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Bad Sentences in Classic American Literature

Classic literature is sometimes difficult to read because a lot of the books are filled with bad sentences.   Despite what critics might think, a bad sentence doesn’t have profanity or adult content.  A bad sentence is one that an English teacher would make corrections on if written by a student.

Here’s what I mean.  When I was in school, my English teachers did a good job explaining grammar and sentence structure, but then they would assign classic novels where the authors broke the rules that had just been taught.  If I tried to mimic the style of the authors I’d just read, my teachers would red-mark my paper.  To simplify matters, I simply took these sentences that students were not allowed to write and called them bad sentences.  Even if you don’t agree they are bad sentences, you probably understand what I mean.  Maybe you even relate.

Bad sentences abound in all kinds of literature, but today I’ll focus on classic American literature.  For example, Moby Dick by Herman Melville has a bunch of bad sentences, so many that I wrote an entire  blog post about it  several years ago.  Out of all the examples, this one at the end of Chapter 24 “The Advocate” is one of my favorites:

“And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honor and the glory to whaling; for a whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

Speaking of Yale and Harvard, if you’re taking your ACT or SAT writing, don’t write like Herman Melville.

Maybe the semicolon usage was correct back in 1850.  Maybe it was a stylistic thing.  I understand that, but it’s confusing to be taught one way to use semicolons in school and then see them used differently in classic literature.  If I had used semicolons the way Melville used them in Moby Dick, I would have failed my English classes.

Here is a bad sentence from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (which I’ve written more about here), this one describing Jordan Baker:

 “She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless and with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall.”

I get the impression that this was a rough draft sentence that Fitzgerald never went back to finish.  She was balancing SOMETHING on her chin.  The word “something” is kind of vague.  If I had written that in college, my writing instructor would have demanded that I come up with another word for “something.”  “Something” is what you write when you’re not sure what word you want to put in in its place.  I kind of want to know what that something could have been.  If I am going to write that a character has her chin raised like she were balancing something that was likely to fall, I should be able to think of something that could be balanced on a chin.  A napkin?  A cocktail glass?  Several cocktail glasses?  A book?

The sentences in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne aren’t as long and ponderous as those in some classic literature, but there are plenty of other issues.  For example, in Chapter I, “The Prison Door,” Hawthorne starts the book with the following opener:

“A throng of bearded men, in sad colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.”

That’s the first sentence?  That’s the hook?  First of all, I lost track of what the sentence was even talking about.  If you cut out all of the prepositional phrases and other interrupters, you have “A throng was assembled.”   There are over 20 words between the subject and the verb.  If I had ever written a sentence with 20 words between the subject and the verb, my English teacher would have red-lined it and pinned my essay on the Wall of Shame bulletin board.

And if I had used the phrase “sad colored garments,” my writers group peers would have criticized me for telling, not showing.  “What colors are sad in the 1600s New England culture?” they would have demanded.  And then the phrase “… the door of which…” is clumsy.  Just say “… with a heavily-timbered oak door studded with spikes.”

Of course, these aren’t the only bad sentences in classic American literature, but the average reader can tolerate no more than three at one time.  If you yearn for more bad sentences in classic literature, you can simply read classic literature.  All of it is public domain, and none of the books are expensive, unless you choose to buy the expensive versions.

Bad sentences in classic literature aren’t necessarily bad.  These sentences are written in a style that is rarely used in today’s novels and are part of what make classic literature unique.  English teachers might like these bad sentences when they’re found in classic literature, but don’t try writing like this in your essays.  If you do, you will be accused of writing… BAD SENTENCES!!

Book Trailer: The Writing Prompt by Jimmy Norman

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Maybe I should have made a book trailer for my ebook The Writing Prompt a long time ago.  I wrote The Writing Prompt about six years ago, and it’s (in a couple ways) one of the best stories that I’ve written.

Even though I don’t promote it much, the book still sells occasionally, and I’ve gotten good unsolicited feedback on my blog (I could use more Amazon reviews, but that’s okay; I don’t leave many reviews on Amazon either).

My trailer doesn’t have any spoilers.  Unlike most movie trailers, mine doesn’t give away the plot, so you can watch the trailer without any of the shocking revelations being revealed.  And then maybe you’ll want to read the book.  Or maybe you’ll want to make your own trailer.

Awkward Moments in Dating: The Cheapskate

(image via wikimedia)

It’s good to be a cheapskate sometimes, but not during a first date.  When I was in my mid-20s, I had a decent job, but I had blown all my savings and had maxxed out a couple credit cards on a really attractive girlfriend. Even though I knew at the time I was making a bad decision, I didn’t care.  But I cared after the really attractive girlfriend broke up with me.

When I told my platonic friend Suzanne (You can get more details here) that new prospect Kimberly wanted to go to a place called Ted and Johnny’s on our first date, she actually sounded excited.

“That’ll be fun!” she exclaimed.

“It’ll cost a fortune,” I said.  Ted and Johnny’s was a giant arcade place for adults with several restaurants and a bowling alley and a dance hall and a sports bar and everything was overpriced.  I could go with my friends and limit my spending to the video games, but once a woman got involved, things would always get expensive.

Suzanne didn’t understand that I was living paycheck to paycheck, trying to get my credit debt wiped out as quickly as I could.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been dating at all.  But if I waited too long, I’d start going bald.  Physically, I didn’t have all that much in my favor, except I was tall and had decent hair and could look okay in the right clothes.  Once I started going bald (I knew it was going to happen), finding the right woman would become even more difficult.  Suzanne knew about the balding in my family.  She didn’t know I was broke.

“Do I really need to let her win at everything?” I asked.  That was another potential problem with Ted and Johnny’s, the competitive focus of so many activities there.  If a man got too competitive, he could tick off his date or girlfriend.  If he let his date win, he could come across as a loser.

”50-50 is fine,” Suzanne said.  “But pay for everything.”

Of course, I was going to pay for everything.  I didn’t have much money (I pulled some cash from the ATM, which we actually had back in the 1990s), but a man always pays.

Kimberly wanted to meet me at Ted and Johnny’s, which struck me as weird because of her history of being stood up by guys.  We planned to meet at 7:00 in the Ted and Johnny’s lobby, and I arrived ten minutes early just in case.  I could have arrived just in time to make it look like I didn’t care, but I cared a little bit, and didn’t want to come across as a guy who would stand her up later.

When I walked in, she was already standing in the lobby, staring straight at me.  I was almost annoyed.  I had wanted some time to get a feel for the place, put myself in a strategic location, find all possible exits in case of emergencies, and get myself composed.  Plus, I wasn’t sure what our proper greeting should be.  A hug would be inappropriate, but standing there with a gap between us would target us as a first date to all the people watchers.  Despite being a people watcher (in an entirely appropriate way), I dislike being the target of people watchers.

“Where I work, 15 minutes early is on time,” Kimberly said.  “You’re late.”  She hit me on the shoulder.  I liked her for that.  It reminded me of horsing around in high school.

“Oh yeah?” I said with a fake tough guy voice.  “Hit me again.”

This time it was a solid punch in the exact spot as the previous punch.

I was glad she was already comfortable enough to affectionately hit me in public.  Then again, my previous girlfriend had pulled a knife on me right before we broke up.  Maybe violent women were attracted to me.  I told myself to worry about that later.

The date was fun, except for the money part.  Dinner by itself was almost $100 (and this was in 1993).  I made sure that Kimberly saw me tip at the restaurant.  Maybe I shouldn’t have worried about the tip, but it wasn’t the waiting staff’s fault that I was broke (or that I was a cheapskate).  I actually bowled pretty well, which was unusual, and she handled the losses graciously.  She watched my back in the shooting games, and ran me off the road in the racing games.  Most importantly, she was pretty good at pool.

“Do you have older brothers?” I asked suspiciously.  Most women I’d met who were good at pool had older brothers.

Kimberly smiled and nodded.

“Did they beat up guys for you?” I asked.

“A couple times,” she said.  “So watch your step.”

Ted and Johnny’s was a great place for a first date because we could walk around and interact and watch others.  We saw a nervous guy spill his drink in front of his date at the restaurant.  We saw a guy and his girlfriend get into an argument in the lobby as we passed by.  While we were bowling, we saw a boy (maybe eight years old) get yelled at by his mom, and then the dad laughed, and then the mom yelled at the dad for laughing, and then the dad yelled at the mom for yelling at him in public.

“Wow,” Kimberly said.  “A situation where everybody is unlikeable.”

“I blame the kid,” I said.  “I’m sure the parents were perfectly happy until he came along.”

Kimberly hit me on the shoulder again, same spot. “He might hear you,” she said.

“The guilt would probably do him some good.”  Just so you know, I was kidding.  Guilt is bad.  Kimberly knew I was kidding.

Despite my mood, I cringed a little every time I had to throw down another twenty dollars.  Even though I was having a good time, the money was adding up, and I had pulled out too much cash for this date.  I wasn’t going to mention it though.  If things worked out, dates could become less expensive.  I just had to get through the first couple of them.

After a few hours, Kimberly suggested we go to a late movie and maybe hang out after that.  I hadn’t expected a movie, but I couldn’t say no.  A movie wasn’t that expensive, unless she went crazy at the concession.  She said she had a newspaper in her car, and we could look up the showings and drive from there.  If an attractive woman wanted to extend a date, I’d let her, so I followed as she led me to her car.  For some reason, she had parked in a far corner of the lot, and it was kind of dark (not dangerously dark), but Kimberly just stopped as we approached the end of the parking lot.

“Did you forget where you parked?” I asked.

She didn’t say anything at first.  She took a couple steps forward, stopped, and then took a couple more steps.

“That’s mine,” she said.

I know nothing of makes and models of cars I don’t drive, so all I remember is that she pointed to an obnoxiously huge black pick-up truck.  I could see why she didn’t want to park it closer to the Ted and Johnny’s; the truck took up more than one parking space.

“Cool,” I said, even though I knew nothing about it.

“No,” she said.  “Not cool.”  Then she pointed to the back of the truck.

I walked closer and saw what she was pointing at.  The rear window of her truck was shattered, and a bunch of stuff was strewn all over the back.  It was an expensive truck.  It looked like expensive stereo equipment had been pulled out by thieves.  Even in the darkened parking lot, it looked like Kimberly was barely keeping her composure, and I felt that all too familiar sinking feeling in my gut.

Dang it, I thought, I really hoped Kimberly wasn’t expecting me to pay for all this stuff!

To be continued next week!

And in the meantime, start at the beginning with Awkward Moments in Dating: Just Friends .

Literary Glance: The American Agent: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear, author of the current mystery bestseller The American Agent, has a cool name.  As far as I know, it’s her real name.  If she’d had a boring original name, I wouldn’t have blamed her for using Jacqueline Winspear as a pseudonym.  It’s a cool name.

Fictional character Catherine Angelica Saxon from The American Agent also has a cool name, but then she gets killed off in the beginning of the novel.  That’s not a spoiler because it’s in the book description, and if it’s in the book description, it’s not a spoiler.  Anyway, I never understood wasting a cool name on a dead character.  If I thought of a cool name, I’d save it for a character who shows up a lot or one who can come back in other books.  Yeah, the cool name itself gets repeated a lot because the victims always gets talked about in mystery novels, but it still feels like so much wasted potential.

That’s not really my problem with The American Agent, though.  It’s the dialogue.  Sometimes a potentially great story is sidetracked by unnatural dialogue.  I know fans of Maisie Dobbs will disagree.  Detective/mystery fans can be the most loyal fans out there.  The most vicious insults I’ve received are from Sue Grafton fans after I said the author put too many daily routine details into her books (this was years before she died, so I wasn’t being insensitive).  Maybe it was also because I called the alphabet series a really dumb idea.  Looking back, I probably should have used language that was more diplomatic.

A lot of mystery novelists use dialogue for exposition, and in the case of The American Agent, it’s unnecessary.  In this early scene, Maisie finds out that an acquaintance of hers, a journalist from the United States, has been found dead.  It’s a predictable scene, especially since I knew the character would die before I started reading.  At this point, she is speaking with some guy named MacFarlance on the phone:

Maisie chewed her lip.  It wasn’t like McFarlane to request forgiveness.  She knew him only too well, and if he was rude, it was generally by design, not an error.

“Why are you calling me, Robbie? You’ve let me know you’re keeping tabs on me, but I am bone tired and I want to rest my weary head before I try to get some work done today, and then take my ambulance out again.”

“It’s about an American.  One of those press people over here on a quest to keep our good friends on the other side of the Atlantic informed about the war.  Name of Catherine Saxon.  In fact, Miss Catherine Angelica Saxon, to give the woman her full monicker.”

“Angelica?”

“No accounting for the Yanks, Maisie.”

Maisie rubbed her neck, following the path of an old scar now barely visible, and shivered.  “No, it’s just that… well, she was with us on the ambulance last night, just for a couple of runs because she had to make her first broadcast- she told us that she had previously only had her reports printed in the newspapers.  I can’t remember which paper she’s working for .  More than one.  Anyway, I was just listening to her on the wireless at Mrs. Partridge’s house- her report was broadcast for the Americans last night.  In fact, she told us she was very excited because it was also going out in London this morning, and she hoped she would get to be as popular as Mr. Murrow, who is as well known here as he is over there in America.  I’ve heard of him a few times myself.  Anyway, it’s just that she didn’t strike me as An Angelica, that’s all, even if it’s only a middle name.”  Maisie was aware that she was rambling, staving off whatever news MacFarlane had called to convey.  She’d wanted to escape war and death if only for the time it took to wallow in a hot bath.

Just so you know, Maisie spoke uninterrupted over the phone for 151 words.  That’s a lot of consecutive words for a conversation.  True, the author admits that Maisie knew she was rambling, but that doesn’t make the exposition through dialogue any more natural.  Did Maisie really need to tell MacFarlane that Edward R. Murrow was well known in England?  Did Maisie really need to explain her bewilderment over the name Angelica?

Here’s how this scene could have looked, with less dialogue but the same information:

Maisie chewed her lip.  It wasn’t like McFarlane to request forgiveness.  She knew him only too well, and if he was rude, it was generally by design, not an error.

“Why are you calling me, Robbie?” she asked.  “You’ve already let me know you’re keeping tabs on me.” Maisie was bone tired and wanted to rest her weary head before she tried to get some work done, and then take her ambulance out again.

“It’s about an American.  One of their press people.  Name of Catherine Saxon.  Miss Catherine Angelica Saxon.

“Angelica?”

“No accounting for the Yanks, Maisie.”

Maisie rubbed her neck, following the path of an old scar now barely visible, and shivered.  “No, it’s just that… well, she was with us on the ambulance last night, just for a couple of runs because she had to make her first broadcast- she told us that she had previously only had her reports printed in the newspapers.  I can’t remember which paper she’s working for.  More than one.”

Maisie explained the details as best she could, how she had been listening to on the wireless at Mrs. Partridge’s house- Ms. Saxon’s report was broadcast for the Americans last night.  Saxon had told them she was very excited because it was also going out in London this morning, and she hoped she would get to be as popular as Edward R. Murrow.

When Maisie caught herself rambling about how Mrs. Saxon hadn’t struck her as an Angelica, she knew she was staving off whatever news MacFarlane had called to convey.  Maisie wanted to escape war and death if only for the time it took to wallow in a hot bath.

Maybe I’m old fashioned for believing exposition shouldn’t be all dialogue.  Then again, a lot of old mystery novelists used the same technique as Winspear, so maybe she’s the old fashioned one and I’m just cranky and hypercritical.  Maybe it’s just my personal preference.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t like The American Agent.  It could still be a good mystery novel.  And Jacqeline Winspear still has a cool name.  No amount of block paragraph dialogue can change that.

Awkward Moments in Dating: The Initial Phone Call

(image via wikimedia)

The first phone call in a potential dating situation is uncomfortable, no matter which end of it you’re on.  If you are the one making that initial phone call, you’re expected to carry the conversation.  If you’re the recipient, you don’t control when the conversation takes place, and you don’t know who’s calling you when the phone rings.  At least, back in 1993, we didn’t.

We had answering machines back then, so we could use those to screen calls.  The answering machine gave more power to the phone call recipient.  The answering machine gave the recipient the option to turn down the phone call without uncertainty.  The answering machine was like the birth control pill of telecommunications.  It was liberating but without the societal destruction and… uh… okay, maybe that chain of thoughts is for another blog post.

I really wanted Kimberly to call (you can get more details of our first accidental meeting here).  Maybe I wanted too much for her to call.  There’s always that excitement at the beginning of the potential new relationship.  Maybe the new one will be better than the previous relationships (it usually won’t be).  There’s always some optimism and hope.  Despite what I’d told Suzanne, I was pretty sure Kimberly would call.  She hadn’t had that look of silent rejection in her eyes when she’d taken my card.  She hadn’t said, “I’ll call.”

Instead she’d said “You know this weird, right?”

Because of that honesty, I had a feeling she’d call, but I didn’t want to jinx it by saying that to Suzanne.  I didn’t even believe in jinxes, but I still didn’t want to say it out loud.  If I’d said Kimberly would call and Kimberly didn’t call, Suzanne could claim it was the jinx, and I didn’t want to give her the evidence to encourage irrational beliefs.  Suzanne even told me Kimberly would call, but she’s still say it was the jinx.

I had some topics of conversation ready just in case Kimberly decided to call me.  What happened with the guy who stood you up?  Suzanne is really just a friend, I promise.  Was my card too cheesy?  That restaurant where we met is really overrated.  Whenever she called, I knew, I’d be ready.

Since we had met on a Saturday night, I guessed that she’d call on Tuesday because three days was the acceptable number back then.  Women were taught that calling earlier made them look too eager and waiting longer showed disinterest.  It would be Tuesday.  And Tuesday after work, my phone rang.

When I heard Kimberly’s voice on the answering machine, I let her talk for a moment.   I didn’t want to pick up right away like a lonely guy, but I also didn’t want her hanging up. I really didn’t want to have to call her back because talking to her as the recipient would be easier than being the caller.  I did a quick series of jumping jacks while she talked to the machine, and then I yanked up the phone like I was just rushing in.

“Hey, Kimberly,” I said out of breath.  “Don’t hang up.”

“Jimmy?” she said.

“Yeah, I just got in,” I said.  My out-of-breath voice covered up any anxiety that might otherwise show through my speaking.

“What were you doing?”

“Running,” I said.  “I hate running,” I explained, just in case she thought I liked running.  “I try it every once in a while because everybody says it’s good for you.”

“You could try jogging,” Kimberly suggested.

“If I’d been jogging, I might have missed your call,” I said.

“Okay,” she said, but I could tell she didn’t understand what I’d meant.

“If I’d been jogging,” I clarified, “I would have been running more slowly, and I wouldn’t have gotten home in time to answer your phone call.”

“Okay.”

“Then again, if I’d been sprinting, I could have answered before the machine got to it,” I said.

She was silent, and I knew I was overdoing it.  I didn’t sound nervous, but I was talking too quickly and spewing nonsense.  I had to slow down.

“Did you ever hear from the guy who stood you up?” I asked, slowing my speech.

“He said he was there.”

“But he wasn’t,” I said.  “You have witnesses.”

“He said he had a table but never saw me come in.”

I asked her some details about how the whole thing with Thomas had been arranged.  She said she’d met Thomas through newspaper personals and that the Saturday meeting had been their first actual outing.  Back in the 1990s, the personals were in the back sections of newspapers and were usually used to sell stuff or to get a job.  At the time, I knew about dating personals and had thought they were just one step above escort services.  But I didn’t get that escort vibe from Kimberly.

“You were looking for a relationship with a guy in the personals,” I said, just to make sure that we had the same goals.

She laughed and clarified which newspaper she had used, the city’s high class (in their own minds) monthly periodical.  She said to stay away from the daily papers.  She said that young professionals used the monthly, and that it was a great way to meet people.  Thomas had been the first guy to stand her up.

“You haven’t met any ogres yet?” I said.  Even back then, I was certain guys would lie in their profiles.  That’s not self-hating man-bashing because I knew women would do it too.

We’d been talking for a few minutes when I knew I’d have to take the next step.  Even though Kimberly had initiated the call, I’d need to ask her for the date.  That was the man’s responsibility (in a non-sexist way).  I knew it was time to ask because I wasn’t even paying attention to what Kimberly was saying.  She could have been talking about a death in the family or telling me she was physically attracted to Suzanne, and I would have completely missed it.

“So…” I said (this was before people started every sentence with so), as I took a breath. “Do you have any plans for the weekend?”

Just so you know, she didn’t have any plans, and we made arrangements for a date.  And I’ll get to that in the next episode.

To be continued in next week’s episode of… Awkward Moments in Dating!

Bird-Watching Background Noise- Perfect for Reading or Napping

These birds wouldn’t sit still long enough to take a good picture, but they made cool sounds as they flew around.

This isolated bird watching spot off a local river was the perfect place to read, except I was paranoid somebody would sneak up from behind and conk me on the head.  People will conk you on the head anywhere, even in the woods next to a river.

The solution was easy.  I took a short video and looped it several times, and now I can read at home with my favorite background noise.  I guarantee you, I’m not wasting this environment with a James Patterson novel.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens-(a lesson on how to write setting)

Setting can be tough for an author.  If you write too much, you can make the reader bored.  If you don’t write enough, the story can feel incomplete.

Getting the setting wrong can ruin a book for a reader.  My teenage daughter complains that too many pages in classic literature are devoted to descriptions of place.  She already knows what all that stuff looks like, she says.  I remind her that the internet didn’t exist when classic literature was written, so stuff had to be described.  Back then, literature was relatively new.  There were places, people, and ideas that had never been put into words before.  A lot was new.

When it comes to words and ideas, not so much is new today.  Almost everything has been described.  It’s difficult to come up with new was to say the same thing.  But it’s lazy to not try.  I respect any current author who tries.

For example, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens starts off with a description of a marsh:

Marsh is not swamp.  Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water floats into the sky.  Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace- as though not built to fly- against the roar of a thousand snow geese.

Then within the marsh, here and there, true swamp crawls into low-lying bogs, hidden in clammy forests.  Swamp water is still and dark, having swallowed the light in its muddy throat.  Even night crawlers are diurnal in this lair.  There are sounds, of course, but compared to the marsh, the swamp is quiet because decomposition is cellular work.  Life decays and reeks and returns to the rotted duff; a poignant wallow of death begetting life.

Of course, the reader knows that once decomposition is mentioned, something bad is going to happen.  Something bad has to happen.  It’s a marsh in fiction.  Nothing good can happen in a marsh in fiction.  If something good happens in a marsh in fiction, the novel won’t get published.  It doesn’t matter who the author is or who the author knows, the novel won’t get published.  Something bad has to happen in the marsh in fiction.

I had to look up the word diurnal.  It means (of course, you probably know already) “active in the daytime,” demonstrating how dark the swamp is during the day if the nightcrawlers are moving around.  I appreciate a novel that expands my vocabulary a little bit.  I don’t appreciate it when an author shows off, and I have to rely on a dictionary page-by-page, but I appreciate Delia Owens.

Maybe I’m overstating how good this writing is.  Last month I began reading a James Patterson book The Chef and was so disgusted by the poor writing that I stopped reading fiction for a while.  Maybe this description of the marsh in Where the Crawdads Sing is mediocre writing (I doubt it), but compared to James Patterson, it’s awesome.

Here’s James Patterson’s description of New Orleans in the first few pages of The Chef.  Yes, New Orleans is a city and not a swamp so the comparison of writing might be unfair, but New Orleans is a city built on a swamp:

A collision of food, music, history, passion, and chaos… yep, that pretty much sums up New Orleans for you.  “Nawlins,” as us locals say it.  NOLA.  The Crescent City.  The Big Easy.  Different names for the same magical, one-of-a-kind place.  My hometown of three-and-a-half decades.  The capital of the world, as far as I’m concerned.  A city where anything can happen, and nothing is ever as it seems.

Ugh, I can’t believe I forced myself to read that again. Yeah, I know.  It’s my fault for reading a James Patterson book.  I should know better.  I do it because he writes so many books that I can’t ignore them because the public doesn’t ignore them.  I feel like it’s my duty to occasionally point out what a scam his books are, even if nobody listens to me.

I’ll go one step further. Imagine a world where all novels are written in James Patterson style.  Here’s how James Patterson might describe a marsh:

A collision of light, grass, and water… yes, that very much sums up the marsh for you.  “Mahsh” as us locals say it.  Marshland.  The Marsh.  The Big Swamp.  Different names for the same, magical, one-of-a-kind place.  My home for three-and-a-half decades.  The center of the world, as far as I’m concerned.  A place where anything can happen, and nobody ever knows it happened.

I’m glad James Patterson didn’t write Where the Crawdads Sing with Delia Owens.

I’ll keep reading Where the Crawdads Sing just because of the description of the marsh.  I rarely find good description in novels anymore.

A lot could still go wrong with this book.  The plot could be predictable (I don’t know, I haven’t read that far).  The characters could all be two dimensional stereotypes (I don’t know, I haven’t read that far).  The dialogue could be really bad (I don’t know).  But I know that this novel at least has a great description of the marsh.  And I know that something bad happens in it.  Right now, that’s good enough for me.

Indie Author Success Strategy: Use Political Power to Sell Books

Independent authors can come up with a lot of bizarre ways to sell books, but using corrupt politics (or the appearance of corrupt politics) has to be one of the worst.  It’s worse than a male author pretending to be an attractive woman online convincing lonely guys to buy books.  It’s worse than one author pretending to be an entire publishing company.  It’s worse than one author writing one novel a week and glutting the market.

At first glance, Healthy Holly doesn’t seem to be the type of girl to abuse political power. Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to criticize Healthy Holly.  Healthy Holly seems to be a nice person.  She’s healthy.  She has a positive message.  These books seemed well-intentioned.  Who can be against healthy children?

Even if the books aren’t very good (I’m just speculating), at least the books have a good message.  But now it looks like the author is a politician who used her influence to get these books purchased.

The details are here, and they’re kind of boring, especially for a tale of possible government corruption.  This indie children’s author was a state senator who served on the board of directors for a statewide medical system.  The indie author state senator then sold $500,000 worth of her books to that statewide medical system (while she was on the board of directors) and didn’t disclose it (until she got caught).

And it looks like a lot of her books were put into storage by the statewide medical system.  And it looks like the indie author politician funneled some of the money from the books into political campaigns.  And it looks like some of this might be illegal.

Maybe Healthy Holly had it coming to her.   I’ve never liked children’s books that had an obvious positive message.  I liked books that were fun to read.  Healthy Holly might be a nice kid, but she doesn’t seem all that fun to hang around with.  I’d rather spend time with a talking cat who trashed (other peoples’) houses or a kid who sailed off to a deserted island to dance around a bunch of monsters.  I’d even rather run around with a purple crayon.  These crazy books didn’t care about delivering a positive message.  If crazy children’s books were fun to read, then a positive message was just a bonus.

In the indie author politician’s defense, I’ve been desperate to sell books before too.  I’ve gotten over that phase, but I’ve been there.  Even at my lowest, though, I’ve never tried to use my political influence to sell books.  In fact, I’ve never even tried to get into politics.  The only thing I’ve done is written the books and put them up for sale.  I mean, I barely even promote.

I’ve never felt the urge to write a children’s book either.  I like good children’s books, but most of them today are really dry uninspiring message books that don’t really encourage kids to read.  If a moratorium on new children’s books were imposed (I’m not condoning that), kids could get by on Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears books and Harry the Dirty Dog without noticing the lack of new material.

This isn’t the first politician who’s tried to make a ton of money off books.  Michelle Obama did pretty well recently with a memoir.  Joe Biden sold a bunch of books too.  Bill Clinton teamed up with James Patterson to write a novel that made no sense but made a bunch of money.  These politicians used fame to promote their books, but they didn’t force another government entity to purchase them.  At least, we don’t know about it if they did.

A few months ago, somebody commented on this blog that most indie authors need a book bully, a friend or a spouse who will do the promoting that makes most authors uncomfortable.  In this case, the indie author politician might have been her own book bully and probably took it too far.

We indie authors want people to WANT to read our books.  We don’t want to force sales or intimidate readers.  I load my blog with a bunch of my original stuff so that potential readers can see what I write before they spend money on anything.  And if they don’t buy anything, that’s okay because I have a job that has nothing to do with writing.

At any rate, I don’t think anybody is going to willingly read the Healthy Holly books anymore.  She has been tainted with the appearance of corruption. I almost feel sorry for her.  But at least she has her health.

 

Awkward Moments in Dating: The Ex-Girlfriend Look Alike

(image via wikimedia)

I didn’t want to hear that my potential future date looked like my ex-girlfriend.  I had gotten over my ex-girlfriend.  I wasn’t bitter, and I didn’t want her back.  Things were good.  I also didn’t want my friends thinking I was trying to replace my ex-girlfriend with a woman who looked just like her.

Suzanne was just a friend but had known my ex-girlfriend and didn’t like her.  So when Suzanne had said that Kimberly looked like my ex (you can get more details here ), I got a bit defensive.

“She doesn’t look anything like Daniella,” I said.  Even though we were eating at a restaurant, I made sure no food was in my mouth whenever I spoke.

“They both have long, dark hair,” Suzanne replied.  She was sitting across from me in a booth and had to lean forward to speak because the music in the restaurant was loud.

“That’s one-half of the female population in the city,” I said, having no proof to back up my statistic.

“They both wear glasses.”

“Daniella’s were fake,” I said.  “The glasses.”

“Why did she wear fake glasses?” Suzanne asked and then paused.   “I don’t want to know.”

“She wanted to appeal to intelligent guys,” I said.  “And she didn’t really read those classic novels she carried around.”

“You are so shallow,” she laughed.

“Hey, I read the books I carry around,” I said.  “And I’m sure Kimberly does too, if she carries books.  Besides, their personalities seem completely different.”

“Does that matter?” Suzanne asked.  “To such a shallow man?”

“Daniella would have thrown a fit about being stood up,” I said.  “Daniella would have invited herself to sit with us.  Kimberly seems more reserved.  I like reserved.”

“Not too reserved,” Suzanne said.  “You two will never say anything to each other.”

Two quiet people on a date, that could be disastrous, I knew.  Still, I was getting ahead of myself.  Kimberly had my phone number, but that didn’t mean she’d call me.  She could have just thrown my card into the trash, and I’d never hear from her, and all of this speculation would end up being wasted energy.

“If she calls you, I want to know about it,” Suzanne said.

“I don’t do play-by-play,” I declared.  It was true.  I kept my romantic details to myself, even to my male friends.  I lied about the details sometimes (I’m pretty sure my friends were lying too), but I never told too many details.  Just a few to get them off my back, and rarely the truth.

“C’mon,” she said.  “You met because of me.  I deserve details.”

“She might not even call,” I said.

“I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t,” Suzanne said.  “She knows you have a friend like me.  That makes you more attractive to other women.”

I wasn’t sure how that worked.  Looking back, I remembered a bunch of times I’d gotten snubbed by women during social occasions, even when I wasn’t trying to talk to them.  When I was dating Daniella, however, women loved talking to me.  I knew about the “girlfriend effect.”  I wasn’t so sure about the “just friends effect.”

“Or you might have scared her off,” I argued.  “She might think we have something for each other and decide to stay away.”

“She can tell we’re not into each other like that,” Suzanne said.  “Women can sense those things.”

Suzanne actually wanted to bet me ten dollars that Kimberly would call.  I thought about taking the bet.  That way, even if Kimberly didn’t call, I’d win ten dollars.  I like no-lose situations.  But I wanted Kimberly to call more than I wanted the ten dollars, and I didn’t want to bet against my own self-interests, so I declined.

We finally moved away from the topic of Kimberly and discussed more Suzanne-related topics, like the new guy she was stalking and then the stupid people she had to work with.  She was pretty sure the new guy she was interested in already had a girlfriend (which was why she was free to hang out with me on a Saturday night), and she was thinking about parking outside his house to see if he was there (and who was with him).

I didn’t put too much effort into listening about her work-related stories.  Everybody complains about the stupid people they work with, and the listener only gets one side of the story.  There were probably people where I worked who thought I was stupid too.  So I nodded, and a couple times I muttered, “What a bunch of maroons.”

After the platonic dinner and movie (nothing happened between the two of us, of course), I had more time to compare Daniella and Kimberly.  They didn’t really look alike, despite what Suzanne had said.  Daniella and I had been a physical mismatch because she’d flaunted her looks and I was (at best) an average guy who could look presentable on a good day.

Kimberly probably could flaunt her looks if she wanted to but didn’t.  At least, she hadn’t that night.  She hadn’t been forward at all, like Daniella.  I had talked to her first (which I probably wouldn’t have done before I’d met Daniella).

Kimberly seemed to carry herself well.  She seemed to have a good nature.  She probably wouldn’t be anything like my previous ex-girlfriend.

None of this speculation would matter, however, if Kimberly didn’t call.

But she did.

And I’ll get to that in the next episode.

To be continued in Awkward Moments in Dating: The Initial Phone Call !

Grade My Writing: Getting Rid of Profanity

(image via wikimedia)

When I read my older writing out loud, I get mad because I hear mistakes that I should have originally caught.

For example, a few years ago I wrote a 60 episode blog serial called “The Literary Girlfriend,” and it was based on stuff that actually happened.  When I finished the series on my blog, I thought I had the foundation for a potential book, but now when I reread it, I hear/see a bunch of scenes that need to be rewritten.

Below is a video where I read one of my former favorite episodes of “The Literary Girlfriend” out loud.  I treat this video like an ideal writer’s group where we’d hand out a copy of the excerpt to everyone and read a passage aloud before receiving feedback.

Reading out loud was more uncomfortable than getting criticism, but it’s an important part of the process.  If you don’t want to hear my voice (I don’t like it either), you can mute the video or read the story here  instead.

The video’s version is slightly different because I got rid of all the profanity in the dialogue.  I didn’t want video of me saying bad words, even if it’s in dialogue.  There are too many people who don’t understand context (or don’t care), and I’m still a little paranoid about things like that.

What do you think?  Is the profanity in the dialogue necessary?  Or does the sanitized version still sound realistic?  I know what I think, but I’m interested in other opinions.