Those Answering Machines!

I read an interesting post recently: a blogger writing about her father, a Polish immigrant to the US in 1947. He never quite caught on to the business of answering machines. Read her story here.

I remember folks getting quite creative on their answering machine recordings. Years back I phoned a number — someone advertising something for sale, if I recall rightly — and they weren’t home. Instead I got this C&W verse sung by some fellow with a nasal twang, that went something like:
Hello, so nice of you to call. And how are you, your wife and the kids, your Mom and the dog? A couple more lines, then he launched into a different melody starting with, “Where oh, where, are we today…”

When my daughter got home I called back so she could listen to it, too — hoping no human answered the phone! I wonder how often those folks were told, “Er… Hello. Um…well, I actually didn’t call to talk to you. I…uh…just wanted my friend to hear your answering machine song.”

I was inspired to write a little ballad (set to the tune “Streets of Laredo”) telling the tale of a poor fellow and his answering machine. If you’d like to record it on your machine, feel free. 🙂

I just walked out to the store at the corner;
I thought I’d step out for a bit of fresh air.
Then don’t you know it, my phone started ringing,
and as you will know I just wasn’t all there.

The phone started ringing, my dog started barking,
and woke up my neighbor who sleeps half the day.
He phoned the police and they came in a hurry
and the pound keeper came to take Rover away.

I pleaded my cause and they gave me a warning,
“Get an answering machine or get rid of your hound!”
Well, I love old Rover — my best friend, I tell you!
So I bought this contraption— the best one in town.

Now when I’m outdoors or downtown on an errand
leave your messages here at the sound of the beep.
I’ll be calling you back soon if you leave your number,
but don’t call again. Let my poor neighbor sleep.

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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

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.

The Case of the Talented Writer

Meet  Author Alison Golden

Her Amazon Author Page Link here
Her website: Cosy Mysteries.com

If you are one to enjoy a good cozy mystery now and then I’ll tell you about a series I’ve been reading and enjoying. I just finished the latest: The Case of the Broken Doll, an Inspector David Graham Cozy Mystery.

Detective Inspector David Graham has left the big city behind and chosen a quieter life on the Isle of Jersey, where crime is supposedly minimal. But quiet it hasn’t been since he arrived. First he had a couple of murder cases to solve and now a disappearance.

But this case is a cold one: fifteen-year-old Beth disappeared from a street in the village of Gorey street ten years ago, leaving behind only the leg broken off the doll she was carrying. And one of his two constables, Jim Roach, was a classmate of Beth’s. There were no witnesses at all; a search of the whole island yielded no trace of her.

Folks are remembering her on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance, so of course D I Graham hears the story. Some folks — and especially his constable, Jim Roach — encourage him to look into this unsolved mystery, so he starts making inquiries. His first visit is with Beth’s mother, now widowed. Ann Ridley has made a shrine of Beth’s room and is operating the Beth Ridley Foundation, accepting donations to fund the ongoing search for her daughter. After ten years, is it all in vain?

I really enjoyed this well plotted, well executed police procedural. I’m happy to see the author further developing her cast of characters and I especially enjoyed seeing them as a team working together to solve this case. Captain Janet goes online; DI Graham and Constable Jim interview teachers and people who saw Beth Ridley that morning, trying to get some lead as to how she could simply vanish. Then a random glance turns into their best clue.

I saw a few spots that could have used a bit of editorial polish, but over all it’s well written, as is all her stories. I’m eager to read the next one.

This novel is considered a stand-alone, but the series order is:
#1 The Case of the Screaming Beauty (Prequel)
#2 The Case of the Hidden Flame
#3 The Case of the Fallen Hero
#4 The Case of the Broken Doll
#5 The Case of the Missing Letter — to be released soon

This writer also write a cozy series involving the Reverend Annabelle Dixon, an Anglican priest in a small English village.
I understand her third series is more suspenseful and the main character is Diana Hunter.

Character Study

Day after day I see him there, drinking his coffee and ostensibly reading his book, yet glancing up at times as if watching for someone to arrive or something to happen. I’ve noticed he seldom turns a page. And he always sits facing the street. Has he heard the rumors and wants to see for himself if they’re true?

man-reading

I chat with him now and then as I bustle around clearing off tables. Just letting him know I’m friendly. Nothing wrong with that, is there? His answers are always upbeat, respectful. That’s worth a lot in this day and age, let me tell you. Sometimes I think we could hit it off, both older and alone and all.

Yeah, he seems nice and easygoing, yet there’s a certain something in his eyes. Watchful. Almost wary.

In momentary flights of fantasy as I wipe tables I picture him as an undercover agent keeping an eye on what’s going on across the street. Gathering evidence, ready to catch the guys hauling the stuff in — or the customers sneaking it out in secret pockets.

Maybe he’s one of these writer types, watching the pedestrians, doing character studies for his next book? (Wonder which character I’ll appear as? The femme fatale? Yeah, really!)

Or maybe he’s just a regular retired guy who’s taken early retirement and he likes our coffee. As I load the dishwasher, I decide to ask him if he’s ready for another cup. But when I turn around, he’s gone.

Word Press daily prompt: Gone