Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year -- by KittyCat


“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Flabby Tabby in the flesh—very fleshy flesh specially the round abby.”
I rehearsed that for three days and could finally say it without an ab laugh. An ab laugh is like a belly laugh, except if you don’t have flabby abbies, your middle doesn’t jiggle like jelly.

I decided to save it for another time, cuz it was almost Christmas, and we're sposed to be kind at Christmas. Besides, I was excited for Snookie to spend Christmas with us. She spat at me in October cuz she thought I said she was fat. Instead of making funny jokes that hurt her feelings, I told myself ten thousand times, I'd be nice to her. 

And I was. She came here on December 11th. Showing my nice side, I touched noses with Snookie to welcome her–a bad move, cuz Snook the Snot was in a bad mood.

When she hissed one of those words you could win a game of Hangman with, and slapped at me, I just moved back a bit. I remembered how I felt when Mom and Dad went to Arkansas. Even though Karina stayed with me most the time, I was upset over being left behind. 

To give Snook space, I went into to office, and she wandered in later. Half snoozing on the guest bed, I told Snook she could join me or have the office chair if she wanted it. She did want it, and has hogged it for two weeks. I got the office now because Snook’s snuggling by Mom who’s watching TV with Dad.

It was kinda nice to have Snook here—in fact, real nice to have company when Mom and Dad went out. But like those Christmas lights that blink off and on, and change colors, and chase each other around the roof, real nice can get real tiring. I’ll bet that’s how Aunt Pen feels about being around all her relatives about now. I’ve even heard her call them blinkety-blink something. Maybe it was blankety-blank.

Anyhow, tomorrow is a brand new year. Aunt Pen will come and take Snookie home. That will be a happy new year start.

Hey, I hope yours gets off to a happy start, too, and is super great all year long.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Leadership of the Small Writing Group , Part I


Support for one another is the common thread that holds small writing groups together. And that’s good. But even small critique groups, writing circles, clubs, or guilds, need leadership. Without it, friendships that develop can cause a writing circle to degenerate into a writers’ social. Serious writers drop out, and the group folds.

In its advice on how to organize a writing group, the book CRAFT: Create, Rewrite, and Fine Tune*, tells how to prevent a break-up by putting guidelines in place when the group is first formed. Basic guidelines in writing give prospective members a clear idea of what to expect when joining the group. A leader’s simple statement, “Remember, we do it this way,” is usually all it takes to head off conflict, a members’ press for change, or overly disruptive chatter.

That does not mean dynamics will not change. With fundamental elements in place, however, it’s easy enough to tweak ground rules as necessary. CRAFT suggests an annual review of its structure and the direction it is taking, regardless of an association’s size. The following are among dozens of questions leadership may want to consider:

·          Are members satisfied with the meeting day and time, and meeting length?
·          What about the meeting place? How well is the present arrangement working?
·          Variations in meeting structure are endless. Of importance is how well your present structure is working for your group. Members who suggest changes should be ready with ideas on how to implement the changes, and, if adopted, to then be responsible for putting new procedures in place.
·          Do policies require redefining? For example, what is: “too steamy” in romance novels; unacceptable language; overly violent scenes, and so forth?
·          Is the work load fair and effective? While large groups tend to elect annual officers, the leadership in small groups often falls to its original organizer(s). The book CRAFT lists a number of positions with duties, if there are sufficient volunteers to take on extra responsibility. Those are the subject of another article. The primary leadership role belongs to the facilitator.

A writing Group’s Facilitator

This is the group’s main leader. Duties will vary from group to group, but will typically include the following:

·          Makes leadership decisions between meetings, often in consultation with key members who make a point of keeping up with group concerns and activities, attend meetings as regularly as they can, and act as advisors to the facilitator.
·          Opens, and later closes the meeting, conducts the business session, if applicable, and makes necessary announcements, including welcoming of guests and introduction of guest speakers.
·          Keeps activities on track in order to complete the meeting’s agenda.
·          Facilitates discussion, aiming for a balance between encouraging participation of all in attendance while discouraging discussion from turning into desultory chat.
·          Direct the critique session if it is on the agenda. Typical priorities for the critique leader is to keep the session moving, and remind members, when necessary, to not interrupt the critique, to critique the writing and not content, phrase comments in a positive manner, and so forth. In short, the person who facilitates a critique session should be aware of the group’s standards for the giving and receipt of critique, and with diplomacy, encourage those standards to be followed.

In large groups, members' contribution to their organization may be limited to their annual dues. The smaller the group, the more each member should accept responsibilities. Learn how to add spark to the small writing group through teamwork in Leadership of the Small Writing Group, Part II.    

*CRAFT: Create, Rewrite, and Fine Tune is still in an editing stage, with a unit or two not finished.

I am indebted to my friend, Diane Mowery, for help with this article. 

© Bernice W. Simpson 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Meet Helen Luecke

January 9th, 2013. If you live in the Amarillo, Texas area, mark your calendar to attend Helen Luecke’s book signing at the Senior Citizen’s Center (exact time TBA).

Hopefully she’ll begin the session with a reading. Listeners who don’t understand a word of English could still be mesmerized by Helen’s reading her stories. Is it cadence or syntax?

When I mentioned Helen’s pleasant voice modulation, she was unaware of that talent. She credits writing skill development to inspirational writer, Doris Crandall—“a very good editor who helped lots of people,” Helen said.

Helen is the surviving member of the like-minded trio (Helen Luecke, Doris Crandall and Sylvia Camp) that started an Amarillo chapter of “Inspirational Writers Alive.” In the main, this group writes to encourage their readers to direct themselves to Christian living, something Mrs. Luecke accomplishes with her touching family-life stories.

One of those tales, A Gift of Love, submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul: the Gift of Christmas, 2010 edition, made the cut of the 101 chosen from 6,000 other entries. Then, on December 16th this year, The Amarillo Globe News featured Helen Luecke’s back story to A Gift of Love, in a spread in its “Lifestyles” section.

The timing, less than a month before the release of her own book, “Life’s Journeys Become Twilight Memories.” was perfect. But Helen Luecke did not solicit the attention. Chicken Soup’s Amy Newmark notified the paper. Chip Chandler interviewed Helen, and the paper sent a photographer to take a picture of her with the gift of love—a tri-colored afghan Helen had crocheted for her mother.

It’s appropriate, but ironic that a writer not motivated by money should be the subject of a newspaper spread. Mrs. Luecke appreciates the publicity, however, because she does have a mission. She wants to use her stories to inspire others to write theirs and give their children a sense of family history. “Maybe they’d write for their kids or at least tell their kids about their lives,” Helen said.

 Also, she discovered years ago that her stories “touch people’s hearts.” The Smile behind the Tears, published in a collection prompted a young reader to write Mrs. Luecke. Referring to Helen Luecke’s mother, and the central character in the story, the child said, “I wish I could’ve had a mother like Miss Bessie.” Helen “didn’t realize there were that many” who grew up in dysfunctional homes.

Thanks to Chip Chandler’s article, Helen Luecke’s inspirational stories will reach a larger audience. Some who hear the sincerity in her voice, purchase her book, and allow themselves to be guided by stories beautifully told, will surely wish to be a mother like Miss Bessie. Relating to true life examples, they will follow and grow.

© 2012 Bernice W. Simpson


Monday, December 24, 2012

A recipe: Crustless Quiche

Christmas time can be a little over-busy. Yesterday's blog about leadership in critique groups is still in the draft stage--and that is an understatement.

Several people have asked me for this recipe, originally in one of those recipe books Southwestern Public Service Company (electric company) used to give away. I'm told a set of them is now collectible and "fetches a good price." Don't call and ask about mine--I loaned out a few which were never returned, and the ones I kept are dog-eared and dotted with an assortment of liquid food stuffs.

Crustless Quiche

Blend thoroughly (recipe calls for food processor or blender, but I use a mixer)

  • 1 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. margarine (I use butter)
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 c. plain yogurt
Add and blend:
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
Pour into pan. Swirl in:
  • 1 (4 oz.) can green chilies 
  • 2 c. Colby/Jack cheese, grated.
Can bake immediately or put in fridge overnight.
Bake at 350 degrees F approx 45 min or until set.

Can freeze

PS: I just put a casserole dish of it in the oven, and realized I used 4 cups of cheese. When mixing it I wondered why it seemed to take so long to grate the cheese. Anyhow, I'll bet it makes little difference. If it turns out disastrous, I'll make a note of it on Face Book.

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Dresser in Earth

Thursday--the day Cat in the Corner is designated for notes about or by others. I'm still trying to catch up after a two-month setback. Nonetheless, I have something to share. My niece sent me to a rant too funny to miss, but I don't have permission to copy it. Find it quick before the writer takes it down.

Go to Amarillo's Craigslist (, I believe). Click on furniture. Scroll until you are on items listed under December 13, and find a dresser for sale listed by a man from Earth, TX. Click on his ad.

If love for his girlfriend resembled heaven on earth, it appears to now be the opposite.

Maybe some readers will at least wish the guy a Merry Christmas, and who knows--someone may even want the dresser.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Visit to Pens and Pages Writers Guild


Do you need to crank up your muse? If you live in a city, revive your creativity and activate fresh inspiration with a field trip away from the congested city’s concrete buildings, traffic and noise. The expansive rural landscape will open you, free the clutter from your mind, and excite your senses.

On October 29, during my excursion from Amarillo to Friona, the countryside delighted me and heightened my sense of observation. In the bar ditches tiny plants wore fall colors, brightened by the sun, and sparkled with silver where fallen leaves left twigs exposed. Varicolored fields changed from brown earth speckled with stubble to crops tinted in shades of straw yellow, gold, and bronze in an ever-changing panorama.

Yesterday, a new office chair allowed longer sessions at my computer, and despite boxed Christmas decorations stacked on the sofa, I decided to mentally return to Friona, and write about The Pens and Pages Writers Guild that meets every fourth Tuesday morning at Friona’s library and on one Monday per month in members’ homes.

Pens and Pages Writers Guild had asked me to present the program, Critique Acumen. Considering what a challenge it is to draw members to meetings in Amarillo, the demographics of this group surprised me. Members drove to Friona from their homes in or near the towns of Bovina, Farwell, and Hereford, as well as the community of Rhea. You can learn more about the area and its history at and

I always enjoy learning how a group conducts their meetings, and it’s a special treat to meet members face to face. For their evening meetings, Pens and Pages starts in the kitchen where everyone contributes to a feast of finger foods, including Amanda Embry’s home-made bread. Find bread recipes on her blog, as well as thoughtful articles. Read while it’s free. Her unique concept paired with outstanding writing will surely catch a publisher’s attention.

At the meeting, chatter stops and work begins on time. Unlike city folks, certain members have a long drive home. Diane Mowery’s drive to Rhea is 20 miles from Friona; Clovis is 30, and Hereford 35. Pens and Pages stick to their purpose—writing, and does not let their meeting degenerate into an evening social. 

I noticed how members encouraged one another, yet were not shy about offering suggestions—always stated with diplomatic professionalism.

As a program presenter, I scan the audience for reactions, but never know how effective my suggestions are. Since this group was small and informal, the presentation was interactive—much more fun for me than standing behind a podium. I hope they absorbed points, but also enjoyed the evening as much as I did.

There’s ample room in the Friona library for guests at 10 AM on fourth Tuesdays. Visit the library’s website for its address and phone number. Remember to “Like” it. I know you’ll like the enthusiastic people you’ll meet there, and the drive to Friona will energize your muse.

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trailblazer Mary Kate Tripp Died

Nice work on the obit, Chip. But why didn't the paper throw a bouquet to Mary Kate Tripp while she was living? Was it because after unceremoniously killing the book page, accolades might have appeared to be an apology?

The above is part of an angry letter I'll never send. It's venting. Anger somehow suppresses tears ready to spill on my keyboard and short out the computer.

Everyone I've met who knew Mary Kate--Katie to her many associates--praised her work ethic, her writing and editing ability, organizational skills, and more. Some of us who shared a pot of coffee with her, and soaked in her stories, not only admired the career journalist, but also grew to love her.

Mary Kate Tripp, the extraordinary career woman, was love personified. Perhaps that's the dimension missing from the newspaper's obituary. It's words are fine enough. But years ago I copied a farmer's wisdom into my Writing Worth Citing notebook: "Fine words butter no turnips."

The last time I called on Mary Kate, I took flowers--not in recognition of her brilliant mind or accomplishments. A giant heart beat inside her tiny frame. That was the essence of Mary Kate, and I hope she knew how wonderfully she had shared it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Unhappy Halloween Week -- by KittyCat

Way back when, people looked up to cats (even to cats snoozing on a floormat) and treated them like gods. Now cats are treated like goods, or worse, like they’re kinda worthless goods.

Well, not all cats. A famous artist said cats are masterpieces, and there are people who really love cats. There’s even a word for them: ailurophiles. Bet Mom can’t even pronounce it. Well that’s no big deal cuz I can’t either. Besides Mom shouldn't love all cats—just me.

And she does, but it gets crazy sometimes. Like today, so warm, you’d thought it was summertime outside, and Mom decided I should come in way before supper—“don’t want you out after dark,” she said.

Mom hardly lets me play outside at night, and specially not on Halloween. Monday, though, when it was freezing and barely daylight, Mom kicked me out to go potty first thing—before breakfast. How loving is that?

No sense in being cold, starving, and miserable I thought, so decided to catch a bird. Hidden by the Jeep’s tire, I felt my body twitch as a starling landed close to the driveway. I inched forward in the tire’s shadow. Clueless about its fate, the bird was checking under leaves at the driveway’s edge. Clack, the front door opened. Swoosh, the bird flew away. I hissed at Mom.

Mom made me come inside. I saw she had filled my dish to the top, but I wasn't gonna act happy about it after what she’d just done. I got up on the plant table and looked out the window. And guess who was in my yard? Stewie!

His family left some stuff behind when they moved to an apartment. Mom heard Stewie got dumped at the pound, and felt bad for him. When she saw him Monday, she got leftover steak from the fridge, pinched off a fly-sized bite for me, and took the rest out to Stewie. Can you believe it? Steak!

In a bit, I figured by the way Mom had dressed and was hurrying around she was going somewhere. Well, the morning hadn't started good, but at least I could have the computer to myself without the scary vac monster messing up my day.

Wrong. Mom had closed the office door.

That night it was worse. She came home smelling like she’d been to the pound. I smelled dogs. Mom’s a sucker for their brown eyes begging attention. I smelled cats all around and up and down Mom’s pant legs. I was so ticked!

I’ll bet a ghost in an empty house had more fun than I did this week. The up side is Halloween’s over, Tomorrow’s a brand new month, and the month after that I’ll get lots of goodies. I may not be a god, but when I think of that red stocking full of toys and treats, I feel like one. 

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scatterings of Yesteryear: Backstory Techniques

Interject. What does that word bring to mind? Interruption? If you think interruption instead of backstory, it will help you avoid extraneous material. By weaving in only crucial details, your final product will resemble a subtle pattern in silk versus a coarse woolen plaid.  

When critique group members use words like “jump” or “awkward,” or say “something’s not working here,” or “needs transition,” the problem may lie in how you handled the backstory of a character or plot. The issue is particularly challenging for beginning writers.

A character’s thoughts that trigger a flashback can work: Bernard looked out at the ocean, and after all those years, remembered the tsunami’s destruction of his village. But as a literary technique, it’s almost a cliché, isn't it? If you are learning to write, use it for now. With experience you'll find better techniques.

Remember background interrupts the story’s flow. Write your thoughts, then cut where you can. For example, Leslie had trouble putting the doggie boots on Ben. The last time she had taken her dog to her uncle’s place, Ben whimpered as Leslie spent hours tweezing burrs from the fur on his lower legs and between the dog’s toes which were bleeding from walking on the barbs. Delete any information not necessary for the story. The doggie boots Leslie put on Ben would protect his feet from the burrs around her uncle’s place. If the reader must know Leslie had to remove burrs the last time, the reader understands removal of burrs is time consuming and a dog would probably whimper. No need to include them unless the details are pertinent to the plot.

Sometimes inner thoughts work. Greg was not saddened by his father’s death because his dad had constantly abused his children. Instead of describing Greg’s treatment, put yourself in Greg’s shoes at his father’s funeral. Greg half smirked at the man in the casket. “Good riddance, Dad. What would you think of being buried without your weapons—your belt, your hard-toed work boots, your hands rolled into knock-down fists?” 

Here a writer tells how two characters met by connecting flowers from the past to the present: Carla Laughed, “Cosmos planted along this fence again. Six years ago a sudden swarm of black hoppers prompted me to knock on Allen’s door. I was afraid those insects would infest the neighborhood.”

Scatter background information as much as possible. Interject details as smoothly as you can, and keep them short. Holding his burger with two hands, Marvin took a deep breath and inhaled his high school hangout. Burgers, fries, and a whiff of chili. He looked straight ahead: the jukebox was missing. Once referenced, the writer can use the jukebox to pepper the story with background details later.

You can frontload crucial information with a prologue. I generally don’t like them. But if that’s the only way you can get your story started, go for it. Maybe you’ll leave it, or maybe you’ll find a way to stitch in threads as you write the body of your work.

My friend, Mike Akins, won a contest with a prologue. I had read it online—poetic, emotional, beautiful. I just had to meet this guy. And that’s the backstory to Dynamic Opinions, our present critique group.

© 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thoughts for Panhandle Professional Writers

Have you visited lately? The home page is clean, and gives readers a clear understanding of Panhandle Professional Writers’ goals. I would like that page to include officer’s contact information, but found it in the association’s latest newsletter, The PPW Window.

On page two of The PPW Window, you’ll see a heading, “Survey from Matt.” Members and prospective members may profit by responding to it. Matt expects a response of 10 to 15%. PPW can do better than that, right?

Thinking his questions were cogent to my blog, I decided to gather ideas. I phoned a dozen members and discovered numerous incorrect phone numbers in our directory. No surprise, actually—my phone number, unchanged for 47+ years is not even listed.  Why not simply make the group’s database available via email attachment? Something is better than nothing. Besides, why dun the treasury for a print version that goes out of date before it reaches the press?

Matt asked for opinions. After the conference last year, Suzi Sandoval told me it was money well spent. She had a great time, and because attendance was lower than expected, she enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and opportunity to spend more time with both staff and other participants. At Market Street today, the pharmacist said he was impressed with the conference, and it stimulated his interest to learn more about writing. I was getting a flu shot, so thought it wise to discuss only positives with a man with a needle in his hand.

He mentioned attendance. He’d like to attend all PPW meetings, but his work schedule has prevented it. Distance may be the number one reason out-of-town members don’t make it. How easy is it to drive to Amarillo from Albuquerque, NM; Brownfield, TX; or Eads, OK? I noticed on one page of our directory 41% of members listed lived at least 100 miles from Amarillo. How do we improve attendance? Well…a decade ago, we had at least one agent or editor speak at our meetings annually—a definite draw. Now that the industry has undergone so many changes and air fares have exploded, that may no longer be an option.

Considering the business of writing, though, pitching to agents and editors is why a serious writer attends writers’ functions. Isn’t that particularly true when the cost of a function (like a conference) runs well beyond dues already paid, and participation devours a weekend? In business, every expense is weighed against value. When a conference is targeted to beginners, published authors don’t attend. One member said that even inexperienced writers like to rub shoulders with established authors of various genera. Perhaps a semi-annual conference with broader audience appeal would prove profitable. Profit—years ago Ellen Richardson told me FIW was PPW’s annual fund raiser. Times change, don’t they?

On the subject of speakers, “variety” had the edge, but ambiguity reigned. Laura Stevens applauded the idea of variety, but added, “I could listen to Phyliss Miranda again and again, and never tire of her.”

What could I possibly add to that?

(c) 2012, Bernice Simpson

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Leaf Chasing and Cricket Catching - by KittyCat

I didn’t scratch or hiss at Mom when she scooped me up from my chair outside and plopped me on the living room floor. As quick as I thought about it, I remembered she turned on the computer, and I could write while she’s out today.

When she comes home, I’ll go outside and stay there until suppertime. That’s what I did all day yesterday and Monday. It was too nice out—like summer days, but better. Balmy, all day long.

I asked my tabby friend, Snoook, (not last time I saw her—there was no balmy in that conversation) why bombs were bad but bomby was good. She explained a whole bunch of words to me, and was so nice about it, I wondered if her real name is Snooker instead of Snookie. She could make me think something is true when maybe it isn’t.

For now, I’ll take her word for it. The week has been balmy—not oven-hot like the summer. Prettier, too. Colored leaves all over the grass, it looks something like candy sprinkles on cupcakes. That’s better than it looked all summer.

Tomorrow fall is coming back, and the next day it will even freeze. In winter I stay in most of the time, curled up on Dad’s jacket except when Mom puts it on a hanger, and mumbling how she’s not the maid, puts it in the closet. Dad and I like it on the chair. If we had a maid, Dad could fire someone for sticking stuff where he doesn't want it to go.

Since Vondell, the schnoodle moved away, I can't pester her from the brick wall in her yard, so yesterday I played savanna cat. I chased crickets, slapping one around until it wouldn't hop anymore, and then hunted for another. I caught leaves flitting down from trees or scooting across the grass. It wasn't as much fun as watching Vondell go crazy but when you don’t have someone to play with, you have to make up fun stuff.

The best thing about playing savanna cat is the pretend part, cuz I don’t have to watch out for getting tromped by elephants, and I can nap instead of hunting for food. Housecats get fed—some of them too much—I won’t mention who, or say that f-word that rhymes with cat.

I just heard Mom’s car. Good timing, cuz I’m gonna take a nap in my porch chair under the hanging plant that’s still got flowers. Or maybe I’ll lay on the porch table cuz kids coming home from school always smile, point and say how I’m so good looking. 

It’s a pretty good life, being a handsome tuxedo cat.


(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Six Websites for Writers, Annotated

Its homepage invites you to “Step into Speculative Writing.” Mike Akins led me to the site after we discussed proofreading marks last week. For a comprehensive list of them, click on Teachwrite’s “edit” footprint. Don’t stop there. Take advantage of explanations offered about a story’s structure. Try the graphics the site provides to help you flesh out characters and outline your ideas. Designed for students, it exemplifies how computers impact today’s classroom. It deserves a place in the “favorites” of writers, parents, teachers, and students.

world-english: test, learn and study the English language online
Describing itself as “the one-stop resource for the English language and more…,” it fascinates and overwhelms. Avoid the site when you’re pinched for time, or if you tend to amble down rabbit trails when you should be working. Examples of distracting links: “Interesting News Stories,” “World English Slang,” and the numerous quiz links. But true to its subtitle, it is a great place to check your vocabulary, and have fun with word games and grammatical quizzes.

Lynch Guide to Grammar
 Lynch Guide to Grammar and the many links Jack Lynch provides covering all things English is another site that’s fun to get lost in. If you can put a name on a grammatical question, Jack Lynch’s guide will no doubt help you. If you can’t name your problem, check out “Bugbears,” and you may decide to wing it. His introduction begins with: “Arguments over grammar and style are often as fierce as those over Windows versus Mac, and as fruitless as Coke versus Pepsi or boxers versus briefs. Pedantic and vicious debates over knotty matters such as….” Well, you get the gist. But there are conventions in English, and if in doubt you’d do well to find out what Mr. Lynch has to say.

Resources for Writers and Writing Instructors
Jack Lynch apologizes for the page he states needs reorganizing. Sure enough, I discovered several broken links. On the plus side, though, the annotated links give you a better idea of what you can find than by simply reading the title alone. Also, according to Mr. Lynch, none of the sites he lists are commercial. I’d give him two thumbs up for that.

The Norton Anthology of Poetry
If you are a non-poet and a member of a mixed-genre critique group, peruse this site. It is a good place to begin learning how to understand, and eventually appreciate poetry. Its glossary, less complete than websites aimed at the more advanced poet, also lacks pronunciation of the words listed. On the other hand, it offers the novice a learning aid: “glossary flashcards.”

Worthless Word for the Day
You can Google it. Also, you’ll find it with the dictionaries listed in Ironically, the dictionary includes aubade, a word listed in Norton’s Anthology of Poetry. If aubade is silly, the serenade must be as well. Kudos to wwtd’s compiler. Where can humor writers find a better list of uncommon, rib-tickling words?

Speaking of words, 500 are enough for now, aren't they?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Field Trip to Booker, Texas


Between them, Jerome and Bobette Doerrie served on the Panhandle Professional Writer’s (PPW) board for almost a decade. They enlisted each other when needing help, partly because, as married couples are wont to do, it’s easy to call “Honey....” Also, it is not easy to recruit volunteers from Amarillo when you live on a farm near Booker, Texas.

An educator, Bobette said they both flunked “Retirement.” She is still teaching (in Panhandle in the mornings, and Woodward, OK, in the evenings); Jerome, despite the drought, still farms. Schedule conflicts have precluded their PPW meeting attendance lately, but they continue to write. “Curriculum” Bobette chuckled. She also writes poetry. Jerome founded an astronomy club four years ago, and since then, his main writing focus favors astronomy.

Located in Lipscomb County, TX, Booker should be an excellent place to view the night sky.  The entire county’s population is under 3,500. In fact, despite its designation as the county seat, I drove past the entire town when looking for its courthouse this afternoon.  With my friend, Sondra Kennon, navigating, we backtracked and found the building—quiet and dignified on the outside, bustling with activity of wonderfully friendly people within.

With Sondra’s help, I was delivering a jeepload of books to the Lipscomb County library. The courthouse maintenance crew directed us to a nearby once-vacant schoolhouse, now turned into a library. They unloaded the books in a foyer, and then led us into their library, complete with overstuffed chairs in reading areas, and ambience so inviting, we hated to leave it.

But plans included lunch with the Doerries at Imo’s in Booker, and earlier irresistible scenery around Canadian had slowed my driving. We were running late.

Our good-byes came too soon, but not before tentative plans were laid for another excursion in that direction--a writers’ weekend in June at Lake Fryer.

In the meantime, Panhandle residents can easily drive to join the festivities this coming weekend around Canadian, and scope out fantastic scenery for the delight of looking or for a possible setting in an upcoming novel. 

©2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Monday, October 15, 2012

Welcome Home, Snook -- by KittyCat


Last week I was so happy to see my tabby friend, Snookie, but right off she started arguing with me. She accused me of throwing insults at her. “Snookie,” I tried to explain, “I didn't say you’d gotten fat over the summer.”

“You most certainly did.” She put on her all-uppity look.

I tried again. “I didn't even say the word fat. You’re the one who said it. What I said was...”

She jumped in, not letting me finish the sentence. “You may whisper one word while your body language screams another. I saw what you were thinking the moment Mother walked in the door with me and set me down on the floor.”

“I merely noticed you were a little rounder than usual, and said if you needed to pee or something, Mom cleaned the litter pan in the bathroom.”

“How crude,” she said in her Snook-the-Snob voice.

“What? Are we in the same conversation?”

"That word you used is crude,” she said.

“What word?” I asked.

“That three-letter word,” Snook replied real high-and-mighty like.

By now, she’d got me so flustered I felt itchy all over. Scratching my neck and thinking three-letter word, my question just popped out. You ... or fat?

With Snook right behind me, I flew past Mom and Aunt Pen, and found safety in a skinny spot between two plants Mom had brought inside for the winter. Snook hissed from the other side of a plant pot, threatening to bite my ear off if I moved from my little nook.

“What on earth has gotten into those two?” Mom had panic in her voice.

Aunt Pen isn't one to get rattled much. She looked at us like nothing special was happening. “It’s been five months,” she said. “I suppose they are getting reacquainted.” She took a sip of her Irish Cream and added, “And the exercise is good for Snook. She’s been idle and has gotten much too fat.”

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Critique of Mechanical Errors


            When you find mechanical errors (punctuation, spelling, and so forth), while doing a critique of a manuscript, mark them. Use standard proofreading symbols, if you know them. Your group’s policy may be to mark, but not mention. Reasons: to avoid embarrassing the writer or to use time more efficiently. Consider the following reasons for marking and mentioning errors that may seem insignificant:

  1. Writers make countless errors in areas they never learned, have forgotten, or where they have not stayed current with “updates.” If your group has a grammatical expert, it takes only a few seconds to site the “rule,” informing the writer who made the mistake as well as others who would appreciate the information.
  2. A person who indicates a punctuation mark as a mechanical error could be mistaken. It’s not unusual for disagreement between experts, especially since electronic submissions today are the norm. For example, you can find the ellipsis, written with a space between the dots (. . .) and without (...). Which is correct? If marked, but not mentioned, the entire group misses an opportunity to understand how changes in publishing have impacted mechanics.  
  3. Grammatical conventions evolve with time. For example, which is correct? (1) No if’s, but’s and maybe’s (2) No ifs, buts, and maybes. Most guides today say to avoid the apostrophe.
  4. Proofreading is a skill all writers must develop. When one reader catches an error that others have missed, it reminds them to improve their proofreading.
Mark and mention. If citing a rule in punctuation initiates a conversation that will put the critique session off schedule, your group’s facilitator or time keeper should terminate the discussion. At the end of the meeting or later by email, the facilitator can call for volunteers to check resources. If there's no time for a grammar report at the next meeting, the volunteers can email brief notes with site links to the group.

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Format for Critiques

When you prepare a manuscript for publication, follow the agent’s or publication’s guidelines.

When you submit your work for critique, follow the guidelines set by your group. Readability is the key. That could mean you will use a larger font than the standard 12 font size to accommodate a member with poor eyesight. If you run out of black ink or white paper, use colored if it’s readable. Of course, you’d never use colors on a formal manuscript. When you ready your manuscript for an editor’s consideration, you will start the first page about halfway down from the top. Your critique group has no use for that extra space. Save paper, and begin on the first line below the top margin.  

Another rule-breaker most groups agree to: if writing non-fiction, you don’t have to show your research data. It’s okay to leave superscripted reference numbers in place. Simply inform readers as to the purpose of the numbers.

If you have a quoted selection that is several lines long, indent it on both sides and single space it. That reminds members they cannot change the wording of quoted selections. Work that is littered with lengthy quoted material, however, is not acceptable. Writers who cannot paraphrase most reference sources indicate they haven’t grasped what they are repeating, and probably lack the knowledge needed to pursue their topic.

Sidebars often cause confusion. Be sure to note where one will appear if it is to be placed near a certain section. Example, “(see sidebar Title).” At the end of your manuscript, set each sidebar off with the word “sidebar” underlined and in all caps. Under it, write the title of the sidebar. Normally, double-space the content of a sidebar, as you do any other prose.

When formatting a manuscript that will contain charts, photographs, and so forth, you may need to include those features for readers’ understanding. If not, use a brief description. For example, “pie chart illustrating financial data goes here.” Clarity is the rule.

Poetry is single spaced with a line between stanzas. If a poem is long, add line numbers to the page. The acceptable number of pages varies from group to group, but remember, poetry requires careful reading. If you want good critiques, don’t overload your readers.

For screenplays, use screenplay format. Honor the page limits set by your writing circle, but don’t cut the end of a scene when one more page will finish it.

Prose: for both fiction and nonfiction, follow these guidelines:
×          Double spaced
×          Margins: 1 to 1.5-inches
×          Line numbers on the left side.
×          Length: groups vary on this. The book, CRAFT: Create, Rewrite, and Fine Tune, suggests 1-5 pages—numbered.

©2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Natalie Bright

Last week Mathis Rogers borrowed Natalie Bright's "Brainstorm for Critique Groups" for epubnationwide's newsletter, "The Quill." True to her name, Natalie tells about a bright way to work through a section of your story when you find yourself suddenly stuck.

Read about it, and if you get stuck, try it.

Then, why not learn more about the person behind those words at If you are an aspiring author trying to juggle home responsibilities, a day job, and writing, Natalie just may inspire you.

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Monday, October 1, 2012

Playthings -- by KittyCat

Dad was taking off his shoes getting ready to stretch out on the couch and watch football. 

"KittyCat is staring at the baseboard," Mom said.

Dad kinda shrugged, like that’s not something he needs to reply to.

Mom said a little louder and slower, "KittyCat – is – staring – at – the - baseboard."

By this time comfy on the couch, Dad raised his head a bit, just to show he was listening. Then, I guess cuz Mom sounded serious, he acted more interested. "...And?"

"AND." Mom said that kinda loud, like it was real important. "And that means he smells a mouse."

"Oh, he was probably asleep and was just facing that way when he woke up."

"Look at him," Mom said. Now her tone was real flat, and I just had to look at her to see if she was getting ticked

"He’s staring off into space, probably he has nothing else to do."

It’s a good thing Mom doesn't throw things. Well, she does, but it’s words. They’re not TV bad words but if they were heavy or sharp things, they’d bonk a guy pretty hard. But this time she took a deep breath, cuz  she and two friends had made a deal they'd be nice to people. “A minute ago he acted exactly like he does when he smells a mouse,” she said.

“Weather’s changing," Dad said. "Could be he can smell one under the house.”

“Under the house is just under the floor, and under the floor is almost on the floor, and on the floor is like mice running all over the house.”

It really bugs Dad when Mom connects dots that aren't even dots yet. But I guess he could tell she was upset, so he made a joke. “I think if you get enough mice eating them, you don’t need to worry about termites” Dad’s smile looked as big as a painted clown’s.

Mom didn't smile at all. “Fine, she said. We’re overdue for a termite inspection anyway, so I’ll call tomorrow, and while they’re here they can exterminate the mice.”

Dad can do math in his head real fast. “I’ll get bait and put it out tomorrow,” he said. “In the morning,” he added, cuz Mom was already reaching for the phone book. “First thing in the morning.” He gave her that honest-you-can-believe-me look.

So fall is here, and the big fuzzy moths disappeared, grasshoppers have left, crickets are almost gone, and now the mice are zapped. My toys are boring. Vondelle moved away, and I only see Snookie when Aunt Pen comes over.

Well, I guess I can play at chasing leaves as they flutter off the trees. Flutter... Ha, ha. Thinking of mice and crickets, I almost forgot them. Look out birds.

(c) 2012 Bernice W. Simpson

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Types and Tips: Notes on the critique of various genres

In the ideal critique group, members write in the same genre. The advantage is they read a manuscript from the same perspective. It enables them to help one another with problems particular to their genre. They respect the critique from one of their own over writers who are not familiar with what their reading audience wants.

For recreational reading, writers tend to stick to their favorite genera—the one they write in. In a mixed-genre group they have doubts. Will the poet receive an adequate critique from a journalist who never reads poetry? Conversely, is the poet confident she can critique a children’s picture book? She lacks the expertise needed to evaluate it, doesn't she? Maybe not.

A writing mixture comprises most groups. Since, from a critique standpoint each writing type does present its own challenges; your critiques improve when you expand your reading.

Six Reading Suggestions to Improve Your Edits and Critiques 

1.      Read outside your genre, and when you do, read with a critical mind. If you write hot romance, pick up a contemporary novel from a Christian bookstore. How does its author handle love scenes? For an example of sizzle without smut, read “Just Down the Road.” by Jodi Thomas.
2.      Are you a mainstream novelist? Spend spare minutes with popular magazines or essays for a month. Borrow an armful of picture books and read to a three-year-old.
3.      Raise your level of attention to what you see in print throughout a typical day. If your style is literary, give business letters extra attention. When you use the Internet, notice what grabs you and what you find annoying. Have you noticed how much “computer help” is written in techie jargon?  If given the chance, could you advise those writers on how to inform or instruct in plain English?
4.      Pick up a readers’ guide to poetry to gain insight into the craft.
5.      Notice travel guides. Compare them to travel advertisements.
6.      Ask members of your group for a list of their favorite books. Chances are they will lead you to their genre’s classics. You’ll gain an idea of what those writers are aiming for, and you may gain new respect for that writing variety.

Learning takes time, but there is a payoff. As you gain knowledge of genres outside your comfort zone, expect a ripple effect: the analytic prowess you develop will give you fresh insights to your own work.
In the meantime, if your ability to make specific pointers is limited, you can lubricate a writer’s gears. Freelance writer, Gilda Bryant suggests this critique sandwich: encourage, make suggestions, encourage.

© 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

Friday, September 28, 2012

A town Called Harmony

I pressed “Play” on a tiny remote. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Memories from Cats quieted the excess chatter in my mind, and while ironing, I relaxed. Soon his exquisite love songs drew me to another place—the environs of a Texas town called Harmony.

Harmony is the setting for New York Times’ best-selling author, Jodi Thomas’ novel “Just Down the Road,” her latest in the series, Harmony.

But readers know from the first paragraph, when they meet Dr. Addison Spencer, to brace for discord. It’s Saturday night, and Dr. Spencer has ER duty. “Get six rooms ready,” she tells her assistant when she learns the injured from a bar fight are on their way to the hospital.

After patching up Tinch Turner, the doctor, who lives near his ranch, drives him home. It’s not an act of graciousness on her part, but sense of responsibility. Her patient refuses to spend the night in the hospital. An odd couple, certainly, but Just Down the Road is a romantic novel, after all. The question is, how will author, Jodi Thomas manage to unite a brawling cowboy and female physician without the novel falling into implausible fantasy?

If something is brewing between Addison and Tinch, theirs is not the only possible romance in town. Brandon Biggs and Noah McAllen are both friends with old Jeremiah Truman’s niece, Reagan. Singles socialize at the local watering hole, the Buffalo Bar and Grill, and even the town’s undertaker, once resigned to his unmarried status, now dreams of wedding bells.

By page 66 love blooms all around Harmony. And tension builds.

Just Down the Road blends romance, suspense, and a cast of characters so real, we feel we've known them from somewhere.

Typical of life, certain of Harmony’s residents are a bit quirky. At a funeral “Miss Dewly, who played the ancient organ, came in and took her place. So did her two friends. They always tagged along if Miss Dewly had a morning funeral so all three could go to lunch afterward.”

But the peculiar is balanced with wisdom. In reference to his wife’s job, the Sheriff’s husband, Hank, said, “’When you love somebody like I love Alexandra, you have to let them do what they love. She’s good at her job. I've got to trust that. I guess if you love someone, you've got to love them all. People don’t come in parts you can divide out and pick what you like.’”  

After we read and live vicariously in Harmony, we're apt to forget it’s not our town. In fact, however we might like to, we cannot actually go there. 

It seemed to me, though, Ms. Thomas took writers’ license with the weather in her Texas town located not far from Amarillo. It rained more than once in the story. Oh well, we who are thankful for one-tenth of an inch don’t find it difficult to suspend disbelief...and wish.

© 2012, Bernice W. Simpson