Monthly Archives: June 2016

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.

images-1

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.

images-1

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. . . .”

images-2

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.

images

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!

images-4

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.

images-5

 

Save

1 Comment

Filed under Memoir, Students, Writing workshop Prompt

Expect Deception

           51acBK5+2EL

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.

 images-1

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.

images

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.

 

Save

Comments Off on Expect Deception

Filed under Reviews, Thrillers

Colon Alert: Something’s Coming…

images

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.’
images-2

1 Comment

Filed under Punctuation

You Are Never Gonna Be Written

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

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

images

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.

images-1

1 Comment

Filed under Agents, revision