Fun Friday With A Twist

This Fun Friday, I thought we’d add to the fun with a limerick.  As you know, limericks are silly, nonsense poems with five lines and an A-A-B-B-A rhyming pattern.  They can actually be traced as far back as the early eighteenth century in England.  (As a matter of fact, if you have a few extra minutes, go look up “limerick” in Wikipedia, where they have some really funny examples.)

And now, for our Fun Friday…

There was an old hermit named Dave…  No, wait, that’s not a nice one at all!  And it’s not even mine.  Let me try again.  This one really is mine…

Last night I pulled an all-nighter
My future has never looked brighter
I worked on my book
With the plot and the hook
I’m so glad that I am a writer

Have a great weekend!

~Rachel

If You Think MY Writing Is Intense…

It’s Throwback Thursday again, and this week I want to talk about intense writing. Sometimes people think my writing is a little too powerful.  But in my stories, I draw a lot from my own personal experiences, which I admit have not all been upbeat and cheery.  As such, too often, I may be numb to what others find disturbing.  Unfortunately, we didn’t all have the luxury of a Disney-version whitewashed life.  We all cried when Walt Disney showed us Bambi’s mother being killed by hunters, but have you ever read an unabridged edition of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale?  Those were a couple of sick and twisted individuals (not to mention the audience that bought their stories to read to their children)!

One of my favorite books when I was little was The Little Gingerbread Man.  The story was first published in the May, 1875 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine by an unknown author who claimed that a servant girl had told it to his or her children, and he or she felt it was worth preserving.  Apparently the servant girl claimed that an old lady told it to her in her own childhood.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, quite basically, it goes like this:  An old couple is hungry, and they have few ingredients on hand.  The wife uses the paltry amount of food in her kitchen and bakes a single gingerbread man for the two of them to share, but upon opening the oven, the gingerbread man jumps out and runs away.  He encounters several barnyard animals who all want to eat him, and as a pursuit ensues, the old couple and the animals chase the gingerbread man, but they aren’t as fast as he.  He inevitably tells them all, “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.” Finally, having outrun all the hungry followers, he encounters a river, but he unfortunately can’t swim.  (That’s right.  Gingerbread cookies can, in fact, outrun even the fastest gazelles, but by golly, they don’t float!)  So a seemingly kind-natured fox offered to swim across the river, carrying the gingerbread man on his back.  The gingerbread man figured he’d be safe on the fox’s tail, but as the water got deeper, the fox persuaded him to climb higher, first to his back, then his head, then his nose, and of course you can guess the rest.  As the gingerbread man climbed onto the fox’s nose, the sly fox flipped him into the air, then snapped his mouth shut and ate the poor little guy.

(Yep, that’s me and my grandparents above.)

People who know me, know that my grandparents raised me from the time I was born, so I consider them both my actual parents.  And because my birth mother was their last child, they were older than a lot of my friends’ grandparents when they got me.  Now, the cool thing about living with my grandparents (which I didn’t appreciate until I was grown and had kids of my own) was that I got exposed to older culture than my peers.  And I’ve learned to truly appreciate the old-fashioned way of doing things.

My grandparents had already raised their kids and didn’t expect to have to take care of another one in their golden years.  So they weren’t necessarily equipped to look after an active child.  But, that turned out to be a good thing in the end.  You see, while other young children were hearing ’Twas the Night Before Christmas every December, I could count on Grandma reading me Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  And while other little kids were hearing Jack and the Beanstalk as a bedtime tale, Granddaddy was reading me Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.  

If anyone ever questioned my grandma as to why she might find it appropriate to tell a young child such graphic stories, she wouldn’t hesitate to sing them a song that her mother used to sing to her and her siblings in the 1930s called “Babes in the Woods.”  This little ditty was apparently a true story of a couple of children whose parents died and left them in the care of their aunt and uncle.  But the uncle wanted their inheritance, so he told his wife that he sent them to live at a school in London, when in fact, he actually paid someone to take them into the woods and kill them!  It’s not unlike the original version of Hansel and Gretel where the children are actually eaten by the witch rather than them killing the witch and escaping as they do in the sanitized version.  And if The Tell-Tale Heart isn’t enough to give you nightmares, just take a look at the lyrics to Grandma’s song:

Oh, don’t you remember, a long time ago / Those two little babies, their names I don’t know / They were stolen away one bright, summer’s day / And left in a wood, so I’ve heard folks say

Chorus: Sweet babes in the wood / Sweet babes in the wood / Oh, don’t you remember / Those babes in the wood

Now the day being gone and the night coming on / Those two little babies sat under a stone / They sobbed and they sighed, they bitterly cried / Those two little babies they laid down and died Chorus

Now the robins so red, how swiftly they sped / They put out their wide wings and over them spread / And all the day long on the branches among / They sweetly did whistle and this was their song / Chorus

So, in conclusion, I don’t think I was depraved because I heard all these stories as a kid.  I actually think it enhanced my creativity.  Am I going to tone back my writing because someone might think it’s too intense?  Nevermore!

I Am Not Unkind

I am not a mean person.  Really, I’m not.  (Unless you mess with one of my kids, then I’m a tiger; but that’s to be expected from any good mama.)  Yet, I’ve found that when I write, if I’m writing about something nice (like a parent loving their child or a sweet husband and wife), I have to really put a lot of thought into how the dialog might flow.

However, when I write about a mean character (such as an abusive husband or a bully), I don’t really have to think about it at all.  It just kind of flows out of me, and before I know it, I’ve written two or three thousand words about how they came to be so despicable.

My sister says that mean characters are more interesting than syrupy sweet ones.  But then, I love books about the Amish, so I actually like the nice ones.  That got me to thinking about this even more.  I’m the type of person that allows people to walk all over me.  I don’t retaliate or play tit-for-tat, not because I’m afraid of the other person, but rather because I am concerned about the bad karma that it would create for me if I did.  (Plus, I genuinely believe that eventually mean people will get what’s coming to them.)

That said, it really started to worry me when I was recently writing about a social outcast and I so fluently described not only his own completely messed up childhood, but his plan to get even with the universe by annihilating all the people in a certain public place.  I read that chapter to a friend of mine, and it gave her goosebumps.

Another example is in something I’m currently writing.  As I’m telling the backstory of the protagonist and her arch-rival, I go back to when they were kids in ballet class together.  The protagonist got the lead in the class’ performance of Little Red Riding Hood.  The rival got the part of her understudy.  So on the day of the show, the rival brought a jar of urine and threw it on the protagonist to look as if she wet herself, then she told the instructor that the protagonist was so nervous that she couldn’t perform, and of course she got to go on in her place.  And obviously, the teacher didn’t believe the protagonist when she said that the other girl threw the urine on her because who in their right mind would ever do that?  Every single one of my friends that I’ve told that story to has gasped loudly as they backed away.  And almost all of them have asked, “How did you ever come up with that?”

When I got that reaction, it frightened me a little.  I was a little concerned that it was so easy for me to think of such debauchery.  But after I thought about it, I realized that I’ve personally had more than a fair share of bullies in my life, so perhaps I was extracting from the times that people were so mean to me and I did nothing to defend myself.  And conceivably I’m writing what at the time I might have fantasized what I wished would have happened to my own antagonists.  Perhaps my fictionalizing my own bullies and giving them what’s coming to them in my books IS my revenge. 

At any rate, I just wanted you to know that I’m actually a nice person.  Really.  AND IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME, I’LL BEAT YOU UP!

(P.S. And just to show how “not unkind” I truly am, you should know that it took everything in me NOT to end my post above with “I’m just kidding.  I won’t really beat you up.”  But now that I look at my post-script, I guess I did do just that.)

Egg and Olive Salad Sandwiches

I was raised by my grandparents from the time I was born.  And inevitably, whenever I wanted to follow any fad or found my way into mischief, my grandma always used to say, “What would the neighbors think?”  She was always concerned with what other people might think of me… which translated into if they thought I was bad, they would in turn think she was bad for raising me wrong.  So my entire childhood was spent worrying about the “imaginary audience.”  In fact, my book What Would the Neighbors Think? is based so closely on my childhood that I couldn’t even think of a better name for the protagonist’s grandmother than my own grandma’s name, Grandma Toby.

Besides being a character in my book, Grandma Toby is an actual character.  She’s funny and stubborn, proud and silly.  She also has a thick Southern accent which is just amusing in and of itself.  I love her very much, but as a kid, I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate her nearly enough.  I’m ashamed to admit that I was too worried that she might embarrass me to fully appreciate her uniqueness.

When I was a kid, I was a picky eater.  One of the foods that my grandma made that I loved was egg and olive salad sandwiches.   (But in Toby’s “Southernness” she didn’t call it an “egg and olive salad sandwich.”  She’d say in her twangy drawl, “You want some egg ‘n olive?” and you were just supposed to know that it was, in fact, a variation of a mayonnaise-based salad, and it was indeed going to be served on sandwich bread.)  But none of my friends had ever heard of egg and olive salad sandwiches.  If they were at my house and Grandma Toby made our lunch and asked if they wanted that, they’d inevitably ask, “What’s that?  Is it egg salad?” 

It was not.  It was quite different.  Of course, egg salad has mustard, and sometimes paprika and celery, or even sweet pickle relish or red onions.  But Grandma’s sandwiches were different.  I was sure she’d invented them because no one in the world knew what they were, and if that was the case, that made me different for liking them.  So, when that happened, I was so embarrassed and completely mortified!

In case you don’t remember, when you’re a kid, anything that makes you different gives other kids a reason to pick on you.  And I already had a long list of things that made me different:  My grandparents raised me, but all my friends lived with their parents.  I went to private school when all the other kids in my neighborhood went to public school.  All my friends’ moms drove, but my grandma didn’t drive, so we walked a lot or took the bus or a taxi.  Sometimes, I got sent to school in a taxi which made me want to crawl in a hole and die of humiliation.  And I was painfully shy.  As such, I got picked on a lot by other kids who always had tons of nosey questions and comments that I had to deflect.

Since Grandma had already “programmed” me to worry about what other people would think, when she asked if my guests wanted “some egg ‘n olive,” I was sure she wanted me dead and that was just another nail in my coffin.  As an adult, though, I have learned not to worry so much what other people think.  I’ve also learned that egg and olive salad was quite popular with the older generation.  It was actually well known back in the day, and my grandma did not actually invent it. 

So in honor of my Grandma Toby, today I will eat “some egg ‘n olive” for lunch.  And today, in an attempt to try to make up for ever making my grandma feel bad for embarrassing me when I was a kid, I broadcast over the Internet to the entire world, that I love my grandma, and I love egg and olive salad sandwiches!  Thank you, Grandma Toby!

Want the recipe?  It’s easy… Boil and peel 12 eggs, and chop them finely in a food processor; Drain a 6 oz. jar of green olives and chop them coarsely in a food processor; Mix well with 1 cup of mayonnaise.  Add more mayonnaise to taste; Spread on bread, and add salt or pepper if desired.

Enjoy!

Are You A Character?

When I wrote the first draft of my first novel, The Prison, I actually dreamed it three nights in a row.  The morning after the first dream, I woke up and thought, “Wow!  That was a cool movie!”  Then I realized it wasn’t a movie that I’d ever seen.  When I dreamed it the second night, I woke up recalling all the more vivid details that had come to me than had been there before.  And by the time I dreamed it the third night with even more detail, I took it as a sign that I needed to write it down.

The Prison wasn’t the first time I had repeating movie-like dreams, but it was the first time I actually ever took the initiative and did anything about it.  In my dream, I was the main protagonist, Rachel, and my sister, Michelle, was the second female character.  I was married to a man that looked like Brad Pitt (Oh, how I love when THAT happens!), and my sister was married to a man that reminded me of Johnny Depp.  Brad’s mother reminded me of actress Kathy Bates, and his father reminded me of actor Dan Lauria.  Jack in the book reminded me of Jack Black.  And police officer Joe DeLuca looked like actor Jake Weber (who played Joe Dubois in Medium). 

So, since God was kind enough to give me an all-star cast in my dream and allow me and my sister to perform along with them, I decided when I wrote to keep the names they’d already “been assigned” in my subconscious. The first half of the book is a wife’s recollection of her time with her abusive husband, and the second half of the book is the husband’s memories of the times he spent with his wife who he loved more than anything.  So, in the first half of the book, Brad looks like Brad Pitt when he has the long, stringy hair and hasn’t shaved in a while, and Johnny looks like when Johnny Depp has the longer hair and the goatee.  And in the second half of the book, Brad has short hair and is clean-shaven, and Johnny also has short hair and a smooth face.

So when I wrote, it was like I was taking dictation from another part of my brain.  I didn’t have to think about anything at all.  The characters were already developed, and the plot and dialogue was already in place.  As such, everyone got to keep their first names as I dreamed them, and my only real work was typing like a madwoman before I forgot any of the important details.  A lot of the first half of the book (and of course my dream on which the book was built) was based on some actual experiences I had many years ago.  So, quite frankly, I didn’t really have to go far to wrap my brain around the brutality the protagonist endures and how nasty her husband is.

Now, this might be a good time to tell you that I am Autistic.  I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and as such, I have an amazing audio recall for anything I’ve ever heard… but because I can rarely look at people in their eyes, I don’t do well with faces at all, and names also give me trouble.  Even when I watch TV, I seldom really watch, but rather, I listen.  I can generally hear the first few seconds of a TV show that I haven’t seen in years (sometimes not even since I was very small), and more likely than not, I can tell you exactly what happens in the episode as if I saw it only yesterday.  But if I watch and two people look similar, I’ll more than likely think they are one in the same.  To give you an example of what I mean, when the original show Law and Order was on, I didn’t like it, even though I loved Law and Order SVU.  Finally, one day, my sister asked me why I didn’t like it, and I told her.  I thought it was stupid that the attorney was always doing the detective’s job.  She didn’t know what I was talking about until I showed her.  And that was when we both learned that I thought that Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterson were the same person!

Frankly, this happens a lot in my real life, too.  Quite frequently in my life, I’ve been unable to remember a person’s name (even though I can easily remember every other word that person ever said to me, as well as where they were when they said it, whether they were facing North, South, East, or West when they said it, and the precise time of day along what we both were wearing at the time.)  So, when that happens, I’ve just assigned them a nickname that corresponds to either a distinctive physical feature or even more often, a habit or trait they possess.  Of course, these people don’t often know that I don’t know their names.  So, a lot of times, my sister or my kids will get a phone message from “Mister Big Nose” or “Lady Snow Ski Feet.”  But they know who I mean, so it’s all good.

As such, after I finished with my first draft of The Prison and decided that I definitely had more stories in me worth telling, I found that what worked for me was to make my female protagonist be me (named Rachel), and the characters around her are my closest friends or family (or sometimes my worst enemies).  Then, when I’m done writing, I go back in and change all the names to what I really want them to be.  This method, however odd it might be, usually works well for me, especially since most of my books are based on portions of my own life.  So if you know a writer, you, too, may actually be a character and not even know it.

But the neatest thing that happens for me is when my characters start developing themselves.  When I was writing my first draft of Thou Shalt Not, I complained to my sister that I hated how the father always called his daughter “Kitten.”  She laughed and said if I didn’t like it, then why did I write it that way?  (And if you write, of course you know the answer.)  I told her that I didn’t mean for that to transpire that way, but as his character developed it “just kind of happened.”  I can totally see now why all those Twilight Zone episodes and other such shows about writers who have characters come to life and attack them make good sense.

 

It’s Throwback Thursday, Homey!

homey the clownWhen you hear someone say, “Hey, Homey,” what image is invoked in your mind?  Is it Homey the Clown as portrayed by Damon Wayans in In Living Color?  (Homey the Clown was an ex-con who worked as a clown as per the terms of his parole agreement, but he would often attack his audience with a sock filled with coins, and he was the personification of the “bad clown” image.)

homeysOr when you hear someone call someone else Homey, do you perhaps think of street thugs who don’t understand the concept of pulling up their pants?  For whatever reason, boys and young men that don’t pull up their pants seem more intimidating, even though, logistically, they probably can’t run very fast because their pants would fall all the way down and trip them!  Even so, as tempted as I am to sneak up behind them and give them a “colossal Melvin” (which is a nice word for an atomic wedgie), whenever I see these young men, I usually restrain myself and actually cross the street to walk on the other side of the road, “just to be safe.”

My Throwback Thursday story takes us back to the early 1980s when I was in Mrs. Palmer’s seventh grade typing class.  Back then, typing was actually on a typewriter, much like the one I have featured on my blog banner above (which, by the way, is my actual typewriter from back then).

I got to play drums that year, and while I was excited that I was accepted into the school’s band, the band teacher moved the class to sixth period which was the same time as typing.  So I had to drop out of typing in order to stay in band.  I learned the “home keys” (ASDFJKL;) as well as the GH in the middle of them before I made the change to band class. 

Well, it wasn’t long before I realized that packing and lugging the heavy drum equipment between home and school got old, so I then quit band and went back to typing class.  By then, the class had already learned the bottom row of keys and some of the right-handed top keys.  I got back in time to learn the left-handed QWERTY keys.

Now, Mrs. Palmer was a stickler for using the proper finger formation, posture, etc.  She would even blindfold us and make us take pop-quizzes as she watched.  And of course, I failed miserably at the words that included letters which required the keys that I hadn’t learned.

Fast forward a few years.  I graduated high school a year early and thought I was “all that.” I got a job, had a baby, then realized I wasn’t going anywhere without a secondary education.  So, in the early 1990s, I went to college and had to take two typing classes, but they were of course on a computer and not a typewriter.  My college typing teacher was not nearly as stringent as Mrs. Palmer had been.  In fact, she didn’t care if we typed with two fingers as long as it was fast. 

As such, my typing form became sloppy (though I was fast) and I admit, to this day, I have to cheat by looking at the keys while I type.  (Actually, I often type without looking, but then when I catch myself and realize that I’m not looking, I panic and then force myself to watch.)

Well, my computer, which is actually only about three years old, has a very sad keyboard.  I don’t think I owned it for more than a year before the letters started rubbing off the keys.  (I won’t even get into the auto-correct feature in Word that makes something out of a typographical error that was never intended in the first place.  Oh, if you could only see my eyes roll back in my head while I think about that… Except when my eyes roll back, I can’t see what I’m typing, so that creates a problem.  Never mind.)  And before you ask, yes, I actually have tried to paint them back on, but the letters rub off again in a matter of hours.

my keyboard

 Anyway, when I started writing my first draft of The Prison, I didn’t have a lot of need for the bottom row of keys.  You see, the first half of the book deals with a woman’s recollection of her time with her abusive husband.  He calls her names such as “Stupid” and “Idiot”… you know, home and top row key words.  (Well, honestly, he calls her some names that include bottom row keys, as well, but those are irrelevant to this story.)  However, the second half of the story is the husband’s memory of his time with his wife.  He calls her things such as “Sweetie” (another home and top row key word) and “HONEY.”  Only inevitably when I typed “Honey” what I really typed was “HOMEY.”  (As you can see above, the M and N keys are completely gone from my sad keyboard.)  And, of course when I spell-checked the completed work, the computer never caught HOMEY as a misspelled word.  So, it wasn’t until I reread the manuscript, that I realized the humorous pet name my character had been using.  “Hi, Homey.  How was your day?” 

Since then, I’ve written five more first drafts of other books, and if I call someone Homey…(Well, actually I’ve never called someone Homey.)  But if I call them Honey, I pay particular attention to the M-N keys and make sure I am indeed addressing a loved one and not a street thug or psychotic clown!  

*.*.*

This concludes the Throwback Thursday portion of my story.  However, my fellow writers may appreciate the remainder of this post which has to do with the aforementioned theme of typos.  While I was pondering on what to write about today and mulling over my humorous homey anecdote, I read an article regarding what to include in book reviews.  I don’t want to say anything more specific, because I really don’t want to call someone out and make them feel bad.  But I wonder, friends, what you would do, if anything, if you encountered this.  After I read the article, I read the comments when I noticed the following mistake:

My biggest struggle is how to give a bad review while staying professional…The writer/editor in me wants to smack them with a dictionary. All I can saw is “This book is currently not readable because of poor proofreading.”

Obviously he/she meant to type “SAY” and not “SAW”.  And it probably wouldn’t be such a big deal if they weren’t in the middle of a rant about other writers who didn’t proofread their work.  (Frankly, I don’t think it’s nice to pick on anyone.  After all, we all make mistakes.  But you’ve got to admit, the irony here is pretty darn funny, right?)

So, if you saw this, would you:  A) contact them privately and tell them they might want to change that to avoid embarrassment; B) reply to their comment with a light-hearted quip, pointing out their faux pas and adding a smiley face to show you weren’t trying to be mean-spirited; C) do nothing; D) cut and paste the remark, then blog about it later; or E) any combination of the above?  If it were me, I think I’d appreciate someone telling me privately so I could correct it with as few people knowing as possible.  And if he/she were not writing about how much he/she despised mistakes, it might not be as blaring.  But then again, just because I’d appreciate being notified doesn’t mean someone else would take constructive criticism, or in this case, an unsolicited observation, in the spirit in which it was being given.  I’d appreciate your thoughts, please.  I mean, I honestly felt like trying to save this guy/girl from humiliation, but I didn’t want to come across as a know-it-all, and frankly, I don’t need the bad karma this could create.  

Edgar Allen Typoe