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.

 

When Two Adjectives Go Walking…

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve spent a fair bit of time this past week over at Critique Circle reading and commenting on various stories posted there. Of course this brings thoughts about improving one’s writing — which will now spill into this post.

I’ve posted my own story and gotten seven critiques. WONDERFUL! Being critiqued has been good for me. For one thing, I’ve had to go back to grammar books and other published authors to study up on the acceptable use of commas. Tricky little things. When it comes to separating clauses, there seems to be no uniform rule of, “Yes, one here,” or “No, none there.”

One of the things I often note in my critiques is the overuse and/or duplication of adjectives. Some genres tolerate more descriptive adjectives than others, but I do like the advice I once heard from some well known writer:
“Imagine you’re buying your story words for $1 each. You won’t want to buy more than you need.”

If you had to pay for words, you’d want to make sure each word is doing its job. You won’t want to pay for a bunch that need others to lean against because they don’t say enough on their own.

Mark Twain: “When you see an adjective, kill it.”

I’ve modified this bloodthirsty ink-thirsty version and adopted this maxim:
“When two adjectives go walking, flatten one.”
A little less gruesome, don’t you think?

Last year my husband enrolled in the Jerry Jenkins School of Writing and we both benefited from his lessons on “Becoming a Ferocious Self-Editor.” He gives demonstrations along with explanations, taking the first page of someone’s story and hacking it to pieces showing how it can be tightened.

When it comes to adjectives, he quotes another writing guru — sorry, I forget who — saying: “One plus one equals one-half.”
The idea being: when you use two adjectives, you weaken the effectiveness of both. Choose the most powerful and cut the other.

For example: The neat, tidy little cottage sat at the edge of a tenebrous, spooky forest.
I’d go with tidy, which means neat. A cottage is automatically little, so cut that, too.
Tenebrous means dark or murky — and dark murky places usually are spooky. Spooky places are usually dark and shadowy. Pick one or the other — preferably the one most people will understand.

Tom was a pompous, dictatorial boss who loved nothing better than ordering his cowering underlings around.
Dictatorial means ordering others around. Don’t throw this word away, though. Chances are, it will fit in nicely elsewhere.

Raiva was a loquacious chatterbox, always running on at the mouth.”
Here you have not only and adjective repeating the noun, but an adverb clause saying the same thing.
I’ve cut loquacious. Erudites like big, fancy words but the average reader may get a bit (cut qualifiers, too) ticked off if they have to stop and look up loquacious in the dictionary. A few fancies may be okay, but don’t make a practice of throwing in humongous, supposedly-impressive words.

I just read a piece which included the word pulchritudinous. My first thought was “ornery” but I decided to look it up and be sure. According to vocabulary.com:
“Even though it looks (and sounds) like it would describe a disease or a bad attitude, pulchritudinous actually describes a person of breathtaking, heartbreaking…beauty.”

Most readers will guess. They’ll read “Joe had a contentious nature.” And they’ll think, hmm… Sounds like content. Must be Joe’s easy-going.” If you do use an unusual word, give the reader a clue in the context.

But I digress. Let’s get back to Raiva the blab. Cutting the excess, all we have left is, She was a chatterbox. Or, Raiva was always running off at the mouth.

Instead of telling this fact, we could show it like so:
Pam and Bev sat in Bev’s living room drinking coffee when they saw Raiva coming to the door.
Pam nudged Bev’s arm and said, “Here comes Miss Mouthpiece.”
Bev rolled her eyes. “Gossip, her specialty.”
(Or, “Advice her specialty,” depending on which impression you want to convey. And check if it needs a comma after Advice. Or not?)

The Write Practice Writing Contest

Attention Fellow Writers:

If you haven’t heard about the Fall Writing Contest starting soon over at the Write Practice, CLICK HERE to find out all about it. You start with a writing prompt, submit a draft, and get feedback from the writing community so you can polish your story before the final judges’ decision is made.

AND the folks over there are doing a special giveaway this time around. The entry fee is $50, but they are giving away three Premium Entries. If you share this info on social media, you get another “entry” for each friend who enters. (I’m not entering this year—other projects on the go — but I want to spread the word so you others can check it out.)

The giveaway will officially close on Tuesday, August 28, at midnight Pacific time, so if you’re interested in entering the fall writing contest, or other writing instructions and challenges, hop over to The Write Practice and read the details.

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

A Carefree Creature

As my response to the Ragtag daily prompt: FREEDOM
with a nod to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day: NONCHALANT

I offer this poem about this carefree toad:

The Happy Toad

by Edgar Guest

As I was walking down the road
I met an ugly, grinning toad,
who squatted in the shade and said:
“I never wish that I were dead.
Wherever I may chance to stray
I find rich food along the way;
I have no dreams I can’t fulfill;
I owe no other toad a bill.
In slimy places I abide
but with them I am satisfied.
My little children I forsook
as tadpoles in a nearby brook;
I know not where they are, nor care.
I have no burdens I must bear.
At night I never lie awake.
My bitterest enemy is the snake.
I have no taxes, no beliefs,
no cares, ambitions, hopes or griefs;
no clothes to buy, no cash to lose,
no tools that I must learn to use.
I sing no dirges, tell no jokes.
I’m just a jumping toad who croaks;
contented, placid, happy I
shall be until the day I die.”
~~~
Yet as I trudged along the road
I thought, “Who wants to be a toad?”
From his book, Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest,
©1934 by the Reilly & Lee Co

Toad

From the Heart of a Hospital Chaplain

I just read Pastor J S Park’s latest post and realized that NO ONE blogs from the heart more than he does. Chaplain in a Florida hospital, he deals with life and death and grief every day, and writes about it in an open, compassionate way.

This morning’s post is a perfect example. We Say Goodbye, One More Time. What does a parent finally do when the prodigal child refuses to give up a life-threatening habit? Take a moment and read it — it will definitely touch your heart.

Then read his post Five Husbands. All the loving words we wanted to say! One day it will be too late to express affection and appreciation.

Note: Be sure there’s a box of of tissues handy before you start.

From the Heart Award

Blogger Kristian Fogarty bestowed this award on me. apparently there are NO requirements, but I’d like to pass it on, so will take this opportunity to mention some other bloggers I find interesting and you might, too.

WHAT IS IT?

This award goes to bloggers who primarily focus on personal writing. These posts are often from the writer to the world at large, or from the writer to the writer themselves and they just allow us access to their mind.

RULES:

There are no rules, no questions, no participation requirements for this award. It is given from bloggers to other bloggers. It was designed by the Haunted Wordsmith and is given to other bloggers as a gesture of thanks and appreciation for their work.

I won’t do this all in one session — I know quite a few bloggers who write really interesting posts — but will start with a few.

Alistair at dralimanonlife, tells us a bit more about himself every weekend, doing Cee’s Share Your World Writing challenge. He also likes doing Flash Fiction with a neat little twist at the end. Here’s one of his stories.

Keith at keithsramblings.net is another devotee of flash fiction with a bit of humor woven in, like this tale of a poor Cassidy missing his leg.

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields at rochellewisoff.com is the lady who hosts Friday Fictioneers and sends out the photos for writers to concoct stories about. she herself is a history buff. She likes presenting neat biographical background info about well-known people.

By now this post is full of links and my coffee’s getting cold, so I’d better quit. Wishing you all a great weekend.