Member Monday: Dark and Stormy Night, with Apologies to Snoopy by Larry Watters

Welcome back to Member Monday!  It’s a pleasure to feature Larry Watters, President of Writers Forum.

Dark and Stormy Night, with Apologies to Snoopy

by: Larry Watters

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

So starts the first of a long line of stories that use variations of the phrase “dark and stormy night.”

Of clichéd openings, this is one of the most well-known. However, most attribute it to Snoopy in the Peanuts strips by Charles Schultz. The first time Snoopy typed the phrase was July 12, 1965. Its cousin, “He was a dark and stormy knight,” has also been used by Schultz; I imagine when he thought the readers couldn’t stand one more night.

But it actually belongs to Edward George Bulwer-Lytton from the novel Paul Clifford way back in 1830. Bulwer-Lytton, a Victorian novelist, poet, playwright, and politician, lived from 1803 to 1873.

It spawned the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a tongue-in-cheek contest that takes place annually and is sponsored by the English Department of San José State. Entrants are invited “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels” — that is, deliberately bad. A prize of $250 is awarded.

If you are a beginning writer, and are stuck for an opening for your mystery thriller, there are ways to not have it recognized as a cliché if you use a thesaurus.

First look at the word dark (when used as an adjective).

The built-in Thesaurus for Microsoft Word has, sinister, gloomy, and, surprisingly, brunette. Merriam-Webster Online has added, among others, darksome, dusky, murky, obscure, and somber.  Thesaurus.com starts out a little weird with aphotic, atramentous, then gets common with black, and then weird again with caliginous, Cimmerian. Imagine; all these for dark.

The word stormy (as a weather adjective) is far less complicated.

Your built-in Word Thesaurus lists tempestuous and wild. MW Online follows up with pouring, blustery, brutal, harsh, unsettled, and windswept. Thesuarus.com suggests blustery, boisterous, coming down, foul, howling, raining cats and dogs, and rip-roaring.

As a noun, night is quite limited. In fact, it is hard to think of nouns as having synonyms, but the Word program has nighttime, Webster has dark and darkness, and Thesaurus.com rocks on with after hours, bedtime, before dawn, dead of night, nightfall, and witching hour.

With these in mind, it is hard not to come up with: “It was an inky and rip-roaring dark.”

But the sentence itself is redundant to begin with; nights are dark! So it all boils down to a simple “It’s a stormy night” or, if you will, “It’s a raining cats and dog bedtime.”

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

Member Monday: Something of Hope by Linda Boyden

Hooray for Member Monday!  It’s my pleasure to share a beautiful piece by the multi-talented Linda Boyden.

Authors Note: In 2001, my husband and I lived on Maui, Hawai’i. We had just begun renovations to the master bathroom when the 9/11 tragedy stopped our country in its tracks. I was far removed from NYC and D.C. but still it was hard to concentrate on anything else. Life returned to normal slowly, but as I watched the men tearing down our large tub, seeing the piles of concrete debris reminded me everyday of what was happening to the Twin Towers. Remarkably, in the rubble in our house, I discovered a hidden treasure and I had to write about it. -Linda Boyden

Something of Hope

Like most Hawaiians, the news came to my house at 5 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001. The phone rang and my neighbor’s voice said, “New York City has been attacked. Turn on the TV.”Incredulous, my husband and I watched as the scenes replayed themselves in a Mobius strip of horror: New York City, Washington, D.C., and the crash of Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania. We spent the next few days numb, as empty as the blue skies over Maui.Perfect and clear as ever, but devoid of jets and helicopters, the skies whispered a bleak message: not only were the tourists stranded, we residents were, too. Isolated from the mayhem, yes, but alone in the wide blue sea.By the end of the first week, leaders and experts told us to return to normal. As if it were a place, I thought, say Normal, Oklahoma. Or Normal, Nevada, or maybe a hamlet in Idaho, but certainly nowhere back East, where we both were born, where many of our relatives and friends still lived, where I was sure nothing would be normal for a long, long time.

With the air ban lifted, my husband and his crew returned to their work on Kaho’olawe Island.

I tried. Since I worked from home as a writer, the first step toward normal was to turn off the television and get back to my writing project. Yet, I couldn’t write. My thoughts refused to be threaded into anything coherent.

Worse, I couldn’t read, my lifeline to sanity since first grade. Amid divorce, financial woes, and the years of being held “captive” by a houseful of teens, a good book had always anchored me, served as a beacon through any trouble, but not that first week.

Sure, I read a sentence here, a paragraph there, but not a whole page. So I resorted to manual labor.

A few days before the attack, we had begun a home improvement project. Our master bathroom had boasted a six foot long, three foot deep, red tile bathtub––a virtual koi pond of a tub, but without jets and heater, and therefore utterly useless.

As soon as it filled with water––tons of water by the way––the temperature was tepid at best and then turned frigid, even on a tropical island! The contractor showed us the reason: beneath its lovely exterior, the tub was solid concrete.

The workers demolished it within an hour, their heavy artillery, jackhammers rat-a-tat-tatting through concrete.

The resulting rubble resembled a miniature of the scenes portrayed on the news. A hill of debris stood in lieu of the tub, my beautiful bathroom, like the City, a far cry from its former self.

I donned work gloves and began to shovel the mess into a wheelbarrow to be loaded into the pickup for an eventual dump run.

As I shoveled, my thoughts drifted to the NYC rescue workers. The dust, even from so little concrete, infiltrated as far away as the living room at the opposite end of our sprawling house. In the work area, it stung eyes, nose and throat. I wheezed and consumed gallons of water.

Beyond those discomforts was the actual physical labor, the slow, back-breaking effort of lifting shovelful after shovelful of heavy material. I had designed my entire life avoiding things like Algebra and manual work, but in that mid September, it actually did me good. Good to use my body. Good to let my mind rest.

Then I discovered it.

In the next shovelful, one red tile, unscathed…four precise corners and four unchinked sides hidden in the wreckage. I held it to the light, swiped it on my shirt: how had it survived jackhammer, sledgehammer and workmen’s boots?

I had no use for it, a single red tile, but I put it aside anyway because…? Because something pretty had survived.

By the end of the day, I miraculously found twelve such tiles, each as unexpected as a violet blooming in the snow.

I told myself then and tell myself now, when difficult years wind down and the approaching New Year waits uncertain: dig through the sorrow, find a piece of joy and rekindle something of hope.

To learn more about Linda Boyden or purchase her books, please visit her website.

Linda showcases her books at the 2011 Author’s Fair.

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

September, 2012 Monthly Meeting: Editing: Knowing What to Take Away and What to Add with Kimberly Carlson

Kimberly Carlson

At our September meeting author and college English and Creative Writing instructor Kimberly Carlson will explain why for most writers, editing isn’t just about fixing commas, spelling and word choice. It is the arduous task of sometimes deleting pages, and even chapters. It is adding depth, defining characters, narrowing plot and perfecting voice.  Carlson will share her editing journey while working on her novel, Out of the Shadows, and will leave writers with thoughts about how to editing their articles, stories or novels.

After graduating Humboldt State University with a MA in English Composition and Literature, Kimberly Carlson taught Composition and Creative Writing courses at Shasta College. She has been published in The Sun and The Hot Air Quarterly. Her novel, Out of the Shadows, was released in May 2012.

*Monthly meetings are held on the second Saturday of the month from 10:30 am-12:30 pm in at All Saints Episcopal Church in the Memorial Hall.  Doors open at 10:00am and the meeting begins promptly at 10:30am.  All Saints Episcopal Church is located at 2150 Benton Drive, Redding, CA.  For more details about monthly featured programs and other Writers Forum events, please visit our Calendar Page.