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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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?

Half A Chaos Load

As the sun rises on our small acreage this morning, tinting the thin layers of cloud with delightful rosy shades, it finds our mobile home in a state of upheaval. And clothes drying, since I was up early this morning getting the wash done before our workman gets here.

We’re having the flooring replaced in our dining area-kitchen-hallway, which is all one open area, plus the main bathroom just off the hallway. Of course this involves the main traffic area in our mobile home, so hubby and I have been holed up in the office for the most part since the work began. We’ve chosen interlocking vinyl slats 1′ x 2′ to replace the wood laminate stuff that was cracking, peeling and chipping. It has been removed and stacked outside and most of the stick-down tiles that were under it have been lifted and tossed, too, and a start made at laying down the new stuff.

Our washer and dryer have already been moved, the flooring replaced under them and the appliances put back again. Today it’ll be the fridge & stove’s turn. Isn’t it shocking what all hides under your appliances and shows up when workers are around to see it? Mostly we’ve found dust bunnies and rags fallen behind the washer — but we needed to move a tall bookcase in our living room and underneath that was a mouse’s nest from who knows when. Yuck!

Part of our sub-floor has gotten water-damaged, so our worker has been replacing some of that. Which means sawing and drilling, which means some dust flying, which means the place needs a thorough cleaning when it’s over. Plus we need to move the second living room bookcase to see if another mouse lived there. Have our cats been sleeping on the job?

Being stuck in the office is not a heavy cross, I’ll admit. I’ve been writing short fiction, plus working on a Hardy Boys-type story for my teen grandson. But as soon as this renovation work is done I’ll be overworked, trying to restore order to this chaos.

The chemo-therapy I had last year really has punched the lights out of my memory cells. I realized this again recently at my husband’s cousin’s wife’s funeral. I asked about another cousin and Bob told me, “He’s my Uncle John’s son.” I stared at him blankly. He didn’t have an Uncle John — at least not one that I knew of. Eventually it came back to me, but the lapse did give me a jolt.

Last week when I’d written my short story for Friday Fictioneers (see link at right) I decided to post all those stories on Christine Composes, my fiction blog. Then I forgot and posed it here yesterday as When Fear Makes You Sweat. (Work isn’t the only thing that makes you sweat. The fear of forgetting can be another cause.)

I got another reminder last night when I came across a story in my Documents. I vaguely remember writing it, maybe a year ago? Seems I posted it, too, but I can’t find it on either of my blogs. So I’m posting it this morning on Christine Composes and offering my apologies if you read it last year. Read it here: A Counselor’s Toughest Job

And this morning a phone call reminded me of the birthday party I’m invited to this afternoon. I mark these things on the calendar — when I remember. Some folks tell me they wish they could blame memory lapses on chemo, but their minds just don’t retain —  probably overworked.

And now I’d best arise and go do some work.

The Word Press daily prompt for today: overworked.

Invitation to Chip In

“She has the money,” Fred argued. “Her husband left her swimming in the stuff. She can’t spend it all, so why not give some to her daughter if she needs it?”

George clunked his empty mug on the table, scowling. “So you think it’s okay for May’s son-in-law to blackmail her like this? To forbid the grandkids to see her unless she forks over the dough for their mortgage payments?”

Fred waved a hand in protest. “I didn’t say that exactly.”

“The poor boys have to sneak out if they want to see their grandma. I think their dad’s a deadbeat if he’s expecting May to pay for their home. He needs to get out and find a job.”

“But people hit rough spots sometimes. Maybe he’s tried and there just isn’t anything right now? Besides, Nadine’s her only child. She’ll inherit everything when May’s gone. Why not give her some now? May’d never miss it.”

George stubbornly shook his head. No way were they ever going to agree on this issue.

Suddenly he sat back and looked Fred in the eye. “If you’re feeling so charitable why don’t you help them out? You sold your farm. You’re sitting on a pile of money yourself. You could pay off their mortgage and never miss it.”

Fred snorted. “Are you kidding? Why should I shell out to support that shiftless son-in-law of May’s? He’s not my problem.”

George recalled that old cliché. “The worm has turned! It’s always easier to solve a problem when the answer doesn’t come out of your pocket.”

Fred turned red, then glanced at the clock. “Gotta be going.”

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Last night I recalled a conversation I was part of years ago. A dear friend of my dad was in this situation: emotional blackmail, you could say. Her nine-year-old grandson, being forbidden contact, would sneak away from home to see her. I listened as one party in the conversation presented Fred’s argument, which had some validity. My dad thought like George.

What about you? How would you advise May?

I gave the tale this ending twist to fit today’s Word Press prompt: invitation.

Storms And More Storms

Winter “Clipper” Roars Through

Yesterday morning our weather had warmed up here in Sask — temp got up to -9̊ C. Which brought in a fast-moving storm by evening with howling wind gusts that rattled our windows something fierce. I was afraid the power might go out, so I placed candles and flashlights in strategic places, just in case. Thankfully we haven’t had a lot of snow to blow, and not a lot came down during the “clipper”, or it would have been much worse for drivers.

This morning dawned clear and sunny, but the temp has dropped to -31̊ C, below -40 with wind-chill factored in. I call that “bitterly cold”! So I’m happy to stay inside all day, thankful I don’t have to pump gas or do any other out-in-all-weathers job.

Today’s Word Press prompt is someday. Very fitting.

Someday it will be spring. The grass will green up, the trees will bud and blossom, perennials will poke through. Someday. Meanwhile, today I plan to edit this book I’ve been working on, for teen boys.

I also posted Winter’s Day Dreams on Tree Top Haiku.

Book report: Hurricane
© 2003, 2008 by Terry Trueman
HarperCollins Publishers

Speaking of a book for teen boys, I read one yesterday that I thought was terrific. In the book Hurricane, by Terry Trueman, Jose, a young teen from a small Honduras village, stays at home with his mother and younger siblings in their small village while his dad, older brother and sister, have gone to the city. The day starts out rainy, nothing too unusual. Unknown to them, this is the forefront of Hurricane Mitch, the storm that devastated Central America in 1998.

They initially have to contend with the worsening storm, trying to keep their belongings dry under the leaking roof, and wondering about their missing family members. I small battery radio tells them about the damage Mitch is doing all over their country.  Then before the night is over Jose hears a great rumbling sound and mud from the loggers’ clean-cut patch on the mountain above comes pouring down on them, burying most of the village in sludge.

The author has done a great job of depicting the feelings of a boy caught up in a tragedy. We understand his amazement facing a sea of mud, overwhelmed by the cries of survivors needing help. We see his efforts together with neighbors digging in the mud for their loved ones and for food. We feel his revulsion at finding dead bodies — and sympathize with his constant fear that his father and siblings have been swept away, buried in other mud somewhere. Will they ever be found? Sandwiched in between are his flashbacks to the good times and questions about the future.

The author does all this in a refreshingly “clean” story with very little profanity and no immorality. Jose’s family, God-fearing Catholic people who believe in prayer, are trying to apply faith and trust in the midst of tragedy. This is a book I’d give to any reader, teen or adult.

Plugging the Infinite Loopholes

Today’s WordPress Daily prompt: infinite. I thought this quote might fit the bill.

Ever wonder why legal contracts are pages long? I was just reading a book by Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock, who offers this tongue-in-cheek explanation:

Legal sentences must of necessity be long. A lawyer dare not stop. If he ever seems to have brought a thing to a complete end then somebody may discover something left unsaid and invalidate everything.

The Tenth Commandment is able to say “Thou shalt not steal.” A lawyer has to say, “Subject always to the provision of clauses 8-20 below thou shalt not steal, except as hereinafter provided.”

Even at that the lawyer would have to take another look at the word steal and scratch it out in favour of, “thou shalt not steal, pilfer, rob, appropriate, hook, swipe, or in any other way obtain unlawful possession of anything.”

Then the word thing would start him off again to write: “thing, object, commodity, chattel, property….”

Excerpt from the book HOW TO WRITE by Stephen Leacock
Published 1944 by JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD LTD
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This reminds me of a news item I read one day:

Corporate lawyers must have a tough job fine-tuning lawsuit-proof explanations, especially in the US.

One day an American bought himself a brand new motor home, but crashed it while travelling down the highway. He explained later that he’d left the motor home to drive itself while he went to the back to get himself a cup of coffee. He sued the manufacturer for (I forget how many) million dollars in damages because the instruction manual didn’t specify that you can’t leave the steering wheel unattended while the vehicle is in motion.

Won his case, too. Good lawyer?