Tuesday, September 18, 2018

I'm taking a break (a cliche) from cliches - and sharing this review by kids of my book Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines. Sometimes you have to do what makes you feel good. And kids loving my book and getting it makes me happy. Here's the review from kids at

Give it a listen. And if you're a teacher looking for STEM/STEAM books for middle graders with a fresh approach, (with resource guides for free!) let's talk! 


Monday, September 10, 2018

Cliches... Running the Course...

Continuing my perusal of all things cliche, today I have four fresh ones. As a writer, I hear a ton of cliches, but in The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers, there are ones I haven't heard before (and I'm pretty sure a lot of you haven't either).

Grey Eminence: An influential figure in the background. Rogers writes that this saying is based on the life of Francois Leclerc du Tremblay, an adviser to Cardinal Richelieu, who advised King Louis XIII. Francois wasn't famous like the cardinal or the king, but apparently had a lot of unseen influence, akin to the cliche, "behind every successful man is a woman." Reading this my first thought went to Gandalf the Grey- grey in appearance, and a behind-the-scenes guy (at first) in the Lord of the Rings books.

High Dudgeon. I liked the sound of this. It means "a state of considerable anger, resentment or ill humor." I can picture this in a book of high fantasy with knights and swords and treachery. Rogers writes that "dudgeon" means "the hilt of a dagger" and if someone is really ticked, well, you might find him using that dagger against the person who angered them (although the Oxford English Dictionary doesn't agree.

Put the Arm On. This is a complicated way to say arrest, a 'gentler form' according to Rogers, as police officers are considered an 'arm of the law.' It was first used in 1943 by Raymond Chandler when he wrote Lady of the Lake. A second definition is to "borrow money or to ask for a loan." The phrase "putting an arm on him" appeared in the musical Pal Joey by John O'Hara.

Under the Counter. Rogers defines this as something "sold or done surreptitiously; a transaction done somewhat on the sly. The expression arose in World War II when so many storekeepers kept items under the counter for friends or good customers, since so many things were rationed or in short supply."

Photo by Erik Scheel from Pexels

So there you have four more expressions to avoid, although I'm thinking I'll be using  'grey eminence' sometime in my life. It's so old, no one really remembers it, and it was an obscure  British saying, so I think I'd be safe in using it now.

Until next week,


Monday, August 27, 2018

Time to Rise and Shine!

Even when we know we shouldn't, we use cliches. They are comfortable. Familiar. Everyone knows what you mean when you use them.

But cliches are worn out. They are the tool of a lazy or unimaginative writer or speaker.
The thing is, there are soooo many cliches that it's not easy coming up with colorful alternatives. There are over 2,000. Yep. There's a whole book devoted to them, written by James Roberts, The Dictionary of Cliches. Some we all know, like 'hard as nails' or 'puppy love.' Some are so dated, that few readers today without a gray hair know them, like, 'you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear' or 'too many irons in the fire.' Some I hadn't heard of, like 'thin edge of the wedge.' ? What does that even mean? According to Roberts, it means:

     The beginning of a venture that is expected to expand; the leading edge of a program or activity. This "wedge" is the metal one, about six inches long, employed to split logs. Once you get the leading edge started, you have a good chance of splitting the wood (unless it is unseasoned or has the kind of grain that does not split readily). Anthony Trollope had the image in Doctor Thorne (1858), both as a chapter heading (The Small End of the Wedge) and as a description of a ploy by a woman against the doctor (there Trollope wrote "the little edge"). In 1884 The Graphic offered: "Cremation advocates have managed to get in the thin edge of the wedge in France."

Okay, I have little knowledge about splitting logs so I never would have guessed this.

Another one is 'go around Robin Hood's barn.' Take (often unnecessarily) a circuitous route; proceed by indirection. Robin Hood, a perhaps legendary figure, has represented since the 14th century the free spirit who robs the rich to pay the poor. He had no barn, since all his activities were outdoors, and so to go around Robin Hood's barn is a labored effort. The phrase is more recent than the legend, having first turned up in print in J. F. Kelley's Humors of Falconbridge (1854): "The way some folks have of going round 'Robin Hood's barn' to come at a thing.

Makes sense. And this is kind of fun. So every once in a while, I'll pull out the more obscure or ancient ones. (I'm wondering too, if they are so outdated no one remembers them, are they still cliches?)

Till then, we'll let sleeping dogs lie...

Photo by Christian Domingues from Pexels


Monday, August 20, 2018

Time Is A Farce

In case you didn't hear, I had intestinal surgery on August 10th. My doctor said that most people felt good after a week and by six weeks, were basically back to bungee jumping normalcy. I downloaded two ebooks, packed a notebook to jot down some ideas for my next project, and added my tablet with games on it, into my hospital bag.

No, that's not me on the table; this is a stock photo courtesy of Pexels, Inc.
Not only did I not have the energy, strength, or ambition to touch any of them the three days I was in the hospital (I don't count surgery day- everyone's comatose all that day), but here it is over a week and a half later and I just answered emails, and started this post.

What happened to one week?

It's what I based my return to my routine on. Oh sure, I didn't think I could vacuum (oh, horror.) or work in my garden (oh well), and definitely not paint my office (darn). I could barely shuffle a hundred yards down the street. Nighttime was a blur of pain and sleeplessness. My stomach, boasting 4 incisions, throbbed with pain.

One week? I wanted to laugh, cry, and scream.

Writing is like that. You think ok, this book is going to be tough, but I'll power through and all will be well. Until you hit a glitch (like the complications during my surgery that delayed my healing). Maybe you went off on a tangent, don't know where, and have to start over. Or an editor, agent, or crit partner is saying there's a problem with the voice. Possibly you don't know how it ends. Whatever the issue, you feel off your game and getting back into the grind is the last thing you want to do. I hear you.

Something needs to prod you into action. For me, getting back into the pool, back to yoga, back to playing bells, back to writing/submitting/agent hunting motivated me, but it took a variety of pain and other medications to get me through that dark time. What gets you through a dark time? A Netflix binge with your cat and some Ben & Jerry's? A brisk jog in the park? Reading how many rejections Dr Suess got? Whatever you can tap into, use it. You have to be in the game in order to be a player.

I'm prepared (resigned?) to the fact that the six week window my doctor gave will prevail, rather than the week I'd planned on. I'm a fast healer, but even with my determination, time takes ts own sweet time. Just gotta hang in there.

See ya next week,


Monday, August 6, 2018

The Best Writing Isn't Always a Novel...

Or a play, a poem, an ode, a short story.

Sometimes it's the directions for a surge protector.

Because I (generally) follow the rules, I read the directions on a new surge protector (the kind where the sockets swivel to accommodate bigger plugs so that they don't block two outlets).

Here's some of the brilliant writing (and I mean that sincerely!) in the directions:

We truly hope it gives you peace of mind with your electronics and provides those added outlets where you need them most (not to mention, the snazzy new shape will encourage you to prominently display it in full view of your friends, colleagues, and pets).

This guide is not a replacement Yahtzee score sheet nor is it a map of the San Diego Zoo.

Logon the ol' interweb and head to our website to register your new PowerCurve3.4. It'll initiate the rock star treatment you so richly deserve...

Surge energy joule rating: 1080 joules (a joule is a measure of how much energy a surge protector can take before it bites the dust).

Response time... <1 Nanosecond

Please follow these cautionary statements. If you don't, your PowerCurve3.4 might break, your warranty will be voice, and you will b very unhappy with yourself.

Use indoors only and do not use near water. You listening, SCUBA guy?

Do not plug things in that will exceed the electrical ratings (see "Pointy Headed Stuff").

If you're feeling all handy and want to alter or repair your PowerCurve3.4... Don't.

Read it. Know it. There will be a quiz.

Advanced surge protection.....It's there waiting to act on your behalf when evil transient voltage rears its ugly head.

Green "grounded" Light...If this light doesn't come on, no bueno, use a different outlet. 

Blue "protected" Light...This peaceful beacon tells you everything's alright. If it goes out, your PowerCurve3.4 has absorbed a surge and sacrificed itself to save your devices. Shed a tear, then replace it.

On/Off Switch- For turning your PowerCurve3.4 on and uh, off. It also acts as a reset in case you're runnin' si hair dryers and trip the internal circuit breaker. Hint: don't do that.

Super Quick Setup:
1. Plug stuff into your PowerCurve3.4 Surge Protector.
2. Plug your PowerCurve3.4 into a grounded wall outlet.
3. Standard fist pump.

I'm still laughing and enjoyed this more than the current 'bestseller' I have on my nightstand. A shout out to 360 Electrical LLC for coolness. Concise information with a humorous twist. AND they got most of the punctuation right! (Minus 1 point for using 'alright' instead of 'all right'.) Kudos, tech writers! You have a career in writing!


Monday, July 30, 2018

Fate Calling....?

(It's summer, I'm writing and revising several books and I have surgery coming up so I'm doing a short blog post. Sorry, you'll have to deal with it.)

Why can't I get an agent or an editor to call?

(Save the vitriol- I'm a registered Independent, and this was a robo call.)


Monday, July 23, 2018

A Classic Conundrum?

I'm reading a number of classic novels. Currently, I'm in the midst of The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. This edition is published by Wilder Publications. On the title page is this disclaimer:

     This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race have changed before allowing them to read this classic work.

I was too taken aback at first to think beyond "Really?"

1- This book is listed as a 'classic.' Generally, that means it was recently published.
2- This novel was written by Jules Verne. Not a common name and I find it hard to believe that anyone picking up this book would not know this was written a long while ago.
3- A quick Google check showed this book was published in 1874. Like just after the Civil War.

? I'm at a loss for words (momentarily). The above information ought to clue even someone living under a rock that values in 1874 were vastly different than today. Why does there need to be a disclaimer? Are today's readers so clueless that we have to spoon feed them everything?

I don't think so. I feel anyone reading the story would deduce that because of the historical content they would figure this out themselves.

A passage from the book:

    Such were the loud and startling words which resounded through the air, above the vast watery            desert of the Pacific, about four o'clock in the evening of the 23rd of March, 1865.

The Civil War was still raging. Everyone capable of reading this book should know what the racial and social atmospheres were during this time. (If they don't perhaps they should start with a good book on world history.)

While not banning the book, I feel this is political correctness to the nth degree. Notes on violence, sexual content, language, certain situations sometimes require a little heads up. But this book?


In an era of children learning sex and violence from TV, movies, electronic games, schools, and even their friends, this is, in my opinion, ridiculous. I believe that parents should know what their children are reading in case questions come up (although in my experience schools will require students to read books that I would have objected to had I known they were going to be forced to read them. While some books disturbed my children, it was discussed in the classroom and later at home to help them put the story into context.). I don't believe that The Mysterious Island is a book that needs such a disclaimer. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, a group of men, among them an engineer, his servant and former slave an African-American, a sailor and his son, and a reporter, all prisoners in the Confederacy, escape by stealing a hot air balloon. They become entangled in a hurricane and are whisked away to an island in the Pacific. Some of the 'controversy' (and I don't feel it is, being how historical the book is, centers around the engineer Cyrus and his servant, Neb. Possibly this passage:

     In the meanwhile Captain Harding was rejoined by a servant who was devoted to him in life and        in death. This intrepid fellow was a Negro born on the engineer's estate, of a slave father and              mother, but to whom Cyrus, who was an Abolitionist from conviction and heart, had long since            given his freedom. The once slave, though free, would not leave his master. He would have died for      him. ...

And this one:

     When Neb heard that his master had been made prisoner, he left Massachusetts without hesitating       an instant, arrived before Richmond, and by dint of stratagem and shrewdness, after having                 risked  his life twenty times over, managed to penetrate into the besieged town. The pleasure of          Harding on seeing his servant, and the joy of Neb at finding his master, can scarcely be described.

I haven't had responses yet from librarians I questioned how they feel about this. Are publishers being overly sensitive? Should we put a disclaimer in every work of fiction? What classic book would pass this test? Following this vein, many books, from picture books through middle grade, past young adult and into adult might be required to have a disclaimer because someone, somewhere, might be sensitive or offended by the subject and how it's handled. (I think on the OJ Simpson book If I Did It and it makes me pause to consider if 'non-fiction' books might need a disclaimer too...)

Where does it end?

It's a complex subject complicated by not only the current political, social, and racial atmospheres, but by our personal emotions as well.

What do YOU think?