Monday, February 27, 2012

Squeaking Chalk on the Blackboard

On a piece of paper write the numbers 1-6. Beside each write Y or N to indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following.

1.      An ellipsis consists of three dots which are separated by spaces.
2.      Use the ellipsis for a thought that trails off. To avoid a time-consuming discussion, I agreed, but wondered ...
3.      When expressing a thought discontinued due to strong emotion or an abrupt change, use an em dash. A second after I agreed, I remembered that conversation. I stood up and shouted—  
4.      In an article KittyCat indicated he didn’t like to have his nails trimmed. There’s a word for his ordeal: exungulate, pronounced eg ZUN gyou late.
5.      The solidus, a punctuation mark formed by a diagonal line, is also called a slash or slant mark. A common use of it is with the words and/or.
6.      The word critique is a not used as a verb in standard English.

If two up-to-date style books or grammar guides were a part of your library, would you find definitive answers to all grammatical questions? No. Therefore, relax. Study the basics. Aim for the use of standard English in your writing, but don't obsess over it. Discussions on the subject can be fun. If you have opinions about the following, please express them in the “Comments” box. 

1.      An ellipsis (plural: ellipses) indicates omitted words. As a punctuation device in today’s usage, the ellipsis is usually written as three dots with no spaces between them. Certain references still adhere to the form as three dots each separated by a space (. . .). Look hard enough, and you can find the ellipsis written to indicate a half space between the dots, but that relates to squiggles once written on manuscripts for communication between authors and typesetters.
2.      Did you notice the “trailing off” ellipsis does not require further punctuation?     
3.      Tricky. Number three is factually correct, but not well expressed. Isn’t this better? When strong emotion or an abrupt change interrupts a thought, emphasize the unexpressed words with an em dash. 
4.      Most grammar guides would use italics when writing the word exungulate. Note: the first letter of a word following a colon is in lowercase, unless the word should otherwise be capitalized.  
5.      As used in #5, there is no reason to italicize the word solidus. But, when a word is used as a word, as it is in this comment, it is italicized. Just for fun, look up the word look up the word virgule.
6.      OK, let’s not be stuffy. Thirty years ago, I might have offered to criticize a friend’s manuscript. Today, since criticize has a negative connotation, I would offer (albeit incorrect) to critique the writing, and keep the friend. Until dictionary usage panels allow the word’s use as a verb in standard English, a better word choice is evaluate.

Express yourself. If in your youth, you missed some training because you covered your ears when chalk squeaked on the blackboard, start fresh. Join a writing group, buy an updated stylebook, and have fun. A publisher who thinks your work will turn a profit, knows where to find a good editor.  

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Contest for Young Writers -- by Janet Cooper Taylor

What's more fun than a writing contest? A youth writing contest!
That's right. Panhandle Professional Writers' (PPW) 2012 Youth Writing Contest is now underway. All students in grades 3 through 12, sharpen your pencils and let the words flow, or turn on your computer and start tapping those keys. How many awesome short stories, poems, or memoirs can your mind conjure up? Submit as many entries as you'd like. The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2012, and it doesn't cost a dime.

We'd love to see a great showing from all of the school districts in the Texas panhandle, parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Published authors will judge the entries. Awards for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each category and grade level group will be presented on July 21. As that date nears, times and place details will be available on PPW's website.

Are you the next Sylvia Plath, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald? Even if you aren't writing is a great way to express yourself. it's a talent that will serve you well throughout your life. Writing contests are great ways to hone your writing skills, get constructive criticism, and let your creative side shine. It's great entertainment, cheap fun, and your book may be made into a movie some day. And, to think it all happened because you entered the Panhandle Professional Writers' 2012 Youth Writing Contest!

For details about the contest, you can download the brochure containing the rules and the entry form by going to the Youth Writing Contest page on PPW's website

(c), 2012 Janet Cooper Taylor

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sweet Snookie or Snook the Snob -- by KittyCat

They’re coming over on Saturday, and I never know until they arrive which cat Auntie (my human aunt and my mother’s friend) is bringing with her. Actually, Auntie has only one cat—a tabby, that Mom calls “Sweet Snookie,” but sometimes Snook is anything but sweet.

Lots of times I’d poo on her face, if I could sit on her and get it out at the same time. Oh, there’s also the detail of catching her first. When acting real hateful, Snook checks the area for escape routes before she throws a final zinger at me.

We first met before I got adopted. She was staying with Mom and Dad while Auntie traveled. Poking around on the porch, I saw her on the other side of the screen door. I called her Gorgeous, and told her my name was Phantom. A month later, when Auntie and Snook came over, she learned I got adopted. She was all ticked cuz I was inside the house, and it was my house now.

She was hissing big strange words at me until she learned Mom named me KittyCat. Then Snook jiggled so hard with laughter, she puked.

When recovered, she followed me to under the dining room table and pretended to introduce me to someone. “May I introduce KittyCat,” Snobby Snook said all uppity, “so named to help identify this matted lump of mottled fur as feline, and not an invading alien.” She said more ugly stuff about me and then bragged about how she was pedigreed. “We tabbies are chosen to model in hundreds of advertisements. Of course I’m too dignified to prance before cameras. Gracious! The mere thought of hawking self-cleaning cat toilets in exchange for a few kibbles makes me shudder.”

Listening to her hoity-toity act, I almost puked.

Miss Queenie kept on yakking. “KittyCat, on the other paw, would trade his soul for a meal, if he couldn’t steal it first. In fact, he--”

She was still at it when Mom let me out. I didn’t know what a “disreputable boot-licking free-loader” was, but Snook was pushing my buttons, so I went to the door.

Saturday, if Miss Hateful starts in on me, I’ll tell her to go talk to a chair leg.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Creative Thinking: Eight Great Benefits

A boxful of thumb-drives holds a writer's unpublished works. The spare room closet and dressed-up photo albums hide an artist's unsold photography and painting. A dusty garage shelf claims a sheet metal worker's almost-perfected invention. Pitiful how time, effort, and money invested in such endeavors is wasted, isn't it?

No, it is not wasted.

Paltry financial returns and failure are only synonymous to the closed-minded observer. Psychological studies prove repeatedly that those who practice creativity have a leg up on their non-innovative counterparts. Generally they have:

  1. Stronger immune systems, so can expect more satisfying, if not longer lives, according to a Harvard researcher.1
  2. Greater self-confidence, happiness, courage and optimism. Armed with these traits, they look for solutions instead of complaining about a problem.
  3. Inner peacefulness which helps them believe they or other visionaries will discover new methods to handle problems, including horrors described in certain doomsday predictions.
  4. Better coping skills which prevent their emotional health from disintegration when they are in intractable situations.
  5. Considerable tolerance for differing opinions, thus are less defensive when their beliefs or actions are questioned.
  6. Self-motivation and persistence. They are too busy perfecting their craft, whatever that is, to be caught up in the daily buzz of negativity.
  7. Cooperative attitudes; thus innovators are adept at collaborating and brainstorming.
  8. Quiet independence.Their left and right brain hemispheres, in proper balance, signal creative thinkers to protect themselves from time-wasting intrusions on their lives. The innovative person, who must carve out time from an active schedule for the extra rest, meditation time, and the actual production of creative pursuits, intuitively turns away from, or learns to tune out, distractions.
Do you want to apply the attributes listed above to your self-image? Get those juices flowing now. Turn on your computer. Go to the Internet. Type "creativity" in the search box. My search led me to articles that affirmed my previous research and thoughts on the topic. Particularly in sync with today's blog outline was an article by Carlin Flora.1

I was surprised at one thing: Ms. Flora referred to "conventionals," or non-creative individuals. I've held the belief that we are all creative. But it's a moot point here, because "conventionals" would never read this blog.

Carlin Flora's article is a good place to start, and you will find a wealth of material on the Psychology Today website alone. You won't stop there, because the engine that drives your creativity is as original as your thumbprint. And once it's revved up, you're off to magical places that would pique the "conventionals'" curiosity if they dared to live fully. 

1 Website Psychology Today, "Everyday Creativity" by Carlin Flora. 01 November, 2009; reviewed 13 June, 2011.

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Friday, February 17, 2012

Congratulations, Travis Erwin

Normally I'd profile an author, and then write about his book. Last week, I did it backwards because I learned on Facebook that Travis Erwin, busy working on a video, was obviously not available for an interview. That done (classification: work), he produced another video about a week later. Classification? Well, .... It is funny, and you can view it through Facebook.

And his book, The Feedstore Chronicles? You can still buy it. Launched just over three months ago, Dee Burks of Tag Publishing told me it's already turning a profit. That's quite a feat for an almost unknown author whose slightly fictionalized memoir is published by a small press located in the Texas Panhandle.

Dee credits the book's success to Travis' outstanding promotional activities. The wall-to-wall people at his signing party could certainly attest to that. But it takes more than promotion to motivate people to attend an event. And it takes more than being a really nice person (which he is) to sell multiple copies of a book. Travis Erwin writes with style.

It began when he was a youngster. A single parent, with limited budget, his mother took her sons to the library. "It was our recreation," said Travis, and they'd take home armloads of books to read. With all those stories providing models, he learned to entertain his friends with tales of his own. Logic tells you they were funny, because he became known as the story teller among his friends, and when hanging out, they pushed him for more.

More... nurtured by reading the works of acclaimed humorists such as Christopher Moore and Carl Hiasson, and prompted by his ability to find humor in everyday situations, Travis pours out more. Find it on his blog, One Word, One Rung, One Day, his web page,, and a number of sites the blog and website are linked to.

Marketing anecdotes could fill another book, said Travis. Dee Burks pestered Travis for publishing rights to the coming-of-age stories he had strung into a book. He finally agreed after New York houses turned it down as too regional. Won't it be fun to see The Chronicles go into a second printing? What would the big city folks think if they knew the book is selling throughout United States, plus New Zealand and Canada. The Chronicles even placed first on one of Canada's best- seller lists for a day. Not bad, when much of Canada has never heard of the Texas Panhandle.  

And it's ironic how big business can't think regional, so they send work off to China. Kudos to Tag Publishing for producing an American made product. A United States artist (88 years old) designed the cover and a company in Tennessee printed the book..

What's next for Travis? The Chronicles is no flash in the pan. He has works in progress. In an interview with blogger Wendy Russ last June, Travis said "... my wife and boys inspire me. They believe I can do the impossible so I keep battling along trying to prove them right."

(c) 2012 Bernice W. Simpson

Monday, February 13, 2012

Love Does Funny Stuff -- by KittyCat

"KittyCat! Leave that alone!" Mom thinking I was gonna mess with a new black thing called a router, was almost screaming at me.

I didn't touch it. I was so ticked at it, I didn't even give it a "hello" sniff. It's that router-thing's fault that I didn't get to write for a long time. But what if I had scratched its little green lights? What's the big deal? I heard Mom tell Dad the telephone company was sending another one cuz this one had defected.

I get blamed for more stuff around here. But it's not all bad. Lots of times Mom thinks she's hurt my feelings, so she tells me I'm a handsome tuxedo cat, and then gives me treats. Sometimes she gets real gooey. Like Friday after she yelled at me, she picked me up and asked, "know why God made you so soft and furry?"

I can't answer. Couldn't even if I talked human, cuz she's squeezing all the air out of me.

"It's so I'd have a sweet kitty to hug," she says, stroking just above my nose, "and I love you so much, my beautiful kitty."

Mom calls people beautiful, too, but thinks people's good looks don't count very much. What's beautiful inside is what's important.

She'd never yell at me again, and she'd quit the "cuddly kitty" bit if she saw me from the inside. The mighty jungle cats on last year's office calendar--that's more like the real me. When I stretch out on a branch of our pecan tree, I feel like the black leopard-cat in one of those pictures. I bet jungle people don't go around stepping on his tail. "oh, sorry, I just didn't notice you sitting there." And, ha, ha... you think anyone ever grabs a paw to clip his toenails?

H-m-m, but then again.... I wonder if he'd purr and feel a bit like a fuzzy kitten if he had a mom to feed him and stroke his forehead just above his nose. Love does funny stuff to a guy. I hiss and act fierce when Mom combs my hair, but.... Oops, I almost got gooey.

I saw heart-shaped cards in a basket on the office shelf. I think I'll send Mom a Valentine card. It'll make her all warm and happy.

Thinking more about it though, I get conflicted. Maybe I gotta take time to cogitate (got that big word from my friend, Deut.). Trouble is, I can do without those suffocating hugs... I just won't sign it.


(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Friday, February 10, 2012

Six Tips in Six Hundred Words: How to Make Time to Create Your Masterpieces

If you can spend all the time you want to on your writing, you don’t need this. But if your schedule is so squeezed, it’s hard to keep your writing on track, take five minutes, and absorb these 6 tips.

1.      Make your writing a priority. Look for ways to pinch minutes from other responsibilities. For example, do necessary meetings waste your time? Try this: use email to confirm the meeting’s duration and agenda beforehand. Once at the meeting, if possible, let others speak first. Take notes. If short of time, clarify desired considerations, action, problem solution, etc. and suggest tabling the matter to allow all parties, including you, time for careful consideration of their decisions. If email works best for you, suggest using it for further discussion. Similarly keep phone calls to the point. When a friend calls to chat, suggest a better time, perhaps one day at lunch.

2.      Write do lists that work for you. Too often our do lists are like wish lists. Active mental preplanning when you jot down reminders uncovers unexpected obstacles. For example, you may discover a need to research setting details or flesh out a character before writing the chapter you had hoped to draft one evening. Proactive planners spend a few extra minutes to line up their work, but their preparedness saves time in completion of chores. They also gain personal empowerment when guided by a readiness to meet challenges in contrast to those who constantly find themselves tripped by unanticipated circumstances.

3.      Evaluate networking verses needs. For example, if you usually attend an annual event, question its present benefits. Perhaps a pass on a workshop will free up a weekend for completion of a project. Similarly, if your work-focused critique group has disintegrated to a social, consider options open to you. You might announce you will arrive ready to work and leave at the hours previously set.  If your group meets weekly, ask how members would feel about your attending bi-weekly. Most groups are flexible.  If yours isn’t, perhaps you can join an on-line group.

4.      Do take time to develop relationships within your writing community. When possible, be willing to help others, and they will usually reciprocate. When you ask for help, be sure to show appreciation. Pick up the tab for lunch, give a small gift, or at least send a thank-you card. If a need arises, you’ll realize the importance of writing friends. They understand urgencies in the trade. When a mishap threatens your writing derailment, a friend’s expertise, use of someone’s computer or fax machine, especially after normal business hours could be the fix that puts you back on track.

5.      Celebrate victories. Plant smiley-face stickers on your computer for tiny achievements, and expand the reward list from there. Self-rewards impact your efficiency because they affirm and motivate you.

6.      Visualize the steps that lead to your goals and imagine the thrill of achieving them. What is your vision of yourself as a writer? Feel the joy of banking future checks. In your mind’s eye, see your articles featured on magazine covers, or your books on a library shelf. Envision yourself speaking to groups and encouraging individuals. Somehow, despite all demands on your time, such mind exercises and positive thoughts create in you the ability to work efficiently without sacrificing responsibilities or interaction with friends and family.

You’ve heard it takes money to make money. When you invest bits of time to visualize activities, evaluate needs, show small courtesies, and celebrate successes, it’s time that makes time—time to use in creation of your masterpieces.

(c) 2012, Bernice Simpson