Writing 101 revisited

DATE: Sept 2

TITLE: Writing 101 revisited

This is from 2013 blog called “Writing 101 by Cat, or what would I say?” in response to a suggestion I offer a course on writing. The only major change is that I’m now ten years older.

On my recent posting “Blogs: opinion pieces or news reports?” one person left a comment and made reference to teaching them how to write in the style I use. I thought about that for about thirty seconds. I didn’t want to spend more time analysing it lest I become the centipede. You know the story of the centipede, don’t you? You don’t? Well, I’ll tell you then.

One day a tiny ant was watching a centipede pass by, legs all moving with military precision, not tripping over its feet or kicking the leg in front of it. The ant stopped the centipede and asked how he managed to keep everything so well organized. Having never thought about it, the centipede had to admit he didn’t know. After the ant went his way, the centipede sat and thought about the question and tried to analyse his actions. Not finding an answer he liked, he gave up and decided to carry on to wherever he had been going. That was when he discovered that in his attempts to figure out just how he did it, he’d managed to lose the ability to co-ordinate his legs and he kept tripping. I didn’t want to spend time analysing how and why I write as I do for fear I’d end up like that centipede and forget how to write.

I know that people are told “write what you know”. Well yes, it is always good to have some knowledge of your topic before you put a single word on the monitor (or on paper– I still prefer to write in longhand) especially if you’re writing an instructional piece.

In addition to “write what you know” I would add “write what you feel strongly about”, be that the antics of your local politicians or something else. If you want to write an opinion piece, write it with passion. If you feel strongly enough about something that you want to voice your opinion, let that fire show through in your writing. My personal view where it relates to opinion pieces is that if I haven’t upset someone then I haven’t done my job properly. Of course that attitude is probably helped by being 68 and not really caring what others think of my opinions.

If you choose to write fiction, depending upon what kind of fiction, some research may be necessary to get the details right. People will pick up on anachronisms very quickly if you choose historic fiction so try to ensure you aren’t introducing something that hadn’t been invented until well after the period you’ve chosen.

My preferred field of fiction is speculative fiction (commonly called science fiction). Given the scientific advances in many fields that gives me a lot of leeway should I choose to introduce some new technology. But, as I wrote above, even there some research is required. For example I may have to look at the current state of a field and try to find out what is being looked at. Perhaps a news item on a new scientific process under investigation will spark a thought process best summed up by asking myself “what if…?” Then I try to answer that question in a story.

Many years ago I wrote a long piece about an intelligent computer (artificial intelligence anyone?) and to start I described the setting as follows:

The city was one of those anonymous places that comprise what politicians and pollsters commonly refer to as “the industrial base.” The signs at the city limits proudly proclaimed population figures from the last census, but several minor recessions and a major depression had taken their toll and the signs were wildly optimistic.

Industry had been just diverse enough that when the major employer closed its doors and moved to another location promising low taxes and even lower labour costs, the remaining factories could only slow the decline. Suppliers to “The Factory”, as the locals called it, had either followed their market, or just turned off the lights and walked away.

Along Main Street, vacant shops outnumbered the combined total of those offering “going out of business” sales, and those offering similar prices without going to the added expense of signs. The sparkling new mall at the edge of town (fifty great stores to serve your every need) echoed to the footsteps of lonely shoppers as they passed store front after store front, each closed and locked; and each bearing the legend “for lease – reasonable rates.”

This was the sight that greeted the planners as they descended upon city hall one day, armed with graphs and plans and colourful artists’ impressions and visions for the future; and enthusiasm. Oh yes, they were certainly enthusiastic. They would convert this dying factory town into a model for the future. Self-contained and computer controlled, it would rely on the outside world mainly as a supplier of provisions and raw materials and as a market for its products. The planners had anticipated every objection from city council and included in their schemes a new seniors’ apartment complex; upgraded hospital facilities; and even a refurbished city jail. But the plum in the pudding was their promise to revitalise industry through computerisation and make the city prosperous once again.

This description was essential to the rest of the novella for it shows a city in decline and the willingness of the city council to do whatever they could to keep their town alive. Could I have written the piece without these 300 words? Of course, but I’ve given the reader just enough information for them to form their own mental image of the place.

My last piece of advice to anyone writing is simple: write the way you speak. If you commonly use multi-syllable words in your every day speech, by all means write that way. But if you don’t please don’t make the mistake of trying to use them in your writing. I recall reading an interview with a writer who perhaps said it best: “Don’t use ‘ten dollars words’ even if you buy them at a ‘two-for one sale’ because you’ll probably use them incorrectly” unless those form part of your daily vocabulary.

And that ends today’s lesson. Class dismissed, and remember to hug an artist, we need love too.

Cat

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Old Air

A comment on a Facebook post reminded me I'd written this and since we could all probably use something to make us laugh or at least smile, I thought I'd repost it.

You mean you’ve never heard the story of old air? Hell man, I’ve seen a guy so taken in by that story, I could hardly keep a straight face when he told me and neither could the cop who was there. Let me tell you about it.

I was working the night shift at the gas station – you know the one, just off the highway when you’re comin’ from the east – on New Year’s Eve it was. A car pulled in with a couple of kids in it and went to the air hose to refill a tire. While they were there, this guy comes just a-flyin’ in, slams on the brakes and slides halfway across the tarmac to the air pump. I seen this guy get out of his car and talk to the first guy. I guess he was asking how long he’d be, since he seemed to be in such a hurry. I don’t know, maybe he was trying to get home before midnight.

Anyway, the couple finish and I see them drive off, then pull off the road about a hundred yards off, where they could still see the air pump, you know? Meanwhile, I see this other guy, the speed demon, pull his car up to the air hose. It’s about ten to midnight by now and quiet, being New Year’s Eve and all, so I’m watching this guy because I’m bored and I’m also worried that in his rush, he might take the stand out when he leaves and I want to get his licence number. From the office, I’ve got a clear view of that part of the lot and the lights cover that area pretty good , so I can see everything he’s doin’.

Well, this guy is actin’ like he’s crazy. He starts with the left front and seems to be taking a long time checking that tire. I guessed the valve cap was stuck and didn’t think anything of it. Same with the left rear. Then, because he’s got the hose stretched as far as it’ll go, he goes back around the front to the right side, where I can see what he’s doing. What I can see makes no sense whatsoever. I’m watching this guy, who seems in a real panic by now. Since it’s almost twelve, I start putting my coat and stuff on and figure I’ll go out and wish him a Happy New Year. I’m still watching him, and I see him take a look at his watch, then let all the air out of his tire.

Now, you know and I know that isn’t usually recommended, ‘cause if it goes down the wrong way, the rim’ll cut the sidewall. But, as soon as it’s flat, he refills it, all the while sneaking peeks at his watch. Meanwhile, I take a look at the couple in the car, figurin’ maybe they’re gonna wait until he leaves then try to rob me. They’re sitting there, just killin’ themselves laughin’.

Then he moved on to the right rear. Same thing again. Let the air out, look at the watch, refill the tire. Well, by now I’m totally lost, so I figure I’ll go ask him what the hell he’s doin’. Just as I step out the door, Steve, the usual constable, pulls onto the lot. I wave at him and keep on walkin’. He sees where I’m headed and follows me over. I get there just as the guy’s finished the right rear and is putting the valve cap back on. I wish him Happy New Year, he does the same, then looks at his watch and he says “I didn’t think I’d finish in time.”

I guess he sees the curiosity on both my face and Steve’s for he says “You know, changing the air in my tires, like that other guy said I should. He said that if I didn’t, I could have trouble with the handling because I had last year’s air in the tires.”

Well, Steve and I can hardly keep our faces straight when we hear this. But Steve, who’s never slow with a line, says “Oh yeah. That’s tonight isn’t it? I guess that’s the reason the cruiser was in the shop when I reported in. The mechanics were changing the air. What about you Lloyd, got your air changed yet?”

I’m tryin’ hard not to laugh at this guy, then Steve comes out with this. It takes me about a minute, but finally I say “Not yet, I’ll do it in a while if it stays quiet. Don’t want to have trouble on the roads tonight. Not many people around and those that are aren’t in any shape to drive. But, I’ll definitely change it by shift end.”

Then Steve, who knows when he’s on to a good thing, says to the guy “Don’t forget the spare. I’ve seen a lot of problems with people who had flats, then discovered they still had last year’s air in the spare.”

“The spare?” says the guy. “Oh Jeez, thanks for reminding me. This is my wife’s car and if she has a problem with anything like that, she’ll kill me because I forgot the spare.”

Well, by now, Steve and I are ready to bust from keeping the laughs inside, so we go back to the office. The first thing we do is just about blow the door off what with laughin’ so much. Then I tell him what happened before he arrived. He shakes his head and says “Give me a couple of hot chocolates, will you Lloyd? I’m goin’ to give them to the kids in the sedan.”

“The kids in the sedan? Why?”

Steve’s still laughin’, but he tries to tell me. “Think about it Lloyd. A guy’s checking the air in a slack tire and someone comes in and ask what he’s doing. Now, it’s about half past eleven on New Year’s Eve and the guy’s probably a bit pissed off. Then some jerk asks him what he’s doing, so he gives him a smart-assed answer about changing the air in his tires before January first. Now, from the guy’s reaction, this other guy knows he’s found a live one, so after he’s finished, he parks somewhere close where he can see the fun. The way I see it, they’ve earned those hot chocolates. They’re probably cold by now, so make them large ones. I’m a cop, so it won’t look suspicious to our patsy out there if I stop to check their car.”

While Steve’s talkin’, I’m thinkin’ about what I saw and I had to agree with him. I reached for the extra large cups. I look out the window as I hand the hot chocolates to Steve and the guy’s clearing stuff out of the trunk. Just as Steve pulls out of the lot, the guy, still holding the air hose, is climbing into his trunk.

Thanks for this story idea to the lady who was in that sedan.

Weekend whimsy

I wrote this piece several years ago after waking up with a phrase stuck in my head. Last night I ordered in Chinese food and seeing the fortune cookies reminded me of this piece. So, here’s a bit of whimsy for a social distancing weekend. Enjoy (and the egg rolls are delicious).

Cat

Found in A Fortune Cookie
Cat MacDonald
© 2008 cam

I’d found a flyer from a new Chinese restaurant in my mailbox and decided to give it a try, so ordered in some food. One of the first things I discovered was they made the best lemon chicken I’d ever tasted. When I was done, I picked up a fortune cookie and cracked it.

“The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale.”

That’s what the piece of paper inside that fortune cookie read. Even upon a cursory examination I could see this was not your usual “Good fortune is on the way” type of saying usually found in these things. And they normally had the name of the company producing them on the bottom. Not this one. Other than the cryptic sentence, the slip of paper was blank. Even the cellophane wrapper, which usually had the bakery’s name on it, was blank. Nothing looks quite so bare as a clear piece of cellophane that normally has writing on it. So, there was no clue as to where this profound observation arose.

This one was far more inscrutable than most. Any more obscure and it may as well be written in Cantonese for all the sense it was making. “The end is either a whale from hell, or an estate sale.” The end of what? Life? The universe?

“ A whale from hell”. I suppose defining that could depend upon your point of reference. I mean, if you look at literature, the end for Captain Ahab certainly was a “whale from hell” named Moby Dick. And, I suppose the Pequod could have been sold at an estate sale later. But, in that case, “the end” would have been both a “whale from hell” and “an estate sale” so, I don’t suppose that was what the writer of this mystery had in mind.

Or, if you turn to films, there was a movie called “Orca” with Richard Harris and what’s-her-name, Bo Derek, wasn’t it? From what I can recall, that was about a killer whale that terrorized and I think destroyed a fishing village in Newfoundland. A killer whale could certainly qualify as “a whale from hell”

But, somehow I don’t think the slip of paper meant anything quite so obvious. There was just something, oh, I don’t know, weird about that particular fortune. In any event, by the time I’d opened the cookie and read this, I’d had too much to drink, so I tucked the slip of paper into my purse for later consideration.

The next morning, when I pulled my car keys from my purse, out fell the fortune. I unfolded it and read it again. Still read the same: The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale. Still made the same lack of sense it had last night. And today I didn’t have the excuse of alcohol to fall back on.

For some reason, words from that little slip of paper kept cropping up in the documents I handled at the office, or in conversations I had with others. I put it down to the fact I was thinking about that weird fortune. “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” is so odd it stuck with me. I tried to put it out of my mind.

I succeeded in doing so until the drive home that evening. Sitting in traffic near an intersection (construction had reduced the road to one lane and of course there was a collision in that lane), I passed the time idly looking at the people walking past me and the various shops. The car ahead of me inched forward and I followed suit. My new vantage point brought the intersection into range and with that, a limited view of the cross street. My attention immediately focussed on one particular storefront – the restaurant I’d ordered from the night before.

Although I am not normally impatient in traffic – all that does is raise my blood pressure and if it takes a few minutes more to get home, so what, I’ll arrive safely and as relaxed as dealing with the road warriors will allow – I now couldn’t wait for traffic to crawl forward again. Finally, I reached the intersection. Just past the corner was a municipal parking lot (the ones the city runs that only charge an arm, not an arm and a leg), pulled in and parked. Making certain I still had the fortune with me, I walked to the restaurant.

The place wasn’t anything special, just a little hole in the wall, with two or three small tables. Obviously most of their business was take out or delivery. I walked up to the counter, where a clean-cut young man was talking on the telephone. He acknowledged my presence, then continued writing what was apparently an order.

I took the time to look around the shop while I waited. The decor was nothing special and no doubt was a better reflection of the owner’s taste than an attempt to cater to the clientele. No fancy fans on the walls, or posters of pagodas or the Great Wall. Instead I was treated to a varied collection of cityscapes, seascapes, and posters for rock concerts. The most Oriental thing on the walls was a photo of a customized Honda.

Ambience was provided courtesy of the local soft rock station.

He finished taking the order and walked it into the kitchen, where I could hear him talking with someone, presumably the cook. Then he returned and smiling, asked in good English how he could help. I couldn’t place the accent, but it definitely did not sound like English as spoken by most Chinese who, especially if they’re from Hong Kong, tend to have British accents.

I explained that I had ordered food from them the previous night and gave my address. Seeing the look on his face, I hurriedly told him the food was great and that I would be ordering from them again, but I did have a question for him. Pulling the slip of paper from my wallet, I placed in face down on the counter and continued.

“Could you tell me where you get your fortune cookies” I asked as I picked up the fortune from the previous evening, then continued “because I’d really like to have this one explained to me.” I showed him the slip and watched his face change to a look of complete puzzlement as he read the words I’d memorized “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale”.

“You got this in a fortune cookie with your order last night?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“Do you mind if I take this for a second. I want to show it to my Dad in the kitchen. Maybe he can shed some light on it, ‘cause I haven’t a clue what the hell it could mean.”

I agreed and he excused himself.

The sounds of food preparation ceased shortly after that and the radio was turned down. I could hear a dialogue in what I presume was one of the Chinese dialects, of which I could make out only the English wording from the fortune. The volume of voices dropped to the point where I couldn’t hear anything. Finally, the young man said “Fine then. You figure it out.”

He returned, shaking his head and carrying the slip of paper. “My Dad has no idea either. This came from a new supplier and he’s contacting them now.

“Could I have your name and number and I’ll make sure to let you know. This one has me buffaloed as well. I mean, usually you get the ‘fame or fortune” kind of sayings in those things.”

Just then an older gentleman came from the kitchen “You’re the lady with the odd fortune?” again in oddly accented English.

I nodded.

“I just telephoned our supplier. The number’s out of service.. Why you didn’t try to contact them directly last nigh?”

“Oh! I couldn’t. The cellophane wrapper was completely blank. No names or any identifying marks. And, as you can see, there’s just the fortune on the slip of paper.”

The two men looked at each other. The son turned toward me. “Would you mind if I kept this? I’d like to put a little more time in on it. It’s such an odd observation that I can’t believe there’s not a deeper meaning to it.”

I waved agreement and he put it in the till. The older man said something in their language and his son nodded.

“My Dad just said to ask you if there’s anything you’d like – on the house – for all your trouble.”

“Sure. I wouldn’t mind an order of your lemon chicken if it isn’t too much trouble. It was the best I’ve had.”

As I left with my chicken (and rice – they insisted it had to have rice with it) I glanced back through the window to see them arguing. I say “arguing” because the older man was waving his hands in an angry manner and his son was shaking his head vehemently.

The next day, I was once again caught in traffic at the same place and I glanced across the intersection. The store was gone. In fact, the place looked as if it had been vacant for some time. And with it, the slip of paper with the arcane fortune printed on it.

I never did find out what “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” meant. I still eat Chinese food, but the lemon chicken isn’t as good, and I no longer open fortune cookies.

Found in A Fortune Cookie
Cat Howard
© 2008 gch

I’d found a flyer from a new Chinese restaurant in my mailbox and decided to give it a try, so ordered in some food. One of the first things I discovered was they made the best lemon chicken I’d ever tasted. When I was done, I picked up a fortune cookie and cracked it.

“The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale.”

That’s what the piece of paper inside that fortune cookie read. Even upon a cursory examination I could see this was not your usual “Good fortune is on the way” type of saying usually found in these things. And they normally had the name of the company producing them on the bottom. Not this one. Other than the cryptic sentence, the slip of paper was blank. Even the cellophane wrapper, which usually had the bakery’s name on it, was blank. Nothing looks quite so bare as a clear piece of cellophane that normally has writing on it. So, there was no clue as to where this profound observation arose.

This one was far more inscrutable than most. Any more obscure and it may as well be written in Cantonese for all the sense it was making. “The end is either a whale from hell, or an estate sale.” The end of what? Life? The universe?

“ A whale from hell”. I suppose defining that could depend upon your point of reference. I mean, if you look at literature, the end for Captain Ahab certainly was a “whale from hell” named Moby Dick. And, I suppose the Pequod could have been sold at an estate sale later. But, in that case, “the end” would have been both a “whale from hell” and “an estate sale” so, I don’t suppose that was what the writer of this mystery had in mind.

Or, if you turn to films, there was a movie called “Orca” with Richard Harris and what’s-her-name, Bo Derek, wasn’t it? From what I can recall, that was about a killer whale that terrorized and I think destroyed a fishing village in Newfoundland. A killer whale could certainly qualify as “a whale from hell”

But, somehow I don’t think the slip of paper meant anything quite so obvious. There was just something, oh, I don’t know, weird about that particular fortune. In any event, by the time I’d opened the cookie and read this, I’d had too much to drink, so I tucked the slip of paper into my purse for later consideration.

The next morning, when I pulled my car keys from my purse, out fell the fortune. I unfolded it and read it again. Still read the same: The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale. Still made the same lack of sense it had last night. And today I didn’t have the excuse of alcohol to fall back on.

For some reason, words from that little slip of paper kept cropping up in the documents I handled at the office, or in conversations I had with others. I put it down to the fact I was thinking about that weird fortune. “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” is so odd it stuck with me. I tried to put it out of my mind.

I succeeded in doing so until the drive home that evening. Sitting in traffic near an intersection (construction had reduced the road to one lane and of course there was a collision in that lane), I passed the time idly looking at the people walking past me and the various shops. The car ahead of me inched forward and I followed suit. My new vantage point brought the intersection into range and with that, a limited view of the cross street. My attention immediately focussed on one particular storefront – the restaurant I’d ordered from the night before.

Although I am not normally impatient in traffic – all that does is raise my blood pressure and if it takes a few minutes more to get home, so what, I’ll arrive safely and as relaxed as dealing with the road warriors will allow – I now couldn’t wait for traffic to crawl forward again. Finally, I reached the intersection. Just past the corner was a municipal parking lot (the ones the city runs that only charge an arm, not an arm and a leg), pulled in and parked. Making certain I still had the fortune with me, I walked to the restaurant.

The place wasn’t anything special, just a little hole in the wall, with two or three small tables. Obviously most of their business was take out or delivery. I walked up to the counter, where a clean-cut young man was talking on the telephone. He acknowledged my presence, then continued writing what was apparently an order.

I took the time to look around the shop while I waited. The decor was nothing special and no doubt was a better reflection of the owner’s taste than an attempt to cater to the clientele. No fancy fans on the walls, or posters of pagodas or the Great Wall. Instead I was treated to a varied collection of cityscapes, seascapes, and posters for rock concerts. The most Oriental thing on the walls was a photo of a customized Honda.

Ambience was provided courtesy of the local soft rock station.

He finished taking the order and walked it into the kitchen, where I could hear him talking with someone, presumably the cook. Then he returned and smiling, asked how he could help in good English. I couldn’t place the accent, but it definitely did not sound like English as spoken by most Chinese who, especially if they’re from Hong Kong, tend to have British accents.

I explained that I had ordered food from them the previous night and gave my address. Seeing the look on his face, I hurriedly told him the food was great and that I would be ordering from them again, but I did have a question for him. Pulling the slip of paper from my wallet, I placed in face down on the counter and continued.

“Could you tell me where you get your fortune cookies” I asked as I picked up the fortune from the previous evening, then continued “because I’d really like to have this one explained to me.” I showed him the slip and watched his face change to a look of complete puzzlement as he read the words I’d memorized “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale”.

“You got this in a fortune cookie with your order last night?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“Do you mind if I take this for a second. I want to show it to my Dad in the kitchen. Maybe he can shed some light on it, ‘cause I haven’t a clue what the hell it could mean.”

I agreed and he excused himself.

The sounds of food preparation ceased shortly after that and the radio was turned down. I could hear a dialogue in what I presume was one of the Chinese dialects, of which I could make out only the English wording from the fortune. The volume of voices dropped to the point where I couldn’t hear anything. Finally, the young man said “Fine then. You figure it out.”

He returned, shaking his head and carrying the slip of paper. “My Dad has no idea either. This came from a new supplier and he’s contacting them now.

“Could I have your name and number and I’ll make sure to let you know. This one has me buffaloed as well. I mean, usually you get the ‘fame or fortune” kind of sayings in those things.”

Just then an older gentleman came from the kitchen “You’re the lady with the odd fortune?” again in oddly accented English.

I nodded.

“I just telephoned our supplier. The number’s out of service.. Why you didn’t try to contact them directly last nigh?”

“Oh! I couldn’t. The cellophane wrapper was completely blank. No names or any identifying marks. And, as you can see, there’s just the fortune on the slip of paper.”

The two men looked at each other. The son turned toward me. “Would you mind if I kept this? I’d like to put a little more time in on it. It’s such an odd observation that I can’t believe there’s not a deeper meaning to it.”

I waved agreement and he put it in the till. The older man said something in their language and his son nodded.

“My Dad just said to ask you if there’s anything you’d like – on the house – for all your trouble.”

“Sure. I wouldn’t mind an order of your lemon chicken if it isn’t too much trouble. It was the best I’ve had.”

As I left with my chicken (and rice – they insisted it had to have rice with it) I glanced back through the window to see them arguing. I say “arguing” because the older man was waving his hands in an angry manner and his son was shaking his head vehemently.

The next day, I was once again caught in traffic at the same place and I glanced across the intersection. The store was gone. In fact, the place looked as if it had been vacant for some time. And with it, the slip of paper with the arcane fortune printed on it.

I never did find out what “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” meant. I still eat Chinese food, but the lemon chicken isn’t as good, and I no longer open fortune cookies.

Whatever strikes my fancy

I’m a writer and photographer. I’m working on my autobiography. Funny thing, but if people learn this they will often ask “is it finished yet?” Umm, unless you’re using a spirit board to ask that, the answer is obviously “No”. I’ve stopped it at the point I received my new birth certificate with new name and gender, but I’m still here so it could continue.

I write speculative fiction, also called science fiction and mystery and these pieces usually start with asking myself “what if …?”, then answering that question. That “what if …” could be on any topic – as the title indicates “whatever strikes my fancy”. I’ve destroyed cities and other planets (usually with classical music playing in the background as I write) and in the late nineties I chronicled a war that destroyed this planet. What prompted that was the debate over whether the 21st century would start January 1, 2000 or 2001. I think the answer depends if you ask an historian or a mathematician.

With my blogs, again I write about any topic that strikes my fancy or irritates me. I enjoy writing about various online scams as warnings to my readers. For the most part I stay away from American politics. I’m not American so unless what’s-his-name in the White House had done or said something exceedingly stupid, I ignore it. Having said that, living in Canada and being reasonably intelligent, I am aware that events in the U S may and can have a tremendous effect on us as well, so I do pay attention to American politics. I have however taken Canadian federal politicians to task on many occasions over their pronouncements or actions. And with the current regime in Queen’s Park, I can see that Ontario Premier Doug Ford will become a frequent target.

I prefer to write and edit in longhand, then once I’m satisfied I transcribe to the computer. By doing so, if inspiration strikes while I’m out I can capture the thought at the moment as I usually carry paper and pen.

I use this same approach with my photography. If something catches my eye, I’ll take a photo. A flower, a sign, interesting architecture, a scenic vista or sometihng whimsical such as this shot below taken outside a local shop on my phone, it doesn’t matter. There are occasion , such as grocery shopping, when carrying a camera is too awkward, by my phone has an excellent camera.

I use digital cameras (Canon ever since my first film SLR in the seventies) and have what I consider to be good software – Corel Paintshop Pro for processing. I can usually find something in the raw image to turn into a photo. And of course, by using digital cameras and processing, “undo” and “delete” have become my best friends.

I’ve had various people who like my work suggest to me I should give courses in both writing and photography. Such course would be very short indeed for here’s what I’d say:

Writing: write about what interests you. If that requires research, great – you’ll learn something new. If writing fiction or topical blogs, write the way you speak. If people who know you read it, they’ll hear your voice speaking the words and for others, it will sound more natural. Don’t use what I call “ten dollar words” in an attempt to sound more intelligent. If you don’t normally use them in everyday vocabulary, you’ll probably use them incorrectly.

Photography: if it catches your eye, snap it and sort it out later. Remember, “delete” can be a powerful tool.

There’s the essence of any courses I’d give.

Now, go create something and remember to hug an artist, no matter what their field of endeavour, for we need love too. And to my Canadian followers and visitors, have a safe and happy Canada Day weekend.

Cat.

For the writers among us

A few thoughts and observations on that demon that haunts us ink-stained wretches:

“… writers don’t like the actual writing bit.”

“Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.”

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams, (1952 – 2001)

The above three quotes are from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the five books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (I know, but that’s how he described it.) And from personal experience I can say that first quote is spot on. As well, I have written many short stories that prove the third one as well.

As for the second, that would be for the reader to determine. I like to think I write well, and use, but not abuse, the English language properly. One piece of advice I was given is “write the way you speak.” In other words, if you don’t commonly use “ten dollar words” in your daily vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing, even if you can get them half-off. You’ll sound pretentious and will probably use them wrong. My writing always uses the vocabulary and speech patterns I use in everyday communication and people have told me that when they read my stuff, they can hear my voice reading it in their minds. I consider that a compliment. The only time I vary from that is if the character requires it.

There are several other “rules” of writing that make little sense to me at least, such as “write what you know”. That may be fine if you’re writing a technical piece, but doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re writing fiction. When it comes to my fiction, many of the stories start with me asking myself “what if …?” then answering the question. How bleak would the literary world be if authors only wrote what they know? We’d have been deprived of works like J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as many books that are now considered classics.

“Write what you know.” I’m a blogger – sporadically recently because there are things going on that interfere with the writing as well as Douglas Adams’s first observation – and my blogs are usually about things or events that either interest me or incense me. And given the newly elected government in Ontario, I think there’s going to be a few things that incense me. In my more honest moments, I frequently describe my blogs as “rants, raves or reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.”

One thing I read somewhere (I think it was a writer I friended on MySpace years ago) was that in order to be a writer, you must write 600 words a day. What that writer didn’t add was that it must be six hundred words you want to keep. I don’t agree with that word count. You can only write so much and if only 10 words will come that are “keepers”, then that’s ten words you don’t have to worry about later.

Many people who don’t write and don’t understand writing will often joke about the process and sometimes point to the hoary opening “It was a dark and stormy night” as an example of writing. Actually, I used that twice in one story just to see if it was possible to use it without seeming trite. Here’s what I came up with:

It was a dark and stormy night – a real nasty one – the kind I’ve come to dread ever since that night. I was sitting quietly, enjoying my beer, when I noticed the guy staring at me. I ignored him as I do anyone who is rude enough to stare. Then I sensed him coming over.

After a bit of small talk, he stopped talking and just looked at me. I looked back. “What, you want to hear about the time traveller?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling me,” he said, signalling for refills for both of us.

I thanked him, then said, “I don’t mind telling, if you don’t mind listening. All I ask is that you don’t interrupt too much, because I don’t really like talking about it.”

He agreed and, after a sip of the beer, I started.

“It was a dark and stormy night “ I stopped as I saw him glaring at me, then I said “I know, I know – any story that starts that way has to be pure bull, right? Hear me out, then you tell me.

In the introduction to this piece I wrote “I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and here’s the result”. I know it’s hard to tell from this short intro, but what do you think? Did I pull it off? If you like, I’ll post the entire story later this week.

Okay, let’s try to get serious for a few minutes here. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. When you’re working on a piece, be it fiction, a blog, essay or factual, most writers don’t want anyone around to derail their train of thought. I usually have classical music playing quietly while I work. In one short story, I destroyed an entire planet with “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background. Yes, some writers say that so-and-so is their muse, their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that muse has to be present all the time. I’m fortunate in that respect as I live alone so there are minimal interruptions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Very true. I can’t count the times I’ve started writing something with a plan in mind only to have the characters dictate what happens through their actions. I usually just leave it since on the occasions I’ve tried to bring the story back to my vision, it didn’t work as well.  And yes, it can happen that something you’ve written will send a story off in a new direction rather than following your roadmap. I think it works this way: You write something and your mind picks up on that and asks “what if I follow that line instead?” That is what I mean by the character dictating the ensuing actions.

It seems that many good writers are also voracious readers. Not to see what the “competition” is doing, but simply for the enjoyment of the written word. No, the excuse that it cuts into writing time won’t work. Without some kind of break or diversion, your mind goes stale and your work will suffer.

And, I think I’ve done it again – started off with one idea in mind, but ended up somewhere else. I could have probably spent much less time writing this if I’d simply said “write about what interests you; write it with passion and in cohesive sentences and the readers will come.” To finish off, a quote from Robert A Heinlein (1907 – 1988), the great science-fiction writer “You must write.”

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Do it your way

Every once in a while, someone will look at some of my photos, or read something I’ve written and suggest that I should teach photography and/or writing. That presents a problem for me.

I’m sure that each of you is very good at some pastime that gives you a sense of accomplishment. But, how would you go about explaining to somebody else just how you do it? That’s the problem with my photography and writing. Oh, I could probably teach each, but the course would be twenty minutes tops. I’ll try here to explain how I do what I do.

Photography: My philosophy is simple – if something catches your attention, snap it. You may look at the image on the camera screen and not see what you expected, but wait until you get it up on the computer screen when you process it. (I do digital photography, so my comments are restricted to computer processing.) The larger image may show you something surprising that you can turn into a beautiful photo. The photo at the top of this is an example of a photo I thought was “okay” until I saw it on the monitor, then it went up in my estimation.

Take advice if offered. I’ve had some free-lance photographers give me some advice that I think is worth passing on. First, remember that a digital camera darkens an image about 30 – 40% from what you see with your eye. You’ll want to restore that brightness before anything else. This of course wouldn’t apply if you feel the darker image is more effective.

Next, a free-lancer told me to avoid weddings if at all possible because you’ll never please everyone.

Finally, if you want to be a free-lance news photographer, the best advice I was given for this was “f8 and be there”. You can’t take the shot if you aren’t at the scene and an aperture of f8 will give you a decent depth of field.

As I said, I do digital photography and process my own work. There are many photo processing programmes available. My personal preference is a Corel programme called “Paintshop”. Some people prefer Adobe’s Photoshop. I’ve used both and prefer Paintshop. If you can, try as many as you can – some places offer free trial copies – before spending your money on one.

The choice of camera is up to the user. Many of my best work was done with a Canon point and shoot, including the header photo. I currently use a Canon DSLR, but depending upon my plans for the day, I have often used the camera in my phone. The quality of phone cameras has improved greatly.

I’m torn about suggesting photography courses. Yes, I can see the benefits for some people, but when I told an artist friend it had been suggested I take one, her comment was “Why? That would only ruin you. The course would only teach you to take photos the way the instructor does.” If you feel you’d benefit from one, go for it. As my friend said, if you feel competent, save your money.

In photography the most important advice I was given was that you have to have imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Photography is as much about feeling as technique.

Writing: I’ve always written, at least back as far as Grade 5. I was fortunate in having teachers who encouraged my writing and have since received advice from others. There are many courses in creative writing available through community colleges that you can take. My ex-partner was part of a group of writers who would meet once a week and present short stories for criticism. Some members were published authors; some were taking courses and others just sat down to write. Through the members of this group (I was a casual member since they often met at our house) I learned the proper format for submitting stories, but that’s about all.

Most often, aspiring writers are told “write what you know”. That is fine if you’re writing factual articles and stories. I have a blog and frequently write opinion pieces that I laughingly refer to as “rants, raves and reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.” The main exception to that is a series of blogs under the general title “Bring him to justice”. This series concerns the attempts by the Toronto Police Service to arrest a man charged with several counts of aggravated sexual assault. This series is factual and, full disclosure here, I’m doing it because I know several people he dated.

For my fiction, it’s rather difficult to write fiction strictly sticking to “what you know”. If I’m writing fiction, the process usually starts with me asking myself “what if…?” then writing a piece to answer the question.

Perhaps the best advice the writer me was given was “write the way you speak.” If you don’t use multi-syllable words as part of your usual vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing. I sometimes paraphrase this as “if you don’t use ten dollar words all the time, don’t use them in your writing, even if you get them half-off. You’ll probably mis-use them.” Something else – spelling counts. Spell-check is great in most cases, but if you use a homophones – and yes, I had to check the definition of this – such as “hear” or “here”, spell-check won’t catch it. Proofread, then proofread again.

There. My courses on photography and writing are finished. As the title suggests “do it your way.” Class dismissed.

Remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Kellyanne Conway explained

INTENDED AS HUMOUR OR SARCASM AND NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY

As a Canadian and not directly involved in the recent American election, I’ve refrained from commenting on the fallout from the results of that election except for the occasional snarky comment of other people’s Facebook posts. To be honest, Donald Trump scares the living hell out of me.  But Kellyanne Conway and some of her bizarre comments are just too tempting to resist.

If you read or watch science fiction, you are no doubt aware of the concept of alternate universes.  This concept goes a long way to explaining her comments, specifically the “Bowling Green Massacre.”    It should be obvious to even the most casual follower of news and/or politics that she is not from this planet.

An alternate universe would easily explain her comments.  In our universe (the “real” universe) Bowling Green is known as the location of GM’s Corvette assembly line.  But, in the universe usually inhabited by Ms Conway, it was the scene of a terrible massacre by terrorists.

The problem isn’t that she’s using alternative facts, it’s that with her ability to engage in interdimensional travel, she sometimes forgets which universe she’s occupying.  There, problem solved and her weird statements explained.  Think about it – what else makes sense.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too, no matter what universe we inhabit.

Cat.

Permanently blocked

As I type this, I have three unfinished stories dating back several years in my projects folder and I don’t think they will ever get finished.  Not because I’ve had a major case of writer’s block, but for another reason.

When I began working on these pieces, I was in a much darker place and the tenor of these work reflects that – very dark and brooding.  Times have changed and I am no longer in that place and despite reading over what I do have down, I still can’t get back to that darkness and in all honesty, I don’t want to.  Still, there are some wonderful descriptive passages among those words, but I can’t figure out how to incorporate them into new pieces. Here’s an example:

“Rattle, clatter, clunk.”  The lid of the letter box announcing it had been fed intruded into his consciousness. Hoping there might be more than rejections, bills and flyers, Colin hurried to check.  Three pieces of paper awaited his grasping hand.

“Looks like the usual stuff: ‘occupant’ and ‘householder’.  Oh well, I suppose it’s better than no mail at all” he muttered to himself.  Ever since Colin had decided to become a full time writer he had developed the habit of talking to himself,  but with so many story lines chasing each other around in his mind, he hadn’t noticed that he did so.  “Well, let’s see.  We have something from a local business, addressed to ‘occupant’.  Sorry folks, ‘occupant’ doesn’t live here anymore.”  He folded up the flyer and threw it into the recycling bucket.  (With the amount of paper he went through, mostly from having to re-write frequently,  Colin was very conscientious about recycling.)

“An envelope from a publisher.  Let’s see what they say.  Hmm, they think the  novel has possibilities, but the genre doesn’t fit in with their catalogue.   Oh.  Well, that’s an excuse I haven’t heard in a while.  I’ll just add this to the collection.  Maybe one of these days I’ll just put out a book of rejections I’ve received and call it something like ‘A Thousand Times “No” ’. ”

But despite some of these descriptions I find myself stuck.  I can’t get back to the dark side on these and can’t find a way to recycle the good bits into something else.  So I suppose I’ll have to do what I do with photos I screw up and hit delete.  This is what an artist friend of mine suggested, reasoning that because they were started during a black period, there is lot of negativity attached to them, so I’d be better off getting rid of them.  And I have to agree with her.

Oh well, there will be brighter stories ahead, I know it, so I’ll just carry on and keep blogging until those stories appear.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and ideas) too.

Cat.

Midweek fiction – It’s only a game

I wrote this is 2007 following a disastrous night playing solitaire

It’s Only A Game
copyright 2007 gch
“What to do you mean you haven’t received my remittance yet? Who is this? Why are you bothering me? If you think I owe you money, send me an invoice.” Clyde slammed the handset onto the cradle before the caller could respond and returned to the Solitaire game on his computer screen.

He’d only had Solitaire on his computer for about ten days and found it a good way to relax. His favourite was the Vegas version, where he could see whether he was ahead of the computer or not. When playing, he preferred a two-handed method – left hand tapping the enter key to turn cards and right hand working the mouse to move the cards. It may not have been more efficient, but he felt it required a bit more concentration. “Let’s see … Red six on black seven, yes, now turn over the top card, good, the black five can go on that red six.”

Two days later, the mail brought an expensive looking envelope bearing the name of a well-known casino. Never having been to a casino, Clyde was curious about why they would be contacting him. His fingers told him the envelope was stuffed with paper. Returning to his study, he reached for the letter opener as he sat down.

Carefully slitting the flap, he slid several sheets of paper from the interior of the envelope. Several appeared to be computer printouts and one, on vellum paper, looked like an invoice. Scanning this, he gasped as he saw the bottom line, which read “Balance outstanding as of May 31, $51,118.00.”

Turning to the other sheets, all the while muttering to himself “There must be some mistake. I’ve never been to any casino, let alone that one. Somebody must have stolen my identity and run up this huge debt” he examined them. They were daily tallies of amounts, usually losses, and each bore his name and an account number at the top.

Returning to the letter, he carefully read it.

Dear Mr. Partridge:

As stated in our telephone conversation of June 4, we have not yet received your payment to cover your losses at our games for the month of May. In response to your request, attached please find copies of our records. Kindly remit by return mail no later than June 15.
It was signed by someone in accounts receivable.

In a panic, Clyde again scanned the letterhead, searching desperately for a telephone number. Finding one, he telephoned the casino and angrily demanded to speak with the Accounts Receivable manager. A few bars of soft music later, he was connected.

“Clyde Partridge here. I just received an invoice from you for some $51,000 dollars. I wish to tell you sir that I have never been in your casino before, so I don’t see how I could have incurred this great debt. You must have me confused with another Clyde Partridge.”

“Are you Mr. Clyde V. Partridge of Flaherty? You are? Well then Mr. Partridge, these amounts are indeed your responsibility.”

“But, I’ve never been in any sort of gambling establishment. I don’t know how to play poker. I’ve never even bought a lottery ticket before.”

“Oh no, Mr. Partridge, there’s no mistake. And by the way sir, these are not poker debts, these are Solitaire losses.”

“Solitaire? The only Solitaire I play is at home on my computer. I certainly wouldn’t go to a crowded room to play a game of Solitaire.”

“I understand that sir, but that Solitaire game on your computer is linked to our computers which keep track of your winnings and losses. If you had won, we’d have sent you a letter telling you that you had a large credit balance.”

“But, how is that possible? I have a computer, but I don’t have any form of internet access. And I’ve only had the Solitaire game about a week.”

“Yes sir. Isn’t wireless technology is marvellous.”

I was playing Vegas Solitaire one night (yes, and losing) when a fiction writer’s favourite words – “what if …” popped into my head. This is the result of that question.

Cat
Enjoy the rest of your week and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat

Word pictures

A friend told me she thought I could create equally vivid images with both my pen and my camera.  The header photo is an example of my photographic efforts.  Below is an example of my writing abilities – how a town was founded.  This has been extracted from a piece I’m working on. I’d appreciate feedback and comments on this.  Thanks.

After taking a sip of my drink, I said to him  “Yesterday you said you’ve been coming into the pharmacy for fifty years.  Could you give me a bit of the history of Fletcher’s Corners?   Looking around I get the impression that Fletcher’s Corners wasn’t always just a small town and I wouldn’t mind knowing more.”

He stared at me across the table and threw back his beer.  I signalled Bert to bring him another and after thanking me, he began.  “Well young lady, first off, how long have you been in town?”  I told him and he nodded.  “You friendly with many of the townsfolk?  I  allowed that Owen Fletcher and I occasionally went sailing together, admitting that was more because while I enjoyed sailing I didn’t own a boat, but “I wouldn’t call us buddy-buddy.”

Again he nodded.  “Good.”  He paused and finished off his beer.  Once more I signalled Bert.  “First off, what’s your name young lady?  I like to know the name of the person I’m talking with.”

I told him and he stuck his hand across the table and said “Pleased to meet you Patricia Keys.  I’m Walter Talbot, but folks just call me ‘Old Wally’.  You planning on changing the name of the store?”

That had originally been one of my first priorities, but other things had rearranged my list so that item was now well down and falling fast.  “No, I think I’ll leave it as ‘Robert’s Drugs’.  Everybody in town knows it as that and I’m not vain enough that I have to have my name on the store.”

Wally grunted.  “Good.  Bobby changed it when he took over and it took most of twenty years before folks here started calling it ‘Bobby’s’ instead of ‘Jackson’s’.  Don’t worry Pat, people here will know your name whether you advertise it or not.

“Now, Fletcher’s Corners.  The town was started a couple of hundred years ago by Owen Fletcher.  The present Owen Fletcher is his great-grandson.  Owen was a doctor of some sort – nobody ever saw a diploma, but back then this was mostly wilderness and if somebody said they were a doc, and their treatment didn’t kill you, their claim was accepted.  Anyway, Owen Fletcher married into money.  He bought a couple of sections of land here, then built a big house on the best land. That house is now the office building at the hospital.

” Anyway,  it seems that some of Owen’s in-laws were ‘tetched’ and Owen offered to put them up.  After all, his big house was almost empty, what with just him, Lavinia, his wife and their infant son and the company would be welcome.  The families offered to subsidize their relatives’ keep, so Owen wasn’t doing it just out of the goodness of his heart.  One thing led to another and before he knew it, friends of the family were asking for the same thing.  Of course since they had offered to pay him for the upkeep, he couldn’t say ‘no’.  Well, eventually his house began to get awful crowded.  Something happened one day, he never said what for sure and my granddaddy didn’t ask, and the next thing the town knew, Owen’s got contractors out there on the point putting up this huge dormitory.”

He paused for breath and another sip of beer and I glanced at my watch.  “Wally, I’ve got to get back to the shop.  After you’re finished here, could you come by and tell me more.”

Glancing around the room, which was now filling up with the lunch crowd, he said “Sure.  It’ll be a lot more private than this anyhow.”

Half an hour later Wally entered the store and looked furtively around.  “You alone?” he asked.

“Yes.  There’s no-one here except you and me and all these pills.”

“Good.  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah.

“As I said, Owen had this huge dormitory built to house all these relatives and friends of relatives.”  Nodding at the street through the window, he continued.  “That was the Post Road back when this place was founded.  First Avenue used to be the side road leading from the Post Road down to the landing.  The people Owen hired to work in the hospital built homes around the junction for the social aspects.  Life was a little easier if there were always people around other than the people you worked with.  Same thing’s still true.  As the hospital grew, more and more people moved in and soon we had people opening shops of all kinds.  At its peak, Fletcher’s Corners probably had close to twelve hundred people living here.  We had the usual greengrocers, milliners, a draper, a livery stable, two banks and a post office not to mention about ten or twelve taverns.

“The town pretty well kept its size until the railways and trucks started taking all the freight from the boats, then it shrunk.   The bypass pretty well spelled the end for a lot of the businesses, since they had relied a lot on the through traffic. Over the last ten or fifteen years though, its started growing again as people move out of the cities in search of a bit of peace and quiet.”

Just then the door opened and a couple entered and greeted me.  As I filled their prescription, they chatted pleasantly with me, totally ignoring Wally, sitting right beside them.  After they left, still not having acknowledged Wally’s existence, I asked him about it.

“Well, now’s about a good a time as any to get into the pecking order of Fletcher’s Corners.  Back then there were three main families:  The Fletchers naturally, since it was Owen’s business that was the main reason for the town; the Harrises – old man Harris owned the biggest tavern in town as well as running the post office; and the Talbots.”  I looked up in surprise.  Wally grinned and said  “Yup.  My grandfather ran the bank – the one that went out of business.   As I said, we had two banks here in town, the Talbot Bank, and one other one that became the current branch.  Fletcher kept the hospital accounts with the Talbot Bank until the major bank took over the other one, then changed.  The loss of those lucrative accounts resulted in grandpappy closing down.  Until then the Fletchers and the Talbots had been pretty close and just about ran Fletcher’s Corners as their private kingdom.   So, after the bank shut down, the Talbot’s opened an apothecary shop – this one.   I said that my grandfather ran one of the banks here and had a fair bit of power in the area.  As a matter of fact, before this place was called Fletcher’s Corners, people used to call it Talbot’s Corners.  But as more and more of the residents began to be Fletcher employees, it started being called Fletcher’s instead of Talbot’s.  I don’t mind really; having your family name on a village isn’t all that great.  People think that just because your name is the same as the village, you can fix up any little problem they may have.  But, I’m wandering here.  At one point, from what I’ve been told, both Owen Fletcher and my grandpappy decided that Malcolm Harris shouldn’t have the post office franchise as well as the tavern, so between them they convinced the government to give it to someone else.  As it turned out, Mal was making more from the post office than his tavern, so by taking it away, grandpappy and Fletcher had severely reduced his income.  Things got worse for the Harrises since Malcolm was a gambler who had more money than card sense and eventually he lost the tavern too.  Malcolm claimed that Owen Fletcher and Alexander Talbot had plotted against him just to gain control of the tavern.  It wasn’t true, or so my grandmother always told me, but the Harris family has had no time since for either the Talbots or the Fletchers.  Jack Richards there is a descendant of Malcolm Harris.  That’s why neither of them would even admit you had someone here with you.”  Wally glanced at the clock on the wall.  “I’ve been boring you long enough young lady.  If you’ve a mind, stop by Bert’s once you close this place and I’ll let you buy me another beer while I tell you more about this hellish place.”  And with that, he left.

Sound reasonable?  Let me know.  Thanks,

Cat.