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Beautiful Weeds

These plants are known as Datura Stramnonium, or more commonly called Jimsonweed or Angel's Trumpet. It is a summer annual broad leaf plant. All its parts, especially the seeds, contain alkaloids, and when ingested, are toxic to humans and livestock. The trouble is, they grow everywhere---along roadways, ditch banks,creeks, and they thrive next to wastewater. While being a nuisance, they take on a beauty when in full bloom, sort of like The Ugly Duckling.

Sometimes people are that way. Depending on how you look at them, they can be a troublesome weed, or something beautiful. You know the type---the relative that has caused you more trouble and pain than you'd care to mention. Or, maybe the obnoxious person who just cut you off and almost caused an accident, simply because they wanted to be one or two cars ahead. Or, they could be the homeless man or woman, wanting you to dig into your purse or wallet. These all can be bothersome weeds in your life.

I was rewarded in a strange way some time back. While spending a Sunday afternoon with Judy, bouncing from one antique store to another, a homeless man I had seen many times in Oakdale was shuffling along the sidewalk in front of us. It was obvious he had some severe mental problems. The weather was pushing the mid to high 90s, and he was fully dressed, including a full-length coat. As we crossed the street, on a whim I said hello and asked how he was doing. The man looked at me with a shocked expression, then grinned and told me he was doing fine and thanked me. He then shuffled on past without asking for a thing. It only took approximately thirty seconds, but it was easy to see I had made his day, perhaps his week or even his month.

A weed? No, I think he was extremely valuable to God, and at that moment to me also. Try it. Take 20 or 30 seconds of your time to give a smile and say hello. It won't kill you. And just maybe like the Jimsonweed, you'll get a glimpse of some hidden beauty.

 

 

 

Rainy Day Blues

Okay, I believe I've reached the point that all red-blooded men hate...that they are getting older...maybe even over the hill and sliding down the other side, without any brakes to stop you. In my case, it was always the other guy, but never me. I guess I was like the character Al Capp created named General Bullmoose, who at the age of 90 was still in the gym pumping iron and out-performing all the younger men. Not that I'm 90, or built like General Bullmoose, but I still walked 5 miles a day and exercised. In turn, I was the guy a lot of people called on when they were in a jam. Yep, I'll admit it, I'm at the point where I'm calling the other guy.

We bought an old Northern Lite cab-over camper for our ½ ton truck, knowing it needed some work. It seemed like a perfect fit, since I'm the one who insisted on a camper with a bathroom. Call it a phobia, but I've always hated taking showers in public restrooms and sitting on public toilets. I will if I have to, but I'd rather not. Well, what we bought will solve that problem. But, as always, it turned out to need a bit more work than we expected. We now believe the poor thing had been in a flood. Not a problem for the guy who does everything.

Replacing the floor was a little out of my line of expertise, but we know flooring contractors Tim and Ruth Bell. They had the new floor down in one afternoon. I kept pecking away with the other problems, like installing a new refrigerator and microwave . I also refinished the cabinets and hung new window shades and curtains. Judy was busy ordering items and pointing out things that needing fixing, and all was well in Major's land. Then we ran into a couple of things beyond my grasp.

The guy who had delivered it to our house, for some unknown reason, had placed some extra blocks under the left front jack, making it difficult to level. I was struggling with this problem when I got the bright idea of simply raising the other three jacks, which should allow me to remove the extra blocks. It was a good idea, except the camper slid off the unneeded blocks and fell against the side of our house. Oops! You can't simply move a 1,600 pound camper by yourself. That led to my first call for help. God bless our friend Onan Rice who ran to our aid with jacks and had the camper upright and on a pad of pallets in a matter of a half-hour. There was no damage to the house or camper, so things were back to normal and I got back on schedule. We were nearing the end of the remodel and deciding where we would like to take our first trip. Then I hurt my back.

Don't have any idea when or how, but I woke the other morning with it screaming at me. But, since I'd always secretly chuckled at people with back problems, thinking they might be looking for sympathy, I took on another project. Our kitchen faucet was leaking, so I took a trip to our local hardware and brought home a rather nice-looking unit and broke out the tools, only to discover some problems.

First, I discovered my eyesight ain't like it used to be. Even with my glasses, things looked a little fuzzy lying under the cabinet. It took a little longer to remove the old faucet than I thought, due to not being able to get the *#** wrench on the couplings. Had to be a faulty wrench, because I've never had that problem before. I finally removed the faucet and cleaned the sink, and it was time to install the new one.

Again, the stupid wrench had trouble finding the couplings. While lying in an awkward position, half inside the cabinet, my back began another protest that almost had me in tears. Finally, I had it all together...or so I thought. It's there, looks good, but has a couple of drips. While thinking of crawling back in the cabinet my back started saying “Uh-uh, ain't doing that right now.” So, after a call to another friend, I placed one of Judy's pans under the drip while waiting for his arrival.

Sitting in my chair and watching the rain outside my window, I admit I've learned several things this week. First, I am almost 73, and getting older like everyone else. Second, there is no shame in asking for help, and a little humility is a good thing. Third, back pain is real and I tip my Stetson to anyone who suffers from it. But I'm still gonna go camping here shortly.

Follow Your Own Advice

About ten years ago we decided to have an in-ground swimming pool installed in our back yard. After taking several estimates, we hired El Dorado Pools out of Modesto to do the job. The finished product was everything we expected --- a large kidney-shaped lagoon affair with a waterfall and lagoon bench and a six-foot deep diving area. We instantly began using it, and have had countless backyard barbecues with family and friends, adding an outdoor kitchen with a grill, a sink and refrigerator, then a gas pool heater to extend the swim season into the fall.

Needless to say, with a big family of six adult children, seventeen grandchildren and four great grandchildren, pool safety has been a priority. As an added precaution, we installed a safety fence, much like you see surrounding motel pools, which we have recently removed now that the young ones are a little older. The rule that parents must be present while their young children are in the pool still stands.  Climbing the rock waterfall is forbidden as well as diving or jumping into the pool while swimmers are in the diving area. There are also a few universal rules, such as no running around the pool and watch where you're walking. It only takes a careless second to inflict pain on someone and spoil an entire day. It might sound like a lot of rules, and I guess that’s true, but Judy and I want swimming and playing at Grandma and Grandpa's house to be a pleasant and happy experience for everyone, young and old alike.

There are times when the rule-maker fails to follow his own rules. A few days ago we woke to a cold rainy morning in Oakdale, knowing outside chores would be limited. One chore I had been postponing was cleaning the pool filter, simply because I didn't want to chance getting wet while it's this cold. However, the filter was dirty and prevented the pool-sweep from doing a proper job. About one o'clock, it looked like we might have a break in the weather, so I decided to chance cleaning the filter. Everything seemed to be going as I had hoped, and with the filter cleaned, the sweep began making a clean path across the pool bottom. While brushing the lagoon deck, I noticed a kink in the hose. Since the brush I was using has a telescoping pole, I hooked the tangled hose with the broom, and while walking backwards, stretched the kink out of the hose. Things were going great.

 The instant I hit the cold water I realized I had not been following my “watch where you're walking” rule. Forget drinking a cup of strong coffee as a morning wake-me-up. Jump into an un-heated winter pool instead. I was suddenly very aware of what I'd done. I was also aware I was wearing my leather jacket with my leather gloves in the pocket. I also realized I was wearing my battery operated wrist watch, and had my smart phone hooked to my belt. I was removing the watch as I climbed out of the pool, and instantly took the phone out of its case. Thank God I had unlocked the side door to the garage, since the next step was to remove my water-logged boots and clothes, a sight my neighbors didn't need to see.

I was drying myself with an old ragged towel, now used to dry the cars, when I opened the door and called for Judy's help. After she stopped laughing, she brought me some dry clothes and asked me to write this into a blog. I guess I need to mention that I also got a good laugh at myself, thinking what I must have looked like trying to walk on water.

 I need to close this session by tipping my soggy hat to Timex for making a watch that appears to truly be waterproof. I also need to give Otter Box two or three tips of the soggy hat for creating a  case that kept my phone fairly dry, only allowing a couple of drops to seep inside. The phone continued to work for a short period, then gave up the ghost. The killing moisture had evidently seeped through one of the ports used for earphones or charging. I am currently using my old cell phone while waiting for the new smart phone to arrive.

One last word of advice is to always look where you're going. I don't know how many times I've said that to our grandchildren. Maybe it's time to follow my own advice.

 

Adams Creek

Adams Creek winds a path from the hills to the east of Oakdale, across fields and pasture land, where it intersects Orsi Road at the edge of town. From Orsi Road, it cuts a gash in the earth for approximately a city block where it meets with an underground syphon, to be piped across town. On an early morning walk, you can hear the constant chirping of birds mingled with the occasional chatter of a squirrel. Most mornings you can hear the crowing of a neighbor's rooster and the neighing of horses and baaing of goats coming from Mo and Doreen Dumalo's ranch across the road. Over the corral fence from Doreen's ranch comes the mooing of cattle. As we wander south toward Sierra Road, the sun peeks over the distant tree-line and ranch dogs bark their greeting as we pass. The braying of a mule says good morning as a flock of pigeons swirl across the early morning sky. On a rainy morning such as this one, you are greeted with the roar of a small waterfall as the creek cascades into the pipeline.

The creek offers quite a study for those who take the time to actually look. On the surface, it only appears as a tree-lined dirt bank falling sharply toward a muddy stream, covered with a tangle of dead tree limbs and berry vines. But for the curious, it hold treasures untold.

One morning I encountered a feral mamma cat while walking Molly, and though cats will normally run from a dog, this black and white beast hunched her scrawny back and stood her ground. Molly, being the dog she is, smiled happily and trotted past the hissing cat to sniff the next tree. Once we were past, I turned to notice the cat carrying a kitten deeper into the brush. She returned seconds later to carry another away from what she considered danger.

On a different day, I spied what we used to call a hobo camp, tucked beneath some low-hanging oak branches and protected from the wind by the concrete siphon check-gate. It gave me a feeling of melancholy as I wondered how the person came to such a condition. While some prefer a hobo lifestyle, I have encountered others who are homeless due to situations not of their own choosing. With new houses going up hundreds of yards from this particular camp, I realized the tenant had chosen wisely. There was plenty of scrap lumber lying around, perfect for campfires to heat cans of beans or soup and keep him warm. The new houses proved to be a double-edged sword, in that the authorities arrived days later to close it down and evict the tenant.

In the warm summer months, hundreds of wild sunflowers decorate the creek bank, mingled with multi-colored wildflowers. The berry vines become covered with small flowers that quickly turn into tasty fruit. While the raspberries are inviting, several trees display yellow “Keep Out” signs for safety reasons. Considering the steep pitch of the bank, if one were to lose their footing, they would likely fall head-first through a jungle of thorns, dead branches and rocks to end in a cold, muddy stream. If they didn't drown, they would encounter the same tangled jungle climbing back out.

While Judy and I were walking Molly a few days ago we saw several young girls play on the opposite bank of Adams creek, drawing in the dirt, tossing rocks at the water, and doing what young girls do for fun when their parents aren't around. Yellow warning signs be hanged. Who cares about yellow signs when you have a world to explore. I will have to admit, if I were still a kid I would have been right there with them, maybe shooting at squirrels with my slingshot or playing cowboys with my Roy Rogers cap-gun. Please God, help us to never lose the ability to pause now and then and investigate the world around us. Who knows, we just might regain some of our youth, and become aware of our Creator's blessings to us.

 

Worst and Best Halloween Movies

Okay, the trick-or-treaters are gone and the candle inside the jack o’ lantern has been blown out. You’ve picked up the scattered candy wrappers and tucked the little ones in bed. Time to snuggle next to the wife or husband with a hot cup of chocolate or coffee and watch a good Halloween movie. Right? But you might not want to go to bed after watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something equally as bloody. Let me offer some suggestions.

 

Movies Not To Watch

(Unless you want a good laugh)

 

Eegah One night after shopping, Roxy Miller is driving through California’s Borrego Desert near Palm Springs, to a party. She nearly runs her car into Eegah, a giant caveman. Wait! It gets better. She tells her boyfriend, Tom Nelson, and her father, Robert Miller, about the giant. Her father, a writer of adventure books, decides to go into the desert to look for the creature and possibly take a picture. When he doesn’t arrive at his designated pick up time, Roxy and her boyfriend go looking for him.

Well, as we can guess, pretty Roxy is nabbed by Eegah and dragged back to his cave, where she is reunited with her father, who is unharmed, and trying to communicate with the caveman. Eegah starts to feel sort of amorous toward Roxy, (after all, he hasn’t seen a woman in how many years?) and while she’s scared of him, her sweet daddy urges her to play along with him as much as she can.

Roxy’s boyfriend soon arrives and somehow helps Roxy and her daddy escape. Eegah really gets ticked-off, and follows them to Palm Springs, where he is eventually shot and killed by a policeman. You’ll find yourself wiping a tear at the end … mostly from laughter.

Eegah was voted as one of The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, and was pronounced the worst by several critics. It has, however, become a cult classic, and appeared on Comedy Central and Mystery Science Theater.

 

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter is a low-budget western/horror film released in 1966. Jesse James has somehow survived being killed and rides into a small western town with his half-witted saddle pard. His plan is to join two other outlaws and rob an incoming stage of $10,000, they somehow know about. At the same time, Dr. Frankenstein’s evil granddaughter, Maria, has moved to the same area, to use the violent electrical storms to further her experiments of turning children they kidnap into slaves by removing their brains and replacing them with artificial ones.

The entire movie was shot in eight days, and I personally think it rates somewhere below Eegah for entertainment value. The film was featured in an episode of This Movie Sucks! I think that says it all.

 

Billy the Kid Versus Dracula Somehow, Dracula has arrived in the American west, and decides to make Billy the Kid’s fiancée his vampire wife. To do this, the Count poses as her uncle and wins her trust. Lucky for her a German immigrant couple comes to work for her, and sees through Count Dracula’s plot and warn her. She, of course, won’t listen to their warnings, so they tell Billy, but she won’t heed Billy’s warnings either.

Eventually, the Count kidnaps her and flees to an abandoned silver mine where he and Billy have the final showdown. Billy soon discovers that .45 cal bullets have no effect on a vampire. The Count subdues Billy, and sets out to transform sweet Betty into his vampire wife. The sheriff and country doctor arrive in the nick of time. The doctor hands Billy a scalpel and tells him he has to drive it through the vampire’s heart. (I always believed it had to be a wooden stake). In the end, Count Dracula dies, like he always does, and Billy takes sweet Betty away to live happily ever after.

This film was also shot in eight days and released with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. ‘Nuff said.

 

Movies You Want To Watch

(They Might Make You Grip Your Honey’s Hand)

 

Bedlam Starring Boris Karloff, Bedlam is loosely based on Bethlem Royal Hospital (also known as Bedlam). The film focuses on the mistreatment of institutionalised mental patients. But what happens when a sane person is declared insane and cast into one of these places? Nell Bowen, protégé to Lord Mortimer, finds herself in that exact situation. What follows is nail-biting, while retribution comes quickly and is thorough.

While the film recorded a $40,000 loss on its release in1946, it has more than recouped the loss through DVD releases by Warner Bros., as part of a double release with Isle Of The Dead and a part of the Val Lewton Horror Collection. It also garners a healthy 89% approval rating in polls as well as three out of four stars from critic Leonard Maltin for the film’s atmosphere.

 

Isle Of The Dead When General Pherides visits his wife’s crypt and discovers it despoiled, he hears a woman singing. The problem is, the island is supposedly uninhabited. He sets out with several others to find her, but to no avail. They do, however, discover retired Swiss archeologist Dr. Aubrecht and his Greek housekeeper, Kyra. Also on the island are British diplomat Mr. St. Aubyn and his pale and sickly wife, their Greek companion Thea and English tinsmith, Andrew Robbins.

One by one, folks start dying. Fearing a plague of some sort, they quarantine the island. In an attempt to halt the spread of the deadly sickness, they begin burying their dead immediately, only to discover that at least one has been buried alive. Not only is she alive, she has somehow freed herself from the crypt. She’s also armed, totally insane and really, really pissed.

Starring Boris Karloff, the film was completed in December 1944 at a whopping cost of $246,000. On its release, Isle of The Dead only earned a $13,000 profit for RKO, but it was re-issued in 1953 on a double bill with Mighty Joe Young and made its TV debut in 1959. It has earned an 86% approval rating, and three stars out of four. Director Martin Scorsese placed Isle of The Dead on his list of the eleven scariest horror films of all time.

 

The Body Snatcher, also starring Boris Karloff, was one of three films he did with RKO Pictures, which were produced by Val Lewton. It was the last film to feature both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi together.

Mrs. Marsh visits the house of Dr. Wolfe (nicknamed Toddy) MacFarlane to seek a cure for her paraplegic daughter Georgina. MacFarlane suggests surgery for the girl, but insists he cannot perform the operation himself, due to his post as a teacher. In the meantime, his prized student, Donald Fettes, tells the doctor he cannot afford to continue his studies. MacFarlane offers Fettes a job as a lab assistant to help with the costs. He eventually relents and decides to help the girl.

Fettes soon discovers that John Gray, a cab driver, delivers fresh bodies from the graveyard to the school in the middle of the night, which Dr. MacFarlane uses in his teaching young surgeons. He makes it sound somehow noble, but MacFarlane soon finds himself an unwitting slave to John Gray. Gray soon runs out of fresh bodies, and decides to make one by nabbing a woman off the street. MacFarlane decides he needs to make John Gray a body, if he wants his freedom. Trouble is, John Gray doesn’t want to stay dead.

The Body Snatcher received an approval rating of 81% and happens to be one of my personal favorites. Now, it’s time to snuggle up next to your honey with your chocolate and enjoy. I should give a warning. Please put the mug down when you suspect something is gonna happen. Your honey might not want a bath of chocolate.

 

 

What Does an Editor Look For?

As an editor myself, these are some of my suggestions:

 

PUNCTUATION, SENTENCE SYNTAX AND GRAMMAR

  1. Punctuation

Strangely, proper punctuation is sometimes not desirable, because it has a way of expressing things, such as emphasis, questions, etc.  Bearing in mind that we want the story to move quickly, things like question marks actually slow it down.  Therefore, it is okay to just use a period instead of a question mark, unless you really want to emphasize the question.  Similarly, exclamation points can be over-used, so use them sparingly.  There are times when you REALLY want emphasis, and might want to use them.  Of course, most punctuation rules do apply, and I will look for those.

  1. Misuse of a word or phrase

I have discovered that some writers actually use words incorrectly, and this could give a completely different meaning to their point.  In this case I will try to suggest a better word or phrase for what I think they are trying to say.

  1. Sentence syntax

Syntax covers a wide range of things, but basically you want your sentences to make sense.  You could have a complete sentence, but it might not say what you intend.  For example:  Jane couldn’t write the letter because she burned her right hand while taking the cake out of the oven that she wanted to write with.  This might be more correctly written: While taking the cake out of the oven, Jane burned her right hand, with which she had intended to write a letter, and now she was unable to do so.   Certainly she didn’t intend to write the letter with the cake, as the first example states.  Most of these errors are easy to spot, because they don’t really make sense.

  1. Run-on sentences

When you are caught up in the speed of your story, it is easy to create long, run-on sentences.  Watch for the use of  “and” more than once.  It may be that you just need a period and a new sentence.  However, listen to your own sentence, and if it sounds good the way it is, by all means keep it.  Usually though, it can be broken up.

  1. Starting a sentence with But or And

Beginning a sentence with “but” or “and” usually happens because the writer is trying to break up a run-on sentence.  In this case it is usually fine to just drop the “but” or “and.”  There are times when they seem to fit, though, so see how it sounds.
 

  1. Paragraph breaks

As an editor, I will expect paragraph breaks with a change of scene or topic, and certainly with a change of perspective.  In conversation, there should be a paragraph break at least for each change of speaker.

  1. Spelling

Of course, I will always look for correct spelling.  There are times when there is more than one way to spell a word.  In this case, I will look for consistency.

PROPER HANDLING OF CONVERSATION

Writing conversation can be fun, and contributes greatly to a story, but it can be awkward if handled poorly.  First of all, I will look for correct punctuation.  Bad example:  “Let’s ride our bikes to the store”.  He said.  Correct version:  “Let’s ride our bikes to the store,” he said.  First of all, I have changed the period after store to a comma.  Next, the quote mark at the end goes after the comma, not before.  Finally, I have changed He to lower case, as the sentence has not yet ended. 

Of course, remember that you will change to a new paragraph for each change of speaker.  Your character might speak for more than one paragraph, and this is fine, so long as the quote mark comes after the entire segment.

  It is easy to get tripped up by expressing who is speaking.  “Come here, little doggie,” John said.  “You are sure a feisty one.”  Notice that there are two sets of quote marks, because John said is not part of what he is saying. 

In most cases, we recommend the simple he said over more descriptive words, such as he exclaimed because invisible (simple) words move the story along faster.

Another way to indicate who is speaking is by the action.  “Come here, little doggie.”  John reached down to scratch the stray’s head.  Notice that in this case there is a period before the quote mark, as the sentence is actually complete.  This is my favorite way of indicating the speaker, as it also shows what the character is doing, and feels more natural.

Once the speaker is identified, there is no need to keep saying “he said” until it becomes unclear who is speaking. 

“It’s so good to see you!”  John’s mother rushed up to hug him.  “How long will you be able to stay?”

“I have to be back on base by Friday,” John said.

“I’ll fix you your favorite dinner tonight.  Your father will be glad to see you.”

“I’ve really missed him, Mom.

“He is such a great father.”  (Who is speaking here?)  It seems that this would be a good time to identify the speaker, although some could argue that the new paragraph indicates that it is the mother.

Finally, be sure that your character is speaking in a fashion that is consistent with who they are.  A college graduate, for example, would not say “I seen that show,” nor would a 5-year-old say that his dog is undisciplined.  When using slang, use just enough to indicate how your character speaks, but don’t overdo it.  You can use a few words here and there, and the reader will automatically read the slang into your other words.  Ex: “I jest got throwed by that hoss.”  Then later, “I’ll jest get the horses rounded up afore they run off.”

FLOWERY LANGUAGE AND METAPHORS

Some of us are also poets or poet wannabes, and this will tend to show up in our writing.  Try to keep this at a minimum unless it significantly contributes to the flow of the book.   If your hero is chasing the bad guy down the beach, don’t stop to describe the beautiful sunset.  I doubt very much your characters are thinking about it right now.

Be careful with clichés or common metaphors.  I have a rule of thumb I use for this:  Once is enough.  If you say, for example, he dismounted in one fluid motion, don’t use that same phrase again in this book.  Regarding metaphors, if you hear it a lot, you probably don’t want to put it in your book.  This gives the book a stale feeling.   You want it to be fresh and new.  However, a lot of writers have problems when creating new metaphors, as their creations may seem forced or awkward.  Here, I suppose, is where the true poet can shine.  We must say, “yes!” and not “huh?”  As an editor, if it slows me down, even to admire the words, I will suggest it be changed.

PERSPECTIVE 

Perspective is the view from which the story is seen by the characters.  The narrator is the author.  The narrator can talk about anybody or anything, as he sees all, but the characters must view things only from their own perspective.  When Jane is crying on her mother’s shoulder because John broke up with her, and we are given her thoughts and feelings, we cannot also be given John’s thoughts and feelings.  His is another perspective.  For every change in perspective, you must have a break in the story.

MOVING THE STORY FORWARD

It is important to keep the reader’s attention, and to this end, you must keep your story moving forward rapidly.  Anything that slows down or distracts the reader will detract from the appeal of your book.  Here are some examples:

  1. Use simple words when they work just as well.  Fancy words might be entertaining, but they slow us down to think about them.  Ex:  The cacophony from the saloon drew him in.  How about, The noise coming from the saloon drew him in.
  1. Eliminate unnecessary words or phrases.  For example:  The grocery store that is in our town… could be   The grocery store in our town…  Another example might be as follows:  (you have just told us that the boy was given a gun by his father) “He picked up the gun that his father had just given him…” could be simply, “he picked up the gun…”
  1.  Let excitement build

Excitement is built by keeping the reader guessing.  Don’t tell all.  Maybe nothing bad is going to happen, but the reader doesn’t know that.  Let him worry.  He thought someone was following him.  The bushes next to the trail were moving, and the birds had gotten quiet all of a sudden.  Who was there?  A real master at this was Alfred Hitchcock.  He is worth studying.  In essence, make your reader want to turn to the next page.

  1. Hooks

As stated above, always make your reader want to turn the page.  At the very least, each chapter ending should have a hook.  If your hero is going to round a corner and run into his girlfriend, make it a hook.  He turned the corner, and stopped in his tracks.  His mouth fell open.  End of chapter.

POLISHING

  1. Don’t tell me what I already know

There are times when you will want to repeat an idea over and over, to help develop your character.  You might, for example, periodically show Jane worrying about her appearance in order to show her insecurity.  Whereas I appreciate this technique, sometimes I get very annoyed at too much repetition.  I want to scream, “Alright, already!”  I have read novels by famous authors where I felt that they were just saying it over and over to fill up the pages.  I would much rather have them get on with the story.

More to the point, however, if you have just revealed a fact, there is no point in saying it again.  Ex:  In your story, Jane has been down to the river washing her hair.  Your narrative continues, She climbed back up the hill after washing her hair.  Didn’t you already tell me that she was washing her hair?  It is annoying to be told again what you just told me.  This type of writing makes your story feel muddy, instead of clear and crisp.

  1. Allow reader to participate

When it is your story, it is natural for you to want the reader to see and feel certain things, but you must be careful to lead them to conclusions, rather than telling them what to think.  Bad example:  (Sally’s mother has just died, and she is crying.)  The tears rolled down Sally’s cheeks, and she wiped them with the corner of her apron.  She was very sad that her Mother had died.  Well, duh!  Better example: “Tears rolled down Sally’s cheeks, and she wiped them with the corner of her apron.  She sat at the kitchen window looking dully out at the garden where her mother had just yesterday been weeding the tomatoes.  Now the reader gets to make up his own mind about how Sally is feeling, and if you have done it correctly, they will see what you intended for them to see.

  1.  Don’t let author’s personality be seen or heard

Finally, unless you are writing in first person the narrator must be invisible.  The narrative must be neutral in tone.  It is very easy to put our own personality into the narrative if we are not careful.  This happens by the use of slang, figures of speech, opinionated statements, clichés, etc.  In short, if I have cause to think about the narrator, he is not invisible.  Ex:  If you want to say that Charlie was angry, do NOT say Charlie was pissed off.  In fact, going back to what we discussed earlier, don’t even say Charlie was angry.  Instead, SHOW us his anger. 

IN SUMMARY

I know it is very difficult for a writer to have his or her prized work “criticized” by an editor, but just think of it like a garden.  The plants need to be pruned, and sometimes cut back, in order for them to put forth their best display.  As an editor, I am looking for the book to be fresh, enjoyable and to move along quickly to a satisfying conclusion.  All of the suggestions above are to that end.  There is nothing so gratifying to an author as to hear someone say of this book, “I just couldn’t put it down!” 

Judy Mitchell, Editor

editor@shalakopress.com

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