Blast from the Past: Improving a Story to Death

atw80p-v2Hi, everyone.  A text-only version of this article appeared in my GoodReads blog on June 29, 2009.  The lesson on writing with care remains the same today.

The story I referenced is now entitled “Betrayed by a Kiss,” and may be found in my always-free short fiction collection, Around the World in 80 Pages.  Enjoy!

I learned a harsh lesson this month.

I entered one of my favorite short-short stories, “The Judas Kiss,” in two different competitions. It was a strong, intelligent story with a twist, and I was very proud of it. One of the decisions I made when I wrote the story was to deliberately never identify the gender of the protagonist. I thought it was a real strength of the story.

Except I wimped out before I sent it to the two contests.

woman-41201_1280I made the protagonist female, and wrote some additional information about her. In hindsight, this was detrimental to the story’s strength … and “The Judas Kiss” failed to place in either contest.

I think that constructive criticism is invaluable, but as an author I should have just left well enough alone. There is a fine line between art and a mess; a painter needs to know when to lay down the brush. The same things applies to writing, whether short-short, short story, novella or novel. Wield your pen with care.


Blast from the Past: Remembering Joseph Carey Merrick

A text-only version of this article appeared on the now-defunct Red Room in 2004 and on Wattpad in 2010.  I’ve updated the date information and provided some new links. Enjoy!

joseph_merrick_carte_de_visite_photo2c_c-_1889Sometimes I think my head is so big, because it is full of ideas. — Joseph Merrick, in Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man

Those who have read In The Eye of The Beholder: A Novel of the Phantom of the Opera know this already, but I don’t mind sharing it here: Joseph Merrick is featured in the story.  No spoilers, I promise.

Joseph Carey Merrick, aka “The Elephant Man,” lived during the Victorian era.  He suffered from what we now understand as Proteus syndrome, where parts of the body grow at different rates.

Merrick lived part of his life as a sideshow freak until he was taken in by Dr. Sir Frederick Treves.  Treves arranged a home for Merrick at the hospital where he worked and took care of him until his death at the age of 27.  Merrick was literate, and a devout Christian.  He often told visitors that his favorite book was the Bible.

I won’t go into Merrick’s entire biography here; additional information is available here.

However, there is a reason I write these words today.  April 11, 2017, is the 127th anniversary of Merrick’s death.  On behalf of the Friends of Joseph Carey Merrick, I ask that you take a moment on this day to remember Joseph and pray for those with disabilities both visible and invisible.

(Public domain image of Joseph Carey Merrick’s carte de visite photograph via Wikimedia Commons.)


Blast from the Past: Pet Peeves: Malapropism

A text-only version of this article appeared in my GoodReads blog on August 24, 2010.

Mrs. John Edwards as Mrs. Malaprop, Via WikiMedia Commons.  No restrictions.

In his play The Rivals, Brinsley Sheridan introduces us to Mrs. Malaprop. Mrs. Malaprop thinks that she sounds very educated because she uses some pretty fancy words — but she has no idea what they mean, so she comes across as fairly ignorant. My favorite examples come from Mrs. Malaprop’s speech to Sir Anthony Absolute about her ambitions for her daughter:

“Observe me, Sir Anthony. — I would by no means wish a daughter of mine to be a progeny of learning; I don’t think so much learning becomes a young woman; for instance — I would never let her meddle with Greek, or Hebrew, or Algebra, or Simony, or Fluxions, or Paradoxes, or such inflammatory branches of learning — neither would it be necessary for her to handle any of your mathematical, astronomical, diabolical instruments; — But, Sir Anthony, I would send her, at nine years old, to a boarding-school, in order to learn a little ingenuity and artifice. — Then, Sir, she should have a supercilious knowledge in accounts; — and as she grew up, I would have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the contagious countries; — but above all, Sir Anthony, she should be mistress of orthodoxy, that she might not mis-spell, and mis-pronounce words so shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying. — This, Sir Anthony, is what I would have a woman know; — and I don’t think there is a superstitious article in it.”

An excellent page of Mrs. Malaprop quotes may be found at this link.

As you go through the list of what we now call malapropisms in honor of Sheridan’s comedic character, I’m sure you’ll notice that the main problem comes in with homophones/homonyms.

I got into a big argument recently with an author because he referred to “knocking an arrow” in his manuscript, and I called out his error. He showed me numerous blogs that show people “knocking arrows,” which amused me mightily (I used to be an archer).

I think that knocking an arrow is not a very good use for it. In fact, I would think that too much knocking would render it pretty useless after a while.

In order to aim a bow, you must first nock the arrow.

The dictionary is your friend, and should be the source upon which you rely. If you look up nock, you will find that its origin comes from the Middle English nocke, which means “notch.” The notched end of the arrow is called a nock because it has a notch.

Now, let’s look up knock. Not only do we see no definitions related to archery, but we also see the Old English origin of the word in knoken, meaning “to press.”

I could go on and on about this, because it is an unfortunate problem. I have seen people write “for all intensive purposes” where they mean “for all intents and purposes,” and “taken for granite” when they mean “taken for granted.”

Honestly, as an editor, these sorts of things leap out at me and make me cringe. However, there are worse potential consequences than my disturbance; malapropisms may result in your manuscript being pitched out by an acquisitions editor who, frankly, doesn’t have time to clean up after you.

Watch your homophones/homonyms, folks; you don’t want to be the next Mrs. Malaprop.

Blast from the Past: What Time Is It?


A text-only version of this post appeared in my GoodReads blog on June 22, 2009.  The trilogy I reference eventually became two books and a short story collection, the Seen Through the Phantom’s Eyes series.  Enjoy!

For today’s entry, I want to focus on the importance of timelines. As a historical fiction author, I find that it’s important to know what happens when.

Timelines matter for more than just world events, of course. You want to make sure you know where your characters fall into the scheme of things as well. If your character is four years old in 1895, she can’t very well be 5 years old in 1902, for example.

Timelines are crucial for continuity. I’m working on the second book of a trilogy, and the main character from my first book will be in all three of them. I need to know how old Claire will be during the events that I’ve planned for the third book so that I can figure out realistically what actions she can take. In other words, I can’t have a 79-year-old lady doing the same kinds of things she did at 29 in many cases. It’s just not reasonable.

One author friend keeps a notebook with her timeline written in it, as well as various details about what is in a given room, etc., so that her continuity is flawless from chapter to chapter. I’m not nearly that formalized, but that’s what works for her.

How do you keep track of time for your stories? Please feel free to share your comments.

Blast from the Past: Thoughts on Being a Writer

lpd-v-3A text-only version of this post appeared in my GoodReads blog on July 7, 2009.  It eventually appeared in my book of essays, Les Pensées Dangereuses.  Enjoy!

I did a little more editing work on In The Eye of the Beholder today, both before I went to church and a little bit this afternoon after I re-watched “PS I Love You.” After services, Rev. Mike gave me my chocolate bar (a prize for correctly identifying the language into which one of MCC’s weekly reflections had been translated — Polish) and the reprint of my first entry in the Weekly Reflection series. My article was picked up by another MCC for their newsletter.

So, I’m watching “PS I Love You” this afternoon, and one of the letters Gerry sends to Holly talks about how he remembers her talking about creating something. Holly talks about how creating things shows the world something about you — something that you didn’t even perhaps know about yourself.

writer-1421099_640It seemed like all of these experiences today conspired to make me realize something: I had stopped thinking about myself as a writer. I guess I felt as though I no longer had that right after getting that rejection letter last year from the publisher. I thought I was deluding myself, you know? I had a novel — 55K plus words, with a plot and everything — but I had stopped thinking of myself as a writer.

I don’t know quite why. I started the book four years ago, during an especially dark time in my life. It took me three years to finish it. I am so proud of it — even as I go through this final batch of edits and tighten things up once and for all so that it can go up on the eBook site. But other than this blog, I had pretty much stopped writing until Rev. Mike asked me to write a weekly reflection. I used to write for a living, folks. But I stopped thinking about myself as an artist of words — I wasn’t kind enough to myself to think I had any business doing so.

word-cloud-936542_640The overarching theme of In The Eye of the Beholder is the importance of compassion. I also realize that it’s the overarching theme of my two favorite books of all time (The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis, and Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux). And yet I did not have enough compassion toward myself to recognize that I was shutting down the most creative part of me — the part of me that has, more times than I care to admit, shown me something that I didn’t know about myself.

So, here it is: I am a writer. I am an artist of words. My greatest gift is my pen (or, in this case, my keyboard) and what I make come from it. I am so very proud of myself for what I have written already, and I am grateful for finding my way back to that place.

(Public domain images via Pixabay)