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Saturday, April 14, 2018

To Curse Or Not To Curse

                                                

Should you use profanity in your writing? You have to decide whether your readers would find cursing offensive or not. On the other hand, realism is always one of the goals of writing. One reason, old movies and books now sound stilted is because it is highly unlikely that American soldiers would have seen lines of Indians coming over the hill toward them and said, "Gee Whiz, Charlie, we're in big trouble."

No, they'd have more likely yelled, "Fuck, we're in deep shit!"

Same with soldiers and sailors being attacked by the enemy. Not for no reason did the phrases "cuss like a sailor" or "curse like a trooper" come into being.

When I was a teenager, we cussed in front of each other but never in front of grown ups (although they weren't nearly so delicate around us). Then our guys started coming home from Vietnam and that was pretty much the end of our sensitivity regarding profane words. My husband was a Vietnam combat veteran and he and his friends cursed prolifically and emphatically. Fuck became an all-purpose words which was used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb or simply to add emphasis. There was hardly a sentence that didn't include it. Cocksucker could be a harsh negative or an affectionate title for a friend.

I was always tolerant of cursing. My father was a machinist who often used colorful language although he had a point beyond which he would not go in front of women. The "ef" word, for instance. When Jim and I got together, it was no holds barred.

Even newspapers, like the New York Times, which used to ban "dirty" words have now loosened up and use the actual words people say in a quote. Donald Trump himself is notoriously foul-mouthed. The Times evidently believes we have gotten beyond being shocked by blasphemy.

So I have no qualms about people cursing in my writing if I think it would be realistic for them to do so. I use a lot of "bad' words myself so it comes easy for me to allow my characters to do the same.

Maybe you are careful about your own language. If so, maybe you'd be better off to excise profanity from your writing. There is a kind of rhythm to cursing that will sound non-authentic if you're not familiar with it.

You have to decide for yourself where you stand. I already have. If people don't like it, "screw'em".




Saturday, March 31, 2018

Walk for our Lives

Writing doesn't have to be lengthy to pack a powerful punch.  Sometimes, a few words are all that are needed to have an impact. A dozen words can be a shot to the heart.


 



Five words can deliver a clear, concise, no-holds-barred message.  They can serve as a warning to those who ignore them.


   




Five words and a picture can cut deeper than a five-page essay. They can contain a world of mockery or contempt or disgust for their opponents.


















.

Two words can contain an entire political philosophy.

                               







And sometimes silence can reach even farther than words.   

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Secret Story






(First published as a Logansport Pharos-Tribune column)







Several years ago, I was invited to direct a work shop at the International Women’s Writing Guild annual conference on the campus of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I had never done anything like this before. I’d never even attended a workshop much less developed and directed one. I’d never stayed on a college campus, slept in a dorm or been to upstate New York. I’d never been thrown together with 1,200 women.
 
I barely remember anything about the conference itself. I don’t recall what other workshops I attended or what I taught in my own. If I learned valuable writing lessons, they have been processed subconsciously.


But I do remember all those women and how intimidated I was at first. They congregated into groups with common interests. There were several New York poets, all elegantly dressed and accessorized. They considered themselves the Artists, existing on a slightly higher plane than the rest of us. 


There were the Earth Mothers in sandals and long skirts. Generally, they came from little self-sufficiency farms where they raised goats and organic food. You could usually find them in the yoga classes or making mandalas. (Mandala is a Sanskrit word roughly translated as “circle” – a mandala is a cosmic diagram, if you will).


There were the hard-core Feminists, many of whom had become lesbians voluntarily as a way of making a political statement. They tolerated no dissent from the party line.
Then there were the rest of us. I considered us the Regular people. We had no agenda beyond learning how to write or how to sell what we wrote. 


Some wanted to do just one particular thing. One wanted to write her church’s history, another wanted to produce a cookbook featuring her southern granny’s recipes. One, with an autistic son, wanted to write about coping with that condition.
St. Patrick’s Day always makes me remember one woman in particular. This St. Patrick’s Day was no different.


Her maiden name (I’ve changed the names because it’s not my story) was Hummel or Schneider, anyway, a very Germanic-sounding name. Her family, she told us, had been of proudly German origin for generations, on both sides. 


But her mother had a peculiarity in that her favorite holiday was St. Patrick’s Day. Every year, she made green-iced cupcakes decorated with four-leaf clovers on top. She made a big bowl of green punch. She filled the house with green balloons and hung green crepe paper garlands above the door sills. The centerpiece on the table was a cut-out of a leprechaun. She put Irish music on the record player. And she always took the kids to the St. Patrick’s Day parade.


If the rest of the oh-so-German family thought this over-the-top celebration was odd, they never said so but just enjoyed the green cupcakes and punch.


Many years later, the mother was very old and ill in the hospital. The doctors said she wouldn’t live much longer. She called my friend, her daughter, to her side and said, “I have a secret to tell you.”


Her daughter leaned in close because her mother’s voice was weak and trembling by then. 
“I was adopted. I’ve known about it from the time I was very young. I was rummaging around in a trunk in the attic and found my birth certificate. I never said a word about it because I was afraid if I asked questions, it would hurt Mama and Papa’s feelings. They never wanted me to know they weren’t my real parents. I never wanted them to know I knew because I considered them my real parents in every wonderful way it is possible to be a parent.”


Her daughter was astonished, hearing her mother’s confession.

“My birth mother’s name was Kathleen McCarty. She was 17 years old when I was born. That’s all I know. It’s all I ever tried to know although I wondered about her often. I’ve always given her the benefit of the doubt for doing what she must have thought was best for me. Since I couldn’t recognize my little Irish mother in any outward way, I always gave her a special celebration on Patrick’s Day.”


My friend wanted to ask questions but it was too late. Her mother was too weak. She’d said all she had to say. She died a short time later.


So, that’s why she was at the conference, to learn to tell her mother’s story. I don’t know whether she accomplished her goal or not but if she didn’t, I’m sure hearing it is something none of us who were in the cafeteria the day she told it has ever forgotten. I bet I wasn’t the only one to think of her on St. Patrick’s Day.


I’ve discovered since then that there really are no “just Regular” people – every one of us has a special story inside us – if we are willing to tell it and if someone is there to listen.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Romania? Really?

                                                 

As writers, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to style. We can improve on the areas where we falter, of course. I've gained many techniques from reading other writers I admire, such as how they handle transitions but over all, we are what we are and it's best to just go with it.

For instance, I could never develop a plot no matter how I studied how other writers did it. My books have no plots. They just ramble. That's the way it is.

When I was young and poor, my friend worked at Hooks Drugstore. When Harlequin paperbacks exceeded their shelf life, the store threw them away or gave them to employees. My friend read them, then brought them to me. Oh, God, I read so many Harlequin romances. They were so formulaic, it was like reading the same story over and over except in one, the hero was a pirate and in one he was a rancher.

When I got a little older, I thought I should write for Harlequin. It would be easy. They sent you guidelines that practically laid out what had to happen in every chapter. Just follow the formula. Except I couldn't do it. My romances always took a turn for the twisted. Not Harlequin material.

You have to be organized to write a nice, concise plot but I'm not organized. I never know what if going to happen next. I just start out and let it happen. I think I have a fair talent for characterization but that's not on me, it's on the characters themselves. They come to me full-blown.

For example, one of the protagonists in one of me books was born and raised in Romania before coming to New York as a teenager.

"Are you kidding?" I asked him. "Why Romania? I know nothing about Romania and could care less."

"Nope," he insisted, "it has to be Romania."

So I had to do a ton of research to to be able to write realistically about Romania. It turned out to be quite interesting but I'd never have chosen that country if it had been up to me.

So, my advice is to read a lot and yes, pay attention to how authors write about people, places and things but don't model yourself on anyone else.  Whatever your voice is, that's the important one to focus on.