What Writers Can Do With Catalogues

ll bean catalogue
 
I get a lot of junk mail. In November and December, I sometimes think I must be on every catalogue mailing list in the country! I’m a recycler big time. But the mantra is reuse, repurpose, and recycle. I don’t know how a catalogue can be reused, but I turned my thoughts to repurposeHow might writers use catalogues? Primarily as a character note.

 

What mailing lists a person is on can say a lot about character. Besides catalogues, solicitations for donations and ads are very telling. What sort of character gets solicited for CARE, American Cancer Society, the Audubon Society? What about the American Indian College Fund, St. Joseph’s Indian School, etc.?

 

pendleton catalogue
Catalogue purchases can reveal socio-economic status. Hammacher Schlemmer, world tour offerings, and Breakstone are not geared to people intending to meet basic needs—
—unless we’re talking about obsessions as a need.  People who get catalogues for computer gear, athletic wear, or books—and order from them—offer lots of possibilities. What about the person who orders yoga gear repeatedly but never does yoga?

 

And sometimes catalogues can cough up a plot device.

 

hammacher schlemmer catalogue
Consider the robot on the Hammacher Schlemmer cover. What might a sci-fi writer go with that? Or, considering magical realism: what if this toy gives the child recipient superpowers? What might a writer of erotica make of “the any surface full body massage pad”? What might a mystery writer make of “the best compact zoom binoculars”?

 

Advice to writers: View your catalogues, ads, solicitations, and other junk mail with a view to inspiration! And then recycle.
 
national geographic catalogue

Communicating Without Words: Campaign Lessons

You’re a writer—so for purposes of this blog, communicating without words means without dialogue. And there are many reasons you want to be able to do this. The presidential campaign offers several educational examples.

 

whsv scott inmate hillary trump
See full post at www.whsv.com
In Staunton, VA, for the Robert E. Lee High School Halloween, Principal Mark Rowicki dressed as presidential candidate Donald Trump, complete with Make America Great Again cap. Secretary Stephanie Corbett dressed as Hillary Clinton in “jail house orange” outfit, complete with a chain around her waist and a badge indicating she was inmate Clinton.

 

The costumes provoked a storm of comment, from those who claim they were just funny and timely costumes to those deeply offended and/or outraged. The latter say things like, “If they’d both dressed as presidential candidates, that would have been fine.” Or, “How dare they? Clinton has never been convicted of anything illegal!” Or, “How might the kids feel, seeing their principal dressed like a man who’s said he wants to deport them or their families?”

 

Lesson for writers: Having two or more characters absolutely committed to differing interpretations of the same event is an excellent way to build tension and conflict. And, BTW, consider what our clothing says about your character in general and in specific scenes.
donald trump hillary clinton candidate toilet paper
If you look online for “candidate toilet paper,” you will find a myriad of choices. There are several options for Clinton and Trump, but also other 2016 presidential candidates: Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney, among others. The version that says “Dump with Trump” claims to be humorous and appropriate for both Democrats and Republicans. The one picturing Hillary and Bill Clinton together says, “Not Again!” so the intention is clearer. The seller who urges customers to choose the candidate they hate the most is the most direct of all.

 

Seeing just the TP: funny, disgusting, disrespectful, disdainful? More than one of the above?

 

Lesson for writers: Even if you think the meaning is absolutely clear, there’s always room for differing opinions. In your stories, you need to make the context clear, and/or state the interpretation(s) you want the reader to consider.

 

Just for practice: List as many inanimate objects as you can that you think convey a clear and unequivocal attitude/character of the owner. Then ask someone else to read the list and see whether you get disagreements.

 

halloween hanging dummies
A Kendall, FL homeowner hung two dummies from a tree in his front yard for Halloween. (See Daily Mail for one complete article about this, or search online for Halloween effigies of hanged black men.) They are reminiscent of lynchings of real black people. Note the nearby sign supporting Trump for President. The fallout was immediate and widespread. The presumption was that the man who hung the dummies is publicly supporting Trump. Subsequently, a neighbor said the sign was hers.

 

Lesson for writers: When two things occur in close proximity in time and/or space, they often lead people to assume they are related. This is an especially effective device for mystery writers who want to introduce red herrings and/or lead the sleuth to solve the crime.

 

TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS: When it comes to plot devices, the presidential campaign is clearly the gift that keeps on giving!
 
oops did i roll my eyes out loud
For future consideration: The Loud Voice of Body Language!

Bicycle History to Celebrate UCI Road World Championships

In the beginning. . .

When my interest is piqued, of course I turn to research. A friend told me that the gift shop at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens has two books on the history of bicycle racing in Richmond. True confession: I did not buy them—but you might want to. In the meantime, I did go on-line. As usual, Wikipedia has a lengthy article on the history of the bicycle. You might also be interested in visiting the Smithsonian Institute website, for their series America on the Move. These include pictures. Also, A Pictorial History of the Evolution of the Bicycle has great pictures

I’ll share with you some of what I learned. First of all, the immediate ancestor of the bicycle was the Draisine, also called a Velocipede, Hobby Horse or Swift-Walker. It was designed by Baron von Drais in 1817 and looked like a bicycle, but had no pedals. So one moved by walking along, feet on the ground, while seated. It was made of wood, with iron bound wheels, and weighed nearly 50 pounds. Even so, speeds of eight miles per hour were feasible.

Draisine1817
By Wilhelm Siegrist (1797-1843?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although a two-wheeled bicycle with pedals may have been created as early as 1839, Pierre Lallement filed the earliest and only patent for a pedal-driven bicycle, in the US in 1866.

sketch for original pedal bicycle
Original pedal-bicycle. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

Soon after, in 1869, a pedal-bicycle was invented for ladies.

Velocipede for Ladies
Velocipede for Ladies by Pickering and Davis, New York. Engraving from Google’s scan of The velocipede: its history, varieties, and practice, author J. T. Goddard, page 85 in chapter Velocipedes for Ladies. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
A subsequent major development, the Ordinary or high-wheeler was first made abroad in 1869, and in the U.S in 1877. Depending on the length of the rider’s inner leg, the front wheel could have a diameter up to 5 feet! It was light-weight, fast, and dangerous. Because the rider’s weight was so high and so far forward, a bad patch in the road could cause the rider to “take a header” over the handlebars. The rider couldn’t fall free of the machine because his legs would be trapped under the handlebars. Broken wrists were common. And of course, death was possible. Women’s clothing as well as the social norms of the day made this “ordinary” bicycle unsuitable for women. Cycling became associated with reckless young men. Cycling clubs and races blossomed.

bicycle-ancestor-ordinary

The next major development came in 1885, when John Kemp Starley created—but never patented—the first successful “safety bicycle.” His improvements included a steerable front wheel, wheels of equal size, and a chain drive to the rear wheel. Bicycles became very popular for both work (commuting, deliveries, etc.) and pleasure uses. In 1895, Chicago put its mailmen on bicycles. The safety bicycle was the first bicycle suitable for women.

Whippet Safety Bicycle
Science museum [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A 1889 Lady's safety bicycle
A 1889 Lady’s safety bicycle. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

As far as I’m concerned, developments since then are all just tweaking! As the automobile became the preferred mode of individual transportation in the US, bicycles have been taken over for pleasure and exercise. As of the 1970s, cycling was the nation’s leading outdoor recreation. Still, bicycle messengers flourish in major US cities. In other parts of the world, the bicycle is still the “workhorse” of preference. In the People’s Republic of China, the Flying Pigeon was the government approved form of transportation, considered essential for every household, along with a sewing machine and a watch. In the 1970s, the post-Mao leader Deng Xiaoping defined prosperity as “a Flying Pigeon in every household”—which reminds me that in the presidential campaign of 1928, a circular published by the Republican Party claimed that if Herbert Hoover won there would be a chicken in every pot. A lucky duck. True confession: my mind works in mysterious ways.

duck
Flying Pigeons, chickens in pots, and lucky ducks

And that seems as good a place as any to end this!

UCI Road World Championships

From the UCI Road World Championships Richmond 2015 website:

The Road World Championships (Worlds) is cycling’s pinnacle event, held annually in an international city as chosen by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) through a competitive bidding process similar to the Olympic Games.

Worlds is a nine-day event, featuring 12 Championship races for Elite Men and Women, Under 23 Men and Junior Men and Women. It is a rare opportunity for the athletes to compete for their country, just as they do during the Olympic Games.

GREAT MEMOIR

According to David Henry Sterry, speaking this morning at the James River Writers Conference, the key to great memoir is to have lots of really horrendous things happen to you and you don’t die.

Virginia Is For Mysteries on a Roll!

The Virginia Festival of the Book Crime Wave just ended, and I am dancing. Five contributors to VIFM presented a panel yesterday. More than 100 people attended, very receptive, good questions. The bookstore serving the Festival sold out of the books they brought AND all the books they could scrounge for consignment. Today we learned that Virginia Is For Mysteries was the best-selling book in the Crime Wave track! Book signings and talks are scheduled through February ’15! I’ll have to get off my duff and post the schedule as these events draw near.

 

I’d post a picture of me with Lisa Scottoline but my eyelids are at half-mast and I look half-smashed—just a smudge better than my driver’s license photo!

January, 2014, Appearances and Speaking Events

I am pleased to be speaking several times early in 2014!

 

I will be at the Library of Virginia January 9 at 5:30 p.m. for the launch of the short story anthology, Virginia is for Mysteries.

 

January 10, 10:00 a.m., The Hermitage at Cedarfield, Richmond, VA. I will be discussing my first Chesapeake Bay Mystery, Dark Harbor. Free and open to the public

 

January 11, 11:00-1:00, Chesterfield Library, .  I will participate in a panel discussion of Virginia is for Mysteries  for the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Free ad open to the public.

 

Jauary 21, 7:00 p.m., Historic Hanover Tavern, Hanover Courthouse, VA.  I will be discussing fact and fiction in my short story “Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery.” Free and open to the public.

Writing Tip: The Power of Transposition

You may recall that a while back I said that you mustn’t be bound too much by reality–e.g., that just because someone said it that way doesn’t mean it’s a good way to say it, just because it really happened doesn’t mean it’s interesting. This is in the same vein: just because it happened in 1964 doesn’t mean you can’t set it in 1934–and vice versa. Of course, if it is something famous, like the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, you can’t move it around too much unless you are writing sci fi or magical realism. But if you have a story about a great uncle who was married five times that the family knows about, there is no reason you can’t write about such a character in current time.

Similarly–with certain obvious exceptions–just because the actor was a male doesn’t mean you can’t attribute the action to a female. Ditto parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins.

Bottom line: be flexible.

Back From the Dead

Actually, I haven’t been dead, just buried. But after a long stretch when life was on top of me, I am again motivated to try my hand at social media. I’ve recently had a book signing at Sailing Associates, in Georgetown, MD, featuring Tiger Heart, the second Chesapeake Bay Mystery. The next signing scheduled is for the Chestertown Book Festival, Chestertown, MD, on Saturday, Sept. 21. img_7534