Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Novel-in-Progress Progress

Writing about writing is boring, so you might want to skip this post.

I'm letting the recently completed first draft of my Appalachian novel-in progress, Them That Go, "set a spell" before I start revising it. Why do I let it "set"? So I can distance myself from it and look at it with (I hope) a fresh set of eyes. So I can notice what needs to be added or cut to make the action flow properly. So I can get rid of excess words that add nothing to the story.

When I was attempting to write children's lit, I heard this said about picture books: "Make every word earn its keep." I think that applies to all writing. If words/sentences/paragraphs don't advance the story in some way, they need to go. I use Amazon's "Look Inside" feature to check books that I might be interested in buying, but when I see excess description ("setting the scene"?) or an info dump of backstory, I stop reading. I won't waste my money on writing that consists mostly of filler. Consequently, I want to make sure my words earn their keep.

I also try to adhere to Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing. If  I find I've violated a rule, I go back and fix it. His rules:

1. Never open a book with weather.
No problem here. I have mentioned the weather a few times throughout the book, but only when it impacts the characters or is important to the plot.

2. Avoid prologues.
I had one in my first self-pubbed novel. Now I know that if a story needs the information in a prologue, the information should be in the first chapter.

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
Once in a while, I used "asked" or "replied." I really hate reading books where characters retort (what the heck is that, anyhow?), groan, hiss, respond, blurt, or reassure.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”. . . 
…he admonished gravely.
I don't think I do that. I hate when characters respond wearily, state firmly, etc.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

I sometimes—on rare occasions—use exclamation points in dialogue when a character yells something,  but only one at a time.

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
Maybe in dialogue, not in narration. In Them That Go, I have a total of three suddenlys—in dialogue or inner monologue—but no hells break loose in this novel.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

This is where I have to be careful. I have one character with a strong accent, another with a not-quite-so strong accent, and several with a few regionalisms. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm trying to avoid a lot of apostrophes to mark dropped endings. Instead I'm relying on diction and syntax.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

I hate this in books I read. I think I've kept descriptions to a minimum in this book.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

I hate it when a writer takes a time-out to describe stuff that doesn't have anything to do with what's happening. Again, I think I've only used enough description to give the reader a general idea, not to bog the reader down in detail.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

I hope I've done that.

I recently read (I can't remember where I read it) that it's best not to try to edit more than 5,000 words a day. That seems reasonable. When I start actual editing, I'll do a chapter a day. 

While the manuscript "sets a spell," I've been running MSWord's find feature for certain words. Yesterday, I eliminated over two dozen excess thens. Today, I eliminated a half-dozen excess soons. 

Even though this book won't amount to much (it'll be self-published, so sales will be low), I still want it to be as professional as I can get it. I've already made the font decision—Garamond 11, the same font and size I used for the CreateSpace edition of Patches on the Same Quilt. Garamond is one of the most popular book fonts and very easy on the eyes.  The 11-point size is also easier on the eyes and is much easier to justify correctly than a larger size that might leave holes or rivers through the text.

I've also decided the book's size will be the same as Patches on the Same Quilt—5.5 inches by 8.5 inches. I dislike reading a larger-size paperback because it requires two hands to keep it from flopping about. Also the 5.5 x 8.5 will fit into some purses, so it's more portable. To make the book's set-up as easy as possible, I'll use a formatted template I got here

Stay tuned to this blog for further developments in the book.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Refugee Kitty

A guest blog-post by Tanner (resident kitty)

For a while, a little homeless kitty has been seeking refuge around our house. In early November, he'd come to the front porch to eat the porch-cat's leftovers. I could see him through the window.

I saw him many times in the yard where he usually hid in the big bush by the road.

That is not a safe place for a kitty. Plus there are coyotes across the pasture. All kinds of bad things could happen to a kitty there. But that was not my problem.

Mommy started feeding him. When she rode her golf cart out to feed the outside cats, he started coming to the golf cart and she'd leave food for him. For a while, he wouldn't let her touch him. Then, one day, he did.

I am a very astute kitty, so I could see what was coming. You can't bring that kitty in here, I told Mommy. Too many kitties live here. We don't have room for any more.

"We'll make room," Mommy said. "I can almost touch Arlo."

Oh, no! She named him! He'll eat our food, I said. There won't be enough food for the rest of us.

"I'll buy more," Mommy said.

He's not like us, I said. I am long and thin and have multiple-colored hairs. Most of the other cats who come in the house have tabby markings. That kitty is black and white. He's different.

"Two old black cats already live here," Mommy said. "And the barn-cats are black and white. All colors of cats are welcome here."

We don't know where he comes from, I said.

"You came from the dumpster," Mommy told me. "But I didn't leave you there. I brought you home and fed you and gave you toys and that big cat condo. And before you came here, George hid out in the bushes so scared that no one could get near him for weeks. But he tamed down just fine, and he's a hard-working cat. And he's your friend."

Hmm. She had me there. George is my bestest friend.

And I love my condo. But I was supposed to be the last kitty, I told her. You're getting too old to take care of more critters. I heard you say so!

"Circumstances change," she said. "And winter is coming. A little homeless kitty shouldn't be out in the cold weather."

 He might be dangerous. He might attack us while we sleep. I sleep real sound.

"You're a lion among cats, Tanner," Mommy said. "You can defend yourself."

We'll that's true. And I can roar.

So, on the afternoon before the temperature went so low that night that Melody's horse tubs froze over, Mommy grabbed the little refugee kitty and brought him inside. At first, he had to stay isolated in the downstairs bathroom, but it wasn't long until she let him out to meet me. He wasn't very friendly to me, and he probably doesn't know much about the ways of the world, so I will have to teach him.

I showed him my cat condo and he went to sleep in it. I had to check on him to make sure he was OK.

Arlo likes toys, so I shared some of mine with him.

I had to show him how to play with the big feather.

 I finally let the little kitty share the sofa with me.

And before long, I snuggled Arlo. And I washed him, too.

I guess we might as well keep him.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Ranveer Spam

This morning, between 2:28 and 2:35 AM, someone attempted to post spam comments to some older posts on my blog. Because I have to approve comments before they are posted, these #!* comments will not go on the blog posts the spammer intended. However, here are some screen shots I took. Notice that each one had links that would have been clickable if I'd posted them as comments. I have a feeling that clicking those links would not be a good idea.

Uh, the heirloom quilt was never a shipping pallet.

What the heck does that comment have to do with spreading mulch? And you "really appreciate with [my] blog?" English obviously isn't your first language, is it?


Oh, sure. What blogger wouldn't have a catalogue of snow?

My border collie Maggie does not have acne.

Uh, you're repeating yourself, Ranveer. Are you just copying and pasting?

You're repeating yourself again, Ranveer. You are just copying and pasting!

Except it really wasn't great information.

You're repeating yourself again, Ranveer.

Why don't I believe you, Ranveer?

No it wasn't. It was a review of a book by a plagiarist. 

Now I'm wondering—would all this spam by Ranveer somehow be connected to the heavily accented scammer who called yesterday afternoon about my Windows computer sending him messages that it had a virus?

My husband answered the call, and kept repeating to the caller, "Are you Punjabi?" in a fake Indian accent. Then I picked up the phone, causing "Sam" to have to start at the top of his script again.

When he got to the part where my computer was sending him a message that it was infected, I interrupted: "How would my computer send you a message?" He replied, "Because it is infected."
Me: "How would it know to contact you?" Silence on his end (except for all the other voices at the call center) while he found the place in his script again.

That gave me time to say, "How would you know my computer is infected if you're not the person who infected it? You're a terrorist, aren't you?" I accused him of being a terrorist several times, each time louder than the last. Then I punched a bunch of random numbers on the phone and hung up.

I didn't even bother to tell him that I don't have a Windows computer.


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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Novel in Progress

Unless you're interested in writing, this will be boring.

I stopped writing for a couple of years because—as an under-published author—I knew I'd never achieve success. Success—finding an agent who'd sell my book to a legit commercial publisher would be difficult (OK, impossible) because I've self-published, vanity-published, and small press-published, all of which resulted in mediocre sales.

But I'm working on a novel again. I'll self-publish through CreateSpace, which at least won't cost me anything even if it isn't a legit publishing credit.

Since 2007, I've had 20,000 words of what was supposed to be a YA novel taking up space on my hard drive. Originally the story was called What the Dog Told Me, and was about a rural teenaged girl in 1972 whose ability to communicate with animals sets her apart from others but helps her solve a crime. I submitted the first few pages to a panel at a writing conference in 2008 and was told YA readers don't care about the early 70s and my characters were stereotypes. I abandoned the project.

A few years ago, I started working on the idea again. This time titled If Only We Listen, the novel was about an animal communicator whose mystery-solving experience in the 70s echoed what she was doing now. It was a disaster because the first chapter pretty much gave away what had happened in the 70s. So I abandoned it again.

But a few things happened in the last year or so that made me give the doomed novel another try. I became interested in genealogy and learned a lot about my family's migration through Virginia—some stayed in one place, but others moved on. A DNA test revealed that I was a lot more Irish than I'd thought. And, thanks to the Internet and a Facebook genealogy group, I found out a lot about the mysterious death of my great-aunt in 1911. A cousin said I should make that aunt's story into a book. While it wasn't enough for a book, it was good for several scenes in a book, though. And the plot of my  abandoned novel took on some new dimensions.

 Them That Go, told from the viewpoint of a seventeen-year-old girl with a special gift, is an Appalachian novel about a secret revealed, a mystery solved, and a life forever changed. I'm within a  thousand words or so of having it finished. Maybe.

To get the feel of the setting, I immersed myself in Appalachian culture. I'd enjoyed reading Janice Holt Giles's books back in the 80s and revisited them. Two of the books below were about her moving to a ridge in Kentucky and eventually building a house.

One thing I didn't want to do was have regional dialect so phonetically spelled that it would be difficult to read. I also didn't want a series of apostrophes marking dropped gs in -ing endings.  (I once enjoyed Giles's Piney Ridge books, but now I find the creative spellings and the plethora of apostrophes to be a distraction.)

So—what I did was use diction and rhythm to recreate Appalachian speech. Sharyn McCrumb does this effectively in her ballad novels. The Songcatcher is an excellent example of using Appalachian speech that enhances the story instead of distracting the reader. I re-read the book, which is a doggone good story as well as an example of effective dialect..

I also re-read Jesse Stuart's The Thread that Runs So True, again for speech but also for Appalachian culture. I read several Irish fairy tales that people of Irish descent might have known.

While I do my writing on the iMac (and sometimes on the MacBook), my notes are scribbled on paper.

I did put a few things I needed to remember about my characters in the computer. Then I scribbled more notes on my print-out.

Keeping track of what happened when is a lot easier with a printed-out 1972-73 calendar.

Every so often, I print out some pages to help me see where the story needs more development. And I scribble in more notes. Then I make corrections on the computer.

I don't just write straight through until I'm done. I need to make the earlier parts as good as I can get it before I move on. The beginning is the foundation; you can't build a good house on a bad foundation. I also need to know the ending—my ending chapter this go-round was the beginning chapter of my second try.

I've done a lot of research on this version to get details right. And I had a few pre-readers look at what I had to see if I was on the right track. Meanwhile, I'll keep on writing. My plans are to have Them That Go published in early 2016.

You can take a look at the beginning here.