Category Archives: On words and writing

The Vocabulary Holding Zone


Drawing of Vanessa looking in a dictionary

My wonderful blogging/doodling/author friend, Mike Allegra, drew this picture of me specifically for this post. Do you think he’s captured my likeness?

A lot of words cannot be fully explained by the dictionary alone. They have a subtle hidden meaning that can’t adequately be described, it is only through hearing the word being used regularly that we grasp their full meaning. Or they have more than one meaning and the context is everything. This is one of the reasons why learning another language can be so difficult, and it’s also why translations are often so funny – a literal meaning of the word is used without an understanding of the more subtle sub-meaning, or alternative meaning. Some of you may remember these mistranslations  I posted a while ago. Many of them (though not all by any means) would actually stand up to a dictionary definition, but a greater knowledge of the meaning is needed to see why they are funny.


All of this is why I am sometimes reluctant to incorporate new words into my vocabulary until I’m confident I understand their full meaning, not just the dictionary definition. We all occasionally hear words that we feel drawn to – either we like the sound of the word itself (Like “serendipity” or “discombobulated”), or we look up the definition of a word and feel that we like the meaning and can see uses for the word in our vocabulary. They’re not necessarily completely new words to us, they may well have blipped across our radar many times, but didn’t register before. I like to put those words into a vocabulary holding zone; I think I’ve understood them but I can’t be totally sure until I hear them used several more times. Once I’m happy, then they can graduate into my general vocabulary zone. Once in the general vocabulary zone then I have to make a conscious effort to use them a few times quite soon to make sure they are properly glued into that zone, otherwise they will slip out, and goodness knows where they end up after that.

1) Some of my recent graduates from the holding zone into the general vocabulary zone, with dictionary definitions, are:

Gravitasseriousness, solemnity, or importance (Gravitas spent a few years in the holding zone – I’d understood what it meant for a long time and yet hadn’t had the confidence to use it for some reason, so it had to keep repeating a year before it was able to graduate. I think that says a lot about the word itself – gravitas is a word with gravitas! Those who are familiar with it will know that it has more to it than the definition alone).

Rhetoricthe art of using speech to persuade, influence, or please (It has other definitions too, but this is the one I’ve picked. Again, it’s a word that has been around me for a number of years because I work in a university and it’s a very university word, but it’s only since I went back to studying several months back that I’ve been able to incorporate it myself.)

Disaggregate to separate from a group or mass (this one didn’t need long in the holding zone).

Polemicof or involving dispute or controversy (not quite as straightforward as it sounds).

2) Words currently in my holding zone, with dictionary definitions, are:

Nomenclaturethe terminology used in a particular science, art, activity, etc (I think I’m happy with the meaning of this word, it’s more a crisis of pronunciation with this one, I can’t say it fluently yet).

Zeitgeist the spirit, attitude, or general outlook of a specific time or period, esp as it is reflected in literature, philosophy, etc (I love this word, I might give it some extra special attention so that it can graduate quickly, but ssshhh, don’t tell the other words).

Hermeneuticof or relating to the interpretation of Scripture (I can’t see that I’ll have much opportunity to use this word, but it’s just a very satisfying word to say out loud. Try it, all together now – “Hermeneutic!” See?).

Reificationthe act or an instance of making an abstract idea or concept real or concrete (this is a very new entry into the holding zone, wish it luck).

I can date the development of my vocabulary holding zone concept to my late teens when I had just started working. I had never understood what “cynical” meant, but knew I wanted to use it, so I looked it up in the dictionary and thought I understood it. In order to impress one of the bosses at my work with my wide vocabulary, I threw it into a sentence, like “He’s being rather cynical isn’t he!”. To which he replied “Well I wouldn’t exactly call that cynical”. Drats. And thus the holding zone was born.

Do you like to incorporate new words into your vocabulary? If so, do you have a holding zone for them, or do you just throw caution to the wind and start using them right away? Any recent additions to your vocabulary you’d like to share?

Picture credits:
Doodle of Vanessa by Mike Allegra
Dictionary photo credit: jovike via photopin cc


Three Things Thursday

I was trying to think of a catchy title for a sundries post for today and thought I was oh-so-clever coming up with “Three Things Thursday”. Then I decided to Google it and discovered others have come up with that name already. Sigh. Is there nothing new and original any more? And now I’ve just realised that it’s still Wednesday. Well I’m going with it anyway. It’ll be Thursday soon enough.

Thursday Thing One:

Last week I filmed some pickups for an independent feature film that I have a small part in called Marriage. It’s a small, but significant, part and I’ve loved being involved with this film. The filming began towards the end of 2012, and they hope to have the film completed and ready to rock and roll by the end of 2014. They need time and funding to get it finished. This is the trailer for it. There’s a very brief glimpse of me around 1min 44secs on the right hand side of the screen with a cut lip:


Did you catch me? And if you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s a 9 minute documentary about the making of it. Again, I make a brief, but slightly longer, appearance around 8mins 21secs:


Thursday Thing Two:

As some of you know, I’m one of the contributing bloggers over at the Limebird Writers’ site. For various reasons, we’ve decided that the Limebirds will be no more. It felt quite sad, but we’ll all be keeping in touch. The site will stay up anyway so that our archive posts can still be accessed. Our goodbye post is here

Thursday Thing Three:

For the benefit of some of my newer followers, if you’re interested in cooking, you may like to know that I also have a cookery blog, I don’t post there very often, but I posted something last week, and thought it was time I gave it another shout out over here. Here it is – Sugarness

And one final thing…oh wait… my three things are up! I knew I should have made this Four Fings Friday instead.

Well, enough showcasing of my stuff. Any Thursday things you’d like to share with the class on this fine Wednesday? Or while we’re showcasing, feel free to showcase, or show-off, any of your own things in the comments, go on, don’t be shy…

The Words are Becoming Homogeneous, and it’s the Beginning of the End


I was first alerted to this phenomenon by a post on The Byronic Man‘s blog earlier this week, where he informed us that Google have expanded their definition of the word “literal” to also mean “for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.” I was horrified. I did some further research and discovered that even our beloved Oxford English Dictionary has engaged in this travesty; according to them, literally can also mean metaphorically. That’s right people, the word “literally” can mean both “literally” and “not literally”.

My alarm bells started ringing. I wondered if this was an isolated example. It’s not. There are other words in circulation that have contrasting meanings. We’re aware of these words, they’re not new words, they’re not even new definitions, but have we ever realised the significance? I will come on to significance in a moment, but first some examples…

  • “To dust” something means both to cover it in dust, or to remove dust.
  • “To screen” means both to show something (like a film), or to hide something.
  • “Bound” means both fastened in one place, and heading off somewhere.
  • “Bolt” means both to fix firmly, and to rush away at speed.

The definitions for “Bound” and “Bolt” are in fact so similar to each other, that they could merge those two into one without any of us noticing, and we will then have one word to represent four meanings. Where will it end? I’ll tell you where it will end; in disaster. I’ve figured it out and it’s a conspiracy…

At the beginning of human-times (history isn’t my thing, so I just use my own descriptions), there were no words. I’m not sure when the very first word was, but over time the number of words grew and grew, and now the number of words are shrinking and shrinking. They are bringing two meanings into one word, and then getting rid of the now redundant words those meanings used to belong to. All the words and meanings are gradually merging. The words are becoming homogenous and it’s the beginning of the end.

Plotting room

I think this must be where it all happens

They’re trying to sneak it through quietly but I’m on to them. They have a fancy name for words with contradictory meanings; contronyms. Well I care not for their fancy words. They may use the fact that contronyms are not a new thing as some kinds of justification, but all that means is that they’ve been planning this for a long time, and I’m not buying it.

I’m asking you all to keep alert. Be aware of this movement to reduce the number of words. We can no longer tolerate the cramming of several meanings into one word. In order to monitor the situation, we will all have to spend time counting words in dictionaries, and comparing that number to earlier versions. This counting must be done manually, we can’t trust what it says on the dictionary, or any automated counting systems; they’re all in on it. I want to see spreadsheets and algorithms and beer from you all.

It’s fairly obvious that their purpose is to turn us all into subservient beings who will eventually be unable to express any objection to what they are doing, as we will no longer have the vocabulary to do so. They will combine and reduce and combine and reduce the words until there is only one word left, and I’m pretty sure that word will be “Yes”. We need to say “No” while we still can.

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc
photo credit: John Loo via photopin cc

Mike and Vanessa Give Thanks, with Pumpkin Pie and Ballet Tights

You’ve read the blog, you’ve seen the book, now meet the author, it’s Mike Allegra ladies and gentlemen! He’s here to shoot the breeze with me and to give away a copy of his wonderful children’s book, SARAH GIVES THANKS, to one lucky blog reader – it could be you!

Mike 3-D

Mike Allegra – he writes, he blogs, he draws, he looks fabulous in a pair of 3D glasses.

Right then Mike, let’s get the boring…er, I mean…the exciting biography bit out of way first…

Thanks Vanessa…what do you mean boring? Well nevermind, here goes – I have earned my living as a writer and editor for the past 15 years. My first picture book, SARAH GIVES THANKS, was released in September 2012 by Albert Whitman & Company. The book has earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, is an Amelia Bloomer List selection, and is now in its second printing. As a playwright, I have had my work read and performed around the U.S. and was the recipient of a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship. A former journalist for North Jersey Newspapers, I am currently the editor of The Lawrentian, the alumni magazine of The Lawrenceville School (Lawrenceville, NJ). During my tenure, The Lawrentian has won a dozen regional and national awards, including Gold and Silver honors from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

There, that wasn’t boring was it? Vanessa? Vanessa?! Are you asleep?

What? No, of course not! I was just…well, let’s move on to the book. In one sentence, what is SARAH GIVES THANKS about?

Sarah Gives Thanks cover

One sentence? You gotta be kidding me.

OK. Fiiine. Here goes:

SARAH GIVES THANKS is the story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a 19th century New Englander, who led a 36-year, grassroots campaign to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday.

If I had more than one sentence, I would’ve also mentioned how Sarah was the first female magazine editor in America. And her magazine eventually became the most widely read periodical in America. And she founded charities. And she raised money to preserve historic landmarks. And she became a tireless advocate for women’s education. And she wrote and/or edited dozens of bestselling books. And she is the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” And she did all of these things while raising five children as a single mom.

Well I’m only allowing one sentence Mike, so you can’t say that other bit. Sorry. Now, I’m always interested in how long the writing and publishing process takes, so how long was it from the time you first thought of the idea for the book, until the day it was published?

Too long. But the circumstances were unusual. Partway through the process, my editor quit her job. Also, the first illustrator, after much hemming and hawing, decided not to sign her contract. This delayed the book for a year. In the end, however, this hiccup turned out to be a huge blessing because my new editor, Kristen Ostby, shared my vision for SARAH GIVES THANKS in a way my first editor never did. And the illustrator Kristen selected, David Gardner, had the exact same artistic style that I had imagined for the book.

So it took a while, but everything worked out perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.

You’re not really answering my questions are you Mike? Let’s see how you do on this one – for the benefit of us Brits, what’s so great about Thanksgiving?

I don’t know how much Brits know about Thanksgiving, so forgive me if what’s below is common knowledge.

Way back in the early 1600s, a group of religious zealots were tired of being persecuted by the British king. So they sailed to America and set up a colony at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.  Once there, they immediately began to persecute themselves with far more zeal and enthusiasm than your king could’ve ever imagined. These folks were the Pilgrims. They dressed in black and liked wearing buckles on their hats and shoes. They also liked accusing each other of witchcraft.

The Pilgrims had a tough go of things on these shores, and many of them died during their first New England winter. In 1621 however, with the help of the indigenous Native Americans, they managed to have a decent harvest. So Pilgrims and the Native Americans had a feast where they thanked their Maker for the food, their friendships, and their good fortune.

The Pilgrims were not America’s first colony, and they certainly weren’t the most successful or the most forward thinking, but that Thanksgiving feast did tap into America’s sense of idealism. The idea of a special feast to thank God for all the blessings in one’s life captured the imagination of many New Englanders.

The rest of America’s colonies, however, which had their own unique histories, generally ignored the holiday.

That is until Sarah Josepha Hale came along.

Thanksgiving meant a great deal to Sarah, not because of the Pilgrims, but because the holiday forced people to put their lives in perspective. Then, as now, it was so easy to get bogged down with all the aggravations in life. It was so easy to dwell on the negative. Thanksgiving, however, was all about reflecting on the positive. Or, as Eric Idle once wisely sang, “…the bright side of life.”

In Sarah’s case, the holiday helped her to cope with the death of her husband and find a way to support her family. If Thanksgiving could help her, Sarah reasoned, it might be able to help others. And so Sarah began her campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Thanksgiving, she believed, was good for America’s soul.

So that’s why Thanksgiving is important to Americans. People also use that day to get a day off from work and watch football.

Well I was looking more for something like “It’s so great because we get to eat lots of turkey and pumpkin pie.” Something like that, you know? But ok. Let’s go a bit wild and crazy now – can you tell us a random fact about yourself; something that you’ve never mentioned on your blog, and very few people know about you?

I recently took a test online to see if I was an introvert. Out of 23 questions posed, I provided 22 introverted responses. And that lone remaining question was sort of borderline. I think I will go hide under my desk now.

Well that certainly was wild and crazy Mike, thanks. Let’s find out now a bit more about what makes Mike tick. What are your favourites of these…

You’re just asking these questions so you can spell favorites, with a “U,” aren’t you Vanessa? Admit it!

I admit it! But let’s do it anyway:

 a) Your favourite joke –

I don’t care for jokes, really. I’m more of an amusing anecdote person. But I do like this one:

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Interrupting cow.
Interrupting co–

b) Hehe, MOOOOOOO! Now, what’s your favourite fast food –

I try to avoid fast food at all costs. My very first job was manning the broiler at a Burger King. I only did it for one summer, but the work left me with severe emotional scars. Also grease burns. If I were forced to pick, however, it would be Roy Rogers’ roast beef sandwich. It doesn’t taste exactly like roast beef – the texture is all wrong – but it’s close enough.

c) First you make a joke about a cow, and now you want to eat it! Nice. Right, what’s your favourite TV show –

I am a new fan of Breaking Bad, which just ended its run on TV. I have been buying the old seasons on DVD, however. It is, in my view, one of the most sharply written and superbly acted shows ever.

d) And the final one in the favourites round – Who is your favourite person from England who is funny, charming, and intelligent, whose name begins with V, and who has interviewed you?

Dang. There have been so many. Vanessa Redgrave… Lord Voldemort…

Oh, Vanessa, it’s you. Definitely you!

My goodness Mike, that’s so unexpected, I don’t know what to say! Thank you. And the very final question, going back to your playwriting, if you were to write a play where you would take the lead role, what type of story would it be, what type of character would you be, and who else would you like to be in it with you?

Years ago I wrote a comedy/drama titled Rebounders. One of the characters, named Sean, is a complete and total pig. I had so much fun writing for that character. Audiences find him hilarious and the actors who have tackled the part over the years loved the opportunity to say and do such gleefully offensive things. I’m too old for the part, really, but that would be the one I’d pick. As for other people I would want to act with…? There is a good part in Rebounders for a talented actress. Interested?

Oh Mike, yes, it would be so wonderful to be on stage with you again! Do you remember the last time we were on stage together…

Mike and Vanessa as ballet dancers

I certainly do Vanessa, what a memorable performance that was.

Ok, well, we’re done here, except to say that to be in with a chance of winning a copy of SARAH GIVES THANKS, just leave a comment below by the end of Wednesday 6 November, and one lucky winner will be randomly selected after then. Oh, and if you don’t follow Mike’s blog already, you really should – heylookawriterfellow.

Thanks Mike!

Thanks Vanessa! I wonder where I put those ballet tights, what with Halloween coming up…

Mike Allegra

Mike Allegra

The First Day of the New Tomorrow


This gal is becoming a regular around here, and that’s ok by me! I’m thrilled to welcome back author extraordinaire, Jennifer M. Eaton, yippee-dandy-do! (Hey, I just invented a new cheer!). You may remember Jennifer first stopped by for a chat last year when her story ‘Last Winter Red’ was published as part of the Make Believe anthology. I was then delighted to have her back last month to speak about her book ‘Paper Wishes’, and I’m now beside myself with excitement to see her back here with her new book, ‘The First Day of The New Tomorrow’, published by MuseItUp.

Let’s get the official bits done first, and then we’ll get down to the interview…

Jennifer, you’re up, give us your biography…

Jennifer M Eaton

Jennifer M. Eaton is a contemporary blender of Science Fiction, Dystopian, and Romance.  Her work ranges from the sweet contemporary romances of Paper Wishes, to the dystopian society of Last Winter Red and Optimal Red, with a dusting of young adult paranormal just for fun in The First Day of the New Tomorrow.

While not off visiting other worlds, Jennifer calls the East Coast of the USA home, where she lives with her wonderfully supportive husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up poodle.

Full time team leader, full time mom, and full time novelist… what more can you ask for?  Writing help did you say?  Well, sure!  Jennifer hosts an informational blog aimed at helping all writers be the best they can be. Stop on by and chat. She loves to hear from fans! –

Excellent! And now the book blurb please…

the-first-day-of-the-new-tomorrow book cover

Maya dreams of perfect skin, beautiful hair, good grades, and Eric Brighton—the boy she’s been crushing on since elementary school. But no matter how hard she tries, these things elude her.

Until Now.

In the space of a day, her acne clears, her hair thickens, and Eric finally takes notice. As everything she wishes comes true, happiness is finally in reach—until a man posing as a college recruiter informs her that her newfound abilities come with a price. She will be expected to use them to stop a catastrophe.

Frightened of playing superhero, but thrilled that everything she desires becomes reality, Maya tests the limits of her power—until someone gets hurt.

Now terrified of her own thoughts, Maya will need to choose between having everything she wants, or returning to normalcy. With Eric’s heart and the fate of her town resting on her decision, Maya makes the hardest choice of her life.

That sounds awesome, so where can I buy the book Jennifer? Please tell me, I have to know NOW!

Don’t worry Vanessa, all the links are at the end.

Well ok then, I guess I can wait. Ready for the questions?

I sure am.

What do you hope that readers will think and feel when they read ‘The First Day of the New Tomorrow’?

The First Day of the New Tomorrow is all about living up to your potential, even if the thought of that is a little (or a lot) scary. Many of us not only have dreams, but real, concrete talents that go unused because of fear. It is also about opening up your eyes.  Sometimes when you think something is true, it really isn’t.

When you are reading a novel, what are the three most important elements that make it a winner for you?

Well, explosions are a given. (And yes, there is a BIG explosion in New Tomorrow) I love a good detonation (as long as there is not a body count involved.)  Action and adventure are a big hit with me, too.  And a happy, satisfying ending.  I don’t care if I KNOW it will be a happy ending. It is all about the fun of the journey to get there. 

Speaking of journeys, your blog is always full of lots of helpful tips and advice for writers to help them on their journeys, but what is the one tip that you wish had been given to you when you first started writing?

Show, don’t tell… and also a magic wand to make me understand what that means.  This was the hardest concept for me to grasp, and I still struggle with it at times.  I have a few older novels that I wrote just for fun that are great stories, but the show verses tell issues are rampant.  They’ll need TONS of editing if they are ever going to have a chance of publication.

I hear you there. Now then, imagine you’ve chosen a three month solo retreat to a deserted island (nicer if it’s by choice than being stranded right?), you can take – one book, one unlimited food item, one tool, and a solar powered portable DVD player with a box set of DVDs of every episode of a TV show of your choice. What would you pick?

Book: Hmm.  Maybe Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World.”  I’d like to take the time to read that again to see if I can dissect why it drew me in so much when I first read it.

Unlimited food item:  Dark Chocolate.  That’s getting all your required nutrition in every delectable bite.

One Tool: A solar powered laptop so I could still write.

 TV Show: That would be a tough one.  I don’t currently watch TV (no time) but I have been watching “Game of Thrones” on-demand when time permits.  That’s a great story.  I might consider “Lost” because I never finished the series.  I think I missed the last three seasons.  I used to like “Friends” too.  I didn’t see the last couple of seasons of that, either.  I’d probably put the three of them in a hat and pluck one out.

Good choices. I’d go for Friends myself, laughter is important if you’re alone on an island, remember that. Back to the book – if you could pick one author to read ‘The First Day of the New Tomorrow’ who would it be, and why?

Jocelyn Adams, the author of the Lila Gray series (starting with the novel “The Glass Man”)  Her writing is fluid and enjoyable.  Of the recently published novels I’ve read, she is the most talented. I aspire to be as good as she is.  I’d love some pointers of how to get there. 

I’ll put a word in for you with Joss (as I like to call her). You’re welcome.

Right. Er…thanks Vanessa.

Well it seems like this writing lark has been such a whirlwind for you over the last couple of years, but what’s next on the writing front?

I just finished the first draft of “Optimal Red”, the full-length prequel to “Last Winter Red” which was published last year in the “Make Believe” anthology. This is a New Adult Dystopian that really fleshes out the Post-Apocalyptic world I created in Last Winter Red.  It is an exciting romp through the city of Terra, which we didn’t get to see in Last Winter Red. I’m really happy with the story, and can’t wait to get it out to the world.  I’m in the editing phase now, and then I’ll be looking for a publisher.

I loved Last Winter Red, so I can’t wait for this one…hang on a minute, first draft you say? First draft! Well what are you doing hanging around here chatting like you’ve got all the time in the world huh?! Get on with writing the second draft, your public is waiting! And do come back here and talk about that one when it’s published, ok? Oh and thank you, now go!

Thank YOU.  It’s always a pleasure to come hang out!

Yeah yeah, now GO!

I’m going already! Can I just…


Well folks, that was Jennifer M Eaton, it seems she had to leave in a bit of a rush, not sure why. If you want to catch up with her, or buy the book, here are all the linky links she promised:

Email | Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook| Manic ReadersGoodreads | Amazon

Zoom to one of these links to buy First Day of the New Tomorrow, and other books by Jennifer M Eaton:

Zoom to to buy Jennifer M. Eaton’s books
Zoom to Barnes and Noble
Zoom to Muse It Up’s Website to buy “The First Day of the New Tomorrow”

Jennifer’s Paper Wishes

Today I am delighted to welcome back one of my personal heroes, the wonderful author, Jennifer M. Eaton – Hurrah! Welcome Jennifer, do sit down…

Jennifer M Eaton

…Oh you are already, perfect!

Jennifer is here to talk about her new book, Paper Wishes, do you want to see the cover? Of course you do!

Paper Wishes Cover

Don’t you just want to reach into your screen, grab it, and start reading right away? Of course you do!

The reason Jennifer is one of my heroes is because she started out 2012 by saying “I WILL get published this year,” and that’s exactly what she did. Her first published story “Last Winter Red” was part of the “Make Believe” anthology at the end of last year, and since that first one she has scored publishing deal after publishing deal. But it’s not only that, she also offers plenty of invaluable help to other writers on her website, by sharing her own personal writing experiences, as well as passing on tips and advice she has learned along the way. And she does all this alongside a day job and family commitments.

Well, enough gushing from me, let’s read a little biography and find out what Paper Wishes is all about…

Jennifer Eaton lives on the East Coast USA with her wonderfully supportive husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up poodle. She hosts an interactive website aimed at making all writers the best they can be.

Her new winter romance “Paper Wishes” cools down the summer heat in August of 2013. Jennifer’s also-winter-themed Dystopian novelette “Last Winter Red” is available as part of the “Make Believe” Anthology from J.Taylor Publishing. Both are available in ebook format from and
Paper wishes strip

Paper Wishes (A two-part novella)…

Part One – Connect the Dots: Jill writes her most intimate Christmas wish to God—and throws it away for its ridiculousness—but Christmas wishes have a way of coming true, even when you don’t know what you’ve wished for.

Part Two – A Test of Faith: One day after her Christmas wish comes true, Jill faces a wrenching choice that tests her deepest beliefs. Will love prevail over conviction, or is happiness nothing more than a fairytale?

Available in ebook format from and and everywhere else great ebooks are sold.

That’s great Jennifer, and now I have a few questions, is that ok?

Sure, go ahead.

Ok, firstly…oh…hang on a minute, is that a bag of chocolate covered blueberries you’re hiding behind your back there? No? Only it looks just like…well, nevermind. Let’s kick off with a tricky one. Describe ‘Paper Wishes’ in one word.


Honest, good word. Now can you describe your perfect writing environment, include important details like what snacks and drinks you like to have on hand, you know, like if you enjoy having any chocolate covered blueberries or anything like that?

I really need to be alone to write… with no distractions.  I should probably be cut off from the internet as well. I’m a certified communications junkie. No! I am! I even majored in it in college! Ha! Seriously though, I do write better in quiet. I enjoy a hot cocoa or hot tea, or a green Gatorade (cut 50% water) in my mug holder. Treat choices are anything that crunches and won’t get my keyboard sticky. Pretzels work pretty well. And if I’m writing an action scene, or need a little pep, my new favourite is chocolate covered blueberries. Yummy!

I knew it! Now, something that many writers wrestle with – when you are writing and editing a novel, or novella, how do you know when you’re finished?

Ugh. I never feel finished. In general, I am very anal and would like to get through a complete read from start to finish without making changes. That’s when I know I’m done. Reality is, though, that even if you get that far, an editor is still going to find things to change. That’s just the nature of the beast. I try to control myself and get to a point where I have eliminated my show verses tell issues, and there are also no points where I stumble over the speech, or the pacing is off kilter. At that point I send it out to beta readers to see if they agree. I then revise according to their comments (if I agree) and then start working on the query.

It sounds like quite a serious business, but when you’re not being all serious, what makes you laugh?

Realistic slap stick amuses me to no ends. Someone tripping or falling out of a chair.  Not sure why. Jokes and “forced” stuff usually only makes me smile. I guess I find the “funny” in the silly things that happen unexpectedly every day.

Ah yes, thank goodness for video cameras so these moments can be shared with the world! Now, this might sound like an odd question, but I think you’ll have an answer. What color is “Paper Wishes”? The story itself; if you had to attribute a color to it, what would it be?

Blue, for many reasons. Blue is cool, and Paper Wishes takes place in winter. But it also represents sadness. Jill tries so hard to hide her sadness that she misses out on being happy. (Until a little divine intervention gives her a little nudge in the right direction)

Blue? A bit like blueberries? Like chocolate covered blueberries? What IS that behind your back?…Anyway, as the book is called “Paper Wishes”, I clearly had to have a wish-based question…Imagine I have the power to grant you three wishes, with rules attached, what would your wishes be? The rules are; RULE 1) The wishes must be related in some way to reading or writing. RULE 2) The first wish must be for yourself, the second wish must be for somebody you know (you don’t have to say who it is), the third wish must be for the wider world.

FIRST WISH – For myself, and this may seem selfish… but I’d love to write a book that so many people have read that it is a household name, and people could strike up conversations about my world. This is not stemming from a desire to be rich or famous. I would just find it incredibly satisfying to know something I created had touched people and brought them together.

SECOND WISH – For someone else… I know quite a few authors who are brilliant, but unpublished. One in particular is really good, but lacks the self-confidence to finish a project. My wish would be for her to gain the confidence to finish her novel so she can feel the wonder of success (or at least the excitement of publication).

THIRD WISH – For the wider world, I would love it if people would embrace books.  The truth is that most people read only what they have to. The wonderful worlds that have been created are lost to many, because they do not take the time to read about them. I think this is getting worse due to people’s tight schedules, as reading takes time. I wish people had more time to read. I think the world would be a better place.

Thank you Jennifer, great answers!

Thanks so much for having me and for coming up with such interesting questions! This has been fun. I hope everyone enjoys Paper Wishes – a little winter romance to cool off their summer. Thanks again! Oh, and here’s a little something for you Vanessa, I hope I haven’t squashed them behind my back here…

What is it?…oh, chocolate covered blueberries! For me! Yay! I had no idea that you had anything hidden behind your back! Thank you so much, and thanks again for visiting us today.

Chocolate covered blueberriesJennifer’s Networking Links:

Email | Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Manic ReadersGoodreads | Amazon

I won’t be able to reply to comments for a few days, but Jennifer will be stopping by, so do leave any comments or questions you have for her below, and I’ll be back to join in the chat too in a few days…

Not So Inspirational Quotes

Words hugging a person

Last time I was ranting about urban legends, today it’s inspirational quotes. I promise to be less ranty next time. Anyway, it’s pretty difficult to engage in any kind of social media without being regularly inundated with trite inspirational quotes. Don’t get me wrong, there are some quotes that I too find inspirational, or at the very least they make me stop and think. And yes, I accept that we each find inspiration in different places, but it’s the formulaic type quotes I object to, and also, I’m pretty sure a lot of them weren’t really said by the people they are attributed to. A bit like the urban legends, I feel that sometimes people make them up for a laugh just to see if they can get people to share them around. There are key words that crop up repeatedly in these quotes:

Light, candle, gift, heart, love, friends/friendship, yesterday, today, tomorrow, happiness, journey, life.

It seems if you can string a sentence together that includes at least a couple of these words, people will like it, forward it, share it, retweet it, whether or not it actually means anything. I’m going to have a go at creating some of my own. And if you think you’re going to have some laughs here with comedy versions, you’re wrong, I’m attempting to create genuine sounding ones to see how easy it is…

– A true friend is one who will protect your flickering candle flame from the storm, while everyone else is trying to blow it out.

– Happiness means opening your heart to what is waiting for you tomorrow, and closing your mind to what broke you yesterday.

– When you fall, it is not always the first hand which reaches out to help you that belongs to the truest friend. It is the hand that never tires of reaching out, however many times you fall. That is the true hand of friendship.

– Love is a journey, it is a gift, and it is the brightest light that can shine on your heart.

– Tomorrow is two days after yesterday. Today is two days before the day after tomorrow. What matters is not what day it is, but which friendships light the path on your journey through life.

– The line between success and failure is determined only by living today for today, and finding your own truth in the brightest star.

How am I doing? Do they sound real? Are you feeling inspired? Would you like a bucket? Now I just need some pictures of sunsets and suchlike to pop these onto, and some famous wise people to attribute them to and I’m done!

Do feel free to have a go at creating your own inspirational quotes below. If you like a challenge, then how about writing one that uses ALL of my key words…
photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg via photopin cc

This information could save your life

Emergency phone sign

I don’t often get on my soapbox and rant about things, but today I am. It’s about urban legends, specifically the ones that claim to contain information which can save lives, or at least protect you from some kind of harm. It completely floors me why people aren’t wiser to urban legends by now. Some people repeatedly forward every one that comes their way, either by email, or on Facebook or other social networks, and it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you point them to sites like snopes or hoax-slayer, they continue to forward things without checking them out first. Sometimes I think they just enjoy the drama of the story but often I’m sure they genuinely believe they are being helpful by passing them on.

If you take nothing else away from this post, please at least consider these things…

1) Just because it states that the information has been provided by, or endorsed by, the American Heart Association, or a cancer research society, or the police, or the fire department, or any other authoritative body, it doesn’t mean it has.

2) Just because it states that the information has already been verified on snopes or hoax-slayer, it doesn’t mean it has.

3) Just because it states that it is definitely true because it happened to the author’s best friend’s secretary, it doesn’t mean it did.

Often people will say something like “I don’t know if this is true, but I’m forwarding it just in case, it can’t hurt”. Oh yes, it most certainly can hurt! Not only can some of the advice in these messages make things worse, but while people are following those suggestions, they are not doing what they actually should be doing. Here are a few examples of ones that I have seen going around

THE CLAIM – IF YOU HAVE A HEART ATTACK WHEN YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN, YOU CAN INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF SURVIVAL BY COUGHING VIGOROUSLY AND REPEATEDLY. The information states that coughing will keep the blood circulating and help the heart regain normal rhythm. This is dangerous advice. It is true that there is a certain type of cardiac crisis where coughing, under proper professional medical guidance, can help, but attempting to treat yourself this way when you suspect you are having a heart attack can in fact make things much worse, and of course if people believe this information then they may delay phoning the emergency services, thinking they can stabilise themselves first. Don’t do it. For some real information on heart attacks, see here (a British site) or here (a US site).

THE CLAIM – ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAYS TO TREAT A BURN IS TO COVER IT WITH FLOUR. No it isn’t, the most effective way to treat a burn is to cool it down. Most people are aware now that the old wives tale about treating a burn with butter or oil is wrong, but they are willing to believe that flour will do the trick instead. Covering a burn in flour will likely make it worse because it will trap the heat in there, allowing it to continue causing damage. There is another variation which claims that burns can be treated with raw egg white, this too is wrong, and this also carries with it the added slight risk of introducing salmonella to an open wound. For some real information on burns, see here (a British site) or here (a US site).

THE CLAIM – DRINKING FOUR GLASSES OF WATER AT THE BEGINNING OF EACH DAY WILL CURE VARIOUS DISEASES, INCLUDING CANCER. That’s right, not simply prevent, but cure. Seriously? People believe this? Apparently so. I don’t need to spell it out here, the risk is that some people could choose this method over proper treatment.

THE CLAIM – IF SOMEONE HAS A STROKE, YOU SHOULD PRICK ALL THEIR FINGERS WITH A STERILISED NEEDLE AND RELEASE A PEA SIZED AMOUNT OF BLOOD FROM EACH FINGER AS THIS WILL HELP CEREBRAL BLOOD FLOW. No it won’t. The main risk here is that people may delay seeking medical attention in order to do this first, and with a stroke, any slight delay can have huge consequences. For some real information on strokes, see here (a British site) or here (a US site).

THE CLAIM – KEYING YOUR PIN INTO AN ATM / CASHPOINT MACHINE IN REVERSE WILL SUMMON THE POLICE, SO YOU SHOULD DO THIS IF YOU ARE BEING ROBBED AT AN ATM MACHINE. Wrong. There was some technology developed a while ago to enable this function, but it was never taken on by the banks. The risk here is that somebody may try to apprehend a robber to stop them fleeing the scene, in the belief that the police will show up soon. They won’t.

THE CLAIM – DIALING #677 or #77 (OR ANY OTHER VERSIONS) FROM YOUR CELL/MOBILE PHONE FROM ANYWHERE WILL CALL THE POLICE. There is no universal number that will call the police wherever you are in the world. Some of the numbers touted will work in certain countries, or in certain States or provinces, but I repeat, there is NO number that works everywhere. So if you need the emergency services, just use the main emergency number for the country or area you are in. The risk here is obvious.

There are many more. So please, if any of these type of claims pass your way, don’t believe them or forward them on without checking them out first. And if you’re not able to verify whether the information is correct or not, then err on the side of caution and don’t believe it or forward it on; wrong information can do more harm than no information, and THAT my friends is information that can save your life.

photo credit: hambox via photopin cc

Anyone like dragon stories?

Dragon cave

Earlier this month I entered a short story writing contest over at Legends Undying. The contest theme was simply ‘Dragons’ and the maximum word count was 1,200 words. I found the 1,200 word count quite tricky to work to because it’s a bit more than flash fiction, but not really enough to work up as much of a story as I would have liked. I’ve also never written about dragons or anything like that before, but I enjoy challenging myself with different types of writing, so I gave it a go! If you’re thinking that this is all leading up to me saying I won, then you’re wrong. I didn’t. But it doesn’t matter, I really had such a lot of fun writing it! I wanted to post it on my site in the hope of getting some praise over here to make up for not winning over there, er, because I like to showcase different types of my writing on my blog.

Anyway, congratulations to the winners! If you’re a hardcore dragon fan, you might like to check out the winners’ stories over at Legends Undying. This was my (non-winning) entry…

The Motley-Goons

“The boldest man in all the land, shall be the one who gets my hand. A dragon’s tail is what I seek, this task is not for one who’s meek.”

Princess Ariana stood in her chambers and read the words from a scroll. When she had finished, she rolled it up and giggled. “Gosh, I’m terribly clever to have written this aren’t I? Don’t you think I’m terribly clever Rose?”

“Yes m’lady, terribly clever, and terribly beautiful. You really should be marrying a prince, not a commoner.”

“Rose! You are speaking out of turn.”

“Very sorry m’lady. It’s just that last week you said you were going to kiss all the frogs in the land and marry whichever one turned into a prince first. And the week before…”

“Well I decided princes are silly and weak. I want a brave and bold man for a husband, and that is what I shall have. This proclamation shall be made. Men will come from lands near and far, to take up the challenge, and bring me a dragon’s tail.”

“Yes m’lady. Of course. Only…”

“That’s enough Rose! Now tell me again how clever I am.”

“Yes m’lady. So terribly clever that I can hardly believe it. So incredibly clever that all the wisest men in all the lands in all of time…”

“That’s enough now Rose.”

“Yes m’lady.”

And so it was that on the tenth hour of the following day, the proclamation was made. It came to be known as ‘The Great Proclamation’, and men from lands near and far set out to take up the challenge.

Unbeknown to the royal household, a family of Motley-Goon dragons lived in a deep damp cave, not two days walk from the castle. As you probably know, Motley-Goon dragons are the most magical of all the dragons. Even more magical than the Magical Dragons of Ore, and infinitely more magical than the Spotted Lesser-Toed Dragons of Roon. It is true that the Spotted Lesser-Toed Dragons were once declared the most magical by a pompous knight who thought he knew everything about dragons, but it turned out he knew nothing. It all ended very unpleasantly and the less said about that the better.

This particular family of Motley-Goon dragons was a typical one; there was mother, father (who was quite handsome), father’s brother, father’s brother’s cousin (who was devilishly handsome), and his aunt twice removed. Father always said that if the aunt twice removed didn’t stop being so difficult she would be removed once more, and as every dragon knows, there is no worse fate than being thrice removed. Then there was egg. Egg would become son or daughter one day soon, but for now was just egg.

The magic of the Motley-Goon dragons can be mostly seen, or rather not seen, through their power of invisibility. You may doubt the existence of invisible dragons, and that is not surprising because if you were to see them you wouldn’t see them at all, and so you wouldn’t know whether to believe what you hadn’t seen in front of your very own eyes, or not. They are not invisible all the time of course, they can slip in and out of invisibility at will. There is no greater magic power amongst dragons than this, and if anyone, such as a pompous knight, or a Spotted Lesser-Toed Dragon, ever tells you otherwise, they are wrong.

Motley-Goons aren’t only magical, they are also normal, and can do all the normal dragon things, like breathing fire, and being slain. I’m only telling you this in case you were starting to think they weren’t proper dragons at all. Motley-Goon dragons aren’t able to turn fully invisible until they are one year and four days old. They do turn partly invisible; every part except their tail, which is handy for mother Motley-Goons. I don’t expect you will believe that any more than you believe in the existence of magical dragons at all, but you probably should be aware that Motley-Goon dragons don’t believe in you either.

It just so happened that three months and two days after ‘The Great Proclamation’ had been made, egg hatched and turned into son. On this very same day, a young woodcutter by the name of Richard was heading towards the Motley-Goon cave in search of a dragon’s tail for the princess whose hand he sought. As soon as he entered the cave, the dragons turned completely invisible, and son turned partly invisible. When Richard reached them, all he saw was a small dragon’s tail. He couldn’t believe his luck, and reached for the tail. As he grabbed it, it began to thrash around. “Gosh, I’ve got a lively one here!” He held it firmly and made his way out of the cave, wrestling with the wriggling tail. Of course the rest of the Motley-Goons weren’t going to just sit around being invisible while son was dragon-napped, so they leapt up and ran out of the cave in pursuit.

Although Richard could hear a frightening noise behind him, every time he turned around he could see nothing there, so he ran faster and faster until he finally reached the castle gates. “Princess Ariana!” he called, “I have come to claim you!” The princess heard the shouting and emerged with Rose.

“Who are you? And what is that horrible thing you are holding?” she asked.

“It’s a dragon’s tail, I’ve brought it for you, and now we can be married.”

Princess Ariana turned to Rose. “What on earth is he talking about Rose?”

“You remember m’lady, three months ago you said you would marry whoever brought you a dragon’s tail?”

“Did I?”

“Yes m’lady. That was the week before you announced that you would marry the first prince from a foreign land who built you a castle made out of gold.”

The princess laughed delightedly and clapped her hands. “I’m terribly clever to come up with all these ideas, aren’t I Rose?”

“Yes m’lady, terribly clever,” said Rose, turning to console a sad looking Richard.

For some reason, the Motley-Goons chose this as the ideal moment to become visible again, and instantly appeared. The princess was about to scream when she noticed how devilishly handsome father’s brother’s cousin was, and decided to twirl her hair with her finger instead, because that is what princesses do when they want to look charming. Father’s brother’s cousin was not immune her charms. “My dear princess,” he said. “It seems to me that what you really want is magical adventures. Be my bride, and I promise you that.”

The princess clapped and laughed.”Yes! Yes! I will indeed marry you, how terribly clever of me to think of marrying a dragon!”

And so they were wed and lived happily ever after. If you are worrying about Richard, there is really no need, he ended up marrying Rose and they too lived happily ever after. And as for the Motley-Goons, they went back to their cave, minus father’s brother’s cousin, and I can’t tell you whether they lived happily ever after yet because ever after is an awfully long time for a dragon.

The end.

photo credit: Katherine scribbles via photopin cc

How was Lorna supposed to know? Win her book and find out!

book-coverLorna Lee

Does lightning ever strike twice in the same place? It does if your name is Lorna Lee. To find out more, you’ll have to read her newly published memoir, ‘How Was I Supposed to Know?‘. This book will make you laugh, cry, and laugh some more. True tales of near misses and direct hits, and did I mention lots of laughs? Lorna has a talent for finding the comedy and the positive side even where there really isn’t any. Readers of her blog, Lorna’s Voice, will know what I’m talking about.

I’m going to put a pot of coffee on now, so please join me and Lorna for a chat, and if you leave a comment at the end of this post, you will be entered into a draw to win a copy of her book.

Beautiful inside and out, charming, intelligent, funny. But enough about me, let’s talk about Lorna (the old jokes are still the best, right? Right?!). But of course I was talking about Lorna. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and make some noise for the wonderful Lorna Lee!!!! Woohoo!!!

Hello Lorna, glad you could join us.
Hello Vanessa, thank you. Wow, what a welcome!

Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?
Please do.

Firstly, the obvious question – what prompted you to write this memoir?
Since I knew from an early age I ‘had a book in me’, it was either this or ‘Little Men, Big Problems.’ I already had piles of short stories about my youth that I wrote as therapy when I became ill with dizziness-blondeness (Chronic Fatigue). So I chose to go that way. Plus I needed to put the past behind me for good. Writing this memoir did that for me.

Well, you certainly pull off dizziness-blondeness very well. I wonder, what song would you pick as the theme tune if your book was made into a film, and why?
I ruminated over this question for a long time for two reasons: I’m not a music aficionado, so my selection of tunes is limited to songs I like to sing or dance to and none of those songs were perfectly appropriate for the theme of the book. ‘The Long and Winding Road’ by the Beatles is my all-time favorite song by that group and it connotes the twisty path my life has taken, but it’s kind of soulful and my book is upbeat. ‘Open Arms’ by Tina Turner is what I’m going with. It has a snappy beat. The lyrics are positive and upbeat, while acknowledging that life isn’t always that way. I’d say that captures the spirit of my memoir. Plus, Reggie (my cockatoo) and I used to dance to this tune all the time.

Yes I’ve heard all about your wild dancing nights with Reggie. Now, apart from the dizziness-blondeness thing, what road blocks did you have in writing this memoir?
I had too much material and didn’t see a way to organize it. Memoirs need a theme like fiction needs a plot. Once I settled on a theme, the book took shape. Then there were the days when I doubted myself. My illness is one that affects my ability to think coherently. I would be writing and stumble because I knew there was a perfect word for what I wanted to say, but couldn’t ‘find’ it in my brain. What kind of writer loses words? Finally, telling this story involved more than just me. I was concerned about my ex-husband and how he would react to my honest tale. Making the decision that this was my story told from my recollections and feelings, I forged on. If he wants to tell his side, it’s a free country, he can write and publish a book. Who am I kidding? He probably won’t even read the thing!

Speaking of the effect you have on others, if you were stranded on a desert island with a group of people, which skill/s do you have that would help ensure the group’s survival?
I sure hope that desert island has lots of shade, doesn’t get too hot, and has lots of fruits (the edible kind, not the looney kind). The only skill I could lend to ensure our mutual survival is my natural aversion to conflict. I am a peace-keeper. As a highly sensitive middle-child, I have learned how to anticipate when tension is brewing and use my humor and/or negotiation skills to avert conflict. We may be stranded, but I’d make sure we were all cooperating and being nice to each other.

Those are important skills Lorna. No shelters or rafts are going to get built if everyone is fighting, right? Now, looking back at your life, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
Use your unique voice, Lorna; don’t squelch it just to please others. You don’t have to put on an act. The real you is a show worth seeing. And get some help with that drinking problem.

And finally, and this isn’t a hint (although I am free on Saturday), if I came round for dinner, what would you cook for me, and what sort of entertainment would you provide?
I make a delicious vegan eggplant parmesan with quinoa pasta (gluten-free). I would serve it with a fresh tossed salad with a homemade dressing of aged balsamic vinegar and Tuscan herb olive oil. And my specialty: challah, which I couldn’t have, but you could. For dessert, a bowl of fresh fruit drizzled with mango sauce (no sugar added). Healthy and delicious. Oh, and Melbeck wine from Argentina (that’s Phil’s favorite wine). I’d have seltzer water. As for entertainment…Scrappy has an amazing number of adorable tricks. Maybe not a whole evening’s worth, but I’m sure we’d find lots to chit-chat about too. [Editor’s note: Phil is Lorna’s man, and Scrappy is her dog, in case you thought it was the other way around]

Sounds great! 7pm ok for Saturday?

Thank you so much for your time Lorna.
My pleasure.

Right, the giveaway works like this…
1) You leave a comment on this post by 11pm (GMT) on 31 January 2013.
2) I put the names into a hat and get one of my kids to draw one out.
3) I let the winner know that they have won a copy of Lorna’s book, ‘How Was I Supposed to Know?’ and they can pick either the paperback version or an e-book in their preferred format.
4) They get their book.
5) They read it and love it.

If you would like to buy the book for yourself, then this page on Lorna’s blog has the buying details –

Well, what are you waiting for? Let the comments begin!