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)

 

 

Painful or Exhilarating? The Writer’s Process

by Jill Amadio

Taking a flight across country, from one coast to the other, isn’t a great idea during a pandemic but a family matter necessitated such a trip earlier this month (April).  Snatching a couple of books to read on the plane, and my kindle, I arrived at the almost empty-airport, a ghost town, only to have two flights cancelled. I finally boarded the third, only to have my ongoing flight from Dallas to New York also cancelled. And the one after that. And the one after that. So, plenty of reading time!

Writing of One novel (2)Turned out I had grabbed a paperback I’d bought second-hand years ago and never got around to reading, Irving Wallace’s “The Writing of One Novel.’  It relates the all-absorbing 16 years he spent researching, traveling for settings, and finally writing his bestseller, “The Prize.” In meticulous detail Wallace describes his exhausting, frustrating, and determined journey into the background of the Nobel Prize. He interviewed dozens of judges, winners, losers, and journalists who covered the event.  He kept daily journals and diaries of his efforts to get behind the politics, drama, and the decisions, all of which resulted in “The Prize” being almost non-fiction. Wallace discovered facts, regarded as explosive and titillating at the time, about all those involved over the years. Most of the characters were a combination of the real person and the author’s creativity but they were so obvious that the country of origin of the Nobel Prize, Sweden, refused to publish or distribute the book.

The PrizeThat aside, the tattered paperback I was reading, yellowed with age – it was published in 1951 – was the most honest and revealing of any author’s how-I-wrote-it book I have come across. It is more than a fascinating peek into Wallace’s writing process and method of research.  He lays bare the heart, mind, and soul of a writer’s inner workings. Would reading this book turn off a new writer? It’s a daunting task that Wallace set for himself because he wanted to know everything, and as he dove deeper and deeper into the history of the Nobel Prize he uncovered real data that he could not resist including in his novel. Luckily today we are armchair researchers, although I find that visiting locales can’t be beat for sniffing the atmosphere.

Story of NovelInterestingly, Wallace’s “The Writing of One Novel” mentioned another author who wrote a tell-all of his writing process. I immediately downloaded Thomas Wolfe’s “The Story of a Novel.”

Here was no jaunty, initially-optimistic search for far-reaching knowledge about a subject, but a gloomy, negative, and painfully writing process that produced the brilliant classic, Look Homeward Angel“Look Homeward, Angel.” Wolfe dredged up so many childhood and young adult personal experiences that the novel is considered practically autobiographical. His first draft was over one million words! Happily, Scribner’s genius editor, Max Perkins, sorted it all out and gave us Thomas Wolfe in all his glory. Perkins probably also heavily edited “The Story of a Novel” because Wolf admits at one point that all he did when writing it was jot down a few random notes.

End of the AffairBoth memoirs put me in mind of Graham Greene’s despondent “The End of the Affair,” another heart-breaker that makes one wonder how much of the author’s life it reveals. Faulkner called the book “true and moving.”

So, is today the day we sit at our keyboards, “open a vein and bleed,” as Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Red Smith (probably the originator of the phrase) described authorship? Surely the metaphor gives us pause.

Frankly, I find the creative process exhilarating, even when frustrated in creating my puzzles. Do you?

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JillAmadioHead

Jill Amadio’s mysteries are available in paperback and kindle on amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Nook. She is also the ghostwriter of 16 memoirs and biographies, and co-author of the Rudy Vallee life story, “My Vagabond Lover.”

 

 

 

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

My Fishy Introduction to Malice Domestic

by Jill Amadio

 

Ever feel like a fish out of water? As an ex-pat in California where residents are famous for being “the people from somewhere else,’ I humbly claim myself as a prime example. Because I am a Brit from Cornwall I was invited to be a “Fish-Out-of-Water” panelist at the three-day Malice Domestic Writers Conference held in Bethesda, MD just outside Washington, D.C.

Mary HigginsThe event is the largest annual gathering in America for writers and fans of traditional mysteries in the genre of Agatha Christie, which places them in a genre called ‘cozy.” It appears that publishers here prefer authors to be strictly categorized into the type of book they write: romantic suspense, noir, thriller, psychological suspense, hard-boiled, legal thriller, historical, private investigator, cozy, police procedural, and sub-genres such as a sci-fi and the newest, cyber-crime mysteries.

Some crime writers look down their noses at cozy writers. We are often considered to be the low man on the totem pole. No matter. We bask in the knowledge that it attracts hundreds of attendees from all over the country.  It was my first foray into this cozy conference although I am a veteran of Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Ladies of Intrigue, Surrey International in Canada, and other conferences for cozy writers and readers.

DiggingDeadCover-375x600The second book in my series, “Digging Up the Dead: A Tosca Trevant Mystery” was published just in time for this premier annual event. My main character hails from Cornwall and comes to live in Newport Beach, like me, so the “Fish Out of Water” panel was perfect for us both.  It was fun to explain to the audience that Tosca Trevant, a London gossip columnist (me too!) had rattled the royals by discovering yet another scandal at Buckingham Palace. This led her editor to re-assign her temporarily to America. Cussing mildly in the Cornish language, and coping with a culture that sees no need for a teashop on every corner, the meddlesome, outspoken and humorous Tosca turns amateur sleuth when she stumbles upon human remains in a neighbor’s garden, in the best Miss Marple tradition although Tosca is a younger version.

I was the only ex-pat author among us five panelists at Malice, whose main characters were also considered outsiders rather than police detectives or private investigators. I was bombarded with questions from the packed audience about how I came to live in the United States (“my ex-husband insisted and who needs all that rain back home?”), why I write traditional mysteries (“because Agatha Christie is my muse”) and how I manage to conjure up clues, settings, and plots. My favorite question is usually how I decide who the murderer will be. I answer honestly that I don’t always know until I’m into the story.

In my new book I created a character whom I intended to be the killer but the more I wrote about that person the more I came to like them so I designated someone else to be the villain instead. Another time during the writing of chapter 16 something incredible happened to me. I was writing dialogue wherein a character denies knowing something. GuardianShe was instantly contradicted by a voice behind my chair shouting out, “Yes! You did know!” The voice was male and sounded exactly the way I had described his gravelly voice in a previous chapter. I swung around, dumbfounded. Of course, there was no one there and no one else was in the house. Some writers say their characters often take over their role in a book but this was different. Sam spoke a line of dialogue that added another dimension to the plot. It worked well, surprisingly, giving an extra twist to the story. I didn’t hear from him again nor from anyone else I created so I guess he and the others were satisfied with how the plot was progressing.

One important take-away I have learned from being a panelist and this was particularly true at Malice: make ‘em laugh. I was fortunate enough to be able to describe some of Tosca’s amusing clashes with American culture, a few of which I experienced myself when I arrived in the U.S. Her reactions, though, are a bit more defined and she has no problem expressing herself although most of the time she is proven to have grabbed the wrong end of the stick or has misinterpreted the meaning, which makes for a few giggles.

So the lesson is that the more listeners you can make laugh, the more likely they are to buy your books. The key is for your readers to like you as a person, which can encourage them to believe they’ll like your writing. I was lucky enough to have sold out of my books at that first conference, as did other authors. I’m told that cozy readers make up the bulk of the crime-reading market so I plan to attend Malice Domestic forever. Or as long as I write mysteries.

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JillAmadioHead

Jill Amadio’s mysteries are available in paperback and kindle on amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Nook. She is also the ghostwriter of 16 memoirs and biographies, and co-author of the Rudy Vallee life story, “My Vagabond Lover.”

 

 

 

 

 

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