Getting Technical

It’s got to be embarrassing: a writer knows only what he can find on the internet about a given subject and some critic who does know calls him out on it in a write-up that half of America reads. Thank God it hasn’t happened to me, yet, because I’m not widely published. I’m very minimally published but I’ve had the sense to not put out there something complicated I don’t understand. Just this morning I read a master at work, covering his ass and doing it brilliantly.

By now you may have gathered I’m a fan of Stephen King. It’s not that I’m a big reader of horror novels. I may watch scary movies more often than I should but I’m more inclined to read crime or mystery books. But King is more than just horror. Everything he writes shows up on the NY Times bestseller list. That’s because he can present characters that are believable, no matter if what they’re doing is not. His descriptions of the environment take us to that movie screen in the head. Good and evil fall with the cruel indifference of fate. And plot.

When I don’t have a new book to take to work I’ll go pull an old favorite off the shelf. My favorite of all King’s works is a short story called The Last Rung On The Ladder. I’d forgotten it was in his Night Shift collection which you might want to go pick up if you’re a fan, too, but don’t own it. If you’re broke, type in the title and it’s a Google doc. You can also find the short film on You Tube. The only horror in it is the careless disregard of a brother for his troubled sister. When I finished it I teared up and thought, Steve! You actually did that! There’s nothing more awful than the things we do to one another that we can’t fix or take back.

Just read it, okay? Now, back to the subject.

In Nightmares & Dreamscapes there’s a story by the name of Sneakers. The MC is a mixing technician for a record company. King, among others like Amy Tan and writer/cartoonist Dave Barry have played for a band named Rock Bottom Remainders but I doubt King is a recording mixer wiz. In Sneakers he solves the problem with a drum track by very simple means. It’s almost this verbatim: the MC says something, the producer says something, and they go back and fix the problem. MC had been about to ask about the dead body in the third floor men’s room but he got sidetracked by the drum snafu. King dances around the issue without revealing any technical information by something and something. He never does get around to asking about the dead guy who was the whole point of that section of the story.

I thought, This man is a genius. If you’ll read the story it will explain better than I have without plagiarizing his work. You don’t have to describe your vet’s weapon in terms of how many shells it holds, the windage and elevation he has to calculate or how many grains it takes to kick out that bullet unless much of your novel is set on the battlefield and is written for guys that have been there in mind. Then you better know some firepower. Stephen Hunter did it very well in his novel Point of Impact but I suspect he has a subscription to Guns & Ammo.

Don’t worry if you’re not well versed on every subject and can glean only the most rudimentary facts from studying. You could write a short story set in a mortuary without being an undertaker. But you might want to take a field trip to one.

I Don’t Think It Can Be Turned Around Without Revolution

A real American.

No one could put it more sincerely than Russell Means when he said Welcome To The American Reservation Prison Camp. Watch here on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN9ssrVTkk8

Sadly, this video has less than half a million views. To set the tone for what I’m about to say let me demonstrate my argument. Just to be fair I just went down the list by typing in “political videos” and sticking to that first page. What I got was a mishmash of news clips and “the best of” videos that generally had less than 50k views. A little more popular was a Trump basher with over 2 million. Chal Dum, a music video from the film Dirty Politics had 29 million views. So I typed in “music videos” and the first on the list was Marshmello’s Happier with 442 million. Which, perhaps unscientifically, demonstrates one of Russell Mean’s points: we just want to be entertained.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Means he is the founder of the American Indian Movement and instrumental in fighting for the Republic of Lakotah. He has been a street person, a drug dealer, actor, writer and has earned a degree in accounting and has his Ph.D in philosophy. He is highly intelligent and articulate and is hardly joking when he says “welcome to the reservation.”

Means claims that the American Constitution was partly based on the Iroquois Confederacy and, indeed, Ben Franklin made reference to the native model in his Plan of Union at the Albany Congress in 1754. Go here for further study and more articles on the subject: https://www.pbs.org/native-america/blogs/native-voices/how-the-iroquois-great-law-of-peace-shaped-us-democracy/

In this You Tube video he puts forth his views on everything from history to vaccinations and excoriates the laziness of modern American life. The basic message is we’ve gotten too far from local government and allowed ourselves to be herded into a centralized pasture where we contentedly graze on government grass as long as we get to spend our paychecks at Walmart and peck on cell phones and damned if he’s not right.

The basis of Native American belief is the circle. Life follows a circle from life to death. What you put into it is what you get out of it. Water circles the globe and sadly the American culture is circling a drain. And going down faster and faster.

Nearly a third of the laws passed by the 115th Congress were ceremonial, renaming courthouses and whatnot according to the Pew Research Center. Good grief. We allow these guys a huge salary (which they vote for themselves), retirement, limos and free helicopter rides. From 2004-2012 the net household worth of our congressmen saw a 1.55 median yearly increase while the average American’t was a .94 percent decrease. According to https://ballotpedia.org/Changes_in_Net_Worth_of_U.S._Senators_and_Representatives_(Personal_Gain_Index) Ballotpedia the majority of our elected officials are millionaires while half of us can’t “afford to spend $5,000 in an emergency.”

This was hardly news to me. When the front bearings on my car went out, $320 put my checking account into the red.

Mean’s call to return to a more community-based way of life sounds like heaven to me. Were we not warned by the founding fathers about letting the fed get too carried away? Hasn’t the patriarchal hand gotten too heavy? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/opinion/sunday/united-states-too-big.html Can anything be done about it?

I don’t know. Speaking for myself I have become an ostrich with my head in the sand. Just living from paycheck to paycheck, no 401k or even health insurance. Once a follower of politics and the news, I now could not even tell you the name of our vice president and that’s pitiful. I’m of the ilk that thinks that no matter what we do or whom we elect nothing substantial will change. It’s gone too far unless we’re willing to march on Washington and throw ’em all out and start over.

Perhaps I’m wrong and it’s not too late. The mysterious they say it’s never too late so don’t start the revolution without me.

Is It Your Story To Tell?

Before I write my blog I’d like to point out a new podcast, The Fantasy Writer’s Toolshed and you can find it here on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDMQXJ7OP4M&feature=youtu.be Thanks to my friend Richie Billings!

Okay. This is undoubtedly a touchy subject. Racism is a hot topic no matter how far we get from the bad, old days. From British colonialism to American slavery to the near-genocide of the First Americans to the grisly efforts of Nazi Germany, mankind has always sought to either enslave or subjugate their fellow man. Always the perpetrator of these heinous acts believed their victims were below them in standards of humanity. Ignorant. Barbaric. Heathen. They felt they had a mandate to overthrow their governments and way of life in order to “show them a better way” or force a religion on them they didn’t want but mostly to take what the other guy had.

As a white American I feel no personal responsibility for the atrocities my ancestors committed but reading “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” and other histories of white American expansion nevertheless made me ashamed of every drop of white blood in my veins. To think that “Manifest Destiny” drove the American government to bow down to the greed of the settlers of the west makes me ill. Who deemed it necessary to send blankets used by people sick with smallpox to the Indians they’d already condemned to miserable reservations? Congressmen and land speculators. Pastors and priests deplorably used the Holy Bible and soft words to help persuade the Native Americans to trust the white men. It’s an anonymous quote that I remember more than any other: “The white man made many promises and kept only one. They promised to take our land and they took it.”

Just as appalling as wiping out a people that were living full, peaceful lives before we ever got here was bringing over another race to build our roads and towns, plant crops, nurse white babies and endure our efforts to “civilize” them. I’ve only heard one black person ever say she thanked God for slavery because she might otherwise now be some man’s third wife and forced to undergo female circumcision. Slavery wasn’t all of it, by any means. There was the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws and a one hundred year wait for civil rights reform.

So what’s my point? I’ll tell you. A few weeks ago I posted a short story to my Facebook author page, Dee Caples, Writer, called Everything’s Copacetic. It’s about a man who believes he’s the reincarnation of Mr. Bojangles. Not the man from the Jerry Jeff Walker song, but the real man, Bill Robinson. He danced his way into film legend and helped pave the way for racial reforms whose fruits he didn’t live to enjoy. It could arguably be said I should have kept my mouth shut but I didn’t. Upon posting the story to my site I thought to ask if it bothered black people to read a white author having one black man call another black man the N word. Upon having a woman respond that she was “usually uncomfortable” with this I changed the story, not wanting to offend anyone.

It led to a firestorm, to say the least, because I posted the query on a writer’s group I belonged to. Belonged, that’s right. I was labeled as being a racist at worst and an idiot at the least. I felt like I’d been told to take my ball and leave the playground. Then a white, politically correct British Facebook friend explained I was taking matters too personally and it was viewed by black people as just another white person trying to write about a history she’d not lived.

I read an article entitled “Not Your Story To Tell.” Point taken. I don’t know a damned thing about being black. Racial injustice isn’t something I’ve ever encountered. When a cop stops me all I have to worry about is the beer I drank fifteen minutes ago or whether I have a tail light out that I was unaware of. If I’ve been racially profiled I didn’t know it. Once I did walk into a bar that was full of black faces and decided I’d better go on in and have a drink now that I was framed in the doorway. Was I uncomfortable? A little. No since in lying about it. I got a drink and found some folks I’d gone to school with and sat at their table but I didn’t dare get up and dance. Was that a racist action? Maybe, but it was based on a self-truth. I can’t dance for shit.

You’ll have to decide the title question for yourself. I will concede that any future novel of mine that has someone of another race as the main character will need to be thoroughly researched for authenticity. I will also run it by someone of that race to see if I have the right of it. My last word on the idea of something not being my story to tell is: stories are kind of like our children. They are conceived in our head and grow inside us. We give birth to them, sustain them, correct them then send them into the world and hope everyone loves them as much as we do. Even if they’re ugly.

Passive Voice

I’m writing about this with the aid of Glencoe/McGraw-Hill’s Writer’s Choice Grammar and Composition. Texas Edition. Well, okay. As a native Texan who’s never lived in any other state (any other town, for that matter), I feel we deserve our very own creative writing textbook version.

All this flap about passive voice drives me a little crazy. What is this accursed editorial thing? “The form of a verb used when the subject of the sentence receives the action of the verb.”

Someday I’m going to have to read this whole book. I borrowed it from the son of an English teacher at my high school. And, buster, it’s been a long time since 1976. For now I just skipped in the contents to the section on verbs, since this is where the conflict lies. Active voice is where the “subject of the sentence performs the action.” See? I had to read it four times and decided to just quote directly from the text. Easier that way.

“The coach praised the team.” Active enough for ya?

And when the action is performed on the subject “The team was praised by the coach.”, that’s passive.

Oh, crap. The first example is smoother and more concise, isn’t it? And concision will get thrown for a loop, invariably, when you use the auxiliary verb be with the past participle of the verb, its tense being determined by the auxiliary verb.

Huh? Allow me to demonstrate by forming my sentence with the help of Glencoe. “The writer was confused as hell.” See? Past tense of be is was, which means I had to use the past tense of confuse, confused. I just managed to passive voice myself four times right there. Way to go! But is (dammit!) there another way to phrase that sentence?

The writer’s confusion abated. The writer’s confusion cleared.

The Writing Center (https://writingcenter.unc.edu>passive voice) says: The form of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, has, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a verb in the past participle which usually, but not always, ends in -ed” will be passive voice. The part that gets me is the “not always.” Isn’t there always a not always?

Ha! So I didn’t use was even though my verb ended with -ed. But was I active? Beats hell out of me. I Googled that whole sentence, asking if it was passive voice just to see if I’d get a hit. No way.

Billy hit the ball. Active.

The ball was hit by Billy. Passive.

Fine.

The ball (object) is the recipient of the action (hit) by the noun (Billy).

“I was hit by the ball.” Passive.

“The ball hit me.” Active.

Concision, concision.

The Writing Center says it’s not all that difficult to identify passive voice. They included a few myths on the subject. One, that your grammar checker will catch it for you. Wrong. Passive voice isn’t grammatically incorrect so your grammar checker will let it breeze right on by and your editor will glove that fly ball. Yer out!

Passive voice never uses first person. Look above. “I was hit by the ball.”

Never use it? There are times when passive voice might be preferable. “He had barely gotten by on social security.” We can’t say “He barely got by on social security” if my subject here is dead. Can we???? That would be present tense, wouldn’t it???

I guess in that case it would be okay. Jeez. I really have to read this book.

(Was that passive voice?)

Rephrase: I must read this book. You can’t get more active than that.

Right?

Why I Love The Evil Queen

Netflix is wonderful to fall asleep to. You can choose a show and if you nod off it’s no problem to rewind and pick up where you left off. Lately I’ve been watching Once Upon A Time again. Originally aired on ABC, this is a wonderful retelling of the old fairy tales we know and love, but with a twist.

Created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, it ran from October 2011 to May 2018. They also wrote many of the episodes but just a few of the other writers include Jane Espenson, David H. Goodman, Liz Tigelaar and Ian Goldberg. For a full list go to Wikipedia. These bright, imaginative folks turned kiddie stories into fun watching for grownups. A mix of fairy tales, folklore and Disney movies, we get to reconnect with some old favorites.

If you read the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson you know some fairy tales ending badly. Remember poor Little Mermaid, immortalized in Anderson’s hometown as a statue gazing longingly at the sea, probably right before she jumped in and was turned to foam? Or the mean-ass sisters and stepmother in Cinderella who had their eyes pecked out by crows, ostensibly with Cinder’s blessing? Peter Pan was far from a good ole’ boy. In OUAT even the villains get a happy ending. Except Hades.

Because the Evil Queen wanted her happy ending, she cast a spell that took everyone in The Enchanted Forest to a modern-day town she created, Storybrooke, Maine, unaware of their former lives. She’s the mayor, Regina, and the only one besides her who knows the truth is Mr. Gold, aka Rumplestilskin, owner of the local pawn shop. Unbeknownst to Regina her adopted son, Henry, discovers the secret when he’s given a book called Once Upon A Time by his teacher, Mary Margret, who just happens to be Snow White. It’s full of illustrations of the townsfolk as their counterparts.

Henry isn’t affected by the curse because he was born in our world, given birth by Emma Swann whose destiny it is to break the curse and restore everyone to themselves. He travels to Boston to bring her to Storybrooke and she’s reluctant to go. The only thing she doesn’t doubt is this is the child she gave up for adoption. She thinks the boy’s deluded. In a much later episode she tells him, “Kid, just because you believe something doesn’t make it true.” He fires back with, “That’s exactly what makes it true.” Belief is very important to children and it plays a big role in the story for the adults, too, and for us, the viewer.

The writers of this well-done series make it very watchable. Okay, the memory and sleeping curses get a little redundant and I could have done without the final season but all in all it’s a great show. I have laughed so hard at times and wiped away a tear at others. The villains are pretty nasty and the good guys valiant but we get to see reversals in every heart when push comes to shove.

In my opinion, Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, 28 Days Later) gives the most multi-faceted performance, as Rumplestilskin. When in the storybook world, he speaks with a high-pitched cartoon voice and bows mockingly when introducing himself. His modern doppelganger, Gold, is even more menacing and just as willing to make a deal. As they say, magic always comes with a price. Sometimes it’s a steep one and he never fails to relish someone having to pay. He also fills the shoes of The Dark One, a powerful wizard, once a cowardly man, his true nature only a scratch from the surface. Belle, of Beauty and The Beast, comes to the story line and we discover The Dark One is The Beast. Only sweet Belle brings out the good in him but he loves power above all, with ruinous consequences.

The other main characters are Ginnifer Goodwin’s Emma, Jared S. Gilmore as Henry, the truest believer, Josh Dallas as Prince Charming (David) and Jennifer Morrison as Snow White (Mary Margaret). The real kicker is Lana Parilla as Regina, The Evil Queen. I can’t decide if I love her or Rumple more. She hasn’t forgotten a thing, not her dead first love or the rage that brought out in her for all things tender and loving.

It wouldn’t be much of a plot or a series if she didn’t have conflicts, chief among them her love for Henry and her guilt of the deaths she was complicit in or outright the cause of. Mostly, she could give a damn. In The Enchanted Forest she goes about in her black carriage and ceiling fan-endangered hairdos snapping necks and disappearing in a swirl of purple smoke.

But, of course, we get to see her softer side. For Henry’s sake she tries to be good and manages to do so. Her bad girl days go on the back burner. Until needed. Then, boy howdy, watch out. With that crooked smile, she faces down her opponents and you know she’s really going to enjoy turning them to toast.

Why do I love her? She is who she is. We get to see why (an unrepentant witch of a mother, played by Barbara Hershey), and you can kind of understand the scourge of The Enchanted Forest, even as you wish she’d be a little nicer. She turns the other cheek to weak. If you’ve pissed her off and she comes after you, you’d best run. Only Charming and Snow are protected from death by innate goodness. Everyone else is going down.

There’s something admirable about that, admit it. What she says, she means, with no apologies. At one time or another we’ve all wanted to zap someone.

#fairytales,#onceuponatime, #lanaparilla, #robertcarlyle, #uneasywriter.blog, #deecaples

A Word On Journals

Most journals are published by colleges. Probably a lot of them have small departments that can’t pay the submitters. The good thing about them is the prestige. If you’ve been chosen by an English department it must mean you’ve written your story well with good spelling and punctuation rules, etc. Many of them are well-respected and will, at least, get your name out there. You won’t get rich writing for journals because most of them don’t pay but if you’re just looking to get your name out there, submit away.

Tomorrow my flash fiction piece, Frozen Behind Glass, comes out in Potato Soup Journal at this URL www.potatosoupjournal.com and I’m excited. That tells me it was good enough for someone to print up. Hey! That’s a good thing.

I sent a short to Clarkesworld magazine but that’s another story, no pun intended. I’m not mad. That’s one of the biggies in the sci fi world. These guys get thousands of submissions and publish very few of them. If they had I might have had a stroke or heart attack.

#uneasywriter.blog, #clarkesworld, #potatosoupjournal, #journals, #paidwriting,

Emailings

To: lizardman1962@wizard.com

Subject: Thanks so much!

Dear Ollie,

It worked like a charm. No pun intended! At last I’m free of that pesky online service and their stupid ads. It seemed no matter how many times I tried to unsubscribe they’d always find a way back in to my email and flood it with more offers for Russian brides or marital aids. If I had to look at one more notification of a vapid model with her g-stringed rear arched back at me I was going to scream! I followed your instructions to print their email, smear it with dung and burn it. Hallelujah! No more C.MoreButts! I trust you got your PayPal?

Yours, Cynthia

To:cndyluv@witch.com

Subject: Glad to assist

Yes, I did, Cynthia. I have found that spell quite effective in the past. Let me know if I can be of further help to you.

Sincerely, Ollie

To:lizardman1962@wizard.com

Subject: Help!

This is so embarrassing but I have nowhere else to turn. When I worked at the nursing home I often wondered how patients could be incontinent of bowel but not of urine. Now I know. When I have to go these days I mean I have to go! I’ve tried changing my diet but it made me constipated.

Maybe I’m just being a silly, old gal but I feel I’m still too young to be buying Depends. If you can’t tell me how to counter this awful predicament, please advise me who can.

Thanks in advance, Cynthia

To:cndyluv@witch.com

Subject: Here ya go

This is the website of a friend of mine and she offers all manner of charms and spells of Wiccan healing. I checked into it and if you look under the category of Virgo you’ll find what you’re looking for. As you might know, Virgo rules the bowels.

Good luck! Ollie

To:lizardman1962@wizard.com

Subject: Appreciation

Dear Ollie,

Your friend Eliza is a marvel and her online order book is wonderful! It has a lot of things I’ll be in need of. I’m glad the incontinence thing required me to perform it at night. Being as I have no privacy fence I can’t imagine what my neighbors would’ve thought of me naked in the dark, turning three times beneath the moon holding bitterweed and wearing my old wool cap. The dog next door was amused, though.

Speaking of naked in the night, I’m passing along something I was told and you might find it of use. If your tomatoes won’t ripen quickly enough, run bare butt between the vines at midnight. Here’s to hoping it works for you because it didn’t work for me but you ought to see my cucumbers!

Respectfully, Cynthia

To:cndyluv@witch.com

Subject: LOL

Girl, you are a hoot!

Ollie

To:lizardman1962@wizard.com

Subject: My feet

Can you do anything with bunions? I can’t afford the Medicare deductible for surgery on my fixed income.

Bless You! Cynthia

To:cndyluv@witch.com

Subject: I’ll give it a whirl

Send $50 to my PayPal and I’ll give you a spell to try. It may or may not work. My friend BlackWiz sent it to me and if it doesn’t do the trick I’ll give you half off your next order.

Ollie

To:lizardman1962@wizard.com

Subject: Guess I’ll live with it

My dear Ollie,

Drat!

First off, I had quite a time locating a white oak tree to burn to get the ashes. Luckily, no one noticed me skulking and I had to hide from the fire department. It was two days before I could go get them. My feet show no improvement so here’s my next request. My neighbor bought the empty lot where the blackberries grow that I make my wine from. Never mind the fact I’ve been picking those berries for years, he mowed them down! I had a talk with him but he said he has plans to build a playhouse for his daughter where the patch used to be.

Question: do you know a decision-altering spell or a curse that would prevent the playhouse from being built? Something to cause a collapse every time he drives a nail or something like that?

Desperately yours, Cynthia

To:cndyluv@witch.com

Subject: That’s a tough one

This might take a little time, so be patient. I don’t normally do curses but know some people that do. It might run into quite a bit of money, though, and I know you’re on a fixed income.

Ollie

To:lizardman1962@wizard.com

Subject: Never mind

Dear Ollie,

Thanks anyway but I found a nicer and far less dangerous method than the one I was going to try. About the time I’d woven a circle of the mown-down blackberry sticker vines and was scheming to get a few threads of his daughter’s clothing, it occurred to me to just take him a bottle of wine. He loved it! The dear man’s agreed to put the playhouse in the back yard where it belongs. All I have to do is give him half the wine the vines produce.

Whew!

Love, Cynthia

P.S. Don’t forget you still owe me half off.

#deecaples, #debracaples, #uneasywriter

Am I Being Original?

I belong to two writers groups on Facebook and think the most frequently asked question, other than “What do you guys think about this…?”, is the one above. Today I replied to a post and said flat-out “No.”

How can we be original? There’s not one plot that hasn’t already been written. Basically they are: comedy, tragedy, science fiction, fantasy and drama. Nonfiction stands alone and carries elements of comedy, tragedy and drama. Fairy tales are fantasy. Mysteries fall into the drama, or depending on the narrative, comedy, category as do thrillers and romance. Farces are comedy. What writers do is take us to a comfortable world we already know and make it their own. And ours. We love to go there because it’s a place we know and have inhabited, on paper if not real life.

Here’s an example of two contrasting plots: The Chronicles Of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Both involve children going through a seemingly ordinary object to reach a realm of magic. In Narnia it’s a wardrobe, in Magicians it’s a clock. The characters have quests in both stories and face real dangers.

That’s pretty much where the similarities end. The Magicians is no book for children. It has foul language, sexual situations, alcohol and drug use. Grossman took the idea from Lewis but made an adult book of it. And Lewis borrowed the idea of travel to other worlds from other writers who came before him, like flying carpets and magic beans of fairy tales.

In other words, you can have three kids, instead of four, going through a clock to the land of Fillory but Grossman certainly couldn’t have had the Chatwins stepping into a wardrobe and winding up in Narnia.

Here’s another example: The Magicians and the movie 21 both have Time To Pretend as their opening song but you couldn’t say these shows are remotely alike. The only things they have in common besides the song are cards and the youth of their stars. 21’s producers would get laughed out of court if they took the producers of The Magicians to court for stealing the opening of the movie for their pilot.

Quit worrying about it. Don’t over-borrow. Don’t use the same character names, places and situations from another writer. Be creative and make your own. Plagiarism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one’s own” or “to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

You can’t cover ground no one else has broken before but you can color it any way you like. Take us to your world and we just might not want to leave.

#deecaples, #originalwriting, #TheMagicians, #TheChroniclesofNarnia, #plagiarism, #originality

A Big Ol’ Thank You

I haven’t been doing this long or very well, I fear. It’s my nature to dive in without looking for rocks first and comes as no surprise when I bash my head.

Looking at the stats I’m heartened to see more readers and want to take this chance to thank you for coming and I hope you’ll come back again.