HOW TO WRITE A PAGE TURNER

HOW TO WRITE A PAGE TURNER (edited and updated version 6-16-14) Recently, I downloaded a copy of Thread of Hope by Jeff Shelby. As I read the novel, I realized that this is definitely a page-turner. The character returns to the town where his daughter disappeared even though he hates being there because so many triggers remind him of her kidnapping. Even looking at his ex-wife is painful because his wife and daughter look so much alike. He comes back, however, in order to help an old friend who has been accused of a crime and is unconscious in the hospital. The reader can admire Joe Tyler because he forces himself to endure the agony of his memories in order to help his pal. As I read I realized that I rarely stopped at the end of a chapter, so I began to analyze the endings to see what made me continue reading. Here are the endings of some of the chapters. I shortened the list because the book has eighty chapters.

“All I know is that he told her you would know what to do.”

She raised an eyebrow. “They already know you’re back.”

As I gazed at the now gray-looking buildings across the bay, murky behind the fog, I felt no promise. No excitement. No hope.

I stared out that hotel window and I could feel all of it bearing down on me, with no clue how to stop it.

“You go near my daughter, they won’t take you away in an ambulance. It’ll be in a hearse.”

“I’m sorry. I swear to God. I’m sorry.”

A humorless smile took residence on his face and he chuckled quietly, tapping his fingers on the desk.
“So you did come to fight with me.”

“Alright,” I said. “Tell your wife I’ll be at your home to speak to her at nine tomorrow morning. Alone.”

“That’s how I know that something has happened to her.”

“Eight tonight,” he reiterated. “I hope you have some information for me.” I was hoping the same thing.

So I bought up something else that I knew was going to piss him off.

I did think he would’ve noticed that. And that was the problem I was trying to rectify.

“I’ll tell you something about the Jordan family that you don’t know.”

Secrets don’t stay buried. They just wait to be dug up.

But then she abruptly turned and her fist slammed against the door as she disappeared into the locker room.

But after ten minutes, I was tired of waiting and stuck my head into the locker room. A locker room that was already empty.

The situation crystallized for me. And he produced a gun.

Her eyes focused and she finally looked at me. “In case I had to shoot you.”

Each of these sentences could have occurred in the middle of the chapter, but Shelby wisely chose to stop at a point where the reader would want to keep reading. Add a protagonist who is going through a hell of his own while he is trying to help a friend by solving a mystery, and we have the proverbial page-turner. Good job, Jeff Shelby.

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Five Reasons I Hate Facebook

5. It is too enticing, like a siren’s song. I love following my friends, family, and fellow writers. I can easily spend all day returning to it over and over.

It’s too much like the time I made a pecan pie one day. My husband and I each had a piece for dessert. The next evening after dinner, he said, “I’d like another piece of pie.” I hung my head and said, “There isn’t any more.” I started nibbling on the pie in the morning, left a fork in the pan, and kept returning to eat a little bit more all day. Facebook is like that pie.

4. Facebook makes me cry. I am a big softie, and I can cry at almost anything. One day, I was passing through the TV room, and someone was dying on the screen. I started crying as I walked. My daughter said, “Mom, that’s Al Capone.”

“I can’t help it,” I said.

“He’s dyyyying.” I told you I am a softie.

3. Facebook has lots of political lies, such as when a posting made the rounds that said President Obama had the flags across the nation put at half-staff after the death of Whitney Houston. Actually, it was Republican Governor Chris Christie who made that announcement for his state alone. I wonder how many people never learned the truth. I have even been guilty of reposting something I thought was true, only to have Snopes tell me I was wrong. Heavy sigh.

2. Every time I see a recipe, I want to try it. If I see someone’s enticing meal in full color, my mouth waters and I want to head for the kitchen. I think Facebook is bad for my diet.

1. Facebook is ruining (or may have already ruined) one of the old, useful rules for punctuating titles. Once upon a time, we English teachers taught that titles of short works (short stories, short poems, chapter titles) should have quotation marks (“The Trouble with Tribbles,”) and titles of longer works (novels, epic poems, series) should be underlined or italicized (Star Trek).

Since Facebook does not allow underlining or italics, however, people could only use all caps for titles of longer works. Some writers on FB used all caps for a while, which makes sense because we are supposed to use all caps for our novel titles when we submit a query letter to an agent. Other writers just omitted any punctuation at all for titles on Facebook, perhaps because we associate all caps with shouting.

That would not have been so bad, but then authors (AUTHORS!) stopped using any punctuation for titles on their own blogs, even though those sites allowed them to use italics or underlining. I wish I could convince everyone to use single quotation for novel titles on Facebook, but—alas—I am only one person. So I sigh whenever I see a title with no punctuation.

We can’t even tell whether we are looking at one or two novels when we see a sentence like this: I enjoyed reading Basted and Tasted. If we used single quotation marks, we could write: I enjoyed reading ‘Basted’ and ‘Tasted,’ or I enjoyed reading ‘Basted and Tasted.’ I know I won’t win this battle, so I merely move on and sigh dramatically.

I hate Facebook. It is the reason I have not finished my novel or my memoir.

I think I will just go see what my friends on FB are doing right now. They’ll understand my pain.

Bye. Sigh.

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THE BLUEBONNET

Photo Credit - James Sough

Photo Credit – James South

This photo by James South shows the bluebonnet mixed with Indian paintbrush plants.

Our state motto is “Don’t Mess With Texas,” but it could also be “Don’t Mess With Texas Women.” In 1901, when the state legislature decided to select a state flower, most of them (probably all men back then) wanted either the cactus flower or the cotton boll (the cotton-filled seed vessel of the plant). The members of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, however, wanted the bluebonnet, also known as the buffalo flower, Lupinus, and they went to Texas to make their case. The women prevailed. Unfortunately, the legislators chose the Lupinus subcarnosus and ignored the Lupinus texensis, which is much bigger than the daintier subcarnosus. Not only that, but shouldn’t the texensis be the logical choice?

DSC_0014-2-2
Photo by James South

For the next 70 years, individuals met with lawmakers off and on to try to get the texensis named the state flower instead of the subcarnosus. In 1971 the legislators solved the problem by decreeing that both those flowers and any other Lupinus that grew then or that developed in the future would all be recognized as the state flower. The Texas Highway Department scatters the texensis along the highways and byways each year. The bluebonnet is a wonderful choice for the state flower since it needs little water and will often bloom during drought conditions.

Recently, the University of Texas at Austin found maroon-tinged bluebonnets growing in flowerbeds on their campus. Many suspected that Texas A&M University’s Aggies, traditionally rivals with UT-Austin, had something to do with the invasion of the flowers since A&M’s colors are maroon and white.

Many wondered how the maroon flower came to exist. Two horticulturists, Greg Grant and Dr. Jerry Parsons spent some time selecting seeds from red, white, and blue bluebonnets in hopes of creating the Texas flag using the three colors. They noticed some pink bluebonnets had a blue tinge. When they realized that the hue sometimes resembled maroon, Greg Grant, an Aggie through and through, decided to try to develop a strain with a maroon hue. Over time, Grant and Parsons succeeded.

When the maroon flowers were found on the UT campus, many suspected that they were the result of an Aggie prank. Others believed that the invasion was merely a result of the seeds being mixed up at the company that provided them. At first, officials at UT-Austin were willing to allow the maroon bluebonnets to coexist with the blue ones, but they decided on April 17, 2014, that the ones growing on their campus are intruders and will be removed.

Some think it is against the law to pick bluebonnets in Texas, but it is not so. The state just reminds people to watch out for fire ants and rattlers. That might be better than making a law against picking them.

The company that provides the seeds Lupinus texensis (Fabaceae) also known as Alamo Fire, recommends that any non-maroon flowers be removed to avoid cross-pollination.

The legend of the bluebonnet is a fascinating one. I would tell you the story here, but it is told so well on another site that I will give you a link to that version.

http://www.coedu.usf.edu/culture/Story/Story_Texas.htm

You can order the seeds here.

http://shop.wildseedfarms.com/Alamo-Fire_Maroon-Bluebonnet/productinfo/3229/

These are the articles I used as sources.

http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/trb01

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/cemap/maroon/realmaroon.html

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Tex-Arcana-How-bluebonnets-became-state-flower-1792133.php

http://alcalde.texasexes.org/2014/04/they-live-the-saga-of-the-maroon-bluebonnet-continues/

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THE MUGGY MUG

I prefer to proofread carefully.

I prefer to proofread carefully.

CAM00251

CAM00252

I recently ordered a porcelain cup that showed proofreaders’ marks on the left side, with examples of the marks being used in sentences on the right side.

When I opened the box, the first thing I saw was the slogan “Proof carefuly” on the side facing away from the drinker. Oops.

The other side of the cup listed eleven proofreaders’ symbols with examples for each one. Unfortunately, half the sentences used as examples were incorrect. The symbol was used correctly, but some of the resulting sentences were incorrectly worded or punctuated.

For the symbol denoting “Insert a comma,” the example sentence was
“A stitch in time, saves nine.”
The sentence violates the rule “Do not insert a lonely comma between a subject and its verb just because you feel like pausing.”

But wait. There’s more.

The better to see you with. said the wolf.
was changed to
“The better to see you with.” said the wolf.
but it should have been
“The better to see you with,” said the wolf.

The win dows (Two words for windows?) on the bus goes up and down.
was changed to
The windows on the bus goes up and down.
but it should have been either
The windows on the bus go up and down.
or
The window on the bus goes up and down.

“I’ll huff and puff” said the wolf.
should have been
“I’ll huff and puff,” said the wolf.

Goodness!

Some of my friends have suggested that perhaps it is a joke mug, but I think they would have gotten all the examples wrong if they had meant it to be funny.

I contacted the company that sold the mug and received a gracious reply telling me that they would refund my money. They also said not to bother sending it back. I’m not surprised. They are probably happy to get rid of one of them. I wonder how many more they have on their shelves.

THE LEGEND OF THE STRAWBERRY

strawberry shortcke

The Cherokee explain how strawberries came to exist on Earth. Many variations of the legend exist, since the story comes from oral history, but I will tell you the version I like.

In the beginning the Creator, ga lv la di e hi, created First Man and First Woman. For a time they were the only people on Earth. They lived together in contentment for quite some time, but eventually they began to fight. First Woman said to First Man that she was leaving him, and he said he didn’t care. She started walking away, swift and determined in her anger.

After a bit, First Man decided he wanted First Woman back, so he started after her. She, however, was walking so swiftly that there did not seem to be any possibility that he would catch her.

The Creator put blueberry plants in her path, but she walked on. Then He put luscious blackberries in her path, but she walked on. Finally, He put strawberry plants in her path. She looked at the bright green leaves, the white flowers, and the luscious red fruit. Bending down to taste one, she was astounded at how good they were, so she stopped and ate as many as she could. Then she decided that she really did not want to be apart from First Man, so she filled her basket with as many strawberries as she could and headed back toward their home.

First Man caught up with her, and they walked back home arm in arm.

Today, a Cherokee tradition states that a home should always have strawberry jam or jelly, if not fresh strawberries.

My favorite strawberry shortcake recipe is a Sara Lee Pound Cake, thawed, a big tub of Cool Whip, and a bag of frozen strawberries. I cut the cake into cubes, stir in the thawed strawberries, and mix in the Cool Whip. I’m off to the grocery store now.

The easy way to core a fresh strawberry is to push a straw through it, from the pointy end to the green top.

Update: One of my friends asked, “Where did the whipped cream come from?” Another friend replied, “From the First Cow, of course.”

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Strawberry Plant

HOW I CHANNELED A CHARACTER FROM MY OWN MYSTERY NOVEL

(Note: All the names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Not long ago, I became Membership Chair of an organization I’ll call San Antonio Mystery Writers Association (even though it isn’t). Weeks went by before I was told that I needed to talk to the previous chair to get the box of materials so I could perform my duties. The chapter called it “The Membership Box,” but hereinafter I shall call it “The Box.”

“Rosa” had not been attending the meetings for quite some time, and I had never met her, so I asked the current treasurer for her phone number and email address. I phoned her, but the call went to voice mail, so I left a message asking for her to call me. I explained what I wanted so she would not think it was a sales call.

I also emailed her a request for the box of materials, even offering to go pick them up at her house, if needed.

A week passed and I did not receive a response, so I left another message and emailed her again.

Another week went by, so I asked the treasurer for her address. All SAMWA had was a post office box number. I told the president of the organization, and she said we would just have to wait for her to contact us.

Several more weeks went by, and I was asked to do some work with the membership forms.

“What membership forms?” I asked.

“The ones in The Box.”

I had only the forms for the people who had joined after I took office. The rest of the forms were in – you guessed it – The Box.

I went online and used a website to locate her address.

I was determined to track her down. If I can write about how a sleuth manages to find out information, surely I could do it myself.

I found three different addresses and a phone number that was different from the one I had tried. I dialed the phone number, but it was disconnected.

I found out from the Internet that she worked in one of the public libraries in town. When I went there and asked for her, the young man went into the back room and said she was not available.

“Will she be in tomorrow?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.” He looked at me as though he thought I might be a collections agent or bounty hunter.

Hmmmm.

Would I receive the same answer every day? Perhaps he had been the victim of a bill collector or process server and did not want to help me find her. He even might become an obstacle in my caper.

I was now determined to locate The Box. My terrier instincts kicked in. If she wasn’t at work, maybe she was at home. I decided to try the first address on the list, 803 W. Aberdeen. (Don’t try to find it. I changed everything for this story.)

I went to that address even though it was 30 minutes from my house. The numbering system seemed not to be quite right, so I stopped at a McDonald’s nearby and asked what their street address was so I could work backward.

After finding 805 W. Aberdeen, I assumed the next house was 803. I did not find a street number, just a faded place on the curb where the number probably once was. The house I found looked haunted, with an unpainted exterior, loose boards on the porch, and yellowed lace curtains in the windows. It did, however, have four mailboxes on the wall beside the front door.

An electric bill peeked out from one of the mailboxes attached to the house.

Hoping it was not illegal to just look at a piece of mail, I pulled it up just enough to see the address, which turned out to be 801. That meant that 803 was the vacant lot between 801 and 805.

Well, perhaps it was E. Aberdeen. I drove there. It was now a doctor’s office, housed in a relatively new building.

I had another home address from the web, but one said “Oak Street” and one said “Oak Lane.” I found both on the city map, but they were both 30 minutes from my house—in different directions.

I decided to try the library again before I drove to those addresses. Just in case the guard dog (excuse me, her fellow librarian) was going to hide his friend from me, I used a little deception. I carried with me a brightly wrapped present. It was not for her, of course. It was just to get past the young man.

The next day, I went to the library, casually held the package in full view and asked for her again. He looked at the present and said, “She’s in the shelves somewhere.”

When I said, “Can you describe her for me? I don’t know what she looks like,” he looked puzzled, but he did describe her well enough for me to find her.

Once I located her, I looked around to make sure our discussion would not be overheard since I had a bad feeling about what she was going to tell me. I didn’t want to embarrass her.

First, I introduced myself and told her that we would really like for her to join SAMWA again. She graciously replied that she was too busy, with school and work.

I then asked if I could go to her house to get the box, or perhaps she could bring it to the library for me to pick up.

She said, “I threw it away. I had paid for everything in it anyway.”

“Even the lapel pins that cost three hundred dollars?”

“Little gold pins?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“I never had those.”

That was not what the president had told me, but I know a lost cause when I see one.

So I now have no membership box and no pins, but I did get my man. Er, woman. At least I did not have to go to the two addresses to find out The Box no longer existed. My task was finished. Unsuccessful, but finished.

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ICELAND’S YULE LADS – THE CHRISTMAS TROLLS

The Yule Lads, or Yulemen, are an Icelandic tradition. Although their numbers have changed over time, today the Icelanders count thirteen of them. For the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas Eve, children put their shoes on windowsills. Each night, one of the lads will come down from the mountains to visit homes. The children wake up to find their shoes filled with either a present or a rotten potato, depending on the child’s behavior.

The lads are the sons of the troll Gryla (Hag) whose favorite snack is a stew of naughty children. She and her husband Leppaluoi (Ragamuffin) are often accompanied by the Christmas Cat, a beast like a black panther, who will track down and eat any child who does not get at least one article of clothing for Christmas. Icelandic children do not complain about receiving shoes or garments.

Children were so afraid of Gryla and Leppaluoi that a public decree was issued in 1746 prohibiting parents from frightening their children with monsters or fiends such as the Yule Lads and their parents.

Long ago, their number and likenesses varied according to where the children lived. In some locations, the lads were pranksters. In others, they were monsters who enjoyed killing and eating children. Over time, the lads became more like pranksters than monsters throughout Iceland.

Originally, the Yule Lads were seen as mischief-makers who would prey on rural farmers, but their characters softened over time. Today, they are seen as more benevolent, almost as kind as Santa Claus. In the past, they were depicted wearing medieval Icelandic clothing. Today, however, they are often shown wearing costumes similar to Santa.

Sheep-Cote Clod has peg legs, which makes him stiff, and he annoys sheep.
Gully Gawk hides in gullies and steals milk from cows.
Stubby is short and steals pans with crusts left behind.
Spoon-Licker is extremely thin because he finds so little to eat.
Pot-Scraper steals leftovers from pots.
Bowl-Licker hides under beds and steals dishes of food.
Door-Slammer likes to slam doors, usually at night.
Skyr-Gobbler loves skyr, a type of yogurt.
Sausage-Swiper hides in rafters and steals sausages, of course.
Window-Peeper looks through windows in search of stuff to steal.
Doorway-Sniffer has a huge nose and sniffs around searching for bread.
Meat-Hook uses a hook to steal meat, of course.
Candle-Stealer follows children around to steal their candles, which were edible long ago because they were made from tallow.

Near Christmas, several wandering Yule Lads dressed in Santa-like costumes can be seen around malls and shops in Iceland. The children have no problem with seeing several Santas at once. If you google the Yule Lads, you can see pictures of them.

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