My Father’s House Has Many Rooms

 

When the priest said the last rites over my unresponsive dad in hospice Thursday, I was startled to hear this line from John 14:2 … My father’s house has many rooms.

I was also startled to hear the priest call him James when his name was Robert. I’m probably going to hell for interrupting a priest mid-prayer, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Dad finally getting to heaven only to be sent back on a technicality. Not on my watch, baby.

Dad had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks after a fall. He was refusing treatment and only wanted to be made comfortable as he died. We knew the end was near for him. We also knew that’s exactly what he wanted.

I went to see him in his early days of hospice, about an hour away from me. After the first visit, I drove across Colorado Springs toward his house. I wanted to visit there one last time before we had to start making changes, cleaning, sorting, disrupting, erasing it of its Dadness.

The trip from the hospital to his house took me right through my places of memory. After all, I was born in the hospital I’d just left. I could see the school I’d attended in 1st and 2nd grade through his hospice window.

I drove past the tiny house with the huge tree in the front yard, only a stick when Dad bought it. I remembered all the games we played in the backyard; baseball, pickle, horseshoes, tag, hide and seek, and my favorite, Try Not To Fall In The Open, Uncovered Fire Pit. Dad was never a stickler for safety. As a parent myself, I’m horrified at all the times he gave me a hatchet when we were camping and let me whack logs while straddling them. It’s a miracle I still have ankles.

I drove through the neighborhood where we’d lived in two different houses, both of which we’d rented after returning from a few years of living in Casper, Wyoming. At one of them I was tasked with delivering the rent check to our landlords who lived a few doors down. I hated this job because I went to high school with the daughter. She was a senior to my sophomore, probably didn’t even know who I was, but I was so embarrassed by this duty. I got mad at my dad once, announcing that I wouldn’t do it anymore. He calmly took the check from me and delivered it himself, saying, “There’s nothing shameful in paying your bills.” I never made another fuss. Well, not about that.

I remembered his beloved dogs who’d leap up from a dead sleep when they heard his car about a mile away, waiting in the doorway, tails going 90mph, exploding with joy when he stepped into the house.

I wonder if Dad felt as I did, entering our houses. No matter what had happened that day, when I got home and closed the door behind me, I was safe. Nothing bad ever happened here. It was King’s X. Home free. I made it through another exhausting and drama-filled day of school and could finally remove my mask and let down my guard.

I thought about all the kitchen tables in all those houses, no matter how big, no matter how small, no matter the city. We gathered, eating simple but delicious home-cooked meals, and stayed long after our plates were empty, engrossed in long, lively conversations, often concocted by Dad. He’d lob random topics for discussion — cows are better than pigs for society … Shakespeare didn’t write those plays … there’s no good music anymore … women shouldn’t drive. As God is my witness, I was a full-grown adult before I realized he didn’t really believe cows were better than pigs or that women shouldn’t drive. It was just his way to get us to think, choose a position and defend it. He was a grand poobah Toastmaster from early on, and he gently forced those lessons on us. I went through a teenage phase where I could barely speak because when I did, he’d hold up fingers to count my “ums” or “y’knows.” Devastatingly effective.

I drove past the site of my first job, where Dad would pick me up after we closed at 9pm. I was learning to drive and he’d have me drive home. Once, I drove all the way without my lights on, Dad sitting calmly next to me, waiting for me to realize. When I pulled into the driveway, completely clueless, he said, “Pretty dark out. I wonder why they don’t make some sort of apparatus on cars that can light your way in the dark.”

I passed streets where so many of my friends lived, thinking about the countless times Dad picked me up when I called him to come get me. No questions asked. If I called, he was there. I wonder now if I ever really thanked him for all the times he did my bidding like that. Probably not.

He told me once that whenever he got those weird hang-up calls in the middle of the night, he always thought it was one of us needing him. Forget the fact we were all adults with families of our own. I’d laughed and said, “I live in Colorado. What would I need from you in Arizona in the middle of the night?” He shrugged. “I dunno. But I always answer.”

And he always did.

I hope he knew I was grateful for the little things as well as the big things. Those rides, those backyard games of pickle, those dinner conversations. Encouraging me to go to college when he didn’t understand the process or have the money. Being there for dinner every night. Knocking nurses out of his way to reach me when I was crying from the anesthetic at the oral surgeon, despite his lifelong fear of dentists. All he knew was that I was unhappy and he needed to make sure I was okay.

I can’t remember ever specifically saying thank you, but maybe I did in Father’s Day cards, or those long, long conversations we’d have when I went to visit him in Arizona after he retired. Or maybe he just knew, like fathers do.

My father’s house has many rooms.

I walked inside, assaulted by the cheap cigar aroma that permeated everything, right down to my mitochondria. After I die, and they’re doing an autopsy on me, the coroner and his assistant will have this conversation.

Coroner: Do you smell that? What is it?

Assistant: Grape flavored cigarillos.

Coroner: Grape?

Assistant: Yes. A tasty and unusual smoke. Sixty for the low, low price of $29.95. They were only sold to an old man in Colorado. He used them to torture his children.

Standing in the center of the living room, it was hard to realize he wouldn’t ever again sit in his recliner in the corner, dropping ashes into the plastic trashcan next to it. He was consistently nonplussed about setting it on fire, which happened more than once.

Dad lived in Prescott, AZ for many years, volunteering as a docent at the Phippen Art Museum, where he collected western art and schmoozed with the artists. It didn’t matter if the artists were famous or not; if he liked an artist’s style, he’d buy their art and champion them. On his walls hung all of his art, much of it in the living room. Forget thoughtful placement of these paintings — if there was space on his walls, it hung.

My father’s house has many rooms.

The kitchen. More art. His huge dry erase board where he noted Toastmaster meetings, outings with his friends and family, concert tickets. I noticed that even though it was March, it still showed October events, which broke my heart, this diminished life he was living. The corkboard held reminders for dentist and doctor appointments, long past, for which he most assuredly did not present himself. Cookbooks that he rarely cooked from but read as if they were the deepest, most moving literature. The big glass bowl in the center of his table, a repository for restaurant coupons and reviews clipped from the newspaper, notes to himself, and oddly, a large vintage photo of his father. Whenever anyone was visiting within spitting distance of lunch or dinner time, he’d fish out the coupons and ask, “Where are we going?” while calling out the names of restaurants and the deal they were offering.

This is where the cabinet fell off the wall one day, crashing down and spewing glasses, vases, and coffee cups all the way across the kitchen.

He told me about it on the phone one day.

Me: Wow, Dad. Good thing it was during the day instead of the middle of the night. What did you do?

Dad: Waited for the housecleaner to clean it up.

Me: He happened to be there?

Dad: No. Came on Friday.

Me: I thought you said this happened Tuesday.

Dad: Yeah.

Me:

Dad, annoyed: What?

I wandered into the spare room where I’d spent many a night visiting him. I passed his collection of horny toad art above the table where his gallon can of wood stain lived and thrived for at least three years. Maybe it was yet another art installation. If art is meant to make you ask questions, then it most certainly was.

I stuck my head into the guest bathroom to pay homage to his flock of shampoos from many years of his travels. God forbid you try and use one, though. No. Better to remain dirty-haired than to get The Look. *shudders just thinking about it*

The guest room also houses his record albums, cassette tapes, CDs, and DVDs. He has all the movies you’d expect an 88-year-old man to have, but also a big box set of “Friends” episodes. Go figure.

Dad loved musicals, and I suspect that’s why I do, too. I remember in about 1970 he took us to one of the big theaters in town to see the movie musical “Scrooge.” I still watch it every Christmas. The first stage show I saw was also courtesy of my dad. “1776” at the Air Force Academy. I was hooked.

Dad’s favorite show is “Phantom of the Opera” which is probably my least favorite show. So screechy. We argued about it constantly. But he told me how much he identified with the Phantom, always feeling a bit out-of-place. He told me how nervous he was around women in high school, which I found completely endearing. I also thought it was crazy, because I’ve seen him chat up everybody everywhere with an ease that would make George Clooney jealous. But it’s hard to shed those imprinted ideas of ourselves, I guess.

Dad went to Ireland a lot … A LOT … and it seemed he always ran into this one girl — Shirley at Bunratty Castle. They serve a medieval dinner there with madrigal singers and such, and he absolutely fell in love with her. I was with him on one of these trips and he pointed her out to me. I nudged him to go say hi to her and it might have been the one and only time I saw him blush. Two of my sisters traveled with him another time when his knees wouldn’t let him go up the stairs of the castle. They saw Shirley and she came down to say hello to my father. I’m sure it made him blush for three weeks straight.

Pictures do not do his office justice. Dad had a lot of stuff, but he was organized about it. His books organized by colored sticker; all his Ireland (green) and Scotland (orange) travel books in one area, for instance, on shelves made of sturdy, practical, unadorned and unpretentious bricks and boards. His file cabinet jammed with his speeches and stories. His closet with Santa suits he donned for office parties and children’s organizations. His typewriter at the ready, much more friendly and useful than the computer whose only purpose was to infuriate him. Everywhere you look are trophies, awards and accolades from a life full of accomplishment and effort.

As western art covered the living and dining areas, family photos covered the walls of his bedroom. He loved his family fiercely, but privately. No gushing for him. Just the rock solid notion that we were his and he was ours.

Everywhere my glance landed around the house, I saw my dad. His personality, his desires, his accomplishments, and yes, his cigar seeped into every corner, every fiber, every surface.

My father’s house has many rooms.

I’m the 7th of 8 kids. Dad did his best to give us each our own rooms whenever possible in the various houses we lived in. Problem was, he wasn’t very handy. He created a warren of rickety, makeshift walls from cheap wood paneling in several basements I can remember. I suspect the subsequent owners of those houses dismantled everything before letting their own children inside, disposing of what they probably surmised was some sort of tenement hovel for ill-clad and ill-treated house elves. But no. It was just our bedrooms. Made by our Dad. Never with a door, though, because hinges are hard.

My father’s house has many rooms.

Grief is an interesting phenomenon. Dad’s death was not unexpected and not unwelcomed. He was tired of living. Everything hurt. Everything was difficult. His life had caved in on itself and he was done.

Despite this, I burst into great heaving sobs yesterday when I realized he’d never see the dedication to him in the new series of mysteries I was writing set in the world of crossword puzzles. I knew as soon as I had the idea that these would be dedicated to him, an avid cruciverbalist who didn’t believe a puzzle was solved until it was solved in ink. When I finally made the leap from pencil to pen, he never said so, but I’m sure I went up a couple of notches in his esteem.

But in the middle of these great heaving sobs I started to laugh because Dad would never have read my crossword puzzle mysteries anyway. “I don’t read fiction,” he’d say with a shrug.

When he was in the hospital, my siblings and I each tried to come up with two words to describe him. Mine were “stubborn and that-treat-that-has-the-hard-cookie-on-the-bottom-and-that-gooey-marshmallow-center-and-the-crunchy-chocolate-coating-on-top.”

Others were: grumpy, sentimental, Archie Bunker, hilarious, generous, gregarious, aloof, donkey-headed, puppy-hearted, hibernophile, bibliophile, affable loner.

His time in the hospital (his hospice was in the hospital, not at home) was frustrating for him. We kept telling him he could go, there was no unfinished business here, we loved him and he was free to go on his next adventure. One time he opened his eyes, glared at me and said, “Do you think I’m not trying?”

But as frustrating as it all was, he was still hilarious. My husband and son brought a bottle of very expensive whiskey, a recreation of a long-lost recipe, and glasses to share one final shot with him. He accepted his glass, looked my husband in the eye and said, “I’m DYING here and you bring me a BLEND??”

There’s got to be a better way to die, to honor these brave and marvelous people in our lives. Watching them fade away, often in pain, is not it.

Some people will disagree with me, believing that every minute on earth is precious, and that’s fine, but I am not one of them.

He was so excited when Colorado passed assisted suicide legislation, but he couldn’t take advantage of it. Apparently, untreated diabetes is not on the approved list of terminal illnesses. Go figure.

If Dad could have sat down with the legislators, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been long before they’d see things his way because he touched everyone he met. His housecleaner told me, “It was a pleasure and a blessing to have known him. I so enjoyed our conversations.” His travel agent said, “I fell for him right away. He was so unique and I appreciated him.” His hospice nurse told us she never cries on the job, but she cried over the loss of our dad.

I wish you could have met him. He’d have loved meeting you.

Goodbye, Dad

 

 

 

You were once my one companion
You were all that mattered
You were once a friend and father
Then my world was shattered

Wishing you were somehow here again
Wishing you were somehow near
Sometimes it seemed if I just dreamed
Somehow you would be here

Wishing I could hear your voice again
Knowing that I never would
Dreaming of you won’t help me to do
All that you dreamed I could

Passing bells and sculpted angels
Cold and monumental

Seem for you the wrong companions
You were warm and gentle

Too many years
Fighting back tears
Help me say goodbye

John 14:2

in domo Patris mei mansiones multae sunt si quo minus dixissem vobis quia vado parare vobis locum

in my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you

March Murder Madness

How to play March Murder Madness

  1. To begin, download the March Murder Madness form here.
  2. Choose your winner in the 1 and 2 face-off and type the number in the red box.
  3. Do the same for 3 and 4 all the way through 15 and 16
  4. Then choose your winner in the next round of face-offs until you end up with your final choice in the WINNER square
  5. Save it
  6. Email Becky@BeckyClarkBooks.com. Attach your saved bracket with all the squares filled in. Put “March Murder Madness” in the subject line.
  7. The official winning brackets will be determined randomly

Fine, Becky, but what might I win??

If you’re one of the first three entries emailed that match the winning individual brackets, you will receive a coveted fab and funny BeckyClarkBooks pen!

If you are the first entry emailed that matches ALL the brackets, you are the Grand Prize Winner! You will receive two coveted fab and funny BeckyClarkBooks pens AND a copy of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS!

In the event nobody matches ALL the brackets, the Grand Prize will go to the first entry emailed with the most matching brackets.

So, get those brackets filled out and emailed PRONTO! The time stamp on my receipt of your email could determine whether you win or lose.

Contest runs March 16, 2019 to March 23, 2019. Winners will be notified soon after that at the email you used for entry.

Here’s the metaphorical small print … contest is open to U.S. residents only, 21 years or older. This is just a fun way to interact with my readers and offer some small tokens of my esteem. Regardless of how you heard about it, this contest is in no way affiliated with WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform. It’s just me being me.

So if you’re down with all that … download this interactive PDF, fill out your brackets and get it emailed to me ASAP!

* * * * *

In the event you can’t make the PDF work, print it out, fill it out by hand, take a photo of it and email the photo back to me. (And don’t even consider contacting me with technical questions, because I won’t be able to answer them. The only advice I’d have for you is to go eat some chocolate then try again, however many times feels right.)

* * * * *

Have fun!

Becky’s Big Bodacious Box O’Books and Purse Giveaway

Win fabulous signed books from

PLUS one of my handmade book purses!

The more actions you complete, the more entries you earn. A few of them you can do every day to rack up points!

I’m editing this on March 7th to add that due to oh, about forty-leven gazillion emails from people about how much they love those purses, I’ve made an executive decision to add more winners!

If at least 50 people share this post before the contest ends, I’ll offer a SECOND prize of one purse to a random winner. And if I get 100 shares, I’ll offer a THIRD prize of another purse to yet another random winner! So share away … even if you don’t want to win, you have a friend who does!

Ends on March 30 … Good Luck!

 

Becky’s Big Bodacious Box O’ Books and Purse Giveaway

Tap Dancing Fool

I’ve wanted to tap dance forever, it seems.

Musicals make me swoon with joy at the dance numbers. Those flying feet, the percussion, the precision. I wanted to do it so bad.

As a kid, though, I don’t remember even asking if I could take lessons. Maybe I didn’t even realize that was a thing. Maybe I knew there was no money for that. Or maybe I was afraid to find out I was no good at it and would never be another Shirley Temple.

But I’m old now, and have my own money and a car to get myself to lessons. I also try to do things that scare me these days.

As the Ghost of Christmas Present says to Ebenezer Scrooge, “There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember, time is short, and suddenly, you’re not here anymore.”

In early summer of 2016, I was at a party and a friend of mine mentioned that she had been taking beginning tap lessons at our local arts center. I perked up immediately. The more she talked, and the more I drank, the more eager I became.

I bought some black lace-up taps shoes and registered for the next 6-week session. I wasn’t very good and the class wasn’t really a start-at-the-beginning kinda thing. The same people (mostly middle-aged women like me) just kept signing up and so the instructor just moved ’em all along and tried to drag the rest of us newbies with them.

The few sessions I took were hella fun, though, and I learned lots of basic steps. We did some routines that I could mostly follow along with, as long as I stood in the back where I could see someone who could actually remember all the steps. After a time, I even managed a passable time step!

But in the autumn, I started having weird pains in my back, which, long story short, turned out to be that pesky tumor in my spine. I went under the knife almost exactly two years ago today.

Cut to — I can say that because I watch movies — a couple of weeks ago. I’m still feeling the effects of surgery, which mainly manifests as numbness in my left leg. I thought it would be gone by now (heck, I thought it would be gone about ten minutes after surgery because I’m delusional like that!), but it’s not. So I thought, “Screw it. That ghost is right. Time IS short.”

The arts center still offers adult tap lessons, but they are at a completely inconvenient time for me, so I started searching for online resources. Lo and behold, I found one!

For the cost of two sessions at the arts center, I bought this online tutorial package. I can do the lessons in my basement whenever it works for me and go back over the stuff I find difficult.

There’s also a Facebook group for the subscribers of the class and it’s inspiring and encouraging to see the videos they post, and to hear their stories.

So far, I’ve only been doing the warm-up, which I can alllllmost do — *shakes fist at paradiddles* — and the first lesson, which was a breeze up until the end. And then the delightfully optimistic Aussie instructor told me to go faster. Which is hilarious. Partly because I’m not that graceful, partly because my numb foot doesn’t always do what I say, and partly because my balance is iffy sometimes.

But guess what? I’m tapping! And it’s fun. Maybe there will be videos of my progress, yanno, when I progress!

What have you always wanted to do? What’s stopping you? Can you tap dance? Any tips to help me speed up?

The Journey of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS

I finished copyedits for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS 10 days before the deadline … yay, me!

funny mysteriesNormally I work on a mini-trampoline at a stand-up desk, but as you can see here, I needed to spread out for the task at hand.

My production editor mailed me a paper copy of my manuscript that she already triaged for the most egregious mistakes I made. (She also emailed me this as a PDF so I could see what she corrected. I should use this as a learning tool, but I prefer to live in a world of denial.)

She also emailed me a Word document with her comments highlighted. Most of these were questions and clarifications, places where I might have contradicted myself, instances where she was confused by something I said.

In the photo, you can see the page proofs in front of my computer. Each page is set up like how it will look in the actual book. On the screen is the Word Doc with her comments.

I noted where her first comment was, then read on my paper copy from page one up to that comment. If I had any changes I wanted to make (typos or changing a word or phrase), I wrote them in pencil on my paper copy. When I got to her comment, I dealt with it, again, writing any changes on my paper copy.

This time I was smart. I also wrote the online page number on my paper copy because it’s never the same, a problem I grappled with during copyedits for FICTION CAN BE MURDER. Often, she’ll have the same continuity issue in several places in the Word doc. If I make the change on page 47, but it also comes up on page 112 and 163, I will have to search and search for that change. This time, I was working on the paper copy so I could fix all three pages up front. This was a little flash of brilliance on my part. (It would really be something to brag about if I’d remembered to note in her comments on pages 112 and 163 that I’d already taken care of them so when I got there I wouldn’t be, you know, searching and searching. We live. We learn. Hopefully.)

So I did that all the way through; reading the paper copy, responding to the online notes and making other changes along the way.

This took me 14 hours and 40 minutes, over 5 days from December 17 – December 27, 2018.

Then I typed all the changes from my paper copy into the Word doc with her notes, again, making tweaks as I went. I’m sure I made new and exciting mistakes as well.

This took me 3 hours and 30 minutes, on December 27th and 28th.

Then I let it sit for a couple of days while I drank heavily.

On December 31, 2018 I started early and read the whole thing on my laptop while sitting in my living room. That’s really the only way to catch flow, pacing, continuity, and echo problems. Again, I made some minor changes as I read.

This took me 6 hours and 20 minutes. Because it’s careful reading that requires a lot of concentration, and because my butt goes numb, I got up and moved around every hour when my timer dinged.

I wrote the dedication and the acknowledgments, checked the bio they already had, and then sent it off.

In a couple of weeks my production editor will look at all the new brilliance and harm I’ve done to the manuscript, deal with everything she needs to, and then send me a new copy. I’ll have a chance to read it over one last time, but I’ll only have a few days to do so before it goes into production.

For those of you keeping score at home, here’s the timeline for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS —

The first draft was written in 20 days between October 3 – November 4, 2016.

  • 163 pages
  • 43,907 words
  • 41.25 hours
  • 1,065 words per hour, average
  • 2 hours per day

The first edit was done in 6 days between November 7 – 29, 2016.

  • 12 hours
  • 2 hours per day

I typed in all the changes over 4 days (7 hours total) between November 29 – December 2, 2016.

I let it rest, then re-read it and made more changes over 3 days (6 hours total) between December 7 – December 9, 2016.

Then I really let it rest while I recovered from spinal surgery and got FICTION CAN BE MURDER ready to launch (April 2018).

I picked it up again on January 8, 2018 and did another revision over 13.5 hours and called it done on January 12, 2018.

“Done,” of course, being an ambiguous term in the writing world. It’s also why I always laugh when people ask, “How long did it take to write your book?”

But it’s up for pre-order now and will be published on April 8, 2019!

mystery with humor

 

 

Money and Funny

I had two books going recently, one nonfiction and one fiction.

the business of writing

SCRATCH was a mostly fascinating collection of essays from writers of all stripes talking about the money part of writing. You know, making a living.

As Vladimir Nabokov said, “I write for my pleasure, but publish for money.” As J. Robert Lennon remarks in his essay, “this philosophy seems unambiguously useful: fiscally pragmatic and mojo-positive.”

Money is something we don’t really discuss, which in her essay Choire Sicha might be because “writers cleave off from the real world, where math actually exists. Many of us gleefully profess an incompetence with all kinds of numeric systems, up to and including taxes. If you ever want to see something sad, ask a room full of freelance writers about their tax strategies. It’s like asking a pack of baby kittens about space travel.”

But the most illuminating one for me was the interview with Cheryl Strayed in which she speaks very candidly about her money issues. She describes being on tour promoting her wildly successful bestseller, WILD, and having her rent check bounce.

I don’t think most writers understand the money part of publishing, and I’m sure non-writers don’t. This book can fix that.

The second book I just finished was from my friend Gretchen Archer.

funny mysteries

She writes an absolutely hilarious series of capers set in the world of casinos. DOUBLE DOG DARE is her latest, but I suggest you begin with her first and savor your way through.

Crossword Cozies

I’m cogitating over a new cozy mystery series set in the world of crossword puzzles so I’ve started learning how to make them.

Guess what?

It’s haaaard!

I complete the easy King crossword and the progressively harder NYT puzzle printed every day in the Denver Post. Well, not every day. I haven’t attempted the Sunday NYT and I cheat my way through the one on Saturday.

I’m pretty good at solving the puzzles, so I assumed (yeah, I know) that it wouldn’t be a huge leap to flip it and start creating them.

I begin with a 15×15 blank grid. There are rules you have to abide by. You can only have a maximum of 38 black squares and a maximum of 78 words, only 20 of which can be 3-letter words.

Crossword puzzles must have rotational symmetry, meaning that you can turn the page upside down and the puzzle grid looks exactly the same. Luckily, the software takes care of this chore for me. So if I put a black space in the top row, the fourth from the left, there will also be one in the bottom row the fourth from the right.

The “entries” are the words in the puzzle. The “slots” are where those words go. The “clues” are the hints you give so the solvers can put the right entries into the right slots.

Puzzles usually have themes, whether you see them or not, and they also need symmetry. Say my theme is “Murder.” There are a lot of words for murder: slaughter, assassinate, run through, decapitate, asphyxiate, disembowel, exterminate, pump full of lead. But I can’t use them all. First, because that’s too many and I wouldn’t be able to find entries for the rest of the grid. But also because of symmetry.

“Slaughter” has 9 letters, “pump full of lead” has 14, “assassinate” and “exterminate” both have 11 and the rest all have 10.

Right off the bat I know I can’t use “slaughter” because it has no corresponding length word. You must have a black square after each of your theme words, so here’s what would happen if I tried to pair these two.

And I can’t use “pump full of lead” because it has 14 letters, problematic in a 15×15 grid.

Seems okay …. until you add the black space at the end. No symmetry!

So I’ll choose assassinate, exterminate, run through, and disembowel as my theme words.

That’s the beginning of my puzzle. And my headache. Next I have to start placing more black squares to break up long slots and to make the puzzle look pretty. Then comes the filling of the grid, which takes a lot of trial and error. Mostly error for me. I’ll talk about that more when I get better at it. When you have real words in all the slots, then you write the clues. Punnier, more obscure clues make for a more difficult puzzle, but I don’t know how to gauge the difficulty level yet.

Did I mention this was haaaaard??

How ’bout you? Do you like to solve crossword puzzles? Would you read a mystery series set in the world of puzzling? What clever name would you bestow upon said crossword series?

I’m Hearing Voices

I rarely re-read books.

The exceptions are

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because I love her with my whole heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because The SantaLand Diaries is pretty close to perfect writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because I read this book as a young teenager and it cast a spell on me that appears to be unbreakable.

And now I can add

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to my list.

I read it when it came out in 2017 and a member of my book club chose it for our December 2018 read. The second time through I was able to savor it, letting the prose weave through my thoughts, finding new nooks and crannies to settle in.

Eleanor Oliphant gives new meaning to the term “socially awkward.” She’s a mulligan stew of hilarity, practicality, and heartbreak … and so much more.

I love the story, but it’s on my list to re-read because of a couple of things the author, Gail Honeyman, does really well.

The first thing is backstory. I won’t give anything away, but Eleanor has a secret. Honeyman dribbles just the right amount of information the reader needs at just the right time. ‘Nuff said about that, lest I spoil it. You’ll see when you read it.

But the second thing the author does is much more difficult. And that is capturing Eleanor’s voice.

Talking about voice in writing can be nebulous. Like art or pornography, you can’t define it precisely, but you know it when you see it.

Voice has different levels and different meanings.

First, there’s the writer’s voice. The writing of Ernest Hemingway doesn’t sound anything like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Janet Evanovich doesn’t sound anything like John Grisham. Dr Seuss doesn’t sound anything like Emily Dickinson.

Each author chooses certain words and rhythms to their writings. I bet you can search the depth and breadth of Fitzgerald’s works and never find him describing anyone as a “mulligan stew.” Nor will I ever write anything resembling, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I use a lot of sentence fragments when I write, anathema to some. Hemingway rarely varies his sentence pattern, anathema to me. But that’s an entirely different blog post. Fight me later.

Second, there’s the actual voice of the character. Some people have foreign or regional accents. Some drop the G at the end of a word. Some speak fast, some s l o w. Some have a squeaky soprano, some a basso profundo. Eleanor Oliphant is Scottish and that creeps in every so often. The first time I heard The SantaLand Diaries was on NPR, read by the author, David Sedaris. He has a very distinctive voice and I haven’t read anything of his since without hearing his words in his voice.

Then, the heart of a character, who they are. And that is shown by everything they say, how they say it, what they don’t say.

This is the voice that Gail Honeyman excels at with Eleanor Oliphant.

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t take long to get a sense of Eleanor, does it? While it might be infuriating to hang out with her as a real person, I love spending time with fictional Eleanor.

I could listen to her voice for hours.

What are some other voices that have stuck with you over the years?