Monday, November 25, 2013

Reading What Isn't There

I am constantly editing my writing and silently sitting there reading what I've written to make sure that you, the reader, will enjoy what I've written.  It is amazing how many times I can silently edit the same sentence over and over---only to discover that it has an error, either a missing or added word or even worse, a misspelling.

The mind is a complicated mechanism.  It can see what is or isn't there, as needed.

Using an example which irks me repeatedly...

A certain insurance company has random people reading a signs that says:

15 minutes can save you 15%.

But, the person reading the sign, always, ALWAYS says...

5 minutes can save you 15% on car insurance.


I've stopped the ad (froze the screen) and carefully checked to make sure I am seeing what they are saying and never once have I ever found those last 3 words.  Yes, I realize it is just a commercial, but it proves my point.  The reader is giving us more than what is printed and this holds true for almost anything a reader will peruse.  Or, in the case of me editing and/or writing.

I did a reading of another author's book at a meeting.  I have no idea how many times I'd read the couple of paragraphs making sure I was familiar with the piece so I wouldn't screw up when I stood in public.  The moment of truth came and as I read the segment aloud, I stumbled twice on poor sentence structure that my mind had blindly fixed for me within my mental readings.  In one place, an extra word was added, the other place, a word had been left out.  After the incident, I had a friend read the segment and he said it sounded just fine.  I then had him read it aloud. He stumbled at the exact same spots.

I'm sure you've had the email sent to you which has the words misspelled... well, actually, not misspelled, the letters are arranged incorrectly.  You raed tihs snetnece wtihuot truolbe.  The mind rearranges them to make it sensible to you. The same holds true if a word is missing or added. Your mind fixes it on the fly.

Always make sure what you read is what is written.  It can change the whole concept.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing Workshops and Conferences

For me, it is exhilarating to attend a writing function like a workshop or conference.  Why?  To mingle with other writers and learn the craft.

I've been a very fortunate person.  I've not only had the pleasure of attending these functions, but for several years I assisted with a writing conference and then became the coordinator.

Talk about being on both sides.  Wow!  As an attendee it was exciting to rub elbows with published authors, meet agents and publishers and glean so much knowledge from the sessions.

Then, as an assistant to the coordinator and a speaker or presenter, I really got the adrenalin pumping.  When the coordinator stepped down, I was offered the reins and I was flabbergasted at the honor.  Little did I realize the amount of work that is involved.  I learned.  I survived.  And finally, due to unforeseen issues, I had to step down.

But that doesn't mean I can't attend these functions or be a speaker.  The past couple of weeks have been an adrenalin overload.  I was a guest speaker for a writing group and discussed Deep POV.  Uh, that's Point Of View for those who don't know what POV means.  Then last weekend, I was a guest presenter at a writing workshop.  Again, adrenalin pumped in my veins and I was on a high.  This time I spoke about Looking Inside the Corners of the Box to learn more about your character. I did my session and had a hands on segment that was well received -- the participants actually were willing to share their off-the-cuff writings. Also, the following presenter loved my presentation since it was the prefect segue to her session.

As a published author with over 17 books to my credit and countless articles and short stories written, one would think I would find it difficult to learn a new trick or two.


The other two speakers at the workshop who followed me were exciting and knowledgeable authors themselves.  At each session I was able to glean a couple of tidbits to use to my advantage and increase my writing and marketing skills.  I don't believe anyone ever learns everything. To think that would be pompous.

As the current year begins to finalize its cycle, I highly recommend that each writer who is reading this, take the time to research any local workshop or conference on writing next year and attend at least one, if not more.  I figure I can drive upwards of 200 miles to learn a secret or two about writing to help me in my success as a writer.  One lament I heard that I want to squash in the bud is this: There's a workshop nearby but it's by a romance group and I write horror. What could I learn?  WHAT?  

Review the syllabus of the workshop. You'll be surprised what you will learn to make your horror writing standout.  A session on 'character depth' is valid whether it be for romance, horror, science fiction or even westerns. Character development is critical. By attending a -- okay, we'll call it off-genre -- workshop, you will learn and become privy to a new trick or two that you can add to your repertoire.

Also, not every agent or publisher attending a romance workshop or conference is purely there for romance. Agents and publishers do multiple genres and you might just stumble onto one who is willing to discuss your latest horror endeavor.

Worst case scenario of the above would be -- you'd meet some wonderful writers who might become lifelong friends.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Adult Writing

We've all seen those seedy places, those stores with the covered windows, IF they have windows. The only way one truly knows what is inside is by two methods: 1) going inside, and 2) reading "ADULT BOOK STORE" on the outside.

But exactly what is an Adult Book Store?  Sure, it has porn. Well, D'OH!!  What makes an adult book store an adult store?  I guess it is because only adults are allowed inside.  Maybe the merchandise is part of the aura inside.  Yes, I've been in an adult book store.  Look at this way, I was a sailor and it is a necessity and rite of passage for most sailors.  To say it was an experience would be an understatement.  I didn't know some of that stuff even existed.  Even today, I sort of wish I didn't know that it did.  Unlike the "adult theater" - and yes, I've been to one of those and it was one of the most hilarious times in my life - the hottest scenes were visible outside behind the glass advertising the movie.  But I digress.

I was raised in a fairly strict family.  I didn't cuss.  I was a rural country boy who was very active in his church - with Catechism twice weekly, youth meeting, choir practice, Saturday school (yes, Bible and religious training on Saturday mornings, Sunday school.  On Mondays, I got to go to Scouts and it wasn't at the church. Whew!  And this wasn't while I was 6 or 8 or 10.  This was for my Freshman through Junior years in high school. Catechism ended during my Junior year and I no longer had to attend Saturday school.

So, to put it bluntly, even if I had a mouthful of it, I still wouldn't say it.  I didn't cuss and blushed when certain words were used in my presence.  Talk about naive.

I told my father I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.  He didn't tell me not to be one.  He basically sat me down and let me know that most writers struggle to make ends meet and lead a very drab life.  The only way to really make money as a writer was to write heavy sexual or porn type novels.  Can you say "Henry Miller?" In the 60s, his trilogy novels of The Rosy Crucifixion: Sexus, Plexus and Nexus, were the scandal of the day.  It was a big seller but nobody read it openly in public.  My father informed me that to be a good writer, I would have to fight with myself to decide which route I would take to make a living: good writing or porn.  My dad was a man of few words.  His final words on the subject were simple: Write what you want, but make sure it is something you're proud to let your mother read.

WOW!  Talk about a guilt trip and laying it on thick.  I have lived with that over my head for what feels like eons although it really has only been about five decades.  I was like 17 then.

I wrote fantasy and science fiction which basically eliminated all sexual aspects. Spacemen don't have sex and elves and fairies ... well, they're elves and fairies.  Sure, there might be some attraction but it can be written off easily without a lot of detail being spent on the romance aspect.  Then I started to write horror. Again, it can be sexless but when a werewolf shreds the blouse, suddenly sexual innuendos seem needed. Face it - Men are men (human or werewolf) and the bottom line is simple: women have boobs. When I co-wrote Ancient Blood: The Amazon -- I kept wanting to tone down the sex.  My partner wanted just a bit more.  We "discussed" this topic over and over.  Amazon went out a tad spicier than I would normally write and is now published. We have finished book two in the series and it definitely has more sex inside the covers.


I grew up. My mother read Ancient Blood: The Amazon and thought it was a great story with a little racy segment here and there.  She was amazed I'd write anything like that but also stated it was well-written without a lot of dirty porn aspects.  I wanted to ask her how she knew that but decided there are some topics that a mother and son should NOT discuss - this was one.  She has since passed, as has my dad.

I've matured.  I can use terms (both slang and biological) for genitalia in a book without turning fifty shades of red. I can cuss. I didn't spend five years in the Navy and not learn a couple of terms.  I came to realize that just because my character is a little raw, rough and on the edge doesn't mean that I am.  As a writer, I had to learn to discern the difference between the character I am writing and me.  My buddy in Texas, Mitchel Whitington, taught me how to write a sexual encounter using "afterglow" [see my writing tips] to reveal the event.  Another friend of mine explained the difference between sensual or erotic and down-right porn.  His words: Consider it like a movie: and the angle of the camera. For erotic, you see the characters from afar and tell what they are doing. For porn, you shove the camera in at the knees or closer for the action shot.  I found his interpretation rather graphic but it does explain the difference.

One is tasteful.  The other, uh, more graphically detailed.

I don't want to say I write erotic scenes. I prefer to say they are sensual, sometimes a little more graphic but only for a line or two, not for pages.  And most definitely, not for gratuitous sex.  I feel if I write a brief sex scene, it is necessary for the story.

Yes, I'm a biggy boy and I was good, so I get a lollipop.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, November 4, 2013

New Math - Old Math

Exactly what is it with this 'new math' and all this "Common Core" base they've established for first graders?  NY state (see article here) has embraced it and from what I can see, is having some issues with incorporation of it.  (see actual test by 1st grader)

I went to school - elementary - back in the 1950s - and yes, I walked a mile in the snow, each way, to attend school.  But that's a different rant... uh, story.

I don't understand all this new way of doing mathematics.  My granddaughter has called me several times to assist with her homework. I can get her the correct answer but not be able to show her the way using her method - that method makes no sense to me.  Yes, I love math and aced all my math courses, both in school and college.  In fact, even today I can go to the grocery store with my wife and be within one dollar of the bill prior to taxes. All the math is done mentally.  But, again, I digress.

What happened to the simple question of "I have 6 pennies. I give 2 to Billy. How many pennies do I have?"

Who gives multiple choice answers to a first grader?  And exactly how does one wrap their brain around the concept of 5 pennies and 1 cup of coffee?  I mean, for math?  If they want to toss out mixed metaphors, why not go with a question like:

I have 2 peaches, 1 apple and 3 grapes. Jenny gives me 2 pears. Amy gives me 1 cherry and 1 banana.  How many do I have?
1) 2 peaches, 1 apple, 2 pears, 1 banana, 3 grapes and the prized 1 cherry.
2) 10 pieces of fruit
3) Fruit cocktail
4) 6 different fruits
5) Makings for a mixed-fruit smoothie

At least the kid is correct, no matter what answer picked.

It is my belief that we've moved away from the basics of mathematics for some esoteric methodology of math that nobody can understand.

I was not allowed to use 'stick figures' to count.  If one of my teachers saw any indication of having used 'sticks' on the paper, it was immediately marked wrong.  Back in the 50s, erasers really sucked and left shadows.  Of course, being six and pressing down on the pencil with no less than 3 tons/sq inch of pressure didn't help matters.  The groove left was like the Grand Canyon. Shadows were to be expected.  In fact, I'm not sure but we may have been using real lead back then.  Maybe a mixture of graphite.  Not sure.

Note: I had a self-developed "stick" counting routine. I used DOTS.  1 had 1 dot in the middle of the number. 2 had 2 dots, 1 at each end. 3 had 3 dots, 1 at each left hand end-top, middle, bottom.  4 had dots at the 4 points, 2 at top, 1 where the horizontal bar crossed the vertical bar, and of course, then bottom of the vertical bar.  And so it went.  If I had to count "sticks" - I counted my dots that were hidden within the numbers themselves.  As long as I didn't use anything over 50lbs/sq inch pressure - I was safe.

But now today's youth are allowed to have calculators in class.  Why?  So they can be familiar with the cash registers at McDonalds and other fast-food joints.  If your meals comes to $3.78 and you offer the clerk $5.03 ... I'm going to bet (unless the clerk is over 50 yrs of age) that you'll get back 2 pennies, 2 dimes, 1 dollar AND the three pennies you gave the clerk.  Why?  Because they saw the $5 and immediately slapped that amount into the cash register and know the exact change to give you - 2 pennies, 2 dimes and 1 dollar. Those 3 pennies you offered just confuses them - so they give them back.  How do I know this?  It happened to me. I tried to get a quarter out of the clerk but she only saw me trying to cheat her. The manager finally stepped in and I thought it was going to be settled.  He looked at my change and said "You have the correct change, sir. I don't see the problem."  When I told him I wanted a quarter, he informed me that I had a quarter's worth of change and he wasn't about to open the register to make change.  I gave up.  As I took my place to the side to await my order, the other clerk, a "mature" woman well over the age of 40, leaned over and said - "My register is open if you'd like to get rid of the extra change." She held up a quarter. I grabbed out the change and gave it to her. She leaned in close. "I'm amazed they realized it was a quarter." Oh, btw, McDonalds only sells chicken tenders by the piece.  In other words, you can get 6 tenders but you can't get half-a-dozen.  They don't come that way.  Honest!

I'm told that they no longer teach the 'times tables' in school. They teach multiplication but they don't memorize like we did back in the 50s. I loved to sit at my desk and recite 1 times 1 is 1, 1 times 2 is 2... 5 times 5 is 25, 5 times 6 is 30... 8 times 9 is 72, 9 times 9 is 81... Oh how I loved doing that.

At least I have the brains and mathematical know-how to realize when something is $.30/ea -- that 3/$1.00 is NOT a buy.  Or when something is $2.98/ea and offered at 2/$5.00 - I'm saving money.

Maybe we should consider going back to our roots, back to the way things were taught in 1950.  Yes, progress is good, but not always for everything.  Some things are basic and should remain that way.  Of course, there are shortcuts in everything.  298 X 3 = 894.  It can be extrapolated in 2 (two) different methods - 3 X 8 = 24, carry the 2. 3 X 9 27 + 2 = 29, carry the 2. 3 X 2 = 6 + 2 = 8. Voila! 894.  OR 300 X 3 = 900 - 3 X 2 = 6.  OR another example, one can say 275 X 4 = 1100.  Extrapolation - 4 X 5 = 20, carry the 2, 4 X 7 = 28 + 2 = 30, carry the 3, 4 X 2 = 8 + 3 = 11  Again, voila! 1100.  OR  75 X 4 = 300,  200 X 4 = 800, add 800 + 300 = 1100.

See?  If one knows the basics, one can move forward.  But don't give me 5 pennies and 1 cup of coffee and expect me to figure out the difference.  All I see is a cheap cup of coffee, or a lousy tip.

Until next I ramble on...