Sunday, February 28, 2016

Colon Count

Of all the things to worry about, I recently spent a fair amount of time on a Sunday afternoon worrying about how many colons I had in my manuscript. I was nudged into this situation by an editor who acknowledged a personal dislike for that particular punctuation mark. I was told it interrupted the flow of the narrative. Something that is important to consider. So, I did. I considered it. I went through everything hunting out these nefarious blemishes.
The hunt didn’t take too much time thanks to the “Find…” feature under the Edit menu in Microsoft Word. (Yes, it recognized the one tiny punctuation mark of a colon.) The hard part was deciding which ones to keep and which ones really could be let go, replaced by an em dash, another selection of words, or whatnot.

I had decided before hand I was not about to banish them all. They are quite essential for making lists. Lists are useful as a concise means of describing things. Would William Strunk, Jr., The Elements of Style, approve? I’d say yes. I believe his philosophy tended towards the concise and brief. No padding allowed. That was also the philosophy of my high school English teacher.

So, a couple of fruitful hours after I started, I had my mission accomplished.

In the future, I will take heed of what my editors suggest, but in the end I will make my own decisions. I will have to take the risk and responsibility for my actions. As I was reminded—make a decision and then be consistent.

This is from a recent Washington Post article by Ron Charles on Harper Lee.

“Great writers of the world: When you hear a Fly buzz and the Stillness in the Room is like the Stillness in the Air Between the Heaves of Storm, please contact a librarian immediately.
We’ll thank you forever.”
I see it as proof: Don’t be afraid of a few colons.

Friday, February 19, 2016


I came face-to-face with a powerful symbol on Dec. 23, 2010. This would have been shortly after my first experience with NaNoWriMo, where I had written 50,000 words—but had no novel.

I was up before 7 am and standing by my kitchen sink. In our Bishop Hill house this window faced south, so the sun was rising to my left and was partly blocked by the garage. It took a good bit of time for me to notice the brightly glowing clouds floating my way. It took a little more time to realize what I was seeing was definitely a cross made out of contrails. More time to think of how unusual it was to see only sections of contrails in this configuration. Still more time before the internal voice yelled, “Idiot—Take a photo! This is big.”

I got a series of photos before the cross drifted off towards Galva. (See Toward/Towards an Ending, April 24, 2015.)

Later on, I began to contemplate the meaning of this symbol. I was facing a new year filled with big changes for me: downsizing 24 years of my life, selling a home, leaving a very small community for a large city, and trying to move an elderly mother closer. All the kinds of things that raise one’s blood pressure and anxiety level.

I needed a positive symbol and latched onto this one. “Everything will work out and be FINE,” I told myself. “The cross shows me this.”

Some things worked out better than others during the next year. We got moved. We sold the house. The downsizing went well, but is still a bit of an ongoing process for me. I gradually got used to the big city. The hitch was my mom. She wasn’t about to move—and didn’t.

The point I want to make … don’t place too much faith in your interpretation of symbols. You may want them to mean one thing so much that you jump to conclusions. Life will continue in its own direction, at its own pace. We try our best to keep up.

How does this relate to my novel?

I’m using those cross photos in the book cover design and the headers for my author pages. Who knows, perhaps even a T-shirt. That will be their proper place.

Friday, February 12, 2016


I’ve been classifying my novel as a cozy mystery for a while now. (See Cozy is the Word, July 25, 2014.) But sometimes I wonder just what it is I’ve got going on here.

Part of the story has a coming-of-age angle for the protagonist.

She’s only twenty-two and not a fully-formed grown-up, so that makes it a New Adult novel.

Setting the scenes in Bishop Hill creates a small town atmosphere and a reflection on some of the changes they face.

Historical? Sort of … through flash backs to 1915. But they only show up for a few key moments.

Romance? Again—kinda, sorta. I like a certain level of flirty give-and-take between couples or, rather, potential couples, but not much more than that.

Do I have one direction—the kind of direction for a strong cozy mystery genre piece?

I’m not sure … but I’m worrying that it’s maybe not.

I want all those things in my novel—to make it complex and interesting. Does that mean it’s more a work of general fiction with dashes of all those other things? Don’t know yet. It might be something that comes out in the reviews.

So, for now, the trick is making it all those bits and pieces come together as an interesting whole, to create the thing I’ve wanted most from the beginning: a good read.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Steal Like an Artist

I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich. It’s not Tony Hillerman’s world of the southwestern reservations. North Dakota isn’t all that far from Iowa so the descriptions of the landscape didn’t feel foreign, yet they didn’t feel really familiar either. The POV is from a 13-year-old-boy and his take on the tragedy that befalls his mother, his father, and the friends and family who gather around him for support. After reading a few chapters I just hadn’t begun to connect, to care too much.

It took awhile for me to realize the key to the style of writing—first person, past tense, but without quotation marks for dialog. This is the way of a journalist reporting on a story, someone standing back in time and space, and perhaps trying to maintain a neutral opinion. I got that, but still I wasn’t too engaged as a reader. I just had to get through it before my February book club meeting.

For me, the hook came in chapter 5. The nicely detailed description of the priest: …blah, blah, blah … fox-red hair. That was electric. I never would’ve thought of that phrase. There it was—perfect in every sense. For me anyway. For right now.

I so want to use that. Fit it into one of my stories.

Would that be right? Would it be fair?

Yes, if done correctly.

I read a small book that explained how to Steal Like an Artist (a real book by Austin Kleon). You take a bit here and a little something there, some more stuff from other places—lots of other places—mix them all together to get something that you can call your own. That’s OK. That’s not out-and-out plagiarism. That’s using your education.

So, yeah, I’m so going to use fox-red somewhere, somehow. And now you’ll know where that little bit came from.

Oh, I forgot to mention the lip pointing—what a cool visual.

And … who knows what else.

Louise Erdrich deserves her awards for this one.