Tuesday, March 28, 2017

All Things Bright & Shiny Tell a Story

The Very, Very Basics of Writing Anything*

There are three fundamental elements of every piece of written work—including film, non-fiction and grocery lists.

These three elements must be present or there is no point in proceeding.
In non-fiction, the three elements forming the basics of a book are:
  1. Idea – the Topic
  2. Reason – Information or Add Information
  3. Goal – to Educate or Refute Previous Thinking
9781870206129_bachBefore my publisher, Honno, agreed to consider Parachutes & Petticoats, which I edited with the renown feminist historian, Deirdre Beddoe, we had to convince the board of directors that 1) the Topic, Welsh women’s experiences during World War II, was worth the effort; 2) we could find enough material to make a full volume of women’s autobiographical memoirs; 3) the information we gathered, written by the women themselves, was of sufficient interest and relevance to warrant the expenditure, effort, and examination required to bring a collection of essays by unknown women to fruition.
9781906784119_bachThe resulting request for autobiographical essays brought in hundreds of submissions from women in Wales whose experiences had never been heard. The book was published in 1992, reprinted in 1994 and 2003, with a fourth reprint in a smaller format with minor editorial additions appeared in 2010. The essays that we couldn’t include in the volume were submitted to the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedleithol Cymru) to become a part of the national archive. Next year, 2017, will mark Parachutes & Petticoats’ 25th anniversary. Though neither edition is still in print, the book is still available at bookstores and online book retailers.
For fiction (of any kind, in any genre, in any medium) they are:
  1. Protagonist – the Hero
  2. Antagonist – the Villain
  3. Purpose – the Goal
For example, in my most recent published novel, Nights Before: The Novel (originally published as a novel in six installments), the above structure works like this:
  1. Protagonist – Jocelyn Tavers
  2. Antagonist – Jason, her ex-boyfriend
  3. Jocelyn’s Goal – to find a replacement boyfriend before the end of the year
Nights-Before-Final200_thumb.jpgThose three elements will not, in themselves, make a full sized story, let alone a full length novel but without them, there’s no beginning, middle or end. Jason also needs a goal to combat Jocelyn’s efforts to reach her goal. And Jocelyn needs a lot more than a boyfriend to make the essentially girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-finds-new-boy story something more than just that.
Though Nights Before is a romantic comedy, there had to be some depth to the story and that called for a secondary goal. This is usually something hidden, even from the protagonist—a long buried pain that has left a wound that will not heal without more pain. Enter an absent parent or two, conflicting potential new boyfriends, torn stockings and a lobster feast, a demanding employer, a car accident and abandonment issues.
With my upcoming American historical novel, Pavane for Miss Marcher, the three elements are shared between the Hero and Heroine, both of whom have Goals and Antagonists out to get them:
  1. Protagonists: Cathryn Marcher / Rupert Smith
  2. Antagonists: Susan Miller / Jericho Colson
  3. Goals/Conflicts: Staying in Maine / Moving to Wyoming
ggncMay2012Both Cathryn and Rupert have Deuteragonist supporters who get in the way for the best reasons and enemies who get in the way for the worst reasons.
The story is set in Maine five years after the end of the American Civil War and I am currently researching and reading on both sides of this terrible conflict in our history. Keeping faith with our nation’s past has complicated the process, especially with such an emotive background that plays an enormous part in our lives 151 years after the conflict came to an end.
With family members from the southern states and a strong New England heritage complicates the story on a personal level as well but I believe a writer’s duty is to write the story that comes from their own heart, regardless of possible consequences. As my mother always said, "Be true to yourself."
Pavane for Miss Marcher is scheduled for publication in 2017. 

*These insights were first presented on Everwriting.WordPress.com

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cursive Writing--Welcome Back

by Fran McNabb

When some of us were in elementary school, we knew we were getting “big” when we went from printing our letters on hyphenated lined paper to learning to write and read cursive. Sadly today we have an entire generation of students who didn’t have the opportunity to learn cursive because school systems across the nation eliminated the subject. Now some states have reintroduced cursive into the curriculum. Fantastic!

When my generation was in elementary school, the classrooms had borders lining the tops of the
chalk boards showing perfectly written lower case and capital letters that students used as guides. Students studied these charts as they learned to the write the letters. If I happen to see one of these charts today, a wave of nostalgia hits me, and I swear I can smell the scent of chalk.

Cursive is such a beautiful way to communicate. Yes, it’s slower than using a computer or sending a text but faster than print when students are taking notes. Using cursive in communications is so much more personal than a typed message and much more beautiful than print.

From the early Medieval Period in Europe when monks were tasked with copying books, the discipline of cursive writing became almost an art form, and by the 1700’s elegant handwriting became a status symbol. In the early years of the United States, official documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were copied by professional penmen. How sad it is to think that we have educated young people in our United States who cannot read original copies of these documents.

Even though this is no longer January, I want to mention that the United States has a holiday to celebrate cursive writing, appropriately on January 23, the birthday of John Hancock. His signature on the Declaration of Independence is one of the most memorable of all signatures making his name synonymous with a person's signature.

By 2016 fourteen states had reintroduced cursive writing into their school curriculums. Let's hope other states will take their lead and do the same. By doing so my youngest grandson and all of those children in his generation might have the opportunity to learn such a lovely form of communicating.
FRAN MCNABB lives along the Gulf Coast on a quiet bayou harbor with her husband. She loves boating, fishing, reading and, of course, writing. She writes light romances and presently has eight books available with Montlake Publishing, The Wild Rose Press, and indie publishing. Visit her at www.FranMcNabb.com or at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Why I Unplug

I may have posted this here before, but I think it’s important enough to bear repeating.

Spring is almost upon us, and the season brings thunderstorms with it in most of the U.S.  Thunderstorms mean lighting. Do you know how dangerous lightning is to your electronics? Do you unplug your computers, televisions, stereo systems and any other electronic devices before a storm?

If not, why not?

Let me tell you a true story.

Some fifteen years ago, my family and I went to a concert in a city about fifty miles away. It was a great concert and we all had a good time. We noticed on the drive back that there were increasingly large puddles on the ground as we neared home, but didn’t think much more about it. It was late and we were all exhausted, so we went directly to bed.

My youngest daughter, who has always been an early riser, was the first one up the next morning. Her favorite thing to do at that time was to listen to the radio or a CD on the stereo (with earphones) and rock in the rocking chair. She was dismayed when she turned on the stereo and found it didn’t work.

Instead she tried to turn on the television, but it wasn’t working either. Since the lights were on, she knew the electricity was functioning, but apparently not much else was. As a last resort, she decided to turn on the computer and play games. You guessed it. Computer wasn’t working either.
At that point she was still the only person awake, so she grabbed a book and tried to read, but she was understandably distraught.

Once the rest of us got up, we went through the house, checking everything to see what worked and what didn’t. We didn’t know until later, when we talked to neighbors, that there had been a very bad thunderstorm the night before.

There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but we have to assume that lightning hit either our house or one of the power lines very near it. The final tally of destruction: stereo receiver, VCR, television, and computer. We were fortunate that the television and computer were both older and about due for replacement anyway.

We learned our lesson. Now when there’s a thunderstorm approaching, we unplug everything, not just from the electrical lines, but from the cable and phone lines as well. If we’re going out of town for a day, we check the weather forecast. If we’re leaving for longer, we unplug everything just for safety.

Yes, it’s a bit inconvenient, but it would be more than just inconvenient to replace our electronic equipment these days. And since I’m an author and web designer, the loss of a computer would be more than just inconvenient. It wouldn’t kill my business because I back up relentlessly, including using an automated offline back up service. But I would likely lose several days of work time, replacing hardware and restoring software and data. I’d rather lose an hour of work time than risk losing days’ worth.

In a previous career I was a computer software programmer/analyst.  I worked for a company that sold turnkey systems – hardware and software bundled together, installed and modified for the client’s needs.  I did that for fifteen years.  In that time I had two clients whose computers were completely destroyed by lightning strikes on power lines.

We always set up backup systems for our clients so they didn’t lose their custom software or their databases, but it still cost them time and money to replace the hardware and restore all their software to a functioning condition. In one of the cases, the computer was supposedly protected by a heavy duty surge protector.

A side note about surge protectors – they’re a good idea. Really. They do help protect your expensive electronics against routine power spikes. But the dirty little secret of surge protectors is that the affordable ones you buy in the stores are not always fast enough to protect your equipment from a direct lightning strike.

I unplug all my electronics when the weather turns nasty. Unless you live in a place that isn’t prone to thunderstorms, I strongly suggest you do so as well.

Note: if your computer is hard-wired into a network, usually by an Ethernet cable to a modem or router, you need to unplug that as well.  Electricity can follow your cable line into the house as well as the electrical wires. And if you have a multi-function printer, that is probably plugged into a phone line, which is also a conduit. The wisest move is to unplug everything!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Universal Atonement

Universal   Atonement

My husband and I were down in the Virgin Islands on vacation last week where we took a sunset cruise.  As we looked off into the horizon and watched the sunset a conversation started with ‘what do you do.’

One of the two women I was talking to explained that she was an ex-Catholic studying to be a Methodist minister.  This led to a discussion of Lent and how we were going to observe it.  To my surprise, as a nominal Catholic, the third woman in our group, a Jew, fully participated in the conversation.  The future minister mentioned Pope Francis and his recent comment about sacrifice and what was really important about Lent.  We three ultimately agreed that some form of giving was a better way to observe Lent than giving up something we love, even if the giving up was difficult.  I’m still struggling with how, based on that philosophy, what I should do, but that’s another story.

I wouldn’t think this conversation or my thoughts on it would be right for a blog, except that like politics these days, it’s a subject that seems to be on everyone’s minds.  In my art class here in New York City, we’re a group of nine, ranging in age from thirty-seven to seventy, who are Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Protestants and agnostics, but Lent and how we observe it, or what we were going to “give up” was the conversation at my last class.  Everyone had an opinion, Pope Francis’s recent statement was mentioned, and it seemed that whether we intended to observe it or not, we all had thought about it.

I’m not sure what this seemingly universal recognition of this Christian season means.  It doesn’t happen at Christmas, where the holiday and all its trimmings are observed from afar by everyone but Christians, even if with nostalgia and pleasure.  True, there are Jews that have Christmas trees, but at least from my observation, those who do have trees are in the minority. Instead, there is an emphasis on Christmas being a Christian holiday, not a universal one. 

Could it be that in these tumultuous and stressful times that just as we find comfort in the existence of a holy man like Pope Francis who renews our hope that there is good in this world, we also find comfort in how we’re alike, not different.  No matter what our religion or belief system, I think we recognize that we all good-hearted and thoughtful people. When times are uncertain, I think we see a need to find universal truths and be prepared to sacrifice or atone with the hope that we’ll participate in making the world a better place. Or am I complicating it?  Is it simply that as a people we have far more in common with each other than we realize?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stripping, Deadlines and Memories

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

A writer’s mind is a funny – and sometimes fearsome – place. I was all set to write about deadlines and the havoc they can wreak on our lives, but yet we must adhere to them almost as much as the laws of God. I was going to tell how I learned to respect (and obey) deadlines while working in my parents’ advertising agency, but then I would have to tell you I didn’t just start out working with deadline responsibilities – hey, I was only nine, so my first job was as a stripper.

If you want to stop a conversation dead in its tracks, just say that your first job was as a stripper when you were nine years old.

Now to save my late parents’ reputations, I must say quickly that the job had nothing to do with removing any article of clothing. I did, however, sometimes wish to, as being somewhat spectacularly challenged in the dexterity department I got excessively sticky.

You see, in those antique days ads were built up with a great many pieces of paper put down with rubber cement. There was no point-and-click-shrink/enlarge-with-a-single-motion in those days. You had clip art (line pictures of all kinds of things which you bought in big books) or photographs. You had headlines and copy, done on a manual (in our office at least) typewriter, which was then sent to the typesetter to be set and printed in the font you had chosen. You had the size of your ad, generally enlarged proportionately on the working board so you could work on it easily. Then you had to figure out just how big/small each element had to be. Once that was done you sent each piece to the photostatter, to be reduced/enlarged to the desired size. So – hopefully - when everything was sized and pasted down the ad looked the way you wanted.

As we were a very frugal family, the elements that could be used again in other ads – clip art, some headlines, logos, etc. – were stripped off by using acetone, which dissolved the glue and rendered the whatever ready for use again. These were tacking in a big looseleaf folder divided into general categories, using just a small drop of glue to hold the paper in place. We could use an element sometimes ten or fifteen times before it got tatty, especially if it was of a standard size, saving the typesetters’ and photostatters’ fees each time.

Chosing the size of each element was done with a little tool of the Devil called a proportion wheel, which did exactly what it sounds like – told you how much bigger or smaller something had to be to fit in the space. God help you if you made a mistake, because getting things photostatted was expensive.

I have always been mathematically challenged (and why doesn’t someone do a telethon for those like me?) and the first time I got something wrong was on one of my first layouts when I think I was around twelve. I still stripped, but had received a sort of promotion to doing simple layouts. The first time I goofed Daddy took the time to walk me through it again and showed me every step several times, even giving me a written checklist.

The second time he docked my pay for the cost of the photostat. Yes, I received a paycheck – a token one, to be sure, as child labor is cheap – with social security and all taken out, just like a grownup. I have seldom felt so rich as the time I received my first paycheck – which Mother (the company bookkeeper) had to cash, as the bank wouldn’t believe that a nine-year-old child had her own paycheck. (And I have never used that bank since. Yes, I do hold grudges!)

After that I was very careful to get everything just right, usually by begging our real staff artist to do the calculations for me without Daddy knowing. As time went on I became more and more experienced and proficient, so by the time I was in high school I was working after school and weekends, and earning the same hourly wage as a regular artist.

That equality in my young years may be the reason I have always loathed school in spite of loving learning. (They are most definitely not the same, and a lot of the time not even close!) In high school I had to raise my hand and get permission from the teacher to go to the restroom, but after school I would take the bus downtown to the office where I could pick up the phone, call Tokyo and on voice order alone get over $5,000 (real money in those days) worth of ad placement. Heady stuff indeed.

Another memory. Most of the time in high school I dressed grown-up, in little Chanel-style suits or nice dresses and simple black flats, as after school I would go to the office where there might be clients – always have to project a business-like image, you know. Well, we had a period off in school once a day – they called it study hall, but it was impossible to study as everyone was so noisy. I quickly learned how to check in as present, then sneak out and go to the teachers’ lounge, which was usually empty and quiet so I could study in peace. The school year was almost half over before someone figured out I was a student and not a teacher and summarily ejected me. Sigh.

Strange how the pathways of memory will subvert even the most sterling of ideas and plans. I had been going to talk about deadlines, not stripping. Oh, well… maybe next time.