This Is Me--2024 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Themes in the past have covered a range of topics and for 2024 the theme is a personal retrospective that I call "I Coulda Been" which is in reference to my job and career arc over my lifetime. I'll be looking at all sorts of occupations that I have done or could have done. Maybe you've done some of these too!

Friday, July 29, 2011

But It Was Art, Not Vandalism!

Recent graffiti vandalism in the men's room at our neighborhood pool.

             My life as a vandal was short lived.  The graffiti that I left in my father's copy of W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes was probably not intended to deface blank pages as much as my attempt to enhance them.  No one else had used those pages yet so why shouldn't I leave my legacy of artistic expression?

          Since there had apparently been no discernible memory of any repercussions from my marring the pages of my father's book, I presumably did not see anything wrong with leaving my art wherever and whenever I felt like it.  Not to say I was an indiscriminate vandal who was tagging every blank space in sight.  On the contrary, I'm not sure I ever did anything else other than a few minor attempts at wall art which was quickly put in check by my mother.

          Then came the incident in first grade that would open my eyes to the horror and disgrace of graffiti and defacement of public property.  The immense shame I experienced from this incident would cure me of trying to leave my mark of having been in a place.

           It was 1956.  I was attending Garfield Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio.  My first grade teacher was the dreaded and much feared Mrs. Goldbach.  She was the oldest, meanest, wrinkliest,  and scariest teacher a kid could ever have.  No nefarious Nazi villain, frightful movie monster, or dark ghoul from one of my grandmother's stories was half as terrifying as Mrs. Goldbach.

         After an idyllic year in kindergarten with the benevolent Mrs. Benham, I had grown to like school a great deal.  When my incarceration in the first grade came about I was downcast to learn who my teacher would be.  We had all heard the rumors that turned out to be true.  Mrs. Goldbach was a terrifying tyrant.

          I don't remember much about the first grade except for the day that would be seared into my memories.  In absent minded reverie I guess I was dreaming of a place far away from this classroom prison.  I pictured myself in a peaceful setting.  In my vision I saw a sailboat on calm water lazily drifting under cloud mottled skies.  I decided to actualize my vision in pencil on my desk.

         It was an old desk after all, and many students before me had left their initials and doodles.  I was going to be leaving artwork to be enjoyed by students in the future.  Distractedly I began drawing the bestest, most beautifulest sailboat that any kid anywhere had ever drawn on a school desk.  As I sat admiring my work, I suddenly sensed the presence behind me.  I gasped and shuddered in terror when I realized Mrs. Goldbach was hulking over me with a disapproving scowl.

         With all eyes of my classmates turned in my direction, Mrs. Goldbach began to lecture me about the evil that I had done.  I don't remember exactly what she said, but I do recall the punishment that she meted out to me. Since I walked the block and a half home for lunch, she instructed me to return with a bucket of soapy water and a rag so I could clean off the desk.  I sulked in silence as my inner sense of rebellion mounted.

       As I walked home for lunch I began to picture myself returning to school lugging the galvanized steel bucket sloshing with soapy water.  I knew how heavy a bucket of water could be and realized that carrying one for a block and a half would be difficult for a kid my size.  I fretted and seethed inwardly as I made my way home with laden steps.

        When I got home I immediately informed my mother that I didn't feel good.  It wasn't a lie because I didn't feel very well.  My mother had me lie down and took my temperature.  She informed me that I was running a fever and could stay home the rest of the day.

         I had escaped the unjust punishment of Mrs. Goldbach, but my inappropriate actions were brought to my mother's attention when my teacher called later that day and told her what I had done.  My mother reprimanded me, but I could tell that she also thought that the suggested punishment was a bit extreme.  When I went back to school the next day my artwork was gone.

         Nowadays a teacher couldn't get away with some of the things that Mrs. Goldbach did, but we were probably more well-behaved and more respectful than students are today.  Why my teacher didn't just have the janitor bring a bucket of water down to the class and have me scrub my desk in front of my classmates I don't know.  That would have been humiliating enough and the lesson would have been made clear to all of us.

         I do have happy memories of the first grade, but there are none that I relate to Mrs. Goldbach.  She was the stuff of my childhood nightmares.  On the other hand, to her great credit, she was the teacher who taught me to read.   And she did teach me about the wrongness of defacing property.

         Do you have memories of a teacher who instilled terror in you?   What types of things did you get in trouble for at school?   What do you think of graffiti--vandalism or expression?

         I'm not the only one with a story about Mrs. Goldbach.  When I was writing this I did a Google search because I was not sure about the spelling of her name.   I found this wonderful story by Susan Trausch about Olive A. Goldbach.   You might get a kick out off her take on this.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guest Post from Marcus of Writing Investigated

          Don't be intimidated but we're gonna talk technical today.  Well, I shouldn't say we because today's post is a guest spot from Marcus of Writing Investigated.   And I guess it's not going to be all that technical from our point of view.  I even kind of understand what's going on here and Marcus has provided illustrations and even  a demonstration video.  Just give a listen and let him know what you think.

        So, Marcus, tell the readers who you are and let us know what you've got for us today:

I'm the person who made the navigation buttons for the A-Z Challenge

It was during the challenge that I got the idea I'd like to present to
you today - signed ebooks. Yes, I know, most people still read paper
books, but ebooks are gaining fast in popularity. Brace yourself paper
book lovers because I am about to mention bibliophile and ebooks
together - you may need a second cup of coffee or tea.

I've always been a bit of a bibliophile. Beautifully produced books
always held a fascination for me. One drawback of ebooks is that they
cannot be personalized by signing. While manually formatting my first
short story for various ebook formats, I realized that ebooks could be
personalized and even signed by the author.

The value of signing books is in the personalization. The author
creates a unique book by writing a dedication and signing the book.
This creates a connection between author and reader. Digital
communications offer a great potential to expand this connection
beyond the mere book signing. A benefit for both authors and readers.
More on that another time. Let's take the first step and look how
ebooks can be personalized.

A few projects have recently sprung up which try to adapt book
signings to digital media, notably IdolVine and KindleGraph. However,
neither of those seem to embed the author's signature into an ebook,
from what I could tell. Correct me if I'm wrong.

I set about creating a web application which would create a
personalised ebook with the author's inscription. It works like this:
- Authors place order buttons on their websites, e.g. a Paypal button
- When a signed copy is ordered the author is notified and receives a
message from the buyer
- The author digitally signs and uploads the inscription
- The new ebook is created and emailed to the reader/buyer

The actual signing is done in one of three ways:
- Using pen and paper, then scanned
- Using a graphics tablet. This is a digital form of pen and paper,
costing from about $35-$50, used mainly by illustrators and graphic
- Using an iPad, or other Slate, with a stylus. A stylus is a pen for
touchscreens, costing from about $15-25.

I used a graphics tablet, Wacom's "Bamboo Pen", to produce the
inscriptions you see here and in the video presentation below. It
works great after a little practice, and with the bonus that you can
use it for drawing as well.

At this point, you may be thinking this all sounds very nice, but are
having difficulty actually imagining how it all works in practice. I
hope the following video presentation and downloading a sample ebook
will provide an aha-moment for you. If not, you can email me any
specific questions.

video link:

I'm now looking for other authors who would like to try signing their
ebooks. You could even do a live event over Skype, chat or Twitter. If
you are an author interested in signing ebooks please email me. As
explained above, you will need either a scanner, a graphics tablet, or
an iPad with a stylus (I haven't tried the latter myself yet).

If you're intrigued but need a little tempting, you can play with the
live demo. It let's you sign with your mouse in your web browser. Yes
I know, I didn't mention that possibility yet. Mainly because writing
your name with your mouse is, shall we say, sub-optimal. I think it
looks as though a drunken sparrow, trained to write one's name, had
been let loose on the page :-)  But it's still nice to scribble around
a bit and get an ebook with one's scribbling on the title page. Just
to try it out. Email me if you want to let the sparrow loose.

You can also download the samples shown in the video and take a look
yourself at a real signed ebook:



If you have any suggestions about signing ebooks or questions, leave a
comment, or feel free to email me at wordituk (AT) gmail (dot) com.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter

Harry Potter Fanfiction / Pride and Prejudice Mash Ups 

        Harry Potter, now a man and quite wealthy, goes to visit his friend and fellow Hogwarts alumnus Charles Bingley, who has recently taken residence at the manor Netherfield Park.  A neighboring family of witches by the name of Bennet is invited to a party at the mansion at which point Elizabeth, one of the Bennet daughters and a witch with extraordinary powers, is introduced to Harry Potter, a wizard of great renown.   A misunderstanding first occurs, but eventually a romantic relationship develops and together they must battle the forces that are out to destroy them.

        It's a derivative story for sure.  And this particular derivative is not even original with me.  When I Googled the concept that I thought would be mine, I found that others had already come up with the idea.  As they say, there's nothing new under the sun.  Oh sure, there might be slightly new approaches and ideas that seem uniquely original, but there is nothing that is completely new and original.  If there were, we probably wouldn't even understand it.  By necessity one thing leads to another and all things are derived from or related to previously existing ideas.

         To be derivative is not a bad thing, but in deriving one thing from another one needs to paint a bit of oneself into the newly derived creation or at least add some touch that will add some hint of originality.  Personally I don't understand the lure of fan fiction, but I do believe that to make a work of this nature more interesting, a writer needs to tell a different story than the source material or tell the old story in a very different way.  Imitation may come in the form of flattery or even satire, but absolute imitation may be something akin to plagiarism.

Blog Derivatives 

       We've all done something on our blogs that we've seen on other blogs.  The natural tendency is to copy what works, what is successful, or what looks fun or interesting.  There are even basic rules or suggestions for blogging that we have found cited on many blogs, perhaps even our own.  We usually set up our blogs using templates and common formats.  I've been to a few blogs that don't and I usually don't stay long or go back because they are chaotic and that is not for me.

       Bloggers repeat topics, share themes, and participate in blogfests and memes.  The secret is to add something new and different to what is basically the same as what others have done.  How many times have we read blog posts about publishing, querying, or getting an agent?   We keep reading them because each story is told from a different perspective with some new twists thrown in.  If those blog posts were just cut and pastes from previous posts we'd stop reading them pretty quickly and start searching for the bloggers with unique voices.  Hopefully with each new post comes prospects of learning something we didn't know before, reviewing what we need to remember, or being entertained by good writing.

        Many people do round-up posts where they link to interesting posts of the previous week.  One blog that I follow has begun to do this and I was impressed by some of the excellent blog posts she linked to from last week.  If you like this sort of thing, check out Atsiko's Chimney.  She says that her round-up will become a regular feature on her blog for a while at least.  It's a derivative idea, but Atsiko is doing her research and doing the legwork to make finding these posts easier on us.

Another Twist on an Existing Concept

      Most of you probably remember Marcus of Writing Investigated.  If not, Marcus was the creative force behind the navigation buttons that many of you used for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  The concept of the buttons was an existing idea that Marcus adapted to be used for the Challenge.  The buttons made it easier to navigate sequentially through the list of participants and fun to randomly find blogs with the "Surprise Me!" button.  This was a derivative concept that was given a unique application.

       Now Marcus has come up with another brainstorm.  Marcus will be my special guest on Wednesday to tell you about an idea that will be of special interest to any of you who have either published a book or plan to in the future.  To make his explanation easier to understand he is preparing a demonstration video to be debuted here on Tossing It Out this Wednesday July 27.  I'm looking forward to seeing what he's come up with.  I hope you will join us.

       Are you a fan of Fanfiction?   Do you have any favorite fiction derivatives?   Can you think of something you've read that was absolutely original?   Do you think it's possible to create anything absolutely, uniquely new and original?   Do you adapt well to new technology or do you have Luddite tendencies like I do?



Friday, July 22, 2011

My First Book...Experience: A Love Story

           My parents' library was small when I was small.   There were three books that I recall seeing around our house in my early childhood--a large Holy Bible, a blue backed Webster's Dictionary, and W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes by Robert Lewis Taylor.  Sure, I had many of the Little Golden Books such as Little Black SamboThe Gingerbread Man, and The Little Engine That Could and I dearly loved those books.  However, the books that I was most interested in were the three books in my parents' library.

          W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes was the book to which I was most frequently drawn.  Actually, no pun intended, I had drawn inside the book.  Inside on the front and back endsheets that create the pastedowns and flyleafs, I had scrawled what appeared to be crude boxy human-like figures.  I don't remember creating this artwork and I don't know how my father reacted to it.  I must have been very young since I have no memory of the event, but I must have been old enough to have had some measure of artistic perception.  All I know is that the drawings where there and they were the first things I would look at whenever I was looking at the book.

         Of course there was more to the book.  Before I could read, I would enjoy looking at the pages of photographs that were in the center of the book.  The black and white photos showed Fields in his vaudeville days, with his family and friends, and on the movie sets.  There were also publicity photos from some of his films.   Later, as I learned to read I would sometimes peruse the text.

         Eventually, when I was probably in fourth grade or so, I read the entire book.  I enjoyed reading about the life of this famous juggler and movie star.   In the ensuing years I would reread this book several times.  Whenever I took the book off the shelf and opened it, I would first turn to the strange drawings on the inside covers.  They were now much like looking at cave drawings left by some long gone prehistoric human.  Who was this child who made these peculiar drawings and what did they represent?  

        I continued to see the book on the bookshelf at my parents' house into my adult years.  It was now joined by many other books.  One had to look carefully to find the faded worn red spine with the title now barely readable.   Eventually the book was moved to a different shelf, or perhaps packed away in a box that may be in the attic of the house where my mother has lived for the past forty five years.  My father, who was the one who bought the book sometime shortly after it had been released in 1949, died over twenty years ago.

        My mother doesn't recall the story of me drawing in the book.  She only vaguely remembers the book and has no idea what happened to it.  She is pretty sure it is still somewhere in her house.  One day, when I am there and have some time, maybe I can go look at the books in the attic and see if the book is there.  Or maybe it is packed away in a closet.  Then again, maybe it's still on the shelf, so faded, so accustomed to being in that place that we no longer notice it.  Sometimes things we have grown to love also become the things we take most for granted and forget about being right there where they have always been.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do's and Don'ts of Memoir Writing: The FOLLOWING THE WHISPERS Blog Book Tour with Author Karen Walker

            Today I'm happy to have Karen Walker as my guest as she makes a stop on Tossing It Out in her blog tour to get the word out about her memoir Following the Whispers.  I first discovered Karen's blog fairly early on in my blogging career.  I was drawn to her pithy posts that were honest and from the heart, and often very informative.

          Today in this guest post Karen continues in that helpful vein as she provides some useful advice about writing a memoir.  After all, this is one topic that she knows well having written the successful memoir that is the subject of her current virtual book tour.  Whether or not you are planning to ever write your own memoir, the following is some good information to read and remember.


Do’s and Don’t’s of Writing Memoir

Writing memoir is not for the faint-hearted. I think one must have a compelling reason to write and publish their own story. In my case, I’d learned some valuable life lessons I thought might help others struggling with similar issues. Some want to write just for their family--that’s not the kind of memoir-writing I’m talking about. Here are my thoughts on the do’s and don’ts when writing memoir for publication.

   Do tell the truth. If you don’t remember something clearly, say so. If you are changing names, say so. Whatever you choose to do,it’s okay as long as you let your readers know.
   Don’t just take whole pages from your personal journal and think that constitutes writing a memoir. Journal writing is a whole different thing than crafting a story from your life events.
   Do use fiction techniques in your writing such as: scenes, complete with dialogue; lush descriptions, specific details, use of literary devices such as metaphor and simile. Just don’t write fiction.
   Don’t just put things in chronological order because that’s the way they happened. Craft your story the way it works the best. Here is where you can really utilize fiction techniques like flashbacks.
   Do make sure you grab your reader’s attention and craft your story to keep that interest throughout.
   Don’t make anyone in your life out to be totally evil. Make the people in your story rounded characters. Everyone has both good and bad traits. Even if someone did you great harm, they still have some redeeming virtues.
   Do make sure family members and friends are okay with what you are doing before you go ahead and do it. In my case, I needed to wait until both my parents were gone before publishing my memoir. I just didn’t want to unintentionally hurt them with my perspective on my life.

There is so much more to say on this subject, but this is a good start for anyone thinking about writing memoir.

Thank you, Lee, for hosting me today. I hope you and your readers found this informative and useful.



 About the Author:

Karen Walker is a writer who has published essays in newspapers and magazines, as well as an anthology series. After a 30+ year career in marketing and public relations, she went back to college to complete a Bachelor's degree and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2005 from the University of New Mexico's University Studies program with a major emphasis in Creative Writing. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her husband, Gary, and their dog, Buddy. When she’s not writing, you can find her doing international folk dancing, singing at retirement communities with her trio, Sugartime, hiking, reading, or hanging out with friends.

The book:

You can find Following the Whispers at:

Be sure to visit Karen's blog at  and if you haven't been following her yet, then now would be a good time to start. 

My guest for next Wednesday will be Marcus from Writing Investigated.   Marcus is the creative mind behind the popular Blogging from A to Z search buttons or navigation buttons.  I'm sure he'll have some interesting things to say.


Monday, July 18, 2011

It's Your Story So Tell It Like a Story

          If you ask me, writer's block is just an excuse that is the same as saying, "I'm too damn lazy to write anything right now."  I don't have any problem with a writer not feeling like writing, but I do think we should cough up the truth if we are not writing.  If your life depended on coming up with something don't you think you could?

          Okay, so you're at a standstill with your current work in progress or you have an idea for a story but don't know how to start.  You're having trouble forcing yourself to write.   Well, then force yourself to write something else.  Forget about trying to make something up.   Write about you.  Write the story of your life.  Surely you know that story.

          When faced with the concept of writing memoir some people might balk with the claim that their life is not interesting or they haven't done anything special.  So what the heck, write about it anyway.  I'm not talking about mundane journal entries or Daytimer schedule planner entries; I'm talking about you telling what you did today, or yesterday, or once upon a time on that special day of your life.  Make it creative.  Turn it into a tale.

          Maybe you just went to the grocery store today, bought some groceries, and came home.  Come on--think!  There's so much more to this story.   How did you get there?   What did you see on your way?  What was playing on the radio?  Did someone else go with you?  What did you talk about?  What kind of car do you drive and how's it running anyway?

           Now you're getting somewhere.   What store did you go to?  Did you see any particularly interesting people?  Who did you see there and what did they look like?   What was on sale?  How much did things cost?   What did you buy?   How did you pay for it?   How are your finances?   Will you have enough to get through the month?

           "Bor-r-r-ing!"  You may say.  Make it interesting--you're the writer.  Throw in adjectives and adverbs, metaphors and similes, or whatever else you can grab out of your writer's trick bag.  Add some humor, inject some action, or elicit pathos.   Paint a vivid picture that the reader can see, hear, and sense in every way.  Sometimes everyday experience can be the most interesting because we can all relate to it.

            Think about the stand-up comic's routine.  What makes it all so funny is that we can usually picture it because we've been there.   Next time you're listening to a comedy routine focus on why it's funny.  A great deal of the humor comes from the presentation, but familiar story content makes us nod our heads with the realization that we get it--yeah, we've been in that same situation and know exactly what the comic is talking about.

          Or what about that friend or co-worker who always holds our attention with a riveting story.  Why? Again, presentation is a big part of it, but our ability to connect to what is being said makes a big difference in keeping us interested.   Conversely, think about the person who tells the dull boring story.   Maybe we can also relate to that person's story, but do we care?  The way the story is told can be a big snooze-a-rama without presentational pizzazz tossed into the mix.

         Try it out.  Next time you're bemoaning that you've got writer's block, stop what you're doing and tell your life story.  Not necessarily your whole life story, but maybe what you've done since you woke up that morning or what you did before going to bed the previous night.  It might end up being a better story that the one you wanted to write in the first place.

          Instead of using the esoteric term of writer's block or the artsy complaint of lacking inspiration, just tell it like it is.  I'm too damn lazy to write, too distracted to write, or I just plain don't want to write whatever crap I'm supposed to be writing.   Hmm--maybe you can write a story about why you feel that way.  And please make it an interesting story.

           What's your opinion of writer's block?  Have you ever tried stand-up comedy?   Do you find it easy to write about your life?

            On Wednesday my special guest will be Karen Walker who will be visiting Tossing It Out as part of her Following the Whispers blog book tour.  Karen's someone who can tell about writing a memoir and she'll be here to give us a few tips on the Do's and Don'ts of memoir writing.



Friday, July 15, 2011

The Autograph Book

Image courtesy of SWEET TEA
          In the summer before my senior year of high school I was invited to stay with a friend who lived in Cleveland, Tennessee, which is about an hour and a half away from my parents' house in Maryville, Tennessee, where I was living at the time.  My friend Dennis was about my age.  His father worked for the same company that my father worked for and we had gotten to know one another through various company functions.  He and his siblings had stayed at my family's house for a couple of weeks earlier that summer.  I guess my visit to his house was a sort of continuation of that visit.

           As it often is with young people who have much time on their hands during those long summer days in a small town, we were on a continual quest for something to do. One day we were at a shopping center and in the variety store I found a very inexpensive paper covered autograph book.  I'm not sure why I was so attracted to this book other than the fact that it was very cheap and I didn't have all that much spending money, but I bought it feeling that there was some sort of entertainment value to be derived from it.

          Since there were no celebrities to receive autographs from in Cleveland, Tennessee, I fell back on my practical joker side.  As a long time fan of Candid Camera, the television show where prank victims were caught by a hidden camera, I decided that it would be fun to just walk up to complete strangers and enthusiastically ask for an autograph.  My friend, who was just as much of a nerd as me, agreed that this would be jolly good fun and egged me on.

           At first I was hesitant.  Since I was rather shy back then, I was embarrassed about approaching strangers anyway.  The silliness of the idea drove me forward.  I started with other teenagers.  They giggled and readily complied.  Then I worked my way up to adults.  A handful suspiciously brushed me off, but most went along with my silliness and signed my book.  One older gentleman even playfully feigned great honor that I would be asking for his autograph.

          After a couple hours of autograph hounding, we tired of our little prank.  Asking strangers for autographs is something I never did after that day.  I kept the autograph book and I'm sure I still have it packed away somewhere.

           A few years later, when I was attending the University of Tennessee, I got another brilliant idea that didn't last very long, but I did think of it now and then during those years.  I decided that I was going to try to get to know every student and faculty member at the university--all twenty thousand plus of them.  I never got too far with that plan, especially since I lived off campus, but I did get to know some of the other students who commuted on the bus.

         I'll admit it was some weird thinking--autographs from strangers and trying to get to know thousands of people by name.   Perhaps it had something to do with small town thinking trying to break out into the big world.  Then again, what the heck is blogging all about?

        Are you good at approaching strangers?   What is your biggest fear when trying to meet new people?  Do you have an interesting or unusual story about trying to strike up friendships?



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Life Is Good: A Guest Post From Tina

       Many of you have already received a visit from Tina of Life Is Good or Shannon from The Warrior Muse as they attempt the massive undertaking of visiting all of the participants listed on the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge list of 2011.   Shannon will be my guest on August 3rd, but today Tina is joining us to tell a little about herself, her blog, and the Post A to Z Challenge Challenge.

My Photo
Life Is Good

HI.  My name is Tina and I'm competitive.  And stubborn.  And not one to back off from a dare.  Let alone a triple dog dare.  But to be honest, this wasn't a dare.  It was just me being stubborn and competitive.  I'll admit that.  After all, isn't the blogging community one big group of supportive friends, no matter what we need to confess to?  That's what I've found in the last year or so.  So yeah, I decided that I was going to visit every one of the 1282 registered participants in the AZ Challenge.  Call me Julie of “Julie and Julia”.  Although she had a much tougher challenge.  She was cooking 524 recipes in 365 days.  I'm just reading and commenting with no particular deadline.

I found the original AZ Challenge sorta tangentially.  (Yes, self-professed math nerd.  But the only time I ever used that degree was for tutoring.  My eight years of 7th grade math and English students never needed M424: Abstract Number Theory or the  M317: Calculus of One Variable notes I so carefully saved.  ((For non-math types: in that course you write proofs to show why calculus works.  Not for sissies.  In fact, most people have to take it numerous times to get the required C for math majors.  I'm just enough of a snob to tell you I got an A the first time.)) (And I over-use parentheses and even though I taught English, that isn't part of the 7th grade curriculum and my English education was “only” a minor.)  And I just watched Inception.  Makes me realize I had parenth's within parenths...somebody teach me this!  Or take the red pill and stay in the rabbit hole with me.  (Movie quoting is an Olympic sport in our family.  Feel free to compete.)  Ok, back to the tangent thing.

So there I was, blogging to practice writing, and to get constructive feedback.  “Life is Good” is mostly me telling stories from my childhood, or crazy college antics, some tortured love-lorn poetry for prompts, and I was participating in a meme a day, just about.  So I signed up for A-Z Challenge because I'd hit some doldrums in my blogging.  I've been reading Rayna M. Iyer's “Coffee Rings Everywhere and that led me to Alex J. Cavanaugh and the challenge. (If you're with me on the tangent thing, explain it to me in the comments.  First nerd, whether math or otherwise, gets a prize.)  See, there I go.  Competitive.

This challenge came at a really good time in my blogging journey.  I started “Life is Good” in 2009 with the intention of practicing my skill and getting HONEST, constructive criticism in order to improve.  However,  only a few brave souls, aka my friends, ever read anything.    At that point I knew nothing about blog-hops or weekly prompts, or anything about the etiquette assumptions in Blogland.  But there have been many wonderful mentors in this new world I found, and many faithful readers who have helped me, by their presence and support, through one of the toughest times in my life.  I've told some of the stories in posts, in poetry, and in rambling diatribes which probably shouldn't have gotten the “publish post” button pushed.  But it's all me, and I'm not shy.  I'm Swedish.  (Nudity is no big deal there.)  The A-Z Challenge shook me loose from the doldrums  and I met new, wonderful, supportive bloggers.

I didn't really have anything planned for HOW I was going to complete it like some of you clever folks who picked a theme for the month.  I just knew I needed a challenge to feed my competitive nature and get the blog back in gear after sitting on the side of the road feeling sorry for myself for a while.  It worked.  (For a full reflection of the challenge go to “How to Fix Your Sex Life: AZ Challenge  Reflections")   Yes, that's what I called it.  Kinda goes with the nudity...

Ok, now that you're all caught up (or going to be, once you hit the links above ;-) I do want to say a bit about the Post Challenge-Challenge.  Like I said in the opening paragraph, it's for me a competetive thing.  When Shannon commented to me that she was doing the same thing, I thought that being stubborn and competitive is a lot easier with a friend.  So we went from there. 

It's been a great ride so far, and I'm looking forward to more friendships built as those of us who hopped on this Post-Challenge Challenge train continue our travels.  Who knows what will happen next year.  I, for one, will be on that ride, too.  Maybe with a theme...

           My special thanks to Tina.   I hope you will stop by her blog and say hello.  While you're there you might even want to click the follow button so you can keep up with Tina's future posts and if you're up to the Challenge, join the fun by adding your blog to the Challenge list.

           Over the next several Wednesdays I will be hosting special guests here at Tossing It Out.  Next week my special guest will be Karen Walker from Following the Whispers.  Please come back for some great advice about memoir writing.


Monday, July 11, 2011

A Twofer: Twice Told and Ice Cold

Tales That Are Twice Told

          Last week I offered my thoughts on the book The Black VeilA Memoir with Digressions by Rick Moody.  In his memoir Moody relates his life story to "The Minister's Black Veil", a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne that was included in his Twice Told Tales.  I have read some of Hawthorne's stories, but I have never read the entire collection of Twice Told Tales, although I am quite familiar with the title.

           As I was reflecting upon Hawthorne's collection of stories I checked out what Wikipedia had to say about Twice Told Tales.  The title of the collection comes from a quote in William Shakespeare's The Life and Death of King John: "Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale, / Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man...".   This quote made me think of my Friday post where I talked about the stories we are told as children and the stories we tell our children.  These tales are told repeatedly and rarely seem to get old. 

           It has been said that there are no new plots, but only new variations on how to tell the same stories.  I think most of us can agree on this basic premise.   Yet we continue to read the new books and watch the new movies with rehashing of the old stories that we have heard before.  What makes the new telling more interesting is the way the story is told, the characters who are unique, a novel setting of time or place or both, and so many other techniques an inventive writer can use to present the story.  The real skill is in telling the old story so that it becomes your own special story that seems new to the hearer.

          What kinds of stories do you like to hear over and over again?   What twice told tales vex your ear?  What are some things you do to make a story unique to your telling of it?

A Review of ICE COLD by Tess Gerritsen

          One of the books I had scheduled for my Christmas holiday reading list was ICE COLD by Tess Gerritsen.  I finally got around to reading this book last week and wanted to offer my review of it.   This is a book I purchased last year as part of a special book club package and the review that follows is my opinion after having read it.

Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen

Here's the story as told on the book jacket: 

          In Wyoming for a medical conference, Boston medical examiner Maura Isles joins a group of friends on a spur-of-the-moment ski trip. But when their SUV stalls on a snow-choked mountain road, they’re stranded with no help in sight.

          As night falls, the group seeks refuge from the blizzard in the remote village of Kingdom Come, where twelve eerily identical houses stand dark and abandoned. Something terrible has happened in Kingdom Come: Meals sit untouched on tables, cars are still parked in garages. The town’s previous residents seem to have vanished into thin air, but footprints in the snow betray the presence of someone who still lurks in the cold darkness—someone who is watching Maura and her friends.
       Days later, Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli receives the grim news that Maura’s charred body has been found in a mountain ravine. Shocked and grieving, Jane is determined to learn what happened to her friend. The investigation plunges Jane into the twisted history of Kingdom Come, where a gruesome discovery lies buried beneath the snow. As horrifying revelations come to light, Jane closes in on an enemy both powerful and merciless—and the chilling truth about Maura’s fate.
What I thought about ICE COLD:

           The jacket blurb sold me on this book and the author delivered the goods.  Tess Gerritsen's ICE COLD is quick paced edge-of-your-seat thriller from start to finish.  This was a book that I sped through because I was riveted all the way and did not want to put it down.  The action is engrossing and the story is engaging.  Gerritsen's skill as a writer of suspense is highly evident as she keeps the  story moving through realistic dialog and succinct prose that is vivid in the description revealing what is needed to carry the story.   The author's background as a doctor is evident in her occasionally gruesome, but frank depictions of wounds, injuries, and medical procedures.  Gerritsen takes us to the scene of the action and into the heads of the characters through adept writing.

           This is not a novel of exceptional literary value, but it is high caliber professional story-telling in the slickest commercial sense.  It's the kind of book that most readers will be able to get into for a diversionary reading experience.   Read it now and then see the movie--it's a novel that I would think would be made into a movie.   Actually, Gerritsen did such a great job with her writing that I almost feel like I have already seen the movie.

            Have you read ICE COLD or any of Tess Gerritsen's other books?   Have you seen the TNT television series Rizzoli & Isles which is based in the characters in ICE COLD?

              On Wednesday I will have Tina from Life Is Good on my blog as a guest.   Be sure to see what she has to say.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Tell Us A Story

          "Tell us a story!" my sister and I would plead with my mother on those certain evenings that seemed to exist for story-telling.

           We would eagerly sit close to her leaning forward in anticipation and so as not to miss a single word.  She must have learned much of her tale-spinning technique from her mother.   My grandmother would tell a story with such gravity and intensity that she held you captive with her every word, and then her voice would quiver and our eyes would widen as prickles of fear and tension crawled up our spines, raising the hairs on the backs of our necks.  In retrospect, I think the quiver in her voice came mostly from her about to break out into laughter as she played with our imaginations, but at the time it seemed like a shiver of impending terror.

          When my mother told us a story she would make it more playful, but she still kept some of the frightfulness that Grandmother was so effective at injecting into a story.  We would ask for the same favorites over and over again.  They were simple stories about her childhood.

          There was the story about the long-bearded man who accused my grandfather of stealing his pants and the next-door neighbor lady who they were convinced was a witch.  The stories of when her family's house burned down, when she got hit in the head with a chunk of coal, or when she went to New York City with her dance class were stories we heard repeatedly and savored them every time we heard them.

          My dad could tell a joke which would always make us laugh, but my mother had a special magic of telling a good story.  That's probably what has been the biggest influence in my desire to tell stories.  I want to have that skill of transporting others to another place-- to cast a spell that will enchant, entertain, and amuse.

         Years later, when I had children of my own, it always brought me such a feeling of happiness to hear my kids say, "Daddy, tell us a story."




Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Veil Lifted: Revealing a Peculiar Memoir

The Black Veil: A Memoir  Digressions
          When one is handed a book by someone who states, "I want you to read this book to tell me what you think of it, I thought it was kind of weird--I got it for a dollar at the Dollar Tree store", then a red flag, perhaps combined with an impish chin stroking curiosity, might be one possible reaction.  This was the case when my sister handed The Black Veil by Rick Moody to me during my December holiday vacation to Tennessee.  I am sometimes reluctant to read a book when someone says I should read it because it was a good book, but the reluctance becomes even more cringe worthy when I am told I should read it because it was weird.  Okay, so I do have a tendency toward weird tastes sometimes, but to have another person take it upon themselves to decide what might be weird according to my predilections and hand me a book based on that judgment can be somewhat off-putting.   Nevertheless I took this bargain book with the reminder that it might be a few weeks before I would get to it, and in doing so assured my sister that I would let her know what I thought about the book.  I have now finished reading The Black Veil and am ready to not only provide my honest assessment of this book to my sister, but also to you who are reading this.

          In short, this book is weird.  I won't say that it is a book that I would necessarily recommend to anyone else, or that I liked the book.  There were times when I forced myself to read with a frustration previously reserved for struggling through certain books or articles required for a college class in which the reading was only done for a grade and not for any personal pleasure or even enlightenment.  This is not a positive review of The Black Veil, nor is it absolutely negative.  It is my commentary on a peculiar reading experience with which I had a like/dislike relationship, not having enough of an emotional attachment to consider my feelings toward the book to be as strong as love/hate--my feelings are somewhat ambivalent, yet with enough stirring to exact my pronouncement on Rick Moody's odd little memoir.

         One of the impediments of my absolute enjoyment of this book becomes evident in the complete title of Rick Moody's book:  The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions.  Where the concept of "memoir" in a fairly straight-forward telling of Moody's life story would be reasonable to most readers, the added digressions to the story provide a conundrum of humorous or, at times, interesting historical reflections which sometimes establish a sense of time--past and present--and other times a sense of mind--the authors interpretation of the world around him and his interpolation of his own inner thoughts. In his preface Moody states, ''My book and my life are written in fits, more like epilepsy than like a narrative.''  He goes on to say, "Alas, this account never settles for the orderly where the disorderly and explosive can substitute.."   Egad! This sounds a bit like literary fireworks and an attempt at sensationalism to me.  It seems to me that even Moody recognizes the difficulty of the way he approached the memoir and how it might be accepted by the reader.  

        Rick Moody is a well established and critically acclaimed author who is most known for his novels The Ice Storm and Garden State, both which have been made into feature films.   In his memoir Moody reflects on his early life in what he portrays as a somewhat dysfunctional family, though probably not any more dysfunctional than most average families.   From his New England roots he senses an inherited guilt that has been passed from his Puritan forebears and perhaps further back to his European roots.   The darkness that overshadows his life is further complicated by the familial connection to one Joseph "Handkerchief" Moody who is thought to be the inspiration of a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, "The Minister's Black Veil".  Since I had never heard of this story, let alone read it, I found myself digressing online to read "The Minister's Black Veil"--not the best story I have ever read, but more of a curiosity of the early American short story.   I was to later find that the story is found at the end of Moody's book, but I think the reader would be served better by having the story introduced toward the beginning so that the connection would more clear to the reader of Moody's memoir since so much of the metaphor of the story is the metaphor of Moody's life and the memoir that he has written.

          The memoir follows through Moody's troubled adolescence and into his early adulthood during which he struggles with alcohol dependency and difficulties in relating to others.   His problems lead to a mental breakdown which results in a stay in a mental hospital.  He recounts his period of recovery and some parts of the years that follow.   The aspects that might be of most interest to those who want to know about Moody and his writing career are sadly deficient.   This is not the story of Rick Moody the successful writer, but the story of Moody the moody guy, angst-ridden, searching for self and trying to understand his family.  It is at times dark and troubling, and at others ludicrous and fun.  Some of the ancestral history is interesting and some goes to an extreme that can in stretches be boring.  Moody must be commended in any case for the amount of detailed research that he has put into this book.

            This leads me to the writing style used by Moody in this particular book.  If you thought the style of this, my present commentary, was a bit rambling, with an excessive amount of phrasing set apart by commas, then you might multiply my long sentences by double, triple, or even more, and you will get an idea of the way The Black Veil is written--think in terms of paragraphs that at times go on for several pages.   And if you wonder about my use of italics, then you are in for a great distraction in Moody's book as he uses italics throughout.   The author's explanation for the use italics that is given at the end of the book is rather clever--he uses the italics in lieu of having to resort to footnotes, something which I often find more distracting than italics--but if I had known the reason of the extensive use I might not have been as annoyed with the italics as I was while in the midst of reading The Black Veil.  Moody is a good story-teller when he is telling the story, but he can be pretty perturbing in the digressions, especially with what oftentimes comes across as an artificial and affected style of writing.

         Should you read The Black Veil?  For most I would say no, unless you are interested in reading a challenging and uniquely written memoir.  This is unlike any other memoir I've read.  I often found it tedious reading and was anxious for it to end, however in retrospect the book did stick with me.  Moody's conclusions about what is real and what is not in the way we all portray ourselves and see others makes me wonder about the authenticity of this memoir.  Has Moody truly lifted the veil to show us who he really is, or has he donned a mask of theatricality to provide us with the gimmickry of a skilled writer playing with our heads.   Maybe you'll want to read the book for yourself so you can tell me if you thought it was weird.

         Have you read any of Rick Moody's books, or specifically The Black Veil?   When a memoir receives more of a literary treatment than a straight-forward telling of a life story, do you think it is as trustworthy?   If a writer is breaking the traditional rules of writing and/or formatting would you prefer to have this explained before you start reading, or do you like to approach a book like a mystery and try to figure out the writer's tricks for yourself or be told after the fact?

            Beginning next Wednesday I will be having a series of guest posts.  The first one, on July 13th, will be Tina from Life Is Good.  Many of you have already heard from Tina in the Post Challenge Challenge that she and Shannon from The Warrior Muse have been undertaking.  Tina will be talking about that Challenge and other interesting things.  Stay with Tossing It Out on Wednesdays for all the informative guest posts to come.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Does Your Writing Have Fireworks?

         Happy 4th of July to all of us in the United States and I hope the rest of you around the world will join us in our celebration.

A photo of fireworks

          On Wednesday I'll be giving my thoughts about a book I recently finished reading.  It will be a somewhat negative review partly because I disliked the style of the writing, but also because of the rambling approach of telling the story (stories?).

           As I was thinking back on this book I began thinking about how writing is sometime similar to a fireworks display.  I also wanted to do a post today related to the Fourth of July.  Okay, so it's a gimmicky way to go, but this is my fireworks display for today.

           There are many types of fireworks ranging from simple sparklers and firecrackers to elaborate roman candles and multicolored skyrockets.  Fireworks may emphasize effects such as noise, smoke, fire, or floating materials, or may be a combination of any or all of these.  The display of the fireworks may be very basic for a solitary user or a small group of users, or they may be very elaborate on a massive scale for the larger audience.  Whatever the case, fireworks are intended to capture attention.

          Writers use literary effects to capture the attention of readers.  The fireworks of writing may come in the form of unique story approach such as twists or surprise endings.  Other attention getting devices may include vivid descriptions, clever metaphors, quirky style, or unorthodox punctuation.  Strong characters and realistic dialogue may be the forte of some writers while others may engage in rambling stream of consciousness or peculiar digressions into philosophical realms.

           Whatever the writer's approach may be, it will often become the trademark of that writer.   Some may pass off a writer's trick bag as gimmickry, while others will include it as style.  However, the writer should always make an attempt to be authentic and coherent.   All noise and dazzle might catch a readers attention initially, but will eventually wear thin if there is no substance.

             What kind of fireworks do you like to use in your own writing?   What fireworks--gimmicks, styles, or inclinations--annoy you most in the writing of others?     Will you be watching (or did you watch) a professional fireworks display on July 4th or do you like to buy your own fireworks and put on your own display at home?


Friday, July 1, 2011

Zapped by Zappos!

        If you are a shoe fanatic then you've probably heard about by now.  If you don't know about this website, it's a site where you can find just about any shoe that's on the market.  And now they're not just shoes, but they also sell clothes, accessories, housewares, and I could go on, but why should I when you could go to their website and check it out for yourself.

        My first awareness of was last year when I read founder Tony Hsieh's book Delivering Happiness and gave my review on Tossing It Out.  I was impressed by the story and the company's philosophy.  In the book there was a mention that Zappos was located in Henderson, Nevada which is near Las Vegas and that they gave facility tours.  When I realized that I was going to be staying in Henderson during my recent visit to Las Vegas, I remembered that Zappos was there and made the Zappos tour a priority on my Vegas activity list.  In my previous post I told the story of how I was able to make the connection to get on a special tour.   This was to be a memorable day.

Zappos Henderson, Nevada

        We found the Zappos building in an industrial center not far off the free way that will take you from Henderson to Las Vegas.  If we had not had the address we might have missed it as I did not see any signs identifying the place.  We parked and went to what appeared to be the main entrance.  It was locked, but we could hear laughter coming from within--it sounded like a party and it seemed that a lot of people inside were having a good time.  A delicious aroma of food--what I guessed to be barbecue--emanated from within the building.  We found an open door that led to the kitchen from whence the smell wafted.  A cook saw us at the door and directed us to the other side of the building.

        Upon finding the proper door, we entered and were greeted by the friendly reception staff who had us sign in for the tour and receive our ID badges.  Others joined us who would be taking the tour.  They were from various marketing conventions that were being held in Vegas and had arranged for a special Friday tour.

         As we looked about the reception area, my wife whispered to me, "Everybody looks so happy."

        "Happiness is their specialty here," I told her.  "Zappos delivers happiness and I guess they've done it with this group."

          Once everyone had gathered for the tour we were led to a room where we watched a brief introductory video presented by Zappos culture guide Jon Wolske.  The video explained the short version history of Zappos, but there were probably few in the room who didn't know the story already. I could tell these were avid Zappos fans who were there to learn.   This is one of the primary goals of the Zappos tour--to show other retailers and web site owners how a successful dot com works and teach them how they can apply the knowledge to their own business.  I am impressed by the Zappos willingness to share and to teach others in business.

          We were divided into groups of eleven to make things more manageable for our guides and comfortable for us.  I was glad that our group was led by Jon Wolske.  He was friendly, helpful, and quite entertaining.  We were also accompanied by a department manager by the name of Jessica Davis.  There was not an unfriendly person in the building.

Las Vegas Building
Zappos Henderson, Nevada
         Jon led us through the various departments of the call center.  There is no product in this location as the shipping warehouse is near Louisville, Kentucky.   Everyone is free to dress pretty much as they like so long as it is not offensive.   They can also decorate their work spaces as they like.  Certain work areas had special themes.  Everywhere we went we saw happy employees who looked like they were having one heck of a good time.

         Next we continued to the room from where my wife and I had earlier heard the laughter.  It was the cafeteria.   Most employee food and drink here is free.  Employees also can opt for hot meals for three dollars.  Anyway you look at it, the employees get quite a food bargain.  Jon told us that the only drinks they do charge for are the energy drinks.  We were invited to help ourselves to a snack before we moved on.

         Heading to another area filled with workstations with phones and computers, we could see more employees having a good time at work.  Jon explained that on a Friday there were not as many people working as on the other weekdays, which is why they normally don't have Friday tours.
         Zappos attempts to avoid the negative connotations of "customer service" and instead cultivates customer loyalty.  They want customers to come away from their experiences dealing with Zappos feeling good about it and telling their friends.  The intent is to keep customers coming back to become regular shoppers.

         The tour was filled with more information than I'll share here today.  What I will say is that the staff was welcoming and delightful.  This is a company that I would want to deal with because I think they genuinely have an interest in pleasing the customer in order to keep them loyal.  Learning about the culture of the company made me envious that there are not more places like this to work in.  If I lived in the Las Vegas area I would like to have a job at

        At the end of the tour our group was gathered at the Throne of Royalty to have our photo taken.  It's the photo you can see below.  That's me sitting on the throne.  The other tour members encouraged me to sit in the throne.  I guess because I looked the oldest.  My wife is the beaming lovely lady standing in the center forefront of the photo.  Don't we look like a happy bunch?  Our hosts sent each of us on our way with a copy of Tony Hsieh's book and another book about the employee culture.  Every one of us left satisfied.  Once again Zappos delivered.

Our tour group at the Throne of Royalty

If you're interested in taking a tour you can find more information at:

Here's a video with testimonials about the Zappos experience:

         One final note:  I do not work for Zappos nor was I given any remuneration for this blog post.  This is all based on the fun time I had visiting and for the valuable information I received on the tour.  It was something I wanted to do.

           Have you dealt with  If so, how was your experience?    (My sister told me she has purchased several things from them and has always been pleased.)   Are there any other company tours you have taken that were special experiences?