Saturday, August 15, 2009

Regional flavors

One thing I had taken for granted came zooming back at me last night when I read Mary Ann's zombie story -- regional voice.

Every writer has a voice, but some writers have distinctive regional voices. Midwestern writers get cheated a bit because they're so middle of the road that you can't tell an Iowa writer from a Wisconsin writer without references to cornfields or cheese. Yes, that's a bit of a generalization, but not by much. That's why some writers leap out and stay front stage center, their unique regional voice.

You can't read Tennessee Williams and not think of New Orleans and genteel squalor or the excess and eccentricity of Eudora Welty's little confidences from her little backwater town. Flannery O'Connor and Harper Lee cannot be divorced from their southern roots or their stories from the towns and characters that give them life.

New Yorkers have as much regional voice as any southerner, deriving as much from their surroundings as their insular qualities that sever them completely from their hometowns. They are no longer from anywhere but New York and the cadence and timber of their stories rooted firmly, or as firmly as possible, in the steel, concrete and glass of their ever changing landscape of gallery openings and restaurants that last a hot New York second. The boroughs also have a voice of their own, New York chic polish over earthier tones.

The voice of the eastern seaboard, entrenched Yankee territory, is clipped and matter-of-fact with little tolerance for for anything that wastes time, money or words living as they do through harsh winters in isolated communities that have changed very little from Revolutionary days. They know how to pinch a penny and get value for it.

California has a voice all its own, all sunlight, sand, surf and mellow with more than the occasional New Age flight of kumbaya, while Texas is hot, dusty, rowdy and clad in cowboy boots with a gun strapped to the waist. The Texan voice is the biggest, best and bawdiest of all the American voices.

There are some softer regional voices, but you have to work hard to discern them without local references.

And New Orleans has a voice all its own, a polyglot melting pot of Cajun, Creole, French and any number of other incursions that is unique in its passion, heat and excess.

Some writers pick up flavors, literary tofu, borrowing spices,accents, references and colloquialisms from the regions they inhabit for a while, but they comprise the vast middle range where most writing is set, voices that reach everywhere and are universal in their appeal. They are the ambassadors of the word.

If asked to name my favorite, I could not choose just one. I love them all for their different qualities, suitable to my varied moods, and I delight in discovering new regional flavors and favorites. For now, I travel to New York to marvel at the towering structures glittering under the sun where millions climb skyward on a tiny island between the Hudson and East Rivers. Tomorrow, it's back to Paris.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Messy, wonderful and heartbreaking life

Since I didn't sleep well last night, this day has been endless. Chili Bob called me early this morning for our weekly chat, and I had to cut him short because my intestines sounded like a grinding gears about to explode and spew watery foulness everywhere. I made it -- just.

After all these years, Chili Bob and I have kept in close contact, through his surgeries and vacations, and my erratic travels and changes of address and phone numbers. There is seldom a week that goes by when we do not exchange some communication. When I lived in Hudson, he often came to visit when he was in the area. Toledo is pretty far from Hudson, but not so far that he couldn't drop by whenever he had the chance.

We both have friends we've known longer, but few have been as close as we are. There is nothing I can't tell him and nothing he won't tell me, and it's so easy being together -- or apart -- simply because we care for one another.

He keeps me up to date about his daughter Liz and all the important milestones in her life and his wife's milestones and low points, as well as his own. I do the same with him.

There are some friends I don't see or hear from as often, but we have had decades of experiences and adventures together that keep us connected.

You cannot help but be close to someone who has seen you in a bikini at sixteen or in the throes of a suicidal depression, from tears to laughter. In joyful times and times when you think you cannot go on because you've lost someone or something important, the friendship is tempered in the fires, and nothing, short of death, can come between you.

One thing I've learned is that friendship is easy as long as you treat people the way you want to be treated. However, if you're into misery and wallowing in depression, that brings up a whole other kind of relationship that has little to do with true friendship. Masochists and sadists leap into mind. Two masochists seldom make good friends and sadists end up trying to outdo each other until someone ends up hurt -- or dead.

It's really not about owing someone something, but about respect. When you care for someone, as a friend or a lover or family, respect should be uppermost in mind, even when the other person doesn't respect you. Above all, you should respect yourself first and respect the people around you, even when they don't seem to deserve respect, and we're back to that golden rule: Treat others as you would be treated.

What goes around comes around.

Chili Bob and I had a rocky beginning. He said I was as prickly as a porcupine. I was. I was wary of anyone who treated me nicely because I was certain (hard lessons from personal experience) that he was after something. He was being nice to me because he had a hidden agenda. I was snarky and he was polite. I answered in short bursts of terse emails and he persevered and treated me with kindness and respect. Eventually, I got the message. Good thing he didn't give up or we would not be friends now.

Few people have lived a perfect life of sweetness and light or have never been hurt or known a broken heart. It's inevitable wherever there is life. Zombies are a whole other subject. Life is full of surprises, adventures, mundane and dull days, repetition, horror, laughter, love, hatred, joy, depression, pain, heartache, jubilation and so much more. There are as many emotions and experiences as there are words to describe them, and they are all part of life, and friendship, and they are all risky. But without risk and possibility, life really isn't worth living.

Where there is light, there are shadows. Valleys require mountains. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. And that should be enough bromides and homilies for one day.

Basically, life is messy, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing, as long as you respect yourself and extend that respect to others. They might surprise you and give you respect in return.

Grammar: Here a comma, there a comma

A couple weeks ago I had to critique manuscript that was heavily salted with commas. It took me longer to read one page of that manuscript than it would take me to read half of Winnie the Pooh. Yes, I read Winnie the Pooh. Doesn't everyone. It reminded me of something transcribed from a William Shatner monologue.

"The needs, of the many, outweigh, the needs, of, the few, or the one." Puhleeze. There are times when commas are necessary and times when they are nothing more than William Shatner-isms and just as irritating.

Today, the subject is co-dependency in relation to sentences, and grammar, of course.

A dependent clause is a group of words with a subject and verb that do not express a complete thought.

When I lived in Panama dependent

When I lived in Panama, the jungle was about thirty feet from the house. complete sentence.

Notice the comma between the dependent clause and the rest of the sentence. The last part of the sentence could stand alone and that is an independent clause.

An independent clause is a subject, verb and object that can stand alone as a sentence.

The jungle was about thirty feet from the house. independent clause, complete sentence

A complex sentence is usually a mix of dependent and independent clauses. The dependent clauses will be marked in red and independent clauses will be marked in blue.

In view of the hardship imposed by higher taxes on citizens over seventy years of age, the government will impose a moratorium, however, not until the end of the current fiscal year.

If someone reaches the age of seventy after the proposed date, taxes will be deducted until the beginning of the new fiscal year.

It's really quite simple. If a clause can stand alone and is a complete thought, it is an independent clause. If it cannot, it is a dependent clause.

And if it is a dependent clause and is used as a complete sentence, it is either part of dialogue (people often speak in incomplete sentences and dependent clauses without the use of commas -- or taking a breath, which is the comma's original intended use) or the writer is either being stylish or trying to make a point.

The best way to figure out where a comma goes, especially in cases where independent and dependent clauses are concerned, is to read the sentences aloud. The ear is a good instrument for detecting comma placement -- unless you're William Shatner -- as are the lungs. If you have the lung capacity of a free diver, you're going to have problems with this method. The best thing to do is keep working at it and memorize the rules. Print them out and keep them close at hand when editing.

There are times when two independent clauses, or a combination of independent and dependent clauses require a semi-colon, but that is a subject for another day. Until next week, when we continue our comma coma, may all your grammar goofs be small ones.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tarot: Drunk on the moon

One of the questions most writers are asked is "Where do you get your inspiration?" I usually respond by asking, "Where do you not find inspiration?" Maybe it is peculiar to writers, but everything I see, hear and read provides inspiration. Today, it's the tarot cards.

Nice segue, don't you agree?

The Moon

"O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb." Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet chided Romeo not to be inconstant like the moon who shows first one face and then another, much like most men believe women do. The moon -- and women -- are constant, although the light shines on them in varying degrees, sometimes in shadow and sometimes in full light. The moon reflects the sun's light, playing hide and seek with the sun, its opposite, behind Earth.

The moon speaks to the soul, stirring our deepest fears and haunting our nightmares. The moon also shines a light on our best dreams. It is a shining beacon in the night that inspires us to romance and changes the way we view the world and ourselves. Thomas Harris, through Hannibal Lecter, asked an FBI agent if they had seen blood outside under the moon. It's black, he said. Fresh blood is shiny, liquid night under the moon's glow. On the nights of the full moon snow is blue and the world is faintly tinged by blue light, a much smaller arc of the full spectrum of light that the sun provides. You must be careful when viewing anything under the moon's glow or listening to whispers in the night, they are shadowy messages that might not hold up in the full light of day.

Some believe the moon brings on madness -- lunacy (lunar madness) -- and some believe the moon calls forth the savage nature inherent in the soul. We can be certain of nothing under the moon's influence. It shows only half the story, half the truth, but where there is light, there is truth, and even a half truth can be more satisfying than a lie.

The card shows the moon above a clockwork chronometer that measures the movements of Sun, Earth and Moon, ticking away in measured movement. Yes, the moon shows us a different face every night, but it is the same face that a lunar month from now it will show us again. Everything that goes around comes around. As above, so below. What at first seems like deception and inconstancy is just the face of the moment, that point in an ever changing cycle that has at its heart a regularity by which clocks and stonehenges keep time.

5 of Cups

Beneath the bloody light of dawn, a man kneels, hands clasped, grief clear upon his face. He is grieving, mourning a loss. Is his loss connected with the contents of the three cups that lay empty and on their sides next to him? Why does he not see the full cups behind him? He has not lost all, although the loss seems greater than he can bear. He is so sunk in despair and grief that he is oblivious to what he still has, to what he has always had.

When I look at the Five of Cups, I think of a man who has a good life. He is successful and he has been successful in his life, although not without sacrifice. He is a knight of middle years who has no doubt seen death and destruction, often at his own hands, through many wars, and he is still alive and well. Three-fifths of his life is gone and it seems he can see nothing but what is over and done. He cannot see that he still has two-fifths of his life to live, years full of happiness and joy, cups full to the brim that will satisfy his thirst and his needs. He is too sunk in misery to care or to see, concentrating on what he does not have instead of enjoying what he does have.

If his grief continues, he will waste his life in mourning, prolonging the drama and the grief until it is little more than a bid for attention, a minor melodrama blown up to the proportions of tragedy when there is no tragedy. Yes, he has lost someone or something dear to him, but so much more remains. The long night is over. The moon has set and there is daylight coming up over the horizon. Will he look up at the new day , drag himself up out of his depression and pick up the life remaining to him or will he choose passive suicide and deny himself the comfort that lies waiting within his reach?

3 of Cups

There is no way to look at the Three of Cups and not be filled with excitement and laughter and pure joy? Three dancers dressed in bright colors celebrate the bounty of life and love. Blue is the color of the swords, the color of the sky, the element of air and inspiration. Green is the color of the bountiful earth, lush and fertile and full of life, the symbol of the pentacle and success. Red is the color of fiery passion and emotion, the symbol of the wands.

The cups overflow with golden waters, a fountain of youth and vigor, full of life and joy. This fountain of golden cups stands in the endless sea from which the depths of emotion flow. Emotional experience binds the past, present and future, giving birth to and nurturing inspiration until it becomes the achievements that bring joy and happiness. However, it takes time to celebrate and appreciate achievement, whether yours or someone else's, and attention must be paid. Acknowledge your own achievements, and do it with joy and true happiness, but don't forget to celebrate the achievements of those around you without rancor or jealousy. We are all connected, like the fountain of cups that support the graceful dance of air, earth and fire among the waters of eternity. To celebrate another's success does not lessen your own unless you ignore their pleasure to hoard what you have. Like seeds in a dank and cobwebbed cellar, nothing grows that stays in the dark underground. Seeds need light and warmth and water while they lie in the earth before they tap the energy at their heart and send forth tiny tendrils to seek out nourishment and the sun. Sitting on a dusty shelf, the seeds like dormant, their energy and life untapped, their potential wasted.

Don't focus on your own problems, no matter how pressing they may seem. Practice gratitude and reach beyond yourself and you will soon see what develops.

As I chose the cards for today's column, the overwhelming grief of the knight in the Five of Cups and the Moon card provided a strange sort of inspiration. I envisioned a man who had lost the love of his life. Kneeling by the deathbed of his lover, he swore to never see the sun again. He leaves her and sets fire to the house, the flames licking high in the blackness of the night toward the faint sliver of light on the night of the dark moon. It is a night of dark omens as he sets out in his limousine and orders his chauffeur to drive west, following the path of the moon. His driver keeps pace with the dark, shadowed orb above, chasing down the moon.

The man is wealthy, beyond wealthy, and he can afford to chase the moon. By plane, by ship and by car, he follows the moon around and around the globe, sleeping and eating when the demands of his body get beyond his control, but never seeing the sun again. Under cloudy skies or clear, always under the moon, he sails in the shadowy world of waxing and waning moonlight, a slave to his grief, trying to outrun the dawn. He knows deep in his mourning heart that if he fails and the sun rises, then his lover is indeed gone and he must go on without her. As long as he follows the moon and never lets her out of his sight, he is safe. The night will never end and time will forever stand still.

The waning moon, not far from full, filled my head with dark thoughts and, under its influence, I dreamed of shadows and grief. How do today's cards and the moon inspire you?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lashing out

She is dressed in ruffled and flowing white, the gown falling off pale white shoulders glistening with sweat. Her hair, now flaccid damp curls and strings, is no longer hidden by the powdered wig that towered over and framed the virginal blush of her cheeks and the dark fringe modestly concealing the brilliant green of her eyes with fashionable curls flourishes. Fragile and softly rounded arms are corded with strain, her arms pinioned to two columns. Chains clank as she moves with each searing bite of the blood-slimed whip that whistles through the air before it cuts into the crimson-ribboned curve of her back, bare above the waist. She bites her lip and smiles in ecstasy, caught in the grip of la petite mort, the little death. She gasps softy and sighs, riding the ebb and flow of smoldering passion, meeting each thrust with an eager, welcoming embrace.

This is the scene in a forgettable, and forgotten movie, Waxwork and Deborah Foreman is the formidable actress who elevated this campy 1988 flick from pedestrian to something very special. Not even the performances of John Rhys-Davies, David Warner, Patrick McNee, the male half of The Avengers, or the sexy and handsome Miles O'Keeffe could elevate this beyond second rate C movie fare. It is Deborah Foreman's performance at the end of the Marquis de Sade's whip that makes Waxwork special.

Even if you're not a fan of sadomasochism and don't get a dark thrill from seeing a girl dangling between strong supports while she's whipped, this is something you should not miss. The other scenes in the waxworks that come to life -- Dracula's castle, the werewolf's cabin in the woods or the pharaoh's tomb -- don't have the sensual and riveting quality of the Marquis de Sade's dungeon. Check it out and let me know if you agree. I'll understand if you don't.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Facebook event on marketing fiction

On Wednesday, August 19th at 11 a.m. EST, web marketing guru, Cathy Stucker,
will post on my Facebook wall (Jackie M. Cornwell, Colorado Springs)and impart
some of her marketing wisdom for authors of fiction of all genres. She's going to show us how to use nonfiction techniques to sell fiction. You can check Cathy out ahead of time at Selling Books.

As one author recently told me, once your book is published, the real work
begins - selling. Cathy Stucker is going to show us how.

Pass the news around and I hope to see you all share your questions. Cathy
Stucker will be around on and off all day on August 19th respond to your questions and

See you there.On Wednesday, August 19th at 11 a.m. EST, web marketing guru, Cathy Stucker, will visit here on the Wall and impart some of her marketing wisdom for authors of fiction of all genres.

See you there.

Halley's comet filled my sky

It's Monday so it's time to talk about exorcisms, garlic, wolf's bane and promotions. What? You don't think they have a connection? They do . . . at least in my mind. I have a tendency to make unusual connections, but that's how most of my writing begins -- unusual connections.

Demon possession, vampires and werewolves are not the only links between the above. I can exorcise a negative influence, or someone who takes me for granted. Garlic is great with almost everything, especially for making fresh tzatziki to go with fresh falafel, and wolf's bane blooms at night and has beautiful flowers with an exotic scent. It's all in how you look at things. So, what do promotions have to do with all of that? How about promoting a live Q&A with a published author whose work touches on those subjects -- or doesn't? Curious? Good. An announcement is coming that will change the way you think about nonfiction, fiction and promoting books that will thrill the hearts of all the writers out there. I know because mine is quite excited. Nothing like giving something back to the industry. Until the announcement, that will have to do, but if you don't have a Facebook account, you have about a week to get one set up and let me know about it or you will surely miss out.

I have been having strange dreams and most of them center around men. Yes, there is sex involved (it's summer and there's always sex involved), but that's not the common theme. The common theme seems to be acceptance and desire for my company.

There are times when I long for a full time companion. Most of the time, however, I am glad I'm single, especially now when I have to put so much energy into promoting my writing and my new, light on the romance novel. I don't think I could deal with anyone else's needs when the book takes most of my time and energy -- when I'm not earning a living and taking time out for food and rest, and the frequent occasional cold shower. It's summer and I get hot and sweaty; cold showers help keep me from boiling over, especially after a long night of dreaming. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

In short, I don't have time for anything or anyone that pulls my focus from the task at hand, so I've made a list of people and things to put on a shelf until I have the time to give the kind of attention needed. This is why I don't have pets.

It seems a cut throat and cold way of handling things, but I prefer to think of it as honest. If something or someone is more of a hindrance than a help and require me to expend too much energy that could be used better elsewhere, it's kinder to cut them loose for a while. Think of it like Halley's comet.

For a while, Halley's comet with its long white tail streaking behind it in its spectacular progress across the sky both night and day is all we can see when we look up. The familiar stars are still there, but we know they will be there when Halley's comet is gone. It is, for most people, a once in a lifetime occurrence that must be experienced fully. It is a story to hand down to children and grandchildren and memorialized in prose, poetry and music. Attention must be paid.

I saw Halley's comet several years ago, wandering out into the street to gaze up with breathless awe during the day and standing outside at night for hours marveling at this miracle that was once considered the harbinger of death, destruction and evil. I remembered Mark Twain at those moments because he was born when Halley's comet passed over his home and died when the comet returned, his life marked by that spectacle like book ends to his life.

Mark Twain loved his family and his idyllic splendor, preferring the round of social visits and writing in the gazebo on his spacious lawn to the lecture circuits that made him famous or the business of publishing his own books. He would have preferred to spend his days with his family writing and entertaining, but writing is a business and to succeed sacrifices must be made. He sacrificed the company of family and friends to do what he hated most, lecture on his books and stories. It is the same for any writer wanting to make his work a success. Whatever takes away from the primary goal of making a novel a success must be sacrificed. That doesn't mean dropping out of sight and ignoring everyone, just those who do not contribute some positive influence.

After the dream I had last night, I realize that is what I must do today, cut away negative influences, black holes, that suck away my energy and time and give nothing in return. The transition will be instantaneous for me and probably go unremarked by those so influenced. That's the way of life. We are often so caught up in our own needs and the demands of work, family and personal pleasure that we forget about everything and everyone else. I get that. Now, it's my turn to make new friends, forge links with other writers and authors and move on with the business of success. I will still be available for some people, but others will find me conspicuously absent for a while. If you, like the stars I so love to watch and ignored when Halley's comet passed this way, are still there when I have time again, I'll be glad to see you. If not, well, some people and things were never meant to last. People come and opportunities go and the important ones make themselves known.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Bike riding hell spawn

Dawn has cracked the horizon with a loud and sonic crack that makes me squint my sleep-gummed eyes and sniff back the congestion muddling my brain. I feel fuzzy and my eyes are beginning to water in the horrendously cheery dawn. Someone turn off the lights or at least put a shade over it so I can sniff and squint in peace.

I have just crossed over the threshold and landed securely in cranky old lady land. Three boys, who believe that the big old mound of dirt and the two boards still straddling the hole over my sewage system after nearly six months is a launching ramp, were clattering over the boards and flying up over the mound of dirt that has slowly diminished in the rains, seeping and weeping down over the parking lot in a flood that courses into the city's sewers. The fluorescent yellow star bursts painted on the blacktop haven't faded, but at least I know what happened to the sunflowers I planted on the mound of dirt that used to be part of railroad tie bordered planter on the front side of the house. Those boys.

While sitting on the toilet, the boy and bike-shaped shadows whizzing by the translucent window caught my attention. I opened the window and there they were about to launch yet another airborne foray over the dirt mound, crushing the budding life of yet more seedlings.

"You boys need to stop doing that." They looked at me with the sneering contempt rowdy boys always favor the hopelessly old.

"Why? Is the dirt yours?"

Let's see. It's sitting next to my house and the boards run across the parking lot and up to my house, so, ignorant hell spawn... "Yes, it's mine. Those boards are over a large hole that goes down to the sewer system. If those boards give way, you'll get hurt. Stop riding your bikes over it or I'll call the police."

The boys shared a secret contemptuous glance and rode away . . . just out of sight . . . as I shut the window and finished nature's call. Whiz. Clatter. Airborne shouts of 14-year-old glory. One. Two. Three. All right. It's time to call the police.

As I answered the dispatcher's questions and waited for what seems like pregnant pauses gone into double digit overtime, the boys disappeared. Evidently, their last ride over the mound was their assertion of their belief that they could get in one more "screw you, old lady" ride before the police came. The dispatcher said that if I couldn't describe them and they were gone for now, the police department would do nothing. "How about keeping an eye on things while cruising through the neighborhood?" The eye rolling was audible even over the static-crackled line. Right.

Almost six months that degrading pile of straggling weeds has sat with its sad little white flag outside my bathroom window. The landlord said it would be gone before this, but someone screwed up because it's still there. The plumber needs to mark out the route of the bathroom sewage line, but it's marked out. The plumber needs to drop in a clean-out drain, but that hasn't been done. The dirt and debris are still there outside the window like a juvenile delinquent magnet for kids who should be playing in one of the parks up the street or some derelict property overlooked by broken windows and fire blackened trusses about to give way, not here.

On the positive side, at least they are no longer launching their bikes off my front deck any more. At least that is something. I wonder how much rebar I can get to plant upright in the dirt mound and provide a hazard to bike traffic? I could always get out there with the gardening trawl and dig troughs in the pile so that it collapses when they launch their bikes or take the boards away and let nature fill the gaping gash in the sewer line that runs beneath my plantar box or booby trap them in such a way they collapse or threaten to topple those brats into the still open hole in the sewer line, except that would add danger to an already attractive bike launch into space. No, best to keep the cops on speed dial and keep a camera handy to take their pictures so I can give an accurate description of their underwear hanging out the backs of their low riding surfer shorts and the tattoos on their contemptuous, gap-toothed, grinning faces. A picture is worth a thousand words and will get better results with the police.

That is all. Disperse.