A Box Full of Words, by Dave Smith

Today we present to you observations from Writers Forum member Dave Smith

My email box overflows with words and phrases and word/phrase games these days because of my frugal nature—I like free stuff. I’m addicted, like the old saying, “If it’s free, it’s me.”

As you know, nothing is really free, hence my overflowing mailbox.  As I visit sites about writing, blogs, and such places, my eye is always caught by the little box that says Click here for your FREE download. Sometimes I can resist, but usually not. I mean, you never know when you’ll actually learn a tidbit from one of these that makes your day.

You know where I’m headed with this, because maybe you’re a tiny bit guilty yourself. Each free download means I give my email address to yet another somebody out there who wants to sell me something. And with today’s drill-to-the-core advertising, they soon learn all about me and my interests and what days I’m most susceptible to them and what color pens I use to write with. (How do they do that?)

Well, hah! Not to be outdone, I’ve taken them at their words and turned the tables. I’m using what they send me to write this article, which if nothing else will keep you busy and away from your own writing for a minute or three.

We all love words, and now I have a mailbox filled with them each day. Here’s some historical slang that arrived one day:

Collywobbles – a tummy ache

Snollygoster – a shrewd, unscrupled person who succeeds

Gigglemug – someone who smiles a lot

Gigglewater – booze

And did you know there was an opposite to Deja Vu? It’s Jamais Vu, meaning when a familiar situation seems new. I’ll not make senior jokes here.

Also included in my lessons are some Japanese words. How about Wabi-Sabi? Not the zippy stuff; this one means accepting imperfection as a part of life (good word for writers, huh?)

Here’s another Japanese word for writers – Ozappa. It’s a personality which doesn’t sweat the small stuff and is always chill. Probably has many things in common with a Gigglemug.

When I drink too much Gigglewater I myself am more of a Gigglemug, and more Ozapparous. Yes, I just made that word up. I can send it to your email inbox if you want.

In closing let me suggest that when today’s Podsnappery gives you the Morbs and you want to retreat to your Growlery, simply call up a Mellifluous song, lean back, close your eyes and contemplate this; the longest word in the English language contains over 189,000 letters, and that is no Phonus-Balonus according to my inbox.

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Lessons From ‘The Freebird’s Dilemma

Today I share the most important lesson that I learned from writing ‘The Freebird’s Dilemma.’

I wrote “The Freebird’s Dilemma” in 1992 as a submission to Bridges, the Los Medanos College literary publication. That was the year that I first took a lit class. I was also in a supportive writing group that included my lit instructor, Madeline Puccioni. That was the year that I started writing seriously.

I also learned my most astonishing lesson of all from writing “The Freebird’s Dilemma”.

The submission guidelines were simple and direct. Twelve-point Times New Roman font. Double spaced. Ten pages maximum.

I wrote the story making maximum use of my experiences working on trail crews in Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks. I also used my experiences of feeling trapped in the town I lived in and really wanting to be back out in the wilderness. And I threw in a romance. I figured that couldn’t hurt, but that part was total fiction. Mostly. Rachel was based upon a single mom that I did know at college, but there was no romance in the real relationship.

I wrote the story. I edited the story. I got it down to twelve pages. And then I didn’t think I could cut out any more. Anything else that I cut would eliminate what I thought was critical information for the reader to have to understand my characters. I thought that it was going to be a twelve-page story, and that was that.

I explained my problem to Madeline.

She grinned and said, “Welcome to the world of writing! Ten pages means ten pages. Those are the submission guidelines, and there are no exceptions. Trim two pages, or it won’t even be read.”

This was the second most important lesson I learned from this piece. Submission guidelines are not suggestions. Not even when your friendly teacher and writing group coach is the one enforcing them.

The day before the submission deadline, I had a long afternoon break on campus. I sat in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee and looked my manuscript over one more time. The story opened with exposition of Joe and Rachel’s background, explaining how they had gotten to the point they were at in their relationship. I realized that the exposition made for a slow start, so I tried to find ways to tuck that information into other places in the story. Shuffling material around didn’t help me trim two pages, though. I could not let go of my need to make sure this background information was in the story.

Continue reading


Today we have a recommendation for a useful website from WF member Dave Smith. And a little historical perspective.


By Dave Smith

The Saturday Evening Post, a magazine that in its heyday towered by size over others in the rack and often had a cover by Norman Rockwell, popped into my life a few weeks ago.

While cleaning out the back room (one of those Covid-generated activities) I found a book that contained short stories from the Post, and vaguely remember picking it up at a book exchange sometime in the past. The title is Mystery and Suspense and the subtitle is Great Stories from The Saturday Evening Post. It’s not a recently published book. The last printing was 1976.

The book contains sixteen stories, and since the Post was such a quality magazine for a hundred-plus years, I thought I had found a nugget to read and learn about great writing.

One of the stories was ‘The Black Cat’ by Edgar Allen Poe. Yes, because the Post began in 1821, Poe could indeed have been a contributor.

The cat story was good, but Poe tends to write superfluously and pleonastically (he uses big words, and a lot of them). I think it may have been because writers often got paid by the word in those times.

I decided to pick a more recent story for my next read, ‘Pen in Hand’ by Ben Ames Williams, dated 1933. This turned out to be a cozy mystery, set in a backwoods country village, and the protagonist was an elderly lady who lived by herself on a ridge a few miles from town, and who once a week hooked up her horse to the buckboard and went to town. She was Grandma Ankers, referred to locally as Marm.

The story was intriguing, and I got caught up in trying to solve it, as this is what mysteries do to you. But the writer in me began to notice a verbose style and unusual dialogue tags. That’s okay, the story was good. Then near the end I came across a dialogue tag I don’t usually see. Here it is, after Marm had solved the puzzle, she spoke:

“There!” she ejaculated. “Sheriff I dunno what you think, but that’s enough for me.”

Every book about writing published in the past forty years has derided such tags—no, even longer if you consider the Elements of Style by our buds Strunk and White. And yet here it was, in the Saturday Evening Post no less.

Did the Post have editors? Did people talk like that back then?  Even though as used here it is technically correct, wouldn’t another word have been less interruptive?

I had to find out, so I did what any reasonable person does today—Google. And damned if I didn’t find something really cool and useful for us writers.

It’s called Google Books Ngram Viewer.

Maybe I’m showing my ignorance here, and I apologize for that, but this is one interesting tool I was not aware of. Ngram takes any word, phrase, or group of words, and can show relationships, usage in writings over time, and a hundred other too-deep-for-me things. And then Google puts it into a graph form which can cause one to exclaim, “Aha.”

The answer to my question was yes, ejaculated was used as a dialogue tag in many stories from the early 1800s to about 1940.

If your writing involves history, Ngram could help determine the written usage of a particular word at any time in the past. And even better, Ngram will show you the exact books and passages they found to support their data.

I now realize I was born 100 years too late. Today the golden  rule is to use he said or she said, with an occasional whispered or shouted if absolutely necessary, and yet in the not too distant past one could sell to a national magazine a story containing words like *insert your favorite*. I can write stuff like that, and would have made a fortune selling my stories, if only I had not been misplaced in time.

But all is not lost even if bygone words are bygones.

From where the sun now stands until forever, whenever I am disgusted with my writing, when the words smell so bad even my wife turns up her nose at them, when I am positive I am the worst ever, when I want to fast-ball my coffee cup—or beer bottle—through the glass patio door, when I want to throw open the window and shout I can’t take it anymore, when I want to stab my writing hand with a pencil to keep me from using it to waste my time, when I want to crumple up my computer and toss it into the wastebasket, when the deepest depth of despair threatens my sanity, … at those times I promise I will remember Marm ejaculating in the Saturday Evening Post.

And the black clouds will part, and the writers’ sun will shine on me once more.

Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction. 9.) Poetry.Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Christmas Then…And Now

Today we share a piece from the 2016 December Read Around.

Christmas Then…And Now

By Jeanne Crownover


Am I the only one who resents going to the store in October and finding I have to wade through aisles of Christmas decorations to get to the Halloween candy?

Reflecting back on my childhood in Wisconsin, Christmas preparations never started until after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until the leftovers had been eaten, the little ‘potato turkey’ we brought home from school had begun to rot, and the cornucopia along with the fall-colored tapers had been packed away that anyone even began to think about Christmas.

Not until people had recovered from one holiday did they start preparing for the next: shopping for gifts, writing cards, baking cookies. The tree was a distant concept, not having to be dealt with until before shortly before the actual holiday.

I know that not all families were like mine, waiting until the 23rd or 24th to purchase their trees. In our household, however, the week before Christmas found my mother reminding my father on a daily basis, more harshly as the days wore on, that with the only car in the family, he needed to go get the tree!

But the selection obviously remained good, as a tall, fragrant pine was always obtained, and on the 24th was brought into the house and decorated. The lights were tested briefly to make sure they were all working, but the formal lighting of the tree did not take place until darkness fell on Christmas Eve.

I remember coming home from church at night and seeing how splendid the tree looked in our big bay window. After a glass of milk and some freshly baked stolen, I was hurried off to bed, being told I needed to allow Santa ample time to make his delivery.

Christmas morning, the family arose to find the tree surrounded by a profusion of brightly wrapped packages. After opening gifts, they were left under the tree for several days so friends could see them when they came to call.

What a shock years later when raising a family in Southern California, to have my kids tell me on Christmas afternoon that at our neighbor’s house across the street, all gifts, save the few that the children were playing with at the moment, had already been put away.

This feeling of disbelief was eclipsed only by the disappointment I experienced a week later when attending a New Year’s Eve party at the same home. The house felt like a tomb. Not a scintilla of Christmas remained.

It made me pause and wonder. Had it been around so long that the magic was gone?

As a child I’d heard about the twelve days of Christmas and assumed that was why we left our tree up until at least the fifth of January. None of us grew tired of Christmas. We never wanted it to end.

So as an adult, I’ve always felt a bit out of sync as the holidays approach. While my California offspring never let me wait until the 24th to put up the tree, and I realize that keeping a tree up until the 5th of January could be construed as flirting with a visit from the fire department, I know my cards are always the last to be sent, my gifts the last to be wrapped, and my tree the last to be decorated.

Customs ingrained in childhood are difficult to erase. I’ll always view Christmas Eve as the beginning of my holiday, and while I know the enchantment won’t last forever, I hope that it lingers at least a little while, before it slowly…only slowly…fades away.

Who is Ethical Norm? by Sharon St. George

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature a piece by Sharon St. George. Here’s a little more about Sharon.

Abridged_excerpt_from_Chapter_1_of_CHECKED_OUT 2Sharon Owen, writing as Sharon St. George, is the current program director of Writers Forum. She is also a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Visit Sharon at www.sharonstgeorge.com or on Facebook at Facebook.com/sharonstgeorge.

Who is Ethical Norm?

by Sharon St. George

Who is Ethical Norm?

Sorry, trick question. Ethical Norm is not the husky man from Cheers who sat at the corner of the
bar. Norm’s ethical boundaries might have been compromised by his appetite for beer, a
proclivity that, on more than one occasion, caused him to behave in an unethical manner.
Ethical norm is a term I first heard in a college fiction writing course. My professor assigned
Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, to be read by the class. During the discussion that
followed, the professor pointed out that the ethical norm of that community was an integral part
of the story setting. Without it, there would have been no story.
I recently refreshed my memory by searching out a definition of the term. I found that Webster
tells us norms are standards of proper or acceptable behavior; ethics are rules of behavior based
on ideas about what is morally good and bad. When these are combined, we have standards of
acceptable behavior, not necessarily mandated by law, but based on a particular society’s ideas of
what is morally good and bad. There is general agreement that as a society, we expect certain
behaviors from society at large, even when they do not fall under the purview of law.
Some of literature’s most memorable works have used the concept of a given society’s ethical
norm to startle readers’ minds into active thought about the behaviors they expect from
themselves and others who share not only their community, but their nation and their planet.
Another example, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, demonstrates what happens when a group
of young boys become castaways on a tropical island. Does their survival depend on establishing
an ethical norm different from what governed their behavior before they became shipwreck
This important element of setting reaches beyond fiction. A 2016 Academy Award-winning
documentary short subject film titled A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is a stunning
example of the concept of how one society’s ethical norm differs from others. Set in Pakistan, it
sheds light on the practice of honor killings, and involves a 19-year-old woman who survives an
honor killing attempt by her father and uncle for marrying the man she loves. It brings to light
the statistic that approximately a thousand Pakistani women are murdered each year by male
relatives for dishonoring their families. The film has already prompted Pakistan’s prime minister
to address the need for a stronger law against honor killings in his country. In her Oscar
acceptance speech, courageous woman filmmaker Obaid-Chinoy stressed the “power of film” to
bring about social change.
So when we consider the setting for our novel, short story, or work of nonfiction, we’re not
looking merely at the time and place, but we also consider the ethical norm of that setting. We
know that it will affect the main characters, it will affect the other characters in the story, and it
will affect the reader’s reaction to the work. It is inspiring to realize that writers who expose
unacceptable ethical norms can do more than entertain and inform, they can make a better world
  1. Breach CoverIn Breach of Ethics, Sharon St. George’s third novel in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, a troubled surgeon faces an ethical dilemma while operating on a ten-year-old girl. His efforts to save the life of the child prodigy pianist result in ominous consequences involving Aimee and her band of intrepid crime solvers.

    Breach of Ethics will be released by Camel Press on May 1, 2016. It is available now to preorder from Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback and eBook format.

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