Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Last week Nicole McCaffrey tagged me for The Next Big Thing blog hop, a chance to talk about the new books we have coming out or in the works. Most of the authors I know have already participated (I'm always the last to get on the action!) so I'm not passing the game along. Anyway, here's a sneak peek into my next work.

What is the working title of your book?
A Thousand Words. As in "A picture is worth..."

Where did the idea come from for the book?
As in my last book, Framed, I'm using themes related to art as titles for my series set in an art gallery and picture framing shop. Other titles might be Still Life, Oil and Water, and so on. In this one, the action is instigated by an advertising image from the late 1950s.

What genre does your book fall under?
Cozy mystery.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
No idea! Mature ladies, that's for sure. The dogs should be  German short-haired pointers, and the setting should be the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, for its beauty and colonial history.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When a reporter  investigates the most hated man in her small town, she discovers that sometimes the sword is mightier than the pen.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Thirty days. I wrote it during National Novel Writing month in 2010.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Crewel World series by Monica Ferris: amateur sleuths who are very good in their own field get tangled up in murder and find solutions because of their esoteric knowledge.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Hmm. How do I say this without committing libel? Let's just say that when people get laid off, they often bear a grudge against their former employers. And when I worked as a picture framer (no grudges there, trust me) my co-workers and I often indulged in making up stories about the figures in the artwork we framed. "This one looks like she'd cheat on her husband." Or "I think he's really a murderer."

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Readers will learn a little something about the art of framing, abandoned settlements from colonial times, and the behavior of bears. Bird dogs play a crucial part, and how newspaper "stringers" earn a living might make readers value their contributions more.
Here's the prologue from A Thousand Words:
A Thousand Words
     “Get yourself up here now, Jenny!” The voice on the phone was breathless and urgent.
                “What’s going on, Ed?”
                A string of muttered curses filled her ear, then, “That son-of-a-bitch Royce is tearing out the floor at the town hall. Get up here before the cops haul him away.”
                Jenny Southbury didn’t even bother to reply. She snatched up her purse and a yellow legal pad and hustled out to her dark red compact sedan, managing the rickety steps from her porch door with a groan for her achy knees.
                Constitution Hall, commonly referred to as the old town hall, sat at the highest point in Linford, New Hampshire, only a mile or two from her antique farmhouse. As Old Red steadily climbed the curving road, Jenny focused on the police radio mounted on her dash. Although she regularly wrote for the local newspapers, she didn’t normally report on accidents or crimes. Her beat was town meetings, local committee reports, and human interest stories. A corner of her mind noted that whatever she was headed for might involve all three.
                The radio was quiet for the moment, emitting only the occasional squawk of static. That meant the first excitement had passed and the responding officers were on the scene, doing what needed to be done. No sirens or flashing lights prompted her to pull over, so she didn’t think she’d run into anything exciting. Still, whenever Quentin Royce was involved, trouble followed.
                Rounding the final curve to the windy, open top of the hill, Jenny found both of Linford’s police cars with all their lights going, the ambulance standing by, a large box van emblazoned with “Ryan’s Exotic Wood,” Royce’s glossy Range Rover, Ed McCarthy’s well-worn town works truck, and a clutch of very interested observers. Three burly men lounged against the box van while Royce, a man Jenny didn’t recognize and the two police officers argued vociferously before the doors of the hall.
                Jenny parked beside the road, nodded to several onlookers she recognized as she passed them, and made her way across the rocky expanse that served as lawn for the hall. She stopped a few feet from the knot of angry men.
                “Oh, and now the goddam press shows up,” Royce sneered. “Get her the hell out of here.”       
                Sgt. Mike DeRochers glanced at Jenny, gave her a brief smile, and turned back to Royce. “Freedom of the press, sir. She’s not interfering—”
                “She puts my name in the paper, I’ll sue her ass off—”
                Mike ignored his threat. “Sir, I need to see your authorization for removal of items from this building. If you don’t have authorization, I will have to issue a cease and desist on behalf of the owner of the building--”
                “I am the owner—“
                Officer Kealy disagreed. “Sergeant, the Town of Linford is the owner, and the Historical Society is charged with upkeep—“
                “And I’m the chairman of the Society, so I can do whatever I decide should be done with—”
                The man Jenny didn’t recognize spoke up for the first time. “Officers, this man told me he had authority to sell me the wood from the stage in the hall. I have a buyer for red chestnut, it’s already in the truck. I just need to—”
                Sgt. Mike had had enough. “Mr. Royce, I‘m arresting you on suspicion of attempted theft, transfer of stolen goods, abuse of your power as chair—”
                 Whatever else he tried to say was drowned out by Royce’s shrieks of outrage. Jenny calmly jotted down the highlights, making careful note of the charges and ignoring the profanities. She asked for a statement from Sgt. Mike and gathered the names of witnesses. The exotic wood dealer declined to speak with her, but a nod from one of his crew indicated that he would talk to her. She made a point of walking past him, and he slipped her a business card. “Call me tonight,” he muttered.
                Jenny gave the barest acknowledgement and moved on to talk to Ed McCarthy. “Shelly Currier called me, why I don’t know,” the town road agent said, “and I called the cops. Then I called you.”
                “So Shelly actually saw them in the hall?”
                “Yup. By the time I got here the damage was done and most of the wood was in the truck. I stopped ’em from driving off, though.”
                She glanced at the truck, where Sgt. Mike was in a heated discussion with the dealer. She caught the word “impounded” and watched as the crew slowly unloaded the wood. It made quite a pile. Her heart ached at the thought of the destruction to the historic hall, long on the list of properties to be upgraded and restored in Linford. There was never enough money to do the work, however, and over the years the building had fallen deeper into disrepair.
                “I better go get a bigger truck,” Ed said. “They’ll want me to take that wood down to town hall. Though where we’ll store it I have no idea. Barely room for the cops, let alone evidence.” He shuffled off, waving elaborate hand signals at Sgt. Mike to telegraph his intentions.
As Kealy escorted Royce to his cruiser, they passed close to Jenny. “I’ll kill you,” Royce snarled. “One wrong word and I’ll kill you.”

Monday, November 26, 2012


In my opinion, there is entirely too much CSI on television. New York, Miami, LA, East Podunk. I get the picture--crime is everywhere. And the investigators are smart, sexy people with great educations and devastating logic. 

My beef is not with the stories or the actors. What I object to is the way writers have picked up on the noun “exit” used as a verb. 

English is always turning nouns into verbs. Look at tasked or gifting. As a further example, until about the 1960s, jet was strictly a noun. Then people started flying in jets. They started jetting. That was cool; jet as a verb is exciting. It implies speed, high fashion, importance. It has an emotional content and descriptive power. 

Not so exit. Police investigators are specifically trained to write emotion-free, neutral text to avoid prejudicing any possible prosecutions. Their reports are dry as dust: “The subject exited the area.” It may be accurate, but it certainly doesn’t carry the same impact as “The perp ran away,” does it?  

I see exit so often in the submissions I edit that it has become like a no-see-um, the ubiquitous New England pest. They’re barely visible, but their bite will jolt me right out of whatever I’m doing. And the last thing you want to do is jolt your readers out of your story.  

Fiction writing is all about emotion. Every time you can choose an emotive word over a non-emotive word, do so. Exit is flat. It shows the reader nothing about the character or the action. It’s an easy choice when you’re writing fast, but in your rewrites you should leave it for police and military reports, stage directions, and computer instructions. Find verbs that play multiple roles—leave, emerge, step out, run away, saunter, take off, veer, sidle, slink, stride. A horse can exit a barn, or it can bolt, skitter, trot, slip, meander, or plod. See how each verb creates a different picture in your mind? 

So barricade the exits. Do a search in your manuscript and examine each use of the word. Replace it ninety-nine times out of a hundred, and watch your writing come alive.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Speculative Fiction--What is it?

Today I'm pleased to offer a blog from Linda Swift, whose lovely Civil War novel,  This Time Forever, I can highly recommend. (Full disclosure: I edited it for Champagne Book Group.) This post was originally posted at Between The Pages: and is reposted here with the kind permission of Lynda Coker. Take it away, Linda!



Speculative Fiction—What is it? 

I am an author of published contemporary and historical romance, women’s fiction, short stories and poetry. As if that isn’t enough to keep my readers in a state of confusion, I have recently added speculative fiction to my publishing credits. Only I didn’t know this was what my short stories were until they were given that label by my publisher. In fact, I wasn’t aware this genre existed and I’m betting some who are reading this aren’t either. 

Since I now have five speculative fiction stories available online, and a just-released anthology of these five stories in print, I thought I really ought to find out a little more about what this means. My first step was to check my faithful Webster’s New World Dictionary. (Yes, I still love to look up words in my hard copy reference which tells you more than I probably want you to know about my age.) None of the definitions of the word “speculative” seemed to fit the situation at all. I finally settled on “uncertain or risky” as a possible meaning. At least, I know it is always uncertain and risky to publish anything one writes. 

Next, I Googled “Speculative Fiction” online. And wow! Was I impressed. The term was defined by Wikipedia as “ancient works to cutting-edge, paradigm-changing, and nontraditional intentions of the 21st century.” And the names associated with this genre? They read like a who’s who in literature. There were Greek dramatists to William Shakespeare to J.R.R.Tolkien and many more. 

I won’t bore you with the long explanation that I doggedly plowed my way through in order to become more enlightened on the subject. But I will offer one further quote which I think shows the big picture.
“In its broadest sense it (speculative fiction) captures both a conscious and unconscious aspect of human psychology in making sense of the world, reacting to it, and creating imaginary, inventive and artistic expression.” 

Armed with this new information I turned my attention to my stories in an effort to see if they would fit the definition. I looked first at Winner Take All, my first-written story of this genre. It is a tale of man against nature and a life-and-death struggle between the two. Billy Ray Warren is a good ole southern boy who went up North to make money and comes home to fight the kudzu that is taking over the place. Yes, he is trying to make sense of his world and reacting to it in a positive way. 

Nathan, the Buttercups are Blooming is a story about growing old and sick; about the helplessness of losing control of our lives. But Nathan is a fighter, especially when it comes to his beloved wife and his insensitive children. And boy, does he react to the situation he is in. He does not “go gentle into that goodnight” to quote a famous poet.  

The disease of epilepsy is at the center of Give It All You’ve Got. This is a tender love story set in a rural mountain school with three main characters who are as mismatched as people can be but their lives become entwined by circumstances beyond their control.  They each react to their narrow world in the only way that makes sense to them. And in so doing, a villain becomes a hero.

Three to Make Ready is a story that deals with the busing issue as it was in the early days of the mandate for US public schools. It takes a look at the situation from both black and white perspectives and further examines it from two social classes of white families. This story looks at the big picture from the author’s point of view based on personal experience and believe me, the story contains reaction in spades.  

Last, I examined The Good News. Defining it is difficult even for me as author.  I think it addresses the possibility of a random occurrence that no one can foresee and the way the people involved react to it. The story deals with a mother’s worst nightmare and her valiant efforts to prevent it.  

Have you noticed that my brief blurbs of each of these stories contain the work “react” in them? I think we can assume that my speculative fiction involves reaction of some sort in all the plots.  But rather than dissect them in this manner, I like to think of them as stories that reflect ordinary people living their lives in the best way they can, given their circumstances. Even though you most likely have not experienced what the characters have, I think you can relate to their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows. And it is this connection that makes a story real to you.  All of them contain a measure of suspense and uncertainty and some unexpected outcomes.  In the past, I have heard this type story referred to as “slice of life” fiction. 

Frankly, I don’t care what they are called.  I only care that they are read and that my characters touch the hearts of those who read them. They are available at Amazon and Smashwords for 99cents each.


And if you’d like a complete collection in print, Take Five: Stories of Speculative Fiction was released the last week in September through Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery and is now available in ebook and print at the above links. The price is $9.95 for print and $2.99 for ebook at this link:







Friday, October 26, 2012

Turning the Tables Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of my interview with Veronica Andrews of Off the Shelf-Books on Tour from Danvers Community Access TV. Here is Part 2. Welcome back, Veronica!

Besides the on-camera chores, what other hats did you wear in your broadcast career? Which ones did you like most/least?
Oh my...from the bottom up: Wires, wires and more wires, connections, connections and more connections. My first out-of-studio shoot was Nancy Kerrigan's Homecoming to Stoneham, Mass., with her Gold Medal. All the networks were there, we were low man on the totem pole and it was overwhelming. Cold, cold, cold and outside all day. Because it was our community, a local shop owner let us take over his store front. We cordoned it off, had heat, coffee, bathroom, etc. and none of the big boys pushed us around. Wrap-up was something else. They were throwing monitors at me from the top of the store outside, every wire, mic, cable had to be accounted for, lifted, stored, and then taken back into the studio when we were done.
At times I acted as liaison with the studio and my city hall, school department, and so on. It sometimes made a difficult shoot; things like graduation and senior class plays were easier when people were receptive and knew what to expect, as well as us having heads up on what was expected of us.
I once got locked into Massachusetts Emergency Bunker for the whole day as big wigs and all the important people met to discuss emergency preparedness and such. It was a long day, but fascinating none the less.
Hillary Clinton was at Regis for the book It Takes a Village.  We got an invite and we were off, equipment and all. Pouring rain like you have never seen. Everybody's gear was soaked and had to be piled for the Secret Service to check. A thousand blue bags for cameras and gear, all soaking wet. Then we had to find ours and get set up. My belt buckle set off the White House wand alarm and for a moment I thought I was going to be asked to leave. Nope, just take off the belt. Hillary was amazing. On a day that must have started for her about 6 a.m., at 6 in the evening she looked fresh, beautiful and so much smaller and more petite than the TV cameras show her. She had entertained her graduating class for lunch and had posed for pictures with each and every one and their children.

As she approached this horde of reporters, writers, and novice cable people, she was asked a question and she answered it. Second question came fast and it had a bit of a bite to it. As she answered she continued to walk toward us. Third question came swiftly and it was definitely a tough one, asked by a Boston reporter. "Was today's revelation about Mr. Clinton the most embarrassing for you?" As he asked, excited as he was to have her attention, he leaned on the velvet ropes attached to big, heavy, free-standing stanchions. He pushed too far forward, the stanchions went over, first one BONG, then two Bong bong, then three. State Police, White House guards, Secret Service, local police and college police all came running in weapons drawn. In the marble walls of Regis, this sounded like an attack for sure. Once all realized the blunder, Mrs. Clinton answered his question, "No not at all. Was that your most embarrassing?" and kept right on walking. I loved it. She later told me she was so glad that I was there and a friendly face in the crowd. All I could say was "Me, too!" 

Great stories, Veronica. I can just imagine the panic of the Secret Service! According to your bio, you ran for Mayor and the State House. Tell us a little about those times.
Always active in community, I was once told "You take your citizenship to seriously" by an alderperson. I went and ordered my gravestone with that inscription and gave him the order form. He is no longer an alderperson.
I was not one to be afraid of politicians or the political machine. I was overseeing 10 PTOs and hubby was employed by the city. All we did was City, all we talked about was when our then Mayor was running unopposed once again, I just took it upon myself to challenge him. It was fascinating, funny, educational, and at times frightening. Some folks live, breath, eat, sleep and drink politics and they take it much, much too seriously for themselves and our city. They forget they represent us all, not just their beliefs, their opinions, what they wanted. I came in second in the election.

The State House and the YMCA do a program called "Youth and Government," where high school students work all year learning about their legislature and the running of our state government. Once a year they all meet at the State House for the weekend. From all over the state. They elect Governor, Council, Legislators. They appoint lobbyists. They write their bills, debate on the floor of the house, win, lose, draw, mess up, fall flat on their fact or become orators beyond their own beliefs. Our community never participated and I asked why. Typical answer: lack of interest, financial considerations, blah, blah, blah. So...I offered the after school program, got a teacher to sign on, and about 15 students showed interest. The courts funded it from the fines imposed within the community and for about 15, maybe 20 years now, our high school has sent a delegation to the State House in early March for an entire weekend. They are enthused, they get it, they learn, learn, learn and they take what they learned with them. My own daughter participated for three years and when in college she was elected to the model UN in New York and was as enthused and educated as she had been in this program. I did the program for about the first 10 years. I know where everything is in the State House and even got into the dome at the very, very top. Became acquainted with all the last five Speakers of the house and Mr. Finneran even turned on the TV cameras of channel 2 so the folks that had sent their children to the State House could watch in amazement at 400 kids BEHAVING THEMSELVES. It's a great program and well worth doing. 

 You have a long, successful marriage with five accomplished kids. What are your secrets? Any tips for young parents of today?

I am the luckiest lady alive, really. When my dysfunctional family dissolved, a neighbor was my best friend, confident, anchor throughout a time of turmoil. When I left home at 15, I left him behind. When we happened to meet again about 5 years later we never missed a step. He was and still is my very best friend. As time went on I just knew. He was a gentleman, he was respectful, loved his mom. Worked hard, enjoyed what I enjoyed, enhanced my life, lifted my spirits, helped me over pot holes on the highway of life and he loved me! Yahoo! We married in 1963 and he is the same man I married. Still the gentleman, still respectful, still works hard, still enjoys what I enjoy. He enhanced my life 1000000000000000000 fold and he still loves me. 

Our five children are a bouquet of personalities plucked from the garden of life. Each one a definite personality in their own right. Strong women, trail blazers, and hard workers. All have his values and RESPECT is the #1. Our children, all adults now, have never raised their voices to either of us, were never sent to their room or ever heard, "Wait till your father gets home." Justice was meted out immediately. Then, at the dinner table, (which is still set every night and 6:00 is mandatory suppertime) hubby (already informed of what had happened or gone on) would always ask, "How was your day?" Whoever was on the hot seat had the option of telling the truth, good bad or ugly, or taking another route. They tell us now that was cruel and abusive punishment to have to tell him what they did or didn't do. He handled it all with the same thought, remembering when he was their age, and nobody ever died of fright or punishment.
I would say RESPECT is the underlying, most important center of our success and not Aretha Franklin singing it at the top of her lungs in a spotlight. We respect them and they respect us.

Whatever you did, it seems to have been effective. More parents could learn from you. Your advocacy work in Special Education began close to home. Tell us about that.
My son, the first Special Education Student in the state that we know of, went to Middlesex Community College under the State of Massachusetts Dual Enrollment Program. (Select juniors and seniors, with the appropriate grades and with the agreement of Principal and Superintendent, can and do attend classes at community colleges. When they graduate from High School they have enough credits to have a degree from the Community College and are readily accepted into the four year college of their choice. Massachusetts pays their tuition at the Community College as long as grades and all guidelines are met.) He was and is developmentally delayed and as such was watched like a hawk throughout his education. Monitors, aides, teachers. All well intended and some of the best people and educators you would ever want to meet. However, he was never encouraged to try his wings, make his own decisions, choices, be independent and take on the world. So, I would drive him to the campus about 30 minutes from the house. I would park the car and go to a class for myself. Go to a lab and research a project, met a friend in the coffee shop. (I was astounded when Middlesex Community College awarded me scholarship along with an award. "People Who Make A Difference." I put it on hold, as I was a bit busy with 5 kids all in school.) He had to get to class, he had to find his seat, keep his materials together, listen, learn and sit through a class sometimes an hour, hour and a half-- not like high school. His first impression was, "Mum they don't ask to go to the bathroom. They eat candy during class. Sometimes they go out and don't come back." All this was part of his education as well as what he learned in his Cable TV Production class. He was invigorated and excited. The Professor, from the old school, flunked him. Refused to accept his homework and papers done with the assistance of one of the first Apple 2 computers. She expected it hand written, which was beyond him, and would not change her standards no matter how accomplished he was. Yet another hard lesson in life he had to learn. By the way, he already was a certified Cable TV Producer and did an annual program, "Fire Engines on Parade," for cable.

When his next class was computers, he was given an aide. Cute little blonde bumpkin who didn't have a clue. She handled him like chocolate that was so sweet but would melt if expected to put the heat on. I negated that help and he and I took computer courses. I was all Apple and he was ambidextrous on any and all without benefit of any instructions or manuals. I helped him with interpretation of what was expected and he helped me turn the damn IBM thing on. As always it was an experience I had never planned, but an adventure I would not have missed. We both learned much and use our skills to this day. My scholarship paid my tuition's and he was scholar shipped at graduation. Not by a committee of educational excellence, not by the ladies club, but by a group of old American Legion men who were tickled to give the scholarship to somebody they knew they would not have to worry about. 

 What other kinds of community work do you do?

My mom made me aware very early that there were things to do and if you could do it, what are you waiting for. She taught me to ask a question and question the answer. It has served me well.
I am not a small demure ladylike figure. When I speak, people listen and always having done my homework, know my facts, my rights and their foibles. My track record is pretty good. Most of all I enjoy it. I ask nicely, politely and wait. When they actually think they can and try to ignore me. There is always a way to get their attention, make many laugh and they wish they had answered me or done what I asked. I can remember when the community was going to close an elementary school. We lobbied for months and couldn't get them to change their minds. So we all showed up in maternity clothes and told them to get ready for an influx. The school was not closed. When Handicap Parking places don't get painted at a busy school drop off and I ask and ask and ask… Oh my they didn't like it at all when they looked out their windows and saw son and me with a pot of blue paint, painting the parking spots ourselves ! Amazingly enough when and if I ask now, they are usually painted within a day or two. What I have learned trailing along with my children has proven to be beneficial to others and it's great to share. Special Education is a world unto itself and one doesn't forget those hard won battles. I will always advise and accompany any parent to a SpEd Meeting or Mediation. Sometimes my presence is enough to make the powers that be behave. But...I don't say a word. I try to teach the parents they are the best advocate for their children. I sit behind them with a 4 inch hat pin. I tell them if they don't speak up loud and clear for their child I will stick them with the pin. They do a good job, more afraid of me than the pin. I have never had to stick anyone and the children as well as parents have always benefited from the experience. 

You have accomplished so much in your life. Is there anything you wanted to do that you haven't gotten to yet?
Like I said when this began, I am the luckiest lady alive. I can actually remember a time when I didn't think I would ever see 21. Every dream I have ever dreamt, every wish I ever had has been gifted me in triplicate. So much accomplishment has been dumped into my lap that I never, ever expected. I guess in part "Luck of the Irish" as I was born Veronica McGowan. Born with it, not educated to it.

The story goes I was christened on Armistice Day. There was a blizzard in our home town. Mum wasn't staying in, as was the custom then, with this kid one more day. She bundled me up and walked to the church. The priest was my godfather, the cleaning lady my godmother. I was to be Veronica Armistice McGowan. The priest saw the gleam in my eyes and knew there would be no peace with me around and refused to name me Armistice. So I have gone through life without a middle name, but I have lived up to his expectations and more importantly I have enjoyed every minute.
How else would I have met Nikki and many other famous and interesting people?

Life is good.. 

Veronica, thank you so much for your time and your wonderful stories. It was a pleasure meeting you for Off the Shelf-Books on Tour, and delightful getting to know you better. I’ll let you know when Framed  is made into a movie… If my gentle readers would like to see Veronica in action, here is the link to the interview we did for TV:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Turning the tables

Please welcome Veronica Andrews (no relation, though we felt an instant affinity), host of Off the Shelf—Books on Tour at Danvers Community Access TV. Veronica made my first ever TV interview easy and fun. Now I get to turn the tables and ask questions of her. 

1. You’re perfect for this gig-- knowledgeable, insightful and flexible. How did you end up with it? Did you train for broadcast, or did it grow out of other experiences?

Mostly by happenstance, I guess. Love hubby very much, but on days when he wasn't busy after retirement, he got very, very comfortable and accustomed to having me right there. Always helpful and thoughtful, not to be faulted, but I didn't really need him monitoring my phone conversations, mistakenly telling me how to paint a table or chair I was working on, or how to stack the groceries in the shopping cart. 

I had always written Good News, funny, thoughtful, insightful articles about the good neighbors, helpmates, thoughtful people of this world who most don't know are in fact the important people! Many were involved with Special Education and children in general.
I thought if I understood cable and the federal mandate for local television access, maybe, just maybe some of the Good News would convert nicely to video. It did! I worked cameras, cables, sets, in studio and offsite shoots for about a year or two, then became the first camera person when my community went on the air with School Committee and City Council. (It was great. I was always politically savvy--if I didn't like what they were saying or doing, I could always go to a wide shot and not give them their much anticipated moment in the sun.)

I watched as many seasoned interviewers did books and was fascinated by the process. One day a book came in, Count Us In, written by the two Down Syndrome boys who grew up on Sesame Street. NOBODY would pick up the book. None of the established interviewers would even take it home and read it. (As so often happens with Special Children, highly educated folks are uncomfortable one on one. In fact, they are afraid that they themselves will be diminished if they cannot communicate with Special People.) My boss at the time threw the book at me, and said, "Show up Monday, ready. You’re on..."

The young men, 17 or 18 at the time, were delightful. Their mother was so pleased. She is head writer for Sesame Street, so it was a bonus meeting her. Courteous, thoughtful, articulate and funny, they handled me very, very well and it was validation for me. This was why I stepped into cable. The program received many good comments and the adventure began.

 In over 200 interviews I received only two thank you notes. First one was from these young men and second from Barbara Bush. Interviewed her on Friday and Monday a thank you note appeared in my mailbox. A lady is a lady, and those young men were gentlemen in every sense of the word.

2. You have certainly taken advantage of every opportunity that came your way—and if opportunity didn’t come, you made it happen! How do you choose books to review and authors to interview? Do you ever reject any? Have you ever scheduled an author only to discover the book was awful? (No names, please!)

At my original studio, in my home community, the books came from the publishers every day. They would be unpacked and lined up and we would just pick the ones we wanted to read.

If a publisher was constant or an agent would push a book, my boss would ask if I would please just do this and get them off her case. They were not my most enjoyable. Now we search out books through book fairs, newspaper articles, word of mouth. Just can't seem to make the publisher connections. 

3. Tell us about a particularly notable interview—funny, difficult, moving.

I guess running close second to the boys of Sesame had to be Steven J. Cannell. Handsome, OMG ! Personable, easy. Cowboy boots, jeans, wool jacket. When we finished talking about his many accomplishments, including his involvement in The A Team, he asked, "Veronica, may I use this time to say something that is very close to my heart and needs to be said?" Gulp, of course, thanks for asking and go for it. Two weeks before he and his family had been at a beach in Calif. His boys, 12 and 15, were digging a tunnel in the sand...and it collapsed on his son! The boy died, never regained consciousness. He felt it necessary to tell any and all who would listen, "Never allow your children to dig a tunnel in the sand at the beach." I was a basket case, can't even remember how I ended the interview. He was such a class act, his message getting out there mattered more than the book and he was so appreciative of the opportunity that cable had given him.

What a terrible story. It must have been heartrending. I can’t imagine going on with my normal life two weeks after losing a child. He must have been an extraordinary man.  

Veronica’s interview continues tomorrow. Stop in again and read about running for mayor, Hillary Clinton, and the secrets of a long marriage!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Lies Have It

Recently the comic strip Pickles featured Opal complaining about things that really annoy her: web sight instead of website, low and behold instead of lo and behold. I’m right there with her. Homophones (words that sound alike) drive me crazy. This morning my local paper trumpeted my right to bare arms. Tank tops for all!
Opal also bemoaned the misuse of lay, as in “I’m going to lay down.” Of course, you all know that it should be “lie down.” What? You’re confused, too? Well, join the club. Lie and lay confuse a lot of people.
Here’s a simple chart I made to help clarify the issue:
Past Perfect
Lie (1)
To tell an untruth
Lie, lies
Lie (2)
To rest in or move into  a horizontal position
Lie, lies
To set down; to put in position
Lay, lays

I included Lie (1), “to tell an untruth,” for completeness. This “lie” is pretty straightforward with the exception of its participle, lying. The y replaces the ie in order to maintain the pronunciation. The same thing happens with the participle of Lie (2).
The difficulty arises with Lie (2) and Lay, specifically because the past tense of Lie is the same as the present tense of Lay. So you could say, “I lay on the sofa” and mean you did it yesterday or you’re doing it today. Except if you mean you’re doing it today, you’re using the wrong verb.
One good clue is in the last column of my chart. Lie is intransitive; Lay is transitive. I know, I know, geeky grammar words, but they’re pretty easy to understand. They contain “trans.” Think transportation, transit, transfer. A transitive verb transfers action from the subject to the object: I hold your hand. She loves you.
Lay is a transitive verb. It transfers action from the subject to the object: He lays his cards on the table. I laid my head on his shoulder. We have laid my father to rest. So whenever you are laying something, use Lay. Fortunately, it’s the easy one to remember—lay, laid, laid.
Lie, however, is intransitive. It describes an action, but doesn’t transfer the action from the subject to the object. “I lie on the sofa” describes what you are doing on the sofa, not what you are doing to the sofa. So when you need to describe an action, use Lie. His cards lie on the table. My head lay on his shoulder. My father has lain in peace for two years. If this seems hard to you, remember that the forms of Lie are harder to remember—lie, lay, lain.
Some folks believe that lie should be used with people, lay with things. This is an urban myth. A blanket can lie on the sofa just as easily as a person.
Got it? No? Check out Chicago Manual of Style for more info. Or a good dictionary.
(P.S.—Just to confuse the matter even more, my dictionary informs me that lie and lay were used interchangeably until about 200 years ago. There is even some discussion of returning to that interchangeability. However, most commentators frown on mixing up lie and lay.)