Honest, I wasn’t trying to score brownie points

To fulfil a requirement for my BA in English, I registered for a class in Irish-American literature. The professor assigned several projects; each project was worth a certain number of points (yes, kind of high-schoolish). One of the projects was a question and answer panel, aka a moderated discussion.

Five class members, including me, had to come up with questions about an assigned book, questions we hoped our classmates would make an effort to answer. The book had been written by an author I never heard of. It was a collection of stories about fellows who grew up in the projects in or near Boston and later were drafted and sent to Viet Nam. The stories were interesting, but not something I would read on my own.

However, when I read the author’s bio on the back of the book, I noticed he lived in a town on Cape Cod. Hmm, I thought. Maybe I should do a little research. I tried to get the author’s telephone number from the information operator, but she had no record of his having telephone service in that town.

Not giving up, I called the publisher. The woman I spoke with said she couldn’t give out his address, but she thought he lived in the town indicated on the author bio. She told me to call the information operator to get his phone number. I told her I already had tried that, and apparently, he no longer lived there. “Try Brighton,” she suggested. I did and I got his phone number.

I called and spoke with the author’s wife. “My husband has gone to the store,” she told me. “But he would be thrilled to talk to someone about his book.” I called back an hour later and talked to him for forty-five minutes.

The author seemed pleased to learn we would be discussing his book in class. I had read that characters in the stories were based on real people. I told him it was too bad about the character who had survived Viet Nam only to die in a motorcycle accident later on. “Oh,” he said, “that part really is fiction.” The fellow the character was based on hadn’t died. In fact, he had been the best man at the author’s recent wedding.

At the end of the discussion, each panel member had to turn in a list of five or six questions that he or she may or may not have had the chance to ask. In addition to my list of questions, I wrote up a page and a half about my conversation with the author.

Before the professor arrived, I told my classmates I had spoken with the author. A few of them couldn’t believe I had the audacity to track him down. I guess that was the difference between being twenty-one and being an older, nontraditional student. At twenty-one, I would have thought about contacting an author, but I wouldn’t have had the nerve. A half zillion years later, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.

The majority of my classmates had positive reactions to my announcement. However, one person seemed to think I was trying to earn extra points for the project. During the discussion, the “chairperson” I informally appointed (yes, I did), turned to me and said, “Don’t you ask another question. You already have enough points.”

Posted in Potpourri | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No longer alpha reading full manuscripts

I recently received a nice compliment from one of my beta authors. I read her work in progress (WIP) a few months ago. The author’s project was a pleasure to read. Unlike a novel I beta read at another time. (No, I’m not offering any details.) That particular story was so challenging that I considered giving up beta reading forever. Although there might be exceptions, I’ve just about made up my mind to read only for authors whose projects I previously have read. Why? Because I’m familiar with their work. And because they have mastered grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, and a few other things, and they have self-edited their novels before sending the projects to me.

So many newbie authors request beta readers when what they actually seem to want are alpha readers – or even free developmental editors (more about that in a future post). In the past, too many of them have sent me first drafts with a convoluted story that has not been self-edited and is full of grammar errors and typos. As an editor, as well as a beta reader, I find that the inconsistencies and errors distract me from the story, and reading the work takes me longer to complete. I’ve read a lot of full-length alpha manuscripts over the past few years, but I’m no longer willing to do that.

Posted in Beta Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking for a beta reader?

In 2012, I asked one of my Facebook (FB) friends if she needed another beta reader to look at her police procedural novel. That’s how I got started as a beta reader. A couple of years later, I got an editing gig that didn’t end well. (I found it through Craigslist. Do not recommend.) I got discouraged and decided to give up beta reading/editing indefinitely, maybe forever. And then, in 2016, I posted on FB that I was bored and needed something to do. A friend asked me if I would like to beta read her cozy mystery, and I’ve been beta reading (or alpha reading) ever since.

If you are an author or an aspiring author who hasn’t used beta readers, but is interested in finding a few, I have posted some information below that might be helpful to you.

FB has many groups where authors can post a request for beta readers, including: Beta Readers & Critiques; Beta Readers and Critique Partners; Free Beta Readers, Critiques, and Editors; and Beta Readers Writers Club. You must be a member of those groups in order to post your request. There also are a lot of sites on the Internet with information about beta reading. Those sites are too numerous to mention here, but they can be found by googling How do I find a beta reader. Some of them allow authors to request beta readers. Again, you usually have to be a member in order to do so. And yes, some of those sites are paid member sites.

The number of beta readers you request is up to you. If possible, it’s probably best to accept a few more than you think you need. Sadly, it isn’t uncommon for beta readers to accept a read and then never follow through. Although most beta readers read for free, some of them do charge fees. Again, it’s up to you if you think using a paid beta reader would be worth spending the money. If you do decide that a paid reader is the way to go, it might be a good idea to ask for references.

When requesting beta readers, be sure to include: Genre, if writing fiction; word count; and a brief description of your WIP. Also let prospective readers know if you’re mostly looking for comments about a particular element; e.g., plot, characters, or pacing. Conversely, let them know if there are any elements that you don’t want them to critique. And always let readers know what your deadline is for receiving their comments.

Posted in Beta Reading | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Conflicting commitments are so nerve-wracking

A few days ago, a post advertising the novels of Mary Roberts Rinehart popped up on Facebook. Rinehart has been called America’s Agatha Christie. More likely, Christie should be called England’s Mary Roberts Rinehart as Rinehart published her first novel The Circular Staircase in 1908, twelve years before Christie published The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

In 1925, Rinehart published a novel titled The Red Lamp. The Red Lamp is a creepy, paranormal story that most reviewers panned in 1925—and apparently still do. The novel freaked the heck out of me the first time I read in the ‘70s, while staying up until 2 a.m. on a work night.

Fast forward to 1995.

I was finishing the requirements for my B.A. in English and taking a required class in critical reading. I had an assignment due in a few weeks, and I needed to choose a novel to critique. I wanted to pick something different, something no one else would ever think of choosing. So, of course, I chose The Red Lamp.

However, I couldn’t find the book at any of the local libraries or at the only bookstore in the area. Instead of doing the sensible thing and choosing another novel, I procrastinated. In my defense, I also had been voluntold to design a signature pin for the big box store where I was employed. The powers-that-be (PTB) expected me to submit my design a couple of days before the critique deadline. I had NO IDEA as to how I should proceed with THAT project.

I felt overwhelmed. Actually, I was frantic. What to do? I needed the job, so I didn’t think I should tell the PTB that I couldn’t complete the signature pin project. On the other hand, the critique had to be my priority. I needed to pass the critical reading class in order to graduate.

And then I got a bright idea as to where I might be able to locate a copy of the novel.

I previously had lived in Tucson, Arizona. I called long distance information and asked for the phone number of the mystery bookstore on Broadway Boulevard. Fortunately, the owner had one copy of The Red Lamp. She agreed to sell it to me for five dollars, postage included.

Although re-reading The Red Lamp freaked me out again, I did manage to write a critique that was acceptable to the very picky Harvard educated professor. I confess that I wrote it at the last minute because I couldn’t make up my mind about how to slant the project. Truthfully, I couldn’t make up my mind about how to slant it while I was writing it. I started writing the final draft the afternoon before the assignment was due. I stayed up all that night and finished typing the conclusion two hours before I turned in the critique.

After the class ended, I went home and took a nap.

I later learned that most of the class members received Cs or Ds for the assignment. The professor gave me two grades: A B- for the content and an A for my writing skills. As difficult as that class was, I ended up with a final grade of A-.

And, yes, I also met the pin design project deadline.

Posted in Potpourri | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I shouldn’t have, but did

Beach Buddy, aka the Oceanside Trenchcoat Guy, and I attend Coffee with a Cop in Oceanside every month. Barnes & Noble hosted the July event. While Bruce was filming a live video on the patio, I went into the store and bought two books.

Yes, I probably shouldn’t have, but I did.

I shouldn’t have because I’m still trying to donate outdated “how to write” books I bought years ago. The local friends of the library foundation doesn’t want them. I thought about leaving them in the laundry room, but I’m fairly certain that people at the apartment complex won’t want them either. I don’t think any of my neighbors have writing ambitions. And some of them don’t speak English. So there’s that, too.

I confess that my new books also are about writing; however, they aren’t “how to write” books for aspiring writers. One of them is titled Writing Without Rules, by Jeff Somers. The second one is Write Smart Write Happy, by Cheryl St. John. I confess that I bought them in the hope of recharging my own writing aspirations.

Time will tell.

Posted in Potpourri | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Brouhaha at the carnival

[Note: I confess that this essay is very badly written (and you know it is very badly written when I use two adverbs together to describe it). Sadly, over the years, I have downloaded too many freebie e-novels that weren’t written much better than this.]

Talk about being a drama queen; I think I was at my best with this essay. Well, at the time; later, I did top it as a college freshman. Unfortunately, the writing in this really is bad, well, more like terrible. But what the heck, I was seventeen when I wrote it. I’m fairly certain I typed this draft on a manual typewriter. During typing class, when, of course, I should have been practicing whatever lesson we were supposed to practice that day. And I sucked at typing on any form of a manual typewriter. My fingers were too short to reach the keys correctly. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

I’ve modified the essay just a tiny bit, but this version contains 99 percent of the original material, minus the typos and weird punctuation, of course. However, I did retain all those strangely structured sentences, the weird word usage, and those awful adverbs—ugh. I’ve also added comments in brackets. Names of all participants have been changed to (hopefully) prevent anyone reading this from figuring out who they really were.

This version isn’t complete; the last page seems to be missing. So this probably was a rough draft. I must have edited the story a bit because I’m sure I showed a “clean copy” to “Jeremy” (a high school boyfriend, more or less, mostly less as it turned out). I made him read a lot of the crazy stuff I wrote. He never told me I was crazy, except the time that “Kate” and I stalked his brother “Roddy” by trailing him down the street for about a half mile one Columbus Day, back in the Mid-Jurassic Period. Oh, wait; it was Roddy who told Jeremy we were crazy. (Sorry, Roddy, we were really bored that day, and you just happened to walk by. We saw an opportunity and we took it.)

Thinking about it now, I wonder how we ever got into this mess. Making that remark wasn’t like “Jenna.”

We We’re Minding Our Own Business When…

Every year, some organization in the next town [Fire Dept.?] sponsors a carnival. I think it goes on for the better part of a week. My four friends and I went to the carnival for three nights in a row. By the third night we felt like veterans [lame usage here].

Passing by a certain bunch of guys we knew, I could sense Roddy and “Max” staring at me behind my back [Yeah, I know, adolescent paranoia.] You’d think I committed a crime. [Huh! Jeremy cheated on me; well, I guess maybe he cheated on both of us. Yeah, he did.] But I wasn’t at the carnival to brood over my personal problems [even though I did anyway]. Thoughts of Roddy’s boyish looking [Well, he was a boy.] younger brother, Jeremy, never wandered far from my mind or my heart. [OMG, I can’t believe I wrote that, but I was sixteen (at the time this brouhaha happened) and thought I was “in luuuve.”]

The five of us decided to split up. Kate, “Cindy”, and I stayed together, while Jenna and “Sally” went off together in another direction. Kate talked Cindy into having a picture taken at the photo booth, so we went over there.

About twenty minutes later, we were standing in front of the photo booth when Sally came racing up to us, trailed closely by Jenna whose appearance had suddenly changed from one of exemplary to that of chaotic. Her long, honey-brown hair [honey brown?], which had been pulled back into a french twist, now looked disheveled and uncombed [redundant]. To me, her appearance relayed the impression that she had just slugged it out with someone. How right I was!

Breathlessly [How’s that for an adverb?], Jenna and Sally had pieced together their little escapade of a few minutes ago. They had been standing in front of the motorcycle exhibition when Sally made some reference to Hoody Guy who was practically the star attraction of that racket. A couple of nights previously, he had made clear his interest in Sally [In other words, he tried to hit on her.].

Although the feeling was NOT mutual, Sally made some remark about him. It was just her bad luck that the two girls standing in front of them didn’t exactly appreciate Sally’s praise of Hoody Guy’s masculine attributes [Whatever the heck they were. Sally may have been impressed, but I wasn’t.] In fact, their dislike was so intense that they started bugging Jenna.

Jenna was wearing a very nice pair of slacks. One of the girls said to her, “So, you think you’ve got hot pants.”

“No,” Jenna said. “I think they’re cool.”

The girl apparently didn’t much like that answer. She had slapped Jenna across the face and started pulling her hair. Sally, completely stunned, had backed off and watched the affair [weird choice of word] from a safe distance. Finally, Jenna got away and she and Sally went looking for the rest of the crew.

As we listened to the details, Kate, Cindy, and I began to feel pangs [another weird choice of word] of revenge surge within us [Oh, the drama—and the insanity.] In a wild moment of madness [That explains it.], we all hollered, “Let’s go get them.” After securing [Oh, puhlezzze!] a description of the two from Jenna and Sally, the five of us courageously set out to finish what Sally had unwillingly started.

Halfway to our destination, a thought suddenly hit me like a bombshell [Yikes!]. Calling our little army [Well, fits in with bombshell.] to an abrupt halt, I asked Jenna to repeat her description of the girls. She did: one blonde, one brunette. Oh, brother, I had seen those two here before. And man, were they ever something. My idea of two typical sluts [is writing sluts politically correct these days?], and how right I was.

Realizing that we weren’t fooling with just anybody, I began to think things over. However, the determination of the others dissolved [weird word again] any fears I might have had at the moment. Chins set firmly [s/b chins firmly set for consistency w/fists phrase] and fists tightly clenched, the five of us continued on in our search for trouble.

We found it, or rather, it found us halfway around the carnival grounds. That’s when we sighted [Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.] our opponents heading in our direction. Personally, I’d rather have sighted a saber-toothed tiger and a dinosaur instead, but that’s life, so they say [really lame sentence, and weird too]. Just about then, I thought life was getting to be pretty crazy and a little dangerous [Got even crazier a couple of weeks later, but that’s another story involving an “open house” event, a minor accident, and a state trooper.].

Our courage began to fail as we previewed [ugh] our opposition. We unanimously decided against violence and continued on our way, ignoring the two. Unfortunately they decided not to be ignored. We all cautioned one another not to get excited [Panic would be a better word here.] as the pair began trailing after us. After all, there were five of us and only two of them.

I walked about five yards ahead of the others, with Kate close behind [We were scared out of our minds at this point.]. Intuition told me there was going to be trouble, and again, how right I was [I seemed to be right a lot]. Making up my mind, I turned to Kate, “I’m going to find a cop.”

“No,” Kate said, “If my mom and dad see this….” [Kate and Jenna’s parents were also at the carnival that night.]

Ignoring Kate’s protest, I raced to the animal [sheep? cows? pigs?] exhibition where I found a rather elderly gentleman who was certainly far from my idea of a cop [I favored State Troopers; they looked good in uniform.] but it apparently suited the person who had the audacity to pin that badge on the man’s shirt. And as long as he was endowed with that shiny symbol of authority, he would do. [Oh, puhlezzze!]

Attempting not to appear too worried [actually too freaked out], I told the officer that two girls were apparently determined to start something with my friends and me. I explained that they had evidently [way too many adverbs in this thingy] singled out one of my friends to push around.

Without any sign of surprise [Happened all the time, I guess.], he followed me almost mechanically to one area of the carnival where a crowd had gathered. Shoving my way through the human mess, I blinked my eyes in disbelief at the sight before me. The Blonde had grabbed Jenna’s long brown hair and, by that means was whirling her around [bad sentence]. Jenna was no match for the girl, who, by her attitude of pugnacity [pugnacious attitude], conveyed to me the impression that she was, most likely, the veteran of several similar disagreements.

I knew that I had to do something. But what? Realization hit me like a rocket [Oh, puhleeze! Yeah, I know redundant expression.] as I turned my shocked gaze and discovered to my horror [No, really?] that Jenna wasn’t the only one being thrown around. Kate, standing stunned on one side of the crowd, was about to be charged by the Brunette, who looked no less friendly [This should either have been less friendly or no more friendly, but whatever.] than her companion.

In the midst of all this excitement, whom did I happen to glance upon standing bewildered among the spectators but Sally and the equally dazed Cindy.

I knew what I had to do. As the Brunette came racing toward Kate, I charged into her with all my strength, and as she retreated in surprise, I yelled in her face with all the audacity within me [sure], “You leave her alone!”

Caught off guard, the Brunette fell back, startled. “What are you butting in for?” she yelled.

Before I had a chance to yell a smart remark in return and before she had the chance to reciprocate the attack, the slightly tardy police officer (or whatever he was), who didn’t seem much interested in the first place, calmly wandered into the circle and broke everything up. The crowd, disappointed because the battle had culminated in the first round [Wonder what the heck that was supposed to mean?], faded away in amusement [ugh].

Hoping against hope that we had seen the last of that pleasant pair, Jenna, Kate, and I rounded up the two non-participants and proceeded to continue our tour of the carnival grounds. This time we stuck together.

About twenty minutes later, while standing before one of the many amusement booths, I learned to our great dismay that fate was against us. When turning around, I noticed the enemy sneaking up behind us. Not rejoicing at this present development, I concluded that I’d just better find that cop again.

I walked away from the booth at a normal pace. Kate came up behind me. “I think they’re going to start something,” she whispered. “I heard one of them say ‘you take this one, and I’ll take that one.’”

The next thing I knew, one of the girls grabbed my coat [Why the heck was I dragging a coat around? It was July.] “Where do you think you’re going?” she demanded.

“I’m going to get a cop,” I said in exactly the tone of voice that I had been addressed.

“And why are you going to get a cop?” the Blonde asked.

“Because,” I retorted, “I don’t like the way you’re treating my friends.”

Apparently, that wasn’t the answer they were looking for, because the next thing I knew I was being slapped across the face. As I realized my true plight, I began to panic. I wanted to run, and then the Blonde smacked me good with her experienced little hand.

Courage renewed, I threw down my sweater [What the heck happened to my coat?] and began kicking wildly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kate shoving her way through the crowd that had gathered.

[Unfortunately, the last page of this story got lost somewhere between the Mid-Jurassic Period and now. However, here’s how it ended: Kate grabbed onto a post and started kicking the Brunette in the stomach. About two minutes later Kate and Jenna’s parents wandered into the scene and broke up the fight. Blonde and Brunette took off, never to be seen again that evening.

A few minutes later, we discussed the situation with two or three guys who began talking to us. They were strangers to us, but they knew the other girls and their reputations. The guys walked around the carnival with us for the remainder of the evening, for protection, I guess. I don’t remember who they were; I had a boyfriend at the time, so I wasn’t interested. At any rate, we didn’t become permanent friends with them, which probably is just as well.]


Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ideas are up for grabs

When it comes to choosing beta readers, an aspiring author recently commented that he doesn’t accept beta readers who are strangers to him. He’s afraid they might steal his ideas.

Probably not. I wouldn’t.

When it comes to choosing recreational reading before bedtime, cozy mysteries and sweet romances have been my choices for a few years. They are clean, non-violent sub-genres, and they don’t keep me awake nights or give me bad dreams. So it’s probably no surprise that I beta read novellas and short novels written by authors of cozy mysteries and sweet romances.

However, I don’t write cozy mysteries and sweet romances. And I don’t steal ideas from authors of those sub-genres or any genres, sub or otherwise. I can come up with enough ideas on my own.

Apparently, a few of my ideas have been considered good enough for someone to steal.

When I was in the undergraduate creative writing program at a major state university, a classmate poached ideas from an article I wrote. Classmate wrote her own article, incorporating my ideas (but not my exact words), and got it published in the university newspaper. I think she was paid for her article. I, of course, was not.

I was a tad bit upset at first. Friends who read both articles noted the similarities and told me I should complain to the professor.

I didn’t do as they suggested because I knew complaining would be a waste of time and effort. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. It’s the words used to express those ideas in an article, book, or other form of media that can be copyrighted.

Ideas are up for grabs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Self-promotion might work the second time around

Years ago, when I lived in Arizona, I created a business card with a link to the only blog I had at the time. I also included a small icon of an antique automobile and a tagline on the card. The tagline read, Hey, Jeremy, remember the time that you . . .

I printed about twenty cards and left them at restaurants, library branches, and bookstores.

Recently, I was reminded of my brief attempt at shameless self-promotion when I met a woman who paints sayings and pictures on rocks. She gives the rocks to friends or leaves them in areas near the beach for others to enjoy.

Learning about her pastime makes me think that perhaps I should print some more of those business cards and use them to, ahem, encourage people to visit my web sites.

Yes, now I have two sites. And I once had a third. I haven’t deleted that third site; it’s just been “on hiatus” for a couple of years. Maybe someday I will re-activate My WestWord Novel blog.


Posted in Potpourri | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Yes, I’m an editor, but . . .

I don’t think it’s a big deal if someone who isn’t a journalist/author makes a grammar error when commenting on FB or Twitter. Most people probably post in a hurry and hit enter before looking at their text.

However, when posting a comment on a local, regional, or national media website, I think people should at least proofread their comments to ensure that they have used the correct word, e.g., accept not except.

Recently, on a local media website, I backed up a woman who had called out a poster on this error. Another commenter asked us if we though the man’s grammar mistake made his opinion “not valid”. No, of course his opinion is valid. But he probably could use a short refresher course in correct word usage.

This particular error is one of my pet peeves. I learned the difference between affect and effect in sixth grade English class. Thank you, Mrs. Grover.

Posted in Editing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apparently, my plot suggestion did not go over well

Someone recently asked my advice regarding their (the generic their) historical novel in progress. Their hero was orphaned when his criminal parents were hanged. The aspiring author, who lives in a western state, asked me to let them know what crime would have been a hanging offense in Massachusetts in the mid to late 1800s.

Specifically, in 1865, could both the hero’s father and mother have been hanged for a crime that generally seems to warrant only several years of prison time in the twenty-first century? As an example that would be relevant today, let’s pretend the parents had conned the preacher’s widow out of her life savings.

Despite having grown up in Massachusetts, I  know very little about nineteenth-century justice in that state. However, I don’t think a man would have been hanged for theft then. And, as far as I know, Massachusetts hasn’t executed a woman since the days of the Salem witch trials.

I suggested that the author have the father kill the mother. I’m fairly certain that would have been a hanging offense in 1865, and it conveniently would have dispatched both Dad and Mom for plot purposes.

For some reason, the author didn’t seem too enthusiastic about my suggestion.

Posted in Potpourri | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment