Monday, October 31, 2011

Smile and Say “Treats” -- by KittyCat

Bicklesworth--rhymes with picklesworth. That's the cat that beat up on me once. Scared he'd hurt me again, Mom wouldn't let me go outside for a long time. 

One day in a bad mood, I'm thinking, this is too stupid. Mom won't take my picture outside cuz Bicklesworth is out. So she makes this phony fall scene with pumpkins, fall flowers, and stuff, all on a grass-looking rug inside the garage. While she scatters silk leaves around--that's silk, as in fake--Dad is outside mowing, picking up real leaves and dumping them on the compost pile.

Ready to shoot, Mom put me and a treat on a pumpkin—the only real things in the whole scene. Ha, ha. I did a grab and go, and before the camera clicked I was snickering from a high shelf.

Mom stepped into the pretend pumpkin patch, and looked up at me. “KittyCat! I went to all this work to take your picture. Come here! This is so-o ridiculous.” All tempered up, she stomped her foot.

I almost fell off the shelf, laughing.

Ha, ha. Mom’s heel had hit the edge of a dandelion-looking plastic disk. As it flew up, it zapped a cardboard potted plant, and then both got hung up on a piece of wire. The wire you couldn't see before, now stuck out between pumpkins and other props, its leaves looking more like a string of broken lights than fall decorations. Startled, Mom fell backward into the bale of hay—you'd think a good landing place. But, with legs pointing up, she sank right through the “hay bale”—a straw-covered cardboard box.

She got up p-d-q, but the box stuck to her behind and hit this thing called a backdrop. It dropped—but not quite to the floor, cuz Mom was in the way.

I jumped down. All that laughter right after lunch jiggled the kibbles in my tummy and I got cramps. I puked on a pile of silk leaves—a pretty good place, cuz the colors in the up-chucked cat food blended real good with those in the phony fall scene.

Mom groaned like her tummy hurt. She stood the torn backdrop up again, but a paper bird's nest had traded its plastic branch for Mom's head, and a hobby-store sparrow hung from the witch's broom on her Halloween sweatshirt.

I looked at scrunched leaves, a broken pumpkin, the upturned hay box, and props turned everywhichway. Yeah, Mom, I thought, it is so ridiculous

The takeaway? --next time you’re in a bad mood, look around. You'll find something ‘so ridiculous,’ you'll laugh yourself silly.

(c) 2011, Bernice W. Simpson

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cut It Out!

A common comment in the critique group, Dynamic Opinions is “cut it.”

Try this activity from a Topics on Cue writing workshop.

  1. Copy Paragraph I, but don’t look at paragraph II.
  2. Without losing the essence of Paragraph I, rewrite it using about half the words.
  3. Then, compare the paragraphs, including yours. Which one is the strongest? Is Paragraph II too short?


The timer beeped, and Ashleigh opened the oven door to remove the bread she had just baked. As it had for months, the door screeched. She thought kneading bread would help her get rid of the anger she felt. It had only reduced it a few degrees. When the door squeaked, she got angry with Don all over again, and she slammed the door shut before turning off the oven. The nerve-jarring, high-pitched noise reminded her of all the things he needed to do. He started painting the kitchen last month, but had not finished the job. He said he would replace the broken bathroom window pane, but it was still held together with duct tape. It frustrated Ashleigh when she thought of all the things Don consistently had neglected to do around their home.

At the time-clock’s chirp, Ashleigh opened the oven and retrieved a golden loaf of bread. Kneading it had curbed her fury, but not her anger. When would Don fix the squeaky hinge? She slammed the door shut and turned off the oven. When would Don finish painting the kitchen or replace the bathroom window pane held together with duct tape? When would Don do anything around the place?

© 2011, Bernice Simpson

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Picture Book for Fun and Laughter

OMG! Found on the internet: Ivon Cecil's picture book, Kirby Kelvin and the Not-Laughing Lessons -- $101.35. You read that right: one hundred one dollars and thirty-five cents, plus shipping. New and signed? Maybe signed, but that particular copy is a used paperback.

To think I gave all mine away. A book is my first choice for a child's gift, so they were not purchased to keep. I wonder if any recipients saved their copy of Kirby... for a day they might sit and read the delightful story to their children.

If you want to put a smile on a child's face, read the book to a youngster, or let your second-grader read it to you. From $4.00 (that includes shipping) or a little more you can find a used copy in good condition.

Ivon taught a course on writing for children at Amarillo College, and wrote a column on the subject for a national magazine. Finding Ivon on Facebook recently prompted me to see what she has written since I saw her last. It seems she is busy with family and a demanding job at present. Hopefully, she'll resurrect Kirby or create another character for children to enjoy when she retires.

(c) 2011, Bernice W. Simpson

Monday, October 24, 2011

Snook, the Brown Tabby -- by KittyCat

Aunt Pen had gone in an airplane to see some grease and a turkey. How smart is that? --we got stores right in the neighborhood. I figured she really wanted some R & R from Snook, her brown tabby. When Aunt Gay goes somewhere in an airplane, Snook comes to our house, and I have to be nice to her. But lots of times, she acts real uppity around me.

She's done stuff like this: Snook saw that I sent a card to this kid, Matthew, cuz I heard he was sick. So she sends a fancier one, just to outdo me, and she writes this highbrow note:
"My name is Snook, more fondly known as Snookie. I learned of your malady from KittyCat, who—hmm—actually my dignity prevents my speaking further of such a ruffian.
I selected this lovely antique card especially for you, and it is sent with a most heartfelt wish that you’ll feel better soon."

Sheesh! Does that make you want to puke, or what?

At home Mom laughs telling Dad about people who say mean stuff. “For a writer, it’s all fodder,” she says. I finally learned what fodder means. Snook gives me fodder, but to make sure supplies don’t run out, sometimes I give things a bit of a nudge. 

I got lots more to say about Snook, but I feel like I’m getting a nudge. Mom turned on the rug-eating monster in the next room. Earlier she plopped sheets and towels in a laundry basket, so guess I’ll crash on top of the dirty laundry.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Confusing Compounds

Sometimes compound words should be called confound words. A word processing program's spell-checker will usually red-line incorrect run-on words, but what about other mistakes? Don't expect its help when you leave out a hyphen, put one in, or neglect to join two words to a compounded one.

Just for fun, look at the sets of compound words below, and circle those that are written incorrectly. Are you cool with compounding? Answers follow. 
1.      Workday, workweek, working class, workingclass.
2.      Otherwise, lengthwise, pennywise, weather-wise.
3.      Windstorm, ice storm, waterspout, cold front, rainfall, weathercock, snow ball, weathervane.
4.      Cash box, money-back, paper money, checkbook, moneymaker, catchpenny, money order, pocket money, moneywort.
5.      Boat-rocker, free spirit, dogcatcher, dog handler, commander in chief, policy maker, fat cat, beachcomber, sleepyhead, pussycat, water rat, darkhorse, kill-joy, big boys, watchmaker, beach bum, catnapper, straight shooter, gadabout, beachmaster, double-dealer, freethinker, birth mother, redneck, blood brother, slimeball, fortuneteller, team leader, schoolteacher, free-marketeers, cattlewoman, blue blood, blue-bloods, Big Brother, office boy, chief executive officer, step parents, godfather, dognapper, cat burglar, cave dweller, black belt.
6.      Bird of peace, bird-dog, side horse, sealion, cold duck, hot-dog, jackrabbit, white elephant, workhorses, snake bite, bird dog, waterthrush, Black Angus, kitty-corner, water bug, bullpen, snake oil, dog days, sidewinder, tomcat, blacksnake, screech owl, tabby cat, KittyCat. 

1.      All are correct except workingclass. Working class is a noun. Adjective: working-class.
2.      All are correct except pennywise. No hyphen when wise acts as a suffix to help a word express in the direction of or with regard to. But penny-wise which means good penny management, is hyphenated. Similarily weather-wise refers to one who is wise in forecasting—weather or the outcome of political issues. The following sentence is incorrect: “Weatherwise, last month was as balmy as May.” Most compound weather words are joined: windstorm, waterspout, rainfall, snowball, raindrop, snowflake, and even weatherman. But to confound us, correctly expressed as two words are ice storm and weather cock.

3.      Depending on the dictionary you use, all the money words are correct, but older word processing programs may disagree with moneyman and moneywort. In Canada, the moneywort question is moot. There, the moneywort's common name is creeping Jenny--logically expressed in two words.

4.      This list of people (yes, it lacks political correctness) is too long to make you strain. Although dictionaries differ in some cases, all are correct. But can you define the words? For example, what is the difference between a dognapper and catnapper? Why is Big Brother a proper noun, while commander in chief isn't? Are there cave dwellers in New York City?

5.      Correct--the verbs hot-dog (to perform stunts) and bird-dog, (to watch or follow carefully). Also correct is the noun, bird dog. Snake oil is correct, but if zapped by a snake, you have a snakebite. Joined, Seal plus ion do not make a word. Perhaps that is why sea and lion are separated. Three dictionaries refuse to recognize kitty cat, and especially not as a proper noun. But, KittyCat exists. See? (= ^__^ =). And I suppose he'll post something tomorrow.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Panhandle Writers’ Network

On Thursdays, look for Cat in the Corner to showcase Texas Panhandle writers. Their talent and publication credits are as varied as pollen swirling in the region’s autumn air.

If you heard pro-life activist, Mark Crutcher, on You Tube infer that nothing moves except air in this part of the country, don’t believe it. The Panhandle Professional Writers, one of the oldest writing groups in the United States, meets bimonthly in Amarillo, Texas.

Check back next Thursday for an article about or authored by one or more of the region’s writers. Will that be someone famous? Perhaps, but maybe not. Someone interesting? Of course.

© 2011, Bernice W. Simpson

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Party for Henry -- by KittyCat

There’s so much stuff I just don’t understand about humans, but I’ve never been as confused as I was –well, still am—about Henry. Jessica (that’s a human cousin, sort of) called and said we were invited to a party for Henry (another human cousin, sort of).

Later, Mom said she was going to the grocery store, so I jumped in the car faster than a cricket hops to a hiding spot. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it, but my plan was to buy Henry a nice juicy raw chicken for his birthday. But guess what? Just as we got there, Mom saw me, and said I couldn’t go in the grocery store cuz I’m a cat. It beats me. I get to go (sometimes that’s want to or not) to the pet stuff store, and they got groceries. They also got big dogs who would chase me all over the store if they could get loose from their leashes.

Anyhow, back at the house, I licked my boots and jabot so I’d look real spiffy for Henry’s party. I was right at Mom’s heels by the door as she opened it, ready to leave. She pushed me back, saying I couldn’t go with her—it was “a just for ladies” thing. Then when I heard her tell Dad good-bye, I got really confused, and I still am. They talked for a minute or so, and said something about a shower, and talked about how Henry was not even born yet. If not even born, how can he take a shower? Why would a bunch of ladies go to his shower? –Like do they stand around and watch? Gee, you’d think a guy could have some privacy. 

So I felt real bad, for me and for Henry. When Mom goes to visit him, I’ll figure out a way to put a dollar in his toy box. In a year or so, Henry can to go to the store by himself, and buy his own chicken.  And I hope he gets to have a real birthday party someday, and it’s super nice. If it’s hot out maybe he and his friends can play with water toys or splash in a wading pool. I hope he gets to invite who he wants. I’ll bet it will be lots of kids and cats and friendly little dogs, but no old ladies.

(c) 2011, Bernice Simpson

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Buy Versus Borrow

If certain authors interviewed are typical, the extensive information in our personal writing libraries could spin a genius into overload. We've saved writers' magazines, newsletters, and Internet downloads. We've fattened file folders with handwritten notes made at workshops and lectures. Additionally, we've each purchased at least 25 books to help us hone our craft.

Why do we buy when we can borrow?

“The joy of buying a book is difficult to describe,” said Joan Sikes. Joy.... can there be a better reason to browse the book stores and pick out a favorite title? And considering short print runs, isn't it prudent to quickly grab items high on your wish list?

Of course needs usually come before wants. Despite information on the internet, most writers consider these three necessities: a dictionary, thesaurus, and manual of style. But our 22 other books are not just fluff. Many are hard-to-find or frequently-used glossaries. I keep my Illustrated Reverse Dictionary close to my computer. Also in the “buy and keep” category are special dictionaries for authors working in particular genres: a rhyming dictionary for the poet, a biblical concordance for the writer of daily devotions.

Some of us buy because we wouldn't think of marking a book we didn't own. We don't merely read, we use pages—highlighting parts in neon yellow and pink, creasing corners with dog ears and scribbling comments in margins. And as writers shouldn’t we support each other and buy books for gifts? Deborah Elliott-Upton thinks so, and said she’ll purchase several of the same title if on sale, and give them away at her workshops.

About loaning books from their personal collections, some permit borrowing only from close friends, and others said “not at all.” Their reasons are not due to selfishness, but because it may not be possible to replace a lost book. That makes Joan Sikes’ philosophy all the more endearing: “We are charged with helping one another,” she said. “If I have a book that will help someone, I don’t hesitate to loan it.”

But before you pester a generous friend like Joan for a list of her titles, check your public library. Unlike bookstores, libraries keep their purchases long after a book is no longer in print. If you wanted, but resisted Writers’ Digest Book Club selections like Picture Writing, the 400-page Writer’s Guide to Places, and others, you may find them at your public library. Borrow when you need just a bit of information. For example, if the next place for a character in your story is the undertaker’s check out Murder and Mayhem if it’s available. With author Dr. D. P. Lyle’s expert advice, you’ll know whether your creation has time for a hospital visit between the ambulance gurney and coffin.

Deborah Elliott-Upton said “the Internet has largely replaced the library for me. It’s easier and faster.” Buy versus borrow? Today the Internet is more than a research tool. You can read full texts, including illustrations, of thousands of books right from your computer. Think of it—all those books for a few clicks. It can’t get better than that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Roar in the Jungle -- by KittyCat

I’ve tried, but can’t reach and knock a card off Mom’s magnet board. It’s a reminder to “protect your special friend with an annual check-up.” Bull. It means “torture time.”

The very worst doctor day was a couple of years ago. Curled up comfy in a flower pot, and kinda daydreaming, I imagined I looked just like the jungle cat on a picture I saw once. And that's not so crazy, because I've heard Mom say we become what we think, and it's even in the Bible somewhere.

I opened my eyes and thought I saw a cat’s rump sticking out a bit between the peony bush and the corner of my house. I slipped down from the planter to get a better look. Sure enough, I discovered an orange tabby cat sleeping in my jungle territory. Warning him to leave immediately, I roared so loud I thought the whole neighborhood gasped with fright. Well, maybe the whole neighborhood did, but not the tabby. He jumped on me, scratching and biting.

I don't remember, but maybe I screamed. Mom rescued me, and all worried about diseases, she took me to the doctor. I thought the vet people would call the animal police to take that devil cat to jail. Instead they just laughed, “Got in a little tussle, huh?” The vet poured stuff on the bites that hurt worse than they did in the first place. Then, she stuck me with a needle. There’s more. She said it was almost time for that every-year shot. She pinched me real hard and stuck me again.

Mom looked all smiley as she put me in the car. “What a relief! Thank you, Lord, for protecting my precious kitty.”

Yeah, right. Thanks a ton. I looked at her and hissed.

(c) 2011, Bernice W. Simpson

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A World of Books

“He had his long hair pulled back in a ….” We wanted to replace ponytail but couldn’t think of the word queue. For a moment I wished I had kept a book naming that particular hairstyle. But my shelves had been bowed with too many books, and “in case needed for reference” was no longer an excuse to keep the clutter.

You too, can cull with confidence. Search Today, the catalog once reserved for the exclusive use of librarians is public. If your dust-gathering book is listed, let go of it. If needed again—and that’s unlikely, isn’t it? –you can borrow it through an interlibrary loan. Simply visit your local library, and someone will walk you through the process. Thanks to the Internet, you can probably arrange for the loan from your computer.

For example, if you have an Amarillo Public Library card, try these six steps:
  1. Type in your library card number to access their pages.
  2. Click on the red, white and blue icon: "TexShare Databases."
  3. From the links list, choose "the Online Computer Library Center" (OCLC).
  4. Type the book's title (or, if you've forgotten it, use a keyword) in the search box.
  5. Fill out the form and order the book online.
Regardless of which library you use, a librarian can arrange to borrow it by mail, and will notify you when it arrives. Typically, the facility will absorb mailing costs and loan it to you, just like anything else loaned to the public.

Typically. There could be restrictions or exceptions. For example, if you want to borrow a book from a library in Scotland, expect to pay something--maybe insurance costs, and even a postage surcharge. Sometimes the borrowing library must keep custody of the book, and you are permitted access to it only at their facility. Also a lending source may have a no-renewal policy, an inconvenience compounded by a shorter loan time than you expected.

Regardless, “The beauty of the Interlibrary Loan System,” said Nan Kemp, interlibrary loan specialist at Amarillo College, “is that the collections of thousands of libraries are available to area library patrons.”

For more information visit the nearest library to you. Amarillo’s central library’s address is 413 E. 4th, Amarillo, TX 79101. You may also phone: 806/378-3053, fax: 806/378-9326, or email:

(c) 2011, Bernice W. Simpson

Monday, October 3, 2011

Laughs for Mr. M. -- by KittyCat

            When Mom hears me hiss at Monster, (that’s what I call the vacuum cleaner) she gets scared I’ll bite its cord to make it shut up, so she puts me outside. Mr. M down the street parks his black pickup right beside a tree that’s lately covered with tons of flowers. I get up on the cab’s roof, tuck my white paws under me and put my head down.

            Ha, ha. Either I’m camouflaged real good, or the only thing bright about birds is their feathers. I lie there, real quiet like. Birds come and don’t even see me. When they really get into flitting around and jabbering away to one another, I leap to a branch. Sometimes I land right on top of a stupid bird.

            The birds take off in all directions. Valor, Mr. M.’s dog, gets all excited. She tries to catch a bird or two and misses cuz she’s on a chain. Then Valor sees me and barks herself hoarse cuz back on the truck, I hiss just to get her going real crazy. It’s great fun.

            Mom would get real upset if she saw those petals and tail feathers go raining down from the tree, but Mr. M. just laughs. “Way to go, Phantom,” he says and gives me cat treats.

            Phantom. Nice name. Before I got adopted a family that let me sleep in their garage called me that. How I got stuck with KittyCat is another story...for another day.

(c) 2011, Bernice Simpson

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Short Stuff - A reprint

The following is an article first published in The Window, the Panhandle Professional Writers' newsletter:

“Smallness is the realm of elegance and grace. It’s also the realm of perfection. The short story … is inherently selective. By excluding almost everything, it can give perfect shape to what remains.” – Steven Milhauser, The New York Times October 5, 2008

Short stories are like a spread of hors d’oeuvres--spare, but deliciously varied. What a perfect combination for novice writers striving to improve their craft. They can taste a dozen or more masters at one sitting, and they need not leave the house to enjoy the buffet.

Offerings of meaty classics pepper the Internet. Not keen on the classics? Why not take another taste? After all, the sampling is free. Besides, instructors encourage budding authors to not only study the classics, but immerse themselves in works of previous centuries. Paul Saevig of Author Network says “Tolstoy will teach you more about writing than Dean Koontz.”

Mike Akins doesn’t necessarily agree. Which writer better exemplifies today’s publishing rule: “write tight?” He makes a good point. What a relief that we don’t need to read War and Peace to appreciate Tolstoy. The Russian also wrote short stories.

In fact, so many eminent authors, both past and present, have written short stories that after choosing a plateful, there’s little room for dessert. Read the greats of yesteryear—Sinclair Lewis, Ruth Suckow, William Faulkner, and hundreds more completely free. A list is online at Then, for a special treat, go to Random House’s Website and read The Ceiling by Kevin Brockmeier.

Look at Mr. Brockmeier’s use of language and then decide on the value of short stories. They’re not buckets of fried chicken, but delectable truffles.

 Read such literary nuggets for the simple pleasure of relaxing with a book. Then chew on them again, digesting more slowly. Despite their austerity, they have much to teach. Compare authors. Study their characters, plots and narration styles. Look up unfamiliar words.

Reading will teach you what to do, but only by actually writing will you learn how to write. You may not have the expertise to write a novel, but you must start somewhere. The short story “is a great way to develop ideas when you don’t have time to write a book,” said Diane Mowery, a member of Panhandle Professional Writers. She added, “The short story gets the idea down. It can stand on its own, and still be developed into a longer piece later. It can also help you discover how much you like the idea as you make a ‘trial run’ with the short story.”

Paul Saevig says to “swing into this with the enthusiasm that you had when you first learned to dance. You knew you weren’t Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, but you were still having fun.”

You just might dance your way into the pages of Houghton Mifflin’s The Best American Short Stories. The 2008 collection included a story, “Man and Wife,” discovered in The Missouri Review. This perfectly shaped gem was Katie Chase’s first published story. 

 (c) 2011, Bernice Simpson