation, 950 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Phone (860) 906-5102 or email: jmcnamara@ccc.commnet.edu Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two. “He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base.” You may have learned that the comma before the “and” is unnecessary, which is fine if you’re in control of things. However, there are situations in which, if you don’t use this comma (especially when the list is complex or lengthy), these last two items in the list will try to glom together (like macaroni and cheese). Using a comma between all the items in a series, including the last two, avoids this problem. This last comma—the one between the word “and” and the preceding word—is often called the serial comma or the Oxford comma. In newspaper writing, incidentally, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should be omitted in academic prose.

Use a comma + a little conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) to connect two independent clauses, as in “He hit the ball well, but he ran toward third base.”

Contending that the coordinating conjunction is adequate separation, some writers will leave out the comma in a sentence with short, balanced independent clauses (such as we see in the example just given). If there is ever any doubt, however, use the comma, as it is always correct in this situation.

One of the most frequent errors in comma usage is the placement of a comma after a coordinating conjunction. We cannot say that the comma will always come before the conjunction and never after, but it would be a rare event, indeed, that we need to follow a coordinating conjunction with a comma. When speaking, we do sometimes pause after the little conjunction, but there is seldom a good reason to put a comma there.

Use a comma to set off introductory elements, as in “Running toward third base, he suddenly realized how stupid he looked.”

It is permissible to omit the comma after a brief introductory element if the omission does not result in confusion or hesitancy in reading. If there is ever any doubt, use the comma, as it is always correct.

Use a comma to set off parenthetical elements, as in “The Founders Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River, is falling down.” By “parenthetical element,” we mean a part of a sentence that can be removed without changing the essential meaning of that sentence. The parenthetical element is sometimes called “added information.” This is the most difficult rule in punctuation because it is sometimes unclear what is “added” or “parenthetical” and what is essential to the meaning of a sentence.

Appositives are almost always treated as parenthetical elements.

  • Calhoun’s ambition, to become a goalie in professional soccer, is within his reach.
  • Eleanor, his wife of thirty years, suddenly decided to open her own business.

Sometimes the appositive and the word it identifies are so closely related that the comma can be omitted, as in “His wife Eleanor suddenly decided to open her own business.” We could argue that the name “Eleanor” is not essential to the meaning of the sentence (assuming he has only one wife), and that would suggest that we can put commas both before and after the name (and that would, indeed, be correct). But “his wife” and “Eleanor” are so close that we can regard the entire phrase as one unit and leave out the commas. With the phrase turned around, however, we have a more definite parenthetical element and the commas are necessary: “Eleanor, his wife, suddenly decided to open her own business.” Consider, also, the difference between “College President Ira Rubenzahl voted to rescind the withdrawal policy” (in which we need the name “Ira Rubenzahl” or the sentence doesn’t make sense) and “Ira Rubenzahl, the college president, voted to rescind the withdrawal policy” (in which the sentence makes sense without his title, the appositive, and we treat the appositive as a parenthetical element, with a pair of commas).

As pointed out above (Rule #3), an adverbial clause that begins a sentence is set off with a comma:

·       Although Queasybreath had spent several years in Antarctica, he still bundled up warmly in the brisk autumns of Ohio.

·       Because Tashonda had learned to study by herself, she was able to pass the entrance exam.

When an adverbial clause comes later on in the sentence, however, the writer must determine if the clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence or not. A “because clause” can be particularly troublesome in this regard. In most sentences, a “because clause” is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and it will not be set off with a comma:

·       The Okies had to leave their farms in the midwest because the drought conditions had ruined their farms.

Sometimes, though, the “because clause” must be set off with a comma to avoid misreading:

·       I knew that President Nixon would resign that morning, because my sister-in-law worked in the White House and she called me with the news.

Without that comma, the sentence says that Nixon’s resignation was the fault of my sister-in-law. Nixon did not resign because my sister-in-law worked in the White House, so we set off that clause to make the meaning clearly parenthetical.

When a parenthetical element — an interjection, adverbial modifier, or even an adverbial clause — follows a coordinating conjunction used to connect two independent clauses, we do not put a comma in front of the parenthetical element.

  • The Red Sox were leading the league at the end of May, but of course, they always do well in the spring. [no comma after “but”]
  • The Yankees didn’t do so well in the early going, but frankly, everyone expects them to win the season. [no comma after “but”]
  • The Tigers spent much of the season at the bottom of the league, and even though they picked up several promising rookies, they expect to be there again next year. [no comma after “and”]

(This last piece of advice relies on the authority of William Strunk’s Elements of Style. Examples our own.)

When both a city’s name and that city’s state or country’s name are mentioned together, the state or country’s name is treated as a parenthetical element.

  • We visited Hartford, Connecticut, last summer.
  • Paris, France, is sometimes called “The City of Lights.”

When the state becomes a possessive form, this rule is no longer followed:

  • Hartford, Connecticut’s investment in the insurance industry is well known.

Also, when the state or country’s name becomes part of a compound structure, the second comma is dropped:

  • Heublein, a Hartford, Connecticut-based company, is moving to another state.

An absolute phrase is always treated as a parenthetical element, as is an interjection. An addressed person’s name is also always parenthetical. Be sure, however, that the name is that of someone actually being spoken to. A separate section on Vocatives, the various forms that a parenthetical element related to an addressed person’s name can take, is also available.

  • Their years of training now forgotten, the soldiers broke ranks.
  • Yes, it is always a matter, of course, of preparation and attitude.
  • I’m telling you, Juanita, I couldn’t be more surprised. (I told Juanita I couldn’t be more surprised. [no commas])

Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives. You could think of this as “That tall, distinguished, good looking fellow” rule (as opposed to “the little old lady”). If you can put an and or a but between the adjectives, a comma will probably belong there. For instance, you could say, “He is a tall and distinguished fellow” or “I live in a very old and run-down house.” So you would write, “He is a tall, distinguished man” and “I live in a very old, run-down house.” But you would probably not say, “She is a little and old lady,” or “I live in a little and purple house,” so commas would not appear between little and old or between little and purple.

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And what does a comma do, a comma does nothing but make easy a thing that if you like it enough is easy enough without the comma. A long complicated sentence should force itself upon you, make you know yourself knowing it and the comma, well at the most a comma is a poor period that lets you stop and take a breath but if you want to take a breath you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath. It is not like stopping altogether has something to do with going on, but taking a breath well you are always taking a breath and why emphasize one breath rather than another breath. Anyway that is the way I felt about it and I felt that about it very very strongly. And so I almost never used a comma. The longer, the more complicated the sentence the greater the number of the same kinds of words I had following one after another, the more the very more I had of them the more I felt the passionate need of their taking care of themselves by themselves and not helping them, and thereby enfeebling them by putting in a comma.
So that is the way I felt about punctuation in prose, in poetry it is a little different but more so …— Gertrude Stein
from Lectures in America

Use a comma to set off quoted elements. Because we don’t use quoted material all the time, even when writing, this is probably the most difficult rule to remember in comma usage. It is a good idea to find a page from an article that uses several quotations, photocopy that page, and keep it in front of you as a model when you’re writing. Generally, use a comma to separate quoted material from the rest of the sentence that explains or introduces the quotation:

  • Summing up this argument, Peter Coveney writes, “The purpose and strength of the romantic image of the child had been above all to establish a relation between childhood and adult consciousness.”

If an attribution of a quoted element comes in the middle of the quotation, two commas will be required. But be careful not to create a comma splice in so doing.

  • “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many things.”
  • “I should like to buy an egg, please,” she said timidly. “How do you sell them?”

Be careful not to use commas to set off quoted elements introduced by the word that or quoted elements that are embedded in a larger structure:

  • Peter Coveney writes that “[t]he purpose and strength of . . .”
  • We often say “Sorry” when we don’t really mean it.

And, instead of a comma, use a colon to set off explanatory or introductory language from a quoted element that is either very formal or long (especially if it’s longer than one sentence):

  • Peter Coveney had this to say about the nineteenth-century’s use of children
    in fiction: “The purpose and strength of . . . . “

Use commas to set off phrases that express contrast.

  • Some say the world will end in ice, not fire.
  • It was her money, not her charm or personality, that first attracted him.
  • The puppies were cute, but very messy.

(Some writers will leave out the comma that sets off a contrasting phrase beginning with but.)

Use a comma to avoid confusion. This is often a matter of consistently applying rule #3.

  • For most the year is already finished.
  • For most, the year is already finished.
  • Outside the lawn was cluttered with hundreds of broken branches.
  • Outside, the lawn was cluttered with hundreds of broken branches.
I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out. images
— Oscar Wilde

Grammar English’s Famous Rule of Punctuation: Never use only one comma between a subject and its verb. “Believing completely and positively in oneself is essential for success.” [Although readers might pause after the word “oneself,” there is no reason to put a comma there.]

Typographical Reasons: Between a city and a state [Hartford, Connecticut], a date and the year [June 15, 1997], a name and a title when the title comes after the name [Bob Downey, Professor of English], in long numbers [5,456,783 and $14,682], etc. Although you will often see a comma between a name and suffix — Bob Downey, Jr., Richard Harrison, III — this comma is no longer regarded as necessary by most copy editors, and some individuals — such as Martin Luther King Jr. — never used a comma there at all.

Note that we use a comma or a set of commas to make the year parenthetical when the date of the month is included:

  • July 4, 1776, is regarded as the birth date of American liberty.

Without the date itself, however, the comma disappears:

  • July 1776 was one of the most eventful months in our history.

In international or military format, no commas are used:

  • The Declaration of Independence was signed on 4 July 1776.

Use Commas With Caution

comma-commaAs you can see, there are many reasons for using commas, and we haven’t listed them all. Yet the biggest problem that most students have with commas is their overuse. Some essays look as though the student loaded a shotgun with commas and blasted away. Remember, too, that a pause in reading is not always a reliable reason to use a comma. Try not to use a comma unless you can apply a specific rule from this page to do so.

 

 

 

 

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English Teachers

Dear readers,

This is a guest post by my talented student, Dina Corcoran. She’s a memoirist, poet and essayist. This is her personal essay on English teachers. Okay, so there’s a bit of shameless self promotion going on! Please enjoy Dina Corcoran’s,

ENGLISH TEACHERS

Since I first looked my mother in the eye and said “Ma-ma,” many different sorts of English teachers have helped me learn to express myself.

First, of course, I had to learn to read. I remember the excitement of cracking the code during our first grade work with See Spot Run, but even so, its message seemed a little boring. Nevertheless, the whole idea of thoughts being on paper opened a world of possibilities.

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So many words. . . and each had to be spelled. “Beautiful,” for instance, was very tricky, because of all the vowels that had to be in the right order. I remember seeing it on the blackboard all week with the other five words we needed to learn. I noticed the teacher used little lines to break the words into small bits. Each time I walked by, I broke “beautiful” down my own way, into be-a-u ti-ful, making a little chant out of it. And “piece” I thought of as a piece of pie. If I could remember how to spell pie, I could do “piece.”

Soon I became aware of longer, more colorful words like “indisposed.” Mother used that one when she wrote notes to the school explaining my absences:

“Please excuse Dina’s absence yesterday. She was indisposed.”

I had to ask her what that meant. Then, handing the note to the teacher, I felt important being described with such a big word.

A wealthy family acquaintance treated my brother and me, when we were quite young, to a live play in the First Theater in Monterey, an official historic site, since it was the first theater in California. The building was old with a rickety wooden floor, and I marveled at the thought of people, a hundred years before me, filling the place just to watch actors walk and talk on a stage lit with whale-oil lamps. But I could see that this was a new way to use words: making a story that could be acted out for others.

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Somewhere along the way in grade school — maybe Mrs. Jordan’s seventh- grade class—I learned the wonderful logic of sentence diagramming. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, all had their positions in a sentence. I loved that. All good sentences could be mapped out. Now things were beginning to fall into place.

And then:

           “Let me not to the marriage of true minds

              Admit impediments. Love is not love

             Which alters when it alteration finds,

              Or bends with the remover to remove:

              O no, it is an ever-fixed mark. . . .”

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William Shakespeare. Oh my goodness. Everybody in my Sophomore English Class must memorize and recite this verse. I guess Miss Jackson values the idea of keeping someone else’s ruminations in your brain forever. What is he talking about? I feel inexperienced in these matters. With each recitation, she gets a far-away look in her eye; obviously this means something to her, but not to me. (For the rest of my life I cringe whenever this sonnet comes to mind, because I recall the difficulty of memorizing this unfamiliar arrangement of words and the boredom of hearing it over and over again.) Why does she think this is so important? Maybe she was disappointed in love. As I study her wrinkled face and older-woman mannerisms, I try to imagine her having a love life.

Later in high school, Mr. Zapelli teaches us to seek perfection in our writing. Every day he wears a striped suit and matching tie, and I’m sure he imagines himself to be a handsome guy with his hair greased straight back, Mafia style. He sits bent over at his desk, his meaty hands holding my paper as if it is a very important document, and earnestly pores over my work.

His method of helping us is unique among English teachers. Most days we write essays in class. He guides our progress by having us bring our work up to his desk where he examines every detail. (No more than three of us at a time may wait in line.) Starting with a red pen, he marks the places that need work, and we talk about the why and how of the needed correction. Then we take it back to our seat and work on it until we are ready to face him again. We hope for only blue or green marks this time. Blue ones indicate improvement, but the goal is to get the final green marks that show we’ve got it the way he wants it. This may take several visits to his desk, but once our paper has green marks at every problem spot, we can take it home for the re-write. (Mr.Zapelli was always on me for my run-on sentences; I enjoyed rambling thoughts. But today, his cautionary attitude still guides me as I write.) Each and every student is busy. Time flies; the bell sounds too soon. And when we turn in our final version, we feel pride in our work.

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By the time I am in college, my days with Mr. Zapelli bear fruit, enabling me to do well. But this teacher, young, enthusiastic, and sporting a crew cut, has new things to show me. The world of ibid and sic is before me, and somehow I master it while discovering the excitement of research in the library’s “stacks” where all sorts of old writings are kept. Usually I write about the plight of the American Indian, because I have been passionate about that ever since my childhood friendship with Red Eagle. Unearthing government documents, I learn how evil the Bureau of Indian Affairs has actually been. My passion helps me write well. At the end of the course, Mr. Carson announces with some ceremony that only one student in the whole class will receive an “A.” My face turns red in embarrassment and pride when he says I am the one.

Speaking aloud in front of people proved to be a different story. To qualify for a teaching credential it was necessary to take public speaking. I flunked it twice, because I avoided my obligation too many times. Fear got in my way. My stepfather, Jack, helped me out of that one. He suggested bringing my six-speed racing bicycle into class and “teaching” my classmates about it. He said their eyes would be on the bike, not on me, so I could relax. It worked. Not too many people knew about racing bikes at that time, and they were interested to hear how the gear shift and hand brakes operated, and why my saddle was not soft and cushy. Having lived through that speech, I was able to go on to finish the class and pass it—on the third try!

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Years later, my principal asked me to take on an English class in addition to the science classes I was teaching in the middle school. But English did not offer the excitement of Bunsen burners and chemical reactions. And besides, I liked working with Alan Rogers, the head of the Science Department. The students suspected, but never knew for sure, that Mr. Rogers and Mrs. Corcoran were an item.

The head of the English department proved to be a stickler for detail, a fussy fellow. He kept his own, private, classroom set of dictionaries locked in a closet. On the first day of the semester, he took me in there and reluctantly handed over one copy for my use. I really didn’t enjoy those two years of teaching English, but I finished with a sincere respect for the job.

Currently I am happily enrolled in Ana Manwaring’s writing class at the Napa Valley College. She oversees the fine-tuning of our work, and encourages us to use our own “voice.” We students help each other with our critiquing. The two Guys in class have helped me: Guy K., with his constant reminders to eliminate the “is” and “was” words, (real verbs sound more interesting), and Guy “Noir” who urges me to avoid the insipid stuff like my dreadful essay on Pink Geraniums.

My mother is gone now, so I cannot look her in the eye, but I still talk to her. She always loved a well-told story. I feel her curiosity as she reads over my shoulder while I try to write those, with the help of my many English teachers.

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Expect Deception

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Philadelphia, PA, May 1943

The clock struck ten o’clock that Wednesday morning. A clairvoyant, a  medium, a crystal ball reader, a seer of ghosts and a nurse with healing      hands sat around the polished, antique table in the Hamilton House   mansion library, now their conference room. The stormy weather that heralded America’s entrance into the war had finally passed. Balmy breezes crept through the opened French doors allowing exit to a flagstone   patio and extensive estate grounds. They—the Operation Delphi team—were the White House’s top-secret psychic defense against Nazi mind control. (From Expect Deception)

 Sound far-fetched? According to author, JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, there really was a top-secret U.S. military branch comprised of psychics during World War II. And I believe her because I believe in all this woo-woo stuff—I have proof.

Let me explain. In the 1980s I kept books for an environmental firm and one of the principles studied at the John F. Kennedy University at night where she researched the possibilities of mind over matter. She and her advisor had developed a tone machine that sounded when a subject thought about the sounds. She couldn’t make the machine sing—but I could. I never learned to fully control my ability, but I became proficient in remote viewing (my boss would look at something, call me and I’d tell her what it was.) She never had to call to change our appointment!

I never achieved the same levels of psychic ability as U.S. WAVE Livvy Delacourt, or perhaps I’d be working for the government instead of writing book reviews. Ainsworth certainly makes the job of psychic sound exciting, and for readers of WWII novels, she gives a riveting story of espionage and treachery set in an era of polite national determination.

A sequel to Expect Trouble, Ainsworth pits Lt. Livvy Delacourt and the Delphi team of paranormal investigators with an undercover German wizard, Deryk Fergus, who is performing regularly as a USO magician. He is involved with the Nazi group der Mumm and when he is ordered to eliminate the Philadelphia-based Watch and sabotage supply ships bound for Europe, he is certain he will be rewarded with entrée into Hitler’s inner power circle.

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After the team attends his performance at the local USO, things start to go wrong and they must investigate a baffling sickness at NAMU, the U.S. Navel Aircraft Modification Unit, then the sabotage of Dock 2 and the Liberty Ship carrying needed supplies. At the same time Fergus attacks Livvy and her superior officer, US Navy Commander Barrington Drew II. Acquainted since high school, Livvy and the Commander are reunited through the Delphi Unit and romance buds, although Livvy’s attention is on stopping Hitler’s psychic spy. The stakes are high. Not only might she lose Trey and her friends, she might lose her own life. And worse, the Nazi’s might gain the upper hand and win the war.

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Aside from Ainsworth’s unique premise, I found the spells, powders and other magical elements used in the story to be fascinating. I dog-eared the page that tells about the wall of psychic red roses Livvy’s mother (yes, it runs in the family) constructed to protect her from school bullies. Wouldn’t it be a cool trick for writers to protect themselves from all the rejections? Later, we learn some of the ingredients of the evil spells Fergus casts. It appears the author did her homework.

The attention to detail and setting is also a sign of sound research. I felt like I’d been dropped into 1943 and imbued with wartime zeal. Our country rallied behind the war effort, even as the war changed life, as Americans had known it, especially women’s lives. The era seems simpler, more innocent, but the allies faced a supreme evil and Ainsworth captures both the mores of the times and the urgency of the horror facing the world. At the book’s climax, Livvy faces the demon and the hard decisions that comes with leadership. I don’t want to give a spoiler, but I’m betting there’s another book to come.

 Expect Deception is written in a straightforward style with the feel of a cozy mystery, although it’s what I call a soft thriller. Livvy’s job is to stop evil rather than solve a mystery and while violence is included in the book, the author doesn’t graphically describe every awful action or use language that might be offensive to some readers. The language is the language of the 40s, slightly formal yet seasoned with idioms of the day. Descriptions are sufficient, but not over drawn and the setting feels authentic.

imagesI found each character has a unique personality according to his or her role in the story, and while we see Livvy, Trey and Fergus most, the rest of the team come alive in their scenes. Fergus was my favorite after Livvy. I like a villain and he fills the bill. That he was given a point of view added dimension to the plot. I also enjoyed Fergus’s niece who shows some mettle and sincere caring for her evil uncle at the end.

 Lovers of World War II stories will enjoy this book, as will folks interested in the paranormal. If you like both, this novel is for you! Give Expect Deception a try. It’s out today in all the usual places. Check out Goodreads for links to your favorite bookseller.

images-3If you like it, why not help JoAnn Smith Ainsworth with her launch? Join me at http://www.publaunch.com/campaigns/expect-deception to help make the launch of Expect Deception a success, and give JoAnn Smith Ainsworth a hearty “congratulations” on publication of a delightful sequel to the Operation Delphi Novels.

 

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Colon Alert: Something’s Coming…

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Thanks to the Grammar Diva Arlene Miller’s wonderful blog, this blog post talks about using colons, and how to write different types of lists correctly.

Source: Colon Alert: Something’s Coming…

 

 

co·lon1
ˈkōlən/
noun
noun: colon; plural noun: colons
  1. a punctuation mark (:) indicating.
    • that a writer is introducing a quotation or a list of items.
    • that a writer is separating two clauses of which the second expands or illustrates the first.
    • a statement of proportion between two numbers.
      “a ratio of 10:1”
    • the separation of hours from minutes (and minutes from seconds) in a statement of time given in numbers.
      “4:30 p.m.”
    • the number of the chapter and verse respectively in biblical references.
      “Exodus 3:2”

mid 16th century (as a term in rhetoric denoting a section of a complex sentence, or a pause before it): via Latin from Greek kōlon ‘limb, clause.’
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You Are Never Gonna Be Written

I have to reblog this wonderful poem for all my writer friends. Thank you Elan Mudrow.

Elan Mudrow

ainvsible

Well,

There’s a sliver of night

That says to me, write

However, I gotta worry

About evening’s strange plight

 ‘Cause,

Night is undependable

Unpredictable, and unreliable

It’s the “UnCola” ….it’s liable

To be too soft and pliable

Bending,

My whims and thoughts

Into creepy plots

Making words bend

Into shapes like stinky socks!!!

Curving,

Putrid verse into pockets

The stuff for silly lockets

Words that make me

Want to curse in never-ending “fuck its”. (I would say that’s stretching it a bit)

Praying,

My stanzas don’t get squashed!

Making me wanna get sloshed!

There’s gotta be a muse

Who, like me, looks for that one missing galosh……………………….. (What?)

Then

I start to feel a wee bit warm

An interesting idea begins to form

I’m attracted to its shape

A poem appears, like that! new born

Yet,

That bastard named Revision

Catches me inside his windshield wiper of collision.———…

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An Agent’s Take

Part 2  Revision for Publication

From a talk for Sisters in Crime NorCal by Elizabeth K. Kracht, Literary Agent at Kimberley Cameron and Associates May 14, 2016.

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Writing Quality:

  1. Avoid adverbs (5 only. And that’s per piece.)
  2. Avoid clichés
  3. Watch out for repetition
  4. Avoid passive voice: was/were/seem/maybe/perhaps/had been, etc.
  5. Avoid progressive verbs: verb + ing
  6. Cut : suddenly, then and words like just, very, well (and I’m not fond of ‘oh’)
  7. Avoid past tense verbs as dialog tags: she huffed, he scurried, they screamed

Voice:

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is the main character too “voice-y”? (sometimes this might look overwritten)
  2. Are your voices genre appropriate?
  3. Is voice making your character unpleasant, mean or generally un-likeable?
  4. Are the character voices distinct?
  5. Is author voice bleeding through into the characters’ voices?
  6. Is the past tense pushing the voice over the top? Eg. Huffed, shouted, stammered, screamed (see attribution)

Plot:

Is your plot believable?

Aim for a multi-dimensional plot. Exploit your characters for subplots.

Themes: (sometimes called motifs)

Add themes for layering. 3 or 4 themes should run throughout your book.   Make a list of your themes and check your chapters to be sure that 1 or more of the themes is present in each chapter.

Character:

  1. Avoid focus on characters that don’t string through the story.
  2. Be sure the main character is sympathetic.
  3. Each character has his or her personal arc.
  4. Make sure the protagonist is sufficiently challenged
  5. Is the setting or the narrator a character?
  6. Are there too many characters?
  7. Stretch character descriptions throughout the entire book, don’t bunch all the describing up at first meeting.
  8. Even characters need to be wary of clichés.

Dialog:     

Is dialog your strength?

  1. He said/she said is invisible. Use ‘said’ over other choices.
  2. Only tag if who speaks is unclear.
  3. Do not use adverbial tags: she said emphatically.
  4. Avoid common pleasantries: “Hi, Bob. How are you doing?” “Great Jack. Nice day isn’t it?” This is boring.
  5. Don’t use dialog to “download” or “dump” information.
  6. Use dialog to reveal character.
  7. Go easy on dialect and colloquialisms.
  8. Translate foreign words (with my caveat that constant translating is distracting and some foreign words and phrases should stand, especially where context will point to meaning.~AM)
  9. Use contractions.

Pacing:

Ask yourself:

  1. Is the backstory necessary?
  2. Is the dialog slowing the pace?
  3. Is there excessive description?
  4. Is the story going off-topic or on tangents?

There’s plenty more to pay attention to during the revision process and Kracht suggests:

Get editorial feedback and proofreading before submitting.

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An Agent’s Take

Part 1  Revision for Publication

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Recently I attended the monthly Sisters in Crime Northern California membership meeting where literary agent, Elizabeth K. Kracht delivered an excellent talk on how to prepare your manuscript for submission to an agent.The presentation covered the principles and conventions of good craft and appropriate mechanics, including formatting that applies, or should apply, to any written work being prepared for publication. As a developmental editor, I found her bullet points to be a checklist of what we need to look for when we set about to polish and format our work.

From the agent’s perspective, Kracht reminds us,  an agent see only up to 50 pages of our manuscripts. She says the manuscript must be “the best you can provide” and “hold the agent’s divided and distracted attention” from servicing existing clients and dealing with the huge volume of queries  she receives. Her tip? Send in work that needs only minor adjustments:

  1. Make sure your formatting is uniform
  2. Maintain structural uniformity
  3. Ensure the quality of writing is high
  4. Make sure your place and time are clear and distinct
  5. Create sympathetic characters
  6. Use appropriate pacing
  7. Use back story appropriately
  8. Make sure character voice and author voice are distinct and distinct from each other
  9. Make sure the inciting incident is clear

Kracht suggests : The Objective look

  1. Is your project structurally uniform?
  2. Do your chapters have a beginning, middle and end?
  3. Are you addressing themes in every chapter?
  4. The Three Things Rule: What three things are happening in each chapter driving the story and characters forward?
  5. Look objectively at your dialog.
  6. Get editorial feedback from an editor and/or qualified critique group.

The first hour of the presentation Kracht devoted to formatting and structure. No one wants to read, let alone publish, a sloppy manuscript! I suggest you follow these guidelines before submitting work to your critique group, writing teacher and editor, as well as contest, agents and publishers.

Formatting:  Make it Uniform

Kratch says she  doesn’t adhere to any specific style. She mentioned the Chicago Style Manual and I advise everyone should buy a copy.

You should follow the guidelines for each individual agent when submitting, but if you’re sending work to Liz, this is what she wants:

Title page

Page numbers

Double spacing

Contact info in header

12 pt font

Proper indentation (5 spaces)

Standard margins

New chapters starting on new pages

If using epistolary information, offset from the margin

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Structure:  Create a Pattern

Use uniform chapter lengths or a good, logical reason chapters are mixed long and short. TIP: Chapters in genre novels run 12-15 pages and slightly longer in literary fiction.

Present alternating narratives (POV) in a pattern

Show POV shifts uniformly (new chapter, line drops, astericks)

Show breaks within chapters uniformly

Chapter headings and sub headings used uniformly

Uniform use of epigraphs, quotes, taglines or other similar information

Sections or Parts: rethink using this technique.

Vignettes: if using vignettes, make them meaty and gripping

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Titles:  Connection to Content

1 to 3 word titles stand out. (Liz likes them best.)

Double entendres might work for you

The title ties to theme and content—Is your setting a major influence?

TECHIE TIP: Check Wordle.net for most common words. You may find words for theme and you may discover repetition. Or it’s just fun to play with.

TIP: Run an Amazon search for your title. Title’s can’t be copyrighted so you may find yours in use.

TASK: Make a list of all the themes in your book and find strong commonality to pull key words from. Your title (especially on Amazon) can be developed from most used /common keywords.

Word Count: Too Long OR Too Short= No Go

Is your word count appropriate for the genre? Google genre word counts. If you need to cut, look at:

  1.    back story
  2.   dialog tags and “sharpening” the pleasantries and dumb, mundane utterances we hear from characters
  3.    excessive description/over-writing
  4.     information dumps: less is more
  5.     build up
  6.     narration showing passage of time— you don’t need to show it.

Please come back  soon to read Part 2 of Elizabeth K. Kracht’s presentation on Revision for Publication delivered on May 14 to Sisters in Crime Norcal

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Elizabeth K Kracht

Elizabeth is currently an agent with Kimberley Cameron and Associates, works with She Writes Press, and works with private editing clients.

Elizabeth’s career in publishing took root in Puerto Rico where she completed her BA in English and worked as a copyeditor for an English-language newspaper. When she returned to the mainland she found her “vein of gold” in book publishing. She thrives on working closely with authors to build their careers.

Elizabeth’s eclectic life experience drives her interests. She appreciates writing that has depth, an introspective voice, and is thematically layered. Having lived in cities such as New York, San Francisco and San Juan, Puerto Rico, she is compelled by multicultural themes and characters and is drawn toward strong settings.

She represents both literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction, and brings to the agency experience as a former acquisitions editor, freelance publicist and writer.

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