Expectations

I learned something new today. An expression that means something amazingly different from my expectation.

I received my Merriam-Webster “Word of the Day” e-mail and today’s word is billet-doux.

I’ve rarely encountered this word, so never pondered long about it. However, I know that doux in French means soft and automatically giving the word billet my English understanding — a room, a bed or cot — I assumed a billet-doux would be something like a soft bed.

Out to lunch, as they say. Actually billet in French means ticket, bill or note. So I was rudely awakened from my soft bed of linguistic befuddlement. A billet-doux is a love letter. One more hill I’ve climbed in the battle to comprehend this polyglot that passes for English.

Now to share another tale of false assumptions, this one involving a soft bed in Oxford, England, that some Yank wanted to take home with him. Talk about Great Expectations!

An American tourist was strolling around the grounds of Oxford College. While visiting this historic site he couldn’t help but admire the landscaping, the flowers, and especially the lush green lawn.

After a bit he noticed one of the gardeners busily tending the shrubs, so he stopped to chat. “Beautiful place here. And what I wouldn’t give to have a lawn like this on my property back home.” He rocked back and forth on the soft sponge. “Nice! What would I need to do for mine to grow like this?”

The gardener eyed the tourist. Ralph Lauren and all that—the man’s probably worth a mint. So he replied, “I’m thinking you’d probably need some of our fertile English soil, sir.”

“No problem. I can arrange to have a few tons shipped over by boat. What else?”

The gardener mentally rolled his eyes. Yep. Awash in a sea of filthy lucre, these Yanks. “The right kind of grass seed, of course. Don’t know if you can get our varieties over there.”

“I’m good with that. Tell me what brand and I’ll order it. Is that all?”

The gardener thought for a moment. “Well, the ground must be absolutely level so it can be rolled easily. You need to sow the seed in autumn, then when spring comes you cut and roll your grass. You have to repeat and repeat the mowing and rolling.”

The American beamed as he looked around, anticipating having beautiful lawn like this someday. “It all sounds doable to me. And for how long do you keep up this mowing and rolling?”

“If you want your lawn to look just like this one, I’m guessing you’ll have to keep at it for several hundred years.”

Word Press daily prompt: expectations

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Important to Know

Lotte Lehmann became a famous opera singer just before WWI and performed a total of 93 roles in her career. She retired from the opera in 1951 and became a music teacher for over twenty years.

One day she was visiting with an up-and-coming young soprano who remarked sympathetically that “It must be terrible for a great singer like you to realize you’ve lost your voice.”

“Not at all,” the older lady replied. “It would be terrible indeed if I didn’t realize it.”

Taking a Break

Hi Everyone,

I’ve posted a short fiction story on Christine Composes, in response to today’s Word Press prompt word: lovingly. You can read it here.

Waffling

When I first started blogging the thinking was to focus on one topic. Consequently I started several, each with a theme, and for the past few years I’ve been maintaining  separate blogs for fiction, poetry, haiku, and personal stuff.

This past year I’ve been working mainly with the two: the fiction blog, Christine Composes, and this one for everyday stuff, but my posts have gotten quite mixed  and I’m debating what I want to do in future. I see a lot of bloggers are posting whatever they feel like that day, be it fiction, poetry, personal, travel, or whatever. One blog is definitely simpler, but it’s a real mixed bag.

I’d welcome any opinions so if you have a thought, please leave a comment or email me at christinevanceg (at) gmail.com.

How FF and JJ Shortened My Patience

Reading Judy Dykstra-Brown’s post, Too Much Information, reminds me of an article I worked on yesterday, so I’ll post it as my response to today’s Word Press prompt word: overwhelming.

Overwhelmed by Adjectives

My mind registered a familiar ring tone and I reached for my navy faux-leather handbag, the one I’d bought with the gift certificate Mom gave me for the trendy new fashion store that just opened up three months ago at a nearby mall. I rummaged around, feeling my wallet, a few tissues, and several small spiral notebooks I carried for jotting down bits of poetry before I pulled out my shiny pink cell phone, now steadily tinkling out the tune to Fleur Elise, my favorite of all the tone options on this phone, hit the tiny green Talk button and said “Hello.”

The caller had hung up.

Would you? If this were the opening paragraph of your story, would you keep reading?

I started a book last week and soon discovered the writer is a lover of vividly descriptive adjectives. I had the feeling of walking on a wet beach where your feet sink into the sand at every step. In Chapter One the main character gathers her things, heads to work, and arrives there. Not what you’d call fast-paced, but her home and workplace were well described.

Some readers enjoy this type of descriptive writing and will find this story interesting. They are a market, albeit limited, some writers aim to please and that’s great. But like most readers, my attention span has become short. I like a bit of description, but then let’s get on with it. Give me a quick, smooth trip, no slogging through wet sand.

May Heaven Bless Good Editors

If you’re working on a novel and intending to publish it, do run it by a professional editor. And listen to their advice — even if it hurts.

The editorial cry of, “Cut, cut, cut!” can be painful. One tactful editor a century ago told a writer, “Your work is like a rare jewel. And like all jewels, it will sparkle all the more once it’s cut.”

Mark Twain once said, “When you see an adjective, kill it.” He admitted that adjectives do have their place, but cautions writers to use them sparingly.

For a travelogue descriptive adjectives are great, but do we care that, in the opening scene, Fleur Elise is this girl’s favorite among all the ring tones on this phone, or do we want to find out who’s calling and why?

Writer Charles Todd, in the Bess Crawford Mysteries series, has achieved what I’d call a perfect balance. While including descriptions of WWI battlefield scenes and the shattered bodies brought in for Bess and the doctors to patch up, the story line moves along quickly and holds a reader’s attention.

Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild

A few months back my husband signed up with the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild and I started following his articles entitled “How to become a ferocious self editor.” We get a demonstration of how Jerry would edit the first page of someone’s manuscript — and he does EDIT. Chop, chop, chop!

The story may start out with 200 words and end up with 50 when he’s done, but he explains each change. We hear that one adjective is usually enough. Instead of talking about the great big house, you say the great house or the big house. Better yet, eliminate both and say the cottage or the mansion. Instead of “The lonely lost lamb shook with cold and fear,” pick one good adjective and choose your verb well. “The forlorn lamb shivered.”

Friday Fictioneers: Putting It Into Practice

This is a group hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Every week she posts a photo as the group’s writing prompt and we’re to post a hundred-word story in response. I’ve been finding these a real challenge!

A hundred words means barest bones. Every superfluous word goes. Every line that can possibly be omitted is.

My opening paragraph contains 102 words, the entire allotment for a for Friday Fictioneers story. Action sum total: a female answers her phone. For an FF story I’d boil it down to:

I grabbed my ringing phone from my purse. “Hello.”
Mom’s voice sounded worried. “Sue, I can’t reach Patty. Have you seen her lately?”

Word count: 23. And go on from there. In the final edit I might even have to cut out the purse, though its mention tells readers she’s on her cell phone and not at home. This type of editing is terrific practice for writing tight, which is mainly the writing that sells these days.

As a reader, are you fond of description in your stories, or do you prefer the “cut to the chase” version?

Making A House A Home

LANDLORD AND TENANT

by Edgar Guest

The landlord wouldn’t paint the place
or keep it in repair,
yet at the window panes was lace,
though every board was bare
and those who passed it by could trace
the tenant’s tender care.

And those who passed it by could see
a blossoming plant or two.
Despite the tenant’s poverty
a little garden grew,
lovely and gay and orderly
the blazing summer through.

The landlord Life at times seems cold
and deaf to every plea,
yet to our dreams we still can hold;
courageous we can be
and round the place plant marigolds
for passers-by to see.

We, too, with faith, can plant a rose
where all is bleak and bare
and fashion pretty furbelows
for windows of despair,
and work, till our poor dwelling shows
a tenant’s tender care.

From his book, LIFE’S HIGHWAY
© 1933 by the Reilly & Lee Co.

Cerebral Squalls

I remember the days, after I was done with my chemo-therapy treatments — the first time round, 36 years ago. I recall the times when these dark storm clouds would roll over my mind and everything looked so hopeless. Some chemo treatments are largely hormonal, so they mess yours up so bad.
Blogger Stacey LePage describes these times so effectively in her poem and has kindly permitted me to share it with you.

 

In The Corner

They come and blow your mind away
They make mountains of your thoughts
They will gather strong in billowed clouds
You will find yourself distraught

The sky can blacken all around
Will cause your heart to race
You fear the wrath the clouds may bring
As you quicken up your pace

Then as quickly as it came
It moves along the sky
And out of view the squall does pass
To leave you high and dry

You feel the warmth upon your face
It melts and thaws your mind
You stop and pause and close your eyes
To leave the past behind

The moment seems to slow right down
Life stops and takes a breath
Living in the here and now
Gives minute of brain refresh

Then

There is it, yet once again
The storm is suddenly nigh
You’ve seen it once, you’ll see it again
And know it will…

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