Monday, December 30, 2013

Me Being Rotten


 The worst spanking I ever got, I was four. We lived in married student housing in Cambridge, Massachusetts while my father attended Harvard. Being an internationally recognized institution, Harvard attracted students from all over the world. Occasionally, my parents would invite someone over for dinner. Of course, we girls were supposed to be on our best behavior.
Our guest on this occasion, was a young Chinese man named Dam Wong. Being four, I found great humor in his name. I ran around the house saying, "Dam Wong. Dam Wong," in a singsong voice, giggling happily.
"Stop that right now," my father said sharply. "You're being rude."
I didn't.
"I said to stop that!"
I continued. Daddy sent me to my room before dinner. I calmed down a little, but started up again over our meal. I was sent to my room again. Instead of staying there, I sat at the top of the stairs saying, "Dam Wong! Dam Wong".
"I—have—had—enough!" My father bellowed as he charged up the stairs.
He grabbed me up in one hand, carried me to my room and tore my butt up. I can't remember if he made me apologize to Dam Wong, but I doubt it. There was no telling if I'd start up again and break into hysterical giggles. Needless to say, the after dinner talk was cut short and our guest went home.
I've never forgotten that spanking. I went out of my way after that to avoid being spanked by my father. If I got in trouble with my mother, I would hide before he got home so he wouldn't spank me again. Once, I hid for so long, my parents were nearly frantic. By the time they found me, deep in the closet upstairs, the desire to spank me had passed.
I don't remember anymore spankings after that, but the "Dam Wong Affair" is indelibly imprinted on my memory.

© Dellani Oakes


Monday, December 23, 2013

The Lemon Chicken Tale

When my eldest son was a teenager, he and his friends would make a circuit of their homes and have Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and New Years dinners at one another's homes. They often came over for dinner, depending upon what was on the menu. One year, I had a bumper crop of lemons on my tree, so I decided to make lemon chicken. I searched the internet for recipes, finally deciding to combine two to make the ultimate meal.
I cooked the chicken and made a delicious, creamy lemon sauce to go over it. I served it with mashed potatoes and green beans as well as fresh bread. It was a feast!
We sat there eating and I noticed that one of my son's friends had walked to the refrigerator and had come back looking guilty. Trying hard to hide something from me, he sat back down. When he thought I wasn't looking, he opened the bottle of ketchup and was about to squirt it on his plate when I caught him.
“Well, the chicken is kind of dry.”
“There's lemon sauce on the stove. Right there on the front burner. Guess you missed that.”
Sheepishly, he went and got some lemon sauce. A few minutes later, I saw another friend sneaking to the refrigerator. He did this kind of hunched, low, duck walk to the kitchen. This is a kid who was about 6'2”. I'm not gonna see him sneaking across the floor? Maybe he just didn't use his full Ninja skills, cause I caught him too.
“The chicken is kind of dry,” he admitted.
“Did you not listen? Less than five minutes ago, I said there was lemon sauce on the stove.”
He said nothing as he got the sauce for his plate. I was furious by that time and decided to re-emphasize the house rules on the use of ketchup.
“In my house, ketchup is for hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries. We do not use ketchup on anything else, is that clear? If any of you try to put ketchup on this chicken that I spent two hours preparing No One will eat over here ever again. Is that clear?”
I'm a good cook and I always had plenty of food for a bunch of hungry boys. Lucky for them, they took what I said to heart. After that, I didn't have anymore trouble with the ketchup bottle coming out at inappropriate times.


© Dellani Oakes

Monday, December 16, 2013

Show vs. Tell

As some of you know, I have a writing group that I started a few months ago. We meet every other Friday and have a wonderful time sharing our work, talking about how to improve it, and just having fun.

Today, one of the members, a girl in her early 20s, said she had a problem not covering every moment of every day. She realized it was boring, but she didn't know how to get around it. We didn't have a lot of time to talk about it, as we'd talked about so much already, but it gave me a great idea for a post. Now, I simply need to organize my thinking so I can discuss it.

After hearing her read something she'd written, I realized she had two problems. First, the one she mentioned – telling every action. The other was that she didn't write dialogue, she told about it. Fortunately, she realized that lack herself, but said it was taking her out of the story to do dialogue. Instead, she wrote about it with the intention of going back later to fix it. For me, that would be awkward, but that's what works for her.

I've always been of the opinion that an author should go with what works best for them. If it's easier to write in a notebook and transcribe later, do it. If it's easier to write the story and go back to add dialogue, do that too. I couldn't work like that, but I am a very linear author. I start at the beginning and go on until I reach the end. I can't write separate scenes and piece them together.

To address my friend's problem is going to require more than the 10 minute conversation we had. It's going to take some thought because she hasn't got as much experience as some of the rest of us. I can tell it's frustrating her, so I need to think through this carefully before our next meeting in two weeks.

So, how does the inexperienced (or even a seasoned one) avoid the “tell every minute” problem? —Choose the moments that move the story forward. This isn't always easy at first, but does get better over time. My suggestion was for her to finish writing the way she was doing. It's working, the story is coming. Later, she can go back and edit it. I don't always recommend this, because editing later can be a pain in the butt. However, since she is very inexperienced, she needs to continue with what's working for her.


Having the same problem? Try this idea:

Step one: Print the entire story out. Don't worry about it being in perfect MS format. Give yourself narrower margins and use 1.5 spacing, rather than double spaced, to save paper. 1.5 spacing still gives you a good amount of writing room to make notes.

Step two: With your favorite highlighter in hand, read the MS. Anything that jumps off the page, mark it.

Step three: Read it again, this time aloud. You'l

l be surprised how many more mistakes you notice this way. Mark them too. (You can even change highlighter colors if you like)

Step four: Read it again and be BRUTAL. Anything that doesn't move the story forward, cut it. It might be your favorite scene, but if it doesn't add anything to the story, get rid of it. I had to do that in my second sci-fi. I call this my slash and burn stage.

Step five: Once you've cut things out, read carefully through the edited passage and write transitional material – a bridge – to fill in the blank. Transitions needn't be long. Sometimes a sentence or two will suffice. Depending upon what's been cut, more may be necessary. Use your judgement.

Step six: Make the corrections in your computer file. DO NOT THROW ANYTHING AWAY! Whatever you cut, save it in another file. I call these edit files Cut from title and save them in a folder with the MS files. You never know if you'll decide to use those deleted scenes after
all, or re-purpose them for something else. Add the new material and proof it.

Set it aside for awhile. In fact, between passes, you should probably let it simmer for a few days (at the very least) in order to give it a fresh perspective.

If you have people you can coerce into beta reading for you, do so. Be willing to accept the comments you get. Sometimes, that's difficult, but do the best you can. Take the advice that works for you. However, unless it feels right, don't completely revamp your work just to suit someone else. Let the characters speak for themselves. They know how best to tell their stories.

Keep in mind, you needn't tell every blink of the eyes, inhalation or lick of the lips your characters make. Don't feel that each individual action is necessary. For goodness sake, don't fall into: She started to run for the door. or He began to walk across the room. And don't say you've never done that, because we all do.

She ran for the door. OR He walked across the room. The more words you have between your subject and verb, the more garbled your message. Be concise and precise. Infinitive Verbs are clunky and indistinct. Any time you use To + Verb, you've weakened your sentence. Keep a strong, active voice.

I'm getting off subject now. Perhaps I'd better curtail this article. To conclude – Keep in mind that less is often more. Flowery, wordy descriptions aren't always necessary to get your point across.

To Buy Dellani's Books
and save them in a folder with the MS files. You never know if you'll decide to use those deleted scenes after all, or re-purpose them for something else. Add the new material and proof it.</font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif"> </font></p> <p> <a imageanchor="1" href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-GJgjbJ9dBDc/UfkpENgkJ9I/AAAAAAAAAgU/O7C5dGrU0tU/s1600/Under+the+Western+Sky+by+Dellani+Oakes+-+200.jpg" style="clear: right; margin-bottom: 1em; float: right; margin-left: 1em;"><img src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-GJgjbJ9dBDc/UfkpENgkJ9I/AAAAAAAAAgU/O7C5dGrU0tU/s1600/Under+the+Western+Sky+by+Dellani+Oakes+-+200.jpg" border="0" style=""></a><font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif">Set it aside for awhile. In fact, between passes, you should probably let it simmer for a few days (at the very least) in order to give it a fresh perspective.</font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif"> </font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif">If you have people you can coerce into beta reading for you, do so. Be willing to accept the comments you get. Sometimes, that's difficult, but do the best you can. Take the advice that works for you. However, unless it feels right, don't completely revamp your work just to suit someone else. Let the characters speak for themselves. They know how best to tell their stories.</font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif"> </font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif">Keep in mind, you needn't tell every blink of the eyes, inhalation or lick of the lips your characters make. Don't feel that each individual action is necessary. For goodness sake, don't fall into: She startedto run for the door. or He beganto walk across the room. And don't say you've never done that, because we all do.</font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif"> </font></p> <p class="separator" style="text-align: center; clear: both;"> <a imageanchor="1" href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-xHTNGJ3uvvI/Ugqk4f6de6I/AAAAAAAAAkQ/XzJyRnZnrs0/s1600/Shakazhan+front+a+copy.jpg" style="clear: left; margin-bottom: 1em; float: left; margin-right: 1em;"><img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-xHTNGJ3uvvI/Ugqk4f6de6I/AAAAAAAAAkQ/XzJyRnZnrs0/s320/Shakazhan+front+a+copy.jpg" border="0" style="" width="201" height="320"></a></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif">She ran for the door. OR He walked across the room. The more words you have between your subject and verb, the more garbled your message. Be concise and precise. Infinitive Verbs are clunky and indistinct. Any time you use To + Verb, you've weakened your sentence. Keep a strong, active voice.</font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif"> </font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif">I'm getting off subject now. Perhaps I'd better curtail this article. To conclude – Keep in mind that less is often more. Flowery, wordy descriptions aren't always necessary to get your point across.</font></p> <p> <font face="Georgia, Times New Roman, serif"> </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p> <a href="http://tinyurl.com/mcsmntg" target="_blank">To Buy Dellani's Books</a><br></p> </div> </div>

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Music to Write By

We're all about good books, good music and good fun at Dellani's Tea Time and What's Write for Me. Because we love music so much, and often find ourselves talking about it (even though we're writers) I decided to hijack Dellani's Tea Time for a special show on music to write by. We didn't have a chance to answer all the questions on the show, so I asked the guests and my co-hosts to answer the questions on their blogs. Here's the link. My co-hosts are Christina Giguere & Karen Vaughan. Our guests were Kemberlee Shortland, C. Margery Kempe and Troy Lambert.

What kind of music do you listen to when you write? 
I listen to a lot of classic rock and blues. I love guitarists and will listen to Jimi Hendrix, Joe Satriani, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa, Dave Gilmour and Carlos Santana almost non-stop.

Is there any type of music you won't listen to?
I'm not a fan of most rap, though there are a couple of songs I like. I'm also not a fan of twangy country, but I do like Willie Nelson and a few others. I mentioned on the show, "You Never Even Call Me by My Name" by David Allen Coe. It's a great song. Even if it's twangy country, it totally redeems itself when you listen to the lyrics - last verse is the best.

Were any of your books inspired by a song? If so, which?

I wouldn't say inspired so much as the songs fit into the story. I listened to a lot of Jeff Beck when I was writing Lone Wolf. In fact, the opening scene was written while listening to "So We've Ended As Lovers" and other songs from "Blow by Blow". When writing Tangled Web (not yet published) I listened to "Primavera" by Ludovico Einaudi over and over. I'm sure it drove the family crazy.

Do you find yourself including music in your books?
I include songs in my books very often. Sometimes, a lyric means a lot to the characters. Several of my books are built around a particular tune. Fragrance Lingers (unpublished) has the song "Linger" by the Cranberries as an integral part of it.

In another work in progress, Emma Dangerous, I use the song "You and Me Against the World" by Richie Wermerling. Not to be confused with the Helen Reddy song by the same name. Trust me, Richie's is MUCH better. Good luck finding it. It's a well kept secret. (It is on Spotify)

Do you use music for mood, pacing, etc. in your novels?
All the time. One of my favorite scenes in Shakazan, which I later cut, was written using "Crazy Benny" by the Safri Duo as the backdrop. I often use Joe Satriani's music for fight scenes. It's lively and builds a nice, energetic dynamic. One of my favorites, Borg Sex.

Have you taken a song title for a book title?
Not often. A couple of my works in progress sport names of songs. One is "Reaching for the Moon" - Ella Fitzgerald (Lizz Wright's cover)
Another is "How Far is Heaven" - Los Lonely Boys. In fact, the main character, Hal, was inspired by Henry Garza, their lead guitarist.

Are any of your characters musicians?
Oh, so many of my characters are musicians - mostly guitarists. I love music and I love the guitar. I come from a very musical family. We love to sing and play music together. This love of guitars and music has found its way into my books. I have so many guitarists, I can't even name them all. Admittedly, most of them are male -- nothing against female guitarists, because those ladies can rock! I just have a thing for musicians and I identify with the women in my novels, so they fall for musicians. Bobby, in Under the Western Sky, is a guitarist.

Do your characters' musical tastes reflect yours?
Absolutely, they do! I've tried to create characters whose musical tastes differ from mine and I just can't do it. For one thing, I'd have to listen to the music and I can't get into it.

Some authors make playlists for every book. Have you done that?
No, not really. I have a few different lists of songs I listen to while I write. Some are used for inspiration and pacing, others are simply background to come between me and the outside world. If it's too quiet, I can't concentrate. Also, I have a constant ringing in my left ear. I don't notice it as much if I've got music playing.

Who are some of your favorite musicians?
I'm really sorry I asked myself this question. How long a list do you want? Maybe I should list my top ten - not in any particular order: 

1. Pink Floyd
2. Carlos Santana
3. Jimi Hendrix
4. Joe Bonamassa
5. Led Zeppelin
6. Beth Hart
7. Joe Satriani
8. Kenny Wayne Shepherd
9.Thin Lizzie
10. Gary Moore
(Do we notice a preponderance of guitarists here? Hmm)

If you had a chance to put together one perfect band, who would be in it? May use living or dead musicians.

Drums: John Bonham & Jason Bonham
Vocals: Beth Hart, Ann Wilson, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney & John Lennon
Guitar: Joe Satriani, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Dave Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix & Jimmy Page
Bass: Phil Lynnot & Roger Waters
Keyboard: Rick Wakeman and Jon Lord

If you were stuck on a desert island and had only one album to listen to, what would it be? (Yes, this assumes you have power, but no wi-fi)
Pink Floyd's Greatest Hits


Do you ever get songs stuck in your head that simply won't go away? How do you purge them
I have this problem all the time! Sometimes, they go away on their own, but usually not. I often have to listen to the song to get rid of it. Depending upon what it is, that isn't always fun. Other times, I'm able to get rid of it by playing something else. I've found the "Cowboys from Hell" by Pantera works well. 

Any songs that really get under your skin? What and why?
Feliz Navidad. The less said about this song, the better.

Any wonderful memories associated with certain songs?
I have so many great memories with songs. I'm not even sure where to start. I think one of my favorite song-memories is when I heard The Wall by Pink Floyd for the first time. I was in college and a friend of mine, a musician, had just bought the album. He snuck me into his dorm room to listen to it. I'm sure his roommate and the other guys on the floor thought we were going up there to have sex. Instead, we sat in his room with the stereo cranked to the max, listening to the music.

What's your guilty pleasure music?
Should I really answer this one? Why not? I listen to Prince and 80s rock. I hated Prince when he first came out. I thought he looked like a slimy Jimi Hendrix wanna be. Now, I have to admit I like his work. Raspberry Beret, When Doves Cry, Darling Nikki are among my top favorites.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Taming the Helping Verb

Keep your verbs in the simplest form possible and try to avoid helping verbs. Sometimes, it's unavoidable, but as much as possible, keep your writing in simple past and don't add a bunch of other verbs to the lineup.

In case you don't know your Helpers, here's a list:
am, are, is, was, were, be, being, been (To Be verbs)
have, has, had (To Have verbs)
can, could
do, does, did (To Do verbs)
may, must, might
shall, should, will, would

Using helping verbs weakens the narrative and should be used sparingly. Why? This one, I can answer. Keep your writing as active as possible. Sometimes, you can't help it. A Helper is unavoidable in some cases. Avoiding the use of was entirely, as some misinformed authors try to do, is impossible. Was is the past tense of To Be – I am (present) I was (past). Some verbs must have a helper to be clear.
Example: I was elected president of the student body.
I elected president of the student body.
Not only is the second sentence not really grammatical, it doesn't make sense. If I chose to say – The student body elected me president, that would work. I left out was and still wrote a clear sentence.

Why is it important to avoid helpers? As I said above, they weaken the narrative. Also, if the author gets too hung up in tenses, the premise of the sentence, paragraph or story is lost in a fog of verbs.
When I was a teenager, we used to tease the husband of a friend of ours. He was from Arkansas and, though he had a very polished manner of speaking, he sometimes reverted to his backwoods roots.
I might should ought to could do that” was a favorite phrase to twit him over. This is, understandably, an extreme example. However, when dealing with the past, we authors sometimes don't know when to quit. We don't stick with simple past, but jump into all those freakish variables that require mountains of extra verbs. You know it's true. It jumps off the page, snarling at you. Take a Louisville Slugger and beat those suckers into submission.

Learn to control the vicious helping verb beast.

© Dellani Oakes

Monday, December 02, 2013

Authors Are Sadists

(Previously posted on Write Minds Authors)

All authors are sadists. It's a fact, we have to be. It's really not our fault. Stories need action, they need conflict, how better to provide that than to hurl our characters into some difficult situation and watch them claw their way back out? Hardly seems sporting, does it?

I suppose we could blame our readers, right? I mean, if the book hasn't got at least one good argument or a brawl, they feel cheated. If they feel cheated, they won't buy our books. If they don't buy, we don't make money – so, conflict, drama, hardship, pain, anguish, suffering – ensue. Yes, blame it on the readers.

It seems really mean to create these characters only to watch them suffer. We make them fall in love with the wrong person who breaks their hearts. We kill off their loved ones and chase off their dogs. We leave them hanging from cliffs, flip over their cars and have them attacked by psycho killers, rabid dogs or murderous biker gangs. That's okay, I blame the readers for this too.

We are evil! How do we think of that stuff? Most of the authors I know are certainly not rabid dog chasing, murderous psychotic car flipping, cliff dangling bikers. So, how do we think of all this crazy stuff? I've never been in a gun fight or fought rampageous aliens in a sentient ship, but I can certainly describe it so my readers can visualize it. Honestly, I don't know. My characters get tangled in events that have never happened to me or anyone I know, yet I figure out ways to make them sound reasonable and plausible.

Some incidents in my stories really happened, but I elaborate on them, pushing the limits of believability to make a better story. Although the scene in The Ninja Tattoo where Teague finds himself in mysterious convoy on Riverside Drive, is based on something that really happened to me, I wasn't targeted for death. I didn't hide out at a cottage in the woods or take down my opponents with drug tipped knives. (Don't know what I'm talking about? Read the book.)

I'm pretty sure that nothing in Lone Wolf or Indian Summer is remotely related to my real life, yet I manage to put them through their literary paces as well. I'm not sure which of the characters get treated the worst. I'm sure they could argue the point with me until we were both hoarse. (Yes, my characters argue with me – deal with it.) Each of them would scream I'm meaner to them than the others and probably Manuel and Wil would be the most vocal. However, I contend that they are still alive at the end of the book and the villains are not, so maybe they should pipe down.

So readers, the next time you're reading a particularly sadistic book full of action, broken hearts and trauma, remember – you have only yourselves and the characters to blame. The author is, of course, completely innocent.


© Dellani Oakes

Conduct Unbecoming by Dellani Oakes

Have you ever read a book that just made an impact on you? Well, that is exactly what Ninja Tattoo did for me!! I was so intrigued by Teag...