All posts by William Dempsey

About Not Writing

By Veronica H. Hart

Writing Blogs are supposed to be about writing. This month mine is about NOT writing. For the past month Spouse Person and I traveled up the east coast and throughout New England, staying at hotels, and more importantly, with friends and family.

The intention was to continue to write on works in progress, but it turned out my word processor doesn’t like our traveling laptop, so I took it as a sign that I ought to take a complete break from my seven days a week writing schedule and really have a vacation.

Some people take photo after photo after photo on their journeys. I always think I’m going to, but I get lost in the moments and forget. SP took several and I’ll see if I can add a few here to demonstrate why I am in awe of this country.

First family stop was in Warwick, New York. To get there, we asked our GPS lady we call Mabel, to avoid highways. We drove through Pennsylvania and New Jersey on scenic backroads, past farms, through small colorful villages, and on winding country roads right up to their front door without ever seeing an eighteen-wheeler or paying a toll. We did see fields of corn, cows, barns, hundred year old farmhouses, some in disrepair, some standing proudly with fresh coats of paint. American flags abounded in these small towns.

Then we spent four idyllic days on a farm outside of Cooperstown, New York, where the weather cooperated with clear sunny skies and mild temperatures. We had to pull ourselves away

Schenectady, New York. Stayed with friends of forty years and met with other writers at an old fashioned diner. Kind of reminds me of “Same Time Next Year.” We’ve been doing this for several years, catching up on our writing activities. Recently, Keith Willis, a new member of the Champagne Books Group, joined us and participated for the second year. At this good old fashioned diner, we spoke of books, travel, mutual acquaintances. As we passed tables, couples discussed domestic issues, kids, broken lawnmowers, and new cars. No one carried on about the political scene. How refreshing.

The flowers bloomed in our hosts’ garden, hummingbirds hummed, and chipmunks sat at the door waiting to be let in.

The city of Schenectady itself has changed over the years. No longer the mainstay of General Electric, it has had to redefine itself. With Proctor’s theater, it brings in major entertainment, so now, instead of empty storefronts, upscale bistros and shops line State Street. A massive casino and new hotels are replacing old iron works that had remained idle for years. While I find it tragic that an industry that caters to addiction is the cause for the revival of a city, I also applaud the concept of changing directions when necessary.

Continuing north and east, we stopped to stay with more family in Niantic, Connecticut. Because it rained, we did not get out much, but we did attend our grandson’s high school graduation. The beaming faces of over 200 students, so many of them receiving scholarships and heading off to college, restored my faith in the youth of today. Happy, wholesome families joined together to celebrate decries the tragedy of the nightly news about the state of our youth.

Once again we packed our bags and told Mable to guide us to Palermo, Maine, avoiding highways. A trip of four hours on the interstates took us over eight on the backroads, and we enjoyed every minute of it, from seeing a two hundred year old abandoned inn, to the Old Shaker Village, crossing a river in Manchester to see waterfront properties that were once mills, now housing upscale apartments.

We asked Mabel to show us eateries and wound up at a hole-in-the-wall diner that seated, one a good day, maybe twenty. An air conditioner over the front door dripped water onto the sidewalk. The interior appeared to have not changed since it opened, most likely more than fifty years ago. It also looked like nothing more than the table tops had been cleaned. We were hungry, so we stayed. I asked for the rest room and our tattooed waitress led me to the back of the building through an old kitchen, to a door.

“The light switch is a push button,” she said and then left. I stood in the dark groping for a push button, not knowing exactly what to expect. It turned out to be exactly that, an old fashioned push button light switch. Two buttons. One for on and one for off. When I returned, a man sitting at one of the tables working out figures on a small notepad said, “If you found that interesting, your husband might like to see the old gas pipes that fed the gaslights in the building.” I sat down and told SP, who also wanted to head for the restroom. The man sat waiting until he returned to take him back and explain the age of the building and point out the original tin walls. Meanwhile, he proudly explained to me that the diner remained the same as when Aunt May opened it. “Aunt May was the mechanic-next-door’s aunt and wanted something to do.”

Two women sat near the front of the diner reading a newspaper and periodically calling out the size and rent of a variety of houses to the couple who ran the diner. A large black man, dressed formally in black, with a vest and tie, wearing a black beret, sat alone eating a late breakfast and reading the newspaper.

Our grilled ham and cheese sandwiches arrived with potato chips on the side. We ate it all and left that old part of America behind.

Mabel led us to the Glass Horse Farm in Maine on a hillside, with friendly chickens and turkeys welcoming us, along with two dogs and of course, our family, Don and Pam. We ate lobster at a lobster pound where one perceptive lobster bonded with SP as he tried to take a photo of it. Every time SP moved, the lobster followed him across the tank. Was he saying, “Get me out of here!”? Or was he simply following the shiny lens? We spent nearly two hours watching a contraption with slings move a 130 ton yacht – two feet!

One more stop back in Connecticut and then we were headed home. To our amazement, the interstate highways were not the nightmares we were used to. By traveling on Saturday and Sunday, we managed to avoid the horrendous truck traffic down US 81 and I-95. We’ve been saddened to see our “secret” little connector road between 81 and 95 has become a major thoroughfare. When we first began our journeys, it was a lush country road with only a few cars.

So, we’re home again and back to writing. I haven’t written about the trip, about the characters we saw, or the places we visited, but they are like a photo album in my mind. One day I’ll “develop” them.

 

 

 

Grand Openings

By Veronica Helen Hart

The first few lines of a story must draw in a reader, make him or her want more, give an indication what the story will be about, and provide a promise as to what the reader should expect.

A man in a fedora is lurking in the shadows behind the bar below the flashing yellow neon light promises a different story than a lady sipping tea from delicate china in a drawing room carpeted in Persian rugs.

The more detail you can give your reader without overloading them with information, the more they’ll feel a part of the story. Imagine a book that begins with:

The girl opened the door and said hello to the woman.

Now imagine a book that begins with:

The small child reached up and, just able to reach the doorknob, opened the door for the police officer. She backed up and slipped in the blood on the ceramic tile of the dimly lit foyer.

Expand the view for the reader. The man in the fedora and the lady sipping tea could be in the same noir story. But if more is added to each opening, the setting becomes clearer:

The man in the fedora, who had been lurking in the shadows, moved out of the alley into the glare of traffic and streetlights on the busy avenue. The bar with the flashing yellow neon sign beckoned with its dark interior. He hoped it provided relief from the blaring horns and screaming sirens. He wrapped his gloved hand around the weapon in his pocket and pushed the door open.

The lady sitting in her parlor sipping tea doesn’t do much to entice a reader, even if she does own a Persian carpet. Adding more to her setting might draw in a reader:

Mrs. Ralston held a fragile teacup willing her hands not to tremble as she sipped the now tepid liquid. The man holding the bloody knife slid behind the draperies at the front window as her granddaughter unwittingly opened the front door.

Grateful he hadn’t seen the child, she pretended not to notice her when she came down the stairs still in her stockinged feet after her nap. She carefully took another sip as a police officer lifted the child and then held a finger to his lips, signaling Mrs. Ralston to remain silent. She did her best not to give any hint to the man behind the curtain that Lindsay had opened the door. Did he really think no one would notice all the blood?

I read that and I wonder what the heck is going on.

Reading those openings, I still don’t know what country or city the characters are in. I don’t know anything about their backgrounds, or what happened, but I’m darned curious about them.

I hope this helps both writers and readers understand why and how an opening can work.

When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

By Veronica Helen Hart

After a health crisis this week, I failed to meet two writing deadlines. The health issue appears to be resolved after a trip to the hospital, consults with three doctors, and loving care by my husband.

Things happen in the writing vineyard that can send us into a hole of depression or spark us into a flurry of furious writing. At the moment, I choose the middle road. Finish the book, Young Mothers’ Voices – an Anthology on which I’ve been working with fellow author Michael Pyle (White Sugar-Brown Sugar). The book is a collection of poems, essays and stories by the young mothers of The Chiles Academy in Daytona Beach, Florida.

From the introduction:

This anthology is a collection of voices that belie many faulty societal representations of pregnant and parenting teens. The young mothers at The Chiles Academy are proving daily that stereotypes of teenage mothers do not define them. Discovering who they are, is for them, as it is for all of us, a work in progress.

It has been an honor and a privilege to work with them these past six months or more. We solicited, and received, a grant from The Florida Writers Foundation to help print the books which will be distributed to the young women at their graduation at the end of May. They will be available for purchase after May 20.

This afternoon, with the help of Chris Holmes, graphic artist at whiterabbitgraphix.com, I hope to submit the thoroughly edited, completed manuscript for printing and distribution.

Then, back to deadlines on the two novels I’m hoping to complete before the end of June, Talk to the Knife, a paranormal murder mystery/romance, and Midnight in Mongolia, a Blenders Novel.

Veronica Helen Hart is the author of seven published novels, four of them by Champagne Book Group.

You can see her work at either: www.veronicahhart.com, or DaytonaAreaWriters.com.

 

 

A Warning for Writers

By Judith Lawrence

Just wanted to give a heads up to our group to ask to see the publisher’s contract for whomever is doing their print and distribution.

I have a writer friend who just broke off a 5 year good relationship with her publisher. Her 1st print book did well, and her second print book did better. Her publisher placed the first book with Bookmate, as an e-book a while ago. He was about to place the 2nd book as an e-book on Bookmate as well when she found out. I thought it strange that the Publisher was doing this so soon, as her book was released less than six months ago, and sales were coming in daily. it’s one of those books that will one day be a classic.

Bookmate is a Russian owned e-book free distribution site where for $5 a month, you can read any of the approximately 500,000 books they advertise in multiple languages. It appears that many publishers are sending their print books for e-publishing.

My friend was not aware that the 1st book was on Bookmate, and has not received any royalties through her publisher or Bookmate. When she complained to Bookmate that she had not agreed to having her e-book listed, they advised her to take it up with Ingram book distributors, who have not replied to her. Her publisher refused to have it removed due to contractual obligations, so she pulled her 2nd book from his publishing company.

Some info below that I gathered about Bookmate.

Bookmate started in a Russian market where piracy was so rampant that publishers had nothing to lose by signing with Bookmate, and it pays publishers from a pool that consists of 50% of its revenues. Safari Online has used a similar model for over a decade, and it does okay.

With 500,000 titles from publishers around the globe, Bookmate now has over 1.5 million subscribers, about 7% of which pay around $5 a month for the service. The fee is collected by Bookmate’s partner telecoms.

Bookmate has also developed reading apps for feature phones. This has let them partner with MVNOs including pay-as-you go companies similar to Tracfone here in the US. In some cases, Bookmate’s partners charge on an incremental day-by-day model, not a monthly fee.

On another subject I found this site about publishers and distributors online that might prove useful. It lists a few to avoid. http://pred-ed.com/peba.ht

 

What’s Next?

By Veronica Helen Hart

“I’ve written a book, now what do I do?”

“Where do you get your ideas?”

These are the two most common questions asked when I’m at a book fair. We’ve talked and written endlessly about what to do after you’ve written a book, mostly referring the budding authors to professional editors, critique groups, and on-line courses.

As for ideas, that is probably different for every writer. This week as I was searching for a particular file, I came across four books I had written either fully or only partially. I stopped in the middle when I ran out of juice, losing interest probably because I had no outline or clear goal. Now that I’ve resurrected them, I can see the fatal flaws and find they all have potential. When I first wrote them, I had little understanding of character arcs or the importance of conflict.

These are the stories. See if you agree that they can work.

Barbara Monaghan. She is an accidental serial killer. Her mother became bored with her and gave her away to a pair of itinerant actors when she was two. The couple exploited her cuteness but then abandoned her with a cult in the state of Washington when she was seven. They apprenticed her to a potter and she eventually developed a line of tableware that became popular and sold internationally. When it came time to marry, however, she parted ways with their lifestyle and did accidentally kill her mentor when he made unwanted advances. By the time we meet her at the beginning of the book, she has murdered at least five people, including the actors. She invites her mother to Paris and dinner at the elegant Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. She has plans for her mother…

The Shadow House is an adventure which begins in a farmhouse in upstate New York and takes our protagonist on a trip to the Amazon and The Shadow House. I don’t even remember what the point of the story was. I believe our heroine was out to rescue her sister.

Casino Girl has a young girl in Florida meeting an alcoholic aunt from New York on a casino boat. I had read much of this story to a critique group several years ago and people still comment on a humorous scene between an alligator and a dog. The story involves drugs coming ashore at the aunt’s seaside home, where her husband (fourth one) keeps her happily inebriated so she is oblivious to the activities outside. Our girl saves the day. And she has her own long sad story.

Untitled was originally called House Divided about two people inheriting the same house in upstate New York. Meant to be a romance, the two are at odds and one of them must go. This one stopped halfway through because I didn’t have a clearly outlined plot, neither on paper nor in my head.

So as I wind down in the writing of Midnight in Mongolia and Talk to the Knife I am contemplating my next book and happy that I saved all the above. Could it be one of those?

Veronica Helen Hart is the author of seven published novels as well as the four above mentioned portions of novels. Her short stories can be found in The Florida Writers annual anthologies. Currently she is working with a group of authors on a science fiction anthology—The Alvarium Experiment.

Veronica Helen Hart

Writing about Historical, Humorous, Adventurous, and always Strong, Women

Regional Director and Writing Group Leader, FWA
Member Sisters in Crime
Member Historical Fiction Society
Member EPIC
VP, Ormond Writers League
Regional Director and Writing Group Leader, FWA

The Reluctant Daughters Historical Fiction  Uppity Women Press – available on Create Space, Kindle, Amazon, et al – as are all my books.

Elena – the Girl with the Piano    Historical Fiction Finalist 2014 EPIC awards. Uppity Women Press

Escape from Iran    Historical Fiction  Royal Palm Literary Award winner 

The Prince of Keegan Bay    Humorous Thriller Champagne Books

 Royal Palm Literary Awards, First place for humor (thriller)

Swimming Corpse, Blenders Book II,  Cozy MysteryChampagne Books

Safari Stew – Blenders Book III Cozy Mystery Champagne Books

Silent Autumn     Science Fiction (Set in 2179) Champagne Books

www.veronicahhart.com

www.daytonaareawriters.com

www.champagnebooks.com

All print books are available for purchase at Change Jar Books, Moody Blvd., Flagler Beach, FL

 

Home, Where is Home? Writing Patterns

By Veronica Helen Hart

Do we use our own background for writing our fiction? Many will say they don’t; I would be among them except for the fact that over the years I’ve seen a pattern develop in my writing that evolves around women taking charge of their lives, whether it’s our old friend Doll Reynolds who gathers her friends to protect the prince of Keegan Bay, or Janice, who is stranded in pre-revolutionary Iran and must help her father so they can escape the country. I even found it in a song I wrote for my musical, Murder in Morocco, the Musical in 2002. The theme is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie murder where a group of Americans set sail in the late 1930’s. There is strife in the world, but that doesn’t concern them. Then, while they are touring Tangier, Morocco, a young girl shows up and this is the song she sings:

KAREN

Karen, my name is Karen. I’ve been three long years from home.

MARION

Home? Where is your home?

KAREN (music)

Home, where is home? Everybody has a home.

I was a child in a house painted white.

It disappeared overnight.

My mother and father went out to celebrate,

They never returned. That was nineteen twenty-eight.

I was an orphan alone in this world

And I had no one to care.

So I went to school, a foundation paid the way.

That helped to make me what I am today.

I focused my life on archeology.

Egypt’s my specialty.

Then I was stranded in arid desert sands.

No more foundation, no money in my hands.

Once more abandoned with no place to go,

And still there is no one to care.

During the play, one of the group is murdered and then through song, dance, and narrative, we learn the dark secrets of all the travelers. While Karen’s plight was caused by one of them, I’ll not spoil it for anyone who may eventually get to see the show. (BTW – it won 8 Outstanding Achievement Awards from the New York State Theater Association.)

The point is, nearly all of my women/girls are seeking a home and love. Elena, in Elena-the Girl with the Piano, travels with her family through war torn Europe, she matures and becomes the one seeking a home for herself and her family; Elisabeth in The Reluctant Daughters had a home, but she messed it up and now, late in her life she takes steps to avenge the person she blames for her and her family’s plight.

My goodness, all that drama. When I stop to recognize the pattern, I recognize that I never had a home. My parents and I lived as vagabonds traveling the country and later, when I married, the world. Even now with my most precious spouse, we have no place to return to, no place to call home. When people ask, “Where are you from?” they expect him to say England because of his accent. I don’t know what they expect from me, but I can only say, “I was born in New York,” which does nothing to explain the many states and countries I lived in before we finally settled in Florida. He can say, “I was born in London,” but that also doesn’t explain the intervening years of living in several African countries, Ireland, the UK, and several American states.

I expect even my future books will contain an element of a woman seeking to create a home. As I am working on Talk to the Knife, a murder mystery, my protagonist is renovating an old school building to be her new place of business and home.

Wow. Who knew that once you write a bunch of books you can recognize your patterns and needs. “Home, where is home? Everybody has a home.”

Veronica Helen Hart’s most recent book, Silent Autumn, can be found at Champagne Books on line. Though not mentioned in the above blog, the protagonist here loses her home and finds herself wandering the North American continent in the year 2179, not quite alone, but with a baby to protect.

Veronica Helen Hart

Writing about Historical, Humorous, Adventurous, and always Strong, Women

Regional Director and Writing Group Leader, FWA

Member Sisters in Crime

Member Historical Fiction Society

Member EPIC

VP, Ormond Writers League

Valentine’s Day 2016

By Veronica Helen Hart

The title smacks of romance and sparkling wine, chocolates and satin sheets, and triggers memories of desire, lust, and sexual adventures. Fortunately for many of us, we have those memories of our youth and middle age to call on when it comes time to write a romantic passage. For the rest of you, if you’re still in that age range, enjoy it while you have it!

I was asked at a workshop this week, “Do you find it difficult to get into the head of a six year old or a teenager when you’re writing?”

After a few moments for thought, I had to confess that I do not find it difficult at all. That is one of the best things about being a writer: one can meander through the tunnels of the mind and find those years, those moments. Dragging a sick raccoon home from the creek one summer when I was eight. Being shot in the back by my brother with a BB gun because he wanted to see what it felt like to shoot someone. Maybe I was nine. Playing with my brother’s friends as one of the boys and then one day thinking of them from a girl’s point of view. Remembering sitting in my gym watching the guys shoot baskets and joining them as a colleague, but being regarded as a girl. I just wanted a friend.

What was it like at six getting injured on the playground and then having the male coach ask me to pull up my “petticoat?” I didn’t know what a petticoat was, but I knew I had an awful lot of blood running down from my hip where I fell and scraped it while flying on the Maypole. That was the device which consisted of a big pole with about eight chains attached. The chains had ladder-like handles so kids of all sizes could play on it at once. We ran in a circle until the momentum allowed us to lift our feet and fly. Which is apparently what I did, only I didn’t hold on well enough. I hit the gravelly ground and skidded, thus the blood running down my leg. Nearly seventy years later I have a remnant of the scar. I remember being most embarrassed at not knowing what a petticoat was than having a man I didn’t know cleaning and bandaging my leg. No one got very excited about the event.

What was it like at thirteen walking to school on Miami Beach, my seventh school in eight years? South Beach in 1952 was like a foreign country. Old ladies sat in front of art deco hotels and spoke in an unfamiliar language; churches bore foreign script, the majority of the kids in school were Jewish, a religion I had never heard of. I felt out of place and out of time. Once my Russian grandmother explained the facts of life, I slowly came to recognize and understand how many of those old folks came to live in South Beach. Suddenly I sought out every book on WWII in an effort to comprehend how such atrocities could occur.

When The Diary of Anne Frank  came out, I read it. I actually envied Anne because she had family and loved ones around her who cared about her. Yes, I mourned her loss, but she had people who loved her. How awful was that?

What I like about writing and remembering, is when I have a character who has a happy home life, I love to recreate one for her based on what I imagine that might have been like.

Writing is my own Valentine gift to myself: I can be whoever I want to be at any age.

Veronica Helen Hart is the author of several novels that include women of all ages. It’s safe to say she has lived through all of them, except the final stage. You can find her work at Champagne Books and on Amazon.com. As always, remember to include the H or Helen as the middle name unless you want to wind up on a porn site.

Veronica Helen Hart

Writing about Historical, Humorous, Adventurous, and always Strong, Women

 

The Writer’s Evolution

By Bob Hart

A Frivolette in 2600 words. A short essay on our origins, or a homily to early homonyms.

 

To a new author there is nothing quite as thrilling, or more daunting, than to present work to other writers for their opinion, which they naturally consider educated and meaningful. Not that every writer necessarily wants to, but it is a tradition that passes for a write-of-passage (sic) for books and stories. The reasons a writer exposes any work to public review are legion; attention and approval, respect, putting others in their place, strutting their stuff, or in New Age language, self-actualization. The reasons that reviewers review these proffered works are legion, their own attention and approval, garnering respect, instilling fear, putting others in their place, strutting their stuff, or in New Age language, their own self-actualization.

You arm yourself with twenty copies, or disperse them via cyberspace, hoping more than five other writers show up, down half a bottle of Maalox, and set forth. You expect consideration, reasoned comment, an apologetic exposure of possible weaknesses, and suggestions that might possibly help you enhance your work, and certainly praise for a masterpiece that strikes at the emotional heart of the reading public. What you hear might depend on a spousal argument before breakfast, dyspepsia, or a traffic ticket on the way to the meeting. But putting human frailties aside, how on earth did this practice of artistic self-flagellation come about?

As this is a politically incorrect history of the writer’s evolution, to paraphrase Huizinga, history is a way a group wishes its actions to be remembered, so I am getting my version in first. Forget what the intelligentsia say on their own behalf about how they became such erudite spokesmen for us all—this is the real skinny.

Question: What is a story?

Answer: A tale of derring-do you want to share with others. We freeze a period of time, an experience, imaginary or factual, which has emotional value and resonates with our listeners or readers. A story is the oldest form of human communication; one that entertains, educates, or scares someone’s pants off.

Since the first group of our ancestors gathered around a fire, we have shared tales. At that early stage of human development, our ancestors had limited subjects to talk or fantasize about. They focused on daily life, hunting or food gathering, lack of or an overabundance of sex, and fighting off dangers or rivals. These provided stories to while away an otherwise boring evening, and were the foundation of the genres of adventure, horror, romance, crime and mystery. Maybe a bit of romance or erotica if they seized partners from another camp-fire group?

Narcissistic storytellers expanded the genres by talking about themselves and their deeds in autobiography and memoir, and the more charitable among them told a biography or two. Probably a little early for historical. Since we were begotten by the camp-fire folk repeatedly begetting, children also figured in the mix. However, children and young adult stories were a small group as even then they were expected to be seen but not heard.

Our ancestors were not dumb—they survived, didn’t they?—but their knowledge was limited. Some of this exists in story-tellers today, so we know it’s genetic. However all those spooky things outside the rim of light, and the lack of understanding of natural phenomena led to the growth of the fantasy and paranormal, genres, which in turn begat myths, fables, fairytales, and legends.

One can’t tell stories, particularly about others, without slipping in a funny tale or two, so the late night camp-fire comics gave rise to humor. Poking fun started here, adding to the growth of erotica. The spiritual genres had to wait for the emergence of shamans, priests, ministers, and clerics. Science fiction was an even later development for obvious reasons.

Camp-fire tales were the creative Big Bang of the literary world, from which would develop audiences, platforms, Robert’s Rules to keep groups in order, and The Chicago Manual of Style.

Camp-fires begat storytellers and listeners, and attracted wolves. Storytellers begat writers and readers. Wolves begat dogs. Writers begat genres. Readers begat reviewers, and dogs begat breeds. Begorra!

Each group evolved its Ying and Yang, but the camp-fire environment shaped their behavior. The first camp-firees developed into two groups, those who told stories, and those who listened, which in turn became writers and readers.

How did they survive? A few lucky storytellers earned a bone or two, a few berries, or a better seat near the fire. Others had a harder job to develop a platform, exploit the limited social media of the day—shouting, and drum beating—widen their audience and increase their market share, or get rid of the competition. At times, we think our meetings are tough. Ha. Their’s was a really brutal time.

The great historical conundrum is how storytellers evolved into writers.

First they had to learn how to write, the main incentive for which was to settle arguments over copyright and plagiarism between the ‘got it mades’ and the ‘wannabe’ storyists, and back their argument with a transcript. When it was found that solving these disagreements with rock and club often lost the point of the story, a group leader put her fist down with a firm hand and told them that submissions would only be accepted in one of two formats, scratched in clay, suffix SIC, or written in stone, WIS.

Writers held several advantages. Their stories could be read by the read/write gurus of other camp-fire groups. They didn’t have to be present when their works were read. They reached a wider audience, and there was a sense of permanence.

As clay and stone tablets were difficult to carry, it birthed flash fiction and short stories with all the associated rules against wasted words and waffling, so that hard won word forms, the adjectives and adverbs, found they were displaced by strong nouns and action verbs. This led to arguments over style, and the first self-help writing courses.

Writers had to wait for kings and emperors to build stone walls for their own self-edification to find something longer to write on, and historical scribes to develop papyrus to take their master’s dictation about their wondrous deeds, before writers could develop an alphabet (or several), scribbles, graffiti, cursive writing, and graphic arts. At that time, there were no formal rules of grammar so sentences and paragraphs could be of any length!

Artists insisted writers wouldn’t remember what their little squiggles meant, and they coveted the wall space, so they insisted on adding their two cents worth with pictographs. See how effective they were? Pop along to Egypt and check out a temple. Easy reading?

As stone tablets, long walls and priestly papyrus were expensive media, and scarce, errors were severely punished with rejections. from Latin reiectus, past participle of reiectare “throw away, cast away, vomit”—or if you want a longer definition, “to refuse to acknowledge or submit to, to refuse to take or accept, to refuse to grant, consider, or accede to, to throw out especially as useless or unsatisfactory.” Whatever—they didn’t get published. Now the anomaly is that the Neolithic writers existed before Latin, but their words for rejection were lost when the corner was knocked off the Rosetta stone. Anyway, some of us are still stuck with rejection.

Camp-fire evening get-togethers had a profound effect on wildlife, what with the flames and smoke, to say nothing of the noisy babble, and odd bits of meat and bones being thrown around. Story-telling as a form of communication was so powerful however, wolves crept up to listen, became scared of the dark, wouldn’t leave and became dogs. This persists to this day. Tell a story even on a Saturday morning, or even better, publish one. Listen to those strange sounds from your reader-listeners; “wow, yuck, great, rubbish!” It’s the wolves creeping closer.

Dogs are not politically correct although their critic descendants try to be. They do not drop parts of their language that offend others such as the bark, whine, and growl. These persist even in the presence of humans and cats. They don’t know right from left unless they are trained to herd sheep so they tolerate all of us—well, most—including some they might consider ovine. We know they understand us, and they are brutally honest. Most of us don’t realize that they can mimic emotion and expression without the slightest idea of what they mean, just that they appreciate the results they get. Guilt and shame for example; dogs don’t feel them but they sure make humans think they do. We can trace our behaviors, canine and humine, back to the camp-fires. Similarities are not surprising as we have been associating together for longer than we have made wine, which later became a staple at literary functions.

Writing is a mixed blessing. It is more permanent than the ephemeral spoken story, but recording one’s brilliance on a stone wall or a sheet of purloined papyrus is akin to using an unsafe server. They can be scribbled on, or painted over, and occasionally, deliberately destroyed. And writers beget critiques, critics, reviewers, and party poopers. Remember, those that can, do; those that can’t, should seek another camp-fire.

Writers wanted to write better stories. Readers wanted them to write better stories. Readers wanted more entertaining writing. Writers wanted more intelligent and understanding readers. Writers had to learn to leave out the bits that readers didn’t read—this saved stone slabs, walls, and papyrus—and readers had to read like writers and understand why they didn’t leave bits out. So writers started reading other writers in an incestuous relationship that was first fanned by the flames of a camp-fire. They shared their aspirations by mutual critique. This evolved into a symbiotic love/hate relationship to bridge the chasm between otherwise well behaved people.

Thus were writing groups born.

It’s hard to believe, and harder to accept, that writers and critiquers evolved from the same stock, and we can trace our behaviors back to the same roots. That relationship includes dogs, so it is not surprising that we all share certain characteristics. This is shown by the number of dog word associations, idioms, proverbs, and sayings. At least 100, to over 500 depending how strictly you interpret the associations.

Writers, readers, critiquers, and dogs behave and express themselves as determined by their ability, acumennd jealousy—that’s also a gene thing, and the way they were nurtured after they left the safety of the camp-fire. Look around you. Check out the behavior of the writers and readers.

I identify those around me in terms of canine behavior. Well, we all have the traits we evolved with, and these traits have modern human counterparts. Since writers groups gather to tell each other stories and critique each other, let the ravishing begin!

I shall not bother explaining our role as writers. We know who we are, our skill with words, and our ability to thrill people with our farfetched lies, otherwise known as fiction. Writers like to believe their style and voice are unique. Accomplished writers know, and woe betide a reviewer who disagrees. They can be unfriended. While this is not the painful experience it once was around the camp-fire, it is no less a form of ostracism—one of those long erudite literary words after the Greeks and Romans developed philosophy.

I am concerned with our behavior on the flip side of the coin, critique or review. The way our works are received depends on genre, attitude, and as mentioned before, might be influenced by spousal argument, dyspepsia, or a traffic ticket on the way to the meeting. But basically it comes down to the persistent behavioral canine traits that are buried in all of us related to breed characteristics, attitude, and manner.

Do critiquers and reviewers act like Terriers who never stop worrying a point, or like happy Boxers, hinged in the middle so their remarks go both ways, all slobber and twist, to the laid back approach of a Labrador, the eerie quiet of a Basenji, the vocal yappety-yap-yap of a Chihuahua who likes the sound of its own critical voice, or the Beagle who will sniff out anything they can get their teeth in—I’m sometimes surprised that punctuation, spelling, and formatting seem so tasty when the problem at hand is the story and has it been told the best way possible. Some of your fellows, like Rottweilers, eat stories alive!

And they do it in different ways. Some grab big hunks of your story, some worry over small bones, and some get a meaty phrase stuck in their craw. Some content themselves with scratching around the edges, as if looking for fleas and other ways to irritate. Some act as if they were stalking around in the dark.

All the breeds can at times behave in particular ways.

Like the young of any breed, some will be fawning; pups trying to be dogs. “It’s so wonderful, I particularly like…” This shows their inexperience or they are trying for a date. Be tolerant. We all started there, for as Dr. Seuss said, “Adults are just outdated children.”

Some act superior like Afghans, canine variety, of this world. Nothing quite meets their approval. Gerunds should be gerundive; past participles, the past tense of a verb; adverbs and adjectives are for the weak of expression. If all else fails, they will argue over the size of the periods.

Some can be downright aggressive, pretending to be the Pitbulls of the group. They growl and stalk stiff-legged around your manuscript, but usually they are kitty cats in disguise until they see a small furry writer. Then the genes take over.

The standoffish are the Borzois of the group. They say very little because they consider themselves too brilliant to comment as an excuse for not understanding a word you have written, try to appear sophisticated, decline to get involved, but act as a threat by never letting you forget they are there. They occasionally growl in their private darkness as they hide from the light.

The opinionated, like the Border collie, always direct you in the direction they want. “I’ve re-written paragraph three to show what you should have meant.”

The apologetic or scared often carry a history of spending time in a sheltered writing group. They allow their insecurity to peer between the comments of others.

There are fear biters in all breeds. This is no less the case with critiquers. The fearful attack first in case someone attacks their work.

And we must not forget the hesitant. They run forward with their comments, hesitate, and leap back,I am not sure. I think. Perhaps. Oh, it’s just me.”

And beware the unrecognizable, those in disguise. Some are actually cats. Quite a different animal. Unlike dogs, which are pack hunters, cats are ambush hunters. They purr over your work and swat you when you relax and least expect it.

That is the brief unofficial and unauthorized history of the writer/critique phenomenon, and the remarkable similarity in our critiquing behavior to the canineswhich evolved alongside us from wolves to dogs

So when you next decide, in a very long sentence, that there is nothing quite as thrilling, or more daunting, than to present work to other writers for their opinion, or expose your work to public review, arm yourself with twenty copies, or disperse them via cyberspace, down half a bottle of Maalox and set forth, expecting consideration, reasoned comment, an apologetic exposure of possible weaknesses, and suggestions that might possibly help you enhance your work, you can now interpret critiques, theirs and your own, understanding our origins and the evolution of the characteristics when we whine, bark, snap, growl, or purr at each other.

 

Possibly the end.

Silly Words to Spice Up Your Writing

By Veronica Helen Hart

The title word, absquatulate, showed up in a historical fiction I was reviewing. The word stopped me cold. My first thought was a misspelling, the second that someone’s finger got tangled up on the keyboard, and the third, maybe it’s a real word that I never heard of. I looked it up on Google:

Absquatulate, a deeply silly word that means to make off with something or someone.

Why say a thief ran away with your money when it’s much more fun to say he absquatulated with it?

The word absquatulate came out of an odd fad in America in the 1830s for making playful words that sounded vaguely Latin. Bloviate (speak pompously) and discombobulate (make confused) are two other pseudo-Latin coinages from that era. Absquatulate takes the word squat and adds the prefix ab-“off, away” and the verb ending-ulate to suggest getting up and leaving quickly. It’s hardly ever used nowadays, mostly showing up as an example of an absurd word.”

I even looked it up in my normal home dictionary and did not find it, which is the point of this blog. When writing historical fiction, it may be fun to use old-fashioned, out of fashion, obscure words, however, they ought to be decipherable when viewed in context.

It’s fun to try to write dialogue that matches your time period, “Whilst I await your response, kind sir,…”

How about dastardly? I find that a fun word, which certainly works in a historical setting.

Twenty-three skidoo, fits well in the roaring-twenties and we know what it means.

By the way, absquatulate was used incorrectly in the story I was reading. The character simply left; he did not run off with anything.

Here are a few more obscure words to enhance your vocabulary: skirr, epicaricacy, acapnotic, alamode (probably not what you’re thinking), laciniate, lugehovey.

Happy writing.

Veronica Helen Hart

Writing about Historical, Humorous, Adventurous, and always Strong, Women