Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review - Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan

Every writer I know has been there. I myself have been there multiple times; that place where your imagination dries up and all of your brilliant ideas disappear like a butterfly in the fog, leaving you staring at a blank screen, dazed and absentmindedly tapping your foot to the throb of a blinking curser.

Or maybe you find yourself in that situation where you are able to write, but the words just don’t seem to fit. You are having a difficult time expressing yourself and your writing sounds flat, dull, uninspiring, even boring. You have writing goals and publishing deadlines to meet. What do you do?

Well, you can do what I have done in the past…just blow off your writing for the day. After all, there is all of that research that needs to be done – you know, on Facebook. But if you are looking to spend your time a little more productively, then I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Master Lists for Writers, by Bryn Donovan (Munds Park Publishing, 2015).

Master Lists for Writers is a tremendous resource for writers at any stage in their career. Whether you are working on your very first story or novel, or you are a veteran published author, you will find inspiration and motivation within the almost three hundred pages of writing tips and lists included between the covers of this gem.

Some of the helps you will find inside include:
  • 183 different facial expressions
  • Page after page of physical and emotional descriptions for your characters
  • 500 great words for action scenes
  • 25 plot twists
  • 25 motives for murder
  • 100 character quirks
  • 50 ways to show a character is a good person
  • Ways people say Good-bye
  • Ways people verbalize negative feelings
  • 50 actions that show attraction
And the “Lists” go on and on...

There is one whole section devoted to character names, from Viking names to medieval England. If your story takes place in the old west, and you are looking for just the right name for your protagonist or your antagonist, then the list “200 names from the Wild West” would be a good one to check out. Or maybe your story is more contemporary. Don’t worry, there’s no need to pick a name out of the phone book. Master Lists for Writers has a list of 400 different names for contemporary heroes and heroines.

Another section covers dialogue and yet another has numerous lists devoted to plotting your story. The only downside I see to this book is that it is filled with so much useful information that you might be in danger of spending your time reading through the lists instead of actually doing your writing! But I think that Bryn Donovan even anticipated that possibility because the last list in the book is “10 Reasons Why You Should Write That Story.” Master Lists for Writers is available at Amazon.

Bryn Donovan is a professional writer and published author and poet who teaches creative workshops at corporations and writing conferences. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Arizona, and she lives in Kansas City. Her blog at bryndonovan.com has many additional resources for writers.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Redhead And The Pickup Truck

Honey, my truck is bleeding,” I announced as I came in the front door the other day.

What do you mean your truck is bleeding?” replied my redhead. (That is what I call my wife, which is quite a coincidence because her hair is red!)

It is leaking this red fluid all over the driveway. I think that it nicked a major artery.”

My redhead has this rare medical condition that presents itself as follows: I will make a comment about something; she will heave a big sigh and role her eyes into the back of her head as though I had said something stupid. She started having one of her fits now (poor thing).

It’s not blood, you idiot,” she replied. (That’s what my redhead calls me.) “If it’s red it’s probably transmission fluid.”

Is that something that the truck really needs?” I asked.

Only if you want the transmission to work,” she replied.

It took my redhead several years after we were married to come to grips with the fact that I am not the most mechanically adept of people. Fixing things and building things and remodeling things has never been my “thing”. My knowledge of automobile mechanics is solely limited to putting air in the tires, and the first time that I attempted that, I turned blue and almost passed out. Then my redhead told me that there was a machine that I could hook up to the tire that would actually pump the air directly into it for me.

Red, on the other hand, is quite comfortable with her head under a car hood, and mechanics away like a maniac, tools flying about as she welds gaskets or hammers batteries or does whatever she does under there. For her sake I always try to sound knowledgeable when we talk about such things.

Hummmm,” I replied thoughtfully. “I think we really should keep that transmission thing working properly. What do you recommend?’

Let me go out and take a look at it,” she answered.

I walked out to the driveway with her where a big puddle of red, oily fluid had collected under my pick-up. She bent down and stuck her finger in the puddle. She actually stuck her finger INTO the puddle! YUCH!! She rubbed the fluid between her fingers.

Yep. It’s transmission fluid,” she declared.

Then she got down on the ground and kind of scooted under the truck. She emerged a moment later and brushed herself off as she stood.

It looks like the transfer case is leaking.”

Do you want me to go get your hammer?” I asked.

She did the heavy sigh, eye-rolly thing again. I really do wish there was some kind of medication she could take to help her control her fits. She says that vodka is about the only thing that helps, but she used up the last of that the other day when I dropped my cell phone into the toilet and got my hand stuck trying to fish it out.

No, you idiot,” she said. “We are going to have to take this to a mechanic.”

Now, there are a couple of reasons why the words, ‘We are going to have to take this to a mechanic’, are enough to induce cardiac arrest in me. The first reason is that I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about when they are explaining to me the multitude of mechanical defects that are rife in my vehicle. They may as well be speaking Greek. The worst part is that I have to pretend like I DO know what they are talking about! Some good ol’ boy named Joe (name above the pocket on his greasy black coveralls) will come up to me holding a grease covered hunk of metal.

Here’s your problem,” he will say. “Can you believe the condition that baby is in?! I am surprised you didn’t have to tow your truck in.”

Yeah. Wow!” I reply, trying to sound like a good ol’ boy myself. “That is one of the worst looking….um….one of those that I have ever seen.”

I can have a new one in for you by Friday,” Joe will inform me, (today being Monday) “and it will only cost you $650 bucks.”

Well, that’s quite reasonable for a new….um….one of those,” I reply.

This leads into the second reason why I dread going to a mechanic. Nothing ever costs anywhere close to the amount of money that I actually have in my bank account. Why should I have to sell a kidney to pay for a new bulb for my left turn signal? I mean, I understood it in the old days when turn signals required expensive blinker fluid, but I happen to know that all vehicles manufactured after 1995 no longer utilize fluid technology. Today’s automotive technology requires a simple $75 an hour computer analysis and a three hour phone consultation with the manufacturer to determine that the bulb is burnt out. Then it is a simple two-man job to replace the bulb. The whole thing shouldn’t take more than a day at the most. Yet, it will be two days and $495.50 later before I can drive away secure in the knowledge that I can now make left turns in complete and utter safety.

Anyway, we made an appointment with the mechanic for the following day. Red came with me when I dropped off the truck. Ever since the turn signal incident, she has to tag along whenever I take a vehicle in for repairs. She sits there next to me muttering under her breath. I can make out certain words like, “idiot,” and something about money growing on trees. I have heard that some women will get this way when they are going through the “change,” so being the kind, gentle and understanding husband that I am, I just let her mumble.

We pull the truck into the mechanics bay and Red gets out to talk with Joe. I let her do all of the talking because she speaks the language.

Yeah, it's leaking fluid from the transfer case, and GREEK GREEK GREEK GREEK GREEK,” she tells him.

Well,” says Joe, “I can GREEK GREEK GREEK, but if GREEK GREEK, then I’ll have to GREEK GREEK GREEK GREEK GREEK.”

How much will this run us?” Red asked.

Joe looked longingly in my direction. “Maybe I should talk to your husband,” he said.

HEAVENS NO!” replied Red.

After some negotiating in which I am sure I was spared my last remaining kidney, we leave the truck at the garage and catch a ride home with Joe’s assistant - a nineteen year old kid who confused us with someone who actually enjoys listening to P-Diddy and Snoop Dog at 120 decibels.

I really am lucky that Red is as knowledgeable as she is about auto mechanics. I think I will have to do something extra special for her for our anniversary. In a couple of months we are going to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We have only been married twenty-eight years, but I heard that the fiftieth celebration is a real “barn-burner,” so I decided that we would do that one next. Maybe I will get her a new hammer and maybe a jigsaw. Then next time we can fix our own transfer case thingy!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Twice Saved

His name was Fleming. Some accounts say that he was a poor Scottish farmer, but it is more likely that he worked as a gardener on the rich English estate. This much we do know. It was a hot summer day in the late 1880's, and Fleming was working in the gardens of the big estate when he heard something. He stopped to listen. It was faint, but it sounded like cries for help. He dropped his tools and ran towards the source of the commotion, which seemed to be coming from a nearby pond. Topping a small hill, Fleming saw the pond below, and the source of the cries for help. Several children from the estate had been swimming in the pond when one of their playmates had wandered out into deep water and was drowning. Without hesitating, Fleming threw himself into the water and rescued the drowning boy.

The next day, a carriage pulled up in front of the little cabin where Fleming lived with his small son. Out of the carriage stepped an elegantly dressed man, obviously of noble birth, and introduced himself as the father of the boy Fleming had saved.

"You saved my son's life," said the nobleman, "and I wish to repay you."

"I cannot except payment for doing my Christian duty," replied Fleming, shrugging off the nobleman's gesture.

Noticing a small boy standing in the doorway of the little cabin, the nobleman asked, "Is that your son?"

"Yes," Fleming replied.

"Then I beg of you," replied the nobleman. "You have done a great kindness to my son. Please allow me to do one to yours. Let me provide for his education," said the nobleman. "If he grows up to be anything like the man that his father is, then you will indeed have someone to be very proud of."

Fleming hesitated for a moment, but finally gave his consent.

The nobleman was as good as his word, and provided the lad with the best education available. The boy studied hard, taking to academia like a born scholar. He eventually wound up at St. Mary's Hospital in London where he studied medicine.

Years later, the nobleman's son… the once drowning little boy, now grown to adulthood, became stricken with pneumonia. The best doctor in the country was called to his side. It seems that this doctor had discovered a new drug to treat pneumonia and other types of infections. The drug was called "Penicillin", and the doctor was Sir Alexander Fleming, the son of the gardener who saved a drowning boy many years earlier.

Now if you think about it, you really have to ask yourself, how many people were saved on that hot summer day in the English country side when a poor Scottish farmer dove into a pond to save a drowning boy? Was it only one English nobleman's son, or was it the countless millions who owe their lives to the healing properties of penicillin?

And what of the nobleman's son? Because he was saved from drowning by the father - and because the son saved him from pneumonia - because the same family twice saved his life - he was also able to save millions. In fact, he was able to save his whole country. For the name of the nobleman who paid for Alexander Fleming's education was Sir Randolph Churchill. His son's name was Winston Churchill.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A CHRISTMAS TAIL (Yes...I spelled that correctly)

I remember the good old days when dog food came in a can that you opened and dumped unceremoniously into the dog’s dish – a gooey glob of unidentifiable “something.” These days there is a virtual cornucopia of different things that you can feed your dog – even gourmet dog food that looks as good as anything that you might find in a five-star restaurant.
I say all of this as a way of explaining what happened last Christmas, and to let you see that I am not totally to blame for what followed…
My wife went shopping and came home with a big bag full of fancy Christmas dog treats. They looked every bit as good as regular Christmas cookies. Some of them were even shaped like Santa or like bells and Christmas stars. I am not ashamed to say that my mouth watered when I saw them. Anyway, she opened the bag and gave one to the dog who woofed it down in one gulp without even bothering to find out what it tasted like. Our dog has never been known for his discerning pallet. Then she put the rest of the treats into a plastic bucket, snapped the lid in place and put it on the top shelf in the pantry.
Now, I am not proud of what I did next, but my curiosity got the best of me. They looked so real and so tasty that I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I was so obsessed with the desire to try one that I couldn’t sleep.
Finally, I couldn’t take anymore. I quietly slipped out of bed and crept down stairs. Opening the pantry, I reached up and grabbed the bucket of dog treats. Tearing off the lid, I reached in and pulled out a particularly festive looking treat. I only hesitated a moment before popping it into my mouth. OH MY GOD!! I had never tasted anything so good! I took another, and then another. Before I realized it, I had eaten half of the bucket!
Now my wife is no dummy. She was sure to notice how many treats were missing, and there is no way that our dog could have helped himself to the delectable doggie delights. I had to find some way to disguise my crime. That’s when I remembered the box of Christmas cookies that I had gotten from a coworker (we’ll call her Janet). Janet always handed out cookies at Christmas time to all of us in the office. However, she was a heavy smoker and her cookies always smelled like cigarettes, so I had tossed them into the trash when I got home from work that evening. Digging through the trash, I found the cookies that Janet had given me and I used them to replace the dog treats that I had eaten.
Feeling pretty clever with myself, I replaced the bucket of dog treats on the shelf in the pantry and went back to bed sure that no one would be the wiser.
Several months went by and we started to notice our dog acting funny. He walked funny, he acted nervous and he started chasing his tail, which he had never done before. He just wasn’t himself, so we took him to see the vet. They ran all kinds of tests on him and then broke the news to us. It seems like our dog has developed a nicotine addiction. My wife is at a complete loss to explain how this could have happened. I, of course, feigned complete ignorance (which is pretty much my default position anyways).
Since our dog’s diagnosis, my wife has been smothering him with extra kindness and affection. She really loves him and is doing her best to nurse him through this rough patch in his life.
Just seeing how she has been fawning over the dog lately makes me wonder how she would react if she ever found out that I have started drinking from the toilet.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Do You Know Barbara's Story?

Outside, the snow fell. Robert May sat in his dingy two room apartment and listened to the wind as it blew the snow against the window pane. There was a good reason that they called Chicago the windy city. In happier times, thirty four year old Robert would not have minded, or even paid any attention to, the wind. But tonight, as he sat listening, he realized how alone and helpless he was.
Across the room on the couch lay his wife Evelyn. For two years she had been bed ridden - her body racked with cancer. Robert knew that she would not last till the end of the month. She was young and had put up a good fight, but in the late 1930’s there was not much that could be done against that deadly disease. All of their meager savings had gone for treatments and medications that had proved futile. So now broke, and without hope, Robert sat listening to the wind and watching his wife die. Once again, the loneliness seized him and clung to him like the frost that clung to the window pane.
Suddenly, a bit of warmth started to melt the icy prison that trapped his lonely heart. It was his four year old daughter, Barbara, slipping her tiny hand into his and climbing up on his lap. She was his whole world now. Robert held her close, and looking down into her cherub-like face, tried to smile.
Barbara had never really known her mother in the same way that other little girls know their mothers. For half of her young life, her mother had been too sick to interact with Barbara and do the things that other mothers do with their little girls. Barbara was still too young to understand what was happening. She only knew that her mother was different than other mothers.
It was then, on that snowy December night in 1939, that four year old Barbara May, in child-like innocents, asked her father a question that would change their lives forever, and touch the lives of countless millions of others worldwide.
“Daddy,” she asked, “Why is my mommy not like other mommies?”
Robert looked down into his daughters face, searching for a way to answer her that she might understand. She was too young yet to comprehend what many adults struggled with - what he himself was struggling with - with life and death and the meaning of it all. He had no answers to those questions. But she did comprehend that her mother was different. Perhaps he could approach it from that angle, and explain to her that to be different was not a bad thing. In fact, it could be a blessing in disguise.
Robert understood about being different. As a child, he was small and delicate. The innocent cruelty of his childhood playmates would often bring the frail Robert to tears. Even at Dartmouth, from which he graduated in 1936, Robert was always being mistaken for someone’s little brother. Yes, Robert understood about being different. But how could he explain these things to Barbara? Like most four year olds, she liked to be told stories. Perhaps he could make up a story for her that would help explain.
Then it came to him. You see, Robert had been pondering something else that night, as he sat in the dark by his wife, listening to the snow and wind outside. He had been pondering a work assignment that he had been given.
Robert worked as a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department stores.  He had been asked to write a little Christmas story that could be printed up in booklet form and given out to customers as a promotional gimmick. Now with Barbara’s question ringing in his ears, he had an idea, and set to work.
The story that Robert May wrote over the course of the next few nights was indeed printed up in book form and given out free to Montgomery Ward customers. That year they gave out over 2.4 million copies. War time paper shortages curtailed its printing over the next few years, but by the end of 1946, six million copies had been given away. The popularity of May’s story inspired a song in 1949 which became the second most popular song of all time. Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon in the years that followed, producing several versions of the story which have become Christmas traditions for many families.
Robert May understood all about being different, and because he wanted to share that understanding with his four year old daughter, Barbara, the whole world now knows that being different is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be a very good thing. And the world knows this because they know the story he wrote. The story about a reindeer named Rudolph, with a shiny red nose.