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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Authors - Consider an Echo for Christmas




If you're a writer and you don't already have one, you might consider putting an Amazon Echo (or the more compact, Amazon Dot) on your wish list for Christmas. The voice inside the Echo is Alexa and she can become one of your best friends if you let her. She'll coordinate your calendar and remind you of appointments. She'll serve as your alarm clock. She'll tell you jokes. She'll play whatever kind of music you're in the mood for. With her voice recognition capability, she'll inform that your mother is calling. She'll keep your shopping list. She'll give you the weather forecast in New Orleans or what coffee is on sale for the best price this week.

A friend of mine was recently at a hotel in Chicago and residents let the Echo in their room know if they needed anything like toothpaste or more coffee. Pretty soon, Alexa told them that a robot was at their door with their supplies.

You can use Alexa to supervise your television. Ask her to give you a list of Johnny Depp movies, then pick the one you want to watch. Tell her you'd like to see old re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show. Request her to play Christmas music. Choose a particular movie for her to bring up for you.

If you know how to do it, you can program her to turn your lights on and off.

I admit, I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a computer geek so I'm probably leaving a ton of stuff out. I don't take advantage of all her skills because I don't have many skills myself. She's way smarter than I am.

 But as a writer, I find her invaluable for research. If I need to know who won the Kentucky Derby in 1939, I just ask and the answer is instantaneous. Being ignorant about the digital world, I am stunned by how quickly she responds. It seems like there'd have to be a process where your question goes somewhere to be answered but that appears not to be the case. I just accept it as magic.

Alexa will tell you the most popular breed of dog in America or the best-selling song of 1969 (and then play it for you) or who led the Union troops at the Battle of Chickamagua or well, literally anything you need to know- who wrote a certain book, a Bible verse, a recipe for Shrimp Scampi, whether two medicines can be taken together.

I will tell you that she can get a little snarky at time. My friend, Jan, asked her teasingly what 2 + 2 was and she replied - "Four....but I think you knew that."

Anyway, I won't say that I never use Google but I mostly don't bother with logging on and typing out a question. I just ask Alexa.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ghana and Poland and Russia and Singapore? Seriously?

                                        

I was an enthusiastic blogger right from the very beginning. I have always encouraged my writing friends to blog.

I have four blogs now Red State Blue Collar (politics), God Loves Circles  Best (Nascar), RafeVincennes (writing), My Cancer Journey - (cancer). I've used Blogspot.com for my blogs since I started, not because I did research and decided they were the best but because they were the first blog host I heard of. That's been years ago now and I've been well-satisfied with their service.

Blogspot provides you with all kinds of fascinating statistics to track your blogs, like how many read it yesterday, today and last month and how many have read it since it started. They have graphs and charts to see when readership spikes, which is usually shortly after you add a post.

They give you the details of where your audience is located.

Red State Blue Collar, the political blog, is the one I've been writing the longest. The number of hits it's had over its lifetime is well over 100,000. It has had 151 visitors today and 1941 last month. The countries that most often read it are, as you'd expect, the U.S. and Canada but I also have readers in the Ukraine, Singapore, France and Ghana (seriously, Ghana?), among others.

My Cancer Journey is my newest blog. It had 71 visitors today and 433 last month. The U.S. and Canada read it most but after them, my largest readership is in Poland.

I originally created Rafe Vincennes to promote my book, Sociopath?, and the whole book is there but it gradually morphed into a general blog about writing. It has had four readers today and 1217 last month. Oddly enough, I have more readers for Rafe in China than any other country, including the U.S. The next two countries that read it are Japan and Russia.

Lastly, the NASCAR blog, God Loves Circles Best, had 93 hits yesterday and 667 this month. The top two countries to read it are the U.S. and Russia. Who knew Russia was so interested in NASCAR?

None of these makes me an especially popular blogger. Some well-known writers have thousands of readers for every post but I have my niche and I'm happy with it. I find it enthralling to think someone in Singapore or Ghana or Poland or China is interested enough to read what I write.

The main element of blogging is dedication. You must be willing to keep it updated without fail or your readers will give up just as you have. I have friends who started blogs and petered out after only two or three. It takes a while to build a significant audience and most bloggers can stand the loneliness they feel at first when it seems like they are writing into a void. But if you hang with it, the payoff eventually comes. .


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Creativity of Description

   
                                                   Image result for colors  images

The worst mistake a beginning writer can make, in my humble opinion, is to be repetitious. I always knew when I had a group of new students who were just starting out, the girls would be beautiful, the men would be handsome, their hair would be blonde or black or red, their eyes would be blue or brown or green.

Usually, with the first group of manuscripts I critiqued, I would circle all these over-used words and ask them to find a more creative replacement.

A beautiful woman can be stunning or gorgeous or radiant or lovely. A handsome man can be striking or good looking. 

Blond hair can be wheaten or flaxen. It can be a palomino mane or a waterfall of butterscotch. It can be the color of honey or butter or daffodils.

Black hair can be lustrous sable curls It can be onyx or ebony or raven.

Red hair can be ginger or rust or marigold.

Try to use more than one word to in your descriptions. Not green eyes but green the color of moss or seafoam or emerald or sage.

Blue as in cobalt, azure, sapphire or cerulean.

Brown as in hazelnut, latte, sand or fawn.

Complexion can be tan, tawny, ivory, cream or toasted.


It is exactly the same when you're describing places. Grass isn't always green. The sky isn't always blue. The dress isn't always red - maybe its flame or rose or garnet or scarlet or crimson.

I always told my students to play with their thesaurus (or, of course, now I suppose you can use Google instead). . Find words that appeal to you, that you think have a ring to them. Words that sound joyful or somber or whatever mood you want them to convey.

Another quibble I always had with new students was too many "ands". Rather have several shorter sentences than a great long string of ands. I usually went through and struck most of the ands out of manuscripts to show students how much more dynamic sentences sound without them.

Of course, in the end, it is your own style that counts. Perhaps description just isn't your cup of tea. You spend all your creativity on action. This bothers me as a reader. I want the author to tell me who his or her characters are. I don't want to have to figure it out for myself.




Sunday, October 08, 2017

Are You A Non-Writer?

                                                      Image result for writer's block

I taught writing classes for several years. I tried to encompass the basics of marketing as well as the writing itself. I really enjoyed those classes and I think the attendees enjoyed them too. The sad fact was though. that with a few exceptions, most of my students were non-writers of one type or another.

First, we had the Dreamers. They visualize seeing their name in print, maybe their book will even be made into a movie, but when it comes to sitting down at the keyboard, they realize they don't have much to say. I had one student tell me, - "hey, after listening to you, I know I'm never going to work that hard at writing. At this point, I'm just along for the ride. It's fun." He was still valuable to have in class as he was a skilled and helpful critiquer of other people's work.

There was the Starter. She had an idea for a novel but before she began the actual writing, she prepared and prepared. She had lengthy and intensive characterizations of all her characters. Not just things like height, weight, hair style and color, etc. but she plumbed their very psyche.

She had scale drawings of the interior of the castle. She knew the names of all the shops in the village. She had tentative chapter names. She had bullet-pointed plot lines. She researched the country in which her book took place.

Now all of this is great but at some point, you have to move on and actually write the book. So far as I know, she never did. She liked the planning more than the writing.

Then there was the Perfectionist. She wrote her first paragraph 27 times but she could never get it exactly right and until she did, she could not proceed.

"Just keep going," I told her, "you can always come back and edit it later."

But it simply wasn't in her nature. That particular course was part of a writer's conference. It was a five-day workshop. She was still writing her first paragraph when it ended.

The Non-Editor. Many writer's have these tendencies, including me. Once the original piece is done, we want to move on to something new but no, you can't do that if you actually expect to become a selling writer. You have to re-read and smooth out. You have to remove superfluous words or maybe add an adjective here or there. You know what your heroine looks like but does your reader?  You have to make sure you don't have grammar errors or misspellings. This is as much a part of writing as the original creation of a manuscript. It's the boring part for most of us but it has to be done.

We also have the Never-Send-Anything-Outers. I met one of my best friends at a Writer's Group some of my students started. She had, and still has, real talent as a writer, maybe more than any of us. The rest of us couldn't wait to hear the next excerpt of her book each week. We all encouraged her, especially me. She finished her book but I don't think she ever tried sending the manuscript to publishers. Then she wrote another book and it was just as good. It never got sent out either. I have never understood her mental block about trying to sell her work. Many writers have a fear of rejection so maybe that's it. Heck, I've had things rejected hundreds of times. I just figured the editors who sent them back were stupid and I persevered!

And now, of course, unlike back then, you have the option of e-publishing your own book through Amazon and/or Smashwords.

And one word about blogging before I go. Naturally, we'd never heard of blogging all those years ago. I write four blogs. I've known several people who started blogs and after the first couple, they just gave up. You must update your blog consistently if you expect readers to follow you.

The creativity of bringing something out of nothing is the satisfying part but it takes follow-through to do anything more with it.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: The Ship's Madora

                                                              The Ship's Madora

I don't do many reviews. I normally just read a book and move on to the next one. Mostly, I like the same books other people like. If you go to their Amazon pages, you'll see a hundred reviews so I figure they already have their audience and I'm simply one of them.

Now and then a book grabs a special place in my heart and I like to give it some love and attention. This is how I was affected by The Ship's Madora by Max Civon. Mr. Civon has always been a writer, mostly for television, but this is his first novel and it's terrific.

Quintin Cutter is a human maintenance slave on a Bomatu space ship. The ship's mission is to destroy earth and everyone on it. The human slaves on the ship live extremely harsh lives. The metal bands around their heads which attach to nerve endings control every move they make. They are placed in cells alone when they are not working. They are not allowed to physically touch, which isn't to say they haven't found novel and sensual ways to arouse one another. They are regularly sprayed in baths that remove all hair from their bodies, since the Bomatu find hair repellent. Robot assistants help them in their tasks and also watch to ensure that they don't do anything that isn't permitted.

Because he is a maintenance slave, Quintin has access to technical parts and pieces. He is determined to reach out to earth to warn the people there. There is, of course, great danger in doing this but he perseveres. .

There are many suspenseful plot twists and compelling story lines as he cautiously tries to accomplish his goal, knowing he could be caught at any moment. The characters are very real. The reader becomes emotionally attached to them and worries about the risks they take.

I am not a technical nor scientific aficionado but Mr Civon makes the details and descriptions of how the ship is built and what life is like there fascinating. I imagine it would be even more so.to science fiction fans.

In addition to the writing, the illustrations (by Dario Civon) flesh out the book so that you really identify with the characters.

I don't want to give away too much of the story line but I encourage you to buy this book. You won't regret it. The ending hints at more to come. I'll pre-order the next one as soon as possible.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

I Can't Face It Yet

                                           

My plan was to read Hillary's book and then write a review on this blog.

So I pre-ordered, What Happened.The book was released this week and suddenly, there it was on my Kindle. I told myself I would begin it it as soon as I finished the novel I was currently reading. I came to the end of that book but What Happened is still unopened. I started a mystery instead.

I've decided I'm just not ready yet. Even nine months later, that wound is simply too tender to pick off the scab and start it bleeding again.

I was a passionate supporter of Hillary both times she ran. I think she was cheated out of both elections in a way that put women in their places and showed us how far we had not come.The first time, she was screwed by the Democratic establishment. Bernie fans think that establishment cheated Bernie in 2016. Well, now he and Hillary are even.

In 2008, the party was seduced by a hip young black man. The woman, as women do, had worked her butt off for the Democrats, served the tea and cookies, did her homework, got A's on every test, stayed after class to tutor others. But she was sort of dowdy and remember those thick calves and those pants suits and that screechy laugh? The party pulled its little tricks to give Obama the edge, like making an Idaho caucus mean almost as much as a huge state primary like New York and not counting Michigan and Florida's votes until they agreed to throw their vote count to Barack.

I was furious with the Democrat establishment and I still bear the residual effects of that fury. I was asked to do some things by the Dems in 2008 like have coffees and make donations.

I said, "oh, us old women are good enough for the scut work, huh? Well, you can kiss my ass."

I came only reluctantly to supporting Obama although I think he made a fine president.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, Hillary was gang-raped in 2016 by multiple assaulters - Bernie, Trump and his supporters, Putin, WikiLeaks, the media and last, but certainly not least, James Comey.

In 2008, the campaigns, both the primary and the general, were relatively tame. There were the usual arguments about policy but everyone seemed to have a line to negativity they didn't cross over.

But then 2016 happened and both campaigns turned sharply ugly. I disliked Bernie Sanders from the git-go and the longer it went on, the more I disliked him. He gave Trump some of his best material against Hillary by portraying her as a corrupt vessel of the big banks. He was a most ungracious loser, totally unlike Hillary had been when she lost to Obama. He campaigned on until the convention and even when he finally endorsed her, he never seemed as if his heart was really in it. And his fans' hearts certainly weren't. They pissed and moaned about how he'd been cheated. He was the only candidate "pure" enough for them. Like Trump as a Republican, Bernie ran as a Democrat only so he count on the party benefits and apparatus. Many of supporters resented Hillary so much, they either voted for Trump for didn't vote at all. And look what they stuck us with?

Then it was Trump himself with his penchant for demeaning little nicknames for his opponents, his lies, his coarseness (i.e. the Access Hollywood tape) his phony piousness, the way he stuck his knife in the wound of our national divisions and made them wider and deeper than they had been before, a division that only continues to grow, pulling a low-life trick like inviting the "Clinton women" to the debate to throw Hillary off her stride, stalking her on stage with his male arrogance and contempt for women, his constant accusations about criminal behavior as regards to emails. And his supporters, I guess, thinking it was cool to chant "Lock her up." What a sickening mess it all was.

And it is still going on. Look at Facebook any day and you will see groups like The Deplorables still posting memes about how she is a traitor and should be in prison or hanged....for what, they don't know.

Of course, we now know WikiLeaks and Putin were one and the same. We know Trump played hanky-pank with the Russians. We know the Russians paid hackers to hack into the DNC and gave Trump the information via WikiLeaks. We know Putin paid for ads on Facebook to tell scurrilous stories about Hillary and that Trump's fanatical supporters ate it up like it was a hot fudge sundae. She not only had, God how many people, 20 or so, killed but she ran a child molestation ring out of a D.C. pizza parlor in her spare time.

The media didn't help at all. They were entranced with Donald Trump. They broadcast his every utterance live. He was an entertaining scam artist, great for ratings. Meanwhile, not a day went by that they didn't tell us about Hillary's e-mails although it wasn't much of a story. Nothing more than Condi Rice and Colin Powell had done. I read once that during the whole campaign season. her emails were featured somewhere every day for over 600 days.

And afterwards she was blamed for her own loss. She was too wooden. She didn't explain what she stood for in a way people could understand. Bullshit! I knew exactly what Hillary stood for - raising the minimum wages, cheaper college, improving the ACA to cover more people. working against climate change, changing the bank rules so what happened in 2008 could never happen again. The problem was that those were boring subjects compared to Trump's no-details, pie-in-the-sky proposals. "We'll build a great wall and Mexico will pay for it, believe me on that!"

And then there was James Comey, dropping his announcement that they were investigating more of Hillary's e-mails 11 days before the election even though when they looked into it, it only took them a couple of days to say there was no there, there. Why didn't he check it out first before he said anything? And why didn't he also tell us that Trump was under investigation for possible collusion with the Russians? Comey's excuse never made sense and it still doesn't.

And finally, there was misogyny, among women as well as men. It runs deeper even than racism. Women simply don't get the respect men get. The best woman can't compete against the worst man because of our continuing sexism. That was proven in 2016.

I can't sort of understand why men choose to stick together but why do women do it? Why do we have contempt for our own gender. Why are we willing to excuse and forgive Trump, lewd and crude liar that he is and yet expect perfection from a fellow woman. I will never understand and I don't think I can ever forgive.

Nope, my feelings are still much to raw to read What Happened. 








Sunday, August 27, 2017

We Need More Words!

                                     



Image result for dictionaries
                     
According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are 171,476 words in the English language plus 4,000 or so subsidiary words. And, of course, as we become a more global world, we incorporate more foreign phrases and words into our speech. You'd think roughly 200,000 words would be enough for anyone to say just about anything they care to say but in the Age of Trump, it simply isn't enough.

The man hasn't been in office for a year and yet the same descriptive words over being used over and over until I yearn to hear something different to add a little pizazz to reporters' repertoire of words.

Can I go four years hearing the same things said about his mental health: unstable, unreliable, unpredictable, pathological, narcissist, egotistical, megalomaniac, schizophrenic, unbalanced?

Or his mental age: immature, childish, juvenile, sophomoric?

Or his personality: vengeful, spiteful, cruel, uncaring, hateful?

Or his character: greedy, dishonest, congenital liar, self-absorbed, disloyal?.

Or his behavior: chilling, dangerous, frightening, horrifying, unfit?

Or his speech: rude, crude, lewd, coarse, classless?

Can we stand these same words pounding into heads for the length of his term of office (assuming he makes it all the way through).


No. Eventually we'll all get bored and lose interest. Reporters are going to have to be more creative to hold our attention.

I've thought of some fun new words we might consider using.

Nickeleen - referring to a person who worships money regardless of what he has to do to obtain it.

Grumbish - a person with no regard for the feelings of others.

Plamuck - defined as a man who has no moral center.

Selfnoodle - a person who is undisciplined, with no self control.

Frassel - a pathological liar.

Feel free to use any of these if you like. Or better yet, come up with some of your own.