First Page Critique: Falling Free

Today we have a first page critique for a project entitled Falling Free. My comments follow so see you on the flip side (and enjoy because I think this is a great first page!).
Title: Falling Free

I fell hard to the closet floor.

My head hit the carpet. My arms just kind of flopped where they wanted.

I lay there, wondering what’d happened.

The carpet in this Seattle hotel smelled like it’d been shampooed recently. I used to be a hotel maid, so I know about carpet smells.

I stared at the ceiling for a bit. There was a black spider in the corner, moving its legs slowly, like it was doing yoga or something. I tried to mimic its movement, but couldn’t get my arms to respond.

My head hurt a little. I closed my eyes, I swear, just for a moment.

The next thing I knew, a cop bent over me. He stared for a minute, then put his gloved hand on my shoulder and rolled me up slightly.

I guessed he was looking at the back of my head.

He settled me back down on the floor, then leaned over and brushed my long hair away from my face. He smelled like stale cigarettes and had kind brown eyes.

My wallet appeared in his hand. “Junie. That your name, honey?”

I heard movement beyond him. The room outside the closet suddenly seemed filled with people, snapping pictures, going through drawers, talking on their cell phones. Saying things like “next-of-kin” and “keep the media out”.

Didn’t make much sense to me. Who’d care, anyway?

The cop yelled out the closet door. “Hey, Jimmy! Get the boss on the phone.”

“Okay, Frank.”

Then another cop, Jimmy presumably, entered the closet and handed a cell phone to Frank.

“Why don’t you get yourself a phone, Frank?”

“Why should I when you’ve always got yours?”

Jimmy left the closet in a huff.

“Yeah, hey boss.”

His eyes strayed to where it’d landed when I fell. “Nah. Nothing to do here. Get the crew over.”

Frank snapped Jimmy’s phone shut and stuck it in his shirt pocket.

He stood, looked down at me, shaking his head. “What’s your story, Junie?” He lingered over me a moment longer, then turned and walked out of the closet.

I heard him give orders to those in the room, to get this wrapped up. The scurrying intensified, doors and drawers slamming. Then it was quiet again.

Just Frank, studying me from the closet doorway.

My story? You don’t really wanna know, Frank.

I could’ve changed things. Put that in your report.

Comments:
I thought this first page was a great example of ‘less is more’ with short, snappy paragraphs that nonetheless evoked the scene, well-paced and believable dialogue, and a POV/voice that was already compelling. Bravo to our contributor!
For once I have very little to say in terms of input or advice…but if I was to make some recommendations (and honestly this piece is fine to stay as is!) they would be:
  • Perhaps consider one more sentence to give a sense of the injury that’s occurred (as it sounds like something far worse than just falling on carpet).
  • Perhaps consider a brief sentence in the closet describing the iron/ironing board or clothes/robe hanging – just something that might reveal whether this is a seedy hotel, a motel 6 or a more up-market hotel…
  • Possibly clarify time period as it sounds like it’s the 90’s (e.g. Frank snapped Jimmy’s phone shut) but I wasn’t totally sure.
  • This could also be important as I didn’t quite believe Frank wouldn’t have a phone these days (definitely would believe it if it was the 90s) – otherwise I was going to recommend changing “why don’t you get yourself a phone, Frank” to “why don’t you ever have your phone with you, Frank”,  if it was contemporary.
  •  I wasn’t quite sure how Junie could see the room outside the closet from the floor (she’d settled back down after the officer had originally rolled her up slightly). Maybe just have some movement (turned her head, or her eyes saw over the officer’s shoulder…something like that…)
  • Finally, I didn’t love the title ‘Falling Free’ – although without knowing more about the book I can’t really give good input, except to say that my initial reaction to this title was ‘meh’:)
All in all I think this is a really strong first page – TKZers, what do you think? What advice or recommendations would you make?
9+

World’s First Free Public Library Supported by Taxation

By Sue Coletta

Photo credit: http://www.libraryhistorybuff.com/

Our local TV station runs a short segment during WMUR’s Chronicle with Fritz Wetherbee, an old-timer who’s a brilliant historian. Every night Fritz shares fascinating stories about New Hampshire. I love learning about the statues, landmarks, buildings, rivers and lakes in my state.

The other night he shared a story about a Unitarian minister who founded the world’s first free public library supported by taxation.

Literary-minded Reverend Abiel Abbot (December 14, 1765 – January 31, 1859) moved from Wilton, NH to Peterborough, NH in 1827 and immediately set up a youth library in his home. He also founded the Peterborough Library Company, supported by membership dues. In proposing the creation of the town library, he described “a central collection of books that would be owned by the people and free to all of those that lived in the town.”

The library website offers the following…

“Inspired by the result, the New Hampshire State Legislature passed a law authorizing towns across the state to raise money for libraries in 1849. Britain wouldn’t pass its Public Libraries Act until 1850, and America’s first large public library—the Boston Public Library—was founded in 1852.”

Photo credit: http://www.libraryhistorybuff.com/

During a town meeting at Peterborough in 1833, Abbot proposed that a portion of the State Literary Fund be used for the purchase of books to establish a library, free to all the citizens of the town. Books purchased by Reverend Abbot and a board of trustees were made available for public use.

Reverend Abbot housed the original Peterborough Town Library in a general store that doubled as the post office, with the postmaster acting as librarian until 1854. After a short stint at town hall, a permanent home was finally built in 1893 to house a book collection that had grown into the thousands.

In a thesis published in 1947, Sidney Ditzion commented on the Peterborough Public Library.

“The account of the establishment of a town library at Peterborough, New Hampshire, is unique in that here we have an instance of what appears to be the spontaneous generation of an entirely new form.  Here, without the stimulus of private donation, without the permission of state legislation, without the semblance of a model in the mother country, a tax-supported town library was born.

The circumstances surrounding the creation of this institution raise an interesting historical question involving local circumstance and group motivation to which no answer has yet been offered.  In January of 1833 a group of farmers and small manufacturers under the leadership of the Rev. Abiel Abbot formed a social library whose shares sold at two dollars and whose annual membership fee was fifty cents. 

On April 9 of the same year the town, apparently under the inspiration of the same Rev. Abbot voted to set aside for the purchase of books a portion of the state bank tax which was distributed among New Hampshire towns for library purposes.  This was the way the first American town library to be continuously supported over a period of years was begun.”

Reverend Abbot founded several other libraries, too, including the Juvenile Library and the Library Company of Peterborough. In 1965, on the bicentennial of Abbot’s birth, New Hampshire State Legislature passed a resolution to recognize Abbot’s role in founding the “first free public library in the world supported by taxation.” This resolution also requested that the President of the United States and the Postmaster General issue a postage stamp to commemorate the bicentennial of Abbot’s birth.

Today, Peterborough Public Library remains the oldest public library in the world. Pretty cool, eh?

For discussion, please share one historical fact about your town or state. Does your local news have a guy like Fritz Wetherbee? The name kills me. He looks exactly how you picture him.

Quick update to my previous post: I’m still keeping the raven alive 19 long, emotional days, but it’ll be worth it if she flies again. One day I couldn’t find her, and I thought for sure a night predator found her. The next day, she strutted back into the yard for breakfast. What a will to live! Here’s a quick video of Rave chowing down. See the wing?

More later. I’m hoping this story has a happy ending.

5+

First Page Critique – The Lies of Murder

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

PublicDomainPicures-Pixabay

Today we welcome another brave anonymous author with a first page entitled:

The Lies of Murder

Merli Whitmore hadn’t stepped foot in her childhood home in ten years. She expected tension entering unannounced. Tension with her step-mother, not the heart-pounded tension of a bloody chef’s knife stabbed into the wood cutting board. Someone had left her a note on lined white paper dotted with drops of blood.

NO BETTER WAY TO START YOUR RETURN TO HAVEN HILL THAN FOR ME TO KILL HER FOR YOU. WELCOME HOME, MERLI.

From behind, Merli heard a familiar voice. “Hands up and turn around slowly.”

She obeyed the command, turning to face two police officers pointing guns in her direction. “Hello, Ian. Been a long time.”

“Merli?” She was the last person he imagined seeing. “What are you doing here?”

“You know her?” Officer Urbane asked.

“Cuff her.”

While Officer Urbane spouted the Miranda warning and cuffed her hands behind her back, Ian read the note under the bloody knife. Merli sat on a kitchen chair.

Ian pulled out a second chair and sat three feet away. “You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?”

Because I always follow my premonition dreams is what she wanted to say. Only her father and Aunt Cordelia knew about her dreams. “I haven’t been able to reach my father in three days. I finally jumped on a plane to find out why.”

“What did Vivian tell you?”

“My feelings toward Vivian haven’t changed.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Officer Urbane took a step forward, hands placed on his hips.

“You look familiar. What’s your name?”

“You’re not in a position to ask questions.”

Ian chimed in. “Zane Urbane. Xander’s younger brother.”

“She knows my brother?”

“Merli grew up in this house. Xander was in our class. Vivian’s her step-mom. Why don’t you find out what’s happening at the other scene?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Once Officer Urbane left the house, Ian returned his focus to Merli. “When was the last time you spoke to Vivian?”

“I don’t know. Probably a couple weeks ago. She has an unpleasant habit of interjecting herself when I’m face-timing with my dad.”

“And you came home because you couldn’t reach your dad?”

“He always returns my calls within a couple hours. I even tried texts and emails and no response for three days. If you know something, tell me.”

Ian leaned forward. “Where were you between six and nine this evening?”

~~~

This submission races out of the gate. Congratulations to the Brave Author for starting with action and a major crime. Merli Whitmore enters her childhood home for the first time in years and immediately finds a blood-spattered note fastened to a wood cutting board with a bloody knife. The message is a real punch in the gut—the note writer claims to have killed an unnamed woman for Merli. That’s some homecoming!

Then two cops pull guns on her and she knows one of them.

Merli has obvious, ongoing conflict with her step-mother and there’s a strong suggestion Vivian has been murdered, making Merli a suspect. Additionally, Merli’s premonition dream hints that her father is also at risk.

This page definitely grabs the reader’s attention early and piles lots of complications on the main character. Well done!

There is also potentially interesting backstory between Merli and Ian who know each other from school days. The author gives intriguing hints without an information dump. Her old classmate orders his partner to immediately handcuff her. Whoa! The reader wonders why–she’s cooperating and is not armed or combative. The author establishes things have already gone terribly wrong for Merli and only promise to get worse. Excellent!

Several plausibility problems jump out but are easily fixable.

  1. The cops appear only a few seconds after Merli enters the house and finds the note. If they were that close, wouldn’t she have seen their car before she goes into the house? Or hear sirens as they arrive?
  2. If a murder had already been reported, the house would be a cordoned-off crime scene and Merli couldn’t just walk in.
  3. As Jim Bell often reminds us, police do not immediately deliver Miranda rights. They gather background and hope the suspect will reveal information before requesting an attorney.
  4. Although putting Merli in handcuffs right away is an attention grabber, it seems excessive if the author wants to portray police procedure realistically. After all, they didn’t catch her standing over the body with a bloody knife in her hand.

However, if, as part of the plot, you want to establish these officers are overly aggressive or Ian is paying back an old grudge, then it does work to slap the cuffs on her as an intimidation tactic.

Merli’s character seems cool and confident, especially with guns pointed at her. She gives short, coherent answers but also shoots questions back at the cops. The reader roots for her because she doesn’t cave in to their heavy-handed tactics.

She has premonition dreams that predict the future—her dreams can be her curse but also her power. That makes for a complex, interesting character the reader wants to learn more about. Well done.

Some small suggestions:

Merli Whitmore hadn’t stepped foot in her childhood home in ten years. She expected tension entering unannounced. Tension with her step-mother, not the heart-pounded tension of a bloody chef’s knife stabbed into the wood cutting board.

Short, simple sentences might work better to convey the startling event.

Merli Whitmore hadn’t stepped foot in her childhood home in ten years. She expected tension for entering unannounced. She expected tension from her stepmother Vivian.

She didn’t expect the sight that made her heart pound: a bloody chef’s knife stabbed into the wood cutting board.

 

She was the last person he imagined seeing. This is a point of view inconsistency because it briefly goes inside Ian’s head:

Maybe instead: His startled expression said she was the last person he imagined seeing.

 

Weak gerunds: there are three verbs that end in -ing in three lines—turning, pointing, seeing. For stronger verbs, here are a couple of suggestions:

turning to see two police officers who pointed guns at her.

the last person he expected to see.

 

“You know her?” Officer Urbane asked. How does Merli know his name? Does she see a nametag? A few paragraphs later, she asks his name even though it has been used several times.

 

Attributions: Even though there aren’t many attributions, the dialog generally makes it clear who is talking. However, this passage was a little confusing:

“You look familiar. What’s your name?”

“You’re not in a position to ask questions.”

Ian chimed in. “Zane Urbane. Xander’s younger brother.”

“She knows my brother?”

Clarify who’s talking with a few action tags:

Merli faced the cop who’d cuffed her. “You look familiar. What’s your name?”

“You’re not in a position to ask questions.”

Ian chimed in, “Zane Urbane. Xander’s younger brother.”

Urbane’s face screwed into a frown. “She knows my brother?”

 

The author does a quick, efficient job of explaining the relationships without an info dump: “Merli grew up in this house. Xander was in our class. Vivian’s her step-mom.”

 

Ian leaned forward. “Where were you between six and nine this evening?”

Obviously, a crime happened between six and nine this evening. But would a responding officer ask about her whereabouts/alibi? That sounds more like an interrogation by a detective.

Also, where did the crime occur? There’s a reference to the other scene,” perhaps where the bloody knife was used. However, if the murder weapon is found inside this house, it would also be cordoned off. Ian would not disturb a crime scene by sitting and having Merli sit. He would take her outside and call for officers to secure the scene.

If the crime happened elsewhere, what caused the police to respond to this location?

I’m raising these questions because they will occur to a reader and will need to be answered within a few pages.

There is virtually no description or scene setting in this first page. The Brave Author might consider slowing down to include a few words to establish what the kitchen looks like (aside from the chopping block and bloody knife, which are great!) as well as the physical appearance of the officers, especially Ian since he appears to be an important character.

The time is this evening sometime after nine p.m., meaning it’s dark outside. Maybe include that detail: She expected tension entering unannounced at ten-thirty at night.

Merli displays almost no reaction to startling events that would normally provoke strong emotional responses—a bloody knife, a note confessing to a murder, cops who pull guns on her, being cuffed. While I admire her cool confidence, maybe include more reaction from her—the shock of cold, hard metal biting her wrists, a brief worry that her premonition dream about her dad is coming true. Let the reader inside Merli’s head to bond with her as she faces these frightening circumstances.

This submission features action, conflict, strong writing, and effective dialog that keeps the story barreling forward. The main character has a gift/curse of dream premonitions that offers great potential for present and future complications. Excellent work, Brave Author.

~~~

TKZers: Would you turn the page? What suggestions or comments can you offer this Brave Author?

~~~

 

 

Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff, is now available for pre-order at this link. If you order now, the special price is $.99. Dead Man’s Bluff will be delivered to your device on June 23.

6+

The Ballad of Prequels and Origin Stories

Hope you are all enjoying a safe and healthy Memorial Day Monday.

We actually got some snow in the mountains this long weekend which gave me a great excuse to read (yay!), and I am about halfway through Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes which is both a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy and an origin story of sorts for President Snow. Despite being a huge fan of hers (her middle grade Gregor of the Overland series is actually my favorite) I confess to being a bit underwhelmed and I wonder if it is due to what I call ‘prequel fatigue’. It seems like a bit of a thing at the moment where highly successful franchises look to origin stories or prequels as a kind of brand life extension. There’s Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust (a prequel to His Dark Materials trilogy) which was then followed by The Secret Commonwealth (which is confusingly actually a sequel to the trilogy) – not to mention the Fantastic Beasts films that are essentially prequels to the Harry Potter saga. While in both these circumstances I enjoyed returning to the worlds that both Pullman and Rowling so masterfully created, I did find myself constantly looking for (and finding!) plot and character inconsistencies that diminished my overall enjoyment. With the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I started wondering about the whole purpose of these sorts of prequels. Did I really need to read an origin story for President Snow? (not really…) Do I want to feel empathy for him as a future villain? (again…not really…)

The experience has got me wondering about the whole ‘origin story’ issue when it comes to villains. Maybe I just prefer a well-developed albeit enigmatic villain figure, but sometimes getting too much information about a character (particularly a powerful, evil one!) can actually diminish their impact – like peeking behind the Wizard of Oz curtain only to discover the criminal mastermind is actually just a sad-sack with a tragic family history…

In terms of the Hunger Games, I feel that this prequel doesn’t really add much to my understanding of the world Katniss came to inhabit, and I also feel a little cheated that the author didn’t come up with something more intriguing than a story about Coriolanus Snow. Is that mean spirited of me? (probably) but I wanted to be as blown away by this new novel as I did by the original first Hunger Games book (sigh).

So TKZers, what is your feeling about the whole ‘prequel’ thing? Have you read a series that successfully extended the brand by doing this in a way that didn’t feel merely derivative? Do you think origin stories like this for villains can be successful? If so, how??

 

8+

When Corvids Go Rogue

By SUE COLETTA

The following is a true story. While reading, take note of the bracketed MRUs [Motivation-Reaction Units in red] and scene/sequel structure in parenthesis (in blue), and my unrest can double as a TKZ lesson. 🙂 We’ve talked about these subjects before. Industry professionals write with the MRU (also called action/reaction) construction without conscious thought. For a new writer, learning this rhythm and flow can be a game changer.

For the last five days I’ve been in the middle of a crow verse raven war. I love both species, but I also understand why they’re fighting. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

It all started last Wednesday when a vicious red-tailed hawk chased Shakespeare — the runt of my beloved crow family — past the dome window in my living room [Motivation].

Big mistake. No way could I not get involved (Scene Goal).

So, I bolted outside to help [Reaction]. Allan, Shakespeare’s older brother, was with her. Both seemed exhausted [Motivation] (Scene Conflict).

I called for Poe, their mother [Reaction]. She called back, but she wasn’t nearby [Motivation]. I called again and again, each time panic rising in my tone [Reaction].

Poe soared into the yard, landed on “her” tree branch, and gazed down at me [Motivation]. I pointed over to the left and screamed, “Hawk! The babies are in danger!” [Reaction] (Scene Disaster)

And Poe took off in that direction. Seconds later, a chorus of caws erupted in the treetops. It’s not smart to anger a mother crow — any crows, for that matter. Perched atop the tallest conifer, Poe called for the rest of her murder.

The hawk froze, like, “What the heck’s going on? Did that human call for backup?”

Within moments, the rest of Poe’s family soared in from all directions and attacked. [Motivation] I stood motionless, awestruck by the intelligence of my black beauties and the bond we’ve developed [Reaction] (Scene Reaction). For any hawk lovers out there, s/he’s alive. At least, I assume so. Angry caws trailed into the distance as the crows escorted the hawk out of their territory. If you’re wondering, Shakespeare and Allan flew away unscathed. 🙂

Later that same day, my husband and I had just finished lunch when a second commotion exploded outside [Motivation].

I had no idea my day would take such an ominous turn.

When we rushed into the yard [Reaction], I found a raven with an injured wing [Motivation]. My heartstrings snapped in two [Reaction]. On one hand, I refused to sit by and let that raven die. On the other, I couldn’t blame Poe and Edgar for protecting their chicks. Ravens tend to target a crow’s nest for an easy meal.

How could I be angry over the corvids acting on instinct? If an intruder was sniffing around my home, nothing could stop me from defending my family.

Even so, I couldn’t let the raven die. I’m just not built that way.

After four hours(!) of trekking through the woods after “Rave,” I came to the conclusion that I’d never catch her (Scene Dilemma). But I had to do something (Scene Decision).

I called New Hampshire Fish & Game (Scene Goal). A large part of their job is to help wounded animals, right? Well, not exactly. Much to my dismay, their “rules” don’t apply to corvids [Motivation].

The officer’s response infuriated me [Reaction].

“Since we’re talking about corvids,” he said, “it’s best to let nature take its course. We don’t respond to these types of calls because crows and ravens aren’t endangered. Besides, there’s plenty of them in the state.” (Scene Conflict) [Motivation]

“There’s plenty of people in the state, too, but I’d still try to save a human life.” [Reaction] #BlackFeatheredLivesMatter!

Needless to say, the phone call rolled downhill from there. I was on my own (Scene Disaster). My biggest problem? How to sneak food to Rave without upsetting Poe. Which is a lot more difficult than it sounds.

I waited for Poe and the gang to make their daily rounds in search of intruders within their domain. In a country setting, a crow’s territory stretches for several acres.

Once caws trailed into the distance [Motivation], I bustled up the walkway—my gaze scanning the sky—headed toward the woods where the raven was hiding out [Reaction]. As soon as I’d hustled halfway across the dirt road, Poe rocketed out of a nearby tree [Motivation].

I tried this all damn day. And every single time she busted me. I flung up my hands and tried to reason with her (Scene Reaction) [Reaction for MRU, too]. “Listen, Poe. The raven’s no longer a threat. Can’t you please — please — leave her alone long enough for the wing to heal?”

That didn’t go over well (Scene Dilemma) [Motivation].

I tried again (Scene Decision). “Tell ya what. If you let the raven heal, I’ll reward you with a juicy steak.” [Reaction]

Better, but a little more convincing was in order. [Motivation] (Scene Goal)

“Hey, how ’bout you two come to an understanding? You’ll leave her alone if she promises not to go after the chicks once she’s airborne.” [Reaction]

Poe cocked her head, as if to say, “You can’t be serious. That’s not how this game is played.” [Motivation] (Scene Conflict)

“Fine! Then you’re just gonna have to get comfortable with me feeding her. I refuse to abide by your stupid rules.” (Scene Decision) And I stormed off. [Reaction]

Not my finest moment. Whatever. The neighbors already call me “that crazy crow lady,” so if anyone saw me arguing with Poe it wouldn’t even faze ’em.

As darkness rolled in, I lost track of the raven. There wasn’t any more I could do but pray she survived the night.

First thing Thursday morning, guess who’s waiting for breakfast? [Motivation] I brought out the leftovers from a roasted chicken [Reaction] (Scene Goal). The raven grabbed the carcass by the spine and hopped toward the woods. A few feet away she must’ve thought better of it. Stealing the whole thing could paint an even bigger bullseye on her back. Rave tore the chicken down the middle, stuffed one half in her beak, and left the rest on Poe’s rock.

I didn’t see Rave the rest of the day. (Scene Conflict)

On Friday night a tornado-like storm hit our area, complete with 50 mph winds, downpours, and lightning strikes. [Motivation] (Scene Disaster) If the raven survived, it’d be a miracle.

Eagle-eyed on the woods the next morning, I waited for hours as sunbeams speared across the grass. My beloved crows arrived on time. But no raven. Did Rave perish in the storm? In front of the window I wore a path in the hardwood floors. (Scene Reaction) [Reaction for MRU, too]

Time slogged. [Motivation]

About 10 a.m. I peeked out the window one last time before hitting the keyboard [Reaction]. And there stood Rave, well-rested, hungry, and disappointed to find the rock empty [Motivation]. The millisecond I stepped on the deck with a fresh plate of raw bacon [Reaction], Poe and the gang emerged from surrounding trees [Motivation] (Scene Dilemma).

Uh-oh, now what? [Reaction]

While I weighed my options, the crows scolded the raven from all directions. They dared not attack her, though. I have a strict “no fighting” policy, and they know it.

Thick tension engulfed the yard. [Motivation]

To create a diversion, I tossed half the bacon in the woods and half on Poe’s rock [Reaction] (Scene Decision). Which seemed to satisfy everyone. The saga, however, continues…

10+

Saved by the Spelling Bee

Happy Monday after Mother’s Day! I hope all the mums out there got to enjoy their day. Mine descended into horror when I received the dreaded text: ‘I got Queen Bee!!’ from one of my twins…

Let me explain…During our self-imposed exile my boys and I have become obsessed with the NYT online game, Spelling Bee. I credit it (along with the crossword) for saving much on my sanity and (sadly) turning me into one of those Uber-competitive mums who rushes to get to it first so I can get the pangram before my kids do!!

For those of you unfamiliar with Spelling Bee, it’s basically an online, highly addictive version of Boggle, comprising a daily hexagon shaped word game made up of 7 letters (6 of which surround a central letter which must be used).

The goal of the game is to make as many 4+ letter words as possible, urged on by various awards that take you from beginner accolades (‘solid’, ‘nice’) through to ‘genius’ level and then, if you find all the possible words, ‘Queen Bee’. One of the key aims of the game is also to find the pangram or a word that uses all the letters (sometimes there’s more than one pangram just to keep us on our toes!).

I’m not really sure why Spelling Bee is as addictive as it is – but I do know that I’m not alone in loving it, or turning to it for solace during these long 8 weeks under ‘stay at home’ orders. The best part about it all is that it’s become a shared obsession…the worst part, my boys are also so much better at it than me!! We now fight each morning to see how quickly we can get to ‘genius’ (a level we feel compelled to achieve) or, if we’re super lucky, to be crowned ‘Queen Bee’.

So now you can understand my Mother’s Day ‘horror’:)))

I hope that all TKZers are staying safe and healthy during these ongoing, difficult times, and that you have managed to find some distractions to keep up your spirits. Even though Colorado has begun to lift the stay-at-home orders, I am sure our obsession with Spelling Bee will continue.

So TKZers, what has kept you sane during the last 8 weeks? Are any of you Spelling Bee obsessives? What online games or apps have kept you going??

I

7+

A Farewell Message: Winnie the Pooh said it best

Jordan Dane 

@JordanDane

Photographer Credit: Shaun C Williams



“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Winnie the Pooh


This will be my final TKZ post, my fine friends. It’s been nearly ten years that I’ve had the good fortune to be invited as a contributor. You might think all those years would make it an easy decision to step down, but the years made it harder to decide to move on.

I started writing in 2003, sold in auction in 2006 with my first 3 books released in 2008 and beyond. Even with the experience I have (on paper) from then until now, I still feel like the mesmerized kid who sneaked under the big tent at the circus, afraid someone will find me & toss me out. I’m a sponge for the information presented here every day–posted by each author contributor as well as the helpful comments made by our followers. That’s YOU. I’ve learned a great deal from our TKZ family of subscribers & followers. Thank you.

It’s clear how dedicated TKZers are about the passion we share when reading the comments to our posts. As a writing community, we take great care in nurturing the burgeoning talents of the many anonymous submitters who request feedback on their first pages, for example. Or we read a post & feel free to contribute our comments to develop the topic with our personal thoughts because we feel comfortable in doing it here. Our outspoken family is what I love the most and will never forget.

If there is anything I can wish for our followers, I wanted to share some parting words of encouragement.

1.) Be fearless. Write as if no one knows IT’S YOU. There’s an old saying that made a difference for me when I first started to write.

“Write like your parents are dead.”

Truer words were never spoken. I remember my first books when I pushed the line and wondered if readers will connect ME to what I wrote, especially my friends–or WORSE, my parents. My mother told the book store manager (at my first book signing) that she loved my book, except for the pages she had to duct tape together. True story.

Or the time I had my parents join me at a speech I gave to a large writers’ group in Austin, Texas. After reading a passage aloud, I gulped when I realized they were behind me, listening to a graphic excerpt. My mother told attendees afterwards that she would have to give me a time out.

I also heard from a fellow male author that his most mortifying experience came when his mother corrected his sex scene. OUCH!

2.) Push your skills with each new book. No one needs to know your limitations. If you keep pushing, you won’t have any.

3.) Write on the edge of your comfort zone. Try anything that intimidates you. Otherwise how will you ever overcome & achieve? With every new book, I picked a new plot method that stretched me. If another author claimed to know all the “rules” and told me what I shouldn’t do, that became my new goal.

The one genre I thought I would never write, I took a stab at with THE CURSE SHE WORE when I wrote historical fiction. It took a lot of research and the help of friends like the lovely and talented TKZ’s Clare Langley-Hawthorne to give me the courage to try it. One less thing to intimidate me. (TKZ’s Joe Hartlaub helped me with the setting of New Orleans and I will forever be grateful.)

4.) Pay your good fortune forward. Our writing community is very generous in helping other writers. We see that here at TKZ or we have probably all benefited by a helping hand from other authors in our circles. Do the same for others. You will receive far more from giving than receiving.

5.) Never forget who got you to the dance. Most times it is family who endure the challenges of living with an author. I definitely had the support of family, but I sold because one bestselling author stuck her neck out for me. The story is on my website at this LINK & I have never forgotten her kindness. She changed my life forever and helped me realize a lifelong dream. There are no words to thank someone for that. In fact, after I sent her flowers and gushed, she told me to simply ‘pay it forward.’ So there are no words – JUST DO.

My years of involvement with TKZ was one way I chose to spread her generosity and DO in the spirit of paying kindnesses forward. But I received far more than you’ll ever know. Thank you, TKZers! I won’t forget you.

***

Good friends never say goodbye. They simply say ‘See you soon.’ 

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Word Porn

By SUE COLETTA

It’s fun to see how words change over time. Their meanings transform, expand, and even metamorphose into a whole new meaning. These changes occur gradually over time. I find it fascinating how one word used by our ancestors means something totally different today.

While researching my historical “ladies” (female serial killers) for Pretty Evil New England, I ran across numerous differences in spelling and definitions.

The process of words changing over time is called semantic narrowing, which is a type of semantic change by which the meaning of a word becomes less general or inclusive than its earlier meaning. In other words, any change in meaning(s) of a word over time — also called semantic shift, lexical change, and semantic progression.

Common types of semantic change include bleaching (where the semantics of a word reduces while the grammatical content increases), broadening (when the semantics of a word becomes broader or more inclusive than its earlier meaning), metaphor, and metonymy (a figure of speech or trope in which one word or phrase is substituted for its closely related cousin, such as “crown” for “royalty”).

Semantic change may also occur when foreign speakers adopt English expressions for use in their own social and cultural environment.

“We say that narrowing takes place when a word comes to refer to only part of the original meaning. The history of the word hound in English neatly illustrates this process. The word was originally pronounced hund in English, and it was the generic word for any kind of dog at all. This original meaning is retained, for example, in German, where the word Hund simply means ‘dog.’ Over the centuries, however, the meaning of hund in English has become restricted to just those dogs used to chase game in the hunt, such as beagles…”

“Words may come to be associated with particular contexts, which is another type of narrowing. One example of this is the word indigenous, which when applied to people means especially the inhabitants of a country which has been colonized, not ‘original inhabitants’ more generally.”

— Terry Crowley & Claire Bowen, An Introduction to Historical Linguistics, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2010

Etymologically, a hound dog translates to dog dog. 🙂

Another prime example of semantic narrowing is mouse and bookmark. Rather than an animal and a device used in place of a dog-earing a page, these words also refer to a computer mouse and online bookmark.

Where’s the Beef? (A nod to JSB’s post, Storytelling Lessons in 60 Seconds or Less 😉 )

If you were a vegetarian in Anglo-Saxon times, you still ate meat. In Old English the word mete referred to food in general. It wasn’t until the 1300s that the meaning of meat began to narrow to mean animal flesh. Even though meat still refers to the contents of a nut (i.e. almond meat) that’s not the first image that springs to mind.

The original sense of meat survived in sweetmeats, an old term for a type of candied treat.

Girl Power

The word girl (historically written as gurlegrile, and gerle) meant “a child” or “young person” of either sex. Today, of course, girl refers to a young female, though women of all ages use the word to refer to close friends. “Girl, you’re not gonna believe what he did this time.”

Along those same lines, woman comes from the Old English word wīfman, which literally means “wife-man.” I know, ladies. Just let the sexist definition roll off your shoulders. After all, I’m referencing a time when man meant any human.

Strangely enough, wife stems from the Old English word wīf, meaning any “woman, female” instead of today’s meaning: a married woman.

Doe a Deer, a Female Deer

When we think of the word deer, we imagine graceful animals, with or without antlers, who frolic in the woods. The word, however, stems from the Old English word dēor, meaning “beast,” especially a four-legged animal unlike a bird or fish. By the 1400s, deer morphed into its current Bambi-like designation.

Should we strive to be an awful writer? 

Don’t answer too quickly. In the 1200s, awful meant “full of awe.” It also meant “inspiring awe” or “reverential.” Later, awful referred to “causing fear and dread,” which contributed to the current meaning of “bad, unpleasant.”

Awesome evolved in the opposite direction, from “inspiring awe” to “great, excellent.” Though in some cases, its original meaning still holds true.

My, What an Egregious Gentleman

Sounds incorrect, doesn’t it? But back in the early 1500s, egregious meant “distinguished” or “eminent.” It comes from the Latin word egregius, meaning “preeminent” with a literal sense of “[standing] out from the flock.”

Naughty Villain

First recorded around 1340-1400, naughty meant “wicked, evil.” It also meant “poor, needy.” Naughty is formed from the Old English naught, meaning “nothing” or “wickedness.” It wasn’t until centuries later that the word transformed to refer to a misbehaving child or an adult engaged in risqué behavior.

Reserved Seating for Vulgar Only

Sometimes semantic narrowing can lead to a negative connotation, a process called pejoration. If I said the word vulgar, you’d immediately think I was referring to someone (or something, as in a painting, photo, song, or language) who acted in an inappropriate manner. But vulgar stems from the Latin word vulgaris or vulgas, meaning “common people” or “ordinary.”

Over to you, my beloveds. Write a sentence that includes two or more of these words with their original definitions. Bonus points if you include more than five! 

 

 

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Describe Your #StayHome #Quarantine Life in a Book Title (& More)

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

 

When I believed the stay home order might only be for a month, I was determined to make the most of the isolation. After all, the end was in sight, right? But the Corona Virus has such dire outcomes for some that I get the sense this won’t be over soon.

I’m primary caregiver for my parents. We’re fortunate they have their health (and humor) but that doesn’t keep me from worrying about them. Their independent living apartment complex has implemented tighter rules to restrict access for their facility to outside visitors (except in certain circumstances). I’m grateful. They have a restaurant that delivers to their door and they are encouraged to stay home and order.

My parents celebrating Willie Nelson’s birthday. Don’t ask.

But I miss seeing my mom and dad. I miss hugging them. I miss my siblings. We talk on the phone and text all the time as a family, but it’s not the same. I’m sure you guys know what I mean. I miss what I can’t have and it’s getting old.

Basically the walls of my home have closed in on me. I fixated on stocking my shelves with grocery items I don’t normally eat. I haven’t resorted to SPAM yet, but I’m sure that day will come. You know what they say–it can’t go bad if it was never good in the first place. Did you know that you can slice SPAM thin and use it to oil your furniture? It’s quite versatile–if you can put up with the flies–but I digress.

What if this quarantine order lasts for months? I would need a different mindset for the long haul. I might have to exercise or get rid of my weight scale, but in the mean time, I could use my TKZ family for a little fun. We can all use a good laugh these days.

DISCUSSION (Something for everyone):

1.) Describe YOUR QUARANTINE LIFE in a book title.

2.) What movie title best describes your SEXY SIDE?

3.) What book or movie title best describes PARENTING?

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Comforting Creative Outlets


If you’re like me, every day has started to become a bit of a blur…but happy Monday all the same! After reading Sue’s great blog post last Monday (Why the World Needs Creatives More than Ever) I started to feel less guilty about my complete inability to write last week – I definitely felt my overall anxiety had depleted my creative reserves (not to mention having a household full of boys trying to work/being out of school). Instead of writing, I found myself turning to what I now call my ‘comforting’ creative pursuits – namely sketching and painting (as well as my less comforting, more challenging, creative pursuit – the dreaded knitting!).

I’ve dabbled in painting for years, always enjoying the fun of doing something for the pure pleasure of it. I’m not particularly good but also not particularly bad, so it’s a hobby that can be both satisfying and comforting. Unlike my writing, I don’t feel the pressure to excel or try to make a living out of it and, because I lean towards abstract art, my paintings don’t even have to look like anything in real life (bonus!).

The last couple of weeks I’ve found that getting absorbed in a painting is a great stress reliever. I get to just focus on the stroke of the paintbrush and the subtleties of color. It enables me to get engrossed in something other than compulsively checking news apps or social media – and time does seem to pass in a completely different way when I’m painting (hours seem to float by, calm and serene – it’s lovely!).

Next week my boys start back at school via remote learning and hubby will continue to work from home, so I need to set up a new schedule – one that reintroduces some decent writing time (I feel I really ought to get that back into focus!) and which, I hope, will also include time to paint. In these troubling times, I feel I need my comforting creative pursuits more than ever…

So TKZers what are your ‘comforting’ creative outlets? Are you having trouble focusing on your writing – or are you using this pandemic as a way of channeling your thoughts and feelings at the moment (I feel completely stymied in this regard!). What creative pursuits are you turning to? Books for me are also a comfort – although I had started a post-apocalyptic YA novel that might need to get re-shelved for while for my own mental health…

BTW – here’s a photo of my latest painting  ‘in progress’ – no judgement please:) When it’s finished it will hopefully look a little like the one at the top of this post (which I finished last week:))

Oh, and here’s a photo proving I have actually made some progress knitting!!

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