Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Hi everyone! from a newbie to your board. I’m here via an invite from Annette Dashofy. I asked casually one day at our critique group, how does your site choose people to blog? (smile)
I hope you like these thoughts from a discussion I led at our Pennwriters group at Barnes & Noble, South Hills Village, Pittsburgh PA. Jumping right in….
What advice would a writer from 1938 have for writers of our current day? Would it still be timely to our needs? You bet! Barbara Ueland’s seventy-year-old book touches the heart and fires the imagination. Titled ‘If You Want to Write’, the 179 page ‘little book’ trumpets itself as “A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit’. Copyrighted in 1938, it was republished in 1989 by Graywolf Press. Please join with me as we examine some of the thoughts of Ms. Ueland.
I love author bios, I hope you do too. Barbara Ueland was born in Minneapolis in 1891. Her father was a judge and her mother a suffragette and first president of the Minnesota League of Women Voters. Barbara graduated from Barnard in 1913 and lived in NYC until 1930, where she was part of the Greenwich Village bohemian crowd that included Eugene O’Neill. After her return to Minnesota in 1930, she earned her living as a journalist, editor, freelance writer and teacher of writing. (She also went through three husbands along the way.) She remained physically and mentally active until her death at the age of 93 in 1985.
In her book, she reminisces about teaching at the YWCA. “There were all kinds of people – men and women, rich and poor, erudite and uneducated, highbrow professors and little servant girls so shy that it would take months to arouse in them the courage to try a sentence or two.”
The fact she mentioned ‘servant girls’ got my attention. I had a grandmother who left school in the eighth grade, as many young women did around the turn of the century, to work as a housemaid in one of those now-decaying mansions that dot the Northside of Pittsburgh. Grandma spoke about dusting knickknacks on the shelves and stitching wedding gowns. Anything to help out the family finances in a family of eight kids. Grandma told such wonderful stories that I wonder if she ever fantasized about writing them down. Would things have been different if she’d encountered a teacher like Ms. Ueland? Grandma’s son, my Daddy, always wanted to be a journalist. The dream to write was there. Maybe he inherited a writing bug in his genes? In any case, the family urged my Dad to get his head out of the clouds and study something practical. The only writing he did after that was love poems to my Mom. (The dream to write fell to me, apparently, but that’s another story.)
Back to Ms. Ueland. Barbara’s mission as a teacher was to get her students to express clearly what was true to them from their personal experiences. She led them from initial efforts of stilted, false, dead prose into courageous expressions of slices of life from the heart. Her book is a magnificent pep talk that fires up the writer within each of us. Her key to unlocking the ability to write? She demanded of her students, “Tell me more.”
For instance, she queried a budding novelist about whether the character’s muscles really ‘rippled’. Did the writer actually see that? Her student became excited and declared yes, his muscles were so big they seemed to burst the seams of his coat. Barbara responded, “Well say that! Hurrah! Put it that way. That’s alive, great!”
Barbara writes, “I am blessed with a fascinated, inexhaustible interest in all my pupils – their thoughts, adventures, failures, rages, villainies and nobilities.” She wanted them to see “how gifted they are and consequently grow in boldness and freedom.” To accomplish this, she instructed them to “forget about writing ‘writing’ and… to tell spontaneously, impulsively, what they remembered.”
If you’d like, I could come back sometime and blog on some more inspiring quotes from her book. If you’d like to read it yourself, I’d recommend checking your interlibrary loan system for a copy. In my area of Allegheny County, there’s four in the system.
To close, does anyone else have relatives in the family line who might have become writers if fate had given them the chance? If things had gone a bit differently in their lives?
Cheryl Elaine Williams
Check me out on Facebook – type in all three names, the CEW in Pittsburgh PA. My starter web page: http://www.cherylelainewilliams.com
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
by Jeri Westerson
On another blog on my blog tour, I discussed the Coroner and the First Finder of a crime and how it’s all about intent whether it’s murder or not (and you can catch the Part One and other guest blog posts at www.JeriWesterson.com)
In a medieval mystery, forensic science was few and far between. It takes clues and a detective who is wily enough to understand them. Without a police force, without the help of scientific procedure, a detective was left with what he could observe.
In murder, it still might be important to derive at a time of death. Though they didn’t have the tools we have today, there were still some obvious clues, especially to someone like Crispin Guest, my ex-knight turned detective, who had been a fighting man and had his fair share of observing bodies after a battle.
Rigor mortis—literally, “death stiffness,” happens very methodically—from the face downward about 2 hours after death. It takes another 8-12 hours for the body to become completely stiff and fixed into position. Fixed for another 18 hours is called the Rigid State. Then it reverses in the same order it appeared for another 12 hours—(Flaccid state). What is rigor? When the blood stops flowing from the heart, the natural bacteria in the body can no longer be fought off and they go to town, creating chemical reactions that prevent the muscles from contracting, which makes the body stiff. Heat quickens the process and cold slows it.
The Greeks and Egyptians had their own system: Warm and not stiff: Not dead more than a couple hours. Warm and stiff: Dead between a couple hours and a half day. Cold and stiff: Dead between a half day and two days. Cold and not stiff: Dead more than two days.
Livor mortis or lividity or post mortem hypostasis (literally “after death state”) is the state of being blue, or colored blue. What is this? Blood stops flowing and pools in the vessels in the lowest point due to gravity. Wherever the body is in contact with, say, a floor, the skin becomes pale ringed by lividity. It shows up 30 minutes to a couple of hours and stays fixed after 8 hours. The detective would know if a body had been moved if lividity had set in on the wrong part of the body.
Fingerprints? This was the science of the 19th century, 500 years after Crispin’s time.
Or was it?
In Nova Scotia, there are cave drawings of a hand with all the ridges and lines associated with palm creases and fingerprints, a drawing 1200 years old.
In ancient Babylon, thumb impressions in clay were used for business transactions.
In China, thumbprints were used on clay seals for the same purpose.
In fourteenth century Persia, some official documents show finger impressions, and a physician of the time was recorded to observe that no two fingerprints were alike.
It wasn’t until 1892 in Argentina, that a murder was solved by the use of a bloody fingerprint and matching them to the murderer. The idea was finally taking hold that fingerprints were individual.
But since there was no medieval fingerprinting, that wouldn’t help my detective at all.
How about the use of insects to solve crimes—forensic etymology? We have an example in at least one celebrated instance.
The earliest account of someone using insects to solve a murder comes from thirteenth century China in the Hsi Duan Yu or The Washing Away of Wrongs, a collection of anecdotes and observations on death and decomposition. Here’s the account in a nutshell: A local peasant in a Chinese village was found murdered, hacked to death by a hand sickle, something used to harvest grain. The local magistrate suspected that he was done in by another farmer. He called all the farmers together in the town square and had them present their sickles, laying them on the ground in the hot sun. As they waited anxiously for the magistrate to continue, blow flies started to gather. Strangely, they only seemed to land on one of the sickles. Even though the sickle was cleaned, the flies were attracted to the remaining blood and soft tissue evident only to them on the metal blade. Very clever and very effective. The man who owned the sickle then confessed and was hauled away for murder.
What about blood samples? Blood wasn't “typed” until 1901. But observing the blood—whether it runs and how it splatters—might offer my medieval detective clues.
Since he was a former knight, a fighting man, acquainted with battles and their aftermath, he might recognize the signs of clotting without really knowing the science behind it. It takes 3-15 minutes for blood to clot. If it’s still liquid, the murder is fresh by a few minutes. If the blood is shiny or gelatinous, then the murder occurred less than an hour earlier. If there is clot and serum, then many hours have passed.
Blood spatter is a whole science unto itself (ever watch Dexter?) What is the origin of the bloodstains? Is it oozing, gushing, dripping from a person or a weapon? What type of weapon could it be? The spatter shows the position of the assailant to the victim. The number of blows might be determined by this spatter as well as the truthfulness of witnesses. For instance, if a witness says that the victim was sitting, the blood spatter might very well show he was standing. Is the witness lying? Crispin might extrapolate that information from observing the spatter.
Poisons were readily available in the medieval period and the information on them—the symptoms and possible treatments—were so detailed and accurate that they differ little from the litany of toxicology today. Poisons were used to kill (including the use of insecticides, even then) and to use as curatives. Think Botox. A little helps. A lot kills.
Petri de Abano wrote De Remedis Venenorum in the 1300's and listed the following as poisons (whether they were or not—folk tales went a long way in those days and some in these days, too): mercury, gypsum, copper, iron, rust, magnetite, lapis lazuli, arsenic sublimate, litharge or lead, realgar (a type of arsenic), cucumber (I suppose you could choke them with it), usnea (a lichen), coriander, hellebore, mezereon (a woodland shrub), fool's parsley (water cress), bryony (a vine), nux vomica (seeds from a tree that contain strychnine), colocynth (bitter apple, a gourd), laurel berries, cicuta or hemlock, serpentary also called snake-root, cantharides or Spanish fly, and menstrual blood (I suppose getting it would be the dangerous part).
Monday, September 28, 2009
Where do your stories come from? Do they spring fully formed into you mind, or do you have to spend days, weeks, or years weaving the plot by hand? If you're anything like me, you've answered, "Both." The idea may come by magic, but the fun part of translating that idea into words can take awhile.
J.K. Rowling claims she got the idea for her Harry Potter series while riding on a train. Misery came to Stephen King on an airplane. You don't have to travel to come up with ideas, though. Every night, every one of us creates fiction in our sleep. We dream.
According to the first on-line dictionary Google found under the term Dictionary, "dream" can mean a succession of images, thoughts or emotions passing through the mind during sleep. "Dream" may also mean an aspiration or goal. For example, this video illustrates the first meaning: These Dreams. This video illustrates the second: Dream On.
[Aside: Has anybody else noticed that the button for embedding videos has disappeared?]
Regular readers know that I post every summer about attending a dream conference, the annual meeting of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD). Over the past few years, IASD conferences have been held in Washington, Berkeley, Bridgewater, Copenhagen, Sonoma, Montreal, and Chicago, all great places to visit.
It may surprise you to know that I'm attending another IASD conference right now, from the comfort of my computer room. No airlines to fool with, no hotel rooms to reserve, no passports to renew -- this conference is taking place solely in cyberspace.
The PsiberDream Conference is a yearly on-line event that mirrors the annual conference in all ways but one -- nobody goes anywhere to attend it. Dreamers from around the world meet on the internet and that, I think, is the fulfillment of the second kind of dream. Next to PsiberDreaming, the slow exchange of hand-written letters seems as antiquated as Hogwarts mail which, as many of you know, requires the use of owls. To our ancestors who relied on ships to carry messages, the kind of instant communication we enjoy must have seemed like an unattainable dream. And so, I'm communicating with the world about dreams from within a dream. Who knew?
Friday, September 25, 2009
Looks like nobody else is going to post today, so I'll jump in. Not that I have anything of any importance to say, but I wanted to share the cover for my new book, the first in a new series, coming in June of next year.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Some of you who live in the Pittsburgh area may have heard about this story already. I first became aware of Kelly Frey when I read this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 26th. I'd seen her before on TV--she's a reporter for local station WTAE, but never paid all that much attention. She was just another on-air personality. Pretty. Did an adequate job. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Boy, was I wrong.
Kelly Frey and her husband, Jason have to be two of the most remarkable people I've read about lately. Earlier this week, their first child, Bennett was born. While this is an ordinary occurrence for many people, for Kelly and Jason it was much more. Before he was born, they knew there was a good chance that Bennett would never take a breath, let alone cry.
During a routine ultrasound at 12 weeks, Kelly and Jason found out that Bennett had holoprosencephaly, a severe defect where spinal fluid takes the place of some brain tissue. Some babies with the defect lack enough brain tissue to even take a breath.
Bennett was born this week. And he was able to breathe on his own. He cried. He yawned.
As I write this, there hasn't been any more information released on Bennett's current condition. I'm praying for a miracle. And so are many, many others.
An organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep has documented Kelly and Jason's story in photographs. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation provides beautiful photos at no cost to parents who are facing the death of their child. They feel that the service not only gives grief-stricken parents concrete memories of their child, but helps with the healing process.
Here is a link to Kelly, Jason, and Bennett's photos. Be warned--have lots of tissues handy.
Keep little Bennett in your prayers. And if you don't pray, this might be a good time to start. The world could use a few more miracles.
While we're on the subject of miracles, tell us about your own.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
In case you haven’t heard, Pittsburgh “welcomes the world” beginning tomorrow. This is the slogan for the G-20 Summit which takes place this Thursday and Friday.
I happen to live about 30 miles from the city, so I’m observing the madness from a distance. As an alumni of the Pittsburgh Citizen’s Police Academy, I received an email a month ago asking us to volunteer to help at designated residence sites for police officers coming from out of town and out of state.
More often than not, I respond to these calls to duty. This one? Sorry. No.
For one thing, I’d have to drive into town and from the sounds of things, that won’t be permitted. I’d have to park and take mass transit. Along with every other soul trying to get into the Burgh.
Maybe if I lived in town and could walk to my assignment… Okay, let’s be honest. Probably not. I admit it. I’m a big chicken. There will be crazy people in Pittsburgh for the next few days.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Schools and businesses are closing. Some windows have been boarded up. Anyone with a few spare vacation days is taking them this week.
Hosting this G-20 thing sounds like one big rip-off to me. It’s like someone telling you they’ve decided to throw a party. At your house. And you have to pay for it. And clean up the mess afterwards.
Just doesn’t sound like a good idea.
Me? I drive miles out of my way to avoid run-of-the-mill road construction. You better believe I’ll be giving downtown Pittsburgh a wide berth for the next few days.
Ah, but it isn’t just downtown. Here in Washington County, there has been talk that a local outlet shopping center might be targeted by protesters. I won’t be going there either. Unfortunately, I do need to head to a couple of stores near the airport tomorrow. It’s not my choice. If I had my druthers, I’d stay firmly ensconced in my log cabin “cave” and listen to the activity on my scanner.
It’s too late to change things now. The world has been invited and is coming to the party at our house. Fine. Just please wipe your feet and don’t trash the place.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
So there I was, gearing up for Fall with the kids in school and a list of project as long as my arm to get my through the Winter (including finishing up my new manuscript) when I opened an email and found an amazing and wonderful thing. A very long-time friend (I hesitate to call her an Old Friend, she’d smack me for sure) invited me up to her Canadian cottage for a long weekend.
I feel like I won the lottery.
You see, I love Lake Muskoka, two hours north of Toronto. I sort of grew up there over the summers, and every time my family moved somewhere because of my Dad’s career I was usually okay with it because I knew my summers would be spent with my friends up there. Muskoka owns my roots – it’s my truest home. The only reason I don’t live there is because it’s bone-cracking cold four months out of the year and I hate when the snow is up to my ... ears. I had enough of that living in Boston!
To make up for this short blog, I’m sharing a link to a ghost story I wrote about Muskoka: The Haunting of Dalton Primble, published in Spinetingler Magazine. Fall is the perfect time for a ghost story, so enjoy! I think I captured the magic of Muskoka pretty well with Dalton so please take a look and let me know what you think!
Here's the link: http://www.spinetinglermag.com/canadian2006story9.htm
On the road again and loving it. Take care.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Everybody that really knows me is aware that I have PDD. No PDD is not some grave disease, PDD is Poetry Deficit Disorder. I don't get it. I've been in open readings where people have read poetry, all those around me are crying or laughing and they're all clapping at the end, and I have this look on my face is hard to disguise, the look of confusion. The St. Louis Writers guild has some fabulous poets in the group, or so I'm told. I listen. I try hard to understand. I really do.
I don't get poetry, never did and probably never will. I actually think that learning how to write poetry would be beneficial to any writer. In essence, the economy of words, the art of expressing more with fewer words, is something that every writer should know.
So, why am I blogging about something I know so little about? Well, because I had the opportunity to have a Father/Daughter Saturday. My wife was occupied and I had the chance to spend time with my daughters. We went to the mall and shopped in stores like Delia and Forever 21. We went to lunch at an organic foods store. and then we spent the late afternoon and evening at the St. Louis Blues Fan Fest and then a pre-season hockey game. It was an awesome day.
It reminded me what is important in my life. My family IS the passion in my life. So I guess it makes sense that my only poetry moment stems from my daughters. Last summer I was on a bicycle ride. The ten-mile trail wound through the woods. The temperature was perfect, the wind brushing my face and my eyes were focused of the asphalt in of me when my mind started wandering. I thought about my girls growing up and I wrote a poem. Well, I thought of the poem. Yes, the whole poem just bubbled up in my mind while I was riding. In that 45 minutes I felt all the emotions, happiness, warmth, sorrow, comfort, loneliness. At one point I eye blurred with tears.
As poems go, I know it's not good. I actually read it aloud in front of a group and they were gracious enough to pat me on the back and encourage me to write more. The mind is an amazing thing and writing can be the mechanism to express it. I encourage everyone to just, DO IT. With that, I give you:
My Changing Heart
She fits in my hand,
Flying through the room, giggling her silly giggle,
This is the best time,
My heart is filling.
She chases a ball,
With twenty others, giggling her determined giggle,
This is the best time,
My heart is content.
She snuggles on my lap,
Watching men skate on ice, giggling her amazed giggle,
This is the best time,
My heart is full.
She arranges her dorm room,
Hanging clothes on a rack, giggling a nervous giggle,
This is the best time -- for her,
My heart is unsure.
She walks in white,
Taking her hand from mine, giggling a silent giggle,
This is the best and worst time,
My heart is empty.
She takes a tiny hand,
And places it in mine, giggling along with a silly giggle,
This is the best time,My heart is filling -- again.
Friday, September 18, 2009
All good things are Green these days. If you want to feel good about yourself do something Green. Just let something be advertised as Green, and you feel very good about buying it or using it. People seem to want to do the right thing and ‘Save The Earth’ (ah yeah, but I don’t think the earth needs saving from us-BUT that’s another story) do the Green thing and eliminating something from your lives. Seeing this, a lot of companies have decided to help you out with that, and ‘eliminate’ something they provide to you. Unfortunately, all too often it is service. But it is couched in something else that sounds good upon first hearing it. The paper elimination thing is one of the biggies when it comes to this kind of legerdemain.
My recent experience.
At the end of September, I’m heading out to do a thirteen-day cruise with a friend that will take us from Quebec City to New York. We had to get permission to get off in New York—the cruise line wanted us to stay on until Fort Lauderdale. No difference in cost, no help getting off in New York, and no refund for the unused two days. Okay, we agreed. A week ago we started wondering where our documents were. (The cruise tickets, which should include vouchers for a hotel package in Quebec City—airport to hotel transfers, hotel accommodations, transfers from the hotel to ship—a voucher for each of the shore excursions we prebooked and paid for, baggage tags and buttons to wear for ID during the cruise. Previously, these items were nicely enclosed in a leather looking plastic envelop and had a detailed cruise itinerary and the booking contract included. Our travel agent would add several other items of interest, like a brochure for the hotel we booked, and/or a brochure about a few of the ports we were stopping in.
So shock of shocks when we got an email (no, not a personal phone call—heck I used to be a TA, I knew exactly what my first reaction would be) telling us that our cruise was the first for the line to go paperless!
Uh-huh. Okay, the paperless part didn’t hit me first, it was that we were the first to try the ‘great greening’ of the cruise line. I mean, I personally can’t wait for tours to start to the Moon or Mars, but I’m here to tell you, I’m not going to be on the first boat out!!! Someone else can check for glitches. But here we are, going to be the glitch checkers.
So, on line we go to print our own documents. First out was a cruise ticket dated the day we boarded the ship with nothing for date of arrival and the hotel stay. Long waits finally informed us that we were manifested for the airport to hotel and hotel stay. Manifested with whom, we asked. A few days later we learned that the cruise line still wasn’t sure who would pick us up at the airport—themselves or the hotel—but one of them for sure and the hotel had us ‘manifested’. Can you guess the next question? Absolutely! What if no one is there to pick us up?
Answer: Call the hotel.
NOT!!!!! This is when a long talk with our TA resulted in our reminding her that we were both retired travel agents, and just who did they think they were trying to play slight of hand with? I can’t image her forgetting, she once worked with me and I was a real------well never mind that part.
So, okay, we got things straightened out, the cruise line WILL have a host at the airport until midnight and we printed out another itinerary from the cruise line with the hotel night showing and it had our booking number referenced. However if our airline is late, we’re on our own. And it means that I have to travel with what looks like two chapters of a novel in paper recording everything sent by email verifying all this besides the original and minimal documents in case something goes wrong. Turned out the shore excursions were a separate printout, showing an additional booking number with a request that we print it out and carry with us.
Oh sure, they’ve gone paperless, but we had better start watching for sales at Staples for cases of paper. And while I’m b----ing, who needs the extra weight of this paper on planes what with the airlines charging for checked luggage and dropping the poundage from 65 to 50? Well Air Canada did anyway, and they aren’t charging for one checked bag, but United may not have but they do have a checked bag charge. And who do you think has to look all this up and print it out to remember?
Gosh, I don’t have a question for you about writing. Well, stay tooned (yes, I know it is spelled ‘tuned’, but after reading the above doesn’t the other spelling seem appropriate) and hopefully my next blog will speak wonders of the trip.
Oh, hey, a question. Have you been involved in any other kind of corporate legerdemain worth mentioning?
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Two weeks ago I posted about hiring a freelance editor and I was awaiting her letter.
Two weeks later. . .
Ten printed out pages. That’s the length of my editorial letter. I hear that’s not too bad. Even could’ve been worse. One agent blogger I read faithfully stated her longest letter was fifteen pages. Wow. I can deal with my ten pages.
I was right about all of my predictions.
And then some. She picked up on some things I hadn’t been concerned about. Most of her suggestions were dead on and I agreed with them 100%. Others, not so much. Until I read the letter again. And again. Ohhhh, so that’s what she meant by that. Hmm. Good idea.
“She” is the wonderful Kristen Weber. Her new Web site is at www.kristenweber.com
I’m not at all ashamed to have stolen this directly from her Web site:
“As an editor, I feel it's my job to help authors push their own words and ideas out even further. They already have the spark of something great……editors are there to help them make it explode.”
Kristen certainly does that. And she listens.
Don’t take my word for it. Check out her Web site, read the testimonials from some of her authors. E-mail them and find out for yourself what they think. I did before hiring Kristen. Ask Kristen herself if you have any questions.
Now, it you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do. I’m about halfway through Kristen’s suggestions.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I’ve long maintained that common courtesy is extremely uncommon. But disrespect seems to be evolving (DEvolving) into a way of life for many. People in stores prefer to talk on their cell phone than to thank the clerk who just waited on them. In the parking lot, drivers are in such a hurry to get in or out of there, they won’t slow down for pedestrians or other drivers trying to back out of a space. Their time is obviously more valuable than everyone else’s.
Public rudeness has come to the front of the news in the last few days. From that moron congressman who felt the need to shout his opinion to the world during President Obama’s speech (not to mention all his cronies who sat on their hands like obstinate school children), to Serena Williams’ hissy fit, to Kanye West throwing verbal cold water on Taylor Swift’s big moment in the spotlight.
What is going on here?
This past weekend, I spent a day with a couple of fellow Pennwriters, manning a booth at a bookfest. We were having a nice time, chatting up passersby and visiting with friends we don’t see that often. A man came over to check out some of my friend’s photography, which she had on display and for sale. He noticed her name and made a rather nasty comment about it. We looked at him as if he’d grown a third eye. Was this guy simply a clueless moron or was he intentionally being disrespectful?
My friend handled the situation gracefully, pointing out his mistake in the translation of the language. Without apologizing, he grunted and moved on. To antagonize someone else, I assume.
I remember when my dad was suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s; he lost his ability to self-edit. Whatever stupid (and sometimes hurtful) thing popped into his mind came directly off his tongue. We learned to shrug it off as part of the disease.
So what excuse do these people have? Brain damage?
Now there’s a thought!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
My eldest son is now a police officer and although I am immensely proud that he followed his dream and spent nine grueling months training for it, the idea of him being a cop in Washington, DC, unnerves me beyond words. As long as he was in the Academy, I could remain in the Land of Denial. Graduation means the end of this illusion of safety.
There was a moment last week when I feared someone might have to push me through the opening of the hallway where my husband and I nervously waited our turn to pin Badge No. 4891 on his dress blue uniform. This reaction would not have surprised my son, who earlier half-jokingly said he'd considered the possibility that I might grab his badge and go running off the stage in front of his 19 fellow rookie officers, their families, the Police Chief and the Mayor to keep him from becoming a policeman.
The thought crossed my mind. But then he told me he'd been formally commissioned the day before and issued the gun that is his until he retires or it's taken away.
When it was time to go through the receiving line of Police Department dignitaries, the Chief -- an amazing and imposing woman named Cathy Lanier – told me, "We'll keep him safe." I suspect she makes that promise to all the mothers whose smiling faces cannot hide the deep fear in their hearts. Nonetheless, it gave me some comfort.
Intellectually, I know my son's career choice should not feel so scary. As a mystery writer and former journalist, I’ve frequently written about law enforcement and crime. I've been on police ride-alongs and interacted with police officers on a not-infrequent basis over the years. But having a son become a policeman gives one a whole new perspective.
When I first held my son's bulletproof vest, I thought I might pass out from the realization of what it signified. Lifting his duty belt that holds his gun, flashlight, handcuffs, chemical spray, etc., nearly gave me a lump in my stomach, literally and figuratively. This is not a job for the weak or faint of heart (or their mothers).
It also is a job with its own foreign vocabulary and alphabet soup of acronyms. When my son talked about showing up the next day in 3-D, it took a while to realize he was referring to his assignment to Police District 3 and not a movie requiring special glasses to view. His first arrest, which came his first day on the streets, was a POCA -- involving a prohibited open container of alcohol. He advised us the demonstrations on the national mall are handled by SOD (Special Operations Division), not beat cops, and so forth. When he said he took a report from a woman beaten in broad daylight for refusing to surrender her diamond ring to a couple of bandits, I asked what he knew about that gang.
"Bandits are not a gang," he patiently replied. "That's what we call the bad guys." Oh.
Even if I do learn all the terms, I'm not sure I'll ever become used to the metal lump under his shirt when I hug him. Or the idea that he's made a commitment to risk his life every day for others. But I do know I will never forget that every policeman has a family concerned about his or her safety. I hope this makes me a better crime writer, but I doubt it will make it any easier to be a policeman's mother.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Well, I did it again. I signed up for another labor-intensive class at Pittsburgh FIlmmakers. Keep in mind that I'm still striving to get my regular fiction published, not to mention recovering from recent surgery, holding a job, and taking a few other short classes for fun. A rational person would focus on polishing all those manuscripts and stories cluttering up my house, or on locating an agent. Instead, at the age of 59, I'm studying screenwriting. You can go into any bookstore and see the huge number of novels that are published every year. Compare that to the much smaller number of movies made and the even smaller number that actually get distributed. I have to be nuts.
Making movies is a different world. When we write novels, we are on our own, sitting alone in front of a keyboard and a screen, creating stories out of nothing. In contrast, it takes a village to make a movie - dozens if not hundreds of creative people acting, directing, dressing sets, designing costumes, operating cameras, recording sound, editing, etc., etc., not to mention financing the production, scouting locations, feeding the cast and crew, etc., etc. Instead of having to convince one agent or editor to accept your work, you have to hope to excite a multitude!
For anyone who is unfamiliar with Pittsburgh Filmmakers, I recommend a visit. The very building itself manages to convey an atmosphere of technical proficiency and creativity combined. Just being there is stimulating. And the classes are hard, with weekly assignments and in-class critiques -- not for the weak of heart.
Last fall I studied Introduction to Screenwriting, which required writing a short script every week, to be read aloud and critiqued in class. The following semester I took two core classes: Introduction to Digital -- yes, I am technologically challenged, but I learned to use Photoshop and Final Cut Express to make posters and short films -- and Motion Picture Fundamentals, in which i created or collaborated on several short films, including writing, filming and editing.
The biggest thrill, though, was when I story-boarded an idea that was made into a short film by an enthusiastic group of classmates.
This term, I'm taking a more advanced screenwriting class, Script Development, from which I hope to emerge with a competed screenplay. Please wish me luck.
Friday, September 11, 2009
It's hard to believe it's been eight years. To me, it seems like yesterday. A phone call at work from one of my co-worker's wives.
"Quick! Go turn on the TV!"
We watched in the squad room as one of the Twin Towers burned. A tragic accident.
Then the second plane hit. Not an accident.
Then the Pentagon.
Then Shanksville. Flight 93. The heroic actions of the passengers. Saved the Capitol. Or the White House.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I've been tossing ideas around all day trying to come up with a subject for this post. Like the title says, I haven't come up with much of anything. Right now it's ten p.m. and I'm sitting in my sunroom with the windows closed because there's a skunk out there somewhere. This is the second night in a row the little bugger has graced us with his fragrance.
It's especially annoying because we don't even live out in the country. We live in the freaking suburbs. I have no idea why the little darling decided to stink up our yard, but I wish he'd move on. And for the record, Febreeze doesn't help.
So, if anyone has any idea how to discourage Pepe LePew from taking up residence in our yard, let me know.
In the meantime, enjoy this:
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Have you seen the public service announcement from the UK on the dangers of texting? I wanted to post it here, but YouTube has put a block on it for graphic content. It basically shows three young girls driving while texting and as a result, crashing head-on into another vehicle. In slow motion. Heads are whipped around and smash through windows. There are screams and terror. Then, as the cars settle in a mangled heap, another vehicle collides with them.
Graphic? I suppose so. And yet…
We don’t produce PSAs like that here in the US. It’s okay to produce a movie filled with explosions and chain saw massacres and blood and guts. But create a short film to show kids what really happens in a car crash? No. That’s too much.
This isn’t the only bloody PSA the UK has produced. When I took the Citizens’ Police Academy, they showed one illustrating what happens in a collision when one occupant of a vehicle decides not to buckle up. Also filmed in slow motion, that PSA showed the unrestrained passenger become a human projectile, being flung around inside the car, smashing into the properly seat belted passengers. At the end, the voiceover stated that had all occupants been belted, none would have died. As it were, only one (out of five, I believe) survived.
I always was a stickler for making sure my passengers wore their seatbelts. Now, the car doesn’t move until everyone has buckled up.
And the one on speeding? Let’s just say, I’ve slowed down considerably since viewing that PSA.
So why are we, here in the US, so prudish? Do we not want to expose our youth to such horror? Excuse me. Have you seen the movies they watch?
Besides, I question whether this texting PSA is really all that graphic. Is it difficult to watch? Yes. But I worked on an ambulance for five years. I saw first hand the results of vehicular accidents. I held a crushed skull oozing brain matter in my hands. I held pressure on a femoral artery of a nearly severed leg. Trust me. That PSA is tame. Real, living actors could not recreate the trauma a body sustains in that kind of collision.
I used to say all new teenaged drivers should spend a month riding along on an ambulance. Let them see what can happen. But maybe they simply need to watch a few of these PSAs from the UK.
What do you think?
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
I love three day weekends mainly because if I organize them properly it can seem like I squeeze two Saturdays out of them and that means I get my weekday chores out of the way leaving me a big glorious chunk of time for creative writing. I’m in a very active writing phase right now because I’m within the last fifty pages of my new novel, I know where I’m going and I just have to get it there.
Yes, I use outlining – it’s another one of the tools in my writers’ kit – but the best part is even at this late stage of the game when I think I know everything that’s going to happen my characters can still throw me a curveball. For instance, at around 10AM yesterday one of my characters was supposed to pass by a table out on the patio and drop a sassy comment and to my surprise she pulled out a chair, sat herself down and poured out a glass of champagne.
I immediately inserted a page break in my manuscript and started a wholly unexpected new chapter since I was ten pages into the previous one, that’s about my average length and evidently Sally has something she’d like to say. I’ll be honest with you – I’m as mystified as anyone by her action and I can’t wait to hear what she has to divulge. She’s got me so curious I even brewed up a second pot of coffee with dinner in the hope I could get a second caffeinated burst of inspiration but in my heart of hearts I know that what Sally’s about to drop on me is so good I should wait until next Saturday – my next big block of unbroken time – to hear her out with my full attention. I believe her revelation will be that good.
Now the question I get from readers and my fans is: where do you get this stuff? I admit I’ve been blessed with a wide and varied lifetime full of experiences and most of them were self-inflicted. I’m pretty sure there are people out there who can craft perfect little gemstone stories from events that occurred within four homebound walls but I am not one of them. I love range and scope and throwing a whole mess of unrelated characters together to see what happens. How I get to imagine how they’ll react is a large part of the fun for me and once again begs the question: if I don’t know what’s going to happen next – as the author - then where does the genesis come from?
Let’s put it to the ethersphere. Any ideas?
Sunday, September 06, 2009
So summer is coming to an end. Pretty much that's what Labor Day is, a symbolic end to summer. Officially, however, Labor day has a bit of a bloody history. After a little research on Wikipedia, and a few other places, here's what I found out about Labor Day.
During the economic panic of 1893, the Pullman Palace Car Company cut wages as demands for their train cars plummeted and the company's revenue dropped. Things escalated into a strike when workers continued to complain and owner, George Pullman refused to talk to them. Many of the workers were already members of the American Railway Union (ARU), led by Eugene V. Debs, which supported their strike by launching a boycott in which union members refused to run trains containing Pullman cars. The strike effectively shut down production in the Pullman factories and led to a lockout. Railroad workers across the nation refused to switch Pullman cars onto trains. The ARU declared that if switchmen were disciplined for the boycott, the entire ARU would strike in sympathy.
The boycott was launched on June 26, 1894. Within four days, 125,000 workers on twenty-nine railroads had quit work rather than handle Pullman cars. Adding fuel to the fire the railroad companies began hiring replacement workers which only increased hostilities. Many African Americans, fearful that the racism expressed by the American Railway Union would lock them out of another labor market, crossed the picket line to break the strike; that added a racially charged tone to the conflict.
On June 29, 1894, Debs hosted a peaceful gathering to obtain support for the strike from fellow railroad workers at Blue Island, Illinois. Afterward groups within the crowd became enraged and set fire to nearby buildings and derailed a locomotive. Elsewhere in the United States, sympathy strikers prevented transportation of goods by walking off the job, obstructing railroad tracks or threatening and attacking strikebreakers. This increased national attention to the matter and fueled the demand for federal action.
The strike was broken up by United States Marshals and some 12,000 United States Army troops, commanded by Nelson Miles, sent in by President Grover Cleveland on the premise that the strike interfered with the delivery of U.S. Mail, ignored a federal injunction and represented a threat to public safety. The arrival of the military led to further outbreaks of violence. During the course of the strike, 13 strikers were killed and 57 were wounded. An estimated 6,000 rail workers did $340,000 worth of property damage.
A national commission formed to study causes of the 1894 strike found Pullman's paternalism partly to blame and Pullman's company town to be "un-American." In 1898, the Illinois Supreme Court forced the Pullman Company to divest ownership in the town, which was annexed to Chicago.
Pullman thereafter remained unpopular with labor, and when he died in 1897, he was buried in Graceland Cemetery at night in a lead-lined coffin within an elaborately reinforced steel-and-concrete vault. Several tons of cement were poured to prevent his body from being exhumed and desecrated by labor activists.
In the aftermath of the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the US military and US Marshals during the 1894 Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with Labor as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.
But back to the end of summer. This weekend caps a St. Louis summer that I have never seen before. This has to rank up there with the coolest of summers in St. Louis History. It has been glorious. It's too bad I haven't been able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked to. Starting a new job left me without the 6 weeks of vacation that I had grown used to. And since I need to save one day for Bouchercon, coming in a little over a month, I was forced to look out at the beautiful weather through my office windows. I will say, I've had the top down on my convertible since I bought it in late May.
On a lighter note, I was all ready to comment on how the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Pittsburg Pirates over the weekend. Albert Puhols put on a one man show, but alas, Ryan Franklin, closing pitcher for the Cardinals did something that he's only done twice this year. He blew the save and let the Pirates avoid the sweep. I will say, all weekend the Cardinal announcers gushed at how nice PNC Park and downtown Pittsburgh looked.
Lastly, I thought I'd leave you with a smile. Sometimes you see something and it makes you smile. THe video below did that for me. It combines one of my favorite songs, ingenuity and a sweet ending. I hope you enjoy it.
Friday, September 04, 2009
Gerswhin was great, wasn’t he? :-)
I’ve always been singing. In choir as a kid, in front of the mirror clutching a hairbrush as I got older, and semi-professionally in New York in my early twenties.
I say semi-professionally, because although I went to New York with the idea that I wanted to be a triple-threat on Broadway, it didn’t take me long to realize that although I—to paraphrase that famous screen test of Fred Astaire’s—could sing a little, could dance a little, and could maybe act, I hated auditioning. And it’s hard to have a career in theatre when you don’t like to audition.
Plus, I learned what a real singer is supposed to sound like when I met my husband, and what little confidence I had in that aspect of my talent vanished. Yeah, I can carry a tune. Doesn’t make me a singer.
So I started writing instead. The two disciplines—acting and writing—have quite a lot in common, actually. I always enjoyed the process of rehearsals, of learning the lines and becoming the character. Writing is the same way for me. I write in the first person POV, and in doing that, I become my protagonist for the four or five months it takes me to write a book. The same thing happens when I read one: for the day or two it takes, I become the main character and go through the things he or she does.
Until recently, though, I never thought much about how singing is like writing.
Back in February, I had occasion to attend Murder in the Magic City, a lovely little conference held in Birmingham, Alabama, every year. (If you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss it.) One of the panels there—not mine—featured the real triple-threat of Carla Neggers, Deborah Sharp, and Peggy Webb. It was a wonderful panel, with Peggy as the moderator (and if you haven’t read her book, "Elvis and the Dearly Departed," I dare you. Elvis is a Bassett Hound, and the reincarnation of the King of Rock’n Roll. Need I say more?)
At one point, Peggy talked about rhythm. Turns out she’s a singer, too. I can’t recall exactly how she put it—I was, sadly, talking to someone else at the time, instead of paying attention, and the words sort of jumped out at me—but it was the first time I’d really thought about the rhythm of language in the same terms that I think about the rhythm of music.
Rhythm in music is easy. Music is set up to go along at a steady pace, with bars and stanzas, and when the rhythm is broken, it doesn’t sound right. Unless the rhythm is broken intentionally, like when an A-A-B-A song shifts from verse to bridge.
(No, I didn’t misspell ABBA. A-A-B-A is a formula for writing a song. A = verse, B = Bridge. As opposed to A-B-A-B, where A = verse and B = chorus. Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm,” is an A-A-B-A song. Most folk songs are written on the A-B-A-B principle, with chorus following verse following chorus following verse. Sometimes they’ll throw in a bridge just to liven things up.)
Rhythm in language is different. There are no bars to hold to, no percussion keeping the beat going in the background. Yet language has to have rhythm, and when that rhythm is broken, it’s jarring. Some of us are able to hear it when we write. We are, perhaps, not exactly able to put our fingers on what’s wrong with a certain paragraph or sentence, but we can hear that something’s off. Often, what that something is, is the rhythm. And reading out loud helps to catch it, because the ear is more attuned than the eye to catching flaws in rhythm.
Just like a song switches beat from verse to bridge—most often it slows down—we can use rhythm to change the pace in our writing, too. Short, staccato sentences, like a Souza march, moving forward briskly = action scene. Long, languid sentences, like a romantic ballad = calmer pace, relaxed, nothing bad going on. Until—rhythm change—the pace picks up, the sentences get shorter, maybe even ragged/incomplete and choppy, and stuff starts to happen.
So what about you? Do you think about rhythm when you write? Can you hear it when the rhythm changes in your writing? When you’ve unintentionally slowed down without meaning to? Do you use rhythm to vary the pace in your manuscripts?
And if you listen to music while you write, does the choice depend on what you’re writing? Is there a correlation between what you’re listening to and what you’re writing? If the pace of the writing changes - from action scene to denouement, for example - do you change the CD or radio station?
Thursday, September 03, 2009
That sound you may’ve heard last week across the Internet was the ecstatic shout of joy, relief and–and what? Fear? Pride? Bittersweet sorrow? A sense of accomplishment?
Yeah. All that.
I just finished another draft of my novel. I don’t know what exact number this draft is. I edit as I go, but I do know there have been numerous chapter ones. The only thing that has stayed the same through all this is the ending. I love my ending. No, not just typing The End which is wonderful in itself, but the last line of the book. My protagonist has grown so much by the end of the book and that last line defines it beautifully
I hope it stays.
Here’s why it might not. . .
I’m writing this blog entry on Wednesday morning. Sometime today I will receive The Letter from the editor I’ve hired to help me make this book better. By the time this entry is posted on Thursday, I will have had approximately twenty-four hours to have become used to whatever The Letter entails.
Prior to getting The Letter, I’m going to guess at what my editor (I love saying that!) is going to suggest. Here goes:
I have to add more descriptions of my settings, my characters. Blech. But I know it’s necessary. I hate doing it, but I’ll do it.
I have to start the action sooner. Too much set-up in the beginning.
Chapter one is too long.
I have too many secondary characters.
Each chapter has to propel my protagonist forward. Or backward in some cases.
The climax could be more confrontational, more of a showdown.
There are two loose ends I can tie up in this book. Or not. Since it’s planned as a series, they could be tied up in later books. Like the next one. Or the one after that.
So. There you have it. I’ll be back to let y’all know how close I was in my guessing. I don’t know if it’ll be today, tomorrow, or the next time I post in two weeks.
I’m sure y’all have seen this by now, but it’s just as fun as the first time!
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
A couple of weeks ago, I headed to Ohiopyle State Park, one of my favorite recreational destinations. But this particular trip was a “business trip” of sorts. I’d received a green light on a story pitch I’d made to cover the annual Over the Falls Festival. The catch to the whole deal was that I was ordered to take lots of pictures. Photographs are what sell stories to this particular publication.
You may or may not know that I was a professional photographer in a past life. More than twenty years ago, I ran Dashofy Photography. We did weddings and senior pictures and family portraits and such.
I don’t talk about it much because people expect a lot from you when you make claims about having done that kind of work. And when I snap a picture with my dinky little point-and-shoot digital and it comes out looking like crap… Well, I can do without the threatening, sarcastic scowls.
Besides, these days, I mostly take pictures for fun. I admit it. I don’t put a lot of thought or effort into it.
But on the days leading up to that trip to the festival, I put a LOT of thought into it. I really WANT this job. The publication could (and would, if necessary) use pictures from other photographers. But I want them to use MINE. It’s a matter of pride. I mean, I used to be able to do this stuff!
The problem in one word is EQUIPMENT. I sold all the studio cameras and lights and backdrops. But I kept my beloved Olympus 35mm cameras and lenses. Unfortunately, I haven’t used them much lately. They’re old. A few years ago, I sent them both to the shop to repair their age-related issues. The repairs didn’t take. One of the cameras locks up when you trip the shutter. The other won’t synchronize with a flash.
I didn’t need a flash. But I had no idea if any new problems had cropped up. With film cameras, you don’t get to see the results until AFTER the film is developed.
On the other hand, I have two digital cheapy point-and-shoot. Well, maybe not so cheap. But not top end stuff. The one is 12 megapixel. I don’t know exactly what that means other than the pictures are supposed to be sharper than the older 3 megapixel camera.
Ask me about f-stops and shutter speeds and film ISOs and I can talk for hours. Megapixels? Not so much.
Loaded with film, the one 35mm Olympus that doesn’t lock up, the two digital cheapy point-and-shoot cameras, extra batteries, and a new tripod, I headed to Ohiopyle and set up shop bright and early on the observation deck. I attached the trusty antique Olympus to the tripod and waited for the action to begin. Those around me set up, too. With thousands of dollars worth of digital high tech gadgetry. One guy couldn’t stop scoffing at my film camera. He spent the next hour telling me why I had to go digital. Ten minutes after the first kayaker went over the falls, this guy told me he’d already shot 300 photos.
I soooo wanted to point out that if you’re good, you don’t need to shoot 300 photos. Nor do you need to do the extensive PhotoShop manipulations he bragged about.
But part of me knew I really wanted to shove him off that observation deck, not just to shut him up, but also to grab his camera equipment and run.
Hey, I appreciate nice gadgets as much as the next person.
Later in the day, I ran into several people who were using old 35mm cameras. We all fussed over our old antique workhorses and insisted the quality was so much better and who needed the instant gratification of seeing what you’d shot anyhow.
I almost convinced myself it was true.
Here’s what I’ve concluded. I love my old 35mm. I love the way when I trip the shutter, the picture snaps NOW, not three or four or five (depending on the age of the batteries) seconds later after the little digital camera determines focus and exposure. I love being in control of the focus and the depth of field and whether I want the action frozen or blurred.
And I can’t afford the digital camera that will give me all that.
On the other hand… Processing the film from that one day cost over $40.
It does make you think. Hmmm.
Well, while I’m still pondering the expense of processing versus the expense of new camera equipment, let me show off what the old antique dinosaur (and by dinosaur, I mean the camera, not ME) can do.