Let Me Call You… Mister

EtiquetteA friend mentioned the other day that she’d run into a novel set in the mid-19th century in which everyone addressed each other by their first names. All the time. Under every circumstance. It was driving her nuts; her interior historian kept being thrown out of the story. Wouldn’t there have been more formality?  And if the author was fudging this aspect of etiquette, what else was she fudging? Or getting wrong? Or figuring just didn’t matter?

It would drive me nuts too. I’m a very forgiving audience, except when I’m not–I can gloss right over what I believe to be an error in world building, if the story and characters are sufficiently engaging that I just don’t care. But make an error before you’ve got my heart and you’ve lost me.

So: how did people talk to each other in the Olden Days? How did they talk about each other? When did the new informality, if I may call it so, become a Thing? As so often happens when such questions are raised, I turned to Emily Post.

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I’m a little ranty today. When we moved into this house, we had to join the HOA. Not all that expensive per year, so okay. We wanted this school district and we liked the house a lot. Only it turns out that every time the board changes members, it changes its interpretation of the CCR’s, which are Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. So anyhow, we built a pergola and a added a patio and fixed an enormous drainage issue in our back yard at the same time, and now the HOA is saying it wasn’t approved. But our understanding at the time was that it didn’t need to be approved.  They aren’t saying take it down, so I’m not sure what’s going on. Working on it.

But here’s the thing. It’s barely visible from the road. Barely. And yet someone is so freaking nosy that they have to get on our backs about it. Do people not have anything better to do? The thing is lovely with cedar wood and the roof can’t even be seen (and they are complaining about) unless, of course, you look from the neighbor’s yards. So I don’t know what’s going on and I’m highly irritated. And yes, I know. I knew it was an HOA before I joined. But I’d hoped they weren’t so freaking annoying. And after the kids graduate high school, we’re moving somewhere where we don’t have to listen to other people tell us how to live.

I swear I’m going to do a story about an obnoxious bureaucratic collection of people with too much time on their hands and a deep desire to micromanage other people’s lives.

That is my rant. Got HOA horror stories? Maybe I’ll feel better about mine if you have much worse to tell me.

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Things too Precious to Set Free

Dad's Roach Killer

The roach killer

There’s an old phrase that pops up occasionally. “Setting it free” or “Returning it to the wild.” No, they’re not talking about animals. They are talking about possessions. Books, clothing, kitchen items no longer used–anything that can be recycled, re-purposed, useful in a new way, or to someone else.

I’ve been downsizing for years, both because I had to and because I wanted to. I surrender books only when I am convinced I will never re-read them; I give away good clothing that was acquired in swaps or thrifting when it no longer serves my needs. I decided that fifteen years was long enough to keep compromise furniture from a marriage that was history, and gave away two rooms worth to people who are using those things and loving them. That’s a successful exchange with the universe.

But there are things that I simply cannot surrender–things that I will never set free, that my family will have to decide what will happen to them, because as long as I have breath, I will not let them go. Continue reading

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Dice Tales: Game Planning I – Arcs, Acts, and Chapters

Roman twenty-sided die(This is the thirty-fourth installment of Dice Tales, an ongoing series of posts about RPGs as storytelling.)


I like running arc-plot games. By that I mean campaigns where the GM has a central plot in mind, and the intent is for the whole thing to reach a conclusion within a reasonable span of time.

I suspect I would have always had this tendency, because my favorite type of novel series (or TV show or whatever) has the same kind of structure. I’m less satisfied with the type of ongoing tale that’s going to keep on trucking until people get bored and wander away; that approach it doesn’t deliver the kind of payoff I’m looking for. But my reasoning is also practical: I’ve been in a small number of campaigns that drew to a satisfying close, and a much larger number that just kind of . . . . stopped, on account of scheduling conflicts or the GM being too busy to run or other OOC factors. When I set out to run my own first game, I was bound and determined that I would not have one of the latter type. By god, I had a story in mind, and we were going to tell that sucker from beginning to end.

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End of Summer: Comfort Reads

woman reading

“Oh, that’s my comfort read!”

“I’m in the need for a comfort read.”

“I have to confess, all I can read right now are my guilty pleasure books—you know, for comfort.”

I’ve been seeing that around a lot these days, what with grim news from around the world, and here in the USA the polarization of an election that everyone seems to be tired of. I posted about comfort reads four years ago , which sparked a lot of discussion and recommendations, so I think it’s time to give it another go.

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The News From 2Dits Farm: Got the Blues

(Reposted from last year around this time. The recipes are still good!)

We’re actually a little past blueberry season now, but Maine is so synonymous with the little blue jewels that I couldn’t resist sharing some of my favorite recipes. First, though, let’s clear the air on one major issue: lowbush (aka “wild blueberries) vs. highbush (aka “cultivated blueberries”). I know that in much of the country if you buy a quart of blueberries in the supermarket or go to a pick-your-own operation, you are getting those blue, marble-sized things they call blueberries. You may think, in fact, that those are the only kind there are. Poor you. Lowbush blueberries are tiny by comparison, but–in my far-from-humble opinion, at least–sweeter, firmer, and richer in taste, especially when cooked. I am willing to concede that this may be an irrational prejudice. I have friends who grow the highbush types (which are also, incidentally, naturally wild in some areas of Maine, just as they are in other parts of the country), and they are perfectly happy with the jams and pies they make from cultivated berries. But they just don’t work for me except for fresh eating, so when I call for blueberries in the recipes below, I’m talking wild blueberries. Continue reading

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An Introduction to Indigo Animal

Indigo AnimalThere are many ways to tell a story and I have been mesmerized by every form I’ve come across. I get lost in novels, caught up in radio plays, sit transfixed before storytellers, am moved by plays, binge-watch television series, and happy at the movies.

As near as I can tell, there are no bad ways to tell stories. There are weak stories and poorly constructed ones, but the problem is not with any given method, simply with the inspiration or execution. Not every story works.

One of my favorite methods in recent years is the graphic novel (and its cousin, the graphic memoir). Putting pictures together with words allows the artist/writer to do things with both forms that deepen the story.

I recently discovered Indigo Animal, by my fellow Oaklandite Rue Harrison, and was transfixed from the first page, on which Indigo Animal stands on the porch and “wonders, ‘What’s my purpose in life?’” Continue reading

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The Things People Say—4: Verbal Squid Ink

woman at computerI want to state at the outset that this article is not about political points of view. It’s about the way we communicate or fail to communicate ideas. I have been without political affiliation my entire adult life, but am very much engaged in social issues and social discourse. I am also a writer. At the point that social issues and writing intersect, I am fascinated—and yes, a bit disturbed—by the way people bend words to manipulate each other. This is particularly pronounced during election seasons which, like Christmas shopping seasons, have expanded over the years. (I saw a Christmas display yesterday in a local drugstore, before I’ve even begun to think seriously of jack-o’-lanterns and I think of jack-o’-lanterns a lot.)

The first casualties of this election season are facts, clarity, meaning and the English language—not necessarily in that order. The examples I can adduce to support my premise are legion, but I’m spotlighting this one because I’ve read it about half a dozen times today and listened to the interview and it’s mind-boggling.

Responding to a presidential candidate’s assertion that “Islam hates us,” the CNN host asked a guest supporter of the candidate to “make the case for why it’s okay to say Islam has a hatred towards America, and not deal with radical Islamism, not deal with the radical slice, but deal with the whole.”

To strip the question to its tightie-whities: If radical Islamists hate America, why is it okay to state that all Muslims hate America?

The guest replied:

“I think one of the problems we have, frankly, is when President Obama refuses to go there with radical Islam, you get the sensation here that, well, maybe it’s everybody.”


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Muppets and Parallel Structure

Steven Harper PiziksThis came from Kermit the Frog’s Twitter feed a while ago:

Success isn’t easy. It takes determination, perspiration, and, for frogs, condensation to make it.

It’s cute, but not very funny.  It could be funny, but it isn’t.  Let’s look at what went wrong–and how to fix it. Continue reading

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Deborah Answers Questions on Writing

Renoir sisters readingQ: What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?

A: There are a gazillion tips on how to write, how not to write, do’s and don’ts galore. The best advice I can give to a young author is to fill your life up with experiences. You aren’t fully formed yet, either as a person or as a writer. So go have adventures; read widely; learn a second or third language; play a musical instrument; dance; study cultures other than your own, history, psychology, sociology, comparative religion, music theory. Anything and everything that interests you. Make friends who come from different backgrounds and listen to their stories with an open heart. Fill up your creative storehouse so that you will have something worth writing about.

In school, we learn how to write literate English (at least that’s the goal). We may analyze English literature, but usually the focus on reading comprehension not the mechanics of fiction. That often creates the illusion that we do or should know how to write effective fiction. That’s a bit like saying that because you can drive a car, you know how to build one from scratch. To create an inspiring story, you need a tool kit and skills. The tool kit includes a deep understanding of how and why stories move us, a wide range of life experiences (the raw material), and the basic mechanics of prose narration (exposition, dialog, theme and metatheme, rising tension that leads to climax and resolution, world-building, sympathetic characters, etc.) The skills are how to put together all these elements, when to introduce them or remind the reader, that sort of thing. There are perhaps as many ways of learning those skills as there are writers. Some benefit from reading widely and mindfully across a range of the best literature they can find. Others respond to “how to” books like John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction or Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction. Still others do better with hands-on critiques and explanations (when I was a new writer, I had to have things explained to me in words of one syllable).

Q: What mistakes do new writers make?

A: There are a gazillion lists of specific faults in prose (such as grammar and punctuation) or story craft (such as the rise and resolution of tension). A new writer can get so overwhelmed by “dos and don’ts,” she ends up paralyzed.

So I’d like to take a different tack and suggest that new writers learn to trust their readers. Trust them to figure things out. Trust them to read intelligently and sensitively. Most of all, trust them to experience the story for themselves. If there’s a “don’t” here, it’s don’t tell the reader how to feel. Take the reader on a journey that will be different for each reader because no two of us are alike in temperament and experiences. Give them what they need to know what’s going on, but allow the story to flow through them, seen through the lens of their own lives. At the same time, play fair with your reader. That means no surprise out-of-nowhere endings that have nothing to do with the meat of the story. If you set up expectations for one kind of story, hard-boiled noir detective, for example, it’s not a good idea to switch to a fluffy sweet romance. You and the reader have an agreement: “Give me x hours of your time, and this is the reading experience I promise you.” Just as a new writer must learn to trust her readers, she herself must be trustworthy in fulfilling that promise.

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