Sunday, October 31, 2010

Oh, give me something scary; juice it up with gore.

It was reported that when Mary arrived at her north side home at 3:00 a.m., one cold January morning, she found her teenage babysitter dead on the living room floor. I was called to the scene at 3:30 a.m. I saw a teenage girl, brutally raped and stabbed to death. The crime scene was littered with Linda’s torn blue panties, her plaid skirt, a knife, and two forks. She was clad only in a white sweater and white socks; her torn brassiere was inside her sweater and a knife protruded from her throat. Fluids seeped from all of her orifices. As latent print specialists dusted for fingerprints, I surveyed the scene and began collecting trace evidence. No fingerprints were developed on bloody knives and forks used as murder weapons and no unidentified fingerprints were available for searching with AFIS. One foreign head hair was recovered from her left sock. As I photographed the autopsy, later the same day, my film recorded bruises on the sides of her face, and more knife and puncture wounds in her chest.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

That vs. Which


If you leave off the clause that says which is bad news, it doesn't change the meaning of the rest of the sentence. A quick and dirty tip (with apologies to Wiccans and Hermione Granger) is to remember that you can throw out the “whiches” and no harm will be done. You use which in nonrestrictive clauses, and if you eliminate a nonrestrictive clause, the meaning of the remaining part of the sentence will be the same as it was before.... On the other hand, if it would change the meaning to throw out the clause, you need a that."
Mignon Fogarty is the host of Grammar Girl.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Tell me how you first learned to read."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I cannot remember how I first learned to read, but I do remember when I started to like reading.
    I was fourteen and sent away for the summer to my godparents who lived on a small lake in Michigan. I am not sure if this retreat was my request to get away from my family or if I my parents sent me away because I was a pain in the ass teenager. Either way, I stowed away in their basement with a pullout bed surrounded by a pool table and a player piano. I had my own bathroom, a luxury I never had again until my first apartment in college. I am sure I spent endless hours in the mirror of that bathroom, perfecting my blue eye shadow that I put on nearly every day even though I did not see anyone other than my godparents for most of the summer.
    I had brought a few books with me because my godmother was an English teacher and I figured she would be appalled if I planned only to daydream the whole summer and not do any reading. So after a few weeks of paddling out to the middle of the lake by myself and getting over my fear of jumping off the dock, I pick up my copy of a trashy novel with a teenage love story that I have forgotten the name of. There were gangs and the hint of sex, and I just could not put it down. After that book, I invaded my godparent's collection, and I have not stopped repeatedly escaping into a good novel.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"What do you remember most about your mother? Your father?"
Jennifer Traig, Part II The Autobiographer's Handbook

My mother was a classic 1950's housewife. My mother did all of the laundry, including ironing anything that could wrinkle. She did all of the cleaning. which involved compulsively vacuuming and regularly steam cleaning the carpet. She did all of the cooking and hosting for the holidays. She also hosted tea parties and dinner parties for friends and members of the church; she planned and prepared all of our family picnics. She cook classic German food, she cooked what her mother taught her to cook. The only chore I do not remember her doing alone was shopping; she did not drive or have a checking account, so my father went with her to Hamady Bros. My mother dedicated her life to being a mom, she mothered everyone she met, and there is not a person I know that has anything bad to say about my mother.

What I remember about my father was that he was strict. He lived by a set of rules, ones he learned from his father that he enforced on my brother and me. I am not sure if this set of rules was any harsher than other children's experiences in the 1950s and 1960s but in our house, there was little toleration for error.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Teach me something. It doesn't have to be the traditional subjects. How about how to tie a shoe...? Something that is deep in your bones—driving in rush hour on I-94 to work each day." 
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

"I am the daughter of a man that calls a tow truck for a flat tire. Alan made me change the tire on his Land Rover my first trip to the Congo. He said something to the affect that people will not always come running to help a pretty white woman.
    "I was a weak little girl back then (Miller laughs, she is still a size four with very little muscle mass). So, Alan teaches me how to change a tire that came up to my waist. It was quite the scene with Alan trying to give instructions in Swahili and half in English, lunging to help as I am rolling in the dirt beneath the wheel shaft hoping the truck will not fall on me.
    "In return, I teach Alan how to process film in the middle of the bush with a limited supply of water surround by film's number one enemy, dust and dirt. I toss scissors, a roll of film and a plastic film reel and canister in a changing bag and tell him to remove the film from the canister and put it on the reel, and seal it in the can. No problem he says with confidence. He tucked his hand in the armholes and pried open the film with the edge of the scissors. I had showed him in the light how to load the film on the reel but his fumbling large hands in the black changing bag could not get the flimsy roll of film on the plastic reel. I roared with laughter as he got more and more frustrated, he could fix anything but could not get the film to roll smoothly in the groves of the reel. And he new I wanted what was on that roll so he couldn't give up and pull his hands out of the sleeves without messing up the film. I had neglected to tell him that he could just put the film loose in the can to save the film from the light and I could finish it. It took him over thirty minutes and I was tackled to the ground after I told him about the canister trick."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"I want you to write another paragraph but this time from the point of view of a character living in the past."
Louise Doughty, A Novel in a Year

As a young boy watching Checkmate, it was not the pretty ladies or the dashing young detective that grab my attention; it was the frumpy bearded overweight man talking with a slight English accent. A British criminologist, and one-time Oxford professor, Dr. Carl Hyatt is the brain behind the criminal cases Checkmate were hired to solve. He takes the smallest bit of evidence and solves the case. As a young boy, I was in awe over his three-piece tweed suit with chain across his potbelly accented with polka-dotted bow tie. In addition, I admired his top hat and cane; his cane seemed more for show than providing support, I thought someday I could get away with such a prop.
    In my twenties, I tired wearing tweed it just did not fit my personality and left fibers all over the evidence. I wondered if I could grow a beard like his but I recall the State Police had a clean-shaven rule. The only facial hair that I wore in my early days as a forensic scientist was a mustache. They were big in the 70s and my large upper lip was the perfect platform for a dark straight caterpillar mustache. My daughter Jenny was never fond of mustaches; she used to tell my father that he had to kiss her goodbye with “just one lip.” My father would puff out his bottom lip as far as he could and kiss her. She would squish up her nose, retract her lips, and say his mustache still tickled. The only similarities I ended up sharing with Dr. Hyatt was his home lab resembled my basement collection: walls lines with file cabinets, endless about of reference books, and old microscopes dotting each surface.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Go back to the beginning, there are so many places to start. Work on your opening paragraph.

The phone rings, it is after midnight, I reach for the rotary phone on the nightstand next to my bed, my wife rolls over and moans. By now my children have been conditioned that when the phone rings in the middle of the night, someone is likely dead in the Saginaw County. But this is not where I want my story to begin; it started long before the Bridgeport Crime Lab called me away in the middle of the night to process a crime scene.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind—a scene, a locale, a character, whatever—and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgement, doom, guilt. Also, sever hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched—like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon ever ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you're working, and you say yeah, because you are."

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Mood. Verbs have 1 to 3 moods: (1) the indicative (the most common; used for ordinary objective statements), (2) the impermative (used for responding or comanding), and (3) the subjunctive.    
   Subjunctive verbs cause the most difficulty; they are used to primarily for expressing a wish. ... The subjunctive is sometimes used uncorrectly, eg, where matters of fact—not supposition—are discussed."

AMA Manual of Style: 10th Edition

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Tell me about how a relationship ended."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I have worked at my career more than any personal relationship, it does not surprise me how feed up my wife is with the long hours, midnight interruptions, and canceled family vacations because I am due in court. It is not the death that I have witnessed, it is the day-to-day obsession with finding the facts and answers to these cases that has caused turmoil in my relationships. I am told that my escape into my books has ended my marriage.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"What about a time you slept outside?"
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I was a bit younger and less afraid of strange bugs crawling on me during the night. It was harvest season in California wine country, I had spent the day picking grapes, and drinking home-brewed wine while overeating grilled delights. I slept in the third row of grapes on a slanted hill, propped up in line with the spotlight moon. The late night sambuca had left me fearless, and when the deer approached my toes, I did not screech. He ate the remainder of grapes in the row that I thought I had picked clean.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How might your main character die? Give me two possible outcomes.

A gunman armed with an AK-47 sprayed bullets through Miller's bedroom door, hitting her in the leg and back. She was found dead as result of bleeding profusely from her gunshot wounds. There is no report of how long she was lying in bedroom. It was a reported by the Congolese government to have been a robbery but there was very little missing from Miller's home.

Early in the morning, Miller was driving up a curvy road alongside the Cheyenne River in South Dakota. She had been up too late the night before. She must have fallen asleep. Her car flipped, and she landed in a streambed, she drowned.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Let’s start by doing the writer’s version of Mapquest.
– First, write a few sentences about your town, big strokes.
– Next, write about your neighborhood, with more detail.
– Now, describe your house, your block, fleshed-out."

Jennifer Traig, Part II The Autobiographer's Handbook

DeWitt, Michigan was named after DeWitt Clinton, it is a Midwestern farming town with a downtown just a block long. In 1930, a great fire swept though the downtown business district, destroying eight historic and business buildings.

Our neighborhood was along the main drag that led to Bath Road, which was a short cut between Flint and DeWitt. Two-story Sears' homes with large front porches lined our street.

Our Sears' house factory exterior was pale blue stucco with white trimmed windows and the protruding oversized front porch offset its square shape. We had a large yard bordered by a gravel driveway to the east, a sidewalk to the south, and a line of trees along the back. Our yard to the west bled right into our neighbors. Our neighbor's yard is where my youngest liked to play; she loved the wheelbarrow rides from our retired neighbor, Roger.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It’s time for you to create your memoir-writing battle plan. Once that’s done, all you have to do is follow your own instructions. You’ll probably end up changing them once things are underway; be prepared for some experimentation and false starts. That’s part of the process, too. 
By now you should have a pretty good idea of what the book is -going to look like. So let’s plot out the actual writing time, pen to paper, -fingers to keyboard. We’ve got two tracks for you here: one is --time-driven, the other a little more free-floating. Pick the one that suits you best and fill it in.
Time-Driven. Start by giving yourself a year. Some people take three months, some a decade, but a year is reasonable. Get your -calendar, and mark each month with a big (but achievable) goal, like “Write outline,” “Write first chapter,” etc. Then, on each Sunday, write down the weekly tasks that will get you to that goal: -“Interview Mom.” “Write four pages.” etc. On the last day of the month, write in the reward you earn when you meet your goal.
Jennifer Traig, Part II The Autobiographer's Handbook 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"What event made you suddenly fell like an adult?"
Jennifer Traig, Part II The Autobiographer's Handbook

I had been married for over two years, but it was not until my first crime scene that I felt like an adult. I was in Joliet, Illinois working as an intern, and my first crime scene was the murder of a two-year-old boy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Ellipse defined. An ellipsis is the omission of a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from a quoted passage. Such omissions are made of material that is considered irrelevant to the discussion at hand (or, occasionally, to adjust the grammar of the surrounding text). Chicago style is to indicate such omissions by the use of three spaced periods rather than by another device such as asterisks. These points (or dots) are called ellipsis points when they indicate an ellipsis and suspension points when they indicate suspended or interrupted thought. They must always appear together on the same line (through the use of nonbreaking spaces, available in most software applications), along with any following punctuation (including a period) will appear at the end of the line above."

Chicago Manual of Style: Sixteenth Edition

Friday, October 15, 2010

Where is home for you?
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

My first home was a prefabricated trailer in Lansing, Michigan. I was working for the Health Department, in a sterile environment all day; I came home to cookie–cutter construction decorated with wedding presents and hand–me–down family furnishings. I walked through the door every evening to a pregnant wife learning how to cook the meals my mother used to make me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Tell me what you thought was ugly."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

There was one predictable factor of going to a crime scene on the poor side of Saginaw; the house was going to be a "shithole." The buildup of trash in some of these homes was remarkable. At one scene, there was a dead body spread out on the kitchen floor, and it was the only patch of movable area; empty bottles, trash bags, and fast–food wrappers clutter the remainder of the linoleum. I don't even have a sense of smell, but the debris was grotesque. Each time I returned home to a clean bed and house was a great relief.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Tell me about a breakfast you were once privileged to have. Eggs over easy? Grapefruit? One thin slice of toast? Not even that, you ate a pickle—and it never tasted so good. You vowed to eat pickles for breakfast for the rest of your life. Then what happened? Tell me. Be specific."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I had a regular routine of getting up early enough so that I could go to Tony's before work. I was addicted to there $2.25 special. The special was two eggs anyway you liked them, one pound of bacon and two pieces of toast that were dipped in melted butter. I usually put back a couple cups of black coffee but that was extra. I was the only state police employee in a mob-run joint but the waitress was just as nice to me as the mobsters at the next table were. It seemed the pound of bacon gave me the energy to face working with the dead. After a few years of this routine meal, extra hours on the job, and too many murders, my blood pressure went the roof. My wife insisted on making me each light cottage cheese and fruit for months, until I started leaving early again for my $2.25 special.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

List ten things you remember about the month of October and being surrounded by farmland and a national forest.

Tall looming trees across the open field
The smell of rotting leaves
The boisterous crunch of drying grass under my feet
A cool approaching winter breeze picking up speed across the open landscape
Roadside pumpkin stands
The cafe's sign advertising hot cider
A river not in my sight but a faint hiss of moving water
The smell of a distant fireplace burning fresh-cut wood
The wide-open crimson sky at dusk
Silence on a dirt road, interrupted by nervous conversation

Monday, October 11, 2010

"When was the first time you were afraid?"
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

It must have been getting lost or separated from my mother in a public place. I was a shy little girl that didn't really like strangers. I remember being scared when staying over at my grandparents apartment, the walls made so many strange noises. I remember when Santa Claus took my doll. My mother thought if she slipped into my room on Christmas Eve and took my doll that all would be fine because Santa had put a new one under the tree. I was terrified at the thought of Santa in my room. A few years later, my mother did the same horrifying maneuver with my stuffed dog.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Beginning a sentence with a conjunction. There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice."
Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition

Saturday, October 9, 2010

When you don't know whether to use who or whom, try substituting he or him.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Tell me about a time you washed the dishes."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I take great pleasure in walking a dog on hot summer nights, baking fresh bread on Sunday mornings, cooking with fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden, cleaning out attics full of family possessions, ripping up old shag carpet to find manicured hardwood floors and don't tell a soul that I like mowing the lawn. But when is comes to doing dishes, taking out the trash, dusting, mopping, vacuuming, making my bed and picking up dirty clothes off the floor, I am like a spoiled rotten fourteen-year-old. I am not sure I ever saw my father do dishes. My mother always did the dishes and on rare occasions, I was asked to help load the dishwasher. I still seem to avoid soapy sinks and crusted plates.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Tell me everything you know about Jell-O. Go Ten minutes. Let it rip."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

Oh, Julie will never understand why I have invested ten minutes to the subject of Jell-O when there are so many other things to discuss.
I have told you about my first encounter with Jell-O in pre-school, I did not disclose that I had it every birthday party until high school. I never really like things put in my Jell-O. I do not know why it is called Jell-O; I never thought to ask, and the answer would not matter to me. I am now one of those people that does not eat red dye #40, so it has been sometime since I have had Jell-O. Red was always my favorite and usually the only color Jell-O I would eat. What is there to know about Jell-O, this is not something I will look up on Wikipedia. It is made of horse hooves, or maybe they have come up with some more kosher method of making it harden into a delicious flimsy pancake of sugar.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Tell me what you will miss when you die."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I will miss: A hot summer rain where thunder cracks so loud that your insides shake, ice cream melting faster than I can lick, the touch of my lover, the sound of Tom Waits' voice singing when I feel blue, laughing so hard your eyes uncontrollably tear, green grass under my bare feet, my mother's healing hugs, the sound of the ocean hitting the shore, the city at night when it is all still besides the glittering lights, a fiddle solo, big loyal dogs, reading a good book, my nephews laugh, and climbing a mountain even though I can barely feel my legs or take another breath.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Now give me ten minutes of "I don't remember." Another approach is" I forget," but "I don't remember" is right on target."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I don't remember the name of the hotel in Kenya.
I forgot the name of the hotel that I stayed at in Victoria Falls.
I don't remember what food I ate while camping in the bush other than sweet potatoes and fresh passion fruit.
I don't remember what kind of tea was served.
I don't remember what the streets were like downtown Harare.
I don't remember what side of the road you drive on in Zimbabwe.
I don't remember if I ever got cold while I was there.
I don't remember how old Alan was or where he went to school.
I forgot what roads we took to get to Hwange National Park.

Monday, October 4, 2010

For writers block, I recommend putting in your headphones and use your ipod as an imaginary microphone, and sing at the top of your lungs. Dancing solo with fuzzy slippers on always chases away my paralyzing dry spell.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Right now list ten smells you remember. Be specific."
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away 

campfire smoke
misty-musty trees
roasting meat
brewing tea
over-worn tea-shirt
damp backpack
unfamiliar spices

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Tell me about how you drink coffee (tea). When? Where?" 
Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

Miller pleaded, “Can we take a break for a cup of tea?”
Alan smiled, “Having a cup of tea with you is my favorite part of the day.”
Alan started a fire faster than Miller could pack up her camera, the teapot was whistling within minutes. As Miller reached to take her cup of sweetened gunpowder tea from Alan, an umbrella-tree leaf landed in her hand. She was startled, and thought someone had ran his fingers across her skin. Miller’s eyes welled up with tears.
Alan adamantly said, “I remember when you use to hop and skip for a good cup of coffee or when you saw a elephant on the plains. I remember when you wanted to dance with the baboons and I had to restrain you. Where is that Miller?”
“Alan there is a war!”

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Writing and talking about writing are two different acts, much like how driving nails with a framing hammer and watching home improvement shows are different. Grilling salmon and watching a chef on a television show are two separate activities. I have encountered people who meet their "writer's group" weekly. I've met people who are members of two or three different groups. They bring in their work, read it aloud, and listen to their comrades' comments. These meetings last three or four hours, and the members enjoy lots of snack foods, coffee, wine, and so on. They usually have some kind of newsletter about themselves. I would bet that they wear berets privately. When they're not meeting each other, they go to readings and writers conferences nonstop.  They talk about writing. For the most part, they do not get published in real magazines or by real publishing houses. If they would stay home, they'd have some good time to actually write."
George Singleton, Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds