Using Idioms, or Not

by Jill amadio

When we write “stabbed in the back” we may not necessarily be referring to murder. How about “I stubbed my nose yesterday, enjoyed a drop in the teacup, and beat around the flowers while protesters were a penny a dozen.”

Clock flyingOf course, the correct common usage idioms are “stubbed my toe, a drop in the bucket, beat around the bush, and a dime a dozen.” The last two are alliterative, yes, but why, I wonder, are toes the only part of our anatomy ever stubbed? And why drops only drip into a bucket instead of any other container? My favorite, though, is “a short/long week – or year, or hour.” What do they actually mean? Six days instead of seven? 11 months instead of 12? Sure, it’s easy to explain that an hour can drag on seemingly forever and a short week can mean time flies by, so why don’t we write that?

Happily, most writers are imaginative enough to come up with their own original phrases rather than rely on the over-used, and yet “stubbed my toe” is so perfect you can almost feel the pain.

rule-of-thumb-idiomI have a book, “The Describer’s Dictionary” that contains oodles of such hackneyed idioms but they do inspire me to create my own if possible. The book is tremendously helpful when trying to find a way to describe, for example, low-elevation clouds. One description offered is “a cloud mass like a formless gray horizontal sheet.”  Would you honestly use that? However, I have found the book invaluable for character physiques, architecture, locales, settings, and surfaces and textures. There is an entire chapter on Necks. Granted, it’s only half a page but it encourages the mind to explore other possibilities.

Chandler’s description of a building in ‘The Long Goodbye” was “The entrance had double stone pillars on each side but the cream of the joint…”Can’t mistake his signature style.

How about Edith Wharton’s “…its front [of the house was] so veiled in the showering  gold-green foliage…” in her novel, “Hudson River Bracketed.”

In Wallace Stegner’s “All the Little Things” he writes about an old house with its sides and roof “weathered silvery as an old rock…” and “…the way three big live oaks twisted like seaweed above the roof…”

What’s your pet peeve when it comes to using idioms?

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JillAmadioHeadJill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. She is the ghostwriter of 14 memoirs, and wrote the Rudy Valle biography, “My Vagabond Lover,” with his wife, Ellie. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep.” The second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead,” was released this year. The books are based in Newport http://www.jillamadio.com

 

 

This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

Visiting Ireland…

Ireland

Ahh… out here in the Mojave, yet able to visit Ireland, via BBC Radio 4, and “Maeve and Me”—What could be better?

At home, trying to write, but with low mental and physical energy, combined with a mindset not completely in tune with writing—and—on the other side of the possibilities pendulum, not inclined to do household chores of any kind.

Most fortunately, I had Maeve Binchy’s “Dublin 4”[i] on the top of one of my stacks of beloved books—ready for the right moment! And with my trusty Kindle at my side, as it often is, loaded with yet to be read or heard kindle and audio book offerings, I’ve been in couch-potato heaven. I did think about writing—but not about doing improvement tasks, or dusting “write your name in it” dust laden furniture, or any of the other neglected household items, or heaven forbid—donning a mask and going out into 2020’s real world. The “thinking” about writing part prompted this post…

Here’s the rambling part of this post that hopefully will end later with a writing tidbit/thought/adventure. Thru Amazon/Audible I first listened to a BBC Radio 4 Broadcast of Charles Paris, played by Bill Nighby, then there was Rumpole, played by Julian Rhind-Tutt, and now I’m finishing up Father Paolo Baldi played by David Threlfall. (I’m mentioning the actors names because I think they have great voices in case you want to give any of them a try) My current listening, Paolo Baldi, has taken me to his Ireland, including traveling around a bit, and I love his mystery focused adventures, and the Ireland he sees.

The next stop on my rambling writing road is Maeve Binchy and her book. I’m in a wonderful book club, and periodically, each of us have to come up with a selection. Fellow Writer in Residence, Rosemary Lord, mentioned Maeve Binchy in one of her posts,[ii] and I thought at the time, one of her books might be a good idea for book club. So I decided to buy a used one[iii] from Amazon, and have fallen in love with her Ireland.

So how does this all come together? After several years of listening to BBC radio,  my reading-self finally realized, that through the spoken-word only, I was hearing and putting together a whole story—location, action, clues, scenery, characters…all through dialogue. There are a few side-effects like a phone ringing, and stomping feet—but the story is carried completely through dialogue. Could I do that? Definitely not.

Then Maeve, who takes you to Ireland up close and personal, with lovely characters and situations–does so much of her story telling through dialogue. You get to know her characters, the setting, motivations, emotions, often via what they say. Can I do that? Definitely not.

Clearly, dialogue can do it all if done right, and I need to learn much more when it comes to writing dialogue, and I plan to definitely enhance my writing along that line. Once again, I’m sharing what’s going on with me with the hope it will help you in your writing. Although, I’m rather reticent it took me soooooo long to realize I needed to enhance my dialogue skills! Sigh. And even though I haven’t spent “enough” time at my computer (per my writing-conscience), I do think I’m going to be working on moving more of my story telling into dialogue.

I’m also thinking this will NOT be easy…

Happy Writing Trails



[i] It’s an old used copy I bought through Amazon from a book store across the country. It has the “feel” of being loved by many. Maeve Binchy on wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maeve_Binchy

[ii] https://thewritersinresidence.com/2016/11/02/a-quick-escape/

[iii] Didn’t notice until after I took the picture, London 4’s cover title is the exact same fuchsia color as my Kindle cover. Eerie.

“A Cruel Blessing” a Ballad

by Jackie Houchin

                 I know this is an unusual post, but in this time of lock-down, I’ve not been able to focus on writing anything new. So I’m presenting this Ballad I wrote for a Creative Writing class at Glendale Community College. I’ve tried to publish it, but no one will take this many stanzas (27), although one of the lines is only ONE word. Can you find it?  And it’s less than 600 words. 

                This ballad is based on a real person I knew, a man who had Grand Mal epilepsy.  

 

“A Cruel Blessing”

 

In olden days, the ancient Land

Of Ararat became

The birthplace of a first born son—

So beautiful, but lame.

 

The lameness was inside of him,

A sleeping fiend, unseen,

That would attack and seize him fast

Once he became a teen.

 

But now, the babe lay peacefully

Against his mother’s breast,

And drank her nectar, white and rich,

And safely took his rest.

 

They double blessed and named the boy

Vartan and Victory.

Then sprinkled him with holy oil

To seal his destiny.

 

A close-knit tribe, his kin instilled

Within their growing child,

A pride of place, and heritage,

A name kept undefiled.

 

The father taught Vartan to war,

Retaliate, defend,

And laid in Victory the love

Of truth, and God and friend.

 

The mother gave him nourishment

To make him strong of limb.

Likewise, the food for soul and mind

She gently forced within.

 

Then on their son they placed this grave

Responsibility,

“The future of this clan does rest

On your integrity.”

 

Relentlessly the clock of months

Ticked thirteen times around.

Vartan approached his manhood proud,

A prince as yet uncrowned.

 

But on his honored day there struck

A death – so fresh, so raw.

The gruesome end of one most dear

Was what young Vartan saw.

 

Then deep within the boy-man’s frame

An aura and a flash

Preceded tremors, shakes and quakes,

A weakness, then a crash.

 

Like frozen forms the family

Around the crumpled lad

Took in with shock and fright the sight,

And wailed, “Our son is mad!”

 

They mourned the loss of hopes and dreams,

(As well, the one so dear),

And wake became a vigil grim;

A sick bed and a bier.

 

Vartan lay still as death that night;

The other’s corpse quite close.

At dawn they lowered bones below,

But Victory arose!

 

A celebration wild with joy

Then met the rising son.

They dared to hope that only once

The dreadful foe had won.

 

Forgotten soon the grievous curse

As manly, Vartan grew.

A wanton woman caught his eye,

Then taught him all she knew.

 

But in the rush of ecstasy

The pleasures turned to pains.

He screamed, convulsed, then toppled down

Amidst a dozen stains.

 

In shame they found the fallen oak

And slowly hauled him home.

Beside the hearth, he warmed and woke

With kin, but all alone.

 

A disciplined and structured life

He thought would bring release.

Vartan desired glory bright,

But Victory sought peace.

 

So in the frozen, northern wastes

A soldier he became.

And hardship burned the dross from him;

A cruel and thorough flame.

 

But still, in light-less days he fell

A victim to his plight.

And so there came to dwell in him

A darkness more than night.

 

A disciplined and structured life—

This time, a different kind;

In solitude and quietness

Release he’d surely find.

 

So to the Church, went Victory.

He knelt, and prayed and read.

Now sixty months of sanity

Have eased his tortured head.

 

A Holy Man, a Prophet true

Is what he’s meant to be.

For holy oil had marked him thus,

And sealed his destiny.

 

Now from the monastery, he

Speaks out the Truth he’s learned,

And prays forgiveness from his kin

For hopes and dreams he’s spurned.

 

For from Vartan no seed will flow

To populate the clan,

And to defend the name and place

There’s no one who will stand.

 

But, praise! The sleeping fiend has fled—

It dared not seize a priest!

So God and Church held Vartan in…

And Victory released.

Vartan 2

Vartan woman

Vartan 3

Vartan monestary

 

  • * * * * *

 

 

 

 

Building a Platform… Continued

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Platform

 

We will continue where we left off last time. Here are several more things to consider while you are constructing that platform.

 

 

 

 

Point #5

  1. Acquire the ‘Write’ Type of Friends. Join a hands-on writer’s group in your area. These are groups that critique each others’ work. Knowing people who are trying to make their own work better and who want to help you as well is good for the psyche. You might have to join more than one group before you find one that fits your age group and temperament. (Trust me, there is a difference.) Some writers still appreciate proper grammar and spelling. (Some don’t.) And remember: you aren’t married to these groups, so leave if one doesn’t click. Or start your own group with people sharing your values, temperament, and needs. You want to improve your writing skills, so make sure this is a learning experience. And be very generous with your skills. Sharing your writing knowledge with others is part of the “platform” building. And you will improve all your editing skills by critiquing other people’s work.

 

Join on-line writers groups to keep your finger on the pulse of the business, and to make contacts and maybe get a few readers when your book comes out. This is another way networking pays off.

Writing 41

Point #6

  1. Stand Up and Be Counted. After you have joined a national writers’ organization like Sisters-in-Crime or Mystery Writers of America and you find you like what they offer, ask what you can do to help out. Volunteer. People will learn that they can rely on you. If the board members see that you are a good worker, you might find yourself on a committee or two. Get that face of yours out there. If you are willing to go the extra mile, see if you can get on the board and be one of those deciding what that group of writers can do to help each other as well as the community at large. This shows that you are a mover and shaker.

MicrophonesAfter I joined Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles, I was asked to join the board. I started out as Speakers Bureau Director. I set up writers’ panels all over the area. I first went through the roster of members, located websites for those members with one, learned what they wrote, and got an idea what types of panels I could offer local libraries based on the types of books these folks wrote. I did cozy panels, Noir, mysteries with a travel theme. 80 panels later, I pretty well know who wrote what.

While I was doing this, I was learning more and more about what I needed to concentrate on as a writer. I acted as coordinator for these events, not a panelist. Later, when I was asked to be on a panel or two myself, I came prepared because I could see what worked and what didn’t.

But it was still a learning experience for me. I spent a lot of time talking about the characters I had written. I thought they were interesting and talked to the audience about who they were.

Then one time when I was on a panel at a library I just happened to mention that I used to be a private detective. Bam! People wanted to know about that aspect of my life, not about the characters I had created.

That was when I learned that people were interested in the writer, the writer’s life, and how as a writer we came up with characters and plot, not necessarily about the book the writer had written. Sure the audience wanted some information about the book since that was what we were selling, but they really wanted to know about the writer, in this case: me. And I had something to tell them.

If you have a talent for teaching, you might try your hand at giving a class about writing or the business of writing. Pamela Samuels-Young teaches a terrific class on “How to Write a Novel and Still Keep Your Day Job.” She also does a presentation on marketing your book.

I have known writers who have taught classes on “How to Read Out Loud in Front of a Crowd” and “How to Get and Keep an Agent.” Their expertise led them to sharing their knowledge with others.

As for me, after turning out a collection of short stories of my own and the Johnny Casino Casebook series which consists of seven to ten stories per book, I was asked to teach a class on the short story. Since Sisters-in-Crime put out an anthology every other year, my class would fit right in.

Deciding that a game plan was in order, I went over the files for every one of those stories I had written up to that time and realized there was a method to this madness that I loved. I wrote down the steps I used in writing every story and turned out a fairly organized handout for the class. The class was a lot of fun and I got to teach it several different places.

Then another thought hit me. Why couldn’t I turn those class handouts into a book, a workbook? It wouldn’t be a lot of words, but rather a blueprint of how I actually wrote a story. Since I was using the same game plan for all my work, I used that as my road map.

So I wrote down the plan, provided numerous examples, and even put a few of my favorite stories in the back of the workbook. Since I basically dissected the short story I called the book The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook.

 

Keep notes of your writing progress, experiences, and things you have learned. If you have a method in your own writing madness, that just might be the basis of a class you can give at a local library or at the next writers’ conference. It’s another presentation where your skills will come into play.

 

Your leadership skills are being polished and you didn’t even know it. It’s another “platform” to add to your collection.

 

Point #7

  1. Paddle Your Own Canoe. Submit articles to on-line writers’ magazines or write for your local weekly newspaper. You can submit book reviews or articles on local writers like yourself, or maybe cover community news or write special interest articles. Write newsletter articles for the groups to which you belong whether it’s your kid’s school or your church. You will be writing and people will be seeing your name in print.

As a freelance reporter, you can get out there and talk to people, the very people who just might show up at your first book launch. You will be somebody who is doing something in your community rather than sitting back and waiting for things to float your way. Paddle your own boat and you will get to your goal a lot faster.

Magazines Newspapers 

Point #8

  1. Planning Ahead. Okay, you have honed a few skills now. Maybe you have even sold a short story or two. You are contemplating the time when that brilliant publisher realizes that you have a publishable book and snaps you up. You will finally have something in print with your name on it. Hooray.

 

Question: What will you do then?

 

Answer: Find people who want to read it.

 

Problem: You hadn’t thought about this part earlier.

 

Solution: Let’s think about it now.

Friendly Mic

Selling one book at a time at a local bookstore might be a little slow. How about finding a group of people who might be interested in your particular subject matter? Sue Ann Jaffarian’s protagonist, Odellia Grey in Booby Trap, is a pleasantly plump paralegal. Sue Ann is a trained paralegal. She speaks at paralegal conventions. And lawyer conventions. She parlayed her real life job skills into a series of novels and then doubled down to promote herself and her books at conferences featuring the very same people. That’s a good marketing technique.

 

Say you wrote about a “super chef/sleuth.” You might try asking a cooking utensil convention to let you come and speak. Or a food convention. Or a cruise line that caters to foodies. Find groups of people with whom you have a connection. If your protagonist is over forty (or maybe even in their sixties), try senior citizen groups. If your plot centers on the aerospace industry, ask NASA if you can speak at their next get-together. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Planning ahead sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? You might even rearrange your plot to put some big business entity in it (in a good light, of course) just so you can be invited to their next convention.

Market your book and yourself. Examine your skills, talents, interests, previous or current job and see how they can be used to promote that book of yours. Remember: You want to sell books, but mostly, you want to sell yourself.

…. Hang in there. There is one more posting to come later this summer. You can do this.