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.



Various and sundry

1 – Still not old: Arthur C. Clarke is reported to have said “When my past becomes more fascinating than my future, I’m officially old.” Well, I’m in my seventies, but not yet ready to dwell in the past or sit and watch Jerry and Maury all day. I still want to know what’s beyond that next hill and what’s around that next bend. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

2 – Trump 1: Many people are upset that the apprentice president spends so much time golfing. Considering what happened in Hawaii over the weekend, we should all be glad he chose to do so this weekend. Can you imagine the carnage that might have resulted if he’d been aware of the false missile alert at the time it happened? He’d have issued the launch codes immediately and since it took 38 minutes to rescind the alert, missiles would have landed on Pyongyang before that happened. We wouldn’t be here to read this.

3 – Trump 2: His description of some other nations has rightfully caused indignation among those nations. Again this spotlights his general ignorance of the world and its history. Many of his so-called “shithole” nations have given the world brilliant scientists; brilliant writers and artists in all genres, as well as successful politicians and diplomats. According to historians, many of these nations, especially in Africa, were leading the world in science, mathematics and literature while Europeans were still living in caves. Can someone please prepare a picture book for the apprentice president so he may understand just how far off-base his comments really were.

While on the topic of things he said this past week, in an interview, he stated “I’m the best athlete, people don’t know that”.  Uh huh.  The man who evaded the draft because he had “bone spurs” is a great athlete.  Sorry, but was he lying about the “bone spurs”, the “best athelete”, or both.  My Money is on both.

4 – Rogers Communications: If you live in southern Ontario, you have probably had Rogers Communications inflicted upon you for your cable, phone and internet service. Personally, I switched my internet to someone else and have no problem with my landline (remember those?), but have serious doubts about their cable. Specifically the descriptions they use on some of the listings on their channel guide. Here are some recent examples of just how fanciful some programmes have been described.
Sanctuary, starring Amanda Tapping, has been described as “dealing with spiritual matters”. Excuse me? If you’re unfamiliar with the programme, it deals with a lady who offers safety to what many would consider monsters and freaks. Hardly spiritual.

The Magicians is another example, if you’ve watched the show, you know it deals with special people, teenagers, who have special abilities and is pure fantasy. This was described as a reality show.

Finally, the movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. I think we are all aware of this movie and its plot of a husband and wife team who are assassins hired to take each other out (no, not on a date). According to Rogers, this is about two forensic accountants investigating a company but neither is aware of the other’s existence or purpose in the company,

I have to ask myself if the people responsible for these descriptions live in hermetically sealed caves, for they seem to have never seen or heard of the programmes they’re describing. They also seem not to know whether a show is a new episode or a repeat. I’ve skipped shows not marked as “new” thinking they were reruns only to discover later they were the latest episode.

Okay, enough grumbling and venting. I hope your 2018 is off to a good start and stays that way. Remember to hug an artist, we need love too, no matter where we or our parents came from.


Get a life

Found an interesting article on the CTV news site this morning that really shows just how much people feel their standards should govern the lives of others.

Some idiot petitioned the Toronto Public Library system to remove a book from its shelves because they feel it is too violent. Well, that complaint has been registered before against various books, so it isn’t the first time the library has heard it. But it may be the first time the complaint has been lodged against a book by Dr Seuss.

That’s right. Someone well, here’s an excerpt from the article that explains it much better (and with less sarcasm) than I could manage:

A library patron asked the library’s materials review committee to pull “Hop on Pop,” a children’s classic written in 1963, because of the book’s violent themes.

The complainant said the book encouraged children to use violence against their fathers, according to the document that listed books patrons have asked to be pulled from Toronto Public Library shelves, which was posted online Monday.

The patron recommended the book be removed, and requested the Toronto Public Library not only apologize to Greater Toronto Area fathers but pay damages resulting from the book’s violent message.

The library said the book actually advises against hopping on pop and is keeping the book on its shelves.

Now, we’ve all heard the expression that someone lives in their own little world, but in my opinion, the person who complained about “Hop on Pop” is living in their own universe. My advice would be as the title of this posting suggests: get a life. Surely there are more important things to worry about than a children’s book.

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


Changes – real and fictional

I had to take a bus ride to a place a couple of towns over today.  Nice thing about being a passenger is that you get to see things you might otherwise miss and you can let your mind wander, which couldn’t be done while driving.

First I noticed the Hooter’s in Whitby is closed.  How many times do you hear of a place like that closing?   Not sure exactly what that means.  Should it be construed as a statement on the young women of Whitby?  Is it just a result of the state of the economy?  Or is it perhaps more a commentary on the male population of that town?

A little further west, I passed the local Ford dealer and noticed a row of bright shiny new Mustangs on display (dang- that new Shelby is really something.)  Seeing all the Mustangs, my mind jumped to “Spenser: For Hire”, the TV series with Robert Urich. (You don’t remember it?  You don’t? Just how old am I?)  In the series, the character drove a Mustang, wrecked it and got another ‘stang.  If you read the Robert B Parker stories, especially the older ones, Spenser doesn’t drive a Mustang – he drives a Subaru.  Makes sense when you think about it.  Being a private detective, at least as shown on television, sometimes involves surveillance.  What is going to blend into the scenery easier – a non-descript Subaru, or a flashy sports car?

From there, my mind made the leap to Bond, James Bond.  007 has become synonymous with Aston Martin.  Well, there was that brief excursion into BMW, but we’ll forget about that. In the novels, James didn’t drive an Aston Martin.  The first vehicle I can recall reading as James’s ride was a “Blower Bentley”, that is a Bentley with a supercharged engine.  I don’t know if Bentley has a supercharged model in their current lineup, but the cars themselves are beautiful and, from what I’ve read, fast and powerful.  Given that, isn’t it about time the movies considered putting James back in his proper set of wheels, perhaps a Continental GT or a Mulsanne?

Since it’s Easter, enjoy your long weekend, and remember to hug an artist – we need love  too (and a Bentley wouldn’t hurt either).


Writing 101 by Cat, or “What would I say?”

This is a repost from catsworld1

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 analyzing 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 analyze 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 analyzing how and why I write as I do for fear I’d end up like that centipede and forget how to write.

But, a few things from that thirty seconds may be worth repeating.  First, write the way you speak.  That’s the best advice I was ever given.  If you don’t use “ten dollar words” in your  everyday speech, don’t get all fancy when you’re writing, even if you can get those words in a “two for one” sale”. If you try to use words you’re unfamiliar with, you will probably use them in the wrong context, so my advice on that matter is simple: Don’t do it. The way I write is the way I speak.  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 paper (or screen – 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’ve upset someone, then I’ve done my job properly.  Of course that attitude is probably helped by being 68 and not really caring what others think of my opinions.

There you have it – Writing 101 by Cat.  I hope I’ve offered some suggestions you may not have considered.

To my followers and readers, enjoy the rest of your week and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.


Editing ain’t easy

A friend, Rusty Blackwood, has asked me to proofread her manuscript for “Passions in Paris: Revelations of a Lost Diary” and I’m flattered she asked me.

In addition to the various rants/ravings/reasoned discussions I post here, I also write so understand the time and effort it takes to create a 900 page manuscript.  I also understand the trepidation of letting another person, even another writer, “mess” with your work.  I’ve  had people proof some of my manuscripts, so I also know the questions that pop up in the mind of the writer, such as “how badly will they screw it up?” and “will I still recognize it when they’ve finished?”

Fortunately for me, Rusty’s language skills are good, which means my editing is mainly looking for the dreaded typos.  I may also make the occasional comment, or ask about her  phrasings in certain instances, but those are only suggestions.  By no means do I consider myself the arbiter of all things proper in the English language.  And of course, while doing so, I keep repeating to myself “don’t ruin her work”.

When you are proofreading someone else’s work, if you’re doing it correctly, you are more concerned with context as opposed to content.  Naturally the two are not mutually exclusive, but the reader must be more concerned with catching the misspellings (“I can spell, I just can’t type” is my usual excuse for those) than with the storyline itself.  From what I’ve read so far though, I can’t wait until Rusty publishes this so I can read it for pleasure.

Okay, back to my reading.  Enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist, no matter  what field of creativity – we need love too.


Comments on television

Lately I’ve been watching a series called “Ancient Aliens”.  The show deals with the possibility that many events in both earth’s and man’s history were caused or influenced by aliens.  In my opinion, the show is far too one-sided in that it only deals with the idea these theories are true without presenting any opposing views.

Tonight’s show, at one point, was talking about the beliefs of some religions that gods live in volcanoes.  As part of the “proof”, one of the people interviewed said something to the  effect that if the US government could hollow out a mountain near Colorado Springs and  build a secret base at Cheyenne Mountain, why couldn’t gods do it too?  Of course, his comments were accompanied with footage of the entrance to the mountain and photos of the NORAD operation inside it.  Come on now, how secret can it be?

I realized tonight that show could also be the basis for a drinking game.  Every time the narrator uses the phrase “ancient astronaut theorists”, you take a drink.  Just have a designated driver.

Another show I watched was “True Story”.  Tonight’s show looked at the actual science behind Michael Crichton’s book (and ensuing movie) “Jurassic Park”.  It isn’t yet possible  to extract dinosaur DNA, but they say it isn’t all that far off.  When asked whether, if we had the technology, we should clone dinosaurs, one scientist said “why not?”.  Another scientist, an archeologist, disagrees.

This archeologist holds that Michael Crichton got it right when he showed dinosaurs as being warm-blooded creatures who travelled in herds, were quite intelligent and hunted in packs.  His comment was “if you clone a dinosaur, it will start conniving, then it will eat you.”  Sounds serious, not very grateful on the part of the dinosaur, but serious.

The show also mentioned that dinosaurs still exist and are all around us.  They have compared dinosaur skeletons and fossils to the dinosaurs of today and feel they have sufficient proof to say that yes, they are still with us.  We call them “birds”. They interviewed one scientist who is studying chicken embryos and who has discovered that up to a certain stage of development, the chicken embryo has a tail similar to a dinosaur and the wing bones, before they fuse, have three claws, just as most dinosaurs did and vestigal teeth.  Another scientist pointed out that if you watch an emu walk through mud, the tracks are remarkably similar to dinosaur tracks they’ve found.  I’ll never feel the same about birds again.

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


The world in 500 words

A reader made comment that most of my postings are relatively short.  I wasn’t sure I agreed with that, so took a look at some of them and yes, they were right,  most of them are less than 500 words, in fact many are 300 words or less.  “Honestly, I don’t care” of October 5 is one of my longer efforts at 906 words. Then again, that one was admittedly written with much more passion than are most.  Read it and you’ll understand. Yesterday’s “‘He’s an innocent kid’” was also written with a fair bit of passion and it is only 291 words.

The reader didn’t say I’d left anything out, or failed to explain  my assertions, just that I didn’t really get overly wordy either.  Thinking about this, I think I understand why many of my pieces are short – complete, but short.  I worked in offices for years, where I frequently had to write letters to Canada Customs (or whatever they call it now) or insurance companies, among others.  Business letters, by their very nature, are short and sweet – just “hi – here’s my comments – ‘bye”. No excess verbiage, no fancy frills, something Joe Friday would like – just the facts. Part of my job involved damage inspections and filing reports with insurers and carriers.  Again, something that places a premium on brevity and clarity.  (Just an aside here. One thing I had to do an inspection on  was a 12″ round steel bar that had been somehow bent in transit.  Twelve inches thick, ten feet long and weighed something like 20,000 pounds.  I saw the damage, but given the size of the bar, I really, really wanted to see what had bent it.)

So, I would suspect that all those years of business letters and insurance reports have forever doomed me to “just the facts ma’am.”  Which may be fine for these posts – I can still try to present a balanced picture, or as balanced as an opinion piece can be – but it really plays havoc with my fiction writing.  More description would be allowable in writing fiction, yet whenever I try, I feel guilty – as if I’m trying to pad my word count.

Oh well, I’ll do what I can and if there are any questions, the readers can always ask.

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


MIdweek fiction from Cat “The Night Driver”

Everyone has lurking within them a bit of silliness that demands to be set free once in a while.  On one occasion, mine escaped while I was writing, so I decided to take on that most hackneyed of opening phrases, “It was a dark and stormy night … “. I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and picked up my pen.  The Night Driver is the result of my silly spell.

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.

“As I said, it was a night much like tonight and as usual, I was working the night shift, but in a cab for a change.  That I was even working that night was a fluke.  My usual job was night dispatcher and I was scheduled to be off, but a couple of drivers were out sick, so the owner took over dispatch and chased the night guy out into a cab and called me in to drive.  So, I got another chance to meet some of the people behind the addresses and voices I heard over the telephone.  It was also the last time I ever drove.

“I had just dropped a customer and decided it was time for coffee and a smoke, so I headed for my favourite coffee shop.  It has long been my view that people who work in the taxi industry, drivers or dispatchers, are fuelled by caffeine and nicotine and my tank needed refilling.  As the company has a strict policy against smoking and eating in the cars, I planned on a fifteen minute break.  At that time of morning, I knew the chances of getting a call were slight, so I wasn’t worried.

“Anyhow, I was cruising along quietly.  As usual whenever I drove in bad weather, the AM/FM was off, so the only noises in the cab were the rain pounding the roof and windshield; the wipers losing their battle to keep part of the windshield clear, and the occasional sound from the two-way.  The dispatcher called the code for the stand serving the area I was headed for.  Silence.  Then I heard ‘Car for the area.’  A couple of guys booked on the call but they were farther than I was.  I keyed the mike ‘21 – Parkway and Elm.’”

“‘21 – Parkway and Elm.  Anyone else?  Looks like you’re the lucky winner 21.  Parkway and Main.  Call me on the phone.’”

“‘Rog’, then I called the office.  While I punched the number, I tried to figure out who the hell would want a cab from that corner at two in the morning.  That was probably the most desolate spot in town at that time of night, with the shopping mall being the only thing there and it had closed two hours ago.  Perhaps the cops had stopped some guy who was now going home without his car while his car went to impound.

“‘City Cab’ Jerry answered.

“‘Hi Jer, it’s Sue, what’s up?’

“‘Sweet Sue, Queen of the Night.  Thanks for calling.  Listen, this sounds odd somehow.  Guy called from the theatre entrance at the mall.’

“‘Okay.  Kinda late, but maybe he’s one of the cleaners just finished.’

“‘Yeah, I know, but I didn’t recognize the voice as one of the usuals from there.  I don’t know Sue, the whole call made me edgy.  You know how you can usually hear some kind of background noise, or line noise, especially on nights like this, well, there was nothing like that at all.  Just dead silence until he spoke.  His voice gave me the creeps too.  It sounded dead – no emotion at all and it sounded like he was at the bottom of a deep well.  Just be careful, sweetie.  This one sounds weird.’

“‘Thanks Jerry.  My doors are locked and if I don’t like his looks, he ain’t gettin’ in darlin’ and I won’t care how hard it’s raining!  Did he say where he was going?’

“‘Uh, no, not exactly.  All he said was County Road 5.  Look Sue, this sounds like a setup for a robbery.  Do you want to pass the call?’

“‘No, I’ll take it.  Like I said, I’ll check him out first, then let you know.  I’ll radio in with the exact destination and I’ll call you again the instant I’m clear.  I promise.  I’ll use the usual codes if there’s trouble.’  Then I hung up, shaking my head at Jerry’s concern.  I should have taken his offer to pass the call, for although I didn’t know it, my night was about to get very strange.  I headed to Parkway and Main, humming to myself.

“What’s that you say?  ‘The usual codes?’  Oh that.  Well, Jerry and I had many discussions on this.  I always felt that when a driver called someone ‘a fare’, they are reducing the person to nothing more than a walking, talking ATM.  I always used ‘customer’ or ‘passenger’ for I felt it was more humanizing.  So, if Jerry, or any other dispatcher, heard me call someone a ‘fare’ they knew I was concerned about something.  And if they heard me, or any other driver, call in and give our car number in reverse – in my case, 12 instead of 21, they knew there was serious trouble and they should call the cops.

“As I pulled into the plaza, I saw someone standing near the theatre entrance, silhouetted against the lights from the poster boxes.  He was about six-four, skinny as a rake and neatly dressed, although his suit didn’t look like the latest style.  But, then again, who am I to judge?  When I drive a cab, I’m no fashion plate either.  He looked okay, so I swung the car up to him.

“‘Hi.  Sorry it took so long.  Where would you like to go?’

“He started at the sound of my voice and said ‘Oh!  I wasn’t expecting a female driver.’

“‘Well, we were short-staffed tonight, so the owner took dispatch and put me out here’ I explained.  ‘Now, where to?  The dispatcher said something about County Road 5?’

“‘Yes, County Road 5, number 5280.’

“‘Okay, that shouldn’t take too long’ I said as I grabbed the mike.  Jerry was right, this one was creepy.  ‘21, I have my fare.  Clearing at 5280 County 5.’

“‘Roger.  Watch the roads, I’ve had some reports of flooding.’

“‘21, flooding, roger’ I acknowledged and headed further out Main.

“As we drove, I kept an eye on my passenger.  ‘Odd’ didn’t begin to describe him. He looked like a tourist, the way he kept staring at everything, which wasn’t much in that part of town at night.

“I don’t know if all cab drivers do it, or if the dispatcher in me is responsible, but even if I have someone in the cab, I still pay attention to the radio.  That’s how I knew Jerry was really worried, for I heard him dispatch a couple of cars to the stands nearest my destination.  That area is about 90% residential, bordering on rural, so I knew it was a couple of hours before he could reasonably expect calls from there.  One of the drivers, George, the biggest pain in the butt to ever drive a cab, complained.  Jerry cut him off with ‘Car 10, call the office now!’

“The drivers at City Cab may have considered me the queen bitch of dispatch, but they had learned, first from me, then from the other dispatchers that when a dispatcher said ‘call the office now ’ in that tone of voice, they had better be punching the number into their cell phone with one hand while they acknowledged the order with the other because we didn’t say ‘now’ without a damned good reason.

“I never found out what Jerry said, but a couple of minutes later, I heard a very subdued George on the radio, mumbling ‘Car 10, roger.’

“As I said, the guy had been staring out the window ever since he got into the car.  He turned toward me and said in his dead voice ‘What was the purpose of that?’

“I wasn’t about to tell this guy that Jerry was worried about my safety, so he’d sent a couple of cars to stands close to my destination just in case they were needed.  I had heard the car numbers Jerry had sent and knew he’d picked the two biggest men working nights.  Instead, I gave him a song-and-dance that Jerry probably had a call that George didn’t particularly want.  I explained that most drivers, at least the good ones, developed a knowledge of call patterns.  In talking with each other, they relayed things like which calls were good; which calls were short runs, and who tipped well.  I told the guy George was more than likely trying to weasel out of a short call with a poor tipper.  I also mentally thanked Jerry, because this guy was really creeping me out.

“With this exchange, the guy got more talkative.  He began by making some comment about how small the town seemed, then mentioned that he didn’t recognize anything.  He had on odd way of talking – not the usual speech patterns I was accustomed to hearing, and don’t forget, as a dispatcher, I got to hear lots of accents and speech patterns.  His word selection was also slightly different – almost as if he’d learned English by reading a dictionary.

“By now we were approaching County 5 and I turned onto that road.  Just after I did, the car took a funny jump and shimmy, almost as if I’d hit a speed bump both too fast and at an angle, then settled down to its normal sounds and feel.  I’d been concentrating on the road – there were no lights on County 5 and I didn’t want to hit a rabbit or something larger, like a deer – I saw a car that did that once and it wasn’t a pretty sight – so it wasn’t until I heard that horrible graunching noise of wipers on dry windshield that I noticed the rain had stopped.  Looking around, I noticed the sky seemed lighter as well.

“‘That’s strange’ I said to the guy, ‘“two minutes ago we were in a downpour and now the road is bone-dry.’  As I said this, I spotted the entrance to 5280 and made to pull in.  He told me just to drop him at the end of the drive.  The lane was long and unpaved, so I said to him, ‘You sure?  Won’t cost any more to the house.’

“The house must have been a good half-mile from the road, but he told me he could use the walk.  He handed me a bill and told me to keep it.  As he was closing the door, he stopped, leaned in and, smiling slightly, said ‘In reference to your earlier comment about the weather, it never rains  here. Unless we want it to.  I advise you miss, for your own safety, to go back the way you came, without stopping, Thank you for the ride.’

“I pulled out of the mouth of the drive and keyed the mike.  ‘21, clear at 5280 County 5.’  Silence acknowledged me.  No static; none of the other cars; just – nothing.

“As I once again approached the intersection of 5 and Main, I could see no speed bumps or anything that could have caused the car to act as it had.  But, again the car did that weird little dance and suddenly I couldn’t see out the window for rain.  I stopped and looked in the mirror.  Rain was falling on a flooded County Road 5.

“The radio burst into life ‘21, are you out there?  Car 21, acknowledge.’  Jerry sounded frantic.

“I keyed the mike.  ‘21, I’m here and clear at Main and 5.’

“‘Thank God!  Sue, please call me immediately.’  The relief was evident in his voice.

“I still hadn’t moved from the intersection, which made it easier to acknowledge while I hit redial on the phone.  Jerry caught it during the first ring. ‘Sue!  Where the hell have you been for the last three hours?  I didn’t know what to think.  I sent George to look for you.  Not only couldn’t he find you, he says County Road 5 doesn’t have numbers that high.’

“‘Jerry, Jerry, calm down, you’ll have a heart attack.  Now what’s this about three hours?  It only took about twenty minutes.  And you know George couldn’t find his butt with both hands and a roadmap.’ I was getting seriously mad now.  ‘Even if he did miraculously find 5, he couldn’t have missed the place, not all lit up the way it was.’

“‘Okay.  Come on in.  I want to see for myself that you’re all right.’

“‘Jerry …’

“‘Don’t argue Sue, please. It’s just about shift change anyway.’

“I did a slow count to ten, then ‘Fine, I’ll come in.  Do you want coffee?’

“‘Hell, yeah!  I’d prefer something stronger, but coffee will do.’

“When I got to the office, Jerry just looked at me for a moment, then walked over and gave me a big hug.  Next he said ‘Okay, run through this for me.  You picked the guy up at the mall theatre entrance.  Then what?’

“I ran through the story for him, including the guy’s comment about George’s whining and the remark about how he didn’t recognize anything and finished by saying ‘Jerry, I’ve still got the bill he gave me.’

“Just then, George came in, saw me and said ‘I don’t know where the hell you were, but it sure wasn’t County 5.  There’s about a foot of water on it a quarter mile off Main.  Damn road’s a lake.’

“Jerry looked at me.

“‘Jerry, I was there.  The road was dry.  Look, here’s the money’ as I threw the bill on the desk.

“Jerry picked it up, looked at one side, then the other.  Still looking at the bill, in a quiet voice, he said ‘Sue, I believe you if you tell me you took this guy to County Road 5 but sweetie, I don’t think it was our County Road 5′ and he handed me the bill.

“The five a.m. news came on as I stared at the bank note with the big ‘20′ on it, the Parliament Building in Ottawa and bearing the legend ‘North American Federation of Canada’ and a date that won’t come about for a couple of millennia yet.

“After my shift, I went back to County 5.  George had been right – the road had about a foot of water over it, and the numbers stopped at 3500.

“So, take a look at this, then tell me – is it bull?”  I asked him as I fished the twenty out of my wallet.

He barely glanced at the banknote.  Instead, he thanked me for telling him the story then left a bill on the bar to cover the drinks, and walked out the door.

The barman came over and picked up the bill, then turned to me.  “Very funny Sue.”


“Isn’t this yours?” he said as he held up a bill identical to the one I still held in my hand.

When I drove a cab – number 21 – one of the other drivers referred to me as “The Queen of the Night.”


It isn’t romance

I recently posted an interview with author Rusty Blackwood.  A few days ago, Rusty posted the following, which I found interesting, on her website, and she has graciously allowed me to copy it here:

Posted on September 28, 2012 by Rusty Blackwood


What does it take for human beings ( in this case the reading public) to  possess even the slightest possibility of a brain cell in the area of reading genres to FINALLY realize, let alone understand that erotica is NOT romance? What is the matter with everyone? Are you just one of the millions of mindless brain-washed zombies who have just got to have the latest hype in words regardless of what that might be, or how utterly mistaken the branding is? Honestly!

As a writer of romance I, and countless other writers – hard working writers who actually strive for something worth putting our name on; something to be proud of, something which carries our emotions, hard work and sweat in order to obtain a well crafted piece – only to find this continued outrageous nonsense surrounding this ‘erotic story’ – yes, that’s all it is – erotica – NOT romance – far from it – the two are in no-way connected nor are they the same. For crying out loud people if you can’t get it straight then at least get a clue!

Everyone is entitled to their opinion – just as I am – but as the title of this post says:  PEOPLE — ENOUGH ALREADY!!!! When it comes to actual romance, erotica, and the writing of such is 50 Shades AWAY!

As always, support your local authors ( regardless of genre) as well as all local talent in the Arts.


Unfortunately for writers such as Rusty and I, many people don’t want to read something that will require them to use their brain, they’d rather have things spelled out for them. The quality of the writing does not enter into the decision of what to buy and read. That decision is mostly influenced by word of mouth – what everyone’s talking about. All they want is titillation, and 50 Shades apparently provides that in spades, although from reviews I’ve read, the quality of the writing itself isn’t that good. The popularity of this series seems to be based more on the effectiveness of the hype and the rumoured kinkiness in it than any literary qualities.

Thinking again about what Rusty wrote yes, romance novels may contain elements of erotica but only if it comes as a natural progression of the romance. On the other hand, books that have the main characters simply jumping from bed to bed, possibly stopping along the way for some , umm … “interesting” diversions contain no elements of romance and very little in the way of plot development.  They are “erotica”, in other words what some would call “soft porn” or “smut”.  But one thing they are not are romance novels.

There are many examples of romance novels and romance writers, Rusty among them, who do not see the need to resort to “erotica” to make their novels more acceptable.  Their writing holds the readers interest and, unlike books like “50 Shades”, they require the reader to use their imaginations.  Writing in a fashion that leaves things unsaid, left to the readers’ imaginations, isn’t as easy as it sounds.  It is actually easier to describe events and locations in detail than it is to just hint at what’s happening.  That ability to entice readers with subtle clues as to what is going on and make it sound believable is the mark of a good writer.  Anyone can describe in detail, but that isn’t writing, that’s just reporting.

As a writer, I credit my readers with intelligence – after all, they are reading my writings – and therefore feel they are capable of using their minds and imaginations.  Here is a description from a piece I’m still writing:  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.  I could have gone into much greater description, for this was based on an actual place, but by leaving it as I did, I’m encouraging the reader to “fill in the blanks” with scenes from their own lives.  And that is also the main difference between romance and erotica.  In erotica, there are no blanks to fill in.

As Rusty wrote above “People – enough already”.  Learn to tell the difference.