Read and Write in Portland

July 9, 2019

Portland, Oregon is a great place for readers and writers, something I discovered on my recent vacation.

My boyfriend and I decided to visit his son in Portland for a few days, spend some time in Seattle, and then take the train home. Since Portland is purported to be walkable, we booked a hotel downtown. After taking the light rail from the airport, we walked into the Heathman Hotel.

This is the hotel lobby lounge. Out of view is a fireplace with a sofa and chairs.20190616_082224 (2)

Nestled on the bookshelves, I saw:

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Yep, a melting clock. 

Reluctant to leave all these books, we eventually made it to our room, where we found:

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How cool is that, although I don’t get the “edit sober” idea.

The next morning, I went running along the Willamette River. Portland is called the city of bridges, among other things. You can run on most of the bridges, so I did.

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After some fabulous coffee and the farmers’ market, we went by the central library, where there are 22 benches etched with famous writers’ names. Check out the description of the library here. They also have The Sterling Room for Writers.

We went to Pioneer Square, also known as Portland’s living room.

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Then onto the place at the top of our to-do list — Powell’s City of Books, the biggest bookstore in the world.

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Powell’s could be called SHOCK and AWE. New books, used books, bestsellers, staff picks, signed copies, popular books, obscure books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, every subject imaginable, with mugs, t-shirts, signs, tchotchkes and a coffee shop.

I wish I had taken pictures inside but I was too happy and overwhelmed. My boyfriend had gotten there before me, so he texted me to meet him at the information desk. Ha. I didn’t see him but I did see signs pointing to the purple room and red room and orange room. There are 9 color-coded rooms, 6 or 8 of them with an information desk. It took me awhile to find the right room, simply because the place is so huge. I followed the signs and eventually found him.

If you think people don’t read anymore, Powell’s will renew your faith. After spending a few hours there – we would have liked to stay longer but had more to do – we bypassed two checkout lines 25 people deep and got into the short line of about 15 people.

A reader’s version of heaven.

You’d think I came away loaded with books. I didn’t. I only bought one.

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My boyfriend bought a bunch of books, including this one.

kings book

I weighed the books when we got home. On the first full day of our 9-day vacation, I bought a 4.4 pound book, and my boyfriend bought a 3.8 pound book. Note to self: Never do that again!

Back at the hotel that evening, we hung out in the hotel lounge library. Ahh… so relaxing surrounded by all those lovely books.

The next day, we headed back to the river, where my boyfriend’s son had booked us all on a river cruise for Father’s Day. It was quite nice, and the food was good, something I don’t expect on boat rides. I especially enjoyed the bottomless mimosas!

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We had a great time in Portland, and then we boarded the train. I’ll write about that next time.

Oh, and by the way, none of these places paid me to write about them, although they should have.

Happy reading and writing.

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Have you vacationed in a spot that seemed tailor-made for writers and readers?


I’m a Word Dork (Word Nerd is Catchier but I Like Dork… or at Least I Did…)

June 25, 2019

I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee on ESPN Sunday night. Does that make me a dork? Probably, but that’s okay. The kids in that contest are amazing. They study languages and word origins and memorize words. I’ve always been a good speller. I wish I had done what they’re doing.

SPELLING

Grammar is another forte. One day, when I was 8 or 10 years old, my older sister asked me why I wasn’t playing on the monkey bars with the kids next door. I told her they were mad at me because I corrected their grammar. She explained that this wasn’t a good way to make friends. My response: “but they were saying it wrong”.

I no longer correct people’s grammar, although I do cringe at times, and I don’t know why it bothers me so much. When I had a young writing staff, I insisted their memos and emails be error-free. They chafed at this, and would point out errors in emails from senior-level staff, but I told them that we, as writers, are held to a higher standard.

GRAMMAR

Other challenges arise, too. I was talking with a woman recently and realized I had used a few words that she didn’t understand. (You can tell by the look on someone’s face.) That’s a conundrum. Do you explain and make them feel stupid, rephrase with smaller words and chance being condescending, or ignore the fact that they have no idea what you just said? I chose the latter.

So, yes, I’m kind of a word snob. I’m also a beer snob but that’s another post. 😊 I consider it a hazard of my trade. Just like walking through a parking garage with an engineer friend who keeps pointing out cracks in the concrete or wants to know what kind of guardrail saved my car from going into a ravine when I was hit on the Ohio Turnpike. What kind of guardrail? Really? Or going to the movies with someone who works in production or direction. They point out all the inconsistences in costume, dialog, lighting, etc.

WORDS

 

On the other hand, my wordsmith friends and I believe we are allowed to make up words as we see fit. No one else can do it, just writers! Did I mention I used to read the dictionary for fun? Another dork-like quality.

I’ve worked with literacy councils in a couple different states and taught adults to read. I wonder if parents and teachers feel the same satisfaction I did when their kids sing the alphabet and start sounding out words and reading stories.

Words. Spelling. Grammar. Stories. Reading. Writing. They’ve drawn me in my whole life. Did I mention I also like math? I do. But words have always taken center stage.

Do you have any spelling or grammar stories to share? I’d love to hear from any other self-proclaimed word dorks.

p.s. I just googled “dork” to find the actual definition, and I’m horrified by the second definition so I hope no one else finds it.

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Writing and Running

June 11, 2019

Sometimes when I’m mulling over what should happen next in a story, I go running. Getting away from my desk, running outside in the sunshine, I feel free. Free from pressure and constraints and time. Inspiration comes. Ideas flow.

I’m not a distance runner. I run 3 or 4 miles most days and I don’t go very fast. It makes me feel good and helps me stay in shape.

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When I’m lacing up my shoes to go out, I know the ideas will come. They always do. As I run out of my driveway and down my street, I praise God for the beauty of a summer day and the ability to move my limbs. I wave to the neighbors, talk to their dogs, and watch the squirrels skitter about.

I don’t think about anything except how grateful I am for what I’m doing at that moment and what I have in my life. Even on rainy days, I thank God for nourishing nature and thereby nourishing me. The cold days of winter are a little tougher, as my eyes run, my nose drips, and my throat hurts, but I know I’m clearing my mind, working my muscles, and that I’ll be sitting in front of my fireplace soon.

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Let me close this post with something I saw on Twitter. I added the “or running” part.  The only time I don’t feel like I should be doing something else, is when I’m writing… or running.

Have a great day, everyone.


Nature AND Nurture

May 28, 2019

I started writing stories as a child. My first story was about Bennie the Green Bean, and I decided I was going to write children’s books. I eventually majored in Journalism in college. At that time, it never occurred to me to try and make a living writing fiction.

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Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

After more than 20 years working in communications, marketing and public relations, I decided it was time. Time to write my novel. I wasn’t getting any younger. Plus, I had honed my writing skills for years, so knew I could whip out great novels in no time. Ha.

After writing a few days, I began pulling books off my shelves and analyzing them. How much description? How much dialogue? How many characters? Where do you put in the backstory? How do you start the backstory? How many words are in a novel?

 These are just 2 of the many bookshelves in my home office.

I was shocked that I didn’t inherently know these things; after all, I had been a voracious reader my entire life. This was harder than I had expected.

As I wrote, I had more questions. How long are chapters? What point of view should I use? Can I write male characters convincingly? I sought out advice and kept writing.

A few other writers attempting to transition from business writing to fiction writing scoff at my advice-seeking and learning the craft of fiction writing. They’re not going to classes or reading books on craft. They’re writing. They say that’s enough. And maybe it is for them.

Other friends expect me to churn out novels because I’ve been writing my whole life. I know they don’t understand it either. “You’re such a good writer,” they say. “How come your books aren’t published yet?”

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I’ve attended writing conferences, devoured books on plot, description, character development, and more. Recently, I read a book on how to write about monsters by Philip Athans.

Books and conferences are my candy. I soak up the advice and fully engage in the conference sessions, determining what works for me. My friends laugh and their eyes glaze over as I explain the elements that go into creating a scene or writing dialogue. I enthuse endlessly about what I’m learning. I can’t get enough of this stuff. My fiction writing is so much better than when I started out a few years ago. It’s hard to believe how much I’ve learned.

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One of the books I read early in this journey is “On Writing” by Stephen King. He mentions that he is always reading a book on craft. What? Stephen King? I think he is a wonderful storyteller and a gifted writer. When I read that, I thought, “I should do that, too!” That book was published in 2000, so I don’t know if he still does that.

Writing speeches, articles, white papers, strategic plans, press releases and web site copy is not the same as writing fiction. That’s not to say all those years writing don’t help me now; they do, in so many ways.

Of course, I wish I could have sat down and written the great American novel without advice, books, classes or conferences, but it didn’t happen. That’s okay. I’m slowly finding my way. This is an unexpected journey and I am enjoying the ride.

Do you think writing is a talent or a learned skill? What writing resources have you found to help you in your journey?

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Describe, Qualify, Modify, Alter, Delete

May 14, 2019

Some common advice for writing fiction is to use very few adjectives and adverbs. This is additional advice I don’t like, and I didn’t understand it at first. How could I describe settings and scenes and facial expressions? Plus, I was moving from writing press releases, speeches and business reports, to writing fiction, so I was excited to use adjectives.

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Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

As I pondered this disappointment and continued writing, I began to understand the directive, although I phrase it differently. Instead, I use adjectives and adverbs judiciously. A friend put it better: “You use them sparingly, and they are very visual”.

Examples abound online, so I’ll just include a short example of an unnecessary adverb.

#1.  “I don’t care,” he said angrily.

#2.  “I don’t care,” he said, pounding his fist on the table.

Which one is more visual?

I also use the words “very” and “really”, and I have to go back and delete them. “Very hot.” “Really big.” How about scalding and gigantic. More descriptive.

I’ve heard the overuse of modifiers called lazy writing. I get that now. There are so many more ways to add description – through dialogue, action, and backstory, to name a few.

As I learned to limit my adjectives and adverbs to make them more effective, I discovered other writing devices. Metaphors and similes and onomatopoeia and analogy. These are fun! So, now, I probably use these too much.

eagle

Avoid clichés. “Soar like an eagle.”

A metaphor is a comparison to add description. A simile is another descriptive comparison but it uses “like” or “as”.

Analogies compare things more directly. — “My house is as important to me as play-doh is to my 5-year-old daughter.”

Personification gives human traits to an inanimate object. — “That pie is calling my name.”

 

Onomatopoeia

{On-uh-ma-tuh-pee-uh}

And my favorite: onomatopoeia. These are words that sound like actions. — “The horse clip-clopped down the path.” “Waves sloshed on the shoreline.” I like the way onomatopoeia is spelled, the way it looks when written out, and the way it sounds. It’s a cool word.

horses

Photo by Jorge Dominguez on Unsplash

Waves sloshed on the shoreline as the horse clip-clopped through the pebbles. The rider felt free, out of the desert at last, like she could spread her wings and do anything. The award meant as much to her as spaghetti and meatballs meant to her Italian mother-in-law. The sun celebrated with her, warming her face, and causing the water to sparkle like diamonds.

A good day.

What literary device is your favorite? And what word do you use way, way, way too often?

Note: My apologies to the English and grammar police if I have misrepresented any terms in this post. I’ve described things as I understand them.

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