Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Flu Shot Day

Today was flu shot day. It was also "husband is home and doesn't know what to do with himself day," which means I was a little out of sorts myself.

Tomorrow, hopefully, we will be both be back on our schedules.

I found out early this morning that my name is going to be in a book called Xena: Their Courage Changed the World, which is about the Xena fandom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I am mentioned because of my involvement in, a website devoted to all things Xena: Warrior Princess. I wrote many show synopses for the show, a few articles for the website, and also did some editing for the website owner.

That was exciting news.

I meant to blog earlier but things were simply out of my hands today.

So here's a new song by Sheryl Crow that I really like.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

I Miss School

I miss college. I miss the atmosphere, the ideas, the notion that there is a world where positive change is possible.

I hate living in this new world that evil has created, the one where everyone is angry, people are dying, and the life is being sucked out of everyone by a bully who thinks he can become the dictator of the USA.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending 45 minutes with one of my former professors in a webinar, along with many other Hollins students (most, I am sure, were former students of hers), and it was 45 minutes of bliss - the kind of relaxation I haven't felt in months (years?).

I felt at home. How nice to have a conversation about writing, about ideas, about creativity. A conversation that did not involve politics, stupid flags, police states, or the cost of pork and other meats. How beautiful to see the sparkle in my old professor's eye as she talked about her creative process, her work habits. How amazing to hear the solemn joy in her voice as she read one of her poems to us. How utterly decadent to spend 45 minutes doing something I loved, instead of the things I must do (like laundry).

How wonderful a campus is, where you can mention Rilke or Descartes, or talk about Sisyphus, and somebody knows what you're talking about. It's a place where ideas go to find their owners, because people on campus are creative learners, who want to learn, and they are seekers of truths and knowledge. They value knowledge and learning. They don't think that opinion is the same as fact; they understand the difference.

God, I miss college.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

A Writer's Routine

It's not quite like that . . . but then again . . . maybe.

Swiped this from Writer Nation: Marketing Advice & Tips for Writers on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Artemis Journal Launch

I don't know how other literary magazines present themselves to the world, but the Artemis journal has a "launch" at the Taubman Museum, which is in Roanoke City.

Friday night they had this launch, and several poets read their poems. They were accompanied by classical music and by ballet dancers interpreting their words.

It was rather beautiful, actually.

Here we are for our big night on the town.

This was an interpretation of a poem about baking bread.

This was an interpretation of a found poem, a memorial to the poet, who passed away.

The poet readers with their dancers.

I can't remember what this dancer was interpreting.

Unfortunately, I did not get names. I was there to enjoy, not report.

My iPhone does not serve the functions I need it for at various events. I've discovered while trying to use it at supervisors' meetings, at my niece's dance recital, and now at this event, that it simply does not replace a decent camera. I have older cameras that would have taken better photos than these. I think the iPhone camera actually tries to do too much - and you end up with less. It is okay if that is all I have on me, as I did this night, but honestly I am not impressed with the photos. I was when I first purchased the phone, but after a few software upgrades, in my opinion Apple has made the process of taking a decent photo worse.

The event was very well attended, especially for a Friday night with downpouring rain.  I saw several people I know and who I hadn't seen for a long time. I used to attend these kinds of events more regularly but I haven't been to readings for many years. Hollins offers all sorts of cultural activities free to the public but because of my health I haven't been for some time. The campus is difficult to reach and while it is doable, I have to really want to go to something to get there.

Downtown Roanoke is also not my favorite place to go. I think this was the first time I'd been downtown in several years. I was surprised at how busy it was as I can remember when downtown was a ghost town after hours, for the most part. The place is full of bars and eateries now; not my scene, really. I'd rather be home with a book.

I think, though, I probably need to try to attend more of the readings at Hollins again. That's a nice goal, to feel well enough to do that. I enjoyed this event and I am glad we went.

And I really appreciate the fact that my husband went with me.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Poem in Artemis

I have had a poem published in Artemis, which is a well-known literary journal published in Roanoke.

Artemis has been around for 42 years, although it took a hiatus in 2000 before resuming publication again in 2013. I worked as a copy editor on the magazine one year, a very long time ago - like 1989 or thereabouts. But I never submitted to the journal before.

I entered three poems and they chose the one I did not expect them to choose. The poem, Daughter by the Tomb, is a quiet villanelle, a form poem. While it is a good poem it was not the one I considered the best of my entries, but in reviewing the magazine I see that this poem fits in better with the other items in the magazine.

Artemis uses art to add to its attractiveness. This year the cover was by Sally Mann. The work of famous poets such as Nikki Giovanni is intertwined with unknown poets, such as myself. The mix of art and poetry makes this a unique magazine with great appeal.

The theme for this year was Women Hold Up Half the Sky.

The magazine can be purchased at It is $20 for a soft cover edition or $30 for a hard bound version.

My poem is on page 72, eloquently set off by the art of Judith Starchild.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

The Rowling Effect

There's a tendency among writers today to make a sudden jump at the end of their book. Maybe they take us forward 20 years or all the way to the death of the protagonist.

Unfortunately, these generally ruin the book. The book likely should end before this jump occurs.

I call it the "Rowling effect" because that is what J. K. Rowling did in the last Harry Potter book of the series. Fans will recall that she ends the book and then has a final chapter that explains how Harry and friends grew up, married, had children, etc.

Blah. It was an excruciating chapter that should have been left out of the story.

The last book I read that did this was When the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. It wasn't a bad book - until the very end.

Then it jumped ahead about 35 years to the death of the protagonist and a relatively unbelievable revelation that the reader had figured out long before.

I see this more now than I used to, and I think Rowling's the reason. She made it okay to ruin a book's ending. She made it fine for an author not to figure out where the story really should be completed.

But it is not fine. A good ending can make a bad book better, but a bad ending can not help anything. At best, it makes a great book a little less great.

The ending should do no more than wrap up a few loose ends and show the ending of that portion of the protagonist's journey. If the rest of the protagonist's life is one big bore, we don't need to know that.

Wrapping up a book - or a TV series - with a bad ending is like putting a match to a stick. It was a good stick until you lit the match. Now you have a good stick that is burned and not so good anymore.

I could argue that Game of Thrones fits this scenario, too, with it's not-so-great final episode, but it did wrap up loose ends, and it ended the journey of its protagonists. In that show, it was the Stark children who ultimately were the protagonists, but in a show with so many characters it was never clear who the protagonist was. As people died off one by one and the story continued, one had to determine that the protagonist was someone left alive, or else conventional story techniques had been waylaid and perhaps the land itself was the protagonist, in which case anything goes, I suppose. In the end, though, we are left with several protagonists, all beginning new quests. Jon goes to live with the Free Folk, Sansa becomes Queen of the North, Bran the Broken is King of the Six Realms, and Arya sails off to the edge of the map. Their journey's aren't over. So this was, by my standards, a good ending because I didn't see the protagonists years later, dying or old or whatever their ultimate destinies may be. I can still think about them, maybe consider a day when the siblings are reunited - or not.

Big Bang Theory is a TV series that ended well. It wrapped up most loose ends - but not quite all - but still gave the viewer a reason to wonder about the characters. When you have something else to think about - will Raj ever marry, for example - then you have a good ending. These folks will go on with their lives, eating pizza on specific nights and doing their jobs. They may end up destitute or homeless or they may go on to do very great things (which most them already had done anyway). This part of their journey was done, though. The audience didn't need to know more.

Maybe what I'm trying to say is that when a book ends, there shouldn't be an absolute end. If the protagonist dies at the end, there's nothing left to think about. The journey is over. I'm not sure books should end in that fashion. I like to think of more journey's ahead, more adventures, more growth of character.

Endings can mess up a book, but that's because the book isn't about the ending. The book is about the story. It's about the getting to the end, much like life is about its journey, not the final breath. If the ending messes up the story, then it's not the right place to end.

And that's the end of all I have to say about that. For now.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

May Dreams



 Ah, a new month. Another time to look at the self and consider renewal, or perhaps a time to look back and see where you've been. The first day is all in how you look at it, I suppose.

I am going to look at dreams today. I am still young enough to dream, to think that someday I might . . . what? What ARE my dreams?

My dreams, those real things I have at night, have generally been the stuff of horror films and freak shows. Full of dark things, real and unreal, making for long nights with real screams and wakings covered in sweat.

But those secret dreams - those things held close and dear, what of those? Those dreams of a husband, a house, all of that - I have those old dreams and desires. Dreams achieved.

Being a writer was always the number one dream, and I have obtained that, as well. But not the book. Still haven't written a book and I don't know that I ever will. I have written thousands of articles - there are thousands of entries in this blog, even.

I never wanted to write the Great American Novel anyway. I wanted to write . . . Nancy Drew books. I wanted to be a hack. I wanted to write under a pseudonym and write adventure stories for young women who would grow up to be senators and presidents, CEOs and leaders.

Then I went to college and I'm pretty sure that deflated that dream. Because at college, you were supposed to want to write literature (with a capital "L") - or poetry - or something else similarly "up there."

Sometimes I have written things that are "up there." I've won contests and published poetry. But I loved writing articles for the local paper. Loved it better'n chocolate even, and that's sayin' a lot.

Now that is (mostly) over, and I keep trying to turn my attention and talents elsewhere, only to be dragged back into articles and writing history pieces or doing the things I thought I was moving away from. A sign? Maybe. An inability to move forward? Maybe a little.

After all, I honestly don't know how to go about being a Nancy Drew ghost writer. For one thing, I don't think I could write for young women now. I am an older woman and I've never been around children much. I think there are basic desires and hopes all people have, and I could translate those into something, but I'd have to set them in the 1970s or some time that I am familiar with. I don't talk the language of the youth of today.

So no young adult unless perhaps I wrote a fantasy, where the language would be my own anyway, and only those basic desires, needs, and wants would be what mattered.

They are probably all that matter in any story. They are all that matter in dreams, I daresay.

So right now I am doing, not dreaming. Moving along trying to work on a project that is as scary as it is exhilarating. A time-consuming project at that, one that is forcing me to restructure my days and find a new rhythm. This is not a bad thing, just a different thing. Change is always needed and necessary for growth.

My dreams are in a growth phase, I think. Hiding behind the waning side of the moon, perhaps to pop out at me when the brightest star reaches its zenith. How will I know when I see it, I wonder? Will it grab me by the throat and shake me, saying, "Now!"? Or will it sneak up behind and whisper softly, caressing my neck, sending shivers down my spine, an idea that winds its way through my heart and into my soul until I can't stand not to deliver on it?

Friday, December 21, 2018

End of an Era (?)

Today is the day that the editor of The Fincastle Herald, Ed McCoy, steps down from his 34-year journey as the news guide for the county. He began working for The Herald in August, 1984, and I started freelancing for him in October, 1984.

So we have known each other a very long time, and over the years I like to think we have become friends. He's grown a bit more libertarian in his thinking as he's aged and I've grown a bit more liberal, so sometimes our political discussions can be entertaining, but they were always thought-provoking.

My first article for Ed was about making apple butter. His criticism of the story was this: it's great writing, but there isn't any "you" in the story. None of my personality came through.

I learned to deal with that by coming up with entertaining ledes to articles (that's the opening sentence to non-newspaper folks) and then going on mostly with "just the facts." I tend to be a just-the-facts kind of writer but Ed did bring out the best in my work. He was a good editor and I learned how to give a story life under his tutelage. He taught me as much as any of my professors at Hollins. Maybe more.

Stories that I remember best include one about two sisters who played basketball, which I started out with, "It must be the Tootsie Rolls," because the two girls ate the candies before games, going up in a hot air balloon, a series I wrote in Craig County about the state of the community over there and what would happen if a county went bankrupt (something that looked very likely at that time), a story I wrote about the Social Services Angel Tree that ultimately brought in $15,000 in donations, a story about the possibility of Nestle' bringing a water bottling facility to the area, and oh gosh, I wrote so many I can't possibly remember them all or pick out a best one. There were literally thousands of them.

Ed challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone, sending me on stories I'd have preferred not to write. (I never did like to write stories that tore at my heart, the ones about sick people or people fighting the tough fight against an illness or whatever.) I wrote them anyway and always did a good job with them, usually better than I ever thought I would, because I had Ed to talk it over with before I started the article. Once I had the slant, which in the early days I often needed help finding, I could move forward and create a moving piece.

As I aged and felt more comfortable with my talent and work, I turned down stories occasionally, mostly those that involved children at the schools because I became ill every time I entered a classroom. Finally, I settled into what seemed to be my forte', government writing. That suited my "just the facts" style and allowed me to feel like I was contributing something to the community by educating them about what is going on in their county.

My editor and I had many long discussions about what was going on in Botetourt. We argued with the county over Freedom of Information Act issues, and we discussed in detail how and what we should write. We profiled person after person and multiple businesses - you can find copies of the article I wrote and he edited and published hanging on the walls of many businesses in Botetourt. Just last week someone I'd written a story about told me they had the article hanging on the wall of their home. I'm sure there are just as many with his byline hanging on the walls of businesses and homes, too.

Ed and I both love history and I wrote many pieces about the multitude of historic legacies Botetourt County has to offer, as did he and other writers. Ed actually turned a series of stories about the Civil War into a magazine/book and he gave me kudos in his preface for my help over the years, which I greatly appreciated.

When I was 10 years old I said I wanted to be the editor of The Fincastle Herald. That apparently was not to be - health issues kept me from applying for his position this time, and previous opportunities never came about when I could manage it - the last one being shortly after my mother passed away in 2000. After that the newspaper, like so many others, fell upon difficult times and I was lucky to freelance for the paper for as long as I did (I stopped in 2016, although this past September I filled in for a week while Ed took a 10-day vacation.).

However, Ed gave me the opportunity to cover the county, and the chance to fill the paper with my byline, and I will always be grateful to him for that. Because he believed I could do it, I can call myself a professional writer.

Thanks for allowing me to be a freelancer for The Fincastle Herald, Ed. May your retirement be filled with lots of hunting and good times.

Ed with his camera (2016)

Ed received a proclamation from the Board of Supervisors for his long service to the community on 12/20/2018. Pictured from left: Steve Clinton, Mac Scothorn, Ed McCoy, Billy Martin, Ray Sloan.

Ed with Supervisor Mac Scothorn. Ed called Botetourt County a great place to work, full of
beautiful lands and wonderful people.

I had to laugh because even though today (12/21) is technically Ed's last day of work, yesterday he was still taking notes like a good reporter at a meeting. (I confess I do the same.)

Monday, December 03, 2018

Grasping Literal and Figurative

A few weeks ago on Bill Maher on HBO, the host raised up a book at the end of the show. It was titled, 14,000 things to be happy about, by Barbara Ann Kipfer. He read off a few items and said something along the lines of, "talk about that shit, not politics, during the holidays."

I promptly went to Amazon and ordered the book, as, apparently, did many thousands of others because the thing was quickly backordered and it took a while to receive it.

I've been having trouble lately coming up with things to write about, because, let's face it, I'm sitting on my butt and things are kind of boring right now and how many times can I kvetch about the fact that I didn't get my hardwood flooring because nobody wants to work or do a proper job anymore. Plus the holidays are coming up and I don't want to be depressing. All you have to do is read the news for that.

I am not sure why people read my blog (thank you, dear readers) but I don't think it is for any of those things on a long-term basis. (You probably come for the photos, right? Am I right?) Yet I also think that, given my history of almost-daily writing, I owe you something new most days, if not every day.

Anyway, I'm going to pick a topic out of this book when I want to write something and nothing comes to mind, simply by opening up a page.

Grasping literal and figurative was the item that caught my eye on page 162 of the list of 14,000 things to be happy about.

Now what the heck does this mean, grasping literal and figurative?

First, dictionary definitions.

Literal:  1. taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory. "dreadful in its literal sense, full of dread"; 2.(of a translation) representing the exact words of the original text. (synonyms: word-for-word · verbatim · line-for-line · letter-for-letter · exact · precise) 3.(of a person or performance) lacking imagination; prosaic. (synonyms: literal-minded · down-to-earth · factual · matter-of-fact · no-nonsense)  -- (FYI: prosaic means "lacking poetic beauty, commonplace, unromantic.")

Figurative: 1. of the  nature  of or involving  a figure of speech, especially  a metaphor;  metaphorical  and  not  literal: example: The  word  “head”  has  several  figurative  senses,  as in “She's  the  head  of the  company.” 2. metaphorically so called: His  remark  was  a figurative  boomerang. 3. abounding  in or fond  of figures  of speech: Elizabethan  poetry  is highly  figurative.

So, literal means literal. Figurative means something other than not literal, though. It's not exactly it's opposite. Is it?

If I say, "wood is hard," then that's literal.

If I say, "wood is like a dead, dull heart in the chest of a murderer" then that's figurative. I am making the assumption that a murderer has a hard heart, which I am then comparing to wood.

This is a difficult concept to write about and to understand. People use the word "literally" incorrectly with frequency. "I literally ran faster than the speeding train to get to my job on time" is not a true statement - it's an overkill use of the word "literal" because of course you didn't actually run as fast as a speeding train. You're throwing in "literally" as an adverb to overstate your case for the fact that you were almost late for work.

The sentence itself could be figurative: I ran faster than a speeding train to catch the bus so I could get to my job on time" is figurative. (It's also very Superman-ish, isn't it?)

So when reading a news story, one would think everything in it would be literal, but over time we've come to accept more and more a figurative way of describing things. Let me go find an article and let's look at it.

I went to Bing and here's the first story on the page:

The Latest: Federal Courthouse closed in Alaska after quake.

What in this story could be figurative?

"rocked a wide swath" - possibly.

"frayed the nerves of quake-weary Alaskans" - figurative and also a cliché.

Everything else, though, is pretty literal. No heat in the courthouse. The 7.0 earthquake caused widespread damage.

That was pretty easy. But in opinion, which unfortunately most of the 24-hour news consists of, it is not so easy to distinguish. This is especially true if we're listening and not reading. It is much easier to see figurative speech in writing than to catch it when we're listening. Let's be honest: most of us listen with only half an ear anyway. (Did you see what I did there? Is that "half an ear" literal or figurative?)

If you think you know a rose when you hear it, consider if this is actually true. Sometimes roses turn out to be skunks in disguise.

Maybe this is something to think about the next time you want to ponder. Was what you heard opinion? Was it fact? Was it literal? Was it figurative?

Congratulate yourself if you can figure out the difference.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Landing a Job When the Ads Are Gone

Not so long ago, or maybe now it was a lifetime ago, I never had trouble finding a job.

I was a speedy typist (95+ wpm) on an IBM Selectric II and as computers came onto the stage, I became a whiz at WordPerfect. I could do anything in WordPerfect in 1991. I could even do a little DOS programming if I had to.

Work was something I did because I felt I should, and while I didn't exactly know what I wanted to be - (a novelist, I always thought, though apparently not) - I had marketable skills that meant nearly very time I sent out a resume to a blind box advertisement in the jobs section of the newspaper, I at least merited an interview, if not the job.

My health caused me to change jobs more frequently than I liked. Unfortunately employers aren't very understanding when you need to take six weeks to recover from unexpected abdominal surgery, and that cut into my longevity with bosses a few times.

But I never worried about it. I took out the ol' job section, put a red circle around the openings that looked interesting to me, and sent off a resume. I was never out of work long.

Then the migraines came in the mid-1990s, and I realized after a while that I was not able to stay in a prolonged employment situation because let's face it, you can't do a decent job if you're sick three days out of every week. That was how frequently I was having migraines, and for how long. Three days. I would work through the headaches as much as I could, but I made mistakes when I felt bad, and I obviously wasn't able to give my best - well, I always gave my best at the time, but that "best" certainly couldn't measure up to the "best" before the migraines.

So I switched to freelancing for the local newspaper and other publications. It did not pay well, but it kept me busy. I could work when I felt like it and shut the blinds when I could no longer stand the light, and I was a good reporter. I wrote my little heart out and invested my soul in my words and in making educating the people via my sentences my life's work.

Then stuff happened. I'd put most of my effort into one basket, and that basket was bought and sold and it went bankrupt, and while it stayed afloat I lost that basket as a client. I wrote for other local publications for a while to fill the void but the economy was tanking and journalists locally were losing work and the competition became stiffer and I discovered I disliked writing for publications that were slanted a certain way. I also discovered that some local publications would just as soon steal your work and send you on your way than pay you.

I went back to college and earned my masters degree. I thought I'd teach at the college level, and I started out doing some adult learning programs and they were going along fine. Then I had another surgery.

Five years out I'm still not well. I have good days though, and on those days I think about going back to work. I think about freelancing, and the landscape looks even worse than it did in 2010, with fewer publications and many more that are slanted and not objective. I'm an objective journalist, or I was, anyway, and I find the slant eats at my soul. I want to keep my soul intact, thank you very much, so if I am going to hang on to my scruples I either need to take my freelancing to a more national level (which is a scary-as-hell thought, especially since I don't know how well I'd hold up under the strain of a major publication deadline) to find the more objective publications or I need to find a part-time job doing something to fill the time and help pay the cellphone bill.

Finding something part-time sounds easiest, but you know what? I don't know how to find a job anymore. There aren't any jobs in the local newspaper. Well, the newspaper advertises jobs for itself, if you want to be a circulation manage (which I don't), but if I wanted to know if there was a part-time job at some insurance company in Daleville, at the moment the only way I know to find out is to walk in the place and ask.

Looking for work is a whole new ballgame in our brave new world. Now you do it all online and you have to figure out which company is the best fit for you, not the other way around, although you still have to offer the company something that benefits them. It feels backwards from the way it used to be, when I could go to an interview and say, "I am an earnest worker, I always do my best, I type 95 wpm with 99% accuracy, I have a nice telephone voice, and I would like to help your company move forward." That is no longer good enough.

Now you interview the company first, sort of, online, to see if you want to work there, and then you send in an application (online) and hope to hear from somebody.

So here I sit with a masters degree and a sometimes desire to work that maybe could turn into a full-time desire if I actually found something part-time, but I don't know how to even begin the job search. Heck, resumes aren't even what they used to be. Which reminds me, I need a new one. Better add that to my "to do" list.

If you type in "how to find a job" you don't get a lot of help. There's no method to searching for work anymore, especially if you're, ahem, in the elder age brackets. Maybe things are different if you're jumping right of college where there are job assistance programs and such.

Finding a part-time work is actually a lot like freelancing. You send out queries when you freelance until you find the right editor who wants your work. Same now with resumes. You send one out until you find the right person.

But it sure seemed easier when all I had to do was put a red circle around the advertisement in the newspaper, address an envelope, slip in my resume, and wait for the response.

Friday, February 02, 2018

I Blame Rowling

Recently I read two books, one completely self-published and another that was published through what is an imprint of Amazon publishing.

The completely self-published book, Haven, by Kate Roshon, was well-done although I could see where it could have benefited from an editor. There were very few typographical errors, which was great, but there were a few areas where I wanted to say "show don't tell." However, it was a good story and I applaud the author (whose husband plays in a video game with me, just so you know), for nice work. For a totally self-published book, this was good and well done, and one of the few self-published books I would recommend if you read science fiction. If I should chose to publish in this manner, I can only hope I do as well with all of the editing and creating a cover and all that goes into making such a book.

Haven was a dystopian tale with hope. I'll leave it at that because I don't want to give away much of the story.

The other book went through a total editing process with a team of editors via Amazon. The book was free to me as a Kindle First book (if you belong to Prime, you get a free book at the beginning of each month; the books so far have all been from Amazon's own publishing imprint, Lake Union Publishing). Daughters of the Night Sky, by Aimee K. Runyon, was a historical tale about women who flew planes for Russia during World War II. It was an interesting fictional look at a historical fact I knew nothing about, and I enjoyed the read.

However, both of the books had what I have come to call the Rowling Syndrome. It's actually a literary device known as an epilogue. She didn't invent it and it is not unique to her, but the ending of her series of children's books is the most famous example I can think of.

In J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling ended the story (and series) not where it should have ended - with Hogwarts retaken, the Death Eaters defeated, and Harry saving the world, but with an epilogue that I (and a few others) disliked. The epilogue took away any imagination of the characters' future lives by writing about how Harry married Gini and Ron married Hermione and they had little kids and lived happily ever after.

These two books I recently read had the same sort of endings. The stories reached points where they should have ended, but the authors went forward in time to each main character's old age and showed how their life played out.

I know some people like this kind of completeness in an ending, but I rather prefer the idea of the story ending in a good place - but with room left for one to imagine what else might have happened, rather than being told how things went on to end.

In Harry Potter, for example, I would have preferred to not know who married whom, or what they ended up doing with their lives. I would have liked to have imagined that for myself (and I would never have married Hermione to Ron). It is the same with these two books I just read. I'd rather have imagined the futures of the two women in each story from a certain point, and not seen how things turned out for them.

Sometimes it is good to let the reader use her imagination. If the character has any appeal, I like to fantasize about what might have happened, who she ended up with, how the rest of her life might have played out. Having it all laid out for me there on the page seems to take something from me.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Language We Use

I have been thinking a lot about language lately.

My mother hated to be called "lady." As in, "Hey lady, you forgot your grocery bag!" or something. She said that lady was the name of a dog.

I rather like being called lady. For one thing, it doesn't have "man" in it - as in "wo-man." My Shorter Oxford says "woman" is now frequently used pejoratively, as in, "Woman, bring me some more bacon." It is an old word, dating back to Old English and beyond, and mostly refers to "wife."

I think "lady" denotes a better since of personhood, a human being of the feminine (I also like "feminine" better than "fe-male" for similar reasons). It is also an ancient word, but of higher status than "woman."

Okay, so I am being picky. But language is important, in spite of those who are now eschewing education and other forms of higher learning.

For example, our illustrious curse-word-user-in-chief called a bunch of football players sons-of-bitches.

That particular bad language is a throwback on women. Because bitches are female dogs. And bitch is the word most often used with women. Misogynists like to talk like that.

I mean, he could have called them dickheads. Or penis brains. Or assholes. Everybody has one of those; sex is irrelevant there.

There is also that nice word "bastard," which again is a throw-back to the mother. This is Old French, and it refers to someone born out of wedlock, an "illegitimate" child. Which in an of itself is a freaky thing to think, that a person is "illegitimate" for any reason.

Other words like fuck or screw, also refer to violation of a woman.

Think about it. Can you name a curse word that doesn't refer back to the female? I can't, except for maybe "damn." I suppose the curse-word-user-in-chief could have called them dickheads. Or penis brains. Or assholes. Everybody has one of those; sex is irrelevant there.

Our words matter. Language matters. It is being dumbed down every day and we have limited our sentences to 140 characters (that is now 280 as of November 2017 - somebody at twitter decided we needed to be able to complete a sentence, perhaps. Or maybe they hoped it would help the twitter-in-chief write more legibly.).

I am a writer, and when I misuse the language, 999 times out of 1000, it is intentional. I'm doing it to achieve a specific goal. But many people misuse language without thinking about it. Sometimes it turns out ok.

But then other times, you're calling the mothers of football players doggies, and that's just not the thing to do.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Just What is Fake Media?

Everywhere I look these days, I see someone write about the fake media. "I don't trust the media," they say.

"It's all fake," they say.

Just out of curiosity, how long have you not trusted the media?

Was it before our current president started calling it fake news?

Maybe it was when Fox came to town and changed the dialogue to one of opinion instead of facts?

Was it when Dan Rather broke the story about George Bush's lackadaisical service in the Texas Air National Guard,  and was then ran out of broadcasting? (A story that to this day has never been proven true or false, by the way.)

Do you not trust the media because big corporations own most of it?

Maybe it's because Judith Miller at the New York Times reported about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - weapons that the federal government insisted were there?

Is it because Rachel Maddow is one of the smartest person on the planet? Or may you simply think she's overrated?

Do you only mistrust MSNBC and CNN, or do you include ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX in your "fake news" mantra?

Do you mistrust the White House page on Facebook, which as of today has turned into a massive propaganda machine, the likes of which even Edward Louis James Bernays (November 22, 1891 − March 9, 1995), an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, who is often called "the father of public relations," would applaud and Hitler would salute? Or do you trust that?

Do you trust newspapers more than TV, or the other way around?

Do you trust Rush Limbaugh over someone else? Why would you trust the opinion of a single person, regardless of who he/she is, over anyone else, anyway?

I used to be in the media, so I am genuinely curious. People tell me all the time they don't trust the media, but I have yet to have anyone explain to me exactly why they don't trust it.

"Because I think it is one-sided/liberal" is not a good answer unless that can be backed up with fact, and so far no one has been able to back it up with facts, at least, not to me. Just because someone doesn't like what the media reports doesn't make it one-side or leaning in one direction. Just because one reporter messes up doesn't make it all wrong.

The media is not liberal, that's simply opinion, an opinion that's been chanted long and loud for far too long, but still not a fact. Determining whether something is liberal or conservative is opinion, not fact, because that's what the political divide is, opinions. Facts count. Opinion doesn't. We live by opinion these days and look where it's getting us. But it facts (and science) bring us the Internet and radio waves and TV. Not opinion.

Opinion doesn't do anything except make people's stomach's hurt and create bad policy. So what are the facts that make you not trust the media?

Even people that I have known a long time, people who have for years handed off stories to me from various news sources they trusted, no longer trust the media. Is this simply because one person says the news is fake?

I trust the media. Maybe I am in a minority here, and I understand that journalists are at the mercy of editors and owners and therefore they are constantly being undermined by big money and that stories are buried and changed based on dollar bills and not facts. I know this.

I also know that if one reads (which, apparently, most Americans do not), then you can read stories from multiple news sources and anyone with an IQ above 90 can figure out that if the story reads the same everywhere, it's a press release and probably not to be trusted, but if it has been researched and told differently from various sources, then the key things that are the same - names, dates, places, for instance - are probably true.

That isn't to say that journalists don't make mistakes, but I think that most journalists, even the highly paid ones, try to bring truth to the newsroom. I do not think journalists themselves set out to deliberately mislead. I think politicians try to use journalists to deliberately mislead, and it sometimes happens. I had it happen once myself and was incredibly unhappy with the politician who used me thusly. I no longer consider him a trustworthy person, though he seems none the wiser.

I know many people will disagree with me, even friends, but I do not think the media is the enemy. I do not think government, as an entity in and of itself, is the enemy. But I do think that certain individuals within the government, and within the media, may be the enemy. Apparently people can no longer tell the difference between an entity and an individual. And therein lies the problem.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Is It the End (of the) Times?

I do not remember how I began stringing for The Roanoke Times back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I don't know if I responded to an ad, sent in a story suggestion, or oozed my way into what was then the Neighbors section (a weekly insert) by sleight-of-hand or deft design.

Somehow, though, my byline found its way into the area's largest newspaper, not only in the Neighbors and special projects sections, but also in the main paper. That happened mostly at graduation time when extra bodies were needed to turn in hurried stories about caps and gown.

This was the time of no cellphones. I called in stories from phone booths, crouched down with my notebook on my knees, reading the copy into the mouthpiece so the words could go into the morning edition. There was a technique to that, lost now, I suppose, where you spelled out names and said "end graph" to denote a new paragraph, and even said "period" at the end of a sentence. I did so much of it that I took the folks who had to take my calls a few boxes of chocolates, because I knew they had a tough time of it, trying to make sure what I sent made sense before it hit the press.

Newspapers were peaking then, but we didn't know it yet. The Internet was not a common item; there were, I think, bulletin boards where nerdy guys hung out to talk about computer building and atomic death rays, but pre-1990 things were different and the world would not recognizable to today's youth. The Internet then wasn't something everyone plugged into. We were still autonomous individuals working within a society, not individuals plugged into our own little devices and lost in alternative fact worlds.

Folks read the news back then, in those dark ages before the Internet. They read things on paper, not on some electronic reader. They talked about the same stories and made note of the same news, and they did not pick and chose their facts because back then people knew what was a fact and what was opinion. I don't think that is the case anymore.

The newspaper business changed over my lifetime. I began reading the newspaper in 1967, when I was four years old. Yes, truly. I would sit at my grandmother's kitchen table and read the newspaper, front to back. I barely comprehended it, but I read it. I remember distinctly how my grandmother would fix dinner and I would spell out a word to her, asking her how to pronounce it and what it meant. Even though she had only a fourth grade education, she knew what I needed to be told. She read the paper front to back, too.

I knew when I was 10 years old that I want to write for newspapers.

When I was young, there were two edition of the paper, a morning edition and the evening edition. After my husband and I married in 1983, we took the evening edition. According to Wikipedia, The Roanoke Times & World News paper ceased its evening edition in 1991 (I thought it was earlier than that, but we'll go with Wikipedia).  I remember having difficulty adjusting to reading at breakfast instead of dinner, as did my husband.

Around 1995, The Roanoke Times & World News became The Roanoke Times. In 2013, it became the property of Berkshire Hathaway (owned by Warren Buffet et al). I am not sure it mattered then who owned the thing. The paper had changed so much by 2013 that it was (and is) only a shadow of the journalistic endeavors I recall from my younger years.

I think I knew the death bell was tolling when they eliminated Prince Valiant from the funny papers, (not sure exactly when that happened and it's an odd thing to mark decline by), but I also found it painful to watch the quality of reporting diminish as the historical knowledge of the community left with older journalists who either moved on to other things or were let go in favor of youngsters who would work more cheaply. I'm sure other people have their own markers in time as to when they think the paper really began to falter.

It didn't help that I was married to a firefighter who came home and told me of things going on in the city that never made it into the newspaper. What, I wondered, was the paper for if it wasn't going to report on the reality of the world that makes up the City of Roanoke and its surrounding areas?

Yesterday the newspaper announced that it was moving its presses to Lynchburg (where the News & Advance is now a sister paper thanks to the Buffett purchases) and relieving 53 people of their jobs. The press release promises no change in delivery (we will see) and better reliability of printing.

I don't think the paper is dead. I expect it will last another decade, at least. Maybe it will last much, much longer. I am no fortune teller. But I must say, I have never seen a profession shoot itself in the foot like the newspaper business has.

It is as if the paper at its finest was a Ben & Jerry's, offering up 51 flavors of ice cream. Then it slowly cut back to 45 flavors, and it lost a few customers and advertisers, so it laid off a reporter or two. Then it cut back to 30 flavors, and lost more advertisers and customers. Instead of adding back the flavors, the bean counters cut the flavors back to 15, then to 10, and now they only serve Neapolitan ice cream and expect to remain in business.

When a product falters, good business demands you make the product better, not worse, but the newspaper business has not done that. They have made the product worse. They can blame the Internet all they want - and I am sure it has some culpability - but the decline started when money, not news, became all that mattered.

I shall hope this is not a bad sign for The Roanoke Times. I want to keep reading it until my eyes close and the casket covers me. But I fear for not only this paper, but others, including the little local paper for which I wrote for 30+ years.

Some things have value that is not monetary. The news is one of them. One cannot put a value on insight and truth, but we have tried.

And look where it has taken us - into the bogs of a no-mans land, where only devils dare to play.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Read Local at the Salem Museum

Saturday the Salem Museum in Salem, VA hosted a "read local" event featuring multiple local authors. I ventured out to visit with some old friends and see what the writing community has been up to since my byline disappeared from the newspaper.

This is my pal Peggy Shifflett. She writes Appalachian history books
that detail her life in the hills near Harrisonburg. (I edited two
of her books.) You can find her books on Amazon.

Becky Musko is well known in the writing community. She had four of her books for sale. Her website is We go back a long way.

Liz Long was new to me, but she has authored several books set in the Roanoke area. Her website is

Francis Curtis Barnhart, also new to me, offered readers a memoir called
The Beauty of Impermanence. Her website is

Fred Eichelman offered up some sci-fi and memoir. He has a website at

Just an overview shot. The author was talking so I moved on.

Betsy Ashton is my friend on Facebook, and now we have met in real life.

These are Betsy's Mad Max books. She told me they were about a woman of a certain age (approximately mine) who solves mysteries. Her website is

Just a shot of some folks looking at the books. They had a good crowd.

Diane Fanning writes true crime and mysteries. Her website is I am not sure, but I think Ms.Fanning and I corresponded on AOL or a bulletin board about 25 years ago. I remember doing some messaging with a local true crime writer who wouldn't reveal her name at the time. Maybe she remembers?

Michael Abraham has been widely acclaimed for his recent book, Chasing the
Powhatan Arrow, which is about a train. He has several other books as well. His website is

My old friend George Kegley was there to represent the Historical Society of Western Virginia.
Mr. Kegley and I go way back as he was a source for many of my articles for the newspapers. He
flattered, embarrassed, and humbled me by calling me the "scribe of Botetourt" when he
saw me. You can visit for more information.

Neil Sagebiel is the author of several books about legendary golf figures.
His website is

Peggy Wade is the author of In Full Armor, the Life of Clifford Frith, a biography about
her father. I wrote an article on Mrs. Wade for the newspaper some years ago.
Her book is available on Amazon.

There were many other writers there, too. I thought it was a nice event and I hope the authors sold many books. It is great to support local folks, so check out some of these websites and give a local writer a hand.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A Statement from the Authors' Guild

We Are Not the People’s Enemies

 First President Trump complained that “the media” was biased against him. “Dishonest.” Presidents have made such complaints before, in moments of weakness and self-pity.
Then he labeled the media as “the opposition party.”

Now he has declared journalists to be “the enemy of the American People.”

We at the Authors Guild hear that as a declaration of war. We know our history. Enemy of the People is a phrase long favored by authoritarians and tyrants. The “correct Russian term,” Gary Shteyngart points out, is врагнарода, vrag naroda. Long before Lenin and Stalin used it, Robespierre inaugurated the Reign of Terror by declaring that the Revolutionary Government “owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death.”

An earlier president, John F. Kennedy—when he was taking a beating in the press after the Bay of Pigs fiasco—was asked if he resented the media. He said this:

“It is never pleasant to be reading things that are not agreeable news, but I would say that it is an invaluable arm of the presidency, as a check, really, on what is going on in the administration … I would think that Mr. Khrushchev operating a totalitarian system, which has many advantages as far as being able to move in secret, and all the rest—there is a terrific disadvantage in not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily …Even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.”

President Kennedy was a member of the Authors Guild. So are many of the journalists now covering the Trump presidency, the historians who will soon reflect upon it, and the novelists who challenge us with their imaginative—and, yes, subversive—visions.

The administration is now said to be preparing the elimination of the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities under the false guise of budgetary necessity. We understand this, too, to be part of an attack on the free expression of diverse views.

The Authors Guild serves writers as a nonpartisan advocate. Our members represent a broad spectrum of social and political views. But blanket attacks on writers and journalists, as a class, are not a partisan issue; they are attacks on democracy itself. And, as advocates for authors and the first amendment rights of writers, we cannot let these attacks go unanswered.

We are not the people’s enemies. We are the eyes and ears of the people. And we are the people’s memory.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Burning Bridges Beyond Repair

I am not an enemy of the people. Nor are any of the local news media folks I know "enemies of the people" - and I know many of them.

They are all good people - beautiful people - who do their jobs with determination and grit, and who would never dream of making up a news story, or of using their position to go after someone just because.

People who are in the media are your neighbors. We send our children to your schools, we walk our dogs, we spend our money in your community.

No, the people who write the local news are not CNN or FOX or MSNBC. But the jobs they do are similar. Just not so, well, big league.

The recent tweet from #45 cut me to the core. I am not longer a working news reporter, but I took my job seriously. I lived and breathed it 24/7 for decades. I wrote enough words to have created numerous books, but instead I chose to write small articles, deciphering information so that you, my neighbor, would have some inkling as to what was happening in the immediate world around you.

I was a government reporter and at various times I have covered meetings in multiple counties. I've written for more than a dozen publications, including The Fincastle Herald, The Roanoke Times, The New Castle Record, The Roanoke Star, The Roanoker magazine, The Vinton Messenger, The Salem Times Register, and several that are no longer in existence. So take nothing I say here as an implication of my resident county alone, because I have covered meetings in eight different counties over the years, as well as numerous towns. Regardless of location, the routines are the same. The elected folks gather in a place in a meeting open to the public to do the public's business. The public seldom shows up.

I was there. I was your watchdog, ensuring that your representative was really representing you.

While you were at your 9-5 job and then settling down with your children and/or spouse, sometimes I was working on hour 14 of my job that day. Breaking news doesn't wait. Meetings that are supposed to run for two hours sometimes go on for seven. I didn't get to close up my notebook and go home simply because the clock said I was heading into overtime.

While you were fixing dinner, I was making sure local government officials followed the rules (they don't always) and obtaining the facts offered at a planning commission meeting, a board of zoning appeals meeting, or a supervisors meeting. Afterwards, I dissected them as honestly and truthfully as I could so that you, the reader, could see what your government was doing.

Because I was there, officials could not go into a closed session to discuss things behind closed doors. I would call them on it if they tried. I knew the Virginia Freedom of Information (FOIA) front to back and didn't hesitate to cite it if I had concerns. My presence alone was enough to keep them in line, usually. They knew I would write "the council then went into closed session, refusing to cite a legal reason under the Virginia FOIA" if they tried to do that. I did write that more than once, and on occasion that was enough to upset a few residents and create a stir. They didn't do it again.

That's what the media does. We keep you, the people, informed. We sit for hours at boring meetings, taking notes and listening to mutterings of elected officials so we can quote them correctly.

I spent long nights watching the electoral board count votes during elections. I watched school boards make decisions that affected your children. I drove home at midnight after long public hearings on battleground issues such as budget figures and tax hikes. I woke up at 3 a.m. to finish an article due by 7 a.m.

I sat with your representatives and talked to them about current issues. Then I wrote about it. I never wrote with an agenda, though I have been accused of that a time or two. I just wrote what happened at meetings or what an official said. I have been told that most people liked my work because they considered it to be fair and balanced. Republicans thought I was a Republican and Democrats thought I was a Democrat. I used to laugh at that, and for the longest time I never told anyone my political leanings. If you read this blog regularly, you know now I lean left - and being a journalist is one reason why. I have been in the homes of many of our poorer residents, seen how they live, and watched the "free market" system screw people over without a second thought. It's not a very fair, or even Christian, economic system.

Supervisors frequently found me problematic, because I quoted them. On more than one occasion, I had to produce a tape of the meeting to an editor (I used to tape them all), to prove I'd quoted someone correctly. Most frequently the complaint was "I might have said that, but that is not what I meant."

Mind reading is not part of a news reporter's job. If #45 or one of his representatives are speaking about something but mean something else, there is no way to know that they have misspoken. Unfortunately, in the visual medium, the news is immediate, taped, and hard to fact-check during live appearances. That makes the fact-checking look like the speaker is being picked on - but the media has a duty to go back and correct errors. If there was not a massacre in Sweden or Bowling Green, then the media has a responsibility to make note of that.

If a supervisor said he was going to do away with this or that, and I reported that, but he really meant something else - who's at fault? Usually I was on a deadline, with the story due two hours from the time the meeting ended, if I was lucky. I had little time to call someone who seldom answered my calls anyway.

But I did double-check frequently, and as a result I am pleased to report that during my career there were very few corrections on my stories. Occasionally I would mistype a number, and I am terrible at computing percentages, so sometimes, yes, I messed up. One of the most aggravating corrections I ever had to make came about because an editor thought he knew more than I did and rearranged my article to the extent that he completely changed the facts. I stopped writing for the publication after that story ran.

Once I wrote an article about local volunteer fire departments that did not go over well with the volunteers. Volunteer fire departments can be cliquish, and many members attacked me. Hard. They sent letters that the editor would not even let me read, they were so hateful. The story came out of a town hall meeting held by an elected official. Several members of a local volunteer department showed up to report that calls were not being run efficiently, that volunteering was down, that, frankly, the community was suffering and people were dying because the locality needed paid firefighters and emergency service workers. I checked with the county dispatch and did follow-up on rescue calls and sure enough, the locality constantly was having to ask for assistance from neighboring communities or from volunteer departments on the far end of the county. I did the legwork; the story was right. But a certain segment of the community demonized me for writing it. The irony of it all was that my husband used to be a volunteer firefighter, and is a paid firefighter. I knew what was going on probably better than most reporters, and I was sure of my facts. What I had miscalculated was the ego of the volunteers involved.

News reporters spend hours at dull meetings, often coming home after midnight to type out or record a story, just so you, the reader or listener, can know what is going on. So you will know that your next-door neighbor was killed in a car wreck, that your landlord's house burned down, that your government just decided to give millions of tax dollars to a private corporation for a few jobs that won't pay more than $40,000 a year.

That is not being your enemy. That is doing a job so you can stay informed. It is offering you information so you can act upon it, if you choose.

One of the things I learned over time was that no two people read a story the same way. People frequently do not read the bylines of articles. Many times I was stopped and someone said, "Did you know thus and so happened, I read it in this publication." I would smile and say, "Yes, I wrote the story. I believe you must have missed a paragraph during your review, because the article actually said . . ."

So even though I gave it my 100 percent, the readers (and viewers) didn't - and don't - give it their 100 percent. They skim, they read only headlines, they take away from a story only the things that confirm their world view. Reporters can't be responsible for how a reader comprehends a factual, well-written article or news report.

Unfortunately, issues between the press and politicians are long-standing. *In 1800, a newspaper wrote this of Thomas Jefferson: If he were elected, "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced . . . the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes."

Despite that villainous description, it was Jefferson who supported what has come to be known as The Fourth Estate. He said that if he had to choose between "a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government," he would take the newspapers without a government.* And don't forget, the press and the freedom thereof is explicitly mentioned in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Knowledge is key to democracy. That means reading things you do not agree with, learning things you don't care to know, and understanding that the world is about more than just you and your opinions.

The present day hostility toward the news media is terrifying. The current Republican administration needs a common enemy, and it has chosen the press to vilify for the moment. (Incidentally, creating a common enemy is on the list of how to become a dictator at WikiHow. Controlling the media is also listed frequently in discussions about how to create a fascist state. (WikiHow is not a source I would use in an article, but this is a personal blog entry and therefore opinion. Different rules.))

*The current Republican administration has gone after the media, and been openly hostile towards it, almost from day one. #45 said he had a "running war" with the media; his pal Bannon called the press "the opposition party" and said it should "keep its mouth shut."* Some of his other representatives have been openly critical as well.

Once public trust in the media has been undercut - once it has become even more politicized than it already was - the damage will be very hard to undo. Maybe the public trust has already reached that point where it will be very hard if not impossible to repair, I don't know. I hope not. Society here has depended upon a free and vibrant press to move forward and to keep politicians on their toes for more than 200 years. If the Fourth Estate goes down, we will all suffer mightily because of it.

*Quotes taken from Time magazine, February 13, 2017 edition, page 4.