Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z -- Zero Hour -- Meeting Deadlines

One of the benefits of having worked in the field of print journalism was that I had to learn to meet hard deadlines. I also learned that sometimes those "hard" deadlines can be negotiated under certain circumstances.

Time management has been a big subject for many self-help gurus because it is something so many of us suck at. The biggest part of managing your time is knowing how to set priorities. There is one analogy for setting priorities that is one of the best and most of you have heard. It is the one about the mayonnaise jar and the rocks, pebbles, and sand. If you don't know it, or if you need a quick refresh on the story, click here.

Whatever is looming on your schedule with a hard deadline is one of the rocks and has to come first. It is "eyes on the prize"" time. Other things in your day must be relegated to the level of pebbles or even sand. This is much easier when you are on the job and everyone around you is also on deadline.

When you are freelancing and working from home you have to be strong and take yourself in hand. Turn off the phone and wait until you take a break to check messages. Return only those calls that are CRITICAL at that moment. If your kid is out there bleeding your priorities shift. If your kid is calling you to whine that the convenience store is out of blue raspberry Slurpees, it can wait.

Don't answer the door unless it is the police or other officials. This is no time for verbal jousting with a Jehovah's Witness.

Make sure that the kids and pets are employed elsewhere if need be. I know that I often get the most done in late morning when the cat usually naps. Earlier in the morning on nice days she will repeatedly come to the door and beg me to come outside with her. While this is REALLY cute, it can be a real time suck.

Stay nourished and well-hydrated. Set yourself up with food and drink in your workspace. I try to stick only with water since caffeine makes you pee and I don't want to spend writing time in the bathroom.

The one that I am worst at is staying away from television and Facebook or Twitter while writing. I almost always have the TV on and Facebook up. If I am totally engaged with what I am writing this doesn't pose a problem. When I am struggling and any diversion will do it is a bad idea. It I am really stuck a trip to the bathroom or a short nap is more effective at getting things moving again.

 Setting deadlines for yourself and meeting them is a great exercise for a writer.  Those writers that have challenged themselves by participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) put themselves in a position of needing to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. To do this one must write more than 1,600 words a day. While it is called "national" writers around the world, not everyone makes it through and finishes because it does require the discipline of meeting your own deadlines.

There are many ways that we all meet deadlines in our daily lives, from getting to work on time in the morning and making to doctor's appointments, to getting dinner on the table before the family starves to death. Meeting writing deadlines is much the same. We learn how long it takes to do things and budget out time accordingly (see Taking Time).

Of course there will be times when circumstances will arise that will keep you from meeting your deadline. Like the proverbial getting hit by a bus. My bus last year was my mother passing away and I had to take almost a total break from writing for a month while I dealt with one of the biggest crises of my life. The editors I was working with understood completely and gave me a pass -- for a time. This wasn't going to go on forever if I wanted to continue writing for them.

One of the important things about writing deadlines is that, if there is a good reason for missing a deadline, the deadline can sometimes be renegotiated. If your article isn't going to be ready by the 4 p.m. deadline you talk to your editor to see if it can be slipped into the paper just before it gets put to bed (sent to the printer). Perhaps another day would work. There is always the possibility that they are holding the press time until another article or some bit of advertising is ready. It never hurts to ask. It does hurt to make a habit of it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y -- Yakkity-Yak

Some people talk all the time. There are those who just like to hear themselves talk as though they find themselves the wittiest and most intelligent conversationalist of all times. Letting someone else
speak would be to ruin the conversation, unless, of course, the other person was saying something flattering.

Then there are those who keep talking because they are afraid of the silence. The empty spaces in conversation might lead to something terrifying like introspection into the areas where self-doubt and insecurity live.

My stepmother is one of those people who talk all of the time. At times it has become something of a source of amusement in the family

Several years ago we were loading into the RV to go on a family trip to a dude ranch in Wyoming. I was to travel along with my father and step-mother, as were my sister and her two daughters. My step-mother was bustling about making sure that everything was packed, including my father. She kept up a running commentary as she went.

One of my nieces finally leaned over to me, "We love Grandma, but she talks SO MUCH!" I stifled a laugh while my sister, horrified, quickly shushed her eldest. Oh, if her mother had overheard that!

Once the family had gathered at the ranch in Wyoming the subject came up again. This time my sister-in-law related a story of how my stepmother had been talking to her baby son. "Hi Collin. This is your Grandma talking, Collin!" Off to the side my father said, "Yeah, get used to it!"

It should come as no surprise that the rest of the family has always been fairly reticent in comparison. Perhaps because there was nothing left to say, or perhaps because there was no room to say it.

After years of consideration I have decided that she falls into the second of the two categories that I outlined. She has not had the easiest life and talking may help her keep from reflecting on the hard times too much. Giving in to a silence that might let the past in might be just too difficult to deal with. When my father passed away she had a hard time, not just because she had loved him so much, but because the person she was used to having around to talk to was no longer there.

She has since remarried to another man who is quiet and doesn't mind letting her talk as she needs to. She is blessed in that way.

On the other hand, I have always been fairly quiet. This is largely because I grew up being jumped on for speaking my mind or for "misunderstanding" conversations.

My mother used to tell this story of an early interaction between my father and me when I was about two years old:

A number of my father's friends were over at the house, possibly a Thursday evening since that was poker night, and Dad wanted to show me off by getting me to say my name.

"Who are you?" he asked me.

"I am me," I responded gravely. Little kids are so literal.

"No, no. Who are you?" he asked again.

"I am me," I said again.

We went around and around until he was angry, I was crying, and Mom had to come in from the kitchen to negotiate detente.

For some reason he never thought of asking the question in any other way, so he kept getting the same answer. The simple fix? What is your name. Two-year-olds are not known for getting subtext.

Such was our relationship until he passed away. Such was the sort of relationship I had with many people in my life. So I learned to shut up.

One of the early interactions with my step-family had me voicing my opinion that I didn't care for the works of Mark Twain (I still don't for the most part). Instantly all three of my step-brothers ganged up on me and one called me a Commie. Chaos ensued for several minutes until my stepmother stepped in and told them to back off because I wasn't used to having brothers.

Well, it was true that I wasn't used to having brothers, but I was used to having people jump down my throat for having an opinion. Never mind opening up a discussion of why I don't like Mark Twain -- just cut me off at the knees.

(For the record, I never cared for "boy stories" so Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn never spoke to me, not to mention being forced to read them. Nothing kills the enjoyment of reading like having to read what you don't wanting and then analyzing it to death for subtext the author never intended. I have since become acquainted with other works of Twain's that I quite enjoy.)

After a number of years of therapy and a Prozac prescription I am not quite as reticent as I used to be, except for when my step-mother is talking. After all, there has to be some balance in the universe.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Xena -- Warrior Writer

I have a Halloween costume for a sorceress that I named Xena -- long before the warrior princess.
She is a seer and a wise woman, a medicine woman, wearing a scrying glass, and carrying a crystal ball and an enchanted staff. She wears her hair in a braid coronet around her head. She has become a whole character, not just a costume. I'm a writer. It's what I do.

There are armies of characters billeted in my head. There are whole worlds, some already discovered and many more yet to be discovered. Fortunately, I do not have costumes for all of them.

There is one world in which I have been spending a great deal of time. I am editing one book that takes place there and planning a second book. The place is the fictional Succotash County, Arkansas, a magical little corner of the world in my head. It is a place were the funny, strange, weird, and bizarre are in play at all times.

I don't know if I was born with all of these people in my head or if I somehow collected them along the way. I suspect the latter. Somehow they appear just when I need them. Kind of like old friends I haven't seen for awhile. I don't spend a lot of time agonizing over character development.For me they come fully developed and usually charged with plenty of attitude.

A writer friend on Facebook recently asked the question of our writing community of how we create characters. There were many different responses, from writing a page on each character to filling out worksheets. I seem to take a more intuitive approach. My response was that I "get to know them as I write." They know who they are and, like making friends,  I find out as I go along.

They seem to come in and exit on cue like actors on a stage. I do not choose how they look, they just appear in my mind. Otherwise how can I explain that my male main character looks like television chef Alton Brown? It I had been thinking it instead of feeling it he would have been likely to look more like George Clooney. To be honest, the Alton Brown look is far more real. I would like to say it was a stroke of genius, but it was more like just a stroke.

The only characters in the book based on real people are the main character (loosely based on myself), the MCs mother (loosely based on my mother), and the cat (based not-so-loosely on my cat). Everyone else is a complete denizen of my mind.

There are some associations to the outside world. Somehow Sheriff Harlan Tuttle is the cousin of a redneck, gravy-loving character that Jay Leno used to do on the Tonight Show. Who knew? These things happen.

Foxworth Memorial Park is a tribute to one of my muses, comedian Jeff Foxworthy. I also named a business for comedian Bill Engvall for the same reason. Just to be clear here, the book IS humor.

The minister's daughter is named Georgia Brown Fanning because she was born at a Harlem Globetrotter's game in Atlanta.

But I digress.

The reality of all of this is that in someways all of these people are me. Much like actors in different roles, writers take on different personas  The trick is that we do it far more often as we spend a few hours writing. Like an actor performing in a one-man show, we can cycle quickly though the characters in a scene. We may take a pause occasionally to regroup our thoughts, then we keep going.

We constantly walk around with this cast of characters in our heads. Sometimes they stop talking to us and we experience writer's block. Other times they all start talking at once and we take up drinking (just kidding).

Sometimes I think of it as having an alternate universe inside my head, or perhaps just a different dimension of this one. We are never alone. (Cue eerie music here.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

W -- Word Worries

These days it seems that we need to exercise increasing vigilance in the word choices we make. Certain words and phrases seem to have taken on offensive meanings as though they have taken on a life of their own and purposely vilified their own meanings. I am here today to argue that this has become an out-of-control and ridiculous trend.

Let me start by acknowledging that there ARE words, terms, and phrases that are offensive and should not be used. The exception to this would be the creation of a character who embodies offensive characteristics. Even then I would advise caution in how this is presented.

The recent debacle with Alaska Rep. Don Young (R) and his statement about "wetbacks" falls into this category of terms. Referring to illegal Mexican immigrants with this term IS offensive. This is because the term was born out of bigotry and meant to demean. It grew to be meant to demean anyone of Hispanic descent. This covers most racial and ethnic words that are intended as slurs.

There is a gray area for me when it comes to choosing between "Indian" and "Native American," and "Black" and "African American."

I have consciously chosen to go with the term Native American to refer to the indigenous populations of the United States and Canada even though it is a term created by the white man to re-frame any negative connotations surrounding Indian. I have chosen this even though the Native Americans themselves are not bothered by being called Indians. It has nothing to do with race or ethnicity, or any bow to political correctness. I have made this choice because there is this little, insignificant country (note sarcasm here) called India whose inhabitants are also called Indians and owned the right to the word first. I was also starting to feel like a complete idiot having to clarify by saying "India Indians" whenever I had a conversation that included this particular demographic.

Likewise, I have chosen to stick with Black rather than African American unless there is a specific need to imply African origins in what I am saying or writing. While all African Americans are Black, not all Black people are African Americans. Huh? People from islands in the Caribbean do not consider themselves African, so I defer to their wisdom. I have also heard Whoopie Goldberg speaking about her belief that she is an American, not an African American. I agree with her wholeheartedly. After all people don't walk around calling me a Scandinavian American. Since I describe my characters rather than label them when I write, this is rarely an issue. In speaking I don't usually differentiate people other than male or female, unless the conversation is specifically about race.

Political correctness has gone wild in this country. There are too many people out there too willing to be offended. It is like they are purposely working on being offended. I believe that many of the words and terms that they are being offended by are completely benign.

These additional negative nuances of meaning are in the mind of the listener. While it can be communicated with certain inflection or attitude to back up that impression, the word itself is harmless.

For me disabled people are still disabled. It is such a broad and general term that it refers to no failing on the part of the individual. It is a generalization, not a slur. This does mean that a great number of people can be clumped facelessly together. The real problem is attaching negative meaning to the word (like handicapped). We then change to a different word (disabled) to alleviate this negative connotation only to have the new word take on the negative as well. Now people are proposing calling these individuals differently-abled. The problem is not the word it is the attitude and THAT is where the true change must be made.

Likewise, the term retarded became contaminated by rude individuals to take the term and use it to insult anyone they considered to be of lesser intelligence. This was added to through the speaking the term with anger and derision. So now we use mentally handicapped or mentally challenged.

As a culture we have found some humor in this phenomenon. It has led to such jokes as short people really being vertically challenged, or people baldness or thinning hair being "follically" challenged. 

To be fair, I will turn this particular microscope on myself.

I am fat. No varnish. I have survived decades of people like me trying to skirt the issue with chubby, plump, big-boned, and other such terms to avoid being called fat and flabby. The point is that IT IS fat. The problem is that many people add a value judgement to the word that those of us who are horizontally challenged are somehow worthless and compromised beings with no redeeming qualities. We all really know that this is not true. We are intelligent, stupid, talented, ordinary, extraordinary, funny, boring, loving, hateful -- we are just like anyone else, we just happen to be fat too.

To be honest, thanks to comedian Gabriel Iglesias, I now consider myself "fluffy." The man himself his unapologetically fat and as a part of his wonderful comedy he has defined the "Six Levels of Fatness." These are Big, Healthy, Husky, Fluffy, Damn! and Oh, Hell No!

So now I consider myself fluffy. Not just fat, but a specific level of fatness. And this level is imbued with humor. I don't use this as an excuse to just give up and eat. I would love to get down to husky and work hard to stay away from damn! I am just accepting this fact about myself without allowing it to injure my self-esteem. This fact is not a personal failure. It just is.

After all, fat is just a word. Anything more is what you bring to it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Verses vs. Verses

I write poetry. A LOT of poetry. To date I have written more than 1,000 poems and have published
four poetry books for Kindle on Amazon.com. It should come as no surprise to anyone that they do not sell. Very few people read poetry and many people write it. It is a strange juxtaposition, but there you have it.

There is a bit of conflict in the world of poetry over whether it is better to write free verse or standard poetic forms. Since I write it all, I have an opinion on this. I don't get the argument. Write what works for you.

Here are some guidelines based on my personal experience and preferences:

  • I hate long poems. They tend to wander about and accomplish little, leaving me to wish that I could get that part of my life back. I don't care if you are the next Longfellow or Tennyson, edit the hell out of your work. They lived in a time when long poems were far more acceptable. Their poetry was not in competition with television, video games, and the Internet. Be concise and direct.
  • I love free verse. For many years that is all I wrote. It was my basic training in writing poetry-- like calisthenics to build my writing muscles. After I won a poetry contest with a free verse poem I started down a poetry rabbit hole that took me in diverse directions.
  • I love standard poetry forms. Obviously I didn't start out that way. After I won that first contest I joined the Poetry Society of Colorado. Every year they sponsored a large number of contests on a variety of subjects and/or forms. This caused me to challenge myself to start writing more of the forms I knew and learn those that I did not.
  • Forcing myself out of my comfort zone to work in unfamiliar ways and pushing to write them well enough to win contests was some of the best writing training I could have found -- not just for poetry but for everything. I learned to say what I meant concisely, to fit size limitations and to stay completely on topic. I learned to edit heavily. I learned that, given enough time and effort, I could write anything.
  • I discovered new things about myself through writing poetry this way -- that I have a talent for writing cowboy poetry, that the best poem I ever wrote was in a very difficult form so facing the difficult engendered excellence, and that I am WAY more competitive than I ever thought I was.
  • I love words. I love the way they fit together and the way they can ebb and flow. I love the way I can use them to reach into the hearts souls of the people around me. Learn to play with them fitting and refitting them. Make lists of words that go together. Make a list of colors and remember to reach as far as you can and add amber and amethyst and the like to your list.
  • Don't be obtuse. Poetry is not meant to be vague and loaded with mysterious meanings that would take a college professor to interpret. Much of the poetry that seems that way was written at different times in history when meanings and metaphors differed from what we know today.
  • Push yourself to try new things. Dabble in Haiku. Play with a Limerick. Try a Senyru, a Tanka, or a Sonnet. 
  • Learn to recognize when you are over-writing. You can't put in every detail, but you can brig the reader to the point where they will fill in the details tor themselves. It is okay if they fill it in wrong. It is their half of the reader/writer partnership. I wrote a poem (free verse)  about my father leaving me when I was a child and likening the shock to losing my innocence. The finished poem sounds like it is about being raped. I have never changed a word. It works as is. I learned that when I was having trouble writing I was usually over writing. I would step back, find the core of the subject, and start again. The results were usually spot on. This works with prose as well.
  • Have passion for what you are writing.
  • Never give up. Never give in.
Oh, and as to whether you should write free verse or traditional forms, it doesn't matter. Just do what works for you. And keep an open mind about trying new things. It will make you a better writer.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U -- Uncensored

A lot of writer's talk about learning to turn off their internal editors so that they can write freely
without that voice in their heads telling them to go back and rewrite that last sentence, or to rethink that last paragraph. The internal editor interrupts the flow of the proper act of writing.

Just as important as turning off the internal editor is turning off the internal censor. This is the voice that stops you in your tracks by reminding you that someone out there may judge you unfairly by what you have written. It is like being shy about your characters having sex or having to pee in the woods. The censor is the voice that creates unnecessary embarrassment.

This doesn't mean that you have to be explicit about every little thing. That can end up being more tedious than offensive, and is a far more heinous crime in the world of literature. Tedium is tolerated by very few people.

You can lead people up to the sex, give them a glimpse, and then discreetly close the door. When they need to pee in the woods they can step behind a tree.

The point is that we all need to pee in the woods once in while. So incorporate it into your story. Let the urine flow. Let it knock the bark off the tree if need be. Let the reader hear the sound of it hitting the scrub brush. Let this identify the zip up. It will not only make your characters more real, but your story will be richer overall. This is the sort of detail of which life is made.

Don't worry about what mom and dad may think of the subject. Neither of them is the writer. They'll learn to live with it. If not, well, then that's their problem.

I do give my inner censor a little more free rein when it comes to swearing. I will use it only when it is germane to the character. This is because I find that many people who use foul language regularly either have poor language skills or are trying to impress or shock the world with it (or both). So I save it for a character tag to fill out particular personalities.

The main place I have had to learn to silence the censor is when dealing with difficult emotions and things that poke around difficult memories for me. The scenes where I have to strip myself emotionally bare in front of the entire world and stand there unabashed in all of my inner nakedness are always the most difficult. I want to run and hide. The inner censor is hollering at me.

That is exactly when I need to stand my ground. That is when my writing really becomes real. That is when I fly.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T -- Taking Time

A lot of people ask me how on earth I find time to write. The answer is simple but not easy: I make it a major priority in my life.

I always hear about those martyrs who stay up later or get up earlier to make time. I too fond of sleep for that. Especially since getting plenty of sleep is one of the keys to creativity. I have a very active dream life, so that gives me a great deal of fodder and inspiration for my writing.

At my last job (with approval from the boss) I would stay after work each evening and write for an hour or two before going home. This part was made easier by not having a husband or children, though the  cat was often ticked off by this habit.

In my home the dishes may go undone for a bit, the trash have to wait an extra day before going out, the sheets don't get changed quite as often as I would like, the litter box can require a major excavation. I have a minimum of houseplants because they will die of neglect. When I cook I try to make enough for several meals. They are little bits of time here and there, but it adds up. My home is never going to win any sort of House Beautiful award.

Perhaps the biggest sacrifice is that I don't get to read nearly as much as I would like. The pile of books I have bought is stacked up on the dresser next to the bed. I am approaching critical mass and the risk of avalanche. The carnage could be heavy if the cat and I are nearby. For now reading is a multitasking event combined with the call of nature.

This all is a tall order since I have really strong hoarding tendencies that I inherited from my mother. I often clean with the hoarding television shows are on so that I can remind myself what I must always  guard against. My sacrifices must be tempered by the reality that I still exist in this world as well as the ones I write about. Living in this world does require a certain amount of maintenance.

Writing is as important as breathing to me and I'm not out to hold my breath. I'm not on this earth to be a literary asthmatic either. I write because I must. It is my calling from God. These things require sacrifice.You don't "find" time. You do without other things in life. I don't go to many movies. I don't eat out a lot. To relax I garden where can work out my writing problems as I plant, water or weed. Most of my closest friends are writers so that they know I may disappear for days at a time.

If I could get my hands on Hermione's Time Turner I would.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S -- Sisters and the Surprise Stephanie

I started out as a very lonely only child, especially after my parents split up when I was seven. For both parents I ended up being a piece of luggage that they just dragged behind them. I found my mother's life more interesting since she was into art, theater, and music. With my dad I usually found myself wandering after him at the golf course or being baffled by sports on television.

One summer when I was twelve my mother was the make-up director for a play at Nomads, the local amateur theater, The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch. I was used to hanging out around the theater and had spent many hours doing my homework sitting under racks of costumes or at the make-up counters. I don't remember much about this particular play except for one thing. As I was watching the play in dress-rehearsal sitting in the seats I was taken with the young woman playing the part of the preacher's wife.

Every time someone started calling Sneaky Fitch a son of a . . . the preacher's wife would interrupt with "prairie dog" to keep the dialog clean. This was the early 70s and even the toilet flush sound had not even made it onto television quite yet. She stuck in my mind so clearly. I liked her so much.

I didn't see her again until the following April when I walked into the church with my dad as he married my stepmother and the young woman was suddenly my sister.

Betty is five years older than me and every bit of worth that liking that I sensed in her from that first moment she came anonymously to my attention. Decades later I still see her as a wonderful woman and a marvelous mother. I am proud that she is my sister.

The odd thing is that through all of these years I kept having a strange belief that I had a real sister out in the world somewhere. I puzzled over this one for a long, long time. I was sure that my parents wouldn't have given up any other child that they would have had. They were both fairly straight-laced people, even though Mum was a bit of a free spirit. I just couldn't figure out where this feeling was coming from.

Then one day, shortly after my 47th birthday, I had stopped by my mother's house for some reason I no longer remember. In a flat voice she started telling me a story from a time in her early 20s. I had known about this time in her life, but not this particular sequence of events in which she had been out with friends and one of the young men had offered to drive her home. She reluctantly agreed even though she didn't know him very well.

Ultimately he raped her and she ended up pregnant. She interrupted her college career to go live in a home for unwed mothers in St. Paul and that spring she gave birth to a baby girl at Minneapolis  General Hospital -- my real sister. Though she knew that she was giving the baby up for adoption, Mum named her Stephanie.

I was floored. My feelings that I had a sister out there had been real, not my imagination. Not only that, Mum had not led the placid, uneventful, Midwest life that I had always believed. She was suddenly a real person, not some mythical creature. Where my life had always seemed to suck so much, hers had always seemed so textbook. Now I knew the truth. She was just as human.

More importantly, I have a sister! No longer an only child. Not only that I was not crazy for having searched faces around me looking for a sister I supposedly did not have.

Mum swore me to secrecy, still embarrassed by the incident. She also did not want my to search for Stephanie. Now that Mum has passed away I want to find Stephanie so badly. I have made a few internet forays to see what I can find, but have come up empty so far.

Stephanie would be in her early 60s now. I would like to meet her, though I wouldn't expect for her to suddenly become a part of my family at this late date. I just want to look into the face of what might have been, and tell her about the woman her birth mother was and how hard it was for Mum to give her up.

Stephanie Scott Dawson, where are you?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R -- Reality Review

One of the first pieces of advice every writer receives is to "write what you know." This can be extremely frustrating advice as you sit an ponder what it is you actually know and how you turn that into writing that someone would actually want to read.

The first thing to understand is to not to take this advice too literally. J.K. Rowling was not actually a part of a magical wizarding world. Stephenie Meyer is not a vampire. Suzanne Collins did not survive The Hunger Games. Tolkien did not live in Middle Earth. These authors still wrote what they knew.

They took what they understood about human nature and human behavior and created realistic characters and placed them into situations that could plausibly happen in the worlds they created. Collins took what she understood about the need of some sections of human society to subjugate others to demonstrate their inflated sense of importance thus creating a dystopian society in which something like The Hunger Games could flourish. Basing the games on an extreme version of today's reality television shows added a strong sense of reality to the tale. She then placed characters that most people can identify with into the situation.

Realistic characters come from creating people like us, complex combinations of heroism and flaws, happiness and sadness, and hot mess a good share of the time. We identify with these characters because they aren't perfect. Harry Potter would not have been the sympathetic character he was if he had not lost his parents as a baby and been raised in a Muggle household where he was treated unfairly. Frodo Baggins would not have been a sympathetic character if he hadn't been the reluctant hero facing his fears at every turn. These characteristics exist in all of us, both hero and villain.

Last year my mother read the first draft of my first novel before she passed away. She hugged the draft the her chest as she told me how much she loved the book, especially how realistic the characters were.

To put this in perspective, the book is about a small community in Arkansas where strange and often paranormal things happen almost daily. The characters take all of these things in their stride as though these things were completely normal. The characters are not perfect, some are deeply flawed.

I have never been to Arkansas, but at the time I started the book I was on the phone everyday for my day job talking with people in Arkansas. So I got to know the people. I love every one of my characters. They are funny but I do not make fun of them. The funny arises from being human in human situations.

I based the main character loosely on myself, so that I knew. I based my main character's mother on my mother. The other characters were people that took up residence in my head and won't leave. Most of them are rednecks of whom Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy would be proud.

My mother sure was. She was especially proud of how real it is, even though one of the characters gets abducted by aliens and meets Elvis long after he died.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q -- Question Quandry

One of the hardest part of working as a journalist for me what shutting off my parents in my head telling me not to be asking questions and "prying" into other people's lives. When you are a journalist you need to be nosy and you need to ask those questions that aren't supposed to be asked if you are being polite.

Learning to ask the questions took some time. I did not study a lot of journalism in school,, so I didn't come by it under the tutelage of others. While I have been writing for most of my life, I wasn't a journalist and that hadn't really ever been a part of the plan. Through a series of events I ended up working at a local newspaper in the marketing department. After several months I was going to be laid off and got picked up by the editorial department instead as the calendar editor instead. This meant that I put together the daily calendar of events to be published each day.

The newspaper is one that caters largely to the students of the University of Colorado and so during

Alberta Falls by Jonathan Machen
the summer months they would lay off much of the staff and reduce to publishing just twice a week. I spent much of my time working alone in the bull pen with stacks of press releases. I noticed one press release about the show of a local artist. He was my neighbor. I took all the courage I could muster and went into the office of the editor-in-chief and asked if I could review the show for the paper. Astoundingly, he agreed.

Suddenly I was working as a part-time freelance journalist. Fortunately my first few victims were people I knew, so they were patient with my stumbling through some of my questions. Also fortunately, I planned many of my questions ahead of time rather than trying to just "pants" it.

I found that I loved writing articles as much as fiction and poetry because I just truly love writing. The questions came. I learned that people really didn't mind them the way my parents had taught me they would. Perhaps I had taken them more seriously than I should have.

I also learned to ask for the opportunities I wanted, not just hoping that they would turn up. During this time the paper also needed columnists and I decided that I wanted to write a humor column. Once again I went to talk with the editor and he asked me to submit three samples of the column. Next thing I knew I was also a columnist.

Since I didn't have a regular beat with the newspaper I always had to ask the questions to get approval for each article I wrote. Some of these ended up being some of the most memorable moments of my life.

I was able to interview my old junior high school English teacher, Frank Reno, about his book on the historical King Arthur that he had spent years researching and writing. Not only had he been a favorite teacher, he had also been a huge mentor to me with my writing. I had spent many after-school hours in his classroom with him reading the stuff I was writing at home (and him trying not to die laughing over it). He always encouraged me to keep writing.

The most important question I got to ask him -- "Did you ever think that we would be here together again like this?" That is, him with the published book and me interviewing him about it for the paper. It was a very satisfying moment for both of us.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P -- Pop's Personality

My father was a good man, for the most part. I want to say that right up front. Because some of what I am going to say may make it seem otherwise. Like so many of us, he was among the walking wounded. That, in turn, caused him to occasionally wound others.

He grew up in a large, poor family. His father was a barber who suffered from tuberculosis, so his father was often away in a sanitarium for treatment. When he was home he was not always the nicest man. Dad raised himself up out of this to go on to college to get a Master's Degree and become a teacher. He had really wanted to become an engineer but after going though the Depression and World War II he thought he would go into something more secure. So he became a teacher. He taught shop for many years and added some math classes later in his career.

This was the baggage he brought with him into his first marriage and the life of his child. He was often mentally abusive and occasionally physically abusive. I won't go into detail, but by the time my mother divorced him I was probably one of the only children in history to not want their parents to get back together. Life had been truly horrible at times.

Our relationship that had once been so solid began to degrade as he slowly transformed from being a dad to being a father. I became an object of constant criticism which created feelings that I was a total failure. I was mystified by the disappearance of my daddy. It was like part of him had died.

After a few years he met another woman and he remarried. My stepmother made me miserable, but made him happy. He also finally had the larger family that he had always wanted.

My mother was the first to admit that she was not the right woman for Dad, but that my stepmother was, and she was happy for him. Much the same way, I was not the right child for him, but his step-children were.

It was like he had two different personalities. One for me and Mum, and another for his new family. We were vilified and they were beatified. From the first I was clearly ostracized from my step-family. The other kids were included in the honeymoon. I was not. They had Christmas together and I was tacked on to the end. I was told not to get them anything for Christmas (I did anyway). I never called him Pop. That was the monicker that my step-siblings gave him to differentiate between him and their real father.

My stepmother was very much like my father and bullied me as much as he did. She was not above bullying her own children as well, but most of that was saved for me, and for one of her kids who wasn't as mainstream as the others.

There were people over the years who asked me why I didn't just abandon my father (and stepmother) altogether. One was that I did love my dad. Before he changed into the stiff father, he had been a wonderful daddy at least often enough for us to have really created a relationship. The other part is that neither of them are actually bad person and somewhere underneath the bullying they meant well. They both just really sucked at showing that they wanted something better for me. They tended to believe in the stick, not the carrot. When they weren't seeing the results they wanted they would just lean harder on the stick.

Dad did not want me to become a writer and spent years trying to shove me onto a more "secure" path. In other words, he wanted me to make the same mistake he had made in not becoming an engineer. For some reason he seemed to think that I was totally focused on becoming famous rather than doing what I loved. For years I said that the minute my writing came with a check attached then he would be fine with it. When I began work for a local newspaper, my prediction became true. However, his pride in this came to me by word of mouth. Heaven forbid that he ever give me a compliment or show pride in me to my face.

When my father passed away in 1999 I cried buckets and I have felt a little derailed ever since. I miss the old man. Let's face it, there a few families that aren't screwed up on some level. It's part of being a family and living in such close emotional proximity. When you throw a step family into that you are just adding fuel to the fire.

I still have issues with being bullied by my stepmother, but I love my step siblings dearly. They are a wonderful bunch and so are their families. I sometimes think of her as the price I pay to get to have the rest of them. That and some serious character-building challenges.

I'm just glad that Dad found the right woman for him and that they were happy with each other. And that I didn't have to live with the two of them all that much. After all, I'm enough of a character as it is.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O -- Olson Oddities

Odd things happen to me. It is just a fact of life, and a wonderful one at that -- for a writer or a
comedian anyway.

I had my first out-of-body experience when I was just five years old. I had a fairly severe case of the measles. So much so that my parents had me in their bed. My fever was high enough that I began to bleed from the nose profusely. Lying on my back I began to choke to death on the stuff. I remember watching this happening from across the room. I didn't question what was happening. I was young enough that everything was still new, so this was just another new thing.

I think that this experience set me on a track to be aware of things and not try to explain them away as imagination or coincidence.

By the time I was through college I had found that I could go out of body at will during meditation. How could I be so sure that this was not just imagination? Several years later I was hanging out with the members of a group of people who were followers of a spiritual leader who called himself Rama. They had been taught to meditate with their eyes open so that they could see things.

One evening I joined them in a meditation. I still meditated with my eyes closed, so off I went. I chose to go out of body, but did not stay there. When the meditation ended I opened my eyes and found the young woman sitting next to me looking at me.

"I saw you go," she said. She then told me exactly what I had done out of body. Exactly. If had had any lingering doubts as to the reality of my out-of-body journeys, they were banished forever by the young woman I had met only an hour or so before.

When I was a child I would occasionally have these very intense and real dreams. They were so real that I was certain that I was actually somewhere else. I remember coming back through these dreams, across a border of some sort. I remember because I tried to bring physical objects back with me and they could not make it through this "wall" with me. I was particularly heartbroken when I couldn't bring back a kitten I had been playing with.

When I was a teen my mother took me to see a psychic who, not knowing this story, said that I was a "dream-walker," and that I would travel while I slept. I found this an interesting thing, but didn't know what that would mean for me.

Then one night after I was grown and living on my own I went to bed early feeling strangely tired. I fell asleep immediately and began to dream that I was in a small airplane not far from the Air Force Academy. The plane was in distress and we were about to crash. It was just me and the pilot.  We came down in a snowy field. I was lying in the wreckage watching as the pilot got up and moving. I wanted to urge him to go and get help, not to worry about me, because I knew I would die, but I could not speak.

In the middle of all of this I woke up and went to the bathroom, muttering to myself that there had been a plane crash near the Academy. The dream did not stop while I was awake and it continued when I went back to sleep.

The next morning I got up and turned on the news while I was getting dressed. They teased what was coming up on the news saying something about a plane crash near the Academy. I went cold. "And the pilot survived and the passenger died," I said to the television that was then showing a commercial. I sat down on the couch to wait for the story. Sure enough, they reported the story of my dream, detail for detail. I had dreamed it while it had happened. That was when I remembered the words of the psychic.

So seeing a UFO when I took the trash out one night was par for the course by then. And I had always had a feeling that I would be one of those people who found a snake in the house. So one night a python turned up in my bathtub. One Christmas the police chased a guy who had just robbed a nearby gas station through my front yard and tackled him to the ground in a neighbor's yard. When I was a kid working as a hospital volunteer I got to meet a guy who was out walking his pet lion.

Yup, it is one Odd life for this Olson and it all stands to make my writing that much richer.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nuts, Neighbors, and NaNoWriMo

You don't have to be crazy, but it certainly helps. Actually, I highly recommend it. Being nuts, even a little bit gives you a great resource of human experience to draw from. Belonging to several writing groups on Facebook has led me to the conclusion that writer's do tend to be nuts. That could help explain why writer's are so commonly alcoholics and drug addicts. The rest of the world is only now coming around to accepting nuts as normal.

In fact, it has become something to which one aspires in certain sectors. At least that is the way it appears when I look at some of the kids I grew up with. Like Jello Biafra, punk rocker and spoken word artist. He is definitely not your average, sane person. Nor did he ever aspire to be. Which is probably why I always liked him.

Then there is Jane Shepard. She is an amazing film maker and writer, and is best known for having written the Showtime movie "Freak City," for which she was nominated for an award. Jane and I first got to know each other in the ninth grade when we were both cast in the school play, Sunrise at Campobello. She was FDR's wife and I was his secretary (later rumored to have also been his mistress). Jane is wild, freaky, and fun -- in other words, nuts.

Rick Reilly, former Sports Illustrated columnist and currently with ESPN, is pretty certifiable as well. He is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Eliza Cross has written numerous books and articles. I actually befriended her in church camp before we ended up in high school together. By then she was on the cheerleader track while I was on the sci fi geek track so we didn't really see each other much. Adam Eisenberg was among my geek tribe and has since gone on to be a Seattle judge. His original goals had included being in the sci fi field, writing articles and scripts which he did for a short time in Los Angeles. That judge thing was apparently an aberration because he has gone on to write a book about police women. 

Then there are the writers in my neighborhood, in my neighborhood, in my neighborhood. Oh, there are writers in my neighborhood. They're the people that you meet as you're walking down the street -- they're the people the you meet each day. Please excuse the Sesame Street moment. It is part of an earworm compliments of Facebook.

But I digress.  My next door neighbor is also a writer. Of course she is someone that many would consider nuts. In my city she is fairy "normal" but that is merely contextual. Aside from writing she is a professional astrologer who also does shamanic work and is studying to be a homeopath. She has self-published several volumes and runs writing support group for women. She has led an incredible life, which has includes time spent raising two of her children while living on an old blue school bus back in "hippier" days.

Then there are my Nano friends -- they are the craziest of the lot. This probably stems from the fact that we all took on the NaNoWriMo challenge and most continue to do so. November is National Novel Writing Month and so we all attempt (and most succeed) in writing a 50,000 word novel in that month. It is a wild and intense experience that we share through several Facebook pages. With each other we let down our guard and all the craziness can come out. The newbies are the ones who usually put out the tentative posts that start "Does anyone else. . ." This usually leads to a brisk discussion of how many shades of crazy we all are.

There is even one thread, more than a year old, that has become dedicated to letting out the weird. We rarely discuss writing on it, but we will discuss food as though we were all starving to death. Then there are the inevitable comments about burping and farting. We complain about family, compare pets, and just get to know each other through mindless chit chat. It is all a great way to keep stirring up the mental compost and keep the ideas coming and our writing fresh.

So, do you need to be nuts to be a writer. No, of course not -- unless you want to be successful and have fun. And it beats the hell out of that alcoholic path.

Monday, April 15, 2013

M -- My Mother

As with most people, my mother was a huge part of my life. She passed away last summer from a hemorrhagic stroke. She was still living alone at the age of 84 and it was just lucky that I found her that morning, collapsed on the bathroom floor. She was still alive but blood was coming from her mouth and I could hear the death rattle. I immediately called 911 and the ambulance was there very quickly. Because of her small apartment they had to load her onto a sheet and carry her out.

By the time I caught up with her at the hospital she was on life support. After a quick chat with the ER doctor I had them remove the life support. Mum and I had had the end-of-life talk and so I knew her wishes. The hospital chaplain called our minister. The minister arrived shortly after Mum passed. He was clearly shaken by her loss. We had a short prayer over her, I told the hospital who would be handling her remains, and a friend took me to lunch to make sure I would eat.

The next few weeks were a blur as I had to pack up and get moved out of her apartment, fill out all sorts of paperwork, and plan the memorial service. The day after the memorial service two friends and I took her ashes into the mountains and set her free in her favorite mountain valley when it was at the peak of the aspen trees autumn gold.

Mum and I had had a sometimes tumultuous relationship, but we ultimately became very close as both mother and daughter and as friends.

The last photo of Mum as I was explaining why my camera did not need film.
She, too, had dreamed of being a writer. She never pushed these dreams on me -- for the most part. I had made my own choice to become a writer without knowing that she had wanted to write. I eventually discovered a stash of books that she had kept from a writing correspondence course she had once taken. While she supported my desire to write, my father did his best to tear it down. Small wonder they ended up divorced.

Over the years Mum became my biggest fan. At one point she absolutely insisted that I enter a poetry contest. I won first place. That was the beginning of my winning many, many poetry awards and pushing myself to learn how to write more poetry forms, from Senyru to Tanka, and Sonnets to Villanelles. Mum also wrote poetry and won numerous awards as well.

Last year, just a few months before she passed, I gave her a copy of the first draft of my first novel. She was so excited by the volume and loved it. I still have to live up to Mum's final request of me -- to make sure the book gets published.

I'm working on it, Mummy! I promised you and I will keep that promise.

There is one other book I will be working on for her. She passed away in the midst of writing a book about growing up during the Great Depression. I want to take what she has written and complete it for her as a thank you for passing the torch of the writing dream to me.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L -- Laurie's Loves

There are things in my life that I truly love and am passionate about. Most people do. Those who say they don't are probably in denial. So here are some of the things I love in life:

My hometown of Boulder, Colorado, is a beautiful city nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It is a place of great beauty and great diversity. Thoughts and ideas flow fairly freely here. It was once a Mecca for hippies as well as the intellectual elite. It has been home to the likes of Allan Ginsberg and Jello Biafra, and Rick Reilly among
others (I went to school with the latter two). I remember sitting on the playground in grade school, looking up at the Flatirons and wonder how I got so lucky as to have been born into this place.

My cat, Naomi, the current darling of my life. is a quirky and lovable little character. When she came to live with me seven years ago she was an unhappy soul. Whoever had owned her before had played with her too hard and teased her too much. On top of that she had been declawed, leaving her feeling even more vulnerable to such attentions. When I first brought her home she would attack me on a daily basis. Just setting my hand down too close to her would set her
off. You might think that without claws she couldn't do much damage, but she was able to bite of blood with great effect. Most people would give up on such an animal, but when I brought her home it was for good. I kept working with her, making sure that all of my approaches to her were consistent. I resisted any impulses to tease her, even very gently, because I knew she would not take it well. She is now a happy cat, rarely attacks unless I forget myself and touch her belly, likes being pet. We love each other like crazy.

My home and garden. I have a tiny mobile home with a large garden. I live in what is probably the lowest cost place in Boulder. It is tiny, but it is all mine. I love having no other roommate than the cat. I
have lived here for more than 30 years and have slowly built out a sizable garden. People often stop when they see me out there to tell them how much they like my garden. One of my neighbors insists that I am raising fairies here. I don't know about that, but I love having my own supply of strawberries and raspberries each summer, as well as whatever veggies I choose to raise. If I don't spend enough time out there I can count on Naomi to come to the door to beg me to come outside with her.

My car is so old that she is almost a classic but she is just wonderful. Her name is Zsazsa. I adopted her almost 14 years ago after her predecessor committed suicide by throwing itself on a Mustang. That car had no real personality and Zsazsa has tons of it.  I'm just glad that this Zsazsa never even tried to slap a police officer.

I love all the old friends I have been able to reconnect with because of Facebook. They are a wonderful group. Some of us even get together in person once in a while. A couple of these wonderful ladies even came and helped me clean out my mother's apartment last year after she passed away. I love that during that difficult time they helped me keep my laughter.

I love writing. By now people are really getting to know that about me. I decided to become a writer when I was about seven years old. One of my poems was published in the PTA newsletter back then. So I have been working toward that goal ever since. It has never been easy, but it has always been rewarding. I have written just about everything, from magazine fillers to newsletters, and print news articles to professional blogs. My first book is in the process of being edited for publication.

The hardest thing of all in my life has been learning to love myself. I come from a family that was more critical than loving and accepting. It has taken a long time to build up enough self-esteem to feel worthy of having accomplishments such as a home, garden, cat, car, and career. I spent a lot of years convinced I was a failure in ANYTHING, no matter how small, went wrong. Learning to really believe that shit happens and we just have to deal with it as best we can and turn it into fertilizer at the first opportunity. Several people in my life and on my last job were instrumental on helping me get here.

I also love those who come about to read my words. Thank you for your patronage. Without you I would still be a writer, but missing the joy that comes with being able to share what I love with others. Bless you all.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Junk Journaling

Most people who journal are not looking at it with an eye toward publishing the journal at any point. It is unlikely that they would even be willing to share it with their closest friends. It is not because we pour out our deepest, darkest secrets there (though we sometimes do), it is because a large part of what we put in a journal is just plain junk. And that's the way it should be.

Natalie Goldberg referred to journaling as a way to turn the compost of the mind. As writers we need to keep our gray matter fertile and journaling helps take all those old scraps of thoughts and allows them to decay together into a new medium to grow fresh ideas.

So when you are journaling, let it all out -- the good, the bad, the stuff that gets in the way of your writing thoughts. Write the crap about that how hot the new produce manager is at the grocery store. When I go back and look at what I journaled years ago it is boring as hell. If I'm going to be boring while writing, my journals are the place to do that. Better there than published for the world to see.

A journal is where I can plagiarize, play with different styles, let my imagination run wild, and dream the weird dreams. A journal is where I can practice being me on paper so that I can strip myself emotionally bare for publication when I need to. In some cases, a journal is where I play with story ideas and make notes for future projects.

Mostly, if I try too hard to journal, I end up just doing a litany of my day. It can be enough to put a caffeine addict into a coma. I tend to journal mostly when I am in a relationship, about to get into a relationship, or getting out of a relationship. All in all, nearly as boring. So I journal less and less often the older I get. I take more of that and put it straight into poems and stories.

Anyway, these days if I choose to journal, I go for the compost. My mind is filled with a whole lot of fertilizer as it is.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I -- Imagination Inspires Invention

I had a teacher in high school who said that science fiction always precedes science. Always. What it boils down to is that the idea precedes the product. As writers we produce creative ideas by the ton. That doesn't mean that all of them are going to fly, but there is a chance that one will stick in the craw of the right scientist or inventor somewhere along the line.

For example, the Great Bird of the Galaxy, Gene Roddenberry, gave us the original Star Trek television series and within that the small, handheld communicator. Within 30 years we had them and called them and called them cell phones. In less than 50 years we have rocketed past mere communication devices and added music, videos, games, maps, Internet, books, and, well, we seem to be hot on the trail of fitting the entire bridge into a handheld device.

If H.G. Wells had not sent a man to the moon, would someone have become obsessed with actually doing it? If he hadn't created a time machine, would people still be trying to do it today?

The other half of this formula is believing that the impossible can be achieved. Many years ago I was working at IBM. A software engineer I worked with told me that personal computers couldn't go any further than where they had gone in the mid 1980s. This was because of the problem with the processor overheating. I could still see the future though and seriously doubted his negativity.

In case you hadn't noticed, we have gone far beyond those old dinosaur computers. So what happened? Just a little thing called superconductivity. Experiments in attempts to reach absolute zero achieved surprising results that led to technology solving the problem with the computers of the day.

Many writers also have a background in science. Kathy Reichs actually is a forensic anthropologist. Michael Crichton studied medicine and science at Harvard. Arthur C. Clarke was an inventor who won an award for creating a satellite communication system in the 1960s. Isaac Asimov was a professor of biochemistry.

The thought processes between writers and scientists seem to have a lot in common. We are the people who ask "what if?" and then spend time figuring out how that would work. We just have different levels of bringing these ideas to fruition.

As writers we are always creating -- even the future.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F -- Failure, Foundering, and Foibles

A fellow writer recently posted on Facebook that her main character in her work in progress is a "hot mess." Indeed the list of qualities she provided did speak to someone who had many faults. She wanted to know if she should take some time to add some likable traits to the character. The answer: maybe.

Chances are that the character has likable traits already or she wouldn't like the character enough to make the character her protagonist. On some level or another we are all hot messes. Another writer had quickly responded "Sounds like me."

The bigger problem would be if the character had no faults. Everyone has faults -- loads of them. Just as we all have many redeeming qualities. Your character needs to have failures and foibles to make them more real. The reader wants to be able to identify with the character and they often identify best with the imperfections. A character without flaws is unbelievable. Moreover, a character without flaws don't end up in the situations that make a story.

In fact it is often the flaws that make the character endearing. Jane Austen's Emma is quite a flawed character -- charging through life matchmaking everyone around her and believing herself impervious to love. Austen herself wrote that Emma would be a character that no one but the author would much like. Emma, spoiled and stubborn, is completely blind to the dangers of meddling in the lives around her. At one turn after another she falters and fails until ultimately she realizes that through all of this she has been trying to marry off the man whom she loves deeply.

Without all of her failings and foundering there would have been no story about Emma. She would have been a sensible girl who let her friends handle their own affairs and recognize her own love immediately and settled down to a boring (to us) life of raising children and planning dinner parties.

My beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder turned her own life events into one of the most famous series of books ever written. This would be a tempting scenario to paint yourself in the best and most perfect light possible. Instead she readily admitted to regularly being a naughty child with unkind thoughts and a strong jealousy of her sister Mary. We are easily drawn into liking Laura because she shows weaknesses that we all face at one time or another. When she gets sent home from school she had been bad, but she had based her actions on the defense of her sister, Carrie. She is confused and sometimes embarrassed over falling in love. She IS us.

So ask not if your character is too bad. Ask if that character is bad enough.

Friday, April 5, 2013

E -- Evolution and Etymology

I believe in evolution. Now, I'm not going to argue about being descended from apes, but we do not
live in stasis. We and all of the things around us are in a constant state of change. That is a good thing. Otherwise we might still be wearing togas and speaking Hebrew.  We wouldn't have such delights in life as corn on the cob and seedless watermelon. We would still be cooking over open fires. Not only that, we would still be walking because no one would have thought to hop on a horse.

The English language is forever evolving. If it didn't we would be speaking in thees and thous, and wishing a pox upon one another when vexed. We would be going hither and anon. We would wander in the gloaming.

Words, like clothing, go in and out of style. Back in the early 20th century things went from being "bully" to being the bees knees or the cat's pajamas. By the 60s things were groovy and in the 80s they were totally tubular.

The changes in English are not limited to slang. When I was a child there were no cell phones, compact discs, or microwave ovens. We didn't have couch potatoes or parking vultures. Okay, we HAD them but we didn't call them that.

As the world has become more mobile our language has been regularly incorporating words and phrases from other languages to enhance our own. English is especially known for this. Did you know that the Spanish word for fiesta is fiesta? Okay, bad joke, but that is an example of a Spanish word that is now in regular use in English. Crayon comes from French. Much of our language is derived from German and Latin. The evidence is ubiquitous (Latin).

Just as we create new words, we also drop others. What are bees knees anyway? Lots of slang drops away just about as quickly as it came. Then there are those that were in common use at one time and have just died out, such as "snoutfair" (handsome) or "jirble" (to pour with an unsteady hand). For more of these words, click here.

For writers this evolution provides a vast additional language resource. Archaic language allows us to add a touch of authenticity to period pieces, or extrapolate these words and phrases into some fantasy world or future eon.

English is perhaps the richest language on the planet being over-burdened with different words that mean the same thing or shift with subtle meaning. We craft both poetry and prose by selecting the words that sound just right for the situation and how they work together, whether sibilant sounds or crackling cacophony.

This is also why English is reputed to be the most difficult language to learn. So as writers we seek to become masters of the words past, present, and future, and often in more than one language.

Happy wordsmithing!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D - The Dieting Dilemma

I have been on  a diet, more or less, for my entire life. If you look at my photo you can tell that my efforts have net been terribly successful. I have been through the pantheon of eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia. I have even had lapband surgery, which has been the most successful, but thanks to my messed-up thyroid it still hasn't been the fix I had been hoping for.

As the struggle continues some surprising things have been happening. I have been giving in to some of my food cravings and miracles are occurring.

Now I have had people scoff at my food craving theories. A woman I once worked with told me that food cravings were just something people use as an excuse to eat chocolate cake. I then posed to her that I would get cravings for broccoli and asked her to explain that in her context. Of course, she couldn't. This woman went on to get heavily into macrobiotics.

I eventually expanded my theory into the food cravings and being overweight and having chronic disease all being linked to poor nutrition. If your body does not get the nutrition it needs, it signals you to continue eating in search of that nutrition. Most people are not recognizing the root of the craving to get to what they need.

My case in point: Last year was an exceedingly stressful year for me with my mother being hospitalized twice and then passing away. As the only child, everything fell to me to take care of. In the middle of all this, contrary to conventional knowledge, my blood sugar levels dropped mysteriously at a time when they would have ordinarily been on the rise and out of control.

I had to stop and look at what had been happening with my diet. Late spring and early summer found me picking and eating fresh strawberries and raspberries in my garden, often without leaving the garden. I had already discovered the link between red berries and lower blood sugar and decreased inflammation. Check. Okay, what else?

Because of the stress I had been allowing myself to indulge in certain of my favorite foods and not in one of those limited ways given over to portion control. They were also foods that I had been warned for many years to shun as eating them only sometimes. I had been indulging in avocados and pistachios day after day.

For awhile I had felt a bit sick, with a mildly upset stomach and diarrhea, and a bout of peeing like my diabetes was completely out of control (which it wasn't). I realized that this period was probably a bit of my body detoxing.

I was able to stop using one kind of insulin and reduce the use of the other by more than half. I could occasionally indulge in foods I had previously had a great deal of trouble with -- like potatoes.

Once my body was cleared I only needed a small amount of avocado and pistachios daily to keep the effect going. While they both tend to be a bit on the expensive side for my budget, they are cheap compared to the cost of insulin.

Ever the researcher, I have repeated this twice with the same results. I am not suggesting that every diabetic do this. Each person needs to find what works for them. But my cravings helped me find my way.

I also eat a lot of raw cabbage, cauliflower, and radishes to help control my hyperthyroid. They have something in them called goitrogens that lower thyroid function when eaten in quantity. Cooking these veggies even a little destroys them. So if your thyroid is low you don't need to run from them. Just cook them or eat them in moderation.

It's time we learned to eat our medicine.

C - Cat Scans and Lab Reports

I love puns and jokes and anything funny, weird, or strange. So it should come as no surprise that I write humor - a lot. If I can make you laugh then my day is complete.

I didn't originally know that I could be funny. Then I wrote a Christmas letter in which I included the
tale of my being charged by an eight-point buck while raking leaves that fall. Then people started telling me that it was the best and funniest Christmas letter that they had ever received.

That set me on a mission to figure out if I could write funny intentionally. It turns out I can, but I do need to get into that portion of my brain where I'm just a little bit twisted. Or maybe a lot. It's hard to tell sometimes. It is the area of the brain where I make honest observations and let them out unedited.

My first attempt was a poem about having a bad hair day and wanting to shave my head to deal with it. It won first place in a light verse contest.

From there I chose to pitch a humor column to the newspaper I was working for at the time. They accepted and I found myself pulling the humor from life and putting it on paper regularly. I found that being self-effacing was very effective at getting people to laugh. So I wrote a great deal of my ineptitude and follies in life -- such as my almost nonexistent athletic ability and my insistence on trying to do things that scare me.

One of my favorite columns was for Women's History Month. For that one I reviewed the women I am descended from and told a few tales of them. For example, the time my grandmother accidentally fed my mother's boyfriend cat food. Or the time that my mother accidentally shut the cat in the dryer and switched it on. It took her a moment to figure out what that thumping noise was. I, of course, have kept up this womanly tradition in many ways, from finding a snake in my bathtub one evening, to my cat throwing a dead mouse in my face.

Cats do seem to keep cropping up, and they will continue to do so for I am a cat person. Not one of those little old ladies with 45 cats -- I just have the one.  And she is worth 45 all in her furry little self.

But that is another post.

B - Blowing It Already

I must admit that I am not infallible. I signed up for the blogging challenge with every intention of sitting down diligently each day to blog. Naturally I blew it. I am doing it but I started it three days late. Oh well.

Still, there is time for me to catch up and do well. After all, I have always been a late bloomer.

Unlike those people who just go through school, graduate, and embark on their desired career path, I had to take that path that is supposed to be less-traveled. It really isn't all that untraveled. Lots of us are out there still trying to live the dream at a time in life when others are looking back on a career well-spent and perhaps even planning to retire early.

I didn't get my first professional writing gig until I was in my late 30s even though I had been dreaming of being a writer since I was seven. That wasn't a job that made me a career writer though. As any writer can tell you, writing jobs are scarce and writers are a penny a gross.

So the road continues and I am still taking it. Never give up. Never give in.

A - Accepting the Challenge

When I was young I never believed that I was competitive at all. I hated sports. Mostly because I was
(and still am) terrible at them. It wasn't until I was an adult that I found out that I am actually very competitive -- once you get me on my own turf.

One year my mother insisted that I enter a poem in a contest sponsored by the Poetry Society of Colorado. I entered and won first place. That started me on entering their contests regularly. I ended up challenging myself to enter every contest every year. I won regularly. And I found my competitive chops.

I found that my favorite competitor was accepting challenges against myself. Proving to myself over and over that I could do it. For someone who grew up with nearly zero self-esteem. It has been tremendously empowering personally.

So here I go again -- challenging myself to write a blog post six days a week for the month of April as part of the A-Z blogging challenge. http://stevenchapmanwriter.com/?p=1328