Monday, December 31, 2012

Leti Del Mar's Guest Post

Leti Del Mar
Today I am pleased to publish a guest post by Leti Del Mar, the author of The Inadvertent Thief.

Leti is a wonderful writer, and in this blog, she offers several tips to help you sharpen and refine your own writing. 

When she is not writing, she teaches Biology and Algebra to teenagers. When she's not teaching, she's reading, or pursuing her love of Art History, buried deep inside of a museum or traveling with her husband and daughter. To get a taste of Leti's delightful writing, you may download The Inadvertent Thief for free for the next several days from the following websites:

Here is Leti's guest blog:

“Call me Ishmael.”  Moby Dick

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Anna Karenina

“It was a pleasure to burn.”  Fahrenheit 451

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice

What do the above quotes all have in common?  They are famous opening lines from equally famous works of literature.  They grab you, they interest you, they intrigue you and more importantly, they compel you to read more. A fantastic opening line is a key element to any memorable work of fiction.  Unfortunately, they are often the first thing you write and we all know just how intimidating that blank white page can be.  So let’s take a look at what makes an unforgettable opening line.

1.      Open with action.  A great way to start a story is by throwing the reader right into the middle of action.  You can compel the reader to keep reading.  For example, look at the opening line of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.  “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”  Right away, we know the name of our protagonist, we know he has a long history with his father and most importantly, we know he is going to face a firing squad.  As a reader, I want to know what happened to put him in this position and will keep reading to find out.

2.      Turn a truth on its ear.  Take something the reader is familiar with and twist it into something new.  Create a paradox or an ironic certainty that will make your reader want to find out how you can justify that statement.  In 1984, George Orwell does just that with his opener.  “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”  He juxtaposes the idea of April, which has a warm connotation, with cold.  Then he throws in the unlucky number 13 and makes us mentally stumble over a clock that tolls an impossible number.  As a reader, I’m confused and intrigued enough to keep reading.  

3.      Thoroughly immerse the reader in your setting.  Use your opener to put the reader into the world you’ve created.  Make them feel, see, hear and truly understand where they will be as they continue reading.  J. R. Tolkien is a master of this in The Hobbit.  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”  With this opener we know exactly what kind of home a hobbit lives in and even get an idea of what is a common characteristic for a hobbit, which is important since a hobbit is a creation entirely of Tolkien’s imagination.

4.      Shock or confuse your reader.  Say something that will make the reader sit up and pay attention. Something so outrageous the reader will just have to keep reading.  Case in point, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis opens with this whopper.  “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”  What?  Is that right?  This guy wakes up and discovers he is a monstrous vermin!  That’s what I call shocking and I just had to keep reading to find out the why, how and what now of this story.    

Do you have to use all four of these tips all at once?  No way.  These are just a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.  Here’s an idea, take an opening line you’ve already written and rewrite it with one or two of these tips and see what happens.  You may just create something unforgettable.

Here is the Link to Leti's website

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Shooting in Connecticut

Like everyone else I was shocked, saddened and angered by the terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. Such a waste of life, shooting children whose lives have barely begun!

I wondered why someone would take it into his head--even his sickest, most confused head--to act out his pain on six and seven year-old children and their teachers. It defies understanding.

But that's the thing. Because it defies understanding, it's easy to dismiss this terrible act as an anomaly. Easy to think that no normal person could be capable of such an atrocity.

But I wonder.

It's a commonplace of war that soldiers shoot innocent women and children. They even torture, rape, and maim noncombatants with little or no guilt. Not all soldiers, of course, and not all the time. But all it takes, apparently, for soldiers to objectify and dehumanize civilians on the other side of the conflict is the belief that they are evil or defective in some way. Exhaustion, frustration, fear, and grief can thus be vented on these Others who do not deserve to live.

At the end of Tyler Perry's movie "Precious," the mother confesses her rage, sadness, hurt and loss in a long monologue explaining why she has abused her daughter and allowed her boyfriend to do the same. It is a difficult scene to watch. At the end of it, Precious walks away from her mother, freed from the past because she finally  understands that her mother's rage has never truly been about her, but about her mother's own losses. Precious' social worker also leaves. In her case, she is repulsed and horrified, unable to sit in the same room with this monster.

And so Mama sits alone at the end with no one to help her heal her wounds or tell her how to live with the knowledge of her own evil. She is isolated from decent society. She is a pariah.

No one can help her because none of the characters is capable of taking the courageous step that would lead to healing: recognizing themselves in Precious' mother. Allowing Mama to rejoin the human race because she is, after all, like the rest of us in everything but the extremity of her pain and rage.

Can we truly afford to think ourselves incapable of objectifying other people? Of projecting our own fear and hatred onto others who have nothing whatsoever to do with us?

I'm not suggesting that anyone is capable of taking an automatic weapon to an elementary school and killing innocents.

What I am suggesting is that every one of us has yelled at another driver because we're mad at our spouse; been unkind to our spouse because we're mad at our boss; projected our own character defects onto another and hated him for them.

I'm suggesting that pain unacknowledged and unhealed often finds a target, that we prefer to project the darkest corners of our mind onto an objectified "Him" or "Them," that we excuse, rationalize, and deny the poison in our own souls so that we can differentiate ourselves from "bad people."

It's a dangerous way to live.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Me and Machines

Machines hate me. I've always known it. Ever since I was a little girl, machines have refused to work properly in my presence.

Does this sound paranoid? Irrational? So be it.

Just yesterday the following three things happened in rapid succession:

  • My DVD player decided to spit out every dvd I put into it. Nothing I did would persuade the bloody thing to accept and load any of the four exercise programs I offered it.
  • My Kindle Cloud Reader did away with four or five books I had recently uploaded onto it--one of which I was in the middle of reading--and decided to substitute the many books I had put on the old, regular, Kindle reader two or three years ago.
  • The list of recorded programs on my television's DVR mysteriously disappeared. Designated programs are still being recorded--the little orange recording circle comes on in the program guide--but no list can be coaxed from wherever it is hiding in the land of digital happenings. So I can't actually click on a pre-recorded show to watch it.
I know what you're thinking: I must be one of those hopelessly inept creatures who cannot deal with all this modern technology. 


I was actually one of the early adopters of all things computer back in the eighties. The dark ages, I know. Nevertheless, I did develop end-user training programs for many of the early software programs developed by Microsoft and others.

So, no! It's not me. It's machines. Like I said, they hate me!

And that includes cars, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and even electric can openers. I swear they work for other people, but not for me!

Here's what I think it is:

 Everything in existence is made up of energy as well as matter. In fact, energy and matter, under some conditions, can morph into one another. We know that from physics. Some energies are simpatico--I get along beautifully with animals and plants, for example. I easily befriend animals. I can usually keep my plants alive.

But some energies repel one another. Machines and I, for example, know each other to be natural enemies. Machines sense my energy a mile off. They hate me before they get to know me. It's a perfect case of contempt prior to investigation.

I'm not too crazy about them either. I try to avoid messing with them whenever possible. Which isn't very often in this over-technologized (is that a word?) world.

But here's the thing: We need each other.  I need my computer to write my novels. I could no more write longhand than I could swim the English Channel. And I depend on all my machines to help me complete tasks efficiently so I have time to write. My machines need me too. What good are they sitting silent and unused in a corner?

So I would like to call a truce. To quote Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?"

I promise not to slam my fist down on the top of my DVD player if it just promises to accept my dvds. I won't throw the remote across the room if the list of recorded programs will simply show up on my TV screen. And I promise to read kindle books in preference to IBooks if my cloud reader will give me back the five books I just bought and paid for.

Maybe I'm asking for too much. Maybe peace is a pipe dream! But surely it's not too late to make a change!

Monday, December 3, 2012


I have to admit I'm ambivalent about a lot of things. Christmas is one of them.

  • I resent shopping promotions in mid-summer calling themselves, "Christmas in July."
  • I don't like feeling obligated to spend money I don't necessarily have.
  • I hate when my favorite Sirius radio stations turn to all Christmas music all the time.
  • I resent the extra time and work I have to spend every November and December preparing for the holiday and/or participating in the holiday.
  • I can't live up to the expectation that I be happy, carefree and full of good feeling for my fellows.
  • I don't like saying "the holidays" instead of "Christmas" because it's considered more politically correct.
I know. I sound like the Grinch. Or Ebeneezer Scrooge. There is a big part of me that just wants to go on with business as usual. And it seems as if the business of the whole country slows to a crawl as soon as Thanksgiving rolls around.  
  • Meetings have to wait.
  • Projects get put on hold.
  • Deadlines can't be met.
  • People aren't available.
Last year I didn't even put up a Christmas tree. There wasn't a wreath, angel or Santa anywhere in my house. Of course that was partly because it was the first holiday after my divorce and my significant other was miles away. But it was also because I simply didn't feel like "playing." I folded my arms over my chest and sat it out. When the rest of the world got over their fit of frivolity, I happily joined them in the normal pursuits of life.

This year is different. If anything, I've gone overboard. My house is quite festive this year and a seven and a half foot tree graces my front window. 
  • I've done my Christmas shopping.
  • I'm attending holiday events.
  • I'm cooking.
Of course my guy is here this year which makes a huge difference. It's really no fun unless you have someone to do it with.

What's good about Christmas?
  • It forces a change of pace. In my case, I have more to do than usual. For many, life slows down.
  • It forces a change in outlook. I can't quite manage business as usual, so I might as well "go with the flow."
  • It encourages family get-togethers and, hopefully, communication.
  • It stimulates the senses with all the decorations, lights, and movement.
  • It reminds me that connection is the key to happiness. If I connect with others, I get out of self. And self is the biggest prison I know.
It's all about attitude really. All about how I think. As John Milton wrote, we can "make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven." It's all in how I decide to view things.

It's also about living life on life's terms. Of course I can dread the coming of Christmas, hate having to shop, resent the time stolen from my usual activities, regret every penny that is wrenched from my clenched hands.


So this year I have accepted my fate. I'm ready, even eager.

But I still refuse to listen to Christmas carols instead of my usual music! So come on, Sirius, give me back my songs already!