Lazy Peas and Other Cues


While in college I took French to satisfy the foreign language requirement for my degree.  One of my instructors relayed a story of his first trip to France back in the early 1970’s.  A group he visited with was curious what it was like back in America, and at one point they asked him about, what sounded like, “lazy peas.”

He contemplated this for a few seconds and questioned his fluency in the language.  Laissez pees?  That still didn’t make sense.  And then it dawned on him.  They were asking about les hippies, known in English as the hippies.

Using a foreign language in writing can add authenticity to a story if a character is from another culture.  But the writer will need to make some decisions.  Should you stick to well-known terms like oui (pronounced wee for you non-French readers)?  Dare you throw in something most readers won’t understand?

Like any good crime, that will depend on your motivation.  If you just want to add color to a character or the setting, use familiar words or brief phrases.  Or have another character respond in the native language of the story, thereby divulging that lazy peas spoken of aren’t meant for human consumption.

Maybe you do want to impart some mystery (although readers of that language won’t be stymied).  But since a mystery is meant to be solved, you’ll need to make the meaning apparent at some point.

You can also establish a set-up for using terms in another language.  For example, in Wail of the Tempest, Alexia is a Cajun and bilingual.  She makes a comment about somebody getting the fremeers, and translates to the reader it means “getting the willies.”  Later in the story she has an unpleasant interaction with someone that gives her the fremeers.  The reader has already been acquainted with that term and understands what it means.

As in all good writing, if it doesn’t add to the story, don’t use it.  Otherwise the readers will just be confused by lazy peas running around, and they’re baffling to many people as it is.


Maniacal Ravings of a Lunatic Mind


Folks will sometimes ask writers where they get the ideas for their stories.  The answers can be as varied as the people who give them.  Whether it be news stories, articles, or personal experiences, anything can spark an idea.  I like to misquote Dante:  “I am, therefore I think.”

The real challenge is coming up with stories other people want to read.  Now it’s true that the best writing can be something the author would like to read, and authors are people, too (gasp!).  But how do you determine if a story has momentum or you’ve just grown close to it because the characters have become your imaginary friends?

(Confession:  I have lots of those.)

Multi-culturalism and genre-blending are the trends these days, but the constant that remains in good story telling is creating a conflict that draws readers in and keeps them wanting to find out what happens next.

The point of contention doesn’t have to always be a life-or-death scenario.  If the characters become imaginary friends to the readers, you’ve developed another incentive to keep them turning the pages (or swiping the screen).  Internal conflict is something we can all identify with, while outsmarting aliens is a bit foreign to most of us.

Would others want to read your story?  Back away from your creation and contemplate it as someone just passing through, looking for something to intrigue them.  If somebody else wrote this, would you still want to read it?

Yes, it’s a subjective exercise, which is why you hear accounts of best-selling authors getting rejected up-teen times before some publisher realizes that manuscript is gold.  Of course, if we could all agree on what we like and dislike, that would probably just make it easier for the aliens to dominate us.

If you should decide, “Hmm, that might not really fly,” don’t give up.  Maybe it would work in combination with another idea.  Maybe it can still provide a seed for a completely different story.  As long as you’re capable of cooking up aliens as imaginary friends (or worst enemies?), you can always serve up a story.

Shades of Night


With a tightened throat and knotted stomach, Dooley sat astride his smoky black steed and gazed at the charred debris of the retirement home.  He told himself he should have taken a different route home, but he came this way because it was most familiar to him, and he’d been distracted with unsettled thoughts.

Like many other buildings in town, the scorched rubble was piled among the jagged walls.  Earlier that day, when he’d first ridden into the city limits, the acrid reek and shattered structures caused a chill to ripple through him.  It wasn’t difficult to determine how their destruction must have come about, prompting him to offer invocatory pleas as he headed to this location earlier today.

A natural gas line ran through the town.  Odds were the disaster that collapsed the electrical grid four days ago set off a power surge that ignited the fuel.  And the retirement home was on that line.

He’d come here to get his dad and return home.

Taking a hard swallow and then a deep breath, Dooley swung his attention back to the road littered with defunct vehicles.  Many of them were damaged by the explosions, and any pumps at surviving gas stations were inoperative anyway.

A second horse, an aging buckskin mare with an empty saddle and a lead rope secured to his back rigging, followed in close formation.  His final companion was a black, mixed-mutt hound with a white striped face.  She patrolled back and forth and around him according to what scent stirred her interest, but she also provided part of his security.

Before he left home a day and a half ago, Dooley and his wife discussed if he should make it obvious that he was armed while making this trek.  Perhaps his tall frame, broad shoulders and two-day stubble might make him look more formidable than he considered himself, but he wouldn’t want to bet on it.

He decided against attempting to conceal the varmint rifle wedged in a scabbard near his knee.  It might intimidate potential combatants and wouldn’t make any difference to snipers.

Yet despite all his planning, he was returning home with the goal unfulfilled.  He didn’t dare mourn until he was settled in for the night, when vision blurred by tears wouldn’t be so large a handicap.

Earlier, when he asked around town about the welfare of the home’s residents in his hope against hope Dad had escaped that devastation, he could sense the simmering distrust from some of the locals.  Leastways, he preferred it be wariness and not scheming.  He made it a point not to divulge any travel details.

The dog wandered closer to the retirement home than he could tolerate.  “Virgie!  Come along!”

Before twilight he veered his entourage into a patch of forest where no fence barred the way nor was any house in sight from the road.  But he still pushed beyond the crest of the hill and set up a cold camp in the hollow between it and the next ridge.  A vacant pasture lay nearby, so Dooley hobbled the horses after removing their tack and allowed them to graze while he finished establishing his hobo estate.

As dusk approached he sat on a fallen log and rubbed the hound’s ears while he waited to see if the phenomenon that had been occurring since the disaster would make its appearance again.

It did.

Like an ethereal curtain, the shimmering glow of green and red materialized in the heavens.  In over forty years he’d seen the northern lights twice.  Both times it had been nothing more than a hazy, red glow in the sky, which was normal when it made an appearance in the Ozarks.  Now the display was incredibly beautiful … and just as ominous.

For the aurora borealis to dazzle this far south, the solar eruption that collided with the Earth’s magnetic shield must have been a real humdinger.  According to the news stories he heard before the electricity went out, the effects had been happening throughout the globe.

When the lights went out here also, he was glad to have warning the event was large enough that plans needed to be made accordingly.  His wife agreed with him that he should go and get his father out of the retirement home to live with them on the farm.  But the news also spooked plenty of people, which made his journey more dangerous than it would have otherwise been.

Virgie straightened and gazed toward the direction of the road.  Dooley placed his hand on the rifle beside him.

The world had gotten scarier, not that it had been dripping with bunnies and butterflies to begin with.  But other people were cognizant that more hard times were ahead, and some of them would use that knowledge to justify major violations.

Something moved at the crest of the hill, and he tightened his clasp on the gun.  Virgie hopped to her feet, but he gripped her collar with his other hand.  She whined with anticipation.

To his relief, he realized it was a raccoon.  The intruder didn’t return the sentiment.  It froze for a couple of seconds before springing away in the direction it had come.  Virgie tugged against her collar with a yip, but he commanded her to sit.

The aurora’s brightness had enabled him to see their brief visitor, and Dooley pondered the irony of the situation.  The day was ending and night was beginning, yet the dimming that usually descended at this time was restrained by the celestial lightshow.  But he knew the incident causing that light would plunge this world into darkness beyond visual perception.

As he pulled the hound closer and crooked an arm around her neck, he drew a deep breath to quiet the persistent trembling in his stomach.  Yes, deep gloom was in store for them, but as always it had to end when the sun rose and light returned.

He just had focus on making it through the night by remembering dawn would return one way or another.  And when that happened, it would bring the promise that home always did lie ahead.


It wasn’t my intention to do this, but when I learned the prompt word for this month’s #BlogBattle was Dusk, it got me thinking about impending darkness and transitions.  So a side story to my book Darkness upon the Land came to mind.

Don’t worry, I won’t write book-related stories every month!


Read the Postscript


I try to keep these blogs as brief as possible.

The End

P.S.  Storytelling shouldn’t be sacrificed in the name of brevity.  The length can ebb and wane as it gets perfected.  For instance, during the draft I might write something like this:

The dog was mean.

Brief and to the point, huh?  It’s also imprecise and unimaginative.  So on the first rewrite it could wind up re-rendered into something like this:

The dog lunged against its chain and foam spewed from its mouth as it snarled at any people who passed by.

Now you can form a mental image.  But this version is still rough around the edges and could use some improvement.  Further rewriting could make it wind up as this:

Foam spewed from the Pekingese’s mouth as it lunged against the chain to hurl yaps at passersby.

Not only is the sentence more concise, but your imagery just got upended, huh?

While we’re on the topic of keeping it brief, the next post is going to be a short story I’m submitting for this month’s #BlogBattle.  It’s been a while since I’ve written fiction with fewer than 80,000 words, so this could prove interesting.

Maybe I’ll title it The Dog Was Mean.  Or maybe not….

Brief Announcement


For any Smashwords readers (or those who would like to become one), the two books of the End of an Age series that are currently available are being offered at a discount during their Read an Ebook Week sale.

Until March 9, the first volume, Darkness upon the Land, will be available for FREE.  The second volume, Wail of the Tempest, will be 50% off.

Don’t miss out on this limited time offer!

Click the button below to get started:

4. Fresh - Read an Ebook Week[1]

Devil in the Details


One evening while tagging along with hubby on a conference, we were visiting with the other people at our dinner table when it came up that I was a writer.

“Oh?”  One gentleman perked up.  “Our daughter writes books, too.”

“Really?”  I wondered if this was anybody I’d read or would like to read.  “What books has she written?”

“We don’t know.  She won’t tell us.”

The gears in my mind started to slip.  “You can’t find them by her name?”

“She uses a pseudonym and she won’t tell us what it is.”

The gears slid even more.  “Do you know what kind of books she writes?”

“Yeah, they’re romance novels.”

“Oh.”  I smiled as the gears got traction again.  “That’s a lucrative market to write for.”

I did NOT say, “I get it now.  She writes bodice-rippers and she’s embarrassed to have her parents read them.”

Writers are familiar with the mantra “Show, don’t tell,” but how much showing is too much?  Obviously some genres will dictate those parameters, but other genres will give the author more wiggle room.  At that point, considering what your audience wants is beneficial, but your personal preference will also come into play.

In the years of honing my craft, I’ve written something pertaining to every genre out there.  But upon deciding to get serious about publishing, one matter I made up my mind on was that I wouldn’t produce anything that would make my mother blush.  That meant when I wrote Darkness upon the Land, the first book in the End of an Age series, I had to get creative.

A coronal mass ejection causes electrical grid (and everything related) failure that plunges society into chaos.  That means rioters and raiders use foul language and blood gets spilt.

My protagonists don’t cuss (although the hero will occasionally let one fly, but only in appropriate occasions), so I was able to use them as a filter for the language.  By techniques such as describing someone’s dialogue referencing indiscriminate carnal relations, the point gets across without using the actual words.

The physical conflicts needed description, but going into detail on all the organic sounds and smells weren’t necessary (I also don’t want to make Mom gag).  Shots were fired, the blood landed somewhere, and the characters dropped in certain ways.  ‘Nuff said.

Sometimes in writing, less can be more.  Striking that perfect balance is mental gymnastics that can feel like wrestling with inner demons.  On the other hand, creative crafting can be quite fun.