Risks in Writing

My response to Fandango’s prompt for today: DANGER

Writing, as we all know can be fraught with hazards.
There are PLOT HOLES and SAGGING MIDDLES.
Our CHARACTERS may lack depth or interest.
The editor may say, “TOO MUCH LIKE one we just published.”
A reader may give us a BAD REVIEW even when we’ve done our best.

And there are editorial errors like
MUDDLED PHRASES and WANDERING MODIFIERS
that keep us from getting our message across.

I just finished a series of three cozy mystery books, written by A.G. Barnett. The series is subtitled, “A Brock & Poole Mystery.” Books in this series are:
#1. An Occupied Grave
#2. A Staged Death
#3. When the Party Died

These are police procedural mysteries, not so much danger and high tension like writer Charles Todd’s books, but quite satisfying in regard to plot and likable, believable characters. However, the editing in the first two books leaves something to be desired now and then. For example:
“He stood, looking down at the man that was waving his arms theatrically about him, arms folded.”

Edit #1: a person man is always a who.
Edit #2: Move that wandering modifier back where it belongs and snip a bit:
“He stood, arms folded, looking down (he was really tall) at the man who was waving his arms theatrically.”

The writer was quite inclined to switch to pronouns, so there were times during the first two books where I had to stop and think, “Who does he refer to?”

I’ve written an example to illustrate what I mean:
Roddy has a little monkey and he loves to climb trees. He calls him Timbucktu but he has a bad habit: he never comes when he’s called. When he’s being really stubborn he offers him a banana and he usually comes right away and grabs it.

I was happy to see that by the third book Mr Barnett, or his editor, had caught on to this problem and cleared up most of the confusion.

More Examples of Wandering Modifiers

We watched the avocets poking around in the pond with their long beaks through our binoculars.

Driving by in the car, the falling snow sifted down onto the shrubs around the abandoned house.

And one of my all-time favorites in the Muddled + Mystified Dept:
A social assistance recipient, providing information to her case worker about her two newest dependents, wrote, “According to your instructions, I have given birth to twins in the enclosed envelope.”

WHAT BRINGS THIS TOPIC TO MIND?

In the course of emptying book cases and moving books around, I came across a thin paperback written by Saskatoon columnist Bill Cameron. The title of this sort-of-memoir:
A Way With Words: A Light-hearted Look at the Agony of Writing.
©1979 by Bill Cameron
Published by Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, SK
I really enjoyed reading it, though it may be out of print and unavailable now.

Mr Cameron points out to wannabe writers that the biggest danger is not saying what you mean. He gives a number of humorous examples showing how reporters and others have strayed from Say-what-you-mean clarity. (To keep things straight, I’ll post his comments in green.)

This snippet from a tourist brochure gives visitors to SK a curious picture of travel here:
“If you pull off the highway…and the first car to pass waves and the next one along stops and chats, you’re in Saskatchewan.”

“Cars that wave? Cars that stop and chat! And all this time, I thought it was the people of SK, not the automobiles, who are friendly.”

According to Cameron, this once-upon-a-time General Motors press release “set off chuckles and cackles all over the newsroom.”
“Some 800 employees…were furloughed for a short re-tooling period.”

“I presume furloughed is a weasel word for laid off. More important, I hope it was the factory which was re-tooled, not the workers.”

Even the universe is somewhat amiss, according to one news item:
“Ranging in size from dust particles to giant comets, interplanetary space is full of debris.”

“Nonsense. If space was full of debris there wouldn’t be any space, and Armstrong and Aldrin could have walked to the moon.”

An editor must read the news article carefully before committing it to the printer. As this Canadian Press headline from the 60s demonstrates:
“Alberta Catholic Women’s League delegates passed resolutions calling for tighter legislation against abortion and pornography at the group’s annual convention.”

“To suggest, as this does, that abortion and pornography go on at the annual convention…not only doesn’t say what the writer meant; it’s close to slander.”

Then there’s the famous one about Yogi Berra…a line that has been picked up by more than one gag writer since its original appearance.
“After he was hit on the head by the pitched ball, Berra was taken to hospital for X-rays, which showed nothing.”

I understand there are grammar checker programmes available now that will go over our writing and zero in on these zingers. Have any of you others bought one already? I’ll think I will be ordering one shortly. 🙂

The Scottish Lowlands

Fandango’s one-word challenge for today: GUEST
As my response I’ll tell you about a travel book I once read:

My Heart’s in the Lowlands – Ten days in Bonny Scotland
© 2007 by Liz Curtis Higgs, published by WaterBrook Press.

“Let’s go, shall we? Just the two of us?”

With this opening, Liz invites the reader to be her guest and travelling companion on a jaunt through the Scottish lowlands. This is the place Liz loves to visit, the setting for her novels.

Through her vivid descriptions, she allows us to experience the sights, the cuisine and the ambiance of Dumfries and Galloway. She tells of castle ruins, ancient churches, Bobby Burns’ favorite haunts,  local attractions, bed & breakfast accommodations, shops and customs.

Liz has written a number of historical romances set in the southwestern part of Scotland and has made a number of trips to the region in the course of researching her stories. This makes her a great tour guide; you’ll enjoy the role of  a good friend as she chauffeurs you around and explains the history behind the places you’re seeing.

I enjoyed this book very much when I read it the first time but when I discovered later that my Vance ancestors came from Galloway, the travelogue took on a whole new meaning for me. I’d love to visit the area from which my great-great grandfather, the widower Joseph Vance, set off to seek his fortune in the new world.

He left Scotland around 1835, traveling with his young son and his three brothers. En route to their future home in Ontario these four brothers passed through New York, where Joseph won the hand of Miss Sarah Allen, daughter of Samuel Allen, originally from Vermont. Joseph & Sarah settled in Oxford County and produced a family of six boys and one girl, Sarah Jane. My great-grandfather, Samuel was one of the youngest.

As I read Liz’s book, I realized what a contrast the tall maple forests of southern Ontario would have been from the windswept moors the Vances left. What brave souls they were!

Even if you have no family tree roots in this area, do take the tour with her if you can get your hands on a copy of her book. She’s such a pleasant travelling companion; I’m sure you’ll find it a pleasure to be her guest for a few hours of reading enjoyment.

 

Mashed Up Musings

Rambling Thoughts on Genre Mashups

Puzzling.jpgYesterday over at The Write Practice, the subject was genre mashups, something I’d never hear of before — at least not by that name. The concept of taking a story and retelling it in another genre is familiar. For example, telling the story of Cinderella as a news report.

In this Write Practice post “The Magic Violinist” is suggesting mixing genres like fairy tale + sci-fi, romance + thriller, classic + contemporary. Oliver Twist meets his Mafia Godfather. That type of thing.

I read a book recently where one of the main characters is an author and in her novel Jane Austen is captured by space aliens. The title of the book will give a clue as to how successful she was at getting it launched. The Rejected Writers Book Club (Southlea Bay) by Suzanne Kelman is a funny, though none-too-believable, tale with a mixture of zany and normal characters. I found it delightful.

Mixing genres is an intriguing thought. Even in straight fiction, there are some tales I think would benefit from a dash of something else thrown in. For example, Wuthering Heights — one book I disliked extremely. I read the thing all the way through, hoping poor Heathcliff would get a grip, but there was just no improvement.

It’s billed as a romance — but I saw no actual love anywhere in its pages. Jealousy, greed, snobbery, obsession, fury, cruelty, revenge, yes. Love, no. I think Healthcliff might have benefited immensely by a visit from those three Spirits of Christmas who brought Ebenezer Scrooge to his senses in A Christmas Carol.

I think a lot of mashups of the old classics have already been done a zillion times. There are many contemporary, sci-fi, fantasy, and western versions of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Pride + Prejudice, Romeo & Juliet, and Hamlet floating around.

Just for the fun of it, here are a few mashups I came up with:

Lord Peter Wimsey is sent to investigate the assassination of the King of Scotland and the murder of Banquo. He deduces from various clues that MacBeth is the guilty party…
or
Miss Marple, a good friend of Banquo’s widow, does some snooping and uncovers Lady Macbeth’s duplicity in the assassination of the king.

The Three Musketeers could be three university roommates who join together to prove their favorite professor, accused of being a spy, is innocent.

I’ve never read The Great Gatsby, and the synopsis doesn’t at all inspire me to start. However, one of the three male characters could meet up with the three spirits of Christmas and come to see the error of his ways, improving the sad outcome of that story.

On the humorous side, Bertie Wooster could meet up with Ebenezer Scrooge’s three Christmas ghosts and resolve to atone for his former self-indulgent lifestyle. He tries in his inept way to donate time + talent to some worthy cause, but Jeeves has to sort things out when they go awry.

Notes:

Cinderella, an old fairy tale, was recorded by French writer Charles Perrault
Oliver Twist is a classic novel by Charles Dickens
The Little Mermaid was a Hans Christian Anderson tale
Wuthering Heights was Emily Bronte’s only novel
Ebeneezer Scrooge is Charles Dicken’s notorious curmudgeon and tightwad
Pride & Prejudice was penned by Jane Austen
Romeo + Juliet, Hamlet and MacBeth were written by William Shakespeare
Lord Peter Wimsey was Dorothy Sayers’ famous detective
Miss Marple was Agatha Christie’s very successful sleuth
The Three Musketeers was written by Alexandre Dumas
The Great Gatsby was an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel
Bertie Wooster + his valet, Jeeves, were created by P. G. Wodehouse

Mini-Review for Mini-Tales

Beginnings and Endings: a Selection of Short Stories

© 2017 by Jane Suen

This book contains four short tales, nothing profound or suspenseful; just everyday scenes in the lives of several people — and one growing thing. A quick read, interesting and well edited. I noticed several wordings that made me wonder if the writer’s first language is English, but over all it’s very well done. Makes you want to read the longer background story or the “what happens next?”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Going through my Kobo e-reader this afternoon, taking a look at the books I’ve downloaded. A number of these are coming from new authors, giving away their books in the hopes the recipients would write a review. So I’d best do my part. 🙂

Well Written, Intriguing Characters, A Dash of Zany — and FREE

BOOK REVIEW:
CRANBERRY BLUFF,
A Tale of Scones and Scoundrels

© 2014 by Deborah Garner
Cranberry Cove Press

Molly Elliott lived a comfortable life and for three years had a stable career in Tallahassee, FL, until one day someone took advantage of her regular routine. She was making the company deposit at the bank when it was robbed. The female thief was dressed about like Molly, hair styled the same, and standing at the next wicket when she pulled a gun on the teller. This led to some question as to which woman was actually the robber.

The police, after viewing the bank’s video tapes, were satisfied Molly wasn’t involved. Someone else believed she’d somehow been involved and gotten away with the loot. Molly started getting notes like, “We know you have it and we’re going to find it.” The police called the notes “just a prank” but when Molly came home one day and found her house ransacked she knew this was deadly serious. It was impossible to feel safe; she started to fear everyone, every situation.

Then her Aunt in Northern California passed away and left Molly her home, currently operating as Cranberry Cottage, an eight-room Bed & Breakfast. Molly jumped at the chance, left her life in FL behind, and found respite from the constant fear in her new location.

The story opens on a Sept day where Molly, comfortably settled into the role of innkeeper, prepares to welcome the five guests who’ve booked rooms at Cranberry Cottage. A honeymooning couple, a sixty-something woman who loves to shop, a strange little salesman who doesn’t mingle, and a very handsome, sociable fellow who shows up very late that first night. Later identifies himself as a novelist.

Little does Molly know that her guests are not the people they present themselves as — and at least one of them is convinced Molly still has the bank heist stashed away somewhere on the property. This guest wants to search and find that money. As the story unfolds we see the other guests have their own agendas and reasons for being at Cranberry Bluff.

I seldom give a book five stars, but this one I did. The story is well written and believable, the characters well developed, if a tad off-beat. As we get to know them better the tale gets zany, not totally realistic but definitely believable and interesting. The first time I read the book I couldn’t put it down. When I received notice from Book Bub that it’s free right now through both Amazon and Kobo, I decided to do a review and tell you about it. So I read it again yesterday and found it just as entertaining the second time around.

A romance begins in this book, but the two involved like each other and help each other. No violence, no bad language, no screaming matches. Just a nice light read.

Added Bonus:
A number of Cranberry recipes at the back of the book.

Click here for Amazon
Click here for Kobo

 

Book Review: The Nose Knows

A Bugle Boy Crime Caper (Duane & Bugle Boy Book 1)

by DeForest Day

Bugle Boy, a clever bloodhound pup, was put through the TSA Canine Training Center in San Antonio, TX, and graduated at the top of his class. He became part of the TSA airport security team, able to sniff out a many different narcotic and explosive substances on a baggage carousel.

However, Bugle Boy was not trained to distinguish between average citizens and politicians. So when he saw a man trying to slip past the security screening, Bugle Boy howled about it. And further, he notified his handler about an illegal drug he was sniffing in the man’s pants’ pocket. The fellow turned out to be a Republican congressman; he was outraged and demanded the handler be fired and the dog euthanized.

A higher-ranking security officer was called to deal with the complaint. Alas for the congressman, the officer was not only a stickler for the law, but a Democrat to boot. When he insisted on a strip search, the Republican congressman pulled a baggie of marijuana from his pocket and tossed it at him.

This was apparently legal, but not apt to be well tolerated should this revelation come to the ears of his rather conservative Idaho voters. Charges and counter-charges were quietly dropped. The politician did insist the hound be fired, but Bugle Boy was officially a Federal Civil Service employee and you can’t fire a civil servant without a public hearing — which was apt to adversely affect the senator’s popularity at the polls. So Bugle Boy found himself part of a package deal — a new SUV being the other part — shipped off to a tiny Pennsylvania town with a three-person police force.

Here he was partnered with Duane, a local cop who perhaps wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but did well at catching speeders. Bugle Boy’s bored after the excitement of a busy airport but when they get called to a shooting of sorts he finally gets his chance to sniff out some local excitement. Which gives the police chief some anxious moments in his campaign for re-election.

I enjoyed this story, a rather short one as novels go — Amazon says 42 pages. I liked the small-town setting and gentle spoof on local characters, politics and politicians. It was never uproariously funny, more like chuckles all through. The language is mild for the most part; there are a few expletives, off-color jokes and insinuations.

I got this e-book for free with the idea that I should write an honest review. If you’re interested in reading it, right now this first-in-the-series book is free on both Amazon and Kobo.

This book review is my response to the Ragtag Daily Prompt word: SPOOF